Hi everyone! I'm so sorry for the long updates between chapters! But with my other creative projects and my sometimes maddening academic schedule, this is the way it has to be. So, I hope you'll enjoy this latest chapter, and as always, please, review. They would be nice birthday presents for me (turned 28 this week)

Konoha Jonin Makoto Mahera and his team spent the past 5 days escorting a wealthy merchant back to his home in the Land of Vines. Though the country had ninjas of their own, the merchant felt it was more cost-effective to hire ninjas in the middle of his trip as opposed to the entire one. First they had to reach the port in the mainland, then they traveled by boat. Finally, they reached the island chain he called home. While his village was in walking distance, the merchant insisted on taking a carriage. He gave his students a good scolding when they groaned at having to walk more than they had to, but the truth was he was getting pretty sick of this guy as well. Still, in a few minutes the mission would be over. He could deal with it, and the genin under his command would have to learn to deal with obnoxious customers as well.

"I wanna go down to the beach! It's so pretty!" The young kunoichi under his care stated as she gazed at the coastline.

"We're here on a mission, not a vacation!" he scolded her again. "As soon as this is over, we head back home!" While he himself was tempted to find a motel to relax, it would be unwise to settle down in a village full of competing ninjas. Though there were no problems between the two villages, it was still unwise to advertise their status and purpose.

When the village came in sight, they heard something drop to the ground. It came from the carriage! Makoto pulled a kunai and prepared to race inside the carriage. "Yoshi, go check it out; I'll check on Mr. Toshiro. Be on guard."

The genin looked under the carriage, kunai drawn while his sensei made sure their client was safe. "There's nothing here!" he called.

"Mr. Toshiro is safe as well." Makoto confirmed. "Stay alert; I don't think anyone would go as far as to hire ninja to assassinate a mere merchant, but better safe than sorry." He ordered his team.

Iori sprinted through the tall grass of a nearby field as she hurried out of the team's line of sight. Following them wasn't important; they took her where she needed to go, and that was all that mattered. It was a pain though; she had to use her butterflies to tranquilize Konoha's gate guards, stay a safe distance away from the team, stowaway onto the ship's broiler room, and had to hang from the carriage's belly. She would find her own way from here, and at this point she preferred it.

First, though, she needed to make sure her disguise was intact. Looking at her reflection in a nearby pond, she gave herself a satisfied nod. She dyed her hair black, and wore contacts that made her eyes appear a pale gray. Hopefully, those would be the only features she would have to alter. Any other physical features would either require plastic surgery, or using henge. The former would have caused permanent changes (not to mention more money than she could ever hope to afford), and the later would waste otherwise unnecessary chakra. Iori decided that the more subtle the changes, the better. Besides, she was so young when she was exiled from her home; it was unlikely that anyone would recognize her now, even without the changes. "I did all I could. I'll just have to hope for the best now."

Quickly summoning a pack from a scroll she carried, she stood and stared at the village ahead. It was funny how she barely ever thought of the village over the years as she became a ninja in Konoha. And yet when that team mentioned it as their destination, it was all she could think about. She wasn't sure if she was after closure, or revenge. But she just felt she had to come. "Let's see how much you have all changed…if any of you changed at all!" She hefted her backpack, and made her way towards the general direction of the village.

Naruto, Sakura, and Kakashi (currently in disguise) made their way towards the bridge. While all stayed aware for danger, Naruto sometimes had a tendency to be unobservant when something didn't fit what he was looking for.

That something on this occasion was a plaque on the bridge's entrance. "Na-I mean, brother!" Sakura exclaimed, doing her best to save face. "Did you see this!?"

Naruto, not really paying attention, answered "Yeah, yeah, Sa-sis. It's nice." It seemed their disguises were making Naruto not care for anything else outside of the job.

Quickly, Sakura slapped his back. Not enough to do any noticeable damage, but the vibration in his spine stopped Naruto in his tracks. "Naruto." Sakura whispered. "Take a look. Now."

Naruto did so, and tried his best not to look surprised as he stared at the plaque. "The Great Naruto Bridge" it read. The subtitle underneath it said "Dedicated to the children who never give up."

"Wow." Naruto whispered. "I…but…"

"It's quite a sight, isn't it?" Kakashi asked in his old man voice. "We best get going; we're running late!"

Naruto groaned, but Sakura lightly squeezed his shoulder. "Don't worry." She assured him. "There will be opportunities later."

Naruto smiled slightly, and nodded. The three continued on to their destination.

The three ninja walked the streets of Wave, like they did years before. However, they all felt like it was their first time here; so much had changed, it no longer felt familiar. What had once been a nation suffering from poverty was becoming prosperous, and it seemed the local economy was still growing.

"Is this the result of our…last visit?" Naruto asked in astonishment.

"It's amazing what easy access to the mainland and back can do, can't it?" Sakura replied.

As much as they all wanted to enjoy the sights, they had a mission. "Tazuna's house should be around here, if we make a left." Kakashi reminded them.

The team found the house, to see that little has changed. "You'd think that Tazuna would have moved ever since completing the bridge." Naruto said.

"Homes have a way of becoming a part of you, I guess." Sakura replied. "I think it's best if I knock on the door…grandfather." Their "grandfather" nodded in agreement, and Sakura proceeded to the door.

After knocking, the door was answered, but it wasn't by anyone the team recognized; it was an elderly lady. "Oh, I'm sorry!" Sakura replied. "This is the house of Uxota Tazuna, isn't it?"

The old lady chuckled. "I take it you folks are from out of town." The team nodded affirmatively. "Tazuna moved out, sold this place to me a couple of years ago. As fun as it would be for you all to keep me company, I've a feeling that you want to know where Mr. Uxota lives now, eh?"

"If you could, please." Sakura replied.

Tazuna sighed as he typed away at his typewriter; he had an important speech tomorrow, and only the night to prepare it. It was a pain in the neck; sometimes he wondered why he even took the job of a councilman. Or served another consecutive two terms. Well, at least he would be ready to retire after this, and with a better reception than most of his colleagues. He then heard the door in his room knock. "Come in."

A tall man with glasses, daisho samurai set and proper appearance with black hair opened the door. It was his servant, Kanshou. He initially didn't want to take a servant, but Kanshou needed the job, and he was quite handy to have around. "Sir, there are some visitors at the gate to see you."

"Anyone I know?" Tazuna asked, irritated about being interrupted while preparing for tomorrow.

"They wouldn't say, sir." Was the servant's answer. Though his answer seemed rather detached, Tazuna knew him long enough to know that he was as perplexed as he was.

Tazuna turned back to work. "Then send them away; they can set an appointment with me if they give me their names." If this was an assassination attempt…the person who put the hit on him should ask for his money back, the former bridge builder thought.

"They did, however, insist I give you this message." Kanshou emphasized.

"Spill it out, then."

"Should you ever require aid, seek the Will of Fire." Kanshou said. "That is the only information they would give me."

Tazuna at first dismissed it as he typed away on his typewriter. But then something in him clicked, like a sense of déjà vu. "Wait a minute…Will of Fire? Could it be…?"

He finally stopped what he was doing, and turned around to face his servant. "Kanshou, what did they look like?"

"2 young people, with an old man, their grandfather I think. The young man has blond hair, blue eyes, and the young woman has pink hair and green eyes. They both look rather fit. And not the going to the gym type. More like the live for battle type, like I used to be at their age."

Tazuna thought for a minute. Slowly, a smile formed on his lips. He got off of his chair and walked to the closet. "Send them in; keep them comfortable in the guest room. I'll make myself presentable in the meantime."

"Sir, are you sure about this?" Kanshou asked. "You don't even know who-"

"Actually, Kanshou, I know them quite well. In fact, I don't think I would be here if it weren't for them. Trust me, I know what I'm doing." He seemed to have finally selected a casual form of dress. "They're old friends of mine, ones I haven't seen in ages. I expect you to treat them like they would any other guests."

Kanshou bowed, and replied "Of course, sir. As you wish."

