Shinobi One-Half

Chapter 9

Mission Madness Part 1

Disclaimer: I don't own this series or any other series. I am just floating an idea. I am making no money, nor plan to, off this venture. If you think of suing me over this, then grow up.

"Lady Hisa."

Opening her eyes, the matriarch of the Main Hyuuga family glanced to the others entering the public bath. Normally, she would never be seen there, as the Hyuuga would see it 'below' them.

That was of course before a foreign assault nearby had sent the sewage from that side of town through the clean water pipes.

It would be a while before any Hyuuga bathed in those private baths.

"Hello, Izanami," she replied, looking at the future wife of the Yamanaka clan head. "Pampering yourself some more before the big day."

The woman giggled lightly before slipping into the waters. "Inoichi insists."

"He loves his fiancée, nothing wrong with that," replied Hisa, placing a wet washcloth on her forehead. "I'm surprised he didn't send guards like Hiashi," she continued, motioning to the other Hyuuga females about, Branch Family members, as they had not removed their hitai-ate from their foreheads.

Izanami snorted. "Oh, he tried. But Yoshino was busy with plans involving her husband and an anniversary. And Toyo was working on a new recipe."

Hisa snorted at that. Just because the three males, the Ino-Shika-Cho trio, were the best of friends, the automatically assumed their wives—or future brides—would and should be as well. The Hyuuga matriarch almost felt bad for the children of those couples, who would no doubt undergo similar issues.

The door opened once again, allowing a trio of women to enter.

"Lady Tsubame," greeted Hisa, bowing slightly as much as her position in the hot waters would allow. "I am surprised to see you here. Did that strike also create plumbing issues for your clan?"

"No," the Uchiha elder said, motioning for her two female retainers to join her in the public bath. "The closest one is frequented by the Uchiha males today. And despite the seals used to ensure they cannot use the Sharingan to peak at us, they tend to smoke cigars today. Though I would hardly consider them worth the money they paid for them, given the unique … aroma they produce."

All the women there gave a single smirk. Many of the Uchiha Elders favored a cigar that to anyone else, smelled like a wet dog flash-fried with a Katon technique. And after spending good money to use the facilities of the public bathes, one did not wish to leave smelling as such.

"Thankfully, Hiashi never took up such a habit," Hisa replied, clapping her hands three times and offering a prayer in thanks. "I do worry what he will be like when we start a family. I heard a nasty rumor that the Hyuuga Elders get together and smoke those foul things to celebrate the birth of the future heir."

"It is no rumor, Lady Hisa," stated one of the Branch females whose name she couldn't recall. "It was a tradition since before the founding of Konoha."

The matriarch could only lean back on her underwater bench and sigh. "Well, I'll just have to request a price for a mission to destroy them all before my due date when the time comes."

"I guess I should be lucky Inoichi hates those things as well," sighed Izanami. "He says it messes with the plants in his shop."

Tsubame nodded. "Perhaps then a way should be devised to give birth in that shop," she offered with a smile. With a wave of her hand, the bath attendant came from behind the bar, a tray of sake and several saucers in hand.

"Ah, the good life," smirked Hisa as the attendant approached her as well. "Warm sake, good friends, and trashing the men we love; we don't get to do this as often as we should."

"Clan politics," sighed Tsubame, "such is the true evil of the world."

"Sad but true," Izanami replied. "I'm just glad Inoichi will be the one mainly dealing with… Did anyone else hear that?" she asked, looking around.

"Hear what?" asked Hisa.

"It sounded like someone screaming," the light blond replied.

Turning to her guards, Hisa nodded, allowing them to use their Byakugan.

The three Branch females turned as one, their eyes instantly locating the source of the disturbance.

"It appears to be a male with … a feline on his face," the closest one to Hisa stated, eyes blinking in shock.

"Well, I guess a cat on your face would be a good reason to scream," commented Tsubame.

"He is also coming this way," finished the Hyuuga female.

"Should we be worried?" asked Izanami.

"How skilled could someone be with a cat stuck to their face?" asked Hisa.

Her answer came as the wall in the direction of the scream burst towards them, the screaming figure now inside the baths.

"GET IT OFF! GET IT OFF!" the figure screamed, whirling about to try to dislodge the cat clinging to his head for dear life. His black hair whipped about as he twisted and turned, his hands latched onto the feline as he tried to remove it.

One of his blue eyes was unobstructed by the calico cat, allowing him to spot the nearby wall and he attempted to run into it.

Sadly, the cat—while refusing to let go of the human—was alert enough to shift its position as it clung to the hapless male's skull, saving it from a brutal run-in with the wall.

