A Kunoichi in Konoha
"Well would you look at that…"
Kino Nantaki paused in the boredom-born flip of a single kunai between his fingers, taking his partners advice to study the length of the dimly lit trail they mutually guarded. It took a moment for his squinting eyes to pick out the trio in the fading dusk light, but once he did an eyebrow rose up with incredulity.
"You gotta be kidding me," Kino holstered the Kunai as the light sound of feminine laughter jingled through the cool autumn air and the trio drew closer on a rather unsteady tack. "That couldn't be…?"
"Oh yeah it is," His counterpart confirmed with a wry grin. The women he didn't recognize, but the man they were supporting was, and it was quite obvious that all three had had a bit too much to drink by their sway. "And here I was going to trade away gate duty for the night."
One of the women stumbled and fell to the earth, landing soundly on her derriere. The three paused for a moment, then burst out laughing, helping the other to her feet. Even Kino couldn't help but to grin now. "I'm thinkin' this is blackmail material. You, Kodo?"
"Hell yeah." The nin to his left snorted. He'd always had good night vision, and the detail only increased with proximity. It was Suko alright, the Uchiha captor himself escorted two shapely women. Whores, Kodo smiled. One was a redhead that wore a complementary black and red yukata that was clinging in all the right places, while the other was a slightly taller blond and no less endowed, wearing a blue and black yukata. Both were leaning on the nin of the hour who bore a large jug of… Something potent, the guard decided, extrapolating the fact from their inability to maintain a stable heading along the dirt path.
"Damn, why can't I score that kind of ass?"
"Because you didn't capture Sharingan Boy," Kino remarked, eyeing the trio with amusement. "But shit, forest recon could have at least warned us. Who's got that patrol tonight, anyway? Gaz? Tsuba?"
"Tsuba," Kodo returned in a distracted manner, his eyes riveted to the Captain's female companions. "Say, think he's willing to share? I mean, he's got two."
"Dibs on the blond if he is," His partner replied as the three finally made into conversational range.
"Heeeey, boys!" The blond called out on cue, flashing them a smile that had 'I'm easy' written all over it.
"Friends of yours, Su-ko-kun?" the redhead purred, applying herself liberally to their mutual companion.
"Looks like somebody's havin' a good night, Captain," Kino smiled, his observation heavily laden with innuendo. "Business or pleasure?"
The distracted nin's attention wandered from the redhead nibbling his neck, thought the act obviously took some effort. "Little of both actually… Got a scroll for Kabuto-dono, but I need a favor."
"A favor?" Kodo leaned in. Whether he was actually interested in the request or the women accompanying his superior was unclear.
"Yeah, my songbirds here can't go in with me… Will piss the boss off, know what I mean?" Both gate guards nodded, clearly interested in the direction of the conversation now. "Think ya can keep them company for me?"
"Think it can be arranged," Kodo leered, his attention most definitely riveted to the women now.
"They can guard the gate with us." Kino sported a predatory grin to match his brother in arms.
"Thought ya might like that," Suko smiled knowingly and the girls disengaged themselves from him on cue. They closed on the guards with a sexy sway, ensuring their undivided attention. "You'll find they're very… eager to please."
The redhead found Kodo first, applying herself to the guard in much the same way she had his superior. "I like this one, Su-ko-kun… Can I keep him?"
The blond pressed her ample chest into his cohort's, undressing him with her smoldering gaze. "Take your time, Suko-kun…"
"Hmmm…" The captain mused. "Guess you guys got this well in hand. Radio me in so I can get this over with?"
"Uh, yeah. Sure," Kino dissembled, attempting to divide his attention between the request and the blonde's wandering hands. He managed to find the walkie-talkie at his belt, bringing the transmitter to his lips. "Gate to yard…"
"Yard, over." The radio crackled back.
"Captain Onimara coming in," He confirmed, keying the handset one more time with an increasingly dry mouth as the woman continued to wander.
"Onimara. Got it."
"Go on in, Captain," Kino quickly clipped to the radio to free his hand. "We'll keep these—erk!"
"And take your—ack!"
Both men slid to the ground in tandem as their bodies twitched lifelessly; a long, tasseled needle jutting from each of their necks. The wound was nearly bloodless.
"Clear." The redhead stepped away, looking around for any unexpected arrivals.
"Clear," The blond did likewise, scanning the opposite wall for further sentries. She looked down at her mark with a contemptuous sniff. "Amateurs."
"The rest won't be." Suko advised, staring at the fallen guards impassively. "These two were merely tripwires."
"Let's prop the tripwires up, then," The redhead ordered, pulling her target's corpse up easily and leaning him against the gate frame. She pulled the pin out of his neck even as the blond did the same, both inspecting their work. They would pass a fleeting inspection, but their unnaturally wide eyes and surprised expression would fail under scrutiny.
"Tag em?" The blond queried, unsheathing a kunai from her dead nin's combat harness.
"Tag em." The redhead confirmed, relieving her victim of his kunai while pulling a length of twine from her red mane. The thralled Captain watched as both women produced explosive tags from the folds of their yukatas, tying them to the kunai then embedding them into the wall behind the corpses in turn. The wire was quickly attached the dead nukenins' belts. The leader finished her work with a satisfied nod. "We go in the same way; slow, drunk and obvious."
The blonde cocked her head with the run down, as if listening to some unheard sound in the night. "Team three is ready on the tree line, Ten Ten has the high ground."
"Then let's move," Her companion stated decisively. Her expression magically slackened, fading from sharp focus to that of a buzzed sexpot. The blond's change was equally dramatic, and both inebriated women coiled themselves back around the awed, yet slight disconcerted captain. He knew he shouldn't be this ambivalent concerning the death of the guards, let alone his own complicity in the act, but…
A finger found the base of his spine to the left, touching it lightly. Captain Suko Onimara's worries dissolved beneath a flood of endorphins.
