Foreword: This'll probably be the last one, folks. Been fun though.

First kills are, by their very nature, inherently destructive to both the murderer and the murdered. Shinobi don't show this quite so much as normal people; there is rarely any vomiting, crying or emotional turmoil in the aftermath. If a ninja is lucky, the most they'll have is an empty kind of introspection.

Among the Rookie Nine and Gai's team, first kills are unusual for many reasons. They are more violent, more dramatic; the aftermaths are more intense and the effects more apparent years after the fact.

Inuzuka Kiba's first kill was among the most violent; he tore a man's throat out with nothing but his teeth. He bragged about it later on, but the truth is that he still wakes up at night with the taste of someone else's blood in his mouth. Aburame Shino's was just as brutal for the simple reason that he flooded someone's lungs with his destruction bugs and then had the distinct displeasure of watching them convulse with their last insect-choked breaths. Hyuuga Hinata's kill was, arguably, the most violent and intense out of all of them; she still has nightmares and she refuses to admit there's a problem for the simple reason that she doesn't want to bother anyone with it...

Of course the truth is that she's afraid of everyone thinking she might be crazy. Kurenai, Kiba and Shino all know this, but they've come to the mutual understanding that Hinata deserves to confront her demons in private if she wants. It's only their business if she comes to them about it.

Yamanaka Ino's first kill was the most surreal for a lot of reasons, but the only one that matters is that she was in her victim's body at the time. She has never forgotten the sensation of stabbing herself in the neck with a short sword, and she never will. It's part of why she prefers clothing with a high collar. Nara Shikamaru's first kill only came well after he was a Chuunin; he used the shadows to strangle a little girl on a mission. He hasn't forgiven himself for it since, but he also thinks that he and Ino's first kills were karmic retributions for the fact that they always made Chouji do the dirty work.

This is because, even now, most of InoShikaCho's kills are made with Ino and Shikamaru setting the enemy up and Chouji steamrolling them. His first kill came when he ballooned up to the size of a small house and rolled over eighteen men, women and children. He stopped eating for the better part of a week, and for many months afterward, he had a habit of scrubbing himself raw in the bathtub and bleaching his clothes solid white when doing laundry.

The first kills for Gai's team were more detached. TenTen killed her first enemy with a shower of kunai to the face at eighty yards. While it was more detached than anything else, she still remembers the effect of a six inch double-edged spike-knife driving through someone's eyesockets as being the single worst thing she's ever seen. Neji's first kill was like an ominous foreshadowing of Hinata's in a way: His first strike showed him the face of his uncle, then his father, then himself, then Hinata, Hanabi, TenTen, Gai, Lee and everyone else he had been 'close' to at the time. He killed the man by the thirty-second hit, but went for all sixty-four to 'be thorough.'

Unlike Hinata, he went to bed smiling while trying not to cry that night.

Lee's first kill is something he can't quite remember for the simple reason that he was drunk at the time. The truth is that he struck a woman across the face and tore off the front of her skull. While he can't really remember it when awake, the memories do occasionally come back when he's sleeping; more so, now that he's opened the Eighth Gate. In dreams, he sees her with pink hair and green eyes, and when he wakes up screaming, it's because he honestly thinks he's just killed Sakura.

Team Seven's first kills are like individual hybrids of the other three. They can't really be pinned down in any one category.

Uchiha Sasuke's first kill comes about in a training spar with one of Orochimaru's foot soldiers. It's dark, and his enemy wears a mask so something about it is utterly impersonal, but Sasuke kills the man--at least he thinks it was a man--with a Chidori through the collar and into a stone wall behind him. For a few seconds, he stands still with a corpse nailed to the wall thanks to his arm running through it, then finally pulls out to watch it slump to the floor. While it should be a momentous occasion for him, he feels nothing but a hollow in his chest and the eerie wondering about whether or not Itachi's first kill was similar to his own.

Then he remembers that Itachi made his first kill at eight years old. Sasuke's was at thirteen. Somehow, that simple realization that he held onto his humanity longer makes it all okay.

Haruno Sakura's first kill is a cross between karma, surreality and introspectiveness. She killed a boy with a blow to the chest; Tsunade's explosive fist technique. He was a few years younger than she was, couldn't have been older than twelve. He wore a blinding orange jumpsuit, had several whisker-like scars on his cheeks and short, choppy blond hair. She felt his ribcage crack and his heart explode, the fist ruptured his long and caused a spray of blood from his mouth. When he finally hit the dirt, Sakura had a new shade of red on her shirt and a new reason to get completely wasted on Tsunade's sake for a few days.

Coincidentally, she and Tsunade became closer over those three or four days than ever before, and they haven't been as close since. It is the only time that Tsunade ever completely disregarded the law--Sakura was too young to legally drink--and the only that Sakura has ever actually shared her grief about anything in any real detail.

