"Hello, Tenten," Naruto greeted as he approached her. Team training hadn't started yet so she was just doing some target practice until Gai-sensei and Lee arrived from their daily bout of psychosis. She smiled, not having seen her mutual fuinjutsu user in several weeks.
"Hi, Naruto. How are you?"
"I am well. I came to ask a question," he informed her.
"I have a bone sword, do you want it?" Tenten looked at Naruto, remaining silent and blinking slowly. It appeared he'd gotten more brazen in his perversions, even incorporating metaphors for dick.
"I know you know that's inapp- holy shit that's a literal bone sword!" her tone going from chastising to gleeful surprise. She thought all the Kaguya were dead. "How did you get that, where did you meet a Kaguya?"
"We fought and he stabbed me with it." That put a damper on her excitement.
"Are you alright?"
"Yes, I healed and of the two of us he had the greater odds of dying from our exchange," Naruto explained.
"Y-you killed a Kaguya?"
"I couldn't confirm it at the time so I do not know but possibly. Either way, I have this sword and thought you'd put it to better use." Naruto placed the weapon in Tenten's hands. It felt light but as sturdy as any steel sword she's ever wielded.
"I'm going to have to do something special in exchange," she said. Before thinking what that could be but inspiration didn't take long as she recalled his fascination with her Puppy Chow . "I know! Have you ever had lemon squares?"
"Why would you square a lemon?" Naruto asked in clear confusion.
"You wouldn't," she said between laughs. "Don't worry about it, I'll drop them off later today and you can tell me about your run in with a Kaguya." She bypassed the hand he offered her to shake and gave him a quick hug before mushing his hair. "Friends don't need to shake on things, Naruto." Soon a duet of yells filled the area, which signaled the start of their team training. Naruto spoke briefly to Lee and Gai before departing.
Tenten arrived on the floor first, bone sword already unsealed. She wanted no delay in her offense once the fight started. Team 9 hadn't exactly had a rough time in the forests, Neji's Byakugan easily tracking approaching threats. She was thankful, the stress of having a price on her head had taken a toll and even now she felt on edge. She was almost thankful she didn't have to fight any of her new friends but was wary of the Suna kunoichi. The weapons mistress doubted Suna would send any but their very best and the girl appeared beyond confident. The Leaf ninja resolved to do something about it.
Temari was working through on her issues, relishing the much more direct combat she was about to undertake. Since her father informed them of his hairbrained scheme to invade Konoha, her life has been nothing but constant training, missions and worrying for her brothers. She hated that Rasa wanted to use Gaara as a weapon of mass destruction, and that was before the events of their travel to and time within the foreign village. And if that hadn't been enough, Baki's near mental breakdown after he'd spoken with the Hokage was still fresh in the young kunoichi's mind.
"They know," Baki said and then repeated. His body was shaking the way it would when gripped by a fear the mind can't process, that visceral fear ninja trained to overcome. That her sensei was experiencing that now threatened to send her into a similar state. While Kankuro was trying to get the full story from Baki, Temari could guess who they were and what they knew. The invasion was blown, Konoha was onto them. She, momentarily, wondered why they weren't dead yet. Her father wouldn't have wasted a second to kill Konoha ninja if the situations were reversed.
"Temari, how close are you to the Namikaze's boy?" Baki asked.
"We hung out once," she answered. Why would he be asking that now? Did Baki think attempting to kill Naruto would benefit them? If so, he'd really gone around the bend.
"The Hokage, he's close to the boy. I don't think he meant to reveal as much but he did. Our survival might depend on you getting close to him. But it's not without risks."
Temari didn't bother to point out she's neither a whore nor a concubine and seduction missions were beneath her. Baki knew it but had taken leave of his senses. "Yes, I'm sure the Hokage wouldn't appreciate us trying to manipulate someone he cares about," she reasoned but frowned when Baki shook his head. Her conclusion felt logical, what had she missed.
