Well, here's the next chapter. They're all grown up and ready to kick ass. Who? The Jinchuuriki, of course!
Before letting you get to the story, a few notices that I guess you could find of interest.
1) Meinos Kaen is now on Facebook. Yep, I now have a facebook account. That will probably be the fastest way you'll have to know when I post something, either here or on my site. Just search for Meinos Kaen and add me. I'll be sure to add you back. :)
2) Yes. I now have a personal site. Opens in a couple hours. That's where I'll post previews of the chapters that I'll later on post here, bonus to the stories and short drafts of new ideas that normally I can't post here. Also, I will post there the PDF versions of the stories you read here, with corrections and sometimes additions. You can find the URL in my profile. The opening post will appear at 01:00 AM, Italian hour.
That said, it would be cruel of me to keep you further from the story. Enjoy!
Book II, Chapter I: The Team
"Mou, Ami... I hardly recognized you, this morning..." Ino had a fabulous memory for faces and names, mostly because it wasn't faces that she associated with names. She had noticed that as people grew up, they started focusing on particular things, mostly clothes. Each person had his unique dress-up style.
"Hehehe... It was a surprise for me too." That was how Ami had managed to throw her off her game. Her attire was completely changed, it wasn't just the fact that now she proudly wore her forehead protector over its rightful place. White cargo shorts, a violet t-shirt with the motive of a rose and a dark blue sleeveless jacket, which she wore open, and finally dark blue wristbands. She wore as usual a weapon pouch strapped over a tight with bandages and the belt with the other. "My older sister bought them for me as a graduation present."
"They suit you... Real tomboyish, I must say." The tease earned Ino a glare from the fellow graduate, but she just chuckled. "Ahhh, don't worry. Naruto is going to like them, I'm sure." That, instead, earned her a blush as the girl started playing with one of her bangs.
"Are you... You think so?" Ami didn't show it to anyone but Yugao, but she wasn't really confident in her looks. As Ino said, she acted pretty boyish and her hair weren't that pretty. Sure, she had a cute face and pretty eyes, but that was the age when one was supposed to develop other signals of femininity. In that area, she was almost as bad as Sakura.
"Meh. I don't think I've ever seen Naruto not like something." That made Ami's forehead twitch, and Ino laughed out loud again. "Jokes apart, I think that he's going to think that they're 'awesome', but that's that. He's not the kind of guy who says 'oh, you look cute' in them."
"... Also, it's not like I have any cute clothes. They're not my style." Ami frowned and let her head fall on her crossed arms on top of the desk in front of her. "But it's not the point. My onee-chan manages to be pretty even while wearing an Anbu uniform, and that includes the mask."
"No, no, no. Don't go there." Ino stopped her, waving a finger around to admonish the girl. "That's the biggest error you can do. Your sister is a fully developed adult woman. You're barely twelve years old."
"... Still, I bet she was prettier than me at my age." Ami continued, and Ino rolled her eyes.
"Then maybe you will be prettier than her at her age." That made the blue-haired girl raise an eyebrow. "Each girl develops differently, Ami-chan. Patience is the first rule of beauty. Just wait and take care of yourself, and you'll become a beautiful flower, one day."
"Hmm... Spoken like a mature woman. Your mother told you that?" Ino laughed nervously at that.
"Actually... It was my father." Ami's eyebrow reached comical heights. "Yeah, I know... Oh! Here comes your date!"
"I-Ino!" She admonished her as she blushed and turned around while Ino walked back to her own seat, indeed laying eyes on the object of her most recent thoughts. All dressed up in his new clothes as well, his sword hanging on his back, sheathed in his custom-made sheath. She settled down and raised her right arm to wave at him.
"Ami-chan! Morning!" Naruto strolled down the steps and jumped over the last three, startling two girls who were sitting on the desk to his right. "Doesn't it feel good to finally be a real ninja?"
"It sure does." Ami replied with a grin, before throwing her head out to the side to peek as his latest addiction to his attire. "Ohhh! Is that..."
"Yep. But you can't see it yet. I'm gonna draw it in front of otehrs only when I first face an enemy!" The blonde solemnly said, crossing his arms over his chest in the process. Ami mock-pouted.
"But what if I'm not there to see it? Pwease, just a sneak peek?" He rolled his eyes. This could have worked when they were younger... Well, it worked still, but not that much that he needed to go back on a pledge he made to his very being.
"No can do. Just hope we're placed on the same team." Naruto finished, sitting beside her in the empty place. Ami pouted for real, this time, before a mischievous grin replaced it.
"Well, a team is usually made of one of the best students, one of the so and so ones and one of the really bad ones based on their grades. Since I'm one of the top graduates, we get along really well and your votes are mediocre because of your terrible control... I guess that's a safe bet." She innocently counted the facts on the fingers of her right hand.
"Bite my large chakra reserves." Naruto retorted, his arms still crossed, but he soon broke down into a smile. "Well... I really hope that we're on the same team too."
"... Yeah." She couldn't help the flush creeping up on her cheeks, this time. The honesty in his words usually did that to her. She knew that he only said that because he valued their friendship, but she liked to interpret it in another way, in her mind. Sue me. I'm a girl in love.
"Hmm... Then, want to bet about the third member?" Leave it to him to bring her mind back to another amusing activity so that she wouldn't feel bad about letting go that fuzzy feeling in her chest.
"Well... It's going to be difficult. I mean, we're not that good that they would need to balance us with Shikamaru..." She pointed at the snoring boy a few seats over. "So we should at least get someone competent... But who, exactly?"
"Hmm... Hoping you would guess, actually." Naruto shrugged and crossed his arms behind his head. "You know that I haven't really made an effort to socialize in these years. Hoped you could fix that..."