Uzumaki Naruto's first kill is the latest in a long line of morbid traditions that intertwines itself with the teacher-student lineage that started when Namimaru bound Sasuke to a log. His teacher--Jiraiya, in this instance--puts himself in harm's way against a missing-nin from another Village. Naruto rushes in, draws out a kunai and leaps right over Jiraiya before plunging it into the ninja's head without even realizing it. For a solid thirty seconds after it happens, he stares into a dead man's empty eyes and sits somewhere between a sense of cold shock and the urge to cry. He lets one or two tears, but chokes back everything else.

He doesn't know it, but he and those before him--Obito, the Yondaime, Jiraiya and the Sandaime--have all done the exact same thing in the exact same way at the exact same age with the exact same kind of weapon. Privately, Jiraiya is embittered at the experience because it marks the third time he's had to take part in the tradition when it should have been Kakashi's place to do it, not his own.

To date, Naruto has refused to talk about his first kill with anyone. In this way, he continues to repeat the tradition without even realizing it.
Another eerie repetition of history is that Gai, Kakashi, Kurenai and Asuma's own first kills were foreshadowings of their Genin's.

Gai made his first kill while drunk; he made a high kick and the bands holding his weights in place snapped. The ensuing rain of solid metal tore through a man's chest like a rain of blunt-tipped kunai, sinking inches deep into his body at eighty yards. It was a sobering experience for a lot of reasons, one being that the man looked terribly similar to his father, and another being that he cried himself to sleep that night.

Kakashi's first kill was made with his father's sword at the age of six. He outflanked an older Genin in a Chuunin Exam battle, then stabbed him straight through the chest before slicing up and taking off his lower jaw. By the time the boy finished hitting the ground, Kakashi's hair and facemask were dyed red with blood. Although he didn't let anyone see him do it afterward, he spent the better part of half an hour throwing up in a restroom with the mental image of the boy's eyes--brown and full of life--burned into his thoughts.

Kurenai's first kill was considerably more brutal than one might think. She used a Genjutsu to incapacitate someone, then ended up stabbing them so many times that her knife broke and she ended up pounding her blood-drenched hand into the corpse for a full minute before her teammates dragged her away. For most of a month, people thought she had gone completely insane; only Obito and her sensei knew otherwise, and both of them talked to her every single day until she was past it all.

Asuma's first kill was the most professional out of any of them. He was buying time for his teammates on a mission and ended up fighting with a ninja who used a sword. He caught the blade on one of his dagger-knuckles, then sidestepped his way around the fellow and chopped down into the side of his neck. When it was all said and done, he stared at the body for a few seconds and shrugged before running off to join everyone else.

Coincidentally, Asuma is the only one of the four who doesn't think he ever needed any therapy. Unlike so many other people with so many other things, he actually does know how right he is.
Morino Ibiki is considered the single grizzliest, ugliest, most sadistic man that has ever called himself a torture specialist in Konoha.

Eerily enough, Ibiki is also closer to more women than any other Jounin male in the Village. He's been romantically involved with none of them, but to various capacities, he's taught Suzume, Shizune, Kurenai, Yuugao, Anko and about two dozen others the tricks of breaking a man down and making him do whatever you want. He's only taught them how to do this to men because none seem interested in women.

His latest disciple--and his favorite by far--is Yamanaka Ino. The two have a relationship that eerily parodies family; not quite father and daughter but a little more than uncle and neice. More so than Asuma, Ibiki has become Ino's mentor in the arts of torture and interrogation. What she lacks in brutality, he has helped her compensate for in sheer finesse. As far as his students go, she is an absolute prodigy, and perhaps even more efficient at breaking people down--men and women--than Ibiki himself.

That she does her work without having to resort to physical torture is simply an added bonus. For all of her skill at getting information, Ino has never once had to resort to crude methods like screwdrivers or seduction. Ibiki likes to tell people that she does this because she prefers leaving people intact to get more information out of them later.

The truth is that she just doesn't want to break a nail.

Considering her effectiveness, Ibiki doesn't mind the eccentricity.
Another of those morbid traditions that nobody really knows what to make sense of is the Dead Kage Clause, so named the last time that Gaara and Tsunade held a conversation.

The clause holds that every Kage of every Village must try like all Hell to have a more dramatic, meaningful and epic death than whoever came beforehand.

Tsunade thinks that it was one of the only times Gaara ever cracked a joke. She's wrong.

He was never joking at all.
Something even more unknown than all of these traditions is a very simple fact about Gaara. So unknown is this fact that even his siblings don't have any idea about it. In fact, the only one who does know is Uzumaki Naruto, and he had to guess just to figure it out. When he did, he laughed for three days straight everytime he thought about it.

You see, Gaara is a breast man.

