As I progress with the rewrite of Biker 1/2, it becomes more and more apparent that I need to subject the Naruto cast to a full set of altaversing and character development.

I'd originally planned to do so as a series of short 'vignettes', but as I studied (and became a fan of) the Naruto series and it's related fanon, it rapidly became apparent that there was just too much material required to get the ninjas of Konoha from A (their canon selves) to B (the way they'll feature in Biker 1/2.)

Therefore, a third leg to Top Dog became a necessity, and in some ways it's a good thing as I figure a lot of Naruto fans will enjoy this thing; in some ways it acts as a reasonably direct Naruto altaverse, transposing Konoha into a 1990's Tokyo where the supernatural happens, and making a few further changes I'm laying down in writing in this, the first chapter of this new branch of the Top Dog continuity.

Note that, while I'm far from immured to reading other ships, I ship Naruto/Hinata because I think the blonde rascal deserves someone who loves him for who he is, and I likewise believe Hinata has the right of it; she admired Naruto from the word go, she was right to, and she deserves to get what she's spent half her life wishing for.

Also note that I do my best to avoid character bashing. Don't expect me to bash Sasuke or Sakura, you'll be disappointed; but, at the same time, don't expect the Sasuke and Sakura herein to deserve to be bashed, and the same goes for our favourite scarecrow. And further note that I do not regard anything beyond the Chuunin Exams as fully canon; that's when Naruto went to hell in a handbasket, and many points from there on had me screaming, 'WTF are you smoking, you author you?!?!', just the same as my reactions to Potter canon beyond 'Goblet of Fire' and pretty much anything you care to name that isn't written by Masamune Shirow.

Further, it'd be beneficial for you to note that I like pop-culture references, cameos, and random crossover elements wherever they fit, and I'll further advise you that, if you don't like what I've got to say, it's not my emergency. If you dig my stuff, hey, that's cool, but if you don't, I suggest you click the little back button in your browser, as until you're paying me in cold hard cash, I am not trying to please you; I am trying to please myself.

Oh, and just by the way, I've changed a name or two. They aren't a mistake, especially not the name of the Third Hokage; I know his canon name is different, and the altered name is intentional for crossover-related reasons.

Still here? Great; welcome to Top Dog: A Fox in Tokyo. Come on in, there's no booby-traps on the doorway, honest.


This ain't no slash fic.

This ain't no self-insert fic neither.

This is Top Dog.


Ask a so-called 'expert' and they'll tell you true ninjutsu died out sometime in the Sixties. That's bullshit, and I'm living proof.

Because I'm a modern Jonin ninja.

I dare say, dressed as I am in urban camouflage, Kevlar-lined tactical vest and combat boots, most people wouldn't say I looked the part. They'd be more likely to think of a soldier on FIBUA (that's Fighting In Built-Up Areas) duty, or a SWAT (aka Special Weapons And Tactics) police officer. When they think of ninjas, they think of the old-school 'night-suits', of short swords with chemically blackened blades, not of bullet-proof vests and suppressed sub-machine guns. When they see someone who looks like me, either they see an armed soldier (someone they want to get the hell out the way of) or a spectacularly weird cosplayer (who, again, they want to get the hell out the way of) or just, generally, someone they don't want to screw around. Okay, so I do own a night-suit - your typical client loves the melodrama - but here, in the streets, a night-suit is a liability. Hell, if you're a ninja who looks like a ninja, you're screwing up - and ninjas who screw up tend to rapidly become dead ninjas.

And ninjas aren't allowed to die without permission.

Fuck sake, we're in the age of the automatic weapon, the automobile, and the computer. Believe me, these days guys like me don't screw around with throat-slitting and poison in the well; our favourite tools are the high-precision rifle for assassination and the sub-machine gun for eliminating threats to VIP's or silencing witnesses - assuming, of course, there's anyone talented enough to actually spot a ninja like me. Even when we're not 'ghosting', using our auras to bend visible light around our bodies and become functionally invisible, we're adept in the fine art of not being noticed.

I kneel now on a girder, two-thirds of the way up Tokyo Tower, looking down on the swarming throngs below. Every last motherfucker down there would say he's better than me because some of my ancestors used to gut fish or shovel shit. Eta, am I? Burakumin, you say? Think again, you ignorant bastards - I'm holding a Russian-made Vintorez silenced sniping rifle, and I'm carrying enough ammo to kill three hundred people before anyone could even work out where I am. An exceptionally talented martial artist could pick out my aura if he looked - but the chance of such an elite looking up here are relatively slim, and even if someone did, I'd spot there aura reacting to the perceived threat and be long gone by the time they got up here - even if they're one of those Chinese martial arts masters who've learned to levitate by raw will alone.

What am I doing up here with my hands full of death? That's simple. Three days ago, we identified the last of the rat fuckers responsible for murdering our master's wife, the only one who managed to survive the renegade truckers expressing their displeasure over that particular Yak gang killing a popular trucker. My squadmates have his movements pinned, and in a couple of minutes I'm going to spray the bastard's brains all over the street.

I'm not stupid enough to think I'm a 'good guy' because I'm doing this for 'honourable' reasons. I know that any people who take innocent little kids and train them to remorselessly murder aren't exactly shining examples of humanity; when it comes down to it, I and my kind are as low as dirt. Us Konohagakure just happen to be exceptionally violent dirt who stick together and stick by the oaths our ancestors swore. Believe me, I know exactly what I've become - just another stone-cold killer hunting for statistics in the concrete jungle - but that's the lot of the modern ninja. I like to think we're somehow better than the majority of modern ninjas, because we serve one of the old samurai clans rather than a corporation or a crime cartel, but I shouldn't kid myself; when all is said and done, we're professional murderers.

You're probably wondering what's brought on this particular nasty little train of thought, O hypothetical audience. Well, that's fairly complex.

I'm a member of the Konohagakure ninja clan's elite ANBU branch, though I won't be for much longer. As soon as I've made this kill, I'll be resigning from ANBU; once I'm done getting payback for what those bastards did to the mistress I've got more important things to do than eliminating anyone who gets in the clan's way.

Now I suppose you're wondering, to a ninja like me, what could be more important than eliminating anyone who gets in my clan's way?

Family, that's what. It's not something I've got a huge amount of familiarity with - my mother died bearing me, my father disembowelled himself when I was six, and my elder sister went the same way as my mother almost ten years ago. Up until two days ago, I thought my nephew was stillborn.

Then one of my squadmates noticed something, and pointed it out to me.

There's this little shit we're often assigned to bodyguard. His name's Naruto Uzumaki, he's coming up on ten years old, and he is the Konohagakure's favourite punch-bag because of some shit that went down the day he was born. A nine-tailed kitsune went on the rampage, wasted a hell of a lot of Konohagakure, almost annihilated our master's family, and was only stopped by my sensei (also my brother-in-law and the finest man I've ever known) sacrificing his entire life-force in a ritual I don't know the details of. Next day, in one of the worst shows of judgement I've ever seen, my boss turned up in front of the entire Konohagakure clan, bearing a blonde baby, and proclaimed the poor little shit to contain the damned kitsune.

Wise move, Sarutobi. Real wise move. Tell me, did you want the little shit to be senselessly murdered by some vengeance-obsessed whacknut, or are you really that dim?

So, after one of the med staff was caught feeding the little shit baby food liberally spiced with powdered lead and ground glass, three ANBU units were assigned to watch the little shit - mine included.

Looking back, I can't believe it took me so long to notice. I guess, as one of the little shit's what-passed-for parental figures, I was too close to really stand back and take a long hard look at him. Of course, it took Vulture to work it out - in fact, I have a feeling she knew from the word go, she was always unnecessarily vicious about protecting the little shit. Then she goes and takes a fifty-cal Browning bullet for him, and told us while in the process of snuffing it. Damnit, I'm going to miss the bloody-minded old cow.

I could hardly believe my ears, and that was when I compared a childhood photograph of Minato to Naruto.

The little shit's the spitting image of his dad. Hell, when I stopped and thought, I realised he acts almost exactly like a juvenile version of Minato. He's decidedly more cynical (beneath that hyper-cheerful exterior of his, boy oh boy did he listen when I told him a ninja must never let anyone know how competent he is, the little shit makes me proud) but that isn't surprising considering he's basically been raised by black-ops soldiers. I know we've all got photos of special moments with our 'ANBU brat' on our safehouse walls; for me, it's a photo of his first time with a gun. Damn he was so chuffed about getting his hands on that Kalashnikov and popping a few targets down the range; the little shit loved every moment.

Just like his dad. Exactly like his dad.

As soon as I realised the truth, I went around telling everyone I reckoned needed to know - the rest of us ANBUs for a start, then the best of the Konohagakure jonins - then I walked up to Sarutobi and straight-out asked him why the Hell he didn't tell me. Fuck sake, the little shit's family. He's the only family I've got left. Well, apart from my wife - an Amazon warrior called Xian Long, it's a long story - and I haven't seen my wife in years. Last I knew she was preggers, and I don't even know the resultant sprog's birthday - or if said sprog even lived long enough to have one. I wish I knew whether I've got a son or a daughter, but I don't and there's a good chance I never will.

So anyway, after I was done blowing my lid, the boss smiled grimly, pointed out the way the Iwagakure would react to discovering Minato had a living heir, and added that I couldn't be forced to tell anything I didn't know. He then ordered me to keep it to myself, especially from Naruto, and added that the same applied to anyone I'd told.

Good thing he left a few loopholes there. He didn't forbid me from hinting. Naruto deserves to know, goddamnit, regardless of what Sarutobi says.

So, yeah. Family's very important to me - I don't exactly have a hell of a lot of it - and I'm damned if I'm leaving my sister's only child to be crapped on the way Naruto's been crapped on. That's why I'm volunteering for Jonin sensei duty - and that's why I won't be passing any team that hasn't got my nephew on it. I don't need to fuck around with the half-witted sociopaths Murder Academy churns out, and I plan on making it very clear to Sarutobi.

Aha. There's my target. Take a good look around you, motherfucker. It's the last sight you'll ever see.

A lot of my peers hate the Vintorez. It's weird, unusual, distinctive, and behaves in a bizarre manner. The bullets arc downwards very rapidly - at this range I'm on the scope's uppermost chevron - and the ammo is, unless you're pals with well-connected Russians, a right bastard to get hold of. Me, I love this gun; the loudest sound it makes is the click as the bolt closes, I've got some KGB (these days, Russian Mafia) pals who'll gladly keep me in ammo and spares for as long as I'll give them new unmarked Yen with non-sequential serial numbers, and when I use this baby to eliminate a target, the press (and most of the cops) immediately point the finger at the Kremlin. It's win-win for me and my neo-Soviet buddies; for me, attention gets diverted away from us ninjas, and for my vodka-swilling friends, attention gets diverted towards Gorbachev's lot. I love a deal where everyone wins.

A gentle squeeze of the trigger. The Vintores jolts and, with a muted pop, spits a sizeable lump of lead; there's a faint tinkle as the cartridge hits the brass catcher, and the familiar click of the bolt closing; a second later, my target has a little round hole in his forehead while the back half of his head liberally spreads itself across the side of a car. People are running and screaming down below; it's time I was someplace else. My squadmate Panther will deal with retrieving the slug, even though it's merely a matter of form this time out - this time not even the AD Police (that's Tokyo Advanced Police Department, as a fluent speaker of English I've often wondered at the weird pseudo-English nicknames my countrymen give to otherwise sensibly-named things) will find any evidence, in fact they'll make a point of failing to find any evidence, because they know as well as I do that my shot just finished avenging the murder of an AD Police detective's wife; if we hadn't taken the law into our own hands, the fuzz would've arranged a viciously successful accident.

But better a ninja did it. It's neater that way. No unnecessary casualties. No evidence. No bullet, no residues, no cartridge case, no bootprints, no tire marks - nothing but a worthless bastard with his brains splashed all over the side of his car. That's what I got involved for; nobody else should suffer for that bastard's crimes, and with a bit of help from my squad I just made that a certainty.

My name is Kakashi Hatake, it's June 12th 1994, and I'm the very model of a modern Jonin ninja.


As a young boy chasing Dragons

With your wooden swords so mighty


Disclaimer: Beware of the Fox. He'll put wasabi in your tofu.


A Doghead13 / United Galaxies fanfic

Written & produced by Calum J 'Doghead13' Wallace

Preread by Kuro_Neko

Aided and abetted by the denizens of Caer Azkaban

Brought to you by Hairy Scottish Git Productions, GMBH

This is not a drill.


