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A Case Study in the Sturdiness of the Rookie 9

Chapter Text

So, new story! The whole point of it literally is to have some fun with characters put into different teams. The first chapter will be short and deal with their reactions and such. The following chapters will be longer. But there won't be more than ten chapters. So don't expect a saga! I'm not in business for that!

Anyway, please enjoy!~

~..~..~

Hardships are a Required Part of the Ninja Experience

She wasn't prepared for today.

She never felt prepared, though, but still wound up fine, so it was kind of okay. No matter how unprepared she felt, she was usually always prepared for things that happened.

Repeating this like a mantra, Sakura found some semblance of comfort.

It wasn't much though.

Today was the day.

As long as she was assigned to a team with Sasuke, she would be happy. No Naruto, though. She couldn't stand that guy.


As long as he was on a competent enough team, Sasuke would not fight for proper accommodations. But if they dared put him in the same team as the Dead Last, he'd make his displeasure more than clear.

All he needed to do was get into a competent enough genin team so he could pass the Chunin Exams. After that, he would finally be able to be completely on his own.

Just like he had always wanted.


Team assignment day. The day they would no longer be Academy students, but instead fully fledged genin of Konoha.

Naruto couldn't wait to meet his team!

He just hoped he wasn't on a team with that stupid Sasuke… Anyone but that jerk!

And if he wound up on the same team with Sakura, he certainly wouldn't argue.

His team would be the best genin team to ever grace Konoha! Believe it!


Naruto. That's the only person she really wanted to be on her team. Just Naruto. The other person didn't matter to her as long as she was on the same team as her crush.

… But… Wait a minute… If she was on the same team as him, she would never be able to concentrate…

Scratch that; anyone but Naruto.


He had Akamaru. That's the only partner he could ever need. The other people on his team didn't really matter as long as they stayed out of his way.

All Inuzuka saw their genin team as their pack, but Kiba didn't have a strong feeling about that. Most of the kids he went to the Academy with were annoying and idiotsl He highly doubted he'd ever be able to think of any of them as his pack.

But that didn't matter. As long as Akamaru was by his side, he'd be able to take on the whole world.


A team of the most intelligent people within their grade would not be wise. To have only the wisest minds on a single team would hinder the other teams that were formed. So he would not be put onto a team with Haruno Sakura and Nara Shikamaru.

Having a team composed of completely similar attitudes and personalities would fail as well- quiet and thoughtful people were not to be his teammates, so Shikamaru was thrown away once more. Uchiha Sasuke and Hyuga Hinata could be discarded as well.

It was only logical to believe that a team would be composed of differing fighting styles and thought patterns. Inuzuka Kiba, Uzumaki Naruto, and Yamanaka Ino were all loud, so they might be considered as good counters for his usual quiet ways. Akimichi Chouji was quiet and more of a follower, though. He was an unstable and difficult to truly fit into just one description to assign him as a variable in the equation.

There were other students to choose from, of course. But it would make no sense to pair any of them with the Aburame- they all feared his insects. Only the Clan kids and Naruto seemed to not be completely disgusted by his constant buzzing.

He just wished to have teammates that would not cause him headaches too frequently.


Ino-Shika-Cho was a given. Their fathers had just about begged for it, how could the Academy break them up?

Ino wasn't sure about any other formations. But she knew with complete certainty that she would be put on the same team as her boys. And she was okay with that. She wouldn't be on Sasuke's team, but her boys weren't half bad… As long as the Billboard Brow wasn't on the same team as Sasuke too, there would be no problems.


Ino and Shikamaru were his best friends. Their fathers wanted them to be together. Chouji was aware that there really was only team in which he would be put in.

His only true regret was that Ino's cooking stunk and Shikamaru was too lazy to cook anything. He would, unfortunately, be stuck on perpetual cooking duty because of this.


Chouji was alright.

The harpy was troublesome.

But Ino-Shika-Cho was a given. There was no doubt about it. And there was also no getting away from it. So there really was no need for him to worry about any kind of team formations.


When the teams were called out, she found herself feeling confused. She was happy, in a way. But she had been disappointed as well.

"Haruno Sakura, Akimichi Chouji, and Aburame Shino will be Team 7."

Well, there was no Naruto… But there wasn't any Sasuke either.

A bittersweet victory indeed.

Chouji was nice... But Shino was kind of creepy...

Truly bittersweet.


What? They broke up Ino-Shika-Cho?

Chouji was confused by this. He had been so sure that they would continue the tradition that he would be paired up with his friends.

Well, Sakura was a nice enough girl, although kind of obsessed with Sasuke. But Ino was too. So there wasn't much of a difference there. And Shino was quiet, even though a bit intense... He was kind of like Shikamaru, just with more tension behind his silence rather than laziness.

He could work with this, though. He was sure this team would be great!


Ah, they had put him on a team with Haruno Sakura. Interesting. Akimichi Chouji was a surprise as well; most had believed that Ino-Shika-Cho would be replicated this time around.

It was odd, truly. But he could see value in the design of the team. Sakura was to be their medical support and Chouji their strength. It would only make sense for him, then, to be the brain. An interesting team, indeed, but one he was sure he could work with.


When she heard her own name, Hinata squeaked. When the rest of the names on her team were called; she couldn't help but be both disappointed at not having Naruto in her team, but also kind of relieved.

"Hyuga Hinata, Uchiha Sasuke, and Nara Shikamaru will be Team 8."

She swore she heard the collective whines of the rest of the females in the class. But she was much too busy celebrating yet sulking over not being on the same team as Naruto.


Shikamaru was lazy. Sasuke did not value him.

Hinata was weak. He did not trust her.

But at least he wasn't stuck with the Dead Last.

A small victory, unfortunately.


No Ino-Shika-Cho? Bummer… But at least he wouldn't have to be on the same team as the harpy… Although Sasuke could be just as pissy as Ino, it seemed.

Well, at least Hinata was quiet. She wasn't about to bother him too much...

Not being in an Ino-Shika-Cho combination was troublesome. They had been taught from the beginning how to work with each other...

With a small sigh, Shikamaru laid his head against his desk.

Great. He'd have to learn whole new formations now.


"And Team 10 will be composed of Yamanaka Ino, Inuzuka Kiba, and Uzumaki Naruto."

She wouldn't be with her Sasuke!

Damn that Hinata!

No Ino-Shika-Cho?

Damn that Nara… He must have had something to do with this! He'd never liked her tone of voice!

Stuck with the two loudest, most annoying, most obnoxious jerks of the grade? Life hated her!


The Dead Last and the Prissy Princess?

"Oh, Akamaru! We're ruined!"

The pup whined in agreement.

Kiba lamented not having worried more. Maybe, if he had worried, he would have been put on another, much better team.

How could he possibly consider this team to be a good one when Naruto had barely passed the graduation ceremony and Ino put more thought into her looks than her training?


"Dog Breath? Ew!"

Ino was bad too, but not as bad as Kiba. He couldn't believe he hadn't been put into a team with Sakura!

With a huff, Naruto crossed his arms over his chest and glared at Kiba.

Akamaru smiled back at him... And Naruto found that, as long as the puppy was around, then he wouldn't want to kill Kiba... Too often.

..~..~..

So, what do y'all think? Please review and tell me what you think of this little chapter.

Also, just to give a big recap, these are the teams:

Team 7- Sakura, Chouji, Shino
Team 8- Hinata, Sasuke, Shikamaru
Team 10- Ino, Naruto, Kiba

Chapter Text

Good First Impressions Are Great- With that in Mind, Know That Bad First Impressions are More Honest

As she sat with her teammates, Sakura couldn't help but smile softly at Chouji. He smiled back and offered a peace offering in allowing her to take one chip from his bag. She considered that to be a true symbol of friendship and accepted.

She wasn't a fan of barbeque, but she felt that him having allowed her to take some food had been something big. So she merely thanked him.

When she turned to Shino, she felt her blood run cold and couldn't even try and smile at him.

Immediately, she felt like a jerk. She forced herself to say something, anything. And what came out was something… Just nothing too bright.

"You've got bugs."

From behind his sunglasses, she was able to see one eyebrow arch. She stuttered and rushed to make something out of that statement.

"They're cool! That's what I wanted to say! Your bugs are cool, but… Uh… Yeah…"

How could she have been so stupid? You've got bugs?! Seriously?! Is that all she had been able to come up with!? And then trying to tell him they're cool, even though he clearly knew that everyone in their class was terrified of those things-

"Thank you."

How could he even possibly think that what she had said had been even marginally honest? He had most probably seen through her words; he was smart like that. Undoubtedly, he was thinking of the most inconspicuous way he could kill her. She was just- Wait. What had he said?

Sakura blinked at Shino, who merely turned away from her and looked over at the doorway their teacher was supposed to enter through.

He had just said thank you, she told herself, feeling a cold sweat take over her. Was he being honest?

"Wonder what's taking our teacher so long."

Sakura looked over at the seated Akimichi, who merely munched on his bag of chips, and then glanced over at the door.

They were the last team left in the Academy. Their teacher was extremely late. And she was getting kind of annoyed.

"Maybe he got lost on the way?" She offered, to which Shino shook his head.

"Improbable. The Academy is a landmark of Konoha. One would have to be unbelievably stupid to not know where it is."

Sakura contemplated on his words, then heard Chouji mutter, "Let's not forget Naruto's first day."

Now that had been sad.

Sighing, the pink haired kunoichi offered, "Maybe he wants us to find him? It could be a test or something?"

Shino stood frozen and said nothing. But after a couple of seconds of Sakura feeling his gaze burning her soul, the Aburame nodded stiffly. "Probable explanation. Tests for genin teams are not unusual."

"Then we should try and find him, right?"

"Yes."

Sakura nodded at both her teammates and pointed over at the doorway. "Let's go then!"


Hinata liked her jounin sensei. She was a kind woman that seemed more interested in seeing them learn various skills rather than just drill one fighting style into them. And she didn't really seem all that bothered about any of their heritage; she merely wanted to see them grow and learn so they could become competent members of Konoha's shinobi force.

"Most teachers would give their genin teams tests to pass so they can see if they're qualified or not. But considering your stellar records and the fact that I'm new to being a jounin sensei, I don't think it's truly necessary for me to test you out just yet. Later, though, you can expect to put the skills you've learned with me to the test."

Hinata found that Kurenai was a wonderful kunoichi. And she really liked the fact that she smiled so much.

"Until then, why don't you introduce yourselves? That way we can all get a feel for each other as a team."

Hinata thought she heard Sasuke scoffing. But when she chanced a look at him from the corner of her eyes, she found him with a passive look on his face. There were no emotions on him. It was kind of weird.

"Here, I'll start: My name's Kurenai Yuuhi, I'm a first time jounin sensei, and I specialize in genjutsu. I enjoy warm baths after a day filled with hard work, reading my favorite books, and learning. I don't like, though, slackers or cheaters."

Her red eyes sparkled happily as she spoke and her lips never left the shape of a smile.

When the woman had first stepped into the classroom to call Team 8 to her, Hinata had worried that she would be just like all other jounin she had ever met; tense and stern. But she'd led them towards her (supposedly) favorite tea shop, bought them all tea, and began to talk to them as if they were friends and not just her students.

Hinata really liked her.

"Who wants to go now?"

If Hinata squeaked in fear, it was simply because she swore she could see an enemy ninja hidden within the shadows behind her teacher. It wasn't because she was afraid of speaking up or anything.


Ino so envied Hinata. She was on a team with Sasuke! How could that girl be so lucky?!

And, as if that wasn't enough, the kunoichi that had entered the classroom to take her and Sasuke away had been beautiful. Clearly, that was a woman that valued taking care of herself and would be able to understand Ino's own beauty needs. But, instead of being lucky and getting a sensible woman as her teacher, Ino wound up with a bearded man that reeked of cigarette smoke.

"Team 10. Line up!"

It took all of her self control to not want to scream as she stood up from her desk to walk up to the man.

He wasn't bad looking, he might even be considered handsome by some. Not Sasuke-handsome, but she highly doubted anyone could ever be like that. No, he was an okay looking man. The problem was that he was slouching like Shikamaru and had complete disregard for the 'No smoking inside enclosed rooms' rule that normal people followed.

Kiba jumped over desks and kicked chairs over, but most of the other genin were gone at that point, so Ino didn't have to feel completely embarrassed over his lack of self control. Naruto, not the kind to be outdone by the Inuzuka, followed suit and jumped over his own set of desks.

Ino made a point of walking towards them.

"Alright. I'm buying lunch. So we're going to my favorite place."

"Free food!"

"Awesome!"

Ino merely sighed as she followed after the three males.

They were taken to a barbeque place she was completely sure Chouji would have loved to eat in. She wasn't a fan, though, because everything looked absolutely unhealthy.

As Kiba and Naruto (disgustingly) attacked the meat they had ordered, she merely ate at the fish she'd asked for and sipped at her water.

"My name's Sarutobi Asuma and I'll be your jounin-sensei until you become chunin. Tell me something about yourselves."

Without even bothering to finish chewing, Naruto jumped up on his chair and began to scream out, chunks of food flying out of his mouth in such a horrible manner that Ino never wanted to see ribs ever again in her life.

"My name's Uzumaki Naruto and I'll be the best ninja ever! I'm gonna be Hokage, and nobody'll be able to stop me; believe it!"

Kiba scoffed, clamped his hand around Naruto's ankle, and pulled him down so harshly that Naruto came crashing down.

(Admittedly, the sight brought some amusement to her.)

"I'm Inuzuka Kiba and this is my partner Akamaru. We're going to be the best ninja team ever and I'm going to be Hokage!" He growled as he glared down at Naruto's prone form, immediately making Ino shake her head and groan softly.

Their teacher didn't miss her reaction. "What's up with you?"

"Just give it a second."

Ino counted the moments down. Not even three seconds after Kiba had proclaimed his own dream of being Hokage, Naruto jumped back up and glared into his eyes.

"What're you talking about, Dog Breath? I'm going to be Hokage!"

"In your dreams, Dead Last!"

"I'll show you!"

Ino hid her face in both of her hands as they began to shout up a storm, undoubtedly causing all of the other normal people inside of the eatery to look at them in confusion and worry.

Why her?


Their first decision as a team was to find their jounin-sensei. Their second decision as a team was to find Iruka-sensei so they could ask him just who their teacher may have been so they could begin trying to find him. But they had not been able to find him. So they had gone to the next best option- another jounin sensei.

"Do we know where any of them went, though?" Sakura asked both of them, which made Chouji shrug.

He hadn't. But he was hungry. And he knew this one delicious place they could go to and he would find the best barbeque.

"I think I heard Team 10 talking about going to eat… I think I know where they might be."

Complete lie. He just wanted to buy something to eat. But Sakura and Shino both seemed to believe him, for they nodded and told him to lead the way.

Much to his surprise, Team 10 was there when they got to the barbeque place. And Naruto and Kiba were screaming at each other while Ino tried her best to hide and their jounin teacher kept his eyes closed and his arms crossed over his chest.

He kind of felt bad for Ino.

"I shall go ask." Shino strode off before either Sakura or Chouji could say anything.

"Poor Ino-Pig." Sakura mumbled, "I can't imagine being stuck on a team with Naruto. Much less one with Naruto and Kiba."

"Who knows? Maybe they're not that bad." Chouji tried to give the blonde the benefit of the doubt, only to wince when Naruto moved to lunge at Kiba, only to have the Inuzuka sidestep away so he would crash into the ground below. "Poor Ino."

Shino managed to grab the jounin's attention, ask him what he needed to know, and get an answer. What the answer was, Chouji wasn't sure. He was too busy looking over at the serving area- at all the wonderful and delicious food he saw there- to truly pay attention. But soon enough- much too soon for him to even think about buying anything-, Shino returned to them.

"Hatake Kakashi is our teacher. Asuma-sensei believes we might be able to find him in the onsen. Let us go."

"Alright!"

Chouji regretted not having bought anything. But he did not regret having Sakura and Shino as his teammates when he heard a plate crashing, followed by other plates and loud sounding objects, all accompanied by screams from Kiba and Naruto.

Poor Ino.


Sasuke thought nothing of the kunoichi assigned to Team 8. She looked like a regular kunoichi, there weren't any indicators as to any hidden greatness that might inspire respect within him. So he didn't respect her at all. Not even hearing about her affinity for genjutsu made him believe anything greater about her than 'normal and unimpressive'.

"M-my name is Hy-uga Hi-Hinata. I-I-I like pick-ck-cking flowers."

He tuned out what little else the girl said.

It was a shame to have this Hyuga on his team. Because he knew that all others were true masters of taijutsu that he could respect. This one, though, was just weak and pitiful.

When Kurenai called on him, he made his words blunt and straight to the point.

"My name is Uchiha Sasuke. I like some things. I don't like others. And I excel in everything I do."

He could hear Hinata squeak in intimidation once he'd finished speaking, but he felt nothing because of it. He didn't feel bad for scaring her, nor was he proud to inspire such a reaction from someone that was supposedly his equal. She was nothing.

"Vague." Kurenai nodded softly, but soon turned to look at their last teammate and called on him.

He didn't answer.

Sasuke knew that Shikamaru was slow, though, so he didn't question this silence immediately.

It was when he began to hear the light snoring, though, that he noticed that the Nara had actually managed to fall asleep.

Pathetic.

They got kicked out of the eatery. It was all the Dead Last's fault, though. Not his.

If the first plate that got smashed happened to be broken over Naruto's head, it was merely because the Dead Last had asked for the hit.

"This is all your fault, Dead Last!"

"Shaddup, Kiba! You're the one that smashed that plate on my head! You dirty-"

Naruto shut up before he could finish what he said. And Kiba found that this was weird, so he turned around to try and see just what had happened to him.

Ino looked back at him with wide blue eyes. But there was no Naruto.

"Where'd he-"

He hadn't finished speaking when he felt all of the air rush out of his lungs. Then all he could hear was Akamaru's barks of surprise and worry. But those soon drowned out, only for him to be left with the sound of wind whooshing past him.

Before he could have even made heads or tails of what the heck had just happened, Kiba found himself tied up to a wooden post.

Blinking in stupefaction, the Inuzuka then began to hear Naruto's screams filling up his poor ears.

"Let me go! Let me go! I didn't do nothing wrong!"

Kiba glared at the dumbass, but didn't say a single thing. Instead he glared down at his body, immediately trying to figure out how he was supposed to escape from where he was bound.

The ropes were tight, much too tight for him to move. He had been tied up a couple of feet above the ground, so he couldn't gain any kind of propulsion from the floor. And all he could smell to try and deduct where they were was grass, water, and a faint stench of cigarette.

Asuma-sensei.

When he turned to look around his surroundings, ignoring Naruto's yelling, Kiba found that there was a third wooden post to his left. There were ropes on the ground, as if someone had planned on using them. But there was no one tied up there.

"I'm going to be Hokage one day! You can't treat me like this! Do you hear me, evil kidnapper?! I'm going to be HOOOOOKKAAAAAGGEEEE!"

He hated Naruto.


They spent the whole day tracking Hatake Kakashi down. But every time they reached a place they were directed to by shinobi they had met, they merely found a clear lack of a Hatake and another shinobi that thought they knew where he might have been.

"This is harder than I thought it would be." Chouji admitted as they entered the Library of Public Records a jounin named Ebisu had pointed them towards. "This guy's like a ghost."

"This sort of test is not supposed to be easy." He reminded the Akimichi, "We are supposed to be tested to see if we know how to use everything we have learned in the Academy."

Sakura hummed in thought as she looked over all of the scrolls and files within the library, then snapped her fingers, "I know! Ninja are supposed to be able to gather all sorts of information about their targets, right?"

"Yes."

"Then maybe he wants us to do something like that! What have we managed to learn about him from all of the people we've asked?"

"He likes reading orange books, doesn't like responsibilities, and has silver hair." Chouji murmured, "I don't really think that helps us much…"

Sakura deflated at this, "Yeah, you're right…"

But Shino shook his head. "We are in the perfect place to find out all we need to know."

What they had forgotten about the newest place they had been directed to was that all shinobi had something written about them here. They must be able to find something about Hatake Kakashi here.

"All of the people we met must have been part of his plan to lead us here." Shino rationalized, "In here, we must be able to find something on him."

"Yeah, you're right! Let's split up and find something!"

"Alright!"

They all separated and began to comb over the different documents held within the library.

It took him some time, but eventually Shino was able to find a document marked 'Hatake, Kakashi'. And within, he was able to find one simple address.

"This is where we will go."

So he sought after both his teammates, rattled off the only thing that was written within his documents, and then they began to make their way over to the shinobi area of the Village.

This Hatake Kakashi must truly be a mastermind to have created such a confusing and meticulous test for his students. Truly, he must only want the best on his team. And Shino was set on proving to him that they were the best genin team he could have.


Shikamaru was smacked awake.

He glared and immediately chastised Ino for having dared put her claws on him, "Get away from me, you harpy."

"Who do you think you are calling a harpy, Nara?"

Blinking to focus his sight, Shikamaru noticed that it had not been the troublesome Ino to have hit him. Instead, it had been his jounin-sensei.

He would have felt bad if not for the fact that she'd smacked him to wake him up.

"Sorry." He swallowed his annoyance, then glanced over at his teammates.

Hinata's eyes were wide and filled with fear. Nothing new. Sasuke was glaring and seemed angry. Again, nothing new. Sighing, he looked back at his teacher, "What?"

"Introduce yourself."

"Troublesome…" He breathed out, but soon yawned, scratched at his neck, and murmured, "I'm Nara Shikamaru and I like sleeping and cloud watching. I don't like not sleeping or cloud watching… Is that good enough?"

The woman's red eyes were annoyed, but Shikamaru was just as irritated.

Why had she not allowed him to sleep some more? It had been such a good dream; filled with clouds to watch and pure peace.

"Yes, Shikamaru." Her smile was tense and strained; Shikamaru found himself starting to feel a tiny bit bad for having been so disrespectful. He'd just really wanted to sleep. "Now, I'm going to tell you about what we'll be doing this week."

Unfortunately, Shikamaru was sure that he'd made a horrible impression on his teacher. This was a shame; you didn't really want to piss off the only person that would have almost complete control over your education for the next couple of years.

He really should have listened to her talking about what they would be doing… But the siren song that was sleep was much too strong. He drifted off before she'd even finished talking about the first day.


Naruto was pissed off.

Who dare kidnap him and tie him up?! Did they not know he was going to be the next Hokage?!

Screaming and cursing up and down, Naruto ignored stinking Dog Boy until he'd tired himself out. After that, he continued cursing whoever had taken them under his breath.

It had been as he grumbled about stupid cowards and going to ban rope when he became Hokage that he heard Kiba hiss at him.

"Are you finally done?"

"What do you want, Dog Breath?"

"… I think we're supposed to work together to get out of here…"

Naruto blinked over at the annoying jerk, then asked, "What? Seriously?"

Kiba huffed and nodded, "I think Asuma-sensei set this all up as some sort of test or something."

"No way! Ino's not here!"

"Yeah, that's weird, but… Listen, there's a cache of weapons hidden under you. Your feet are touching the ground, so I think you're supposed to try and dig them out."

Naruto, quite frankly, found everything Dog Breath said to be stupid. But this must have been the dumbest thing he'd ever heard the dude say.

"Hidden weapons in the floor? Why do you think that, you don't have the Hyuga's eyes! Besides, I don't think anybody would ever leave weapons when they kidnap someone."

He continued telling Kiba just why it was that he was completely wrong and made a point of speaking over Kiba whenever he tried to speak up.

Kiba was stupid and Naruto was smart. The sooner the Inuzuka understood this, the sooner Naruto would be able to think up of a perfect escape plan that would ensure their timely release!

Believe it!

When Kakashi arrived at the classroom he was sent to, he was supposed to have found a group of somewhat annoyed, yet patiently waiting students that were supposed to be his for the molding and corrupting. Which wouldn't really get far, he would undoubtedly have to fail them like he had failed all the rest.

What he found, though, was a vacant room without a single person within.


A Generation in their Prime Must Teach a Generation in their Youth

Huh… They hadn't even stuck around waiting for him.

No patience? Immediate fail.

Huh, this whole teaching thing was pretty easy. He couldn't understand why other jounin grouched about it.

With the rest of his schedule free for the rest of the day- which wasn't even that much time, it was nearing sundown-, Kakashi decided to stop by Ichiraku's, buy some ramen, and then go ahead and return to his apartment.

As he pulled out his key from within his pockets, Kakashi noticed something odd within his apartment block.

There was a lack of somethingHis traps!

Placing his bag of food down on the floor, Kakashi glared at the ninja wire that had been cut. No longer was it suspended over his door; instead, it hung limply.

Someone had disabled the traps surrounding his door. Not only that, but they'd also deactivated the seals he'd placed all around the inside of his door.

Just who could have been foolish enough to try and ambush the Copy Cat-Nin in his own home?

Slowly and carefully, the jounin pushed his door open and began to scan the receiving area to see if he could catch sight of his intruders.

It didn't take long, amazingly enough.

Even more amazing, though, was just who had infiltrated his apartment.

"These orange books are weird… They don't have any pictures except for the ones on the cover…"

His Icha-Icha!

Without a second thought, Kakashi raced into his home, forced the book away from the grubby child's hands, and glared down at him.

"He's here! Finally! We've been waiting for forever!"

The pink haired genin's voice was kind of annoying. But before he could say anything, the Aburame was talking, "I told you he would appear. See? There is no doubt within my mind that we have passed his test."

Test? What in the world were these kids talking about?

"Did we pass it, Kakashi-sensei? We followed all the leads you left us. We even managed to enter your apartment after we disabled the traps!"

Children deactivated his defense mechanisms.

He'd need to up the defenses around his home…

Taking in a deep breath, Kakashi closed his eyes, pondered over what he should do, and found that he was backed into a corner.

These kids had thought they had passed his test. Which, no, this had not been it, just what in the world had they even done? What leads had they followed?

"I… Will evaluate your work."

"What? Seriously? Bummer."

Kakashi did not want to deal with a genin team. But these three were competent enough to break into his apartment. Even though they were naïve enough to believe that a series of meetings they had encountered must have been things he had set up.

"Sit down and tell me everything you did. I want a full report."

Hey, fake it 'til you make it.

He was sure he'd eventually find a way to get rid of the gnats.


Kurenai's first impression of her team was that it was unbelievably disjointed. And it was full of troubled individuals that would need to work out through their own personal demons before they could truly come together.

Hinata was much too worried over other's impressions of her. She would need to strengthen herself from within before she could even begin to work on her physical strength.

Sasuke was angry and filled with pride. She'd need to break him out of that habit of overestimating himself and underestimating those around him.

And the Nara… he was a Nara, unfortunately. He'd be the hardest to break out of his bad habits, she was aware. But at least he had the Nara intelligence behind that laziness… Hopefully.

"I will see you three bright and early tomorrow morning, then." She smiled at the three genin seated in front of her- wait a minute, was the Nara asleep again?

"Y-y-yes, Sense-sei."

"Hn."

The Nara snored.

Kurenai frowned but still stood up.

No doubt about it, Shikamaru would be the toughest nut to crack... Hmm... Maybe she would be able to find someone to give her some advice for dealing with these kids. She really did want to see them succeed. But she'd clearly have to get through to them before she helped them.


"Now that those two are dealing with the team challenge, why don't you introduce yourself?"

Asuma smiled down at the only sane member of his genin team, feeling much more at ease now that the loud mouths had been dealt with.

"Uh… Sensei? What happened to Kiba and Naruto?"

"Oh, I had a test lined up for you three to complete after lunch to see if you were competent enough to be my genin team." Asuma answered with a small shrug, "I decided to let you pass because they pissed me off but you didn't."

The blonde's face showed her sudden fear much too clearly. Just like she had been allowing every other emotion she had felt to be known by everyone around her.

It was fine for her to do this now. But she certainly couldn't allow her emotions to be seen so clearly by her enemies.

"Now, your name?"

She swallowed, face somewhat reddened, and rushed out, "Yamanaka Ino."

He nodded sagely at this, "Then mind jutsu should be your forte…"

He hummed in thought for a moment, then smirked at her. "Tell me about the mind jutsu you know, kid. I might need your help to take control of those clowns."

Suddenly, Asuma heard a growl beneath him. And that was when he remembered that he'd kept the Inuzuka pup separated from his partner to make sure the kid didn't have too much help as they tried to escape.

"Cute." He muttered, moving to pat the pup.

It was the wrong move.

The mongrel bit him.

..~..~..

Please review!

Chapter Text

Half the Battle is Won before it Even Starts When a Proper Plan is Strategized

He had three mongrels to teach.

He didn't like it… But… Well… Either he owned up to his excessive tardiness and administered a proper test, or he continued allowing the little humans run around believing whatever it is that they had made themselves believe.

Admitting that what he had done was wrong was just not acceptable. So he would now have to slog through having to take care of three brats for the next year or so… The only thought that brought him any solace was knowing that they would leave him alone once they passed their Chunin Exams and were stuck doing actual ninja stuff and not just running around like genin.

It was easy to get them to do whatever he asked of them, though. They genuinely seemed to believe that he had a reason behind everything he made them do.

Hmm… They trusted him… They really believed everything he had them do was for them to get better.

He could totally use this!

Oh, how he loved D-Ranks right now… If he kept them busy with all sorts of those missions, then they would not bother him.

He was a great teacher!

Seriously, why was Asuma always whining about having to think up of ways to help his kids get better? It was literally as easy as giving them a mission, telling them it would help them get stronger, and then let them run loose as they went about the mission they had been given.

Teaching was much easier than he had thought.

He should have given this whole teaching thing a try before. It was pretty easy. The kids practically taught themselves.

With a happy little whistle, the silver haired jounin made his way towards the missions desk to see what D-Ranks he could find for his annoying little mongrels.


"Team 8 is a disaster waiting to happen."

"Trust me, Team 10 is no better."

Kurenai sighed heavily as she looked over the files of the students she had been assigned.

Hinata was good- bordering on great- when it came to her physical skills. The trouble with her would be to get her self-confidence up. Because, quite frankly, no amount of strength or talent would be useful in battle if the kid didn't think she was useful.

Sasuke was another self-confidence case… But, unlike Hinata, Kurenai would have to bring him down a couple of notches. He was too sure of himself. Even though they'd only spoken once, Kurenai was more than sure as to what kind of person he was- the kind that would not hesitate at all in battle simply because he believed he was too good to be beaten.

But of the three genin she was tasked with, there was one that terrified her.

"The Nara won't listen to me."

"He's easy to work around."

Kurenai quirked an eyebrow at Asuma, wondering just what was wrong with him in the head to make such a statement. He was currently leaning into his chair at her kitchen table with a lit cigarette hanging precariously between his lips, his eyes closed in thought. He too was trying to formulate a game-plan to deal with the group of genin he had been assigned.

"Oh, really?" Kurenai questioned, "He fell asleep on me, Asuma. Twice."

The man breathed in before he opened his eyes. Then he looked Kurenai in the eyes, letting her see how truly he tired he was.

"The Nara only really respect intelligence. Prove to him you're smarter than him and he'll listen to you."

"He's a Nara."

Asuma sighed, "Fine, then trick him into believing you're smarter."

Kurenai frowned at the simple words, but didn't try and argue with him.

Asuma may not seem as he was totally invested in their conversation, but she knew that this was simply because he was currently stressing over the rowdy genin he had been given.

She moved Shikamaru's file so it was closer to her, then began to read it over once more.

He was smart, but lazy. The full extent of his intelligence wasn't even known to his Academy teachers because of how little he chose to do with them; even though he had managed to pass the graduation exam… He did it just scraping by, but he managed to pass.

After she had finished reading over his file for the umpteenth time, the woman looked around her apartment's kitchen so she was able to think without concentrating on anything concrete.

As her eyes swooped over a small bookcase she kept by the doorway, her attention was caught by one specific box that had been gathering dust there for the past two years.

"Hmm… You might be onto something…"


An Inuzuka, a Yamanaka, and a much-too-powerful-and-completely-unaware-of-it wild card.

He had no proof, but there was no doubt in his mind that he had been given such a team as punishment by his father. He did not know what he had done, when he had done it, or just how bad it must have been… But he did know that there was no way in the world that the Hokage would have assigned him such a group of insane personalities without some kind of malicious intent behind it. His father must have been especially pissed off with him to have given him such a difficult and volatile team formation.

The Yamanaka was intelligent and seemed to be the sanest of them all. But Asuma wasn't ignorant- the Yamanaka Clan was known to raise some of the most sadistic interrogators in Konoha. They were experts at keeping it hidden, but it was no secret that there was a reason as to why Yamanaka Clan members made excellent interrogators… And it wasn't simply because of their knowledge of mental jutsu.

The Inuzuka was energetic and hot headed. He may not have been as intelligent as the Yamanaka, but he had good instincts. If it hadn't been for him sniffing out the weapons beneath Naruto's feet, those two would still be tied up now- hours after they had been snatched by him. But he was immature enough to get into shouting matches with Naruto over the smallest and dumbest of things…

And that brought him to Naruto…

Quite frankly, he didn't even want to think about all of the complications that would arise because of him.

Two hot heads and a Yamanaka that hated being around them…

"Do you think I'd get in trouble for having the Yamanaka help me control the other two?"

Kurenai had been staring at her bookcase with a proud smile on her lips for the past few minutes. He didn't feel like asking why, though, because he needed to come up with something before he left her apartment.

"How would she help?" The woman questioned, then frowned, "Don't tell me you're actually thinking of having her possess them."

He shrugged with a small grunt, "She'll get practice in possessing people's minds."

Kurenai sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose… Then nodded quietly, "Just don't tell anyone about it unless absolutely necessary… And if it does nothing to help her jutsu, stop."

The man smiled softly and nodded.

He knew he had great ideas.

Fortunately, the Yamanaka would undoubtedly love this idea. She hadn't told him anything about being against helping him control her two teammates, even when he'd been incredibly vague with his own thoughts. Hell, she'd most probably be happy now that she would be allowed to basically use the two kids she hated as guinea pigs.


Hatake Kakashi was a weird man. Sakura wasn't completely sure how she should categorize him.

He seemed to be really intelligent and knowledgeable of the life of a ninja. And he always seemed to have complete control of all of the situations they were thrust into. With complete ease, he managed to take reigns of their missions and with a heavy voice; he made them listen to him.

But, at the same time, he was lazy, never got to places on time, barely made sure that his genin team was completing their work adequately, and he barely ever looked up from those stupid Icha-Icha books of his.

"I cannot believe I haven't learned anything new yet…" She found herself lamenting softly as she sat with her back against a thick tree, Shino standing up a couple of feet away from her while Chouji munched on his chips as he sat beside her. "I thought that once I became a genin, I'd get to learn so much more."

"I know, right?" She heard Chouji mumble past his chips, "But it just feels like we've been running around completing D-Ranks and doing nothing more."

"Because that is exactly what we have been doing, Chouji." Shino stated factually, sunglasses blinding her temporarily when he shifted to look down at them and the sun hit them. "But I believe that I know why this is."

"Really, Shino? There's a reason for us not doing anything more than moving boxes and painting fences?" Sakura questioned, feeling a bit curious yet sure that there was no hidden meaning. Kakashi-sensei may seem like he knew what he was doing… But she wasn't completely sure if he did know what he was doing.

"Kakashi-sensei had us hunt him down as our first test. From this, it is safe to deduct that he values independence in his students and wishes to see initiative from us. The reason as to why we have yet to learn anything could be because he wants us to begin learning by ourselves."

Sakura blinked at the Aburame in confusion, then looked over at Chouji and found that the Akimichi was just as confused as her.

"How are we supposed to learn on our own, though?" Chouji asked, lowering his bag of chips onto his lap. "The whole point of having a teacher is for him to teach us."

"Yes, but independence is something all shinobi need. We cannot rely on others for all of the answers." Shino rationalized, and Sakura couldn't help but see the logic behind his words.

It would make sense. Besides, Kakashi-sensei was always hours late. Maybe the reason why he took so long to meet with them was because he expected them to go out and find things to learn by themselves?

"Okay, I can see your point… But where are we supposed to start?"

"In the home of all knowledge." The Aburame said with complete conviction in his voice, "We shall start where we know that knowledge is never hidden or hindered: The Library."

Okay, that made sense. A lot of sense, really.

But it all making sense didn't stop a small voice in the back of her head from telling her that this was all a load of baloney and Kakashi-sensei was secretly just a lazy and extremely lucky man.


Kurenai-sensei was really nice.

Hinata liked that she only ever yelled at her with shouts of encouragement. She didn't try to bring her down and tell her how worthless she was. Instead, she screamed at her to get up and continue fighting; don't give up, you can do anything you set your mind to!

On their first day of training, she had focused completely on testing their limits to see just how strong they were. Her and Sasuke's tests had been similar enough- mostly aimed at taijutsu to witness their strengths, weaknesses, and limits. Shikamaru's had dealt, though, with both taijutsu and his intelligence.

She had once tried to play the game Kurenai challenged Shikamaru with. It had been against Neji-nii-san and she had been defeated in only a handful of moves. Shikamaru and Kurenai's bout lasted much more than just a couple of moves. And, for the first time in her life, Hinata had seen Shikamaru actually have to think before he made a choice.

It had been interesting to see him struggle to make decisions. Especially when Kurenai had seemed so in control of the game- it had been as if they would witness the Nara lose for the first time in his life!

Shikamaru had won. But he had not muttered his usual 'troublesome game' after he had won. He had just stared at their teacher without even trying to cover up how truly taken aback he had been with the challenge she had made.

Hinata had never been the kind to judge her fellow students before. But she would be lying if she said she didn't see a change in Shikamaru.

He listened to Kurenai-sensei. He didn't necessarily jump up with enthusiasm whenever he was asked to do something, but he didn't give her as bad a time as he had given their Academy teachers.

"Alright. All done with your stretches?"

Hinata nodded softly at her teacher's question, then looked over at both her teammates.

Sasuke was frowning but nodded. Shikamaru sighed and gave his own tense nod of affirmation.

Kurenai-sensei smiled at them all, "Good. Now, how about you all settle down? I'm going to run you through a small challenge- it's verbal, don't worry about having to work too hard physically- to see just how great you all are with coming up with strategies for missions."

Hinata sat down where the woman had motioned for them to sit and waited patiently for her to return from wherever it was that she was heading to.

"Pointless." Sasuke grunted.

Hinata turned to her in confusion, but didn't ask him what he meant. In their little time together, she had figured out that, sometimes, it was just better to not speak to him.

"Only if you're an idiot." Shikamaru sighed, throwing himself beside Hinata so he could close his eyes.

"Are you calling me an idiot?"

Shikamaru didn't answer.

Sasuke glared dangerously at him.

Hinata merely kept quiet, staring down at the grass around her.

Kurenai-sensei was great… But both her teammates were difficult to read and react to.


The first thing she had tried to do to regain some semblance of control over her life was tell her father to march straight to the Hokage's office and demand for Ino-Shika-Cho to be formed and for their teams to be dissolved.

Her father had not been particularly happy with there not being an Ino-Shika-Cho team-up this year, but he had told her that he wasn't the right person to be fighting her battles. He saw no harm in the team she was given (that had been a blatant lie; Ino had been able to see her father was worried over the two idiots on her team; but he'd denied any kind of worry and threatened to lecture her on proper work ethic) and believed that the Hokage must have had a reason for having put her with those two specific boys.

The second thing she had tried to do to gain even the smallest bit of control had been to create a game plan to control her teammates.

"Your clan's jutsu may be of use to both of us, kid… I'll tell you just how once I'm sure that I'm not wrong in what I'm thinking."

Her father had always told her that she should not abuse of her knowledge in mind-related jutsu. He was a man that believed they should only be reserved for the toughest of cases because of the high risk that came with trying to forcefully enter someone's mind. The smarter an opponent, the higher the risk of failure.

Luckily for her, Naruto and Kiba were both idiots.

When she walked up to her team for their first practice, it had been to find Akamaru glaring in clear distrust at their teacher all the while Naruto and Kiba growled and snarled at each other.

When their teacher's eyes fell on her, the mischievous glint in his eyes was not lost on her. And, even with all of the screaming that was coming from the idiots a couple of feet away from her, Ino was not able to stop feeling as if the world was finally giving her something she could be happy and grateful for.

"Ino, do I have a proposition for you."

Things were starting to look better for her, it seemed.

They sat huddled around a small, round table with three large books laid down in front of them.

Taijutsu Basics for the Beginner Ninja

Chakra Affinities: An Introduction

Basic Principles for All Shinobi: A Quick Study in Genjutsu, Taijutsu, and Basic Ninjutsu

Shino had picked these all out, saying that they were good starting places for them to begin learning. Chouji wasn't completely sure if the Aburame was correct, but he guessed that this second guessing just came from his innate disdain for books and having to learn.

"Which one should we start with?" Chouji spoke up after a couple of minutes of heavy silence.

Sakura sniffed for a moment, tapped one finger against the biggest book- the one that encompassed the three main type of jutsu- and huffed.

"This one's the biggest. It says it's a quick study, but I highly doubt it. Just from looking over the pages, I see more than just a couple of difficult techniques that we were never taught in the Academy."

"Then it will be the last one we read." Shino decided, moving the book so it was directly in front of him.

"We only really know the basics of chakra affinities, but not much about them." Chouji muttered, "Taijutsu basics sounds more like a review than something we'd learn anything from."

Sakura nodded softly and grabbed the smallest of the three books. "Then we'll start with taijutsu; read up on what we already know. Then we start on what we don't know."

