7-year-old Uchiha Itachi sat in the classroom. It was time for the genin team announcements and the only thing going through his mind was:

Please, kami-sama, let it not be a fangirl.

Outwardly, Itachi's expression showed no change despite the dread filling him. Deep down, he knew it was a futile hope. A moment of stupidity had resulted in this moment and now he was paying the price.

"Ah! Itachi-kun!" Itachi turned to see another horde of girls. He had hoped that advancing through the levels would result in more mature and serious kunoichi, but no. If anything, it was worse. The girls five years his senior found him 'cute' instead of 'cool' like his former 7-year-old peers.

"Do you need anything?" Unfortunately, he was unable to take Shisui's sagely advice of hurling a fireball at them. He was raised to be a gentleman (only towards non-enemies thus this didn't apply to fangirls) and while Shisui was a valued friend, his mother handled the dango supply.

"N-no, not really. I-I just hope we end up in the same genin team." Itachi blinked.

"Unfortunately, I don't think that is probable. By tradition, the top shinobi and kunoichi of the year are paired together."

And that was how, for the first time in four decades, there were more females in the top 10 than males. Unfortunately, the top 3 females were all rabidmanicfanatical extremely devoted fangirls of his. Itachi had never regretted saying anything so badly.

"Well then, without further ado, I will begin announcing the genin teams. Team 1-"

Itachi held his breath for a moment before realising that it was unbecoming of the heir of the noble clan of Uchiha to show visible signs of distress to such a relatively minor problem in the grand scheme of things and quickly released the withheld breath in a completely natural manner.

"Team 11: Uchiha Itachi, Nara Michiko and Uchiha Akio."

Relief flooded Inner Itachi even as Ninja Itachi's suspicions triggered. Itachi hadn't interacted with the Nara much, but from what he knew, she wasn't a fangirl. Most of his fangirls liked to wear short red and white dresses for the Uchiha fan or a navy blue or black. After a spar, they'd quickly wipe their sweat off, don their jewellery, reapply their makeup and spray an unbearable amount of perfume. Why 12-year-old girls felt the need to show off their nonexistent assets eluded Itachi, but he had long since accepted that the female gender would likely remain beyond his comprehension.

Nara Michiko just looked… like your average girl Nara. Long spiky black hair piled messily into a bun with senbon, black eyes that stared into space and a perpetually bored look on her face. Her clothing held typical ninja pragmatism. A simple white shirt with a sleeveless beige jacket, presumably loaded with weapons. Beige trousers bandaged at the bottom and grey mid-thigh slit skirt. Both fell a little awkwardly, so Itachi assumed those had weapons as well. Four equipment pouches were attached to her legs and she had a backpack and a front pouch. Strangely, she did not carry a visible forehead protector. Overall, Itachi thought the amount of weapons was a bit of an overkill, but better over equipped than under equipped.

Itachi didn't really know what to make of her, but she seemed better than his deliriouszealoushysterical fangirls. Anything was. However, her grades were nowhere near the top. They floated around the average mark, impressive for a Nara, but never near the top 10. There had to be a reason she was put through the advanced stream and made genin at 10-years-old despite her average grades. Maybe she was hiding some special skills. Obviously, more research was required.

Uchiha Akio wasn't particularly skilled to make up for it. He was fairly good, but average for an Uchiha, if that. He was 12 while the expected graduation age for Uchiha was 10. Itachi hadn't paid any attention to him before, but he seemed average on the outside. Akio had curly black hair that was even messier than Shisui's. There was a permanent scowl etched onto his face and he had a broody stay-away atmosphere around him. He wore the high-collared navy blue shirts favoured by the clan with the Uchiha fan on the back. His knee-length pants were dirt-coloured and he held two equipment pouches strapped to his thighs. He wore bandages around his arms and was glaring at Itachi, something that surprised him. Generally, branch Uchiha sucked up to him and tried to gain his favour.