Chapter 1: In the Beginning, there was Ninjas.

(In which our heroes become a Genin team)

-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/- Two Years Later -/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-/-

There were always foxes watching him. Sometimes they had more than one tail.

He made a bit of a game of it - seeing if he could spot the fox, seeing if he could count the tails - and in a way he reckoned it was good practice. Besides, he'd noticed a while back that the days he saw foxes with more than one tail tended to be good days.

The most tails he'd ever seen on a fox was eight. That had been a really good day - the day the Hokage told him he was getting into the Academy.

The high point of a life. Feh, thinking that made him feel like an old fart, and that was one thing he wasn't. He was a street rat, a gutter kid, free in the urban jungle like the foxes that watched him; he knew the back-alleys and fire escapes, the sewer lines and underground lines - he knew them as well as he knew the back of his hand. From the dingy apartment block that he called home with it's cast of junkies, hookers and gang members, to the glass and concrete canyons of Shinjuku, from the old defence tunnels that riddled the bowels of the city to the rooftops of the skyscrapers, the city was his territory, from the mean streets in the docklands where the Russian mob landed drugs and guns to the glitzy casinos where Yakuzas hoarded their millions, he knew every square inch, every back street, every short-cut, every rooftop; Tokyo was his city, his stomping ground. He spent his days at the Academy hidden away in Nerima, learning to be a ninja, and he spent the rest of his time prowling the hidden places of that sprawling metropolis with the foxes, joyriding cars, picking pockets, jumping trains and occasionally finding a nice corner in which to hole up and down a few beers snatched from an off-license.

His favourite rooftop by far was the roof of the generator house at the bottom of the Family's compound. It backed onto a railway line, to the left of it was the small lake where the Mistress used to keep her pet crocodiles (and there was still a handful of crocs in there, Australian salties, or so he'd heard; he'd certainly seen them often enough. These days they were an execution method for the worst traitors.) and to the right the lawn stretched out past the Hokage monument along the back wall of the Kuno estate. From time to time, grown-up ninjas would meet up on top of the generator house for hushed discussions, their words hidden by the rumble of diesel below them, and unless it was the ANBU-sans (the only people that he really trusted who weren't Old Man Hokage or Ichiraku or Sergey down at the Russian mob's place) he'd slip away over the wall and down the railway line, jump a freight train, and spend most of the rest of the night working his way home by stolen car and roof of truck.

But right now, Naruto Uzumaki was starting to get highly annoyed.

Truth be told, he was more than a little hyperactive, and long periods of inactivity – such as this – really got on his nerves. He'd learned, over the years, to sit still and silent (it was the keystone of the Art of Invisibility) but he only did so when strictly necessary, such as when setting up a prank or hiding from the prank victims, or of course the owners of shops he'd shoplifted from.

Okay, so last night had felt like a prank. Especially after he had a quiet word with his pals in ANBU, who'd turned the whole deal into a sting operation. He'd been bang on the button – it was bullshit and the Hokage hadn't had a damn clue what Mizuki was trying.

Feh. Two good things had come out of that night – one was getting to screw over someone who'd tried to put one over him, the other was putting one over the Hokage by getting a good clear photograph of one page of the so-called 'forbidden scroll', in actual fact an enormous great book, when the Hokage got it out to make a fake copy. He'd known that concealed camera in his old goggles had been a good investment. The other photograph he'd got had been a total bust – whatever that 'neko-ken' thingy was supposed to do, Naruto was damn sure he wasn't going there.

After the bust, he'd spent half the night working on the technique on that page. It'd turned out to be pretty easy stuff – he wasn't really sure why it'd been listed as a 'forbidden' technique. Maybe because it took a bunch of chakra; not like he didn't have plenty enough to go round.

So the Konohagakure had their Yellow Flash up until when that Fourth Hokage bastard cooked his goose. Well, now they'd got an Orange Avalanche. He was pretty sure that god-damned Mizuki's yik-yak was how and why summoning over two thousand clones of himself didn't pose him a big problem. It seemed like the shit that Fourth Hokage bastard had landed him in had it's up side after all.

Kyuubi, huh? Suddenly all the shit the grown-ups spewed added up, and it came to a grand total of 'Fuckheads'. The bastards could Kyuubi on fucking this, Naruto knew for damn sure that the only person driving in his head was Naruto; the fuckers could take a number because he'd had it up to the back teeth with their bullshit and he wasn't playing any more. He was getting tired of using paint mines and flour bombs to fire warning shots – stupid bastards should realise that the ability to pinch every item of underwear in a house in the middle of the night, drape them all over town, and get away with it Scot-free until he started laughing his ass off and clued the morons in with his snide remarks meant he was perfectly capable of planting enough explosives to turn that very same house into a dirty great smoking hole in the ground, or just putting a knife in each person, but oh no, they didn't have even enough brains to make that remarkably simple leap of reasoning. Jeez, Old Man Hokage said he oughtta treat family heads like that Hiashi Hyuuga dude with respect, but how could he respect someone that pants-on-head retarded given that he'd had to patiently explain to the white-eyed moron that glueing lots of Hyuuga tighty-whities to the Hokage Monument was a way of pointing out that their security sucked dick, he could walk in any time he liked, and if their posers decided to kick him around again he'd be forced to turn the lot of them into a pile of stupid dead fuck rotting somewhere in a ditch.

Man, where the Hell was this Kakashi Hatake dude? Usually, when Iruka said something would happen 'shortly', he meant within the next five to ten minutes. Apparently, where this Kakashi person was involved, 'shortly' meant 'sometime in the next week or two'; they'd already been waiting for two hours.

He'd tuned out Sakura's rabbitting on at Sasuke about an hour ago, maybe a quarter hour after Sasuke resolutely turned his Walkman up, and about half an hour ago he'd set up a rudimentary booby-trap on top of the only door in, using a bent senbon to jam a chalkboard eraser in such a way the eraser would drop when the door was opened. If this Kakashi Hatake dude was stupid enough to boot a door open and saunter straight into a room containing ninjas, Naruto would know not to respect the dumb shit.

A surprised sounding grunt in Sasuke's voice attracted his attention; he scooted round in his seat, saw the direction the bastard was staring in, and looked over there.

There was a large, extremely healthy-looking eight-tailed fox sitting on the windowsill and looking straight at Naruto. He stuck his tongue out at the fox; the fox grinned, winked, and started looking extremely smug in a vulpine sort of a way.

The door banged open. Naruto whipped his head back round (as did Sasuke, who also pulled his earphones out) and was disappointed (but not hugely surprised) to see the chalkboard eraser hadn't hit anyone; instead, the door was stood wide open with no sign of anyone being there.

Sasuke was just letting out a frustrated noise (while Naruto swore loudly, gotta keep the façade up) when the man stepped in. The man considered the eraser for a moment, rolled his sole visible eye, and proceeded into the room.

OK dude, you just earned yourself a bit of respect.

He was tall, certainly by Asian standards - about six three in all. His hair - a ragged, spiky mane - was chalk-white and reminded Naruto of an ANBU he used to know, and his skin was nearly as pale; you could have called him an albino if his solitary visible eye hadn't been blue-grey. He was dressed in a traditional ninja's forehead protector (marked with the leaf symbol of the Konohagakure) a traditional ninja's half-mask, black battledress trousers, a short-sleeved shirt, fingerless shooter's mitts, combat boots, and a tactical vest; there was some unfamiliar kind of M4 variant slung over his back.

Nice gun, man. And, again, oddly familiar.

"Hi." the man said. "You're Team Seven, right? Well, I'm your Jonin sensei, and I'm not impressed."


"YOU'RE LATE!" Sakura screeched, causing Naruto and Sasuke to wince.

"I intend to be late for my own funeral. Meet me on the roof of the generator house immediately."

With that, the Jonin vanished into thin air.

"Funny." Naruto mused. "He reminds me of someone I usta know."

"Why'd you try some stupid joke on our sensei, Naruto?" Sakura complained.

Naruto gave her a you-moron look and fished a Claymore mine out of his jumpsuit.

"Coz if he was dumb enough to get got by that, he'd be dumb enough to get got by this."


You're St. George or you're David and

You always killed the beast


Sasuke Uchiha dubiously contemplated the duo he was apparently to be teamed with. The fangirl (he'd never bothered learning any of his unwanted fangirls' names) was twittering away about something which he was utterly ignoring, aided by the bellow of Kid Rock on his Walkman at my-ears-hurt volume, while the dead-last as per usual looked a bit like a pile of lurid rubbish slung up against the back of a desk.

A fangirl and a street rat. When he could have been teamed with REAL ninjas like that Abarume guy or the Hyuuga girl. Sasuke found himself wondering exactly what the hell he'd done to deserve this, then started ruthlessly crushing the desire to turn it into a mope; instead, he turned his attention to glowering out the window.

He was promptly startled to notice a large, sleek, extremely healthy-looking fox was stood on the windowsill, fixedly watching the three of them with it's wild black eyes, eight tails wafting idly in the wind behind it... wait a minute, eight tails?"

He took a closer look. The animal was unusually large, and sure wasn't acting like any fox. It seemed to notice his gaze, and it's lips peeled back from it's teeth in a remarkably human grin, and then it winked at him.

No, it wasn't winking at him. It was winking past him, and a quick scan around showed him that the multi-tailed fox was winking in response to an insulting gesture from the dobe.

What in the name of...?

And that was when the door finally opened, causing him to whip back round and pull his earphones out. It ground all the way over with a horrible creak of hinges; the chalkboard eraser the dobe had left atop it fell to the floor, letting out a great puff of chalk dust, and then... well, nothing happened.

The trio of newly-minted genins dropped out of their 'You're-finally-here' stance with a collective groan and a lot of swearing from Naruto, then glared at the door; Sasuke glanced back at the fox, and had to wonder if he'd imagined it in the first place as it was gone.

Glancing back, he found himself looking at a reasonably familiar face. He'd read up on all the 'big-name' ninjas in the village because way back before THAT, his dad had repeatedly told him it paid to be well-informed. His attempts to become reasonably well-informed meant he knew the official history of 'Sharingan' Kakashi Hatake, the Copy-Cat Ninja, and it wasn't like there were a hell of a lot of white-haired Konohakague.

Feh. Three total, on the record, and two of them were dead. Sakumo Hatake, Ayame Hatake, and Kakashi Hatake – a father and his two children. Only one survivor – the white-haired man had to be Kakashi, either that or someone not-listed.

Either way, that was cool as far as Sasuke was concerned. Kakashi Hatake had been the recipient of a transplanted Sharingan eye some years ago, and was listed as closest confidant of a well-known Uchiha, Sasuke's uncle Obito (lucky bastard hadn't had to live to see what Itachi did, alright for some) so chances were he could fill the gaps. And if it wasn't Kakashi Hatake, then it was someone whose identity had been concealed and thus was presumably among the best of the best of the best.

Either way, score.

"Hi." the man said. "You're Team Seven, right? Well, I'm your Jonin sense, and I'm not impressed."

The fangirl screamed at the man for being late, making Sasuke's head hurt. Jeez, not just a fangirl, but a loud and idiotic fangirl too.

"I intend to be late for my own funeral. Meet me on the roof of the generator house immediately."

With that, the presumable Hatake vanished into thin air.

"Funny." The dobe said. "He reminds me of someone I usta know."

"Why'd you try some stupid joke on our sensei, Naruto?" the fangirl whined.

The dobe made an expression that just screamed 'Durrr!' and fished a Claymore mine out of his jumpsuit.

"Coz if he was dumb enough to get got by that, he'd be dumb enough to get got by this."

Sasuke shook his head slightly, momentarily wondering how he fit that bloody great thing up there, then figured it was probably in a storage seal.

He had to hand it to the dobe – that wasn't so bad.

"What, hey, how'd you fit that thing in there?" The fangirl complained.

The dobe snorted, tucking it away.

"What, never heard of a storage seal?" He said, confirming Sasuke's suspicion.

It was also pretty evident that the dobe was a good deal stronger than he looked. The way he'd winged that Claymore around with one hand... those things were as solid as a rock.


Times change very quickly

And you had to grow up fast


A few minutes had passed in silence after the trio of newly-minted Genins had scrambled onto the roof of the old generator house. Out of the three, only Naruto had been up here before – the pile of drinks cans and folded-up crisp packets in the corner by the exhaust stack were detritus from his many visits.

Other than that exhaust stack, the pair of ventilation grilles, an air intake for the engine, and the low wall around the lip of the flat roof, it was pretty much featureless.