"It's better to refresh all sorts of prior knowledge when entering a new world of studies." Shino agreed, sliding the book on chakra towards him so he could place it on top of the largest book.

Sakura opened up the first book, skimmed over the pages, sighed, and handed it over to Shino. The Aburame repeated the process, skipped the sigh, and gave it to Chouji. And Chouji flipped the pages over, taking in the formations and information he knew.

Surprisingly, there was more than taijutsu within the book. The chapters that dealt with the use of weapons were small and mere introductions, but they were something they'd barely learned anything about in the Academy; except for the bits on kunai and small weapons used for throwing or defense.

"So we take the books out or stay here and read?" He questioned once he'd closed the book, looking at both of his teammates.

Sakura scratched at her chin, but Shino merely remained stoic and still.

Weeks after they'd been put into the same team, Chouji still found how immobile the guy could get somewhat unnerving.

"I guess there's less things in here to get distracted by." Sakura offered, "Maybe we should start here, take notes, then move outside to practice?"

"A logical sequence of events."

Chouji opened the book up once more and landed on the first page of the first chapter. "Stance."

This would take a while.


Their teacher had undermined his taijutsu skills. She believed that he needed more than just that to become a great ninja.

He had explained to her that he was more than just competent with other styles of ninjutsu, like his Great Fireball Jutsu. But, for some reason, she still believed that he wasn't well rounded enough to allow to send into battle.

And, as if none of that had been enough to give him plenty of reasons to resent being stuck in a team as useless as Team 10, he found the Nara jerk calling him an idiot for finding an exercise in strategy to not be worth his time.

Shikamaru was the idiot. Not him. He didn't need to strategize before he went into battle. All he needed was a clear idea as to what enemy he was facing.

Unlike the other members of his team, he was capable of thinking on his feet.

"So, you're sent on a mission to retrieve a scroll from a group of enemy ninja. Two of them are genin- like yourselves- but one is a chunin." The woman counted off the enemies on her fingers, then motioned to the landscape around them, "You're caught in a forest much like this, but closer to enemy territory than to your own. And, for the sake of this exercise, we will imagine you have all of your weapons and supplies. What do you do?"

"Easy. Defeat them. Take their scroll." Sasuke huffed as he crossed his arms over his chest, "Shikamaru and Hinata deal with the genin, I'll go for the chunin. Then, once they're down, we grab the scroll and leave."

This was not a difficult exercise.

If anything, it was mortifyingly simple.

"Tch… Typical…"

Sasuke turned a glare onto Shikamaru, only to find him with his eyes closed and his arms crossed over his chest, his shoulders just a bit tense.

"What, do you have a better idea?"

"Of course I do."

Sasuke had thought he would hate Hinata the most.

It seemed he was wrong.


Asuma's scent suddenly found malice and mischief weaved into it. Ino's began to smell overwhelmingly pleased.

Akamaru barked at him to make sure that he noticed the sudden change in the scents of the two that had walked off while Naruto continued to scream up a storm over being the team leader.

"Yeah, boy… I noticed…"

Kiba tried to look in on the two from where he stood. But the dense foliage surrounding the clearing named Training Ground 8 was much too thick for him to see through. They had moved just far enough away from them so they couldn't be seen, but not far for Kiba to not be able to smell them.

He wasn't completely sure, but he maybe knew what this tactic meant. He had heard his mother discussing it with Inoichi Yamanaka once; supposedly, when someone wanted to cause a ninja with the skills of scent reading some kind of worry, they would go far enough away to not be heard or seen, but close enough to be smelled. It was like a mind game the Yamanaka Clan Head had specially designed to mess with unruly Inuzuka under his command.

"What did you notice? That you should listen to me?"

"Could you just shut up for a second, you idiot?!" Kiba finally had had enough. He shouted back at the Dead Last, which immediately caused Naruto to rear up and scream back at him.

"How dare you yell back at your team captain?" Wait, hadn't he talked about being a leader? Where did this captain talk come from? "And I'm not an idiot! I'm the smartest person on this team! I was the one that was able to get us out of that trap, after all!"

"After I told you what to do, dumbass!

"You told me nothing! I had to use nothing but my wits to find those tools!"

Kiba could not believe what he was hearing. Did this idiot seriously think that?

He had been the one to sniff out the tools and tell Naruto what do with them. Well, at least he had tried to tell him. But Naruto had been screaming so much he hadn't been completely sure if he had been heard by him or not.

"I told you what to-"

"Mind Body Switch Technique!"

And suddenly, all Kiba knew was darkness.

All he could truly think about was how much he wanted to rip Naruto limb from limb because of how stupid he could be.


They found themselves using the Library for much longer than they had expected. Learning about Taijutsu from this book seemed to interest both of his teammates much more than when they had learned from Iruka-sensei. But Shino guessed that this must have been because they didn't have to dread sparring against the likes of Uchiha Sasuke or Inuzuka Kiba anymore.

They were able to skim over the first few chapters; for those were all filled with information they had known. But when they reached one specific fighting style, Chouji and Sakura both grew intrigued and spent some time reading over the stance and proper techniques. Shino read over their shoulders, content to learn more, but not sure if he would ever use such a style in battle. His connection with his hive allowed him to stay far from his opponents… Although, it would be a good idea to have a strong knowledge of taijutsu in case he ever found himself in a situation where the use of his hive was dangerous.

Once they reached the chapter on the use of weapons- hmm… Integrating a weapon like a sword or staff into his defensive skill set wouldn't hurt, would it?-, Shino's bugs began to buzz.

One of their own was finally nearing them.

He had bugged their teacher without the man noticing. Or, if he had noticed, he sure hadn't said a single thing on it. Still, Shino was able to tell when the man was finally nearing them because of the female beetle he had left on him.

"So this is where you disappeared to…"

Shino turned to the silver haired man with a stiff nod, "Of course. We are learning."

Kakashi-sensei didn't seem as if he was all that amused or even proud of them taking the step he had wanted them to take. Maybe it was because they had spent so much time within the library that they had not met up with him in the training grounds.

Ah, that would make sense.

Kakashi-sensei always appeared rather late. Maybe he wanted them to step up and learn on their own, but he certainly wouldn't tell them to meet up if he wanted them to spend the whole day studying. He was most probably annoyed because they had not returned to the training grounds, even though they had taken the first steps to begin learning on their own.

"It is only prudent of us to learn as much as we can on our own to not impede on our missions, correct?"

The man's dark eye narrowed momentarily and Shino believed he saw a flash of confusion within it. But, soon enough, Kakashi-sensei was closing his eye and nodded slowly.

"Of course. I will allow you to spend today reading and learning. But you three better be able to show me something new tomorrow."

"Of course."

"You got it, Kakashi-sensei!"

"We can do that, easy!"


"We'd have to wait for the ninja to leave their part of the forest, won't we?" Shikamaru asked their teacher, even though he didn't receive any confirmation or negation from her. "And we'd need Hinata to find any traps hidden around the forest to make sure we don't get ourselves killed."

"What're you talking about?"

"Didn't you hear?" The Nara sighed in annoyance, opening his eyes to glare mildly at the Uchiha.

He had thought Sasuke was smarter than this. He had thought that the impulsive idiots in the Academy had been just two. It seemed, though, that there had actually been three.

"We're going to be closer to enemy territory. That means traps will be lined up and we won't have the advantage of home ground."

It was a straightforward mission. That didn't mean it would be easy, though.

Sasuke should have known better.

"Shikamaru is right." Kurenai-sensei informed them, then looked at Sasuke. "But you could still go with your own plan, Sasuke. The only problem with it would be that the chances of failing would be much higher."

She turned her eyes on Hinata, "Don't think I didn't notice how you stayed quiet. You're part of this team. You need to give your own input."

Hinata didn't say anything. She just bowed respectfully, most probably to try and hide the red that suddenly came over her face.

"Now, let me tell you how both your plans could turn out. Then you decide which one is best, yeah?"

Shikamaru knew his plan was better. But, maybe if Kurenai-sensei broke both plans down for Sasuke, the guy would be able to see why.


Ino was the one that suddenly shouted.

But, for some reason, Kiba didn't move.

It took Naruto too long to figure out what had happened.

… Unfortunately, he wouldn't even have figured it out if not for the fact that Asuma had explained to him what had happened after he had gotten his butt kicked by Kiba.

The Inuzuka hadn't moved like himself. He hadn't even called on Akamaru for battle. He'd danced around in such a girly manner that Naruto had been left too stunned to move!

A flurry of punches, a strong roundhouse kick to his jaw, and one final wheel kick had been all he had needed to lose a match he hadn't even known had begun. He had been sent straight to the ground, sentenced to choke on some dirt in his great defeat.

Naruto blinked in confusion when he finally regained his senses and looked at Kiba, only to find him grinning cockily down at him… His hip jutted out with his hand rested on it, much like Ino would stand whenever she scolded Shikamaru for something…

"I never thought Dog Breath's body could be this fast!" He smiled happily, but not ferally… It was really weird. Then he winced, face scrunching up suddenly, "But he smells like wet dog!"

Akamaru barked and growled at Kiba, and Naruto couldn't help but stare at the dog in bewilderment.

"Akamaru? What's wrong?"

It was then that his teacher walked up to him, helped him up from the ground, and pointed at Ino's limp body hanging from his shoulder.

"It's called a Yamanaka Clan jutsu, Naruto."


Of Course, Having a Perfect Plan Doesn't Always Mean the Battle will be Won- Unknown Variables Always Have Unforeseen Consequences

Well… It seemed that his Team really wanted to learn things.

He was sure that he should feel some kind of something over allowing them to believe he wanted them to study independently… But, quite frankly, he was just happy that he would be able to continue doing nothing.

Asuma and Kurenai should accept his advice. The kids can teach themselves!

He was such a good teacher.


Shikamaru was kept entertained by her bringing various strategy games. He didn't necessarily like her, but at least he listened to her.

Hinata still needed a lot of work.

Unfortunately, it now seemed that Sasuke would be the most difficult of her team to get to.

He didn't even seem to understand why risking injury was so bad…

Well, it seemed that she would just need to try harder.


Ino was a sadist- just what he would have expected of a Yamanaka. She was a secret sadist, of course, that tried to act as if causing her teammates pain didn't make her the least bit happy. This kind of sadism did not surprise him at all. But Asuma wasn't a jounin for nothing. He could tell when someone was having a bit too much fun at the expense of others. And that was exactly what Ino was gaining.

Well… It wasn't all that bad.

At least Naruto and Kiba seemed to slowly begin to understand just what consequences there would be if they chose to get into stupid, petty arguments during their time together. It would take a while, though, unfortunately… Those two weren't the sharpest kunai in the pouch.

Asuma estimated them finally linking their stupidity to Ino's punishments for a month from this day. At worst, it might take them two months. Hopefully, he wouldn't have to listen to them for more than two months.

Sure, he might be creating one psychopath and two submissive victims… but, well… he had tried to be nice before. It just hadn't worked.

..~..~..

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Chapter Text

Team Cohesion is of Utmost Importance- A Team Cannot Possibly Survive if they Cannot Get on the Same Page

"Now, Chouji!"

The Akimichi jumped at Shino with a harsh shout, spinning in his human boulder form so quickly that Sakura found herself wincing when he impacted against the ground.

Shino had managed to dematerialize into a cloud of insects, effectively dodging their teammate's attack.

Sakura huffed in frustration at losing to Shino yet again, but simply smiled at the Aburame and congratulated him on another win.

It was at that moment that their teacher chose to appear… A good three hours after they were supposed to have met.

"Hmm… I'm sure I had told you children you had missions to run…"

"We already did!" Sakura ran over to the pile of paperwork she had woken up to, grabbed all of it, and made her towards her teacher.

Every day she would live through the same routine.

She didn't know how, but Kakashi knew where she lived. She wasn't surprised by this fact, although she was pretty freaked out over the fact that her teacher knew where she lived and was crazy enough to sneak into her room to leave papers for her there, instead of in her mailbox like a normal person.

He would always leave her a list of D-Ranked missions he wanted them to go on. And she always looked the papers over, deemed which missions were important enough to complete as early as possible and which ones weren't all that worrying, and regret ever having been assigned such a weird guy as her jounin sensei.

After she'd done all of that, she would go through her morning routine only to then set off to fetch Shino and Chouji from their respective homes so they could get to work on the missions.

They had been going through these motions for about two weeks now. And, even though she was loathe to admit it, it seemed to be working.

After they completed their daily missions, Team 7 would spend the rest of the day together, running drills, coming up with both training and strategic tactics, and reading over the texts they had decided to read in the library. They would make the best of every day and truly make a point of becoming better ninja.

Kakashi-sensei looked over the papers Sakura handed him with a lazy, slow, and mostly disinterested look in his eye. In less than five seconds, he hummed, nodded to Sakura, and rolled the papers up.

"I'm going to hand these in… How about you three run that drill I taught you? Try and take the bell from the Aburame. I want to see progress when I come back."

Team 7 chorused their answers and Kakashi-sensei walked away, his hands clasped together behind his head.

Once he was long gone, Sakura turned to both her teammates and frowned softly.

The man only ever called Shino by his clan's name. Just like he mentioned Chouji by the use of Akimichi. And he only ever called her Pinkie.

… Did Kakashi-sensei even know their names?


"Again, Hinata!"

She was panting, sweating much harder than she ever thought she could, and still she pushed herself beyond her limits. Hearing Kurenai-sensei encouraging her from the sidelines helped her continue even when her body wanted to give up on her.

Once more, she activated the Byakugan. And, once more, she took note of all of the tenketsu she could hit on Sasuke.

He was panting himself, although much less than her, and was glaring back at her. His left arm hung uselessly from its socket; a lucky strike she'd managed to hit before he had almost burned her right arm.

All was quiet as the Hyuga and the Uchiha sized each other up. It was only momentarily broken whenever Shikamaru let out groans of frustration- his training for the day dealt with battle strategies and coming up with possible solutions to almost impossible scenarios.

Little more than a month had passed since they had been taken under Kurenai-sensei's wing, but Hinata knew her skills had improved greatly. Just at the beginning of their time together, Sasuke had wiped the floor with her. Now, though, she was giving him a run for his money.

Probably, the genjutsu Kurenai-sensei used on him to throw off his game was working in her favor. But Hinata wasn't going to think about it. She wasn't going to undermine her accomplishments in the heat of battle. Instead, she thought about giving her training her all and leaving contemplating on Sasuke's handicaps for later.

All was still for a second; neither of the genin moved; everything remained frozen. The Uchiha glared harshly at her, a fire of pure irritation burning within his dark orbs. Hinata frowned back, dead set on making the fight last just a little bit longer.

That's what she told herself every time she fought him. Just hold on a bit more.

With that motto, she had managed to make their fights go from lasting less than a minute all the way to almost three minutes. She was improving and there was no way she could deny it. Sasuke's own skills had sharpened, if only to protect himself against the Gentle Fist, and Hinata knew that she could make Kurenai-sensei proud if she held on for just a bit longer.

Sasuke suddenly faked to the left and tried to rush her from the sky- the one true weak spot to the Byakugan.

She was too weak to jump or roll away. So she did the only thing she could think of- block and hope for the best.

As Sasuke's flying form crashed into her, only one thing truly appeared in her mind:

I really must have pushed him today.


"Ah, Ino, it's great to see you here."

Asuma-sensei's methods were odd. And they usually left Kiba and Naruto completely beaten up. But Ino practiced her Mind Body Switch Technique, so she couldn't really complain much.

There was just one thing she could say after almost a month of using her jutsu to help Asuma-sensei keep control of Team 10: Naruto's body was much better prepared for heavy hits than Kiba's. She wasn't sure why, they were both pretty much the same when it came to their build. But, for some reason, whenever she took hits as Naruto, she didn't feel them as harshly as she did when she was inside of Kiba.

Naruto's body felt different from Kiba's, actually. Every time she entered it, she found there was something off inside of him. But she had not been able to investigate fully just why it was that he felt so weird.

One day, she would find out. For now, though, she merely focused on keeping control of the idiots with harsh threats.

Unlike Team 7, who had been running around completing missions and earning money, Team 10 had been forced to train and build up a team dynamic.

Forming anything close to actual team cohesion had seemed unattainable when they had first been told they would be a team. But Asuma-sensei had wisened up much faster than any of their Academy teachers- he'd figured out that talk truly was cheap when around those two.

Now, though, he didn't waste any breath. The second one of the boys became troublesome; he had Ino enter their minds and would force the boy that still had control of his body to spar with her.

(She would never admit it, but even with all of the hits she received, she kind of liked this method for more than just being able to control one of the idiots. Not only did she practice her Yamanaka techniques, but she was kind of forced to learn much more than just basic taijutsu when she was pitted against Kiba. And when against Naruto, she forced herself to think outside of the box because his attacks were just too random to properly plan against.)

"Who wants to get beaten up today?"

Kiba was sporting a black eye from a lucky punch Ino had managed to throw yesterday, while Naruto still favored his left leg over his right. They were both frowning heavily, but kept their mouths shut.

The Yamanaka smiled at her teacher.

It seemed that those two had finally smartened up.

It had been a tough road, this past month… But it seemed that her hard work had truly paid off.

Silence was so beautiful…

"Alright. You've learned. That's good." The man smirked as he pulled out a scroll from one of his pockets, and motioned them to walk over to him. "C'mere. These are some battle strategies and team formations I want you to look over."

Ino didn't waste much time going towards him, but Kiba and Naruto both kept their distance. Even Akamaru didn't really trust her enough to get too close to her. And she counted them acting like this as a full victory- if she couldn't shut them up with just threats, then it was a good thing they'd learned she was not someone to mess around with.

She still despaired over the fact that she wasn't on the same team as Sasuke. But at least the idiot boys on her team had proved to be marginally intelligent.

It had just taken them a couple of weeks to finally learn their lessons.


Today's missions had been rather simple. They'd captured Tora for the tenth time in the month, then they'd painted a couple of fences, moved a couple of boxes, and they had even managed to earn some dango sticks after they had helped a tokujo jounin capture another one that had tried to run away from their work desk.

Chouji didn't know their names. He just knew that the one that had contracted their help had been a calm man with a backwards bandanna on his head, tied on his forehead, and he had never dropped the senbon that had been between his lips. The other had been a woman with dark purple hair, a trench coat, and a penchant for dramatics and explosions.

They had helped the man capture the woman by posing as gullible genin that needed her help while the man had snuck up behind her and incapacitated her. Afterwards, he'd rummaged through her pockets, given them most of her loot, but kept a stick of dango for himself.

Team 7 was now carrying different kinds of explosive tags, kunai, communications devices, and even a wiretap.

Shino had asked the man if he didn't want the more professional items. But he'd merely shrugged, told them that T&I had plenty of that stuff and they should consider what he had given them as their payment.

This had been an unofficial mission they had taken part of simply because he'd asked them if they could help and they had already finished up the rest of their officially assigned missions. Team 7 had decided to keep this little adventure a secret from their teacher, though, because they didn't really want him to take the payment they had received.

It was fine for him to take a commission of the money they earned for the missions he got for them. But they weren't exactly keen on giving him part of the rather professional looking equipment they had been gifted.

Currently, Chouji found himself looking over the wiretap they had received, all the while Shino and Sakura categorized and organized the other items they had been given by the tokujo jounin.

"You know, it'd be pretty cool to be able to use this…"

"It would give us a strategic upper hand in battle to know our enemy's plans before we even enter battle." Shino admitted quickly.

Chouji looked at him and smiled softly, feeling somewhat comforted.

Shino was smart. Sakura was too. Out of all of Team 7, he was the only one that had not received stellar grades in the Academy. Yet neither of his teammates ever made him feel as if he were an idiot.

He really did like his teammates. They were amazing.

Sakura quirked an eyebrow at the device in Chouji's hands, then asked, "Are we even sure that it works?"

"We will not know until we test it out."

Chouji glanced down at the device again, taking in the tiny box attached to a cable with a tiny, barely noticeable microphone.

"Should we test it out?"

"I think we should." Sakura nodded to herself, then glanced over at Shino, "The only question is: who should we test it out on?"

The Akimichi frowned softly as he pondered on her question.

On who, indeed, he thought…

I know!


He didn't like to admit it, but if Kurenai had been a weaker sort of woman, Sasuke knew that she would have scolded and possibly punished him for having used such a devastating jumping attack on Hinata.

She seemed to understand Hinata's need to toughen up, though, so she didn't really scold him on the attack. Instead, she pointed out how rough it had been and how he would need to work on hiding the more obvious signs of the attack if he wished to use it in the field. And then she'd gone to treating Hinata's head, most probably searching for a concussion even though the Hyuga had managed to block most of the hit with her arms.

Breathing heavily, Sasuke strained to not show off how much his wounded arm was truly bothering him. And he walked over to Shikamaru to look over his shoulder and see just what it was that he was working on.

He'd never actually seen Shikamaru ever concentrating on anything for long before if it hadn't been the sky. It was odd to see him actually taking things seriously. Especially considering how he now always seemed to concentrate on whatever challenge Kurenai brought for him to complete.

What Sasuke found was a sort of board game. The board was painted up to look like the aerial view of a forest. But it was cut up into dozens of squares, much like a shogi board. There were pieces that were red and rather large, and they surrounded much smaller white pieces. Shikamaru had the blue pieces facing him and had a hand hovering over one of the smaller pieces.

"No… That'll never work out… The civilians would get massacred if I tried a pincer movement."

Sasuke quirked an eyebrow at the other male's murmurs of frustration, and asked, "Just what are you supposed to do?"

The Nara breathed out, crossed his arms over his chest, and leaned back so he was seated upright.

"The red pieces are the enemy. The white ones are the civilians. And my team and I are blue. The enemy has the civilians surrounded at the top of a high hill- they've got the field advantage. I'm supposed to go and try to save as many civilians as possible. But with the way they've got them surrounded, being unseen is almost impossible."

Sasuke huffed at this, "Cause a diversion; make some of them leave the group, strike them down."

"And what if they start killing civilians because they don't see their comrades come back?"

"Attack them faster than they can find out."

"Sasuke, that plan's going to get more than a dozen civilians killed."

"Probably. But you have to save as many as possible. Not all of them."

"That's a troublesome way to think." Shikamaru sighed, shook his head, and closed his eyes. "Just because you can't save them all, it doesn't mean you can't keep most of them alive."

Sasuke frowned at the way he was speaking- how could a Nara sound so exasperated yet condescending at the same time? Then he glared down at the board, trying to find something else to it.

"I'm guessing that the black dots are supposed to be traps of sorts."

"They could be. Or they could not be. It's all a game of chance. Just like on a real mission."

"Well then, on a real mission, we'd need someone that would be able to find traps without any difficulty."

"Tch, we already have someone."

Sasuke had forgotten about Hinata.

From the corner of his eyes, he glanced over to the two kunoichi to try and see what they were doing. Kurenai was holding up three fingers in front of Hinata's face and the Hyuga's eyes were scrunched up as she struggled to answer.

Not like she'd be of much use. She'd probably mess up and tell us there aren't any traps where there are.

… Or maybe she could do a good job. She managed to make my arm useless, after all.

Sasuke chose to remain quiet as he continued to look over the board.


Asuma-sensei had come up with at least two different team formations that utilized him and Akamaru as the trackers they were. Kiba had to admit, he was kind of happy that the man hadn't forgotten about how useful an Inuzuka's nose could be with all of the attention he had been paying to the Yamanaka's jutsu.

Ino… She was terrifying.

He wasn't a fan of having no control of his body. Whenever she entered his mind, he wound up feeling so cold he had once thought he'd wound up completely frozen. He couldn't think when she was inside of him. But he could still feel.

If Ino got hurt while she was in control of his body, Kiba could feel the whole brunt of the blow. That pain didn't minimize even though he wasn't in control of himself. But that wasn't the kind of feeling that made him hate her being inside of him.

Even though he couldn't properly think, he could still feel emotions. At first, he'd only felt anger because Naruto had pissed him off. But with every single possession of his body, he found that anger wasn't the only thing he could feel. Regret became an ever-present emotion after a while. Just like annoyance- not at Ino, but at himself for pissing Ino and Asuma-sensei off.

Whenever Ino was in control, he was a disembodied consciousness with no true way of rationalizing what he felt. Whenever Ino was in control, all he could properly do was feel.

All Yamanaka were terrifying to him now. He didn't want any of them taking over his body. So he did everything possible to avoid all Yamanaka.

He wasn't sure, but he was pretty sure that Ino's father was starting to notice this trend… But that didn't matter as long as he was far enough away to keep Inoichi from getting into his mind!

With a small sigh, Kiba rubbed at his bruised elbow unconsciously. He'd gotten this injury by taking on Naruto-with-Ino-in-control. He'd swung wildly when she had gotten him into a chokehold and wound up hitting Naruto's hipbone.

"I want you three to run this formation for the rest of today's practice. If you impress me, I'll even offer to buy you all dinner before you head home."

Ino smiled at this, undoubtedly thinking that she would be able to decide where it was that they would be eating if she got her way.

Kiba winced at the very idea of her deciding where to eat… Salads and vegetables… The horror!

Hmm… Maybe acting up today would be worth it… That way he would have a reason to not have to eat where the Yamanaka would want…

Sparing a glance at Naruto, Kiba could tell that he was thinking the same thing.

"It'll be the Korean BBQ place."

Kiba breathed out a sigh of relief that chorused with Naruto's own. Those two, though, clashed with Ino's own groan of disbelief.

Okay. He wouldn't have to try anything drastic. He could deal with that.

"Also, if you kids really do impress me today, I'll go ahead and put in word for a C-Rank."

"But… We haven't gone on any D-Ranks, Asuma-sensei." Ino murmured in confusion, which made Kiba and Naruto look at the man in confusion.

Just what was the slippery snake up to?

Asuma smirked and nodded, "I know." But he didn't elaborate. Instead he pointed at the vast field in front of them and ordered them to get into action, he wanted to be amazed with their run through of his generic formation.


If asked about who decided on their target, Shino would claim it had been him. Just like Sakura would claim she had chosen him, much like Chouji would.

They would not be claiming such a thing out of pure pride. Instead, it would be a tactic to throw confusion at whoever investigated them in case they were caught.

If all three of them claimed guilt, there would be enough reasonable doubt to declare them all innocent. Three people could not be convicted for the same crime, after all. And in Konoha, one was innocent before they were proved guilty.

This was not a bad idea. If anything, it was genius. It would force them to challenge themselves and truly test their limits. But, considering the high risk they were all running, it would make sense for some to think of it as a bad idea.

"Okay, the device is active." Sakura informed them as she closed up the manual they had found in the library over the use of such a piece of technology. "All we've got to do now is sneak it inside and leave it. It should record everything that is said for at least eight hours."

Shino nodded as she passed the wiretap over to him. He directed several of his insects to swarm beneath the black device, creating a sort of cloud that would be able to carry it into the building.

Chouji was still nowhere to be found.

This was good. It meant that he was still distracting their target.

Once the Aburame was sure that his insects would be able to hold the device's weight, he ran from outside of the bush they had been hiding behind and moved until he was right in front of the window of their target's bedroom.

He opened up the window just enough for the cloud of insects to pass through, then directed them until they were completely obscured by the large bed within the room. He led them towards the far corner of the bed, an area where no one would even think of looking for a misplaced item, and slowly commanded them to return to him.

Once all of his insects were back to him, Shino returned the partially opened window to its completely closed state, ran back to Sakura, and looked at her expectantly.

Sakura looked over the side of the bushes, towards the front of the house, and signaled for him to run.

They left the Akimichi Compound as quietly as they had entered.

When they reached Chouji, it was to find him saying goodbye to both of his parents.

Once the plump boy found them, he looked at them with questioning eyes, even though he didn't say anything.

Shino nodded stiffly, while Sakura smiled softly.

They had completed their mission.

Chouji smiled broadly and offered them both thumbs up. Then they began to walk back towards the training grounds, where they were supposed to meet with Kakashi-sensei… if he chose to appear once more.

As they walked, Shino could not help but worry. Not over the bell exercise, they had gone through that so many times that they could put on a completely choreographed yet natural looking show for their teacher in their sleep.

No, he worried over the wiretap.

He truly hoped it worked and they were not discovered.

Chouji deserved to know who kept stealing his chocolate.


Kurenai Sensei deemed the plans Sasuke and he came up with to be successful, although subjective failures. The loss of life was much too grand for any good-hearted shinobi to use on an actual mission. Although she had told them that the plans were good for other, less fatal, missions; or for the kind of people that wouldn't mind a bit of innocent blood on their hands.

Shikamaru had known that this would happen. He had known that, no matter what Sasuke said, the Uchiha would only be able to come up with plans like those. He didn't hold human error into account whenever he thought up of a strategy. Nor did he think of impulsive actions brought on by sudden spikes in adrenaline or uncertainty. But it was much too troublesome to try and explain the problems to him. So Shikamaru didn't even bother to try.

As they all walked down the streets of Konoha, Shikamaru couldn't help but truly wonder just why in the world he had been placed on a team with the Uchiha and the Hyuga. Why hadn't they put him in Ino-Shika-Cho like he had been told his whole life?

Ino was annoying, sure, but she understood humanity and empathy. She wasn't great with it, but she understood it and could sympathize with people if she put her mind to it. And Chouji was great at connecting with people. With those two, Shikamaru wouldn't have to worry over stupid and brutal plans like with Sasuke. And he wouldn't even have to explain the variability of human decisions like with the troublesome Uchiha. With those two, he would just have to give them a plan they could follow because he knew them.

"I-is your arm al-alright, S-Sa-Sasuke-kun?"

The Uchiha merely "hn"d, kept his injured arm in his pocket, and continued to walk as if Hinata hadn't even tried to talk to him.

Shikamaru felt for the Hyuga. She had proved to Sasuke today that, even though she wasn't on his level, she was catching up quickly. Yet he still treated her as if she were nothing more than nothing.

Their team was a disaster.

Team 10 had been a train wreck in the beginning too. But something had happened and now Kiba and Naruto didn't scream at each other whenever Ino was around. They still fought when they weren't on team time… But at least they seemed to be able to put their differences aside for the good of their team.

And Team 7? Well, they seemed to be the most successful of the new batch of genin teams. They had already completed dozens of D-Ranks and had an amazing cohesion with each other that they would clearly go far if they kept it up.

Shikamaru knew he needed to try and fix his own team's dysfunctions. But he had no idea how. Not with Sasuke being such a high-and-mighty prick that never admitted to being wrong.

Kurenai-sensei was trying to show Sasuke that Hinata was a good ninja. But her tactics were too subtle. The Uchiha wouldn't really allow the idea of Hinata being more than just useless into his head. At least, he wouldn't willingly allow it into his head.

He would have to come up with something. Their team would not be able to survive if Sasuke continued with his head stuck in his pompous cloud of superiority. And if it didn't survive, then Shikamaru would not be able to compete in the Chunin Exams because he would not have a team and that would mean getting harped on by his mother.

He really didn't want to hear his mother's thoughts on how lazy he had been to not even help the team he had been assigned to.

It seemed he'd need to come up with a plan to break through Sasuke's pride before he ever came up with strategies to beat Kurenai-sensei's challenges.

What a drag.


Naruto's only true ally within Team 10 was Akamaru. The puppy looked out for him and informed him of imminent danger when Ino took over Kiba's body. And Naruto paid him back with giving him some of his ramen from time to time.

Even though he didn't like Dog Breath, he could say they had a tentative truce in place that made them more than enemies, but less than friends.

The true enemy within Team 10 was Ino Yamanaka.

He never would have thought he'd think that a girl was scary. But Ino could be outright terrifying. And Naruto was not a fan of having her rummaging around his brain and body just because Asuma-sensei asked her to play mind games and body games with them!

Asuma Sarutobi was another enemy. But he wasn't the pressing evil-doer. No, that was Ino. She was the one with all of the power in the team.

Sometimes, Naruto thought that she would even be able to take control of Asuma-sensei if he wasn't careful… Or, worse… What if she already had?! What if that was the reason why he was always letting her mess with their bodies!?

"Naruto, get your head in the game!"

"Uh, yeah! Sorry!"

Ino frowned at him, raised her right hand to her face, then pointed at her eyes with two fingers before she swiveled her hand around to point those very fingers at him.

Naruto blanched.

She was watching.

Ino was too powerful!

He lunged at the upper body of a clone Asuma-sensei had made for them to practice against, all the while Kiba and Akamaru went for his legs and Ino threw a kunai at his head.

All of their attacks were successful and the clone poofed away in death, leaving the actual Asuma-sensei to clap.

"Good job, kids. That's exactly the kind of team work I like to see."

Kiba, Naruto, and Akamaru were supposed to be up-close attackers. Ino stayed behind in this specific formation to throw long-ranged attacks that were supposed to catch their enemies off guard. So, if they were able to block the rushed attacks, they would be blindsided by the kunai. And, if they blocked the kunai, then they would be hit by the brawlers.

"Now, how about that BBQ?"

Ino frowned but began to pack up her things to follow after their teacher.

As they walked towards the man's favorite eatery, Naruto allowed himself to hang back with Kiba and Akamaru.

In a hushed voice, he asked the Inuzuka, "Do you think Ino's got control over Asuma-sensei?"

Kiba blinked at him in confusion at first. But then he frowned and seemed to think about the question.

"I don't know… It could be possible…"

"What do we do?"

"Investigate, I guess." Kiba made sure to keep his voice as hushed as possible.

He, Akamaru, and Naruto all kept their eyes on Asuma-sensei's and Ino's back as they walked together, talking about something they were too far away to hear.

"If she really is controlling him, we have to save him. Being mind-controlled isn't really the best way to be living."

Both he and Kiba shuddered at the thought, but soon came to an agreement.

They would be fighting Team 10's greatest enemy with the one thing she believed they would never be capable of: teamwork.

..~..~..

Hope you all liked this! Please review and tell me what you thought of this!

Chapter Text

No Secrets Should be Kept When on a Team with People that Could be the Difference between Your Survival or Death

Their first suspects were innocent. Chouji's parents were not the ones that had stolen his chocolate. Although, some of the things they heard…

Sakura glanced back at Chouji quietly, immediately taking note of how he was still lacking some color.

Nobody needed to hear the kinds of things their parents got up to when their kids weren't around… And, quite frankly, Sakura didn't think she could ever look at her own parents in the same way again.

They'd had Sex-Ed in the Academy; she knew what was supposed to happen when a man and a woman loved each other very much… But that didn't mean that she needed to visualize what her parents must have done so that she could come into the world.

Back in their safe haven, they were eagerly trying to forget about the kinds of sounds they had heard from the wire-tap they had set up on Chouji's parents. The library had been the only place they could think of when it came to a place that would bring them the comfort the world had so brutally taken away from them.

Cocooned safely in one of the blankets the librarian had allowed them to leave in her work station, Sakura forced her eyes back onto the book on water-style ninjutsu so she could focus on anything except the sounds.

Shino buzzed agitatedly, loud enough that she could hear him even though he was seated upright on a table a couple of feet away from her. And poor Chouji… Well, he had wrapped up in his and Shino's blankets and lay down on the floor to try and forget.

The librarian would check up on them every hour or so, bringing snacks and drinks when she did her rounds. Team 7 and she had managed to forge a rather unique friendship over their time using the library's services and they had formed a mutually caring relationship. Undoubtedly, when she had seen them run in with faces as pale as ghosts, she would have gotten worried.

Every single time she offered them her cookies, Sakura jumped at the chance. Shino also accepted every single thing she offered when she did her rounds. But, Chouji… He wasn't able to even look at the hot chocolate without turning an inhuman shade of green.

Sakura gave up on trying to read her book after the fifth time the librarian came around. So she crawled over to Chouji's side to offer him some semblance of comfort and closed her eyes.

She didn't notice she had fallen asleep until she heard Kakashi-sensei's voice.

" Huh… They're actually kind of cute…"

"Could you explain to me just what, exactly, happened to your students to leave them looking as if they just witnessed a massacre, Kakashi?"

Groggily, Sakura opened her eyes, yawned, and moved slightly so she could stretch out. But as she shifted, she felt two different bodies- one to her left, another to her right.

She had fallen asleep with Chouji to her left… So…

When she turned to her right, it was to find Shino seated upright, his hands shoved into his pockets, all the while he buzzed in a rhythm that sounded almost like snores.

Then, when she looked forward, it was to see the librarian and their teacher looming over them. The librarian had her face drawn in with worry; Kakashi-sensei was looking down at them as if they were the oddest specimens he had ever seen.

"Honestly, I don't know what happened. I let them run around and do whatever they want."

"Aren't you supposed to be their teacher? Hatake, that sounds-"

The jounin waved her words off uncaringly, then crouched down to look Sakura directly in the eyes.

"You kids didn't complete your missions. Any reason as to why?"

The librarian huffed at being ignored. Kakashi continued to stare.

And, suddenly, Sakura remembered what they had heard over the wire-tap…

"The stake-out… It all went so wrong…"


"He hates us."

Shikamaru sighed softly at her words but didn't try and tell her she was wrong.

The Nara's silence was the only thing she needed to know that she was correct in her assumptions over Sasuke's feelings.

They had been a team for over two months now. Her skills had improved drastically, just like Shikamaru's. Her ability to think on her feet in the middle of a mission had sharpened so much that her father had once told her that Kurenai seemed to know what she was doing.

To others, that may not have sounded like much. But for her father to complement someone that was not a Hyuga; especially someone that was training the daughter he considered to be a complete disgrace; it meant that he truly saw that Hinata was improving. And that made the young kunoichi begin to believe that, maybe, one day she would be able to make him proud of her.

Even though she had gotten better and things seemed to be looking up in her home, there was still a rather big issue that bothered her every single day.

"Sasuke is proud. He thinks that most people are beneath him. It's not really hate… Just disdain, I would say."

"H-How is that any better?"

Shikamaru offered her an unapologetic shrug, "We can't make him like us, Hinata." Then he sighed and closed his eyes, all the while Hinata looked up at the sky he loved.

For two weeks now, she and Shikamaru had been meeting up after almost every day's team training to gaze up at the sky. Shikamaru had done this ever since he'd been assigned to a genin team. Hinata had just recently taken up the habit after he had invited her to stick around after training one day.

He had also invited Sasuke… But the Uchiha had turned him down.

Today she had asked him if he would like to stay with them… But, yet again, she'd just been shot down.

The sky was cloudy and somewhat gray. The rainy season was slotted to begin any week now and Hinata dreaded it.

If there was rain, then she was sure that Shikamaru wouldn't stick around to cloud gaze. And if he didn't stick around to cloud gaze, then there was no reason for them to hang around together.

She liked Shikamaru. Even though he didn't speak much, he was kind and had yet to put her down in anger. He would always point the things she did wrong during their practices, but he did so through constructive criticism. And, unlike Sasuke, he didn't use harsh and clipped tones with her. He legitimately sounded as if he wanted her to get better, rather than annoyed for having her on his team.

Unfortunately, though, Shikamaru wasn't as kind or understanding with Sasuke as he was with her. He didn't soften his words and he spoke to him in an almost mean tone… just a little bit, but it was enough… She wasn't sure if Shikamaru liked Sasuke at all. She wouldn't actually be surprised if he didn't like him.

"W-We have to try." She told him, sitting up to look at him with determination burning in her eyes. "We're a team! How are we going to work well if we c-can't get along?"

Shikamaru kept his eyes closed, though, and didn't even move a muscle to show that he had heard her. And Hinata felt her heart deflate.

Soon, though, he sighed, "I've been asking myself that for a while…" He admitted, cracking one eye open. "What do you suggest we do to make him like us?"

Hinata smiled broadly at him.

She knew just the thing!

… Maybe.

She really hoped she was right.


Ino regretted ever having allowed her father to convince her that going on this mission would be a good idea. It was a horrible idea. And she wasn't sure why it had been given to Team 10 rather than a team that was actually cohesive and prepared for out of village missions.

They were not completely chaotic… But Naruto and Kiba… They weren't right in the head…

"Believe it, Dog Breath! There's no way I'm wrong!"

"What you're saying sounds incredibly stupid, stupid!"

Ino frowned as she continued to walk beside their teacher, all the while the Dead Last and Dog Breathe brought up their rear.

Asuma didn't try and stop the idiots from arguing. He just inhaled a huge puff of his cigarette and continued to walk down the path that would led them to their destination. This didn't surprise her, honestly… But it was still odd that he allowed them to argue instead of threatening them with her skill set. On a normal day, he would have already reminded them about her skills at least two times to stop their little discussion.

The man just walked… He hadn't looked back at those two ever since they had set off on their mission to Wave.

The man they were escorting, though, looked on at Kiba and Naruto in slight horror as they began to argue in hushed voices over a mission they needed to succeed that was undoubtedly not the mission they were supposed to be on… Again… For the third time since they had left through the Village Gates.

"You two are idiots." As soon as they heard her speak, both boys shut up, froze, and looked up at her with wide and fearful eyes.

She smirked as she puffed out a small breath of amusement through her nose, adjusted the bag on her back just slightly, and turned to look in front of her once more. Oh, these two knew better than to piss her off. It was delicious to have this kind of power over the idiots.

"Piss me off and I'll make good on my threat of dressing you up in pink clothes and making flyers for every single person inside of Konoha." They gasped in fear, and a wicked thought struck the Yamanaka. "Hmm… Maybe I'll even send those flyers out to other Villages."

"We'll shut up."

"Yeah. Believe it!"

Ino smiled sweetly at them both, "Great to know we're on the same page!"

