A/N: Ohayo minasama! You should all know that I've found myself a bit surprised, not just because of the amount of reviews I've received, but their overall quality. Many are extremely insightful, others are just plain fun to read, and others still have some great suggestions and ideas. Because of the amount of feedback I've gotten, well, it's hard not to get inspired, so you see before you the consequences of your reviewing actions!
Sadly, however, inspiration is not the only part of the equation and distractions have popped up at every corner from a number of different sources. Even if I sometimes found enough time to write a bit, exhaustion, both mental and physical, found a way to keep me from concentrating on anything more then sleep, rest and, well, work. Shudder with me here, it's been that bad. It's been so long since my last update and I dearly wanted this chapter to be finished and published so much sooner, so I will apologize slightly for being unable to do as I wished and nothing more. After all, we can't apologize for those things that we can't control, ne?
Anyways, before we get started, I have a few things that need to be addressed, so I'll start with the most important ones:
(1) I made a huge mistake (at least for someone as nitpicky as me) regarding young Naruto's age within the timeline of this fic. I've mentioned time and again that he is six years old, when he is, in fact, three months short of his sixth birthday. This means that he is still five at this point in the story. It doesn't change his character at all, really, but I did revise all past chapters and fixed these little tidbits along with a few things that I've found here and there. Nothing major, thankfully, so it needn't be mentioned here.
(2) As of this chapter, the last two polls are officially closed, seeing that I have more than enough feedback. As it stands, a new, if slightly different, question has been posted at the end of this chapter and I hope that you will all help me as much as you've already done by leaving your thoughts behind in a review.
(3) And last, well, if there is someone out there that is willing to Beta-read the chapters that are already published, well, I'd be extremely thankful, so send me a message or send me an e-mail if you are so inclined, ne?
Other then that, I can't say that I have anymore to speak of, so I wish you all a good day, a happy new year and a cheerful read! Enjoy!
"The house will be too quiet now," the Sandaime murmured as he watched the boys walk away from Konoha's Gate, three of them only reaching the fourth's hip in height at most. The sight of them suddenly reminded him of all those years of war when children, not much older that those he was watching now, had been full fledged shinobi; leaving with their Jonin-sensei towards their first outside assignment.
How much had time changed things? Would they have the luxury of peace for much longer? Would the need for children to fight become once more a necessity?
The simple picture of them, walking happily away from the safety of Konoha, uncovered memories and sorrows buried long ago under the cold actions of leadership. And now, as he saw that same sight, even if with different circumstances, he couldn't help but remember.
They were painful memories to remember, at that.
Children, after all, should be held precious above anything else. Something that war had not allowed.
"I don't know, Sarutobi-sensei," Tsunade said doubtfully, thankfully interrupting his morbid musings, her arms crossed as she stood looking at those departing backs, where Naruto could be clearly seen running around the others and probably asking a million questions, "I think I might enjoy a peaceful house."
Her tone belied her words, however.
And as he dug around for his pipe, refilling it and lighting it, dispelling the sudden deluge of memories that had threatened him earlier with a simple puff, the retired Hokage knew that his former student would miss those boys much more than she let on. Truly, they had grown accustomed to them; both to Naruto's endless questions and Gaara's tentative glances. They had looked forward to seeing Nawaki's pride filled face, relaxed and smiling softly as he taught and helped them with their basics; reading, writing and numbers.
He would never forget Naruto's ink stained, glowing face and lopsided, embarrassed, but still pleased, grin when he received Nawaki's approval.
It was amazing really, the sheer amount of patience that the Time Traveler possessed, the willingness and utter enjoyment that he showed when teaching these simple things to those boys. Not to mention the sheet willingness that he displayed while explaining things, with a tolerance that bordered on fierce determination. It was a far cry from the stoic, coldly polite attitude that Sarutobi had experienced during their first few meetings.
But then, it is said that the first steps and actions taken by an operative in such complicated situations could determine the success or failure of a mission. He understood that, and he saw that cold precision in the future Hokage until the final, essential pieces of the puzzle, the last stones of the foundation, were finally in place.
After Hyuuga Neji's involvement had been secured, it was as if he were an entirely different person. It was the sign of things going as or even better than planned, of a mission on the brink of fulfillment. Truly, he didn't even want to think of what would have happened to Hiashi had he refused Nawaki's proposal. Seal masters, as he was, were a dangerous lot.
Whatever the case, though, he knew that this was the best course of action to take.
"I know you will miss them, Tsunade," he spoke up as the departing quartet finally stepped out of sight, "But this is truly for the best."
"The heart doesn't always follow the mind, Sarutobi-sensei, you know that," she sighed, eyes still focused on the road, as if she could still see them. "I know that training them outside of Konoha, where they can grow without impediment, restriction or observation is the best possible option, but a part of me wants to keep them close and help them personally as well."
"If I may, Hokage-sama?" Hiashi spoke up, his eyes impassive and his hands folded into the generous sleeves of his robe, his sights still set on the road. Out of the three of them, he could still probably see them.
Tsunade simply nodded, even as he himself gave a more verbal answer, "Please, Hiashi, speak your mind. You are both a trusted friend and advisor, and indeed, you are always free to express your opinions."
"Thank you, Sandaime-sama," the Hyuuga patriarch acknowledged with a small nod while he turned to face them slightly, as if he didn't want to take his eyes completely off the road, as if the mere sight of it would answer some inconceivable question. "While I understand your sentiments, Tsunade-sama, you must know the perils of training them within out village walls. Information is a shinobi's most powerful tool when used wisely; if the wrong people were to discover their training, and even more dangerous, their trainer, it could bring unmitigated disaster, both from within and without."
"I understand that, Hiashi," she answered, closing her honey colored eyes briefly, "but I wish that such precautions wouldn't be needed. They are all citizens of Konoha; they should be able to live and grow within their village, to love and cherish it like every one of us has, like every one born in Konoha should."
"Then maybe, Hokage-sama," Hiashi said, his voice strangely alive, his white eyes looking suddenly sharper as he continued to gaze outward, "Maybe you should make it so that they will be able to do just that. True, it might be dangerous for them at the moment, but what is to stop you from making it safe for them in the future?"
Chuckling, Sarutobi puffed on his pipe, realizing that even Hiashi had been affected by recent events, perhaps more so than he, himself, had predicted, "Well said, Hyuuga Hiashi, very well said."