It backed onto the Seibu Ikebukuro commuter railway line, making it an ideal location for jumping trains as, when they passed that point, trains were either accelerating away from the nearby Nerima station, or slowing to make their stop at same.

On the other side, maybe twenty feet away and surrounded by a safety fence was the artificial lake in which the Mistress used to keep her collection of pet crocodiles – Australian salties – half a dozen of which were still in residence. These days they remained as a method of executing traitors; if Itachi Uchiha or Orochimaru were ever caught, they'd end their days in the crocodile pond, and Mizuki would be thrown in there in the dead of the night in a few days time, once Ibiki Morino had got done interrogating the bastard.

To the left, the neatly-kept lawns stretched towards the back of the mansion, studded with orderly patterns of ornamental plants and tidy hedges; to the right were further stretches of lawn and the Hokage Monument, four massive granite sculptures in the likeness of the faces of the four men who had, thus far, served as Hokage of the Konohagakure. Each was the size of a large car and weighed a good few tons; they'd been carved in-situ from solid rock drawn up and into place by one of the clan's few rock-element users.

On the whole, it was an excellent place for ninjas to meet in privacy. From here, nobody could approach within a hundred yards without being observed, and the roar of the diesel engines below made eavesdropping a moot point.

Kakashi considered the trio of students.

First there was Naruto's ever-familiar cheery face. Naruto was a touch short for his age, and slightly stocky with it. His bright blonde hair stood up in an unruly shock, and his sky-blue eyes glimmered with mischief and a sharp but carefully-concealed intelligence as he lounged, at rest but alert, against one of the air intakes. He was dressed in his usual eye-blasting black-and-orange denim jacket and utility trousers, and had JGSDF combat boots on his feet.

Squatting in a slightly cat-like manner on the low perimeter wall was Sasuke Uchiha. He was noticeably taller than Naruto and just starting on his way to that lanky and slightly awkward teenage stage where young men become mostly composed of limb. His jet-black hair was hacked off in a rough bob – probably done himself, probably using a knife – and he had a look of sullen anger on his face, compounded by those dark eyes that, in the right light, Kakashi knew would look yellow and faintly cat-like. He was clad in black denim jeans, hiking boots, and a black-and-grey bomber jacket.

Third, there was Sakura, who'd seated herself on the wall as close to Sasuke as she dared, which wasn't very. Her extraordinary pale pink hair was currently tied back in a loose ponytail, and she looked downright worried – but then, from what he'd seen of her, she usually did. She was dressed in a blood-red padded fleece, black cycle shorts, and hiking boots; oddly, she was the tallest of the lot. She'd be tall for her age by American standards.

None of the three looked the least bit like a ninja, to which Kakashi gave an inward smile of approval. It was Naruto's father who'd first said it to him; for a ninja, looking like a ninja is the sort of mistake that gets people killed.

"Let's get acquainted." He finally said. "Each of you tell everyone a little about yourself - likes, dislikes, hobbies, dreams, that kind of stuff."

"You go first." Sasuke grunted.

Kakashi immediately proceeded to be as evasive as possible. "Hmm. Well, I'm Kakashi. I like some things, dislike other. I.. have a few hobbies. My dreams are private. Okay, you next, Blonde And Hyper."

Sasuke rolled his eyes slightly while Sakura made put-out noises about the limited amount of information Kakashi had given them; the world-weary Joinin smirked inwardly. They'd learn.

"I'm Naruto Uzumaki!" Naruto boisterously declared, seemingly oblivious to what was going on, though Kakashi noted a momentary sharp look from the blonde demon container. "I like ramen, orange things, Old Man Hokage, fast cars that don't have those electronic immobiliser thingies, Ichiraku-san, explosions, the ANBU-sans, those neat corners of the city hardly anyone knows about especially the old defence tunnels, guns that're small enough to hide under your jacket, Iruka-niisan, foxes especially the sort with lots of tails, Ayame-neechan, booby-traps, ANBU-Hound-san - he's the best! dragon's breath shotgun cartridges, and pranking people so I know I could've waxed them if I'd really been trying! I dislike the three minutes it takes to cook ramen, people who're too stupid to realise that flour bombs could've been Semtex, snobs, cars with those electronic immobiliser thingies, jerks, freight trains that go too fast to jump onto, people who screw my friends around, and idiots who hate people for something they can't control! My hobbies are blowing things up, eating ramen, hanging out with the ANBU-sans, doing things that annoy stupid people, exploring Tokyo, inventing booby-traps, seeing how fast I can take a street without breaking the car, shooting stuff, learning awesome new jutsus, and getting Old Man Hokage to laugh! My dream is to steal Old Man Hokage's job!"

Sasuke gave Naruto a side-on slitty-eyed look that Kakashi found shockingly familiar. He'd seen that look before, in a mirror, when he started to realise just how canny Obito had actually been.

"Okay, you're up, Pink And Blank." Kakashi said, nodding to Sakura.

"I'm Sakura Harano." she said, visibly infuriated at Kakashi's description of her. "I like air rifles and..." here she went a bit pink and glanced at Sasuke. "I dislike Ino-pig, people who pick on foundlings, noisy idiots," (here she meaningfully glanced at Naruto) "and lazy people. My hobbies are flower arranging, skeet shooting, and, well..." another blush and glance at Sasuke, while Kakashi filled that under 'annoying the Uchiha'. "And my dream is, well..." another glance at Sasuke. "I... guess I kinda want a family."

"Riiight." Kakashi deadpanned. "OK, Dark And Sulking, your turn."

Sasuke gave him an unpleasant look. "I am Sasuke Uchiha." he said. "I like heavy weapons and my privacy. I dislike loudmouthed clowns with no sense of camouflage, stupid fangirls who insist they know everything about me when they don't even know how many siblings I had, lazy bastards who can't be bothered turning up on time for supposedly-important appointments, and talking about myself. My hobbies are the very few things that interest me. Dreams... I don't have dreams. I have goals. My goal is to dance on a certain worthless fuck's grave, and rebuild my family."

"Right, now we're more or less introduced, on with the show." Kakashi said. "Let's answer a few questions for each other, eh? We can take it in turns, each of us picks one question to ask each of the others; I'd prefer it if everyone answers, but if it's too personal, don't feel forced to. I'll go first... Sakura, what's with the pink hair?"

"It's natural." Sakura explained, going a shade that matched her hair. "I guess it's a hereditary mutation, but I'm not sure. Pretty crappy bloodline, huh? I've thought about dying it black from time to time, but never got around to it. I figure I can cover it with a hat on missions."

"Interesting." Kakashi said, nodding. "OK then, Naruto, why is it you conceal what you're really capable of?"

Naruto blinked, then burst out laughing.

"BWAHAHAHA! Can't put one past you, eh? It's coz of something an ANBU I usta know once told me. Never let anyone but your friends know what you're really capable of."

Kakashi nodded. His question had essentially been hot air; he'd been that ANBU. Sakura looked a bit confused, while Sasuke gave Naruto a side-on measuring look.

Their reactions gave an answer to Kakashi's real question; what, if anything, did Sasuke and Sakura know of what Naruto was really capable of?

"True. Sasuke, do you ever intend to share the facts of your personal target with your team-mates?"

Sasuke didn't reply for a few moments, then frowned a bit.

"I only tell people I trust." he growled.

Kakashi nodded. He had to give the kid that one – the Uchiha massacre wasn't exactly the sort of thing you'd discuss with passing acquaintances. "Wise. Okay, why don't you take a turn asking each of us questions then, Sasuke?"

Sasuke nodded, glared at the roof they were sitting on for a moment, then asked Kakashi, "Why were you so late?"

"Well, technically, I wasn't." Kakashi explained, shrugging. "There wasn't a stated time for the meet-up. Besides, first off I wasn't joking when I said I fully intend to be late for my own funeral, and second off I spent the two hours you were waiting watching from across the street; I wanted to see how patient you all are. In a combat situation, almost infinite patience is required; there are going to be operations that require you to wait and watch, unseen, for days – weeks even – before you make your move."

Sasuke accepted that with a grunt and nod, then sat there thinking.

"Hey dobe." he eventually said. "Why orange?"

By way of a reply, Naruto crouched down, grabbed the tabs round the legs of his trousers, and pulled; with the sound of Velcro unfastening, the orange parts came off, leaving a set of slightly battered nondescript black cargo trousers. He stuffed the orange panels into his jacket pockets, pulled his jacket off, turned it inside out, and put it back on, revealing it to be double-sided – the underside being JGSDF camouflage patterned, with a hood, which Naruto pulled up; the hood had a furry rim to it, some sort of black and startlingly hair-like stuff that completely concealed his blonde locks.

"Bingo; instant disguise." he said. "It were somethin' an ANBU I usta know once said. Get a distinctive look you can change real fast, and look that way so often when people see you not looking that way they dunno who you are. This and some face-paint and maybe sunnies, and hardly anyone's gonna realise who I am." Kakashi smiled, very aware that the ANBU in question was in fact Kakashi. He wore his half-mask all the time for the exact same reason. One jug of black temp dye and whip the mask off, swap the hitae-ite for an eye-patch, and boom, identity is now concealed.

"I see." Sasuke muttered, then lapsed into silence again.

"Hey." he (at long last) said. "Pinky. What was my mother's name?"

Sakura blinked, very visibly not having expected anything like that.

"I... don't know." she admitted.

Sasuke snorted and lapsed into silence yet again.

Bored of the resulting awkward pause, Kakashi turned to Naruto.

"OK, your turn blondie." he said.

Naruto responded by flashing a couple of ANBU hand-signs at him; roughly, they translated as, 'Fox here, anyone else?'

Kakashi narrowed his visible eye a bit, then smiled and flashed back, 'Hound on-station.' The kid really was smarter than he let on; but then, it wasn't like Kakashi had been taking great pains to prevent Naruto realising where he was familiar from, and he'd expect no less from their ANBU brat. They'd trained him as well as they could.

Naruto pulled his hood back, revealing his bright blonde hair again and making his wide foxy grin easily visible, and asked, "Where've you been? I missed you."

"I resigned shortly after you entered the academy; I've been doing classified long-range stuff for the main part since." Kakashi told him. "I've missed you too, you cheeky little shit."

Naruto nodded, grin still firmly in place.

"It's good to have you back." he said.

"Let's get on with the questions, eh brat?"

"Sure thing, Sensei. Oi, Sasuke, why'd ya ask Sakura that?"

Sasuke blinked, caught flat-footed like he'd caught Sakura.

"Hnn?" he asked.

"Why'd you ask Sakura what your mom's name is?"

"Just checking something." Sasuke grunted with a shrug.

Naruto shrugged, accepting that for now.

"Oi, Sakura." he said. "How come you dunno if your hair's like an inherited colour? Wouldn't like your mum or dad or something have like pink hair if it was inherited?"

Sakura flinched, glared at him, and snapped, "How would I know? I don't even know who my parents are anyway! I'm a foundling, dammit!"

"... Oh. Um, sorry – I didn't know that."

"... s'ok, I guess."

"Right-ho, well, moving on, Sakura, it's your turn."

"... okay." Sakura thought for a bit. "Um, Sasuke-kun... what is your mother's name?"

"Mitoko." Sasuke said. "Mitoko Uchiha."

"... thanks."

Kakashi was starting to wonder how many awkward silences they were going to get today.

"Sensei, how are Genin teams assembled?" Sakura asked.

Kakashi hadn't expected that.

"Well, it's a series of time-honoured rituals." he told her. "It starts off the evening after the graduation ceremony, at which stage the class teacher for the graduating class makes recommendation to us as to who he thinks would make good teams, which we mainly ignore. While you kids are prancing around with your nice new hitae-ita, we all get abominably drunk and play poker. The winner of each hand gets to pick a student, up to a total of three students per Jonin. When that's done and we're all well lubricated, we have an intense session of bargaining back and forth, trading students around and picking punch-ups until we've each got roughly the team we wanted. Then the next morning while we're all hung over, the Hokage comes down, shitcans most of our choices, and lays down the law about who gets what student, which we all argue fervently with. There's always a lot of last-minute changes, and if a Jonin can give the Hokage a good enough argument as to why the teams should be different, the Hokage might listen if someone bribes him enough. After that, we all get slightly drunk again while the Hokage goes back up to his office and arranges all the teams how he sees fit, whereupon he sends the team assignments to the class teacher, who shuffles a few students when he thinks a team really won't work. It's all very technical. Typically, a Jonin sensei has no idea what team he'll be getting until he walks in the door."