They both shuddered, Asuma scoffed as he shook his head, and Ino's day didn't seem as bad as it had a few minutes before.

Then those two demon idiots tried to attack them. And if Ino had once thought Naruto and Kiba were the most infuriating idiots in the world, she was proved wrong. Unfortunately, there was much more stupidity in the world than she had thought possible.


Chouji could never look at his parents the same way again.

… He didn't even know if he could so much as look at them… The things they had heard… No child should ever have to hear such things…

Kakashi-sensei seemed to find the whole situation unbelievably hilarious. He laughed and laughed and laughed at their expense.

Chouji didn't have enough energy to glare at the man. He could only stare in complete disbelief at the man that found enjoyment in the trauma his genin team had just faced.

It took him a couple of minutes to calm down after Sakura had told him the whole story. Once he had stopped outright laughing, though, he sputtered out a couple of chuckles and giggles.

"How in the world did you three even get that kind of technology?" He questioned, the smile on his lips vaguely outlined on his mask.

Sakura hissed at him and refused to answer.

Chouji couldn't blame her. Their teacher had basically laughed in her face.

Shino was the one to tell the man about the side-mission they had taken part in and how the wire-tap had been part of the pay they had received.

"What else did you get?"

"Nothing big… Explosive tags, kunai- the normal stuff." Sakura huffed as she crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the bookcase behind her.

Kakashi-sensei nodded softly at that, then looked at Chouji.

"Why in the world did you think listening in on your parents would be a good idea?"

"I thought they were stealing my chocolate!" He shouted out defensively, only to huff and clutch at his ears as he began to hear those horrible sounds in his head yet again. "I didn't know that we would hear what we heard!"

Kakashi-sensei was sent into another round of raucous laughter.

But, soon enough, after Chouji, Sakura, and Shino had shared unamused stares, he looked at them with a soft look in his eye.

"Alright… I think you three have suffered enough trauma in one day. I was going to offer you to go with me to the training grounds for some new training exercises… But, how about we go out on a little trip?"

"Little trip?"

The man nodded and closed his eye, smiling broadly at them, "We'll get some food and I'll tell you about some training exercises and jutsu you can run later."

Honestly… As long as it wasn't chocolate, Chouji didn't mind going to eat something.


The Uchiha Complex was empty.

It was always empty.

He didn't know why he sometimes hoped it wouldn't be.

Ever since he had been seven years old, he had lived in an empty complex as the only inhabitant. Ever since he had been seven years old, Sasuke had made due with a barren and completely cold plot of land that served as more of a personal hell for him than an actual home.

The Uchiha Complex had not been home in a very long time.

He had been left to raise himself without anybody really trying to fight him. The Hokage had asked him where he wished to live after Itachi's brutal massacre and he'd told the man that he wanted to keep the Uchiha Clan alive… even if it was only him.

If he left the land on which the Uchicha Compound stood, he would only be able to reclaim it once he became a fully fledged chunin or once he turned twenty one. Those stipulations had seemed somewhat rigid, but fair. Seven year old him had not seen any real problem with returning to the Complex once he became an adult under the eyes of the law.

But then the Hokage had explained to him the whole process he would have to go through to reclaim the lands if he chose that route: How he would have to show evidence of having a steady paying job, a diploma of graduation from either the civilian or ninja academies, evidence of actual Uchiha heritage- none of these seemed that bad, right?- and, finally, he would have to both pay Konoha's labor to keep the lands clean and taken care of and give evidence of genuine intentions to start a true Clan within a year of reclaiming the land.

If he managed to give evidence of everything he needed and pay back the debt Konoha would unjustly be sticking with him, yet he did not become a Clan Head within at least two years, he would be evicted from the land and it would be sold off to whoever chose to buy it.

If the land was sold in this manner, he would not see a single ryo.

Even at seven years old, Sasuke had understood the consequences of leaving the Uchiha land to Konoha's whim and decided on the worst decision of his life: He'd chosen to stay in the Uchiha Compound no matter what.

Five years had passed since his brother had torn him away from his family and degraded him. He was now a genin on a worthless and useless team and he still could not understand why it was that he had been thrust into such a horrible team.

Five years had passed since anyone willingly visited him in his home. The only people to ever come and seek him out here were ninja occasionally sent by the Hokage to make sure he was well-fed and wasn't in any need.

For the first time in five years, Sasuke heard a knock at his door.


If Kiba had thought Ino was scary before, he was downright terrified of her now.

She'd taken over the mind of one of the Demon Brothers.

Repeat, Ino had used the jutsu she always used on him and Naruto to take control of the body of enemy ninja. And, then, she'd stabbed a guy!

"I'll talk! I'll talk! Just get out of my brother's head!"

"Tell me who sent you if you don't want him to die!"

Kiba and Naruto had helped Ino in being able to capture the guy's mind. They had both dove the guy and kept him in place for her to be able to use her jutsu.

Asuma was dead.

He hadn't been around to tell them what to do.

Kiba wanted to see the bastards choke on their blood for what they had done to their teacher.

The taller brother was currently on the floor, bleeding from the stab wound Ino had inflicted on him as he nursed the arm he had crushed beneath his own weight when Kiba and Naruto had teamed up to knock him off balance.

He wasn't about to admit it… But they were working pretty well together.

Ino currently had the second brother's hand poised over his neck, a kunai clutched tightly and held in a very clear threat.

Kiba knew that she would never plunge that kunai into the guy's throat. The attack would kill her.

But the second half of the Demon Brothers didn't know that.

Kiba and Akamaru both snarled threateningly at the whimp on the floor, all the while Naruto stood in front of the man they were escorting to keep him safe.

It was after the taller of the two brothers spilled his guts about their mission that Asuma suddenly materialized.

"Wow… You kids work well…"

"Asuma-sensei?!" It smelled like him… But…

"You're alive!" Naruto, of course, didn't question how the man was alive.

"But we saw you die!" Ino, of course, was wary.

"Let go of my brother!"

"Shut up! Can't you see we're having a family reunion?!"

Kiba winced when the kunai that Ino had been holding dug its way into the taller brother's shoulder.

Asuma sighed softly and shook his head, "Yamanaka's…"

The body she currently inhabited had a mask over the lower half of its face, so none of them were able to see her smile. But there was no doubt in Kiba's head: Ino was smirking like a vicious predator.


Kakashi-sensei led them towards a small eatery that was mostly barren. It was on the shinobi side of town, so they didn't have to worry over being watched like hawks by distrusting civilians.

They sat down on a table at the very back of the small wooden building, with a window directly beside them and an exit door only a couple of feet away from them.

It seemed that Kakashi-sensei suffered from some of the normal ailments of being a shinobi: hyper vigilance even in areas where he was supposed to be safe and a need for the possibility of a quick escape if anything went wrong.

A retired kunoichi offered them menus and, once they had finished ordering, promised to come back in a little while with their drinks.

As they waited for their food, the man that had contracted them for the off-the-books mission to capture the wayward kunoichi walked up to them.

"So these are your kids, Hatake?"

"Yup. Team 7," Kakashi-sensei jutted his chin in the man's direction, making quite an effort to not make an effort to introduce him. "Meet the Ninja Toothpick, Genma Shiranui."

"They already know me. Not by name, actually, but…" Genma Shiranui shrugged softly, then offered them all lazy smiles, "Have any fun with those tools I gave you yet?"

Shino's bugs immediately began to buzz in discomfort at the reminder of what they had experienced.

Chouji turned green.

Sakura gagged.

And Kakashi-sensei, once again, laughed at their expense.

Shino glared at the evil man, internally wishing to see the man pay for laughing at a group of genin that had only done what they thought had been right.

Genma Shiranui slid into the booth beside Kakashi, looking at him in clear confusion and slight worry. Then, amidst breaks of laughter and gulps of breath, Kakashi-sensei explained just what in the world it was that had happened.

"And all to find out a chocolate thief?" Genma Shiranui asked, seemingly completely stunned by what he had been told.

All three of the genin nodded regretfully…

They should have known better. But they had honestly thought that Chouji's parents were the best kinds of suspects… How were they supposed to have known the dangers they risked by going through with such an operation?

"Why would you go through all that trouble?" The man questioned, suddenly smiling wickedly. "Kakashi here has access to all your homes. And a penchant for Akimichi chocolate."

Kakashi-sensei's laughter cut off immediately.

Shino wanted to see the man burn.

There was no need to communicate. Team 7 moved as one.

Kakashi-sensei never stood a chance.


Shikamaru had never been in the Uchiha Compound. When they had still been alive, the Uchiha Clan had kept mostly to themselves; visitors from other Clans weren't really the norm for them. Especially if they were heirs from other Clans.

Besides, he and Sasuke had not been friends when they were kids. And they certainly weren't friends now.

Walking down the hollow and completely uninhabited streets that had once been full of life and excitement, though… it was a haunting experience.

"H-How can he l-live here?"

Hinata was cowering close to him, the grip she had on her picnic basket so tight that her knuckles were a sickly pale.

Shikamaru was too stricken by the death in this place to tell her to move away.

"I don't know…" He murmured, only to shake his head and grab her by her upper arm and usher her to quicken her pace, "Let's hurry up and get him."

Never before had Shikamaru found comfort in moving fast. But, the faster he moved, the faster they got to the main house and the faster they would be able to leave this place.

It was cold, seemingly suspended in time. There seemed to be absolutely no life here… As if the very streets had died when the massacre had taken away the lives of those that had lived here.

When they finally reached the main house, Shikamaru suppressed the need to let out a happy cheer. Instead he knocked and waited impatiently for Sasuke to answer the door.

Once the Uchiha had, he wasted no time.

"Team picnic. We're going. Now."

Sasuke glared at him almost instinctively.

"What are you two doing here?"

Hinata stuttered heavily, "W-W-We ca-ca-came t-t-t-"

Shikamaru didn't blame her for being scared.

This place was giving him the creeps too.

"We need to work on our teamwork. Team 8 can't possibly survive like this; we can't work together. So we're going on a team picnic to get over our issues."

"I have no issues." Sasuke hissed, "Get out."

"Either you come with us or we force our way into your house."

They were at a stalemate.

Neither male would give any ground.

Shikamaru stared expectantly at Sasuke while Sasuke glared back at him.

The wind blew harshly and caused some wind-chimes to ring harshly, making Hinata squeak suddenly and hug Shikamaru tightly.

This place was unsettling.

How could anyone even live here?

Sasuke glared down at Hinata for a moment, then huffed and stepped inside of his home. He held the door wide open, though, a challenging fire in his eyes.

This wasn't what Shikamaru wanted.

But he'd be damned if he let the Uchiha think he had won.

"Come on, Hinata."

She didn't want to spend any more time here. But if they wanted to finally talk and get over their issues as a team, they would have to play Sasuke's game.

He wanted to unsettle them by having them stay inside the Uchiha Compound? Fine. Shikamaru would play.

Team 8 would not survive if they did not play.


Asuma-sensei was alive!

Naruto didn't care how. He was just happy that the man was actually alive!

With the Demon Brothers tied up to a tree and Tazuna finally honest about his intentions, Team 10 was finally able to question the man how he had managed to survive.

Asuma-sensei coolly told them about deceptive arts and being able to create clones in the split of a second. Then he told them that he was proud of them for being able to act and take control of an unexpected situation without needing him to shout out orders.

And, finally, he patted Ino on the head to congratulate her on being able to interrogate a subject in the heat of battle without risking the mission.

Naruto and Akamaru stared at the interaction with distrust. Then the human whispered, "See? He's clearly still under her control… We need to free him, Akamaru!"

The dog barked, growled, barked once more, then huffed as he pawed at Naruto's head.

Kiba, in the meanwhile, made sure to keep a large berth between himself and Ino.

"Alright. This mission is clearly well above a C-Rank. We have two options,"

Asuma-sensei was cut off by Ino tutting him, "Don't worry Asuma-sensei." Then she turned back to look at the rest of her teammates.

The sudden harshness in those blue eyes… The struck Naruto frozen.

He felt Akamaru stiffen up on his head.

And Kiba actually squeaked in fear.

"We'll finish the mission. Don't worry, Tazuna. We'll get you back to your bridge in no time."

Asuma-sensei looked over the rest of Team 10 for a moment. But he soon shrugged, grabbed a cigarette from his pockets, light it, and motioned for them to begin to walk.

The Demon Brothers were left behind so the proper authorities could find them.

Naruto kept his eyes on Ino and Asuma-sensei's backs the whole time they walked.

And Kiba made sure to bring up the rear so he wouldn't be in Ino's attacking range should she try anything.

They needed to save Asuma-sensei!

~..~..~

I hope you all liked this chapter! Please review and tell me what you thought!

Chapter Text

It is not a Flaw to Seek Strength in Those Around You, nor is it Weak- If Anything, it is a Virtue that not Many Possess and Even Fewer Understand

Sakura smiled when she opened her home's door to find Shino standing on her porch, patiently waiting for her. He had a cooler clutched in his hand, which made the kunoichi immediately assume that he had the ice they would need later on.

"I have the drinks." She informed him as she grabbed the bag she had left beside her doorframe after she'd returned home from her shopping. "Will Chouji really bring all the food?"

Shino stepped to the side so she could walk out of her home, all the while he said, "That is what he promised. Apparently, his mother has been eager to cook for us ever since we were assigned to our genin teams."

Sakura locked up her home after she had closed the door, then followed Shino as her teammate began to walk towards the location of their little picnic.

After that horribly traumatizing experience that dealt with wire-taps and terrifying bedroom talk, Kakashi-sensei had been smart enough to give them a day off. They would be meeting up in one of the Training Grounds- Sakura had forgotten which one in her excitement- so they could eat together.

Kakashi-sensei had paid greatly for what he had done. Not only did he have a bad habit of breaking into Sakura's home to leave mission documents, it seemed that he also enjoyed breaking into Chouji's house to steal his chocolate and Shino's home to take free drinks. They never would have found this out if it hadn't been for Genma Shiranui informing them of everything that had happened, so they had convinced Kakashi-sensei to invite the man to their picnic.

Genma Shiranui had seemed more than happy to join them. It had been Kakashi-sensei to act somewhat unsettled after Team 7 had let him know just how disappointed they were with his actions.

"This is great." She confided in her teammate, "We've all been doing so well recently. A day of a bit of R and R is exactly what we deserve."

Shino hummed softly in agreement and they fell into a comfortable silence.

It was unspoken because it didn't have to be said: part of their good work dealt with having been able to bring the Copy-Cat Ninja down in less than a handful of seconds.

Sakura liked walking with Shino. He was always so calm and collected… It was kind of funny, really, that she had once thought that he was creepy. He was so nice and caring… All he wanted was to ensure his teammates being as strong and smart as they could possibly be. He was just a bit weird about showing how much he cared. But he was incredibly intelligent and always managed to keep their team on track- no matter how much revenge they thirsted for.

Once they reached the training grounds, it was to find that Chouji had already set up a large picnic blanket for them to sit on. There were large containers of all kinds of food nestled safely on top of it, and Sakura immediately began to feel great about their day together.

"Hi Chouji!" She waved at him, earning a smile and wave in return.

Once she and Shino were closer to him, he motioned for them to sit on the blanket that was huge enough to give them plenty of space to sit and to keep the food on top.

"Here you go, Shino." Now that they were seated, she put the drinks she had bought inside of the cooler Shino had carried with him. And then she looked down at the various containers, trying to take stock of all of the food Chouji had brought.

To anyone else, it looked like enough to feed a small army. To her, it looked like enough to feed an Akimichi and four others.

"Everything looks great."

"Thanks." The plump boy smiled sheepishly as he shrugged, "My mom was really insistent on giving my teammates only the best."

"That's so sweet of her."

Seriously, Sakura was lucky to have Shino and Chouji as her teammates. When compared to the still dysfunctional Team 8 and the kind of terrifying Team 10, she had undoubtedly drawn the two best teammates for her genin team.

"The only question to ask ourselves now is a simple one." Shino cleared his throat, making Sakura and Chouji turn to him. "How long shall we give our other guests to arrive?"

Sakura looked down at the display of undoubtedly delicious food before her, frowned softly, and then looked up at the practice dummies at the end of the clearing.

Chouji and Shino both followed her line of sight. And from the way the Akimichi's eyes narrowed slightly, she could tell that he understood what she was thinking.

"An hour or two of drills and then we eat? With or without them?"

"It is only fair. An hour or two is more than enough for him and Shiranui-san to arrive." Shino nodded, moving towards the dummies.

Sakura stood up and followed after him, feeling kind of disappointed to not be able to eat yet, but also pretty happy that they had understood her.

This was their day off, sure… But that didn't mean that they had to slack off completely. Besides, a couple of simple drills before they ate would be more than enough to build an appetite!


The picnic with Sasuke was horrible... But, at the same time... Hinata considered it a success.

The Uchiha's home was terrifying. Just being inside of the Compound made her feel as if she was trespassing on forbidden territory. But when she crossed through the threshold of where Sasuke was living... Well, if she hadn't gotten pale enough, she could have sworn she became as white as a ghost when she got a good feel of Sasuke's house.

She knew how a house was a home. She also knew that a house could be too cold to be a home. She had experienced both conditions in her life.

Hinata Hyuga was not new to the feeling of a place being too cold and barren to ever be considered an actual home.

What she felt in Sasuke's house was nothing like what she'd felt before. There was a freezing and hostile feeling throughout the whole space that her throat and chest tightened- breathing became difficult. Her skin paled. Even a thin sheet of sweat overcame her forehead.

This had been where Sasuke's parents had been murdered.

How could anyone possibly live in the same building their loved ones had been brutally assassinated?

"Come on, Hinata. Be strong. We're doing this for Team 8."

Shikamaru placed a leveling hand on her elbow, causing a burst of comfortable warmth to spring forward and cut through the frozen cold that had completely overtaken her. It wasn't enough to dash the whole cold away, but it was enough to make her feel as if she wasn't freezing anymore.

Hinata glanced over at Shikamaru, her steps still small and unsure as Sasuke maneuvered around them to lead them deeper into his frigid house. She found the Nara with an uncomfortably tight look on his face, as if he too wasn't comfortable inside. But then, when their eyes met, he offered her a small, reassuring smile that was more creeped out than sure of itself.

Shikamaru was just as uncomfortable as she was.

She had a right to feel like this.

For some reason, this made Hinata feel better. She wasn't the only one affected by the tundra that was Sasuke's house. She wasn't the only one whose steps were slowed and unsure. Shikamaru was just as unsure as she was. That meant that she had a reason to be feeling this way. She wasn't being weak now- she was being normal.

It was odd... Not being the only one to be afraid... But, interestingly enough, it made her feel just a bit better.

Sasuke led them into a large dining room that had one big table that could seat dozens, but only had one cushion to sit on.

Unbearably heavy loneliness- that's another thing this house made her feel. Not just sadness or unease. This place felt as if it was suspended in time and had not been properly lived in for centuries. Like an untouched tomb newly discovered by explorers.

She'd read about such discoveries before, she'd read the feelings the adventurers that had found them had felt because of these discoveries. She had thought she understood what they meant when they described the heavy air that was almost impossible to breathe and the thick layers of dust that seemed to cover everything. But now she knew she had not understood them nor would have she been able to unless she found such a place herself.

Unfortunately, Sasuke's home was like an untouched tomb. It was clean, yes, but it was dead. There may not have been layers upon layers of dust built from ages of not being inhabited, but the air was as thick as fog.

Sasuke didn't instruct her to put the picnic basket on the table. Neither did Shikamaru. But Hinata wanted to busy herself by doing something- she wanted to distract her thoughts and turn them away from how terribly sad Sasuke must be living in such a place. So, while Sasuke grabbed cushions for her and Shikamaru, the Hyuga walked up to the corner of the table nearest to her and placed the basket on top. She then opened it and began to pull out the food she and her sister had made for the day.

Hanabi didn't like Sasuke. She didn't trust Shikamaru. But she wanted her sister to have a good team. So, while their father had tended to clan matters and the cooks had taken their individual breaks, the sisters had snuck into the Hyuga's kitchen to cook up the small meal. Hinata had not wanted to explain to her father what she was planning out of fear of being forbidden from trying to make friends. Sometimes, it was easier to not say anything at all and sneak around than chance getting into trouble with her father.

Sasuke handed two cushions wordlessly to Shikamaru before he moved to kneel on the only cushion that was already set up... On the other side of the table from where Hinata had begun to unpack.

Shikamaru hissed in annoyance.

Hinata felt herself pale even further when an impulsive and outright scary thought struck her: Speak up.

Shikamaru was clearly annoyed with having to take the initiative all the time. Hinata should be able to step up and take control- she couldn't possibly expect to be a good ninja if she wasn't able to make her own decisions.

Her hands shook as she brought out the last container.

She gulped and steeled her receive.

"Sasuke-kun... Pl-please s-s-sit with u-u-us."

Sasuke arched one eyebrow in mild interest, even though his whole face remained passive and disinterested.

Hinata squeaked and retracted into herself, cheeks beginning to burn uncomfortably as tears began to sting at her eyes.

"Come on, Uchiha. Stop playing."

Hinata was grateful for Shikamaru. He wasn't the kind of nice that she tried to be- he wasn't afraid of speaking out and insulting people. But he wasn't trying to make trouble. And he was actively trying to save Team 8.

How could she not be grateful for him?


Kiba and Naruto were idiots.

Who in the hell assaulted their own teammate during a battle against an S-Ranked Missing Nin!?

"What were you two thinking!? Were you trying to get us all killed!" Ino screamed as she berated the two idiots, all the while Asuma-sensei shook his head from the sidelines.

"We thought you were controlling Asuma-sensei! We needed to free him from your evil claws, you harpy!" Naruto screamed back, inciting Ino's anger to grow even larger than it already was.

Kiba was smart. He kept his mouth shut and cowered into his too-big jacket.

Naruto and Kiba had attacked her while she had tried to take over Zabuza Momochi's mind. Instead of helping her take down the guy that had almost cut Asuma-sensei's head off, the idiots had tried to stop her from ruling over his mind.

"Do you have any idea how reckless that was?! If it hadn't been for that hunter-nin arriving in the middle of the fight, we would have lost to that creep! Would you be happy with that? Would you have been happy failing your first actual mission?!"

Luckily enough for them, when Kiba and Naruto turned on Ino, Zabuza had been just as surprised as Ino. Asuma-sensei had been able to get the upper hand on the surprised mercenary and wounded him enough to make him back off. And, then, while he had still been trying to catch his breath, Zabuza had been struck down by a hunter-nin with beautiful hair that had then taken his body away for disposal.

"Of course not... But we needed to save-"

"You can't save someone that's not in trouble, kid."

"Well this is the last time I try to help you out!"

Ino slammed the back of Naruto's hand with her fist, immediately making him shout out in surprise and double over to clutch at his newest injury.

"We faced off against someone that could have killed all of us and you turned on me because you thought I was controlling our teacher." Ino hissed, glaring down at the boys. "I hope you both know that my revenge will be a thousand times worse than what you've already suffered."

They had gotten out of that fight because of pure luck.

It seemed Ino needed to discipline her idiots some more.

Kiba whined softly.

Akamaru howled in despair.

Naruto frowned.

Asuma sighed and shook his head.

And Tazuna merely stared on, completely confused and flabbergasted.

She had a lot of work ahead of her.


His mom had worked her butt off to make the food for their team picnic. Even though Chouji had told her he could have done everything himself, his friends didn't want anything fancy, the woman had insisted that her son's genin team deserved only the best after all of the strides they had been making in their training.

Sakura had been amazed with the food. Shino had told him that every single bite had been delicious. And Kakashi-sensei and Genma Shiranui… Well, they'd kind of missed most of the meal. They'd arrived at the training grounds so late that they had only been able to eat a bit of the actual meal and dessert.

"Hmm… This is good."

Having grown up with Shikamaru, Chouji knew that the minimal compliment was actually a very big admission of amazement. Kakashi-sensei was a quiet and reserved kind of guy- he didn't give out compliments every second of every day. But Chouji had seen the stars that filled his eye when he took a bite of the delicious cake his mother had made. So, yes, Chouji was pretty sure that he actually enjoyed what he ate.

"You Akimichi are the best damn cooks… Sometimes I wish I had been adopted by your Clan, kid- just for the food."

Chouji smiled at Genma's words and thanked him in gratitude. He was outspoken and honest where Kakashi-sensei tried to stay shrouded in mystery and unsurety. In a way, he was a complete antithesis to the man. Although, they both had the same 'too cool for anything' aura about them when one didn't completely know them.

"So, Kakashi-sensei," Sakura started up after he had finished eating his dessert, making him turn to look at him with a lazy eye that made Chouji feel like the man wasn't all that eager to listen to any of them.

Kakashi-sensei didn't really seem as if he was eager to listen to her. But that may have just been because of the revenge they had exacted on him… Possibly, taking pictures for future blackmail opportunities may have been over kill. But Genma had been the one to offer the option. Why wouldn't they listen to a seasoned tokujo jounin like him?

Chouji had to be honest, though. He loved his team. And Kakashi-sensei was a part of that team- his teaching style wasn't really orthodox, but he clearly knew what he was doing and their team was thriving because of it. When compared to the other teams he knew and cared about, Chouji really couldn't complain.

Shikamaru was as intelligent as ever, but Ino spent her days honing her mind control jutsu on the bodies of her teammates. They didn't really seem as if they had branched out as much as Chouji had because of all of the different things he had read with Shino and Sakura's help. He was even thinking of asking his father for extra training in the bo staff, just so they were able to add weapons into the mix of strategies they had come up with.

He would never say it out loud, but… Out of the three genin teams he cared about, Chouji could say that Team 7 was the most cohesive and responsible. Team 10 was only put together because Ino held a reign of terror over Kiba and Naruto was too eager to become a ninja to give up, no matter how much it hurt him. And Team 8's only hope was Hinata and Shikamaru's capability to work together. With Sasuke trying to muscle his way through many situations, they weren't as cohesive as they could be. And that was most probably the reason as to why they were still running drills and the occasional D-Rank instead of fully focusing on missions.

"Yes, Pinkie?" Kakashi hummed softly, all the while Genma busied himself by finishing up his own serving of dessert.

Sakura quickly frowned and asked in an unimpressed deadpan, "Geez, I wonder where you managed to create such a creative nickname from, Patchy-sensei."

For the second time in a rather short amount of time, Chouji saw his teacher's eye widen in legitimate, unrestrained surprise. The first time had been when they had jumped him as a unit.

"Patchy… Sensei?"

"Because of the hitai-ite you wear as an eye patch, Kakashi-sensei." Shino cleared his throat, which earned him a small, tight, and pretty fake-looking smile from their teacher from behind his mask. "We wish to ask you to ask for a C-Ranked mission for us. We are ready."

Chouji nodded in agreement and added his own two-cents. "Team 10 is already on their first big mission."

Kakashi-sensei hummed in thought for a second, scratching at his chin. Then he asked, "That's Asuma's team, isn't it?"

"Yeah- I heard they went to Wave." Genma offered as he put down his empty plate and zeroed in on the half-eaten treat on Kakashi-sensei's plate.

Chouji found it weird that the tokujo jounin chose to continue interacting with them. He had already eaten. There was no need for him to stick around, really. Especially seeing how he was supposed to be working right now and was currently shirking his duties. Shouldn't he be working in T&I? Wouldn't someone be sent to drag him back- just like he'd been sent to fetch that kunoichi when they had met the first time around?

Kakashi-sensei crossed his arms and closed his single eye in thought- leaving his dessert unattended.

Chouji watched on in amazement as Genma swiped the treat, smashed it into his mouth in a single bite, and winked at them before he disappeared in a swirl of leaves.

Team 7 was left blinking at the sudden departure.

"Alright. I'll ask for a C-Rank- where's my food?"

"Shiranui-san took it and left." Shino answered, making Kakashi's eye narrow.

Chouji didn't like the sudden mischievous glint that filled that eye.

"I've got a C-Rank for you kids."


Sasuke moved closer to Hinata and Shikamaru after the Nara told him to get closer. He didn't do so because he wanted to. No, he moved because he didn't want to have to hear these idiots any more than he already had to. And if moving made them shut up about one thing, then he would gladly move.

The first few minutes of their meal were spent in silence. Sasuke merely looked down at the food the Hyuga had brought, gauging whether it would be worth going through the trouble of trying to eat the meal.

"It's food. It won't kill you."

Sasuke really did not like Shikamaru.

He glowered at the Nara as he picked up one of the rice balls. Then he looked down at it, winced softly, but forced himself to take a bite out of it.

He was so caught off guard by the burst of flavor that his eyes widened and he let out a little noise of surprise before he could stop himself.

When he glanced up, a small hue of red beginning to color his cheeks at the suddenness of everything, it was to find Hinata smiling softly, even though she kept her eyes on her own meal. Shikamaru had his own eyes closed, but Sasuke knew he was smirking smugly, even though his lips were hidden behind the rice ball he was munching on.

He forced his own eyes back to the piece of table in front of him, trying to force down the embarrassment that suddenly overtook him.

This rice ball... It tasted a lot like the kind his mother had once made.

It was delicious.

"Who made this?"

"I-I-I d-d-di-did."

Sasuke glared at her.

There was no way someone so weak could cook like his mother.

"It's delicious." Shikamaru told the Hyuga, opening his eyes to look at her with a small smile. "Thank you for making all of this for us."

Sasuke looked over the rest of the food that Hinata had pulled out of the picnic basket- there was cooked fish, a couple more rice balls, some strips of beef teriyaki, what seemed to be a salad, and even a couple of sticks of dango.

There was no way Hinata had made all of this by herself. The Hyuga had chefs. She had most probably instructed them to cook everything for-

"Th-thank you... Hanabi and I wo-worked hard... I even burned m-myself making the fish."

She showed Shikamaru her left hand, where Sasuke was able to see bright red flesh that contrasted harshly against her usually pale and smooth skin. It looked painful, even, as if oil had fallen on her rather than just splashed.

"How'd that happen?"

He had asked before he could stop himself.

Sasuke frowned softly at this sudden unchecked curiosity. But Hinata didn't seem to notice his soured mood. Instead, the weak kunoichi answered the question he had never even wanted to ask.

"M-My little sister... Sh-she got sc-scared when she th-thought one of the cooks ended his break e-early. She r-ran and knocked over the pan w-we had been using..."

Sasuke was actually stunned.

Why would the sister be afraid of a cook?

But, even more pressing, had Hinata really cooked for them? Weren't Hyuga supposed to be too good to do such things?

"Doesn't that hurt?"

"N-Not really..." She shrugged softly and flashed an infuriatingly kind smile at Shikamaru. "I just hope the food is g-good."

Shikamaru stared at he in shock.

Sasuke scoffed softly and shook his head, "Well it is. Now why don't we just finish it so you can just leave?"

He didn't even notice he had complimented her cooking until he noticed how red her face suddenly became.

Dammit.


It had all been Naruto's idea... Kiba had just gone along with it because he'd actually fallen for the idiot's words.

'We can beat this guy no sweat, Kiba! Ino's the one we won't be able to beat ever again! We need to take advantage of this fight and jump her so we can free Asuma-sensei! Then we'll actually stand a chance against her! It'll be four against one!'e

Naruto was an idiot. Kiba had listened to him simply because he had not been thinking straight and Akamaru had told him to trust the blonde. Besides, that Zabuza guy's scent hadn't been filled with killer intent. Kiba had been able to smell annoyance, irritation, and just a bit of surprise. But he hadn't smelled as if he had any bad intentions for the group, even though he had talked about killing Tazuna.

Then Naruto had told him that Zabuza had appeared and Ino must already have him under her control. He had this huge conspiracy about Ino being able to control all the bad guys they faced, so if they stopped her, Zabuza would be freed, just like Asuma, and he'd turn out to be a pretty cool guy.

In retrospect, there had been absolutely no reason for Kiba to listen to Naruto.

But he had.

And now Ino was pissed.

Kiba wanted to die.

He never wanted to go back to Konoha. Not if it meant having to suffer another one of Ino's punishments.

Tazuna reached his home. Team 10 was successful in their mission. Kiba dreaded having to go back now that they had actually succeeded.

... Maybe... Maybe he could stay in the Land of Waves, become a fisherman, and build a new life here. Sure, the place smelled too much like fish and sadness, but he was sure he'd be able to get used to the smell eventually. Hell, he might even meet a nice girl and start up a small family in a couple of years... It wouldn't be an exciting life, but it would be much better than going back to Konoha with Ino.

Tazuna thanked them for their help, offered him and Naruto some words of advice, and allowed them to stay in his home for a little bit of time while their teacher healed from the wounds he had sustained in the fight with Zabuza.

Kiba had contemplated living in this place during their stay.

He came to the conclusion that life would have been boring for him. But it would have been an Ino-free life.

The only reason why he didn't try to fake his death or something before living was because he knew that if he didn't return to Konoha, he would then have to deal with three pissed off females instead of just one. And while Ino was scary, his mother and sister were downright death-inducing.

On their way back to Konoha, they were met with further resistance from the Zabuza guy Kiba had known would give them more trouble. That hunter nin hadn't smelled right... The kunoichi's scent had been masculine. He had known that the girl-boy had been playing a trick on them!

... He just hadn't said anything because Ino had been too pissed off with them to listen to him.

The fight that then ensued was not used by either him or Naruto to free Asuma-sensei from Ino's control. It wouldn't really make any sense to try that again, really. Not when Asuma-sensei himself had said that he wasn't under her control and had never been.

Although, the fight did cause something weird to happen.

Kiba had never seen Ino forcibly knocked out of someone's mind. He had never been able to do such a thing. The Demon Brother she had taken over had not done that either. And Naruto had never been able to do so either... Until today.

"I'll kill you!"

Akamaru was laying on the floor, panting heavily as he tried to keep from moving so he wouldn't jar the thousands of cuts that had wounded him. Kiba was currently beside him, trying to do his best to shield the pup's body even as the Haku not-girl-but-yes-a-dude rained more and more picks of icy fury all around them.

He had been an idiot. He knew that. But he hadn't been about to let Naruto get caught in the guy's jutsu, whatever it had been. So he'd knocked the Dead Last out of the way when the dome had begun to form, so instead it was him to get wounded.

His only true regret was not having put Akamaru down before he gave up his life for Naruto.

... Why Naruto's?

Well... Death was better than facing Ino's wrath.

"Naruto! Don't! Getting angry won't solve anything!"

Naruto wasn't listening, though. An evil, putrid smell began to surround him. It was such a strong scent that Kiba was able to catch a whiff of it even inside the ice dome of death he was trapped inside of.

He chanced one look through one of the small openings in Haku's jutsu. He was able to see Asuma-sensei fighting off Zabuza miles away, all the while Ino glared at Naruto.

Naruto... He looked unnatural.

"Naruto, stop!"

He didn't.

Ino moved to get control of him.

Her body slumped to the floor, like usual.

Naruto lunged at the ice dome with a murderous fire in his eyes that was not.

Kiba closed his eyes and hoped his death would be swift and his afterlife was not filled with Ino's or Naruto's, just Akamaru's and delicious steaks.


They followed their target for a week.

They bugged his home with the wire-tap they had sworn off- Kakashi-sensei had promised they would not be exposed to anything traumatizing this time around and had given his word; they decided to trust him this once.

They watched his every move, took note of every little important detail of his daily routine, and created plans to take him down.

By the end of their surveillance, they took all of their information to Kakashi-sensei for his approval. The man skimmed over the different scenarios they had managed to come up with until he decided on the most appropriate and mischievous one. Then, once they were assured that this would count as an official C-Rank for their careers, Team 7 struck.

Genma Shiranui was not prepared for the three genin that appeared in his apartment while he ate his breakfast. He kept his surprise in check, though, and looked at them with an almost disbelieving look in his eyes as he finished chewing on the cereal he had been eating before their arrival.

"How did you get in here?"

"The same way we got into Patchy-sensei's apartment." Sakura answered with a small smile, "Disabling traps, of course."

The tokujo jounin frowned and stood up, leaving his bowl of cereal on the table so he could walk towards them. "What're you doing here, munchkins? Aren't you supposed to be with your teacher?"

"Not at all. Kakashi-sensei leaves us to learn in the library and practice by ourselves during the mornings. We are to meet him in the afternoon." Shino informed the man, then pressed, "But we are here to ask a favor of you. Genma Shiranui, would you please teach us so we can join T&I?"

The man blinked at them.

Chouji stepped forward to seal the deal.

"Please, Genma-sensei? Ino's told me about everything you guys do and it's so cool! But Kakashi-sensei can't teach us that kind of stuff..." Then he clasped his hands together in front of him, looking at the man with bright and hopeful eyes. "Don't you think it'd be cool to teach your old teacher's son?"

Genma Shiranui didn't stand a chance against Chouji. He loved Choza Akimichi too much.

Step one: Infiltrate and acquire target's trust

Achieved- onto Step Two


Sasuke had a soft spot for Hinata. The idiot would never admit it, but he did.

Shikamaru guessed that it was because she was the only girl in the Academy that had treated him like a human being instead of some great trophy they needed to fight for. Even though he would never be able to understand just what it was that those girls saw in the guy, they fawned over him as if he were some sort of drool-worthy thing instead of an actual human being.

Hinata didn't drool over Sasuke. She was scared of him and barely ever wanted to talk to him head on. But this wasn't because she liked him. It was simply because she didn't like talking to intense people.

After that first picnic, Hinata and Shikamaru worked together to make one meal at least once a week that they could eat with the Uchiha. They went to his house and knocked on his door until he answered.

With every week that passed, the time they had to wait grew shorter. Sasuke refused to acknowledge it, but Shikamaru knew that he liked the picnics together.

Talking with the Uchiha became easier. He still was an ass when it came to complex plans, but he at least wasn't completely opposed to listening to other people's opinions when they were coming up with plans.

Eventually, Kurenai-sensei allowed them to go on their first D-Rank mission. They completed it successfully- they only had to paint fences; only a team as insane as Team 10 would have failed at that... Which they had, actually, but Ino refused to acknowledge that little fact now that she was training Naruto and Kiba to be performing monkeys for her.

Soon enough, Hinata offered to make a picnic twice a week.

They weren't a great team. But at least they were able to talk now without Sasuke completely shutting them off.

Shikamaru knew that they had gotten through to him, though, when they had arrived at his home with Hinata's large picnic basket and he offered to take them to the inner gardens within the Compound rather than his dining room table.

Sasuke was quiet, intense, and angry.

Hinata was quiet, shy, and kind.

Shikamaru smirked softly when he saw Hinata smile softly as she thanked Sasuke for the drink he offered her.

They sat in the middle of a large garden that was the definite life of the Uchiha Compound. Plant life bloomed throughout the whole space, covering every inch of ground with green and beauty. Insects could be seen crawling around lazily and Shikamaru swore he was able to see a couple of small mammals burrowing into the ground.

Sasuke frowned back at her, grunted, and picked up the sandwich she had made for him.

Hinata's smile stayed on her lips, rather than fall off.

Hinata had gotten through Sasuke's defenses.

Shikamaru had done his mission. Team 8 would be able to survive now. It would be rocky, Sasuke would still be a prick, and they still had many more problems to deal with. But the first issue they had needed to broken through had been solved. They were now ready to actually become the Team 8 they would need to be to pass the Chunin Exams.


"I... I have a monster living inside of me..."

He had always known he was different. He had always known that there must have been a real reason as to why nobody had ever liked him.

He just had not expected to find something so horrible within himself.

"I'm sorry you had to find out like this, kid." Asuma-sensei patted his shoulder softly, his customary cigarette nowhere to be found.

They were all beaten up. Kiba and Akamaru were the worst off. Asuma-sensei had received quite a few hits during his second confrontation with the Zabuza guy. And Ino had a couple of bruises as well... Although the ones on her knuckles came from having had to beat sense into Naruto before he had killed Haku.

He had seen red.

Kiba and Akamaru's twin howls of pain had ripped through him- igniting a fire unlike anything he'd ever felt before.

Then he'd found himself in a dark and damp sewer and he'd spoken to the large monster that had made everyone hate him before he had even been old enough to speak a single word.

"I mean... That explains everything... Nobody likes me because I'm a monster..."

A lifetime of misfortunes suddenly made complete sense.

Why was he like this?

"Bullshit! You're a dumb fox, so what? We always knew!"

"Shut up, Kiba, you're high on pain meds." Ino hissed at the Inuzuka, making him frown back at her and shake his head.

"Naruto doesn't smell like anyone else. You can't tell me you didn't notice that when you were inside his mind all those times."

"Of course I noticed! But just because his mind's a bit different from everyone else's doesn't mean that he's different!"

"What?"

Ino huffed as she crossed her arms over his chest and looked at Naruto dead in the eyes. "You're a challenge, Naruto. Possessing your mind is a thousand times more difficult that possessing Kiba's. That's why I usually take over him-"

"Wait, what?"

"But just because that's different, it doesn't mean you're bad." Suddenly, Ino was right in front of his face, her blue eyes narrowed with determination that was pretty scary to Naruto, "You've got a demon fox inside of you. Do you have any idea how cool that is?"

"Uh... Ino... I don't think that's a lesson I should be enforcing." Asuma-sensei muttered, but soon Ino shrugged and turned to him.

"Doesn't matter. It's what we'll do. Naruto will accept his second half as awesome." Then she turned to the two trouble makers that had unlocked Naruto's potential unwittingly. "Now, what're we going to do with them?"

"I think we should set them free."

"Haku needs a hospital."

Asuma-sensei frowned while Kiba groaned in pain from beside Naruto, all the while Akamaru snored heavily.

