Disclaimer: All your ninja are belong to Kishimoto

A/N: Okay...so that was a long wait, huh? Erm, I really didn't expect it to take so long to get back in the swing of things. I had a lot of personal RL crap to deal with that I don't really want to talk about, but I'm back in the swing of things now. In rereading this story so I can start writing on it again, I actually realized how, well...Not Good, it is. :P Or at least, it could be a lot better. To that end, I will most likely be revising it from the beginning, including adding in new chapters in between other chapters and into my outline, and fleshing out the whole first section with Minato, Tsunade, and Konoha a lot more - less humor, more substance to better fit the "feel" of the story as a whole. I haven't decided how I'm going to go about doing that yet - it may include turning the first parts into a seperate prequel, or a complete reposting of the whole thing as a different story, or something else undecided which may or may not include a less linear format than ffnet allows, like maybe an LJ where I can change the date stamps to keep things in the proper timeline as I add/rearrange etc. I'll keep you updated - probably via another chapter update - when I figure things out. :)

I didn't want to leave you guys hanging any further while I try to figure out the logistics though, so here's the long awaited Chapter 20 - pretty much as I had it written back when I posted chapter 19, so I can't really speak for it's general quality... I may or may not keep posting new chapters to this version of the story as I rework the whole thing - I do still have several pre-written, but I'm just not happy with the story as a whole any longer. I know I've kept you all waiting for an inordinate amount of time, so I apologize that I'm not coming back with something absolutely amazing and worth the wait!

You MAY want to go back and read chapter 19 or even the entire story, before you jump in here if it's been a while for you - it pretty much picks up right where 19 left off - which was probably fine when I was posting twice a week, but not so great when it's been eons between chapters. It also references several kind of obscure things from earlier in the story - like Naruto's desire for a pet - which you may have forgotten about - because quite frankly, I hardly remembered where some of these things were coming from when I did the quick scan over this before posting it. :P Sorry, sorry, sorry again!

Chapter 20 - Missions at Last!:

"Sensei – YOU'RE LATE!" Sakura chimed, a bit belatedly. Naruto and Sasuke exchanged a glance as the former tried to calm Ivy down and get her to go back to laying quietly around his waist after his spar with the Uchiha.

Kakashi pouted a bit, though you'd never know it as only one of his eyes was visible. He had thought he'd done pretty well today. He'd only been an hour behind schedule. "Well, you see, a sweet little girl asked me to help her get a kite out of a tree that was on fire."

"Liar." Sakura muttered and Sasuke huffed in disbelief, already becoming used to their Jounin's antics.

Naruto frowned and looked at both of his teammates, his nose twitching. This guy couldn't be serious, "You don't smell like smoke." Could this really be the genius prodigy his father had trained?

"Er, I showered afterwards." Kakashi deadpanned. All three of his cute genin rolled their eyes in sync. Aw, they were already on the same wavelength! They'd be a team in no time. Too bad Naruto wouldn't likely be with them often after these first few days, "Well, since Naruto's new, why don't we all introduce ourselves again?"

Sasuke narrowed his eyes, "What would be the point of that when all you're going to tell us is your name?"

"Good point! We'll skip my turn. Pinky, you go first again."

Naruto grinned; Pinky was a good nickname. Maybe he'd get along with Hatake Kakashi after all.

Sakura sighed like he'd asked her to run around the village a couple of times after rolling in mud, "Fine. My name is Haruno Sakura, I like…mysterious-tall-dark-handsome-men!" she glanced over at Sasuke and giggled a little, "I dislike Ino-pig, and people that DON'T BOTHER TO SHOW UP ON TIME. My hobbies are shopping, long walks on the beach, and going out on dates," 'or at least they will be when Sasuke-kun finally accepts our love! – Shannaro!' "and my dream is…er," she started giggling again.

Naruto looked aghast. He thought this was supposed to be introductions, not a personal add, "It's worse than I thought…you really ARE a fangirl!"

For some reason, he found his feet firmly rooted to the ground when the girl came after him, probably for the same mysterious reason that he could dodge his mother's hits and punches in sparing sessions all day, but couldn't avoid her fist to the top of his head when he'd been mouthing off.

