A cloudy gray sky hung in despair over the gathered crowd. Countless villagers, shinobi and civilian alike, gathered together to pay their final homage to the Sandaime Hokage who, as the village had been told, died protecting his family in his compound. Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura had gathered together to watch the procession. Sasuke was still confined to a wheelchair and had to be careful not to overwork his dangerously strained muscles. Naruto and Sakura had both recovered from the various injuries from the attempted invasion. One by one, starting with the Hokage's old teammates, the gathered crowd began making their way forward to pay their final respects as some pretentious civilian counselor droned on about the old man's contributions to the village.
"I can't believe he's actually gone…" Sasuke said quietly, so as not to be overheard from the surrounding genin. Despite their close connections to Saru, they were not allowed attend the ceremony as his students, Tsunade had told them that it was imperative that they remain undercover for as long as possible. So while they were left to grieve silently with the rest of the genin, a trio of Naruto's clones stood at attention dressed in full anbu gear with the rest of the village's elite.
Naruto nodded acutely at Sasuke comment as he fought to keep his face in a carefully constructed mask because "Team seven" as their "genin", team had been named, had never even met the Sandaime. A glance at Sakura showed that she was having the hardest time trying to maintain her façade. A change in speakers brought Naruto's attention back to the main stage. It seemed that Tsunade was finally taking her turn at the rostrum.
"I come before this solemn hour of remembrance tonight, because my conscience leaves me no other choice. Two days ago, my past teammate attacked our home. The long forgotten terrors of war were brought back to our doorstep in one fell swoop. Orochimaru has long been a constant irritation, a persistent blemish on our village's great history. The Sound have once again brought war upon our lands, and I for one will not bow. For decades, Orochimaru has been filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows. He has injected poisonous drugs of hate and malice into the veins of innocent people."
Tsunade paused for a second to gather herself as the village stared unabashedly. The older villager's knew where this speech was headed, but the youngest remained blissfully ignorant. Beside the team, Naruto heard Shikamaru sigh in discomfort and mutter.
"She's going to do it…"
"The Sandaime was my teacher, mentor, advisor, and friend for many years." Tsunade continued. "He taught me that all differences can be overcome with wisdom and love. But today I stand before you to say that some wounds run too deep and are too old to be overcome. Orochimaru's business of turning our village into a dark and bloody battlefield cannot be reconciled with wisdom and love. We will have our justice, today, we go to war with Sound and any who stand beside them!"
A great cheer erupted from the bulk of the villagers as Tsunade finally formally declared war on the Sound. Most had assumed that village would also be going to war with the Sand, who had betrayed their treaty. However, in the early morning, a small team from the Sand had arrived under a white banner to talk to the Hokage and the village council. Although they had not yet met with the ambassadors from the Sand, they had agreed to wait to make their decision until their meeting later that afternoon.
Naruto's stray thoughts were broken as Sakura touched his shoulder.
"Let's get out of here Naruto."
Naruto nodded and said a brief goodbye to the other genin as he and his team slowly broke away from the group.
Long after the sun had finally set over the village, the team was sitting quietly in their small apartment hidden deep within the Hokage's mountain. Naruto was leaning up against the far wall of the bedroom slowly running a well oiled wet stone over the length of his nodachi. Sasuke was lying on his back in the middle of the floor reading some book. Sakura was staring intently at her small leather bound diary, her small blue music box slowly picking out a sad tune. They had been sitting in their respective positions for several hours. It wasn't until long after dinner had come and past that a knocking at their door captured their attention.
Naruto was the first to rise, he quickly placed his mask over his face and opened the door. One of the Hokage's personal guards stood on the other side of the doorway holding a small green scroll. No words were exchanged as Naruto took the scroll.
As the door closed, Sakura and Sasuke, who was back in his wheel chair, came out from the confines of the bedroom.
"Who was it?" questioned Sakura
Naruto motioned for them to join him in the living area as he held up the still sealed scroll.
"One of the Hokage's guards delivering a message for us."
Naruto unfurled the small scroll and held it up for his teammates to see. Sakura gave the scroll a cursory glance.
"It seems that Tsunade-taicho is summoning us to the meeting with the Sand this evening. We're to go in full Anbu garb."
"Great… I'm sure I'll terrify everyone in the room… Fear me the great wheelchair ninja…" Sasuke muttered morosely.
Naruto let out a small laugh and clapped his convalescing teammate's shoulder as he walked back towards the bedroom to get ready, ignoring the Uchiha grimace from the pain of being hit.
"Its ok Sasuke, I'm sure you'll be the most terrifying wheelchaired ninja that they've ever seen, despite the fact that you can't even dress yourself right now."
Sakura chuckled lightly too as she helped Sasuke back into the room.
Several minutes later, the fully dressed Team San'en was making their way through the maze of corridors towards the Hokage's tower. The note had indicated that they were to be at the council room in twenty minutes although it didn't say why they were required.
As the team finally reached the room, Naruto was surprised to see the entirety of the village council, both shinobi and civilian alike, meeting with the delegates that the sand had sent.
Tsunade, taking notice of the team's arrival ushered them forward.
"Now that the team who originally encountered the Sand ninja have joined us, we can begin with the proceedings. Atasuke-san" She motioned to the lead ambassador from the sand. "You asked for this meeting, so the floor is yours."