"Who do I look like? An Uchiha?" She joked, amused that he would expect her to remember faces, names and skills of everyone from their graduating class. "I'm a Taijutsu specialist, I don't have a photographic memory."
"Alright, alright... Then, let's try and go with it by a skills' viewpoint. You're a taijutsu specialist and as such you fight at close range. I can use my sword, but I'm not really a swordsman, as you know. Also, with all my chakra, be sure that any teacher will try and teach me a bunch of chakra-draining techniques as soon as possible. So, ninjutsu and close to mid-range. Mostly mid." He was scratching the top of his head. "So..."
"So, we should need someone who mostly focuses on genjutsu and long range and that sucks on everything else to have a balanced team..." She tried to go through the other graduates to find someone fitting, and came out with nothing. "Nope. No one rings a bell."
"Geez... Well, we'll just wait." Naruto decided to let the matter go and focus on the present. They would meet him sooner or later. "So... Did you hear about Mizuki-sensei?"
"Oh, yeah. Trying to steal a scroll from the Hokage's office? What an idiot..."
"I must say it is an unusual request, but one I was expecting nonetheless." The third Hokage commented as he signed the presented paper, giving his approval at the described request and handing it to the waiting kunoichi. "Never heard of any ninjas who's made a career in Anbu to trade in a promotion to captain for a teaching assignment."
"I just found out that I really like teaching, Hokage-sama." The purple haired kunoichi smiled as she stuffed the now signed paper in the front pocket of her Jounin jacket. It had been a while since he had wore her forehead protector, and she found out that she rather missed the feeling. "Helping Ami has helped me too, in the process. Ah, here's my latest report on the matter."
She handed the Hokage another scroll, which the shadow would later turn in to the Anbu headquarters. "I guess that you made a deal with the Anbu Headquarters to keep on being the one to monitor Ami's growth even if you aren't official a member any more?"
"Yes. And I guess you understand how it would really help if..."
"I figured as much. Of course, you will be teaching your sister." She also found out that she had been smiling a lot more ever since Ami had started talking to her again. Even more when she moved in with her. Her little sister made no mystery that the cause of everything was... "And much to your sister's delight, Naruto-kun has been placed on your team as well."
"I didn't dare to hope this much, Hokage-sama." Yugao admitted with a smile, bowing gently. Now, though, it was time to be professional. "I suppose that the third member will be someone focusing on Genjutsu... But I don't think we have any in this year's graduating class."
"Hmm... Too true." The Hokage admitted. It was time to be professional for him as well. Yugao had gotten her transfer and the two students she wanted, now she would have to take one Konoha needed her to take. "Naruto and Ami's companion is not a member of their graduating class."
"Oh." That was her only reaction. She knew that the Hokage would soon fill her in on the details. His movements as he took out a folder from his front drawer were indicative. She caught the brown paper-bag and opened it, picking out a stack of papers. They were informations on Naruto, Ami, and their third member. "She's unknown to me, Hokage-sama."
"I know. She's the member of an allied Konoha clan, but for particular reasons, which are all detailed in the folder, she couldn't join a normal academic training plan. She was assigned a private tutor." Yugao separated the papers in the three pre-made stacks and reached the part regarding her team's third member. "That failed quickly, mostly because her teacher was a novice and she didn't feel up to the task."
"... This request..." What she was reading was surprising her, beginning with the decision of the girl's latest teacher.
"I've learned a lesson, in these last years. Isolation, ignorance intended as protection... In the long run, it can't do anything but harm someone." The Hokage commented, remembering a certain day of the last year, when he had been confronted by a boy with blue eyes. "I don't want to sign that particular request that is resting in your hand right now, Yugao. I will be forced to, though, if you don't accept her as a student or if along the way, something goes wrong."
"I... Understand." She did the more she read about the girl. There was a high probability, seeing her clan's history.
"So, I ask you this, Yugao. Do you feel up to the task? What I'm asking of you, here, is to take under your wing Konoha's resident Jinchuuriki, your own sister which happens to be into a special training project of the Anbu and this young girl whose future now virtually rests into your hands." Way to drop something on her, Yugao thought. Not that she would ever admit it. "The reason I'm asking you this, though, is because I believe you can help her like you helped your sister. Unlike the girl's previous teacher, you actually do have experience in teaching... Even if it's unofficial."
"... I thank you for your trust, Hokage-sama." She went through the file, various hypothesis and plans going through her mind at the same time. One immediately started shouting louder than the others. "I accept, but... I have to ask for a condition." That surprised the Hokage. "I can't see this working any other way, otherwise."
"Hmm... Speak your mind." That intrigued him. Seemed like the one with surprises in them wasn't just the youngest generation.
"Alright, class. Settle down." Many members of the graduating class had broke out into conversation, but everything died down as Iruka finally entered the classrom, a bunch of papers in his hands.
He had been quite late in coming to the classroom because the list with the team divisions had been handed out quite late. The thing had to be approved by the Hokage himself, after all, and he guessed that there was something that he had to change. "Alright. As some of you may know, after graduation new graduates are put into three-men cells under the guide of a Jounin sensei. I'm now going to announce the teams. Team 1!"
Naruto and Ami crossed their fingers together as they focused their ears, hoping their names to come out together in the same team. Though, they had quite different reactions to the time that passed as they shut their eyes in silent prayer. Ami found it unnerving. She preferred for it to be over with as soon as possible. Naruto instead found it reassuring. More people out of the way meant more chances for them to be in the same team.
