I'm alive! I'm alive! I'm . . . . BAM!
Sorry about that. This past semester has been Hell times ten, and my muse has been completely ignored for the horrors of studying. It's not quite sane anymore . . . then again, was it ever?
This was meant to come out in December, but my computer crashed and accidently deleted half of this, meaning that I had to force myself to write it all over again. Not fun.
Anyways, some notes: My R½/DC cross is going on hold for a bit. Ever since the free scanlation sites went down, my research material is out. I'll get it from another source, but that's going to take some time. Be patient, and you'll get more.
Time Traveling Martial Artists will be by next major update, along with Saotome Shinji. I think I have enough data to start making my own stuff up for that.
Furthermore, if you want more of me, check out Anime Addventure. When the stress got too hot at FSU, I wrote up 1-3 pages and posted it to continue some threads from there. Look for A Wandering Soul, and you'll find my additions. It's where I test out new ideas and the like.
The next series of updates will be much sooner, and I'll try and keep it up for as long as I can. Thanks for being so patient!
Oh, and I owe the state about $5000 in college loans. You want to try something legal for using characters from other works for my own twisted amusement, you can have that debt.
The two ninja teams left the gate at a brisk walk, Naruto and several clones going on ahead to scout things out, while Gaara took the rear defensive position, as his ultimate defense would take care of any threat under jounin level. Hinata periodically scouted out the area using her byakugan, in between fretting about her sister and her still crippled father.
Finally, Kushina rolled her eyes at the young genin. "For the last time, Hinata: your Pops and your sister will be fine! Hiashi can hobble around enough to take care of himself, and Nabiki can take care of them if anything arises."
"But who's going to take care of the kitchen and stuff! The Branch House does all the cooking, and with them revolting now that no one is oppressing them . . . "
"Oh please," Anko scoffed, "At the worst, they'll just have to eat a lot of instant ramen . . . " Both Kushina and Hinata stumbled to a halt and looked at her, faces pale and eyes wide in terror, "What did I say?"
"Th-the last time Father ever tried to make anything . . . oh Gods!" Hinata sobbed, collapsing to her knees.
"That man could burn water! He tried to do something romantic for Mitsu-chan . . . a simple picnic meal . . . "
Hinata jerked up, staring at her sensei in wonder and horror, "He . . . he what?"
The redheaded woman nodded solemnly, "The fires raged on for an entire day before we could put it out . . . it was passed off as a training accident gone wrong . . . your mother thought it was kind of cute, but from then on, she always did the cooking . . . "
Anko blinked, "Are you serious? I mean, surely . . . "
"I AM serious, and DON'T CALL ME SHIRLEY!" Anko jerked back, as if stung. "Thankfully, Nabiki knows enough about cooking for them to survive, so there shouldn't be any problems. At least she took after her older sister, rather than her younger sister."
The other genin stared as Hinata sighed in relief, rose, and composed herself. Kushina, on the other hand, just started walking again, as if nothing happened. This continued on for about another half hour, until someone asked the obvious question.
"Nabiki-sensei has sisters?"
Again, Kushina stumbled, before whirling around to stare at Yakumo, who had asked the question.
Tazuna started to feel like he was in the middle of what should have been a private conversation.
Kushina stared at the brunette for what seemed like minutes, making the poor girl feel very uncomfortable. Finally, when she was about to collapse and apologize for whatever fault she had committed, when finally, the older woman sighed and covered her face with her hands.
"Na-chan is a very private person, and her family is a sore spot for all of us. Let's just say that they had issues and leave it at that. All you need to know in this case is that her older sister was the only one that ever treated me with any kindness and was one of the best cooks I have ever met. Her younger one . . . could turn even a salad into the worst non-lethal poison known to man. You will not mention this conversation to Nabiki, and you will ask no more questions about the topic, understand?"
This last part was focused on the genin around her, but she also sent a potent look at a Naruto clone that had been lurking beside the group. The clone gulped, and then nodded his understanding.
The Oni Kyoudai were ready to pounce on their prey as the group came by.
First to pass was the Hyuuga girl. Both men grinned at the ease at which she had passed, for it was obvious that they weren't found out. Such a foolish girl . . . still, the body on that one . . .
The pale brunette followed after her, lazily chatting with the blunette in front of them. It was truly a shame that such innocent looking children were made ninja. Almost enough to make them want to spare them . . . NOT!
However, it was when the girl with the odd looking buns on her head passed that their plan went to pieces. The moment she passed by the puddle genjutsu they were hiding under, she pivoted fluidly and hurled a kunai with an armed explosion tag attached at them. The two brothers barely had enough time to dive out of the way before they were caught. In the rush, they were forced to detach the chain that linked their clawed gauntlets together.
