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Wave Country

It was completely dark by the time we finally managed to reach the earth's surface again. And just as well, too, for daylight would have surely illuminated the full extent of the damages we had caused. Given that being a ninja implied a certain level of discretion in every action, the entire highly large and obvious swath of scorched earth was somewhat embarrassing.

At least this had been the uninhabited area of Wave. So we had no civilian casualties. Apart from, well, the non-shinobi pickpockets that we were meant to clear out anyway.

Ino's going to be so upset when she finds out. They were only stealing to survive; she never wanted to kill them.

People like Naruto or Ino shouldn't ever have been allowed to experience death, not even a little bit. I didn't care about myself, much. But they were such empathetic people. In any other profession, I should have wished to be like them.

But there was nothing we could do except keep an eye on our living captives. The rest of the corpses – the ones we could find, anyhow – we packed away into sealing scrolls to bring back to Konoha for medical research.

Perhaps we'd get special missions involving mass destruction sometime in the future. Shinobi were known to be hired for that on occasion. Burning down entire mansions, spray-painting specific graffiti on strategically placed walls, creating and distributing propaganda, destroying whole organizations from the inside out (these were all real examples of missions that had been requested and assigned) – those tasks were impossible to complete sneakily. Client demands were varied and fickle things, and politicians especially liked to employ such outlandish tactics to send a message; they were, after all, quite effective.

Sending a blatant message hadn't been a specific part of the description for this particular job, but here was a message from us all the same.


Like how everything was bigger in Tanyu, everything was more dangerous in the shinobi world, including graffiti.

Especially graffiti.

God, this hurts… Both Kakashi-sensei and Yamato knew basic healing, enough to keep someone alive while they waited for a more capable medic, but there was little anyone could do for me apart from some painkillers and chakra replenishers.

It must have been fifteen minutes at most, but it felt like an hour. Eventually, the sole remaining team stationed in our Wave base made it to our location. There used to be more, but most had since been recalled to Konoha. The Hokage wasn't dumb or greedy enough to renege his promise about slowly withdrawing our forces from Wave once the impoverished country got back on their feet.

Considering we already had some extremely advantageous trade agreements with them, there was little profit to be had in spending extra time, men, and money on an extended occupation – certainly not worth enough to sully our pristine image and garner the animosity of the locals, a la the formerly alive Gato (with emphasis on formerly). Besides, recent infiltrations and foreign tensions meant that we needed every hand we could get for village defense.

"What the heck happened here?" a familiar, harsh voice rang out. "It looks like the Sage of Six Paths farted into a lighter!"

Oh, joy. It was our angry Chunin examiner.

"Good to see you too, Masa-san. Watch where you step," Yamato warned, pointing to the shards of obsidian still lodged all over the ground.

"By the way, both our resident Yamanaka and Nara have head injuries," Kakashi-sensei added. Underneath the sarcasm I could hear his voice shaking. "So if you guys have a medic, now would be a good time for them to get over here."

Said medic, a woman in her early forties by the name of Seki Juuji, was thankfully experienced enough to remain calm. "Minor concussion, a bunch of broken bones, and some rather severe internal injury, but nothing I can't fix," she said. Under her palms, my cracked shins came back together, not without a great deal of pain as the bone fragments realigned themselves. "But you'll need leg braces for the next few weeks to ensure they heal straight; there's only so much I can do. You'll be as good as new in a month, tops, if you rest up properly."

"And Ino," Kakashi-sensei reminded her.

"She'll be fine," she told us, running her green chakra over Ino's forehead. "Nothing seriously broken, so she won't require casts. Anything else I should know about?"

"Some superficial cuts and burns for me, but I packed salve and bandages. Same for Hatake," Yamato said.

"And that boy over there?" she asked, jerking her chin at Naruto, who was curled up on himself, face blank and eyes unfocused, silent as a grave.