The next ten minutes were a pleasant blur for the nukenin and his escorts as they giggled and weaved drunkenly through the occupied village behind the gates in manner guaranteed to attract attention. Passing guards would occasionally pause, but inevitably continue along with knowing smirk. Nobody was going to challenge the man who captured Sasuke Uchiha and besides, who would want to? He had been cleared through the gate, and most wanted to be in his shoes anyway; especially given his company at the moment. The locals took a dimmer view of the carousing but then, they had little choice in the manner anyway and the trio continued on unmolested through the streets until they reached their destination; a modest hovel built into the hillside overlooking the village. Five guards stood around the only entrance, a plate steel door lined with rivets. All five sets of eyes locked on to the drunken trio as soon as they came into view.
"Pros," The blond whispered through her come-hither grin. "Jittery too."
The redhead weighed the observation and came to a decision. "You and Ten Ten. Go."
"Shinranshin." The blond whispered, tensing slightly with the jutsu release. The guards forty feet in front of them instinctively sensed the threat, but failed to properly discern the source. Four of the guards instantly went to high alert. The fifth at the rear of their ranks silently pulled two kunai, stepped behind his two closest allies and slid the blades across their throats from behind.
The third nin spun around with the noise, only to find two of his comrades already falling to the earth with a clean slice across their throats, while the rear most member of their rank wielded the implements of the their death.
"What the f-!"
The single ninja now left standing suddenly found himself back in control of his own motor functions. In his hands were two bloody kunai. Around him lay two of his comrades with blood pouring from their open throats, while the other two had seemingly grown their own set of kunai from their forehead. The redhead, blond and his own Captain had never even moved. He had just enough time for a final swell of panic before a fleeting glint from the night sky caught his eye...
...It was also the last thing he would ever see as the kunai dropped out of the black like a falling star and made its home in his forehead, sending the remaining nin to the dirt in a lifeless heap.
Both women moved up on the structure amongst the bodies, any traces of inebriation in their movements vanishing. Suko trailed behind, transfixed by the corpses while the women themselves scanned for more targets.
"Door?" The redhead queried the blond, who in turn stepped up to the door.
She stared at it for a moment, then shrugged. "Clear."
Her counterpart nodded, then turned back to Suko with a lascivious smile. The captain's eyes were instantly riveted to hers and his body responded in indescribable ways to her movement.
"Su-ko-kun, I need a favor…"
"F..favor…?" He stumbled as she applied her body to his. Moon light shined down upon her pale skin, caressing her every curve as her every curve caressed him. Of course he would do it. He would do whatever his goddess asked. "Anything…"
Fingers danced along his body, touching discreet points on his skin, while pushing chakra into others. The captain knew at some level he was being used, even programmed, but he was beyond caring. The goddesses' lips moved.
"Kabuto is in there, isn't he?" She whispered the largely rhetorical question in his ear, her hot breath thrilling his libido. He simply nodded and she continued. " I need you… to kill him."
Captain Suko Onimara's expression faltered for a single moment before turning to steel resolve. The nukenin pulled his segmented short sword from its sheath along his back and smiled cruelly as it glinted in the moonlight.
"Consider the bastard dead."
Naruto Uzumaki stared at the pile of debris currently in hand with a frown. It wasn't a mission. It wasn't training. It was, in fact, a shattered length of wood plank burnt heavily at one end and splintered at the other.
It was also trash.
The blond chucked the plank into a pile with a number of its cousins as he had done so for the last two hours. The Shoya district had been seen considerable action as the smaller Sand forces a week earlier dug in with the intent to limit the movement of reinforcements around Konoha. They had ultimately failed at their objective, but left a huge mess behind in the process.
Naruto paused in his labor, watching Sakura turn a set chairs back upright; that is to say the chairs capable of remaining upright. She picked up another and it instantly fell apart in her hands, clattering to the stone floor of the building they were clearing out. The pink haired girl sighed and began to pick the kindling up.
Invasions suck, Naruto decided, turning away from his crush to Sasuke, who was assembling his own pile of debris in the stoic manner he was famous for. The boy paused and returned his glance, then broke eye contact with a contemptuous sniff.
Bastard, The spiky haired blond decided but returned to his own pile, content in the knowledge that his rival been sentenced to the same fate. In fact, the only member of their team absent was the instructor himself, which was actually the reason they were reduced hard labor. Kakashi had business to attend to and since he couldn't supervise or train them, he put them to work.
Probably standing around reading that echii book of his, the teen grumped sourly with yesterday still fresh in his mind. At least the old man had been there to talk. Even Auntie—
Work suddenly stopped and the eyes of his team mates were suddenly riveted on his person. Naruto's panic over his bout of forgetfulness was replace by a new panic concerning the attention he was drawing to himself.
"Uh… heheh…" He stumbled with a wide fake smile. "Just um… forgot.. heh…"
"Forgot, what, dobe?" Sasuke asked pointedly.
"Heh… Um…" A plan with all the coherency of a shotgun pattern formed within Naruto's brain. "Er…RICE!" The force of his admission caused Sakura to take a step back, though the skeptical look remained plain on her face. "Yeah, I left rice on back at my place! Oh boy, I better go turn it off!"
The question was just forming on Sakura's lips when her blond cohort turned on a heel and departed the house in a blur. Incredulity cracked the Uchiha's mask as well, before being replaced by an irritated look. "Idiot."
"He actually thinks we're going to buy that lame—" No sooner had she reached the end of her sentence then their mutual partner walked back through the dilapidated doorway with a huge grin plastered across his face. Sakura blinked.
"Don't tell me you actually fell for that?"
The pink haired girl's cheek twitched. "Nobody could fall for that!"
"How about you?" He turned over to Sasuke, who was glaring warmed over death into him.
"Hmmf," Naruto snorted, returning to his pile of scrap. "You guys just don't appreciate good humor."