".... Oh." Sakura said, obviously not quite sure whether she believed him, which he took some private amusement in; everything he'd told her was true, though it was of course not the whole truth. She thought about that for a few moments, then asked Naruto, "Where do you know Sensei from?"

"You know that ANBU I usta know I keep saying about?" Naruto said.

"What, this ANBU Hound person you're always going on about how great is?"

"Yeah, him."

"What about him?"

Naruto pointed at Kakashi.

"He's sittin' right there."

"... oh."

"Of course, that is confidential information." Kakashi pointed out. "ANBU identities are classified, and former ANBU identities are controlled."

All three Genins nodded.

"Good." Kakashi said. "Now that we're all more-or-less introduced, I suppose you're wondering what happens next and why you've heard two-thirds of all graduating Genins end up shunted back to the Academy anyway." Hmm, he'd said that first part before. Oh well.

"The thought had crossed my mind." Sasuke snarked.

Kakashi nodded.

"Well, that's completely true." He nudged the pile of three wooden crates with his boot.

"These are reproduction weapons." he said. "Made by Systema, unlike most of their ilk they're actually designed for firearms training. They look, feel, and handle much like an M4 carbine, but fire small plastic pellets in place of lead slugs. These pellets - known as BB's - travel at a distinctly non-lethal velocity. It may sound positively useless, but not only are they fun to tool around with, they're also an effective training weapon. With these, you can shoot at each other while knowing you won't do anything permanent - and the fact that the hits sting like a bitch is a good incentive not to get hit."

He paused again, waiting while the trio gave him startled looks.

"Graduating from Konoha Academy of Ninjutsu - otherwise known as Murder Academy - is simply proof that you are capable enough to become ninjas. But, as yet, not one of you has truly proven his or her self to be truly worthy of serving our masters. A ninja must be many things; we must be a protector as much as we must be a killer, we must search for hard data on our enemies and the enemies of our masters as much as we must prevent the enemy from retrieving hard data on ourselves and our masters; our goals must become those of our masters, and although we are in some ways tools, the very fact that we are highly-trained people is what makes us useful as tools; there is very little indeed that makes a weapon more powerful than human intelligence and courage. At this moment, the three of you are presented with a chance to prove yourselves worthy of becoming ninjas, and as of this moment that chance has begun. To win the right to be my genin team, you must tag me with at least one BB-gun shot sometime within the next seven days. Thing of it as a simulation of an assassination mission; I am your target, and those toys on the floor in front of Sakura are your weapons. The only way you'll pull the job off is if you're suited to function as a ninja team – and remember, look underneath the underneath! Good luck, kids. You'll need it."

And, with that, he vanished, leaving the package behind; in reality, he'd simply cloaked himself in a Jonin-rated version of the Art of Invisibility.

Sasuke acted first. He rose to his feet, headed for the package, ripped into it, and found three toy boxes each emblazoned with lurid pictures of an M4 carbine.

Tearing into one, he removed the gun and examined it's accessories; a battery, a charger, a magazine, a bottle of little round white plastic pellets, a cleaning rod, and a manual; he handed the manual to Sakura, placed the rest on the ground, tore into the second box, unearthed it's contents, handed that manual to Naruto. and retrieved a third copy of the manual from the third box.

"The battery goes in the underside of the weapon's foregrip." he said. "Before the weapon can function, the battery must be charged. Uzumaki, it's a fair assumption you know how to find and follow a target. Locate Kakashi and identify his daily routine and usual hangouts. Harano. Get these batteries charged and identify the differences between using these simulations and using a real Colt M4. Both of you meet me back here at 0900 hours tomorrow; don't be late. I'll be locating communications systems and related protocols for each of us, and we'll identify ambush points once we're all prepared. That clear?"

The other two nodded, somewhat taken aback; Sasuke returned the nod, and leapt down off the roof.

"Man, what's eating him?" Naruto mused.

Sakura shrugged, and hastened away, collecting the airsoft guns and their related bits and pieces before she went.

Naruto sprawled back against the exhaust stack, watching the other two slip away, then glanced over at Kakashi.

"You can come out now, Hound." he said.

Chuckling, Kakashi reappeared.

"Smug little bugger." he said, sitting down on the roof beside Naruto. "How'd you spot me?"

"Vulture-san taught me to spot ninjas doin' that cloaking thing ages back." Naruto explained with an offhanded shrug. "Man, I really miss Vulture."

"We all do, kid. We all do."

"So, how long d'you think I oughtta take before I let Sasuke-bastard know I know your safehouses?" Naruto asked.

Kakashi gave him a surprised side-on look, then mentally chided himself. Since Naruto had started attending the Academy, he'd found himself backsliding to treating Naruto like an ordinary Genin rather than the ANBU brat.

"Look, Naruto," he began, causing the blonde prankster to lose the tricky grin and straighten up – as Hound, he'd only ever used Naruto's name when deadly serious; for the moment, they weren't Kakashi and his student Naruto, they were ANBU Hound and Fox the ANBU brat. "ANBU's worried about Sasuke. He's been unstable since the massacre; until we know otherwise for certain, he's a potential security threat. I'll use ANBU safehouse N-fifteen for the next week. Let them know the location and layout at the rendezvous tomorrow. Include all trap locations and the buffering layouts. We need Sasuke to begin trusting you as soon as possible."

Naruto nodded, remaining serious.

"I won't betray him unless he betrays us first, Pops." he said.

Kakashi smiled under his mask. Naruto had always called him that when it was his turn to train the kid. He took it as a compliment, and always would – Naruto only ever came up with irreverent nicknames for people he liked and respected.

"Glad to hear it, kid. Glad to hear it."

They sat there in silence for a few moments, and then Kakashi asked, "What do you think of Sasuke, brat?"

"He's all pissed off at the world an' ain't got nowhere to cut loose." Naruto said. "Not sure if I could take him in a straight-up fight, he's pretty good, but I'm sneakier'n him."

Kakashi nodded. "Well, that confirms one of my suspicions... Look, I've gotta scarper; I'm just coming up on an hour late for today's Jonin meeting. Catch you later, OK?"

"Yeah, don't be a stranger huh?" Naruto said, nodding.

Kakashi nodded, rested his hand on Naruto's shoulder for a moment, and then slipped away.


A house in smoking ruins

And the bodies at your feet


Sasuke Sarutobi, Third Hokage of the Konohagakure, was currently somewhat nonplussed, because Hiashi Hyuuga - quiet, stoic, soft-spoken Hiashi Hyuuga, model of decorum - had just come storming into his office, slammed both hands down on his desk (sending paperwork everywhere) and snarled in a most un-Hiashilike voice, "Why the Hell didn't you tell me?"

"... I beg your pardon?" the Hokage mildly asked.

Hiashi was visibly seething, and threw a pair of photographs down on Sarutobi's desk.

They were Konohagakure ninja graduation photographs. One was Naruto Uzumaki's. The other was Minato Namikaze's.

And, aside from Naruto's facial markings and orange jumpsuit, they were completely identical.

"Why," Hiashi repeated, "The Hell. Didn't you tell me?"

Sarutobi let out a quiet sigh.

"You're correct, Hiashi. The lad's birth name is indeed Naruto Shinra Namikaze. As to why I didn't tell you... Hiashi, up until two years ago there were a grand total of three people who knew; myself, Morino Ibiki, and your cousin Saenae. When Saenae took a fifty-cal round for Naruto, she spent her last breath telling her squadmates who the lad they'd been assigned to protect really is; does the fact he's had three ANBU squads protecting him his entire life make sense now? Naruto is indeed Minato's heir; and how do you think the Iwakagure would react to the knowledge that 'Konoha's Yellow Flash' had a living heir? And, if he had been accompanied from birth by a Hyuuga, how long do you think it would have taken the Iwakagure to work it out? And why do you think there's a Hyuuga on each of the ANBU teams who've been detailed to protect - and, incidentally, raise - Naruto?"

Hiashi let out a sigh and sat down, obviously relieved but at the same time frustrated.

"I suppose poor Saenae came to the same conclusion." he said. Sarutobi nodded glumly.

"I don't know; I didn't know she'd worked it out until Kakashi came storming in here and demanded I explain why I hadn't told him."

"What's the young Namikaze to him?" Hiashi asked.

"Aside from the fact Minato was his sensei, Akemi Namikaze's maiden name was Hatake." Sarutobi stated. "Naruto is Kakashi's only known living relative."

"... Ah. Blood is thicker than water... Sarutobi-san, why didn't you explain to me? Why didn't you tell me your line of reasoning? I have loyally served the Namikaze line since the day I was born; don't you think I'd have come to the same conclusion as you, and acted accordingly? Gods, don't you have any idea how I felt about all this? Seven hundred years my family have served the Namikazes - seven hundred years of unswerving loyalty! Gods, man! My ancestor swore that the Namikaze line would last as long as a Hyuuga still drew breath - don't you have the faintest idea how I felt when I thought that oath broken?"

"Hiashi." Sarutobi said. "Remember, your father was my team-mate; don't you ever think this didn't cost me sleep. It wasn't an easy decision to make, but as Minato's friend, and as Hokage of the Konohagakure, it was a decision that fell to me. Perhaps I made the wrong decision; what, you've never fucked up? Congratulations; you're what, forty-three? You made it thirty years and counting longer than me. For twelve years, I've known we'd eventually have this conversation, and, frankly, I held out because I believe I did what is necessary. I already failed Naruto once, when I let the Konohagakure know that Naruto was the Kyuubi's container; I don't plan on failing Minato's son in such a way again. He's a good kid, and someday in the not so distant future he'll be exactly the Hokage we need to pull us into the next millennium - but he's a kid. I and those fifteen ANBU operatives gave him as much of a childhood as we could; the fact he was raised by Konoha's Special Forces means he's been trained by the best since the day he could walk, all of which raises his chance of reaching a ripe old age. That was my goal; I fully intend my next incarnation to know Naruto as Hokage."

Hiashi sighed again, slumping a bit, the furious energy draining out of him. Then he visibly steeled himself, and rose to his feet.

"I see." he said. "I'm afraid I have to withdraw my eldest daughter from active service."

"Why?" Sarutobi asked, even though he already knew the answer; Hiashi had reacted just the way Sarutobi knew he would.

Hyuugas never change.

"Because as of today she will do her duty to her master." Hiashi growled.

"Hiashi." Sarutobi growled, rising to his feet. "Don't do this. Not yet."

The Hyuuga head whirled round, eyes blazing.

"What the devil are you on about, man?" he barked.

"I know what your line's duty to Naruto's line is." The Hokage quietly stated. "But until Kakashi gives us the green light, I don't want to risk the Iwagakure figuring out who Naruto really is."

"So you'd leave the lad without his rightful bodyguard?" Hiashi barked.

"Temporarily, yes." This was nearly enough to flip Hiashi completely over the edge. "For God's sake, calm down, man! Naruto's ANBU bodyguards haven't just been bodyguarding him – they've been training him since he learned to walk. Most of his skills are close to Chuunin level, when he chooses to show what he's really capable of. And you're aware that Kakashi used to be known as ANBU Hound, aren't you?"

Hiashi relaxed slightly.

"I need permission to fill Hinata and her sensei in." he said.

"Granted." Sarutobi replied with a nod.

"Thankyou. Sarutobi, uncle, old friend... I cannot give you more than six months. The Hyuuga Council..." Hiashi grimaced. "They are becoming... problematic. Within the next six months, Hinata must begin her duty. Otherwise, I fear I shall lose all control of the family's Council, and that shall mean the Konohagakure losing the Hyuugas. I cannot allow this to happen – not now that I have a master once more."

Sarutobi nodded gravely.

"Understood." he said. "We'll call it a date, then."

Hiashi nodded gravely, and left. Sarutobi watched him go for several long moments, then sighed quietly to himself, pulled out a spare blank scroll, swiftly penned a note in ANBU hieroglyphs (an altered form of kanji, altered simply by assigning different meanings and turning everything upside-down) sealed it with a blob of chakra-charged wax similar to that used by Konohagakure 'breaker teams' to assemble booby-trap fuses, and went and got one of the duty messengers.

The note was pretty simple;

Kakashi -

Hiashi's figured out who the kid really is. We have six months leeway before he reassigns his eldest to serve him, and thereafter it'll only be a matter of time before his father's enemies connect the dots. The kid needs to be ready to take on anything they can throw at him; you're authorised to appropriate assistance from any and every Jonin and ANBU you see fit. Likewise, you're authorised to fill the chosen instructors in on the kid's identity, and access to the Forbidden Scroll is at your discretion.