Coincidentally, this is why relations are so good between Konoha and Suna. Every time Gaara and Tsunade negotiate something, he just ends up going 'Yes' whenever there's a lull in speech.

To Gaara's credit and continued good health, Tsunade still hasn't figured this out.
Yuuhi Kurenai's eyes actually are derived from the Sharingan, though no-one really knows it. One of her great-great grandmothers was a bar girl who had a one night stand with an Uchiha man. He lacked the Sharingan, himself, but he still had the genes for it and those carried through. That Kurenai's mother and father were both ninjas caused her watered down psuedo-Sharingan to activate before she was even born. It manifests as a circle of pitch black about halfway between her pupils and the whites of her eyes; a blatant interruption in the otherwise crimson irises for which her parents named her.

Kurenai's would-be Sharingan, however, is permanently stunted. It can evolve no further, but it has helped her in ways she'll never be able to really wrap her mind around. This is chiefly because it's an invaluable tool in boosting her Genjutsu. There is another reason, though...

It makes her look more like Hyuuga Hinata's birthmother.
Something that few people know is that Jiraiya is not the only artist or writer amongst the Legendary Sannin.

To date, Orochimaru has penned several dozen novels using two aliases. One, the name Akadou Kazuya, has spawned three different series of horror stories that've won rave reviews across the continent and simultaneously driven eight people to suicide by giving them nightmares. The other, Tsurugi Yashagoro, has been hailed in much the same way for producing some of the best children's literature ever written. He uses the money to help fund the very existence of the Hidden Sound.

Tsunade, on the other hand, has the untapped potential of a master artist. Her only real work--the only picture she has ever drawn and attached any personal meaning to--is a rolled up black-and-white sketch done from memory. It is of a young man with white hair, sitting atop a wall and looking down at the viewer with a subtle expression of anger and sadness; a longing that has never, and likely never will be put into words. Beyond that, her art consists of doodles on unsigned paperwork.

Jiraiya is the most prolific of the three, but here, in the realm of art and writing, he is also the master. He has written and published enough pornography to buy a small country, and while he keeps the money from that, he has a good many other aliases as well. One, his personal favorite, is used to publish a series of manga centered around the life and times of ninjas. The characters are all amalgams of people he's actually come to know over the course of his career, but the stories usually have happy endings and there are no little boys and girls with their faces down in the mud. Likewise, there aren't any princesses with their eyes locked to the past and their hearts sealed shut.

He donates all the proceeds to a charity in Konoha used to pay for the upbringings, educations and medical costs of orphans.
Coincidentally, Yakushi Kabuto is the only man alive who knows that Orochimaru's favorite works are his children's stories. Similarly, Shizune is the only woman alive who knows about Tsunade's one sketch, let alone the identity of the man portrayed within.

Where Tsunade has kept that one sketch and never produced anything of its caliber since, Jiraiya once inked a picture of a tragically beautiful blonde woman bathed in moonlight. When he was done, he spent a few minutes looking it over and thinking, then burned it along with a letter he never read. To date, it's the only artwork he's ever intentionally destroyed.
A little known but highly amusing fact is that Temari's first relationship with a Leaf-nin was not Nara Shikamaru.

It was Rock Lee.

TenTen, Neji, Sakura, Shikamaru and Kankurou still don't know what to make of it. Gai actually cried tears of joy and hugged Kakashi, while Gaara and Baki...

Well, Baki just stared and tilted his head. He tried talking, but the only thing he could do was mouth breathe like a fish while trying to find words.


He laughed for twenty minutes straight. It was the first time anyone ever actually saw him smile without murder in his eyes.
In some lifetime--maybe this one, maybe another--Yakushi Kabuto is less a riddle and more a truth so obvious that people simply refuse to believe or accept it.

In that life, he is a member of the Akatsuki. A jinchuuriki; holder of the Nekomata. He is obsessed with Death, more so than his master will ever be. He doesn't want to escape Death, he wants to control it. So he experiments; he plays games with Death. He learns ways of keeping a body preserved indefinitely, and learns even more ways to keep it technically alive for months after it's actually died. He conquers the art of regenerating from lethal wounds to an extent that it would make Tsunade rage with envy, and he learns how to animate corpses as if they were still alive and breathing. Sometimes, he can even bring the personalities back when he's animating them.

They never like it. But he doesn't care, because his time is limited and he knows it.

After all, he is an Akatsuki in that life. A willing member; one of the nine ringbearers. When it comes time, he will gladly lay down and allow them to rip the Nekomata from his body. He will do so because he craves control over Death, and nothing grants control more than meaning. Likewise, nothing gives meaning more than sacrifice. In Kabuto's eyes, the Akatsuki are not power-craving renegades. They are humanity's saviors; sealing away the bijuu one by one. It doesn't matter if they don't understand this. It doesn't even matter if they don't mean this.