Three blocks away, Naruto Uzumaki was running flat out, ducking through the back alleys in order not to be seen by anybody he shouldn't be seen by… In other words, damn near anybody he could think of off the top of his head. The clone would hold them for a little while; likely long enough to find out what Kurenai-sensei wanted with his alter ego then get the hell out. Normally he'd just blow the meeting off, but that would create some very uncomfortable questions for the old man, and that wouldn't do.
Not at all.
First stop, the apartment, he decided, taking a quick left down a tarp covered alley, then a right as he ran down the plan borne of last minute improvisation. Change of clothes, chat with the sensei then vanish.
The genin arrived at the dorm that housed his apartment and opted for the fire escape to achieve an entry through the window of his apartment.
Naruto slid the window open and hopped through, making a beeline through clutter that gave clutter a bad name and over to the already half open closet. Naruto kicked a pile of clothing aside and reached up to the top shelf, finding a small duffel bag. He unzipped it, took a look inside and nodded, satisfied that the contents were in order. Granted, it would be just easier to just change in the apartment, but the last thing he needed at the moment was for somebody to witness a redheaded girl scaling the second story which in turn led directly back to his identity.
Ten minutes and a back alley clothes change later, Naruto was fully dressed in baggy jeans, sandals and a plain sky blue tank top. The outfit would have looked decidedly feminine on the blond boy, save the fact that Naruto wasn't a blond boy at the moment. She was, in fact, a redhead with long hair, blue eyes and a body on the cusp of womanhood. People smiled at her and she was more than happy to smile back, but maintained her brisk pace through the streets in order to make her appointment. Even with the smiles, it still felt… odd. At least this time around.
When was the last time I actually henged into her on purpose?
Not counting the Sexy no Jutsu, of course. That was purely for laughs. No, 'Naami' was reserved for when the mask cracked and reality threatened to take its ball and go home. Granted, those incidents were getting fewer and further between and 'he' was getting stronger, just…
Another pedestrian passed the pretty girl a smile as they passed.
…Just that it's nice to be smiled at once in a while.
Maybe someday Naruto will get those too, the redhead mused but continued on, steeling herself for the last left hand turn onto Juki street and her imminent arrival at the best damn place to eat in all of Konoha. Unfortunately, the best damn place to eat in Konoha was at that very moment playing host to her current source of angst, Kurenai Yuhi. Naruto easily spotted the pale nin already sidled up to the ramen bar, chatting with the owner. Naruto picked up the pace.
And here we go.
Dark red eyes caught the movement out of the peripheral of her vision and Kurenai turned, finding the red headed girl she had only met yesterday. The red obi clad nin nodded with a light smile. "I was getting worried you wouldn't make it."
"Sorry about that," The girl smiled apologetically, "Got tied up." She turned her smile upon the ramen stand owner and his daughter. "Hi Auntie, uncle!"
"I can see that," Kurenai appraised, even as the owner and his daughter acknowledged the presence of their 'niece'. The warm smile was there like always, Naruto noted, but there was an unmistakable warning in the old man's eyes. Then, the woman's words caught her.
"You… you can?" Panic flashed in Naruto-Naami as she wondered now just what the instructor saw.
"It's obvious that that the farm keeps you a very busy girl," The nin remarked with a mysterious smile, leaving Naruto completely in the dark. Fortunately, Ayame came to the rescue and filled in the blanks.
"Remember to take time out from your farm work, Naami-chan," The owner's daughter smiled with a slight edge of mischief. "A simple shower wouldn't hurt either."
"Oh," Naruto blinked. A quick look at her hands and arms revealed the obvious and realization slammed home a second later as the alibi took root. She looked at her dirty hands and imagined the rest of probably didn't look much better. "OH! Yeah, I guess I am a mess…"
"It's quite alright," Kurenai's smile took on genuine depth as she misinterpreted the girl's surprise completely. "I, for one, am not about to fault a hard worker. Walk with me, please."
The impromptu request caught Naruto by surprised and she found herself walking away from the stand, trailing behind the kunoichi with curiosity.
"So tell me, Naami-chan… How long have you wanted to be a ninja?"
"As far back as I can remember!" It wasn't even an answer he needed to screen through his alter-ego, even if it was necessary to blur the context. "I've always wanted to be a ninja."
The pair turned a corner and stepped out on a main artery leading into the heart of the village. "A difficult dream to achieve on the farm no doubt."
"Eh… Yeah." Naruto hesitated warily, unsure where the kunoichi's conversation was heading until it reached a most unexpected juncture.
"Then what is a ninja to you?"
The question came so far out from left field that the henged red-head nearly stumbled. What is a ninja? What the heck kind of question was that? "Um… a ninja is… its…"
The girl's thought process stalled. It was actually a damn good question.
Kurenai continued to lead the way silently down boulevard as Naruto's mind ferociously sought an answer. Gone, for the moment, was the subterfuge he was engaged in as Naruto asked himself- currently herself -that very same question. What was a ninja? Oh, sure, everybody knew what ninja did, and he could easily define his aspirations concerning his way of the ninja, but… The girl shrugged, lacking a response of appropriate depth.
"…A ninja is whatever they are."
The kunoichi stopped so suddenly that the redhead behind her nearly plowed into her back. Red eyes blinked down at her and Naruto suddenly found himself wondering just how badly he had screwed himself over with the flippant response.
"Indeed," the woman confirmed with a nod before leading on down the street once more. Naruto exhaled silent relief as the instructor continued. "Ninja are many things… They are the weapons of war and keepers of peace. Ideally, the true role of a ninja is the one that is never known."
"Beneath the beneath?" The redhead hazarded, and Kurenai awarded her with a pleased smile.
"Exactly," The woman continued conversationally.