Kakashi cleared his throat and thwapped a very surprised Sakura on the back of the head with his precious perverted book. "Don't hit your teammates. It's not comradely. You're a team and you're going to act like it."

"But you just—" she stuttered, rubbing at the now slightly stinging spot on her scalp, and then shook her head, stalking back to her spot on the bridge while pouting a bit. It was pointless to argue with their sensei. She was careful to strategically place herself so she had the best view of Sasuke available.

Naruto pulled himself back up and straightened his hair where she'd hit him, glaring balefully at the girl's back. 'Jeeze, why is it kunoichi can't handle hearing the truth?'

Sasuke kept pretending he didn't know them and wasn't with their group, even though the bridge was kind of small and they were the only ones on it. If Senju had no clan pride and wanted to lower himself to this pathetic business, it was no skin off of his back, though his respect for the other boy dropped a few notches….quite frankly Naruto confused the hell out of him in many ways.

"Broody! It's your turn!" Kakashi cheerfully poked the Uchiha in his side without looking away from his Icha Icha.

"Uchiha Sasuke. I don't like things. I train a lot because I've got to kill a man."

Naruto blinked – 'wow, creepy much?' – that hadn't been informative at all, and Sasuke had been the one to complain about the lack of detail in their captain's introduction? This guy sure seemed eager to jump right into the killing, and he didn't have the excuse Gaara had - which was NOT a good sign.

He hoped, for Sasuke's sake, his talk of killing was just a green rookie thing, because that kind of caviler attitude towards taking life was pretty disturbing if he'd ever actually done it, or even nearly done it – hell, it was pretty disturbing even for a green rookie. There had to be some sort of story there – maybe the "tragedy that happened in his past" Iruka-sensei had mentioned? Either way, Naruto felt like killing should never be a casual thing, even for ninja. That attitude was what set Konoha apart from a lot of the other villages after all, and it seemed to work if their prosperity was any indication.

"I guess it's my turn. My name is Senju Naruto. I like ramen, training, and my precious people. I dislike secrets, my kekkei genkai when it's acting up, and people who go all wibbily when they hear who my mom is. My hobbies are practicing chakra exercises and getting Jiji in trouble by screaming, 'Pervert!' when he's peeping at the bathhouses. My dream is to train to be an even greater ninja than my parents and to one day be good enough to become Hokage."

Sasuke tilted his head back and raised a skeptical eyebrow, but internally had to admit that it DID run in the other boy's family. "Aiming a bit high there, aren't you?"

"Che' I'm better than you, and like yours is better, talking all easy about assassination when you're a rookie!" Naruto retorted. Sasuke immediately bristled, his fists clenching.

"Now, now. None of that. You're supposed to be learning to work together as a team." Kakashi didn't need the Sharingan to see that argument quickly dissolving into a fight. "Let's head over to the tower and get a nice mission assignment. You'd all like that, hmm?"

"Hn." Sasuke grumbled, still pissed about Naruto's comment – how dare he judge him? It wasn't like it would matter in the long run what these tree-hugging losers thought – he'd be alone when he finally achieved his revenge against Itachi, but it would have been nice to be on a team with REAL ninja instead of fun loving morons. He'd never be able to reach his goals with people like this holding him back. Senju's strength was obviously a fluke. He didn't have the balls to be a real ninja…

Naruto's vine 'accidentally' tripped him into the shallow water at the bank of the stream, soaking his sandals, and his head shot up in a fierce glare.

"Ivy!" Naruto immediately began scolding his plant, but Sasuke didn't buy it.

No way was that an accident, but, at least the idiot would challenge him instead of treating him like a poor fragile lost puppy or an object to be worshiped, and Sasuke had to admit, even as he shook water out of his sandals, that Naruto might be good enough to back it up. He would be useful to measure himself against until the Uchiha could surpass him; beating him would be the first mark of his strength on the way to avenging his family's memory.

Naruto's clan was old and respected, but Sasuke was an Uchiha. Senju wouldn't be better for long – just a stepping-stone towards Itachi. Thinking of it like that, he knew it didn't matter what the Senju bastard thought anymore than it mattered what the rest of this village thought, but he couldn't help but want the other boy's respect…he'd prove to Naruto and himself that he could be a strong rival, and maybe this team thing wouldn't be a complete loss...

