Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. Sometimes I wish I did, so I could order Kishimoto to be flogged a hundred times with a wet noodle for some of the plots he's created.

Nin Tech
Chapter 10: Beneath the Buns
By Irritus185

"So…my house or yours?"

A sigh and exasperated chuckle.

"Why do you always make everything a double entendre?"

"Why else? 'Cause it's fun to screw with anyone listening on us."

"Oh? And who would that be?"

"You know…" A wide sweep of the arm. "Them."

Roll of the eyes.

"Idiot. Fine, how about mine? I can show you who the true weapons master is while we're at it."

"I love it when you talk dirty."

"And now I'm leaving…"


"See you tomorrow, Naruto-kun."

"…you tease."

Nothing happened for a few moments. Silence reigned. A few leaves rustled.

"They're onto us."

"Shit, I told you spying for gossip was a bad idea."

"Shut up, Cat."

"Ya think the others will find this interesting?"

"I just want to collect on the betting pool. They are so gonna do it tomorrow. Score two-hundred ryo for me."

"Lucky bastard…"

The leaves rustled again, and they were gone.

It was the banging that woke her up.

Tenten peeked out from underneath her covers, the ring of a hammer on metal disturbing her from her sleep. It was always that sound that acted as her alarm – that of her father starting the day at the forge, hammering away at some new weapon or armor.

Tenten loved being the daughter of a blacksmith – it was fun, rewarding, and she had all the lethal tools on hand a kunoichi could ever want. Her mother had died when Tenten was a toddler, so any sense of a woman's touch had dissipated long before her formative years. When other girls were given dolls, her father had compensated by giving her kunai and teaching the squishiest place to shove them. When girls were held gently in their mothers' arms, she was crushed between burly limbs in frequent bear hugs and learned how to duplicate them.

Tenten knew she would never be all that feminine, being raised among iron and the smell of smoke. Her choice of dress was practical (rather than alluring), she never quite got the hang of her seduction classes (why lure a man when it so much quicker to just threaten his golden treasures?), and she'd never gone googly-eyed over a handsome guy (though her initial months with Neji pushed her limits before she became desensitized).

Her only real feminine aspect was her secret hobby of fortune-telling. Tucked away in a drawer underneath a pile of blunted kunai, she kept her hidden stash of tarot cards, which she often used to try and divine certain aspects about the people she knew – especially the weirdoes that surrounded her lately. Somehow, pulling The Fool for Naruto made chillingly perfect sense to her.

She was as tomboyish as a girl could be and, to be honest, she had absolutely no problem with how she was raised.

She was a bit worried that her father was working this early, though, especially considering that he never came home last night. Her father was a bit of drinker, and the man enjoyed carousing in bars until the wee hours of the morning. However, the man never worked at the forge until he was good and sober. The reasons for such weren't very pleasant to dwell upon.

Jin Chang'e became creative under the influence of alcohol. The works that had been born from his twitchy fingers and sake-soaked mind could be legendary…but only if wielded by a master of both dexterity and weapons handling. Such exhaustive and precise weapons would require nothing less. The number of such people in all the elemental countries could be counted on one hand.

Total. For every single one of them. The rest?

Dismembered limbs did not a good business plan make.

So Tenten, not wanting to witness a repeat of the 'sword-chucks' incident, threw on some rough and durable clothes she normally wore while blacksmithing, leapt down the full flight of stairs from the second floor above their weapons shop, and dashed into the forge.

Then she stopped, eyes widening.

Her father was working on a sword, but not just any sword, no. Jin just had to be working on one of the most infamous swords in the elemental countries possible. And he was wearing the worst shit-eating grin imaginable.

Tenten was now worried.


Jin looked up. He was a hefty man and built like a dilapidated refrigerator – broad shoulders, beefy arms that had multiple burns and scars, a slight pot-belly, and a face that looked like it had been chewed on by a wolverine – a wolverine with rusty nails for teeth.

Tenten took more after her dear, departed mother.

The parent without the smile that caused little children to wet themselves.

"Ah, morning, sweetie." He wiped one arm across his forehead, the sweat hissing when it hit the scalding forge. "How'dya sleep?"

"Fine…" Tenten put forth, wondering how many weapons she could carry. "What are you doing…?"

"Hmm? Oh, just reforging a sword. Real piece of work, too."

"It should be," she laughed uneasily. "Um, is there a reason you have a swordsman of the mist's weapon in our shop?" Maybe a kodachi? Or possibly a buckler?

"Because it needs the work, obviously." Jin leaned over carefully, making sure not to burn himself on the red-hot metal. "The structure's been shot to hell."

"Yeah, but that doesn't explain why you have it." A kunai would be fine, really!

"He has it because I asked him to fix it."

Spine stiffening, Tenten slowly turned. Sitting in the corner, picking his fingernails with a spare kunai, sat the bloody demon of the mist, Zabuza Momochi. His eyes had a bleary, bloodshot look to them which Tenten immediately recognized, having seen it on her father's face plenty of times before and seeing it on Jin's face even now.

Zabuza was nursing a hell of a hangover.

He jerked a thumb at Tenten. "This your kid?"

"Aye," Jin shot back over his shoulder. "My pride and joy."

"Huh, looks kind of familiar…"

So, having found herself in the same room as a former traitorous nuke-nin (who had just recently been quite drunk), her father working on said nuke-nin's signature weapon with that manic zeal he had every time he was coming around from a bender, and surrounded by literally a storehouse of various weapons, shields, armor, and just plain lethal blacksmithing tools, Tenten went with the most obvious choice.

She hyperventilated.

Zabuza blinked. "You okay, kid?"

Jin stopped in his hammering and placed a hand tentatively on her shoulder. "Sweetie?"

Tenten opened her mouth

The sound that came from it oscillated back and forth between the pitch-boundary at which it could only be heard by certain animals. In either case, Tenten's squeal cracked the room's glass windows. It also forced two men to reconsider their vices and put a due amount of effort into investing in earplugs.

"EEEEEEEeeeee…! Ohmigoshohmigosh, you're Zabuza Momochi! Of the mist! And you're here! I'm such a huge fan! Really! So much! You're so cool! And that's your sword! It really is! Can I have your autograph? Please? Please? Please? Kunai, katana, anything metal! Please! Anything would do!"

Zabuza leaned back from her sparkling eyes and the double-headed axe shoved into his face. He grimaced, sticking a finger into his ear. "Damn it, girl, now I see how you and your dad are related. You shriek even louder than him."

"It wasn't that bad."

"You shattered my beer when you actually recognized me."

"Actually, that was just you squeezing it too hard from the shock."

"Either way, I was down a beer and had glass shards in my hands."

