Chapter Three: First Exam Portion (Beginning)
I I I
There was someone pounding on the door. Yugito lurched out of bed, pulled on a bathrobe, and ran for the door. Naruto, she noted bitterly, was contently sleeping through the racket.
Yugito checked the clock. It was barely five in the morning.
Yugito reached the door and threw it open. "What." She hissed.
A Konoha genin she didn't recognize was standing there. He flinched and seemed to be trying to retreat, turtle-like, into his huge scarf. "Uh, I was wondering if maybe Naruto was there?"
Yugito closed her eyes, forcing herself to calm down. Yes, she remembered that the first portion of the chuunin exam started at exactly six in the morning. Yes, it was Naruto's fault that he wasn't awake for it. No, it wouldn't do to take it out on this poor kid.
"Give him a minute." Yugito growled.
Konohamaru stared as she slammed the door. He hesitated, unsure of what he should be doing.
Then he heard the slinky blond chick Naruto had crashed with start talking.
"Naruto, get up! You're going to be late."
"No, I don't know where your pants went. At least put a shirt on. Aren't you cold?"
"I don't care! You're going to be late!"
Louder sounds, and then the door opened. "Sorry Konohamaru!"Naruto said, strapping his kunai holster to his thigh as he awkwardly half-walked, half-hopped out the door. "I guess we were up kinda late, talking and stuff, and I didn't bring an alarm clock, so…"
"Just when I thought I might be able to catch up…" Konohamaru said, jealously, but also with some awe. "Naruto, you know that you are the man I look up to, right?"
I I I
Hanabi resisted the urge to fidget. It was getting close to six, and if Naruto made her late for the very first part of her first chuunin exam, she didn't think she'd be able to forgive him.
Worse, Sai was the single most obnoxious person Hanabi had ever met. He didn't bother her quite as much as Naruto, but that was because Naruto was supposed to be an elite; Hanabi was increasingly sure that Sai had some sort of personality defect.
"I hope Dickless gets here on time." Sai said, seeming to somehow know that Hanabi was thinking about him.
It reminded Hanabi too much of the screeching, juvenile humor of her so-called peers. At least, she thought, exposure to the likes of Naruto had inoculated Konohamaru to that. His naughty humor was so mature it made Hanabi feel uncomfortable.
"He will be on time." Hanabi said darkly. But still quietly.
They weren't the only pair that was waiting by the side of the Cloud Academy building waiting for a team-mate. A pair of boys wearing Mist headbands were waiting as well, although they were being completely silent. One was wearing the one-piece jumpsuit typically worn by chuunin and jounin with what looked like a light-duty life vest with a huge Mist logo on the back; the other was wearing a coat that reminded Hanabi a little bit of her sister's teammate, Shino, but he had two swords hanging off his belt.
They made Hanabi nervous. No, that wasn't quite right; the reputation of Mist nin made her nervous. These two were just genin, and anyway they at least seemed to have more social ability then Sai.
Sai was still smiling, and he glanced to the side. Hanabi, curious, also looked; a girl, wearing a Mist headband, was running down the road. She was wearing what looked like a jacket over a bathing suit; the result would have been called cute if it wasn't for the vicious trench-knives she had strapped all around her body.
"Sorry I'm late." She said, breathing deeply. "I, uh, I have to admit I slept through my alarm." Her name is Kitamakura Fuguko and she was so nervous last night she didn't fall asleep until almost two.
"It's fine." The one in the vest said. "We've still got time." He smiled slightly. "You haven't let us down."
"Yes." Agreed the one in the coat.
Sai stiffened, glancing sharply towards them, and the three Mist chuunin responded, readying themselves, and Hanabi drew herself up, wondering what had distracted Sai.
In the same instant, there was an explosion of smoke, and suddenly Naruto was standing in the middle of the five, coughing as he waved the smoke away.
"Ugh," he said, "I guess the super shunshin was a success… mostly."
"You almost made us late." Hanabi said, tone too neutral to be accusing.
"Yeah, well, uh…I'm sorry." Naruto said. Then, he held up a box, and pulled open the lid. "As an apology, have a donut."
Hanabi stared down. Indeed, the box was filled with over a dozen donuts of many varieties.
"Next time, get bagels, Dickless." Sai said. Still, he reached for a donut and pulled out an apple fritter.
It disappeared from his hand.
Abruptly, Fuguko gagged, her mouth forced open. Her hands shot to her mouth, and encountered something sticky. It was an apple fritter.