Shaking her head ruefully, Tsunade simply uncrossed her arms and turned slightly toward the sight of Konoha and the Mountain Monument, taking a moment to observe it and the village carefully before turning back, her eyes once more on the winding road. "I think you are right," she said firmly, resolve settling into her quite suddenly; purpose suddenly restored to her. The look on her eyes seemed sharper then ever before, "We will just have to change Konoha so that they might find a warm welcome when they return."
Plans had already been made to do just that, Sarutobi knew, but finding the inner strength to thread on such a dangerous path was something that had to come from within each individual. Even with all of the warnings, suggestions and information that Nawaki had provided them; even with the general, flexible course of action suggested by the future Tsunade, the Godaime Kazekage and a host of others that Nawaki had mentioned, it was still true that nothing was truly certain, even with the knowledge that they possessed.
Konoha was filled with danger at the moment, and the eyes of every Village were focused on them and on their actions, in one way or another, like vultures waiting for scraps that they could pick up; and they had been doing so for quite some time now. Only their strength, which was still significantly more that any other Hidden Village, weakened or not, held them at bay.
Still, those weaknesses did exist, and a misstep on their part could cause others to act on them; take advantage of them. And yet, at the same time, they couldn't suddenly fix everything or prepare for attack. That would give them away, and it would cause their enemies to worry. For now, their actions needed to be measured; their plans, delicately executed.
The sheer amount of possibilities were staggering, to say the least. They were strong, true, but they needed to tread very, very carefully. A wounded predator, however strong, could still be overwhelmed by lesser creatures.
They couldn't just flush every spy out, either, so their actions as they fixed those weaknesses needed to be subtle indeed. Nawaki had told them that it was possible that there were more spies than currently identified, and should they move too rashly, well, war was the least of the problems that could arise.
A Civil War was not any more appealing, either.
True, with the use of Orochimaru's death, the possibility arose for some of those spies to be captured, while giving them the excuse to become more cautious, but from now on they were faced with an intricate dance of survival, manipulation and deceit. They needed to prepare for the worse and trap those that would work against them. They needed to gain strength while showing weakness. Information needed to be regulated, misinformation spread. Allies and enemies had to be discerned, all while they searched and prodded and uncovered those who would betray them from within.
It was time that Konohagakure no Sato began to amass and refine its strength once again. He remembered a particular, long forgotten saying that certainly applied in their given situation; those who wish for peace must prepare for war. And that certainly held true within the shinobi nations and even truer for them at that moment. Even when those preparations were made slyly, and their strength was amassed covertly.
And as his eyes focused once more, he watched the direction in which his student and current Hokage was looking in; toward that road where the future of his village had walked in and out of sight. For that was what they were, what they would be trained to be; the future hope of a great nation.
"Change?" he finally questioned into the silence. "Yes, change is needed, but will we be able to bring it about?"
The answer he received, however, was unexpected.
"I think we can. Nawaki has proven it to us time and again. From his words, to his actions, he has set a path for us and for this village to follow; a path of growth and prosperity for all of Konoha. A path of change. And at the same time, he trusted us with it; to keep it and to follow it, and adjust or alter it when needed. He sacrificed much to save his home, and has placed his trust in us to keep it safe, to make it strong. The least we can do is to see that we walk that path as faithfully as we can."
These words, more then anything else, finished easing the Sandaime's mind and heart where his new successor was concerned. Not that there had been many concerns there, but he knew that his student had fears and issues left to deal with; issues that seemed that have been resolved. It seemed that Tsunade was more than ready for what was to come. The question was, was he ready?
Whatever the case, whatever the answer, it was time that they start to prepare, for a great sacrifice was paid to give them both the time and the means to give their home a prosperous future. At that moment, he gripped his resolve and nodded, knowing that the future would be full of peril.
"Indeed," he said, looking briefly at the image of the Fourth in the Hokage Monument, "I think it is time that Konoha stopped looking over their shoulders at the past and started facing forward, toward the future." But then, to do so action needed to be taken and if things moved as they predicted, he would need to make his move sooner rather than later. With this in mind, he simply nodded at his two companions in farewell, suddenly feeling more alive than he had felt in quite awhile, "Tsunade, Hiashi, I will see you both at a later date, it seems that I have my own share of things to do at the moment. After all, it is time that I take my place as an Honored Elder on this Village's Council," he stated as he refilled his pipe from one of his pockets and lighted it, chuckling slightly, "and to do so I have to begin my dealings with them rather quickly. For change to start, preparations must be made, after all."
At this, Tsunade's smile turned into a smirk, "Good luck, then. We can meet up later, Sarutobi-sensei," she said and the Sandaime gave a nod of acknowledgement and farewell to them before turning and making his way into the Village.
There was a skip in the old man's step.
Hyuuga Hiashi, for his part, looked slightly intrigued when Tsunade signaled for him to follow her as she started walking into the village as well, her hand straying as if to clutch at a necklace as she gave one final look toward the road before heading in the opposite direction as the Sandaime and the Administration Tower. "Tell me, Hiashi, did Nawaki tell you anything lately that sticks out in your mind?" she suddenly asked, even as she signaled for the two nins that had taken the duty of guarding the Gates to meet her in her office later in the day; Kakashi and Tenzo would need some explanations now that they've seen Nawaki leaving with the Kyuubi's Vessel.
It had been slightly difficult to clear the area of patrols from the Military Police Department, ANBU and normal guards without arousing suspicions, even if this was one of the smallest Gates. But it was not impossible. Still, she was sure that those two would need a better understanding of the situation before their curiosity got the better of them. She had been informed that Kakashi was extremely gifted when it came to stealth and gathering information, after all. Having him on the prowl and sniffing around was not a good prospect if secrecy was to be maintained.
After all, most of their decisions and movements were on record, if very well concealed. The fact that Naruto and Neji were being trained by a high-level Konoha shinobi was there, along with the papers that gave Gaara citizenship within the Leaf. The ninja academy records were filled and in place as well. No one searching would find anything of importance unless they linked the three boys together, and Kakashi and Tenzo had seen enough to do just that.
However, when the Hyuuga patriarch made a motion to start answering, her attention shifted to him, knowing that this conversation was important in and of itself, even as she led them toward their destination.
"He told me yesterday," he spoke without much preamble, probably knowing what she was talking about, after all, Nawaki had only talked with the Hyuuga briefly, "that even though I have lost my brother that I still had a nephew and a family. He told me that few things should be as important as them. That only when I realized this would the Hyuuga start to mend, and would their fate begin to change."
