This Time Around

By Crimson Skies

Chapter 22 - Quirk

"Ah, there you are, my darling little genin!"

"Kakashi-sensei, we've been here on this bridge as usual, waiting, as usual, for three hours, as usual." Sakura cracked her knuckles. Kakashi smiled.

"Well, I'm glad to see that the fires of-"

"Stop channeling Gai-sensei. Seriously," Naruto interrupted. He was a bit grumpy. Upon returning from the exam the night before, he'd discovered that he'd forgotten to go to the store and stock up on more ramen. All the stores had been closed for the night. Then he'd overslept and had to rush to meet his team, not because he expected Kakashi to be there but because he knew Sasuke would be ticked if he missed their morning spar.

"Right, right." Kakashi rubbed the back of his head. "I just came to say that you have the next three days off to rest up and recover from the exam. When we meet here again we'll be going on a little trip, so be prepared. Hokage-sama has all sort of errands for me to run now. See ya!"

He disappeared in a poof of smoke. Sakura and Naruto screamed after him while Sasuke suffered from his chronic eye twitch - the longer he was one Team Seven, the worse it got. The Uchiha shrugged and waited for his teammates to quiet down.

"He said we'd be going on a trip."

"I thought Kakashi-sensei was going to wait until after the exam," Naruto said, remembering what the jounin had said about a training trip.


"Sorry Sakura. When Kakashi talked to us during the preliminaries he mentioned taking us on a training trip," Sasuke explained shortly.

Sakura was still a little confused, but she often felt that way when dealing with her team. She figured that the day everything they did made perfect sense was the day she finally left all traces of civilian life behind. Ninja were weird. She still wasn't sure how she felt about that.

"Really? But doesn't Naruto need to stay in Konoha for the finals? Wait, no, the exam isn't for a month. But then, why not just train Naruto?"

"Well, you see...the thing is might sort of be punishment..." Naruto shuffled nervously, not meeting her eyes.

Sakura sighed. Of course it was. "For what?"

"Keeping things from teammates..."

"I don't want to know."

Sasuke and Naruto looked at each other in some silent conversation. She really hated that. Really.

"Kakashi-sensei knows. You should too," Sasuke told her. Despite his words, the eye twitch was returning. She was starting to wonder if maybe he should get that looked at.

Sakura took a perch on the bridge's railing and braced herself. "Fine. Do your worst..."

An hour later she was still reeling a bit. It was overwhelming. Sasuke's brother, the two of them hiding their strength, manipulating their team was just too much. She found herself being irritated and awed all at once. Again it was like she was too far behind to ever catch up.

"What I don't get," she said slowly, turning the events over in her mind, "is why the villagers would dislike Naruto. I mean, it's kind of weird. I'd wondered a little before, but I didn't really realize how bad it was until we came back from Wave and I started paying attention." She looked down at the water. It was a little shaming to admit she'd never seen something so obvious and important, she who was supposedly so observant.

Naruto nodded at her, eyes resolute. His arms were crossed and he stood unusually still. "If I tell you, you can't tell anyone Sakura-chan. It's an S class secret. The penalty is death."

"I found out by accident." Sasuke's eyes were slits, holding some emotion she couldn't read.

Sakura gulped. Her nails bit into the wood of the rail. Curiosity won out. "Tell me."

"The Yondaime didn't killed the Kyuubi. He couldn't. Instead, he sealed it inside a newborn. I'm the container of the nine tailed fox." He watched her, unblinking. Naruto was waiting for her reaction she realized.

"Well," she said plainly, "that makes sense." She looked down What else was there to say? That now all the little things that confused her were starting to make sense? That she was sorry they had to go through all that? She knew by now that such sentiments would only make her teammates irritated. She sniffled quietly and made sure her face was neutral when she looked up. She could cry for her teammates alone. "Okay. I understand."

"That's it? You understand?" Naruto looked a bit taken aback.

"Oh my God! That's terrible! I had no idea! Wow! I feel really bad for you." Sakura exclaimed suddenly, hands clasping the side of her face. She ignored that fact that her voice was a little shaky at first. "Is that better?"

Naruto grinned at her while he poked Sasuke. "Look, look! She's got a sense of humor! Now we just have to find yours!"