Naruto looked around the small mansion anxiously as he and his team was seated in the living room, convinced that no matter how good he had it, Tazuna couldn't possibly be here. "This can't be right; there has to be a mistake. There's no way the old geezer would get rich so quickly and choose this kind of lifestyle…"

"This is where we were directed." Sakura chastised him. "We'll find out if he's here, and if not, we'll leave."

"I can assure you, you have come to the right place. And for the record, I must say that given the choice, I would have stuck with my old home, but as a council member, I'm required to live here in order to insure a few people have jobs."

Naruto and Sakura stared in front of them as Tazuna, dressed in a nice button up shirt and khakis walked into view. He hadn't changed much; if anything, time had been pretty good to him. The only noticeable difference was some minor hair loss, as his sideburns were not as tall as they used to be, but all things considered, he was the same as they saw him 12 years ago. "Old geezer!" Naruto shouted excitedly.

While Kanshou was prepared to slice the youth in two for his apparent disrespect, upon seeing his master's jovial response, he relaxed. "Naruto!" Tazuna replied, smiling. "Look at you! All grown up! I can't believe it's been so long!" He walked up to Naruto, and embraced him to the jonin's surprise. Tazuna took his eye off of him to see the other member of Team 7 who helped him. "Sakura! Look at you! You've become quite the woman!"

Sakura blushed madly at the compliment; she hadn't expected someone who saw her as a skinny pre-teen girl years before to compliment her on her maturity and beauty. "T-Thank you Tazuna-san!" she stuttered.

Tazuna then looked at the old man, and his smile disappeared in confusion. "Who is this?" Finally Kakashi undid the henge and revealed his true form. "Kakashi!" Tazuna replied, his enthusiasm returned. "You haven't changed a bit! It's so good to see you!"

"It's good to see you too, sir. I'm glad that our mission together years ago have helped your country immensely." Kakashi said as he shook hands with the former bridge-builder.

Tazuna smiled sheepishly for some reason. "Yeah. In fact, to this day you were still charged for a C rank mission when it should have been much higher. Come on in to my office; we can discuss paying off the rest of the debt…"

"Actually, we came here for something else." Sakura interrupted. "We were hoping to investigate what has remained of Gato's company. Perhaps, you could tell us something important, if it's not too much trouble?"

Tazuna's cheerful voice became serious. They could tell, even to this day, Gato's empire was a sore spot in Tazuna's past. "What happened?"

"It's a long story." Kakashi answered. "We were hoping you may be able to point us in the right direction."

Tazuna, understanding a ninja's need for secrecy, nodded. "Let's talk about this in my study. Less likely to have people eavesdropping." He whispered.

The trio followed him inside, and Tazuna shut the doors and locked them. "These walls are sound proof; it should be safe." As everyone took a seat around the table, Tazuna opened it up. "Before we begin, I'm just curious; where is Sasuke? I liked him, he was a talented kid."

Everyone seemed to have clammed up being asked that. "What? Did something bad happen to him?" he asked, now concerned.

Sakura seemed like she would have to tell him the truth…no matter how painful it was. "Well…"

"Sasuke's on an extended S-class mission." Naruto interrupted for her. "He left before our mission began, and we don't know when he'll be back. But I'll let him know you said hi." He said as if nothing was wrong or unusual.

Sakura smiled slightly. "He knows just the right things to say at the most important of times."

Tazuna nodded in understanding, buying Naruto's lie. "I see. Okay, then. Let's get down to business, shall we? Why don't you all start from the beginning and why the sudden interest in Gato's company."

As the tale of the Uchiha clone unfolded, Tazuna's face became more solemn. Sakura then pulled a photograph from her vest pocket, and undid the genjutsu she placed on it (just in case someone pickpocketed her). "Here's the symbol found on the subject's chest. We wanted to confirm if it belonged to Gato's company."

Tazuna inspected the symbol with scrutiny, and growled. "Yeah, this belonged to Gato's company, at least while he was still alive. Tigre has changed it since then, but there are rumors on the black market of this specific symbol still being used."

"What about this Tigre guy?" Naruto asked. "After the crap Wave went through with Gato, I can't imagine you'd let his son do business here."

"We didn't; not at first. But as an international company, he could go wherever he wanted as long as there was free trade. Besides, it was Gato, not Tigre, who was in charge when the company was draining our country dry. Tigre also worked hard to wipe his father's influence from the company's past clean; over the years, he has convinced many in the public that he was a legitimate business man and donated to various charities and causes. Credible news of any corruption within Gato's company seemingly vanished overnight. If we barred him from trading within waves, we could have risked him having sued us, and with his money, I bet he would have won easily." Tazuna looked down as he collected his thoughts. "He's different from his father, make no mistake. But he's as rotten as his father; I can see it in his eyes, and I've seen sides of him he would never reveal in public. Though we try to keep a civil relationship in the eyes of the public, I know he has bought off council members who have actively opposed me."

"So, I assume since the corporation has reestablished itself here, other than the politics, there have been no problems that you're aware of?" Kakashi asked.

Tazuna sighed. "He hasn't been caught or charged with anything. But I've seen him at some of the parties our council will throw on holidays; I can tell, just by the way he asks for favors, that he's up to no good. Unfortunately, my word alone isn't good enough, and he's careful enough not to let too much slip out of his tongue. So, if you want to hear anything about him directly from here, I'm afraid I'll be of no help."

Kakashi, satisfied with what they were told, stood up from his chair. "Do not worry about it, old friend. You've helped us quite a bit. At least now, we know where to begin and what to look for. We'll be on our way now…"

"Now just a minute!" Tazuna suddenly shouted. "You can't just visit me and expect to leave like that!"

Naruto, in fact, was about to take his side. However, Sakura spoke up before he could give his own opinion. "With all due respect, Tazuna-san, this wasn't a social visit. We came here with a mission to do. We simply do not have the luxury. Besides, if we are exposed, you and your family will be at risk."

"I understand that." Tazuna replied. "But you must understand that I am no longer a mere bridge-builder. I'm one of many people running this country. If I'm assassinated, the government will have no choice but to investigate; bribery can only cover up so much. If it's done quietly, they'll know it was ninja, and they will know where to look. If it's done like it was nearly 12 years ago, with samurai out in the open…well, that would just be plain stupid. Either way, there's no way that Tigre would play such a hand, not yet. Besides, staying here would be beneficial for you three as well."

"We appreciate the offer, but we can afford a motel." Kakashi said, hoping to end the debate.

"Yeah, a motel where, as unlikely as it is, you're liable to be killed in your sleep!" Tazuna shouted in irritation. "At least, while Tigre is laying low and playing it cool, you three are safer here. And should I be wrong about all this…there's no one else I'd count on to protect my family." The three were taken aback by his knowledge, and had no counter-argument for what he just told them. "Besides, I know too much now. I have to help you investigate…or, in case I get tortured, I will need you three close by now." Both Sakura and Kakashi sighed in defeat.

"Well, you've got no argument from me." Naruto smiled enthusiastically. "I was personally looking forward to seeing you and the rest of your family, even though the mission comes first."

Tazuna smiled. "I was hoping you'd say that." Looking at his watch, Tazuna asked the trio. "So, now that everything's settled, have you all eaten yet? It's nearly time to cook dinner."

Back in the Land of Vines, a middle aged woman with brunette hair tied in a bun read her book as the rain poured heavily on her inn. Typical weather in the subtropics. It still didn't keep such weather from being a pain; thankfully she wouldn't have to go outside anytime soon.

She was distracted from her thoughts when it seemed a potential customer had arrived, the chime of the bell alerting her. It seemed to be a young lady with ebony hair; she couldn't have been any older than 16. "Hello, Miss? May I help you?" she asked.

Folding her umbrella, the young lady replied "I would like a room for a week, please."

It seemed she was the straight to business type, but she couldn't just rent a room yet. "Just you?"

"Yes." She replied bluntly as she reached for a towel provided on the front desk.

"But…you're so young. Surely, you must have friends, if not family with you?"

The young teen smiled politely. "Afraid not. I'm something of a wanderer."