"Forget all that!" Tenten cried. She poked the axe-head at him. "Sign it! Now!"

"Alright, alright! Just stop staring at me like that. Yer creeping me out." Zabuza grabbed a piece of charcoal chalk used for marking and scribbled his name on the axe. "Here, ya happy now?"

Tenten squealed again and pressed her cheek against the blade. "I'll never wash this again no matter how much blood gets on it."

"…okay, so maybe you're not so bad, after all, girly."

"That's my Ten," Jin said proudly. "She's a real coal off the old forge."

"Daddy, I love you and all, but never say that again, or we can't be father and daughter anymore."

"K, now I really like her." Zabuza's eyes cleared some, and recognition set in. "Now I know what's so familiar about you – you're that girl that the brat's always going on about, his metal goddess or whatever." He barked out a laugh. "Holy crap, you two really do fit well together – a boy and his mechanical dolls, and a girl and her sharp toys."

Sparkle Mode receded from her mental processes. There was only one person who referred to her as that. Hell, there would only ever be one person who would refer to her as that and completely and honestly mean it. Tenten had to convince herself that the blush on her face was from meeting one of the greatest (if somewhat sanity-deprived) weapon masters in the world rather than the offhand mention of a definitely sanity-deprived blonde's pet name for her.

She knew that Naruto had gone on about receiving some minions from Kiri during his first C-mission, and she knew that Neji had talked about the assault on the Hyuuga compound, but she hadn't really connected the dots up until now. How stupid could she be, not realizing just who it was that Naruto had claimed employment of?

She could have gotten her autograph so much earlier than this!

"No wonder he won't stop babbling on and on about you." Zabuza leaned forward. "Tell you what, why not just do it with him so he can mellow out some? It'd be a real favor to me if ya did."

A crack resounded through the room. Both Tenten and Zabuza turned. Her eyes widened.

Jin was frozen, his hammer stuck at the end of its arc. The main problem with the picture was the six-inch piece of metal now missing from the tip of the zanbatou. Instead of being with the rest of the sword like a good piece of metal, it was lying on the floor – alone.

Jin slowly turned around, his eyes locking onto Tenten's. She immediately recognized the incensed look he was giving her. It was the same one he'd had when she was assigned onto her squad with not just one, but two adolescent boys.

Jin was a papa wolf. He'd done his best to raise Tenten after her mother died, and that included putting the fear of himself into any similarly-aged male that dare tread within five meters of her.

Lee and Neji never looked at shuriken the same way again, and Gai still sometimes burst out into spiels about the necessity of being carefully youthful around blossoming maidens in their eternal springtime so as not to stoke the flames of passion within their fathers.

And for heaven's sake, always prepare an escape route.

Tenten found herself on the receiving end of her father's scrutiny, and she tried her very best to make sure that Jin did not designate Naruto as a viable target. It wasn't so much that she cared about Naruto in that way (that was her story and she was sticking to it); it was simply that, as a target, Naruto did something most targets never did – he shot back.

Tenten did not desire an even further-mangled father.

And since said retaliatory target was going to visit her later that day, she did not want a primed-to-attack father looming over the proceedings and weaving death threats into every spoken word. She wanted to enjoy her time with Naruto, not act as a mediator between a force of fatherhood and a force of, well, Naruto-hood. She wasn't even sure which one was worse!

As to how she would enjoy her time with the blonde…

She refused to blush.

"Who is this boy?"

"Just a friend!"

"A friend to 'do it' with?"

"Daddy, I swear, it's nothing like that!"

"I won't let some boy just come and take my Ten away from me! He'll have to fight me for it! To the death!"

"Daddy, you're being unreasonable! Who does that in this day and age?"

"So he's the type of guy to just try and take a girl without her father's approval? I'll never allow such a relationship!"

"How many times do I have to repeat myself? We're just friends! Besides, how can he get your approval if you're dead?"

"If he was a man, he'd understand! And you say you're just friends? I know what kind of friends he's looking for – friends with benefits! I know! I was a boy once myself, and I know the exact kind of filthy, filthy thoughts we have!"

"Naruto-kun isn't like that! I don't think he even has those kinds of thoughts!"

"He doesn't? Why doesn't he? Is he some kind of weirdo? Why wouldn't he want my cute Ten? Look at you! What guy wouldn't want to tap that?"

"Now you're just being contradictory…and creepy!"

"I can be creepily contradictory all I want! It's my right as a father! No one can just-"

A naginata flew by, nicking Jin's cheek and drawing blood, and slammed into the far wall with so much force that the blade sunk all the way to the shaft. The two turned to an irate Zabuza. His head was hanging down, so they couldn't make out his shadowed face.

Tenten surmised that he was peeved, though.

"You broke my sword," Zabuza said absently, his tone empty.

"Who cares about your sword? You keep that degenerate away from my Ten's girly parts!"

"Daddy!" Tenten huffed. "I'll let anyone I want near my girly parts!"

"Not if I have something to snip about it!"

"The brat just tarnished my sword and I almost killed him for it," Zabuza whispered. He looked up, and there was a haunted expression on his face. "What makes you think you'll get away with breaking it?"

"I'll break something off, I will, if you don't keep that nasty kid of yours away from my Ten!"

"That's it. You just lost your life privileges."

For the second time in the last ten minutes, Tenten realized that she was in a room with an overprotective father, a homicidal ninja, and rows upon rows of various-sized stabbing implements. What would happen next was simply a foregone conclusion. There was just nothing she could do to alter the inevitable outcome despite her Herculean efforts.

That is, if she wanted to change the outcome.

In this particular situation, Tenten didn't.

It would remain as one of the best times that included copious amounts of blood in her life.

If only she had had some popcorn to fully enjoy it.

Today was looking to be a spectacular day.

Naruto turned around at the sound of something falling to the floor, a pair of chemical-filled beakers in his hand. An eyebrow rose at the sight of a bloody Zabuza, clothes torn to pieces. The mist demon clawed his way up the wall, settled into a sitting position, and knocked the back of his head on the wall. Naruto sighed and placed the beakers back onto the table.

"Zabuza-kun, what happened?" he asked in a tone reserved for unruly children. "Did you try and try to make my babies drink again? You know how their bodies react to alcohol."

Zabuza waved a hand flippantly. "Ah, don't worry about that brat. I learned my lesson the first time they tried to eat me."

Then again, pretty much any action anyone ever made towards those bestial beauties, except from Naruto, usually ended with said person almost being eaten alive. Though the way they had grown those tentacles was a new feature, which had caused Zabuza to pause long enough for them to jump him.

Good thing they had regenerative properties. He'd love to able to regrow a hacked-off arm.