"I'd rather give my donut to some random girl than an asshole like you!" Naruto shouted.
The sound of a sword being drawn pulled the attention of the three Konoha genin to the Mist team.
"I don't appreciate you drawing us in to your dispute." The boy in the jacket said.
Naruto smiled. "Would you like a donut too?" He said, proffering the box.
The boy paused, seriously considered it.
"We're going to be late." The one in the life vest gently reminded.
"We should be going, as well." Hanabi said. Then she started walking towards the building the first part of the exam would be held in.
"Thanks." The girl said to Naruto as she munched on her apple fritter. "I was late too, so I had to skip breakfast. I really appreciate it!"
"You're welcome." Naruto said, smiling. "But, you should never skip breakfast! That's the very first thing my jounin-sensei ever taught me."
Hanabi, who was about to scold Naruto when she realized that he was late because he stopped to buy donuts, paused when she heard his reasoning. "What?" She asked.
"It's true!" Naruto said. "When we first met, right after graduation, he told us that training the next day would be super-hard and we shouldn't eat breakfast." He nodded seriously. "When he finally showed up four hours after he told us to meet, we were all starving."
"That's the opposite, Dickless." Sai said.
"Then he told us we needed to look underneath the underneath." Naruto said. "So, I realized he was showing us that it's always important to have breakfast, even when you have an important mission."
"That's actually quite wise." Said the boy in the vest. "My name is Amenbo. As for my teammates, this gentleman is named Tadaki, and this lady here is called by Fuguko."
"The pleasure is ours!" Naruto announced. "You wouldn't guess it to hear him talk, but Sai here is some kind of competent, and Hanabi is crazy good even for a Hyuuga!" He leaned in, and whispered behind his hand. "I hope you're okay with her having a bloodline, because otherwise you'll have to answer to me." Then he dashed forward to strike a pose in front of the group. "As for me, I'm the guy that can ride toads and lie to any Kage with a straight face! That's me: Uzumaki Naruto!"
The three Mist genin traded looks.
"I've certainly never met anyone with those qualifications before." Amenbo offered diplomatically. "However… if I may ask, do you happen to be related to Uzumaki Kizuno?"
Naruto paused. "I've never met anyone else named Uzumaki before." He quietly admitted.
"Kizuno-sensei is the only Uzumaki we know." The girl offered. "Other than you, now, Naruto."
"Huh." Naruto said, rubbing his chin as he walked backwards facing the group. "Well… I'm an orphan, and I was probably named after the Yondaime Hokage's late wife, Uzumaki Kushina. So even if Kizuno was related to her… I'm not."
"I see." Amenbo said. "If I may ask another question, Naruto-san, would you happen to have any glazed donuts?"
"I like bear claws." Tadaki volunteered.
Naruto smiled, and opened his box.
I I I
The doors to the exam room opened, and Naruto smiled in nostalgia, remembering. His team had been one of the last ones in last time, too, and he still recalled shouting a challenge to all of the genin assembled there. But there wouldn't be time for that now. He returned Konohamaru's wave from across the room, and then the clock ticked to exactly six.
With a screech and a roar, the bay window exploded inwards, and a huge earthen dragon, moving at least three times faster than any doton Naruto had ever seen, slammed into the room and writhed about until it formed a desk and chair, and then solidified, hardened by a different application of jutsu.
The Raikage appeared in a swirl of fog, the Kumo Shunshin. He was dressed like a regular jounin, instead of wearing the robes of the Raikage. He looked much more comfortable with a forehead protector than a Tri-Corner Hat. He slid into the chair behind the desk.
Without acknowledging them, the Raikage slid open a fully functional drawer on the left side of the desk, and frowned into it. He slammed it shut with dissatisfaction.
"Well. Good morning… and welcome to the Chuunin Exam." He began. "I am the proctor for the first portion of the exam today. I'd give my name, but I surrendered it when I became Raikage. As for the exam, the first part will last exactly fourteen hours from when you are dismissed from here."
He cleared his throat. "The first portion is simple. Each team will be issued a plastic tag. It will be one of four colors. In fourteen hours, you will come back and present your tag. Two of those colors will pass."
"I was going to hand them out now and send you immediately on your way, but, well…" He gestured to his desk. "So, I guess instead I'll open the floor to questions until my secretary gets here with those tags."
Immediately, voices began to speak, a cacophony of noise.