"Then perhaps it is time that you start looking at your Clan as your family and not your duty or your responsibility, Hiashi," Tsunade replied. "He told me that he has spoken with you, but not the content of your discussion. However, he did tell me of one small fact that you did not raise when speaking to him, something that I promised him to look into." She paused in her steps, the Hyuuga compound now plainly visible down the road, "Tell me Hiashi, how is your wife?" she asked.
The white-eyed man was slightly taken aback from the question, but answered nonetheless, knowing that this had to lead somewhere, "She fell ill last year after Hanabi's, my youngest daughter's, birth," he paused, trying to think of a reason for the sudden change of topic, but finding none, "but her condition stabilized after a couple of months. She has been in perfect health since, even if she still tires more easily than before."
Tsunade just nodded, already knowing as much, and started walking toward the Hyuuga Compound again, "In that case, you would not be opposed if I were to give her a full examination, then?" she asked, "a mutual friend of ours has recommended as much." She was not going to say his name when the streets of Konoha were starting to become alive; as things stood, wondering ears could catch whatever slip she made.
It was then that Hiashi caught on. His face showed neither his surprise nor his sudden worry, for he knew that the Time Traveler did not give idle tips. "No, in fact, I would be grateful if you would do so, Godaime Hokage-sama." It was then that Hyuuga Hiashi's focus changed as one question crossed his mind. Have I neglected the family that I have left in my distraction over the brother that I lost?
Had the past blinded him to the present?
It seemed that the change that the Third and the Fifth were speaking of, the change that he suggested was needed, would not pass him by unmarked either.
This time, however, when change came upon him, his spirit and heart would not close up due to loss, but grow stronger because of new hope. It was on this day that the change of the Hyuuga Clan started, even if it was not noticeable, for their wounds were too deep and too old to heal by the efforts of only one man.
But then, it would only take the intervention of a few more, for those few would have enough will to change the very fabric of fate and the very paths of destiny. For those few, change was a matter of life.
- o -
It didn't take long for Nawaki to set a moderate pace, keeping in mind both his charges' small legs and their abundant energy. They would keep at a leisurely walk until lunch and then set into the forests and out of the roads toward their final destination. Still, at the moment he was just enjoying seeing the two Jinchuuriki's run here and there, exclaiming on this 'cool looking' insect here, or that 'slippery frog' over there (the one they couldn't seem to catch), and any number of other things. They would run around looking at the different kinds of trees and flowers, getting lost amidst the edges of the forest more than once, only to stumble sheepishly onto the road a moment later, making the small woodland animals scurry around the branches while they took in the view of the mountains and other sights that they had never seen before with wide, awe filled gazes.
After all, this was the first time that any of them have set foot outside of their respective villages and since Gaara didn't have enough time to explore the whole of Konoha, his curiosity more than easily peaked. Naruto was no less excited, of course, and he knew that the young Hyuuga was equally impacted by their trip.
Miraculously, they still kept up with him and Neji (who never left his side), even if they were constantly running ahead and squatting to poke or prod at some unfortunate thing. Naruto would drag Gaara over to 'scout out' the terrain as he put it, his face scrunched up in the most serious expression his young face could muster, and Nawaki could see how the redhead was opening up as he started pointing toward a few things himself, close to an hour into their journey.
It was amazing really, how easily they adapted to their new circumstances. But then, anything was better then what they had been living and experiencing before. Even if it was the four of them now, just the fact that they wouldn't be surrounded by hatred and fear, that they wouldn't be as lonely anymore, was enough for them. The old man and Tsunade had told him that Naruto had accepted the idea of going away from the village to train as a ninja with a surprising amount of understanding, and as the days passed and he learned more and more about the situation, he grew progressively animated about the whole affair.
He could guess at his motivation, but he had already decided to stop measuring Naruto's reasons and reactions with his own. The fact that the boy already knew of the demon that he contained would have changed enough of his perspective that Nawaki wouldn't be able to compare the boy against his own childhood whatever the case.
Gaara, on the other hand, upon hearing what had happened to him had quickly shed any of the remaining ties and bonds that he had with Suna for those that they had offered him in Konoha by showing him kindness, understanding and giving him even the slightest of acknowledgements. Already, the small redhead's life had been filled with darkness, so when this new door opened, one filled with light and warmth, he jumped through without hesitating or looking back.
He could literally imagine the small redhead slamming the door on his old life.
He wondered briefly if those ties had been truly cut, though, and the effect they would have on the future, but knew that more important things took precedence, and let the thought slide to the back of his mind.
He knew, that had someone as evil as Orochimaru done the same as he had, the boy could and would have been molded into a weapon and a tool, as Haku had in his time, and allowed him to do it happily. Gaara would have followed without hesitation; such was the darkness in which he had lived since his birth, that any change would have been more then welcome; it would have been embraced, even if he were exchanging darkness with shifting shadows. However, he had no such plans above giving the boy the support, knowledge and guidance that he needed until he found his own path; until he found his own dreams.
And as he looked over at the two demon vessels, squatted over some beetle or small turtle, poking at it and watching it, their heads bent together and talking in hushed, but otherwise very audible voices, about what the heck it was and why it was walking so slowly, he could imagine that whatever dream he found, it would be a good one.
These thoughts, however, eventually came upon the third member of the team. Hyuuga Neji was altogether too silent, too distant. He did not know what Hiashi had told the boy, but he was itching to speak with him. If altering Gaara's seal hadn't taken so much energy and concentration, he would have sent one of his Clones to speak with the boy, but it was not to be, what with preparations for their departure and meetings with both the old man Hokage and old lady Tsunade taking up most of his time.
Now, though, as he walked silently beside the white eyed boy, he couldn't help but think that he should have tried a little harder. Naruto and Gaara had a few days to adapt to the idea and get used to him as both a teacher and a role model, maybe an older brother; they had learned to trust him. Both of them had gotten to know him and talk with him about what they would learn and do, amongst other things. And then, when he was not around, Naruto had spent enough time with him to fill Gaara in on whatever the other boy had not asked himself.
Neji, on the other hand, probably only spoke briefly with his uncle, and if he knew the clan leader as well as he thought he did, he could guess that the explanation that Neji was given was probably just the bare facts.
He knew that Hiashi had spent his days mostly speaking with the Sandaime, and he doubted that Neji would have cared or dared to ask his uncle any questions when the Clan Head was in the Hyuuga compound. The boy, then, was uninformed and emotionally unprepared for such a drastic change. Only a week ago, he was a part of the academy, and even if he doubted that the kid had many friends, the sudden change of his routine and his environment and everything that he was used to was probably a bit overwhelming.