"Team 7. Uchiha Sasuke, Haruno Sakura, Gunma Ayato." That broke both of their concentration, though, Naruto included. Even if he wasn't that proactive in getting to know his other classmates during the academy, he could remember the top rookie of the year. Also, he was Itachi's brother.
"They put him up with one of his most rabid fangirls and that pervert? Poor guy..." Ami joked, laughing mischievously right after. Naruto thought, was mostly focused on his attitude and his eyes. He hadn't even batted an eyelash as he was called out, if not when Sakura squealed in joy and Ino cursed loudly, in annoyance. He hadn't changed, he could see it. The cold hate, that only he and a few other people knew towards whom it was really directed.
Itachi-nii... He isn't like you. Not at all. Naruto sighed and returned his attention to Iruka.
"Team 8. Hyuga Hinata, Aburame Shino, Inuzuka Kiba." Nope. They didn't ring a bell. Ami was starting to grit her teeth in annoyance.
Come on! Just call our names, for f...
"Team 9. Uzumaki Naruto." Their heads shot up like guard dogs. "Uzuki Ami."
"YES!" They whispered loudly, and Ami wrapped her arms around Naruto's neck and hugged him tight, earning a blush out of him. If it was for embarrassment or lack of air, that was unknown.
"Huh... This is strange." That comment from Iruka made them stop their affectionate tirades. "You are to meet your third member along with your Jounin teacher. Continuing, Team 10. Nara..."
"Later on? What the hell?" Naruto whispered to Ami, who just shrugged her shoulders and then began looking around.
"Maybe... Our team-mate isn't anyone of the people in this room?" Ami commented, earning a thoughtful noise from her new-found team-mate.
"Well... It's not like it changes much for me. Though, I wonder about just who the hell..."
"Well, that's that. Your prospective students are all expecting you in the classroom... Well, almost everyone." Saying this, the Hokage sent a knowing glance in Yugao's direction, who just received it without reacting. "So... You're all dismissed."
The Jounin in the room started quickly filing out of the room, Yugao being one of the first ones. Right after, she started walking through the corridors of the Hokage tower, climbing two floors on stairs on the way, before stopping in front of another door. She noticed the two Anbu guarding the door, invisible to anyone but an experienced Jounin. She ignored them and knocked.
There was no reply coming from the inside, but she could hear a faint shuffling of feet. She waited a few more seconds before opening the door. "Kurama Yakumo?"
"Y-Yes." Standing right in front of the door, in the middle of the room, was a nervous copper haired girl with really pale skin and golden eyes, hair parted and held in place by two bells and now, a forehead protector. Her attire was peculiar. A violet jumper with one long sleeve that came to rest over her right hand and one short sleeve, worn over layers of clothing of less warm material as showed by the large neck-line and the lower edge which barely arrived under her waist. It uncovered one long dress-like garment that acted as a skirt, worn over something dark green worn over something white, over red mesh-web shinobi garments, which showed on her left arm and on her tights. The sandals were standard attire, and she wore both weapon pouches on the back of her belt, along with another bigger pocket on her left side.
"I'm Uzuki Yugao. I will be your Jounin teacher starting today." The girl's nervousness disappeared like snow under the sun, replaced by what she could only interpret as relief and happiness. "I'm here to bring you to the academy. There we will meet your team-mates."
"Y-Yes, ma'am!" The girl let out, embarrassed but still happy. She was amused at her calling her ma'am, and then she realized how she had been talking to her. She rolled her eyes and hit her own head with a punch, causing confusion to the younger girl.
"Sorry. I was in Anbu before this. Old habits die hard. Let me try again." She chuckled, amused at herself. "My name's Uzuki Yugao, your sensei. Nice to meet you. Now, want to go meet your team-mates?" She finished with a smile and by pointing at the door right behind her with her right thumb. Yakumo in return smiled as well. "I guess that was better."
"Yes, it was. I felt a little strange calling you ma'am... Ah." Suddenly, she saw the girl's eyes widen and her whole body tense again. Then she lowered her gaze and held both hands up in front of her mouth, in a clearly defensive posture.
"I take you're Uzuki Yugao." She slowly turned around, not feeling any killing intent or chakra being summoned, but still being on her guard. The moment she had identified the stranger as a woman and seeing Yakumo's distress, she was pretty sure she had guessed her identity correctly.
"Yuuhi Kurenai." She stated more than greeted, since she already had also guessed the reason why she was here, and she would have none of that. She disappeared in a cloud of smoke, reappeared behind Yakumo and then used a second shunshin to reappear out of the door with the startled young girl, before putting a hand on the small of her back and slowly starting to push her forward. Yakumo recovered rapidly and understood. "It's been fun. We should do this again."
"Please, wait." Kurenai just turned around and stepped back into the corridor. "I just want to..."
"Try and dissuade me from taking this girl on as a student and go with your proposal of sealing her chakra." She felt Yakumo tense against her hand as she said that. "Sorry, no can do. I've already done the paperwork. You know how bureaucrats can be..."
"You can still take that signature back." That made Yugao stop, and she felt Yakumo tense even more under her palm.
"And why would I do that?" The ex-Anbu said turning around, staring down the novice Jounin teacher. That little comment seemed to make Yakumo relax.
"You've read her file. You know how dangerous she can be." Kurenai continued, and the hint of relaxation disappeared. "It's better for everyone, including herself, if she just chooses another way in life."
"Because she can be dangerous? That's all the reason you have?" Yugao commented, amusement not showing in her voice, particularly because of how Yakumo back had taken a peculiar shivering habit in the last few seconds. "I've been an Anbu longer that you've been a Chunin, Kurenai. Do you really think danger scares me?"
"It's not the same thing. She..."