A huge killing intent washed over the group; Naruto happened to meet Sai's eyes, and saw that the other boy also realized that the Raikage had used a kanashibari on the group. Paralyzing opponents with terror was a function of how much stronger your chakra was then theirs. It was best on animals and civilians, who had only instinctive control of their chakra, but practically worthless on other ninja, unless you had vastly superior reserves—like a Kage above a genin or inexperienced chuunin.
"Right." The Raikage said. "How about some hands, hmm?"
The pressure was released.
The first hand up belonged to a boy in a Suna headband. His black catsuit reminded Naruto of Kankuro, and two other Suna genin in the same catsuits were clearly his teammates. This was probably the study group Kankuro had mentioned. The boy with his hand up was the only one not carrying a big package of some kind that most likely held a puppet.
"My name's Masahiro. I'm from Suna." The boy introduced himself. "Um, I guess my question is, what's the point of the exam?"
"It's not obvious?" The Raikage asked.
"Well… it's better to ask the client again if you can rather than assume you understand what they want, right?" The boy countered.
The Raikage nodded. "All right. It doesn't really matter which tag you got; the only thing that matters is which tag you have at the end of the exam. You can trade each other."
"I still don't understand." Masahiro said.
"All right." The Raikage said, sitting back. "Okay, imagine this. You are assigned to intercept a target. They're a civilian without bodyguards; apprehending the target is a trivial task for anyone in this room. But you have a limited window of time, and you only know they're coming through town. You have to gather information and determine the best place to ambush them. That's the idea of the exam."
A Cloud boy in a cloth vest vigorously waved his hand.
"What is it, Gonta." The Raikage sighed.
"So, so, what's to stop a team from simply mugging other teams and getting all four colors?" Gonta asked.
Raikage smiled. It wasn't very pleasant. "What, you think you're above the law because you're a ninja on a mission? Nothing's stopping you… except the other teams. Of course, the first field test for my Sword Squads is today. They've been deployed in teams of four and charged with keeping the peace. If you're caught fighting in public then you have to deal with a bunch of antsy special jounin instead."
The Raikage raised his hands, expressively. "If you've got the ability to fight… that's easy to see. Obvious. But what if that town you need to apprehend the target in is an enemy village?" He shrugged. "The difference between genin and chuunin… it isn't combat ability. It's how well you can act on limited information." He laid his hands on his desk. "And how well you can misinform the enemy." The Raikage nodded seriously. "A chuunin is trusted to perform missions while a genin is not."
Naruto raised his hand.
Raikage stared at him for a moment, before nodding.
"Yo! I'm Uzumaki Naruto from Konoha, and all you others better not forget it!" He shouted. "My question is, which colors will pass?"
The Raikage stared more. "Did you seriously ask that?"
"Well how the hell am I supposed to find out if I don't?"
The Raikage considered that. "Okay. The answer is Purple."
"That's only one color." Naruto pointed out.
The Raikage rolled his eyes. "Well, I think everyone here will understand if I say that I lied when I answered that particular question."
Next to Naruto, Amenbo raised his hand.
Raikage pointed. "Mist kid in the floatation device."
"Um, yes. My name is Amenbo. Thank you." He began. "It's nice to say that information gathering is important, but that implies the information can be gathered. So, my question is, do many people know what colors will pass?"
Raikage nodded. "Going deeper than just asking who knows the answer, huh?" He said. "Alright. I've spread rumors. Go out and ask around town. Maybe the guy working the counter at my favorite sandwich shop knows. But," he began, "if you think the Sword Squads come down hard on ninja fighting each other, if you harass my citizens, they will instantly, totally kill you. And we might demand your jounin-sensei cut open their belly as restitution if you do somehow manage to hurt sandwich counter guy before you get sizzled. So be warned."
The door opened behind Naruto, and he turned to look; he recognized the man standing there.
"Kenta!" Raikage said. "Just the man I was hoping to see."
"Yes," Kenta sighed, "I imagine you would be after you forgot these." He said, holding up a bag.
"Alright!" The Raikage said, clapping his hands, "everybody line up with your team; three exam tickets for a randomly assigned color tag."
I I I
Naruto, Sai, and Hanabi were sitting cross-legged on the roof of an apartment building overlooking the courtyard outside the Academy building the first exam was started in, looking at the green-colored tag that was lying on the ground before them.
"Damn." Naruto said, sighing. "If we had gotten a red or blue tag off the bat this would have been so much easier."
"Just because red and blue make purple doesn't mean they're better than green or yellow." Hanabi scolded. "He practically told us it was a worthless hint, anyway."