The host quickly saved face. "My apologies. I know there are some unfortunate souls like yourself who are on their own. Are you looking for work?"

"An odd job or two might be helpful before I hit the road again." She replied as she tossed the towel in a basket. "I'm still looking for a place to settle down; haven't quite made up my mind where."

"I'll see what I can do for you then. Since it's uncommon to get visitors who are not quite adults, I'll give you 50% discount. It's the least I could do."

The girl bowed. "Thank you so much! But you don't have to…"

"I insist." The hostess said, making it clear through her tone the subject was not up for debate. "You probably have enough troubles as it is. I won't have it any other way."

The teen bowed again. "Thank you very much. You have a deal!"

The teenage girl paid a deposit (to the inn-keeper's surprise), and signed her name. "Well, it looks like we're all set, um…Fericia Wato, is it?"

"Unusual name, I know." She replied sheepishly.

"Apologies. There's nothing wrong with having a unique name. I think it's quite exotic" The hostess then got a key from the drawer. "Room Number 7, 3 doors to your right."

After the teen bowed once more and made her way towards her room, the hostess seemed to get a sense of déjà vu. "Excuse me, but have we met? You look familiar."

The teen chuckled slightly. "I doubt it. This is my first time here."

The hostess then waved it off. "My mistake then. You rest well, and enjoy your stay."

The teen entered the room and locked the door…and immediately clenched her teeth in a desperate attempt to conceal her growl. "I almost wish you acted like the bitch I remember…"

Iori knew her all too well. It was probably a month before her father was taken when her face was forever etched in her memory. She saw a little boy getting bullied by his peers. Iori stepped in and chased them off (after punching the biggest one in the nose). She was about to help him up, when suddenly his mother pulled him away and kicked her. "Don't touch my child, demon spawn!" When her father came to pick her up, he noticed the bruise on her forehead. He demanded to know who struck her, but Iori never told him. She didn't know why; she supposed at the time she thought she had done something wrong.

Iori felt sick being in that ignorant woman's inn…but she would have to endure. She had half a mind to burn the inn to the ground and trap her in it…but as much as she wanted to take her hate out on her, in the end that was all she was: ignorant. The true target she was after, knew exactly what he was doing when he organized the mob the burned her own house with her in it. "Soon. I must be patient."

Though she wasn't the type to resort to this, she sat on the floor and began to meditate. She would need to have her mind focused if she was to exact revenge.

Inari waved goodbye to his friends as he prepared to enter his family's mansion. As nice as it was, he still missed his first home; it was relaxing to be near the sea. Fortunately, grandpa promised this would be his last term as a council member and while it was unlikely the current owner would sell back the house, they would at least buy a new place that had some resemblance to their old residence.

That's not to say their current home didn't have its perks, as Inari waved hello to Kanshou upon entering the yard "Hey Kanshou! I take it everything is fine?"

"Yes. We actually have some visitors. Friends your grandfather has informed me your family is very familiar with."

Inari figured they were some distant relatives they ran into every now and then; very nice people, but Inari would almost always wind up forgetting their names and faces, as they usually failed to leave an impression on him. As he made his way inside, he could hear his grandfather's laughter from the living room. "Really!? Your own team!?" His grandpa shouts echoed down the hall. "Damn! Time really has flown by me! And what about you?"

"Never got one." A female voice responded. "As part of the medical corps, I never had time to focus on training a few individuals. I have, however, had the pleasure of training one of his students. He's come a long way."

"She does make a great instructor, though." Another person enthusiastically said.

"I second that." Another male voice said. "I'm surprised that this blond knuckle-head even got a team. Then again, those 3 were quite the handful; I guess he was the best choice for them."

The term used to describe one of the people caused Inari's eyes to widen in surprise. "No! It can't be!" he thought in denial not from dread, but delight. He dropped his backpack and raced down the hall into the mansion.

When he finally reached the living room, his eyes couldn't believe what he was seeing. Team 7! Naruto Uzumaki was here! He instantly recognized Kakashi; he hadn't changed a bit from what he could see.

Kakashi turned around, and his visible eye widened in surprise. After smiling underneath his mask, Kakashi turned to the others. "Guys, it looks like someone's here to see you." Pointing his thumb at Inari

They turned their heads, and their smiles only grew wider. "Inari!? Is that you!?" the blonde, without a doubt Naruto, exclaimed in surprise.

Inari himself could hardly believe it was Naruto he was talking to; he remembered him as a boy about to enter his teens. Now he was a man; in many ways, he reminded him of his surrogate father. "Naruto-nichan! It really is you!" he exclaimed in joy.

Catching the blonde ninja off guard, he ran towards him and tackled him onto the floor, giving everyone a good chuckle. "Inari!" Naruto huffed, embarrassed. "Wow, you've grown. In fact, aren't you a little bit big for this? Both in body and mind?"

While Inari was still quite recognizable, the fact he had grown into a teenager threw Team 7 off guard as well. He had grown in height to the point where he was almost eye-to-eye with Naruto, and it was clear that he worked out too; not ridiculously muscular, but it was clear he regularly practiced some physical activity. He was also showing another stage of maturity, becoming flustered at hugging another man. "Sorry! It's just…it's…"

"It's cool." Naruto said as he picked himself and Inari up the ground. "I understand. I was pretty impulsive about these kinds of things as a kid as well." Inari scowled at being called a kid, though it seemed no one noticed. "Good to see you too, Inari." Naruto smiled, patting his shoulder. "You really have grown."

Inari smiled in response, as he turned to see…Sakura!? It seemed he stuttered her name out loud, as she only giggled in response. "Hello, Inari. It's good to see you too."

Up until now, Inari still remembered Sakura from years ago. A skinny pre-teen girl with barely developing adult features was the one he remembered. But now…he didn't know what to think, except for one thing. "T-This is Sakura!? She's gorgeous!" Even though at the time he wasn't old enough to be into girls, he could have never imagined Sakura growing into the gorgeous woman in front of him.

"Inari? Hey, you okay?" Naruto asked, waving his hand in front of his eyes to see if anything was off.

Inari snapped back to reality upon realizing he was spacing out. "Oh! Y-yeah!" Quickly, he bowed to Sakura. "Good to see you to, Sakura-san." Inari was worried that may not have been an appropriate suffix.

It seemed he had nothing to fear, however, as Sakura pulled him into a hug. "No need to be formal with us, silly! If anything, we should apologize for not coming to visit sooner!"

Inari, however didn't hear her. Instead, he felt her hands across him and her breasts against his body. "S-Soft!" was the only thing he could think.

"Don't beat yourselves up over it." Tazuna interrupted. "We've been busy, you've been busy…it's just as much on us." Addressing Inari, he said "Your mother's getting dinner ready. Go wash up."

Before Inari could do what he was told, Tazuna quickly came up to him. "Wait a minute! Walk with me." As he and Inari traveled up the stairs, Tazuna whispered "Listen, Inari. Team 7 is undercover, and I'm letting them stay here during the duration of their mission. I can't go into details, I just want to be sure you don't go telling anyone that they're here living with us. Things could go south fast if word gets out. If they're seen with us, just tell them they're friends of the family. Naruto is Tom Yoong, Sakura is Ichigo, and you can call Kakashi Croc-san. Got it?"

"Got it, grandpa." Inari answered. "I guess this means we can't play much catch up, huh?" he asked, a tinge of disappointment in his voice

"I'll be sure they stick around for that." Tazuna answered, patting Inari on the shoulder. Then, he gave Inari a sly look. "Sakura's become quite the looker, huh?"

Inari nearly screamed in surprise. "Gramps! You can't go around saying things like that!"

"I wasn't talking about me." Tazuna answered, giving Inari a mischievous look. "I can see clear as day the way your face matched her blouse in two seconds upon looking at her." Inari stuttered something unintelligible, flapping his arms. "Relax, kid. I'm not going around spilling any secrets." He playfully slapped his grandson on the back. "I'm just worried you won't be able to keep your own in front of her."

Tazuna laughed on the way down the stairs, while he left Inari fuming and red.

