"This is Fox, I'm in position," Naruto whispered into his headset.
"Mirror Flame, I'm in position as well," Sasuke confirmed.
"White Girl, I'm in position," Hinata said.
"Good. This is Lethal Shadow. Engage the target, now," Itachi ordered them.
"Gotcha. Ronbun Hebi No Jutsu!" A small cat turned to the sound of the voice and saw a huge white serpent barreling toward it. It yowled as it ran away. Up ahead, it saw two humans, a boy and a girl. The girl was holding her arms out invitingly to it. It immediately jumped into the girl's arms. Glancing over it's shoulder, it saw the white monster falling apart, revealing a black clad boy trotting forward.
"Why do you insist on using jutsus for the smallest things?" Sasuke asked his friend.
"Because these chores are so boring I need to put a little excitement into it," Naruto explained, for the fourth time that week. Itachi appeared next to them. Like always, he didn't use Shunshin, he was just there without any warning.
"Good, Tora has been caught. Let's return her." The three Genin followed their sensei obediently, with Hinata still holding the cat.
Somehow Itachi managed to watch the Fire Daimyo's wife half crushing her cat without even blinking. Naruto and Sasuke were grimacing and Hinata gave the cat a sympathetic look.
"Well, team seven seems to be doing very well," the Hokage stated. "We have several new missions for you to choose from."
"Actually, Hokage-sama," Itachi interrupted. "I believe my team is ready for a C-rank mission." Everyone looked at him in surprise. Since they'd passed his test, team seven had done over twenty D-rank missions. He had been training them primarily in stealth techniques. He had also been doing private training with Sasuke on fire jutsus and the Sharingan, leaving Naruto and Hinata's private training to Nagato and Hiashi. However, the most praise he'd given them was "good" whenever they'd completed a mission. They hadn't expected to move on to C-rank missions for another few months.
"Really? It is rather unusual for a rookie team to move on to C-rank missions after only three months," The Hokage commented.
"That is true, but my team is rather unusual," Itachi replied, with only the barest hint of a smile. "They are all quite accomplished in taijutsu, though Hinata is the best. They have a wide range of ninjutsu, decent stealth abilities for a three-month old squad, and they also have a great deal of determination and motivation to do well."
"Well, I do have a rather easy C-rank mission available." Sarutobi turned to a door set into the wall of the room. "Yugito, come out please," He called. The door opened and a girl about their age stepped out. She had a headband from Kumogakure around her forehead. She frowned as she looked at them.
"Are you serious, Hokage-sama? These kids? Even the teacher doesn't look that old." Itachi immediately grabbed Naruto and Sasuke by the back of their jackets, yanking them to a halt as they attempted to leap at the girl.
"Do not attack the client," He ordered them. He turned his attention back to the girl. "Age means nothing to a true shinobi," Itachi told her. "I was an ANBU captain at the age of thirteen, if I were you I would be glad to receive a shinobi of my level for a bodyguard." Yugito raised an eyebrow as she noticed that Itachi's eyes were red and had three tomoe arranged in a circular pattern around the pupil.
"All right, I'll have to make do I guess," she sighed. Itachi frowned, then turned back to the Hokage.
"What is our mission objective?" He asked him. Sarutobi chuckled mentally as he recognized the nonverbal message Itachi was sending: he already did not like their client.
"This is Nii Yugito, a kunoichi from Kumogakure. She was sent here due to an alliance between our village and Kumo. As a proof of trust in each other, each village has copied several ninjutsu scrolls to share with each other. Yugito delivered the scrolls from Kumo to us, and now she is to return and deliver our scrolls to her village. However, on her way here, she was attacked by a pair of shinobi who were trying to steal the scrolls. She killed them, but now Kumo has asked to hire a four man team to help escort Yugito to Kumo, in order to protect the scrolls. The shinobi who attacked were only Chunin level, so I believe that the five of you will easily complete this mission."
"Very well," Itachi said calmly. He turned to his students. "You must each pack for a week long travel. You will need rations, water, equipment, and anything else that you deem necessary for a trip. We'll be going up into the mountains, so you need thick clothing and boots. Do you understand?" He asked them monotonously.
"Hai," They all answered.
"When do we leave?" Itachi inquired, turning back to the Hokage. Sarutobi turned to Yugito and raised an eyebrow.
"As soon as possible," she directed her answer at Itachi. "The sooner we leave, the sooner Raikage will have his scrolls and the less time our opponents will have to prepare."
"As soon as you've packed, go to the gate," Itachi told his students. The four Konoha-nin turned and walked out of the room. Yugito followed them out of the building, then headed to the gate.
Sasuke frowned as he looked at his older brother as the two of them walked to the Uchiha compound together.
"Why do you seem upset, nii-san?" he asked. Itachi looked a little surprised for a moment, but then his face smoothed out.
"I must be slipping for you to notice that," He replied calmly.
"Not really, but you're my brother, and I know how to tell when you're upset about something," Sasuke said.
Itachi smiled slightly, then said, "I don't like Yugito."
"Yeah, she's pretty irritating," Sasuke agreed. "But she's also pretty good looking."