"Which is the bigger lie, the lie or lying about a lie?" Naruto shot back. "Anyway," he plowed on, "we need a strategy for how we're going to make sure I'm right… or find out if I'm wrong."
He looked up, and the other three also looked up to see Naruto walk up to himself.
"Hey." He said, waving to the group as he approached.
"You get them?" The Naruto on the ground said.
"Yup." Naruto said, offering his seated self a shopping bag from an office supply store.
"Nice." Naruto said as his bunshin, errand complete, burst into nothingness. He opened the bag and pulled out stacks of tags, exactly the same as the ones that had been handed out earlier, in plastiwrapped stacks of 100, one stack of each color.
Sai raised an eyebrow. "Well… it's true there's no so thing as cheating."
"These?" Naruto said. "These are for pawning off on suckers if we get the chance." He reached for the tag on the ground, and frowned, flowing a sliver of chakra out of his fingers into it. "Hanabi, if you could look at this with your Byakugan, please."
Hanabi did as requested, frowning as her doujutsu showed there was more to the tag than was visible. "What's that weird shape your chakra is flowing into?"
Naruto nodded. "That's a really low-key fuinjutsu. Super-simple, it doesn't do anything except resonate with chakra. It doesn't produce any visible or audible effect, it doesn't even get warm." Naruto explained. "Unless your chakra is exactly the right frequency, in which case all it does is light up a little bit."
Naruto shrugged, putting the tag down. "But because everyone's chakra is a slightly different frequency… it's practically impossible unless it's your seal." He pointed. "That 'mark' is about as simple as fuinjutsu gets, but it's so simple it's practically foolproof; there just isn't enough to tamper with. Unless you're an insanely skilled prodigy that can alter your chakra frequency, the only person that can activate it is the person that put it on. So the Raikage's got some pretty good fraud detection on these things actually."
"But that's not the kind of thing most genin would know about." Hanabi finished.
Naruto nodded. "Exactly."
I I I
Ruta closed his eyes, focusing on the staff pressing up into his outstretched palm, channeling his chakra into the tool. "God," he prayed, "grant us your guidance."
His eyes snapped open as he whipped his hand straight up, and he watched as his short staff slowly tipped over and fell, clattering to the ground.
It had been at the center of two crossed chalk lines, and the four areas generated by this method were labeled "green", "yellow," "red", and "blue."
The staff came to rest on the portion of the ground that had "red" scratched in it.
"I don't know which is crazier," his female teammate commented, "that you always do that…"
"Or that it's always right." Finished Ruta's male teammate. They were twins, brother and sister, and good looking at a time in Rain's history when such looks were more of a curse than a blessing for orphaned children. If a jounin hadn't noticed their potential and dragged them to the ninja academy, then they would probably have ended up in a brothel or a ditch.
He is called Gaitou; he uses genjutsu to hide their presence.
She is called Aikuchi; she uses taijutsu to attack from the hiding he provides.
They are always together, totally dependent on each other; it is their greatest strength and greatest weakness.
"I have faith in God." Ruta replied severely. "Having faith in God, I trust my path to His benevolent hands, and His guidance will never lead me astray."
"Yes, yes." Gaitou said, smiling. "But we have a yellow tag, we need a red one."
"Shouldn't God provide to his own?" Aikuchi added.
Ruta knew they were just trying to wind him up, but on the other hand, he was also always willing to pontificate until they regretted ever asking in the first place.
"It isn't our place to question God's guidance, merely to have faith that it is there." Ruta began with great conviction. "Having said that, however, it's a little arrogant to think that every little thing we do merits His attention. If we ask Him, he will always answer, but even an omniscient being probably doesn't really pay all that close attention to everything going on around them, and when you think about it, an omniscient being has a lot—literally everything!—going on around them. There is a teaching that—"
"Fine fine." Gaitou said, quickly cutting their teammate off. The twins are beginning to suspect that there is more to Ruta's responses than simply raising to the bait. "But now, we've graduated to the next question."
"How do we get a red tag?" Aikuchi said, finishing her brother's thought.
"God will provide a way." Ruta confidently responded. "But His divine providence is as mysterious as all of His workings, so it would probably be best for us to go forth seeking that providence He has so graciously provided."
"So we need to go steal a red tag from another team." Aikuchi said, rolling her eyes.
"That's what I said." Ruta responded, confused.
I I I
"How's the take looking, Bookie?"
The man called Bookie pushed the glasses up his nose so they would flash mysteriously in the light. He didn't know what kind of coating they had that made them do that so reliably but Shisui gave the best presents ever.