"Physically fine, except for a bunch of glass in his palms, knees, and toes, but…"

Seki hummed sympathetically. "First time?"

"And second, and third, and…let's just say, the explosion took out a lot of guys all at once," Yamato explained. "Actually, more than a lot."

"Mmmm. Happens to everyone, young or old, inexperienced or veteran. Mostly it's caused by stressful battles like this one, but I once knew a guy who got a spike case simply from cabin fever. We were locked in this muddy underground bunker for months in Amegakure during a siege from that last world war," she explained. Taking another look at Naruto, she pursed her lips. "He's a bit young, though."

"Generally, thirteen-year-olds don't have to fight curse seal enhanced men twice their age," I couldn't help but snark.

I had read about spike cases before, though this was more Ino's area of expertise than mine. Generally, when they happened while in the field, it was dangerous; people who couldn't think or stay hidden could easily give away positions of other members and compromise missions. Every member of a team needed to be alert and ready, all the time.

But how could Naruto have known? It wasn't fair for us to blame him; all the responsibility lay with our attackers.

"Nnngh," Ino groaned, blinking. "You guys okay?"

"Yeah, yeah, they're all fine," Masa interrupted. "Now explain to me what kind of job you've been doing here? Did you learn nothing about stealth your entire time in – "

Ino straightened up and stared him in the eye. Her chin lifted, and she put one challenging hand on her hip – wonderful. And – yep, there it was. An unimpressed curve of the eyebrow. Ino was not in a good mood, and when Ino was not in a good mood, anyone who valued their ego had better get out of the way.

"How about, instead of asking us that, you explain what kind of job you'vebeen doing here? Because I specifically remember being told that all trained shinobi not loyal to Konoha had already been cleared out of the area. Our mission was dealing with civilian-level petty criminals, not artifically enhanced bio-freaks! Look around you, Jonin-sama," Ino snapped, pointing to the visible curse seals on our surviving captives. "Does that look like a loyal Konoha nin to you?"

Her voice cracked and her hands trembled. I could see her trying to ignore everyone else who was dead, dead, or deader than dead.

Masa Shi What's-His-Face looked murderous. "Don't get cocky with me, girl. I remember you. You were one of those rookie brats. Looks like you haven't learned respect, either – though given your sensei, I'm not surprised," the man spat. Then, he processed Ino's words about non-Konoha shinobi. "Wait, is that − ?"

"Oh, full marks!" Ino crossed her arms, angry and sad and completely unrepentant about taking it all out on the grown man shamefully shrinking in front of her. "And I have to say − seeing as we successfully completed our mission in spite of your failure, this level of collateral damage is insignificant in comparison. Stealth was the least of our problems here. Unless you mean to tell us that we failed a mission we weren't even assigned, in some big cosmic joke."

Well, the insignificance of said collateral damage was an arguable point, but a good enough bluff done with the right attitude (and Ino had plenty of that) would suffice.

Seki smirked. "She got you there, Masa."

"Shut up; there's three of us for this entire island," Masa muttered. His scowl had become a worried frown. "How many did you say there were?"

"At least fifty-two," Kakashi-sensei answered him.

"At least?"

"I was a bit busy killing my way to survival, thanks for asking." The anger in Kakashi-sensei's eyes could murder a man. "Let's make this clear: if any one of my teammates had died down there, do you understand exactly what I would have done to collect on that debt?"

Shi Masa paled. "And just when we had finished taking care of Kumo." He shook his head. "You don't think that's all of them?"

I shrugged. "We won't know until we interrogate them."

Ino put both her hands up in the air. "I'm not doing anything until I get the rest of my chakra back. As the team captain for this mission, I hereby declare that we leave this place now."

Ino hated death. Training for her clan technique required becoming more perceptive to the thoughts and emotions of others, and it was uncomfortable knowing that someone's mind and personality could just disappear so easily. When she had been very young, she remembered feeling her old grandmother slip away – as had her father, and any other Yamanaka in the room at the time.