Yakuza boss Byakko sighed as he took a sip of his sake. It was a slow day today, the authorities were having trouble keeping up with them, and there were no new officials to bribe. Taking a bite of Mongolian beef, and pushing the plate to the table, he said to his boys "I think I'll go for a walk. Anyone who's not too busy, join me."

As he and two others got up to leave from headquarters, one of his guards came to see him. "Sir, it seems you have a visitor."

"Whoever it is, tell him to piss off! Not in the mood." He growled curtly. He never liked to be bothered right after lunch time.

"He says he is the son of Kurohyou."

Now that got his attention. Kurohyou was a friend of his, his partner while rising through the ranks. Eventually, both parted ways to start their own crime families. While they were in many ways competitors, they always had a mutual respect for one another. However, he heard Kurohyou had died recently. They never talked about children, if they had any, but it was not completely implausible. "Send him in. I'll see if he's the real thing."

Within minutes, Byakko was in his office. He waited patiently as his body guards brought in the kid. It surprised him; he couldn't have been older than 15.

Still, for his age, he looked absolutely vicious. Spiked black hair, several tattoos which any normal mother would have killed her son for having, this kid was no goody two-shoes. He also looked quite athletic; Byakko couldn't be exactly sure of what he did for a hobby, but he could tell he had been in more than a few fights. "So, what's your name, kid?"

"Hyakujuunoou." The teen replied curtly. Judging by his tone of voice and body language, he was not interested in pleasantries and idle conversation; nor did he seem to particularly care about who he was speaking to.

"Looks like your father didn't teach you any manners." Byakko growled. "I don't have much patience for punks like you, so you better watch your mouth with me from now on."

The teen only sneered in response. "My old man didn't have manners, so he didn't teach me squat. Besides, I've learned that good manners only keep you alive; they don't help in giving you what you want."

Byakko's scowl slowly turned into a slight grin. "It seems you are his son after all; no crime lord would raise his kid to be a wuss, not if they're to take over the business. Your personality is like his too: a man of few words, and, unless it was our former boss, didn't give a damn who he pissed off." Byakko then turned to one of his guards. "Hamaguri, some sake please." As the guard left to get it, Byakko returned his attention to Hyakujuunoou. "I know you're technically not old enough to drink, but…"

"You'll let the LAW stop you?" Hyakujuunoou asked rhetorically, chuckling. "Don't be fooled, I know I'm getting into the game a little early, but I think it's best to start now. Life of a yakuza boss is normally not too long, ya know?"

"You keep your wits about ya, and you'll last as long as I have." Byakko replied, tapping his grey hair and balding head. Despite his age, he was also very well built; it was obvious that despite being leader, he was not one to let his thugs do all the dirty work.

When the sake was brought to them, Byakko started on a different topic. "I heard Kurohyou died."

"Yeah." Hyakujuunoou nodded, taking a gulp of the sake. It seemed he could hold his liquor, as he didn't show any outward signs of intoxication. "Samurai raid; nasty stuff. I was out for a walk at the time it happened, and it was over when I got back. We weren't close, but he wanted me to take over the business, you know? Want to live up to his expectations and all."

"What about your mother?" Byakko asked skeptically.

"She was a prostitute; guess I don't need to tell you I was an accident. Anyway, I haven't seen her in years; both agreed I should stay with pops, as I had more of a future living with him."

"Makes sense." Byakko nodded, satisfied. "Well, I'd like to give you a helping hand to get started, but you know I am a businessman. I don't give handouts."

Hyakujuunoou only smiled. "Wouldn't dream of asking for such a thing. Actually, I'm hoping that we could form some kind of partnership."

Byakko put his cup of sake down. "Alright. Now I'm interested. So, what do you propose, kid?"

"My dad's family used to specialize in the drug trade. Not only have the busts become more frequent, but more people are becoming more health-conscious. Higher risks, lower returns, you know? Until the trend changes, I can't rely on that. But I noticed one area of business that still seems to be on the rise that I'm interested in exploring: Human Trafficking."

Byakko nodded. "Yeah; slavery was outlawed decades ago in all 5 major countries, but there will always be corrupt people who want cheap labor and women who do what they're told. But why you want to team up? Having trouble catching some girls? Lost children?"

"The supply isn't the problem; I just want to get started with the highest demand possible. I think I have a few nice catches, and I want as much money as possible. Knowing your reputation, I figured some of your customers would be willing to pay gold for them. It'll help me get a running start; I figure maybe you take 60% of the profits and me getting the rest is a decent deal, no?"

Byakko only smirked. "Word to the wise, kid: When entering a partnership, never ask for less than 50-50! I'll be nice this time around and take the low end of the profits. But next time we do business, I advise you to be more shrewd in your demands." he smirked.

Looking at his watch, he stood up and said "It's getting late. If you mean it, bring me your merchandise to this address by the end of the week." Handing Hyukujuunoou a fold of paper, he added "Whoever you bring with you, they wait outside. We'll be out of sight, and out of earshot, got it?"

"Of course." Hyakujuunoou stood and bowed. "It was good to finally meet you. Father has always spoken of you rather fondly; I'm beginning to see why."

"Hmph. Your father was always a good judge of character." Byakko waved as he departed.

With that, Hyukujuunoou departed the premise. Byakko sent some of his goons to follow him; standard procedure among the crime families. He didn't wander into any areas that struck them as alarming, and finally, he reached the inn where he was staying. The goons, seeing nothing suspicious, left. When Hyukujuunoou entered his room, and confirmed they left, he shut the blinds and knocked on the tatami mats. "It's safe now."

The matts flew up as Miyamoto Yuji made his way out. "HHHHHGGGHHHNNN! I couldn't breathe in there!"

"Lightweight." Yamanaka Ino muttered as she got out of the floor boards and took a seat by the futon.

"Keep it down!" Shiguri, who met Byakko as Hyukujuunoou, hissed. His natural appearance did not need to be altered for this mission, as some would argue he already looked like a crook. "This room is only booked for one. Not only do I want to get charged for two more people…the mission could be, oh, I don't know, compromised!" he hissed sarcastically.

"Settle down, you two." Ino said. "Now, Shiguri, how did it go?"

"He seemed to buy it." Shiguri began. "The info you provided on Kurohyou helped a lot, and Byakko doesn't suspect anything unusual as of yet. Besides, no thanks to dear old grandpa, I've seen how…characters like him behave and what they expect. It seems he accepts me as the genuine article. The problem is, though, that I need to bring…'merchandise' you might call it."

"That's not a problem." Ino said. "I already have that covered. But did he mention any particular slaves in general?"

"Not a word; I wouldn't dare bring up the Daimyo's niece. I would've been killed on the spot."

"Of course." Ino replied. "We can't be too blunt."

"However, if this meeting goes smoothly, I'd imagine we'll get to see the auction…and maybe even the buyer." Shiguri said. "I'd imagine that if we're going to find her, she would still be with the rest of the stock, judging by the time between she was last seen and then. Someone like her would fetch a high price on the black market."

Ino nodded in satisfaction. "Well done, Shiguri. We'll continue as planned…"

"Hold on a minute."

The two turned to see Yuji raise his hand. "Yes, Miyamoto?" Ino asked, feeling she wouldn't be very interested in what he had to say.

"I couldn't help but notice something. Shiguri is the undercover guy. You are our current commander…"

"What are you getting at, Yuji?" Shiguri asked, prompting his friend to get straight to the point.

"What did you drag me here for!?" he suddenly shouted, causing both of them to give him perplexed looks.

"You're the medic of the team, just in case something goes wrong." Ino said, rolling her eyes.

"YOU'RE a medic nin!" Yuji shouted, pointing an accusing finger at their kunoichi commander. "So what do you need me for!?"

"You're back-up; just in case." Ino reminded him sternly. "Should this mission go as planned, I will not be able to step in and heal your injuries. Any other questions you'd like to share with us?"

Shiguri knew what was really eating up Yuji; his friend was afraid he was not contributing to the mission, and wanted to play an important part in it. Shiguri wanted to help him find another job besides backup, but he couldn't think of anything practical for him in this situation. Continuing with discussing the mission, he continued "Anyway, I'm really going to have to play the part of a yakuza boss's son. Which means I'm going to need henchmen." He noted, rubbing his chin in deep thought.