"You must be careful not to let something like that cloud your judgment," Itachi warned him. "I do not entirely trust Kumo, and neither should you. You need to pass the message on to Naruto and Hinata as soon as possible."
"You think they might try to betray us?" Sasuke asked.
"It is a possibility."
"Hey, Uncle Nagato, Aunt Konan, we've got a C rank mission!" Naruto exclaimed happily as he entered the apartment. "We have to escort this kunoichi called Yugito to Kumogakure so she can deliver some scrolls to the Raikage."
"What did you say her name is?" Deva Path asked sharply as he turned to look at his nephew.
"Is her full name Nii Yugito?" Nagato inquired.
"Yeah, how'd you know?" Naruto asked.
"Before we met you, Konan-chan and I had a plan that required the nine Bijuu. One of those, of course, is the Kyuubi. Another one is the Niibi, and that one is sealed inside Yugito."
"You're kidding! She's a demon container too?" Naruto was floored.
"The proper term is Jinchuriki, and yes. Be careful around her Naruto. You have had a very unusual life for a Jinchuriki. More often, they are trained from a very young age to become the perfect shinobi, and they have little understanding of a normal person."
"Okay, I'll keep it in mind," Naruto promised him. And I'll let Hinata-chan and Sasuke know too.
Naruto was the last to arrive at the gate, and his teammates noticed his inquisitive look at Yugito as he walked up to them. Hinata immediately began to worry that he was interested in the foreign kunoichi. Yugito herself was too impatient to notice anything out of the ordinary.
"All right, let's go already," she announced as she began walking out of the gate. Itachi frowned very slightly, then strode forward at a slightly faster pace than normal, quickly overtaking the kunoichi.
"We'll take a diamond formation," he announced. "I'll take point. Naruto and Yugito, you're both powerhouse types, so you'll take the sides. Hinata, you take the rear and use your Byakugan periodically to keep watch. Sasuke, you take center, and be prepared to follow up our initial attacks with a secondary attack. Understood?" Three of them nodded, and the fourth scowled and shrugged half heartedly. Itachi's frown deepened, then he began to lead the way. His students fell into position and Yugito grudgingly took up the place on Sasuke's left.
One thought was going through the minds of Itachi and all three of his students: This is going to be a long mission.
By the time they stopped to set up camp, all four of the leaf ninjas were just about ready to strangle Yugito, although it wasn't easy to tell with Itachi. Every single command from Itachi or attempt to start a conversation from Naruto, Hinata, or Sasuke was met with sullen annoyance or irritation from Yugito. She seemed resentful that Itachi was leading them and giving her orders, and she was also unwilling to treat the Genin with even the slightest bit of courtesy. As soon as they stopped, Itachi ordered Yugito to find water and fill all the canteens while his team set up camp.
"Thanks for making her leave for a while, sensei," Naruto said gratefully once Yugito was gone.
"It's my pleasure, Naruto-kun," Itachi replied. "Now then, Sasuke, Hinata, why don't I show you how to unseal items from scrolls? It's a very useful technique." He pulled out a scroll from his bag and demonstrated the hand sign sequence to unseal the tents and poles from it. He had them practice, then try it themselves. By the time Yugito came back with full canteens, three tents had been erected.
"You know, we only need two," Yugito told Itachi.
"One is for me, one is for you and Hinata, and the third is for Naruto and Sasuke," Itachi explained.
"Oh really? And how come you get your own tent all for yourself?" Yugito demanded. Itachi stood up from the rock he'd been using as a chair and stood at his full height, looking down at the kunoichi.
"Because I am a Jonin and ANBU captain of Konohagakure, and am far above any of you in terms of power and ability. I have seen war and have killed dozens in service to my village and country. If I wanted to, I could kill all four of you right now. You should be glad I was willing to pack the extra tent so that you could have more privacy, instead of just making all four of you share one tent. You, Nii Yugito, have paid money to escort you back to your village. You have only paid for a C rank mission, you have no right to attempt to order me around or question my decisions. Do you understand?"
Yugito was quite stunned. In Kumogakure, she was feared and, for the most part, respected by almost all of the shinobi in the village. Only the Raikage and his annoying little brother treated her differently, and she was used to that by now. She didn't know how to react to Itachi's speech, especially since she didn't feel she had done anything to deserve having so much anger directed at her. She just treated him like she treated pretty much everyone in Kumo. She stammered out a quick apology – something she'd never done for anyone other than the Raikage – then turned and fled the campsite.
Itachi sighed and sat back down. If I was one of those people who show their emotions more often, my students would be hearing quite a few new words today.
Yugito went back to the spring she'd found earlier and stopped. She sat down and tried to meditate, but the memory of Itachi's face and his angry gray eyes kept coming back to her, breaking through her calmness. She had felt something very unusual when he spoke to her: fear. It had been quite a while since she had felt genuine fear. Oh, she felt a little twinge of nervousness or anxiety every now and then, but fear? Never, until now. She stopped trying to meditate and instead did something that went against all her training: she broke down and cried. After all, some part of her mind reasoned, this was something she'd never been trained to handle, so why should she keep sticking to the rules? Her sobs quieted down slowly, until she was just sitting there, with her eyes and face all red and puffy.