The fact that the other two boys seemed so familiar with him and each other probably made Neji feel like an outsider, among other things.
And as he looked over at the chattering jinchuuriki's (even if the chatter was mostly one-sided), he could understand why the white eyed boy was so distant. It was probably his way of coping with all of the changes; he was watching from the outside, trying to find his place in the group's dynamics. When presented with the decision of coming with them or not, the thing that probably convinced him was doubtless the opportunity to become stronger and learn things that would not be offered in the academy; perhaps the incentive of learning from a high-class shinobi instead of a Chuunin. Maybe just the chance to be away from his Clan had been enough. Whatever the reasons, he would need to intervene before the boy made a decision on his place in the group and came to the wrong conclusions.
He needed to make sure the Neji did not feel left out.
So he waited, waited for the right time when Naruto and Gaara were properly distracted, and then struck. With a small tap on Neji's shoulder to gain his attention, and a quick signal for silence, he concentrated briefly and one of his Tailed Clones stepped out of his shimmering body, already without a tail. Without so much as a single sound, he placed a hand on the white eyed boy's shoulder, ignoring the stunned expression and transported the both of them to a place behind a bush, where he quickly and quietly motioned for Neji to do the same, which the boy immediately complied with, looking both intrigued and slightly awed.
The whole thing, after all, had taken only a fraction of a moment.
They watched as his Tailed Clone did a quick hand-seal and a Shadow Clone immediately appeared beside him. It was all done silently and neither of the Jinchuuriki had noticed anything yet, so when the Shadow Clone used the Transformation Technique and turned into an impeccable copy of Neji, it all happened without either of the vessels knowing, but still slow enough for the young Hyuuga to catch. When the two clones continued their walk as if nothing had happened, to the point of Neji's distant disposition, the boy looked as if he wanted to ask a dozen questions at once, but restrained himself with all the dignity that a seven year old could muster.
Nawaki was impressed, Hyuuga or not.
They remained silent until the clones were out of sight, and Nawaki then motioned for Neji to follow him into the woods, were he searched for a good spot to sit down and talk and at the same time allow the boy to rest. Both Gaara and Naruto possessed a great amount of stamina, but Neji did not, and he knew for certain that the boy was tired from the long walk but he didn't want to look weak, preferring to keep silent.
Even if the boy had been training since he was three years old, Naruto and Gaara, untrained as they were, still had more stamina and chakra than most Genin, and in Naruto's case, probably more than some Chuunin.
They walked quietly for about a mile until they came upon a slight river. He took a seat along a fallen tree trunk and motioned for the white eyed boy to do the same. Taking a canteen of water from his backpack, he passed it on to the still silent boy. And it was that that concerned him the most; the boy didn't even ask where they were going, he just stayed silent; watching. So he decided to ask a question that he had been extremely curious about.
"What did Hyuuga-sama tell you about all of this, Neji-kun?" was the question he asked, making a general gesture with his right arm while his left rummaged in his pack for something to snack on.
The boy just took a final gulp of water and wiped his mouth with a sleeve, showing that he was not as stiff as other Hyuuga's, thank goodness. It seemed that hope still lived on, at least, and that Nawaki would be able to corrupt him eventually. When the young buy finished, though, he passed the canteen back again with a quiet 'thank you' and seemed to ponder the question he had been asked, if the slight twist of his pursed lips was anything to go by.
The boy looked unsure for a few moments before answering, his voice too stoic for someone so young. "Hiashi-sama told me that I had been personally selected to take part in an apprenticeship under a high-ranking shinobi of Konoha. That it was extremely unusual, and that it was a great opportunity," the boy hesitated slightly, as if trying to find the right words, when already the words he spoke sounded more rehearsed or memorized then anything else, "I was given the choice of training under you, sir, or continuing the academy."
He had to give a sigh at that. It was even less then what he though the Hyuuga patriarch would tell him, and even though he understood why the man was so distant towards his brother's son, it was still not a good enough excuse for practically throwing young Neji into this situation without preparing him beforehand and then tell Nawaki that everything was taken care of and that he needn't speak with the boy as he had already been properly informed.
Well, properly informed his tails, damn it! No wonder the kid was so reserved, he didn't understand enough about the situation to know how to react to it! Hell, the boy didn't even know why Naruto and Gaara were there as well.
He had to sigh at that, before taking a deep breath. It would not due to scare the kid off.
"First of all," he started after the boy took something to eat, "don't call me 'sir' or anything of the sort, it makes me feel old. 'Sir' is the Hokage, Hyuuga-sama, or someone equally old or stiff," he said, and was almost relieved to hear a slight, muffled snort of amusement that was quickly disguised with indifference. It seemed that there was more to hope for then previously thought. "My name is Nawaki, as I'm sure that your uncle informed you, so you can call me that. But when in lessons or training, I want you to call me sensei, understand?" He gave a smile at the boy's nod, and rolled his mask off, leaving it around his jaw line so that it still covered the slight whisker-like scars that remained there. He drank from the canteen and offered the boy some more of the snacks that he had unpacked earlier.
While the kid was trying to figure out what to try out first, he quickly assessed him. He noted, first and foremost, the bandages that kept the boy's hair back and hid the caged bird seal of the Hyuuga Branch House. He was of average height and his white eyes stood out all the more because of his young age. The boy was wearing shorts and a jacket, both of much simpler design than the outfit that his future version had worn in his Genin years. It also seemed that the uncertainty of the situation made him slightly hesitant.
He would never dare to call Neji shy. Even at such a young age the boy had an air of quiet confidence about him that was outstanding. It was almost at the same level as Naruto, but with a calm assurance and poise that the younger of the two didn't have. It probably came from learning how to fight since he was three years of age. If the boy would have been able to activate his Byakugan already, he knew that that confidence would have turned to arrogance and that assurance into superiority.
At least now, his influence, as well as Naruto's and Gaara's would help temper that down. The fact that the kid wouldn't be able to show up anyone of the Hyuuga Clan or compare himself to them while he learned would also serve its purpose. He hoped that the year that he had with the boy would be enough to avoid such a change in his character. After all, all Hyuuga are taught how to activate their bloodline at the age of eight, and Hiashi had told him not to bring the boy until then. Hopefully, it will be enough time to make a difference.
Turning towards the young Hyuuga, he picked up something to munch on himself, "We have about two hours before we need to move and catch up with the others, so how about we get to know each other and I tell you everything your uncle seemed to have forgotten, ne?"