It's what they are to him.

Death and sacrifice are why Yakushi Kabuto goes to his grave.

Unfortunately, one can never be sure if that life is this life, so it's really all speculation at this point...

The last day before Naruto left Konoha, the remaining members of the Rookie Nine and Gai's team, plus Iruka, gathered together and threw him a party. For a lot of reasons, they decided to make it not just a going away party, but a birthday party as well.

It's the only time that Naruto has ever actually cried in full view of all of his friends. As much as some of them wanted to rib him for it, none of them said a word.
The relationship between Rock Lee and Temari is one of those things that makes almost no sense to other people. In truth, it doesn't make much sense to either of them either.

It lasted for only the better part of half a year, and even then it didn't leave the kind of long lasting after-effects of the relationship held by Kankurou and TenTen. Neither Lee or Temari are really sure how it happened either, but it was fun while it lasted at any rate. When asked, each one will give a different answer.

Temari will say: "I wanted to see what was under the spandex."

Lee will say: "I was tempted from the beautiful path of the falling cherry-blossoms by an equally beautiful desert flower, possessed of a strong, glorious wind that carried the most fragrant scents ever to bless my nose!"

... And then he'll spend the next three hours ranting out a mental comparison between Temari and Sakura. It's obvious that he now prefers the unattainable to what he once had, but he still regards Temari in a way that he can't quite put into words, no matter how hard he tries(and, God help a lot of people, he tries).

The truth is actually something that neither will really admit to themselves, thus they can't tell anyone else either. Temari was drawn to Lee initially because he was the first person in her own age group to actually stand up to Gaara and come back alive. Naruto may have broken Gaara's armor completely, but Lee was the first one to put cracks in it. Lee was drawn to Temari, initially, because she actually acknowledged him. After a time, she became taken with his chivalry and the fact that he more or less worshipped the ground she walked on. Lee, in turn, continued to gain that acknowledgement he so craved. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to keep a relationship going.

As of the present, the two aren't the best of friends, but they remain close, and they remain fond of each other in a way that most people can't quite get their heads around.
Things could have gone differently, but the end result would still be much the same.

In the Chuunin Exams, all it would have taken for Gaara to win would be to remain calm when the Chidori struck him. If that had happened, he would have molded the sand around Sasuke's arm and broken it before knocking him out with a kick to the chin. Seeing that the two jinchuuriki were going to fight, Orochimaru would decide to kill two birds with one stone; a signal to Kabuto and the attack would meet a delay.

Later, after Shino was beaten by Temari, Naruto and Gaara would do battle. At first, it would be surprisingly even. Gaara's injured arm would keep him somewhat incapacitated, but the sand would hold Naruto back indefinitely. Eventually, Orochimaru would tire of watching and Kabuto would finally cast his Genjutsu. With timing on his side, Naruto would end up unleashing a massive wave of chakra in time to block its effects on him, and with both Gaara and Naruto more or less ignoring everything around them; war would begin.

But they would keep fighting. And somewhere in the midst of it all, the transformation would begin. Sasuke would try to help, but he'd end up face down on the ground. Sakura would try to shield him, but she would also end up locked to a wall. Surrounded by unconscious civilians and fellow shinobi, Naruto would put his life on the line against Gaara and successfully take him out of the arena with a bit of help from Shino. Somewhere along the way, Shikamaru and Chouji would intervene; shadows locking Gaara to the ground, a colossal fist slamming down with the force of a kiloton bomb. That would be the trigger for Shukaku's true release, and once that happened, the only one left standing near Gaara would be Naruto himself.

War would rage, Gama Bunta would come out and somehow, even in the middle of Konoha, the two would keep fighting. Around them, everyone would stop to watch, with only Orochimaru, Sarutobi, Jiraiya and a few others managing to stay focused on their own trials and tribulations. In spite of the epic scale of combat, Naruto's sheer grit would keep casualties to a minimum, and as he's perched atop Gama Bunta's head, he'd be able to hear the ANBU tearing down anyone trying to attack him.

Eventually, this too would end. Shukaku would fall to a blazing headbutt and Gaara would finally collapse from a flying right hook; the culmination of everything they'd fought for. The witnesses to this would be many, but the only ones that would matter are Sarutobi and Orochimaru.

Orochimaru would scream in rage because he would get to watch as his plans--all of them--crumble down around him.

The Sandaime, however, would not die smiling.

He'd die laughing.
During the time that Lee and Temari were dating, Lee actually grew his hair back out and started dressing like a normal human being again. While Gai wasn't quite sure what to make of the change, everyone else saw it as a marked improvement.

Coincidentally, this was also the time that about half the teenaged kunoichi in Konoha--including Ino and Sakura--started stalking him. While Lee remained faithful, the whole ordeal was enough that when they finally did break up, the first thing he did was to find a bowl, a kunai and a new spandex suit.

