"Time to quit, Akamaru." Kiba gave the large dog a pat on the head before taking the last steps to the side of the lake where he finally gave way to exhaustion and crashed down onto the soft green grass. Even he had to admit that he might have overdone it for once after nearly nine straight hours of training but, then, things otherwise had been rather slow lately. Training was about the only pleasure he had left and he couldn't remember the last time he'd actually been on a decent mission. What was the point of being a chuunin if it was only to be reduced to C and B-level jobs? Pushing his body too hard was primarily in hopes of getting noticed when the next A or S-class mission did come along. Maybe he'd make jounin sometime soon but for now he only ached, especially his head.

The sun was still high enough in the sky to burn and he found himself squinting, protecting his sensitive eyes from the blazing rays with his arm, when suddenly he caught a dark, peripheral flash off to his right. He tensed for only a second as he came to recognize the figure of Raido who had landed just two meters away. The fellow ninja's visit was in fact a welcome sight as it would most likely mean his presence was being requested for an audience with the Hokage. Perhaps there was a new mission in store for him after all.

The dog ninja's mood was about to perk up when Raido cut it back down: "Hey, Kiba, wake up! Lady Tsunade wants to see you in her office pronto. What the hell are you doing lazing around this time of day anyway? I almost ran by you. Thought you were Shikamaru there for a second."

Now that was a low blow! Kiba groaned. After having trained his ass off, someone would of course find him now while he was looking like some kind of lazy bastard but it was too late to try and save face now.

"Yeah, I'll be there in a minute," he replied, finally lifting his arm from his forehead and rolling over onto his side. He didn't bother to leap up, and the movement wouldn't have helped the loud thumping in his head, but made his way slowly to his feet. It wasn't like another minute or two would matter anyway. With his luck he probably wasn't even getting sent on a mission or it would be some boring escort duty that even a civilian could handle. Kiba despised this listless, useless feeling more than anything. He finished dusting of his pants, sighed and set off in the direction of the Hokage tower with a pat to his thigh informing Akamaru to follow.

He arrived at the office with more haste than he figured it was worth but Tsunade had barely even acknowledged his presence. Apparently she was waiting for others to show up. Kiba wondered why he hadn't stalled even longer. He was not the world's most patient person and he hated waiting, especially when he didn't even know what or, in this case, who he was waiting for.

Eventually the sound of two very loud, very excited voices could be heard making their way down the hall and towards the office. Had the door been closed, Kiba was certain it wouldn't have made much of a difference. At least half of the village had to be in on the business of those two by now. Having exceptional canine-like hearing didn't help matters either and although he wanted to tune them out he had already learned the names of the village's three "cutest" shinobi (lucky him, huh?) although he found it puzzling to not have caught his own name in the list. Oh well, he thought as he simply shrugged off his absence. It was 'their' conversation, not like he was eavesdropping given the decibels, and he didn't really care if he didn't make 'their' list.

The excessive laughing and screaming continued, preceded by the strong odor of jasmine, until the two girls made it through the door, doing their best to suppress the excitement brought on by their gossip as a respect for the place where they were now standing.

There had been something familiar about those voices…

"Ah, Sakura, Ino, there you are!" Tsunade finally spoke up.

Kiba did his best to suppress a groan of self-pity as he turned to see the new arrivals. No way in hell was he going to go on some stupid C-level mission with the two loudest kunoichi Konoha had ever bred. What had he ever done to deserve this? For the first time in his life he realized just how lucky he had been to have Hinata and Shino as partners. Despite their constant rivalries amongst trackers, he had to appreciate that both had been rather introverted teammates. With his energy and gung-ho personality, Kiba had easily acquired the position as leader of Team 8. Neither Shino nor Hinata had even challenged him for it, although he had a slight feeling that Shino could have taken him on. Next time they got together as a team, the ramen would definitely be on him, he decided.

Tsunade continued, "Thanks for fetching Ino. You can head over to the hospital. I'll see you back here tomorrow morning."

Sakura said her respectful 'good-byes' and turned to leave but not without a knowing glance and giggle to her fellow chuunin female friend who in turn did her best to stifle her laughter.

Well at least that's one down, Kiba thought, searching for any sign of male testosterone or chakra in the air to make its way through the door as a promise of a three man cell (empahasis on the word 'man'), when to his dismay, Tsunade cleared her throat to begin the briefing. Akamaru simply sneezed.