The male fared better than the wall, which now sported a massive pothole.

"Damn it, Saotome!" cried a freshly arrived woman with short brown hair, accompanied a girl with black hair tied up. "Kill her cat and we don't get paid!"

"Yeah, and I'm pretty sure the Fire Lord's wife will be upset that her precious feline was squashed into paste," offered the brunette.

"GET THIS DEMON OFF ME!" cried the disoriented male as he ran around, tripping over a stone, somehow balancing on an empty sake bottle, before spinning around and tearing through another section of wall.

"We are so not going to get paid for this," sighed the shorthaired girl as she took off after him.

The other girl shrugged as she followed. "Don't say I didn't warn you!"

The attendant and gathered bathers could only continue to stare, long after the trio had left.

"I did not know Madam Shijimi had acquired a new Tora," sighed Tsubame, forgoing the saucer and sipping directly from her bottle.

"I believe then that must make that Tora VII," supplied Hisa.

"I thought Tora VII was black with white patches," spoke Tsubane.

"My mistake," murmured Hisa. "Tora VIII then."

"That was the cat of the Fire Lord's wife?" asked Izanami in shock.

"Of course, my dear," stated Hisa. "How else would that mission be the bane of Genin in this village for the length of the Fire Lord's reign?"

The future Yamanaka matriarch blinked. "You know, I never thought about it."

"I just pray whatever children I have never get that D-Rank mission," sighed Hisa.

"Should we do anything about the breeched walls before a certain Sannin arrives?" Izanami asked.

"They have someone on staff that's pretty good with Doton techniques," stated Tsubame. "With the amount of ninja in this village, you kind of need to have that."

"… I'm beginning to understand why so much of our youth is blacked out of my memory," muttered the blond as she tossed her empty saucer behind her and grabbed her own bottle.

"Saotome, you awake yet?"

All he could feel were the tremors of massive adrenaline-withdrawal and a gigantic headache. "What happened?"

"We finally got that cat off you," supplied Nabiki, dabbing several scratches on his face with a cloth dipped in antiseptic. "According to the Hokage, this has been the most damage sustained to the village in pursuit of retrieving that animal. I don't know if that was a compliment or a criticism."

"… Yeah?" he asked, trying to calm the pain enough to open his eyes.

"But on the bright side, you didn't slip into the Nekoken," the transdimensional Tendo offered.

"I think I was in too much pain to slip into that," he grumbled. "No way was that an ordinary cat. If there wasn't one here, I'd swear that was someone from Jusenkyo." No way was a normal cat devious enough, smart enough, and agile enough to avoid what that cat did. "You know, they always said I shouldn't be afraid, cause there was no way one of those things could be a demon.

"I know the truth now, I've seen the evil in its eyes. You can't tell me that furry little bastard wasn't sent by the cruelest ruler in Hell."

"Remind me to show you the video of when we handed it back to the client," Nabiki said, a smile growing on her face. The sheer pain and terror on that cat's face when its owner hugged it…

Priceless. It may have been cruel, but that retrieval was painful and embarrassing. She felt some payback was in order.

"Whatever," he mused, slowly sitting up.

"You're lucky you're so damned tough, Saotome," Nabiki continued, handing him the cloth to finish with his cuts. "You went through seven walls, two roofs, three doors, five windows, a street lamp, one fruit cart, and I think a live-fire training exercise."

That actually got his eyes to open fully, blinking in surprise. "A fruit stand?" he asked. "Not the one near where we live?"

"Nah, a competitor, I think," replied Nabiki, removing a partial impaled kunai from his pigtail. She was a bit surprised it hadn't cut through his hair, merely been embedded in it. "The guy near where we live came by to thank us, even left us a nice fruit basket."

"Sweet," he spoke, all pain forgotten as he stared at the sweet fruits before him.

"Well, you better make it last," Nabiki grumbled. "If they take the money from our pay to cover the repairs; that might be all the food we have for the next few days."

"Yeah, right," smirked Anko, entering the room, waving a large wad of cash before them. "When they negotiated the contract to find her pet, it included a clause that whatever damage occurs trying to corner, and contain it, is paid by the client, them." It was also why no Genin team was given advanced warning about it, should their families wish to redecorate, and why no one aside from newly minted Genin were assigned it … until recently.

"… And he signed it?" asked Nabiki, blinking in shock as she saw the wad of Ryō had already been separated into three equal bundles.

"Actually, his wife forced him to sign it before he looked it over," replied Anko, handing them their share of mission pay. "Lucky for us, she apparently places more value on her pet than he does is renegotiating the contract."