He hasn't had to deal with mobbing fangirls since, and Neji couldn't be happier. He was starting to miss the weekly marriage proposals from girls he doesn't know.
Oddly enough, Hyuuga Hinata has defeated her older cousin, Neji, twice in a row. Once, she fought him a few days after returning from the Exam where she made Chuunin. It was a sparring match, and she spent the entire fight outgunned. Her father almost called it off twice because, surely, there was no way for his timid older daughter to best the Hyuuga Clan's prodigal son. The only reason he didn't was the murderous looks that Neji, Kiba, Shino and Hanabi gave him whenever he even started to raise his hand. It wasn't intimidation, just a lack of desire for trouble.

In an upset, Hinata defeated Neji with nothing but the basics: A well-timed Bunshin and an even better timed Jyuuken strike to the throat. She ran in synch behind the Bunshin and allowed it to take a Kaiten head-on, then struck him as he finished the technique. It had the effect of temporarily disabling his nervous system from the neck down.

Lee has yet to let Neji live it down.

For her part, Hinata likes to think that this is the first time she ever beat Neji.

The truth, however, is that she utterly decimated him in their first Chuunin Exam. It didn't matter who lost the most blood; Neji went into that fight without a chance, and while Hinata didn't strike the finishing blow, her words broke his will so thoroughly that he didn't even realize it until he felt Uzumaki Naruto's fist break his jaw.
A little realized fact is that the loudest three of the Rookie Nine--Kiba, Ino and Naruto--are actually the purest ninja that Konoha has produced in the past ten years.

Ino, while flighty and unprofessional when off-duty, is the epitome of what kunoichi are supposed to be when she goes to work. As an interrogator, she is ruthless, psychological, delicate as a flower and brutal as her boarish namesake. As a fighter, she is strategic and deceptive; where Sakura relies on power, Hinata is a Taijutsu specialist and TenTen can impale a fly on a needle from a quarter of a mile, Ino outwits her opponents and lures them into one trap after another in ways that often make Shikamaru twitch with suppressed envy. As a spy, her ability to swap bodies is invaluable, and when that fails: She actually can be seductive. Alarmingly so.

Kiba, although loud, seemingly arrogant and a little stupid when it comes to the size of his dog, is a master of himself in battle. Even when outsmarted, outgunned and without a chance, he is willing to continue fighting for the sake of the mission and for the sake of his comrades. He has no special powers; no great demon and no awe inspiring Bloodline, but he knows his limits and he knows when, how and where he should push them. He makes it a point to understand the strengths and weaknesses of his teammates, and while Shino is smarter and arguably better, Kiba is always the go-to guy in any confrontation.

Naruto, although louder than Kiba and arguably more foolish in public, is at home in battle. He is a master of stealth and the sneak attack; a trickster demon in the flesh. Literally, according to some. His strategies rarely extend beyond his next two or three moves, but he creates them on the spot and that makes him unpredictable. He stands alone, but he does it well, and even more so than Kiba, he embodies a spirit that refuses to break and a will to keep fighting even when common sense says he should be running until his legs break.

So when the three of them are finally put together on a single mission, half of their comrades aren't sure whether they'll come back alive. The other half just isn't sure whether or not there'll be anything left to come back from when they're done.
Once upon a time, Hatake Kakashi became a Missing-nin. It lasted for approximately two weeks, and while he was ultimately cleared and allowed to return, the stain on his reputation is the original reason he left the ANBU.

It all happened as the result of a mission into the Hidden Stone; a bodyguard job gone wrong. It went wrong because, at first, it went right. He and his team killed a real Missing-nin from Konoha, took out a local rebellion in the Hidden Stone's ranks and kept the peace. As a show of good will and gratitude, their client, Shogun Jintoku Atarumaru, decided to let them stay a while in his palace. When Konoha tried to recall them anyway, the Shogun threatened war. So Kakashi and his team stayed.

One by one, the team splintered due to Atarumaru's paranoid hospitality. Eventually, Kakashi found himself alone, wandering the halls with his sword on his back, hands in his pockets and eyes shifting from side to side. He arrived at an unguarded, unmarked door in one of the sub-levels of the palace, noted the lack of guards and--against his better judgement--let himself in.

What he saw in there defies description. To this day, Kakashi has only spoken of it once, and only when the Third Hokage directly ordered him to give reason for his actions. He has nightmares about the things--the people--in that room, and what had been done to them and with them and by them. It's one of the only times he's ever broken Shinobi Rule Number 25, and most of his former teammates, like Uzuki Yuugao and the man codenamed Yamato, will tell you that he hasn't been the same since.