It would seem as if both his teammates were completely average and normal. Itachi didn't particularly care as long as they were professional. His main worry had been the girl, but luckily, she seemed like a proper kunoichi. Unfortunately, his relief wasn't shared by his teammate. A small burst of yin chakra came from the corner of the room.

"Sensei? Would you mind repeating that?" Nara Michiko spoke up. A quick glance around the room revealed heated glares directed at her by his 'fanclub'.

"Team 11: Uchiha Itachi, Nara Michiko and Uchiha Akio. Is there something wrong, Michiko-chan?" The Nara blinked.

"Of course not, sensei. Forgive me for the interruption. Please continue." But there was clearly something wrong as she continued to stare at him, her ink brush furiously swiping across her scroll. Maybe her distress was because she was stuck with two Uchiha? Nara weren't prejudiced in general, but his clan's name wasn't as upstanding as it used to be. Ninja Itachi screamed at him to do research immediately while Inner Itachi thanked kami he'd finally found a female who seemed to dislike him. Outwardly, Itachi was stoic as ever.

His mind was a very confusing place. With the help of Shisui, Itachi had finally gathered just enough self-awareness to realise that.

"-do not cause any trouble! Your jounin sensei will arrive soon. You may have your lunch break now." Most of his peers filed out of the room, glad to leave the academy behind. However…

"Itachi-kun! Do you want to have lunch together?" Itachi turned to face his most nuttyobsessiveaggressive enthusiastic fangirl.

"I'm afraid I'll have to decline. I believe it is best we eat with our respective teams." Shisui had advised him to eat lunch with his teammates to build up team rapport. The fact that he did not wish to get mauled by have lunch with his fangirls had no bearing on his decision whatsoever.

She gave a strained smile. "But Itachi-kun, you'll be with Michiko-chan and Akio-kun for a while. This may be our last chance." At the corner of his eye, Itachi spotted two assailants fangirls coming in from his right flank. How on earth could he get out of thi-

"Sorry, sweetie, but I'm borrowing Uchiha-san for a while." Nara Michiko was a godsend and he would be burning the best incense at the Uchiha shrine. Right then and there, there was nothing that could persuade Itachi otherwise.

The Nara received a sugarcoated glare from his fangirl. "Who are you to decide? Surely Itachi-kun-"

At that point, his teammate scooped him up by his waist and swiftly jumped out of the window. While the Uchiha in him didn't appreciate being manhandled, Ninja Itachi approved of the quick and efficient method and Inner Itachi was far too relieved to care. She took to the rooftops with a speed that rivalled his own, quickly losing the fangirls. She landed on a secluded rooftop, not too far from the academy so they could return quickly, but deserted enough so the chances of being found were little.

Ninja Itachi's approval was climbing up. Inner Itachi started constructing her shrine.

"You're fast."

She shrugged. "I'm more for speed than power. I can do a couple of chakra tricks, but my physical strength is dismal." That was fairly common for females. Itachi couldn't help but feel a trickle of disappointment. He wasn't quite sure, but he had expected something… different from his saviour teammate.

"Well, I-" She held up her hand.

"Save it. Akio-san is coming. I invited him." When did she-

"Why? It increases the risk of being found."

"You said, and I quote verbatim: 'I believe it is best we eat with our respective teams'. While I understand that that was merely an excuse, the idea behind it isn't bad. I assume it wasn't something that originated from you?" Astute.

"I see."

Michiko's brain switched up to full drive the moment the genin teams were announced. She scrambled to find all the possible things that could go wrong with this situation and there were just too many. Why on earth-

Michiko shut herself off as Uchiha Akio landed on the roof. Now was not the time.

"Were you followed?" Michiko asked.

"Of course not. Why did you call me?"

"Just an introductory session."

"I don't see what's the point. We're going to be stuck with each other for the next few years anyway. I'm going to lunch." Akio turned to go.