"Okay... We'll rest for a while. Then we'll get them to a hospital. And then we'll set them free."

Zabuza and Haku were currently too unconscious to agree or disagree with the man's plans and Naruto was much too busy thinking about other things to care.

Kiba had always known he was different. Ino too.

He had a demon fox inside of him.

Ino thought it was cool.

... Maybe Ino wasn't so bad...

He'd need to find out as much as he could about this demon, though. He didn't like the idea of sharing his body with someone bad if he wasn't going to be paying rent.

~..~..~

Please review!

Chapter Text

The Exchange of Information can Lead to Breakthroughs and Ideas that Would Have Never Been Achieved by Just One Mind

"So... What you're telling me, Kakashi, is that you haven't done anything with your kids other than break into their homes, traumatize them, and sic them on Shiranui just 'cause he stole your food?"

Geez.

When Asuma put it like that, it made him sound like a jerk.

"It was Akimichi food, Sarutobi."

For some reason, from the frown on the other man's face, Kakashi didn't get the feeling that his words had made him understand any more. That didn't bother the Hatake, though. He knew what he was doing. His little minions were already great on their own. He was merely expanding their horizons by starting them up on simulations of missions they would actually have to go on at some point.

"Just why in the world do you break into their homes?" Kurenai asked incredulously, as if she could not understand what the merit would be to such actions.

"The Akimichi has chocolates. The Aburame has interesting books. And the civilian is my messenger- I give her the missions they have to run."

"The Aki... Kakashi, do you even know your kids names?"

Of course he did.

Choza

Ino

Pinkie

Wait... Wasn't Ino the kid on Asuma's team? And wasn't Choza the Clan Head? There was no way his plump cinammon roll could be a Clan Head, not so soon... And there was no way that a self-respecting merchant like that civilian would name his only daughter such a stupid thing.

Chouji

Shino

Sakura

Yeah, those sounded much better... Although, Sakura was still a pretty stupid name... He'd continue calling her Pinkie. She deserved it more than ever now that she had decided to call him Patchy-sensei.

"I do and I resent the fact you question it." He huffed, but soon shook his head and offered, "Hey, this mission I gave them will really prepare them for the ninja life. Gaining someone's trust only to betray them isn't easy."

"So you decided it'd be in the best interest of your team to trick them into hurting one of your friends just because he stole your dessert?"

"It was Akimichi dessert!"

Both of the other teachers he bothered to maintain a pleasant relationship with shook their heads and decided to ignore him.

Kakashi didn't mind, though.

He knew he wasn't a great teacher. But the kids thought he was. And they were so great at teaching themselves that they didn't really need someone that would drill lessons into them. No, what they needed was someone that allowed them to grow at their own, extremely amazing rate that could give guidance every now and again. He was still working on the giving guidance part. But he knew he was doing alright.

"And I thought I wasn't doing enough for my kids..."

"What do you mean?"

Kakashi leaned in slightly to listen to Asuma's woes. He so loved listening to the much too proud man being knocked down a couple of pegs.

"Ino's got complete control of the boys. They thought she was so powerful that she was controlling me... They thought that everything I'm doing is so gratifying for her that they thought she was controlling my mind!" He huffed at this point and glared at the table in front of them. "I think I'm doing too much for her and not enough for the other two."


Kurenai smiled softly as she covered Asuma's hand with her own, trying to comfort him.

"Then do something about it, dummy." She affectionately insulted him, "And, while you're working on Kiba and Naruto, try and make Ino branch out. All I've heard from you is how she uses that mind control technique; I don't think that's the only thing she's capable of, though."

"You always know just what to say to make me feel better, Kurenai." Asuma deadpanned, which made her smile widen even further.

"No teacher is perfect."

Kakashi opened his mouth to say something unbelievably stupid.

"But you're not as bad as Hatake."

"Hey!"

"We haven't had these teams for more than three months, Asuma. You've still got plenty of time to find your mistakes and fix them before they become permanent bad habits... Like Kakashi and breaking into homes."

She still couldn't believe he violated his team's privacy in such a manner. But, at the same time, this was Kakashi. So she was not, unfortunately, completely surprised by it. The things he'd gone through... She believed he had some right to be so unhinged. But she wasn't about to tell him that. He might start thinking that doing bad things was alright for him; she couldn't have that. He was already bad enough.

"Geez, you're talking as if you have a perfect team."

"I don't. That's why I can say this." She smiled tensely at the Hatake, annoyance creeping into the expression. She loved Kakashi. But he could be rather annoying sometimes. "My team is still a long way away from being able to be called anything close to functional. But they're working on their relationships. And I'm doing everything in my power to cater to their needs..."

Her team was difficult. But they were working together to make everything better. That sounded like something Asuma's own team needed a dose of if he truly wanted them to be more like a cohesive unit, rather than two boys that followed one kunoichi's lead simply because they didn't want to anger her.

"I think I just need to get them to communicate some more with each other. Then I can really get serious about their training when it comes to fighting real opponents, rather than just strategizing against them."


Asuma sighed heavily after he had finished listening to Kurenai speak.

The woman was so sure of herself... It seemed like she was the only teacher that actually had an idea as to what it was that she was supposed to be doing with the kids assigned to her. Kakashi clearly had no idea what he was doing, but he was lucky enough to have been given an actually decent group of kids, rather than an insane one.

He'd allowed Ino to go too far with her control over her team... He'd now need to find a way to reign her in and give the other two boys a much needed push.

Out of the three of them, he had been the only one to have had a genin team before. And that team hadn't been nearly as difficult as this one. They had been good kids with good heads on their shoulders. They hadn't been nearly as skillful as the kids he had now- they're potential had always made him think they would either be chunin for the rest of their lives or tokubetsu jounin. They were good in fights and smart where it counted- there was nothing wrong with that.

This team, though... It had the potential to be great. He wasn't as blind as Kakashi. He could see their innate ability to be better. The only problem with this was that they were mildly insane, somewhat selfish, and overwhelmingly childish. He needed to work harder with them to make them unlock their true potential, but he knew that it wouldn't be easy.

Those kids... They may just be the death of him.

Still, he had been given these genin to train and educate. He couldn't just sit on the sidelines and leave them to their own devices. That may work for the Hatake, but those kids were much more mature than his own. No, he needed to take a more hands on approach-like Kurenai. But, actually, he needed to be even more hands on. He needed to force the kids to get over their differences- especially Kiba's fear and Naruto's distrust- so that they could finally become a true team unit.


Teamwork Comes Hand in Hand with Trust, Confidence, and Friendship.

Tailing Genma Shiranui and learning from him was actually a pretty cool experience. He was a thousand times more hands on as a teacher than Patchy-sensei because he seemed to take his job as a 'teacher' much more seriously than their actual teacher. It was kind of nice to be taught things by an actual person rather than a book, if Sakura was being honest. But she wasn't about to bad mouth Patchy-sensei... Too much.

She liked the hands-off approach their teacher used on them. It made her feel like she was actually taken seriously, instead of like a child that needed her hand to be held at all times. It made her feel like Kakashi-sensei treated them like his equal, instead of his lesser.

"Alright, you'll want to leave these drying for at least a day in a clean and hopefully stale environment. It's pretty hard to make an air-tight room, especially for genin, so I'll let you kids use my closet for now." Shiranui-target smiled at them as he walked them towards his closet after having taught them how to cure and poison senbon.

Sakura smiled back at him even as she thought over the steps to the process the man had just showed them.

It wasn't a necessarily hard process. It was just long and required precision and a steady hand. If someone didn't like sitting still for too long, they most probably wouldn't be able to do this. But she certainly didn't mind learning something new and she certainly did not hate peace and quiet in what she had to do. Someone like Naruto wouldn't be able to do this, but she knew her team could.

It had been a week since Patchy-sensei had assigned them to this C-Ranked mission. They had learned much about Shiranui-target's life and schedule; along with a couple of ninja skills that would serve them well in the future.

Torture and interrogation was interesting. They had learned a bit about the psychology of an interrogation and how to maintain a calm and apathetic demeanor under duress- even though they just knew theory about this- and were well on their way to learning some techniques to paralyze and incapacitate a target without knocking them out or killing them.

Once they were in front of Shiranui-target's closet, the man opened it and stepped to the side so they could place their stash of recently laced senbon inside of the cool area. There were rows upon rows of wooden cabinets in here; they covered from the bottom of the walls to the very top. Most were mostly empty, which made Sakura think that Shiranui-target didn't necessarily use the senbon too often, although there were some that were filled with kunai, senbon, and even a couple of shuriken.

"Right there, to the left."

"This was really awesome, Shiranui-sensei." She offered as she put her container of senbon where he had instructed and then stepped to the side to allow Shino and Chouji to do the same. "We just have to make them touch someone else's skin and they'll take effect?"

"Not with this poison; it's a simple paralyzing agent." He explained as she walked out of the room, "But if you have a really strong and effective poison; yeah. It all depends on what you've laced your weapon with."

Once her teammates had placed their own senbon inside the room and walked out, Shiranui-target closed the door with a heavy click of a lock and turned back to them. "You're good students. I have no idea why Kakashi doesn't work harder to teach you more. I'm sure if he tried more, you'd beat the Chunin Exams."

"Chunin Exams?" They all chorused obliviously, even though they knew what he was talking about.

Sakura had to stop herself from smirking when Shiranui-target sighed and shook his head with a small curse of 'idiotic jerk'.

Step two: Learn every move of your target's life

Step three: Make yourself an important life of target's life

Completed

Step four: Strike when the target least expects it

She wasn't completely prepared to harm the man that had taken them under his wing without a second thought. But it was her mission. She needed to mentally prepare herself for such a thing.

She was sure she would be ready by the time the day came.


"Come on, you don't have to take that."

Hinata never thought she would ever hear anything nice come from Sasuke's mouth. And she certainly would never have even considered the idea that the something nice he would never say would ever be directed at her.

But it was.

"Uh... Uh... Hmm..." She was lost for words; how could she not be?

Neji-nii-san's cold glare shifted suddenly from her to Sasuke. His pupil-less eyes narrowed even further at the sight of her teammate behind her and his frown deepened.

"What are you doing here?" He questioned harshly and Hinata did not blame him.

It wasn't normal for an outsider to enter Hyuga Clan grounds. But she had asked her father for permission to have her teammates over today and he had agreed on two conditions: she beat Hanabi at some point during the next month and he get to meet Shikamaru and Sasuke.

She wasn't sure if she would be able to beat her sister any time soon. But she had promised her father that she would. They had gone to Sasuke's house many times. Shikamaru had even hosted them a handful of times. It didn't feel right for them to always have to host the team if she never did it.

"Team meeting."

Hinata didn't turn around to look at the Uchiha. She was much too busy being unable to think or even move.

"Tch. Figures. Of course they would give my loser cousin a teammate that might make her look better."

"Loser cousin?"

That wasn't Sasuke's voice... Shikamaru must have come with him, then.

"I didn't know excellent grades and great taijutsu skills made someone a loser... Guess you must be a winner."

Neji-nii-san's glower increased in anger. But he soon closed his eyes, breathed in, and smirked at Hinata.

"Goodbye, Lady Hinata." He bowed courteously, even with the cold frown on his face, and left.

Hinata didn't feel like she could breathe again until he had completely vanished from her sight. And she didn't even move for a minute after she was able to breathe again.

But when she did, she turned to find Shikamaru and Sasuke both frowning heavily.

"Are you okay?"

Red creeped into her face as soon as Shikamaru asked her that. She nodded tensely and quickly, then pointed towards the main branch's quarters, where her father was waiting for her teammates.

"L-let's go... My f-f-father is r-r-ready."

They both knew they were going to be eating with him today. She had expected them to refuse to do so and instead want to eat anywhere else. But, surprisingly enough, they had agreed almost as soon as she had finished explaining to them what her father had said she needed to agree to for them to come into the Clan Compound.

"Lead the way." Sasuke huffed and Hinata nodded to immediately turn around.

She wasn't sure how much they had heard... But she didn't want them to hate her cousin. He could be mean to her, but she knew that it was because he wanted her to be better. Not many people would understand how much he cared... She didn't want them to get the wrong idea of him.

When they reached the main branch's dining room, she bowed to her father. The man nodded at her and motioned for them to walk in.

Hinata's chest was extremely tight, but that softened slightly when she noticed the lack of a frown on her father's face. That meant that her teammates had followed her lead in bowing to him and had shown him respect. That was good. That meant her father didn't disapprove of them... For now.


"You want me to what?"

"You heard me, Ino." Asuma-sensei remarked as he looked over Kiba and Akamaru running their drills, all the while Naruto tried to read a scroll on the creature inside of him. "No more mind control jutsu until you perfect other techniques."

"But that's so-"

"If you tell me it's unfair, I'll make you help Naruto read that scroll."

Ino frowned and looked over at her fellow blonde. Naruto chose to scream out in frustration right then and there, throw his hands up in the air, and throw himself back onto the ground.

She winced at the sight and sighed, "Why?"

"You need more than just one technique in your jutsu set, kid." Asuma-sensei explained in a softer voice, glancing at her from the corner of his eyes for a moment before he looked back at the boys. "You're smart and fast. Use that. You won't always have your teammates or me around to watch after your body in case your body possession technique fails."

Ino couldn't help but huff in disdain and cross her arms over her chest at hearing this. But she didn't try and fight her teacher on it; she knew he was right. She didn't like it, but she had to come to terms with the fact that she couldn't win all her fights with just one jutsu.

"Well... Fine... What do you recommend?"

"I think you should talk to your father to see what clan techniques he recommends you learn next. And, aside from that, I think I should start all of you up on chakra control so I can teach you Nature Transformation."

"Nature Transformation?"

"Yup."

Ino blinked dumbly at her teacher.

"Do you actually think we're ready for that, Asuma-sensei?"

"Not yet." He admitted softly, "But you kids showed great hustle in that fight against an opponent leagues above yours. You all have raw talent- I just have to get it out of you." Now he looked at her completely, lit cigarette hanging precariously from his lips. "First you kids will get a hang of some simple techniques and I'll teach you how to refine your chakra. After that we'll get to work on the Nature Transformation."

Ino was left somewhat taken aback by the game-plan- she hadn't actually thought that Asuma-sensei would ask her to do more than just keep control of her teammates.

Although, if she was being honest, it would be pretty cool to branch out and learn some new stuff... Hell, she might even be able to learn some new techniques to scare the idiots into actually calling her supreme leader!


The day was nearing. They were all aware of it.

Genma Shiranui would get his heartbroken one of these days.

Chouji wasn't sure if he was completely okay with this. But he knew that he needed to complete this mission if he really wanted to be prepared to be a ninja. A ninja completed his mission, no matter how much it hurt. He needed to complete this mission- Kakashi-sensei was counting on Team 7!

"I say we should strike away from his office. We shouldn't embarrass him in front of his co-workers." He offered his teammates as they sat around the small coffee table in Shino's home. "I don't think it's right to do such a thing in front of people that matter, you know."

"There's that," Sakura agreed, then winced, "But there's also the fact that Anko Mitarashi and Ibiki Morino are both extremely protective of Genma Shiranui. And that's not even counting the members of T&I that consider him a good friend. We'd have to run like hell if he we did such a thing in such a volatile environment."

Shino hummed for a moment and a couple of bugs began to flutter around his head before they hid inside his tall collar yet again. Chouji loved seeing the peaceful yet active movement. It was something the Aburame only ever did when he needed to think hard and deep about something, but it was just beautiful to watch.

The silence around them was rather thick, but that was merely because of the severity of their mission. They all liked Genma Shiranui; he was a nice enough man that actually tried to teach them things. It got kind of annoying when he pestered them to learn, but Chouji admitted that it was a pretty nice contrast from their actual teacher.

He didn't want to hurt Genma Shiranui. But he had a mission he needed to complete.

"Then we shall have to lure him somewhere far away." He eventually concluded, "That should be simple enough. If we tell him we want him to take us somewhere for training or that we have a new technique prepared, he would undoubtedly follow us to the ends of the earth."

Both Chouji and Sakura nodded at the information, but they stopped plotting when they heard Shino's front door open and close.

Shibi Aburame walked in with most of his face covered. From his time with Shino, Chouji could tell that he was slightly surprised by finding the three genin within his home. But he did not show it too clearly- it was only with a fleeting twitch of his eyebrows that ended almost as soon as it had begun.

"Shino."

"Father."

There was a tense silence for the beat of a second. Then, "What are you doing?"

"Planning a mission."

Shibi walked towards them and leaned over slightly so he could look over the papers. "Genma Shiranui? A target?"

Shino nodded tensely as he looked back up at his father, "We were assigned a C-Ranked mission to gain his trust and then make him pay for having humiliated a certain ninja."

Shibi hummed for a second and Chouji could hear the some thoughtful thrum of bugs from him as he had heard from Shino a couple of times before.

"Who assigned this to you? It does not seem like the kind of mission the Hokage would approve of."

"Kakashi-sensei."

"Hn."

Chouji glanced over at Sakura in confusion- what were they supposed to do?

The kunoichi merely shrugged and looked back at Shibi with a curious glint in her eyes.

"This mission has been terminated. I will speak with your teacher about assigning you an actual mission."

"What?" They all gasped, "But!"

"Konoha shinobi are not taught to harm our allies." Shibi cut in immediately, then turned around and walked back to his front door. "Begin to pack for an actual out of village mission that will take a week at most. I will be back after I am done with my conversation with your teacher to give you the information."

After he had left, Team 7 was left in a tense silence that was only broken by Shino breathing out in relief.

"I was not prepared to harm Shiranui-sensei. He is much too kind."

Chouji smiled at him and scratched at the back of his head, "Honestly? Me too... I don't think I'd be able to look at my dad if I hurt his old student."

Sakura frowned at them both, "Well I was prepared to do that..." then immediately slumped and allowed her head to fall onto the table. "But I'm really happy your dad suspended the mission, Shino."

Chouji smiled at her theatrics and patted her back.


Hinata needed to grow an actual spine.

Her father had one. Why didn't she?

"How has your training come along, children?"

Children. They weren't children. Sasuke hated that word.

He didn't rise to the challenge, though.

"Well. Kurenai-sensei believes she is read to teach us about Nature Transformation." He answered bluntly, then glanced over at his teammates.

Hinata was seated beside her father, obviously. But Shikamaru was right beside him and looked as if he was actually invested in the lunch they were a part of, rather than tired or bored.

Maybe the idiot Nara actually understood the importance of meeting Hiashi Hyuga.

"Right now, we're working on our chakra control with tree and water walking. After that, Kurenai-sensei will give us a miniature test; if we impress her, we move on to more difficult techniques." Shikamaru elaborated, receiving absolutely no reaction for his work.

Hiashi Hyuga reminded Sasuke a lot of his father on his last days in the plane of the living. Cold. But there was something inside of his eyes that didn't quite fit in with the coldness he tried to exude... His eyes would light up with actual emotion when he would look at his oldest daughter.

Sasuke's father had once had that warmth in his eyes. He had not had it within him for a while before he was brutally murdered.

"Have you children managed to come up with any formations without your teacher's help?"

Children.

Sasuke forced himself to keep from seeming fazed at the word. He knew it was a sort of test from Hiashi. He didn't like it, but he knew that he shouldn't rise to the bait and call him out on not being a child.

He hadn't been one in a while now.

He was a genin.

"Yes we have, sir." Shikamaru answered for him, managing to steer the conversation in a direction that made Hinata seem half-competent and mildly impressive.

By the time they had finished with their awkward meal, Hinata seemed ready to burst into tears and the glint of emotion in Hiashi's eyes was much more like a dull flame- much more perceivable than before, but still expertly contained.

"Thank you for joining me for this meal. Please continue to grow and learn with my daughter."

With those polite words, the Clan Head left them alone in the dining room.

After a few seconds, Hinata released a heavy breath she had been holding for a while.

Sasuke didn't comment on how happy she seemed.

"W-would you like anything else?"

"Yeah, let's split."

Neither of them argued with him. They just followed him out of the Hyuga Compound and into Konoha.

The food had been good, even if the company hadn't.

He wouldn't admit it in a million years, but he was kind of okay with Hinata seeming happy for once in her life. He had once known the stress of an overbearing father with an obsession with another child. Even though Hiashi wasn't nearly as bad as his own father had once been, it gave Sasuke some relief to know that she believed they had done well in her father's eyes.

That might make her actually get better.


Kiba blinked.

Akamaru yawned on top of his head.

Naruto glared down at the papers in front of him.

"Uh... Is this safe, Naruto?"

"No idea." The blonde muttered honestly. "But I need to try something! That scroll Asuma-sensei got me was good, but it didn't really explain anything important. It just gave me the standard information of the thing inside of me."

Kiba frowned at the explanation, then looked up at the large compound standing ominously in front of them.

"I'm not really sure if breaking into the Hokage's house is the best idea, Naruto... Are you sure you can't find out anything about the creature inside of the library or anything? Isn't Konoha supposed to have books about everything?"

Naruto huffed and rolled the papers he had been reading up. Then he stood up and looked at Kiba with a heavy glare. "I already checked; there's nothing other than what Asuma-sensei gave me. And don't even get me started on the stupid nothing I found about my parents."

Kiba blinked as Naruto began to pace around in frustration.

"What'd you find on your parents?"

"The Uzumaki side used to be a clan but they're dead so they don't matter."

Kiba felt like he should point out that clans usually had some kind of special distinguishing jutsu or specialty in jutsu that made them rise above simple, not-too-important families. But Naruto had worked himself up already and it seemed he would not be calming down in a while.

"And my father had nothing on him! You know why I found nothing on my father?"

Kiba didn't have to ask for Naruto to answer.

"A whole load of nothing! It's as if I didn't even have a father!"

Oh, that had to hurt.

Still, Kiba wasn't completely convinced that Naruto's idea was a good one. Breaking into the Hokage's compound? It sounded unnecessarily reckless and risky. Besides, couldn't they lose their rank as genin for insubordination?

"Anyway, this is the only way we'll be able to find anything out. So we're going to break into the Old Man's house. Kay?"

Kiba was pretty sure he wasn't supposed to say 'kay'.

But... He had never been in the Hokage's house. And there was a little rumor whispered around the Inuzuka Clan about the most delicious steak ever created being hidden within the old man's walls... Besides, there was no way he should let Naruto go in alone. He was going to go inside, there was no stopping that, so he had a teammate's duty to follow him into hell.

"Alright. Let's go!"


When his father returned, it was with a somewhat distressed but none-too-worse-for-the-wear Kakashi-sensei that then told them that they had done a great job of information gathering, but the mission would be aborted. After a beat of uneasy silence, the man had proceeded to explain to them the mission they would be going on, how long it would take, and what kind of tools they would need.

Shino had known that his father would not be pleased with the C-Rank they had been assigned by Kakashi-sensei. That is precisely why he had planned for them to get caught by him when he returned from the monthly Clan Head Meeting. As soon as Shibi Aburame found out about the kind of thing his son would have to do to one of his own allies; with his teacher's permission; he would undoubtedly put an end to the nonsense.

It was nice to see that he was usually always right.

"That is all. I'll see you all tomorrow by the Village Gates."

"First thing in the morning."

Kakashi-sensei nodded at his father's words, even though he didn't look back at the man. "First thing in the morning!" He glanced at all of his genin for a second, nodded to himself, then offered them a shaky salute before he vanished.

Shino's father stood there for a couple of seconds, glaring at the spot that had once been occupied by their teacher, then sighed, shook his head, and looked at his son and his teammates. "Would you like some dinner?"

They all glanced at each other before they answered.

They didn't really have anything to do at the moment. They had already packed everything they might need for the mission, including their newly poisoned senbon, and had not much else to do.

Shibi wasn't an amazing cook. But he could make a couple of really delicious simple meals if he put his mind to it.

"If it's not any trouble, sir."

His father nodded before he walked into the kitchen, leaving them in the front room of Shino's house for a couple of seconds.

Then Sakura squealed in glee and Chouji chuckled happily. That left Shino's bugs to hum a bit in contentment.

"Our first C-Rank!"

"We should tell Genma-sensei all about it when we come back!"

Shino smiled at his friends and nodded.

Shiranui-sensei was a good ally to have. His teaching method wasn't necessarily Shino's favorite, but he had learned a lot in the time they had tailed him for Kakashi-sensei's now canceled mission. It wouldn't hurt them to see what else they could gain from him.


Shikamaru found Intra-Clan dealings troublesome. This was the very reason why he did his best to stay as far away as possible from anything that didn't have to do with his father and mother when it came to the Nara Clan. Maybe Hinata should learn how to handle her own family in the same manner.

"Alright, team! I think you're ready!"

"R-ready?"

Kurenai-sensei was smiling like a lunatic.

Shikamaru suddenly felt a thousand times more tired than before... Just the energy in that smile managed to drain him... He didn't even want to think about what could cause such a smile.

"To go on your first mission!"

Troublesome.

"But we've already been on missions." Sasuke huffed and Kurenai-sensei never lost her smile.

"On D-Ranks." She emphasized, then clapped her hands together, "You three have shown a lot of initiative and drive for the past few weeks, though, and your hard work hasn't been lost on me! So I think it's about time you three were assigned your first C-Rank!"

Ew.

Shikamaru sighed when Hinata squeaked in what he guessed must have been excitement and fear. Sasuke merely huffed again, even though he didn't say anything, and leaned back against the tree trunk Shikamaru was using to hold himself up.

"You three have already perfected tree climbing. Even though your water walking is kind of shaky, I know you three are ready for a simple mission outside of Konoha. What do you think?"

"S-s-sure..."

"Tch."

"Troublesome."

Kurenai-sensei somehow never lost her smile, even with the underwhelming reaction she received from her team.

How could anyone ever be so optimistic?


They were caught almost as soon as they entered the compound.

"Akamaru! Bite that bastard!"

Akamaru sailed over Naruto's head to latch onto the shadowy figure that had tripped Naruto up. Kiba then helped Naruto get up and they both fell into fighting positions; prepared to face the challenge before them.

"Get off of me, you mangy-"

"Finish that insult and he'll aim lower!"

Naruto blinked in confusion at the voice he heard.

It sounded awfully familiar... He couldn't place it, though...

"Akamaru! Stand down!"

"He won't listen to a jerk like you!"

"Kiba!"

Naruto gasped when the yell finally connected with a voice he knew.

"Asuma-sensei? What're you doing here?"

A light suddenly clicked on, forcing the darkness that had been surrounding them to dispel immediately. As soon as that happened, Naruto was able to see their teacher glaring at them, a growling puppy latched onto his upper left arm, and a glass of something grasped in his right arm. He was dressed in pajamas and looked pretty tired.

"He lives here, Naruto."

He couldn't deny it; Naruto jumped when he heard the Old Man's voice beside him. He jumped right into Kiba, making the Inuzuka growl even as he managed to catch him in his arms, and then they both looked over at where Naruto had once stood.

The Third Hokage stood there in a regal looking, rather long, robe and a distinct lack of a big, pointy hat.

"Call Akamaru off, Inuzuka."

Akamaru growled again and Kiba smirked at their teacher, "Now that's just affectionate growling, Asuma-sensei."

Asuma's face darkened suddenly and Naruto felt as if the room somehow got extremely cold. "I see that Ino isn't part of this little break-in... Should I call her in and ask her to clear things up?"

Kiba whimpered softly and Naruto paled.

"There's no need for threats, son." The Hokage cleared his throat, "Akamaru, please, stop biting him."

Akamaru growled once more but unlatched himself from Asuma's arm. Although he did jump onto the man's head and settled on top of it... He even looked rather comfortable up there, too.

"Get off."

Akamaru bit the hand as soon as it got near.

Naruto and Kiba laughed quietly at the sight of their teacher getting bitten by Akamaru... Again.

"Now that that's cleared up," the Hokage turned to them, a mixture of curiosity and fondness on his face. "Why have you two chosen to break into my home in the middle of the night?"

"I want information, old man!" He jumped out of Kiba's arms and pointed a finger right at him. "And I want it now!"

The man looked down at him for a few seconds, then sighed, "Isn't it rather late? Can you not come back tomorrow morning for that information?"

Naruto blinked.

Kiba huffed.

Akamaru snored.

"But... I want it now..."

"Alright, it seems there is no other course to follow..." The old man sighed, then motioned for him to follow. "Come along, then. I have all of the files you wish to see inside of my library."

Naruto stared after him for a couple of seconds before he felt Kiba nudge him. "Let's go, Dead Last."

They walked away. But before they were completely gone, they heard Asuma-sensei call after them to get Akamaru off of him.

They chose to ignore the man.

..~..~..

I'm thinking of making two more chapters: One that deals with the adults in the lives of these kids and then one for the Chunin Exams. But for that to be it. I never actually planned to make more than two or three chapters for this, so I think ten is a pretty good number to end it at.

Hope you all liked this! Please review!

Chapter Text

Sakura Haruno had always been a smart girl and an exceptionally great student. All of the teachers she had learned from throughout her whole life had agreed on this very point: Sakura was an extraordinarily bright girl with much promise to fulfill. It was because of this very intellect that her civilian teachers had pushed for her to join the Ninja Academy instead of the regular, civilian one when she had been only six years old.

Kizashi and Mebuki Haruno had been terrified as soon as the woman had offered them the registration papers. And when they had been told that the papers had just needed their signatures, everything was already taken care of, they had been prepared to run off and move to another town, just to keep their precious daughter safe.

It had taken a meeting with the Hokage and receiving a full rundown of the ninja life to get the Haruno's to even begin to think of allowing their only daughter to become a ninja and join the Academy.

Eventually, they had only agreed to such a dangerous decision because Sakura had asked them to allow her the chance to prove she could make it.

Every single day now they lived in fear of receiving news that their only daughter had died during a mission. They worried over the day a ninja messenger would appear at their doorstep to announce the passing of Sakura Haruno, genin, and giving their rehearsed and rather unemotional condolences.

It was not fun knowing that their only child would constantly be on the front lines, in danger of getting attacked by someone much stronger than her. The ninja life was not one they knew much about, and that terrified them. And whenever Sakura came back with tales of their missions and adventures... Well, all those stories worked for was to make them worry about their only daughter even more.

The only thing that actually brought any kind of comfort to them was knowing that Sakura was out their, fighting the good fight, with those two great Clan boys by her side.

"I brought cake, Mebuki-san!"

"I managed to buy this book on ancient samurai customs during our last mission, Kizashi-san. I believe you expressed interest in such a topic some time ago."

Mebuki smiled broadly as Chouji offered her the delicious treat that he had undoubtedly baked himself before he and Shino had come to pick Sakura up for their most recent training session. Sakura had told her that there was no need to prepare a large dinner for them once they came back, seeing how they would be hitting the books hard today rather than themselves.

Her husband's eyes shined with a childlike excitement he barely ever allowed people to see. But over the past few months, he had admitted that Sakura's teammates were worthy of his trust, so he didn't try and act like a completely serious adults around them. Especially when they brought such caring gifts.

"You guys are spoiling them!" Sakura groaned mischievously as she bounded down the staircase of their home, which made both boys look at her. "If you keep on like this, they'll want to adopt you as their own kids."

That was a preposterous idea: Chouji and Shino Haruno just did not have the same nice ring as Sakura Haruno had. Besides, both boys clearly had great home lives, seeing how they were such excellent young men.

"It's not a bother." Shino answered diplomatically, "Your father expressed interesting in this topic; I saw a book he might like. To give someone something they like cannot immediately be called a spoiling action."

"If anything, it just proves we care!" Chouji cut in with those plump cheeks of his... And Mebuki couldn't help herself.

"Boys, would you two like to invite your parents to come and eat dinner with us one day?"

Without even having had to communicate, all the parents of this team had come to an unspoken agreement: if the kids came around together at any point, feeding them was a must. Normally, Mebuki found herself making the dinners or breakfasts. Chouji and Shino's parents were almost always bothered with lunch, but sometimes were charged with dinner as well.

Team 7 had been together for a good few months now. Maybe it was about time the parents met each other properly, rather than just in formal class meetings.

Chouji blinked in surprise, but soon smiled and nodded; of course his family would love to come over for food! They could even bring dinner.

Shino's response was slower, but no less enthusiastic... Well, no, it was less enthusiastic because Shino was a much more composed individual. But Mebuki was no fool and she could see that behind the perfectly calm answer, there was an energetic glee the Aburame was keen to hide.

"Great! I'll set a date with Kizashi and we'll let you know tonight. Have a great day!"

"Thank you! See you later, Mebuki-san! Goodbye, Kizashi-san." Chouji waved his goodbye as he stepped out of the house, all the while Sakura shook her head with an awkward smile on her lips.

Her daughter was so easily riled up...

Shino offered them one curt bow before he too followed after his teammates, leaving Sakura's parents alone.

Mebuki turned to Kizashi and smiled softly, not missing the look of ease that now decorated her husband's features.

Yeah, they were worried over their only child. The life of a ninja was a difficult one they could not even begin to comprehend... But at least Sakura had two great teammates watching her back.


His Clan and the Uchiha had never gotten along particularly well. Both Clans were proud, strong, and much too narcissistic at times. Their unique cases of dōjutsu had molded them as pride filled warriors that did not believe that anything that was not their own could even begin to compare. And, while his own Clan was recognized for having sticks up their asses, the Uchiha was known for having a fired up stick within their own.

What had happened to the boy's family was nothing less than a catastrophic tragedy, Hiashi was not blind to this. But he was not going to allow the boy to walk over whoever he wished.

His first born daughter was not exceptional in any way. But he knew her truth; he knew that she could become worth his time. She just needed something to push her into that greatness. Unfortunately, his teaching style proved to be fruitless in this endeavor.

That Kurenai woman's, though... That nameless woman without any clear clan relations... She had somehow found a way to make Hinata worth his time.

And, he was loathed to admit it, but it seemed that her own teammates had helped in their own, callous, undoubtedly misguided, and extremely hard to believe ways.

He allowed Hinata to invite the rascals into their Clan's Compound because he knew that, if they were not useful in any way, the Hokage would never have even thought about putting them on a team with his daughter. Not because he cared about Hinata's well being, no, that old fool cared more about the blonde brat that any other child in the village. No, would have avoided it to not have to deal with his Clan's pesky Elders.

He was a very fortunate man, that bordering-on-senile Hokage.

"We cannot believe you have not yet listened to our orders, Hiashi! That Nara is a fruit borne from the lazy curse that has run rampant in the Clan for years; he is not worthy of our Clan's heiress."

Hiashi forced his face to remain passive; a skill he had perfected after years of being on the receiving end of his Elder's tries at abuse. It was not difficult to seem disinterested at the repeated topic, even though it was one he was certainly tired of.

"And that Uchiha is a menace. How could you possibly allow her to be around someone that could so easily defeat her? She is in danger of getting hurt around that barbarian!"

Barbarian, Hiashi almost chuckled. Wasn't that a term much more appropriate when used to describe an Inuzuka?

"They are fine. Now, if you would excuse me, I promised my eldest daughter I would teach her a new fighting technique today."

And she does have a rather busy schedule, she had to make room for these lessons because her days are so taken with her teammates.

"Don't walk away from us! We know what is best!"

No, they did not. But Hiashi wasn't about to say that to their faces, he couldn't risk such a impulsive act even though he was the Clan Head. No, for as long as they lived, he would need to deal with the annoying control freaks that were his Elders. He did not have to follow everything they said, he just needed to keep them pleased. And he was sure that once they saw how far Hinata's training had come, they would take a step back and make their whines quieter.

Hiashi knew that he only had two hours at most to spend time with his oldest daughter before she had to leave to make sure she was prepared for an upcoming week-long mission that would take her out of the Village.

He was proud that she wasn't afraid of heading out anymore. Even though he wasn't sure how he felt about her leaving for so long with those two boys... He tolerated them, but he was more than aware of how dangerous young boys that age could be.

He was no fool, nor was he blind. It was clear to see that both boys liked Hinata to some degree. And, even though he liked to believe they would not try anything that could be considered disreputable, he was not sure just how far their liking of Hinata went. And that worried him.

It seemed he would just have to hope that his daughter would be strong enough on her own to not fall to any stupid moves they pulled...

Hiashi stopped walking at that moment and sighed heavily.

How he wished his wife was still here to help him deal with the fact that his oldest daughter was growing and, soon enough, he would have to start dealing with suitors.

He hated that word.

Still, there was no time to contemplate on how he would rather keep his daughter locked away than have her near any stupid boys. He had a few hours to spend with said daughter and he did not want to waste them in a foul mood.


"Can you feel anything, Naruto?"

The Inuzuka shook his head dumbly, causing Ino to growl out in frustration once again. The blonde boy, the only member of the team that had been allowed to sit the training session out, although he had to make sure the puppy did not run amok and destroy any of his flowers, was too busy reading a scroll- rather attentively, too- to pay attention to what was happening.

Inoichi smiled softly at his daughter, but shook his head.

"Ino, you have to concentrate."

"But I am!"

Inoichi did not doubt his daughter's concentration. He did doubt, though, just how strong it was.

"I know this isn't easy, but if you don't master this, then you won't be able to build upon this extremely useful technique."

"I know that, dad!" Ino huffed, "Why don't you just lay off? I'm going to get some water!"

She stomped away without another word, leaving Inoichi to look after her with a bittersweet feeling. He was fond of his daughter and found her frustration somewhat adorable- she hadn't changed almost at all since she had been a child. But he was frustrated himself with how little determination and effort she was actually putting into learning this technique. He understood that it was a novice technique and wasn't as flashy as some of their other jutsu, but it was an important base she needed.

Kiba, in the mean time, scratched at his cheek while the rambunctious puppy that had busied himself by digging a hole in his backyard- hadn't he asked Naruto to help keep him in line?- jumped onto the top of his head.

"Just what am I s'pposed ta be sensin'? Why do we need this? Akamaru an' I can smell anyone out no problem!"

Ah, the naivety of youth... How Inoichi was humbled by this adorable, mistaken, misguided boy.

"Just think of this jutsu as a complement to your nose, kid. Imagine if you're trying to find a target that has hidden in a river- your nose won't be able to catch the scent, but this technique will help you find them."

Kiba blinked at this, hummed in thought, then nodded. "Sounds good. Pretty situational if you ask me, unlike the Inuzuka nose... But good enough for those poor, unfortunate souls that were robbed of such a great nose."

Oh, Inuzuka... They were all the same, weren't they? The boy almost sounded like Tsume in what he said; the only big difference was that he hadn't ended the sentence in a threat about the Yamanaka trying to muscle in on his territory.

This was the first time Inoichi met Ino's teammates properly. But it was not the first time he had come across either boy. Back in their Academy days, Inoichi had seen them while he went to pick his princess up. Often times, he found the blonde boy concocting or in the middle of a prank, while the Inuzuka spent his days running after dogs and other animals, rather than playing with other humans.

It was odd to not have Chouji and Shikamaru here to share this experience. Ever since they had been born, they had been prepared to be the next Ino-Shika-Cho. But, at the last minute, the Hokage had decided that maybe it would have been best to break tradition with this particular batch of Academy students.

Inoichi still couldn't wrap his head around the reason why the Hokage had done this... But he could at least see some uses to the Inuzuka boy being Ino's teammate. Ino, once she had mastered this technique, could fill in any blanks about territory the Inuzuka missed. And, in return, the Inuzuka would undoubtedly be useful in helping her use some of her most dangerous techniques because he was able to run interference well, as was customary for all Inuzuka.

Naruto, though... Inoichi was still not sure just where in the puzzle that was Team 10 he fit.

"Uh... Yamanaka, sir?"

The voice was not the blonde's customary shout. So, immediately, Inoichi was intrigued.

"Yes, Naruto?"

The blonde was fidgeting with the paper in his hands, looking like a child terrified of angering an adult.

Sometimes, it was easy to forget the boy was just that; a simple boy. Sometimes, it was much easier to remember the monster harbored inside of him... Remember the fear that monster had forced into all of their hearts.

Looking at him like this, though, it was very hard to see him as anything other than a confused child.

"Can you tell me anything about my parents? The old man gave me these documents... But they've got lots of parts crossed or blanked out..."

Inoichi took hold of the papers offered and looked them over, only to quickly notice that this was a history of Minato's career as a shinobi.

He was stunned by this, don't get him wrong... But he was relieved by it, too.

It seemed the Hokage had changed his mind on the ruling he had decreed so long ago...

"If you leave me these, I can piece something together."

He didn't really have to. He could remember many of Minato's missions; a lot of even better moments in their youth, too. But it would be best to make sure the Hokage had actually given Naruto these papers before he said anything that could get him in trouble.

"O-okay..." Naruto nodded, then picked up the other scroll he had carried in with him.

Hmm... The Uzumaki Clan symbol? It had been a while since he had seen that anywhere other than the Konoha shinobi uniform.

"Okay! I'm ready!"

Inoichi smiled as he pocketed the papers Naruto had given him; "Alright, princess. Breathe and relax. Make Kiba feel what you know is below the ground."

"A bone for Akamaru... Or Kiba, they're both savages, dad."

Ino had suggested this as their prize for helping her out with her training... If she was able to succeed with the technique she was practicing.


They usually tried their best to be able to get together at least once every month to be able to catch up and compare notes about their kids.

Before this year's genin teams had been assigned, Choza had not thought so much about these meetings. He thought they would actually talk about anything other than their kids, seeing how he had been prepared to see his son form part of the newest generation of Ino-Shika-Cho. But once he had found out Team 7 would not have either of his best friend's kids, he had quickly figured out that their kids would form a large part of their meeting.