"She's my student now. That's final. If anything comes up, I will deal with it, but I won't just abandon her and let her chakra be sealed just because you're afraid I will prove that you just weren't cut for the teacher's job." That seemed to strike a nerve in Kurenai, if her narrowed face was any indication. Concerning Yugao, that conversation was over. "I'm afraid you'll have to cover your screw-up some other way, maybe doing a better job with your team. Though, I'm afraid of how they'll come out if you failed to teach just one girl. Come on, Yakumo."
"... Yes." She wasn't stuttering. The fact that she had taken her defences had made her more relaxed, and that was a big step in earning her trust. Kurenai's silence, instead, was her little personal victory.
"Hmm... Our teacher's late."
"So is ours." After Iruka was done with the divisions into teams, the students had been left to wait for their respective teachers. Most of them had arrived a few minutes after Iruka left. Team 8's teacher took ten minutes more. All that was left was Naruto, Ami, and the members of team 7.
"Man... I hope ours is at least a hot chick." Sakura winced and cringed in disgust at Ayato's lecherous smile as he spoke those words. Naruto rolled his eyes. He may have not made any efforts to memorize, but even he was doomed to remember the class's local pervert. The black haired boy had picked up nasty habits ever since he was eight or so. Flipping up skirts, peeking in the girls' locker room, wetting them when they wore white clothes. That was one of the main reasons why he had very low grades.
"You're disgusting." The pink haired girl commented, and Ayato just grinned at her.
"And I'm also your new team-mate! Rejoice!" She just scoffed and turned around, while Sasuke rolled his eyes. That was the biggest reaction he had seen coming from the boy the whole morning. "Of course, I hope she has loooong hair! That's how you like them, right, Sasuke?"
"... Maybe." Naruto was shocked. That was one of the most open reactions he had seen coming from Sasuke ever since... Even if it was for annoyance, it was a reaction. That was when the door opened.
"OOOOOH! SASUKE! LONG HAIR, SASUKE!" That caused everyone to turn around, and Naruto and Ami's jaws to go slack.
"O-Onee-chan?" Ami exclaimed, surprised by the appearance of her older sister. The blonde was similarly surprised, but his attention was more on the girl half hidden behind her.
"TWO LONG HAIR!" Ayato walked up to Sasuke and threw an arm around his neck, much to the Uchiha's displeasure. "Look, Sasuke! Two hot chicks with long hair! Well, the young one is a bit on the anaemic side, but..."
"Team 9, you're with me." Yugao said, letting down Ayato's hopes, leaving him deluded and pouting and Ami and Naruto really surprised. They stepped down from their seats and walked to the door, following Yugao and the unknown girl outside of the classroom, now containing just the members of team 7.
"... Where the hell is our sensei?" Sasuke muttered.
"Onee-chan, you're our Jounin sensei? But weren't you supposed to be promoted to captain, this week?"
"Hehehe... Let's say I made a trade."
"Are you crazy?" Even if she called her crazy, Ami couldn't be happier, in that moment. She was on the same team as Naruto and her older sister was her Jounin teacher. Everything was just fine.
Naruto observed the exchange and chuckled. He had been probably even more surprised than Ami when he saw Yugao, of all people, appear in the door-way dressed as a regular Jounin. It was a nice graduation present, Yugao being one of the few people he liked in the village, and the total number could be counted on one hand. He bet that the old man had had something to do with it.
Though... Who is she? That she wasn't a normal graduate was evident. She seemed to be about his same age, but similarities ended there. She had never seen her in class nor anywhere else in Konoha, before. Was she even a citizen?
She was walking to his side, a couple meters behind the two sisters, her gaze held low. She seemed quite nervous. She had been ever since she had laid eyes on them when they still were into the classroom. She could also probably feel his gaze on her. Now, there was the one million ryo question for him. How should he act?
As always, he didn't feel like he really needed any more friends. He was content with what he had, but there was the fact that he would probably spend lots of time around her now that they were a team. Bee-nii had sent him lots of letters and he said that he always had lots of fun with his team-mates once he got to know them.
I'm not starved for attention any more, but I guess it doesn't hurt to be friends with all your team-mates. "So... What's your name?" He suddenly said, making the girl jump in her skin and turn to him, a bit startled. He held his hands up apologetically. "Ehm, sorry. Did I say something wrong?"
"Ah! N-No, I'm sorry. It's just..." Yakumo turned to the front again, shaking her head from side to side. "It's my fault. I've been a nervous wreck in the last few days."
"Ah. I'm sorry to hear that..." He returned his arms to a normal position. At least she wasn't introverted or downright strange like that strange girl with white eyes in his graduating class. Always sneaking around, hiding. He caught her staring at him, once. Talk about weird. He turned to her again and flashed her a 600 Megawatt grin, his speciality. "Well, let's start again. I'm Uzumaki Naruto!"
"I'm... Kurama Yakumo." The girl replied, smiling to him, even if he could still read her nervousness. He replaced the grin with a smile.
"Yakumo-chan, then. So, I was wondering..."
"You'll have time to ask questions later, Naruto." Yugao's voice interrupted his question before it could even be attempted. It seemed that they had reached their destination, alias the school-yard. Ami had already taken a seat on nearby swing. "Right now, I think a bit of general introductions are in order."
"General introductions, nee-san?" Naruto repeated, taking his seat on another of the swings, the third one being taken by Yakumo. "Like what?"
"I guess something simple. Names, likes, dislikes, dreams for the future, hobbies... And your best skills." Yugao decided to stay standing right in front of them. "And before you ask, no, I'm not going to go first. To know secrets about me you'll have to make yourself worthy." Ami and Naruto just sent amused stares her way.