Nabiki just nodded, counting her bills. Her smile grew as she felt a need to splurge, perhaps enjoy a bit of beef tonight.

"I just wanna know how that damned furball got so skilled," Ranma grumbled.

Anko smirked. "Let's just say it has had a lot of training in that department," she replied. If what she saw when she handed back the 'package' to the 'client' was any indication, she could understand why that feline was so good at evading.

Then again, if what Ranma had explained about his past was true, he became the second proof for that explanation.

"So, what now?" asked Ranma, shaking his head to remove the last stars from his eyes. "We got to go to a bank or something?"

Nabiki snorted at that. Ninja Bankers? That sounded like something from Nerima.

"Well, we probably should at least put most of that there," murmured Anko.

"… Seriously?" asked Nabiki. "Ninja Bankers?" Oh man, this place might just be a ninja-version of Nerima… If I see Anything Goes Take-out, I'm officially crying.

Anko nodded. "Oh yeah, we still have loans and such, but Kami help you if you are late on a mortgage payment. I heard one guy lost his entire house in one night."

"That isn't so odd," replied Ranma.

"No, not 'lost' as in foreclosure, 'lost' as in it was no longer there."

"Where did it go?" asked Ranma, intrigued.

"No one really knows," muttered Anko. "The only people more secretive than ANBU are Banker Nin."

"I can't believe it," muttered Nabiki, holding her new bankbook.

"Huh?" asked Ranma.

"This place still uses technology from the nineteenth century, yet they have gadgets from the twenty first," she answered, still looking at her book. The roads were basically dirt, yet they had full utilities, even cable. Wireless headsets, yet people still made deliveries on horse-drawn carts. "I don't even know how they get power."

"State secret."

"GAH!" she cried, jumping into Ranma's arms.

Behind them was a smirking Uchiha Elder, eyes hidden by dark sunglasses, and now holding Nabiki's bankbook. "Actually," said Itsuki, "it comes from a variety of sources, but mainly from a hydroelectric plant. The actual location of it is a secret though, unless they put you on guard detail.

"After all, we can't let points of interest to a possible invader become public knowledge."

"Makes sense," shrugged Ranma as Nabiki removed herself from him, trying to ignore the giggles of the Raiju inside of her.

"Don't do that," she grumbled. And why didn't you warn me about him being there? She asked her internal traveler.

"You did not ask nor was he leaking any intent or ill will towards you," replied Gobi.

Funny, very funny, she spat. "To what do we owe this greeting to?" she asked, bowing towards the man.

"Oh, I had heard a bit of gossip about your group being assigned to find the infamous Tora," he mused with a smile. Thankfully when the first Tora had appeared, he personally had already been a Jounin, and thus had never been tortured by such a mission.

Although there was Uchiha urban legend that stated the mission had been so traumatic, an Uchiha on the team assigned to find the ferocious feline had actually achieved the Mangekyō Sharingan.

From the tales he had heard about the cat, it was entirely possible in his humble opinion. That, or it was a tale cooked up by some Uchiha who wanted the clan to suffer. But who could be so cruel as to do such?

Deep in the mountains, a man wearing a swirly orange mask sneezed.

Ranma chuckled with embarrassment, rubbing the base of his neck. "Uh yeah, sorry about that if we went through anything you owned."

"Oh, it was no trouble for me," smirked Itsuki. "Although, you might want to be scarce for a while. I heard that said group, or at least the male among them, tore through a public bath being used by several highly important females."

"Gurk!" squeaked Ranma.

Nabiki palmed her face. "Tell me that aren't swearing revenge or a bounty for his head."

"No, nothing so drastic," waved off the Uchiha Elder. "But … I would avoid the Hyuuga compound, as well as any blonds. Hiashi can be a bit jealous at times, so the fact you may have bypassed his security and gazed upon his lovely wife may require him to at least make some attempt at retribution."

His retainer snorted. As if a Main Family Hyuuga would do such a thing. They'd rather send a Branch Family member to do it. Apparently, seeking revenge for themselves was 'beneath' Main Branch family members.

"Damn it, Saotome," muttered Nabiki. "Are you cursed or something? Because it seems like you can't go a month without someone swearing vengeance on you."

"Hey, it wasn't my fault!" yelled Ranma. "That damned furball was covering my eyes. And I certainly didn't hear anyone on my team warning me about where I was going!"

"Oh yes, because you would have heard us over all of that screaming," she growled back.

"Well, that excitement aside," interrupted Itsuki, "I was hoping to hear about how your day went and perhaps see if we could narrow down a day for us to have that dinner I requested. I am quite curious to try Mr. Saotome's cooking."