She jumped when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She spun around, lifting her arm to knock aside the offending hand, and saw Sasuke standing there.
"What do you want?" She tried to sound angry, but she just sounded weak and sad.
"Dinner's ready, I came to find you and let you know," he answered calmly. "Nii-san said even Jinchuriki need to eat regularly," Her head snapped up in surprise; Raikage hadn't informed Konoha of her status as a Jinchuriki.
"How do you know about that?" she asked.
"Naruto's uncle told him," Sasuke answered. "No idea how he found out." She then registered the other thing he'd obliquely stated.
"Itachi is your older brother?" She asked him. He nodded. She swallowed, then stood up, wiping her eyes.
"Why were you crying?" He asked, and she was a little surprised when she realized that she didn't recognize the emotion in his voice.
"Why do you want to know?" She replied with a little bit of anger. Sasuke's eyes hardened.
"Because I was a little concerned about you, for some odd reason, but I guess I won't bother if I'm just annoying you," he snapped at her, before turning and walking away.
Great, I managed to anger an ANBU and his little brother in the same day! Yugito raged at herself mentally.
Dinner was an awkward affair as soon as Yugito returned. Itachi pointed to the pot of beef stew that hung over a small fire, then everyone remained quiet while they ate. The entire forest had become quiet, leaving them with no noise other than the scrape of their chopsticks against their bowls and the slurping sound of Naruto drinking the broth from his special ramen bowl.
As soon as they had all finished, Itachi spoke up.
"We will have to arrange a nightly watch. We'll sleep for six hours, so the four of you will each take an hour long watch and I will take two hours, at the start and the end. Naruto will follow me, then Hinata, then Sasuke, and lastly Yugito. When your watch is over, wake up the next person. Understand?" The four of them nodded, and he was pleased to note that Yugito didn't act angry like she had been.
The boys and the girls each got into their tents while Itachi stayed outside to take the first watch. Naruto and Sasuke just got into their sleeping bags while still wearing all their equipment.
"Hey, what happened between you and Yugito?" Naruto whispered to his best friend.
"She acted angry with me when all I did was ask why she'd been crying," Sasuke said quietly but angrily.
"She's not like any of us, not even like me in terms of social skills," Naruto reminded him. "We don't really know what kind of upbringing she's had."
"It's still annoying," Sasuke snapped. He took a deep breath to calm himself down. "Look, let's just get some rest, okay?"
"Sure," Naruto said amicably. The two of them lay down and tried to fall asleep quickly, so they'd have some rest before their time to keep watch came.
Shortly after that, they overheard a quiet conversation coming from the other tent.
When Hinata and Yugito had gotten into their tent, the hostility coming from Hinata was practically visible. The two kunoichi tried to go to sleep, but Yugito still sensed Hinata's anger. After a couple minutes, she couldn't stand it any longer.
"Hinata-san, can I talk to you?" She whispered, sitting up. Hinata also sat up, regarding her somewhat suspiciously.
"What do you want to talk about?" the Hyuuga clan heir whispered back.
"Why are you all so angry with me? What did I do wrong?" Yugito asked.
"You've acted disdainful of me and my teammates, who happen to be two of my best friends in the whole world, and angry and resentful of our sensei. What, do you expect us to just smile and be friendly to you after that?"
"I-I just treated you the same way I treat everyone else," Yugito replied. "I swear, I wasn't trying to insult or upset you, I just acted the same way I do in Kumo. The only people I've ever treated differently are the Raikage and his brother. No one else really seemed to care."
Hinata was stunned into silence by that statement. The idea that Yugito treated all but two of the shinobi in Kumo the same way she'd treated them and got away with it, was astounding, but she didn't think Yugito was lying. The girl sounded too scared and upset to be lying to her.
"Why, though?" Hinata asked. "I mean, just because you're a Jinchuriki, I don't see why that would make people so respectful of you."
"I've been trained to become an ANBU since I was five years old," Yugito said. "I'm already a Chunin, and everyone says that that's very difficult to accomplish at such a young age. I guess, maybe that's why?"
"I don't know," Hinata admitted. "I really don't Yugito."
"Look, I'm really sorry if I upset you and your teammates," Yugito said. "I know I don't really have a good excuse, but I sincerely apologize to you."
"Thank you, Yugito," Hinata said, smiling at her. "I believe you, and I accept your apology." Yugito smiled, relieved.
"Thank you, Hinata," she replied. They both lay down to go to sleep.
"You heard all that, right?" Sasuke whispered to Naruto.
"Yeah. I guess she's just grown up a lot differently than I have," Naruto whispered back. "Do you think people are afraid of her, like you all used to be with me?"
"That makes the most sense to me," Sasuke said. "I think we should give her a second chance, now that we understand her a little better."
"Yeah, I agree."
I suppose I could have been a little quick to judge her, Itachi thought. I'll give her another chance.
Merry Christmas! I had a few of these chapters done earlier, but I decided to give my fans a better Christmas gift. Enjoy!