Tsunade sat back down at the head of the table with the San'en standing just behind her. The middle-aged delegate from the sand name Atasuke stood up. He was dressed in a traditional grey kimono, his hair was a short cut and had flecks of grey starting to show through.
"Thank you Hokage-sama" He began "I have been sent on behalf of the Sand village to open up negotiations regarding the incident that occurred earlier this week."
There was some grumbling around the room as the man attempted to casually dismiss the invasion that had just taken place.
"As you are obviously aware of, the missing-nin Orochimaru successfully replaced himself as our Kazekage. Unfortunately by the time our leaders had become aware of this subterfuge, Orochimaru had successfully placed nearly one hundred of our jounin and our jinchuuriki as insurgents within the confines of Konoha. Once the snake-sannin's plans became obvious, we immediately sent out almost two-thirds of our remaining armies to attempt to aid our allies here in the Leaf."
The diplomat once again paused to take a small drink of water from the glass that had been provided. After setting down the glass, he picked up a small folder filled with pictures and started passing them around.
"When our soldiers reached the borders, they were met by one of your Anbu, who attacked our armies without warning or provocation."
Naruto managed to catch a glimpse of a few of the pictures as they made their rounds throughout the meeting. Many of them were just pictures of vast amounts of burning forests. One of them looked to be a picture of the crater he had created that started the whole chase, but in all of them, were injured or dead Suna shinobi in various states of distress.
"Obviously, we at Suna are most curious as to why Konoha felt the need to break our treaty that we were fighting to maintain? Had this occurred under any other circumstances, we would have been forced to view these actions as an act of war."
As the pictures reached the civilian sect of the council, various looks of disgust could be seen plainly across their faces. Sakura, whispering very quietly so that the rest of the room wouldn't be able to hear her, leaned towards her teammates.
"They're trying to pin the blame for the attack on us. That way they can claim that each army suffered equal losses so they aren't forced into the war that they started."
"Do you think that will work?"
"It did with the Hyuuga incident years ago. A shinobi from Kumo entered the city under the precept of peace talks and tried to steal the Hyuuga heir to steal the byakugan. Unfortunately for him, he was caught in the act and was killed by Hiashi. Kumo blamed Konoha for the death of their diplomat and since we were unable to disprove anything, we were forced to make amends since we couldn't afford another war at the time."
"They're hoping that we won't want to risk a war on two fronts, so their trying to force us into signing a cease fire between the two countries. I'm guessing that they lost a lot more of their soldiers in that battle than they care to admit."
The team was quieted as one of the civilian councilors rose to ask a question.
"So you're claiming that you had no knowledge of Orochimaru's involvement?"
The diplomat calmly nodded his head,
"That is correct."
The unnamed councilor looked slightly confused at the confession,
"Then why would your soldiers attack our outpost, then the Anbu team, and then proceed to attempt to lay siege to our walls if this was all just one giant misunderstanding?"
The diplomat let a small look of annoyance cross his face for the briefest of seconds before his calm mask once again came into place.
"First off, it was a team being led by a sound-nin that originally attacked and killed your shinobi at the outpost. We believe that they were trying to cover an escape route back into Suna."
The councilor appeared to disregard the ambassadors answer.
"That still doesn't explain why your armies whom, to your own admission, were being sent to aid us, attacked the Anbu team and then proceeded to lay siege to Konoha."
The ambassador appeared to wear a slightly triumphant smirk.
"That is because it was your Anbu who attacked us."
A small rumble of voices was heard throughout the room as the councilor's claim sunk in.
"You see, when our forward units reached the clearing where your Anbu were stationed they found themselves being immediately under attack by your Anbu teams. Our entire group of twenty or so shinobi were all killed before anyone could explain the situation. When the regular forces met up with them, they assumed the small group of remaining Anbu were the enemy and attacked accordingly. When they tried to flee, they were met by a large number of Anbu forces within the forces that killed or injured many of our soldiers. By the time we arrived at Konoha, it was apparent that Konoha was attempting to use Orochimaru's attack as a reason to destroy us as well, so our only choice was to proceed with the attack."
Atasuke let a small triumphant smirk cross his face as he sat back down. Now Konoha could be painted as the aggressor, which meant that they would either have to back down or go to war with Suna and his country, would come out on top.
"Bullshit…" Said Tsunade, her face still looking towards the table.
The ambassador looked slightly startled at the small exclamation.
Tsunade stood up and glared at the contingent from Suna.
"I said, I'm calling bullshit. Your armies weren't being sent to aid us, they were being sent to destroy us, and you know that. If you wanted to warn us, you could of sent a messenger hawk."
The diplomats from Suna regarded one another for a brief second before turning back towards the Hokage.
"We have already given our statements, it is an obvious lack of judgment on our part that we didn't send a faster message, however that doesn't negate the fact that your shinobi started the attacks. Because of this, Suna's council is willing to offer Konoha a non-aggression pact. In lieu of this past weeks events we find this to be a fair compromise."
Tsunade's hand crashed down hard upon the sold wood table, snapping off a piece of corner.
"AND I SAID BULLSHIT!" She yelled back. "Your soldiers come into my city, kill my citizens and unleashed a jinchuuriki upon us and expect us to believe it was all an accident? You morons have spent too much time out in the sun. YOU started this war and now you want a way out? Well too bad."