"Nee-san... I slept periodically at your home since I was eight. I don't think I have that much left to discover about you." That comment caused Yugao to blush and the two partners in crime to laugh out loud, while Yakumo was just confused.
"You... Know each other already?" Ami nodded.
"Yes. She's my older sister, and Naruto has been my friend since the first year of the academy." Yakumo just let out a 'Oh' of surprise, suddenly feeling out of place.
"Alright, you pests. While you recover, I suggest we let Yakumo start. Before you ask, she was in a particular training program. That's why you never saw her at the academy." She turned to the copper-haired girl who suddenly felt, rightfully, the center of attention.
"Alright. My name... Is Kurama Yakumo, of the Kurama clan."
Never heard of it. Naruto thought, leaning his head on top of one of his open palms.
"I like paintings, drawings, sculptures.. Well, anything related to art, really." She chuckled a bit, realizing that indeed, most of what she liked was related to some kind of artistic activity. "What I dislike is heavy physical activity. I've always been kind of weak, so... My dream..." That was when Naruto noticed a change in her posture and most of all in her eyes. Her gaze didn't waver around any more. She still kept her gaze low, but it was because she seemed to be staring at something that only she could see. "My dream is to become a strong ninja even if I can only use Genjutsu, and bring back my clan to its past glory."
Both Naruto and Ami blinked in confusion at that. They could see that she was serious about everything she said in that sentence, and while Naruto liked the part about becoming a strong ninja, he had to wonder about the 'only Genjutsu' part. "My hobbies... Hmm, I guess the things I like are pretty much my hobbies."
"Thanks, Yakumo. Now, my little sister." Yugao turned to Ami, her eyes frowning playfully. "Say something bad about me and it's ten laps around Konoha."
"Alright, alright..." Ami rolled her eyes, before clearing her throat. "My name is Uzuki Ami, younger sister to our precious sensei, here. I like martial arts, orange juice..."
"And stuffed animals. Ow!" Naruto grinned even as he took the swat to the back of the head and the glare. "What? It's true!"
"Moving on, what I dislike are stupid blabbermouths, spiders and bullies." Ami continued, a blush now on her face. "My dreams are to become a strong ninja like my sister, bring back martial arts in the world and... Well, have a family, one day." Saying that last part, she lowered and turned her head, grabbing her right arm with her left. "You know, a husband... Two kids... A-Anyway, hobbies? I like practising Martial Arts."
"Martial Arts... Don't you mean Taijutsu?" Yakumo asked, only for Ami to shake her head from side to side, in negation.
"No. Martial Arts and Taijutsu are two different things." It was Yakumo's turn to be confused, while Yugao turned to Naruto.
"And finally, we have the only blonde male of this year's graduating class." Naruto smiled and started swinging back and forth as he talked.
"Well, I've already introduced myself to Yakumo-chan, so... I like swords, movies, and plants. What I dislike is rust, people who can't think with their own heads, and those who think they're above others just because. My dream..." He took a huge swing by moving his body mid-swing to jump and land a few meters forward, before turning around and flash a victory sign to the trio of girls. "Is to become the strongest ninja who has ever lived!"
"... Eh?" To say that Yakumo was surprised was an understatement, while Ami just laughed. There he went again.
"Yup! Stronger than the Sandaime! Stronger than the Yondaime! Stronger than the Sannin! Stronger than Salamander Hanzou! Stronger... Well, you get the drift." Naruto grinned as he realized he had been started narrating his 'to beat' list again. "My hobbies are watching movies and gardening."
"Now, this is a team. We're gonna have the strongest Genjutsu user, the strongest Martial Artist and by consequence taijutsu-master, and the strongest ninja in history all in one team, someday." Yugao joked, ruffling Naruto's hair once he had finished, much to his embarrassment. "Alright. Now... It's time to be serious."
"Finally. So, we're gonna start having missions right now?" Naruto asked, earning a shake of Yugao's head as an answer.
"No. To tell the truth, right now, in normal cases, you wouldn't be a team yet." That earned her everyone's attention as she let go of Naruto's head so that he could turn around to stare at her as well. "Technically, you're not real ninjas yet. Right now I should be telling you that you have to undergo another test. Either you pass or you go back to the academy."
"WHAT?" While Ami and Naruto were downright outraged, Yakumo was terrorized. If she couldn't become a ninja right now, there would be no academy for her to go back to. There would only be...
"But, you're a special case. Also, I find that test kind of stupid." Yakumo bit back a curse, very unlike her. That was third useless heart-attack, that morning. "The point of the test would be to see if you can work as team, but you can't expect twelve years old with all the experience of wombats in ninja-work that may also not have bonded during the academy to suddenly start working together for the sake of efficiency. That's wishful thinking at best and downright idiocy at worst."
"So, we don't have to do that test?" Ami commented, and then frowned. "Wait a minute... There's a catch, isn't there?"
"Ever so perceptive, little sister. Yes, there's a 'catch'. I believe in building team-work, not finding it. So, in exchange of becoming a real three-men cell without making that test, well..." Yugao smiled mischievously. "The four of us will start living together for an year starting from today."
"W-What?" As expected, Yakumo was the one to react more strongly, outraged voice, standing and a blush on her face.
"We've already arranged everything. Your things are currently being delivered at my home, right now. It's the biggest one among the bunch of available places." Yakumo tried to stammer some kind of retort, while Naruto and Ami smiled to each other, trying to thing of ways to prank her, most likely. Inwardly, she grinned like a Cheshire cat. They probably thought it would be nothing because they had a few sleep-overs when they were children, but teen-agers living together and seeing each other all day long? Oh, she would enjoy this.