The duo blinked, looking somewhat embarrassed; Nabiki for having lost control in public like that and Ranma for forgetting that promise.

"How about tomorrow night?" asked Ranma. "Well, assuming I ain't in the hospital for dealing with another insane cat." He winced slightly, not from fear of saying the word, but from a sudden chill that went down his spine as if Rokubi had not liked that comment.

Great, now I gotta deal with him tonight.

"Is that okay?" asked Nabiki, directing a glare at Ranma for not even trying to consult her on when to invite a guest. Hell, she didn't even know if they had enough or how many to possibly expect. For all she knew, this dinner would take all of their bonus money.

As if sensing Nabiki's unease, Itsuki turned towards her. "Just a simple dinner for an old man, then. As a member of the Uchiha Clan Council, I have no trouble getting any of the rarer foodstuffs I might desire. My retainer is not allowed to dine with us in case there is an attempt via the cooking. "

Ranma opened his mouth to make a comment about how his cooking wasn't going to be made by a tomboy, only for it to be cut off by Nabiki's hand covering it. "That would be fine," Nabiki stated.

Unlike Ranma, she recognized a possible threat being dealt with. What sense did it make to have guards who would fall into the exact same problems you did.

"Very well then," bowed Itsuki. "I look forward to it.

"Now if you'll excuse me, I have to meet some people about busted lines under an Uchiha property," he said sadly. "Do hope you never have to deal with such clan politics when you grow to be my age," he replied, turning about and walking down the street, his retainer following.

"Well, that wasn't—OW!" cried Ranma as he felt someone pinch his ear.

"We need to have a nice talk, Saotome; about the proper internal etiquette for inviting guests," Nabiki growled out. This was going to be the last time he spoke first and thought later about dinner guests while they were living together.

"Oh, kinky."

Shut up, you.

"Sir, if I may ask."

"Yes?" replied Itsuki.

"Why did you not mention that Lady Tsubame was also present at the bathhouse?"

The elder Uchiha chuckled lightly. "To be honest, I think she was more amused at the entire situation than anything else, especially since it tripped up the Hyuuga. Add to that the fact that he obviously did not spy any of those there, she accepted it as a funny accident and moved on.

"Getting her to admit such, however, will never occur."

"I see," said the retainer.

What Itsuki failed to mention is that when the conversation between him and the two members of Team Anko reached the ears of certain people—who would notice also his failure to mention Lady Tsubame's presence at the bathhouse, they will wonder even harder at what possible secret plan the Uchiha have for the two.

Oh yes, messing with those who saw conspiracies behind every shadow was so much fun for so little work.

"Well?" asked Minato.

"They weren't that bad," sighed Anko. Looking out the window in the Hokage's office, she let a small smile form on her face. It didn't seem that long ago that she was starting out herself. Of course, this time, they didn't have some bastard ssummoning random snakes to make the cat-hunt that more difficult for the Genin.

Shaking her head at better times and her first team, she turned back to the Fourth. "Saotome was easily outpacing us, Tendo was a lot slower than me, but she still kept a solid pace."

"So you held back to keep up with her?" he asked.

"A little," she replied with a smile. She did kindly neglect to mention that she had also served to 'motivate' the Tendo girl to move faster.

Minato nodded, making a note to discuss that with Sarutobi about increasing the girl's speed. "Anything else to note?"

"No Nekoken, of course," she replied automatically, remembering the briefing about that incident before the trio had left for the mission.

"Some progress, I guess," Minato replied. It didn't mean he wouldn't have ANBU continue to watch the new Genin. But it did calm some of his fears. Having such a powerful but uncontrollable weapon was like having a poorly sealed Bijuu in the village. Raiju or not, many on the Council would not stand for having such a danger inside the walls of Konoha, no matter what promises had been made. "I'll tell Ero-Sennin to up his training a bit, same with Sarutobi. Hopefully, we can get them ready."

"Ready for what?" Anko asked.

"Well, we had a requested for a low-C-level mission in two week's time, a simple escort mission to the Land of Valleys."

"Sounds simple enough," Anko replied. "What's the catch?"

"The client wants the fastest route. We however would like to avoid the areas still suffering the chaos from the current Great Ninja War."

"Probably add a few days, might give us a chance for some reconnaissance in the area."

"Of course, optimally, we would want to send Jounin-only or at least ANBU," he continued. "But given the needed preparation in case others join in on the fighting, I'm afraid it just isn't possible at the time. We may have kept Konoha out of it, but that doesn't mean others will see a similar line of logic."

"How many?" Anko asked.

"Probably one or two Jounin. Jiraiya will accompany you for a while, he has some … business in the area."