"The person responsible for that scroll and the fake bounties was Orochimaru," Baki said, all attempts to self-sooth having failed and his voice cracked. "He brought nine other ninja with him and baited the Namikaze's boy." Baki took a breath, all three of his students now interested in his tale. "According to the Sandaime, Naruto killed eight of the nine and captured Orochimaru by himself. Given everything else that boy has shown, he's clearly ruthless. Probably trained in secret since he could stand upright. If he believes you're playing him, you may not live to suffer the Sandaime's wrath."
It was unbefitting of her, disrespectful to her superior and an insult to her training but Temari couldn't help it; she laughed. Deep belly laughs filled their temporary room, the sound pinging off the stone walls. What was she supposed to do? The boy that she shared lemon squares with and watched a Princess Gale movie as they chatted was some remorseless killer? It just didn't track.
When she calmed herself, her more analytical processes took over. She liked him, that was true. He was cute and clearly had a way with the ladies if that Haku girl, who was only somewhat pretty, would give him some play. He was also the only boy around her age that showed any interest in getting to know her for her and not her connections to Rasa and Gaara.
Temari looked back at the scroll. The most damning information was about Naruto and if it were just an attempt to bait him, it stood to reason that all those other names had some connection to him. Three girls, two heiresses. She recalled their first conversation, even if the ninja were stronger than she initially thought, the girls were too weak willed to rein him in or curb his nascent playboy tendencies. It was clear what was going to happen. Once she showed him what a real kunoichi looked like, he'd forget those other girls. And maybe she'd escape with more than just her life.
As Temari arrived across from Tenten she stared at her first obstacle. She recognized the name, the person credited with the lemon squares she enjoyed as a movie snack. She'd try not to hurt her too bad, a quality baker was a precious commodity.
"Fight," Hayate commanded and Tenten went on the offensive with a flowing series of thrusts, the speed taking Temari by surprise. The Team 9 kunoichi was relentless and resolved to leave her Suna counterpart no time to use her fan. While fast and practiced, the attacks were not enough to overwhelm Temari but left her no space to open her fan, forcing her to use it as a club instead. The exchanges became a battle of speed vs. power as Tenten's nimble sword attack went against the heavy swings of Temari's war fan; neither side gaining an advantage.
A loud clang was heard as both weapons clashed, the force knocking them out of each kunoichi's respective hands. The weapons flew to either side of the arena, leaving the two young women unarmed. Tenten, as befitting the student of Maito Gai, flowed into a sidekick that landed squarely on Temari's stomach. The impact sent her back, creating enough space to perform a jutsu.
The hand signs were so fast and practiced, Tenten was too slow to react as the powerful blast of wind chakra lifted her off her feet and tossed her back like a rag doll. She hit the floor with a thug and rolled, attempting to disperse some of the force of the impact. She wasn't familiar with the jutsu but she knew it hurt like one of Gai-sensei's youthful punches. But pain was to be endured and put to the side. The more pressing matter was her opponent running to her war fan and Tenten could not allow that to happen. Her draw was smooth, her throw fast and the result immediate.
"Ah!" Temari yelled as she fell to the ground, a small throwing knife now embedded in her thigh, a small stream of blood running down her leg. Her mobility was hampered and she was still too far away from her primary weapon, she was starting to get concerned. That concern morphed into worry as she watched the bun haired girl pull out two sealing scrolls and chain some hand signs. Then the girl was in the air, raining down numerous weapons upon Temari.
With her fan, swatting away the weapons would be no problem but she had to settle for twin galm palms. The jutsu did as she desired, blasting the weapons away. She felt the hairs rise on her neck when she saw the other girl smirk. Kankuro's shout of warning wasn't needed and would have come too late had Temari performed her substitution even a half a second slower as some of the weapons had circled around and attempted to blindside her. Instead, they sank into her fan as she used the wall to steady herself.
Her leg could barely support her weight but she assumed, hoped, the Great Breakthrough had done more damage to Tenten and observing the kunoichi, Temari was confident she was right. It didn't surprise her when the girl retrieved yet another weapon and charged her. Temari removed the knife from her leg and tossed, breaking Tenten's stride for just a moment. She continued onto her target, taking a swing of her jian. Temari timed it well enough to sway inside Tenten's guard and punch her in the ribs. What were once merely fractured were not broken and the shock from the blow left Tenten open and disarmed.