To put it bluntly: Kakashi murdered Atarumaru in cold blood through the use of the Headhunter technique and the blunted side of his sword. Then, trailing Atarumaru's blood, he went outside the palace and just left.

It took three days for anyone in the palace to figure out what had happened. By then, Kakashi's former team was long gone, and Kakashi himself was lost somewhere in the wilds between the Stone and Fire countries. When he finally showed back up, two weeks after what he had done, he had burned his ANBU uniform and broken his porcelain dog mask to a fine powder, but he still wore his Konoha forehead protector.

He was also smiling in a manner that his future Genin team would become very well accustomed to.

Thankfully for everyone involved, the Hidden Stone was conveniently able to pin it on the very ninjas that Kakashi's team had slaughtered, thereby removing the blame from Konoha. It wasn't for lack of evidence, just lack of effort.

Coincidentally, this is the real reason that Kakashi tried to forge such a close bond with Uchiha Sasuke. They weren't the same type because they were geniuses with the Sharingan; Kakashi knew Sasuke was going to leave one day. He was trying to make it so that the boy would leave for the right reasons and still be able to come back without the entire Village at his throat.

It was his most magnificent failure yet.
Among Konoha's Jounin mentors, Hyuuga Neji is unique in that two out of his three Genin possess Bloodlines. One is his own cousin, placed under his care at the personal request of Hyuuga Hiashi. The other is a boy named Akado Saiten, the current heir-apparent to the ever-dwindling Akado clan. This puts his team in the unusual position of having only one member without a Bloodline. Coincidentally, this member also lacks a clan because he comes from a mostly civilian family that hasn't put out a ninja since his great-grandfather.

Saiten is an oddity to be sure; Neji still isn't quite sure how to handle him, but the Akado's chakra leeching lends itself well to a very bastardized form of Jyuuken. Since the martial art itself isn't unique to the Hyuuga, Neji teaches him the basics and doesn't really object when the boy starts ripping off the occasional technique and warping it to his clan's unique talents. He follows orders well, and truth be told, Neji favors him over the other two because he isn't a walking disaster waiting to happen.

Hanabi is even stranger still, for the simple reason that she's lived her entire life with Neji under her control, rather than it being the other way around. Teaching her is like teaching a slightly less talented, incredibly more tempermental female version of himself, and it gives Neji the perspective needed to walk up to Gai one night and, in full view of every other Jounin at the steakhouse, ask him: "How in the hell did you put up with me?"

The last of his team--the one without a Bloodline--is probably the weirdest out of all of them. When Neji looks at Inkaten Takeshi, he literally does not know what to make of him. The boy reminds him of what would happen if you threw Naruto into a blender with Rock Lee's work ethic, TenTen's love of all things sharp and pointy--not to mention the ability to make them--and a typical kunoichi's housemaking abilities. He doesn't speak of his family life, constantly harrasses other Jounin and Chuunin for help--particularly Ebisu and Gai, much to Neji's chargrin--and seems to have an inexplicable rivalry with a boy named Udon caused by the fact that both of them wear glasses and happen to bear a vague resemblance to each other.

When it comes time for the Chuunin Exams, Neji is hesitant to enter them for the simple reason that they are not a true team. Saiten and Hanabi work reasonably well together; Takeshi is a walking trainwreck.

He enters them anyway, because Takeshi threatens to murder him in his sleep otherwise and neither Saiten or Hanabi so much as sigh in disagreement about this idea. When it's all said and done, Neji is still unsure of what to make of his team.

Takeshi gets them through the written exams, though Saiten does well and Hanabi ends up failing miserably. In the Forest of Death, Hanabi--the one raised in perfect splendor--is the one who gets them through, even though the team almost fractures three times in a row. Saiten falls spectacularly in the preliminaries and both Takeshi and Hanabi make it to the finals.

There, Takeshi fights with Udon, and while no-one has ever actually prepared him for a contest of Genjutsu, Neji is shocked to find the brat surviving and battling to a draw on nothing but stubborn egomania. Somewhere in between being stabbed and beaten to a pulp, Takeshi breaks through Udon's illusions and throws a hundred pound kunai into his plans, then returns the beating before passing out on his feet. Since Udon has his arms and ribs broken in the exchange, it ends up as a draw.

Hanabi's fight speaks for itself. Neji relishes that one for the simple reason that he got to see his uncle cry like a little girl.

When it finally comes time for his Genin to have another mission, Neji decides to come early. To his surprise, he finds all three of them waiting there; Takeshi is smug but quiet, Saiten is giddy with anticipation and Hanabi is staring up at the morning sky without a word.

For a while, Neji just stands there watching them, and somewhere between this and trying to find the will to move up and greet his students, he comes to the realization that they're not egocentric children anymore. When he looks at them now, in this very instant, he isn't seeing parodies his team and the former Rookie Nine.

He's seeing a trio of soldiers. Fellow shinobi.