"Business or … business?" Anko asked.

"The type we need, not the type he explores on his own," Minato responded with a smirk. "Should give you a bit more cover in the area."

Anko nodded. "Better to have that cover during the first third of the journey. But even then, we'll be gone for a few weeks, depending on the pace the client can set."

"Best I can do," he responded. "The Council needs to see that those two are worth the massive investment we put into them. In addition, considering the situation among the other villagers, I can't afford to spare more people now with the additional patrols.

"Luckily, the route is pretty far from the expected war zone, no major ninja villages nearby, and no one we have any grudges against or who have them against us."

"Sounds pretty boring," muttered Anko, sighing. And it had started out sounding so good too. At this rate, she expected the client to either be a drunk, grabby, or so vanilla, he wouldn't stand out in an open field.

"Standard mission add-on," waved off Minato. "With luck, Kakashi should be finished with his mission in the Land of Snow, so he can be an escort. Gai should be available be then as well, which should calm the Council members about your involvement.

"We'll discuss it later," Minato said quickly, spotting the time on the wall. "I gotta get going or she'll skin me alive!"



Blinking her eyes to get her sight back from a bright yellow flash, she noticed that the Hokage was gone. "I swear, that is the coolest jutsu out there.

"But why is it whenever I learn one thing about those two, I get three more questions to replace it?" she asked, heading out of the office. She was beginning to think there was more to the newest Genin than what she had been told.

And since she knew a lot about how ninja villages operated, she couldn't even begin to guess what the hidden fact was, especially considering that she was cleared enough to know of the Nekoken.

"So, do you understand now?" asked Nabiki as they entered their compound.

"Yes, already," grumbled Ranma, rubbing his ear with his free hand, the other was holding a large bag of groceries. "I get it; I have to make sure to run these things by you."

"That's all I ask," Nabiki said, opening the door to their place. "Itsuki is pretty important here and it wouldn't do to give him a bad impression."

"It won't be that bad," Ranma said. "I mean, he said he just wanted something simple. As long as he ain't used to something like Kasumi could cook, we'll do fine."

Nodding, Nabiki continued inward towards the kitchen area. "Well, he and the others in charge here went through a lot to give us this big place and the last thing I want them thinking is that it was a bad idea. I do not want to end up in some dingy apartment, Saotome."

"Oh, but it would be so cozy, sharing a one-bedroom…"

"Oh shut it!"

"I didn't say anything!" yelled Ranma.

"Not you, Saotome; the damned Gobi Raiju," she replied, sounding exasperated. "I swear; it's like having one of our fathers' in my head at times."

"… I don't want to know what its saying, do I?" asked Ranma.

"No, Saotome, no you do not."

"Right, ignoring it then. I'll just be cooking."

"And I'll figure out what to make for tomorrow."

Ranma gave her a hooded glare. "Why are you deciding what we make tomorrow?"

"Because I can budget," Nabiki responded as she sat down at the table. "We can't afford to go all out to impress Itsuki. We can impress him on a budget."

"…" Sighing heavily, he returned to taking the groceries into the kitchen. This day just doesn't end for me, does it?

Itsuki chuckled loudly. "That … that really happened? He thought he was engaged … to a monkey?"

"To be fair," said Ranma, "it was wearing a wedding dress."

The Uchiha elder continued to laugh, nearly pounding the table. "I can't believe such a thing happened!" he exclaimed. "You have to be pulling my leg!"

Nabiki shook her head. "No, all true. It was all because the fiancée was so scared about who she might be engaged to, she thought it best to send the monkey ahead of her, a plain … ordinary … monkey."

"Hey, it was trained in their Art!" grumbled Ranma.

Itsuki continued to laugh. He knew some animals could be trained to fight; the Inuzuka and the Aburame clans were good examples of that. But the sheer hilarity of training a monkey to take your position during an omiai, and no one noticing said fact…

"Oh," he said, breathing deeply as he tried to regain control over himself. He knew beyond a doubt that such a tale might even liven up the next Uchiha Council meeting. Kami knew that most of those members were too jaded about the world to enjoy life, but surely that story would crack a few of them. "Oh, I must say that was a truly great story," he continued, getting his laughter under control. "Had I not heard you say it myself, I don't think I would have believed such a tale."

"You believe it?" asked Ranma, shocked. Even his mother had sought out further confirmation of his story.

Itsuki nodded. "Yes. You see, without my eyes, I have to use other means to tell the truth among those near me. It comes in very handy at the Village Council and the Uchiha Council meetings to be able to find subtle hints others would miss.