Temari, snaked an arm under Tenten's and secured the Weapon's Mistress's arm and head to her chest. She used her other arm to secure the lock and used her superior height to add pressure. Tenten tried to fight but with her circulation cut off she was rendered unconscious in a matter of moments, Hayate promptly calling an end to the fight. Temari was announced the winner and both girls were escorted to receive medical aid.
She hadn't known what she was expecting, something more makeshift but the treatment center in the tower was anything but. The medics placed her and Tenten in the same room. Two medics saw to Tenten's injuries, one to her wound. The three chatted, mentioning something about it being a "shame" that their "cutie" wouldn't make it to the finals. When one blamed a "snake bastard" Temari put it together but was confused all the same.
Did these three know Naruto and if so, how? Could he be a combat medic? She wanted to dismiss it outright as except for one notable exception, medics were unimpressive when it came to combat. It was just one more mystery about her… friend? She didn't know but resolved to learn more about her future conquest.
Temari was thankful when she was given something to read, the medics keeping all participants there unless they are called again or until the end of the preliminary round. She paid little attention to the last Kusa genin that was brought in with a slash across his chest, nor the slacker with pineapple hair. She did get concerned when Kankuro was brought in but was refused access while the medics worked, one eventually informing her he was nearing chakra exhaustion. She had to bite her tongue when the severe looking Hyuuga was willed in while holding his privates. She must have clearly missed something good.
Back at the arena, Hinata watched what could be her future opponents. She understood Choji forfeiting against Gaara after his display but she'd have liked some more information about him. The Kumo genin, Omoi, was a kenjutsu and raiton user. Lee was a taijutsu specialist by necessity and a powerful one at that. She had no information on Sasuke as Ino chose not to return to face him. She was relieved, she'd have neutered the Uchiha if he harmed her Ino-chan. She felt bad for Shino-kun. It had been a good fight but he'd succumb to the poisons before he could finish the puppeteer, the two KO-ing each other. Finally, her name was called and it was against her cousin.
He was already angry at her while she had no problem ignoring his diatribe. She used to think she understood why Neji hated her. It wasn't just that she was of the main branch, it was that despite her desire to remove the curse seal she was weak and ineffectual and held a higher status that her talents didn't merit. She accepted that and would never judge Neji for it.
However,the better she got the more he resented her, no overture to become allies was met with anything but hostility. And, according to Tenten, he'd bad mouth Naruto-kun. He must not have gotten the memo that no one did that. So, while she loved her cousin and sympathized to the best of her ability his resentments she was going to have to hurt him a little.
"...And the near-mute support system isn't here to prop you up," Neji bit out, words she did pay attention to and caused her eyes to narrow.
'Ok, I'm going to hurt him a little more than a little,' she thought. But knew physical pain would be nothing, it was his arrogance that needed a hit. He finally shut up and the procter finally called a start to the match. Neji's attack was fast, relentless, and textbook perfect. She'd have to devote herself for days on end to match the grace and form he achieved almost naturally. He was talented and diligently worked to further that talent but talent could have a weakness. As much as Neji practiced, as great as he could be, no one was as obsessed with the Gentle Fist as the proud failure of an heiress.
Her forms were never as crisp, didn't flow with power and purpose. Because she knew she was doing it wrong she obsessed over the manuals, over the kata just hoping to get it right. She never did, not to anyone's satisfaction. It made her hate herself, made her curse her very being. But her best friend gave her permission to be more than the Hyuuga Heiress, to do more than chase her father and her cousin. She was strong like Hinata and so while Neji could perform the striking progressions perfectly, she could guard them with just as much ease.
She could see the signs of frustration that took hold when he couldn't simply beat her down. The rigidity of his form, the frown and tension around his eyes. That his response was to simply try harder was predictable and disappointing. If Neji's offense was a volley of arrows hurtling toward their target, Hinata's defense was the rounded shield that could make any direct assault a glancing blow. When his frustration reached its apex, Hinata changed her guard, her feet now closer together and her hands palms out and chest level.