She grabbed the scroll that contained the non-aggression pact in her hand and promptly burned it to a crisp.
"You can go back to your little God forsaken desert and tell your council this. They either surrender to Konoha and aid us in the fight against the sound, or you are our enemy and will be treated as such. I will not make the same mistakes that my predecessor made to avoid a war."
The diplomats from Suna looked shocked. Atasuke, in an attempt to save face raised his hands trying to placate the enraged Hokage.
"Hokage-sama, please use your common sense, we both know that we don't want a war" But he was cut off as Tsunade interrupted.
"Then you shouldn't have started one…" She motioned for the San'en to come forward.
"Suna you have disgraced yourselves here. This is our final offer, if you choose to surrender, you will dedicate at least one third of your remaining forces to our war against the sound and you will pay reparations for the war you so foolishly tried to start. You have one week to return under a white banner with the money."
Atasuke looked shocked,
"Surely you can spare more than a week."
The Hokage glared at them,
"Either you are back here in one week, or we will come to you. And make no mistake, if we go to you, you will lose a lot more." She motioned to the San'en "Please escort the ambassadors from the building"
The team nodded as one and walked forward, corralling the small Suna contingent between them. As they made their way down the hallway, Naruto placed his hand on the shoulder of Atasuke and leaned in to whisper into his ear, making sure the terrified ambassador could see his mask change as he whispered.
"Between you and me ambassador. There never were 'teams' of Anbu waiting in the forest. That was all just little old me."
The ambassador paled but managed to respond,
Naruto grinned maliciously,
"Would you like to test that theory?"
With that he leaned back and nudged the ambassador out the door.
"You have until an hour after sunrise tomorrow to leave our village, and we will be watching you."
Not long after sunrise, Naruto found himself slowly wandering down the streets of Konoha. Less than an hour before he and the rest of the San'en had escorted the delegates from Suna to the city limits and seen them on their way. Now though, Tsunade had given him the rest of the day off. Sakura had been corralled into helping at the hospital again, and Sasuke was going though rehabilitation to slowly work his muscles back into shape, which meant that Naruto really had nothing to do.
His mindless wandering led him through the packed business center of Konoha. Less than a week after the invasion, much of the city was back to its normal bustling self. Scattered about, you could still see some remnants of the battles, small scorch marks on walls and broken windows, but much of the city had remained untouched.
His wanderings brought him to the outer edges of the markets where it was quieter. After so many months living in a small apartment or on missions, the excited chatter and noises of the busier markets were slightly disconcerting. As he began walking around the corner, heading towards a training field he heard someone call out to him.
Naruto turned around to see who had called his name. Not far down the street that he had just walked down, Tenten was sticking her head outside of her families' store with a grin on her face. Naruto smiled in turn and waved to her.
"Hey Tenten, how's it going?"
Tenten held the door open for him and beckoned him to come inside.
"It's been pretty busy for us here the last couple of days. Since the Hokage has declared war all of the weapon shops in Konoha have been increasing their orders from Tou-san."
"Yeah, I still can't believe we're going to war with Oto though, it seems kind of surreal you know?"
Tenten nodded her head somberly,
"Yeah I know what you mean. Have you received your orders yet?"
Naruto had a slightly confused look on his face as he answered her,
"No, not yet, why?"
"Well most of the genin are being assigned to forward encampments or bases from what I've heard, but so far no one has really found out where they're going."
Naruto just shrugged,
"Probably because they don't know if we're going to go to war with Suna yet or not, so they don't know how to distribute our forces. Besides, genin are amongst the last to be shipped out, we'll probably be sitting here in Konoha without much to do for another month."
Which was at least partly true, Naruto's team was currently on hiatus until Sasuke had recovered and Sakura was no longer needed in the hospitals.
"Good, that means you'll have time to make the trip with us!"
Came a louder deeper voice from down the hallway where Tenten's father, Mori, was just exiting his workshop.
"What with this war coming and all that, I need to get some more supplies, which means that Tenten, Chichi and I will be traveling towards the shores of Wave country again. If you're able to go, we'd be happy for you to join us."
Naruto thought about it for a second before he nodded his head. He'd have to double check with the Hokage before he knew for sure, but he should be able to go.
"Sure, I think I'll be able to go, but I'll have to check with my Sensei first." He lied smoothly.
"Good, we'll be leaving in two days at dawn so find out soon ok?"
Naruto nodded his head and Mori left the shop to go back to the workshop. Naruto turned his attention back to Tenten who was sitting behind a counter idly sharpening her katana. Naruto sat down on the stool across from her and picked up a spare wet stone and began to slowly work the edge on his own nodachi. Several minutes passed in a comfortable silence before Tenten started talking again.
"Thank you… Naruto…"
Naruto looked up from his sword to see that Tenten had stopped sharpening her blade. She was staring at the blade on the table with an inscrutable look upon her face. Naruto's face scrunched into a look of confusion for a second before he answered.
"No problem I guess… But what are you thanking me for?"
Tenten let a small chuckle escape her lips.
"Before the invasion began, I was making sweeps through the forests to check out for civilians. I was teamed up with some other genin named Ukiyo Fusei. We were almost done with our sweeps when that bastard Mizuki came out to warn us about someone attacking the teams."