"Don't be silly. The test has already started." This caught both the Uchiha's attention.

"What do you mean?"

"Konoha law states that a ninja doesn't have to take on a student designated by the system as long as they are able to come up with an acceptable reason in the interest of protecting clan secrets and maintaining the quality of Konoha ninja. The law also states that the teacher's recommendations for the student's future placements will carry heavy bearing. It was something decided during the Shodaime's regime in the context of an apprenticeship but is applicable to genin teams today. In other words, if our teacher finds us lacking, they could send us back to the academy."

Not wanting to be caught unaware, Michiko had sat down and read through every single law in Konoha, archaic or not. One thing she didn't like about this world was how backdated it was. The system still functioned mostly on social status rather than merit. But at least in the ninja world, practicality took over in dire situations.

"What? But-but that's just a possibility! That probably won't happen."

"Then how do you explain our class size?"

"Our class size?" Akio questioned.

"Every year, only a dozen or so make genin. Our class graduation size is 39. In my first year, I passed by the announcement boards and noticed it the number was 45. It struck me as curious, so I asked one of the sensei what the numbers were for previous years. They were 42, 45, 48, 42, 48, 39 and 39. Notice something about those numbers?"

"They are all multiples of three?" said Akio, unimpressed.

"It's a cutoff point." said Itachi. She smiled at him.

"Correct. Unlike previous exams, the graduation exam doesn't have a passing mark. In order to even teams and handle the supply of available jounin, a cutoff point is necessary. In the same order, the number of teams that passed were 5, 5, 6, 5, 7, 4 and 5. Nearly exactly one third every time. It is likely mandatory for teachers to test us, if not, then it's a widely upheld tradition. The genin are passed or failed on the spot. So how do they get the number down to a third exactly?"

"How am I supposed to know?"

"83% of the time, failed teams were given 'no name' jounin. The majority were civilian born and they dropped out quickly. Of those that passed, 78% had jounin of notable fame. Most of the genin were from ninja clans. Only 20% of first generation ninja graduate during the first try. Almost all of those became jounin. In other words, the results of the graduation selection are decided by the teachers and Hokage. They are almost completely predetermined by our connections, clan and political standing. Talent and skill only play a small part. If we don't perform spectacularly well or horribly, whether we pass or fail is out of our hands." From the records, Michiko suspected that many subpar ninja had become genin simply because the jounin hadn't wanted to anger clans. Similarly, many talented civilian-born ninja had been failed because the jounin did a Kakashi and figured they had better things to do.

There was a short silence. Akio looked shocked. Itachi had a small frown on his face, but didn't seem surprised.

"But if that's the case, aren't we in the clear? Itachi is the heir to the Uchiha and we're all from prominent clans."

"Maybe, maybe not. I asked one of the chuunin sensei. Our teacher's name is Arakida Seishiro. Ring a bell?" The teacher had given her the information easily, thinking she wouldn't find much use of it. Underestimation was a useful tool.

"No… wait, so they gave us a no name jounin? How could they?" exclaimed Akio. Michiko had been curious as well. Why had the heir to the Uchiha received someone who barely made the bingo book? She had read every edition of the Bingo Book. Arakida Seishiro had first appeared five years back as a tokubetsu jounin and was only registered as jounin last year. Nothing stood out about his profile. She would have to find out what was so special about Arakida Seishiro.

"It doesn't matter. What Nara-san is saying is that we have to perform exceptionally well to pass."

Akio huffed. "Whatever. I wasn't planning on doing less than exceptional anyway. I still don't see why we have to work together."

"The academy reports show individual results for everything tested. One of them is teamwork, yet there wasn't a test involving that. There's a good chance it'll come up. Better safe than sorry." While the stats and facts were real, the reasoning was all fancy bullshit to convince the two midgets to listen to her. She probably wouldn't have thought of any of this if it wasn't for her prior knowledge.

Akio plopped himself down. "Fine. So what do we do now, little miss genius?"