"Then, did you try to hit on a woman? How many times do I have to say it? Asking what color a person's insides are is not a viable pick-up line."

"I'll stand by that line! It breaks their mind enough so that I can keep going!" Zabuza shook his head, forgoing the defense of his dating customs. "But in case you really wanted to know, I think I finally found the perfect drinking partner. He can swig like the best of them, and he knows how to take and give a puncture wound to vital organs."

"Aww…you found a friend! That's great!" Naruto simpered, his eyes shining with pride at the idea that Zabuza could make friends just like anyone else, albeit minus the attempted murder. Zabuza grunted. Naruto grinned. "Fantastic timing, though. I got some new potions I wanted to test, and you've come all pre-beaten up!" He picked up both beakers. "Now, there might be a slight burning sensation."

"How slight?"

Naruto paused. "…how high is your tolerance for pain again?"

"I don't like the way this conversation's going."

"Too late!" Naruto snapped his fingers.

Naru-kuns exploded from the shadows to pin Zabuza to the ground with heavy-duty chains and weights. In his injured state, he wasn't able to do much more than struggle futilely and scream obscenities at the blonde, which only gave Naruto much easier access to his orifices.

As the blonde poured the damning mixtures down his throat, Zabuza simmered in Pyrrhic victory. He hadn't told the boy just who his new bar buddy was. Let Naruto find out for himself. Let it be a nice surprise. After all, what was romance without a large, angry bear of a man trying to chop you into pieces during the courtship? It put hair on your chest and paranoia into your survival skills.

Ah, memories…

Summon. Flick.

"Ah, Tenten-san! You are indeed full of the flames of youth today!"

Tenten was still in a happy delirium hours after the event. She just couldn't believe that Zabuza Momochi, one of the greatest swordsmen in the world, had gone on a murderous rampage in her home. She still felt all gooey inside at the very thought of his vitriolic visage as he tried to gut her father with a gardening trowel. Such bliss! Why couldn't such a thing have happened earlier?

Summon. Flick.

"You are closer than you have ever been! Something has fired you up!"

Yes, Tenten actually was a fangirl – a fangirl of psychosis-driven weapons' envy rather than brooding bishounens – but a fangirl nonetheless, and it was made even worse by the fact that her stalking skills were legally taught to her…as well as how to silently enter a domicile uninvited and expertly string up her prey so that escape was impossible.

It was at times like this that it became abundantly clear that there was something deeply and inherently wrong with teaching ninjutsu skills to hormonal children.

Summon. Flick.

"Yosh! That was close!"

Tenten blushed and giggled. Ohh…what she wouldn't do to get her hands on that man's zanbatou. Such grace, such beauty, such ability to eviscerate a man in such an eloquent and brutal fashion! It was a work of art!

Summon. Flick.

"Even closer!"

Regardless, it was definitely in need of repair now, what with the huge chunk missing from it and the subsequent damages caused by the ensuing free-for-all. But that was up to her father, and she doubted he'd let her near the sword.

Though it made her wonder – why would Zabuza go to another blacksmith when he had Naruto, someone who obviously had an aptitude for the deadlier things in life? Surely the blonde could've fixed the zanbatou on his own?

Summon. Flick.

"Grazed me there!"

Then again, while Naruto did have a surprisingly good grasp on metallurgy even if it was self-taught, there were still many rough spots he needed to polish before he became a blacksmith of high caliber.

Summon. Flick.

"Yosh! You have finally struck true! Congratulations!"

The greatest evidence was the gift he had given her. Returnable kunai – such a marvelous and ingenious idea. Why, with just a small tribute of chakra, she would never find herself wanting for on-hand weapons again. Just that by itself was amazing. However, the problem wasn't the concept – it was the ingredients.

Summon. Flick.

"Ah! Again!

The seals were fine, the gloves were good, but the actual kunai had flaws that only became perceivable after being repeatedly used. Naruto was good at blacksmithing, but compared to her, he was still a beginner. Whether it was because of faulty ore or because Naruto hadn't been careful enough in forging them, the kunai were structurally weak. With the constant coatings of chakra and nigh-instantaneous speed, the metal's molecular bonds began to break down.

Summon. Flick.

"And again! Your accuracy has improved!"

It had started with the metal not looking as shiny as before. Then nicks started appearing more and more frequently despite her attempts to sharpen the blade. Such beautiful kunai, and they were being ruined because of careless processing!

Summon. Flick.

"Tenten-san, your youthfulness has outshined my own! But please, tone it down! It is rather painful!"

These were actually her second set of kunai. After the first set had finally broken down completely, snapping off every time they hit a rock or tree or human, she had made her own and had Naruto inscribe and resonate new seals.

Summon. Flick.

"Tenten-san, I yield! You are clearly the most youthful person here today!"

The boy had looked so sad! He apologized, again and again, saying how he was so sorry that he given her a defective gift, and how he hoped she wouldn't think that it meant that his feelings for her were just as weak and brittle. Really, he didn't have to get so emotional over it. She completely understood that sometime your works had flaws you weren't even aware of. After all, there was no such thing as a 'perfect weapon;' you simply created better and better ones. Even with those assurances, though, Naruto still trembled with rueful melancholy.

Summon. Flick.

"Little too low there!"

So sad – with those big blue eyes and shining tears and droopy frown and delicious…

Summon. Flick.

"My youthful spleen!"

Tenten finally refocused on her environment. She was in one of the training grounds, along with Lee and Gai, all three waiting for Neji to arrive so that they could begin the day's missions and training exercises. Full of energy after the whole-scale destruction of her home (which she was disappointedly banned from participating in), she had set up another wondrous rendition of Happy Kunai Target Time with Lee until the missing Hyuuga finally arrived.

Judging from the way that Lee was bent over, clutching his stomach, and Gai at his side with a look of paternal concern, Tenten figured that she'd actually managed to hit him for once, an event that was much too infrequent for her liking.

"You okay, Lee-kun?" she asked.

Lee straightened up and gave a thumbs-up, teeth glinting through a crimson hue in the Nice Guy Pose™. "Of course I am alright! You have performed stunningly well in this bout! I salute your superior youthfulness!" A bit of blood dribbled down his chin.

"Oh, okay then." Tenten glanced down at the kunai she had recalled back to her hands and, noticing the blood splatters, wiped them on the side of her pants. She couldn't let them rust and destroy all the hard work she had put into them.

Gazing at her kunai, Tenten wondered just how big an impact the insane blonde had made on her life and on those around her. With another person who could actually discuss weapon usage aside from kunai, shuriken, and the occasional explosive tag, her own skills had improved drastically. In the words of the Konoha beasts, her eternal rival had forced her to leap further and further down the path of bladed instruments of death. Naruto pushed her, and she pushed back, and with both of them always reaching neck-and-neck in the arms race, she'd found maneuvers she'd never thought possible, and he had improved on his construction methods.