Don't fuck this one up, Kakashi. He's going to need all the help he can get.


Sasuke Sarutobi.

PS – This message will auto-destruct in thirty seconds.


You'll die as you lived

In a flash of a blade

In a corner forgotten by no-one


"So." Sasuke said.

Visibly worried, Sakura placed three batteries on the wall beside where they'd leant the toy guns. Sasuke nodded.

"Kakashi's over at the big memorial the other end of the gardens right now, or at least he was when I took off to come here." Naruto said with his trademark foxy grin. "He spent a good chunk of yesterday evening playing poker with a bunch of other Jonins and ANBUs at a place on third street, place ain't marked but there's like six ways in, all of 'em concealed - it's a ninja-only bar. Anyway once he got done losing all his money to ANBU-Rabbit-san he headed for his digs, he's got an apartment on the fifth floor two blocks west of Sakura-chan's place, that's three south and one west of the Uchiha compound. It's trapped pretty tight, but I managed to get a couple clones in - the windows are entry points but if you step wrong you're on the receiving end of gunk-net launchers, and there's Claymores on the door and the shitter window. Layout's the same as the apartments below and above, but with a hole knocked through the kitchenette wall into the apartment next door - that's where he's actually living, all it's doors and windows are boarded up and backed with ballistic matting, and there's enough armour on the walls to stop an RPG-7. Oh, and the floors below and above are empty and so full of traps a mouse couldn't move in there without getting splattered. Gotta hand it to him, it's all laid out like a textbook safehouse. I ain't got his routine properly pinned down yet - it's only been one night, after all - but he headed out through the back window at stupid AM, same way as he entered - it's an easy jump to the fire escape - and went straight to the memorial. He's been squatting there staring at it ever since. Oh, and I've got like half a dozen clones keeping an eye on him, they'll lemme know if he heads off."

"Hmm." Sasuke said. "Did he detect you?"

"Nah, my clones don't seem to put off enough of an aura for anyone who ain't a Hyuuga to pick up, and I've always kept my aura shielded by other people's same way as I do when I'm pranking the Hyuugas or the ANBU-sans or Old Man Hokage." Naruto said with a shrug. "I ain't totally sure, but I'm pretty good at sneaking around and getting away from the ANBU-sans when I've pulled a prank, and I don't think he spotted me." When it came down to it, he knew for damn certain Kakashi had spotted him. They'd had a ten-minute chat.

Sasuke nodded, then gave Sakura a sharp look; she jumped slightly, loaded batteries into each of the toy M4's, then handed them round.

"They operate the same as the real thing." she explained. "Their range is lower and they're less accurate – there's a lot more windage – and they don't recoil, but that's about it."

Aware Sasuke was watching him side-on, Naruto spent a moment working out how to get the bb's into the pseudo-magazine, slotted it into place, and pulled the cocking handle, causing the bastard to lose interest.

"Don't remember you at the firing range." Sasuke said.

"Feh, fucking teachers." Naruto grumbled. "I hadta make do. Hound gave me my first gun for my sixth birthday, right, this way beat-up AK47, I still got it, them things never break down. For ages I wasn't allowed to have it about except on onea the ranges at ANBU HQ, but meh, that's over and done with." He shouldered the BB gun and popped off a couple of shots to check the sights were aligned, then spent a moment adjusting them. "I've used way better'n clunky boring old M4's."

"How good a shot are you anyway?" Sakura asked, loading hers.

"I ain't the best, but that's what selective's for." he said, flipped the BB gun to cyclic, and shot one of the crocodiles in the arse. Well, he also shot it on the top of the head, the neck, the back, the tail, and a lot of the water around it too, partly because he was compensating for recoil while the 'gun' wasn't recoiling.

"Dobe." Sasuke blandly remarked. "Bullets aren't cheap."

"They are if you pinch 'em." Naruto helpfully pointed out, sniggering at the croc as it vanished under the surface.

"Dobe." Sasuke repeated while Sakura was busy looking scandalised.

"The arms dealers don't like me." Naruto pointed out. "So I make do. What? Oh come on Sakura, we're supposed to be ninjas. If we can't make or buy something, we pinch it. Simple as that. An' if people wanna be dicks, well, I'd pay if they'd sell me, so they only got themselves to blame. Not my fault their security sucks."

"Clones." Sasuke suddenly said. "What gives?"

"Hmm?" Naruto asked. He was looking for another croc to take pot-shots at.

"Bunshins cannot be used for observation, and yours suck." Sasuke stated. Hook.

"Oh right, you don't know about that." Naruto put the toy gun down. "Well, there's some stuff went down the other night. It's to do with how I ended up graduatin' after all an' why Mizuki weren't about yesterday and the rest is either classified or ain't none of your business or both. See, the thing with me an' normal bunshins is I got way too much chakra for it coz of some shit that went down way back, which is classified and ain't none of your business anyway. So anyway, I picked up this technique, right, which makes solid clones. It takes a buttload of chakra but I got plenty enough to go round. They stick about till they're hit hard enough to make 'em go pif, and till then they can do stuff without me needin' to worry about controlling 'em. Oh, an' they ain't got much of no aura. They're called Kage Bunshins. I got six of 'em keeping tabs on Kakashi."

Sasuke actually looked interested.

"I want to learn that." he said. Line.

Naruto shrugged. "It's restricted. Talk to Kakashi after we get this dumb test outta the way."He angled a thumb over his shoulder in the vague direction of the Hokage Monument and related memorials. "I ain't promising anything, but I reckon you can handle it if you're careful, an' I'll tell him that."

Sasuke paused, then finally nodded.

"Thanks, dobe." Sinker.


You lived for the touch

For the feel of the steel

One man, and his honour


As Naruto was entertaining himself taking pot-shots at crocodiles, a girl named Hinata Hyuuga was busy being decidedly unnerved. She'd been reading in her favourite quiet corner of the Hyuuga compound (actually her mother's memorial garden) when she noticed her new sensei, Kurenai Yuhi, walking towards the family administration building in the company of a couple of Branch House members whom she couldn't offhand remember the names of. That was when the sinking feeling began; then, about half an hour later, her bratty little sister Hanabi had come and got her attention by poking her in the shin with a foot.

"Father wants you in his office." Hanabi said. Funny. She seemed oddly subdued.

Hinata nodded and didn't say anything. She just rose to her feet and tucked her book into her jacket pocket (having folded a corner of the page back to mark her place) then sighed and went to face the music.

Hanabi watched her go, still almost completely bewildered and only really certain that their father had been acting very, very weird indeed.

Deciding it wasn't her problem, she shrugged it off and went to find something to do.

As Hanabi was making that decision, Hinata was arriving at the front office. Her father's secretary was as per usual rattling away at a computer, but unusually enough she immediately noticed Hinata.

"Ah; your father is expecting you. Head right in."

Hiashi Hyuuga's office was, like the Hokage's office, inside a Faraday cage. All wiring in and out was strictly regulated and checked for bugs or extraneous cables on a four-times-daily basis. The only person Hinata was aware of who'd ever managed to get in there without her father's permission was her personal hero, one Naruto Uzumaki, who'd left a choice selection of panties strewn all over Hiashi's desk.

As she entered, her sensei was just asking, "Are you certain about this, Hyuuga-san?"

"No." Her father growled. "But, at the current time, choice is a luxury I cannot afford. Dammit, Sarutobi and his six months! I wish I could..." He stopped abruptly and shook his head. "Hang it, the past is gone and there's not a ninja on Earth can change it."

Hinata blinked very slowly, now as completely bewildered as her sister had seemed. She'd never seen her father acting like this.

"Ah, daughter." he said, spinning round. "Take a seat."

She did so.

"So, who is this mysterious 'master' anyway?" Kurenai asked.

Hiashi raised one finger, spent a few moments checking the door was secured and examining his assorted bug-sweeping equipment, then gave Hinata another shock by casting several privacy jutsus that were most distinctly not a part of the Hyuuga teachings.

Then he sprawled down in his chair, unearthed a hip flask, and chucked back a stiff shot.

"I'd better bring my daughter up to speed first, Master Yuhi." he said. "She is after all at the forefront of all this."

Kurenai nodded,


"F-father?" Hinata responded, scared almost out of her wits.

Her father contemplated her for a few moments, his face impassive, then sighed and threw back another slug of whatever that flask contained. If he'd been acting any weirder, she'd have become convinced he'd been taken over by the Pod People or something.

"Hinata," he asked. "What do you know of the origins of our family?"

"V-very little, F-father."

"I had thought as much." Hiashi said with a nod. "Very well; perhaps I'd better bring you up to speed."

He sighed heavily, shaking his head.

"Our family has existed in a form not so different from what it currently is for in excess of seven hundred years." he said. "It all began with the first man gifted with our hereditary adaptation, the Byakugan. His name is lost to history, but we do know one very important fact about him; as a young orphan, he was saved from a grim fate by a man named Namikaze, and swore himself to Namikaze's service - and his children to the service of Namikaze's children, and thus forwards until either his line or the Namikaze line ceased to exist. And moreso, he swore that as long as he or even so much as one of his descendants drew breath, no foe would ever be permitted to bring the Namikaze line to an end."

Hinata slowly nodded, not quite daring to say anything.

"You're certainly familiar with the name 'Namikaze'; after all, the Fourth Hokage of the Konohagakure was the last of that line... or so I'd believed since his untimely death. My younger sister - your aunt - committed seppeku when she discovered she'd failed to do her duty and allowed Minato to die while she still lived. That is how much the Namikaze line mean to our family, Hinata. We are not vassals of the Kuno line; we are vassals of the Namikaze line, and we work with the Konohagakure merely because our masters chose to enter the service of the Kuno line. It has always struck me as strange that our fortunes have been almost diametrically opposed to the fortunes of our masters; the Namikazes have always been a small family, usually only having one son per generation, while we have become a large and extremely politically powerful family, second only in this district to the Kunos and the Tendos... but I digress. Less than an hour ago, I heard the news I have been praying for since Minato died; he has a living son, and therefore we have not failed in our sworn duty."

"...oh." Hinata said, numbly trying to take all of that in.

"Gods..." Kurenai whispered. "You're serious, aren't you Hyuuga-san? But... why hasn't this information been made public. Kami, the morale boost that would provide..."

"Minato pissed a hell of a lot of people off." Hiashi bluntly stated. "Not least the Iwagakure. How do you think the Rock nins would react if they learned that 'Konoha's Yellow Flash' had a living heir?"

"... I see." Kurenai murmured. Hiashi turned back to Hinata.

"It has always been that any member of the Namikaze line is accompanied and assisted at all times by a Hyuuga, and that duty would seem to now be yours, Hinata."

"... oh." Hinata repeated in an even smaller voice.

"We must wait just a little longer, and then you must accompany the young master wherever he goes, assist him in any way that you can, and fight for him, even unto death. I know it's a big thing I'm asking of you, Hinata, but you're the only member of the family who can do this." Hiashi sighed. "I'm afraid the young master is rather an uncultured young hooligan, but Naruto Shinra Namikaze is our uncultured young hooligan."

"Naruto?!" she gasped. She knew for damn certain there was only one Konohagakure by the name of Naruto.

"I'm afraid so." Hiashi said with a bit of an understated smile. He knew perfectly well that his wayward daughter had feelings for the 'demon brat', and he had previously disapproved - but finding out who Naruto really was had changed everything. "I confess he's a street rat and about as civilised as the foxes he runs with, but you must understand, my daughter, that he is our street rat. He does not know it as yet, and it would perhaps be better that he remained unaware of it for the meantime - but he is our master, we are his to command, and you will aid him in any way you can. You will fight for him, you will take bullets for him, you will kill for him without hesitation or remorse - you will move the very mountains for him, should he desire it. Naruto Namikaze is your liege, Hinata, and you are anything he may desire of you."

"... oh, my..." Hinata murmured, her eyes like Frisbees as she struggled not to pass out from the related dirty thoughts.

"As you know, our family's council is making increasingly loud noises about removing the Hyuugas from the purview of the Konohagakure." Hiashi continued. "The Hokage has requested that we give him and Naruto's uncle, Kakashi Hatake, time to prepare Naruto for what is to come. Once he is, as per his right, accompanied by one of us at all times, it is only a matter of time before the Iwagakure work out his actual identity, and at that stage the proverbial faeces will contact the ventilation device. He and you must both be ready, Hinata."

She didn't say a word.

"Is there some problem with this, daughter?" he fairly growled.

Hinata kept staring at him for several moments, then finally blinked.

"F-father... h-have you ever h-had one of th-those days where you aren't sure if you're awake or still dreaming?" she asked.