"I have a sense of humor!" he spat, thought the corner of his mouth turned up the tiniest bit.

"A terrible one," Sakura intoned. She giggled when Sasuke glared at her. For once her teammates were starting to really make sense to her.

Wait a second...

"Oh no!" Sakura groaned loudly. A second later she buried her face in her hands. "Why me? It's all starting to make sense. I'm doomed. Doomed."

"Um, okay?" Naruto patted her on the back awkwardly. "I'm sure you'll be fine Sakura-chan. You' really good ninja?"

Sakura just wondered what strange quirks she was going to start developing.

A few miles outside Konoha's border a figure shifted from his perch in a tree. The flock of sparrows two trees over disappeared into the sky. Coming fully awake, the shinobi quickly surveyed his surroundings. Someone was approaching. Senbon appeared in his hands.

"It's me, Haku." Zabuza's voice came from beneath the tree. The senbon disappeared again. He landed silently on the ground beside his master.

"It is good to see you again, Zabuza-sama." Truly it was. He'd only gotten glimpses of his master in passing during their time in Sound.

"How is it, Haku?"

"It's just like they said. Konoha is much different from the Mist. I think they would agree to a deal. We could potentially be in a very good position."

"I have to agree. Those stupid brats are really something." His grin was reminiscent of a shark. "Some day I'd like to know where they got their information. It doesn't matter though, as long as I profit in the end." Zabuza shrugged. "I was skeptical, but..." He shook his head. "Looks like my trust in you really paid off this time."

Haku blushed at the compliment. It had been difficult at first to convince Zabuza to abandon their work for Gatou. After all, it was a huge setback to their scheme and Zabuza had badly wanted revenge against Kakashi. Of course, once Zabuza agreed it wasn't difficult to get him to agree to kill Gatou. Neither of them particularly liked the greedy little mole. Besides, they had to cover their tracks from the hunters.

Speaking of which, Haku still marveled at how things had turned out for them. When the two genin from Konoha had come to him with an alternative solution to their confrontation he'd been wary. What they said however made sense and was a better alternative to dying. And after the way they'd ganged up on him he had no doubt they had the upper hand.

Though he didn't have any idea how they'd gotten their information their plan was good. They'd given Zabuza and him enough funds to hide their tracks and make their way to the new Sound Village. Upon reaching it they had discovered that the information Naruto and Sasuke had given was correct. They were recruiting missing-nin and were only too happy to receive someone like Zabuza. Haku had joined a few days later, under the disguise of Kin whom he had disposed of.

While in Sound they had a steady supply of missions to earn money and protection from the hunter-nin. As long as they stayed out of Orochimaru's way (he didn't treat his subordinates well, as they'd been warned) it was workable. Meanwhile he and Zabuza had gathered all the information they could on Sound, including the upcoming invasion.

Konoha would be willing to pay a great deal for a spy in the middle of Orochimaru's village. They might even be willing to grant sanctuary to them within the Fire Country. Mists hunters wouldn't dare piss off Konoha by pursuing them. Meanwhile Zabuza could regroup until he was prepared to return to the Mist and finish what he started.

Zabuza wasn't the type to take orders from anyone for long. As soon as they got paid, he and Haku would abandon Sound. Assuming Konoha cooperated of course. Haku had a feeling it was going to work out well for them. Naruto and Sasuke had proven themselves to be worthwhile allies with the accuracy of their information thus far.

It was only a matter of time. Zabuza gestured for Haku to return to his position in hiding. He would observe while Zabuza made the deal to make sure nothing went wrong. The minutes passed quickly at first.

Then the time of the meeting passed. Haku began to wonder if the Konoha nin Zabuza had contacted would arrive. Had the man not gotten the message? An hour crept by.

"Where the hell is he?" Zabuza growled from below. Just then Haku sensed a presence nearby. Just barely, he could sense two others following the contact. They were probably ANBU sent to ensure his safety.

"Right here." The infamous Hatake Kakashi stepped out from the bushes. "Hm. So you are alive," he said upon seeing Zabuza.

"You're late!" Zabuza groused, slamming his sword into the ground.

"Ah, well, you see I got this message from a weird missing-nin and had to get authorization to meet with him and...well..." Kakashi shrugged.