She was the tradition and he was the innovation - not a bad combination. The fact that he loved explosions was just a feather in the boy's already-impressive cap. Tenten had always had a fondness for things that went boom, and with Naruto always on the verge of finding something new to induce combustion in, he was a very fun playmate to battle with over the effectiveness of chakra explosions and good old-fashioned gunpowder.

It probably had to do with her idolization of her dad, but a man with soot and burn marks everywhere just drove Tenten wild. Not so much a manly man, because Naruto was anything but – he was scrawnier than Tenten – but simply a man who wasn't afraid to sacrifice his flesh for the sake of his craft.

Something twinged in the back of her mind. Tenten shivered. Just delightful…

There were also the others to consider – specifically her other teammates. Gai was easy to move past, as she doubted anything other than Kakashi flat-out proclaiming Gai was the better of the two and forsaking his orange book would cause lasting effects on the bushy-browed man. However, Lee and Neji were a different story.

On the outside, Lee didn't seem all that changed, albeit now able to perform two of the most basic techniques known to shinobi. Of course, these came with issues that Tenten had come to understand, respect, and then immediately repress from memory.

Malfunctions in the henge utility of FY caused some interesting and quite disturbing effects.

As for the inner aspects…Well, Tenten supposed that becoming even more gung-ho wasn't really a change so much as a further corruption of the boy's remaining 'normal' mentality.

Tenten glanced over at the taller boy. His wounds were already healed, judging from how he moved, and he was talking animatedly with Gai. "Hey, Lee-kun?" she called to him.

"Hmm? What is it, Tenten-san?" Lee asked, having wiped away the unsavory liquid from his teeth.

"How's FY working for you? Is it working okay?"

"Ohh! FY-san is a wonderful and beloved comrade of mine! I couldn't ask for a better partner!"

"This one thanks you for the words of praise, Lee-sama," FY said in its usual monotonous baritone. "This one only hopes to be of further use to you."

"There is no need for thanks, FY-san!" Lee crowed. "Without you, I thought that my limits would hold me back, but now I can forge forward to be the world's greatest taijutsu expert and then some!"

"That is right, FY-kun," Gai added. He placed on hand on Lee's shoulder, the other on Lee's bracer. "With you by Lee's side, my cute student will no longer have to worry about being ridiculed for a defect beyond his control! Along with his top-class taijutsu, he will surely become one of Konoha's greatest!"

"Then this one will do all he can to make sure that your wishes become reality. I calculate a 66.54% chance of such a future coming to pass with Lee-sama's current strength."

"Do you hear that, Lee? Only sixty-six percent! We must train harder, my cute student!" Gai snapped a fist up, manly tears streaming down his cheeks. "Train until it becomes one-hundred percent possible!"

"Yosh!" Lee cried. "I understand, Gai-sensei! I will raise my chances by five percent by the end of the day! And if I can't do that, I'll run around Konoha a hundred times!"

"And if you can't do that, I'll climb the Hokage monument with one hand!"

"And if you can't do that, this one will determine the surface areas of a thousand random geometric shapes."




Tenten turned away from the flaming trio in disgust. Ever since FY had joined the fray, Lee and Gai were ten times more likely to fall into their Flames of Youth Man Hug and ignore everything else. It became much easier for Tenten and Neji to get some independent training in without having to worry about being drawn to the spandex side, but it did get annoying day in and day out, and it would be nice if they could actually do things as a team rather than as the Beast Trio plus two.

Tenten shrugged to herself. There was no really need to worry over such matters. With them now as a trifecta, the lines were drawn, and there was no concerns over other beings infected. Off in a little world of their own…

She sighed in relief shortly after when Neji came into view after emerging from the forest that acted as a boundary for the training ground. Her eyes widened a bit in surprise when she saw he wasn't alone. She walked over to meet them halfway.

"Hmm? What are Hanabi-chan and Hinata-chan doing here?" she asked in mild interest.

With Hinata, she could easily decipher why – Lee was here, so, by simple cutie-stalker logic, Hinata should be here as well. Really, how the lunkhead didn't notice the affections heaped on him from behind tree, boulder, building structure, and (most often) her cousin completely escaped Tenten. Then again, with Lee ardently pursuing the fiery rosette Sakura, it was difficult for him to even notice the much quieter and docile Hinata.

But Hanabi was a different story. Especially considering what the tiny girl was wearing. Hanabi wore a cape – a full-train, silver-lined burgundy-velvet cape that trailed behind the girl by a good foot or so, making her more comical in appearance than the intended regal. She also carried a plastic scepter that'd obviously once been some kind of magical-girl's toy-wand, the top part removed and replaced with a hardened clay model of an apple.

Okay, so maybe Naruto had had a much more profound effect on Neji and the Hyuuga clan than she'd initially assumed.

Neji grunted, his face that of a man being sent to the gallows. Well, as much as Hyuuga expressions would allow. Truthfully, it looked more like constipation than anything else to Tenten. Tenten almost snorted in amusement as his eyes quickly swept to Hanabi, narrowed in displeasure, and then back to her again. "Hanabi-sama and Hinata-sama wished to-" He stopped mid-sentence when Hanabi kicked him squarely in the shins and glared at him in imperial righteousness. His right eye twitched.

"O…overlord-in-training Hanabi-sama the Great and Almighty," he said, his voice devoid of any emotion and exceedingly practiced, "she who lives above all except for the current overlord, and demander of all your juices, is here to validate the usefulness of her vassals along with her retainer Hinata-sama."

Hanabi snapped her fingers. On cue, Hinata handed the girl a juice-box, an apologetic look on her face directed at Neji. His eye twitched again. Hanabi took a deep sip from the drink and then handed it back to Hinata, who took it with a resigned contortion of a smile.

Tenten drew back her bottom lip and clamped down on it with her teeth. She would not laugh, she would not laugh… Her body vibrated, a noise escaped from her mouth, but she did not laugh.

She 'snrked.' There's a clear difference.

Both of Neji's eyes twitched, creating the vision of a very painful blink. "I believe I have hit a new low in my life."

"It's…" She snrked again. She couldn't help but go along with the proud little girl who barely passed by her waist and was decked out with the tackiest fineries that anyone outside of a certain 'service market' would have. Tenten could definitely see why the branch Hyuuga humored the girl. She was just too adorably silly not to. "It's not that bad. I think that Hanabi-sama the Great and Almighty will make a wonderful…ruler of the…world."