"Looks good." Bookie said finally. "Our new guy on the dice is… okay, but we're really leveraging the safety angle. It's not many halls that have a guarantee like Shisui."
Chouzouyama grunted. He had worried about taking in Shisui—jinuchuuriki were infamous for their power and instability—but he had owed the man for taking a mission on his behalf and, more cynically, he needed a big stick like that until he could rebuild a proper gang.
Three years later, he considered the Bookie and Shisui his most trusted lieutenants.
An accountant from Mist and an old bastard with a demon in his stomach. Life was funny, sometimes, Chouzouyama mused.
"Well," he said, "that's good, that's good. But we're coming up on that big festival, so-" he cut off, frowning. "What's that?"
He stood, and strode to the front of the room.
His breath caught.
One of his toughs was slumped on the ground, in front of two man that had pushed through the entryway and forced up onto the dice floor.
Black cloaks, with red clouds.
Chouzouyama had heard rumors, dark whispers about a group of elite missing-nin that would do anything, no matter how dangerous or evil, for the right price.
"Three years searching, and we find the bastard on our way to somewhere else." The tall one mused. He was blue and had a large thing wrapped in bandages over his shoulder.
"Hmn." The shorter one said. It was he who had knocked his tough down, using merely a glance. "We need to hurry, though."
"Shisui." Chouzouyama whispered. "Do you know these men?"
"I know of them. I've never met them." Shisui whispered back. "The blue one is Hoshigaki Kisame, the Diamyo Killer. And the other… Uchiha Itachi." Shisui swallowed. "That's Itachi the Genocide."
"Jinchuuriki of the Yonbi, Roshi." The one called Itachi said. "You will come with us."
"Shit." Chouzouyama swore.
I I I
Kamome turned, and smiled as her genin approached. "Hello, you three."
"The chuunin exam feels like a test of luck, sensei!" Gonta shouted. "I seriously don't know if this is actually testing us, or if it's all about hitting the jackpot!"
Kamome smiled softly. "Well, it has been said luck is an important trait for ninja to possess, my student." Her reserve cracking softly, she ruffled Gonta's hair.
"Sensei!" Gonta whined, grabbing Kamome's hand to stop her.
"The dolt has a point." Obei said. "I mean, this exam isn't fair at all. Half the examinees start with a default pass, and the other half start with a default fail."
"It is my duty as your jounin-sensei to teach you things that you need to know to succeed as a ninja." Kamome said. "It is under the auspice of that duty that I now teach you, my students, that sometimes life is not fair."
"Yeah okay we know." Yasuke said. "Great lesson, thank you, sensei. But, it's not about fair to us, it's about the villages making sure they've accurately assessed our abilities as chuunin."
"An excellent response." Kamome praised. "However, I must remind you that the exams have a strongly political element. Every village seeks to fulfill the complex treaty obligations regarding what a chuunin legally is, in terms of recognition and mission requirement, as well as using the exams as a tool to advertise their superiority over all other villages… all while obscuring their real strength."
Gonta frowned. "I'm gonna be honest, sensei, that kinda went over my head." Abruptly, he smiled. "Can you explain it to me again?"
"Teachercon." Obei whispered. Gonta kicked her in the shin.
Kamome wondered what Obei had whispered; it was probably nothing. "Very well, I will attempt to elucidate. However, I have a meeting I have to get to, so you will have to accompany me, Gonta."
"I'll accompany you anywhere, sensei." Gonta said, more earnestly than the situation required.
Yasuke and Obei watched their teammate walk off, animatedly talking with their sensei.
"You know," Yasuke began, "I know we give him a hard time about it all the time, but I'm kinda rooting for him, you know?"
Obei pursed her lips, considering. "Yeah."
I I I
Genji froze in place as the chuunin glanced behind him. He was slightly nervous about tailing a chuunin, but the man worked in an office (even if it was a Kage's office) and Genji was proud of his stealth.
Kenta sighed mightily. "You can come out now."
Perhaps Genji's pride was misplaced. Silently, he stood up from behind the air conditioner on the roof, and dropped to the ground next to the building.
"Whatta you want, kid?" Kenta said.
Genji cocked his head to the side, considering. "Well," he began, "I am a participant in the first portion of the chuunin exam." He paused. "And I was hoping to discern from you the correct answer."
Kenta considered the boy. A grass-nin, from the headband, it was difficult to guess his age because of the square of cloth hanging from across his cheeks and he wore the typical grass tunic with belt.