"He thinks that a meeting between Clan Heads can show that the Nara are just as invested in their heir as the Hyuuga are..." Shikaku breathed out heavily as he swirled his glass of sake in his hands. "I don't know if I should feel proud Shikamaru is finally getting interested in Clan Politics, or annoyed that I'm a victim of this sudden interest..."

Inoichi patted his back with a soft smile on his lips, then assured him, "Better you suffer and he learn than he learn nothing at all, my friend."

Choza hummed in agreement as he munched on some of the appetizers they had ordered, then informed them, "The Haruno's invited us over to their house for dinner. Shino's parents are supposed to be going too."

He liked Sakura's parents. Even though they were civilians, they didn't seem to hold the same reservations about shinobi that other civilians did. They didn't blame clan kids when something went wrong and they seemed to be just as invested in their daughter's team as Choza and his wife were.

"Ah, that's nice." Inoichi offered, then murmured, "Ino still refuses to have Kiba and Naruto in our house for more than a couple of hours... She honestly thinks if they hang around for longer, their smell will wilt the flowers."

That Ino... She had never been a big fan of her more rambunctious classmates. And she had never been the kind to allow her displeasure with anything remain quiet.

"That girl... She'll make a fine team leader one day."

At one point, this had caused them something to worry over. Shikamaru was a natural born leader, albeit lazy and much more prone to let someone else take control of a situation if he wasn't feeling it was worth his time. Ino, just like him, was born to lead someone. But she wasn't about to let go of the reigns unless it was absolutely necessary. When they had been kids, they had even wound up in petty fights because Ino wanted to lead something and Shikamaru told her she was doing it wrong, he should be in charge.

At least now they didn't have to worry over such a thing.

"She already is. Naruto still tries to wrestle control from her sometimes, but Kiba is much more likely to listen to Ino than to him... Although, apparently, he is a rather suggestive individual..." Inoichi murmured as he brought out a scroll Choza had not seen before. "Naruto and he broke into the Hokage's home to get Naruto some answers about his family."

Now that shocked Choza. And from the way Shikaku actually looked awake, rather than just mopey and tired, he could tell that his best friend was also surprised to hear such a thing.

Inoichi smiled at them both, "I have been given permission to teach Naruto about his parents and his mother's clan. I just came back from a meeting with the Hokage right now."

That was great news. Choza had always believed Naruto deserved to know something about his parents, even though the Hokage had thought it best to keep a whole history from him. He'd never spoken against it, though, because he had never felt strongly about the decree or being against it. Still, it was nice to see change was afoot. And it would definitely be a great moment in Naruto's life if Inoichi was the one that would be teaching him.

Out of all of them, he had been the closest to Minato. It only seemed right for him to do such a thing for the man's son.

"Well hasn't this been an exciting day?" Shikaku commented sarcastically, which made Choza shake his head.

The hour went by as they shared further stories to catch up, but eventually they had to get up and leave the bar they called their meeting grounds to go back to their usual lives.

Choza made his way back to his home, only to find Team 7 hunkered inside... Looming over the kitchen table as if they were trying to decipher a map that would take them to unbridled riches.

"Chouji? What's going on?" He asked, making them all jump and turn to look at him with almost identical looks of surprise. Shino was the only one with most of his face covered, but Choza could guess that his expression mirrored that of his friends.

"Would you believe me if I tell you it's nothing?"

Choza smiled warmly at his son, "Of course not."

The three all deflated, then eventually explained to him that they were trying to figure out how to beat their teacher's newest training exercise. So Choza decided that, even though he should have gone back to the dojo to help out where he was needed, he could spend a couple of minutes with his son and his teammates.

They weren't Ino and Shikamaru. But Shino and Sakura seemed to be the perfect fit for his son. And Choza couldn't have asked for anything more.


Her son was an idiot and the only smart person on his team was the Yamanaka girl. Tsume had no problem in admitting this. She was a proud member of the Inuzuka Clan and would stand up for her family when she deemed it necessary- but she could also see when her family wasn't as strong as was required or desired.

Her son was no weakling, nor a coward. But he wasn't leader material, like Hana. And Tsume had always believed that a woman was better equipped to leading idiots than a man was- they were able to think in a way that no man could ever utilize. Ino Yamanaka was precisely the girl needed to lead a loose cannon like the Uzumaki brat and the idiot that was her own brat.

Out of all the girls she knew to have been in the Academy with her brat, she honestly thought the Yamanaka was the best fit to put him in line.

The Uzumaki brat was a danger to her son, though. Kiba would never admit to it, but he was a follower, not a leader. He was easily persuaded into doing something, even though he fought tooth and nail to make people believe otherwise. He may have been able to fool the whole world into believing this, but his mother would always know his truth. Kiba Inuzuka had a very malleable backbone that could be twisted with the right words.

Naruto and Ino both seemed to know this. So her son found himself either listening to Naruto one moment or Ino in the other. He thought that they both had good points- Naruto could sound smart sometimes and he was terrified Ino would leave his soul outside of his body just to force him into doing something.

In essence, her son was an idiot. Ino was good for keeping him in line. Naruto could do so as well, but was as much as an idiot as him.

Quite frankly, this was not the team she would have liked to have put her son in. She would have much rather put him on a team with two girls, let him be the medical assistance, and have him continue learning what respect and value for life meant.

From the stories she heard at her dinner table- which always involved curses at Asuma-sensei, terrified denials of being afraid of Ino, and horribly hidden admiration to Naruto-, though, she could tell that this wasn't necessarily the worst team to have put her son in.

Now she just needed to get those two kids in her home so they could learn something about her clan. Kiba could tell her lots of facts about the Yamanaka now and was on his way to learning about the Uzumaki's and Naruto's father, yet he could still barely remember the name of their most respected ancestors.

One of these days, she would bring those three into the Inuzuka Clan.

And when that day came, she would be able to see with her own eyes the true alpha that was that Ino kid.

Hmm... Maybe she could speak about an arranged marriage to Inoichi... Her kid clearly liked Ino, underneath all of that fear.

"Kuromaru! Remind me to talk to Inoichi about his brat one of these days!"

"Leave your pup alone, Tsume. He's scared already."

She smirked over at her partner and just about drooled over her clan's possible future with Hana as the Clan Head and Ino as her enforcer.

She had always liked the Yamanaka a tiny bit more than she disliked everyone else.


Shibi Aburame had never before been invited to have dinner in the home of any of his son's friends.

Being an Aburame, he had never been too bothered by this fact. His clan had never been the kind to be liked by more than just a handful of people. Most shinobi thought they were weird and tended to stay far from them. Civilians were even more infamous for this sort of marginalization; this group had a long and bumpy history of being terrified of most things they were not able to understand.

Shinobi and civilians didn't mix well. Civilians didn't understand them and feared supernatural powers they did not have. Shinobi did not care to understand the civilians fears and did nothing to assure them of their safety.

Shibi had thought his whole life would continue without him ever being invited anywhere that was not Aburame owned because that was just the way his Clan lived their lives.

But then Shino had asked him to please come to a dinner with Sakura Haruno's family, which Chouji Akimichi's parents would also be attending. And the anxiety that came with social gatherings not connected to work hit him almost immediately.

He would still go because his son had been asked to invite him and it would be rude to deny Sakura Haruno's parents of the chance to meet him, if that was what they wanted. But that did not mean that he actually wanted to go.

He did not.

But he would. For his son and his team.

On the night of the gathering, Shibi followed his son with their offering of drinks in his arms. He wasn't one for social graces, but Sakura had taught Shino to always offer the hosts of any gathering something, no matter how small. And so Shino had passed that along to his father. Food had been crossed out of their plans as soon as the idea struck them, though, seeing how the Haruno's had the meal itself covered while the Akimichi's would undoubtedly be bringing dessert.

When they arrived at the Haruno home, Shino knocked politely on the door and waited for it to open, ever as polite as his mother had taught him to be before she had passed.

Choza Akimichi's smiling face greeted them within a few seconds.

"Shibi! Shino! It's great you're finally here!"

Shibi quirked a silent eyebrow at him, for they were not late. Shino had told him they were to arrive at six p.m. And his watch read 5:59- a minute earlier than they were supposed to have arrived.

They entered the quaint civilian home, Choza's wife took the drinks they had brought and took them with her into the kitchen, and Shibi found his insects buzzing uncomfortably at the thought of a such a bright social setting.

His son was accustomed to having teammates by now. He was better at reading social qeues than Shibi could ever have hoped to be. So he was not out of place when Sakura and Chouji walked up to greet him.

Shibi had none of those qualities. He had always been quiet and rather disliked by many his age. There was always something people considered to be 'off' with him: most did not like how serious he was; if someone was able to look over that, then they were not capable of leaving his bugs and Aburame heritage in the back burner. And if, miraculously, someone was able to look over that, there was his social awkwardness as the final barrier keeping people away from him.

He was accustomed to this, so he did not mind it. But he was glad that his son would never have to face the world alone, seeing how his genin team accepted him; all of him.

"Come on, Shibi. Kizashi was just showing me his merchant collection from Suna; he's making deals down there even with how unstable everything is. I say he is one of the bravest civilians I have met."

"One of the only civilians, undoubtedly." A pink haired man- not as bright as his daughter's, interestingly enough- cut in with a small smile.

Kizashi Haruno.

Shibi caught himself analyzing any and everything he could about the man on the spot. Because of this, an uncomfortable silence fell over the three of them before Shibi could truly find himself causing it.

Awkwardly, he shuffled on his feet.

Then he cleared his throat and tried to say something.

"I would be honored to see this collection."

He almost smacked himself.

Was he speaking with the Hokage?

A couple of beats of silence hung over them, then Kizashi and Choza burst out into smiles and continued to speak to him about the collection of Suna goods as they dragged him further into the Haruno home.

Shibi, for the first time in his life, found himself surrounded by people that didn't comment on his bugs buzzing loudly due to his emotions... Not even once.

If he had held any doubts about Team 7 being the right fit for his son before this night, he no longer held them.


"You have to set the date, dad."

Shikaku had to stop himself from groaning out loud when his son reminded him about the meeting he wanted to set up between Clans... For what felt like the hundredth time.

He could hear Yoshino chuckling in pure glee from somewhere inside their home, but he chose to pay attention to one annoyance, rather than two.

"I have to first set a meeting with our own Elders, Shikamaru. If I get their permission to make nice with Hinata's Clan, then maybe then, I'll be allowed to-"

"Not good enough, dad. You have pull and our Elders don't give a damn about what we do as long our relations with the other Big Clans remains mostly positivie. We cannot keep just the Yamanka and Akimichi as close allies and you know that. The Hyūga would be great allies to have, if only just to keep friendly and distant relations."

Shikaku wanted to hear none of this. Not because it was wrong or because his son didn't understand the realities of the real world. No, he did not want to deal with any of this because he knew that Shikamaru was right.

The Nara, Akimichi, and Yamanaka Clans all had great relations because their members were predisposed to becoming friends. Their history was one they mostly shared and it was not difficult to become friends in such an environment.

With the other Clans of Konoha- be they big or small- the Nara had maintained a mostly cordial relationship. They were not allies, nor were they enemies. But they were certainly not odious towards each other. So they were able to live in peace within Konoha without having to worry about upsetting other Clans.

"I'll set the date. The Hyūga won't believe our interest in improving relations unless we take the first step."

His son walked out of the kitchen without offering Shikaku even a second to tell him that he didn't want to deal with any of this.

Shikaku sighed heavily and allowed his head to drop onto the table in front of him, silently cursing the Hokage for having placed Shikamaru on a team with that Hyūga girl he actually decided was worth his time.

He didn't know what this Hinata had done to actually make his son invested in something other than sleeping or cloud watching... But Shikaku, while he kind of hated the fact his life wouldn't go back to being peaceful for a while, decided that maybe it wasn't so bad Shikamaru had found an interest in something.

It was just unfortunate that he now actually cared about politics.


"And you helped train him, Old Man?"

Hiruzen couldn't help but smile as Naruto gaped in pure awe at him.

Talking about Minato Namikaze and Kushina Uzumaki was never easy. But to see this look on Naruto's face... It was almost priceless.

Talking about Kushina was easier and much less dangerous. So Naruto had begun to learn a lot about the Uzumaki Clan, their past, their traditions, their strengths, and their flaws. The boy was now insisted on finding a teacher that could begin to teach him the art of sealing- something that Inoichi had stepped up to begin, but could not possibly continue because his own skills were just what was necessary for him to survive.

"I did. But that is enough for today." The man smiled, then moved to pick up his pipe so he could light it up once again.

He had filled up an hour as he talked to Naruto about the genin team his old student had once taught; one which Minato had formed a part of; and how he had aided in their growth from time to time. Of course, being his ever quizzical self, he had not told Naruto that his father was part of the story until the very end.

Now Naruto wanted more. Of course he did.

"What? No! Come on!"

There was a knock on the door just as Naruto jumped onto his desk to try and threaten him into telling him more.

Hiruzen merely called out for whoever was by the door to come on in.

Both Kurenai Yūhi and his son walked into the room.

Upon seeing his student, Asuma frowned, walked up to him, and pulled him down from the desk. "You can't assault your Hokage, Naruto. What in the world are you even doing here?"

Naruto stuck his tongue out at his teacher, then turned back to the Third Hokage, "Next week?"

"Next week."

Naruto nodded, glared one final time at his son, and finally ran out of the room. Undoubtedly, he would go to Kiba Inuzuka and recount everything the Hokage had just told him about his father. Maybe young Ino would even be a part of this round of retelling.

"You're spoiling him."

He turned to his son and merely smiled.

No. He was trying to correct a mistake.

But his son did not need to know that.

"Are you here for your reports?"

"Yes, Lord Third." Kurenai bowed slightly and offered him the scroll that was filled with this week's report on Sasuke Uchiha.

Without a word, Asuma handed over the scroll filled with Naruto's own account.

The Hokage thanked them and waved them off. Once they were gone, he was left alone in his office, with all of the paperwork he needed to read up on and complete before the day ended.

There were just some parts of this job that he could never get himself to like...

Sighing softly, he took up Kurenai's report and began to read up on what had happened this week with the orphan.

"Improving team work... Communication with teammates almost reaching polite... Being nice to Hinata? My, my, now that is a surprise..." Hiruzen mumbled to himself, allowing a small smile to form on his lips.

He could not protect all of his Villagers as he wished. He could not promote favoritism by giving specific villagers easier positions. No matter how much he wanted to, he could never help everyone. So he could not invest too much time in just one individual.

He was breaking enough codes of conduct with what he was now doing with Naruto. But this boy was a special case... He allowed himself to run the risk because he knew the reward would be great. But because he helped Naruto, he could not lend the help Sasuke Uchiha desperately needed.

Luckily enough, it seemed he had been correct to place him on a genin team with the only girl in the Academy that was more obsessed with another boy than with him.

Life was not perfect. But he was trying to at least make it better.

..~..~..

And that's the parents chapter! I hope you all liked it! Please review!

Chapter Text

Out of Control Emotions can be as Self-Destructive, Dangerous, and Damning as Lack of Confidence in One's Abilities

She wasn't prepared for today.

She had thought that she was totally prepared to face off the Chunin Exams because Team 7 was so great at just about everything they put their mind to. They had all been so sure of themselves when they had managed to pass the first phase of the Exams because of Sakura's and Shino's joint intelligence and Shino's bugs. And of course none of them had backed out when they had been threatened by the scary interrogator.

But now they were in the middle of the Forest of Death with a Heaven Scroll in their hands and no idea as to how they were supposed to complete their mission.

"Kakashi-sensei would not approve of this. We are not performing accordingly." Shino chastised them, making Sakura huff and paw self-consciously at her much too long hair.

... Maybe she should cut it?

If it had been shorter, then that disgusting guy from the Hidden Mist would never have been able to pose a challenge. But he had grabbed her by the hair and kept it gripped tight until Shino had managed to scare him with a well placed explosive tag.

They had just managed to get away from him before his teammates had shown up.

Luckily, they escaped and were safe... For the moment.

"Genma-sensei wouldn't be too happy either..." Sakura lamented, tears beginning to bite at her eyes. "I-I'm sorry, guys..."

She was a weak girl. She was a civilian. She wasn't nearly strong like Chouji or even as calculated as Shino. She was just a stupid paper ninja that could only get good grades in written tests...

"We are going to pass this stage."

"Huh?"

Shino's hand was on her shoulder.

Sakura blinked in confusion at the appendage, then chanced a teary-eyed look at the Aburame. He looked just the same as ever... But, for some reason, she could somehow feel the determination rolling off of him in waves.

"We have teamwork. We know how to communicate. We managed to trick Genma Shiranui into believing we were his allies for long enough to wound him were it hurts. I believe it is time we begin to use our skills rather than run around and hope for the best."

Chouji hefted himself off of the tree branch he had been sitting on with a small smile on his lips. He looked guilty, although, oddly enough, hopeful.

"That gives me an idea, Shino... And I know just who we can target."

Sakura blinked at them both, but soon straightened herself up and nodded at both her teammates.

She was a damn fine ninja. All her faults be damned- as long as she had Team 7, everything would go perfectly!


"Hinata? How do they look?"

With the Byakugan activated, Hinata could see that the group of genin Shikamaru had instructed them to follow at a safe distance was holding the Heaven Scroll they needed to succesfully complete the Second Stage of these Exams. Aside from that, she could also see that their chakra paths were at a mere genin level- one of the few teams that weren't overpowered and hadn't been sent just to bolster their Village's image.

"We c-can take them." She answered meekly, keeping her sights on the group of three genin from the Hidden Grass. "I-I don't see any traps..." She frowned, though, when she saw the smallest boy in the group take out a roll of ninja wire. "But I think they'll start setting up..."

"Then now's our chance." Sasuke grunted, and Hinata stopped using the Byakugan to look at Shikamaru.

The Nara didn't say anything at first.

Sasuke didn't push.

Hinata had to stop herself from smiling at this.

"Sasuke, I want you to corral them towards the left edge of the clearing." Shikamaru pointed at the right side, "Set that on fire."

Sasuke quirked an eyebrow at this, "What are you planning?"

"They won't be able to escape that way. And they'll immediately jump there," the Nara pointed at the left, then spread his fingers out, "Hinata and I will be there waiting. Hinata will use the Byakugan to shut down their chakra and I'll take care of anyone that tries to stop her."

Sasuke smirked at the plan, "And here I thought Nara didn't like to fight."

Shikamaru merely smirked back, "If everything goes according to plans, I won't have to fight."

Ouch.

No pressure, right?

Hinata nodded and then began to follow after Shikamaru as Sasuke jumped closer to the group of genin.

Their plan went off without a hitch and in less than five minutes Hinata stood panting with three slightly chared and completly incapacitated ninja from the Hidden Grass strewn around her. Sasuke was smirking like the cat that had caught the canary as he riffled through the group's belongins until he found the scroll they needed. And Shikamaru patted her on the back in a silent confirmation of the good job she had done.

"That was easier than I thought it would be. I guess you did a good enough job, Hyuga- even if they were a bunch of weaklings."

Hinata's cheeks reddened beside herself.

Half-hearted as it may have been, Sasuke had still given her a compliment. And hadn't ended it with an insult to balance out the odd kindness.

"Good news is that we won't have to spend the night in the forest. Now all we have to do is travel in complete silence and we should be ending this phase in what I'd like to assume would be record time." Shikamaru informed them with his hands in his pockets. "I guess these Exams aren't as difficult as Kurenai-sensei tried to scare us into thinking."

Hinata smiled softly at this and tried her best to not stutter. "Maybe we'll all be promoted to chunin."

"Tch."

The biting glare from Sasuke was not expected.

Just where had that come from?

"Let's go. We can't mill around for too long."

And so Team 8 ran off, traveling as quietly and quickly as they could to leave the Forest of Death behind them.


"Okay. Kiba!"

"Yeah?"

"Do you smell anything?"

Both Akamaru and Kiba turned their noses up to the air and huffed in unified frustration. "Nothing... But, actually, it's a weird kind of nothing."

"What do you mean?" Naruto grunted, turning to the other genin with an annoyed glare.

Ino rolled her eyes at the immediate anger that had bubbled up in Naruto, then decided to ignore their subsequent bickering and instead focus on their surroundings. She cleared her mind and paced her breath, trying to sense out everything around her- just like her dad had taught her.

She gasped softly when she felt Chouji running up to them.

"Ino! Ino! It's Sakura and Shino! These monsters from the Mist, they-they-they!" Before he could spit out what he had been saying, he tripped over a large tree root and slammed against the ground.

"Chouji!" Ino ran towards her friend, eyes wide with confusion and worry. "What do you mean? What happened?"

"I can't find my team! We were all together one second, then these guys with weird things on their faces appeared and mist and-" Tears brimmed in the Akimichi's eyes and Ino surged forward to hug her old friend.

"They're most probably okay, Chouji. Calm down- genin aren't capable of killing each other."

Right?

She knew the answer. But she wasn't about to tell Chouji.

"They're most probably still around, Chouji. Don't worry. If they were dead, we would know." Kiba walked up to them with his hands inside of his pockets, prompting Ino to quirk an eyebrow at him.

"If someone dies, this really loud announcement rings out for the outside and the instructors. You can't hear it- but Akamaru can. I can hear it a bit, but not too clear."

"S-So... They're okay?" Chouji sniffled, making Kiba smile at him.

"I promise that we'll find them tomorrow. But we should set up camp- it's already pretty dark."

"Yeah! We should rest up and look for them first thing in the morning!" Naruto smiled.

Ino nodded and looked back at her old friend, who was looking at her teammates with unparalleled grattitude... Oh, brother.

"It's decided. You'll stick with us tonight, Chouji."

"Thank you!"

They set up their camp and bid each other goodnight, all prepared to wake up and brave another day in the Exams... Right after they had reunited Team 7.


They passed the test with flying colors.

Chouji felt kind of guilty over having tricked Team 10, but they happened to have the scroll they needed. And this was a very difficult Exam where they should have been prepared for anything- even betrayal from who they had thought had been an ally.

Yes, they had been rather kind to him by not having left him alone even when they really had no reason to take him in. And they had even offered to help him find the rest of his team just so he could stay in the game. So, if this had been a simple training exercise, they never would have even had to worry about any kind of betrayal from him.

But this wasn't some exercise. This was the real deal. And Team 7 had done exactly as Kakashi-sensei had taught them they should do in all situations- make the most of them until they were victorious.

At the moment, all of the genin teams were lined up as they waited for the coordinators of the Exam to tell them precisely what it was that they would need to do as the Third Phase of the Exam.

Chouji did his best to completely ignore the death glares that were currently being sent his way by Team 10. They were bloodied and tired, with thick black bags beneath their eyes and stained bandages were wrapped around what Chouji could only assume were injuries. Out of the three teams Team 7 cared about that hailed from Konoha, they were the only ones that seemed to have gone through quite a lot of difficulty in acquiring the scrolls they required to pass the Second Phase of the Chunin Exams.

They most probably blamed him and Team 7.

Shino and Sakura were both just happy that Kakashi-sensei's seemingly insane plan to have them tail Genma Shiranui had actually helped them accomplish something when completely necessary.

A small voice in the back of his head told him that maybe he had gone too far. Another voice, one that sounded a lot like Kakashi-sensei, let him know that he had done what he needed to do to achieve success.

The Hokage stood before them after a couple of seconds of heavy silence, only to then inform them that there would be one more round of testing before they reached the Final Stage of the Chunin Exams. Too many teams had passed the Second Stage and there would be a round of fights to be able to even everything out.

They would have only a handful of minutes to rest before the match-ups would be announced and the fights would take place.

Chouji sighed when they were told they could begin their small amount of time to rest, turning to Sakura and Shino with a worried smile.

"Individual fights? How do you think we'll do?"

"I think we shall be seeing one another in the Final Round." Shino answered almost immediately, which made Sakura chuckle awkwardly and put both of her hands on her hips.

"You sound kind of cocky, Shino."

"Confident."

Sakura smiled at the Aburame, "This'll be the first time we'll be fighting on our own without any backup. I can't wait to see just how great everyone else's training has gone!"

Chouji couldn't help but smile at his teammate's enthusiasm. They both seemed more than sure as to their fate during this extra phase within the Exams.


The first battle had nothing to do with him. Neither did it have anything to do with the rest of his team. So they were allowed to trudge up to the upper floors of the arena to watch the first round of fighting: Sakura vs. Ino.

It was odd that the first fight had two Konoha genin involved. But the Hokage had insisted that the contestants had been picked randomly without any kind of outside influence. In a spectacle completely orchestrated by ninja, Sasuke highly doubted there was no such thing as cheating and rigging. But he certainly wouldn't mind resting as the two weakest links he knew of took part in a screaming and slapping match, rather than an actual fight.

With a small sigh, the last Uchiha crossed his arms over his chest, closed his eyes, and leaned back against the wall behind him to catch his breath before it would be his turn to fight.

"You stole it from us! You sent Chouji to manipulate us and steal from his best friend!"

Ino's shout intrigued him. But not enough to open his eyes.

"It's called being a ninja, Ino. Now, are we going to fight or are you going to keep blaming my success for how hard you had to work for the first time in your life?"

"We almost died because of you!"

Sasuke chanced to crack one eye open. He could see Kurenai frowning deeply at the shouts from the girl, all the while his two other teammates actually seemed troubled what they were seeing.

Maybe this fight would actually be worth something...

With a huff, Sasuke pushed off of the wall and glanced downwards. Ino was currently wailing away at Sakura's defenses, which were air tight and actually rather impressive. The pink haired girl would bob and weave out of most of the hits, and the ones she couldn't, she would block with barely any kind of difficulty.

"That creepy snake guy appeared out of nowhere!"

A particularly vicious kick managed to break through Sakura's defenses, making her grunt and have to take a fully powered upercut from the clearly pissed off Yamanaka.

Instead of crying out and giving up like Sasuke expected, the civilian took advantage of Ino's own success, grabbed her by the wrist, and quickly dropped to the floor as she swung her right leg at Ino's knees. The Yamanaka fell with a surprised shout, much too taken aback to stop Sakura from completely taking control of the situation and putting her right arm in an arm lock.

"Deception is the first thing you have to learn, Ino!"

The blond wasn't giving up.

Before Sakura completely slammed her arm against her body, Ino was able to grab hold of her hand. She struggled to keep a hold of it, but refused to do so and have to give up via a tap-out.

"Betrayal isn't!"

Ino rolled onto Sakura and began to punch at her ribs, forcing her to let go of her arm unless she wanted something to break. This moment gave Ino an opening to put some space between them, leaving them both huffing as they glared at each other.

"Naruto almost died. Kiba almost died. Akamaru almost drowned, you... you... you Billboard Browed Bitch!"

A heavy silence fell over the arena.

Sasuke could barely even keep track of Sakura as she threw a flurry of kunai at Ino- barely trackable in her motions. Ino screamed and struggled to dodge them all. And she was too busy dodging to properly defend against the running punch Sakura followed up with. She took the full force of the blow to the chin- Sasuke wasn't able to stop himself from wincing at the thundering crunch that rang out.

For the third time since the match started, silence reigned. Ino was splayed out on the ground, barely twitching, all the while Sakura stood above her with rage burning in her eyes.

"Ino-Pig."

Sasuke hadn't expected the fight to be interesting. He hadn't expected it to last long. And he hadn't expected to see Ino's eyes open after that hit- a hit that should have broken her jaw.

She didn't say anything. She just glared at Sakura as she lifted her hands in front of her chest, blue eyes burning with silent fury.

"Ino, don't try it! It's too dangerous!" That sounded like Kiba yelling... And if reckless and thoughtless Kiba said it was dangerous, then what Ino was trying to do must have been bad.

Ino's body slumped to the ground without any flair.

The fight was finally over.

Sasuke grunted and leaned against the rail.

About time.

"I-I... I give up."

That wasn't Ino's voice... Sasuke turned around with a glare, only to find Sakura with her hand raised.

"Did you hear me? I said that I give up!" She repeated with anger mounting, glaring over at the exam's proctor, Ibiki Morino.

Ibiki frowned at this, but nodded and raised his hand in Ino's direction. "Winner of the match: Ino Yamanaka."

That idiotic fool... No matter. Ino and Sakura were the same brand of weak.


Kiba understood why Ino didn't want to lose against Sakura. He could understand why she wanted to take away the pinkette's chance at being promoted. But he just could not understand why both girls had been prepared to kill each other.

He wasn't willing to kill Chouji or Shino. Not even with what they had done. Not even with what they had gone through because of what they had done...

With an uncomfortable shift to the side, Kiba did his best to ignore the itching in his neck.

The snake bastard had bitten him. But he had not said a single thing about it... All they knew about him was that he had been looking for Sasuke Uchiha for some reason... And he had targeted Team 10 because Team 8 had been nowhere to be found.

"It seems Ino getting into your mind's so often really did help." Asuma-sensei muttered softly as he observed the battlefield.

Kiba grunted quietly, scratched Akamaru behind his ear, and counted down the seconds until Ino let go of Sakura's body and returned to her own.

It took her more time than he liked.

Eventually, Ino's eyes fluttered open and she lifted her left hand to her jaw, tears beginning to well. Kiba growled and jumped down to her, Naruto on his heels, and together they helped lift her up. Behind them, he could hear Sakura huff in confusion.

"Take her to the infirmary." Ibiki ordered and Kiba did not have enough fight in him to tell him to bite it.

Working together, Naruto and Kiba were able to take Ino into the infirmary, were they found Iruka-sensei speaking to a ninja they did not know. As soon as they noticed the three genin, the two separated and the medical nin got to work on fixing Ino up.

"That was fast. We weren't expecting anything too bad in the first fights." Iruka-sensei muttered, to which Naruto answered, "There was a lot of anger in that fight..."

"You are the weakest of your group, pup. How does it feel to be the only one standing because of how useless you are?"

The bite on his neck began to burn.

Kiba arranged his hood and looked over at Ino.

She was under.

"We should go back, Naruto."

"Yeah."

They returned in silence; just in time to see Shino's bugs blow up a guy's arms.

Being a ninja didn't sound quite as pleasant as it once had.

As they returned up to their vieweing area, Kiba chanced a glance at Shino. Rage rolled off of him in stench-filled waves, his own eyes meeting with Kiba's for a split second. There was no need to say a single thing- Shino was sending a message. Sakura may have been defeated, but he would not allow anyone to defeat him.

He hoped neither of them had to fight against Chouji. Team 7 were much too tight. An affront on one of the member's was an affront on them all. They would not take Ino's victory lying down.

He hoped neither he nor Naruto would have to fight Chouji.

"How is she?" Asuma asked as the next two names were announced: Some guy from the Sand and some guy from the Sound... Grass? Some other village.

"Being treated." Naruto murmured out as both fighters went down. "Broken jaw. She was given pain killers and was going to be examined to determine whether surgery was necessary or if regular medical ninjutsu would work."

Had the medical nin really said so much?

Kiba huffed and patted Akamaru's head as the pup whined and pawed at his nose.

He was fine.

They were fine.

Everything was fine.

The fighting continued in a blur. The guy from the Sand won. Another match was called. Another guy from the Sand had to be stopped before he murdered Lee. Another. Some nameless guy from the Sound kicked some nameless guy from Konoha's ass. Another match. The last chick from the Sand won. Another match. Neji and Hinata. An explosive and terrifying victory for Neji.

Before he knew it, his name was being called.

Just like Chouji's.


"She was in my mind... She took control of my body... I couldn't do anything to get her out..." Sakura breathed out after Shino's match, Chouji rubbing at her arm while Shino stood stiffly on her other side.

Shino had to stop himself from growling in anger.

Ino had gone too far.

The Yamanaka did not know of the emotional wounds Sakura still bore. The girl herself didn't seem to be too aware of what still hurt her. But Shino had been able to see some of her most vulnerable moments... Moments that were painfully obvious when Sakura was reminded of her perceived flaws.

Her forehead was one characteristic she never spoke about.

Shino had figured this out when Chouji's mother, trying to be nice, offered her to not use such long bangs.

Ino having yelled out what she had said because she was angry. She had deserved to lose because she was beaten. But she had used an underhanded technique to earn a victory that was not her's.

It was very ironic and extremely poetic.

Just because he admitted this, though, did not mean he enjoyed it or even began to like it.

"No one else from Team 10 will get into the Finals, Sakura. And Ino won't even make it far." Shino commented coldly, which had Sakura sighing.

Chouji's name was called after Kiba's right after Hinata's absolute defeat.

Shino had to stop himself from telling Chouji to get justice for Sakura.

Both fighters met each other in the middle of the ring, each boy eyeing the other with a distinct lack of anger in their eyes.

Chouji didn't hold anything against Kiba.

Shino knew he shouldn't either. But Sakura was his best friend.

He hated all of Team 10.

"Let's make this a good fight." Kiba offered his hand, a friendly smirk on his lips.

Why was he not angry at Chouji? He had been the one that had stolen their scroll.

"Alright. Just no peeing on me, Akamaru." Chouji accepted the hand with an equally friendly grin.

Akamaru yipped but shook his head- no promise.

The fight began and it was a good enough one, albeit a not too explosive one. They exchanged blows and ninjutsu without any actual passion behind the attacks. But as the fighting went on, as it dragged out, their hits began to take on more force.

Eventually, the two were exchanging blows like Sakura and Ino had.

So much for friends.

Shino wanted to call out and tell Chouji it was a bad idea for him to take on Kiba and Akamaru's Fang Passing Fang with a Human Boulder. He didn't say anything and just allowed everything to play out.

It was a double disqualification via ring out.

He would be the only member of Team 7 that would move on to the Final Stage.

He hoped he would be put against Ino.


Sasuke was with Hinata in the infirmary.

Shikamaru faced Kin from the Hidden Sound with only Kurenai-sensei cheering him on. He allowed the girl to think she had the upper hand during the beginning of the match, only to pull the rug out from beneath her and have her knock herself unconscious against a wall.

He climbed back up to Kurenai-sensei with his hands in his pockets and worry for Hinata clear in the forefront of his mind.

Sasuke was there when he came back.

"She'll be fine." The Uchiha commented through a clenched jaw.

Sasuke was clearly not fine with what had happened.

He earned Team 8's second and last victory by taking out all of his frustrations on a masked genin that had completely underestimated Sasuke's skills.

Quite frankly, after Lee was almost murdered and Ino and Sakura brutalized one another, there weren't too many matches that caught Shikamaru's eye. The girl from the sand defeated Tenten in a flashy way, but it wasn't even a fair match, so it wasn't even interesting. Then Naruto took on the last member of the Grass, beating him in almost no time.

The second-to-last phase of the Chunin Exams wrapped up with little fanfare.

The Nara sighed as the Hokage explained to them that they would have one whole month to train before they would host the Final Phase of the Exams.

"Let's go check up on in Hinata." Sasuke grunted just as Kurenai-sensei opened her mouth; most probably to say the same thing.

Shikamaru nodded and followed the Uchiha towards the infirmary, unsurprised by Sasuke's insistence on going to be with Hinata. Even though he refused to acknowledge them, he actually saw them as a full team unit now. And he had a very special place of hate in his heart for Neji, a teenager so prideful that even Shikamaru found some energy to not like.

When they entered the infirmary, the found it filled with other teams that were currently visiting their injured teammates. Shikamaru's eye was caught by Team 10 specifically, crowding around Ino as they explained to her how everything else had gone down.

It was a shame just how bad her friendship with Sakura had devolved.

But, if what he had understood from their shouting was correct, Shikamaru could not blame Ino for having been so pissed off. If Chouji had stolen Team 10's scroll in a bid to complete the Second Stage, he had turned his back on his childhood best friend. If Ino felt betrayed for this, she had a complete right to be angered.

He had no idea just what kind of insanity was inside of Kakashi Hatake's head, but he was grateful Kurenai was Team 8's teacher. He had never before heard of a teacher educate their genin team's to betray allies. But what else could one expect of the child of one of Konoha's greatest traitors? The past is bound to be recreated in the future if people remain ignorant to their mistakes, after all.

"Sasuke and Shikamaru won, Hinata. I hope you don't mind them taking up my attention for the next month. But, don't worry, I'll make sure to make enough time for you too."

Shikamaru breathed out as Kurenai then began to prattle on about the schedule she expected to set to ensure their best performance during the Final Stage of the Chunin Exams.


Ino did not require surgery. But she would need to go through a week of physical therapy at the hospital to make sure her jaw healed as perfectly as possible. And she couldn't speak too much or eat foods that were too hard for the next two weeks.

Asuma-sensei asked for a report of everything that had gone on during the Chunin Exams to fully understand just why it was that Ino had been so angry with Sakura.

They had said what they thought was important.

Naruto noticed that Kiba seemed to not give as much detail about what had happened while he and Ino had been incapacitated by that snake guy that had attacked them out of nowhere.

Asuma-sensei was not pleased at all with Team 7's betrayal and promised to talk with Kakashi Hatake about this. The Chunin Exams were supposed to be perilous and dangerous. But, apparently, this reality was not enough to warrant betrayal from a Konoha-born ally.

Naruto wasn't particularly happy about what had gone down during the Second Phase of the Exams. If anything, he wanted to forget all about what had happened... He wanted to forget about the control he had almost completely lost upon seeing Ino, bruised and beaten, scrabbling to find a weapon to defend herself against the snake bastard that had attacked them.

"Once your jaw's better, Ino, we'll go out and celebrate your team's excellent handling of an extremely difficult challenge. You can even choose where we go to eat." Asuma-sensei smiled comfortingly at them once they had told him everything and Naruto smiled.

They had survived and he and Ino had been victorious. There was a reason to celebrate.

Then why was there a heavy and nauseating feeling deep in the pit of his stomach? Why was Kiba frowning as he did his best to not look at any of them in the eyes? Why didn't Asuma-sensei's smile reach his eyes?

~..~..~

Now, before you kill me, there will be another chapter. Maybe there'll be two more. Not sure yet. So this story will not end here.

Team 7 betrayed Team 10. Yes. OOC. But, with the Genma Shiranui storyline... Eh, it makes sense to me. So, please no hate over that. And, if there will be hate, please tell me in a constructive way.

Please review and tell me what you thought!

Chapter Text

The True Source of an Education is the Willingness to Learn

"Alright, the Aburame'll be the only one from Team 7 that'll be getting special lessons from me. I've already spoken with Shiranui, and he has no issue offering you other two more lessons in T&I stuff if you're willing to put up with him." Kakashi-sensei informed them the Monday after the Chunin Exams had hit its hiatus, even though he didn't look at any of them because he was preoccupied with his own book.

Sakura looked over at Chouji, silently asking him if he was okay with such an arrangement. She liked Shiranui and, even though he could be over bearing and treated them too much like kids at times, his heart was still in the right place. When he taught them, they learned. And a future in the Information Gathering Division of Konoha certainly didn't sound so bad... Unless Ino would be there too. If she was gonna be there, Sakura wanted nothing to do with it.

Thinking about the Yamanaka was not very pleasant... So the civilian did her best to completely ignore the incessant scratching in the back of her head that tried to get her to think about everything that had happened because of their plan during the Second Phase of the Exam.

They had done what they needed to do to pass the Exams. That was all there was to it. No matter what Ino said, the fact of the matter was that she was just jealous Team 7 and Team 8 had managed to finish before her own disaster of a team.

She had just been exaggerating when she had said that they almost died. She had always been quite a dramatic individual, after all, and she didn't understand just where the line of going too far was drawn. Team 10 had just needed to fight two different teams to succeed, instead of just two. There was nothing more to it.

"Before that, though, I'd like a full report of everything that went on during the Exams."

The three of them exchanged looks at this, but soon shrugged and returned to looking at their teacher. He soon put his book down and looked them all over with his one eye, sighed, and motioned for them to follow him. "Let's go get some food. These stupid reports always take too long."

Sakura smiled and followed after her teacher, more than sure that he would be impressed with what he would be told about what had happened. He had been the one to order them to tail Genma Shiranui, after all. And, sure, Shino's father had put a stop to that mission, but that didn't mean that their choice to steal from Team 10 during the Chunin Exams was a bad one. They had just adapted to the situation and come out victorious.

Where was the harm in that?


She was the only member of Team 8 that had not passed through to the Final Round.

She had been prepared to be ridiculed and humiliated by those around her for having been too weak to defeat her cousin. She was prepared to finally be thrown from the clan for having lost to a member of the branch house. And she was prepared to hear from her teammates that they had been wrong to ever have believed in her skills- she wasn't good enough and she would never be.

None of that came.

Her father, in curt words, congratulated her on getting so far; she would undoubtedly be promoted to chunin, if not this year, then during the subsequent Exams she would take part in. He had then eaten breakfast with her and Hanabi, without anyone else around them.

This had been the first time in years that they had not been surrounded by other Clan members during their meal... Hinata had really enjoyed it, even though it was mostly silent and kind of awkward around the three of them.

Because of the injuries she had sustained at her cousin's hands, she would not be able to take part in rigorous activity for a while. But that did not stop her from going to the Team meeting Kurenai had called for the Monday after they had been informed as to who would be passing onto the Final Round of the Exams.

They would be announcing the match-ups that would be set to fight in a week. Until then, the genin that had passed were supposed to recover and begin to prepare themselves for any kind of fight.

When she limped into the training grounds Kurenai-sensei had told them to meet, it was to find that Sasuke and Shikamaru were aleady there with their teacher. When Kurenai smiled over in her direction, both boys turned around and looked at her in confusion.