She took a small breath to steady herself as her voice and begun to shake a little bit. Naruto, obviously already knew where the story was going, but Tenten didn't need to know that, she just needed to talk. So Naruto calmly placed his nodachi on the table with the stone and motioned for Tenten to continue.
"Well, as it turns out Mizuki had betrayed us and was trying to get rid of most of that walls defenses. Fusei must have figured it out first since he and Mizuki started fighting. I tried…"
She broke off for a second as a few tears began forming in her eyes and rolling down her face. Naruto cringed slightly at the sight, having not been raised in a family, he was never quite certain how to react to some crying, much less a crying girl. He remembered a young father with his daughter in the park and attempted to remember how he had soothed his daughter.
Naruto, dragging his stool with him, walked around the table and sat down next to his friends and placed a hand on her back.
Tenten, surprisingly, leaned into his shoulder and started crying as she continued her story.
"I kept trying to hit Mizuki with something from where I was hiding, but he was just too fast. Fusei couldn't seem to hit him either… Mizuki finally threw a large shuriken that Fusei couldn't dodge or block… It killed him on impact I think. I tried throwing everything I had at him and at best I got a few glancing blows. I would of died too, except some Anbu showed up and saved me."
Naruto had a sinking feeling in his stomach as he thought,
'She didn't figure out that I was the Anbu did she?' He thought worriedly.
Tenten sat back up, wiping the tears from her face.
"I'm sorry, it's just that I was so scared during the invasion. Even after the anbu saved me, I ended up having to fight on the wall. That whole day still seems like one big blur when I look back on it, but I do know for sure that if you wouldn't have taught me how to use a katana properly, that I never would of made it through the day."
Naruto just grinned and scratched the back of his head, unsure of how to answer that story. Tenten didn't seem to mind the silence though as she sheathed her katana.
"I've got to go make some breakfast for my sister, would you like to join us?"
Naruto was surprised at the offer but quickly nodded his head.
"Sure, I don't really have anywhere else that I should be this morning."
Sasuke grunted as he completed another slow sit-up while an older surgeon poured his carefully controlled chakra into his muscles to hasten his recovery. It was a relatively new technique that Tsunade had theorized during the last great ninja war. The idea was simple, if you just healed the muscles, they would grow back, but often the patient had severely atrophied and would take months to recover. By having the patient slowly work the injured muscles during the chakra infusions, the muscles grew back much stronger and would take significantly less time to return to their prior state. However, it tended to be very painful for the recipient.
Sasuke's face had been growing more and more red throughout the procedure. Every day he would meet with one of the surgeons that dealt with the Anbu to be healed. The recovery was slow going, but at least he was no longer be confined to a wheel chair. Tsunade had given him the go ahead to use crutches after today's treatment.
"That's all for today Anbu-san" The aged surgeon said as he straightened his back with a pop and wiped the sweat from his forehead.
"You should be ok to start walking around using crutches now, but you'll still want to take it easy. Stick to the workout regime that you've been assigned and you should be getting back to normal within a couple weeks."
Sasuke grunted in response as he forced his aching muscles to pull him into a sitting position and swung his legs over the side of the table, trying to ignore the horrible burning feeling of his muscles as he moved. Moving slowly, he began redressing himself, pulling his black undershirt and uniform on arduously.
Finally, with one last heave, he pushed himself to his feet, got his crutches below him and began on the long walk back to the team's apartment. He wasn't far outside of the confines of the hospital before a familiar pink haired kunoichi fell into step beside him.
"I heard that Tsunade had given you the go ahead to finally start using crutches."
Sasuke nodded, pleased to have at least some degree of freedom back. They continued in silence for a couple of blocks before Sakura nudged him lightly and pointed towards the park ahead.
"Who's Naruto with up there?"
Sasuke looked towards the direction that she was pointed. Sure enough, Naruto was running around the park with a goofy grin on his face. A girl who looked familiar was running next to him with a similarly dressed, but younger, girl chasing behind them.
"I think her name's Tenten." He replied after thinking about it for a second. "She graduated a year ahead of us at the academy. Her family owns the weapon shop not too far from here."
Sakura nodded her head before she grabbed Sasuke's arm and started pulling him towards the park.
"Come on Sasuke, let's see what they're up to."
"Come on Sakura. I'm tired and I just want to relax for a while."
Sakura looked back on her teammate with an bemused smile on her face.
"Are you whining Sasuke?"
Sasuke shrugged his arm from her grip.
"Fine, we go see what he's doing, but then I'm going back to the apartment."
"Great, now let's go"
Sasuke sighed deeply again before hobbling off after his team.
Sakura called out loudly. Naruto, still a ways away heard her yell and stopped running, just in time for the younger girl slap his arm and yell.
"Tag you're it!" Before running away and giggling madly.
Naruto glared at his pink haired teammate.
"Thanks Sakura, now I'm it again!"
Sakura grinned and quirked an eyebrow at her disheveled teammate, Naruto looked like he had rolled through the dirt or something with all the grass stains on his clothing.
"You mean to tell me that you're actually playing tag?"
Naruto grinned and nodded his head and excitedly began rambling,
"Yep, see I got invited to breakfast with Tenten and her sister Chichi and after breakfast Chichi really wanted to come to the park to play and Mori said it was ok so Tenten figured that if we were coming here anyways that we would work on our kenjutsu while Chichi played but none of Chichi's friends were here so…"
But Sakura cut him off.