All of the sudden, Neji is sure how to deal with them, but he isn't sure if he really likes it at all.
One day, Uzumaki Naruto is going to face a test. Like so many others, it's going to be him against an opponent he has no business trying to defeat, with the life of a precious person hanging in the balance. If he's lucky, he's going to have an audience; people to stand there with the knowledge that all they can do is cheer him on as he goes up against the odds one more time with everything to lose and even more to gain.

The precious person will be a fellow Jinchuuriki. Maybe he'll know him or her, maybe he won't. Maybe they'll be friends, or acquaintances, or even enemies forced into a battlefield truce. Regardless, it will fall to Naruto to do the fighting, because his fellow--his family--is unable to do so.

So he's going to stand tall. He's going to wipe the blood from around his mouth, and grin that bastard fox grin that used to privately drive Sasuke insane. Then he's going to draw out every trick, every technique and every weapon he's got, turn the world yellow then red, fill the area with his likeness and leave a trail of blood--only some of it belonging to his enemy--wherever he goes.

Somewhere along the line though, Naruto is going to notice something.

He doesn't know who his enemy is. He can't tell if it's Itachi, Kisame, Zetsu, Deidara or someone else.

He's no longer going to be able to tell the difference. All he's going to see is that god forsaken red-and-black coat. All he's going to know is that he has to win at any cost to himself. All he's going to want is to tear out his foe's still beating heart, hold it up for them to see and then squeeze it until it bursts like a puss filled tomato between his fingers.

It's at this moment that he realizes--truly realizes--some of the maddening rage that must have been driving Sasuke as he walked out on the Leaf.

In this moment, Naruto also comes to another epiphany: He's not Sasuke.

He never has been and he never will be.

In that instant, Naruto stops seeing the coat and starts seeing the face of his enemy. Not long after that, there's more blood on the ground, and the Akatsuki's number falls to eight.
Recently, Shizune and Anko found themselves locked in a broom closet for the better part of twelve and a half hours. Since both were without chakra, this left them unable to do anything but sit there and talk.

As a result, when the two finally came back out, they were actually friends.

This incident had two direct, but obscure, causes. One is that Sarutobi Asuma, who routinely associates with Yuuhi Kurenai, who knows both kunoichi to varying degrees, is a very observant man. The other is that Hyuuga Neji happens to owe him a few favors due to a certain incident involving the Hyuuga prodigy making a drunken admission about the Byakugan and the women's locker room.

Because of this, Neji struck both women with 64 Hands, cutting off their tenketsu. Asuma then nonchalantly chucked them into a closet and Ibiki, ever intent on studying the workings of the human psyche, braced the door by sitting against it as the three of them played cards. Somewhere along the way, Shizune and Anko started fighting back in the only way they really could: They faked moaning and talked dirty.

Because of this, Ibiki got a front row seat to Asuma actually gawking enough for his cigarette to fall out and almost set his crotch on fire, while Neji just sat there and twitched, visibly fighting the activation of the Byakugan.

It was the first time in fifteen years that anyone had ever actually heard Morino Ibiki laughing. The experience was so traumatic that Neji and Asuma still refuse to speak about it.
The mission shared by Naruto, Ino and Kiba is one that most people can't quite get their heads around. The three of them were tasked with collapsing an entire government in on itself over the course of one week, and while Tsunade has never told anyone why, they were to do this completely without back-up.

Ino became the frontrunner for the group. Kiba was their advisor, Naruto was their one-man infantry platoon. They successfully infiltrated the nation through a backwoods route discovered by Kiba and Akamaru; Ino diffused several near-disasters with locals and Naruto killed three enemy Chuunin without dirtying the clothes or damaging their appearances. The trio then transformed into these Chuunin, with Akamaru somehow becoming a Zabuza-styled sword for one of them, and continued the rest of the way unmolested right into the capitol.

Normally, ninja are supposed to favor stealth. In this case, all three of them decided to cause as much havoc as (in)humanly possible.

Naruto became a nine-hundred man mob and started a riot in the street. For every clone the police killed, he simply made another and killed two officers in kind. When the local military tried to join in, Kiba and Akamaru neutralized them with smoke bombs and a rather horrific set of Tsuuga strikes. They simply repeated as necessary when it came to local shinobi who were trying to keep things under control.

Ino, along with a contingent of five Naruto's, was the one who successfully toppled the government. With her bodyguard of hollow men, she bodyswapped with one guard after another, until she finally became the very man they were guarding. Then, in full view of a hundred high-ranking officials, she had him scream, "THE END HAS COME!" and commit seppukku. Even as the knife tore his stomach open, one of the Naruto's hidden in the crowd, covered himself with blast notes from all five of them and went up in a fireball visible from half a mile away.