September symbolizes the first hints of autumn but depending on the country, the change isn't so drastic. In a hot desert, the coming of autumn means a slightly decrease in morning temperature and an increase in the cold of the night. A desert is a harsh place to live in, and people learn to live with and harness what scarce natural resources can be found.
"... I finally graduate and I get put on the same team as my siblings who have already graduated years earlier?" On that point, Gaara 'of the desert' had really hit the jackpot. To him, everything in that habitat was a natural resource. In the desert, he was the strongest, the most feared. "Really?"
"All the other graduating students had... Issues with being placed on your same team, Gaara." Even if it wasn't that he had gotten used to it, he could have smelt his father's lies anyway. Facts helped. Yes, most people were still intimidated by his mere presence, and the make up around his eyes wasn't helping, but he hadn't had an 'incident' in years. He had even gotten somewhat friendly with some of his classmates, so it all boiled down to his father wanting to keep him under control. Unlike him, his sister and brother were still somewhat loyal to their father. "Do not worry about technicalities. I am the Kazekage, after all."
"How could I forget?" He narrowed his eyes and stood up from his chair. He guessed he could live with the arrangement. "Fine. I'll guess I'll go meet my other team-mates. Have a good day."
The fourth Kazekage silently observed as Gaara walked to the door and then out of his office, closing the door gently behind him using his sand which then shifted outside by passing under the door. He narrowed his eyes at the door. The last years had been full of developments regarding Gaara's situation, but most of them, he didn't like.
He liked that he had found some sort of stability, to the point that his sleep wasn't that much disturbed by the beast any more – he knew for a fact that the circles were make up to cover the much lighter ones under them – but he also had reached a point where he was sure that he would never use them for his sake.
He had discovered that it had been him sending assassins after him from the incident with Yashamaru, and all the people sent after him had not only been defeated, but left alive, with the risk of his 'plans' being discovered. Good thing most of his men had received the order to suicide in case of failed missions, but a couple had to be taken care of by another of his men, with the result that no one had accepted that particular mission in the last couple of years.
Gaara was really becoming a nuisance. He couldn't control him, he couldn't aim him, and he was pretty sure that sooner or later he would come and challenge him. Try to take some revenge on his own father. "... What... AH!" That was when the leg of his chair gave out. There also was that new habit of playing pranks on him that was really getting on his nerves.
"... And so, I will be your new Jounin teacher." A few minutes later, he found himself on a roof of the village being introduced to who he recognized as one of his father's most loyal subjects. Baki. This only confirmed his theory, and he groaned. Kankuro and Temari seemed a bit annoyed themselves, the male about to get lucky with his female team-mate before he got transferred. "Are there any questions?"
"... Just one, actually." They all turned to Gaara and Baki tensed as the redhead removed the corkscrew from the jar he carried on his back, the hole starting to enlarge and sand to flow out of it. "Anyone hungry?"
"... Huh?" Temari rolled her eyes as Gaara's sand dropped into each one's lap, in Baki's case in his hands, a plastic-wrapped bento box. The Jounin teacher observed the object in his hands with curiosity.
"I planned to make a good impression on people I didn't know or relate to before today, but since the arrangement it's been this... Well, it would be a waste to not eat it. Oh, right!" The sand suddenly flung objects in everyone's direction, all his three team-mates catching them easily out of thin air. Chopsticks. "Almost forgot."
"... It's cold." Baki observed as he slowly unwrapped his own box. "How did you..."
"Sand can be used for a lot of things... If you know some basic physics and thermodynamics." Gaara replied with a chuckle while unwrapping his own box. "Well, come on. It's not going to get eaten on his own."
"Itadakimasu!" Kankuro didn't need any further encouragement as he dug in with feverish glee. "Hmm! Delicious as always, little brother! Temari, you could get a lesson or two, you know!"
"You... Like to cook?" Baki asked while the sister threw a shuriken at the older brother's head.
"Yeah. It's fun and it's a good exercise for multi-tasking." Gaara answered before taking another bit of rice, bell peppers and chicken wrapped into omelette. He chewed slowly and swallowed right after, savouring the taste. The best part about cooking was that you got to eat right after. He then smirked. "Also, someone has to do it. Temari burns water." The sand stopped five shuriken being aimed at his midsection. "Seriously. She should take a shot at Anbu Demolition."
"Yeah, I bet you mostly took me as one who enjoyed sautéing human meat in medium-heat blood." Gaara commented, surprising Baki yet again, but he understood it was irony from the smirk on the redhead's lips. "Don't worry, I would never do that. Blood tastes terribly."
"So... They decided to make you graduate one year early, after all."
"Any doubt?" He answered his older friend as he tried to decide just which plant to bring with him that day. He settled for the one with the black body, green flower and yellow stamens. "He's impatient."
"I guess he was kinda irked that you were the last Jinchuuriki who still had to graduate." Utakata commented as he put on the azure Kimono which had been his normal attire ever since he became a full fledged ninja, his body steaming from the shower. "Are you going to be okay?"
"Yes." Yagura replied naturally as he did a single handseal and water started flowing out of his mouth and into the pot where the chosen flower was resting. "Not a problem... Maybe it's better this way."
"... Naruto and Gaara should be graduating this year as well, right?" Utakata smiled. His younger friend didn't reply, but he just knew there was a smile on his face at that moment.
"... Probably." Indeed, he was smiling, and thinking of fond memories didn't stop him from focusing on the task at hand. With another handseal, his gaze fixed on the 'watered' flower as it started to grow and bulge under his eyes. In the end, what looked like a staff long almost as much as his whole body had grown out of the pot. He gently took it in his hands and pulled it free. "Want to train a bit?"