"Jeese… Take a breath when you talk, I get it, you're playing tag and you're it."
Naruto nodded his head again,
"Yep, so I'd better get moving before Tenten and Chichi get too far away."
Without another word, Naruto disappeared in a blur as he made to catch up with his fleeing friends."
Sakura just sighed as he disappeared.
"Sasuke we've got one really strange teammate you know?"
Not hearing any response Sakura turned around to find a note pinned to a tree with a kunai and Sasuke nowhere in sight. The note read, Sakura, there I went to the park and by the time you read this I'm probably already home and asleep.
Sakura crumpled up the note and threw it in the garbage bin on the sidewalk
"One teammate acts like a kid and the other one is still and antisocial bastard…"
Tsunade rubbed her temples as she once again tried to ward off the impending headache as she stared at the blonde Anbu standing in front of her.
"Let me get this straight… You want me to give you two to three weeks to travel to some village near Wave country, right before the start of the war to try to get a new sword?"
Naruto shrugged his shoulders,
"Look, my sword got damaged that incident with the Kumo missing-nin as I was coming back from training with Jiraiya. I need to get a replacement, but no one in Konoha can make a useable nodachi."
Tsunade sighed and pulled out a form from one of the many drawers in her desk.
"Ok, you can go, but there are going to have to be some special conditions. First off, and most importantly, no one can suspect that you're anything but a genin. That means no nature chakra manipulation, no summoning, and nothing that marks you as an Anbu."
Naruto nodded, he has suspected these conditions.
"Thank you very much Hokage-sama. We're going to be leaving at dawn the day after tomorrow."
Tsunade however was already back to doing the vast amount of paperwork that she had sitting in front of her, but she did call out to him as he made towards the door.
"If you see your two teammates send them my way would you? I have a mission for them too."
Tsunade continued on the paperwork as Naruto left to go find his teammates. Despite it sounding like a small favor, he knew she meant it as an order. Sure enough, less than twenty minutes later, Sakura and Sasuke both wandered into her office. Tsunade gave them a once over, Sakura was still wearing the short red shorts and black top, Sasuke was wearing a pair of black shinobi pants and a tight black shirt that didn't restrict his movements, despite still using the crutches, his faithful ninjato hung from his back on a black leather strap.
"As Naruto may or may not of told you, he'll be out of the city for a couple of weeks as he travels to get a new sword made for him. This means that in the mean time I need to find something for the two of you to do. Obviously," she motions towards Sasuke "you can't be placed on active duty."
She pulled a rather large scroll from the pile next to her desk and laid it down on the top of the table.
"Most of the jounin and chuunin are all being sent out to secure the area's we've selected for our forward bases. This means that until the bases are set and the rest of our forces are mobilized, we have a large amount of genin without any instructors."
Sasuke groaned, he already knew where this was heading.
"What we've decided to do is pull several older shinobi who have retired and anyone on medical leave to help prepare the genin for war. The two of you are especially suited for this task since you went through similar training last year."
She handed Sakura the scroll she had pulled out.
"In there are the required training that I think would be the most beneficial for them to learn. Spend most of the time refining techniques they already know, not necessarily teaching them anything new."
Sakura nodded and put the scroll into her kunai holster.
"Obviously you'll be required to wear your Anbu uniforms during the training sessions. Do you have any questions?"
Sasuke spoke up immediately,
"How long are we going to be on this assignment Hokage-sama?"
"Probably until Naruto returns from his trip. Are there any other questions."
Since neither of them said anything else, Tsunade dismissed the pair of young shinobi, only to hear Sasuke grumble on his way out.
"That blonde idiot had better hurry his ass up and get back here…"
The following day passed quickly as the team prepared for their individual assignments. Sasuke and Sakura poured over the scroll that Tsunade has given them which detailed what skills the genin were to learn over the month of training. It highlighted practicing ambushes, traps, wilderness survival, chakra control, and situational awareness. Nothing was too hard, but the genin had to have it down before the month was up, without it, they stood a significantly greater chance of not making it through the war.
Naruto began carefully packing for his cross-country trip with the Minamoto family. He carefully sealed his normal ninja gear that Jiraiya had picked out for him into scroll, careful to leave anything that would set him apart from the other genin. Finally happy with what he had packed, he shouldered his bag and headed towards the door waving to his pair of slightly disgruntled roommates on his way out.
"I'll see you in a couple weeks" He said with a smile on his face "Have fun training the genin"
The sun was just beginning to peak over the distant horizon when Naruto made it to the main gate. He nodded to the two chuunin who were already sitting at gate's guarded entrance before settling himself under a tree and cracking open a book. It wasn't long before the sound of wooden wagon wheels bouncing along the cobbled streets made its way to his ears. Snapping the book shut, he looked up to see Tenten's father, Mori, and her little sister Chichi sitting in a small wooden wagon being pulled by on old looking ox. Naruto could just see Tenten's head poking up over the back of the seats as she sat reclined in the back of the cart. The cart rolled up to the gate where it paused in front of the guards.
Naruto stood up, placing his book into a sleeve of his kunai holster and began making his way over to the cart. From where he was he could see that Chichi had crawled over the back of the bench and come to rest up against her older sister. The poor little girl looked absolutely exhausted
'Probably not used to getting up this early' mused Naruto.