"What're you doing here?" Sasuke asked, almost sounding alarmed, "You're supposed to be recovering." This he said with an edge of scolding.

There was reproach in his words. But there was also worry. And Hinata couldn't stop herself from smiling- they had come a long way since Team 8 had first been formed, hadn't they? Sasuke was a true friend now, even though he wasn't the kind to admit it out loud. But it he wasn't a friend, he wouldn't waste his time in talking with her.

They had never said it out loud, but there was no need for it- Team 8 was finally on the same page.

"I-I didn't want to miss this." She offered softly, limping up to them so she could sit down beside Shikamaru.

"I agree with Sasuke- Hinata, you should be at home, recovering. Not walking around the Village." the Nara frowned at her with disapproval and Hinata had to stop herself from giggling.

She was fine. In a bit of pain, but it wasn't an excruciating type that left her grasping for any kind of relief.

"If it hurts too much, I'll l-leave." She offered, making both of her teammates nod.

When they turned back to Kurenai-sensei, it was to see her smiling. It wasn't just any kind of smile- it was a wide smile that made the corners of her eyes crinkle up and showed them most of her teeth.

"What's wrong with you?" Sasuke grouched, only for her to shake her head slowly.

"Nothing at all. Now that you're all here, why don't you tell me how the Exams went for you?"


She was in pain.

But that pain was nothing compared to her need to improve.

"Dad! I want you to teach us how to sense everything!"

Her father had been reading the morning paper with a cup of scalding tea in his hand. When Team 10 burst in, it was with the slamming of the front door. And Ino was a witness to her father spilling hot tea all over his front because of how caught off guard he had been with their sudden entry.

"Ino Yamanaka!" He yelled with pain clear in his voice.

She at least had the decency to wince and run over to his side to fetch him paper towels to help sop up what had been spilled.

After minutes of scrambling to help her father, cleaning up the mess, and countless apologies, Team 10 was herded into the living room while Inoichi went to change his clothes.

They waited in silence for him to come back.

The silence was only broken when there was a knock on the front door they had burst in through. Ino went to open it, already very aware of who it was that would be waiting on the outside. Without even making sure it was him, she unlocked the door and returned to the couch, all the while calling out "Door's open, Asuma-sensei."

It took a couple of seconds, but soon enough the door opened and Asuma-sensei stepped inside.

He looked much older than the last time they had spoken.

"What's wrong?"

The man sighed softly, crossed his arms over his chest, and said, "I spoke with Kakashi about what happened with his Team during the Second Phase of the Exams."

This caught all of his team's attention. Even Akamaru perked up, even though he had been happily sleeping on Kiba's lap.

"And?" Ino prompted, eager to hear what had happened during the confrontation.

He didn't answer for a couple of seconds. Instead, Asuma-sensei remained quiet in thought and allowed time to tick by without saying anything. Eventually, though, he murmured, "He'll talk with the team. He didn't promise anything; but he didn't seem too happy to hear about what happened."

That meant nothing and they all knew it. Team 7 would continue on their high horse and no one was ever going to knock sense into them because they refused to listen to anyone other than themselves.

Whatever, Ino decided. They had shown their true colors and Konoha now knew which genin could be trusted and which couldn't. Team 10 had done everything they could under the circumstances without turning on their own allies. In the end, their hands were clean. Team 7's own were not.

They were kept in silence once again until her father came back down, in a fresh set of clothes, and asked them just why they had burst into his home so suddenly. Asuma-sensei then scolded them for not having any decency, but soon explained to her father that they wanted to enhance their sensing abilities cumulatively.

"I can do that. Will you stay for the lessons as well, Asuma-sensei?"

"Yeah. This old dog can still learn some new tricks."

Ino smiled sadly at this, then chanced a look at her uncharacteristically quiet teammates. They had both been hit hard by the Exams and by that creepy snake guy. It was a shame that they still weren't back to their old tricks... But at least they had agreed that they needed to enhance all of their abilities to never allow anyone to sneak up on them again.

… She couldn't believe she was thinking this... But she actually kind of missed Naruto and Kiba being loud and obnoxious.


While they had ordered their food, Team 10's teacher had called on their own teacher and asked for a bit of his time. This had made the man groan dramatically and curse Asuma's name. But he soon stood up, told the team to stay put, and walked out of the BBQ place they had chosen to eat in.

Chouji munched on a delicious piece of rib while all of this happened.

"Figures."

"What'd you mean, Shino?" He asked curiously, peering over at his teammate.

The Aburame was not a fan of Team 10. Hadn't been for a while, honestly. But it had really become apparent after Sakura and Ino's fight.

"Team 10 cannot stand the way we were able to trick them during the Second Phase of the Exams. They are petty and childish, so they decided to whine at their teacher in the hopes to get him to tell our own instructor. Asuma Sarutobi is here in a show of true lack of professionalism to speak to our teacher and try to undermine our success."

Damn, Chouji thought. Shino really knew which people he liked and which weren't even worthy of a single kind thought towards them.

"Tch." Sakura huffed, "Ino never could stand being second best. She always wanted to be number one."

Chouji could attest to that. His old friend had never been particularly fond of losing in any kind of way. If she wasn't winning, then she wasn't doing everything right. And she hated messing up.

He wasn't going to lie, he kind of understood why Team 10 was so hurt. But he couldn't let that stop him. The Chunin Exams were known for the brutal reality that surrounded them. Kids died all the time- getting betrayed by childhood friends surely wasn't the worst thing that could have happened to someone.

"Well, I'm sure Kakashi-sensei will deal with him easy enough." The Akimichi muttered, earning a chorus of agreements from his friends before he returned to his meal.

Kakashi-sensei took quite some time getting back to them. Actually, by the time he reached the table, they had mostly finished their meals and were only waiting for him to get back so they could see if they would be able to order dessert.

The silver haired man sat down with a small sigh, closed his eyes, and didn't say anything.

All three members of Team 7 looked at each other curiously, each one wondering just what their teacher was doing and if he would say anything. Right when Sakura opened her mouth to speak up, his visible eye opened and he addressed them.

"Well, I think it's about time you gave me a full report about the Chunin Exams. No time like the present, yes?"

There was something off about Kakashi-sensei's voice. There was a tightness in his words that hadn't been there before- as if he was straining to speak.

But... That didn't make any sense...

What had Asuma-sensei told their teacher to have him sounding so weird?


Kurenai-sensei decided on a training schedule that would help Sasuke and Shikamaru prepare themselves for the Final Round of the Chunin Exams. For the time being, Hinata would only be reading specific works on taijutsu theories and medical ninjutsu rather than actually training, due to rather obvious reasons.

Sasuke was relieved to see that Hinata wasn't too injured after the fight with that bastard of a cousin. But he was also eager to find out who his first enemy in the Finals would be because he wanted nothing more than to break that asshole's face. He had a perfectly good family, no matter how messed up, and he deemed them unworthy of his respect? He dared forsake family because of pride?

Neji Hyuga was disgusting. Sasuke Uchiha wanted to be the one to teach him just how wrong it was to think in such a manner.

Family was precious. No matter how messed up they could be. He would give anything to have his family back, even though his father wasn't the best parent in the world. He would be willing to lose everything if it meant he would be able to see his mother's smiling face outside of a photograph one last time. He would give his life to get his family back.

Those that turned their backs on family were worse than monsters. They were the most disgusting human beings out there, worse even than those that turned against their teammates.

"Maybe I should forfeit right now? That would save me from having to wake up so early..." He heard Shikamaru mumbled half-heartedly.

If he had heard such a thing from the Nara before, Sasuke would have been annoyed and his disdain for the Nara would have grown. But right now, for some reason, he just found the exasperated sigh somewhat comforting.

Shikamaru was still the same.

Hinata would eventually go back to being the same after she had healed.

Team 8 would be able to continue going on missions and Sasuke won't have to separate from the only people he actually considered friends.

… Deep in the back of his head, he knew that this perfect ending would never come about.

One of them would undoubtedly end up being promoted. And once that happened, the Team would have to be disbanded- there was no other foreseeable ending. Unless a new ninja was added to fill the vacant spot, but that would just be horrible...

He didn't want to think about this.

"We should go eat." He grunted, making Hinata immediately hum in agreement.

"Th-there's a new bakery close to my h-house... I heard an A-Akimichi runs it."

Sasuke nodded and looked over at Shikamaru, silently telling him that they would be going there. The Nara looked back at him without an ounce of disagreement- he just nodded and stuck his hands in his pockets.

"Alright. I will be seeing you all tomorrow bright and early." Kurenai-sensei called after them as they walked off, leaving Sasuke to shake his head softly at her enthusiasm.

He hated to admit it, but the woman knew what she was doing with them. They were a successful team unit now.

He just didn't want them to be separated.


"Your weakness doesn't have to end your usefulness, puppy. Accept me, accept my mark, and you will never be less than your teammates ever again. You will never be less than the Nine Tails."

The snake bastard's words kept swirling around his mind, even though he wanted nothing to do with them.

Pain, throbbing and sharp, emanated from his neck at all times. When he was around others, he could distract himself and it would numb a little. But when he was alone, it grew unbearable and Kiba had thought of grabbing a kunai to end it all on more than one occasion.

He wouldn't ever do such a thing... But the thought had struck him more than a dozen times in the past week.

He wasn't weak. He knew he wasn't. But he wasn't smart like Ino. And he didn't have a chakra monster living inside of him like Naruto. He just had a limited set of Clan jutsu that only actually worked in a small amount of scenarios.

The snake bastard was right. He was weak.

Wait, no... He wasn't!

"Hey, Inuzuka, you feeling alright?"

Kiba forced himself to shake his head in a futile attempt to get rid of his traitorous thoughts. He then looked up to find Asuma-sensei looking down at him with narrowed eyes, a small twinge of worry coming from his pores.

"Yeah... Just feel a bit sick; like a cold or something." He lied, cleared his throat, and looked over at his teammates.

Both blondes were working together to try and sense the 'special' scroll Inoichi had left in his garden for them to sense without knowing what they were looking for. It was an exercise in being able to pinpoint what was wrong with an area- what was different.

Kiba had smelled it before he had even explained what they would be doing, but had not told the man. Instead he had tried to sense it in the same way his teammates were trying- through touch rather than smell- but had found it in a couple of minutes of prodding with his senses. He considered it to be a loss, though, because he had known what he was looking for and where he would have found it.

He could have tried to continue reaching out with his senses, seeing just how far he could go without his smell, but gave up on it when he noticed that his sense of smell reached farther. Inuzuka just weren't made to be sensors like other ninja were.

It was as he had tried to not bother anyone and not let them know that he had finished with the exercise that he had found himself falling into the rabbit hole that were his thoughts... Yet again.

"You have been looking pretty feverishly lately..." The man murmured softly, then raised his hand to try and place it on his neck.

Right where Orochimaru had bitten him.

Kiba flinched away immediately, raised his hand to the spot, and forced a chuckle, "Guess I haven't been taking good care of myself..."

As soon as Asuma's scent was filled with worry, Kiba knew he had messed up.

"Would you like to accompany me to go and get some food, Kiba? We can leave these two to continue training."

Kiba knew that this wasn't a request. It was an order.

"O-okay."

Shit.

What was he supposed to tell the man?

The truth?

No... He couldn't... He couldn't let him know just how much of a coward he had been...

Asuma stood up from the cushion he had been seated on and Kiba knew that he had no choice in the matter.


They told Kakashi-sensei everything. There was no need to lie to him, after all. They had done everything they thought they had to in order to survive and come out victorious. They had done nothing wrong.

"Like with Genma Shiranui." Sakura offered when they had explained their plan to send Chouji to Team 10 so he could see if they had the scroll they needed. "We infiltrated, acquired trust, and quickly finished our objective." She beamed and Shino found that she had nicely summarized everything he considered worth mentioning.

Kakashi-sensei's expression was mostly unreadable throughout their report. This annoyed Shino, but it did not surprise him. Their teacher was known for his relaxed state, but he was also known for an impressive poker face few could decipher.

One day he would be able to read the man even when he put up a look of pure stone. But today he would not be able to.

"I taught you how to turn on your allies, huh?"

The Aburame's eyebrows furrowed as soon as he heard the odd question.

Once they had finished reporting everything to their teacher, silence had reigned over them for a couple of seconds. Shino had not considered this to be odd, seeing how Kakashi-sensei had always shown a predisposition towards unnecessary theatrics. But, after he had spoken up, he did not sound like his usual self. He sounded... Pained.

"Well, yeah." Sakura mumbled, "We were supposed to have turned on Shiranui, per your instructions. We didn't because Shino's dad assigned us another mission. Remember?"

Kakashi-sensei huffed and crossed his arms over his chest, allowing his head to lower a bit. He closed his eye and remained silent, letting Team 7 glanced at one another in confusion.

Just what was going on?

"They'll be announcing you opponent next week, Shino. You're all on vacation until the announcement."

"Wait, but, Kakashi-sensei-" Sakura tried to ask the man just what was wrong, but he was gone before she had finished speaking.

Team 7 was left alone in the BBQ place they had come to recognize as their favorite eatery in Konoha. Kakashi-sensei didn't excuse himself or even offer a proper farewell. He just vanished in a flurry of leaves and wind.

The three genin blinked in stunned silence, then Chouji murmured, "Guys... I'm starting to think we did something wrong."

Indeed, that was most probably what had happened. But just what it was that they had done wrong, Shino did not know.


If anyone had told him that he would enjoy spending time with Sasuke and Hinata a couple of months ago, Shikamaru would have told them that he didn't really want to deal with either of them.

If anyone had told him that he would be looking through legal documents to try and find a way to help Sasuke move out of the dead and dilapidated Uchiha Compound for at least a couple of years without him losing the lands, Shikamaru would have thought the person talking to him was insane.

And if anyone had told him he would, simultaneously, be helping his father prepare for a dinner with Hiashi Hyuga that determined the future relationship between both clans, Shikamaru would have thought the person telling him all of these insane things had broken out of a mental hospital.

But there he was, reminding his father about proper Hyuga etiquette while his mother prepared the man's finest robes to not seem uncaring when he entered the Hyuga's domain. And, in his room, there were stacks of property laws and ownership contracts that were much older than himself, waiting to be scoured through so he could find a way to help Sasuke out.

They hadn't found anything yet, but he was sure they would. Old laws were filled with vulnerabilities- finding them was the tricky part.

"You were never interested in politics before, Shikamaru…" His father lamented, making Shikamaru glare at him when he had to stop reading for the fifth time in the evening.

"I wasn't. Now I am. You should be proud."

"I am." His mother appeared from her closet with a fine set of clothes in her hands, turning a broad smile onto her husband. "You should be proud of our son, Shikaku. He's going to make a fine politician one day."

That wasn't what he wanted to be. He wanted to be a ninja and cloud watch all day long with an okay looking wife and moderately behaved kids. He didn't want anything more; nor anything less.

But the Hyuga Clan were much too tightly wound to accept him as Hinata's teammate at the moment. If the Nara were able to ease tensions, though, then Team 8 wouldn't be a point of discontent in the Clan anymore.

And Sasuke had been handed horrible cards by the Village and it seemed as if no one actually cared about him. So, if no adult did, Shikamaru would make damn sure that at least he tried something.

He had managed to spend a peaceful and quiet day with his teammates. They had finished eating in relative silence and had decided to go to the top of the Hokage Monument together to just cloud watch. So Shikamaru had found himself laying down beside Hinata, who was a bit too winded for his liking, and Sasuke, who had grouched about useless activities but still stayed with them throughout the afternoon.

Today had been a day in which Shikamaru had been reminded as to why he cared about his teammates.

Tonight would be the night his father would show that Nara were worthy of being a Hyuga's teammate.

He wouldn't let his lazy father ruin such an important moment.

"Dad, listen. You can't bow too low, but it can't be too high either."

His father groaned and Shikamaru had to stop himself from growling at him to stop being such a child.

His mother merely chuckled at them both, telling Shikamaru that she was happy he was able to feel her pain for once in his life.


It took him an hour, but he was eventually able to pass Inoichi's exercise. Ino had managed to finish it about ten minutes before him, but he didn't feel discouraged by it. It had taken her a while too, and she was much better at concentrating than he was.

"Now that you two have finished up with this, I thought we could maybe take a break while Asuma-sensei and Kiba come back with food. And, if you don't mind, we can take this break for you two to learn something new."

Naruto kind of wanted to tell Inoichi that he was too tired to learn something new... But after a second to catch his breath, the blonde decided that this would be something stupid to say. Inoichi Yamanaka had proven to be one of the few adults in his life that genuinely wanted to help him without any selfish reasons behind said help. If he thought they should learn something new, he most probably thought it would be really useful.

"We of the Yamanaka Clan aren't really known for our prowess with fūinjutsu. All ninja have some basic knowledge of such a skill because it is a very useful tool to have on hand at all times. Most use it to carry around items in scrolls that are much too heavy to lug around regularly. But some are able to use them for offensive and defensive purposes and incorporate this into their fighting style."

As the man told them this, he walked over to the work station he had in the front of the garden, where there were tools and scrolls scattered all around. He picked up two in particular and walked back to them, offering one to each blonde.

"If Kiba were here, he would also be practicing this particular skill. Kids, today you'll be learning how to unseal something that has been sealed away in a scroll. And your next lesson shall be to seal it back once again."

Naruto blinked down at the simple looking scroll in his hands for a moment, at a loss for words.

Like other genin, he knew what fūinjutsu was. But he hadn't paid it much attention, like genjutsu. It was one of those branches of ninja life that had never intrigued him, so he had never paid it much mind. But Inoichi seemed dead set to teach them about this...

"What's in here, dad?" Ino questioned, immediately receiving a broad smile from her father.

"You'll have to open it to see."

Naruto looked at him in complete confusion and the man's eyes softened.

There was a sudden twist in his gut Naruto had not expected. And his eyes widened slightly in surprise at it.

Why... Why had he felt like that when Inoichi had looked at him?

Could- did he dare? Could this be what it felt like to have a parent?

"No need to look at me like that, sweetheart. I'll teach you how you're supposed to seal and unseal properly. So don't worry so much, princess. You know I like giving complicated explanations for your exercises."

Ino huffed and grouched about it.

Naruto had no idea how to feel about the whole situation.


"Shiranui!"

Kakashi burst into the man's home like a dog infested with rabies. He didn't care about propriety. He cared about fixing his huge screw up as soon as possible. And the only person he knew that could help him out without totally condemning him as a complete lost cause was Genma Shiranui.

The man had been cooking and almost burned himself when he accidentally bumped into his hot wok when Kakashi burst in.

"Kakashi! What the he-"

Kakashi didn't stop. He ran to Genma and grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and looked him straight in the eye.

"I have committed the greatest sin any teacher could ever commit in their whole career. I need your help to fix this screw up or I have damned three genin to hell!"

He dropped to his knees and clasped his hands in front of him, "Please, Genma, teach me and make me into the teacher my kids deserve."


Asuma knew there was something off with Kiba. Even more so than with Naruto. So he sternly yet patiently prodded at the kid to find out just what it was that was eating away at him.

He had managed to pry a name out of the kid after much hassling.

As soon as he heard it, Asuma knew that the situation in the Forest of Death had been much more dangerous than he had thought. And he wanted to kick himself for not having connected the dots earlier- how many other snake ninja with a hate for Konoha existed out there? Not that many and he had been a fool for not assuming Orochimaru's interference sooner.

He didn't alert Kiba to any true danger yet, though. He instead got the food he had said they would be fetching and returned to the Yamanaka household with Kiba in tow. Once the kids were eating, he had pulled Inoichi to the side and asked him to keep the kids inside his home for the time being- he would have to speak with the Hokage about the situation before they allowed it to go on much longer.

Orochimaru had been in the Chunin Exams, looking for Sasuke. That was bad, but not horrible. The Snake Sannin had not found Sasuke, though, and had instead targeted Naruto. That, though, was very bad. And, from what Kiba had said, Naruto currently had some kind of Orochimaru imposed seal on him.

He would need to deal with this as quickly as possible.


Kurenai had been preparing to go to bed when she heard a knock on her door.

The woman sighed and shook her head at late night couriers, annoyed at their interference but proud that they took their jobs so seriously.

When she opened her front door, it was safe to say that she was surprised to see Kakashi Hatake and Genma Shiranui standing before her, rather than a courier ninja with a new mission for her.

"Uh... Hello?" She murmured in confusion, "Is everything alright?"

Kakashi didn't seem okay. If anything, he looked sick to his stomach. And Genma looked as if he was prepared to murder someone.

Truly a strange night.

"Kurenai, I know it's late, but we've got a favor to ask you." Genma informed her, immediately piquing her interest.

~..~..~

I hope you all liked this chapter! Yes, Team 7 had a reason to have done what they did. That doesn't mean they were right, though. It just means they had a reason to do it.

On another note, okay, maybe now it'll be two more chapters. The problem with this story is that I really like it. But it's really hard to write for. But I really like writing for it.

Please review and tell me what you thought!

Chapter Text

A True Friend; A True Ally; Will Never Abandon You- Especially not in your Time of Need

With a heavy sigh, Sakura met up with Shino and Chouji in front of Konoha's largest library. Both of her teammates looked at her expectantly, then, after a second of taking in her small frown, they both frowned and shook their heads.

Another day, another lack of missions from Kakashi-sensei.

"What're we going to do today?" Chouji asked softly, barely loud enough to be heard by anyone outside of Team 7.

Sakura shared a look with Shino, silently asking the Aburame the same thing.

For the past week, Team 7 had managed to keep themselves busy by going into the library every day and drawing up possible attack formations and training schedules with the help from experienced shinobi and the various books they had found. But there was only so much theory one could learn before they were itching for an actual, hands on situation.

They had not seen a single hair on Kakashi's head ever since the man had abandoned them in the BBQ place. This really didn't surprise them, seeing how this man was an incredibly competent shinobi that could make his tracks completely undetectable. But it still kind of hurt, seeing how they really did love him as a teacher.

"I have been wondering what we should do... And I think I know what we must do to gain Kakashi-sensei's favor yet again."

Sakura cocked her head to the side slightly, "What do you mean, Shino?"

The Aburame breathed out heavily, "We upset Kakashi-sensei with our report of the Chunin Exams. I have been analyzing the events and believe that I have pinpointed just what it was that caused him to react so eccentrically."

"Oh... What do you think it was, Shino?"

She herself had spent some time pondering over what could have bothered Kakashi-sensei so much. But she hadn't come to any possibilities, like it seemed that Shino had. She just wasn't able to see what they had done that had warranted such a reaction from their teacher.

"I have narrowed it down to two possible moments. First would be how we handled acquiring the scroll we needed during the Second Phase of the examination. Possibly, we may have gone too far by stealing from Konohagakure allies. But, this is more a possibility than a plausibility, seeing how we were taught with the Genma Shiranui mission that sometimes, turning on an ally is warranted."

Shino had raised his hand as he spoke, lifting his index finger when he spoke about the first option. Then, when he began to speak about the second option, he lifted his middle finger to stand beside the index.

"The second possibility, which is the one that makes the most sense to me, is how poorly we handled the individual fights."

That actually made a lot more sense to her. She and Chouji had both failed their fights and she was still rather annoyed with the very clear cheating tactic Ino had used to steal the victory from underneath her nose. Chouji and Kiba's fight hadn't been as inflaming, but it still bothered her that they had both been disqualified in the match.

Out of their three man unit, only Shino had passed to the Finals.

"Maybe he expected all of us to reach the Finals..." She murmured softly, "And he's disappointed that we didn't take the fights seriously enough to win them?"

That didn't sound much like their teacher... But it was the only logical explanation, really.

"That victory was snatched from you, Sakura, is not up for debate. Ino Yamanaka saw she was losing and used an underhanded tactic to steal a victory that was not hers." Shino growled, his insects beginning to buzz in an agitated manner before he took a deep breath and calmed down. "But she still managed to win with that mind jutsu of hers. You were not able to expel her from your head. You were not strong enough."

Sakura stopped herself short of whining when Shino told her this. He was not being harsh or malicious with his words. He was just stating reality. Just because it was what had happened, though, didn't mean that she liked being reminded of it... She knew she had to listen to this so she could learn, but it still hurt.

"And Chouji didn't take his fight with Kiba seriously enough. They began it with a friendly handshake and a promise to make the fight good. It was only to the end that the fight began to seem like it was more than just a friendly spar- certainly not the attitude one is supposed to adopt when faced with the Chunin Exams."

The pink haired genin turned to look at her Akimichi teammate, only to find him frowning sadly.

"We did not take the Elimination round as serious as we should have." Shino concluded, crossing his arms over his chest. "This is the only logical reason as to why Kakashi-sensei was not satisfied with our performance."


Genma's eyebrows raised as he heard the kid's logic, all the while Kakashi sighed heavily.

"Now do you understand what I mean when I say that these kids teach themselves? They figure out what they did not do well enough and try to fix it by themselves. They didn't need a hands-on teacher."

He had thought that Kakashi was exaggerating when he had said this very thing all that time ago, when Genma had first found out that Kakashi had accepted a group of genin as his team. But now that he saw them in action, he could understand why Kakashi had thought not doing much as a teacher might have worked.

It hadn't worked and it never would have, no matter how much Kakashi might have told himself it could. Genma wasn't stupid enough to ever think such a thing, but Kakashi was a bit of an idiot, so it only made sense for him to have made such a stupid rationalization.

"Alright. You know how these kids work. Now we just have to come up with a way to make them understand why betraying an ally is wrong."

Kakashi remained quiet in thought for a couple of seconds... Then snapped his fingers. "Alright, I've got an idea! We can set up a mission in which-"

Genma stabbed him in the arm with a senbon and felt no remorse when he yelped in pain.

"They like being treated like adults. They rationalize everything they hear and see. They're more than smart enough to put two and two together, idiot. Try again."

Kakashi rubbed at his stabbed arm for a couple of seconds, sighed, and murmured, "But I don't want to talk to them... That would mean explaining that I was wrong..."


"Lady Hinata."

The girl blinked in surprise when Shikamaru addressed her in such a manner, their fathers walking behind him.

She had known that Shikamaru was working on the relationship between their clans, but she had not been expecting to have him address her by her proper title... Like, ever. He had never seemed like the kind of person that would have allowed himself to get wrapped up in frivolous politics.

"Uh... H-Hi, Shikamaru-kun." She stumbled over her words and settled on a default honorific, which made her father's frown become a bit less harsh while Shikamaru smiled at her. "W-Why are you h-here?"

Hanabi and her were supposed to be training with her father, but he had been late. It seemed that now she knew why it was that her father had done something so unlike him.

"Lord Nara and I have decided that, in order to build bridges between our clans, we will both spend time with our heirs. Today, you will be learning about strategy with Lord Nara. Next week, I will give you all a lesson on taijutsu."

Hinata was caught completely off guard by this news. It was something so unlike anything she would have ever expected her father to allow... Just what in the world had Shikamaru and his father done to convince the Hyūga clan to allow both of their heirs to learn together?

"Sasuke's supposed to come along in a couple of minutes." Shikamaru sighed as he made his way to stand beside his teammate, then whispered to her, "It took hours of negotiations, but it seems that your Elders don't mind the idea of Sasuke learning a few things with us."

Hinata quirked an eyebrow at this, but did not question it. She knew that the Uhicha and Hyūga had never had the best of relations. She would not question something that was good- she would not accidentally undermine what was truly astonishing. It seemed that their clan was slowly begin to warm up to the idea of her teammates being the ones they were.

"Alright, kids, sit down. This'll be a mental and verbal exercise... That'll begin as soon as the Uchiha appears."

Shikamaru frowned at his father, who sat down in the middle of the fighting arena Hinata and Hanabi were supposed to have been training in. Hinata guessed that Shikamaru was not all that pleased with his father not waiting for Hiashi to tell them to begin, which would have been respectful. But she didn't mind and it didn't seem as if her father had either- he merely walked towards the edge of the arena, picked up one of the stacked cushions they had stocked there for meditation sessions, and placed it on the ground beside Hanabi before kneeling on it.

Hinata stared at him in shock for a couple of seconds, then closed her eyes and smiled softly.

It seemed that even her father was willing to help the Nara allegiance!


Kurenai quirked an eyebrow at the two males in front of her.

"I've already given you all the advice I can that's not on genjutsu."

"We don't need that, Kurenai. We just want to get your opinion on the plan we came up with." Kakashi waved off her words nonchalantly as he forced his way into her home.

She did not try to stop him. She merely stepped to the side of her door and allow them both entrance into her apartment.

Sighing, she directed them both towards the kitchen so she could finish preparing her afternoon tea.

"Hey, aren't you supposed to be with your kids?" Genma questioned curiously while he sat down at her table.

"Not at all. They're working on strengthening clan relations and forcing their parents to be friends- at least Hinata and Shikamaru. Sasuke's along for the ride. I'm taking the day off to come up with a plan for his genjutsu training, actually."

The poisons expert nodded, then jabbed his thumb at Kakashi. "Listen and tell him what to do."

This whole being a 'good teacher' consisted of much more advice giving to other teachers than to her own students.

Honestly, she didn't mind.


"Alright, Ino! Good job! You'll be able to start sealing people up in no time!"

In between her panting and profuse sweating, Ino couldn't help but smile at Naruto. He was cheering from her side, gushing over how well she had finally managed to execute the sealing technique on an array of ninja weapons.

From the sidelines of the garden, she could see the beginnings of her father's smile. But she was much too focused on not collapsing to really relish in the fact that she had made him proud.

"Naruto, now it's your turn. Once you two are done with this, we'll start right back up on your sensing techniques. That way you're both prepared for next week when Asuma-sensei begins to really train you for the Finals."

Ino threw herself onto the ground while Naruto shot up and bounded towards her father, more than just eager to take his knowledge in sealing techniques to the next level.

Honestly, she had never seen Naruto so excited to learn something. And she was very glad to see that it had been her father to pull out such a thirst for knowledge from her rowdy teammate. It just proved to her that her father was one of the best men alive.

In only one day, they would both find out who they would be facing off in the Finals of the Chunin Exams. Starting from then, they're training would become grueling and specialized so they would be prepared to take down their opponent and earn their promotion.

It bothered her that Kiba would not be able to accompany them on this specific journey, but she knew that he would not be left behind. He would be training by their side- and he would be ready to pass the Exams next year.

Talking about Kiba... Where was he?

Ino blinked as she looked around her home's garden, noticing the distinct lack of wild Inuzuka. Akamaru was currently hanging from Naruto's right leg pocket, barking encouragement at him as the blonde worked on her father's exercise... But his partner was nowhere to be found.

"Hey, dad, where'd Kiba go?"

Her father looked around the garden before he shrugged, "Can you sense him?"

The blonde reached out with her improved sensing ability, but found that he was not anywhere near her home. There were two chakra signatures walking through her home, but she recognized one as her teacher, so she didn't worry much. She tried to reach out farther, but growled in frustration. She still couldn't reach too far without losing focus and having information blur together, so she couldn't even say if he was far or near. She shook her head and her father nodded minutely.

"Maybe he's with Asuma-sensei."

"Speak of the devil and he will appear." Her teacher joked as he stepped through her garden's threshold with a loose smile on his lips, his cigarette tucked safely between them.

Behind him, Ino noticed a white haired man with rather... eccentric looking clothes. And a wart on his face.

Asuma-sensei knew weird people.

"Naruto, you finished over there?"

"Almost!"

"Alright." Asuma-sensei murmured as he motioned for the man with him to step to the side, "Once you're done, I've got someone here I want you to meet. So hurry up, alright?"

"You got it!"

Ino quirked an eyebrow at the rather aged man beside her teacher, taking in everything about him... He was powerful and serious looking... Just why had Asuma-sensei brought him along?


Anko Mitarashi had been told on more than one occasion that she would not be allowed a genin team. She was considered a danger to the younger generations of Konoha and she couldn't come up with a good enough argument to counter such a declaration... So she just rolled with it and delighted in traumatizing children when they came up for the Chunin Exams.

Because she had been told she would never get a genin team, she had never expected to deal with children in a manner that wasn't supposed to scare them... Which was the reason why she was wholly unprepared to deal with the curious Inuzuka pup currently in front of her.

"Orochimaru was your teacher, right? I... I got questions."


Shino found out that he was to fight Naruto during the first round of the Chunin Exams.

Chouji was, honestly, kind of scared when his friend's bugs began to buzz happily at the news.

"Team 10 will not be promoted." His Aburame friend vowed, only to have Kakashi-sensei click his tongue and shake his head at him.

"Alright, kiddos, it's about time we had a serious talk."

Chouji cocked his head to the side upon hearing this... He hadn't been expecting to hear such a thing from Kakashi-sensei.

Their teacher had left a note in Sakura's room that asked for them all to meet with him at eight in the morning in Training Ground 8. She had animatedly told them all about the first message their teacher had left them in a while and they had all rushed to the training ground, expecting to train a little bit before their teacher arrived in his usual tardy time.

They had been surprised to find him waiting for them, but they were not bothered by such a thing.

Before telling them about the Finalists, he had them run a quick drill in which they were to take the bell from him with teamwork. Once again, they had not managed to acquire it, but Kakashi-sensei had given them some pointers on strengthening their teamwork to win next time. Then he had sat them down to tell them about the Final Round.

It had all been different from Kakashi's usual tactics in training them, but Chouji had just been content to have the man around once again.

The three kids looked at each other in confusion before they followed their teacher to a stump on the ground, on which he sat. Once he was comfortable, he motioned for them to sit down on the grass, which they did silently.

"Konohagakure is the only ninja Village that values teamwork and honest alliances over results." He began speaking to them in a rather serious tone, for once not seeming relaxed. If anything, he seemed... bothered. "It wasn't always like that, but right now, that's what we believe in. An ally is an ally. It doesn't matter how much we dislike them, the only person that matters more than yourself on a battlefield is the shinobi that wears your village's symbol."

He took a moment to breathe in. Chouji took this chance to look over at Shino, curious as to how his teammate would react to what was being said.

"I want to apologize to you all. My own stupidity and immaturity taught you a lesson I thought you would be immune to... I taught you that turning on an ally was justifiable. And I am truly, deeply sorry for such a thing. But I want to tell you the truth right here and now: betrayal is never justified. An ally is an ally. You will one day find yourselves having to rely on the help of allies- like Ino Yamanaka, Naruto Uzumaki, and Kiba Inuzuka. On that day, you will not be together. You will not have your genin teammates to back you up. And on that day, the only people around to help you will be the very people that will not want to help."

Chouji felt his stomach churning and his chest tightening the more Kakashi-sensei spoke. Because the more he said, the clearer their mistake during the Chunin Exams became.

"But, Kakashi-sensei! We just did what was best for our mission." Sakura defended herself, making the man glare at her.

"Once upon a time, those that forsook their mission to help others were considered trash." His voice took on a harsh tone; a tone that made Sakura retract and look away. "Those were horrible times that should never come back. If you are given a mission that compromises an ally, then the person that assigned you the mission is trash."

Wait a minute...

Did... Did Kakashi-sensei just call himself trash?

"The comradeship in Konoha has enabled us to build a strong and stable Village. We do not believe in turning one another to better our own opportunities. We do not believe in sacrificing an ally to complete a mission. We do not abandon our allies."

Silence hung suspended over them, trapping them in its suffocating clutches.

Then Kakashi-sensei breathed out. "Given what I taught you, you did your best. I'm sorry. And I will work with you all from now on to never teach you something so stupid ever again. But you have to take my words seriously now... If you're willing to betray an ally; abandon a comrade; double-cross a possible partner simply because they're not one of the people here with me right now... Then you're worse than trash."


Genma smiled softly from his spot above the trees as he heard Kakashi talking.

The Hatake had wanted to send Kurenai in as him to talk sense to his kids. He was so much a coward that he wasn't prepared to take on the responsibility of teaching Team 7. But the woman had promptly drilled some sense into him with- what he had assumed to be- some pretty nasty genjutsu images. She wasn't going to work on improving his team if he wasn't willing to put in the effort, after all.

Honestly, he wasn't sure why his friend had been so scared of talking to the kids... He was a natural born leader. Maybe he didn't like taking on the role, but it certainly suited him.


"Hmm. I expected more from the Uchiha heir."

Sasuke glared at Hinata's father, panting as his body screamed at him to take a break.

"If you are not able to defeat both my daughters, how can you expect to defeat my prodigal nephew?"

The bastard was taunting him. Sasuke was no idiot, but the man was doing his best to make him look like just that in front of Shikamaru and Hinata. And Sasuke loathed that.

"S-Sasuke-kun… Are you okay?" Hinata herself was panting and her cheeks bright red. Sweat fell from her brow and she had to wipe at it, all the while her sister frowned at him from her side.

He didn't like Hanabi… She was too good.

"You haven't hurt me." He ground out, then prepared himself to attack both girls again. "Again!"

The three moved in tandem, Sasuke on the defensive as both girls tried to shut down as many appendages as they could. But he had grown accustomed to evading such attacks, so he still had full mobility of his body. What he didn't have was enough energy for this to continue for much too longer.

In the corner of his eye he could see Kurenai-sensei speaking with Shikaku Nara with pieces of paper in their hands- undoubtedly, they were preparing practice strategies to prepare both him and Shikamaru for their upcoming fights.

In all honesty, the only reason why Sasuke wanted the Finals to finally arrive was so he could beat respect into Neji's stupid, little, brain. If not for that, he would not be eager for the fight at all.

When he saw an opening in the sister's offensive, Sasuke forced a devastating kick into Hanabi's side before he jumped away and hurled a small fireball at Hinata from the pinnacle of the jump. Both sisters shouted out in surprise and dodged out of the way before they were burned.

For a moment, he looked at Hinata to make sure he hadn't accidentally injured at her. But he soon looked away from her to not get caught.

Sasuke landed, panting, and glared at Hiashi.

The man merely looked at him with a disinterested scowl on his face, "That was better. But you will need to bring more to the table to defeat Neji."

Sasuke sneered at that but didn't bother with disrespecting Hinata's father. He didn't like the guy, but at least he wasn't ostracized from this little get-together for not actually being a part of an official clan anymore.

"G-great job, Sasuke-kun." He found Hinata walking towards him after a couple of seconds, then looked at her to find her smiling at him. "You will get promoted; I'm sure!"

The Uchiha huffed at the prediction and took a look at her arm, where he had scorched the jacket... "You okay?"

"Mm-hmm. I've started to wear fire resistant guards." The girl informed him, then jutted her arm out at him to show the beginnings of a protector sleeve beneath her jacket. "See?"

He couldn't help but scoff in amusement at this.

He'd need to step his game up if Hinata was adapting like this.


Anko looked at the kid for a couple of seconds before deciding that he seemed cute enough.

"Come on, kid."

Ibiki was always on the prowl to catch her mucking about when she was supposed to be working. Even though she knew she should just go back to T&I, this kid had piqued her interest by asking about Orochimaru and how dangerous he was. Besides, there wasn't anything interesting going on right now... She was sure Ibiki could hold down the fort for the moment.

The Inuzuka nodded and handed over the sticks of dango he had bought in order to offer her a deal: information for dango.

After a bit of moving, they wound up on top of the Hokage Monument and Anko bit into her first stick of dango.

"Alright, pup, what do you want to know?"


He didn't have much time to find out as much as he could about Orochimaru and what had happened to him. It was only a matter of time before his teammates figured out that he wasn't anywhere near them and came to look for him... For the third time that week.

But he couldn't go home empty handed. Not today.

He could feel himself going insane with each passing day. The snake bastard's words were so much more convincing now... The pain in his whole body was so much more intense... He was thinking of agreeing to what Orochimaru whispered if only to get the pain to end.

"Orochimaru used to be my teacher... And, now that I get a good look at you, kid... I think he was your mom's teacher before he was mine."

Kiba blinked at the answer he received to his first question.

Anko looked at him with a wicked glint in her eyes, "Didn't you know? Well, of course you wouldn't- I didn't know about this when I was your age, after all." She cracked her fingers and smirked down at him with too much glee. "Your team, kid, with Naruto and that Yamanaka girl, are what we older people lovingly refer to as the Gifted Losers. Each generation has one. I was in that group when I was genin. And so was your mother. That's why we were given to Orochimaru, after all."

Gifted Losers?

What?

His confusion over the topic was forced into the back of his mind when a new wave of pain crashed over him and caused him to shout out, clutching at his neck as it began to throb.

"A loser, you see? Not even your own Village takes you seriously! Accept my power, pup. Accept me and you will never be-"

"Shit!"

His hand was snatched away from his neck and his hood was thrown back by Anko Mitarashi. Kiba keened lowly at being manhandled, but didn't find the will to even try to stop her.

He didn't want anyone to know about what had happened... But he didn't think he could keep this a secret... Not anymore.

"Kid, when and where did you get this?"

Why was it so hard to focus?

Was... Was he sweating?

Was that loud noise his heartbeat? It was deafening.

"S-Second... Chunin Exams..." He managed to breathe out, even as darkness began to fill the edges of his vision.

"Shit! You stupid little... One in ten... Morino!"

He had no idea what any of those words meant.

He just knew that one moment he was awake and in agonizing pain... And the next, he wasn't.


It was supposed to have been a nice and quiet evening covering for the sick librarian. Izumo Kamizuki had settled into the front desk with a steaming mug of tea in front of him, a rather interesting article on current trade relations between Iwagakure and the rest of the world his main form of entertainment for the night.

Because Kotetsu was nowhere to be found, he was supposed to experience a quiet and comfortable night.

He was wrong.

"Yo, I'm looking for anything you've got on clan retainment laws."