She could almost read his thoughts, that she'd committed a blunder as her stance would slow down and weaken her defense. That her improvements were overstated and overrated, that he'd prove he was right all along. Confidence had returned and it had nothing to do with anything he'd done, he'd given her control of his emotions and he hadn't realized. Neji closed in and Hinata remained patient, waiting for the perfect time to strike.
'NOW!' she shouted mentally and attacked. There was a collective grunt of empathy from every male in the arena. Neji had expected something but not to be kicked squarely in the nuts. Hinata continued her assault as she grabbed one of his arms and pulled him close. Her second strike looked like a chop to some but was really the thumb of her knuckle hitting a pressure point in Neji's throat, stunning him once more. A single-arm take down later and Neji was face down with his arm straightened above him and Hinata's shin on his neck as she executed an armbar.
"Submit or I'll break your arm," she demanded as she put pressure on the shoulder and elbow joints. His pride told him to let her break it, that she'd either be too cowardly to follow through or he'd beat her with one good arm. He grimaced at the pain, his arm reaching its literal breaking point. Neji was saved by his sensei, Gai calling a stop to the fight and Hayate taking heed.
He wanted to yell at his sensei, wanted to blindly attack his cousin but a small trickle of something down his spine told him to behave. He turned to see the Hokage, his face severe and removed from the kindly grandfather he normally portrayed himself as. Neji said nothing and allowed the medics to escort him away.
Hiruzen congratulated all who moved on to the next round and had them draw for their next match. Hinata drew Lee, Omoi would fight Temari and Sasuke would face Gaara. She felt good, having beat her cousin and potentially earning a promotion in a month but she wished she could share it with her best friend. His sensei had refused to allow her entrance into his hospital room. They had a lot to talk about.
Two days after he was brought to the tower, Naruto found himself in a poorly lit dungeon. The large doors with a paper seal upon them alerted him that he has finally entered the representation of his seal, he's in his shared mindscape with the bijuu. Naruto had thought about what he would say to the bijuu should they ever meet. Despite what the fox was said to have done, Naruto didn't really hate nor fear the beast and neither would really benefit him as he was at least free.
One large, red eye peered at Naruto and anyone else would describe it as if something was staring into their very soul. Naruto just thought it was a really big eye, even compared to the toads. He walked up to the gate, as he got closer more of the fox was revealed and left Naruto with one thought.
"I like your ears, can I pet them?" he asked and the giant fox made a sound that was a mix of a cough and a laugh.
"Maybe when we get to know each other a little better," he said and Naruto nodded as it was more than fair.
"I'm Uzumaki Naruto, what's your name?"
"Well-met, Naruto. You can call me Kyuubi."
"Is that your name?"
"No, but my name is the only thing of value I still possess and will not give it out freely. Maybe one day, maybe. So, Warden, why have you stopped by for a visit today?"
Naruto didn't really understand it but it wasn't a requirement that he did. If Kyuubi-san wanted to be called that it was his prerogative. "I didn't mean to, I was injured and rendered near unconscious. I may also be sedated given my injuries," Naruto squinted in thought about how he'd treat himself, ignoring that initially he was doing just that via his clone. Moving on from that, he decided"Do you have some preferences for how you'd like the seal changed? I have plans but wanted to get your input before I finalized them."
"Short of you letting me go?"
"Yes, Kyuubi-san, short of my letting you go."
"Not a dungeon, maybe some more natural surroundings like a forest or anything but this. And some reading materials, can you do that?"
"I could link you to my mind palace, it has every book I've read since I was nine years old. A forest is possible, I'll get to work on it when I can. Anything else?"
Why did you ask?"
"It seemed only fair," Naruto answered and he heard Kyuubi-san hum. Naruto walked closer to the cage and held his hand out, the Kyuubi looking at him in mild confusion. "You shake on a deal and I believe we have reached an accord, Kyuubi-san."
"I think my hands might be a tad too large to shake yours. Make a fist instead," Kyuubi-san instructed and Naruto did with Kyuubi-san doing the same and tapping Naruto's. "That's how bijuu cement agreements. Don't make me regret this, Naruto. Even minor trust can be broken and some bridges once burned can never be rebuilt." Naruto nodded and then plopped down. He hadn't come here intentionally so didn't really know how to leave.