Hanabi preened. She raised a hand and stared at Tenten expectantly. When Tenten stole a glance at Neji, the boy gave the weakest groan and covered his eyes.

"She wants you to shake."

Tenten laughed weakly in turn and took the girl's much smaller hand in her own. Hanabi squeezed Tenten's hand as hard as she could, trying to ensure dominance, and Tenten simply went along with it, throwing in a dramatic wince to enhance the scene. Pleased with the ceremony, Hanabi withdrew her hand and raised her chin. "You will make a good subject," she squeaked in what she probably assumed was a authoritative and regal voice, but was destroyed by the fact that her voice was inherently just as soft and scratchy as her older sister's. "When I overthrow my master, I will excuse you from the coal mines."


"I'm so sorry, Tenten-san," Hinata said, taking Hanabi by the shoulders and pulling her back. "Hanabi doesn't mean to be so aggressive, she just-"

"Nee-san!" Hanabi blurted out, blushing furiously at her sister's surprising show of assertiveness.

"Yes, yes." Hinata patted her head.

"Muuu…" Hanabi groused.

Tenten almost failed to resist the scene. It seemed like Hinata had changed a bit as well since Naruto's invasion and subsequent branding. Her eyes lingered on the spiral patterns on the back of the sisters' hands. There wasn't any major change since she'd last seen them, so Naruto probably hadn't done anything severe in the meantime.

Besides forever manipulating the youngest Hyuuga's mind into desiring world domination, that is.

Hanabi stamped her foot on the ground and smacked Hinata's hand aside with her scepter. "How am I supposed to defeat Naruto-sama and take over the world if you keep coddling me?" she asked coldly, though her scrunched-up features negated the effect.

"I'm just looking after you like Naruto-san asked me to," Hinata cajoled her, face lax.

Neji gained a full-body twitch. "Hanabi-sama, Naruto-san hasn't been talking to you lately, has he?" His eyes promised much pain in the future if she answered in the affirmative.

"Naruto-sama hasn't been talking to me about my role as his future successor," Hanabi answered mechanically, as though reading off a carefully memorized script. "He also hasn't been slipping me notes on how to better manipulate the menial peons around me nor had several branch members teach me in his stead." When she finished, she turned to Hinata. "Did I get it all right, nee-san?"

Hinata chuckled awkwardly at the expression on Neji's face. "You did wonderful, Hanabi-chan." Hanabi beamed.

Neji's left eye narrowed just before being completely closed, and his head ticked sharply to one side before snapping back. He turned to Tenten. "Tenten-san?"

She sighed. "No, Neji-kun, I won't be your alibi while you go and kill Naruto. I won't be an accessory to murder."

"…you just do not want me to get rid of your boy-toy."

"Damn it, Neji-kun, we aren't like that!"

"Not like that, my blemish-free behind. I would not be surprised if those gloves caught on fire, the way you maintain them."

"You saw nothing!" Tenten snapped, grabbing Neji by the front of his shirt. She lifted him off the ground so that his toes barely grazed the earth. "Nothing, do you hear me?"

"Tenten-san, you are scaring me."


"Which makes you even more similar to the one in question."

She growled and let go, breaking off from the smirking lad. Neji had changed as well. No longer as conceited as before, he took to being more sardonic and snarky in his put-downs, resulting in a less arrogant yet more annoying dry wit.

"Yes! I have successfully caused chaos within the unwashed masses! Mweheeheehee..!"

"That's 'mwuhaha,' Hanabi-chan," Hinata corrected gently.

"Oh, right. Mwuhahahahaha…!"

Neji whimpered softly. "Hinata-sama…"

She smiled in guilty amusement. "Sorry, Neji-niisan."

Tenten held back another snrk. This was just too hilarious for words. Despite the humiliation Neji was going through, he'd never been so open with his emotions before. It was charming, in the same way a wet dog trying to get out of the rain was charming; which actually was how Neji appeared, what with the long locks of hair covering his face from the shame of being outwitted by a seven-year-old.

Hanabi perked up as she moved her attention away from her cousin's gloom. "Hey, what's going on over there?" she asked, pointing behind Tenten.

Tenten was saddened to see that Lee and Gai were still hugging the unholy flames out of each other. Seriously? It had been almost five minutes!

Hinata let out an eep at the sight. "L-Lee-kun!" She pressed the tips of her fingers together so hard they turned red. No doubt she was falling into one of her many fantasies. Actually, Tenten often wondered just what sort of imagination made such a frail and gentle girl turn into a tomato at just the sight of her crush.

Neji snarled. "They're at it again?"

"Why are those guys hugging in public? Father always says that sort of action should be done in the bedroom." She turned to Hinata. "What's he talking about?"

Hinata squeaked again and passed out.

Neji slapped a hand over his face and kneeled down to resuscitate the virginal lass while Hanabi decided to instead badger him over what happened in the bedroom between two consenting adults, much to his dismay and forming worries that he was being punished for a dastardly past life. Tenten was more interested in the hugging heterosexual couple.

The "Sunset and Sea" illusion had already passed, and thus there was no concern over being traumatized, but there was something else picking at Tenten's brain. Something about the grass around the teacher and student. It didn't seem as 'real' as before. It was obviously there, but it had taken on a more ephemeral and transparent quality to it. It bowed to a non-existent wind.

Then the grass suddenly washed away to reveal a fine sand. A noise whooshed softly in her ear, becoming more finite as the lap of waves of land. Looking closer at FY, Tenten noticed that it was giving a subtle, muted reddish-orange glow. It spread, until Lee and Gai were swallowed by the light, becoming a rosy orb.

The pseudo-sand expanded. The waves became louder. Tenten put her hands together and released a pulse of chakra to disrupt what had to be some kind of genjutsu. The sand closest to her burst back into grass, and the sound broke, like a chunk had been ripped out of it, but it was only for a moment. Like a sleeping beast awakened by some foolhardy traveler, the sounds resumed with the addition of gull cries and sand swallowed the grass up in fury. The anomaly stopped expanding in a circle and spiked directly towards her.

Tenten stood up quickly and took a step back. "Neji-kun…"

"What is it…?" Neji trailed off. She looked over her shoulder to see that his eyes wide, his mouth agape. "Oh, gods no, this has to be a nightmare…"



Tenten nodded and grabbed Hanabi, throwing her over her shoulder. She pumped chakra into her legs and dashed away, ignoring the squawks of outrage the smaller girl tossed out at her. Looking to her side, she saw Neji. He was decidedly without cargo. "Where's Hinata-kun?" she hissed.