It was not the measured nod but the hopeful eyes that told him that the boy really wanted to be there. But if anything was to be achieved, then they would have to come to an understanding, and for that to happen he needed to tell Neji everything that he could tell. Knowing about what he would be learning, how he would be learning and with who, along with where they were going and how they were going to get there served as a good start.
He told the boy about him and how he knew the basics of the Gentle Fist, so he would be able to supervise his use of it. He told him some of the things he had told Naruto and Gaara about how he would teach them to take care of themselves as well as how to be Ninja's. About the lessons in history, math and biology that he would give them, among other things, that even if taught in the same general way that the Academy, he would make sure to highlight certain things that each of the kids should know for their personal use.
Finally, he told Neji about the two Jinchuuriki's and made sure that he understood that they were the containers and jailors of the demons and not the demons themselves, as well as why they were mistaken as such. When he spoke of the seals that the two other boys carried, it was enough to make him open up and speak about his own cursed seal as well.
In short, he made the boy feel welcomed and accepted. He made sure that Neji knew enough about them to relate, but not enough that he wouldn't have enough questions to ask the two Jinchuuriki's. After all, curiosity with a hint of empathy was as good an excuse to make friends and more than enough to tie them together as comrades.
By the end of their whole talk, Neji was looking much more active and attentive, and not at all distant. The boy had found some sort of kindred spirit in the other two boys, and after knowing that the others had lived such harsh lives, even harsher then his own, it made him think of his own past and his own reactions to it. As they stood up and dusted themselves off, Neji knew that even though he had the advantage of years of training over the others, that they would be able to catch up to him with enough work, and surpass him when they gained enough control over their own chakra. But this did not bother him as much as it posed a challenge to him, because by helping the two demon vessels become stronger, he would get stronger in return.
So when they reached the small campsite where both Naruto and Gaara were talking with his clone, already knowing that their sensei had taken Neji to speak with him about an hour ago, they quickly welcomed the white eyed boy back, and bombarded him with questions about him and his family, about what he liked and such. They calmed slightly as they ate, but the chatter became a constant as the three boys got truly acquainted; to the point where Neji, for the first time since he was three years old, and without shame, took off the bandages around his cursed seal to show it to his new friends.
This, of course, had the effect of Gaara and Naruto coming over to him so that he could make their own seals show. After all, I show you mine, you show me yours, right? It was a fairly general rule where kids where concerned. Training scars and battle wounds would follow, he was sure, not to mention the exaggerated stories of how they got them as well. But that would come later as well.
As it stood, Nawaki got to do quite a bit of tummy-poking and tickle attacks in while doing so, so they all had a bit of fun.
Lunch was a lively affair, and he could slowly see ties of friendship build between them. He marveled at how young kids could make such bonds so quickly. Of course, these ties were tentative, new and untested; they were made because of similar circumstances and comparable experiences, but they were ties nonetheless. It would be his job, and the job of each individual child to make those fragile ties grow into unbreakable bonds of comradely, teamwork and friendship, and if he had anything to say about it, brotherhood.
Therefore, it was with high spirits that they covered their tracks and cleaned up their small campsite some time later; Nawaki giving them the basics as he explained the importance of one thing or another. And when everyone was ready to set out again, the Time Traveler made three more clones, two of them taking one of the boys onto its back, while the other took charge of their backpacks, and Nawaki himself taking Neji with him. Without a second glance and a short shout of 'hold on tight,' his clones and him leaped into the treetops and jumped from branch to branch amidst much cheering and yahoo-ing, heading toward the valley where their new home and training grounds were located, at the south of Fire Country.
After all, it was surrounded by forests and mountains, and there were no roads even in the vicinity of to the area for close to three hundred square miles around.
The sounds of whoops and exclamations of excitement, questions and idle chatter drifted through the air as they went at a fast pace, but not fast enough that the boys couldn't look at their surroundings. The fact that he and his clones would sometimes do flips and jumps that defied gravity, going as far as rebounding from, or walking on, the underside of tree trunks and tree branches, made the trip that much more fun.
He wasn't even sure if they noticed the fact that they were glued to his back with chakra, but then, they were enjoying themselves too much to notice such thing.
Still, it wasn't until he heard Neji join in and give his own war cry as he did an especially difficult twirl while falling to land perfectly on his feet that he truly began to smile, his mask creasing as he did so.
It was a good start.
- o -
They reached the surrounding mountains well before sundown, even after having to diminish his speed and acrobatics in lieu of sensitive stomachs, but he carried on nonetheless, knowing that he had to hurry before the path was made inaccessible due to the looming darkness of night. The valley where they were headed was surrounded by mountains on all sides, after all, and the entrance was especially well hidden in the steep side of a cliff. If the dark of night caught up with them, then they would have to make camp in the dangerous forest that surrounded the area, and taking into consideration that his charges were so young it was a risk that he didn't want to take.
The last thing he needed, after all, was to deal with sleepless boys afraid of their own shadows and plagued by nightmares.
"Where are we going, Nawaki-niichan?" Naruto piped up as the mountains loomed ever nearer. There were no signs of humans in sight, and there really hadn't been any sign of civilization since they went off-road. Personally, he was surprised that the question hadn't come up sooner, but then, the boys had been more curious about all the different animals that they had never seen before.
Smiling, the clone carrying Naruto was the one to respond, its voice easily heard by everyone even while running, "Well, you boys see those mountains over there?" he asked.
"Yeah, yeah, they're huge! Bigger than the one back home!" The little blond exclaimed, letting go of the clone's neck to make the appropriate arm motions, as if the words weren't enough to make the point.
"Yes, they are," Nawaki continued, chuckling as Naruto scrambled to hold onto the clone once again, having flailed a bit at the sudden lost of balance, "You see, boys, while Fire Country doesn't have as many mountains as, lets say, Earth Country, the ones we do have are rather imposing, especially those we are seeing up ahead, which are part of the mountain range that hold the three highest peaks in the Elemental Continent."
"So we are headed toward those mountains, Nawaki-sensei?" Neji asked, curiosity tinting his stoic voice.
"We are," the clone holding Gaara answered. "In between those three peaks, so well hidden that almost no one knows it is there, is a small valley. That is where we will be going."
"And we're going to be training there, Nawaki-oniisama?" Gaara asked in turn, his voice soft as he craned his neck to see the top of the mountains, which disappeared into the clouds and out of sight.
"We will," Nawaki told them.
"Hey, hey, Nawaki-niichan, what's a valley? And how did you know about it? Didn't you say that almost no one knew?" And he was sure that if it weren't for almost falling off earlier, Naruto would be crossing his arms across his chest while he asked this, trying to look important.