Mori stepped down and waived at Naruto before going over to the chuunin to hand over his paperwork. Since the war declaration the cities security had gotten much tighter, you weren't able to enter and leave the city as freely as you could during times of peace.
Reaching the cart, Naruto chuckled lightly to himself seeing that Chichi had fallen asleep across her older sisters lap, effectively trapping Tenten in her position in the cart. Tenten smiled and gave him a small waive.
"Go ahead and drop your pack in the cart" She said quietly so as to not wake her sister. "You can sit up front with Tou-san."
Naruto nodded and placed his small bag in the rear of the cart.
"Is that all you brought?" Tenten asked, looking dubiously at his backpack.
Naruto quickly glanced at the other packs in the cart and noticed them all to be substantially larger than his own.
"I sealed a lot of my gear into some scrolls. I only left out the stuff that I may need to get to quickly, like my poncho and what not"
Tenten looked at his pack thoughtfully.
"Well you're better at sealing than I am then. I still have a hard time getting anything bigger than kunai and shuriken to seal properly. Maybe you can give me a few pointers on it sometime?"
Naruto nodded, glad that she hadn't questioned his abilities in sealing anymore. He didn't really know any cover story for how he knew how to seal anything in the first place. It wasn't really a common skill amongst most shinobi anymore. He was saved from any further awkward conversation as Mori finally made his way back to the cart.
"Well they gave us the go ahead to pass on through. You and Tenten will have to show your shinobi ID cards though. I got it set up that you two are technically running guard duty for my shipment back."
Naruto looked at him quizzically,
"I didn't know you got this authorized as a mission. I would have done it for free."
"Good because I didn't really plan on paying you for this. I only registered it as a mission because I wasn't sure if the Hokage would let you two go if it wasn't."
Naruto shrugged as he began climbing into the wooden cart.
"Makes sense I suppose, I never really gave it any thought."
Mori sat down along side of him.
"Well you shouldn't really need to do any guard duty, but there have been rumors of some highway thieves and stuff near where we're going, so it would probably be best if you and Tenten keep half and eye open."
Tenten chuckled from behind them,
"Yeah, because I'd be a lot of help right now…"
Naruto looked behind him to see that Chichi was still draped across her sister's lap, pinning her to the cart. Mori just laughed and snapped the reins on the ox to get the cart moving. As they slowly rolled past the gate Naruto handed over his ID while Tenten expertly threw hers to the guard. After giving them a brief glance the guard handed them both back to Naruto and waived them off, wishing them good luck on their mission.
The first several hours of their trip past rather quietly. Naruto, Mori, and Tenten exchanged small talk as the road slowly passed by beneath them. Riding in a cart wasn't nearly as enjoyable as Naruto had always thought it would be. The wooden seats weren't particularly comfortable, and the entire cart would bounce and shake at every little rock on the old dirt road. Mori must have seen him grimace as one rock almost knocked Naruto from his seat.
"I take it that you're not particularly fond of the cart?"
Naruto grimaced and shook his head.
"To be honest sir I have no idea why you would ever want to travel like this."
Tenten laughed which caused Chichi to raise her head and looked around at the world with a confused expression on her face.
"What's everyone laughing at?" she asked as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes.
Tenten, finally free of her sister's weight stretched her legs as she answered.
"Not you Chichi, don't worry. We were laughing at Naruto. Apparently he likes sitting in the cart about as much as I do."
Chichi smiled and pulled on the corner of Naruto's jacket to get his attention.
"Ne. Naruto, if you don't like the cart, can I ride up there with Tou-san?"
Naruto gladly jumped off the cart and began walking along side it, allowing the younger girl plenty of room to move up front.
"Naruto" Chichi called out to him. "Will you tell me a story?"
"Why do you want me to tell you a story?"
Chichi shrugged her little shoulders.
"Well Tenten and Tou-san always tell me the same boring stories over and over."
Naruto laughed at the slightly scandalized look on Tenten's face.
"Alright, what do you want me to tell you about?"
Sasuke stood next to his teammate as they watched the twelve genin wander around the specified training grounds. Some took it upon themselves to start training, either doing warm up stretches or going through some taijutsu katas, but most of them were just lazing around.
"You'd think with the war just around the corner that they'd all be pushing themselves harder" Sasuke noted to his teammate.
"Yeah, but at the same time you've got to remember that these are all still genin. Most of them haven't been on more than one C rank mission or ever actually faced another shinobi in combat." Replied Sakura
Without another word Sakura shunshined to the middle of the field, Sasuke following just behind her. Their appearance seemed to go unnoticed by the vast majority of the genin. One of their old classmates, Shino, was among the first to notice. As Sasuke looked around he was able to spot several of their old classmates. Shino, Kiba, and Hinata were all spread around the field. The other nine genin were either from this year's batch or from the years preceding them.
"Ok guys get your asses in gear, we've got a lot to do and less time to do it in." Sasuke called out through his mask. Almost immediately the genin began jogging over to the two masked ninja standing in the middle of the field. Once they were all there Sakura motioned for them to take a seat before she began talking.