Neji stared at his hands as though they had betrayed him and then skidded on his heels, wheeling about. "Crap!" He started to run back but stopped. His face registered absolute despair. Tenten followed his gaze.

The sand finally reached Hinata's prone form. It probed her gently and, as if it was pleased with its catch, surrounded her. The cries of gulls and whispers of waves went on for a few seconds, and Hinata's eyes opened. She propped herself up and looked around her, a mystified look in her eyes. Then they changed to another emotion that Tenten was terrified to see in a person not wearing green. Hinata stood up and took a deep breath.

With a clench, she raised a fist up and bellowed to the heavens, "Yosh! For youth!"

Tenten's greatest fear finally came to life as she watched the previously quiet and domestic girl shadow-box an unknown foe while laughing loudly, her perfect teeth gleaming in the crimson light given off by the glowing orb.

The Flames of Youth had become communicable, and it had manifested in the worst possible first victim, who, at the moment, was creating the most mind-searing mental pain possible due to the horrific dichotomy between Hinata and the thing (in Hinata-shape) in front of them now.

Tenten would need plenty of mind soap to destroy this terrible, apocalyptic apparition.

…Maybe today wasn't so great after all.

It was late that afternoon, and Tenten was all alone in her home. Jin had gone off to buy some supplies to try and restore the damage accrued in the forge. Hopefully he wouldn't be back for a while, because Tenten did not want what she was going to do to Naruto be seen by anyone. The fewer witnesses, the fewer people she would need to hunt down and torture mercilessly to make them forget what they thought they saw.

Butterflies floated in her stomach. She didn't know why she was so nervous. It was just Naruto coming over, the least threatening person in existence! Well, when he wasn't in the midst of experimentation or trying to coerce someone into something unspeakably tragic. But in an environment like this – the two of them…in her house…alone…with no one to hear any events that might occur…

The butterflies gave birth, and the caterpillars metamorphosed to join their brethren.

At least she no longer had to worry about Hinata donning lavender spandex and spouting the beauties of youth anymore. They'd managed to drag her from the infected zone, despite her protests, and Neji subdued her with some precise Jyuuken strikes. A few minutes outside of that nightmarish area and she'd reverted back to the timid mouse they loved and preferred so much more. As for the actual anomaly, they would simply have to cordon off whatever location the Beasts congregated to and hope that the infection wouldn't spread too far or quickly.

Yet another burden on both her and Neji's shoulders.

That was because of Naruto, she just knew it. It was one more thing she would take out on him, in such interesting ways. Her hand reached for her buns. Maybe it would be better to let them loose?

…oh gods, she was becoming one of them. Curse Zabuza and Neji and their stupid comments! Now she was a walking wreck. When Naruto finally arrived, she was going to…

The store bell rang.

"Yo! I have arrived!"

Tenten almost jumped. She forced those fluttering feelings back down and walked out of the back into the storefront. Naruto was there, clad in his regular clothes of a heavy duster and overalls. She let out a small sigh of relief. This was why she was worried? The boy hadn't even gone through the trouble of putting on clothes without oil-stains on them. Rolling her eyes, she walked over to the blonde.

"Hey, Naruto-kun. You get here, okay?"

"Yup!" he agreed happily. "It's my first time here, so of course I wouldn't get lost!" His eyes shined as he looked around the store, meticulously taking in every sales item. "Wow…look at all the weapons. So cool!"

She grinned. "I know, right? Think about it – being able to come home from work to be surrounded by swords and daggers and axes and spears and everything! Total heaven."

Naruto laughed and scratched the back of his head. "Kinda like your name, huh?" He dodged out of the way when Tenten lazily tossed a kunai at him.

"How many times did I say not to make that pun?" she asked in mild irritation.

"Umm…" He counted on his fingers, eyes narrowed in concentration, his tongue sticking out. Tenten refused to admit his 'thinking' pose was cute… Maybe a little. Naruto's eyes snapped back open. "Thirteen times including just now, and every time you've assaulted me in some form or fashion."

"And yet you keep insist on doing so."

"But Tenten…" he drawled pitifully. "That flash of murderous intent on your face is just so appealing!"

"Yeah, yeah." She sighed. Leave it to Naruto to purposefully aggravate someone because he liked their reactions. She went up to the entrance, flipped the sign from 'open' to 'closed,' and locked the door. The latch snapping shut echoed ominously through the room. She slowly turned around, her mouth twisted into a sick parody of a smile. Her eyes shined with an unholy light. "Now…"

Naruto smiled nervously at the scary look she planted on her face. "Uh, Tenten? What's up?"

"You…" She took a forceful step. He jumped. "You have something that I want." Another step forward. "Something that you kept from me." Another step. "Something that you should have never kept from me." She was now right in front of the blonde, eyes glaring deep into his soul.

Naruto gulped. "Tenten…are you gonna do naughty things to me?"

She stopped. Naruto looked at her with an expectant expression. The moment was broken, and so she decided to simply do what she came to do to. She grabbed Naruto by one arm and raised a hand up to the ceiling. It came swinging down.

"Why. Didn't. You. Tell. Me. That. Zabuza. Momochi. Was. Your. Minion? Do. You. Have. Any. Idea. How. Much. I've. Wanted. To. Meet. Him?" With every word, she smacked him on the side of his head and back, soft enough to that it didn't really hurt but hard enough so that she got her displeasure of him keeping a secret across. If anyone ever saw her acting like this, like a little kid denied a toy or snack, she would never live it down.

Of course, neither would they.

"Gah! I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" Naruto cried, wallowing in her girlish wrath. "I didn't think it'd mean that much to you!"

"Mean that much-!" Tenten backed away and stuck a finger in his face. "He's one of the swordsmen of the mist, the greatest kenjutsu experts in the world! Why the hell wouldn't I want to meet him?"

"'Cause you never really mentioned that'd you want to?"

"Then guess! Use that genius brain of yours!"

"Hey!" he shouted, pursing his lips. "My brain doesn't work like that! Common sense is not one of my driving factors!"

She bit her lip. "You know what? I probably should have seen that coming. You're not exactly one of the brightest bulbs in that sense, are you?"

"Exactly!" he stated proudly. Tenten laughed in exasperation. Only Naruto would take no offense to being called dumb in the wisdom sense rather than intelligence. He grinned lopsidedly and scratched his ear. "But if it really means that much to you, I could get him to sign something."

"Don't worry about it," she said. "I already met him and got an autograph."

"Eh? Really?" Naruto hopped up and down excitedly, fists to his chin. "Where? Where? How come I didn't hear about this?"

"It was just in passing," she said nonchalantly. She would never spill to Naruto the tidbit about Zabuza fighting her dad. That was something she would keep deep inside her heart – her pointy, sharp, stabby heart. Tenten rolled her shoulders. "Come on, Naruto-kun. Let's go in back."