"So what if I were to tell you that Konoha is in need of ninja?" Kurenai stopped and turned, looking squarely at the redhead before her as a cart hauling lumber puttered past. Naruto's thought process stalled once more. What the hell? "It's no secret that the invasion has left Konoha in an… awkward position; a position where upon outside recruitment has become a viable option for aspiring kunoichi such as yourself."
"That's… it's….I mean, what?"
Kurenai smiled at the gibbering girl, a reaction that was only natural in her eyes. She was offering Naami a chance at her lifelong dream, after all. "It will not be easy training, mind you. First you will have to pass an Academy equivalency before moving onto specialized training ."
"What… sort… of specialized… training?" The blue eyed girl simply stared at her with wide eyes.
"I'll not lie to you child, the path of a kunoichi is a demanding one, perhaps more demanding than any other role within the ninja hierarchy besides that of Hokage," The instructor outlined seriously, pleased that she now had the girl's complete and undivided attention. "Technically, any female ninja can claim the title of kunoichi, but only a select few can truly claim the fullest measure of that title. These few are expected to operate independently and without support, often moving amongst the enemy undetected in order to carry out their mission. Because they will be on their own in many cases, their training includes a wide range of potent genjutsu, ninjustu and taijutsu."
It was all Naruto could do to keep from simply gaping at the implications. Potent genjutsu, ninjustu and taijutsu… The words echoed within the confines of his skull enticingly. Basically it was only everything he had been denied up until now, and it completely bypassed any gender identity.
"Assuming you can pass the entrance exam, the learning curve will likely be rather steep in order to make up for lost time," The red eyed nin's tone dropped to more serious levels. "The pace will undoubtedly be a grueling one… Do you think you're up to the challenge?"
"Oh, hell yes!" The pale woman was nearly forced back by the enthusiasm pouring from the redhead, who in turn suddenly remembered herself. "I mean, if it's okay, that is…?"
Kurenai cocked her head, studying the enthusiastic girl. She had a hunch last night about this girl and that reply all but confirmed it. There was still the academy equivalency and a myriad of detail between here and there, but… The pale nin crooked a slight smile. "Then you'll need this."
Naruto-Naami watched as the woman pulled a thin scroll from the belt of her combat harness. She handed it to Naruto who in turn peered at it curiously "What's this?"
"That," She motioned to the sealed scroll, "Is for your parents approval."
Naruto Uzumaki had a problem.
Most of those familiar with the events surrounding the obnoxious ninja would assume- were they privy to the knowledge -that his problem consisted of a certain demon of the nine tailed variety sealed within his very belly. While the Kyuubi was certainly a never ending source of angst for the teen in general, the kitsune was largely known quantity and not the source of his current problem.
Kyuubi was, however, a contributing factor, and the problem itself was the scroll meant for his parents... Or rather Naami's parents. Her blue eyes continued to flick back to the scroll in his decidedly feminine hands, her consternation two fold as she walked briskly through the streets of Konoha... First of all, he didn't have any parents and therefore neither did Naami by extension. Given the nature of the scroll, he was doubting that anybody he could consider a parental figure would actually approve of the particular course of action he was undertaking, which in turn brought him to the second, more important issue.
In fact, the problem didn't really seem like a problem at all at first. A shadow clone Naruto would take his place on Team Seven while he trained as Naami, learning all sorts of cool super moves and S-class assassination techniques. She would learn everything they had to teach her and then he would rub it back in Kakashi-sensei's face, not to mention kick Sasuke-bastard's ass with them. At least that had been the plan until the chakra of her shadow clone working with Sakura and Sasuke was snuffed out, rebounding back to her with the memory of an ill placed comment and the pink haired girl's fist bouncing off the clone's forehead.
That very act of violence also reminded her of one very important fact.
How the hell am I going to do this? The girl's brain churned while she traced her path back to her apartment, clutching the scroll. Getting her "parents" signature was actually a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things. He could probably run that past grandpa Teuchi later tonight. But to actually enroll in Kurenai-sensei's training? And be in two places at once? If there was a single flaw to be driven home in this wildly improbable scheme, it was that. All somebody had to do was smack the copy once and he was done for.
The redhead took a quick look around her immediate area as she traced through the last alley that led along the back of her building. Seeing no witnesses, she climbed the fence, hopped across the intervening space and scaled the fire escape up to her window.
Of course, they would never know it was my shadow clone, she reasoned, sliding through the window and quickly began to discard clothes in favor of the crumpled orange garb at the foot of her bed. Even as she pulled the orange pants from the bed, she began to melt, shifting into a slightly shorter, stockier form. Her hair began to be leached of its rich auburn red, shortening into a crop of blond spikes. Naruto gave his head a quick jerk to work out the kinks of the transformation, resulting in a pair of pops while he worked into the pants, then his t-shirt. Even as he grabbed the orange jacket, the genin frowned at the previous plan. Sure, he could probably get free and clear, but Teuchi and Ayame wouldn't be so lucky. There would be questions asked one way or the other, and there was only one conclusion Naruto could come to.
The blond tied up his forehead protector and left through the door at a hurried pace this time, angling through the barren apartment hallways of the low rent housing and out into the sunlight once more, this time as a male. Screwed in more ways than one, the thought echoed through his brain as the more immediate implications of his shadow clone being dispelled held for him. Teme's gonna give me that look and I'll never gonna hear the end of it from Sakura-chan...
No, a shadow clone wasn't going to work for this, Naruto decided, searching for another method as he set a course back for his undoubtedly disgruntled team. But a solid clone would, his intellect grasped eagerly through his limited options, remembering back to his first mission and Kakashi's fights with Zabuza. Those can take a beating and not disappear! He triumphed, then frowned as reality once again slashed at his goals. Unfortunately, he didn't even know where to begin in mastering the technique, and the only people he knew weren't going to be forthcoming in the training.