At once, Gozu was met with a face full of Hyuuga fury. He barely had time to dodge her first few feints, but when he tried to swipe at her with his poisoned claws, she ducked, setting her weight on both arms, and then slammed a chakra fueled kick right into his groin.
Meanwhile, Meizu was hit with a confounding genjutsu. It was simple enough to break, but when he did, he only had the chance to see a rage powered fist slamming right into his nose, knocking him into his brother.
Both men growled, pissed off at their apparent humiliation, but froze when two rather large serpents slithered around them. Immediately, they felt the immense crushing pressure that only constrictors can supply.
"So," the Demon Brothers looked up to verbally rip into their opponents, only to pale at the violet haired kunoichi in front of them. She was rather well known for being a nasty specialist in the Konoha Torture Division, "The Oni Kyodai, two B level Kiri chunins with a rather nice looking bounty . . . how 'bout you boys tell me what you two were after here, hm?"
"Oh, I know exactly what their after, Anko-chan." If anything, that voice filled them with even more terror than the Snake Bitch of Konoha could.
The Uzumaki clan, while having been virtually wiped out over a decade ago, was known to be rather vicious to those who crossed them. Uzumaki Kushina though . . . there was a reason they called her the Akai Chishio no Habenero . . . it was not JUST because of her temper!
She knelt down in front of them and smirked, "You know, boys, I could have sworn you two were pretty gung-ho about going back and fixing Kiri for the best. What happened?"
Both men swallowed harshly as Anko turned to Kushina in surprise, "You know these two?"
Gaara's familiar voice found its way into the conversation, "We met them while we were hanging out over by Kiri some odd years ago. Apparently, they were part of a group trying to assassinate the Fourth Mizukage on grounds of tyranny or something like that."
Gozu cleared his throat, "That kinda thing takes money, ya know? We got word of a high paying job, and we took it. I mean, all we had to do was kill a measly old man, and we'd get a fortune-enough to get our operation going!"
"We didn't know we'd be against you and your gang! We'd never have touched this job if we knew, honest!" Meizu chimed in.
Anko couldn't help but snipe, "Sounds like you guys have quite the reputation."
Her redheaded compatriot blushed and looked away, "It's mostly just controlled rumor mongering. The whole thing involving the pepper and string thing is mostly conjecture, though Na-chan does have a genjutsu based off of it."
"Pepper and string thing?"
"You mean you've never heard of it? It was supposed to be a big deal back in Uzu . . . you see you take a pepper, attach it to a string-"
Kushina couldn't help but laugh at Naruto and Gaara's horrified faces. "Oh alright, I'll tell Anko-chan about it later." She then turned to the two missing nin before them. Alright, Anko and I are going to leave you here for the Konoha Anbu to pick you up. Be nice, and I'll try and put a good word in with the Hokage. We have been kind of short on true assassination specialists, plus I also owe a few favors to Mei-chan, so I can see what we can do to help Mizu while we're at it."
She then signaled the group to move several yards down the road, where she gave Tazuna a pointed look. "Alright, I think it's time you explained why you hired genin ninja for a C-ranked mission when it would at least require B-ranked pay."
The old man had been listening in on the impromptu interrogation, and had seen the true terror in the eyes of these males when they beheld the ladies holding them prisoner. He also didn't want to find out about what this pepper technique entailed.
He sang like a canary.
The ninja soon learned of how Nami no Kuni was in dire straits. About how Gato, the magnate of a large shipping firm, had set up in Nami, and then raised outrageous embargos against the residents, taking care to block all other means of supplying food and other basic needs to the island.
He told of a man, his son-in-law, who was brutally murdered before the inhabitants of Nami's eyes, breaking his daughter's heart and his grandson's spirit in the process, all on the orders of Gato.
He told them how his bridge was the only thing that could save his family, his people, and then got down on his hands and knees and begged them to help out.
By the time he finished, Hinata and Yakumo were in tears, Tenten was fingering her kunai, and Sakura was in budding fury. Naruto and Gaara, on the other hand, were stoic in their silence.
Anko sighed, "I say we turn back." At the outraged cries of the four girls, she snapped, "Hey, we have no idea what we're getting into! We could very well be walking into our deaths for Kami's sake!"
Kushina nodded, "Maybe, but such is the life of a shinobi. As Konoha nin, we have a reputation for being humanitarians; to turn back now would be a mark against us."
"All we have with us are six genin! For a mission like this, an ANBU assassination squad would be better! Hell, I could probably get rid of Gato on my own, but having to watch over six brats while doing it?"