Then, Sakura tried to latch herself onto his arm. His team was AWFUL and he'd never get strong enough to beat Itachi when he was literally dragging along this dead weight! 'Grr.'

Within the hour, they were sent out on their first 'mission' to weed an elderly man's garden. Sakura looked relieved; the boys looked resigned. Kakashi was a little surprised at their reactions. From his first impression of Naruto's boisterous personality, he had half expected some sort of outburst, but all he'd said was something about how he'd known there had to be a trick to it when the geezers had mentioned the missions the first time. He had quietly grumbled the whole way to their client's house, but he'd thrown himself into the ridiculous task with admirable determination.

Kakashi really couldn't blame him for his slightly petulant muttering – he'd been doing much more exciting things with Jiraiya-sama up until now, so D-ranks were a bit of a step backwards for the kid. Not to mention the trouble this particular menial chore was currently giving the frustrated Senju.

"It had to be plants." The blond ninja groaned, unwinding a long frond from around his arm. He seemed to have ticked off his pet vine somehow because it was putting off an air of forced nonchalance instead of leaping to his aid. Kakashi grinned. He'd definitely have to request lots of these gardening kinds of missions.

Sakura seemed to be desperately looking for a way to start up a conversation with the Uchiha, but after her first three attempts were shot down by unemotional and unembellished, 'Hn's, she reluctantly acknowledged that her other teammate existed. "So, Naruto, what are the marks on your shoulder and face? Are they tattoos?"

Naruto looked confused for a moment, then his hand raised up to his cheek before resuming ripping weeds to shreds with unholy glee, "Oh, these? They're marks from my bloodline. Ero-jiji thinks I'll get more as I master it, and they might spread while it's in use. They do seem to move and change a little from day to day. I'm getting another patch on the back of my hand, but it's not very dark yet, and my gloves cover it up."

"Really? That's kind of neat! What all does your bloodline do? You said you disliked it sometimes, during your introduction, but from the rumors I've heard about you, it actually sounds really useful." Sakura questioned.

"Mostly it just makes it hard for me to walk." Naruto growled, shaking his leg loose from an onion plant that seemed bent on cuddling the appendage. "For various reasons, I don't have control over it yet, but it's constantly active." He knew he shouldn't have spent so much time working on his Mokuton that morning before meeting the team – it sometimes made things worse for a while instead of better.

Ivy seemed to have finally had enough of other plants putting their dirty little stems on HER chakra source, even if he was being an ass and not letting her draw more energy to tie up the human that tasted like smoke, and she started laying the smack down on the pathetic garden raised bitches. Che' they were even worse than forest plants. Ivy held nothing but contempt for domestics.

Naruto had to stop her from destroying the good plants along with the weeds, which immediately put him back in the doghouse with the vine. She had a bit of a superiority complex sometimes.

"Worthless." Sasuke quipped, almost disappointed, but feeling a little better about his own progress. He needed his rival to be strong, but if he was this pathetic with chakra related things like his bloodline, then he wasn't as far ahead as Sasuke had feared he was – he could definitely catch up. When he activated his Sharingan, then he'd show the idiot what a cool bloodlimit looked like.

"Actually, it will probably be every bit as useful as the Shodai's someday, Sasuke-kun." Kakashi felt the need to step in from his shady reading spot under a tree before an argument broke out. For some reason he couldn't explain, he felt it was important that the boys learn to respect each other as quickly as possible. Aside from not wanting to see them do a repeat of his own genin days and team dynamic, he'd occasionally gotten those kinds of insights ever since he'd been given Obito's eye, and he'd learned not to ignore them.

He figured it was an element of the doujutsu's precognitive abilities showing themselves at odd times because while he kept it covered, he couldn't ever actually turn it OFF. "He is a direct descendant of the First Hokage who was the only other person ever born with the ability to use Mokuton jutsu. A lot of Hidden Leaf's forests were created by the Shodai, and it's said he could grow entire houses and things fully formed from the ground. Some say he brought all of Konoha into being with a single jutsu."