"Whatever. I forgot how much your face pisses me off," Zabuza muttered. Haku couldn't help but grin. That was his master.

"Ah, sorry. What I'd like to know is why you've contacted me. Wouldn't it be better to play dead?"

Haku marveled once more at how the man could slouch and look dangerous at the same time. As relaxed as Kakashi seemed, he didn't dare move for fear of revealing himself. Last time he'd observed for Zabuza, he had remained farther away. Kakashi was really impressive.

"Yeah, well, the opportunity was just too perfect to pass up." Zabuza leaned up against a tree, also pretending to be unconcerned. Zabuza had send a clone disguised as a civilian with the message to Kakashi the day before. They'd sent just enough information to tempt Kakashi and Konoha into a meeting.

"Why me?"

"Simple. If you don't agree with my proposal I get to fight you and have my revenge." Zabuza offered him a ruthless grin. Kakashi actually chuckled a bit.

"I see, and what is your proposal? I'd rather not have to kill you twice, after all."

Zabuza glared at him. "I heard Sound was hiring missing nin. Turns out I don't like following the orders of their leader any more than I did the Mizukage. Since I've been there though, I've discovered a few things Konoha might be interested to know. If so, I might be willing to continue gathering information. For a price, of course."

"Of course. Though what information you could have that would make Konoha hire a missing nin, I have no idea," Kakashi responded, feigning disinterest. It was that laid back attitude that pissed his master off. Zabuza was working hard to contain his irritation, Haku knew. At the same time, he was probably amused at being able to hold information over Kakashi's head.

"Why the name of Sound's leader of course. As well as a few other unimportant tidbits," Zabuza taunted. "But why don't I just tell you and we'll see if the great Konoha is interested in hearing more?"

"Oh? So who is this mysterious leader?"

Zabuza's grin escalated from slightly homicidal to baby munching.


And there was no way Kakashi was walking away after that.

Sasuke stared. He shifted from his perch on the bridge's rail. Then he uncrossed and crossed his arms. A sigh escaped him. He looked away and then back again.

Sakura fanned herself idly.

That was it. He couldn't take it anymore. He was curious. It was just so weird.

"That's it. Why?"

Sakura laughed. It was kind of creepy, and more than a little manic sounding. "I've decided to take the initiative. I'm going to come up with my own quirk before a weirder one creeps up on me," she informed him.

"'re weird."

"I know. Isn't that the point?"


Sakura had shown up at the bridge that morning looking a great deal different than normal. She was wearing a shortened yukata that was dark green and patterned with lighter, mint green leaves and cherry blossoms that matched her hair - which was out of it the customary pigtails. Instead it was piled on her head in an elaborate style with several fancy looking hair sticks.

Rather than the normal sandals she was wearing a pair of tabi and zori sandals. She looked like a civilian at a festival or some kind of lady. In her hand was a heavy silk fan that was cream colored with a vivid depiction of a sakura tree in full bloom. Closer examination with a flash of sharingan beneath his bangs had revealed that the fan was made with metal and appeared very, very sharp at the edges.

"Don't give me that look," Sakura scolded. "I know I don't look like a ninja. That's the point. It's what people are supposed to think. Besides, this thing is surprisingly easy to move in." She pointed to her outfit. "And it's loose enough to conceal plenty of weapons as long as I use senbon instead of kunai so I don't have to wear my kunai holster."


"Look, appearances are important for me," Sakura said with a glint in her eye. "After all, I've decided to master genjutsu, and that's all about false appearances."


A/N Well, well, well, look who's back after a year and a half. Dear God, has it really been that long? I won't apologize for taking so long. To be frank I had the wind taken right out of my sails. Silly Kishimoto, making Itachi a good guy. Seriously, I almost had a fit. I loved the guy because he was a great villain, not because he was secretly a good guy. Seriously. It took me a while to adjust to this new idea of Itachi. I still like him, but I kind of wish he'd remained a true villain. Sigh. Anyway, after that I just didn't feel like continuing this story for a while. Totally messed me up. Of course, oddly enough, my plot will end up working out really well in the end, though it took some tweaking to account for the latest revelations in canon. I always knew the Uchiha clan were jerks. Go figure.

This hasn't been proofed much. Sorry. I'm unrepentantly lazy. Think Shikamaru, only without the genius.