"Count me in, then!" Yuji replied enthusiastically, raising his fist into the air.

Shiguri could only give him a skeptical look. "Sorry Yuji; you're too nice to be a criminal. At best, you'd be laughed at. Smart guys with glasses are usually delegated to handling paperwork."

Yuji's face looked dejected as he looked down at the floor. "You're right…"

Shiguri sighed and said "Still, there is something you might be able to do…"

Back in The Land of Vines, council man Utsubokazura got his paperwork in order. Looking out the window, he sighed as he saw the sun begin to set. It looked like he wouldn't be coming home for dinner again. "My wife is going to kill me one of these days." He thought. Looking back at the mountain of paper, he sighed. "Well, better get to it." Flicking back his silver pony-tail, he set his mind to work. He supposed he should get rid of them; he was quite the bishonen in his youth, but now in his 50s, it was probably time to move on and act his age.

He drew his pen and began to scribble his signatures on the documents, doing his best not to let himself be distracted by the outside world. A stray butterfly flew in, but he paid it no heed. Just a bug, nothing more. However, he couldn't help but notice with each passing minute, the village seemed to have gotten unusually quiet.

After a few minutes, a female voice said "It seems you're working hard…Mr. Utsubokazura."

Despite it not being someone he recognized, he wasn't alarmed and didn't even look up from his work. After all, it wasn't even nightfall and no one would attempt on assault on their own at this hour. Still, the guards would have escorted her inside if she was important enough to see the councilman immediately. "How did she get past the guards?" he wondered. "I'm glad you noticed." He finally spoke. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to finish this work as soon as possible. If there is something important you need to tell me, you can set up an appointment with my secretary…"

"I prefer to do it now. I may never have a chance to see the face of the man who turned the village against us again; the same one who tried to burn my house down with me in it." The voice finished with menace in her voice.

Utsobokuzura stopped writing, and slowly looked up. In front of him was a red-headed teenage girl, glad in a shinobi uniform. And he could see she was trembling in fury, if only slightly (years on the field taught him that experience). He was certain that he never met her before, yet she was familiar. "Who-?" He then noticed the kamas on her sides. He could tell even from his desk that the handles were made of a special wood found only in the Land of Vines. Only one pair existed, and they belonged to someone. No, make that something.

Then, his mind finally put 2 and 2 together, as he began to remember the "little girl". "It's her! The demon's child!" A trickle of sweat dropped down his forehead as Iori approached him slowly, and menacingly. "Guards! Guards!" He called.

"Don't worry about them." Iori growled. "They'll wake up…eventually. Same goes for most of the village's shinobi; I made sure to spread my butterflies all over. Too bad I can't say the same for you!" Iori suddenly crouched and pulled out her kamas, rushing at him.

Utsubokazura, realizing help was not coming, leaped into the air to dodge her weapons. Though he wasn't the shinobi he used to be, he made sure to maintain his skills and reflexes. And it looked like for the first time in years, he would have to call upon them again. Upon landing, he made his hand signs. "Futon! Tatsumaki Shuriken no Kaze!"

The air around him accumulated into dense masses, forming shurikens that then surrounded Iori. "You think this will stop me!?" Iori batted them away with her kamas, but all of the air shuriken suddenly simultaneously impaled her. Utsubokazura didn't even get a chance to let out his breath, as Iori popped into a cloud of smoke.

"Kage Bushin!?"

"You win the grand prize: MY FIST!" Utsubokazura turned to the right too late to his side to see Iori punch him across the jaw and into the window. The glass shattered, but thankfully he didn't tumble out.

Quickly, he prepared another jutsu. "Futon! Furyudan!" A dragon seemingly made from air flew straight to Iori, who was already countering with a better technique.

"Katon! Rasengan!" Iori used her own chakra to mold the sphere, while a bushin added the elemental composition. Hurling the sphere at the dragon, a cyclone of flame erupted and hurled Utsubokazura out the window.

Before he could scream for help, Iori, with the aid of some bushins, grabbed his ankle and pulled him back up. Throwing him onto his desk from there, she pounced on him and stabbed her kama into his shoulder. She then clamped his mouth with her foot to muffle his screams. "I would very much like to do this all day. But you caused more of a ruckus then I had expected, and I'm running out of time. So…" She raised her scythe, as Utsubokazura's eyes widened in horror. "…I will put an end to your life, right here and now!"

"VVAIIT!" He screamed through her foot. "VET MASM'T DE!"

Iori twitched her eyebrow, and slammed her other kama dangerously close to his head. She released her foot, and quickly grabbed his mouth before he could scream again. "Come again?" she hissed. Utsubokazura got the unsaid message: scream, and he dies.

The man before her wheezed. "I…I wasn't the one who ordered you to be exiled!"

Iori, unsatisfied, hoisted him into the air. "Yeah, sure. Seems like you were trying your hardest to keep me home by killing me. But if it wasn't you, then who?"

"He's not here; not anymore." Utsubokazura squeaked.

Iori slammed him back onto the desk. "Stop wasting my god damn time!? Who was it, and where the hell is he!?"

Utsubokazura took several deep gulps as he prepared to spill the beans. He was once a shinobi, but things were different now as a politician. "His name is Echiro Taka. Back then, he was the council man in the seat I'm in now. I was merely his servant and spokesperson at the time. Those things I said, encouraged…those were not my ideals! I was only following orders in the event the public would turn against him when coming after you and your demon father! Everything I did was on his orders, even if he were to deny it! It was to keep his hands clean!"

Iori suddenly tightened her grip on his throat. "But you went through with it, without hesitation. In fact, you looked forward to seeing me dead. How is that good enough for me to spare you!?" She proceeded to slam him against the bookcase behind them. "Did you stop to think, to what kind of man you were helping to make miserable!? What you were doing to a little girl, who had no idea of her lineage, and done nothing wrong!?" Tossing him aside, she clenched her fist, doing her best to keep her tears from flowing. "I discovered what my father was…and what I am. But how does containing a monster make one a monster!? Tell me!"

Utsubokazura only looked at her in fear. "TELL ME!" Iori yelled one more time.

"What difference does it make!?" Utsubokazura yelled, madness from fear taking over him. "Jinchuriki take the traits of the demons they contain; it's only a matter of time before their true nature takes over!"

"No." Iori growled, approaching him slowly. "It's only a matter of time before the person you think they are becomes reality. A self-fulfilling prophecy."

Suddenly, her hair started to show silver highlights, and her mouth grew fangs. Her nails grew into claws as well, seemingly negating the need for bladed weapons. "Well, if that is what you're convinced I am…I'll give it to you! Just like you wanted!" she yelled, her voice quickly becoming demonic.

Grabbing his neck, she dragged him across the floor. "No…please, wait! I'm sorry! Have mercy!" he begged, his nails desperately scratching the carpet.

His pleas seemed to have gone unheard, as she dragged him back to the window. Without hand signs, if this was a specific technique, she raised a stalagmite out of the ground. "Please…I've a family…" he sobbed.

"So did I." Iori growled, hoisting him out the window. "So did I."

Utsubokazura hit Iori's arm hard as he could to get free, but the jinchuriki offspring didn't flinch. Whether it was because her mind was overpowered with rage, or because her outflow of demonic chakra numbed pain, neither could say. "Good-by-"

She stopped her sentence as something caught her eye: a cracked photograph on the floor. Kicking it up with her foot, she caught it with her free hand. It showed Utsubokazura, his wife, and 3 kids. Iori felt wronged for so many years, and wanted her prey to feel the same as her. But, seeing his family, it stopped her. "Why? Why can't I let go!?" She kept willing her hand to let go, but the command in her body seemed to go unheard. "He tried to kill me! He took me away from Dad! It's only fair he suffers as much as I!"