"What are your skills?" That question was merely a courtesy, of course. She would be a failure of a Nara if she didn't already know what they knew.

"I can do all the academy jutsu well in addition to half my clan's genin katon jutsu and shuriken jutsu. I know five genjutsu and I can do both the Leaf style and Uchiha style."

"And Itachi-san?"

"Similar to Akio-san's. I also know the shunshin and kage bunshin. I know a variety of katon jutsu, five of which are C-rank and one B-rank. My shuriken jutsu level is little better than a Uchiha chuunin, but I've cleared all of my clan's C-rank and D-rank genjutsu. I am adequate in the Leaf and Uchiha style."

Akio frowned at Itachi. "Hmph. As expected of the clan genius. How about you, Nara?"

"I'm afraid my repertoire is nowhere near as impressive. My taijutsu is abysmal. I can't take a hit, I can't deal a blow. I rely heavily on dodging. My projectile throwing skills are fairly good, though likely not up to the level of the Uchiha. In physical combat, my asset is speed and I'm a long-range support fighter. My ninjutsu is skewed. I can't do the Yang Release-"

Akio jolted in shock. Even Itachi raised an eyebrow.

"You can't do the Yang Release? What the hell?" exclaimed Akio.

"- and I can barely perform the basic academy three. I know few genjutsu."

"Never mind the advanced stream, how the hell did you even graduate?"

Itachi cleared his throat. "No offence intended, but I have to admit that those circumstances are unusual, Nara-san."

"My proficiency in the use of the Nara's shadow jutsu has been noted by my clan."

"Oh, so you're here on clan favour?" snapped Akio. Michiko smiled back at Akio. She had been paranoid enough to do a little research on everyone within ten years of her year group. She was currently trying to get that to fifteen, but the point was, she knew his basic backstory.

"Unfortunately. Forgive me if I seem unenthused. This wasn't my ideal career path."

"Didn't you say you gained favour to be here?"

"No, not really. I was born on the fringes of the Nara line to a killed-in-action career chuunin and an unskilled, jobless civilian mother. Aina and I would've been thrown out onto the streets. I offered my services to the clan in exchange for financial security." Immediately, the boys' demeanours softened. They will eventually have to harden their hearts against sob stories, but for now, even the Great Uchiha Itachi was nought but a green 7-year-old genin with a bleeding-heart. In particular, she hoped to smooth things out with Akio. She didn't want a whiny teammate.

"You're a fringe member too?" asked Akio.

"Yes. I won't have been taught the clan's shadow jutsu if I hadn't won the Nara shogi tournament."

"They have a shogi tournament?"

"I've heard of it." Itachi spoke up. "It's to pick out bride candidates, right?"

"Yes. It's always more intense after the war. In the one I won, there were twice as many candidates. I won the one after that as well and I plan to win this year's." Winning her teammate's respect was important and Uchiha in general valued brains over brawn. Well, Itachi probably did, but Akio seemed to still be in the 'cool and flashy' jutsu stage. "Anyway, this leads on nicely to the next item on agenda. What do you hope to accomplish in life?"

"I will become clan head." Predictably, that was Itachi.

Michiko frowned. "And then what? What are you going to do as clan head?"

"I haven't given it much thought. But my basic goal would be to improve the clan's standing and keep clan peace."

"And that's going to make you happy?"

Itachi blinked. "I would imagine so."

Michiko stared at Itachi for a few moments before sighing. The Itachi she knew and could see beginning to grow would never be satisfied with such a narrow Itachi should have already realised what he wanted.

It would seem as if Uchiha Itachi was a compulsive liar. Someone with his skill was naturally good at self-deception.

"Whatever you say, little liar."

Akio snorted. "Well, my goal is to be one of the best Uchiha jounin in Konoha." Since most ended up in the police force, being an Uchiha jounin was reserved for only the elite.

"That's… interesting." commented Michiko.