"Wow!" Sakura looked at Naruto in a new light. He still looked kind of goofy to her – what was with that spiked up hair? - and he had a smudge of dirt on his unleafed cheek, but she could kind of see how Ino would be attracted to someone like that. It would be really useful to have a guy with those skills around when you had to camp on missions. "Can you grow houses and things, Naruto?"

The boy was scowling and turned to answer her when the tomato plants in the row next to him reached out and tried to huggle him to death. He screeched indignantly and thrashed his way free, cursing a blue streak, and if she didn't know better, she'd think his Ivy vine was actually hissing and raising non-existent hackles.

"I'll take that as a 'no'." Sakura sighed. She'd just have to make do with tents until he figured it out.

"They're attracted to some quality in my chakra like magnets. STUPID PLANTS!"

"Now, Naruto, don't pull those! They aren't weeds!"

"I know that, and I DON'T CARE!"

"Hn, Idiot, we'll be stuck with stupid D-rank missions forever if you screw them all up like this!" Sasuke growled, trying to untangle his teammate and avoid his vine at the same time.

Kakashi sighed, well…at least the Uchiha had went to his teammate's aid without being asked. That was a good start. There had to be a way to speed up Naruto's learning process with his wind affinity. As amusing as it was to watch him struggle with normally inert plant-life, it would probably get old pretty quickly, and might hinder or endanger them on missions. He'd have to think about it.

One grocery run and a missing civilian kid successfully found later, Kakashi tucked his book away and faced his students. "Good work today, you three. You're free to go. We'll do training tomorrow so meet me at the bridge at 8:00 again."

"Hey, Taichou! Something has to happen for a first time before there can be an 'again'!" Naruto snarked.

Sasuke smirked a little and Sakura hid a giggle behind her hand. The little brats were ganging up on him. He'd have to be even later and have an even more lame excuse tomorrow.

"Hmm, really?" Kakashi murmured, his book back in his hand, pretending he hadn't even been paying attention to the remark. Hey, it worked with Gai.

The genin heaved a sigh, resigning themselves to dealing with his lateness until they managed to get promoted out of his unit – Naruto at least, had the hope he'd get to do something more exciting occasionally with a different team - then they broke up, heading back towards town. Naruto and Sakura were actually chatting quite amicably, and Sasuke hadn't ditched them yet. Kakashi hoped that was a good sign.

"Hey, I'm grabbing ramen, then going to explore the village a bit; you guys want to join me?" He heard Naruto ask. His vine was running itself through his hair, a high looping tendril shaped like a heart curving over his head.

That plant was creepy.

That seemed to be Sasuke's breaking point for social interaction because he immediately took off towards the Uchiha complex at an angle away from his teammates' current path with no more than a wave tossed over his shoulder. Sakura hurried to follow him without a word to the blond who was absently trying to coil the affectionate tendrils back around his waist. He'd sort of given up on hiding her beneath his clothing.

Well, maybe 'good sign' was giving it too much credit, but at least it was a start. The remaining genin looked really dejected, and Kakashi remembered he was alone in a village where he didn't really know anyone outside of the Hokage who he'd probably met only a handful of times. Kushina-nee would kill him if he left the kid by himself since he was sort of Kakashi's responsibility now. "I'll join you for ramen, Naruto."

"Really?" He asked, his blue eyes suddenly doubling in size and sparkling like miniature blue suns. It was kind of disturbing, but Kakashi found himself completely unable to deny him anything while it was going on. He wondered if his kekkei genkai had some sort of weird effect on all living things and not just plants, but he couldn't really think it over much because the kid had grabbed his sleeve and was towing him towards Ichiraku's Ramen Stand. Oh well, he'd think about it later. It was sort of nice to think he wouldn't be having dinner alone for once, and it was great fun tormenting people by only eating when they weren't looking so they wouldn't get a glimpse behind the mask. Kakashi enjoyed the challenge sometimes, though it got too old to do it often. It was hard to really enjoy a meal when you had to constantly be on your guard with every bite you took.

Sakura wandered aimlessly back towards her house. Sasuke had rejected her offer for a date for the sixth time since they'd become teammates yesterday, so she really had nothing to do until her mother called her in for dinner.