The sun had almost gone down. Realizing that her butterflies' sleeping powder would wear off soon, she pulled him back in and threw him to the floor. "Eichiro Taka. Tell me where he is, fast! And I will let you go…"

"After we drove you out…" Utsubokazura wheezed, "…he retired. I have not been in contact with him since, but I heard that he went to work for a businessman named Tigre."

"Where can I find this 'Tigre'?" Iori followed up.

"His home is in the Land of Waves." Utsubokazura wheezed. "I don't know if Taka's up there, but if not, he should know where he went."

Iori's mind flooded with memories of a summoned butterfly; much like the Kage Bushin, when they dispelled, their memories would become hers. Apparently, the surrounding ninja were waking up. "Better get going." Iori glared at Utsubokazura one more time before throwing him back inside. Without looking back, she warned him "Next time, be careful who you screw with; they may come back to haunt you."

With that, Iori jumped out of the window, and vanished. Utsubokazura could only cry in joy at being spared.

A young, short-haired blond and slender tour guide walked down the steps of a port, looking as professional as possible. Walking around all day in a business dress and high heels was a pain, but it paid good money. Soon, she was face to face with a group of about 20 individuals. Some were businessmen, others looked like students looking for an apprenticeship. Others were simply tourists. "Hello, and welcome to Felidae Industries. We are the world's leading provider of all the latest technologies of all kind, and our goal is to create a more unified world and mitigate all of its problems. My name is Fubuki Tsukasa, and I will be your tour guide today."

An introduction exercise was done where members of the tour group introduced themselves as well, and what they hoped to gain from visiting the company's corporate headquarters. When it was over, Tsukasa announced "With that, I believe we are ready to begin. If you all will follow me, we will board the boat and arrive at Tiger Island in about 10 minutes." The tourists boarded the boat, and just lounged around, enjoying the nice day out at open sea.

Soon, the island came into view, and the tourists were stunned at what they saw. The island itself wasn't impressive; it was barely passable as a deserted island. Very small, and could not hold an ecosystem on its own. What drew their attention, were the buildings. Very, VERY tall buildings. From where they were, they appeared as extremely large rectangles of metal arranged with their longest sides reaching the sky.

One petite black haired woman dressed in a pink sundress and white hat exclaimed in awe "Those buildings must be a hundred meters tall!"

"Actually, our tallest one is 300 meters tall." Tsukasa corrected her as she approached. "The others range between 150 and 200 meters. Like what you see…miss…?

The young lady replied " Kiichigo. Enka Kiichigo. And yes, I'm impressed. I've never seen engineering like this."

Tsukasa, having been trained to anticipate responses to such statements, said "Tigre-sama wanted to have all of his departments concentrated in one location. Though he could have bought land on the main island, he felt it would hurt relations with the nationals. His father does not have the best reputation here, so Tigre-sama needed to something about the company's image. So, he made this island out of sea sand and came up with the idea of these 'sky scrapers'. This way, he can have all sorts of departments in one location."

Kiichigo nodded, smiling. "To get this done…I'm sure it's nothing to Tigre, but for anyone else this would cost a fortune."

"Well, he only spends his money if he thinks he'll get a good return…unless, of course, it involves one of his more philanthropic divisions." Tsukasa replied.

Soon, they approached the shore and disembarked. "I believe we have about 20 people here, correct? Please, write your names on these guest passes, and we can begin the tour!"

Soon, everyone was escorted inside the main building, where once more they all gasped in awe. The floor was made of polished marble, and the roof seemed to go on forever. The lobby itself was pretty sparse minus a few soft chairs and a reception desk, but to many that made it all the more impressive. Everyone also stared in wonder at set of stairs that were MOVING! "Felidae industries is always on the cutting edge of technology. What you see before you is an escalator. It's like a conveyor belt, only with stairs. It helps people relax while moving in a large area such as this."" Tsukasa said as she stepped ahead of everyone. "With that, we may begin the tour. And please, feel free to ask me any questions. Don't worry, I'm used to it." Everyone chuckled at the small joke.

The tourists were led up the "escalator" as Tsukasa called it, and were guided to the various departments to get a sample of how everyone worked. Most of it involved engineering. Others were involved in chemistry.

However, among them, Kiichigo was anxious. She wasn't finding the department she was looking for. "Come on, come on. There has to be a biology department somewhere."

"And finally, this is the biology department." Tsukasa told the tourists.

Kiichigo suppressed an urge to hiss "Yes!" Tsukasa began to talk about the company's involvement with this area of science, but Kiichigo was hearing none of it. Instead, her eyes wandered over to a restricted area. "There's got to be something inside of there. First, I have to ditch this group." Making sure all were paying attention to the tour guide, she quickly made hand signs for the bushin no jutsu. Her chakra control was precise enough that the clone did not exude a puff of smoke when formed.

Before anyone could notice there was two of them, Kiichigo, who in reality was Sakura Haruno (who dyed her hair black), ducked behind a desk. The bushin did its job perfectly, following the group and not behaving too out of the ordinary. There were two problems, however; if anyone touched it, it would dissipate immediately. Also, too much distance between the clone and the original would have the same effect. It would have to do, though. Ninja never got much time during espionage missions and as such were trained to gather an hour's worth of information in a minute. As the group walked away for a lunch break, Sakura ran straight into the restricted area.

Her instincts made her instantly knock out a samurai guard with a chop before he even realized she was there. Quickly hiding his body under some tarp, she carefully made her way through the hall. She saw numerous biochemistry instruments at work, but nothing struck her as out of the ordinary and worth investigating.

Coming across a file cabinet, she decided to quickly take a peak. It was a good thing she was a very fast reader, otherwise this wouldn't have been practical. She didn't bother reading entire documents; not enough time and most of it would probably be junk anyway. She mostly looked at the document names and scanned the gist of their projects. Most had to do with antibiotics and findings of gene therapy. Nothing diabolical, but it was obvious that Tigre did not want to let the competition know what he had up his sleeve. Then, something caught her eye: Project KaUchiha, Fire Fan. "The Uchiha clan's symbol was a fan…and they specialized in fire techniques. That can't be a mere coincidence…"Quickly, Sakura pulled it out and quickly scanned it. At first, she was met with disappointment. Much of the document was blacked out, much like a classified document. But, Sakura slowly smiled as she realized that the company had more to protect than mere profits. "I'll bring this with me and find a way to decipher it." After all, the document would have been shredded if NO ONE was meant to read it. She quickly sealed it in a small scroll, and looked to make sure no one saw her.

Her job wasn't done yet; she had to find more. It didn't look like she would find any more paper files on the matter, so she closed the cabinet and went about investigating more rooms. It seemed she wouldn't find anything unusual, until she heard something down the hall to her left.

"Are they finished yet?" A cold voice asked.

"Almost. They need more time to mature…"

It sounded like they were growing something; talking about it here, something they didn't want to be known. "Better check it out." Quickly, Sakura cast a genjutsu that bended the light around her. She wasn't quite invisible; if she moved too quickly or got too close, they would be able to see the distortion that would give away her shape. Fortunately, Sakura was more than capable of handling herself in stealth situations.

Following where the sounds came from, she found what appeared to be a technician and another man in standard shinobi attire working on a computer. "This is unacceptable. We've confirmed one loss, and there are other buyers impatiently waiting for their products. Tigre-sama may even have to lower his prices. And that, my friend, will make him most unhappy." Judging by the threatening tone of his voice, it didn't seem like he really considered the other man a friend.

The technician stuttered "I-it's not my fault. I can't alter the rules of biology! It's even a miracle that we've conceptualized accelerated aging! It's either this or we'll have to grow them naturally. Another month, or 15 years. It's his choice." He said, with a little bit more courage in his voice this time around.

The other man said nothing at first, and turned away, walking down the hall. Sakura made sure to stay absolutely still and out of his direct line of sight. "Have them ready. No delays."

Sakura could see by the way he carried himself that the man was definitely a shinobi. He had black hair like a lion's mane, and black eyes, much like Sasuke's. He looked to be about 30. Though he was dressed in a business suit, she could see small pouches protruding all around his person. His expression also reminded her of Sasuke when she saw him as Orochimaru's pupil. "Could he possibly-?" Sakura had no way of knowing right now, and it wasn't important at the moment. She had to wait for the technician to leave to take a look what he was working on. It looked like that wasn't going to happen anytime soon; it seemed he had a lot of work to do, and it was barely past lunch time. He may even pull an all-nighter tonight, and Sakura didn't have that kind of time. So, she would have to make him leave, if only for a few minutes.