"Two of these brats are my children, trained in some of the best taijutsu and ninjutsu styles Uzu and I had to offer. The other four are well on their way to learning some high class stuff that would cause fear in the hearts of most shinobi. By turning back, we'd be allowing Gato more time, time that he could spend gaining the ear of Kumo and the current regime in Kiri. With his resources, there's no telling what they could do! Kumo already had their eyes on the Byakugan, and I know that there are still some factions who want nothing more than Hinata and her sister as their prisoners! Kiri, on the other hand, has no love for Konoha at this point, and I'm pretty sure Iwa would love to join them in starting the next Great Ninja War!"
Anko narrowed her eyes, "You know something."
"Damn right I do! I'm still waiting for Nabiki to confirm her sources, but from what we know so far, Gato has been funding several black market groups, including several drug smuggling, slave trading, and prostitution rings that have been quite active at this time. Some of the drugs that have been linked to his dealings are also drugs that have also been linked to Orochimaru's illegal operations. There have even been reports of supplies sent there that may have gone to supply his labs. Those shipments haven't been made in a while, but there is still a good chance of finding something there."
The violet haired woman couldn't help but narrow her eyes at the name of her former sensei, "Are you sure of this?"
"Nabiki is rarely incorrect in her findngs. She'll have more info for us later tonight."
The younger woman sighed, and then, to the cries of jubilation from the female genin, she announced, "Looks like we're going to Nami."
The small group continued on towards their destination, Sakura relentlessly grilling Tazuna on Nami's current state of affairs. Having been primarily trained by Nabiki, the girl knew how vitally important information could be.
Eventually, they made it to the sea, where a lone fisherman waited for them. Kushina lazily walked on the water beside the craft while everyone else sat inside, Gaara sulking in the center due to his element's weakness against water.
Finally, they reached the shores of Nami no Kuni. The fog was as thick as pea soup, and the trees seemed tall and forbidding.
Naruto simply sent about fifty of his shadow clones in and then shrugged, "Can't see much of anything in there. I think I just lost two clones just because they couldn't see in front of them."
Kushina grimaced, "Call them off then. If we can't trust them to see anything, then we're better off taking the small, silent route. Use your keener sense of hearing to watch out for ambushes. Gaara, if anything leaps out at us, cut it out at the pass. Ladies, surround our client, please."
The Snake Mistress lead the team alongside Naruto, followed by Kushina's Angels and their client, and ended with Kushina and Gaara. Things carried on normally for half an hour, until Naruto flung a kunai into a bush several yards ahead of him.
He followed after it with wild abandon, katana suddenly appearing in one hand, only for him to yell out, "Code Yellow, Mom, Code Yellow!"
Tenten blinked at that, "Code Yellow?"
Her redheaded sensei nodded as Naruto carried out a small, white rabbit. "Code Yellow: no major danger as of yet, but preparation is vital as of this instant."
Anko blinked at her, "It's only a rabbit; what's so important about a rabbit?"
"Yakumo, you're our genjutsu specialist-what's wrong with this picture?"
The pale brunette furrowed her brow at the animal in Naruto's arms for a minute, and then gasped, "It's Spring! Native rabbits are only white in the Winter to hide from predators! "
Naruto and Gaara suddenly twitched, and they immediately tackled the girls closest to them, the blonde shifting the rabbit so that it wouldn't get hurt on impact. Anko grabbed Tazuna and threw him to the floor before following after him. Kushina shushined to safety just in time to dodge a large zanpakuto that was flying through the air at them.
As Anko, Tazuna, and the genin looked up, they found that sword impacted into the back of a thick tree. On top of it stood a man in dirty gray pants and camouflage boots and fingerless gloves. His face was masked by bandages over his mouth and black, shaggy hair hooding his eyes. "So, they sent the Snake Bitch of Konoha and a bunch of brats for this mission . . . interesting."
"Momochi Zabuza," Anko growled, a feral smirk on her face, "the Kirigakure no Kijin. Wanted by Kiri for the attempted assassination of the Yondaime Mizukage. So you're working with Gato as well?"
"What can I say, he's paying a hell of a lot of money for this gig," Zabuza grunted, "Now, if you'll just hand over the old coot, I'll be nice and NOT kill the kids over there. How 'bout it?"
His sudden wave of killing intent shook Kushina's Angels to their core, making them sweat and shake in terror. Before Anko could fire a retort however, Zabuza jumped as if stung. Leaping off his sword, he turned to find . . . "
"You know, Zabuza-kun, that must be a pretty hefty paycheck on your mind to make you overlook little old me, not to mention my boys over there."