Izumo blinked when he noticed Team 8 standing before him, the Nara of their team in front of his teammates with a kind of scary gleam of determination in his eyes.

"Ah... Let me see what I can find." He offered them a small smile and begin to riffle through the inventory to see what he could find.

He did not know it just yet, but it would not be a quiet night.


He had not appreciated Kakashi-sensei's harsh words.

But he would be a liar if he tried to tell anyone that he had not been expecting them.

His father had called off the mission against Shiranui for a reason, after all... The reason should have been obvious, his father had even told them such a thing... But it just had not struck them as much as Kakashi-sensei's own accidental lesson.

"Naruto's a front-liner, Aburame! Either you learn how to keep him far away, or you beat him in close quarters!" Kakashi-sensei delivered a powerful punch into his solar plexus after a faint to his left had left Shino wide open.

It was a rookie mistake... He deserved to take the hit.

"If you want to beat him, you're going to have to decide on one or the other, kid."

Shino was aware... But he was also aware that Naruto was nowhere near his own teacher's level when it came to skills on the battlefield. But this was not a reality his teacher had even contemplated.

From his current spot on the ground, Shino could see Sakura and Chouji working together to take a bell from Genma Shiranui, who was doing a fine job of keeping them at a distance through the use of traps and poisons.

A gloved hand suddenly appeared and interrupted his viewing of his teammates.

Shino blinked blearily for a moment, then grasped his teacher's hand and allowed the man to pull him and away from the grass.

"You're a great ninja, Aburame. But you're not just training to beat Naruto. You're also training to beat whoever comes after him."

Ah... So Kakashi-sensei did think that he would be able to beat Naruto. He was just preparing him for whoever came after...

Kakashi-sensei was a smart man. Shino had not been as sure as he was now before. But ever since he had told them about how wrong it was to turn on an ally, he was much more hands-on with their training. Not as much as Genma Shiranui... But much more involved than how he had been before.

"Quick water break and then we'll continue sparring, alright?" The man offered, "And we can watch Genma struggle against those two dangers."

Shino nodded softly and followed after his teacher, looking on as his teammates worked to defeat Genma Shiranui.

They should have known that betraying Team 10 was wrong... But he just couldn't understand why it was so wrong. It had been the Chunin Exams, after all... And they had left themselves wide open...

He sighed and shook his head.

He would contemplate some more on this later. For now, he needed to catch his breath.


"Ah, I see... Then you should also take a look at terrain laws. Oh, and property too." Izumo told him after Shikamaru had explained his Uchiha teammate's predicament. As he spoke, he served the Nara a mug of tea. "I'll see if I can find anything that draws my eye while you read over here."

Shikamaru thanked him softly enough, then leaned over one of the dozens of scrolls Izumo had pulled out for him to help him out.

It was a shame, really, what Konoha had done to Sasuke.

But Izumo would do everything in his power to help.

He knew what it was like to be alone without a family... And if Sasuke was still in that state, then he would do his best to get him out of there.


Shikamaru was supposed to fight the girl from Suna during the first round of the Finals.

Troublesome.

He didn't think he needed to train because her fighting style was rather simple and easily predicted with enough patience and concentration. Kurenai-sensei was having none of that, though, and forced him to fight against Hinata and Sasuke to improve his taijutsu skills. If it wasn't that, then it was learning how to cast genjutsu. And, if not that, it was using his father's help to come up with plausible strategies.

By the third day of their intensive training, Shikamaru was prepared to run away and become a missing-nin.

When the weekend hit, he was seriously contemplating packing a bag and leaving.

Then there was a knock on his door and he was forced to answer it because his mother was out shopping and his father was good for nothing before the afternoon on a Saturday.

"Shikamaru, we've got lunch. We're going on a picnic."

The Nara blinked at the unexpected sight of his teammates with food in their hands.

"We invited Izumo-san as well. He says he has some possible water-style ninjutsu that could interest us." Hinata smiled and Shikamaru couldn't help but understand why she liked the guy.

Izumo Kamizuki was a quiet civilian-born shinobi with a very intricate knowledge of the library system. Shikamaru found himself respecting the man as soon as he was able to hand them a list filled to the brim with possible titles that could help him on his quest to help Sasuke cheat the system. He wasn't troublesome at all. If anything, he was... Well, the exact opposite.

Shikamaru had never thought such a thing of anyone.

For a moment, Shikamaru tried to lament yet another possible lazy day lost... But he found that he just didn't have enough reasons to regret such a thing. He would spend a day with his teammates and get to learn some more about possible ways to help Sasuke.

"Let me get dressed... Come on in."


As soon as Ibiki had taken one look at the curse seal on the kid's neck, he had shaken his head at Anko and told her that he highly doubted the Inuzuka would be the 1 in the 1 in 10 statistic they knew about Orochimaru's curse seal.

Anko had glared at him and told him he was of no help at all.

So Ibiki had taken the reigns of the kid's health and, long story short, now Jiraiya was taking a look at him.

"He's been there for days now." Anko couldn't help but lament as she peeked into the Inuzuka's room through the hospital door's window.

Asuma Sarutobi glowered at her.

She wasn't completely sure, but she kind of thought that he blamed her for Kiba's current condition.

"And he'll stay there until he chooses, Anko. You know this." Jiraiya pointed out... Yet again. "The Curse Sealing I tried seems to be holding off his death... But that won't matter for much longer."

"What I don't understand is how he managed to keep quiet about it for so long." Asuma growled and Anko didn't have an answer for him.

It was a miracle the Inuzuka was alive, honestly. He had been running around with Orochimaru's Cursed Seal of Heaven for more than just a couple of days. And he had somehow managed to keep it all a secret.

Honestly, she thought the only reason why he had been able to accomplish such a feat was because of Inuzuka stubbornness, bonused by Tsume's own refusal to ever admit her need for help.

"Either he accepts Orochimaru's chakra or he rejects it. But if he doesn't decide soon, he will die."

Anko had not thought the feat was achievable... But it seemed that she now hated her old teacher even more than before.


Pervy Sage was a weirdo. But he was a powerful weirdo.

"Alright, kids, do you know how to walk on water?"

For the past few days, he and Ino had been learning from the perverted Jiraiya, rather than their actual teacher. Asuma-sensei had said that they had chosen to do this because it was nice to switch up teaching styles and learning methods every now and again. Besides, it was a good idea to do this because in this manner, Naruto was able to spend some time with his supposed god-father.

When he had found out that this old guy was related to him in any manner, Naruto had felt... Lost.

If this guy was supposed to be family, then where had he been all his life? What had been so important that Naruto had grow up and reached the age of twelve without ever even having heard about him? Why, if they were family, had Naruto been forced to live his whole life until then thinking that he had no family and was completely alone?

He hadn't asked the guy any of these questions, though. He didn't trust him at all, of course... But he decided to see if Jiraiya was worth his time, or a complete waste of time.

Until now, even though he was a pervert without that many personality attributes to make up for all the bad ones, he had proved to be a smart teacher with a drive to make him and Ino strive for only perfection.

"Barely." Ino huffed as she hung from the tree branch she had grabbed onto after having ran up the tree's trunk.

For the most part, until now, they had mostly dealt with theory and simple practice stuff. The most recent thing they had been asked to do was show Jiraiya they could walk up trees. Now he was asking about water walking.

"Hmm. Alright, come along then, children."

Naruto frowned at the term, feeling it was more of an insult than anything else, but followed after Ino when she jumped off the three.

As they followed after Jiraiya, Ino slowed her pace to walk beside him. And she asked, "Any word on Kiba?"

Akamaru whined from his spot inside of Naruto's pant pocket, lightly shaking his head in answer.

For the past few days, Akamaru had been staying with Naruto. And, in turn, Naruto had been staying with the Yamanaka family.

No one had told them anything, but they both were more than aware that something was very wrong. If everything was fine, Naruto would have been allowed to return to his apartment rather than have Asuma-sensei pick up his clothes and take them to him at the Yamanaka house. If everything was fine, they would have been allowed to see Kiba... Wherever he was.

"None at all." Naruto answered regretfully, "I'm getting real tired of no one telling us anything."

Ino frowned and agreed, "Are you and Akamaru up for a little recon tonight?"

Naruto couldn't help but smirk at his teammate.

Of course they were.


"Hmm? Team 8? What're you doing here?"

He had become accustomed to having the kids come to meet him at random moments during the week. Even though they were supposed to be training for the Chunin Exams, they still made room to go to the library or him to find out more about how they could help Sasuke.

"We were wondering, Izumo... Could Sasuke stay here tonight?"

He was immediately caught off guard by the question.

But not even marginally against the proposition.

"Why?"

"He can't stay at my house because clan politics; same with Hinata. And the Uchiha Compound is depressing. Just for tonight?"

There was a dangerous glint in the Nara's eyes. But Izumo looked at Sasuke, noticed how drawn in and alone he looked, and found the permission leaving his mouth before he could think much about it.

~..~..~

Please review and tell me what you thought about this extremely long chapter!

Chapter Text

An Ally is not Just Some Person from your Village; an Ally is a Life Line

The days after Kakashi-sensei's rather harsh scolding were spent with Shino getting a lot of alone time with the man to prepare for the Chunin Exams, all the while she and Chouji were handed over to some of his friends for extra lessons.

First Genma-sensei had expanded on their poisons lessons. He had taught them how one could create a few specific poisons with rather simple ingredients, although they had to be careful about how they went about it unless they wanted to be poisoned. Then he had explained simple infiltration techniques to them so they could begin to really begin to prepare for a possible career in T&I.

After that, Iruka-sensei had taken them for one day to teach them about traps and how to set them up as quickly as possible. He was also very insistent on showing them the best places to put them- where the enemy would most probably set foot, near streams of water, and other special locations where they would be the most useful to those that had set them. Those lessons had been particularly interesting because Iruka-sensei had never shown this enthusiastic side of his trapping knowledge in the Academy- Sakura even found it kind of cute how passionate he was about the topic.

And, finally, at one point they were even taught about medical and sealing ninjutsu by a woman called Yūgao Uzuki. Sakura had particularly enjoyed learning from her because she had been rather hands-off about teaching them, just like Kakashi-sensei. She had explained to them the basics of some theories, then let them mull over that information and then apply what they saw fit to practice problems. After that, she had then given them a demonstration of how deadly she could be with a katana.

Sakura may have wanted to learn kenjutsu after that demonstration. But she would ask Kakashi-sensei about possibilities with kenjutsu later on, once the Finals had passed and they were back to normal life.

During their time with different teachers, Sakura had been able to come to understand just why it was that Kakashi-sensei was so insistent on respecting allies.

Genma considered Kakashi-sensei a great friend. He let Chouji and Sakura in on this secret while they had coated and dried a couple of senbon in poison. He had said that he didn't necessarily agree with everything the man did, but he was still a good friend.

Iruka-senei, though, didn't see their teacher as a friend. Their old Academy teacher saw Kakashi-sensei as his ally and a higher-up, someone that was respected, but not necessarily liked. But he had agreed to help him teach his students because that's what allies did.

And Yugao had let them know from the beginning that she was not Kakashi-sensei's biggest fan. She wasn't a fan of how he broke into people's homes when he was comfortable around them, nor how he was so lazy and tardy all the time. He was a fellow Konoha shinobi and respected him as a great warrior, but was flat out disgusted by him at times.

"Why are you teaching us if you don't like him?" She had asked after Yugao had let them know of her disdain for their teacher, all the while Shino and Kakashi-sensei trained in the background.

"Because he asked for my help and today's a pretty calm day. Genin tend to be amusing and the other thing I've got to do is be bored at my house. It's a pretty easy decision, don't you think?"

Sakura was not dumb enough to think that their different teachers talking to them about their relations to Kakashi-senei were mere coincidences. She knew that these conversations were set up so that she and Chouji could understand why allies were important. And she understood now that an ally was an ally- as long as they were good people.

Iruka-sensei and Genma were both great people. Her old teacher was one of the best in Konoha and Genma cared a lot about Team 7. Yugao was also clearly a good person because she had taken the time out of her day- no matter how free she might have said it was- to teach the students of a guy she didn't like. These three were good people that would help an ally.

But Ino wasn't like that. Ino was mean and abusive and rude. She wouldn't drop everything to help out an ally. She had helped Chouji out because Chouji was her friend. But if they had sent Shino in to infiltrate, she would have ignored him. And if they had sent her in, Ino would have been too busy laughing and bullying her to even tell her to leave.

Allies were important. But Ino was a jerk.

Sakura sighed as she weighed the senbon in her hand. It was extremely light, even with the poison that now coated it.

They should have just fought another non-Konoha team. Then they would have saved themselves from having to bear so much judgement.

… Maybe Kiba and Naruto hadn't deserved to get betrayed. But Ino sure did.


"Good m-morning, father."

"Good morning, Hinata. What are you to do this day?"

Hinata sifted through the papers Izumo-san had given her to look over, only to find the paper Shikamaru had slipped into the small stack. She pulled it out and read it over, then smiled nervously at her father.

He hadn't told them that what they were doing was wrong, nor had he put a stop to it. But he certainly had not told them how they could increase their chances of success either.

"Izumo-san allowed Sasuke-kun to sleep over last night. O-our plan today is to ask Izumo-san to let Sasuke-kun eat dinner with him... M-maybe even sleep over a-again."

Her father's face didn't give any emotions away. It was a blank slate of harshness with no true disappointment or annoyance to be seen. Instead of saying anything, the man nodded and took a sip of his tea. Then he turned to Hanabi and asked her the same question, to which she answered, "Academy, father. I've got to go to the Academy today."

Hinata swore she was able to see her father's left eyebrow twitch for a second, but his face was just as emotionless after Hanabi's answer as it had been after her own.

"I wish you both a good day, then."

"Thank you, father. May you have a good day too." Both sisters chorused as their father stood up and left the dining room table, leaving them alone.

After the man had closed the door behind him, Hanabi cleared her throat and made Hinata look at her in curiosity.

"I think it's hilarious you're trying to get that civilian to adopt the Uchiha. I don't think it's going to work." Hanabi smiled and Hinata frowned at her sister, certainly annoyed by such a cruel way of thinking. "But it's pretty funny how you're tricking him into liking the brat."

Hanabi didn't like Sasuke. Sasuke didn't like Hanabi. But they were at least cordial around each other, Hinata admitted.

"Sasuke-kun deserves a family..." Hinata muttered softly as she rearranged her papers, "Izumo-san is helping us and Shikamaru-kun thinks he's the most logical option."

Hanabi clicked her tongue in amusement, stood up from the table, and shrugged her shoulders, "Who knows? Maybe this'll all work out and Sasuke-brat gets some kind of family back. Maybe then he'll stop frowning all the time."

Hinata sighed at her sister's words... But giggled softly, "H-He does frown a lot."

Hanabi rolled her eyes with a small smile on her lips, "All the time. Hinata, you should really tell him he should learn how to smile before his face gets stuck forever in a scowl."

With this final petition, Hanabi offered her a small wave and made her way outside of the dining room so she could grab her things and head out to the Academy. Hinata finished up her breakfast and picked up her own papers, then began to make her way towards Shikamaru's home.


Finding Kiba wasn't difficult. Akamaru was able to sniff him out in less than a minute and Naruto and her were able to follow him to where he swore his partner's smell was coming from.

The place they found where Kiba was being kept… It made no sense.

"The hospital?"

Ino frowned while Naruto voiced out their shared confusion. Akamaru then barked and nodded, as if he was telling them that he was very sure that the hospital was where Kiba was.

"Visiting hours are over. We're going to have to sneak in." Ino murmured, a sinking feeling deep in her stomach.

Just why was Kiba being kept in the hospital? Could it have to do with how off he had been acting recently?

The psychiatric ward immediately popped up in her mind and fear struck her. The psych ward was deep inside the hospital, a dirty gaping wound in the otherwise cleanliness of the rest of the building. Many broken shinobi were first kept there before they were transferred to the Asylum, which was a dirty little secret Konohagakure did everything to keep under wraps.

Kiba hadn't suffered enough physical wounds to land him in the hospital. The only real explanation would be that he was being kept in the Psych Ward... If this was reality, then Ino didn't know what to do with herself.

Her father had told her on various occasions that she should be more sparing with her use of the Mind Body Switch Technique on her friends. He had warned her that the mind was a fragile thing that shouldn't have been toyed with. He had never told her to not use it on her teammates... But she also had never really told him how frequently she used it on Naruto and Kiba.

She was sure that if she told her father the truth, he wouldn't be happy with him at all...

"Is there a back door? It should be easier to sneak in through there than through the front." Naruto mumbled, already moving with Akamaru inside of his pocket to go to the back of the large building.

"There should be. There's usually always a backdoor and an emergency exit in these kids of buildings." Ino followed after a couple of seconds of contemplating the severity of her past actions on her Inuzuka teammate.

Getting into the hospital wasn't a very difficult endeavor. They were able to sneak in without getting sighted and Akamaru directed them through the halls that were deserted. Luckily enough for them, Akamaru didn't lead them towards the Psych Ward of the hospital. Unfortunately enough for them, they were led towards the Intensive Care Unit.

Carefully and quietly, they entered the I.C.U., sticking close to the ground to keep from getting caught. Eventually, Akamaru jumped out of Naruto's pocket and pawed at the door that he believed held Kiba.

Ino's chest was tight; her hands were sweating; everything was just wrong.

She didn't want to see Kiba.

She knew that she needed to see him, though.


He was supposed to have been studying some more on poisons because Genma had told them that he was going to give them a small sort-of test in a little while to make sure that their education on poisons was being digested properly.

At the moment, he didn't really feel like learning about the different effects of such substances and how deadly or violent they could be in large or small doses. He wasn't a fan of destruction and death... If anything, he really wanted to use this free time to learn some more on that medical ninjutsu the kunoichi that didn't like Kakashi-sensei all that much had told them about.

But, because he wasn't sure just how or who he should ask about that subject, he was in a small sort of lunch date with Team 8. He and Shikamaru had not been able to spend much time together since they had been placed on their genin teams, but his Nara friend had reached out and invited him out today. Chouji would have been a fool to stay inside his home and try to study about something that he liked, but wasn't really passionate about, instead of going out with his best friend.

Right now they were out on a picnic. Apparently, it was Team 8 tradition to get together at least once a week and eat homemade food out in one of the unoccupied training grounds. When Chouji had asked if he and Shikamaru could hang out, the Nara had informed him of this. So Chouji had offered to bring some food himself to contribute.

Hinata was nice, even though she really didn't speak much. Shikamaru didn't speak much either, but Chouji was accustomed to this and could tell that his friend wasn't uncomfortable or annoying.

"I see. That's actually interesting."

The member of Team 8 that really surprised him was Sasuke Uchiha. He remembered that Sasuke wasn't much of a talker back in the Academy, nor did he enjoy speaking to those he deemed unworthy of his time. Right now, though, Chouji was having the most interesting conversation with him about their respective teacher's methods and Sasuke wasn't scowling at him, nor reminding him about how he was the best in the class.

"M-maybe we should ask Kurenai-sensei t-to officially b-bring us some teachers." Hinata murmured after she had finished packing up the plates and utensils they had used during their meal. "M-maybe Izumo-san can offer us some h-help."

"Izumo-san?"

"Ah, right..." Shikamaru sighed, "Izumo Kamizuki's a civilian we're trying to groom to get him to adopt Sasuke."

Chouji blinked at the short explanation, truly taken aback by everything he had just heard.

"Tch. You don't have to make it sound so devious."

Shikamaru rolled his eyes at Sasuke, "We're employing infiltration and manipulation tactics, Sasuke. We're being just as devious as it sounds like."

Infiltration and manipulation tactics...

"Hey, guys, I've got a question for you."

Chouji looked down at his hands, away from their curious gazes. He began to pick at his left thumb, more than aware that the question he was about to ask would not receive the nicest of answers.

"What Team 7 did during the Chunin Exams- how we used Ino and I's friendship to steal their scroll... What do you think about it?"

The silence that reigned after he had voiced out his question did not surprise him. What did surprise him, though, was to hear Sasuke answer him first. "You did what you had to. They had to get two scrolls instead of one- so what? They still passed. You did too. No harm done."

Chouji didn't think it was that simple. Ino had screamed about how they had been hurt after Chouji had taken their scroll... He had been meaning to go and talk to her; apologize for having abused of her trust; but he had been too much of a coward to do so.

"B-but there was some harm done, Sasuke-kun." Hinata whispered, which made the Uchiha sigh and cross his arms over his chest.

"I know that you did what you thought was right." Shikamaru began slowly and Chouji looked at him in confusion. There was more to his friend's words. He just knew it. "And I know that your decision had some unintended consequences on Team 10's overall experience."

The Nara paused for a moment, closed his eyes, and breathed in. Then he sighed heavily and opened his eyes to look Chouji directly in the eyes. "I'm not going to lie to you. After that stunt you pulled, I wouldn't want to be put on a mission with any of your team- even you, Chouji. I thought I knew you. I thought I knew Shino and Sakura. And I thought that the lives of your allies were important. But I clearly don't know you as well as I thought I did. Holding the mission above your allies' lives makes sense. But... Listen, if you're willing to betray your childhood friend to pass a test, then you're capable of leaving an ally behind in the field to complete the mission. And I don't want that kind of person on my team."

The more Shikamaru spoke, the bigger the pit in Chouji's became. He had known that it wasn't right to betray his friend when they had proposed it... But he had also thought that it wasn't completely wrong. Their circumstances were the kind in which turning on allies made sense.

"What do you mean, Nara?" Sasuke groaned with a roll of his eyes, "It was just an Exam. None of us were out in the field."

"It was an exam that put us under simulated mission circumstances, Sasuke." Shikamaru sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "That means that the duress we felt we were under could, in essence, count as an actual circumstance. How we react in this simulated exercise is very close to how we would react in the field. And the fact of the matter is that Team 7 is willing to throw allies to the wolves to complete an objective."

Chouji felt like shit. He hadn't seen it that way before.

"They did what they thought was right and I can't tell Chouji that they were completely, objectively wrong. But I can tell him that not many other shinobi will take their actions lightly. Betraying an ally is betraying an ally- on a test or in the field."

Hinata blinked at this, then added, "Y-you're not bad people o-or a bad team, Chouji-kun… You just made a m-mistake."

Chouji hung his head, "Yeah. A pretty big one."


Sasuke didn't wholly agree with Shikamaru about the whole Team 7 thing. Not because he agreed with Team 7, but he could see that the Chunin Exams were just that- a series of tests; not reality. Still, he could understand what he was going about when it came to not wanting to have that kind of teammate with him. He was already the closest Team 8 got to having a mission-oriented jerk that was willing to give allies away and he wasn't particularly happy when he sometimes thought it was easier to lose the dead weight. He would hate being with someone worse than him.

After that rather heavy conversation, Chouji excused himself. Shikamaru didn't let him go immediately. Instead, he asked to have a private word with him. So both boys went away, leaving Sasuke with Hinata and a picnic basket.

Sighing softly, Sasuke looked at Hinata. She wasn't much of a talker around those that weren't Team 8. Hell, she barely talked around them at times.

"So you think Team 7 was wrong?"

She nodded quickly, keeping her gaze on the picnic basket rather than looking at him. Sasuke wasn't surprised by this, seeing how he had slightly sided with Team 7.

"Allies are important..."

"Yeah. But it was just an exam."

Hinata pursed her lips, clenched her hands, and closed her eyes, "But someone's true colors are revealed when they're desperate. Team 7 isn't trustworthy!"

Whoa. He wasn't expecting that outburst.

Hinata huffed out a heavy puff of air, then hung her head. Silence hung over them after that, until she finally looked up at him with a small smile. "B-but we worked together r-really well."

Maybe that true colors load of bull had some sense behind it...

Honestly, he didn't care about Team 7. Just like he didn't care about Team 10. But he trusted his teammates. And if they thought that Team 7 had shown that they weren't to be trusted, then he guessed that he could just repeat what they said.

He wouldn't want to be teamed up with anyone other than his team. They were worthy of his trust and friendship. They had proved to be competent and useful. The other teams from their year had just shown that they were wholly dysfunctional and unprepared to deal with the harshness of shinobi life.

When Shikamaru returned, it was with a frown marring his lips.

Instead of saying anything else about the Team 7/Team 10 fiasco, he instead told them, "Kotetsu Hagane said he would be getting off of Gate Duty around 5 p.m. We should get moving if we want to meet with him before Izumo gets to him."

So he didn't want to talk about the whole betraying thing anymore. Sasuke was fine with that.


Pain was a constant.

He wanted to die.

The dark chakra surrounded him, enveloping his whole periphery with screams and insults. It told him to give in, to just accept the gift Orochimaru was trying to bestow upon him. But Kiba refused... It wouldn't leave him, though. It refused to go away, no matter how much he told it he wanted nothing to do with it.

He couldn't properly think. So he couldn't ponder about the reason why it never budged, no matter how much he screamed at it to leave him alone.

He wanted to die.

Then he heard that terrifying voice; the voice that he knew as the one that pulled his consciousness from his body and left him a mass of floating feelings that could do nothing other than feel. It was the voice that promised nothing but cold and nothing and he was so scared of it that he collapsed to the dark chakra. In a moment of cowardly weakness, he asked Orochimaru to give the strength to not have his mind taken away from his body yet again.

Then he awoke to Ino and Naruto's horrified faces as a fire ripped through his body, lighting him up in a blazing inferno. They were held suspended over the shoulders of a large man that was trying to force them out of the room.

Ino had been screaming. He didn't know about what. But he knew that he had messed up.

"Kiba! What's wrong? Put me down, Ibiki! Something's wrong with Kiba!"

Terror gripped his heart.

The fire began to subside, leaving mere embers on his left side. From his neck down to the tip of his foot, he could feel himself changing.

"Kiba!"

He ran away. Like the coward he was, he turned away from his team and broke through the nearest window, barely even noticing how little the impacts against the window and ground were. He was too busy freaking out over what was going to happen to him now that he had accepted Orochimaru's chakra... Now that he had a traitor's chakra flowing through him.

In the back of his head, he could hear dark chuckling.

"We're going to have a lot of fun, pup."


Shino sat down with his father and Kakashi-sensei to ask them about why betraying an ally in the Chunin Exams had been wrong. Both men went through precise explanations as to why they believed it had been wrong and tried to help him see that turning on an ally was never justified.

Shino couldn't say he completely understood and comprehended why it was wrong to have taken advantage of a team that allowed themselves to be vulnerable. But he could understand that this ally business was important to both his father and the rest of the shinobi in Konohagakure. So he could safely say he would not betray an ally again... Unless he believed it was completely warranted.

"The Chunin Exams are two weeks away, kid. How are you feeling?" Kakashi-sensei asked him as they took a break from their sparring.

The Aburame's taijutsu skills had improved greatly in the past few days of training, mostly because Kakashi had not used any kind of restraint on him. Punches were not pulled and Shino had to learn the hard way to dodge unless he wanted to get hurt. And his understanding in strategizing against his teacher was much more fine tuned that he would have thought possible before.

"Prepared to win."

Kakashi-sensei chuckled and ruffled his hair, then glanced up at the sky.

"How long have we been going at this?"

Shino hummed in thought, not wholly sure on the true answer, and relented, "A while."

The Hatake clicked his tongue against the root of his mouth, then murmured, "I think I'm gonna have you three get together again tomorrow. Run a practice exercise with the shinobi I've asked to help out- see how far you've all come in your time."

His bugs began to buzz in approval at the proposition. It had been a while since Team 7 had been able to be together for more than just a couple of minutes. Ever since Kakashi-sensei had become serious about teaching him how to win, they had been separated.

"That would be enjoyable."

Kakashi-sensei nodded, then picked himself up and offered Shino his hand. "C'mon. I'll show you the basics of one of my favorite ninjutsu so you can practice the simple steps. Sound good?"

It did.

Naruto would not be prepared for him. Kakashi-sensei was too great a teacher.


"Look, Chouji, I think you need to talk to Team 10 about what happened. We both know that Sakura won't do it. And Shino's... Well... Shino. There's something off with them and dad won't tell me what's going on. So, if I were you, go to her and be honest. You made a mistake- Ino can understand that. Don't throw away a years long friendship with her just because you've found new friends."

He didn't like meddling.

But it seemed that was all he was doing nowadays.

"Yeah, Izumo's a softy. He's also an orphan, like me and you, Sasuke. So he's all big on family and friends and shit." Kotetsu Hagane informed them as they walked down the streets of Konoha, heading towards the apartment the man shared with Izumo. "He's also a pretty big germophobe."

So Sasuke would have to keep clean. Didn't seem too difficult.

"Anything he doesn't like?"

Kotetsu stopped as he pondered the question, shrugged, and began to walk yet again. Shikamaru continued standing still for a moment after he began to walk away and looked at Sasuke, only to find the Uchiha glaring daggers at the carefree chunin.

Oh, Sasuke... Temper, temper.

"People prying into his private life. He hates it."

Shikamaru quirked an eyebrow at this as he began to follow after Kotetsu yet again. "He hates it... But you're telling us a lot of private details on his life."

"Yup. I'm his best friend. And you three are adorable."

Izumo Kamizuki deserved a better best friend.

"If you really wanna get close to him, you should ask him to teach you our Starchy Syrup jutsu. It's one of our most effective attacks and he loves getting to use it outside of the field." Kotetsu glanced over the three members of Team 8 and smiled as he nodded to himself, "Besides, your team's perfect to use it. One throw the syrup, the other two attack. You're perfect."

Alright. They had a lot of personal information on Izumo now. That was good.

"Anything on his record as a shinobi?"

Shikamaru wanted to find out a bit more before they sprung their final trap.


"What do you three think you're doing here?" Ibiki Morino growled down at them, his face marred with anger and scars.

Naruto glared back at him, Akamaru growled in his face, and Ino... Well, Ino didn't say anything like Naruto would have expected her to.

"Trying to find our teammate! You were keeping him from us! What's wrong with him?"

Ibiki frowned and released a small growling noise before he straightened up and looked at the window that Kiba had broken in his sudden escape. It was shattered beyond repair and Naruto believed they had a right to be worried about the friend that had done that.

"These are matters beyond your comprehension, Naruto. But, if you really want to know something, I'll tell you: your teammate has just escaped from a secure facility and run away into possibly dangerous areas- all because you decided to sneak into an area you had no right to come into."

"Ibiki..." Ino whispered, "Please. What's wrong with him?"

The scarred man frowned down at her and crossed his arms over his chest... Then sighed and relented, "Orochimaru put a cursed seal on him. We had him in here to keep him safe; alive. Something activated the seal and now he's in danger of harming himself. We need to find him immediately."

When Naruto turned to look at Ino, it was to find her as pale as a hospital blanket.

"Ino?"

She closed her eyes, shook her head, and waved him off.

His team was falling apart before his eyes. And he had no idea what to do.

Akamaru barking from the top of his head had him glancing up at the puppy. The dog was glaring in the direction of the broken window, growling and barking as he pawed at Naruto's head.

"We should go after him, boy?"

Of course that's what Akamaru wanted.

"Not going to happen." Ibiki stopped him before he could even take a step forward, "I don't know what you did, but it set him off. You going after him may be the worst thing we could allow happen."

"We're his teammates!"

"And I'm your superior, Uzumaki!" Morino yelled back, "Remember the chain of command, young man. Now you are going to return to the Yamanaka Compound. I am going to call on the Tracking Corps and we're going to find your teammate."

Naruto was prepared to fight this stupid course of action.

Ino whispering had the fight leaving him, "Alright, Ibiki... Just... Let us know when you find him."

Ibiki frowned down at her, his eyes narrowed in a harsh glare. Then he nodded stiffly. "Alright. If you go home."

"We will. Don't worry."

"Ino!"

"Let's go, Naruto."

The Yamanaka left without even letting him try and argue.

~..~..~

Please review!

Chapter Text

Admission of Wrong is Never an Easy Thing

The night was cold and dark. She couldn't sleep, so she had decided to make her way out of her house and do some star gazing in the cool night.

Seeing how her house wasn't far from the Hokage Monument, she had made her way up to the top of the stairs and leaned against the railings over the Second Hokage's head to stare up at the night sky.

All of her life, she had been told by her parents that she could be a great ninja if she put all of her will into becoming one of the best. And with teammates like Shino and Chouji, she found it hard to believe that she wouldn't get far.

But she had lost the fight against Ino.

And she had won the displeasure of her teacher for not being able to understand something that seemed so basic to other people: don't betray an ally.

She had not wanted to think on this specific issue for so long that the Chunin Exams' Final Stage was less then a week away and she still refused to think about it. But she couldn't stop seeing Ino's battered body before the start of the Semi-Finals in her dreams. She couldn't stop hearing the Yamanaka's screams as she blamed Team 7 for whatever disaster had befallen Team 10.

… She couldn't stop wondering about what just what in the world had happened to Team 10 during the Second Stage to have made Ino so angry.

Ino was dramatic, everyone knew. But she also took being a ninja seriously. She wouldn't have been so heated if she had been bluffing...

And, yes, guilt did eat away at her during the night when she wasn't around her friends. She had tried to ignore it for so long that she had almost forgotten what it felt like to not feel like this. But she had never wanted to admit it because of her stupid pride.

With a sigh, Sakura dropped her head and looked down to the ground below.

Most people would be sleeping by now. If not, they would be preparing to sleep. A couple of shinobi would be drinking or preparing for their next mission, while others would be returning from wherever it was they had gone. But Sakura was star gazing with a heavy frown on her lips without even the barest idea of being able to fall asleep any time soon.

Everything was still in the sleepy Konoha with the few people walking about doing so in a slow man- Hold up. That wasn't slow.

Sakura's eyes narrowed as she focused on the blur that was crossing through the roofs of Konoha's buildings at a blinding speed. Behind it, there was another series of three darker blurs struggling to keep up.

Faintly, she could see the rustling of leaves that indicated a shunshin from one of the three blurs following the one in the front. Then one of the blurs that had been struggling to keep up with the first one had teleported right in front of it, causing it to stop suddenly and run off in another direction.

Eventually all four blurs were gone and Sakura was left blinking at the odd sight she had just witnessed.


Hinata smiled- no, she beamed when Sasuke offered to walk her home after a training session with Kurenai had left her mostly exhausted. Shikamaru was already going to help her home without having to be asked, but Sasuke offering himself meant that all of their hard work at befriending him had truly been successful.

It was dark as they walked, seeing how Kurenai-sensei had kept them for a bit longer than usual because she had wanted to see them all perform a simple genjutsu at least once. Of them all, Hinata had struggled the most. But she had managed to please Kurenai-sensei eventually and they had been released with the promise of more genjutsu training on the following day.

"I think we should spring the question on him after the Chunin Exams." Shikamaru mumbled conversationally as they made their way down the lazy Konoha streets.

There weren't many people around at this time, so they could speak about their plans of Izumo adopting Sasuke without being too worried about being overheard.

Sasuke grunted for a moment, then asked, "Why not just ask him on Wednesday? He's supposed to be very excited to see us using his technique. Maybe it'll be good to abuse of that high."

Hinata's eyes drooped, heavy with sleep.

"Nah. That'd be abusive. We may be using manipulation techniques, but that's just a step too far."

With a small hum, Hinata let them know that she agreed with the Nara. Even though Izumo was a very kind man, they weren't a hundred percent sure as to how he would act when they offered the proposition of adopting Sasuke. And they were even less sure of how he would act if they tried to spring it on him at a moment where he was rather vulnerable.

"Well, I guess I'll trust your judgement, then."

They fell into an easy silence as they walked through the market area of Konoha. Hinata blinked blearily at the few merchants packing up their belongings, but soon found her eyes widening.

"I-is that K-Kiba-kun?"

It couldn't have been!

"Huh?"

"It looks like him..."

Hinata stared at the person on the other side of the market, clad in a simple pair of dark pants, but no shirt or pants in sight. It was a small boy, no older than Hinata's age, and he had bright red fang tattoos on his cheeks. His hair seemed to be short and spiky. He looked exactly like Kiba would have looked from far away in such a state of dress... If not for the dark marks that enveloped the left side of his body.

He was panting heavily, his body hunched over as his chest heaved violently.

Upon hearing the name, it seemed that he looked up at them all. And, for a moment, Hinata's eyes met Kiba's fang shaped own.

Fear.

"H-he's scared..."

Then Kiba broke eye contact to look behind him, frowned heavily, and took off running at a speed Hinata had never known he possessed.

A couple of seconds after he had run, Hinata saw the dark blurs of three shinobi following after him, one distinctly larger than the other two.

"What's going on?"

She didn't know how to answer Sasuke's question. But she did know that Kiba had been terrified.

"C-come on. W-we've got to help him!"

She didn't wait for either of her teammates to answer her. Instead she forced her body into action.


She tried to eat the ramen her mother had prepared, but she couldn't. Her hands were shaking too much to properly hold her chopsticks. Besides, her stomach was so knotted up and her throat felt so tight that she highly doubted she would be able to eat anything.

With heavy sigh, Ino pushed the plate of food away from her and closed her eyes.

"Ino. Please, come with me."

She was caught off guard by the harsh tone in her father's voice. But she didn't question him. Instead she pushed away from the table and followed him into their garden, making a point of not looking at Naruto or Akamaru while she was still in the dining room.

Once they were inside of the garden, her father remained with his back turned to her, looking at the back of the room. Ino shifted from one foot to another, twiddling her fingers as she waited for her father to finally speak up.

"Yamanaka techniques are not to be used frivolously. I'm sure that I warned you about this years ago, before you had even entered the Academy." He stopped to sigh softly, "And I'm sure that I reminded you of this every single year- even going as far as telling you this once more when you were promoted to genin and were put on Asuma's team."

Ino closed her eyes as tears begun to stung at them.

She wouldn't cry.

She couldn't.

"Ibiki informed me about the situation with your teammate. And I only have two questions."

When Ino opened her eyes once again, it was to find her father looking at her with a thoroughly broken look in his eyes.

"How many times did you take control of Kiba's body?"

Ino couldn't answer that. She didn't know.

With a heavy exhale of breath, her father shook his head.

"Do you know what happens to one's consciousness when their body is invaded?"

In theory, yes. It left the invaded person's body. But that was all she knew. She answered just the same with a shaky voice and felt even more tears begin to well when her father shook her head.

"I failed you. I thought you were smarter than this. I hoped..." He breathed in then, squared his shoulders, and hardened his face. "I'm not going to sugar coat it, Ino. When you enter someone's body, their consciousness enters into a state of nothing. They know who they are and where they're supposed to be, but they're completely lost- left adrift. Every single hit they receive physically is felt but they do not understand why they're hurting. It is such a horrible state of awareness that it can be used and has been used for psychological torture since our Clan first was founded."

Ino felt like the breath had been knocked out of her. She felt like shit.

And her father wasn't finished.

"Not only is it bad a couple of times, but it has been known to deteriorate a person's will. Fear is a powerful thing and this is a tool that instills just that. The more a person's body is invaded, the less control they have of their own body. The less control, the more they worry and doubt; the more they fear." With this, her father crossed his arms over his chest and frowned at her. "Do you see where I'm going with this?"

She didn't want to answer because she did.

Closing her eyes, the girl allowed her head to hang.

Shakily, she forced herself to breathe in. Then, "I broke Kiba."


Chouji had been walking home when a blur ran into him with so much force that he was knocked onto his butt and the scarf he wore around his neck came undone and hung loosely over his shoulders. He had been able to brace a little bit for the impact and kept his body strong enough to not skid back too much. The projectile that hit him, though, bounced off of him and crashed to his side in a heap of limbs.

"Ouch..." He groaned as he rubbed at his chest, which had been impacted directly by whatever projectile had hit him.

For a moment, the Akimichi breathed in and tried his best to calm his racing heart and ignore the pain that was beginning to sprout- he knew he would find a bruise forming on his chest by tomorrow morning. Then, once he thought he was alright, he looked to his side to try and find what had impacted him.

His eyes widened beside himself, "Kiba?"

The other boy was panting irregularly and his chest was heaving so violently that it seemed that he was about to collapse. His mouth was open just slightly, puffing harshly as he grasped for oxygen. And he was splayed out on the floor on his side, with his body scratched and bleeding slightly from how he had slid against the hard ground.

The Inuzuka's left eye was closed, seeing how that was the side of his body that was currently in contact with the ground. But his right eye was wide open, staring at Chouji with nothing short of terror.

"A-are you okay?"

Instincts kicked in before reason did and Chouji scrambled to get to his fellow genin and offer him some kind of medical assistance. He turned the boy onto his back, earning a weak groan of pain in return.

Before he could begin to apply any of his minimal knowledge in medical nin-jutsu, Chouji froze.

Were... Were those tattoos on his skin? Why were they covering Kiba's whole left side? And why was the Inuzuka only wearing a set of pants but nothing else?

Kiba keened as Chouji prodded at his left side and all curiosity left him. He began to prod at the Inuzuka's body, trying to figure out just what was broken and if he could help in any way.

Once he finished his initial assessment, he pulled out a roll of bandages and set about disinfecting and wrapping the few bleeding cuts on his body. As he worked on this, he felt three different shinobi arrive behind him.

"He... He doesn't look good." Said a male voice, one Chouji thought he recognized, but the Akimichi didn't bother trying to place it.

"Chakra exhaustion and over exertion. He hasn't broken anything and is mostly healthy except for the fact that he's totally drained." Chouji informed the shinobi behind him, "And he's got a couple of cuts that I've already dealt with."

There was a beat of silence behind him. Then he felt a hand on his shoulder and he forced himself to look away from Kiba and back at the person.