"God damn, I only got an hour of sleep last night…" the technician grumbled as he picked up a cup of coffee and took a sip.

Sakura grinned, seeing her solution right there. "I'm glad I insisted on bringing some of my medical equipment here." Thankful that she was hiding with a genjutsu and that there was no one to see her, she hiked her dress up to reveal a pouch strap to her thigh. As a medic-nin, she made it a point to bring all sorts of medication with her in the event she could not treat someone with the mystical palm healing technique. Quickly sorting through the meds she bought, she found one that would do the trick. An emetic, medicine meant to irritate the GI tract and cause one to throw up. In the field, she would normally use this if someone was infected with some kind of poison and to quickly expel it if it had not yet reached the bloodstream. Sakura had to suppress a giggle. "It's too bad Naruto isn't here." She thought. "He would have loved to see this!"

Quietly, she threw the pill into the man's cup. Hearing the splash it made, he looked around to see if anyone was there. Seeing nothing, he shrugged his shoulders, and returned to work. After a minute or two, he took another sip of his coffee. "Three, two, one…" Sakura silently counted.

Suddenly, the technician's stomach growled loudly. He hunched over, beginning to breathe deeply. Then, he quickly brought his hand up to his mouth and made a beeline for the men's restroom.

Sakura, not wanting to waste anymore chakra, undid her genjutsu and went to the computer. While she worked with computers to store data for Tsunade and the rest of the medics and doctors, she couldn't decipher the specific programming that was on the screen. She would have to move even faster than with the paper files. Looking at her options below, she saw "Check Status" and "Eject Disk". Before moving on, Sakura decided to check on the former. The screen displayed data of some kind. Mostly numbers. She didn't have time to decipher the meaning, but she got a vague idea of what they were talking about. It said something about a subject with the characters "O" and "U". "Could it stand for Uchiha Obito?" Sakura wondered.

"Hey, the tour guide said that one of the group members is missing." A voice down the hall said. "Go find her. We can't afford her having to find out things she isn't supposed to, whether it's accidental or not."

"Shit! I gotta bail!" Sakura quickly saved the computer's data onto the floppy disk inside, ejected it and stored it into the small scroll from before. She ducked around the corner as the samurai guards inspected the area. Not wanting to cause a ruckus, she went down the hall, hoping she would be able to escape without being seen. Seeing a room with the door slightly ajar, she entered, and quietly closed it. However, it seemed it lead to a dead end, as it was only a small lab. "Shit." Noticing a centrifuge machine, she decided to make some use of her predicament. Shutting the machine off, she took out a test tube and sealed it in the scroll along with the disk. It was probably nothing, but it might prove useful in the long run.

"Hey, wasn't that door open last time we walked past here?"

"Damn it." Sakura cursed. Today just wasn't the day for stealth. "I don't have a choice now." She pulled out smoke pellets from her dress, and watched as security opened the door.

When the samurai spotted her, he drew his katana. "Found her!"

Quickly, Sakura threw the pellets and engulfed him in smoke. Sucker punching him before he could react, Sakura kicked off her heels and ko'd the guy's partner and made a break for it. "She's here! Inform Ameratsu!" someone down the hall shouted.

Sakura couldn't shake the coincidence of that name. "Ameratsu? That's a magenkyo sharingan technique! They must be growing Uchiha clones here!" Heading towards the windows, she hoped it prove to be a viable escape. Just when she reached them, she found a load of samurai to her left, right, and more were coming from behind where she was running. "Oh, of all the-!" The samurai from behind stepped away to let the black haired man Sakura saw earlier through. "Could this be Ameratsu?"

"You did well to get this far, especially with me as chief of security." He said, sounding rather condescending. "But this little charade has gone on far enough. Return what you've stolen, and we will forget this ever happened…in your case, literally."

Sakura only crouched into a fighting stance, showing no apparent fear at the seemingly overwhelming odds. "Sorry, but my mission comes first."

Ameratsu's expression remained unchanged. "As you wish. Take her!" He commanded the samurai. Quickly, before they could come close, Sakura slammed her arms and one leg onto the floor, causing the floor to crumble underneath them. While most fell to the floor below, Ameratsu made sure he and his unit would not go with them. "Bakufu Kyuushuu no Jutsu!" A small, green barrier was erected, and the shockwave from Sakura's strikes seemingly vanished.

"He absorbed it!?" Before Sakura could analyze the situation, a loud bang exploded through the room, as well as a sudden and searing pain through her arm. "AHHH!" Sakura gripped her arm, noticing it was bleeding profusely. Thankfully, it seemed nothing vital was damaged. "Whatever that was…that was no kunai!" She also noticed that the glass behind her had a large crack in it. Whatever hit her had enough power to shatter samurai armor…and yet, the actual hole it made was so tiny. "To create that much force…I can't imagine something traveling that fast!"

Looking back to Ameratsu's squad, she noticed one of the men hold a strange instrument. It seemed to have some handle, and the rest of the body was a small piece of metal pointing towards her. What really caught her attention, though, was the smoke that seemed to be coming out of the end. "Your aim with that little toy is pathetic." Ameratsu commented, bored. "A shuriken would have pierced her throat with no problem."

"Do you want to finish her off then, sir?" one of the samurai asked.

Ameratsu just turned around and said "No need to sully my hands on such an easy kill. Just make sure you finish her now that she can't move."

"That's what you think." Quickly, Sakura smashed the glass behind her, and leaned back. The samurai fired their strange weapons, but thankfully none hit their mark. Before gravity took over, she saw what seemed to be a small metal ball whizzing past her face at incredible speed. "Could that be it? What hit me before!?" Sakura didn't have time to mull over the mechanics of the device. In a few seconds, if she didn't act fast, she was going to be a nice red pile of goo on the ground below. Swiping the blood from her arm, she made the hand signs for summoning. "Kuchiyose no Jutsu!" Katsuya appeared beneath her right before they hit bottom, and Sakura was cushioned from a hard landing, thanks to Katsuya's composition. "Katsuya, get us out of here!" she commanded her best summon.

"Right away, Sakura-sama!" The slug absorbed her inside her body, and crawled into the ocean.

"You're worried about her." It was a statement, not a question that Kakashi said to Naruto. The two were playing a game of shogi (which Kakashi was winning handedly) at Tazuna's while they awaited Sakura's [hopeful] return.

"I should have gone with her." Naruto muttered, absent-mindedly moving a piece into Kakashi's trap.

Whether his performance in the game was to be expected or hindered by his worries, Kakashi couldn't be sure. "Naruto, you know that Sakura is capable of handling herself." He said, trying to make him think rationally.

"Oh, like that's supposed to make me feel better." Naruto grumbled, seemingly not noticing his piece being taken.

Kakashi sighed, exasperated at his student's attitude. "Naruto, you know I sent Sakura out there alone because she was the best one out of all of us to go. She's the only one with sufficient medical knowledge to know where to search and what to look for. Even if we went with her as family like our arrival here, security would get suspicious if we didn't raise alarm at her absence. And we probably would have made things worse if we went with her."

Naruto only sighed in response, moving a piece even he knew would be captured, obviously not caring. Kakashi decided to take a different approach to quell Naruto's worries as he claimed the piece. "Naruto, look. If you're still planning on becoming Hokage, you're going to have to accept the fact that you will be putting those you love in danger." Naruto said nothing as he moved his next piece, but Kakashi could tell he was listening. "While it's true that the Hokage's job is to protect the village, he must also provide for his people and allow them to grow. Also, the village's shinobi is thought of as an extension of the Hokage's will. You will have to attend to all matters not just in fire country, but possibly the entire continent. While some missions may require you personally, you can't be everywhere at once. That is why you'll have to put many shinobi, including your closest friends, in danger. All you will be able to do is to trust them, their abilities, their will to live, and hope for the best."