"What? You don't think I can do it?" snapped Akio defensively.

Michiko shook her head. "No, not at all. With the right direction and effort, I believe that your goal is within your reach. But why 'one of the best'? Why the uncertainty? If you're going to dream big, I'm of the opinion that you should go aim for no less than ' the best'."

Akio looked taken aback. Good. She wanted to put both of them on the edge. They likely saw her as a weak know-it-all who got by on luck and clan influence. After going through the academy, boys at that age had a dismissive opinion towards girls. Michiko wanted to break that barrier as quick as possible and distance herself from that view.

"Well…" Akio glanced at Itachi. "O-of course I'm going to be the best! I'd accept no less!"

"Good. My goal is nowhere as fancy as either of yours. I'm going to be a coffin maker."

Akio looked dumbfounded. Itachi had an interested gleam in his eyes.

"A coffin maker? I thought you had to be a ninja for your family?" asked Akio.

"If Nara-san wishes to be a ninja coffin maker, then I believe that becoming a ninja is a wise choice. Coffin making involves a lot of sealing work."

"Correct. Civilian coffins are easy enough. Ninja coffins are a whole different story. The sealing work must be top notch to prevent grave robbing. Preservation seals, defence barriers, chakra locks, imprisonment seals, detection barriers and suicide seals are common fare in coffin making. The best coffins even have dimension wrapping seals on them. It takes the average person three decades to be any good at both the woodwork and sealing, so most just hire external seal masters to do the work. Naturally, I plan to be the best at both." Having a lifetime of civilian coffin making behind her was useful as well, of course. She just needed to get the sealing work down, figure out ninja coffin trends and she'd be good to go.

"Three decades?! Why would you chose a job like that!"

"I am interested in calligraphy and woodworking. But the time frame is only for the average person. With the Nara clan's backing and some… past experiences, I believe I can produce decent coffins by myself with ten years of practice."

"Ten yea- anyway, are you any good at sealing?"

"I have some level of proficiency. I focus more on defensive seals needed in coffin making."

"So it's useless in combat."

"Not at all, Akio-san. Throw as many kunai as you can at me." She asked Akio so he could not find fault with that portion. She also won't have been able to handle Itachi throwing a dozen kunai at her. Her chakra control couldn't handle twelve different seals at once.

Akio threw four kunai at her. Michiko formed the rat seal. Shadows emerged and attached themselves to the kunai. The shadows morphed into basic exploding seals and the four kunai exploded. The shards scattered and would've hit her teammates if she hadn't simultaneously cast a defensive barrier to contain the damage. The shards clattered harmlessly on the ground.

Akio's eyes widened at the little display. Itachi had a small smile on his face.

"What is that jutsu, Nara-san? Is it a Nara clan jutsu? I've never seen anything like that before." Itachi asked. A little bit of his childlike excitement and ninja fascination slipped into his tone.

"It's an original of mine but any Nara with sufficient control and sealing knowledge is capable of it. It's fairly simple and easy to imitate, but most aren't bothered. Maybe a D or C rank at most."

"That's useful, I guess. But it'd take too long to implement. The enemy would've gotten you." said Akio.

"That's why I said I was a support fighter. If I go out there alone, I die. It's good for quick things like the detection barrier I put up here. Your potential students have done their introductions. Wouldn't you tell us a bit about yourself, Arakida-san?" That was complete nonsense. Maybe she could've tricked a green chuunin, but there was no way she could've hidden a large area detection barrier from a jounin. Nevertheless, Arakida Seishiro stepped out from behind a roof.

"An impressive deduction, Michiko-chan." So she hadn't been able to fool him. Good. "But you're not getting away from the test."

"I would expect no less." Michiko scanned Seishiro. He was fairly nondescript in appearance. Choppy brown hair, tanned skin, a couple of small battle scars on his hands and face, standard jounin outfit, a katana strapped to his side and dark brown eyes. He was around 180 cm and was of average build. His fire-inclined chakra levels leaned to the large side, but the concentration and texture of it revealed no traces of special jutsu or kekkei genkai.