"Inuzuka Kiba, Yamanaka Ino, I have called you here for a very important mission. It appears that a very violent and prominent band of thugs has made its way into Fire Country. They have already ravaged and pillaged several villages in neighboring River Country and have recently been spotted crossing the frontier. The Feudal Lord wants them brought to a stop now, at all cost, before they do any damage to even one of our villages. It will be your mission to locate the group again as our ANBU spy was unfortunately identified and has gone MIA, most likely terminated, but not before having sent us a general idea of their whereabouts. Kiba, you will track down the exact location of the gang. Ino, you will use your mind transfer technique to cause a division within the group so that they will lose trust amongst themselves and disperse."

"If these guys are so dangerous, shouldn't we work as a three or four man cell?" Kiba interrupted.

"You are to act from the shadows. More than two shinobi would stand out. Already a lone ANBU was enough to go detected. We are looking to reduce their numbers discretely. Once they disband from fear it is highly unlikely that they will once again pose a threat. We are not looking to annihilate the entire band. River Country is expecting one or two survivors to flee back into their territory where they will be punished on display as the monsters they are. They are willing to co-operate that far but they insist that it should not look like Fire Country is the one who brought them down- should you succeed."

Ino finally spoke, or rather whined: "But why do I have to go with Dog, uh, Kiba? I've never worked with him. At least let me work with Shikamaru or Chouji. We make a great team. There's no way this mission will be a success if I have to go with him," she motioned with her head to Kiba.

"If you have to go with me?" Kiba rebutted immediately. "Because it's a pleasure trip to get stuck with you?"

"Stuck? Stuck? What the hell does that mean? I can think of half a dozen guys right now who would like to be 'stuck' with me. She turned to the Hokage: "Isn't there another tracker? Hinata? Shino, even?" she pleaded but began to regret her words as she noticed the throbbing vein on the Hokage's temple.

Tsunade stood with a furious look on her face. She appeared to be out for blood as she slammed both fists onto her desk: "Look you two. I've carefully gone over the requirements of this mission and I'm sending you both whether you like it or not. If it were my choice your profiles wouldn't fit but that's not the case so just suck it up and accept the damn mission before I put you both on D-level missons- permanently! Have I made myself understood?"

"Yes, Hokage-sama," the ninjas before her spoke, startling themselves as they apologized in unison. They gave each other a knowing look which could have been interpreted as one of apology until each turned back to Tsunade and blurted, "But I get to be mission leader."

That was the last straw for the Hokage who didn't have the time or patience to deal with the quibblings of those two.

Ino and Kiba winced, expecting bodily harm, when they saw Tsunade move but she simply drew a deep breath and sank back down into her chair.

She placed her elbows on her desk and interlaced her fingers as if in deep thought. She spoke slowly and purposefully: "Since there is no point in wasting my breath arguing, I'll put it to you like this. You will be leaving on this mission tomorrow morning. I do not care who is mission leader but I will assure you that this mission had better be a success and that you had both better return safe and sound, without a scratch, or when you return I will be sending you both here." With that she thrust a flyer in Ino's direction.

The kunoichi's eyes grew wild as she read the paper now in her hands entitled "Tea Country 7th Semi-Annual Leadership Conference." She threw her head back in disgust as she shoved the paper towards Kiba who took it and was soon sporting his own look of disgust. Akamaru sneezed again.

Tsunade seemed rather pleased with herself however. "Good, I see that you understand." At least that had shut them up. "Here are the documents you will need to study. You're dismissed."

Ino walked back home, fuming in silence. Kiba was such a jerk. She barely even knew the guy but as soon as he had learned he was assigned to a mission with her and only her he was asking for a full team as if she couldn't pull her own weight. Just like all the others, she thought. He had quickly hit her sore spot. Well it didn't really matter because she was going to prove that she could be a great team leader and then he and his dog could feed on that thought. It was just too bad for him that she had been thinking of adding him to "the list" when she first entered Tsunade's office. He sure had changed since the Academy.

Heading in the opposite direction Kiba was nursing an ever increasing headache with fingers pressed to his skull. Why had he even bothered wishing for a mission? Hunting down a cat seemed so much more tempting than a mission with Ino. He didn't know her well, admittedly, but he knew that she was all a kunoichi shouldn't be- beautiful. Rumors abounded and he was convinced that she thought more about her looks than training. Well at least it would be easy to prove himself as team leader and he'd gain some points towards a jounin rank in this mission.

Akamaru sneezed.

"What's wrong boy?" This was no time for Akamaru to be coming down with a cold, not with a tracking mission tomorrow. Kiba wanted to ask Hana to take a look at him but she was very busy treating an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease at the Nara compound. Oh well, it's not like three sneezes meant too much- he hoped.