Naruto at first said nothing. Finally, he spoke. "It was different, as a kid. Back when I was bragging about how I would become Hokage. For years, I didn't think of the consequences of the job. I thought I would be the absolute, BEST, Hokage. But, now that I've had time to grow up, and to think…I now know, no matter how good a leader is, no matter how good we've been at assuring none of our comrades die…sooner or later, we'll slip up. And it terrifies me." He finished, giving him a fearful look Kakashi almost never saw in his student.

Kakashi only nodded his head, showing he understood. "I know. I remember back when we were dealing with Zabuza. I put on a brave face for all of you, promising that none of you would die. But the truth was, I was worried sick that I could not keep my promise. I knew what Zabuza was capable of; with them, there were no guarantees. But, you have to remember: everything we do, we do for the sake of the village. And…in some cases, for the sakes of others as well. We don't fight because we want to, but because we have to. And, as Hokage, you'll see that many of the missions you'll be assigning will require shinobi to avoid fighting if possible. And I'm sure, when that time comes, you'll know who to pick."

Naruto nodded, showing him he understood. "I know Ba-chan had to go through tough times. And I'd imagine she still has to, being Hokage now." Though Naruto didn't keep track of missions Tsunade assigned, he knew from the moderately common funerals that every now and then, there would always be one shinobi who would meet the shinigami. Tsunade personally attended them all, and while she was not as broken up when her brother and lover died, he could see she felt responsible for their deaths.

"Maybe you and her are due for a talk." Kakashi said as he claimed Naruto's king. "Care to play again?" Kakashi asked, smiling smugly underneath his mask.

Naruto grumbled and got up. "If I knew the majority of this mission would involve playing shogi with you, I would have gladly invited Shikamaru to come."

"AHHHH!" That was Inari! Quickly, Naruto and Kakashi raced out into the yard where they heard the scream come from. Kanshou also joined them, preparing to draw his sword against any danger that may threaten his ward. Finding Inari splayed on the ground in panic, Naruto was about to ask what was wrong, when they saw some mass shifting the earth above it. It looked like whatever it was, it was about to break free. And it was big. Then, a gray blob popped out, with what seemed to be tentacles sprouting out of its head. "W-WHAT THE HELL IS THAT!?" Inari screamed, his face turned blue and his pointing arm trembling.

Naruto patted him on the shoulder. "Relax. It's just one of Sakura's summons." Though he was calm on the outside, inside he was panicking. If Sakura had to summon to return, it meant something went wrong. To summon Katsuya…it could only mean she was hurt.

"What the heck did she summon!? The blob!?" Inari shouted, his eyes still not convinced that what he was seeing was a benign creature.

Seeing a slug's details up close and enlarged seemed to be turning him green. Finally, Sakura emerged from Katsuya's body. For a second she seemed to be thankful to be out of the slug's body, but it immediately turned to embarrassment upon seeing everyone seeing her covered in mucus. "Thank you, Katsuya. You may go now." She said, doing her best to mask her embarrassment. Katsuya disappeared, while Kakashi used a doton jutsu to cover up the hole.

"S-Sakura!" Inari said, seemingly recovered from his frightful experience. Despite her state, Inari thought she still looked beautiful. Trying to look as cool as possible, he asked "How'd it go!?"

Before Sakura could answer (or acknowledge his existence) Naruto came up to her and gently gripped her arm. "You're hurt!" he scolded her upon noticing the scar.

Sakura pulled her arm away, giving him a slightly annoyed look. "I'm fine; it's just a flesh wound. I've healed most of it." She admonished him.

"Since you summoned Katsuya to get here," Kakashi interrupted, "I take it there was some trouble."

Sakura nodded. "I'll tell you all about it. But to answer the most important questions, I don't believe I was followed, nor did they deduce my identity. My disguise held up." Sakura took a deep breath. "Now, if you'll all excuse me, I've spent an hour in Katsuya's body as you can see, my arm is caked in blood, and I really want to get this dye out of my hair. In other words, I need a shower."

Kanshou bowed and walked towards the house "I'll prepare the water." He said as he went about his task.

"Thank you."

While Naruto and Kakashi were neutral, Inari's face turned red. "S-Sakura!? Showering!? In my house!?" Seeing Sakura's thighs move as she walked inside only entertained those thoughts further.

Sakura stepped out of the shower, and grabbed a towel to wrap her body in. While some of her natural pink began to show, she still needed to rinse her hair in the sink. She went over, and let out a pleasurable sigh. She normally didn't get a bath right after a harrowing reconnaissance mission, so it certainly helped to put her in a good mood. However, there was one thing off: Someone was watching. Normally, she would have pulverized any pervert who was trying to peak on her, and, kami forbid in the event she couldn't handle the intruder, scream for help. However, this was one person she was more than comfortable with allowing to see her undressed. "You know, I could tell you were there the entire time. If you wanted to join me, you could have just said so." she said, her foul mood gone like it never existed.

Naruto, who was leaning back against the wall and enjoying the sights, smirked. "I did. But I'm only a kage bushin; the real Naruto had me transform into a small piece of debris and placed me on you, just to make sure everything was alright. I probably would've evaporated if things got too hot here. Besides, with the way things normally go between us, I didn't want to traumatize Inari."

Sakura smirked as she got the last of the dye out. "So, you noticed too? Jealous?" she teased him as she reached for her hair brush.

Naruto, as far as Sakura was concerned at least, only chuckled lightly. "Of course not. We've done things that Inari can only imagine in his wildest dreams!" Naruto then got the feeling in the air that Sakura was being serious. "Don't fret about it, Sakura-chan. It's just a crush, that's all. He just met you after years of separation. He'll be fine."

"I know." Sakura said as she whipped her pink hair back where it belonged. "But I had a crush to. I know what it's like when you feel brushed off and ignored…I'd imagine you know what I'm talking about as well."

Naruto only sighed. "Well…you want to let him take you out on a date?" he asked. "Not like we do, of course. But, you know, just let him show you around Wave?"

Sakura stared at the mirror quizzically as she brushed her hair. "Are you sure about that? Inari may have a hard crush on me, but he's not blind. I'm worried taking him on a date that won't even lead to anything would only hurt him even more."

Naruto shrugged. "I doubt it. Remember when I came back after training? Back then, when I asked you out on dates, I was certain you would never return the feelings I felt for you. I just wanted to spend time with you…and for you to acknowledge me." Naruto finally stood up straight. "Just think about it for a bit. But, more importantly…" Naruto came up behind her and hugged her gently. While Sakura agreed with Naruto to not make love in their host's house…with him touching her with only a towel on, it was hard to resist the temptation. "…Sorry."

Sakura only smiled slightly as she leaned back into him. "What for?"

"For treating you like a kid." Naruto told her. "I know you can take care of yourself. I just couldn't help but be worried sick. And, that wound…I'm no medical ninja, but I can tell that was a serious injury earlier."

Sakura turned around and kissed his cheek. "I'm sorry too. I know you were just concerned. I just had a rough day…and spending part of it inside a slug didn't help…that I kind of just lashed out." Sakura said as she leaned against his chest.

Naruto leaned forward for a full lip kiss with her. "So, I'll take it you'll explain everything?" he asked again.

Sakura's small smile turned grim as she faced him. "Yeah. I'll tell you all about when Kakashi-sensei can join us. But I can say they have Uchiha clones…I'm sure of it."



Byakko-White Tiger, also known as one of four Chinese mythological beasts

Kurohyou-Black Panther



Utsubokazura-Pitcher Plant

Tatsumaki Shuriken no Kaze-Wind Shuriken Twister

Furyudan-Air Dragon Missile

Kiichigo Enkan-Raspberry of the Summer

Bakufu Kyuushuu-Shock Wave Absorption

That's it for this chapter! I think you know what the next chapter is going to play out…just not how XD On another note, I gave Tazuna a last name; I checked the Narutopedia site, and if he had one listed I would have gladly used it. So, hopefully you'll see the next chapter in a couple of months!