He was completely forgettable. Too forgettable for the jounin-sensei-to-be of Uchiha Itachi. It was only then that everything clicked and Michiko hated feeling so slow on the uptake. She instantly drew yin chakra into her Shadow Mind.

"I'm Arakida Seishiro, a jounin of Konoha. My taijutsu and genjutsu are standard and my speciality is katon jutsu and kenjutsu. My goal is to protect the peace of Konoha. Is that acceptable, Michiko-chan?" Seishiro's tone was good-natured. His overall demeanour was friendly, clearly trying to put the edgy possible-genin at ease.

"Thank you for the information, Arakida-san." replied Michiko. That was basically what was in his Bingo Book entry. The fact that he had given her no new information gave her information. Didn't that mean he had given her information? Hmm...

"You're going to be our jounin sensei?" Akio asked, clearly unimpressed by the bland introduction.

Seishiro shrugged. "Maybe. It depends on whether you pass the test. We will meet tomorrow at 3 in training ground 44. Any questions?" Wait, 44? Wasn't that the Forest of Death?

Itachi raised his hand. "This isn't the academy. Just ask your question."

"3 in the morning or evening?"

Seishiro grinned cheerfully, the grin coming off as somewhat fixed and practised. "Good catch! In the morning of course!"

Akio gaped. "3am?! Why?"

"We have to be prepared to fight regardless of the time of day." replied Itachi.

Seishiro smiled at Itachi. "Well reasoned, Itachi-kun."

"But it isn't correct is it?" Seishiro raised an eyebrow at Michiko. "I may be an academy student, but you're going to have to try harder than that."

Seishiro laughed falsely. "You've got me. It's also a tradition for jounin sensei to torture their minions." Michiko felt a twinge and influx of information from her Shadow Mind. Liar.

"We aren't your minions!" yelled Akio. He yipped in surprise as Seishiro suddenly appeared behind him and ruffled his curly black hair. "What the hell was that for?"

"Don't worry. If you become a jounin, you will have your own minions to torture."

"You don't think I can make it?" Akio snarled. Seishiro's smile did not lose its cheer.

"Hmm… Let's just say I'm not as confident as Michiko-chan. As it stands you haven't even passed my simple little test." Michiko called bullshit. If his test was 'simple', then she was a delusional idiot which… may not be all that improbable considering her plans.

"Hmph. I'll kick your ass!"

Seishiro hummed airly. "We'll see. Any more questions?"

"I have one. Can I ask you after Uchiha-san and Uchi-" Michiko frowned. "Can I just call the two of you Itachi-san and Akio-san? It'll avoid confusion."


"I don't mind, Nara-san."

"And call me Michiko, Itachi-san. I'm not used to being called Nara."

"If that's what you want, Michiko-san."

"Then can I ask my question after Itachi-san and Akio-san leave?"

"That's fine."

Itachi stood up and brushed the dirt of his pants. "Then we shall meet tomorrow, Michiko-san, Arakida-san."

"Why don't you want us around?"

"Nothing much, Akio-san. Just confirming a theory."

"Hmph." With that both the Uchiha exited the field. Sort of.

Arakida Seishiro had been looking forward to this. He had just proposed to his girlfriend and had been planning to take it easy for the next few years. He would first be a jounin sensei to get used to kids and teaching. Then he would take up an administrative job or be an academy teacher once his first child was born. He wanted to be a good father and husband. He didn't want to die on a mission or be an absent father, leaving his soon-to-be wife and kids to fend for themselves. After all he'd been through, he thought he'd deserved a little time to relax and settle down.

Apparently, the Hokage thought differently and handed him this clusterfuck of a team.