By the time the three finally left the city, Naruto was being carried by his own Kage Bunshin, Ino had a massive headache and Akamaru was piggybacking on a rather exhausted Kiba. The pack spent the next few days camping out under the stars on their way home, but when they finally arrived, they were treating each other as if they had been brothers and a sister all their lives.

Quite frankly, this scared the shit out of a lot of people for a lot of reasons. In spite of their success, the trio hasn't been put together since.
In another life, Uchiha Sasuke's dreams are shattered, but his name still makes it onto the Cenotaph.

In that life, his desires for revenge are taken away. It isn't Naruto who does it, nor is it a magnificent fellow genius like Neji. No, in that life it is lowly Rock Lee, who drives himself straight into Death's vengeful embrace with the Eighth Gate. In their battle, right before Sasuke's very eyes, Lee does all the things that he himself wanted to do to Itachi; he shatters Tsukiyomi on willpower alone. He outflanks Amaterasu and he breaks Susano without even trying. He puts fear into Itachi's Sharingan, and then he breaks it forever by driving him head-first into the ground with enough force that Sasuke--and Neji beside him--are both thrown twenty feet through the air.

In that life, Sasuke snaps. His vow of revenge can't even be carried over to the one who stole it from him, because Itachi's killer dies on the spot in front of him. He no longer cares for reviving his clan because he never thought that far ahead; he never thought about life after Itachi. So he decides, in a way that seems entirely too logical at that moment in time, that it must be Naruto's fault. Because Naruto didn't stop him from leaving the Village and that means it just has to be that yellow-headed idiot's fault.

So he tracks Naruto down, right as the youth arrives in Konoha. They fight. They fight and they fight and they keep fighting, until Naruto is regrowing from holes in his chest, Genjutsu has made Sakura a traitor and Sasuke himself has gone so far past redemption that even he realizes it.

Then, as he's about to put a glowing blue hand through both of his former teammates, Naruto's red eyes turn blue. That freakish orange chakra vanishes, he ducks down in front of Sakura and throws her out the way, leaps forward and takes the Chidori right through his body as if it were his only option. Sasuke sees this in advance with the Sharingan; he knows what's about to happen and even as he's about to kill his once best friend, he can't figure out why Naruto is so willingly throwing his life away.

Then, when the two are so close that their forehead protectors are touching, Naruto smiles at him. It's a bloody kind of smile; like what he must have had when he mocked Hyuuga Neji. Then he speaks, and Sasuke is enlightened.

"Your eyes can't see what I'm about to do when my hands are behind you, huh?"

Sasuke leaps back, but it's too late. Blast notes tear his arms off at the shoulders, he's left screaming and suddenly...

Suddenly, none of it matters anymore.

His world goes blank. When he opens his eyes, Naruto is standing there with his back to him, somehow magnificent even when his clothes are completely reddened with his own blood. Sakura is crouching over him, her eyes somewhere between hate and love and pure logic that's compelling both to the point that all she can let herself do is cry while cutting off the bleeding from his arms.

They're being attacked. Sound-nins; what's left of Orochimaru's vanguard.

So Sasuke gets up. He gets up with tears in his eyes, without help, and speaks.

"Someone give me a kunai."

Naruto looks back at him. It's an expression that Sasuke thinks he's seen on the blond's face before, but there aren't any words spoken by him. The idiot tosses a kunai, and Sasuke catches it in his teeth.

A few seconds later, he's running towards redemption like there's a horde of angry demons at his heels. By the time he finishes his work, he's standing alone on the old bridge. His body is a tapestry of shinobi weaponry; swords, spears, kunai, shuriken, needles and everything in between. He's bled so much that the wounds have stopped running, and even though it's still raining furiously, he can feel a glimmer of sun and warmth from the blade still gripped in his teeth.

He finally drops it as he stumbles onto the center of the bridge. Then he looks up and smiles before gravity and mortality lay claim to him.

A day later, Naruto personally carves the last Uchiha's name into the Cenotaph. He does so without his forehead protector, because Sasuke needed a new one for his funeral and Naruto needed a replacement anyway.

Author's Note: And here I don't even like Sasuke o.o;

That said: Atarumaru's full name is a play on Saddam Hussein: It can be construed to mean one who confronts(Saddam) and beauty or goodness(Hussein). Use your own imagination with that knowledge, if you want to know what it is that made Kakashi do what he did.

The Gaara-likes-boobs thing is an homage of sorts to an old joke on the NarutoFan forums. Someone had an avatar of him 'groping' the air and going "Booby? BOOBY?", or something to that effect.

And yes, if you haven't figured it out: I have a lot of fun picking on the geniuses and making human beings out of them.

I might continue this, but don't bank on it. I'd like this to be the end, unless the Naruto cast itself stabs me in my dreams or something. Kudos, folks. Been a blast.

The Sh33p