"In one month, all genin will be transferred to different forward bases along the borders of Oto and possibly Suna as well. This means that my partner and I have exactly one month to get you in shape to survive. For the next month we will be living and sleeping here on the training grounds, so I hope you brought all your gear, if you didn't… well tough luck you don't get second chances on missions so you sure as hell won't get them here."
Several of the gathered genin blanched when they absorbed what she had said. Most of them had packed lightly for a day of training, not expecting to stay the night, let alone and entire month. Seeing that Sakura had finished talking Sasuke stepped forward.
"You can call me Mizaru and this is my teammate Kikazaru." He pointed absently towards Sakura. "We have been given the unfortunate task of overseeing your training for the upcoming month. Unlike your normal Sensei, we are not here to coddle you or pander your every need. Because we are hard you will not like us, but the more you hate us the more you will learn and learning starts now. From now until we say so you are only allowed to use the gear that you have on your bodies right now. If you weren't smart enough to keep your gear on your person, then you have lost the right to use that gear."
Many of the genin groaned and looked over at the ten bags that littered the outer edges of the training field. It looked like only Shino and one of the older genin had thought to keep their gear packs with them the rest of them only had their kunai holsters and a few of the basics on them
"Right! Now that we all know one another and have an idea of what you're going to be learning here it's time to get started. ON YOUR FEET! You all owe me fifty laps around the field."
The genin all stared at each other for a couple seconds before Sakura's voice broke the silence.
"Well what are you waiting for! Get moving!"
As the teams began running around the field, Sakura walked over to her teammate.
"Think we laid it on a little thick?"
"Doesn't matter really. No matter what we said they won't really absorb it until we start training them later. Our orders are to be extremely hard on them because the harder we are on them the better chance they all have in the war."
"I know… I guess we better get ready for the combat training then I suppose"
Sasuke nodded and began stretching in anticipation for the rest of the day while Sakura kept an eye on the genin.
Naruto poked the dwindling fire bringing new life to the small flames. The air had gotten cooler and damper the closer they got to the coast. At night the dampness seemed to cling to everything, pulling what little warmth there was to be had away from you. He sighed quietly and rested an elbow on his knees.
Mori, Tenten, and Chichi had retired to the tent hours ago but Naruto had offered to keep watch. Twenty clones were patrolling the surrounding area leaving Naruto alone at the fire.
"Aren't you cold out there?"
Naruto turned around to see Tenten's head peeking out from the tent flap. Her hair, normally done up in two tight buns, laid loose around her head. Her normal chinese shirt had been traded for a baggy sweatshirt and a pair of loose cotton pants. A large panda covered blanket was draped around her shoulders to keep her warm.
"Definitely not shinobi gear…" Naruto noted subconsciously, outwardly though he just shrugged.
"It's not bad when you get used to it. Anyways, I've definitely been through worse weather."
Tenten quietly crawled out from the tent, trying not to wake her family. She walked over towards the fire and sat down on the log next to Naruto.
"I thought you said you were going to keep watch tonight. You don't seem to be watching anything too closely"
Naruto nodded but took a second to reply.
"I've got clones watching the camp. Don't worry, no one will get anywhere near the camp without me knowing."
Tenten looked at him with a confused expression.
"How do clones help?"
"They're shadow clones. Anything memories that they have are transferred to me when they dispel."
Tenten looked intrigued.
"That would be helpful to have; do you think you could teach me?"
Naruto turned and looked at her for a second.
"Sorry, but I don't think you really have the chakra capacity to use it. I'm really only able to because my I have a lot more chakra than most people."
Tenten fell silent as Naruto added a few more small sticks to the fire to keep it burning.
"You're different you know?" She said suddenly.
Naruto turned and looked at Tenten with a confused look on his face.
"It's not a bad thing" She said "It's just you act different than most genin that I've ever met. Sometimes you act all serious and mature and then all of a sudden you'll act like a kid. I think it's why Chichi likes you so much."
Naruto just smiled,
"I like Chichi. She's a good kid." He looked back towards the fire. "When I was younger I always wanted to be part of a family. Part of me always wanted to be the big brother that looked out for his younger siblings."
Tenten looked over at him,
"Your parents never had another kid?" She asked innocently
Naruto just sighed and looked up at the sky,
"I never had parents. They both died in the Kyuubi's attack, no one seems to know who they were."
Tenten looked down, obviously embarrassed
"I'm sorry Naruto… I didn't know."
Naruto just shrugged.
"It's not a big deal."
Tenten stayed quiet for a long time after that, she wasn't sure what else she could say after that debacle. After a little while Naruto added another stick to the fire as the temperature continued to drop. Tenten shivered slightly as an ice cold breeze blew through the camp.
"Here" Naruto said suddenly. Tenten turned to see him handing her his large coat that he always seemed to wear. "It's wind proof. It will keep you warmer than that blanket will."
Tenten was about to decline the offer when another breeze blew through the campsite. She quickly traded her thin blanket for the larger warm coat.
"Won't you get cold?"
Naruto wrapped the blanket that Tenten had been using around him and shook his head.
"No, my fire chakra can keep me warm if I really need it to. I just have to be careful not to light anything on fire when I use it. Besides this is nothing compared to the mountains."
Tenten pulled the coat tighter around her shoulders.
"You've been to the mountains? My team never gets to go that far away from Konoha. I think Tou-san went once a few years ago to see about getting some iron, but said the stuff from up there wasn't any good for weapons."