Hiashi considered that for a long moment, then slowly nodded.

"Well, yes." he said. "I'm having one of those right now, as a matter of fact."

Then he reached into his desk and withdrew a gunbelt. In it's holsters it had a pair of heavily customised handguns – Hinata didn't recognise the base model offhand. One was either chromed or silver-plated, she wasn't sure which, with what looked like ornate inlaid pearl grips, while the other was finished in very workmanlike matte black, with it's grips composed of what looked to be intricately-carved obsidian. Both had that slightly dinged-up and scuffed look of weapons that had been carried and used on a daily basis for a long time.

"These belonged to your aunt." he stated. "Their names are Ebony and Ivory, and they were made specially for her. They are the weapons she carried when she accompanied Minato; after they died, I kept a hold of them in the vain hope that Namikaze had a successor after all."

Hiashi rose, came over, and placed the gunbelt with it's brace of pistols in Hinata's hands.

"I believe you should have them." he said.

Hinata didn't reply, even though she wanted to tell her father that he was so wrong about this; she wouldn't doing this for 'Hyuuga pride', she'd never believed in it. She was going to do this because she believed in Naruto Uzumaki. 'Naruto Shinra Namikaze' wasn't him; he was a laughing hot-head, a loud-mouthed maniac who never allowed anything to slow him down, who ploughed head-on straight through any obstacle, whose energy and will was boundless - he was an unashamed street-rat, fiery and brash and bold. He was Naruto Uzumaki, wild and free in the urban jungle, and a bright burning light of hope in Hinata's shadow-clouded world.

Mistaking her silence for hesitation, Hiashi put a hand on her shoulder.

"Hinata, I command you..." he warned.

She squared her shoulders, steeled herself for the likely explosion, pulled away from him, and rose her feet, very deliberately buckling her aunt's gunbelt around her waist; he stepped back and stood, arms crossed, impassively watching her as she drew one pistol, checked it over with a series of deft, swift movements, holstered it, and checked the other over; neither currently held any ammunition and they were substantially too big for her to comfortably get her hands round their grips, but they felt oddly right in her hands, even though their sheer size and the firepower they embodied unnerved her.

Then, for the first time in years, she looked her father in the eye.

"I would pray for him." she said. "I would call his name out loud... I would bleed for him."

He didn't reply, but she swore she saw a glimmer of pride in those white eyes of his.


The smell of resined leather

The steely iron mask


Walking away from the Hyuuga compound, Kurenai found herself wondering how the white-eyed girl knew that song, even as she completed the quote in her head.

'I would pray for her, I would call her name out loud / I would bleed for her, if I could only see her now / Living on a razor's edge, balancing on a ledge / The evil that men do lives on and on...'

Naruto Uzumaki. Namikaze. Whatever he was called. The 'demon brat'. The Kyuubi's container.

Minato Namikaze's son.

Kurenai had a lot to think about, and even more to prepare. First she needed to speak to the Hokage about all this, in private. Then Kakashi. Then she'd have to hit the armoury and uplift a buttload of ammunition for those (admittedly gorgeous) .45's Hiashi had handed to Hinata. The girl was a good shot with a rifle, but how well would a pair of heavy handguns work for her?

But she couldn't keep her mind off that stunning revelation. She'd known that the Fourth Hokage had sealed the Kyuubi into Naruto Uzumaki for years; she'd been within feet of the scene when it happened, though admittedly she'd been half-conscious and trapped under rubble. She'd hated the kid right alongside damn nearly everyone in the Konohagakure for years – after that terrible night, she'd been the only survivor of her Genin team. But now... now she was ashamed at herself, frightened (both for Hinata and for the blonde kid she'd long reviled) and horrified at exactly what Minato Namikaze had done.

To bind a youkai into your own son... the evil that men do, indeed.


As you cut and thrust and parried at

The fencing master's call


It took them two days to come up with a workable plan, and they gave it a third to be certain of Kakashi's routine; Naruto carefully avoided mentioning to the other two that Kakashi was manufacturing said routine for this so-called test.

When it came to time, one of Naruto's clones let them know which way round the building Kakashi was heading, and they got into position; Sasuke and Naruto waited until he'd passed, then stepped out into the path and opened up.

The toy guns yowled and chugged. A sort VraBOT-vBOT-vBOT noise, and the projectiles flew so slow Sasuke could track them with his eyes, and that was nothing special. The noise was enough to alert Kakashi, who sprang to one side; Naruto and Sasuke held the triggers down, spraying the tree he was using for cover, and Sasuke couldn't help but smirk slightly as he saw their plan come off to perfection.

Concealed in the bushes, close enough to the academy that her aura was completely hidden, and the sound of her airsoft gun covered by the racket from Sasuke and Naruto's fire, Sakura squeezed the trigger once. A bb spat out, and bounced off Kakashi's left ear.

"That's a hit." he declared; Naruto and Sasuke let off their triggers, and Sakura came nervously out the bushes.

"Whose plan was this?"

"Primarily Pinky's." Sasuke flatly stated. "We... discussedthe details, and checked accuracy of each shooter."

Kakashi frowned slightly for a moment, then nodded.

"Hmm. Planning acceptable, within mission parameters. Congratulations, kids; you're Genin. Take the rest of the day off, and meet me at seven o'clock sharp tomorrow in front of the generator house, and bring your guns. Don't be late."

With that, he vanished, producing a small puff of smoke.

"You heard the man." Sasuke flatly remarked. "Don't be late."

"Um, would you like to, I dunno, go hang out, Sasuke-kun?" Sakura asked.

"No." Sasuke said.

"How about we go over to Ichiraku's and have a bit of a celebratory meal? It's this well neat place two blocks from the cop shop up on Furinkan Avenue, with access to the defence tunnels from the basement, and they've got this real neat little game arcade behind it." Naruto offered, not wanting to be left out of this. "My treat!"

"That's a dumb idea." Sakura snootily informed him. "Me and Sasuke-kun don't want-"

"I'll be there in an hour." Sasuke stated, agreeing primarily because he was annoyed at Sakura putting words into his mouth.

Then, shaking Sakura off, he turned and walked away.

"Uhh, so, wanna go hang out till then, Sakura-chan?" Naruto hopefully asked.

"No!" she snapped, thumping him in the head. "Leave me alone!" Then she ran away.

"Oh well." Naruto muttered with a shrug, and went slouching off in the vague direction of his digs to drop off the airsoft gun.

From where he was laying, chakra-cloaked, on the edge of the academy roof, Kakashi frowned slightly.

In his view (and that of the Konohagakure in general) blue-on-blue was completely unacceptable - and, to Kakashi, Sakura's punch counted.

He'd need to have a quiet word with the girl, even though it'd likely leave her needing to change her panties.

Shunshin-teleporting back to the street, he picked up her aura and went after her.


He taught you all he ever knew

To fear no mortal man



Quickly turning round, Sakura was surprised to find Kakashi casually leaning on the corner of her block, a little orange book in his hand, idly reading.


"Two things. First, you need to work on your zanshin. Second, blue-on-blue is not acceptable in any circumstances outside of sparring. Unprovokedly striking a team-mate counts as blue-on-blue. Stop doing it."

"I'm sorry." Sakura said. "But... look, he hasn't stopped bugging me for what, four YEARS. Every freaking day, it's always the same old story. 'Sakura-chan, wanna go hang out? Sakura-chan, wanna date? Here Sakura-chan, I made this for you' and so on and so on and so on... and, well, I guess I kinda took to thumping him because it's the only way I've found that works to get him to leave me alone for a while."

Kakashi frowned slightly.

"I see." he said, then his sole visible eye wrinkled up in a way that was clearly a smile. "I'll talk to him. If a member of the team has a problem, the team has a problem. Speaking of which, we're going to have to have a discussion about you as regards to Sasuke and the ramifications for the team, and I don't think you'll like that discussion, but for you to grow it has to be held. And... remember what your instructors said about a post-mission routine? It might be a good idea if you went to Naruto and Sasuke's little meet-up at Ichiraku's. I'll see you later, then."

With that, he vanished again.

Sakura turned and headed for her apartment, distinctly worried.


And now you'll wreak your vengeance

In the screams of evil men.


At twenty minutes to five, sloping into Ichiraku's ramen bar (a place he'd never visited before) Sasuke Uchiha was a lot concerned. Usually, when he showed up in places like this, he immediately had fangirls and (worse) fanboys giving him a hard time. Jeez, he had standards, dammit! Those damn fangirls were downright pathetic - all the use in combat of a spastic penguin - and their squeals made his skull hurt, but (despite being pretty open-minded about what other people got up to in the bedroom; he filed it under Not His Problem) getting hit on by gay men squicked him to his guts. He was straight, dammit!

So he was faintly surprised when, instead of the immediate ogling crowd, the most attention he got was an agreeable nod from the scruffy-looking gent in a Jonin's tac vest who was munching happily at his ramen in a corner booth. The place was fairly full, but not too crowded (Sasuke didn't like crowds. Crowds led to fangirls and fanboys. Shudder.) and twinkly guitar music was playing on the jukebox.

He immediately spotted Naruto; that bright orange outfit was a dead give-away. Damn, stupid dobe, wandering around looking like a dayglo 'Kill Me!' poster. If it wasn't for that thing's reversible nature, he'd have known the guy to be a moron; as it was, he was reserving judgement.

He headed over, and seated himself in the corner booth the hyperactive blonde was occupying - and he was immediately surprised.

Naruto Uzumaki looked laid-back. Instead of that grin bordering on smirk, he had a relaxed and very genuine smile on his face as he sat, slumped backwards, in his seat, his hands clasped in front of him.

"Yo, bastard." Naruto companionably remarked.

"Dobe." Sasuke said with a nod, seating himself. "Pinky not show?"

Naruto sighed, looking slightly downcast, and shook his head. "Nah. She never turns up to not-official-type stuff if she knows I'm gonna be there."

Sasuke allowed himself to relax, only vaguely aware of the mix of emotions - sorrow, tiredness, anger, the desire for revenge - that were playing across his face.

Then he was surprised by a gentle nudge from Naruto's booted foot against his shin.

"Hey. C'mon man, lighten up a bit, kay?" The blonde requested, his usual hyperness completely absent.

"How the hell are you so cheerful all the time, dobe?" Sasuke growled.

Naruto smiled, but the smile had an edge on it. It didn't, Sasuke noted, reach the blonde's eyes.

"Iff'n I don't laugh, sure as Hell stinks I'm gonna cry." The blonde said, that faintly tired smile still in place.

Sasuke considered that for a moment.

"You're a right piece of work, dobe." he said.

"Same to you, bastard." Naruto replied, and Sasuke noticed at long last that the slur lacked any real force. Chances were, the dobe had forgotten his name and could only remember screaming 'Bastard!' at him that time in primary school.

"Call me Sasuke, willya dobe?" he grumbled, suddenly realising that, from him when addressing Naruto, 'Dobe' held about as much force as when Naruto called him 'Bastard'.

"Long as you call me Naruto, I will." Naruto said, foxy grin momentarily appearing as, for an instant, he was back to his usual self.

"Dobe." Sasuke muttered, reckoning Naruto had a point there.

"Bastard." Naruto said, relaxing again, the foxy look turning back into that wistful smile.

"Uh, hi Sasuke." said an unexpected (and not exactly welcome) voice, as Sakura appeared at their table.

"Hn." Sasuke said, utterly exasperated. Fangirls. Anywhere he went, god-damned fangirls.

"Hey, Sakura-chan. Have a seat." Naruto said, making an idle gesture with one hand; Sasuke noticed he was still completely relaxed, and he also noticed that Sakura looked positively astonished at the lack of bouncing and yelling from their loopy blonde comrade-in-arms.

Instead, she seated herself as close to Sasuke as she could get, which was opposite him; Naruto was sprawled all over the corner while Sasuke was taking up all of one side of the bench.

"Mind if I butt in?" asked an unexpected (and not entirely unwelcome) voice, and the trio were all quite surprised to see Kakashi standing a little away from their table.

"Sure; take a seat, Pops." Naruto said, not coming out of his relaxed sprawl. Sasuke merely grunted, and Sakura chirped a respectful welcome.

Eye still wrinkled, Kakashi settled himself beside Sakura, and glanced at his trio of Genins, obviously taking note of Naruto's absolute relaxation.

"Been a while since I've been in here." he remarked.

"Yeah, I know." Naruto said with a nod. "Ain't seen you in here in what, eight months?" He flashed a series of hand-signs out of Sasuke's view, getting himself an odd look from Sakura.