She had gotten used to it, but that didn't mean it ever got better.

Why did their world always have to be like this? People were always fighting with and lying to one another. She had been trained by her family and her teacher to prepare for this – all this violence and pointless killing and betrayal – but sometimes, sometimes she just wondered – what would the world be like if none of this happened? If the truth was just presented as it was, straight and good and honest. If people could work in harmony, instead of jealously plotting and scheming to sabotage their friends behind their backs all the while wearing a front of complete unbreakable innocence?

All of this, and for what?

Ino was so tired of it. And yet she couldn't stop and rest. Shinobi weren't ever allowed to stop and rest, or else they'd get run over. For some reason she had been born, and so she'd have to grit her teeth and make the best of the cards she'd been dealt.

For a group of kids who weren't even officially Chunin yet, they seemed to get into a great deal of unnecessary trouble.

"At least we're alive," Shikamaru tried to say. "And we finished the mission. We're all alive, is the important part."

Finished the mission. Of course they finished the mission. Their orders had been to clear out the thugs, and as a bunch of civilian pickpockets were unlikely to have high informational value, "capture alive" had not been included in the instructions. That had been her own thing.

If they had wanted to, Ino could have simply teamed up with Naruto to burn down the thieves' hideout from a distance, had Shikamaru use some earth or water jutsu to put out the fire before it spread, and hightailed it out of there. Or, better yet, have Naruto use his air jutsu to blow a cloud of poison into the vents. Easy as pie.

Any of those options would have also solved the "problem" and completed the mission without violating any of their given mission parameters. No thugs meant no crime, no crime meant a happier Wave Country, a happier Wave Country meant more support for Fire Country, and more support for Fire Country implied good things for Konoha. Killing everyone in that warehouse would have achieved the same results as taking them alive.

In the grand scheme of things, a few corpses were insignificant little details. Grouped into the much less humanizing label of collateral damage. The only implicit order ninja were ever given was to minimize "accidents", because if they got the reputation for having too many civilian casualties, no one would want to hire them.

But Ino wasn't one to think about some other person's life as an unimportant little detail, even if they were just some nameless thief or robber from another country. It went against her innate belief that everything mattered. After all, her clan technique operated on the consciousnesses of other beings, and if something didn't matter, why would it have a consciousness? Why would any of them be given consciousnesses, for that matter? Of all the billions of people in the world, of all the billion billion trillion whatever possible people that could have been, why them? They were important. They mattered.

Death – a flying kunai, a bit of poison, too much water or too little oxygen, a tiny infected wound, a stab to the wrong place – was cheap. Life – was not. Life was something that took time and effort to build, and it was something that could be easily swept away in a single moment of chaos, like a house of cards collapsing under the tiniest bump of a table. Ino was many things, but she was not some mindless heartless murdering machine, even if wearing her hitai-ate automatically meant that she would branded with the label of "shinobi."

"Ino. How's the head?" Kakashi-sensei asked.

She grinned. "Okay, but if I have to do that again, my brain might melt."

"I don't doubt it. That was a really complex sealing job even I'm scared of attempting on a good day, and both of you were injured at the time. That was nothing short of incredible."

"How's yours?"

Kakashi-sensei winced. "I haven't had such a bad relapse in awhile. No doubt the Sandaime's going to force me to go see some ANBU therapist."

"You could talk to me."

"They're going to make you have your first psychological checkups around this time, too. It's probably just going to be your father."

Ino nodded. Why did blood and deceit have to be so normal? Why didn't people just realize that getting along was so much easier than not getting along? It didn't take much energy to verbally voice disagreement – but sending thousands of men out into the field, planning for wars, forming spy networks – wasn't that so much harder?

Why didn't those old men all just sit down and have a real, heart-to-heart talk with one another? Ino could imagine it now – her, playing psychologist to all the most important politicians in the land, and treating each and every one of them to a nice good verbal smackdown every time one of them tried to be dishonest or catty. Because that was what they all were – gossipy teenage girls, only on a grander scale.