"Ah, wait!" he interjected. "First things first, I've got something as thanks for inviting me!" Naruto pulled a flat, rectangular box out of his duster and handed it to Tenten. "For you!"

"Erm, thanks, Naruto-kun." She took the box and looked it over. It was made out of pine and had a tasteful orange bow on the top-center. She knew he probably wasn't going to pull a prank on her, but then again, even a heartfelt gift from someone as crazy as Naruto had the possibility of maiming. Shrugging, she opened the box and glanced at the contents. Three rows of five segmented orbs were lovingly nestled in cotton holsters. She assumed they were bombs, but they looked very familiar to her, though she couldn't remember from just where. "What are they?" she asked.

"You know that shuriken bomb I showed you when we first met? Tenten nodded, recalling the dazzling show of bladed deforestation. Naruto smiled proudly. "Well, I took all those tips you gave me for metallurgy and assimilated them in the construction of these." He tapped the box. "They now last twice as long before falling apart, so now there's double the fun of destruction!"

The corners of Tenten's lips curled up the tiniest bit. "You know, some people just bring over food or drink when visiting a friend's house," she joked lightly.

"Then I guess I'm just special," he said.

"Yes you are." Tenten rolled her eyes and closed the box, locking the latch. She carried it under her arm and led Naruto into the back of the store. "C'mon, Naruto-kun. I'll show you my forge."

"Tenten!" he said, holding his blushing cheeks in his hands. "I'm scandalized! To think you were so eager to show me all your secret techniques! How shameful!"

She smacked him in the shoulder. "Idiot." Tenten stuck out her tongue. "You'd have to do more than butter me up with a few killing tools to get into my forging gloves so easily." She grinned and hopped backwards. "A lot more."

Naruto's grin became lecherous. He leaned forward. "Is that a challenge?" His voice had gained a throaty rumble.

She winked. "Maybe…"

A few seconds passed in silence, the two just staring at each other. Then, they both broke down in tumultuous laughter. Tenten wiped a stray tear from her eye. She'd never had this kind of fun before. Harmless flirting, the kind that any girl her age should have, and yet it was such a rare occurrence for her. Naruto really was a special kind of guy. Nutty as trail-mix, but someone who she could certainly be friends with.

She waved him over. "Ya ready to see who's the best?"

"You're on!"

They spent the next couple hours pouring over the forge and armory, each sharing what they had discovered recently and quizzing each other on already known ideas and concepts. Tenten found herself sinking into a gooey pile of terminology, theories, and practical usages. It was one thing to just talk about what they could do; it was another to actually show it as she let Naruto put his theories into motion around the forge, showing how he personally infused his chakra into the metal during the forging process to strengthen the structure from the inside.

Her hands itched. She wondered – was it possible to infuse chakra after construction to enhance the item's structure? It worked for a ninja's muscles and nerves. As a blacksmith, with an innate knowledge of the inorganic, wasn't it possible to do it to metal as well? Tenten had to look into the matter, and milk Naruto for everything he had.

Tenten sighed. Such bliss…! She didn't know that it could be so much fun having a friend who she could talk to about her hobbies. She really had to start inviting Naruto over more often, if only so that she could improve her own blacksmithing techniques. Plus, maybe she should go visit his house as well, to see how he worked on his inventions. She was sure it would be an enlightening, if perhaps frightening, experience.

She was knocked out of her reverie when she found Naruto snapping his fingers in front of her face. He looked at her in concern. "Eh, Tenten, you awake?"

She shook her head and smiled abashedly. "Sorry, Naruto-kun. Zoned out a bit there."

He smiled. "Falling in love with me, are you?" She responded with a light dig in his side. He laughed in good humor. "Alright, alright, I gots it. Anyway, I was asking how you were doing with the storage of your weapons. Are those storage scrolls doin' it for ya?"

"They work well enough," she said, though she sounded a bit frustrated. "It's a bit annoying to have to carry so many of them on my person, though. Plus, it can get expensive getting the actual seals inscribed. A lot of my reward money from missions is put into tool maintenance, and it's hard to waste it on the more expensive but better seals."

"Then have I got a deal for you!" he said happily. "As a special deal, I'll not only make those scrolls for ya, for free, I'll inscribe them right on ya, if ya want!"

She blinked. "Oh yeah, you do have a pretty good aptitude for fuuinjutsu, don't you?" She sighed dramatically. "Man, why couldn't I have met you before I wasted all my hard-earned cash on storage scrolls? I could have saved a bundle!"

"Aw, Tenten, is that all you see me as? A means to save money?"

"Would you be sad if I said yes?"


"I'm just joking, Naruto-kun." She laughed and patted him on the shoulder. "But you have to admit, you would have saved me some money."

"Yes, yes," he said, rolling back and forth on his behind.

"But back to what you were saying – is it safe inscribing storage seals right onto the body? Isn't it taxing on the person's chakra reserves?"

"Well, I've never had any trouble."

"Naruto-kun, you're a chakra freak. Of course, you've never had any trouble." She wasn't kidding either. She didn't know anyone who had even close to the reserves that Naruto had, not even amongst the several jounin that frequented her family's shop. His excessive usage of kage bunshin, one of the most draining of ninjutsu techniques, was more than adequate proof that he was a veritable chakra nexus, a concentrated ball of energy in a hyperactive blonde skin. "You really can't compare yourself to most genin."

"Point," he conceded. "But there's no need to worry. As long as you pace yourself and not put too large a strain on your body at too fast a rate, your chakra can compensate and slowly grow in the process."

"Really?" Her eyes were still skeptical.

"Okay, here then." Naruto pushed up the left sleeve of his duster up to his elbow, revealing his slightly tanned skin. He pointed at an array on his forearm. "This carries one of my lesser weapons, a small electrified baton. It…"

Tenten wasn't paying attention to his lecture. Her eyes were focused on the small metal rings that pierced Naruto's flesh right above his wrist. She knew he mentioned how he'd grafted the input unit directly to his bone, but it was not something she'd fully believed until now. He'd done this all for the sake of science? Tenten's eyes roved up his arm, widening as she saw a glint of metal just beyond his elbow.

Naruto stopped in his lecture when he finally noticed she wasn't paying attention. His gaze followed hers and he pushed the sleeve back down. Naruto laughed. "Ah well, that's not something to show a lady, is it? I'm sure you have more important things to focus on."

"Naruto-kun…" she murmured. "What was that?"