"Well, it's true that no one really knows about it. Only the Hokage's is privy to this place's existence. In fact, it was the Shodai Hokage's first choice for the location of Konoha, but the area itself was too small, even with the natural caves and other valleys. And even if it was extremely well hidden and easily defensible it had certain drawbacks that prevented a village like Konoha to be settled there."
"Like what?" Neji asked, frowning slightly.
"Well, I was getting to that, wasn't I?" he said with mock irritation, flicking the young Hyuuga right in the middle of the exposed seal without turning to look at him, though one of his clones noticed how the boy's frown turned into a slight pout. He wanted to crack up laughing right there and then, after all, the Neji he knew wouldn't be caught dead with a pout!
"Anyways," he carried on, winking at Naruto before he did, "The first problem that came up was the size of the valley; it was too small. The Shodai was gathering all of the clans from Fire Country, and he knew that if he succeeded, though they would have fit within the valley and its surroundings, that it wouldn't leave any place for the village to grow. Secondly, the valley was too far to the south of the Land of Fire, too close to the coast, and our borders would have been difficult to protect because of that.
"There were a great many other complications as well, but those are the two main reasons. If you guys want, I can tell you more about that while I teach you geography and history, for now, I want you all to hold on tight, okay? Oh, and Naruto?"
"Hai?" came the sullen answer.
"You want to know what a valley is, right?" he asked, knowing the reason why the blonde's spirits were suddenly down. After all, while the boy was used to people not answering his questions, he had also become used to Nawaki answering everything he asked, though the Time Traveler didn't want the boy to become dependant on him because of this. "Well?" he asked, stopping at the foot of the mountain, perched in a tree.
Gaara and Neji looked on curiously, probably waiting for the answer as well. "Hai," came the answer, surprise written across the Kyuubi Vessel's face.
Ginning, Nawaki simply crouched, holding Neji tighter while his clones did the same, "Well, we'll be reaching it pretty soon, so hold on tight!"
And with that and a chakra enhanced jump, they quickly ascended the first hill, and the next, and the next. Each becoming taller and steeper, until the trees began to become scarce and the terrain began to change and sheer rock greeted them after the long expanse of forests. Caves, alcoves and indentations littered the surroundings, even as boulders and jagged rocks replaced the trees and vegetation. Still, as soon as the crossed that particular ravine, the trees once again began to appear, and before long they were jumping off of trees growing into the steep mountainside.
It wasn't until the mountainside was almost vertical that he saw it; covered almost completely from view, and unrecognizable from any other, had he not been looking for a few specific signs, was the entrance of a cave, subtly folded unto the side of the mountain by the roots of a gnarled old tree.
There were a few ways to enter the valley itself. You could either climb to the top, probably suffocating by the thin air and lack of oxygen, not to mention the cold; you could swim into the lake from one of the underwater springs, that is, is you know your way across the maze of channels and springs that flowed beneath the mountains. Or you could find one of the two known caves that actually came out into the place. One was located on the other side of the valley and came out close to the coast.
The other was this one, hidden by trees on the side of the highest peak of the Elemental Countries.
Should Konoha had been built here, more entrances would have been made and the long winding tunnel that they were walking through would have been changed. As things were, however, few people actually knew that there was a wooded, rather cozy valley nestled between the three great mountains. It was because of this that the place was chosen for the boy's training. Surrounded by mountains and forests, caves and rocky clearings, it was the perfect place for them to learn how to be shinobi and use the powers of the bijuu sealed within them.
And as he stood at the ledge looking out toward the small forest that spread beneath him, the river that flowed into the crystal clear lake, the mountains looming upwards all around, and the small wooden house perched on top of a small hill, well, he couldn't really help but smile, even as he placed each of the boys on their feet, smile growing even wider as they looked towards the waterfall, the caves, the open plains and, well, everything.
After all, while the place wasn't big enough for an entire Hidden Village, it was still big enough for it to be considered in the first place. All in all, it was probably a fifth of Konoha's current size, and that was quite a bit, if he did say so himself.
"This, Naruto, is a valley," he said, grinning, "and that," he pointed towards the cozy looking house, "will be out home for the next few years. So how about we go check it out, ne? I'm sure that you boys are both tired and hungry, and you need to get settled in and get your rest if you're going to start your training tomorrow."
And just like that they were soon entering the small wooden house and set out to explore it.
It was really rather simple in design, with a walkway all around it, individual rooms on the sides and common areas at the front and back, with an open garden in the middle. It was fully furnished and the kitchen and bathroom were working, both thanks to Kakashi's and Tenzo's efforts. Whatever else was left unexplored for the time being; after all, it had been a long day for the kids.
Sending a clone to the boy's room to help them unpack, he himself headed toward the kitchen. At the moment he needed to make sure that his students were settled in, fed and bathed so that they would be ready for tomorrow.
After that, well, it would be a sleepless night, but he still needed to secure the area and seal the entrances, not to mention prepare the training grounds and rooms, and unpack the rest of their supplies.
For now though, he settled for teaching the boys and especially Naruto how to put away their things even as he explained some of the different uses of seals while he was at it. After all, they had quite a lot of questions about them once their futons appeared from one of the storage scrolls with a poof of smoke.
- o -
It had been a long day. Longer than she had realized until now, when everything she had experienced began to burden her all the more. Not because of the responsibilities that she now held, though they were a heavy load to bear, but because she started to realize just how wrong she had been, how running away had been nothing but cowardice, nothing but weakness.
Teachings long since imparted, but then disregarded, had started to surface within her mind once again. And for the first time in her life she understood just what it meant to be Hokage. What it meant to be a protector. It helped her to realize and better accept her brother's and Dan's death, their sacrifice. And this understanding, this realization, made her proud to be the granddaughter of the First and grandniece of the Second. It made her grateful of being the student of the Third.
Most of all, it reminded her of why she had become a medic in the first place.
And as she sat behind her desk, finishing the afternoon's paperwork, she could not help but silently thank the young man who had allowed her to discover these things after so long.
True, she had been told of the duties that accompanied her new title, and she had accepted them without too much conflict. But it wasn't until now that she fully understood that being Hokage was more than just leadership, more than simple military command. A Hokage was more than a powerful shinobi, more than the first and last line of defense within Konoha.
A Hokage was more than a title, more than a name.