It would certainly save them all the this trouble – hanging out in Wave country, constantly wondering what would happen next, if the political plots that weren't supposed to concern them actually did end up concerning them after all.

Naruto still hadn't talked.

"Wait," Ino said. "I take that back. We're not leaving yet."

She prepared herself for questions. Can't it wait until we get back to Konoha? or some variation of that. But everyone only shrugged. "Okay."

"That means you too, Naruto."

Naruto flinched. That's a reaction, at least.

"I mean it, buster. Sit down."

Naruto sat.

Even without her mind transfer, she could still all the internal screaming going on behind his glassy stare. No get away from me what if I lose control again − I'm not the same person you thought I was − what if you get hurt because of me – I'm not the same person I thought I was –

Ino crouched down next to him, latching firmly onto his sleeve before he could scoot away and wrapping him in a tight hug.

He never got enough of them growing up, and back then I was too wrapped up in my own silly little problems to care.

"I killed someone, too," she whispered, running her hand through his hair, trying to smooth down his perpetually untameable spikes like she had done so many times before. Her fingers deftly ran through the tangles in those wild yellow straws, trying in vain to bring some semblance of order to what was otherwise a hopeless realm of chaos.

A year ago, none of them could have possibly imagined themselves sitting here like this. But a year ago, they were still stupid kids in the Academy. Playing pranks and fawning over boys. Their lives revolved around how excited they were to finally be able to go out there like the big shots in the village and do S-ranks and beat up some bad guys. I killed someone, she thought, because I judged their life to be less than mine and that of my friends.

I don't have that right to judge a stranger's life to be less than my own.

Naruto's seemingly unflappable confidence and happiness was a true side of him, she didn't doubt that. But his personal insecurities, like his fear of abandonment, was also a part of him. Only, he had hidden that side of him with the stronger side for so long that now even the people who knew him thought that his magical friendship gun was all there was to him.

And while his sunny personality drew many people to him, it also left them not knowing what to do when it burned out.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry…"

"Shhh," Ino whispered. "It's over."

But had I not killed her, it would have been one of my friends.

And I don't have the right to judge my friends' life to be less than a stranger's, either.

"It wasn't the killing. It wasn't the fox either. It was me. I couldn't stop doing it; it was like I wanted the killing, I wanted to hurt them, and I'm scared of myself, I don't want to – " he choked. "I'm used to people calling me a monster behind my back, but it was easy for me to ignore them because I could blame everything on the fox and tell myself that they were only being ignorant and that they didn't know how the bijuu seals worked but – "

Ino finally abandoned her task of rearranging Naruto's hair into something more presentable – it had been a lost cause from the start, anyway, and growled, "You're not a monster, Naruto. You're just Naruto.They were trying to kill us. They were trying to kill you." Her voice was low and angry and dangerous. "I don't care what happens to me. But no one messes with this team on my watch. No one."

No one was perfect. Everyone had a colder side to them. The cruel, aggressive, apathetic side that surfaced when they were in a bad mood, or were too tired to socialize, or sometimes for no reason at all. And everyone was allowed to have this side – everyone except Naruto. For Ino, her little mistakes, her childish "I hate you's", her petty incidents of rumour-mill bullying, were easily forgiven by the next day. But Naruto didn't have that luxury; because of the fox, even one misstep would result in disproportionate reactions from the rest of the village.

Naruto had dealt with that by surrounding himself in purposeful obliviousness, she understood now. His book smarts had taken a hit because of a lack of foundation, but his street smarts had always been there. He had always been observant, with a reasonably high lateral thinking ability. But he'd shut that part of himself off, because it was easier to be an idiot than read the atmosphere and realize everyone hated you, to feign ignorance for a little bit of bliss. Just like he had rejected the darker side of him, even though it was still there and would definitely fester into something much worse if he didn't find a healthy way to let it out.