Seishiro had expected to get a couple of future chuunin and a maybe-tokujo. Instead, he got the genius Uchiha heir, the newest natural Shadow Mind user and an angsty fringe Uchiha. Nothing spelt destruction, drama and death like those three.

The Uchiha heir seemed easy enough to teach, but he was a delicate situation. Uchiha Itachi was hailed as the greatest thing since the founding of Konoha by the Uchiha. If anything happened to him that the Uchiha disapproved of, he and his family would make powerful enemies. Luckily, he lacked the typical Uchiha superiority complex and seemed like a good kid. He would grow up to be a legendary ninja, so it might be useful to create ties with him while he was young. Him being on the team made failing them impossible with his social status and skills. Seishiro really hated clan politics and Uchiha arrogance.

Everyone had a second 'brain' in their chakra system, but only Nara have ever been able to access it fully. It was colloquially dubbed the 'Shadow Mind' and increased mental capabilities greatly. The ability to access it wasn't unusual, but natural users came every generation or two and were more powerful than the trained ones. Michiko had no training and came from the fringes of fringes of the Nara bloodline. Given her home situation and social status, she would likely be married off to a rich Nara ninja family to gain status. Other than her strange Yin-Yang chakra balance, Seishiro needn't worry about her. He would just train her for survival as her type usually retired at chuunin to get married and have babies.

Akio would prove problematic. He felt self-entitled because of his clan and had the Uchiha arrogance and abrasiveness. He also had an inflated ego that was frequently wounded, resulting in both an inferiority and superiority complex. He showed no respect towards authority and Seishiro would have a hard time getting him to obey. Overall, nothing unusual for a kid of a noble and traditional clan. He just needed a wake-up slap in the face and an attitude adjustment. Seishiro would whip him into shape and beat him into obedience if needs be. In a worst case scenario, Seishiro would just care him off to the genin reserves. A ninja needed discipline and if Akio was incapable of maintaining basic ninja temperament, he was unworthy of his forehead protector.

"So, what's your question?"

Michiko stared at Seishiro. Seishiro stared at Michiko. Michiko sighed.

"Akio-san. I know you're there."

Akio didn't move from the bushes. Michiko formed a seal of confrontation and Michiko's shadow stretched into the bushes. From her file, it would seem as if Michiko's only skills were her clan's shadow jutsu and fuuinjutsu. Nevertheless, her control over the shadow jutsu was bushes exploded, revealing Akio. Akio glared and crossed his arms. It was probably supposed to be intimidating, but it came across as a childish pout.

"So what?"

"Why are you eavesdropping on a private conversation?"

"Why are you going behind my back?" Michiko sighed and stood up. She walked towards Akio then turned her back towards him. Swiftly rolling her right wrist, she slid her ink brush out. It was one of those convenient brushes that already had ink stored in them, but she wrote on the air. Figuring out what was being written by observing brush movements was a basic espionage skill and Seishiro had it down to pat.

You are too perfect, too average, too unusual. Are you ANBU?

It was then and there that Seishiro decided Nara Michiko was going to be more troublesome than both Uchiha combined.

It was ten in the evening when Nara Shikaku received an expected visitor. Despite not having an appointment, it was well known that Shikaku favoured the girl and Michiko's visits to the Nara main house were common.


"Michiko. What do you plan to do?" Their interactions were always like this. Straight to the point without tedious clan politics and niceties. Most would consider it wildly inappropriate, but as persons who prioritised efficiency over all, it was how the two preferred it.

Michiko quirked an eyebrow. "Surely you've already guessed?"

"Detecting your lies is easier than predicting your moves." Despite all the factual details available and his own lengthy observations, the intricacies of Michiko's mind still eluded Shikaku. While her core principles were easy to spot, her line of thought and skewed sense of morality were otherworldly in their peculiarity.

"I'll start by beating sense into the Uchiha boys. You really gave me a handful."

"The Sandaime won't have been against your team combination."