"Can you tell me about yourself, Kyuubi-san?"
"Why don't you start?"
"Ok," Naruto said and for a time the pair shared stories about likes, dislikes and past adventures. When Naruto was being pulled away, a sign he was being awoken, he stated he'd come back and Kyuubi-san huffed as if he didn't care. Once his jailer had left Kurama looked down as a much smaller blond, with whisker marks and red eyes peaked from his paws.
"I thought you were going to introduce yourself, little one," Kurama said, tenderly, to the small Naruto replicant.
"I… I got nervous, dattebayo!"
"Maybe next time?" Kurama offered and Yami nodded.
"He seemed nice, 'ttebayo. You think he'll accept me?"
"I don't know, little one, I don't know."
Slowly stirring, the bright lights of the room prove discomforting, hurting his eyes slightly. Naruto ignored the sensation as he blurrily looked for a pitcher and cup. A silhouette aided him by filling the cup and putting it in his hand.
"Welcome back, Naruto-kun. You've had Tsunade-sama quite worried," the voice said.
"Shut up, Shizune," Tsunade barked but there was no real heat to her words. "If some little brat wants to get himself blown up fighting people he shouldn't, that's his business. No sweat off my brow."
"You still can't be honest with your emotions, Tsunade-chan?" Hiruzen asked, ribbing his student. "She was indeed very worried about you, Naruto-kun, insisting she treat you herself."
"Stop picking on me, Sensei," she whined, not enjoying this at all.
Naruto's vision finally clears and the water has alleviated his dry throat. He could see he was in the room with not only the three that had spoken but Hatake-sensei as well, who waved at his student. Feeling the need to address his other sensei, Naruto informs her, "I didn't want to blow myself up. It was the most effective tactic at the time."
Tsunade resisted the urge of slapping everyone with a smug look on their face, briefly forgetting who she'd been talking to. "I know you didn't want that, Naruto but you are nowhere near Orochimaru's level so going to face him alone meant you'd have to put yourself at risk to even survive the encounter."
Naruto agreed, he'd gone after Anko fully prepared to die, grievous bodily injury was expected but some part of him felt he should keep that to himself for now. Tsunade-sensei was one of the more difficult people for him to understand.
"Naruto-kun, I know this may be a bit much but are you up for a debrief? I waited to get the details from you so your clone could focus," the Sandaime explained.
"Can I just show you?" Naruto asked and the Sandaime granted permission for all in the room to be informed as well. Naruto hastily linked all of their projection seals together and then replayed his time in the forest of death, the activities of the clones being held separately. As they watched the events, three ANBU were having a private meeting about the Uzumaki.
"Yugao, Tenzo," the Commander started, the two agents knowing he was serious as he called them by their actual names. They were in a secured room within the exam tower, supposedly to get final orders before Naruto's month long protection detail started but Dragon had other plans. "Uzumaki Naruto must be an ANBU operative," he stated.
"Commander-" Yugao started but was silenced by the raised hand of her superior officer.
"I know. Sandaime-sama doesn't think he'd flourish with us. I disagree. And not only would he benefit but we would as well. Think of a fuinjutsu master who could design equipment for us because he had first hand knowledge of our needs as they would be his own? A high class medic who could offer preventive measures or any number of things because he knows how taxing our missions are?
Uzumaki Naruto could breathe new life into ANBU and we need some innovation so things don't become stagnant. In exchange, he'd get some of the best physical and tactical training in the whole of the shinobi system. He'd also be under the radar for a while so the heat of taking down Orochimaru can die down. And we'd finally have a Hokage pass through our ranks."
"All that sounds good and I've made similar arguments to Sandaime-sama but he is near violently opposed to Naruto-kun becoming one of us and I don't know how you expect to get around that," Yugao explained.
"Simple, I want you two and your squads to sell him on becoming one of us. I want this next month to be so enthralling he'll want to do nothing but to be an ANBU. If the request comes from him, Sandaime-sama may become more open to it."