And as she had seen the Time Traveler leave, finally coming to grips with the enormous sacrifice that he had made, she began to understand. Even more, when she had started to treat Hiashi's wife later on, something that would be difficult but not impossible, she considered the impact that her actions would bring about, for the fate of the Hyuuga would be irredeemable changed by her actions, and thus would the future of the village be influenced.
But it wasn't until her skills allowed her to save the life of a young Genin (a young boy of no more than twelve years of age), that it finally occurred to her; her hands, while unable to save those that she had loved the most, were still able to heal a great many others, a great many wounds and ills. It was something that she had run away from; a selfish act, she could now see. How many people could have been saved by her presence? How many shinobi would have lived had she stayed? How different would Konoha be if not for her grief-filled actions?
It was a hard reality to face, but it was not a thought that she allowed to plague her.
Still, it helped her realize that a Hokage wasn't simply a general, but many more things as well. In her grandfather's case, a Hokage had been a unifying force, while her granduncle had been a rallying spirit. They had both given their lives for Konoha and ignited the fire that still burned within each and every one of its shinobi. They had planted their way of life and watered it until it was strong and independent.
Her teacher, the Sandaime, had done much the same, even as he commanded and directed their forces for two of the three great shinobi wars. With him, the Hokage became a wise and caring guide, someone who everyone within Konoha depended on to show them the way, like a beacon within the darkness of the world.
And then came the Yondaime, who made the Hokage the embodiment of courage and strength, the personification of sacrifice. Considered the greatest of them all, he became more than a hero, more than a legend, and with him, the Hokage became both admired and feared.
All of these things and more were what made a true Hokage. It was the reason why Orochimaru was never given such an honor; it was why she found it so hard to fill those robes, now that she understood what they represented. For a Hokage was the heart of the village, and while each and every one of her predecessors gave the title new meanings beyond the duties that the name itself entailed, she was sure that she herself would one day be able to wear those robes with pride, knowing that she was more than just a leader, more than just a healer.
For now though, Tsunade was content to walk that path slowly, though she knew that it would not be an easy path to tread.
Finishing her paperwork, she sat back, allowing her thoughts to ebb away slowly. If nothing else, she needed to stay focused for her next meeting. True, Nawaki trusted both Kakashi and Tenzo with the information she was going to impart, but they were not exactly the same shinobi that the young man remembered as his teachers; they were younger, less experienced. Tenzo alone was only fifteen years of age, and though he had a remarkable control of the Wood element, he was still only a boy, still only a Chuunin.
Oh, both of them were part of her ANBU force, of course, and Kakashi was one of the strongest Captains in the Leaf, but they were still not as strong as Nawaki had told her they could be, nor would they reach that kind of strength overnight.
Still, she needed shinobi she could trust to perform certain missions based on the information that the Time Traveler had given them, something that would arouse suspicious should they give them out to regular shinobi. Too many questions would come up and few answers would be available. If they wanted their actions to remain inconspicuous, they would need to bring a few more people into the fold for it to work.
Tenzo and Kakashi had been the answer to that question and even though she didn't particularly like it, there was really no other option. After all, they were both inevitably entangled with their future plans, so why mix any more people than necessary, when they would be dragged into it anyways?
"Tsunade-sama?" Shizune asked before opening the office doors, "They are here."
"Send them in, Shizune," she told her attendant, more than glad that they had come on time; with the paperwork for the day finished, she could spend the rest of the afternoon in more leisurely pursuits.
"Hokage-sama," Kakashi nodded at her, even as Tenzo gave her a bow. They were both in regular shinobi attire instead of their ANBU garb, which she knew bothered them slightly, since they were not exactly used to being so exposed.
"I won't delay this any more than necessary. I know that you both have questions, but I can't afford to give you many answers. In fact, I need you to keep what you have seen today a secret to only be discussed in my presence and a few select individuals, is that understood?"
They both nodded seriously, though Kakashi's eye was narrowed in thought. She knew that though the Copy-nin was almost twenty years of age, he was still a very sharp young man.
"Good. For the moment, I can only tell you that those boys are safer where they are and that the person who was charged with their care is a secret operative that has recently returned from his last long-termed mission. There are no records of him in existence, the Yondaime saw to that, and the information that he has uncovered has had a great deal of impact in the future of Konoha. Should his existence become common knowledge and his identity discovered, disaster would befall us. Silence is paramount, is that understood?"
"Hai, Hokage-sama!" they answered, verbally this time, and Tsunade nodded, relaxing. She knew that they would keep their word, even if she had to reveal as much as she had, which, in the grand scheme of things, wasn't all that much. However, her revelation of new information would tell them that Nawaki was the one to have taken Orochimaru out, or had at least contributed the information that lead to her former teammate's demise.
"Ano, Tsunade-sama?" Kakashi spoke up, interrupting her thoughts, his hands in his pockets as she signaled for him to continue; she was expecting questions, after all, no matter how irritating they were. "Why was Naruto-kun taken outside of Konoha? And who were the boys going with him?"
Sighing in mild annoyance, she stood up from behind her desk and served herself a bit of sake, leaning in front of the desk with the bottle by her side as she surveyed both shinobi. She hadn't expected that question so soon, and that irritated her a bit more. "Tell me Kakashi, how is the boy treated by Konoha?"
Silence greeted this question and she waited a moment before continuing, it was one of those things that few people rarely talked about but everyone knew, "With that in mind, think about how he would be treated in the Shinobi Academy. Got that? Now, tell me what will happen."
"…They won't teach him correctly or they will find some way to impede his education," he answered softly, reluctantly. It was a hard fact to admit and something that few would consider unless it was pointed out to them.
"Exactly. And that is why Naruto was sent away; he will be trained outside of Konoha's influence by one of Konoha's best." Really, the brat was learning from someone that she knew could teach her more than a few things, however young he might be.
"And the other two boys, Hokage-sama?" the Copy-nin inquired, his tone thoughtful as Tenzo shifted beside him. It seemed that the young Chuunin was unsettled by the news as well.
"Hyuuga Neji and Gaara were selected to accompany Naruto in his training. It is an experiment as well, to see if a team can be trained together from a young age," she told them, feeling somewhat better after getting this far; sharing of information was always a delicate affair. And anyways, she was mostly telling the truth; while there was a large probability that the boys would work well together, the fact that she would be able to see if the methods that Nawaki used had worked, along with the possibility that those same methods could then be applied at the Academy was indeed an experiment worth doing.
Silence once again spread and she was slightly surprised that neither of the two had any more questions. Maybe, just maybe, these two would be of greater help than anticipated. "Very well," she said, drowning what was left of her sake and retrieving a two scrolls from her desk, "There are a few more things that need to be addressed. Now that you have this information, you're services are better served in other stations, so as of this moment, you are hereby discharged from the ANBU."