"Why not. Just remember to bring some antidote with you." Having to focus your chakra to destroy poison was tiring. He strapped his pipe into his belt and started to walk out of the room as Yagura strapped the 'flower-staff' to his back and followed suit. "I think the third training field should be free at this moment."
"No, it's occupied. Number four is, though." The two stopped as they found a young woman with long auburn hair in their way. Utakata smiled and bowed to the Jounin.
"Terumi-san. A good morning to you." The Kirigakure kunoichi smiled back and gave the duo a nod with her head. "Thanks for your patronage."
"Always a pleasure." She then moved her gaze to Yagura, who gave her a little nod of acknowledgement. He never knew how to act around the woman, mostly because she had been the only adult apart Roshi and Han to treat him in a normal way, and the only adult woman. "So, I hear Yagura was made to graduate early. I guess congratulations are in order."
"Thanks." The younger Jinchuuriki answered.
"Well, although we know that the main reason for that weren't his academic results, high as they may have been." Utakata let out, and Mei nodded.
"I know... But I'm confident Yagura will be able to deal with this no problem. He's strongest than most of the graduating genin I've seen and then some." She chuckled and then stepped aside. "But, I'm keeping from your training. Please, go."
"It's always a pleasure." The two Jinchuuriki bowed in acknowledgement and then started walking towards the complex's exit, the older one throwing a last glance in Mei's direction as she walked away as well. "She's really nice. Always has been."
"Hmm. A good candidate." He was obviously referring to the next Mizukage. The current one had been losing his shine, starting with the defection or loss of all of the Seven Swordsmen of the mist to his mostly citizen unhappiness policy. All hidden villages were technically militaristic dictatorships, but Kirikagure seemed to really emphasize on the point. "You've got a crush."
"Eh? N-No, don't speak nonsense!" Yagura allowed himself a small smirk. It was just too fun to be a ten years old in full control of his mind while your older sibling figure was going through teen-hood.
"Hmm... All my back problems, and I had to get out of retirement." The third Tsuchikage grumbled as he put away his hat, the meeting with his top Jounin finally over. That was one thing he hadn't really missed. "Damn that woman and her over-the-top plans."
His successor had really jumped the gun with some of her 'initiatives'. Some had only been dangerously irking for the other countries if word ever got outside the village of it and that was somewhat acceptable, but some really bordered on treason because of the risks involved. She had been gently invited to step down and since there weren't any other ninjas strong enough who also happened to have a head worth a damn screwed on their shoulders, he had to take the old job back.
"If I didn't have his guts, I could now sympathize with Sarutobi." He voiced out loud, massaging his lower back as he approached the chair.
"My, why do you say that? It's not like Sarutobi lost that much height in his old age." His forehead twitched. There was maybe the only other ninja from his village who could have take the seat besides him but who happened to not give a rat's ass about it but loved to get on his nerves.
"Roshi. You just worsened an already terrific morning." Onoki commented while Roshi chuckled and took a seat in the chair in front of the Tsuchikage's desk.
"Ah, come on, don't be like that. Cigar?" He offered the shorter man one of his 'cigars', which really were more like pieces of bark. Onoki wondered what kind of tree he took them off. He shook his head.
"While it may be a good way to let out stress, adding smoking to my lower back pains would be nothing short of detrimental." The short man replied, and increased the concentration of his frown. "What do you want, Roshi? I doubt this is just a pleasure visit."
"Well... To tell the truth..." Roshi puffed out some more smoke before continuing. "I was thinking of taking up a teaching job."
His back would probably want to murder him, but there was no way he could be able to stay in his seat at hearing those words. He connected with the ground, hard, and was back on his feet in a few seconds ignoring his back. "WILL YOU STOP WITH THE JOKES, DAMN IT!"
"I'm not joking." Roshi replied stoically. "If not me, then at least Han. Maybe he would be a better choice?"
"... God, you seriously want to teach?" Onoki really didn't understand what went through the younger old man's mind. Roshi and Han had left active service decades before for personal reasons. Not wanting a civil war against a two-men army, they had been happy to let them act as a simple deterrent. Now, he said he wanted a teaching job. "What brought this on?"
"The next Chunin exams, actually. They're going to be held in Konoha, right?" The Tsuchikage nodded. Roshi chuckled. "I thought that it was time to show them that Iwa has learned his lesson from the last war. What better way than to send an elite team with an elite teacher to compete? Or two?"
"... There's something in Konoha that interests you, isn't there?" Onoki wasn't stupid. He wouldn't be the Tsuchikage, otherwise. Onoki wanted to train a team as an excuse to travel to Konoha. It was tradition for the Jounins to accompany their students. "You and your schemes..."
"Nothing bad, I assure you." Roshi chuckled as he burned quickly through his cigar. "So, what do you say?"
"... Returning our two Jinchuuriki to active duty and making them train teams? The village would have my head if I said no, even if I know in the end you're doing it because there's something you want." Onoki sighed and wrote something on a piece of paper. "Go to this office. They'll give you all the paperwork you'll need."
"Why, thanks, Tsuchikage-sama." Onoki's forehead twitched.
"Alright. Drop the act and disappear before I change my mind." Roshi enjoyed the small man's enraged face for a few more seconds before disappearing along with the papers in a burst of flames. "... I really have to proof these walls against shunshin."
"Hmm..." Yuugao stretched and yawned slowly, gracefully as she woke up, swinging her legs off the bed as she welcomed the new day, her eyes falling gracefully on the calendar by her bedside table. It was Sunday. No missions that day. That meant extra training time for their little group turned family.