Dammit, dammit, dammit, the blond fumed, barely paying attention to the people around him as he wandered through the streets of Konoha on autopilot. Guess I can try and do it my-
"N-Naruto-kun," The soft greeting was barely enough to pull him from the dilemma he faced, but blue eyes snapped up into the solid iris' of Hinata Hyuuga; who was barely managing eye contact herself.
"Oh, Hi Hinata-chan!" Naruto blurted, causing the girl he had been about to pass by to blush profusely. "Guess they got you to working this ward too?"
"H-Hai," She nodded ever so slightly, taking a tepid glance at the building she had been sweeping out herself.
Naruto cocked his head at the girl's odd behavior, but he shrugged it off. Her face is really red... Musta been working pretty hard then. The ninja favored her with an easy grin. "I can leave a shadow clone to help if you want?"
Hinata's eyes widened briefly with the suggestion as another portion of her brain began to quickly devise a reason for her crush- or even his clone -to stay within her proximity even though their team had mostly finished their work for the day. In the end, that thought ran headlong into her shy nature. "I... we're almost done here..."
Naruto shrugged and began to wave goodbye when a last minute spark of bravery reignited within the girl. "Um, did you... I mean... need any help?"
"Nope!" The chipper reply was a stab to Hinata's heart, but the followed by a dark chuckle. "Unless you know a solid clone technique?"
"Oh... I don't think so..."
Naruto nodded, all but expect the answer anyway. "See ya around, Hinata-chan!"
Hinata watched her crush walk off, seemingly without a care in the world for anybody who cared to notice such things; save the fact that the Hyuuga heir had been watching the blond genin far longer than any casual observer. Years longer. There was the typical bounce in Naruto's step, subdued by an unseen weight that seemed to likewise subtly affect his posture. A concerned look replaced the shy blush on her face, and the girl watched as he continued down the street, turning a corner out of sight.
"Hey guys! how's the-"
"OW!" Naruto Uzumaki furiously rubbed his forehead as small stone bounced off of it, skittering across the largely ruined wood floor while its impact was denoted by a largish red knot. The nin shot a furious glare back at its launcher. "What the hell was that for, bastard?"
Instead of replying directly, Sasuke simply turned to his pink haired counterpart and nodded. "This one's real."
"I can't believe you just skipped out like that, idiot!" The pink haired girl's temper preempted any justification that came to Naruto's mind, and the blond took a step away from the fuming genin. His footing caught up in the remains of something wooden, but he paid it no mind, tripping backwards but eyes squarely on the more sizable threat. "Do you think we're here just for your entertainment or something?"
"No, it's not like that!" Naruto protested weakly, lacking any sort of defensible position besides either being seen as an annoying prankster or just a complete idiot without exposing his real activities. "I was here! The entire time!"
"Your clone was here, moron," Sasuke cast a look toward the errant ninja that hovered just below room temperature.
"And it was just as bored as you guys were!" The blond temporized desperately, his head swinging from the annoyed Uchiha heir to the cherry blossom advancing on him with a clenched fist. "Come on! I can make another dozen! We'll be done with this in no time!"
"And. Why. Didn't. You. Think. Of. That. BEFORE?" Sakura growled, bring her arm back for a hay-maker. Naruto cringed and braced for impact. And braced. And braced some more.
The impact never came. Naruto peaked out from the arms shielding his head to find Sakura smiling pleasantly. His blue eyes flicked over to Sasuke, whose own expression was now one of bemused satisfaction. The ninja slowly lowered his guard, then hazarded a chuckle. "Heh... heheh... I knew you guys would see it my way!"
"Hmmm," A voiced purred from behind him; a masculine voice that caused the orange clad ninja's stomach to plunge. "I don't recall authorizing the use of shadow clones for this task."
Naruto looked up slowly, finding the bored, one eyed countenance of Kakashi Hatake looking down at him. The genin smiled weakly, rubbing his head. "But, um... You didn't say I couldn't?"
"True," The disinterest looking continued to bore in on him. "That, however, is little excuse to let others do work while you run around and goof off."
"But I was-!"
"Not everybody has access to an S-class clone technique to do the work for them," He shook his head, finally taking his gaze off the boy and walking around him to inspect their mutual work in clearing out the building. "Thus, it's complete unfair to leave your team behind while run off doing who knows what." The blond was about to protest again, when Kakashi turned back to him with a penetrating stare. "And what, exactly, were you doing?"
HE KNOWS! Naruto's psyche screamed as the rest of his brain tried to formulate a response to the pointed question. Calm down... calm down... The nin schooled himself in those crucial seconds. There was a chance he didn't know. Maybe. But if I lie and he does, I'm so screwed! Naruto's panicked brain worked the angles overtime. But I can't just admit it! Not when I'm so damn close!
Kakashi simply stood there, waiting. Around him Sasuke and Sakura waited as well with no small amount of annoyance radiating from the pair. Naruto gulped and stepped into the breach with the truth. Just not all of it. "I was at Ichiraku's...?"
"I KNEW IT!"
"Of course you were," Kakashi sighed, shaking his head before turning to his other two students. "Sasuke. Sakura. You have the rest of the day off."
Naruto's chest suddenly felt tight even as his eyes tracked a contemptuous Sakura walking out the door, followed by a smug Sasuke. He was alone with the Team Seven lead less than a moment later, dreading what was next.
Here it comes... doomed, doomed, doomed...
"While I admire your ingenuity, this was work you were to do as a team," Kakashi began, his back facing the frozen teenage nin. "If this had been a real mission, your clone could have been easily incapacitated, leaving your team to deal with whatever threat it was facing alone."
If there was one lesson that had already been driven home with the clarity of a hot kunai through butter, it was that; and Naruto nodded unconsciously with the sentiment. The clone had been compromised and now he was in deep shit for it. It didn't work here and it sure as hell wouldn't work for Kurenai-sensei's training.