"Heart rate, breathing pattern, odd movements; each can be used in certain ways to tell if someone is lying to you. Though the process is a bit more difficult for the Council meetings, you'd be surprised what some people will let slip in the political arena, especially to a blind man."

"… Wow," murmured Ranma. "I never woulda thought of that," he spoke in awe.

The Uchiha just smirked. "Underestimation is a powerful weapon. It is amazing how many ninja who become members of either Council forget that simple lesson, to look beyond the obvious, to find a deeper truth."

"Then again, maybe they do know, but are trying to lull you into a false sense of security and belief you know what is going on in their heads," offered Nabiki.

Itsuki chuckled lightly again. "All true, most likely the truth for some of them.

"But, my dear, the truth is to know which ones can be that devious," he offered, as he dabbed his mouth clean.

"Truly, a wonderful meal, one I am quite thankful to have attended." He turned his head slightly towards his retainer. A silent signal passed between the two, before the man vanished in a puff of smoke.

"Where'd he go?" asked Ranma.

"He is merely scouting the path from here in preparation for my departure, nothing more," he replied. "Formality above all else, as sadly in a ninja village, politics can be murder."

"Guess all politicians will stab you in the back," commented Nabiki. "Only here, they did it figuratively and literally."

"Sad, but true," Itsuki murmured.

"Anyway, I must be going," he continued, standing up as his retainer appeared before him. "But before that, I heard about an interesting confrontation today between you, Mr. Saotome, and a certain Yamanaka male."

Nabiki quickly turned a surprised glare onto the Saotome male. "Oh? First I've heard of it."

Ranma looked away nervously, scratching the base of his pigtail. "Guy just popped out of nowhere, said I had offended his pride, and tried to impale me with kunai."

"Oh?" asked Itsuki.

"Yes, Saotome; do go on," Nabiki growled out.

"Ah man, nothing happened, Nabiki," he said quickly. "Guy tried some weird double-hand seal I haven't seen before, stated some jutsu name I couldn't hear too well, and just stood there. I think whatever it was; he must have done wrong because nothing happened. So I ran up and hit his sleeping point, no biggie!" he exclaimed.

Itsuki just chuckled. "I did warn you that some of those clans might be upset with the hot spring incident."

"Yeah, well, that guy wasn't so tough," Ranma snorted. "Couldn't even pull off his jutsu right."

Nabiki just rubbed her forehead. "You really do collect rivals and enemies, don't you?"

"Well then, thank you for satisfying an old man's curiosity," interrupted Itsuki. "We should do this another time, perhaps at my place. I promise a grand meal, even one large enough to fill your stomach, Ranma."

Ranma just chuckled nervously. "Thanks."

"Amazing," murmured Itsuki, as he and his retainer made their way back. "I never would have believed someone could escape one of Inoichi's techniques."

"Are you certain, sir?"

Itsuki nodded. "It fits with what we learned. To think someone of his skill failed to hijack Saotome's body…

"Nothing short of impressive, that boy. Were it not for those stories tonight of how his father sold him to other families, I would be tempted to send any and all available female Uchiha to woo him."

"And you won't?"

"Of course not, Bukotsu" spat Itsuki. "The boy seems afraid of any commitment at the moment; intimacy of any strong level escapes him as well, which should prevent the other Elders in the clan from trying to get his blood into the clan through … other means." Not that he thought it would be a successful blockade; some would try it if only to try to strengthen their branches of the Uchiha clan. However, the stories learned that night would help prevent it from being blatant or a major priority.

The named retainer only nodded.

"I assume some others were watching our dinner?" Itsuki continued.

"Yes, sir," Bukotsu replied. "I was able to spot only three however."

"Only three?" asked Itsuki. "My, either they feared nothing or sent better than they usually do.

"I wonder … does the Byakugan allow the Hyuuga to read lips from a distance," he murmured.

"Anyway, it was quite an excellent meal," he continued, making his way towards his compound. "One would hardly expect someone like Saotome to have such great cooking skills."

"Indeed, sir. One does wonder about where and why he learned such a wide variety of cooking styles."

"Now that, my dear Bukotsu, is a story for our next meal with them. Do make a note of that, please." A good meal, confused rivals, and excellent dinner conversation: truly, a great night for him.

"Very good," spoke Rokubi. "You are gaining reign over the fear of your spirit animal, and thus, soon you will have an open link with me."

"Oh joy," muttered Ranma. Like having them in his head had been so enjoyable to that point.

He could hear the Raiju chuckle. "Perhaps you have forgotten how your spirit animal helped you defeat Cologne, or the other times the Nekoken was your trump card. It has always been there for you when you needed it, providing when your body could go no further.