They were stunned, she could see, but really, this was for the best. "B-but why, Tsunade-sama?" Tenzo asked nervously, and with good reason. After all, he had been trained in hiding and induced into the ANBU shortly thereafter; she didn't know if the boy knew anything apart from the Black Ops.
So she cut to the chase, "There are simple and complicated reasons. From those that I can disclose at the moment, the fact that Orochimaru is now dead means that the need for you to remain anonymous is no longer there. It is time for you to come out of the shadows of the ANBU and for Konoha to know that another Mokuton user is a part of our forces.
"Above that, however, is because you have now become privy to an S-Rank secret. And though you don't know of his true identity, the fact that you know of his existence is enough; because of this there are a few missions that you are now uniquely suited for you, missions where he will be able to assist you, not to mention that since you already know of his location, and the place where he will be training the boys, you will be sent there with supplies or to perform other tasks where your skills might be needed."
"The hidden valley, huh?" Kakashi said, more as if he were wondering aloud than anything else.
Tsunade nodded, crossing her arms and leaning further onto her desk, somewhat more at ease with telling them what Nawaki and Sarutobi had insisted she tell them. After all, they knew these two more than she did, "Yes. Only a handful of people know of its location. Now, apart from those reasons, I need you out of ANBU because it has been compromised and, though that is being taken care of, I did not want you two to be tangled into that mess."
It shouldn't have surprised them as much as it did, but Tsunade saw the struggle that they went through at that little bit of news. Danzou was to blame for that, though, and it would take quite a bit of effort for her ANBU forces to regain the anonymity that they are supposed to have. Still, it took Tenzo quite a bit to suppress his reactions, and though they were minimal reactions at best, it still spoke of his youth and inexperience.
"As for you new assignments, you wil—"
"Hokage-sama! Hokage-sama!" came the rushed interruption a few moments before one of the decryption shinobi in charge of messages entered her office, panting for breath. She couldn't help but be annoyed at the disruption and would have punched the kunoichi though the wall if not for the sense of urgency she was displaying, "Tsunade-sama! A message from Jiraiya-sama!" she explained, handing her a small and thin tube, still sealed and untouched, and bowing deeply.
"Thank you, you are dismissed," she said distractedly as she broke the seal on the small canister. She didn't even noticed when the door of her office was closed once again, or the two former ANBU still waiting for her orders. It seemed that the pervert had received the Sandaime's message and was making haste back to Konoha, disbelieving that she was back and even more incredulous about her taking the post of Godaime, of all things.
She snorted, storing the message to show to the Third, feeling more at ease now for some reason, though there was more to the message than she was expecting. The Gama sennin would arrive in a few days at least, if he was to be believed, and if he didn't get distracted. They could see about other news then.
"Well," she said, turning her attention toward the two waiting shinobi, "I will try to make this short then; Kakashi, you and Tenzo are to head over to Mizu no Kuni," she told them, handing them a small sealed scroll with the details of the mission, "We have information to suggest that a particularly large civil war is about to break out. We want you to search for as much information as you can safely get and see if there is anything we can benefit from. Two moths from now, or when you have gathered enough information, you are to open this scroll," she explained, handing them a two foot long, rather thin scroll, "It is a long distance summoning scroll that will summon the operative that you saw this morning. He will take charge of the mission from there and give you further orders. Any questions?"
"Hai, Tsunade-sama. How does the summoning scroll work?" Kakashi ask, looking at the long scroll a little wide-eyed.
She had been more than a little impressed by it as well, especially since it allowed Nawaki to send one of his clones, which would stay anchored to the scroll to allow for the long distance. In fact, she had one of those scrolls as well, though it was more for emergencies, since they were one-use and rather hard to make.
"Simple. Find a secure area to open the scroll in, channel chakra into it until it activates and wait for fifteen minutes. Should you be in an emergency situation and need backup, wipe some blood on the scroll and perform the summoning technique. This last one is immediate, but will cost you more chakra, not to mention that the operative won't have as much warning, so do not use it unless it is strictly necessary. If that understood?"
"Good, then you can go," she waved them off, storing a few files as she prepared to head out herself, that is, until she remembered something, "Oh, and Kakashi? Tenzo? Meet me tomorrow morning in the hospital for a checkup; I want to run some tests, though I admit to being especially curious of your Sharingan. 10:00 o'clock sharp, you hear?"
"Understood, Tsunade-sama," the Copy-nin and the Mokuton user answered, more then a bit preoccupied by what they had just learned. Truly, Kakashi didn't even know where to start thinking about it all.
To be continued…
Plot Inquiry: While I have the main points of the plot figured out, there will be times in between the major events where I can introduce both short and long-term missions to help both in character development and the showcasing of their skills. After all, its better that you see Naruto, Neji and Gaara in different situations to see how they react and use the skills they have learned, right?
True, I'm going to give an idea of what they will be learning, but I don't want to only write a chapter detailing all the things they can do. I want these skills and techniques to come out slowly as they use them in the field, where they will make mistakes, modify and find new uses for their techniques depending on the situation. I want them to learn from experience. Not like these training-only stories, saying later that a technique has been mastered only for it to be forgotten and the technique that took up a whole chapter to train and explain is never seen in the story again. I want to avoid that. After all, a technique is not truly mastered until you can use it effectively in combat, eh?
You see where I am going with this, right? Well, here's where I need help: I need ideas of missions, tasks and live training exercises to use within this story, so if anyone has something in mind that they might want to see, I'm completely open for suggestions, ne? It could be anything from D-Rank to S-Rank, I don't mind, though keep in mind that High-ranking missions won't come up until later unless things go pear-shape, but that shouldn't happen too often either.
Personally, while I want them to be powerful, I'm going to be trying to portray them as more realistic ninjas, and not just supped-up warriors that bash heads with other supped-up opponents. Or is that such a bad as wish?
Thank you all for reading!
A/N: Its not the usual multiple-choice question, but then, there's only so much that my imagination can conjure up on itself, so I thought that asking for suggestions about future missions, especially now when you don't know what the boys skill's will be, would be the best thing. If nothing else, you're suggestions will help jog my own mind into action, and for that alone I would like to thank you now.
Oh, and I don't know if anyone noticed, but this chapter was much longer than it is now, since it is half of its original length. Truthfully, ending it in this scene was better overall, and now you can look forward to the next chapter sooner rather then later, right?