Not that I'll ever get the chance now, he decided bitterly as the instructor turned back toward him, continuing to stare at him with that single, unwavering eye of boredom and apathy.
"Since you already had your lunch, I'm sure you won't mind finishing the job here," the white haired jonin continued, the frown visible in his voice. "And maybe while you're finishing the rest of the block out, try to remember that when I put you to work as a team, I expect teamwork."
Naruto blinked as Kakashi began to take his leave.
"And no clones," The instructor paused at the door to issue the final condition of his student's punishment. With that, Kakashi was gone into the afternoon daylight, leaving a stunned genin in his wake.
The question as to whether he had just been given a pass or just enough rope to hang himself with loomed so large in Naruto's mind that he didn't actually comprehend his punishment for a full five minutes.
Neji's Byakugan enhanced sight pierced the ink black of night that set across the property of his clan's namesake, the various walkways and buildings lit to reveal the occasional patrol or pedestrian. The illumination was as artful as the architecture itself, positioned to allow light and shadow to blend in contrast that was pleasing to whatever eye looked upon it. The branch heir's target, however, was not moving amongst the illumination that lit the compound's major pathways, and probably would have escaped detection entirely if he hadn't already been atop one of the higher towers, thinking.
Thinking about fate.
Thinking about destiny.
It wasn't the first night he had spent atop the storage tower since the invasion, watching others come and go about their business while he contemplated where, exactly, his fate lie. Before his defeat, the inexorable flow of events was a foregone conclusion. He was superior and his rise inevitable. Spending time developing relationships was a waste in that light, and it had been a rude surprise to find that philosophy stopped cold by somebody who was, by all accounts, a failure.
A failure that somehow learned an S-Class technique and devised tactics to defeat me, Neji snorted with contempt; contempt that was solidly directed at his own self. Neji's eyes tracked the figure through shadows that normal eyes couldn't penetrate, chakra feeding through bulging veins along his temples to enhance that sight. While he may have been more than happy to lord his superiority over others in the past, one thing the branch heir was, was utterly realistic when it came to his skill. Frankly, it was exceptional for his age bracket and the complete lack of clan support. Others may have been willing to pass his opponent's victory off as chance, but the Hyuuga knew better. He had executed the fight flawlessly, only to run headlong into Naruto's unreasonably stubborn nature and his surprise... bloodline? The young ninja shook his head in recollection before returning to track the unknown interloper traced around the edges of the clan's grounds. Avoiding our patrol's Byakugan radius, he noted silently, while cataloging the fact that this intruder was obviously familiar with those he was trespassing against.
Her, Neji corrected himself as the now correctly identified female inadvertently drifted further into his own Byakugan arc so that he could glean more detail from the chakra return. If he had to guess, she had misjudged his ability just enough to stay on the outside edge of his ability without fully committing herself to the detailed inspection of his vision. Neji stepped closer to the tower's edge, contemplating his next course of action when his quarry paused and flashed.
The black haired teen's eyes widened and tried to pull more detail from the faint chakra return. There was something about the way she moved... Something that tickled his recollection. It was familiar, almost as if... But why?
His attention, if not his gaze, swung back to the Main Family section of the compound where he had first picked her out of the shadows. If she was who he thought she was, the main question then became why she was sneaking across the property that was all but hers by birthright? His target was on the move again now and he watched as she began to cut across the property at a respectable sprint, leaving the range of his Byakugan seconds later.
It hardly mattered what direction she chose now. There was little of value in that portion of the clan's property save The Library, all but assuring him of her destination. Neji powered down the special technique and darted to the right, taking the leap off the tower's wood shingled roof to the next highest structure, free falling for a moment before hitting the next roof in a crouch to begin his sprint along the spine. Unlike his quarry, stealth wasn't his primary consideration and took a direct line to the vault, raising eyebrows from the patrols he blew past but remained otherwise unmolested as he took the various roofs until only a flat, well lit clearing remained between him and the structure. The Hyuuga came to a precise halt at the edge of the rooftop and just beyond the periphery of the clearing.
Like Hinata, he too would have to make for a covert entry into The Library, if for entirely different reasons. She could challenge the guards directly and walk through the front door as the heir to the Hyuuga clan if she chose. He, on the other hand, could not. While Hiashi Hyuuga's attitude toward the branch clan may have softened with the outcome of the tournament, a branch member was still a branch member and generations old policy didn't simply change overnight...
Regardless of how much Uzumaki desires it to be so, Neji mentally acknowledged his former opponent, and began to skirt along the edges of the clearing while simultaneously managing his need for stealth. All things considered, her activities were proving a mystery even if her intentions were not. For some reason, she required access to the Hyuuga library of special techniques, and for some reason she was determined to keep that access as covert as possible... Even though she is heir apparent to the clan, the branch heir frowned, slipping past two guards on their roving patrol without a sound before sidling up to a thicket of decorative shrubbery to conceal his position before making the final sprint. Of course, the clump of brush and flowers would be little more than a pane of glass when pitted against the Byakugan, but so far neither he- nor Hinata, perhaps more surprisingly -had given any of the sentries a reason to activate theirs.
Neji puzzled over her activities, sensing her only because he already knew she was now on the libraries roof top. Hinata can walk out the front door with whatever it was she had come to take, but obviously doesn't want anybody to know of her presence, he concluded and allowed her another thirty second to make her entry before running flat out, abandoning his cover and making for the structure's west wall where the lighting didn't reach. He waited another measure plying foot to chakra in order to scale the wall quickly. Once atop, the teen spotted the girl's method of entry: a carefully removed ventilation screen that ultimately curved vertically into the roof itself. Neji stared at her work for a second, wondering just how much planning Hinata had put into this before making his way to the very same shaft.
He gave the shaft a careful inspection before sliding in himself, negotiating a ninety degree angle within before the ducting finally flattened out. Neji landed silently inside and immediately caught sight of another open vent a mere ten meters from his landing point. A crouching shuffle brought the branch heir to the opening and he bent down, ensuring his drop into the archive's main hall would be unnoticed.