"It knows the name Saffron very well."

Ranma ignored the growled that he could tell where it had come from, no doubt his inner cat, the cheetah spirit being angered by the name. Not that Ranma liked Saffron too much, either. But he had killed the man. Maybe when he had been reborn, Kiima had kept her word and ensured the little brat had grown up knowing to be a good boy.

His spirit animal, the Nekoken, felt differently. He could literally feel its anger, its hatred for the Phoenix King.

"It says it tried to take what was yours."

Ranma didn't respond.

"You care for her deeply."

"That tomboy!" Ranma yelled.

"You cannot lie to me, Child," the Raiju responded, chuckling lightly.

Ranma winced, forgetting for a moment that the being of energy literally knew all that he did. As standard a response as those denials were, Rokubi could see right through them.

"It is only a part of you, Child," Rokubi stated. "The hatred and need, the instinct and the desire, these are tempered by a being's higher nature. Just as the Nekoken gave you the strength to defeat him and save Akane, you gave yourself the strength to let him live."

The Nekoken growled louder this time, the sentiment was clear: it didn't like giving mercy to those that crossed it.

"Two sides, the higher and lower self. In harmony, they make a powerful force for the individual. Out of harmony, they can lead to that individual's destruction.

"As you work towards attaining synchronization with the Nekoken, you must remember to keep hold with what defines you, lest the new instincts and sense of self may wash away that which anchor you."

"Got it, be careful or I'll be more Neko than Ranma."

"… Crude, but correct."

Nodding, Ranma closed his eyes, trying to focus on his meditation. He wasn't going to lose himself to some bloodthirsty little furry demon.

"I think he took that as an insult," the Raiju offered as they heard the Nekoken hiss even louder.

"Tough," snorted Ranma.

"I can inform you that your progress is amazing. I feel within days, you'll have as much access to my energy as Nabiki has."

Ranma smirked at that. More power was always good, especially considering Jiraiya's teaching methods of teaching, which seemed to be 'here's the basics, master it on your own while I go researching'.

"It is not that simple, my Host."


"Because you have access to that energy does not mean you will have control over it. Your friend has better control over the energy of my mate because she had no training, no energy of her own to clash against. From the beginning, it was not a separate mix, but a mixture, where my mate's energy expanded her own.

"You have already developed a massive reservoir. As such, it must be mixed carefully, lest I may damage your body's ability to generate it."

Ranma blinked his eyes open. "Okay, you lost me there."

"Hmm, let me explain it this way.

"Nabiki was able to use the energy of my mate, because what they referred to in their lessons to you as chakra coils, were not developed. As such, when my mate shared her energy with her, they were able to develop quickly and safely.

"However, your 'coils' were already developed, have been for some time. As such, extra care and caution must be taken to ensure I do not … overload your coils and damage them."

"So… I won't get a power boost?"

"Not for some time.

"I can refill your reserves, but only at a set rate for now, until the coils become accustomed to my energy, my chakra."

"But what about before?" Ranma asked. "I mean, when we killed that nin."

"As you saw, neither of us were in control. I suspect it was more the Nekoken than anything else, even acting as a buffer to what little power I could offer then. It could be the power took over, your aura moving you like a puppet.

"At the time, we were separate entities.

"Now, we are harmonic, we have come closer to being true partners is this. The margin of error has shrunk. And I do not wish to ruin your life or body." It decided to be quiet about how its mate might ruin his life. Why jinx it by discussing it?

Sighing heavily, Ranma closed his eyes again. "Whatever, let's get it over with. I ain't wanting to be afraid of a damned furball every again."

Nodding in agreement, the Raiju looked down upon him, a smile on its face hidden by the external shadow within Ranma's mind.

Jiraiya fought to not sigh as he avoided a kick from Ranma, only to leap aside as Nabiki tried to catch him with a Katon: Endan. He did wonder why Sarutobi would teach her a fire technique—personally, he would have figured her for either a primary water or earth user, but then again, Sarutobi did teach surprise. If he made that mistake, enemy nin would as well.

But what was really depressing him was the lack of research he had been able to make the last week. Soon, he would be on the road with a team towards the Land of Valleys—an area not exactly known for their hot springs. Add to that his own mission…

Man, I was so hoping to finish that book this month.

He immediately dropped that line of thought as Ranma nearly clipped him with his Möko Takabisha … and sent him to a strong punch from another Ranma who had been behind him.

Grabbing the incoming arm, Jiraiya spun about, hoping to twist his momentum enough to give him a shot at the Ranma nearest him as the other fired another Möko Takabisha towards them.