"Please. The lauded Uchiha genius, a reluctant ANBU and an angsty Uchiha kiddie? Their similarities are thus: they're testosterone-filled, chauvinistic pigs with exactly zero social skills. Chucking the weak little Nara girl in would make no sense unless a certain jounin commander comes into the equation."

"Is that all?"

"There's something going on with the Uchiha clan. It makes no sense to give me two Uchiha to work with when the Inuzuka heiress is graduating as well."

"Just suspicions. But if my suspicions are right, the consequences would be messy. The Sandaime is too idealistic and tired and Danzou is too power hungry and prejudiced. The rest of the council is too traditional and experienced to listen to reason."

"The Uchiha heir will be easy enough to convert, though I suspect it'll take a few… drastic measures. The other Uchiha will take longer, but a gradual transition will work best with him."

"The ANBU?"

"I couldn't get a proper read on him, but I suspect he's not very child-friendly. To get to him, I'll need to cobble up a somewhat functioning ninja team."

"I'm sure you'll do fine."

Michiko sighed. "It's way too troublesome. I'm a busy woman, you know."

"You'll busy yourself with one thing or another. Even if I didn't hand you the Uchiha, you'd eventually find out and stick your nose into their business anyway. I just made things a little easier."

Michiko shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not. Whether this investment will be a profit or loss remains to be seen, but the fallout will be huge regardless."

"Be careful. Your fingers are stuck in dangerous pies. It'd be a shame to see you die young."

Shikaku easily read the amusement dancing across her eyes. For reasons that eluded him, Michiko was always amused when someone mentioned her age and inexperience, but that was a mystery for another day.

"Oh, don't worry. It's impossible for me to die young. Besides, death is nothing major. I find living infinitely harder than dying and there are innumerable things worse than death." It was confidence founded in absolute knowledge. Shikaku didn't know how Michiko could be certain she wouldn't die young. He didn't know many things about her, at least nothing essential to her puzzle, and he was still deciding whether he liked that or not.

"Many would disagree, but that's beside the point. Why did you come here?"

"Arakida-san thought it prudent to toss us into the Forest of Death. I'm gathering supplies."

Shikaku sighed. "Very well. There'll be a standard interest rate."

Michiko passed Shikaku the scroll. "I need this by 2am tomorrow."

Shikaku scanned the scroll. "I'll get someone to bring the goods to you by midnight. You've prepared more than usual."

Michiko shrugged. "What do you think the Forest of Death + Tests + Uchiha Drama™ equals to?"

"Generally, anything with you involved is troublesome."

"A justified opinion. But it's only going to get more troublesome."

"Why do you go through the trouble?" The pair stared at each other. It wasn't the first time Shikaku had asked for her motives.

There was a reason why clans were labelled with certain characteristics. One's personality was heavily influenced by chakra and clans that bred selectively for certain chakra traits tended to share strong personality traits. Being a master of observation, it had taken Shikaku only five minutes to notice her thought process didn't line up with the expected one in Nara. Still, five minutes was an impressive time for the then eight-year-old Michiko. Most of the council had eventually noticed, but they put it down to her diluted bloodline and her mother's foreign blood.

Shikaku wasn't so easily swayed by Michiko's illusion.

Nara Michiko did a good job of appearing like your average Nara. Her skills in the art of deception could make her an ANBU infiltrator. But Shikaku hadn't lived this long being careless and his gut told him there was more to Michiko than she revealed. Michiko's mystery wasn't one huge scandal. No, her mind was smothered with dirty little secrets that were a pain to uncover and even more painful to know. She wasn't hiding something as simple as a forbidden jutsu or a dark past. What had tipped Shikaku off was the way she walked, the way she talked and the way she smiled.

No matter how he looked at it, Michiko was a Nara. Yet everything about her screamed a sense of wrongness. The intense visceral feeling shocked Shikaku himself and he couldn't explain it, couldn't place what was wrong about her.

But Shikaku knew. He knew she didn't belong here.