Neji dropped once more, this time onto flexible tatame where he landed in a silent crouch. The doors to the main archive at the end of the hall were immediately noted as cracked open, giving him a clear indication as to his cousin's path through thebuilding. The genin followed carefully, barely moving the sliding door as he edged through and into the main chamber, where rows upon rows of shelving stood sentinel; each and every last one of the towering wooden frames laden with scrolls. He paused uncharacteristically with the sight; a pause accompanied with a sliver of regret, and contempt. This was ground he was not free to tread upon. The scrolls were not his to borrow and study without the permission of the clan head, who wasn't likely to give them freely any time soon.
Neji's expression soured, but he put the thought to the back of his mind and began to stalk down the center row of the archive room, scanning the rows for any sign of life. The whisper of parchment scrapping against itself caught his ear in the otherwise silent space, all but advertising Hinata's location. Neji quickened his silent pace and happened upon the girl deep within the twelfth row, pulling scrolls from the shelf seemingly at random. He waited as she would study their labels for a moment before sliding them back in place and returning to whatever it was she was searching for. The genin cocked his head, watching her for a full minute in the open aisle. One minute turned into two. Then three. Neji's cheek began to twitch at the five minute mark, but his cousin still had yet to nice his presence.
"Eeep!" Hinata Hyuuga suddenly spasmed, sending no less than five scrolls in to the air to rain back down upon her as she whirled upon the person overtly spying upon her. Four of the five landed at the suddenly deathly pale girl's feet, while the fifth rolled down the aisle itself until stopping at her cousin's foot. He bent down to pick it up, studying with passing curiosity before turning his attention back to the girl. Her mouth opened and shut as her sight flicked from him, to the shelves and back to the incriminating evidence in his hand and at her feet.
"I...! I...! It's not..! I'm, um...!"
Neji frowned at the gibbering girl before finally rolling his eyes and tossing the scroll back to her, where she intercepted it on reflex; juggling it ineptly in hand before obtaining a solid grip. The branch heir ignored his counterpart's antics and stepped fully into the row, studying the scrolls she had gone through. After a moment, he turned back to the nervous girl. "Your father doesn't know about-"
"Please don't tell him!" Hinata blurted desperately, causing Neji to blink through the sheer desperation in her voice. Her hands rung themselves nervously before she broke her pleading gaze from him, bending down to snatch the scrolls at her feet. They were quickly plucked from the ground and replaced. As soon as they had found their shelves, Hinata's jittery gaze was on him once more. "Please... I... You can't! It's important!"
"What's so important?" Neji pressed, taking a step forward. Hinata took a step back, and for the first time, he noticed a small cloth bag hanging from her left shoulder. She noticed his attention and profiled away, obscuring it from sight. Her cousin simply arched an eyebrow. "Though I guess the real question now becomes why the clan heir would stealing from her own archive?"
Hinata's mouth opened, than closed with an alarmed look on her face that clearly advertised she had been found out. Neji shook his head. "Not that I'm going to tell anybody."
His cousin blinked, then blinked again. "You... You won't?"
"Why?" He asked instead of responding to her directly. His pupiless gaze bored into hers until she finally broke.
"For... For Naruto-kun," She replied softly, her cheeks pinking. Neji wondered if she even realized that a sappy smile was crawling across her face now. She snapped out of her romantic stupor a moment later and actually turned back to the shelves of scrolls to resume her mission, leaving her cousin to wonder at the turnabout in behavior. Her next words came out a fraction firmer as she renewed her search. "Naruto-kun needs a solid clone technique."
Neji watched, slightly dumbfounded as she picked through another set of scrolls, eventually picking one out , uncapping it's protective sheath to be viewed at length. She appeared to scan its unfurled contents briefly before rerolling it, returning it to it sheath and stowing it her bag. How many does she have already? The branch heir wondered as she returned to her picking. And... for Naruto?
She was taking a risk. A very big risk. The risk wasn't in breaking into the vault. If that came to light, he suspected that her father would actually applaud her initiative. The risk was in who she was helping. Just giving family techniques away was bad enough. Giving them to last in class Uzumaki was tantamount to treason if he had judged the mood of the adults around them correctly, even if he had no idea why.
She has to know her position as heir is hardly unassailable, the genin pondered, reviewing Hinata's behavior even as he oversaw her activities in the here and now. Hiashi had a backup. Hanabi. As clan head, he could strip Hinata of her rights and simply replace her with the younger sister. Wouldn't put it past him either, Neji determined, but was still left with the overriding question as to why the girl before him was taking such a huge—
Sudden realization hit him like wall of bricks. The flush on her cheeks. The smile. The sudden resurgence of her will to fight during the exam match. Her nervousness in Naruto's very presence.
"You like him." Neji Hyuuga realized, as if not believing the conclusion himself. Hinata Hyuuga stiffened abruptly with the statement, all but freezing in place with wide eyes. It was all the confirmation he needed, but he still couldn't think of damn thing to say in light of that singular revelation. Hinata Hyuuga, heiress to the premier bloodline in all of Konoha having feelings for the last in class Uzumaki? If that wasn't scandal enough for the clan, supplying him with Hyuuga techniques would all but ensure Hiashi stripping her of any hereditary claim she had.
Hinata resumed her search, if in a somewhat stiffer manner than her previous efforts, breaking Neji's train of thought. After another minute of silent work she simply nodded, almost mechanically. Her voice came out softly; almost in a whisper.
"Naruto-kun needs a solid clone technique."
And that alone said it all. Neji just watched as she moved further down the row, studying candidates for retrieval as she did. The branch heir shook his head at the injustice of it all. His fate had once been certain. There was but one path to follow and one outcome assured, yet it had all been thrown to the wind by one obnoxious blond with a marked inability to dress sensibly. Nor had he been the only vicitm, apparently. Neither the first, nor the last, Neji observed of himself as Hinata's scroll hunting continued.