I see, a Kage Bunshin…

Impressive kid, but not impressive enough. Planting his legs into the clone's chest, Jiraiya launched himself up, avoiding a Suiton: Teppōdama from Nabiki.

So she does know some water techniques, he thought with a smirk, wondering if Sarutobi had taught her anything above a C-Rank technique to—

Jiraiya blinked as his Kage Bunshin was dispersed. "What the hell?" he asked, turning towards the Ranma he had figured was also a Kage Bunshin.

The Ranma smirked as the one who had launched the Möko Takabisha gave a victory sign before disappearing in a puff of smoke.

"Something I remembered from a fight with Ryoga," the real Ranma said with a smile. "Since those attacks can hit you like a hammer, I just thought … maybe I can rebound it with another Möko Takabisha."

"Not bad," said the smiling Sarutobi. "Of course, had Jiraiya not played around so much, and focused on the fight, the ending might have been different."

The Toad Sage smirked as Ranma's smile fell.

"But it did show great teamwork between you two," he offered the new Genin.

Nabiki smirked, feeling only slightly winded from the work. Not bad, got him on the ropes. I might not be front-line yet, but I'm not a liability.

"You put too much on yourself, my Host," Gobi offered. "From the teaching program we know of for the general population, your progress these months has been impressive. You are not defenseless, nor weak." A loud sigh was heard by Nabiki in her head.

I'm fine! she mentally growled at the Raiju. Like she was still upset about her weakness when they had arrived on this world. She got stronger, damn it.

And no one was going to do that to her again.

Inside her mind, she felt a pang of anger as a mental image formed in her head, one of the Tanuki Raiju shaking her head sadly.

"In time, my Host… In time, I hope you see the error of that mindset. Relying on others is not a weakness, and even the strongest entities fall. Ranma has been by your side since this. Surely you do not think he would abandon you."

I need to be sure I can reduce his need to be there.

"Well then, I guess Minato will be pleased," Hiruzen said with a smile, lighting his pipe.

"Oh?" asked Ranma.

The former Hokage just smiled. "I'll leave that for him to tell you, unless Anko wants to ruin the surprise."

"Nah," waved off the Snake Mistress, casting a glance to the side of the field. She hid a smirk as she sensed the figure head off. Not very smart, Kakashi; I'm sure they would have let you watch. It looked like he was making the most of Obito's gift, at least. She had no doubt the others knew he was there, after all.

"Well, let's get going," offered Jiraiya.

"What? We keeping you from some important research?" snorted Ranma.

"Yes. Yes, you are."

Ranma just stared at him for a moment, before palming his face. "Why do I always get trained by guys like him? Can't I end up with a monk or something?"

Nabiki snorted. "Do recall who founded Anything Goes, your martial arts style."

"… Let's go," he replied with a sigh, accepting his lot in life for the moment.

Jiraiya chuckled. "Kid doesn't know how lucky he is, to be taught by the Sage of—"

"Yadda-yadda-yadda, some mountain, blah-blah-blah," waved off Nabiki. "Can we go now?"

The Sannin snorted. "No respect from today's youth."

"An escort mission," sighed Nabiki, closing the door to their home.

"More to it, they just didn't want to tell us at the moment with him there," replied Ranma, heading to the kitchen to start supper. No way in hell was one of his last meals before their first out-of-village mission, going to be made by Nabiki.

Not that she would complain, less work for her.

"Feels good," the Tendo girl stated, sitting at the counter in the kitchen as he and a bevy of Kage Bunshin began their work. "Nice to see they have faith in us for escorting a rich snob across the lands."

"Rich snobs need guards too," the main Ranma stated, the others being quiet as they worked. "And there's more to it, they just didn't want to say with him there."

"… Any idea what it is?"

"We got Gai, Anko, us, Kakashi, and the Old Pervert," he stated. "Whatever it is, it's pretty important, more so than some grandson of a trading magnate."

"Why us then?"

"Maybe he figured this would be a safe mission to show we're making progress, show those clans that we're not some over-indulged charity case."

She nodded her head. "Well, I guess there is one good thing about escorting this untrained Tatewaki."


She smirked as she turned towards him on her way to wash up. "I doubt we'll be sleeping in anything but hotels, and high-class ones at that."

He chuckled lightly as she left the kitchen. She could think that all she wanted, but she'd be in for a shock.

He had, after all, hung back enough to hear Anko chuckle about how surprised the pampered boy would be.

"Let us hope that is all the surprises that await us."

Blinking Ranma looked around. Rokubi?

Silence was all that answered him back.

Snorting, he returned to making dinner. "Today was a day of real progress after all."