Genji resisted the urge to fidget. He realized that simply saying nothing was a basic interrogation tactic to get the opponent to reveal more than they intended, but that knowledge didn't make the experience less awkward.
"How about a bribe?" Kenta finally asked baldly.
Genji considered that. "Um."
Kenta rolled his eyes. "Please, it's not like either of us will get in trouble. Well, I'm actually supposed to drag it out and really make you earn it, but to be honest, I'm really busy."
Genji considered. It made sense. "Okay." It was a common shinobi saying that one must spend money to make money; Genji's mother muttered it to herself every time she had to purchase the explosive tags and poison she used on her missions.
"So what color you got, kid?"
"Blue." Genji said. His team had split up to gather information; luckily, he was the one that was trusted to carry the tag.
Kenta shook his head. "That's no good. You want Red or Yellow." He dug into his bag, the one that the tags had been initially dispensed from. "Tell you what, I'll trade you one of the spares for yours. But," he said, "It'll cost you a cool hundred."
Genji winced. That was a little steep. Worse, he was only carrying 80. "How about 50?" He countered.
Kenta raised an eyebrow. "Listen, I'm not trying to screw you by creating an expectation of any payment after the info was released. That's the easy part of the exam anyway. But the hard part is actually getting your mitts on a tag. So, I'll come down to 80."
Genji nodded. "Yeah, I understand, but if we compare the cost of a mission against genin opposition, then I think 65 is a better estimate."
Kenta pursed his lips. "You know, the whole reason I made the offer was because I'm in a hurry. I won't go any lower than 70."
"Deal." Genji said. He pulled out his wallet, and counted off the bills where Kenta could see.
Kenta, in turn, pulled out a single red tag and pushed the bag up onto his shoulder by the strap.
Both held their goods out in their left hand, and reached with their right, a classical way to exchange hand-held goods taught at the academy.
When they were both gripping, both let go simultaneously, and took three steps back, each holding their desired object.
Genji leaped back up, swinging around onto the roof and taking off to reconvene with his team.
Kenta looked down at the money he was holding. "Huh." He said, bemused.
The plan was for each Kage Bunshin to take a few tags of each color and fish for suckers. When they got a bite, return with the goods.
But if there was one thing Jiraiya taught by example, it was to relentlessly and shamelessly hustle everyone.
Whistling, Naruto's Kage Bunshin returned to the original.
I I I
Bookie crawled from the wreckage, blood streaming down his forehead. He blinked, trying to wipe his eye. There was little noise.
The whole city was burning, a wasteland of water damage and flame. The blue man had summoned a huge amount of water and pushed Shisui right through and out the instantly wrecked building, and then Shisui—Roshi?—had created lava to fight the man off with.
It had… escalated, supernatural tailed beast against the power of a cursed bloodline. Bookie had hoped to never see water like that again, not after leaving Mist.
But it didn't work. Bookie dragged himself through the rubble, and stumbled.
Of all things. Chouzouyama's corpse stared up at him, glass-eyed.
Bookie considered. He was planning on doing something very stupid. He would almost certainly fail and be killed. But he had only two friends in this world; one was dead and the other abducted. And a man had to stand up for his friends.
Bookie reached into the corpse's shirt, felt around past the broken ribs, and found the dosu. He pulled the wickedly sharp knife out, and set out to find the Akatsuki.
I I I
Itachi paused, and looked aside at Kisame, meeting the other man's eye. Kisame shrugged.
"Yes. Leader." Itachi said.
They frowned at the sky.
"We know we have a mission. But we encountered the target unexpectedly, so we took advantage of the opportunity in front of us." Itachi said.
Again, the sky.
"The mission hasn't been compromised." Kisame protested. "We're hardly going to be late because of this little detour."
Lucky, Bookie thought. They were distracted—talking over the radio? Possibly something even more exotic. Whatever. Wait for a chance. Shisui was hanging like a corpse off the end of the blue man's big wrapped-up thing, like a sack on a stick. But he knew his friend was alive.
"It's not an excuse." Itachi said. "We will complete our mission successfully."
Again, the pause. Bookie held his breath. Wait for it. Wait for it.
"Oh come on!" Kisame shouted.
Bookie lunged an instant after the blue man spoke, hoping to catch him off guard.
Still staring into space, Itachi twitched his arm.
Bookie fell to the ground, stone dead from the kunai buried to the hilt in his eye.
"Leave him?" Kisame continued, ignoring his partner's actions. "But we just went to all this trouble and you're always going on about capturing the bijuu anyway so it's not like-" Kisame clenched his jaw.