Every bit of logic screamed not to help the girl who was not simply a rival, but heir to everything he hated about the Hyuuga. It told him to slip an anonymous note quietly to Hiashi and watch it all burn to the ground.
Even if he could somehow commit to that betrayal, there was one person he owed; even if that person was not the girl before him. With that final thought, Neji Hyuuga simply nodded and turned away.
"Then I'll ensure you're not disturbed."
Fifteen minutes after midnight, Naruto Uzumaki stumbled into the west wing of the dorm he call home, though technically it was the academy's transient housing section with few permanent residents. Had the blond thought on the matter more, he would have wondered to ask why he was the only permanent resident, but such had been his life for as far back as he could remember and he rarely gave it a second thought as he clumsily fished through his dirt caked orange jacket for the room key. The stairs up to his second story room were likewise negotiated in a similarly lethargic manner, and he stumbled twice on the way up, dropping the key, retracing three steps in its retrieval and yawning as he did so, ultimately renewing his ascent.
Kakashi's punishment had indeed been a punishment, though perhaps not in the way he had originally envisioned. The goal had been to ply hard labor to the teen in order to illustrate a lesson. In that, the Team Seven lead had been successful. Where his plan had fallen down was in the fact that this was Naruto Uzumaki, a Kyuubi powered chakra reactor capable of dispensing shadow clones by the dozens without even feeling it. While Kakashi's methodology may have been faulty, the punishment had a much more insidious impact on the boy in question...
...It bored him out of his skull.
It wasn't simply boring work, it was mind numbingly boring work. There was nobody to talk to. No Sasuke to taunt. No Sakura to fawn over. He wasn't even allowed to entertain himself with a shadow clone. Civilian traffic was already minimal in the battle stricken district, and once the other teams and on-site construction crews went home, he was all that was left. By himself. To clean out thirty two buildings. Ordinarily the possibility of ducking out for some mischief would have come to mind, but his position was perilous to say the least. He had been caught. Or maybe he had been caught. Naruto still wasn't sure which, but the very last thing he was about to do is give Kakashi an excuse to probe his initial screw up any deeper.
So he worked alone. For nearly ten, excruciatingly boring hours.
The boy that stepped into the second story hallway was not the same one that had exited so long ago this morning. This particular Naruto was nothing short of a complete mess. His dirt crusted, splotch soiled appearance could have easily been mistaken for a hard day of training, while his normally spikey hair had dulled under the dust and grime of his activities. He passed the hallway's sole source of light, a hanging lamp that housed the only bulb still labored to provide steady illumination where four of its other brethren had failed over time. Naruto paid it no mind as he passed, more focused on the simple act of putting one foot in front of-
Naruto stopped, suddenly wide awake.
Even in the meager light, he could see it: A box. A pristine white box wrapped in colorful pastel ribbons sitting at the foot of his door. The blond genin scrunched his eyes, rubbing them to ensure he wasn't hallucinating, yet the box remained defiant. He stared at it for several moments as if it couldn't possibly exist before taking one deliberate step forward, then another. Two more steps and he stood before it, its glistening ribbons all but begging to tugged. It was still next to impossible, but it almost looked like a present. The concept was so alien that it bypassed his normal urges to rend the carefully wrapped box of its delicate ribbons and violently liberate whatever was inside... For at least thirty seconds.
Forty two seconds, however, required a super human level of patience that the young Uzumaki did not possess and the boy all but dove for it, stripping the box of it's pearl white wrapping and sending its pastel trappings flying as he sought entry. The lid to the now compromised container was flung aside and Naruto reached through a layer of fluffy orange tissue to grasp... A scroll? Naruto stared at the cylinder in his hand, blinking at the equally unlikely find. He glanced back at the box, retrieving a previously discarded card tied to the ribbons.
To: Naruto Uzumaki
That was it. He flipped the small card over, finding the reverse blank before returning his study to it's face and the flowing, graceful script adorning it. The single known he could positively discern was that the handwriting was too pretty to be a guy's. As a corollary to that thought, he knew for a fact that it wasn't Sakura's either, whose handwriting he knew by heart. The question persisted for several minutes before curiosity finally got the better of him and he untied the cord binding the scroll, allowing its parchment contents to flow to his feet. Naruto scanned through it, making little sense of what he was reading for the first five minutes before several of its components began to mentally drop into place.
Parts of it were similar to what he had learned in the academy, but far more complex in nature. Other portions resembled a certain S-Class technique that he used regularly. The realization of what he was holding hit him with an audible gasp, and a slow, victorious smile began to crawl across his face. Adrenaline flowed and anticipation shown like a light in Naruto's blue eyes, the day's mental fatigue suddenly forgotten. His mysterious benefactor was still unknown, but one thing was certain:
Sleep could wait.
He had time to kill and a new technique to kill it with.
Author's notes: Wow, has it been that long? Sure has, but such is the life of a low priority fic. I can't promise anything in terms of timeframes, but I can assure you this one is alive and well. Not much in the way of AN's so catch you later.
Who's that redhead? If there's still any question in either the intro or the telling, yes, that's Naruto.
Yaoi? No. I am not a purveyor of fine yaoi products, of which there seems to be a glut of in naruto fics in general. Yuri, on the other hand, is a Russian I am familiar with.
Matches? Yep. And some fire too. I can't come outright and say who, just that the chapter has some decent foreshadowing.
Foreshadowing? A telltale sign of quality fanfiction. Maybe. Actually, I offer no guarantees on that whatsoever :)
Special thanks; DD for editing services rendered. It's been a year, but I know DCG made a snide comment or two, so I'll put him here as well. Holyknight, too, for continuity rolls ;D