You don't have to be a hero all the time. You should be allowed to be the bad guy every once in a while, and have people understand.

She looked him in the eyes once more. There was something hard there, something that she had never seen before, something that she couldn't quite place – but it was something that she felt, too. She didn't know what it was; she couldn't put a name to it. It was not a happy feeling. But it was a strong feeling, and she figured that was good enough.


Kakashi had grown used to killing long before the age of thirteen, but they weren't him and he hoped to god that they were smarter than to view him as a role model in terms of mental stability. For all that he wished to teach them his skill, he never wanted to pass on any of his behavior.

He closed his eyes. Obito's empty eye socket kept staring up at him over and over again. He had thought, naively, when he was assigned this generation of Team 7, that he could leave the last one behind him. After all, their presence had closed those old wounds.

He should have known that wasn't the same as said trauma never happening. His mind was no longer bleeding, but the scars were still there.

And now more on top of that, he thought mirthlessly. It didn't matter if they were skilled shinobi. Things like this shouldn't have been happening to them. They were too young for it. They would always be too young for everything. For all their skill, for all he had trained them to do – from capturing escaped cats and criminals to building houses and military outposts while under fire – he never wanted to see them in any of those situations. An impossible hope, but one he clung to because he had no choice.

"I bet they're going to be really mad at me," Naruto mumbled.

Kakashi flicked the back of his head. "No, they're not. It's fine. I'll tell them I did it. It wouldn't be the first time."

Naruto shot him a look that asked, You really think the Hokage's going to buy that?

Kakashi shrugged. It was rare that anyone could lie to the Hokage without him knowing. Convincing him to turn a blind eye to a few alternative facts on official paperwork, however, was significantly easier.

How could something like this have happened? Well – he already knew; he wouldn't blame any of them for developing Killer Intent in response to each other. Killer Intent in Naruto, at that. I was pegging Shikamaru to be the first one. The gods just love to laugh at me, don't they? he thought. I ask for my students to take my lessons on teamwork to heart, and they did exactly as I asked.

More than I asked.

To the point where they would be willing to kill for each other.

It took all of his self control to keep him from turning around and destroying something right then and there.

I forced them to run laps so they wouldn't get tired when fleeing for their lives. I forced them to spar so that they would be able to hold their own in a fight. Was there anything else I could have done, to numb them to the killing so they wouldn't −

I didn't do it because I knew something like this would have happened and damn it, all of these excuses were just because I didn't want to see Naruto stop smiling because of something I did and look where that got him – spike case in the middle of a mission and damn it, I'm never good enough, how the hell did you manage to do it, Minato-sensei –

If Minato-sensei had been there, he would have told him something corny and sappy like "Do whatever feels right to you, Kakashi."

Corny and sappy but not necessarily stupid…

On instinct, his hands strayed to his pockets, and when they came away he was holding an old scroll in his hands.

"Here, Naruto. Hold on to this for me until we get back to Konoha."

"Sensei, I – huh?"

"Something to make you feel better." Kakashi smiled. "I've always found dogs to be superior to any shrink."

"But sensei – " Naruto picked up the faded paper and inhaled sharply. "This is your family's summoning contract."

Kakashi smiled. "What family do I need besides you guys?"

His Hatake ancestors would probably make his afterlife hell for this, but Kakashi didn't care. Seeing the joy return to Naruto's face was entirely worth it.

A/N: Naruto is the most obvious with his emotions, which is what helps him get everything out and bounce back quickly.

Kakashi and Shikamaru are both the type to fool themselves into thinking they're okay when they're really not.

Ino is somewhere in the middle – she understands the importance of letting it all out, but at the same time, she feels pressured to be the reliable parent figure of the team (since Kakashi is obviously unfit for that post). So while normally, she'd be like Naruto, she just as quickly shoves aside her own troubles when she sees someone else in need.