"Yes. I'll explain later." Kakashi said.

Naruto nodded, and sprawled backwards again.

"What was that?" Sakura asked.

"Classified." Naruto told her, in near-perfect chorus with Kakashi, much to her annoyance.

"Classified this, classified that, what is it with you two?" she complained.

"That," Kakashi told her, "Is classified."

She stared blankly at him for a few moments, then started banging her head on the table. Naruto and Kakashi gave each other dubious looks, then shrugged in unison, adding to Sasuke's increasing confusion.

"Tomorrow morning," Kakashi announced, "We'll begin a series of test runs so I can get a feel for where you each are. Tomorrow afternoon, we'll begin taking D-rank missions. I want you all to understand that D-rank missions are essentially make-work; over the coming few months you're likely to become very familiar with locating missing pets, eradicating rodents, weeding gardens, and helping little old ladies. But before you get immensely pissed off about that, I want you to understand that, like all things in the life you are now entering, these chores have a deeper purpose; each category of D-rank mission can be likened to a category of live-fire mission, from infiltration to hostage-rescue to kidnap to intelligence-gathering, and they are intended to impart lessons that will become extremely valuable once I deem you ready for combat. The lessons learned in tracking down and recovering a missing pet may be applied to the task of a hostile extraction; the lessons learned escorting someone's grandma on her day out might equally be applied to VIP-protection detail. It may frustrate you, doing what seems like scut-work, but I'd like you to understand that these tasks will help you become a better ninja in the long term - and besides, you'll get paid for them. There is a large division between a graduate of Murder Academy and a combat-qualified ninja, and everything I have you do in the coming months - no matter how pointless it may seem - will aid you in becoming the combat-qualified ninjas the Konohagakure so desperately need."

The trio of genins nodded solemnly, chorusing, "Yes, Kakashi-sensei." Well, apart from Naruto, who said, "No prob, Pops." and flashed a few more hand signs.

"Anyway, I have to go." Kakashi said, responding to Naruto's hand signs. "I'm due for the Jonin's meeting three hours ago."

And, with that, he departed.

"What was that hand signals sign language stuff anyway?" Sakura asked Naruto.

"It's classified." Naruto said, obviously exasperated. "Look, I wasn't supposed to learn them but right around when I was learning to talk enough people were using them around me that I, well, sorta accidentally learned. It's an ANBU silent communication method, right? Don't neither of you ask me to teach you, I'm not allowed."

"... so, what were you talking about in classified hand-sign thingies?"

Naruto paused.

"Dobe?" Sasuke asked.

"I... wanted to know why Kakashi went so easy on us with that test thingy." Naruto said.

"Easy on?" Sasuke asked, put out.

"Don't play dumb, bastard. That's my job. Kakashi's a Jonin who spent time in ANBU. He's the best there is. We're fresh outta Murder Academy. Only way we'd have a hope in Hell against him is if he let us win."

"But... the plan, use suppressing fire to put him into my line of sight..."

"He knows this well nifty jutsu, right?" Naruto said. "It's called Shunshin no Jutsu, right? Basically, he can teleport with it a short distance. Well, not really – it's actually you moving like shit off a stick. The ANBU's call it and stuff like it – like that Amaguriken thingy – combat-hyping. I've seen Kakashi move two hundred metres in less'n a second using that thing – he can't quite break the sound barrier and he can only just hold it for like a couple seconds, but that's the only real limits. If that'd been real, well, considering real bullets move faster'n sound, if he'd seen me an' Sasuke coming, we'd have been dead before you even seen him."

Sasuke snorted.

"Believe it, man. Only ways I can think of that totally green Genins like us could take a Jonin is by sniping or a car-bomb or something – and that'd be iffy. Or if the Jonin let the Genins win. That's what happened today, Kakashi let us win."

"Why?" Sasuke grunted, moving dangerously close to sulk territory.

"Well I dunno yet, do I? You heard him say he'd tell me later."

"I think I know why." Sakura said. "Or at least, I think I've worked it out."

Naruto expectantly looked at her, and Sasuke looked half-interested, so she ploughed on.

"Something he said in that meet-up after the team assignments." she said. "He said, the only way we'd pass is if we're suited to operate as a team, right? And that's what we did, isn't it? We operated as a team."

"Point." Sasuke muttered.

"I guess if we hadn't and we'd gone at him solo he'd have put us on the ground real fast." Sakura summed up. "I think that might've been what that was all about."

"Look underneath the underneath, huh?" Naruto muttered. "Sneaky old cyclops git... Let's get some grub."

Sasuke grunted, and Sakura made a faintly agreeing noise, so he turned in his seat and yodelled, "EY, AYAME-NEECHAN! WE'RE READY TO ORDER!"

And thereafter was ramen.


You'll die as you lived

In a flash of a blade

In a corner forgotten by no-one


It had been two years since the last time a fellow Jonin bothered telling Kakashi he was late for a meet-up. The only thing he was never late for was a fight or the Masters; the running joke among his peers was that he'd be late for his own funeral.

"Hey, Kakashi." Asuma Sarutobi remarked, looking up from his pint.

"Hey." Kakashi said, heading for the mini-bar. The Jonin's lounge was somewhat Spartan and tremendously messy, but a comfortable enough place to hang out; apart from the Yebisu beercan dispenser (which was coin-operated but frequently sabotaged and had to be refilled five or six times most days) and the coffee peculator sat on top of the beer machine (which people kept taking the last mug from without refilling it) it looked a lot like the sort of room assembled by parents of multiple teenaged children as a way of getting the kids to bugger off elsewhere for a while; there was even a set of slot cars, on which the betting and drinking games were frequent. In general, it was dirty, battered, but homely. Primarily because the Jonins themselves were responsible for maintaining it, so they did the barest minimum and bought (and set up) whatever gear they wanted that the budget could cover. This was in itself a security measure; cleaning staff equals greater possibility of infiltrators, and although the Hokage's office was in a Faraday cage to defeat radio-frequency bugs, Jonins were required to be accessible via comms at all times unless on leave, which very few of them made a habit of regularly taking.

Having loaded a coin of sufficient denomination, Kakashi vended himself a can of beer, and settled himself at the big table. This table was beat the shit out of but still (just) structurally sound, as people had a habit of using it to slam sharp things into or gouge bits out of. It was currently festooned with empty beercans and dirty coffee mugs; Kakashi noted that someone had taken the last mugfull from the peculator without refilling it yet again.

"Well, now that we're all here," The Hokage said, giving Kakashi a faintly aggravated look (not annoyed, the delay had given him a chance to nail a few beers, it was more long-suffering) "Let's get the formalities out the way."

"Team Eight pass." Kurenai immediately said. "They're a workable combination for tracking and intelligence gathering, and they actually managed to get a hold of my birth certificate. I'm worried about Hinata, but with any luck I should be able to do something for her."

The Hokage nodded, recognising the undercurrent for what it was.

"Team Six pass." Asuma said. "As if anyone was surprised. All three of them are just the damn same as their dads, and they'll work just as well together."

"Team Five fail. Complete lack of synergy."

"Team Twelve fail. They started fighting each other."

"Team Two fail. Ninomiya tried to shoot Fushuugi."

And so on and so forth.

Finally, everyone was looking at Kakashi, who hadn't got around to announcing his decision as concerning Team Seven.

"Kakashi?" the Hokage asked.

"Hmm? Oh, yeah. Team Seven... well, what can I say." The white-haired Jonin shook his head and grimaced. "They pass."

"Oh well," the Hokage said, heaving a sigh, "I guess they just weren't... wait a minute, pass?"

"Yup. There's a couple moderately significant problems, but whatever." It should be noted that ''Moderately Significant' was Kakashi-ese for 'oh holy shit they have issues', but that's another story, and anyway, what ninja didn't have a few 'issues'? "Out of every combination I've tested, they alone have any will to work as a team... Good enough, for completely green Genins." he summed up, and that was the end of that - aside from a remarkably smug Anko Mitarishi accepting thick wads of money off several people.

The only thing she had to say about it was, "Told you so." but then she had inside information; out of everyone in the room, she was the only one (aside from the Hokage) who knew Kakashi had decided that, if he got Naruto Uzumaki on a prospective team, he'd pass 'em regardless.

Once the Hokage left to check on the related paperwork and records, most of the Joinins started nattering about varied unrelated subjects, and Kakashi got up to leave.

He was stopped by Kurenai's hand on his shoulder.

"We need to talk." she said.

He gave her an unreadable look for a moment.

"About the prodigial son?" he checked.


"Meet me at the Hokage monument in a couple of hours – don't sweat it about me being late, I'm going straight there now. Bring the Hyuuga girl, if you can. You're right; we need to talk, and so does she."

Kurenai nodded, and the two left, heading in radically different directions.


You lived for the touch

For the feel of the steel

One man, and his honour.


They found Kakashi kneeling in seiza in front of a large utilitarian-looking black monolith inscribed with myriad names. Hinata recognised it immediately; her mother, her aunt and her uncle were named on that stone.

She hastened over, ran a hand down the stark list of the dead, and paused at her mother's name.

"A friend of yours?" Kakashi asked, his voice soft.

"My mother." Hinata replied.

"You too, eh?" Kakashi mused, resting a hand on her shoulder. "My mother and father are also on this stone, as are my best friend, my only sibling, and my sensei. We've lost a lot of good people over the years... at least they can rest now."

"We can't talk here." Kurenai warned. "My place or yours?"

"I've got a safehouse near here. It's closer than yours." Kakashi offered, and Kurenai nodded.

Nodding back, Kakashi turned towards the nearest gateway.

"Follow me." he said, and they did.


You'll die as you lived

In a flash of a blade

In a corner forgotten by no-one


Kakashi's safehouse was a modest but palatial apartment on the third floor, ten blocks north of the Nerima police station, two south of Nerima-ku railway station, and right next door to a convenience store Hinata happened to know was the front for a superb arms dealer known as Ichi the Priest.

Entry was gained via a concealed keypad in the doorframe; this caused a magnetic lock to open, and as Kakashi pushed the door open, it was blatantly obvious that said door was armoured with a couple inches of laminate and a layer of ballistic matting, with the lock being behind the armour; the Yale lock visible on the outside of the door was a red herring.

Once inside, Kakashi blocked their path and disarmed a few booby-traps; a bounding mine under a carefully-concealed pit beneath the carpet, Claymores set into the walls, a 4-bore shotgun rigged to go off if anyone stepped on a certain large patch of floor... the list went on. Glancing at the various visible windows, Hinata noted the lack of sniper angles on those windows and the surfeit of booby-traps surrounding them; anyone attempting to enter Kakashi's flat sans invitation would have to be cleaned off with a mop.

He led them into his cramped living room, and gestured them to take a seat on the sofa; gun racks and lovingly-displayed swords lines the walls, many of them surmounted by carefully-maintained Shinto shrines to the dead.

"So, this is about my nephew, eh?" Kakashi said, handing each of his guests a can of Yebisu beer he pulled from the fridge that took up one corner of the room. "Well, there's a few things I'd like to get out the way first."

"What sort of things?" Kurenai asked.

"If Naruto dies because of you, I will kill you." Kakashi bluntly informed her. "Same goes for you, Hinata. And your father. Hell, the same goes for anyone. Even the Hokage. I don't care if it'd make me a traitor – Naruto is the only family I've got left, I've lost all too many people over the years, and I will not lose him too, so long as there's breath in my body. I will be the next one to die, if it is within my power."

"You and me both, Hatake-san." Hinata whispered.

Kakashi paused, considering her, then casually pulled his facemask off, revealing that he was extraordinarily handsome – almost a bishonen, he could've made a literal fortune as a male model – and that he looked a lot younger than he was, his age betrayed only by the multitudes of worry lines etched around his sole visible eye and the unmistakable traces of shell-shock borne in the look in that tired blue-grey eye.

He studied Hinata from unnervingly close range for a long moment.

"What's he to you?" he asked.

"I... I... I th-think I... uh, I, well, I kinda l-like him." Hinata stammered, her face going as pink as Sakura's hair.

Kakashi continued studying her for a few more moments, then gripped her hand in his.

"Then we're on much the same wavelength." he said. "Admittedly, I don't have the hots for the kid, but hell, he's family."

Still blushing, Hinata accepted the rough approximation of a handshake, then hurriedly opened her can of beer and nervously sipped at it, unsure of whether she liked the taste.