A splash of orange caught her eye at a stall selling tacky fashion accessories, and she automatically drifted over to examine the offensive scarf. A grin spread across her face. Her new teammate seemed to like the hideous color if his clothing was any indication. She ran her hands over the cheap silk and had to stifle a giggle when she caught sight of a matching purse. She was suddenly assaulting by a mental picture of Naruto wearing both of them just because of their color.

"I know you're a bit fashion challenged compared to me, Forehead Girl, but that's ugly no matter who is looking at it." A voice called from over her shoulder. Oh, this would be good! Sakura hadn't even THOUGHT of one wonderful aspect of having Senju Naruto on her team…

"Oh, I know. I was just thinking that my second teammate would like it." She dropped the garment back onto the pile of brightly colored cloth, and spun to face her rival and once again best friend.

Ino, clad in her usual purple crop top and short skirt attire, stood just behind her, long blond hair braided back away from her face. She'd stopped trying to emphasize its length with the high ponytail when she'd left Sasuke's groupies to become the president of the unoriginally named, "Senju Naruto Fanclub". They only met once a week, every Thursday at 6:00 p.m., and they had a sightings board since their prey hadn't often been in the village since becoming a genin.

"You have a teammate that likes ugly cheap scarves?" she laughed.

"You're one to talk with the laziest boy in the five countries and an Akimichi on your team! At least Naruto does more than eat and sleep!" Sakura retorted while Inner Sakura laughed manically. 'Wait for it…'

"WHAT?! Naruto? You've got Senju Naruto on your team AND this year's number one rookie?! That's…that's completely unfair! It's a conspiracy! I'm going to complain to the Hokage! Do you think I could trade him for Shikamaru?"

Sakura felt a little bad for her friend. It wasn't as if they were enemies anymore. They'd patched up their friendship really well, though they still enjoyed tossing insults back and forth. She really had gotten the luck of the draw this time. Sakura was on a team with her crush AND Ino's crush. She patted the other girl on the shoulder and steered her away from the Stall of Ugly. "There, there, Ino! Hey! Look on the bright side! He's staying in Konoha now, and this way I can help you get him! You'll have an advantage over all of his other fanpeople!"

They'd been forced to drop the title of 'fangirls' when a boy wearing a paper bag mask over his head had started anonymously attending both of their club meetings on occasion and insisted that the old term was politically incorrect. He was pretty vocal about its unfairness and insisted on being treated like an equal in the stalker-like organization.

It was kind of creepy, actually, in a set of groups known for their creepy factor, but no one could claim they weren't equal opportunity freaky stalker organizations! Of course, it was rumored that Kurenai-sensei had a fanclub RUN by a crazy kunoichi, so they supposed it wasn't too strange. They just hoped the boys were just in it because they wanted to be LIKE Naruto and Sasuke – if they had crushes and got anywhere with them, then the girls would be forced to become yaoi fanpeople, and they weren't quite prepared to take that step yet.

Ino sniffled a little and wiped at her eyes, "really, Sakura? You'll help me out?"

Sakura nodded, "Of course! What are friends for? We'll get you Naruto-kun in no time!"

"You're the best friend a fanpeople could ask for, Forehead-girl."

"I know, Ino-pig. I try."

"Kakashi-taichou, I think those girls are staring at me." Naruto kept glancing at a badly hidden group of giggling kunoichi crowded behind a large planter across the street from the ramen stand where they were eating.

Kakashi never thought he'd be grateful to fangirls, but thanks to their distraction, he didn't even have to pull the 'what's that over there!' trick even once in order to eat his ramen without the genin catching a glimpse of his maskless face. "Get used to them, Naruto-kun. It's best to just pretend they aren't here. Eventually you'll get so used to them that you won't even notice. They sort of become part of the scenery."

"Really?" He turned back to the Jounin whose bowl was over half empty, though his mask looked completely undisturbed. 'Weird'.

"Yes. I know from experience."

"Well, I guess that's okay then." Naruto went back to his ramen, quickly polishing off his fourth bowl. "I've got to go see a man about a kitten. Do you want to come help me pick one out?"