"Commander, how are we to sell him without seeming obvious?" Tenzo asked. He rather liked Naruto and wouldn't mind him joining their ranks but he didn't want to be turned to ash trying to make it happen.
"I've made arrangements for him to stay in ANBU HQ for the month and Tsunade will start his surgical rotation in our own medical facilities. Training him a little and showing him around won't be too harmful, he won't see anything a new recruit couldn't get access to. I also have it on good authority that he isn't very close to his teammates so we can show him how tight ANBU squads are and how much fun we can be."
"I disagree with nothing you've said, Commander, but Sandaime-sama won't be so easily swayed, not even by Naruto-kun. Maybe we just have to consider him outside of our grasp." Seeing one of his top agents faltering, Dragon knew he'd have to go to his secret weapon. Retrieving a sealing scroll, Dragon unsealed the contents and held them up for Yugao to see. It was a small ANBU uniform, roughly Naruto's size with the Lynx mask.
"Just think of sunshine blond hair sticking out of this mask, training with Neko-sempai," Dragon teased. Yugao, despite herself, couldn't get the image out of her head and it was down right adorable. He'd be a little ANBU assassin.
"I-I'm going to report in, Commander," Yugao said, not trusting herself to say anything more. He dismissed her, confident his ploy had worked. Looking to his other agent, Dragon had one last card to play.
"Tenzo, if you can somehow let it slip that our showers are co-ed, that'd be great." The Mokuton user just sighed and left as there was no arguing with Dragon when he got an idea cemented in his head.
Naruto had just finished his debrief when Yugao arrived outside the room. There were several voices congratulating him on his actions but all fell quiet when the Sandaime began to speak. "Naruto-kun, I am sorry you will not get to compete in the finals, I had been looking forward to it but the rules simply wouldn't allow it."
"I understand-" Naruto started but was interrupted.
"Yes, we simply cannot allow Chunins to participate in the Chunin Exams. It wouldn't be fair," he said with a smile as Kakashi presented Naruto his new vest. "I am very proud of you, Naruto-kun but things will only get more difficult I'm afraid so you must continue to push all areas of your training. Orochimaru held back, you can no longer count on anyone else underestimating you."
"Hai," Naruto replied.
"Good. Now, Chunin Uzumaki are you ready for your first mission? It is A-rank and will require your fuinjutsu expertise."
"I'm ready but can I forgo payment for trade?" Naruto asked.
"What would you like to trade?"
"There's an Uzumaki in the exams from Kusa. Pretty red hair and eyes to match with glasses. Her team mistreats her, one held a kunai to her throat to get me to leave."
"You want her to relocate here?" Hiruzen asked.
"I'd like her to have the option," Naruto answered.
"I'm sure we can figure something out," Hiruzen said but internally thought if need be the Kusa team could have a collective accident. Who was to say how out of hand Orochimaru got before he was captured? With the price settled, Hiruzen began informing Naruto about his latest mission. Soon, Hiruzen departed with Tsunade and Shizune following suit, only Kakashi remained behind and favored his favorite student with an eye smile.
"Getting promoted mid-exams is something not even your father accomplished. Quite impressive, Naruto-kun. And even with all that was going on to find an Uzumaki damsel in distress. You really are a sly, little devil. Minato-sensei would be proud." Kakashi practically beamed and Naruto smiled back, slightly.
"Now that you're a Chunin, our real training can begin," Kakashi said as he tossed something toward Naruto. "Familiarize yourself with that. Soon, I'm going to teach you all the ways to remove one with and without using your hands." Kakashi ignored the blast of killing intent coming from outside the room. He knew teaching the chosen one would be perilous, he'd long accepted it. Besides, danger made cool things cooler.
Another one done, for which I am relieved. I know it wasn't clear but Temari beat Tenten with a D'arce choke so look that up if you need to or just trust she got choked out. Hmm… that's pretty much it. BLM. Also, next chapter I reveal Naruto's moniker (while he is destined to be the Gentleman Pervert he hasn't earned it yet). Fair warning, think more Kushina than Minato with the naming convention. Stay frosty, peeps.