He couldn't help but blink at the second surprise of the night.

"Genma-sensei?"

Even with the senbon between his lips, the man managed to smile softly. He nodded and nudged at Chouji, silently asking him to get up. So the Akimichi stood up and took a couple of steps away from Kiba.

"What's going on?"

"Nothing you have to worry about, kid." The big, incredibly scarred man that had run the First Phase of the Chunin Exams grunted as he moved towards Kiba.

Even with how weak he was supposed to have been, Kiba found some semblance of energy when he heard the man's voice. His eyes widened and he somehow managed to drag his body a couple of inches away from the big man.

"Kiba, you're only going to hurt yourself if you do that." Chouji warned, going back to his side to hold him by the bare shoulders.

Kiba's eyes remained frozen on the big man, tears shining within.

Chouji frowned and glared at the man. "Please take a step back. You're distressing him."

He growled softly, but still stepped back and allowed Kiba's tense body to relax by a fraction.

With a soft sigh, Chouji called Kiba's name until the Inuzuka finally looked at him. Then he smiled as sweetly as he could, "You're alright, Kiba. You're among allies- everything's fine."

He could tell that Kiba didn't believe him.

And that hurt.


Chasing after Kiba had not been easy. They were tired from a long day of training and Kiba moved like a lightning bolt- something that truly struck Sasuke as more than just odd. This was an inhuman kind of speed that no one should have been able to access without some kind of enhancement.

The only reason they were able to catch up to the Inuzuka was because Chouji had somehow managed to stop him. Sasuke didn't know how, they had arrived at the scene to find the Akimichi comforting the Inuzuka with three tokubetsu jounin towering over them.

"Something's fishy here." Shikamaru whispered to them, to which Sasuke nodded.

Kiba looked as if he was terrified of the three jounin before him. Which didn't make any sense. Sasuke could understand if he was worried around them, or even self-conscious. But scared?

"We have to take him with us, Chouji. Now, Anko,"

"Yup!"

The purple haired woman that had proctored the Second Phase of the Exams moved forward. But this only managed to make Kiba yelp and try to scratch out of Chouji's hold. The Akimichi was able to hug him tightly around the waist and braved the onslaught without even a wince- much to Sasuke's surprise.

"You three are part of the distress. If he doesn't calm down, I'm scared of how much damage he'll sustain. Please, I beg of you, step back."

"Ch-Chouji-kun…" Hinata breathed out with what Sasuke assumed to be surprise.

He could admit it, he was taken aback by Chouji's actions himself. He had always seen Chouji following behind others- at first it had been Ino and Shikamaru, but now he followed after Shino and Sakura. He had always been soft spoken and only ever actually got angry when it dealt with food or his weight. He'd never show any determination outside of eating.

This was the first time Sasuke saw him actually doing something important with all of his determination.

"Come on." Shikamaru whispered, leading them to the side of the confrontation.

Sasuke didn't know what he was planning. But he went along with the boy and followed him until they were only a couple of feet from the scene. Then Shikamaru cleared his throat and gained everyone's attention.

Smooth, Sasuke thought with a roll of his eyes.

"Where do you need to take him?" Shikamaru questioned, earning a glower from the scarred Ibiki Morino.

"This isn't something you are to deal with, genin." The man frowned at them, earning a relaxed shrug from Shikamaru.

"Alright. Whatever you say. We were just offering some help, seeing how you three are more trouble than you're worth at the moment. Seeing how Kiba's alright with Chouji, though, he shouldn't be too badly off with Team 8..." With this he let out a sigh and turned around, "But because this doesn't concern us, I guess we'll just be going."

Sasuke stifled a smirk as he followed suit and turned to walk away.

Shikamaru certainly knew how to patronize people.

"Wait." The first man that had spoken up, the one that had proctored the Semi-Finals, called for them. "Ibiki, kid's got a point. He didn't react well to any of us. Maybe these kids can bring him in."

Sasuke turned around just in time to find Ibiki frowning down at the other man. "Do you really want to leave this kid's health in the hands of a group of genin?"

The one with the senbon in his mouth shrugged and scratched at the back of his head. Then the Anko woman nodded, "Not gonna lie, Biki, it may be our best bet to keep his mind from wholly snapping. You know how bad it must be."

What?

Kiba's mind was... snapping?

Sasuke exchanged worried looks with his teammates before Anko called out to them, "Alright. We're going to trust you kids. Calm him down and bring him to the hospital. We'll be waiting with some anesthesia experts to sedate him, got it?"

They all agreed and waited for the shinobi to leave before they moved to Kiba.

Sasuke wasn't going to lie... It was pathetic how small Kiba currently looked.

"What's wrong with him?" He questioned, which made Chouji shake his head softly.

Kiba was trembling in his arms... He must have been cold...

"I don't know." Chouji muttered as he took off his scarf and wrapped it around the Inuzuka's neck. "He must be freezing."

"H-here."

Sasuke looked beside him to find Hinata scrambling to take off her jacket, revealing the tight fish-net shirt she wore beneath. Once she had taken off the jacket, she handed it to Chouji, who began to put it on Kiba's trembling frame.

Sasuke blinked at his teammate for a moment before he shook his head.

So stupidly selfless... The world was lucky to have people like Hinata around.


"You are going to be mine. Those Leaf fools will put you back in that hospital and I will know precisely where you are. I will come to take you and you will serve me well, pup."

He couldn't run anymore.

His whole body had given up on him.

He had tried to run away from Ibiki, Anko, and Shiranui, but it hadn't been enough. Yet again, he hadn't been good enough to complete a simple objective. So was being carried by Sasuke and Chouji to the hospital, covered with Hinata's sweet smelling jacket, and he wasn't even able to force his vocal chords to work. Which, honestly, even if they worked, it wouldn't have been of much use. His jaw refused to move any longer.

He was tired.

He just wanted to give up.

But he couldn't. He couldn't.

Cold nothingness. Feeling, but not reasoning. Pain, but no explanation. Sadness, but no justification. Just floating, a nothing, a disembodied bundle of nerves that could feel everything but could not make a single logical thought.

At first, he had been running away from his teammates. He couldn't face them knowing what he had done.

But then Orochimaru had let him in on part of his plan. He was going to... He was going to...

With tears welling in his eyes, Kiba closed them and tried once again, in vain, to escape from Chouji's hands. The Akimichi merely tightened his grip and hushed him, telling him that they were very close to getting him the help he needed.

Chouji didn't know... Nobody but him knew the truth of what Orochimaru was planning. And it was such an unbelievable thing that no one he told about it would take him seriously... Especially not after the way he had run away from Konohan shinobi.

His mind drifted with fear and, somehow, his eyes remained closed. Eventually, he awoke yet again to find Inoichi Yamanaka seated at the foot of his bed with his eyes closed and his lips thin.

His immediate response was to try and get away.

When he tried this, he found that his hands and feet had been shackled to the bed.

Fear rose within him.

Then Inoichi opened his eyes and stared at him sternly.

"The only way I can help you, Kiba, is if you allow me to help."


Six days before the Chunin Exams, Chouji informed them about the state of one Kiba Inuzuka.

Shino couldn't believe such a story... And he wouldn't have, from anyone else. But Chouji was honest to a fault.

"Black tattoos on the left side of his body?" Sakura murmured softly.

They were all huddled together in a tight circle as they waited for their teacher to arrive to Training Ground 8. Even though a quick scan of their surroundings had revealed to Shino that there was no one there to over hear them, they were still careful. What they were talking about, Chouji said, was something that was supposed to be kept quiet.

"That sounds really weird..." The pink haired girl finished eventually, then sighed, "You know, last night I saw something really weird. I was up on the Hokage Heads and saw these four blurs running from rooftop to rooftop."

"Blurs?" Shino questioned with a quirk of his eyebrow, which made the girl nod.

"Yup. I was pretty high up. I think it's a miracle I was even able to see such a thing. I'm not a tracker or a sensor, you know."

That he did.

Shino nodded stiffly, "Ibiki Morino, Anko Mitarashi, and even Genma Shiranui were the ones pursuing Kiba? Why were they not using any of the trackers? They would have gotten the job done a lot quicker."

Chouji shrugged with a soft hum, "Maybe because most trackers are Inuzuka so there'd be conflict of interest? Honestly, I don't know, Shino. But I know that Kiba didn't look well. And that those three didn't want to tell us anything."

The Aburame continued to look at his teammate as the Akimichi crossed his arms over his chest, took a step back from their huddle, and breathed out. "Something's been off with Team 10 since the Second Phase of the Chunin Exams."

Shino's eyebrows narrowed into the beginning of a glare.

Not this again.

"What could the Exams have to do with Kiba's new tattoos and him getting chased down by three tokubetsu jounin?" Sakura questioned, "Listen, Chouji, I understand that we were wrong with betraying them. But we can't turn back the clock. We can only move forward and prove ourselves. Wallowing and pitying what we did will get us nowhere."

Shino couldn't help but huff softly.

Even Sakura had changed her own stance on the matter now.

Chouji frowned softly, "I just think that maybe we should go talk with them someday... Maybe we'll actually get some answers that way. And... Ask for their forgiveness?"

With a small sigh, Shino rolled his shoulders and straightened up.

He could not understand why people were so caught up with this betraying business. Maybe some day he would be able to. But today was not that day. Still, seeing how this issue was weighing on both of his teammates, he was willing to help.

"What day?"

Both of his teammates eyes widened when they heard him speak up. Shino had to stop himself from huffing out a small chuckle as he shifted from his left foot over to the right.

He may not understand or agree with the whole 'no betraying allies'. But that did not mean he could not try and learn. Especially seeing how now, even Sakura had seemed to have changed her tune... Even though she would undoubtedly never say it aloud.


Izumo cheered in delight after he had witnessed Shikamaru and Sasuke entrap Kotetsu in his Starch Syrup Capturing Field. And when Hinata plowed into him from the skies, rendering him unconscious, the man had jumped up and congratulated them all on a job well done.

"The great thing about this technique is that all three of you can use it. And with Sasuke and Hinata being taijutsu experts, either of them can be the ones to incapacitate the enemy stuck." The man informed them with his hands clasped together, all the while Kotetsu groaned a couple of feet away from them.

Shikamaru waved the praise away and shook his head at the fact that Kotetsu seemed to not be able to withstand even a single hit to his tenketsu from Hinata. Which, honestly, was kind of sad, even in Shikamaru's eyes.

"And Sasuke and I can use it to stop our opponents in the Exams." Shikamaru agreed, making Izumo smile broadly and nod.

"I'm so glad you three are able to use this for something. Not many see the value in learning this technique, so Ko and I are usually stuck having to go on capture missions just to help out those that don't want to learn."

Shikamaru chuckled softly at this because it made sense. Many ninja enjoyed being specialized. But very few were willing to branch out of their comfort zones and learn a little bit from all the fields which, strategically, made the most sense.

"W-would you like s-some lunch, I-Izumo-san?" Hinata questioned softly.

Izumo nodded and moved back to the spot he had been sitting in, where he had left a basket behind when he had jumped at them to congratulate their excellent teamwork.

"I brought dessert."

"I heard dessert!" Kotetsu groaned, his words muffled slightly by the ground.

Izumo rolled his eyes at his best friend, then handed the basket over to Sasuke. "I'm going to go scrape Ko off the ground. Where will we go to eat?"

Shikamaru could tell that his friend's brain was working in over time suddenly. He could see the gears within his mind turning as he pondered something. But just what he was thinking about, the Nara did not know.

As Kotetsu struggled to get up from the ground, Sasuke stepped forward to Izumo with his eyebrows knitted. Then he looked the man square in the eyes, all the while Kotetsu threw his arm over his best friend's shoulder.

"Izumo... Would you please adopt me?"

Hinata gasped.

Shikamaru couldn't help but have his eyes widen in surprise.

Well... This wasn't the plan...


Asuma-sensei was looking at them both with worry clear on his face.

Akamaru was nestled on Naruto's head, perched on top of his blonde hair just as he had once done with Kiba. Naruto thought that Akamaru did this, slightly because he liked it, but mostly because he missed the partner he had not seen in what felt like an eternity.

And Ino was standing beside him, her eyes rimmed in red, more quiet than Naruto had ever seen her.

"Kiba is currently in the hospital. I have been asked to not release just what he is being treated for, but-"

"Asuma-sensei," Ino spoke up, her voice raspy and tired. "I know why he's in there. Tell us the truth. We can take it."

Naruto stared at his teammate for a moment, completely taken aback by how exhausted she sounded.

Asuma-sensei looked her over for a second before he nodded quietly, "Inoichi Yamanaka and Ibiki Morino are trying to revert the mental damage caused by Ino's repeated and numerous invasions of Kiba's mind. They have to do this to help him deal with an Orochimaru-made curse mark that we still do not know much about. He accepted the curse mark last night, when you two snuck into his room."

Ino stopped breathing.

Naruto turned to hear and found that there were tears gleaming in her eyes.

"Ino... It's-"

"Don't you dare lie to me, Uzumaki!" She growled back, even though she kept her gaze strictly on Asuma-sensei. "Is there any other update on him?"

"Nothing else." The man sighed softly, "Ibiki's promised to keep me updated in case anything gets out of hand... But, I doubt they'll tell us too much. We need to keep this under wraps. We still don't know why Orochimaru targeted Kiba or what the mark does. We'll be left in the dark for a while."

Ino huffed and patted at her eyes, then frowned at their teacher. "This is all my fault and I know it. I abused of my Yamanaka techniques and now Kiba's gotten hurt by that madman and we can't do anything to save him."

Naruto pursed his lips at the confession... But couldn't dispute it. He didn't know enough to say if she was wrong or right. But Asuma-sensei said that Inoichi and Ibiki were working with damage caused by Ino. He wouldn't have said such a thing if it wasn't true, right?

Asuma-sensei sighed softly, walked towards Ino, and placed both of his hands on her shoulders. He looked her directly in the eyes and Naruto heard Akamaru keening softly.

"Most of the blame isn't on you, Ino. You may have used the jutsu, but I gave you full control. If anything happens to that boy, it's more on my head than yours." He grasped her shoulders tightly.

Naruto grabbed Akamaru from his head and found him frowning softly, with his ears drawn tight to his head, and his tail pulled in between his legs. Naruto's heart panged at the sight and he held Akamaru close to his chest, promising that everything was going to work out. Kiba was going to be fun and then they would plan the biggest prank Konoha had ever seen to celebrate him having gotten better.

"I abused of the power you gave me. I should have known better being a Yamanaka. What I did was despicable and nothing will change that." Ino's eyes were harsh as she glared at their teacher and Asuma-sensei seemed taken aback by the seriousness of her words. "I put Kiba on that hospital bed. That's the only truth there is, Asuma-sensei."

With a small sigh, Naruto ruffled Akamaru's head. He was sad to hear that Ino had accidentally damaged his friend. And he was... Guilty over it, too.

If he hadn't been so annoying, Ino wouldn't have decided to possess them... And... And...

He frowned heavily now.

If it wasn't for his unwanted visitor...

Naruto placed his hand over his stomach, right over the seal that kept that chakra beast sealed within him. Then he returned his hand to Akamaru and offered what little comfort he could give the little guy.

~..~..~

This story was supposed to be funny. It was supposed to be short. But you reviewers just have to give me plot ideas, don't you?

Anyway, I hope you liked this chapter. Please review!

Chapter Text

Through all the Misfortunes Life Throws at You, You Will Gain Experience. Through that Experience, Understanding.

The Chunin Exams' Final Phase was set to begin in less than one day. Shino was prepared, he insisted that he was. But Sakura couldn't help but worry over the match-up that her teammate had been given.

They still had not been able to speak to Team 10. It had actually been almost impossible even finding out a single shred of information about them. But, from what they had been able to get from the unusually tight lipped Genma-sensei, some pretty bad things had happened to Kiba and Team 10 was being kept isolated from the rest of the Village to ensure their own safety.

In the back of her head, at all times of the day, there was a spiteful voice that hissed at her: this is all your team's fault.

She tried to ignore that voice. Oftentimes, while around her friends, she succeeded. She was able to push that voice away until she did not have to listen to it anymore. But when she found herself alone and there was nothing to distract her, the voice came back with a vengeance and just about screamed at her about how guilty and despicable she truly was.

In the past few days, Sakura had found herself thinking a lot about her past actions and her past reasonings. And if there was one thing she could say... It was that she was extremely grateful that she was placed on Team 7 and no other. Chouji and Shino worked with her in a way she highly doubted anyone else ever would. She couldn't explain it in words... But they just clicked. It just seemed as if her two teammates knew what to do, no matter what was happening.

With a soft sigh, Sakura climbed the stairs of Kakashi-sensei's apartment. She was trailing behind both of her teammates, who had been just as silent as she had on their trip to the their teacher's residence.

Tomorrow, Shino would be fighting against Naruto. Tomorrow, a member of the now-distrusted Team 7 would face off against a member of the team that hated them the most, Team 10.

Five whole days had passed since they had decided to try and talk to Team 10 but nothing.

What would Naruto do to Shino? Would he be willing to hurt the Aburame to get some revenge for Team 7's actions? Would dare cross such a line in the biggest spectacle of Konoha?

They all stopped in front of their teacher's door and Shino knocked on the door.

A whole minute passed before Kakashi-sensei opened the door. And Sakura couldn't help but forget everything that was worrying her and instead stare at the man.

"Uh... Kakashi-sensei?"

The man's only visible eye was closed in what Sakura assumed to be a smile. Then he stepped outside, beside them, and corralled them into his apartment. The three genin went in dumbly, a bit too surprised by the apron their teacher was now wearing and the delicious smells wafting from the kitchen to think too much.

"I promised lunch so I had to go all out."

It was three thirty in the afternoon: well past lunch time. But the Copy Cat Nin was renown for being tardy to everything. Apparently, this was a rule that applied to him even when he was the one that had planned a gathering.

When they entered the man's apartment for the second time since they had become genin, Sakura noted Genma standing in the kitchen with an equally pink apron pulled around his body.

"Welcome, chickadees! Hope you brought your appetites!" He called, earning a broad smile from Chouji.

Sakura watched on in amazement as Kakashi-sensei closed his door and rushed back to the kitchen, picking up a kunai that had been embedded into his wall on the way. Then she could hear the sounds of something getting chopped up once he had settled back into his place.

"Is he using a kunai to cook?" She heard Chouji ask with marvel dusting his words.

Then she heard Shino sigh, "The unfortunate side of this is the fact that this is rather tame for him."

That made Sakura chuckle softly.

She had a weird teacher.

… But he was a good teacher.

Even with all his eccentricities, Kakashi-sensei was a man that treated them like equals rather than just students. He also sat them down to talk sternly when he deemed a serious conversation necessary. But he also allowed them to branch out and learn as much as they wished and even aided in this by making their independence very clear.

"Sit down, kids. The food's just about finish- Kakashi! What have I told you about weapons in my kitchen?"

"Technically, Shiranui, this is my kitchen."

As they began to bicker, Sakura found Chouji smiling softly at her. And when she quirked an eyebrow at him to prod him to talk, his smile widened. "We're surrounded by weirdoes, Sakura."

That they were.

She wouldn't trade them for the world.


"Izumo will have to adopt the Uchiha name so he can become the standing Clan Head... And he'll have to move into the Uchiha Compound rather than me move out of it if we wish to keep ownership of it."

Sasuke was burdened rather heavily after Izumo-san had agreed to officially adopt him. Not because he would be willingly giving control of the Uchiha Clan lands and property over to a civilian. No, he was burdened because of all the changes Izumo would have to commit in his life for the government to accept Sasuke's sudden loss of independence.

Hinata frowned softly as Shikamaru continued to scour through legal document after legal document to see if the ruling Sasuke had been offered could be overturned in some manner.

"Izumo-san a-already agreed to these ch-changes?"

With a frown of his own, the Uchiha nodded stiffly. Then Hinata sighed and bowed her head.

Izumo was a kind soul. Even though he had been caught off guard by Sasuke's sudden question after they had shown him how effectively they could use his technique, he had answered almost immediately.

"I'd love to adopt you, Sasuke... But are you aware of what you're asking?"

They had thought they understood what Sasuke was asking. But when they had gone to find the adoption forms, they had found out that there was a lot more to the officialization process of an adoption of a clan member than what they had thought. The biggest issue had been one that Izumo had solved quickly enough- he would take on the Uchiha name rather than have Sasuke take on his name. He had no family either... And at least Sasuke had a chance at creating a real family.

Hinata's heart had wrenched when she had heard the man's reasoning, but she had remained quiet and allowed the scene to play out before her eyes without interrupting.

Now there were a lot of minute details that they needed to solve before Izumo could legally become Sasuke's guardian... father.

"Konoha created these laws to make choices impossible." Shikamaru growled in frustration, his features drawn into a sharp glare. "Either you lose what you have to improve your life, or you stay in your shitty life. But if you leave, they make regaining your clan privileges just about impossible to get back. This system was created to make everyone lose!"

Hinata had never seen Shikamaru so angry before.

Sasuke huffed softly, "I'm very aware of that."

With a soft sigh, Hinata walked up to both her teammates. Then she laid her hands on both their shoulders and mustered up her bravest smile, "Don't worry. We will beat this system."

For some reason, they were so stunned by her words that they remained silent for a couple of seconds... They just stared at her through wide eyes.

Her face began to warm up and her cheeks reddened, so she pulled away from them both and was prepared to stutter out an apology for having spoken out of turn. But then Sasuke grunted to himself and nodded at both his teammates, "Damn right we will."


She was supposed to fight the puppeteer from the Sand tomorrow.

But that was the least of her worries at the moment.

With everything that had happened with Kiba... Ino had been doing a lot of serious thinking. She had forced herself to contemplate on the life she had been living and the way she had treated the people around her... And she was a horrible friend.

Everything she had done since she had graduated the Academy- even before that, actually- had been bullying the people she was supposed to care the most about. Kiba and Naruto had been victims of her cruelty and there was no way that she could change her past. No matter how much she really wanted to be able to have the power to turn back the sands of time, she needed to live with what she had done; who she had hurt.

With a heavy sigh, the young kunoichi finished packing up the weapons she would be taking with her into the Chunin Exams.

She didn't feel like she deserved even a shot at becoming a chunin… Not when Kiba deserved it so much more than her. He had always been a better team player than her. He had actually worked together with Naruto to fight her.

Honestly speaking, she should have known she was being a shitty person when they had decided to forsake the mission to try and take her down. She should have known that there was something wrong with her rather than them when they had done such a stupid thing. But she had merely attributed the decisions to their own stupidity. She had been too proud to see any errors in her ways.

But this was a mistake she would never commit again. She was now hyperaware of what she had done and what she deserved. From now on, until the day she died, she would earn her teammates' respect. From now on until the end of her time on this world, she would do everything in her power to rectify the mistakes of her youth.

She would never feel like she had earned their forgiveness... But she knew she needed to work to make herself understand that forgiveness was theirs to give and not just hers to earn.

"Hey, Ino."

With a soft hum that carried over her shoulder, Ino answered her team-no. Not yet. She needed to earn the right to call him that. Naruto, for now, was someone she needed to make proud.

"Asuma-sensei's here and he's wondering if you wanna go for breakfast together." Naruto sounded worried- could it be because he was afraid of her lashing out at him and taking over his mind?

Preposterous as the idea may have seemed to her, it was a legitimate fear he must have had.

Slowly she stood up from the ground of her greenhouse. Once she was fully standing, the blonde made her way towards the workbench to her left and left the pouch filled with weapons on top of it. And finally, once she had finished with these motions, she turned to Naruto.

Should she smile? No. It would look disfigured on her. But she couldn't frown either, that would send Naruto the wrong message.

Then she would opt for no facial expression tied with emotions.

"Yeah. I'd... I'd like that."

Akamaru yipped from the top of Naruto's head and her fellow blonde smiled as soon as he heard her answer.

Those two were so ready to continue living as if everything was normal... But Ino could not allow herself such a luxury. She needed to make herself understand the consequences of her actions. She needed to pay.


Chouji was worried for Ino. He was concerned over Kiba's well being. And he was terrified of finding out just what had happened to Team 10 to leave them so fractured and isolated.

Normally, he would have Shikamaru to turn to for answers. His best friend always had an answer for any question he may have created. But, ever since they had been assigned to their genin teams, Shikamaru had been too busy helping Sasuke and Hinata to try and help his old friends.

Chouji held nothing against his Nara best friend because he knew that if he walked up to Shikamaru right now and asked for his help, the boy would drop whatever it was he was doing to help. Shikamaru had always been a slacker that had hated to work; but he was also one of the most loyal friends anyone could have ever asked for. He would do everything in his power to help fix any of his friend's problems... And that was precisely why Chouji had not gone to him after their first big talk in a while.

Shikamaru was dealing with his own team's issues and he needed to focus on helping Sasuke with the adoption business. His worries were supposed to be on his team and Chouji didn't want to distract him from that. What he was doing for Sasuke was amazing.

And... Chouji needed to learn to stand on his own. He couldn't continue relying on Shikamaru's answers anymore. Just like he couldn't count on Ino's defense of him. Just like he couldn't allow himself to be dragged into Shino and Sakura's ideas just because they were his teammates.

He needed to find his own voice and stand firm by himself.

And he would begin his journey to strengthening himself by going to Team 10 and opening up dialogue between both their teams.

Sakura and Shino had both seemed prepared to speak to Naruto and Ino, but they had not done their best in looking for them. They had talked about meeting with them, just like they had looked for them in the public areas of the village. They had even gotten information out of Genma-sensei and prepared possible plans to try and reach out to the Yamanaka clan.

But they hadn't done more.

Chouji was more than aware that Sakura and Shino were nothing like Ino, Kiba, and Naruto- the loudmouths of their graduating class. He was very aware that his teammates were not the kind to break the rules or go against direct orders. But Chouji understood that there were times when rules needed to be broken... Ino had taught him this, after all.

Right now, he needed to speak with Team 10. And the only way to do that was by going against the supposed order of isolation that had been issued for Naruto and Ino.

It was just his luck that, on his way to the Yamanaka clan compound to infiltrate it and go to Ino's house, he ran into Team 10 as they returned from wherever it was they had gone earlier in the day.

Kiba was not with them.

"Hey, Ino! Naruto!" He called out to them, making both genin stop and turn to look in his direction.

Akamaru was perched on top of Naruto's head. Naruto himself offered Chouji a small smile; but it didn't quite reach his eyes. And both these things were rather weird to Chouji.

But the thing that made him falter for a moment and stare was the look of pure haunting within Ino's eyes.

Oh no.

Their teacher looked him over for a second before patting both of his students on their back. They turned back to him for a second, as if unsure, then nodded in synchronization and began to walk towards Chouji to meet him halfway.

Physically, they were both the same people Chouji had graduated from the Academy with. But he was more than sure that something had changed within them. Something big.

"Hey, guys." He scratched at the back of his neck awkwardly when he was only a couple of feet away from them, offering a shy smile. "Sorry if I interrupted anything."

"Oh, not at all." Naruto smiled back, lifting his hand to scratch at the top of Akamaru's head. "Asuma-sensei was just going to have us review some stupid books before tomorrow. We haven't been training too hard in the past days- to relax or something, you know."

The Akimichi nodded- Kakashi-sensei had also cut down on Shino's intense training to give him some relaxing time before the Final Phase of the Chunin Exams. Then he lowered his head, remembering why it was that he come to speak with them both.

The boy took a moment to breathe in and steel his nerves.

Then he bowed deeply, "I am deeply sorry over Team 7 betraying you during the Chunin Exams!"


Sasuke was giving Izumo a tour of the Uchiha Compound.

It was around three thirty in the afternoon. Even though tomorrow was the day where he was to fight against that bastard Hyuuga and teach him a lesson in family, Sasuke was not focusing on any further training.

Honestly, he had been nervous to fight Hinata's cousin. He hated the prick. He wanted to beat education into him. And he wanted to humiliate the bastard just like he had done to his cousin. But his pride was not so great that he was blind to the possibility of his wishes being dashed away tomorrow. So there were some nerves. There were even some jitters of excitement for tomorrow. There was even a small pit in his stomach, formed out of worry over becoming a chunin and having to leave his teammates.

But he was more nervous for today. The day that Izumo Kamizuki would walk the Uchiha grounds and decide if Sasuke truly was worth all of the hassle of adopting.

"The grounds are really well-kept." The man murmured softly, and Sasuke nodded stiffly.

"They're maintained by the same groundskeepers that used to take care of them before... you know." He couldn't bring himself to use the name for what had happened. It still hurt. "I think they're paid out of the clan's savings."

"Hmm." Izumo nodded, "We'll have to look in on that, then. We can't be wasting money we don't actually have."

We.

It had been too long since Sasuke had been part of a familial 'we'.

They continued their tour of the rest of the Uchiha compound in relative silence, only ever talking when Izumo had a question that truly pressed on him. Eventually, they had walked through the whole of the compound and returned to the main house, where Sasuke lived, and entered it. Once they were inside, Izumo made a beeline straight for his refrigerator.

When Izumo opened the refrigerator door and was met with only bare bones, a half-empty carton of milk, and a single bowl filled with leftovers, Sasuke couldn't stop himself from blushing just slightly. And when Izumo 'tsk'ed' in disapproval, the red on his cheeks became that much brighter.

"I usually eat out," He explained in a murmur, "I've got enough money to buy breakfast at a nearby bakery... And I usually eat lunch and dinner with Hinata and Shikamaru."

Those two had managed to become the most important people in his life. And Sasuke wanted to do everything in his power to be able to keep them near for the rest of his life.

"Alright, well at least you seem to be eating well enough." Izumo sighed as he closed the refrigerator door, then turned to him with a small smile on his lips. "But, how about you don't leave before I at least feed you breakfast from now on? Just to do my conscience well."

Those words froze Sasuke on the spot.

It had been so long since someone aside from his teammates offered to cook for him... Because they wanted to.

He didn't know exactly how it happened, but now he was hugging Izumo tightly around the shoulders, hanging suspended over the air as the man hugged him back to not let him drop onto the floor.

"Thank you."

Tears stung at his eyes. But that was a line he was not willing to cross.

Instead he closed his eyes and burrowed his face into Izumo's shoulders while the man awkwardly patted at his back.


"It is adorable how you think the Yamanaka is strong enough to help you get rid of me."

The pressure on his jaw was excruciating, just like the burning that ran along the left side of his body. He was trembling and his whole body was soaked in sweat- the nurses would be annoyed with him again tonight.

"How many more times do you think he'll be willing to visit you and try and talk to you to help before he notices how truly worthless you are and completely gives up on you?"

"S-shut. Up." Speaking through tensed teeth was difficult, but not impossible. And it was the only way he was capable of speaking- he was barely ever able to keep himself from screwing his jaw shut anymore.

"I wonder how easy it must be for Konoha to lock you up and erase all memory of you. How long has it been since you last saw the outside world? Almost a week, I presume. And you have yet to see your teammates or your family. Not even that mangy pup has come to visit you."

Orochimaru never left him alone. The snake-nin was the only constant visitor in his life- aside from Inoichi Yamanaka. The nurses always changed faces and no one else had been allowed to see him since he had been placed under lock-down in the hospital.

"They must have already forgotten all about you."

The door to his room swung open and Inoichi Yamanaka slowly entered, carrying two trays filled with food. One of them seemed to have a simple meal- unassuming and a bit uninteresting. But the other tray held a juicy steak, and a bowl filled with what looked like barbeque sauce rested beside it.

"I hope you don't mind me interrupting on your lunch. But I needed a break from T&I and decided to come and visit you early."

Kiba stared at the man, unblinking, and with unsubstantiated fear radiating in the back of his head.

Inoichi had been spending most nights with him. At the beginning, he had explained the steps they would be taking to help repair his fractured mental state. After he had finished with all of the explanations, the man had begun to implement his plan by bringing challenging puzzles and verbal problems to force Kiba's mind into motion. With every correct answer, Kiba was supposed to gain confidence in his own abilities. With every wrong answer, he was given breathing space to think about his mistakes and rectify them.

He had refused to allow the man to enter his mind. Inoichi had respected this decision, but warned him that pushing Orochimaru out of his mind would be infinitely harder with Kiba fighting him alone.

"The nurses wanted to bring you some of the usual hospital food, but I thought you deserved a reward for all of the good work you've been doing recently." The man spoke as if he wasn't bothered by the one-sided conversation. If Kiba had been able to make sense of the smells filling his nose, he may have been capable of figuring out if he was bothered or not. But his nose, just like his mind, betrayed him. "They weren't too happy with the deviation in your diet, but agreed to let me do this."

"Isn't it his brats fault you're stuck in here, with me dominating your every thought? Could it be because he's just bidding his time until he decides to officially call you a lost cause, throw you into the smallest cell within the mental asylum he can find, and never think of you again? I wonder how long he'll toy with your cowardly heart."

Kiba couldn't stop himself from keening in pain at the idea.

Inoichi's bright blue eyes widened upon hearing him and asked, "Are you alright, Kiba? Would you like me to bring you anything?"

Kiba shook his head.

He forced his jaw to move.

"Adorable. You're actually trying to speak! You're such a cute pup, Inuzuka. I could just eat you up."

"W..." He winced at the sharp jab that shot through his neck, "W-why h-h-help?"

The wide eyes narrowed slightly... Then the man's face softened. He placed both trays on the table beside Kiba's bedside and sat down to his right, clasping his hands in front of his chest as he lay his elbows on his knees.

"The Yamanaka clan was once an incredibly ruthless band of warriors that relished in the control they had over others' minds. Only the strongest of clan members were allowed to become shinobi. And the strong were separated from the weak by..." Inoichi sighed now, his forehead dropping onto his hands. "Torturing the children. Yamanaka clan techniques were used on kids younger than yourself to shatter their minds... After they were thoroughly broken, they were to piece themselves back together. Alone."

"Ooh, I smell a tragic backstory. It's a shame it's undoubtedly a lie to convince you to let him finish destroying your worthless existence."

Kiba forced himself to ignore Orochimaru and instead focused on the blonde shinobi.

"I was part of the last generation of children subjected to this method. I know the horror of your mindscape being invaded; I know the fear that consumes you when you do not even know who you are or what is happening to you. And I know how daunting and terrifying it is to try and force yourself back together... The pieces never fit quite the same again; no matter how hard you try to complete the puzzle."

Now the man lifted his gaze and looked directly into Kiba's own eyes. There were tears brimming his pupil-less eyes. There was pain radiating off of him. There was raw honesty.

"I promised myself that I would never allow any of my clansmen to go as far as our forefathers had gone. I told myself that I would never see another child's mind destroyed by our jutsu... And I failed you, Kiba."

"It's adorable that you think he's actually being honest."

Kiba glowered, looking away from Inoichi to hopefully let the man know the expression wasn't because of him.

"I want to try and help you be yourself again. You'll never be the same, unfortunately... But I don't want to give up on you. I don't want to be like my ancestors."

Ino's touch on his mind was freezing and hot at the same time; it was unpleasant and violent and horrible.

… But he'd never had Inoichi's touch on his mind.

"Are you going to allow that blundering oaf to meddle within your already fragile mindscape? Do you not understand that he could just as easily finish destroying you- leave you catatonic and immobile for the rest of your meaningless life?"

It hurt to speak.

But Kiba forced himself to voice out his hopes.

"P-please. Help."


Night had fallen and Shino's insects were buzzing in anticipation for the coming day.

He couldn't sleep because of his own excitement.

Tomorrow would the day that he taught Team 10 a lesson. Tomorrow he would face off against Naruto and defeat him. Tomorrow would be the day he snatched victory from the hands of Team 10 and earned it for Team 7.

He was aware that he was the only member of his team that still thought in such a manner. Neither Chouji nor Sakura seemed to want him to obliterate Naruto in their fight. And Shino believed it was because they began to see their actions in the Chunin Exams as erroneous. He also understood that they had a right to think in such a manner.

But he just couldn't share in that mindset.

With a sigh, the Aburame stood up from his bed and made his way towards the window of his bedroom.

There was no moon in the sky tonight. And the stars were barely visible thanks to the thick clouds that consumed the sky.

It was already rather late at night, but he was so energetic that he felt like he could fight ten Narutos and win.

Now the Aburame squinted his eyes and looked over his clan's compound, taking note that there was no one walking around at this time. Which made sense, it was extremely late. Most people were either asleep at such a time, or already within their late-shift jobs.

It was a shame he was not able to stargaze because of the weather.

But it gave him an excuse to return to his bed and try and force himself to sleep once again.


"No, mom, we didn't bribe Izumo into adopting Sasuke." Shikamaru sighed in exasperation as his mother continued to 'interrogate' him over what Team 8 had done to have Izumo agree to such a ludicrous idea.

In all honesty, Shikamaru was more bothered by his mother having minimized the importance of Sasuke having a stable familial figure in his life than by her questioning their actions or motives.

"Are you kids aware of how much you're asking of this civilian? Taking on the Uchiha name-"

"Will force him to learn all about his new clan. Yes, woman, we are aware." Shikamaru rolled his eyes at his mother's scoff of annoyance. Then he crossed his arms over the kitchen table and laid his chin down on his forearms. "We read up all the documents that existed in the library about clan adoption. And then all of the ones about adoption. And we're helping Sasuke find all of the clan documents inside of the compound so they both can begin learning about the clan for the test they'll have to take."

"There's a test to take?" His father piped up finally, setting down his chopsticks as he picked up his glass of water. "I thought that wasn't necessary anymore."

Shikamaru groaned and closed his eyes.

He just wanted to have a relaxing evening before he was forced to fight that blonde girl from the Hidden Sand Village. But his parents insisted that they should have a family meal ever day- and today's meal was dinner.

"It's not necessary anymore if you're a civilian marrying into the clan. The law changed twenty years ago- before it was necessary to make sure that people weren't getting married just for protection or inheritance possibilities. But when you want to be adopted into a clan, for some stupid reason, you've got to pass a naturalization test to make sure you're up to par."

He heard his father hum in what sounded like disdain, then his mother scoffed, "Wait, does that apply only to the major clans or-"

"Nope. All clans." Now Shikamaru moved his head so he was able to peek at his parents with his right eye, "Why do you think our orphanage is overrun with children while some clans are suffering from lack of children? Nobody wants to put a kid through the test necessary to prove you belong in a clan."

"Damn." His father breathed out.

"Someone should change that." His mother growled.

And Shikamaru quietly agreed with the harpy as he lay his head back down and closed his eyes.


He didn't know Ino anymore.

This person may have looked just like his teammate, but she was nothing like her. She was quiet and sad. She didn't shout at him to get him to not do anything stupid anymore. She didn't tell Akamaru to not get dirt on her clothes. And the compliments she gave them now felt so forced and hollow that Naruto didn't know if he should be encouraged or hurt by them.

Kiba wasn't with them anymore. And he wasn't supposed to be well for a long time, either.

Chouji had come up to them to ask for them to forgive Team 7... But Naruto couldn't give that to him. Because he had never blamed the team for what had happened to them.

It could be because he was kind of slow for some things, or because he didn't actually blame others for what happened in his life, but he had never shared Ino's rage for Team 7's betrayal. He hadn't like it, at all, and kind of didn't like them for a while because they had been forced to stay even longer within the Forest of Death to pass the Second Phase. But the fact of the matter was that they had been in a test and Team 7 had come up with a plan and executed it flawlessly.

Apparently, a lot of people now saw Team 7 as dysfunctional and kind of evil... Which was unfair. Weren't they all kids? Weren't they supposed to be learning from their mistakes? Or were they going to be branded by a single mistake for the rest of their lives?

He really hoped people weren't branded because of one mistake... He'd committed many of those in his life... And he didn't want to be forever known as the loudmouthed dead last that never passed a single test with a score higher than average.

"How do you think Kiba's doing?"

Ino speaking up broke him out of his reverie.

The blonde boy blinked for a moment as he returned to reality. His fingers were grazing over Akamaru's fur while the a cold breeze bit at any exposed skin.

They were seated on the roof of Ino's house, trying to enjoy the stars in the sky. But there wasn't much to see- apparently, the sky was roiling with unease.

"I like to think he's getting better with each passing day." He answered with a small huff, patting Akamaru's head as the dog lifted his head and began to howl in loneliness at the sky.

It had been forever since they had last seen Kiba. If this was hurting Naruto, then there was no telling in how much pain Akamaru must have been in. He and Kiba had been pretty good friends... But Akamaru and Kiba were supposed to be partners.

"I don't think he'll ever get better." Ino whispered, bringing her legs up to her chest as she wrapped her arms above her knees. "I... I did something really bad, Naruto."

The blonde frowned as he looked back down at Akamaru. The dog was looking at Ino with sadness on his features. Not anger.

Not even Akamaru blamed Ino for what had happened.

The fact of the matter was that a bunch of bad things had mounted on each other and ended up in one huge catastrophe. But... Well, no one could say with one hundred percent certainty that changing one event would have completely erased this conclusion. At least, that's what Naruto told himself.

"Then we should do everything we can to help him."

Akamaru yipped in agreement and padded out of Naruto's lap and towards Ino. Once he was beside her, he pawed at her right thigh before sitting down and pressing his body beside her.

They didn't say anything else after that.

~..~..~

I hope you all enjoyed reading this chapter!

I am super sorry that it has taken me so long to update, but university has been kicking my ass with all of the tests and work I've got to do.

Good news is that there are only two more chapters left to this story!

Please review and tell me what you liked! Or, hell, tell me what you didn't to see if I can do better next time!