Kakashi almost choked on his noodles, quickly reaffixing his mask before the boy could look back over at him, "Er, kitten?...isn't that a little…cute? For a ninja's pet? What about your plant? Won't it be jealous?"

"Nah! I've always wanted one, but Kaa-san would never let me get it. Now she and Shizune-neechan are going to be at least a month longer getting here, and well…I've never lived all alone before and Ivy isn't much of a conversationalist. I figured this would be a good time for a pet!"

"Well, I guess. I can't fault that logic, at least." Kakashi dug the appropriate amount of money for his bowl of ramen out of one of the pockets on his jounin vest and put it on the counter.

Naruto did the same, tucking his frog wallet back in his weapon's pouch when he was done. "Thanks for the ramen old man!" he called to the shop's proprietor. "It was great!"

"Any time, Naruto-kun!" The chef turned around and collected their cash. "Come back any time!"

The two ninja slid off their stools and Kakashi eye-smiled at Old Man Ichiraku, "don't worry, I'm sure he will!"

"Come on, Kakashi-taichou!"

The jounin threw a wave over his shoulder at the ramen cook and then shoved his hands in his pockets, casually following Naruto towards the main shopping district. "Do you even know where the pet store is?" he asked casually.

"Hmm... No."

Naruto grinned sheepishly back at his trailing captain and for a moment, the way the sun hit his hair and the blue of his eyes…no. He couldn't be. Kakashi shook his head even as his eyes reflexively darted up to the Hokage monument rising up in the distance. He'd definitely been seeing things. There was no way they'd keep something like that a secret… Except that they HAVE kept his paternity a secret, and Jiraiya-sama seemed close to Naruto's father…Stop it, Kakashi! It's stupid wishful thinking – and his hair is too spikey! Your team is gone, and Obito's eye is the only legacy they left behind for you.' He chastised himself. "It's down this way." The jounin made himself leave off that train of thought in favor of the task at hand and pointed down a side street Naruto had just passed.

"Oh! Cool, thanks! Let's go!" the boy bounded down the street and Kakashi pulled out his little orange book as he followed.

By the time the silver haired jounin reached Gentle Beasts: 'Fluffy Animals Who Won't Eat Your Face Off or Your Money Back!', the most popular non-ninja related animal store chain in the Elemental Countries, Naruto had already entered and was shoulders deep in the clear enclosure filled with tumbling, fuzzy kittens. His Ivy vine seemed to be pouting as it was hanging forlornly around his waist. The cats seemed just as susceptible to the kid's Big Excited Eyes™ as Iruka and Kakashi had both discovered they were earlier, and they'd practically swarmed him in a huge fluffy mass of purring adorable kitty death. He idly wondered how Naruto was managing to breath with all those cuddly creatures plastered against his face. It actually looked to the amused Jounin like Senju might be the first person ever to get his money back from Gentle Beasts!

Kakashi bent over a little to get a closer look, and suddenly yelped when his hair suffered a surprise attack from above. 'What the?!' He hadn't been caught by a surprise attack in years! He reached onto his head and pried the fluffiest yellow striped kitten he'd ever seen out of his silver spikes. The damn thing wasn't eager to go and dug its claws in until the jounin nearly yelped and very nearly lost his forehead protector.

Naruto almost fell over laughing, extracting himself from the kitten pen much to the dismay of its inhabitants. "I think that one likes you! Man, would you look at that fur! You can hardly see its eyes, it's so flooffy!"

"Flooffy isn't a word." Kakashi grumbled, attempting to put the kitten back in the box, but it was tenaciously gnawing on his gloves now and had a grip like a pit-bull. He shook his hand a little to try and jostle it free, but it just swung by its tiny jaws, pointy needles of death sinking harder into the material as it somehow managed to pull its back legs up to kick synchronically at his arm.

Hmm…dilemma. "Here, Naruto. Look at it. Isn't it cute?" he tilted the cat until it could see the boy's face, and sure enough, the Huge Sparkly Eyes of Doom instantly soothed the wild beast. The little thing let go and plopped harmlessly into the pen with its fellow mewing prisoners, looking a little dazed.