"No sir." He said. "No sir, we aren't disobeying your orders."
With a sigh, Kisame lowered his sword, allowing the prey they had tracked for three years to simply roll off. He met his partner's eye, and Itachi quirked his lips into a shallow smirk, and shrugged. What can you do.
The two ran.
"What a tight-ass." Kisame muttered.
"He might still be listening." Itachi said.
"Naw, he pulled that ultimatum-and-stomp-out thing. Man, the Leader can be such a woman some times." Kisame complained.
"Actually." Itachi began.
"No!" Kisame said. "We are not having that argument about his freaky zombie jutsu again." Kisame paused. "But I still think I'm right, though."
Itachi scowled. It was on.
I I I
AN: Some people are annoyed that I replaced the canon Raikage with this guy, but I came up with him approximately two and a half years ago, while writing Spying no Jutsu, and I wanted to keep him. Characterization? He's the guy who acts like a dick but is honestly trying to be friendly, he just naively assumes everybody's as thick-skinned as him. Power-wise? In Spying no Jutsu I said I would have the Akatsuki fight with their same powers, but with better tactics; this makes them, broadly, above Kage-level. The Raikage isn't an exception to that statement.
Kakashi once described Naruto as the number one most surprising ninja. I keep that in my pocket whenever I write Naruto. Oftentimes when I'm trying to decide what he'd do, or how he'd react to some situation, I'll come up with an answer, and then have him do something else entirely that also seems in character. Keep that in mind when you start asking me if Naruto knows about his parents or whatever: I made a conscious decision to do something I've never seen happen before.
I originally intended a confrontation between Chouzouyama and Naruto, possibly with some zany mistaken identity shenanigans (as much as Naruto/Motoko can be the same person, at any rate), but eventually decided against that and instead had them killed to remind ourselves that the Akatsuki are the bad guys.
The initial tag assignments were: Team Yamato (Leaf), Green; Team Ebisu (Leaf), Blue; Team K (Cloud), Green; Team Limestone (Rock), Red; Team Uzumaki (Mist), Blue; Team Kankuro (Sand) Blue; Team G (Rain), Yellow. Genji existed only as a sucker for Naruto.
I couldn't decide what color tags to give each team, so I used Microsoft Excel to randomly generate important plot points. I kid you not! I used the RANDBETWEEN() function. So if you decide that the tag assignments were kind of cheap, then it's totally Microsoft's fault.
So the thing that held this chapter up was the Roshi/Kisame fight scene I ended up not doing. I wanted to have a fight scene, but at the same time, having the before-and-after imagery was more appropriate for this point in the story. Plus, manga chapter 471 came out and revealed Kisame's Ressurccion, although it's still not clear if he's an Espada or just a Numeros.
So instead, have a snippet I wrote over a year ago, it's (mostly) about the Akatsuki, for TFF; the theme was "Xanatos Roulette." It's like a thousand words long, so rather than an omake, it's basically a totally unrelated one-shot. Consider it my apology for not updating as quickly as you all hoped. It's explicitly not part of this story's continuity.
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"I am so confused!" Naruto roared.
"It's all pretty simple, Naruto." Kisame said. "See, I needed to throw the world into chaos so I could seize control of my homeland." He hefted his sword, grinning. "For that purpose, I joined the Akatsuki and fed Pein's ego so he would make a ridiculous attempt to conquer the world."
"Wrong!" Hidan shouted, pointing. "I've been secretly manipulating all of you to seal all the bijuu in this statue so that Jashin could incarnate into this world!"
"You're all suckers." Madara said, exasperated. "I'm the REAL leader of Akatsuki. I fooled all of you into thinking I was the harmless Tobi, just so I could make you my tools for revenge against Konoha!" He pointed at Kisame. "You even believed I was the Mizukage!"
"We just put up with your charade because then Deidara got to put you in headlocks all the time." Kisame admitted. "And, uh, I let you think I believed you were the Mizukage so you'd continue your vendetta which would allow me to overthrow the Mist country and become Kage myself."
"Yeah, un." Deidara piped up.
"You!" Hidan shouted. "Aren't you dead?"
"Pfft, no." Deidara scoffed. "I just needed to use the resources of the Akatsuki to develop the ultimate explosive, un." He patted the giant statue. "Once I extract the eyeball juice from this guy I'll be able to blow up the world, un."