"What was what? Nothing! Nothing! Here!" Naruto grabbed Tenten's bare arm and tapped it. Her arm blazed, her flesh burned for a moment, and then a simple array flared into existence. Naruto nodded. "There, that seal should allow you to hold an item up to twenty-five pounds. Perfect for one of your bigger weapons! It's great, right? Right?" He nudged her side, expression hopeful.

No, Tenten would have none of his evasion tactics.

Naruto squeaked when Tenten grabbed him by the lapel of his duster. Her eyes burned passionately, and she brought his face to within an inch of her own. Her teeth ground together, and she bit each word out.

"Clothes. Off. NOW."

Naruto tittered warily. "Shouldn't you be buying me dinner first?"

She roared and pinned him to the floor. He attempted to fling her off, but her greater strength and leverage made it a futile effort. Naruto cried in despair as she proceeded to rip off his duster and then start on his overalls. The sounds of grunting and metal clanging bounced through the room, growing louder with each passing moment.

It was then that Jin returned. He looked over the scene, finding his only daughter with a half-naked boy in his house, her own clothes in a superior stage of disarray, and both of them sweating profusely. He took a deep breath. Then events took a dive into carnage and annihilation mixed with a little blood-thirst for good measure.

All in all, it was a rather fun day for Tenten.

She wondered what the next day would bring.

A/N: And there's the tenth chapter. Yay…Once again, writer's block has hit me and I haaaaateeesssss iiiiiiittt. Anyway, for those that were wondering, yes, I suppose you could call this filler, but it had an actual point to it! One, it was meant to give Tenten some characterization. And considering she's the other half of the fic's pairing, it's usually a bad idea to leave her as the cardboard cutout canon has made her. So yeah, that's one part. The second was to develop the Naru/Ten pairing. Once again, have to make sure they actually click without making it seem too forced, and considering the two's personalities, I think I did an okay job. Also, fear the mindless fluff! Bwahahahaha…! Last, I wanted an outside perspective of Naruto's hijinks. So far, we've seen everything happening to Konoha from an in-close viewpoint. I just thought it'd be fun to see how things looked from outside the crazy house.

So…yay for world-building! I don't care if you call this filler, it has an actual point in the story! Everything! Even the virus!Flames of Youth and overlord Hanabi! …yes, this all will have some part later on. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it!

…now that my temper tantrum's over, perhaps I can be a bit more mature…

Nah, probably not.

Also, for those that were wondering why I now have Hinata going after Lee, think about it. Hinata fell for Naruto because of his personality of never giving up and always wanting to prove himself to others. NT!Naruto honestly couldn't give a crap unless it results in people following him. So what other person in the Naruverse has societal problems, was ridiculed in the academy, and wants to prove himself to everyone while also being an obnoxious ball of sunshine?

Yosh! Rock Lee is here! Also, considering he's Neji's teammate, this gives a lot more chances for the two to actually meet one another, rather than canon!Hinata just following Naruto everywhere. So, there you have it. And it actually makes sense in context…!

Anyway, we still have a few chapters until the chunin exams begin, so be patient! Luckily for you, the tech and action will return in the next chapter, so look forward. Oh, and expect this to be one of the last simple/easy chapters for a while. Things are gonna hit the crapper, and I'm gonna love it! Here's hoping to see ya next time!

Next Chapter – Down in Sandland with Mr. Sandman


Bionic Cat and Juice Overlord

Hanabi scuffed her sandals on the ground. She pouted while looking around the garden of the main house. Pretty flowers, a big sand pit, rocks forming a path…Useless! Absolutely useless! Being told to sit here and be good. She wasn't a little kid!

Her big sister had said she couldn't help out today, that she had to go on missions with her team. Bah! Missions! Who needed missions? She needed her subordinate to follow her everywhere! How else was she going to have a steady supply of juice boxes?

She knew Hinata was just humoring at her. She didn't really think that Hanabi could take over the elemental countries. It was all just a joke to her – a mean joke made by a big stinky-head!

She was so going to become the ruler of the world. She didn't need Hinata or the rest of the branch family to help her out, not if they were jut going to make fun of her behind her back and to her face! And then, when she defeated Naruto and had him at her feet, she could make all the people who called her little or cute or a bundle of rainbows and candies bow before her. She was not cute! She was eeevviillll…! Evil wasn't cute!

Even so, she needed someone on her side. You couldn't conquer the world all by yourself. You had to have minions to do your beckoning, like Naruto, or a partner who could support you and watch your back.

Well, maybe not the latter. Naruto made it very clear to never show your back to anyone, not even yourself! After that advice, Hanabi refused to walk away from mirrors, instead sidling around them. This only led to more branch members calling her adorable.

She wasn't adorable! She was EVIL!

A thump from behind forced her to spin around. A large striped cat had bounded into the garden and was now looking at her intensely.

She recognized the look in those yellow eyes. A desire to crush all that stood before them, to announce their supremacy and laugh at those who resisted. There was camaraderie in those canted eyes, and Hanabi opened her arms wide to her new partner in world conquest.

Tora leapt forward, knowing that his eternal rival had been tutoring this girl. He could smell the wafts of ambition exuding from her. With this girl by his side, he could finally destroy the one obstacle in his way and make it so that no one ever tried to hug him to death again! He would become a leader for all feline-kind!

Two great minds met, and the world became a much more interesting place.

Well, as soon as Tora got off of Hanabi and let her breathe again. This kitty was heavy!

Leaning on the Reader

Sakura sighed heavily. She glanced over at the group of Team Gai and Naruto. They seemed to be having so much fun. So why was she off by herself? Again! She turned to Sasuke, who was refining his brooding. "You get the feeling that we've been ignored for a while now?"

"What are you talking about?" Sasuke asked.

"You know, that we used to be important to some greater being's plot but we've been cast aside to allow a more detailed look into other characters' thought processes and misadventures. That our very lives are nothing more than entertainment for some unknown grand entity, and the spotlight's been intentionally shifted off of us?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about. But even if that's true, then at least we're better off than Kakashi-sensei."

Sakura tilted her head. "What do you mean?"

"If we are just being used for humor, at least ours doesn't destroy our dignity. Kakashi-sensei's been allocated to being the butt monkey for some foot-tall replica of the dobe, simply for some lulz."

Sakura grimaced. "Sasuke-kun?"


"You're talking weird."


"You said lulz." Sasuke looked at her, his face etched in confusion and encroaching horror. "I know, I know." She whimpered in the back of her throat. "This sucks."

Suddenly, Naruto yelled in their direction, shaking his fist angrily. "Side-characters don't have the right to complain! You should be happy you're even here to make me look even more awesome by comparison!"


"Yes, Sasuke-kun?"

"Just do it?"


They stood up, nodded to each other, and charged. And then the field exploded.