Naruto slid off the log they had been sitting on and sat down on the ground, using the log as a back rest.
"My team got a mission up there a few weeks before the start of the chuunin exams. It was supposed to be an easy trip into a village to help guard a shipment of iron ore that was bound for Konoha. Everything was going fine, but apparently some stupid bandits thought to rob the village. We ended up having to stay a lot longer than anticipated and completely missed the start of the exams."
"Yeah, I think everyone gets stuck in those missions from time to time. We had one where we were supposed to go help some farmer whose sheep were getting attacked by wolves. Turns out the wolves never existed and it was a big group of thieves that were killing them for food. The mission was supposed to only take a couple of days and we ended up staying two weeks because my knuckle headed teammate went and got himself injured."
"One of the thieves got a lucky shot in and hit him?" Naruto asked, curious to how a group of thieves had incapacitated a trained ninja, but Tenten just laughed.
"Nothing like that no… He can just be a little overenthusiastic in his training and he ended up hurting himself when he fell off a cliff he was trying to climb with one hand."
Naruto laughed quietly that sounded like a training idea that Jiraiya would have come up with.
"So why are you up so late anyways Naruto. You could have just set a few traps and gone to sleep, no point in staying up all night."
Naruto glanced at his watch and noted that Tenten was right. It was already after one in the morning.
"I dunno, I just couldn't sleep I suppose. Why are you still awake?"
Tenten settled down on the ground next to him letting her feet come to rest near the fire.
"You're going to laugh if I tell you?"
Naruto just smiled and motioned for her to continue the story. Tenten just huffed and shook her head.
"Well I'm sharing a tent with Chichi right?" seeing Naruto's nod she continued uninterrupted. "well like most kids, Chichi has a tendency to move around a lot in her sleep and it keeps waking me up cause I think it's someone attacking the campsite or me Sensei testing us or something. I'm too used to it being quiet at night, all the extra noise and movement just keeps on startling me."
Naruto cracked a smile, but wisely refrained from laughing at the poor girl.
"I suppose that would be rather distracting. So tell me about this city we're heading towards? Have you ever been there before?"
Tenten just smiled and looked towards the fire.
"Well for starters it's not really much of a city, really it's just a small village, but there are a bunch of other villages all nearby along the coast. Most of the place is filled up with fisherman and farmers, but there are a few of the world's best mines in the area. It's pretty isolated though since you can only get to it by a boat or by using this long winding trail."
Naruto just stared into the fire listening to Tenten rattle on and on about the village that her father had apparently been born in. It wasn't until several hours later that sleep finally claimed the young shinobi as they sat alongside the warm coals of the fire.
The next several days passed slowly for the traveling party as they deftly navigated the long winding trails through the forests along the coast. Mori had said that they would be reaching the first village by noon that day and would stop there for lunch then hopefully make it to their destination well before nightfall. Naruto and Tenten had taken to walking slightly ahead of the wagon by a small lead. Occasionally Chichi would run up to walk with them, but she mostly stayed in the wagon with her father, Mori.
True to Mori's word they had reached the Village of Jigane*. They rented a pair of cheap rooms in the local motel while Mori began going about contacting the local miners to see why the shipments of ore from the area had nearly trickled to a standstill over the couple of years. It was on his way out to see about the orders that Naruto heard him swear.
"Damn it!" Mori said loudly enough for the people in the neighboring rooms to hear.
"The book with all my inventories must have fallen off the seat in the wagon. I can't find the blasted book anywhere."
Mori turned and looked at Naruto.
"Naruto, I hate to do this to you, but I know I had that book just a couple miles outside of town. I must have accidently dropped it when I set it down by my bag. Do you think you can run back and try to find it for me while it's still light out?"
Naruto glanced out the window and saw that he still had a few hours of sunlight left before nightfall.
"Sure I can do that, just make sure that if you go anywhere that you keep Tenten with you ok?"
Mori insisted that it wasn't really necessary, but eventually relented. Naruto didn't want to bring it up to Mori, but something in the village seemed off to the ninja. The people moved too quickly in the streets like they didn't want to get caught there. Tenten mentioned that she saw a couple of odd looking men in an alley, but didn't make any other comments on the locals.
Naruto kept a cursory eye out as he sped through the trees outside of town, careful to watch the trail for the small book that Mori had left. Sure enough not more than 3 miles outside of town he spotted the book lying alongside of the road in some gravel. Dropping to the road, Naruto picked up the book, dusted it off and placed it into his backpack and began walking back towards the city. Roughly a mile outside of the city he started to hear rustling in the brush just up the road from him. It was a choke point in the road where a couple of large boulders and thick brush drew in close to the road. Drawing closer, a light breeze wafted the smell of body odor and cheap liquor towards him. He froze right past the first big rock.
"You know what's nice about not using soap?" He asked seemingly to himself. "You can smell thieves a mile away!"
I know its been a ridiculously long time since I last updated the story, but a few recent reviews that I got spurred me on to try writing a little more. After the last couple of chapters this one may be a little slow, but it starts to set things up for the next one.
If anyone is possibly interested, I could use a hand from a beta reader. Mainly I need someone for a sounding board to bounce ideas off of and to proofread my chapters, because I freely admit that I'm not always the best writer out there. If you're interested just send me a message or put it in a review.
Thanks for reading,