"I'm afraid I can't let you do that." Sasori announced. "You fools all didn't realize that I needed this statue to become my Ultimate Puppet. After faking my death, I was able to rebuild the statue as a super-weapon!" He began to laugh maniacally.
"Um." Zetsu said. "Actually, we disabled the puppet-bits and used the stomach as a viral super-breeder made out of the bijuu. You fools have contributed to the downfall of all humans!" "Indeed! Now, the Earth's Will shall be fulfilled and you polluting humans will be cleansed from the planet!"
"You're all wrong!" Pein whined. "I created Akatsuki, and that was so I could rule the world as a god!"
"Yeah... no." Kisame said. "None of us buy into Outer Heaven, dude."
"Yeah, un." Deidara nodded. "Orochimaru was so pissed, he even left the organization. Said he wanted to take over the world himself in a way that wasn't lame, instead of taking it from someone else that conquered it, un."
"Konan," Pein lamented, "Are you the only one that actually followed my dream?"
"Actually," Konan admitted, "I was going to use the power of the nine sealed bijuu to travel backwards in time and prevent you from becoming... this, Nagato. I mean, I love you, but... you need to change."
"Hey, where did the nine-tails go?" Sasori suddenly asked.
"Oh, great." Madara groaned. "He sneaked off while we were trying to decide who was the real leader of Akatsuki."
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"That was retarded." Naruto moaned. "I mean, I liked the Princess Fuuin movies and I think that was retarded." That said, Naruto pushed aside the curtain and entered the Ramen stand.
The only other customer looked up, and Naruto and Itachi stared at each other for a moment. Finally Itachi slurped up his noodles.
Finally Naruto spoke. "You know what? I don't care." He sat down and ordered a large beef deluxe.
"If it makes you feel better, Naruto-kun," Itachi said, "I only used the Akatsuki to elaborately fake my death." He shuddered. "If Sasuke was going to seek revenge, he shouldn't have been so lame about it."
Naruto pondered this. "Couldn't you just, you know, have killed him? I mean, I'm his friend and all but frankly, you could wipe the floor with him."
Itachi shook his head. "I promised your mother I wouldn't, so you would have a friend to watch your back when you took over the world."
Naruto groaned and put his face in his hands.
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"Haku." Zabuza said. "We... we need to talk."
"Yes?" Kakuuzu said, looking up from where he was flow-charting how the Akatsuki would make their next move.
"And please, take off the mask!"
"Okay." Kakuuzu sighed, pulling down the mask, revealing that he was really Zabuza's loyal follower, Haku.
"Listen, I really appreciate everything you've done--"
"It was all for your dream, Zabuza-kun!" Haku said, beaming.
"Right. About that." Zabuza said. "Listen, I wanted to take over the Mist country by force and reform society, not... not whatever this is."
"Right now I'm using Akatsuki to engineer a tough financial market so, with wise investing now, we'll be able to generate enough income to reach the next stage of the plan, where we'll--"
"Right, right." Zabuza said. "But... you got me, kid. I just want to kill people. That whole dream thing? That was just an excuse."
With that, Zabuza clapped Haku on the shoulder. "It's been real, kid, but... maybe it's time we went our own ways. You gotta strike out for yourself someday, kid."
"Zabuza-sama..." Haku said imploringly as the older ninja uncomfortably left the room.
Haku stared after the legendary Demon of the Mist before sighing deeply to himself.
"I wonder if Naruto needs any help becoming Hokage..." Haku muttered. "He was looking pretty cool when I manipulated him into 'killing' Kakuuzu, allowing me to fake my death..." Haku mused.
"Really cool, actually." Haku whispered, blushing.
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"I don't know how this happened." Naruto said, walking forward to his coronation ceremony.
"Congratulations on your youthful accomplishment, Naruto!" Lee cheered.
"Thanks, Lee." Naruto said reflexively, "but seriously, in my last scene I was eating ramen and now I'm being made Hokage? I mean--"
"Naruto." Lee said. "Look at me." He grabbed Naruto by the shoulder and twisted so he was looking his blond friend directly in the eye. "Let me tell you something important."
Naruto couldn't break away from those mesmerizing eyebrows. "Lee, this is kind of gay so--"
"Naruto." Lee said, and Naruto looked him in the eye, and then Lee said, "Naruto, it's turtles all the way down."
I I I
"Yosh! Go my youthful apprentice!" Gai shouted from the crowd, while the summoned turtle he was standing on nodded solemnly. Knowingly.
Then, the turtle looked left, then right, then left again, eyes narrowed with suspicion.