"You break it, you buy it." The store clerk called dully from the front of the shop. Kakashi rolled his eye. He was pretty sure it would take a high-level katon jutsu to faze that little bastard.

"I think you should get it." Naruto quipped.

"Huh? NO, we came to get YOU a cat." Kakashi pointed out. "I don't need a pet. I'm gone too often, on missions, anyway."

"-but don't you live by yourself all the time? I bet you get lonely. I'll buy him for you!"

"No! That's okay, Naruto, I really don't want – Eep!" The little monster had somehow climbed out of the enclosure again and dive bombed him to latch back onto his hair. The fuzzy bastard must have nin-cat blood in him; there was no way it could be that sneaky otherwise! "…Pakkun is going to be pissed."

One overly fluffy yellow kitty and what seemed like hundreds of cat accoutrements later, Naruto and Kakashi left the pet store, the jounin now the extremely reluctant owner of a kitten he named, Dog. Naruto had viciously protested such a lame and confusing name for a pet, but Kakashi insisted that if he were going to be forced to co-exist with the tiny devil creature, he'd be damned if he had to properly name it too, though he was secretly calling it 'Naruto' in his mind. Besides, the kid was one to talk – he had a vine named 'Ivy' for pity's sake!

Dog couldn't care less what he was called, as long as he got to sit on the jounin's head and eat his hair. That would probably get somewhat awkward as the cat got bigger.

Kakashi was hoping the name would make the kitten more easily accepted by his nin-dogs. This wasn't going to be fun.

Naruto juggled a litter box, a bag of dry cat food, and various pet bowls. Ivy had been all too eager to help carry cat supplies when she'd realized she wouldn't be sharing her precious human with a fuzzy beast, so she had several cat toys, a kitty bed, and a scratching post wrapped up in her coils.

Kakashi had insisted that helping him get all the cat's crap home was the least Naruto could do when he'd drug his poor captain into Gentle Beasts and had the nerve to buy a tiny demon in baby animal form and saddle him with it while getting absolutely NOTHING for himself. It was almost criminal. At least his apartment wasn't far, now, and then he could get rid of the brat and set up a kitty door for Dog – and wouldn't it be a shame if he forgot and locked it closed while the cat was outside on occasion? With any luck, Dog wouldn't like the smell of nin-dogs all over the apartment and would decide not to come back.

"Hey, cool! You live in my building, Kakashi-taichou!"

Kakashi groaned. He must have done something really horrible in a past life to deserve this. Dog nearly slipped off his head and dug his pointy little claws into the jounin's scalp to keep his seat. "Oh, goodie." Naruto was getting a cat flap too, if he had anything to say about it. The kid could share the damn cat since he'd wanted one so badly.

A/N: No art this time guys, because I'm still getting back into the swing of things...also I THINK I had a picture done for this back before crap got crazy RL for me, but I don't remember for sure, and wouldn't know where I saved it, even if I did. :P If I find it, I'll add it in later.

With that out of the way - this is, again, basically being posted as an apology for the wait and to tide you over until I get my crap together and figure out how to proceed with the story as a whole and the heavy revisions I want to make to the structure as well as the writing in general. As such, I'm not looking for a lot of comments on the quality of the chapter - if you'd like to say anything about where it's going or where it's been in prep for the revisions, you're very welcome to do that, of course, and I would find that very helpful - just no, "this chapter sucks, you can't write for crap, and I'm disappointed that this is all we got after you made us wait for months" comments, please. I'm very aware that this is a bit of a pithy offering, and I'm sorry, but I didn't want to rewrite the chapter from what it was like all those months ago, when it will likely need to be rewritten AGAIN when I get to this point in the revisions (as will the next six - seven if you count an at this point partially written interlude - chapters I have mostly ready to go on my HD and may post during the time it takes me to work back up to this point on a rewrite). :P I'm kind of operating under the "something is better than nothing" philosophy at this point. You are entitled to disagree if you want to, of course. :)

I don't know if I'll have time to respond to reviews this time around, and I know I've been awful about doing that lately anyway, but hey, at least I'm back to working on the story? Feel free to leave a review if you want, but I won't feel slighted if you don't since I really view this as a sort of "rough draft" at this point.

Thanks to everyone who is still reading!