"NARUTO, JUST HOW MUCH TIME ARE YOU GOING TO TAKE IN THE BATHROOM?" She rolled her eyes. Family indeed. At least Naruto and Ami acted like such, even if it seemed that at least in bathroom dynamics the roles had been inverted. Naruto always woke up before them because he was the one who always took the longest to take a shower and always did it first thing in the morning. And he was the one with the shortest hair in the household.
That morning was no different. Ami woke up to find Naruto locked up inside taking a shower and was beating down on the door and shouting at him to hurry up while downstairs, Yakumo was already preparing breakfast. All in all, though, they were much more comfortable with each other than anyone thought.
She had miscalculated when she thought that this would be difficult for them to act as a family. First, she had underestimated the bond between Naruto and Ami. Those two fought over things like showers and the last onigiri, but overall they were pretty comfortable in each other's presence, no matter the situation.
Yakumo had taken a few more days to open up, but like the others, she didn't reject the idea of living as a family. Instead, she seemed to cherish it, and that seemed strange to the ex-ANBU. Yakumo unlike Naruto and Ami had a clan, and two loving parents. Of that she was sure. Maybe... "Good morning, Yakumo."
"Ah. Morning, Yuugao-sensei." The long haired genjutsu specialist answered, giving the older woman a brief look over her shoulders, not daring to take her attention off the task of preparing breakfast. "Breakfast will be ready in a few minutes."
"Thanks..." After moving in, Yakumo had taken upon her the task of preparing most of the meals. She could tell she wasn't that experienced even if she had maybe some talent for it. Well... Cuisine is a 'creative' art too... Maybe she has talents in art in general? Yakumo probably liked their situation because she could do something. She could be useful.
That's always been the point with Yakumo, proving to others and to herself that she could be useful, that she could do the things other people did without that much trouble. She guessed that even back home everything was done by the other clan members. This time, since people didn't know about her physical weakness that most of times was exaggerated on, she had the freedom to choose which tasks to take upon. She wasn't stupid. She knew her own limits, what she could and she couldn't do. She was wise.
In the end, after one month weeks after their graduation, everything had started to work like clockwork, mostly thanks to Naruto and Ami who had decided to put all the effort they could in making the Kurama heir feel at ease around them. She was thankful that Naruto had decided to make a new friend. It was a rarity. They were ready. "I swear to god, onee-chan doesn't take that long! And look at how long is her hair!"
"Hey! I have lots of them and they get easily grimy!" Naruto retorted, before grinning as he sat down at the table. "Also, I couldn't wait to try that new shampoo."
"Shampoo. Of all the things to receive from friends in distant countries, shampoo." Ami commented and then sighed. Usual Naruto. "Well, at least you don't have to use it again till it's time to leave."
"Hmm... Breakfast's ready." Yakumo announced as she set the various dishes on the table, rice and miso soup first.
"Tamagoyaki!" Naruto exclaimed before diving for one of said rolled omelettes. "With radish on the side! Damn, Yakumo-chan! How did I have breakfast without you, all these years?"
"In a bad way." Ami commented as she thanked the now blushing Yakumo as well, accepting her own serving of tamagoyaki. "I lost count of the times you got a stomach-ache because you didn't bother checking the milk's expiring date."
"Hey! I learned to do that!"
"When you were ten." Yuugao commented, and the girls shared a chuckle at his expenses. "Well, eat up. Today I'm gonna push you harder than usual. Individual training in the morning, all out team training in the afternoon. Free evening. I suggest you rest."
"How come, onee-chan?" Ami asked, curious about her sister's choice of words.
"Tomorrow we're getting our first C-Rank mission." The three genin stopped what they were doing all together and turned to stare at her. She smiled. "I think you're ready."
"Yes! That means that we finally get to fight someone!" Naruto was the most enthusiast, as she predicted. He had been waiting for an opportunity to test his ability against an opponent that was okay to hurt.
"There's just going to be bandits at most, idiot." Ami declared, rolling her eyes. "Hardly someone you can go all out on." Even while saying that, Yuugao could tell that her little sister was, while more level-headed than Naruto, excited as well at the idea of putting to use her skills in a real-life situation.
"... I see." And again predictable, the most nervous was Yakumo. Not out of concern for her own safety, but she was mostly afraid of screwing up.
"Do not worry. I'm confident that you're strong enough to do this. Also, I'm sure you can cover each other's backs." Yuugao continued, taking her own servings for breakfast from the tray Yakumo was still holding in her stiff hands. "And if push comes to shove... I was offered an Anbu captain position, you know."
"Heh. Don't worry, nee-chan. Your turn will never come." Naruto commented with a huge grin. Finally. A month of D-Ranks was more than enough in his book. It was finally time to be kickass.
"Seriously? The three of us?" She commented as she arrived in the clearing where she had been told her team would gather, and she couldn't help but think that it was kind of overkill. "All this raw power for a simple C-Rank? Isn't it too much?"
"Let's just say bro wants the mission to be carried out pro!" The answer came, as she guessed, in rap. She rolled her eyes.
"What Bee means is that Raikage-sama wants to be sure that the mission is carried out successfully, since it's important not only for the client but for the village too." The oldest of the trio, a black-skinned man with long white hair that covered one of his eyes explained to the long haired blonde woman. "I'll fill you in on the details as we depart."
"Still... Two Jinchuuriki and the inheritor of the third Raikage's Black Lightning?" Yugito commented, narrowing her eyes at the superior officer. "Just how many unknown variables are there for this mission?"
To be continued...
In the next chapter...
It seems that no matter the Alternate Universe, Author or Story, Naruto's first C-Mission must always become something worse than it appears at first, and who am I to go against that rule? Follow Naruto and his team as they undertake their mission and as Naruto desired, get into action sooner rather than later! Stay tuned!