"Naruto Shinra Namikaze means a lot to me." Kakashi remarked, likewise opening his beer. "I was running on idle with barely any reason to go on, up until I found out who he really is. I suppose you're here because you're to be assigned as his Hyuuga bodyguard, right?"

Hinata nodded, not trusting her voice right now.

"Good." Kakashi said. "I think you'll be perfect for him."

Kurenai gave him a worried look while Hinata was busy spluttering where beer had come out of her nose.

"There is no guardian as effective as one who truly cares for those they safeguard." Kakashi mused, voice analytical. "I knew your aunt. She wasn't Sensei's servant. She was his partner, his closest friend – almost his sister. She was his quiet shadow with a lethal sting. May I have a look at those cannons you're carrying? Your aunt never let me."

Hinata worriedly nodded, and laid the pair of enormous handguns on Kakashi's coffee table; he quickly field-stripped the pair of guns and neatly laid their components out.

"You'd hardly know they were hand-made, would you?" he said, drooling at the parts.

"Hand-made?" Kurenai asked. "What, aren't there any standard components in there?"

"Well, they've got antigravity kick comps out of Renahara-pattern bolt pistols." Kakashi told her. "Or, at least, that's what Hinata's aunt claimed, and from the eagles on these parts I'd say she was telling it the way it is. Those and their control systems are the only parts that aren't custom-made... Even the magazines are custom. The Hyuugas have always had some incredibly talented weaponsmiths, and these are a case in point. Look at this; the slide operates a tiny generator producing power for the kick compensation... Gods, this is amazing stuff... look at that locking piece! Hand machined, and you wouldn't find better quality in an H&K... look at the way the magazine interface is laid out, just look at it..."

Kurenai nodded, equally rapt, and murmured, "It's beautiful."

Becoming a raging gun-nut was a fairly predictable hazard of becoming a Jonin, almost to the point of being a job requirement; after all, the very finest craftsmen are always interested in their tools.

Kakashi carefully reassembled the duo of hulking handguns, and handed them back to Hinata, treating them almost like they were priceless sculptures, despite the fact that their slender-by-comparison grips made them look almost like caricatures in his large hands.

"You won't have too much trouble with the kick." he said. "From the way all this is put together, they won't have any. Once you've grown enough to get your hands properly around the pistol grips, these guns are going to be a joy to shoot... Let me tell you, kiddo, it takes a lot for a gun to impress me, and these two have done it."

"Th-thankyou." Hinata mumbled, slipping them back into their holsters.

"So," Kakashi cheerily said, "What'd you two want to talk about?"

"Well, firstly I'd like your input as to Hinata's training." Kurenai said. "You're known to have used an unmodified Colt M1911 in combat when you were eleven; I'd be willing to be a week's wages you've got a trick to it, though I can't say I'm sure why you bothered."

Kakashi nodded and angled a thumb at one of the varied guns on his wall; a slightly battered old Colt automatic that was sharing space with the wreckage of what looked to have been an extremely finely-made tanto. "It was Dad's gun. Right enough, there's a trick to it. I figured it out with input from Sensei; it's related to wall-walking. It takes a bit of getting used to, but I've successfully taught it before. Helps with chakra control too, or at least that's my excuse, and I'm sticking with it. I say again; Hinata is going to have to grow into these guns before she can use them at hundred-percent efficiency. There's workarounds, but they suffer from the same problems as all short-cuts."

"Understood." Kurenai said with a nod. "Anything else for training?"

"Talk to Gai. He's done wonders for Hinata's cousin."

"Willdo." Kurenai nodded. "Then there's... look, I want to suggest that Teams Seven and Eight begin to train and operate as a unit."

Kakashi considered that, face solemn.

"In what ways?"

"I've always been doubtful about the four-man cell system." Kurenai said. "It's too limited. And... honestly, Hinata and Naruto need to become as used to operating together as any Genin team."

"Agreed." Kakashi said, nodding firmly. "Besides, if we unify the operations of Teams Eight and Seven, we'll avoid splitting teams when Hinata takes up her duties. I've arranged for Team Seven to meet me at seven o'clock sharp in front of the generator house tomorrow morning; of course, I won't arrive until twelve past eight. If you headed to the firing range at eight o'clock tomorrow, we'll meet you there. I'll talk to Sarutobi. He can pass it off as a training experiment."

"Agreed." Kurenai said.

"Right; I'll see you there and then."

"Kakashi... there's one other thing."

"What's that?"

Kurenai's face became pained.

"I hated Naruto for... for years." she said. "I know he isn't the fox, but... he was a convenient scapegoat. I... how am I going to apologise?"

Kakashi chuckled quietly.

"Naruto's a weird kid." he said. "No, Hinata, don't look put out, that wasn't a criticism; it was a statement of fact."

"How so?" Hinata asked, beginning to forget her embarrassment.

"How many twelve-year-olds do you know who've been trained by ANBU since the day they could walk?" Kakashi asked her. "How many twelve-year-olds do you know who only respect professionalism and loyalty? How many twelve-year-olds do you know who display respect by coming up with mildly insulting nicknames for the people they respect? Who're more interested in firearms and booby-traps than toys or computer games?"

"... not many."

"Exactly. Naruto's a fifty-fifty mix of street rat and Special Forces. He's at home in this city in a far deeper way than anyone else I've ever met; what he doesn't know about Tokyo isn't worth knowing. At the same time, he's as professional as anyone trained by ANBU, yet a part of the way he shows that professionalism is by acting like a complete goofball – being underestimated is useful. That's not to say he's not brash and headstrong – he despises injustice, and he'll stand for anyone who stands by their principles, yet at the same time he's very aware that everyone screws up from time to time." Kakashi nodded at Kurenai. "Give our ANBU brat a sincere apology and he'll accept it, and what you did before won't get in the path of becoming a friend and ally of his. It's enough to say, 'I screwed up. I'm sorry. I won't do it again'; keep your word and he'll stand by you. He'll test you constantly; if he pranks you, that's him testing you, seeing if you're enough of a pro to avoid the prank and enough of a good sport to take it in the vein it was meant. On the whole, he only really trusts people who have an ANBU tattoo on their arm; we're the only people who've treated fairly with him all his life. I believe you two have it in you to change that, and I pray that the same goes for Sasuke Uchiha; those two kids could do each other a power of good."

"I take it you know him pretty well." Kurenai said.

Kakashi chuckled wryly.

"I know Naruto Uzumaki as well as anyone alive." he said. "Frankly, I'm the closest the kid has to a father, and he's the closest I have to a son."

"I love him." Hinata whispered. "How can I show him I love him?"

"Stick to your guns – your word is worth bleeding for." Kakashi advised. "Always be prepared for the worst – treat every corner like there could be enemies round it. Do what you say you will – the worth of your word is your measure. Stand by your own – if someone screws with the people you care about, fights are worth starting. Take no shit – anyone starts something with you, give them what they deserve. Watch your buddies' backs – they'll watch yours. If someone disses what you stand for, call them on it – it's the principle of the thing. And never, EVER, back down until you're beaten down – principles are worth an ocean of blood and sweat and tears. That's what Naruto respects – and, if you treat him as one of your own, stand by your word, back him up, and finish what you start, believe me when I tell you, he'll be watching your back for the rest of your life."


You lived for the touch

For the feel of the steel

One man, and his honour...

-Iron Maiden, 'Flash Of The Blade', -Powerslave'-


The gun-totes carried by the trio of Genins as they arrived in front of the generator house at seven o'clock sharp (Or, rather, in Sakura's case two minutes early, in Sasuke's case on the minute, and in Naruto's case ten seconds after Sasuke in a tearing hurry) were an exercise in contrast almost as extreme as the trio's current apparel.

Sasuke was carrying a camouflage-painted aluminium flight-case, probably the sort with that eggbox-pattern foam lining, and was wearing a tactical vest stuffed full of magazines underneath his baggy denim jacket.

Sakura was lugging a drab brown overnight bag.

As for Naruto, he had a decidedly battered guitar case slung over one shoulder.

"Naruto, really." Sakura said. "This isn't a gangster movie."

"Huh? Oh, this? Not like it cost me anything." Naruto said with a shrug. "I got it outta a dumpster and fixed it up."

Sasuke snorted.

"You really should get a better gun bag." Sakura had another go.

"Why? This fits my Kalashnikov, an' when people see me with it they see a kid goin' to guitar practise." Naruto pointed out, putting the guitar case down.

"Kalashnikov? I should have known." Sasuke muttered, giving Naruto a dubious look.

"Don't diss the K, bastard. It's good at what it does."

"Sensei about?" Sasuke grunted at Sakura, abruptly changing the subject.

"I haven't seen him." she told him. He snorted, perched on an available rock, and proceeded to glower at the crocodile pond.

"Trust Kakashi to be late." Naruto grumbled. "Eh, I wasn't late was I?"

"Ten seconds." Sasuke grunted.

"Dammit... so I'm right my watch ain't keeping time no more. Oh well, guess it's time I pinched a new one." Naruto muttered.

"I," Sakura firmly stated, "Got here with two minutes to spare."

"Bad idea." Sasuke grunted, then muttered something about fangirls.

"... what?"

"The bastard's right, for once." Naruto said, earning himself a nasty look from Sasuke; he relished it. "We gotta synchronise watches. When we're supposed to be someplace at seven sharp, it ain't two minutes before that we gotta be there, and it ain't ten seconds after. It's right then, unless we've been told to filter in."

"What... oh, yeah." Sakura actually looked a bit embarrassed. "I... didn't realise that applied to training as well as, you know, operations."

"It's a habit we oughtta get into." Naruto said with a shrug. "So we do it automatically when we gotta."

"Dobe's right." Sasuke grunted. "For once."

"Bite me, assmunch."

"In your dreams. Dobe."

And that was that for conversation. After about twenty minutes, Sakura got out an operations manual and started reading, while Naruto started lobbing pebbles at crocodiles and Sasuke sat there looking pissed off.

This remained the situation until, a while later, Sakura noticed Sasuke was rocking back and forth a bit and intermittently muttering.

"... Are you okay, Sasuke-kun?" she asked.

He responded by pausing for a few moments then starting jerking his chin in and out, his head obediently following along with it.

"... Sasuke-kun?"

Sasuke, as well as jerking his entire upper half around in a spasticly rhythmic manner, had started muttering again.

"... What'd you say?" Sakura asked.

"... been saying for years that the fakes wouldn't last..." Sasuke muttered.

"I don't get it." Sakura said, now completely bewildered.

"get gassed in your garage of sickness." Sasuke muttered. "as I bring a little swing into your world of stiffness."

"You won't get anything out the bastard, he can't hear a word you're saying." Naruto pointed out.

"Hnn?" Sasuke asked, pulling one earphone out. "Said somethin', dobe?"

"Nothin', nothin'."

"Hnn." Sasuke put the earphone back in and continued distractedly grooving, mugging, and mumbling snatches of hip-hop. "... park after dark is when you'll see me coming. my gun's gunning, and the eight-oh-eight's humming..."

"This is fucking boring." Naruto remarked. "Alright for bastard, he's got tunes. Even if they're crap."

"I guess it's that patience thing again." Sakura said.

"... at eighteen I had a hard-core attitude, when I turned nineteen I was tourin' with Ice Cube..."

"Don't stop it being boring."

"... where the rules don't bend and the beats don't end..."

"Yeah... I guess."

"... I gotta let these knuckles know who the fuck I be..."

"Sorry I'm late." Kakashi remarked, stepping out of behind a shrubbery.

Naruto rolled his eyes, and said, "What kept ya?"

"Oh, I was lost on the road of life."

"Dirb-head." Sasuke muttered, turning his Walkman off.

"So, what're we gonna be doing for the, oh..." Sakura glanced at her watch. "Three hours that're left of this morning?"

"Firing range." Kakashi said. "So I can judge how good a shot each of you is, with a variety of weapons."

As they followed the eyepatched one towards the manor and it's basement firing range, Sasuke glanced at Naruto.

"Dobe? Don't diss the tunes. They're good at what they do."

End: Chapter 1.

Thanks to the guys on the Caer Azkaban group for their input towards this thing, especially The Unicorn, chatarmordrai, Andrei Krotov, nielingage and of course the mighty Rorsch himself (though this list is of course incomplete) all of whom provided some valuable advice about firearms, munitions, niggly details, and the Japanese language. You guys rock.

Note that I'm perfectly aware of Kid Rock's discography and I know 'Devil Without A Cause' wasn't released until 1998, but I figure the Kid's sounds suit Sasuke down to the ground. Hey, this is an altaverse; in Top Dog, Kid Rock broke a couple years earlier...

Doghead Out.