The girls of the group couldn't help but gape at that, and then looked towards the boys for information. It was only then that they noticed them hiding their heads in their hands, muttering threats against the Kamis for the torture that was soon to come upon them. The white rabbit sitting up Naruto's head seemed to join them in their supplications.
"Kushina!" Zabuza gaped at the woman, "I thought . . . but . . . "
"I may have issues with some of the Council there, but Konoha has always been and will always be my home. I had friends there; some of them still living, and others leaving their kids behind. It is my duty to them and to my village to ensure that they are taken care of," the kunoichi told the man in front of her, "Still, I never thought I'd see the day when you'd work with a black market slaver."
"Black market . . . that Gato creep is just a greedy business man! Sure he's got a bunch of mercenaries on call, but he's not a slaver . . . is he?"
"Nabiki is confirming it as we speak, but the amount of rumors tying him to drug, slave, and prostitution rings doesn't paint a pretty picture."
Zabuza's mouth seemed to move under those bandages over it for several moments, but nothing seemed to come out. Finally, he sighed and slammed the palm of his left hand into his forehead. "Damnit! How was I supposed to know!"
"You weren't. Now that you know though, what are you going to do about it?"
As Anko and the Angels flickered between the sobbing boys and the two jounin level ninja, they were startled to find a white masked figure with long black hair tied in a bun on top of its head walking towards them. Before they could react, it grabbed the rabbit from on top of Naruto's head, glanced at the two figures talking several yards away, and then groaned, "Please Kami, not again!"
Gaara, face still hidden behind his hands, grunted, "Nice to see you to, Haku-chan."
The person giggled, taking off its mask to reveal a feminine face with dark brown eyes. "True, though I'd rather meet again in a place with plenty of silencing seals for those three."
"Two, actually," Naruto muttered, "Auntie Nabiki is back at Konoha taking care of business right now."
"Really? I didn't think she'd miss something like this."
"Mom swore that she'd summon her afterwards to tackle some bandit gangs on the way back. Anko-sensei is acting in as sensei in her place."
"Ah," The girl smiled at the other females around her, "Hi, my name is Momochi Haku, Zabuza-sama's adopted daughter. Nice to meet you!"
Anko blinked owlishly at the girl and then grunted, jerking a thumb over at the two jounin, "Mind explaining what that's about?"
Before she could answer, Naruto grunted, "Little known fact: The Devil of the Hidden Mist may be a ruthless killer, but he's got a soft spot for kids, especially orphans and victims. Mom and Auntie met him awhile back, and after they kicked his ass, they ended up getting drinks and talking about stuff." The boy shivered and then sobbed, "We never got a bit of sleep that night, or the night after . . . damnit!"
The whimpering almost made the girls giggle. Almost.
Several nights after the massacre at the Hyuuga compound, one of the silencing arrays around the elders' room malfunctioned. Sleep was short that night for everyone.
Hanabi was still having night terrors about it.
"So, what's up?" Haku asked.
Gaara shrugged, looking up from his hands finally, "Not much. Visited Sunagakure, hung out with my brother and sister again, had a nice long talk with my Uncle, came back home . . . did a bunch of D-ranks with my new team . . . slept, ate, and kicked some ass. What else would there be?"
Haku giggled again, "That's good. Zabuza-sama and I have been taking random bounties and jobs. This creep Gato called us a couple of weeks ago offering enough money to finance another strike on Kiri's old regime, so we ended up coming over here . . . though from the looks of it, we can forget that."
"Hm . . . maybe we can split part of this guy's fortune with you? Odds are that, after we off him, we'll end up raiding his treasury to make up what this mission should have cost. Considering all that he's done, there ought to be plenty more where that came from."
"Um, Gaara-kun, aren't we supposed to be protecting Tazuna-san? Why would we assassinate Gato?" Sakura asked.
Naruto snorted, "Odds are good that he'll try and set up some sort of ambush to take us by surprise, and then right after he makes his last move, he'll come and gloat about it. Seeing that this guy seems to have a lot of mercenaries on his payroll, he'll probably use them. We can take them with an arm tied behind our backs!"
"True, but it is unwise to count our chickens before they hatch," Gaara intoned.
The sunkissed blonde just grunted at this.
Suddenly, Gaara blinked and then flashed through five hand seals. Slamming his palms to the floor, he produced a bit of smoke and a black tabby cat with a message scroll on its back, who stalked towards Kushina and Zabuza. Kushina, noticing this, reached down to pick it up, retrieving the scroll as she did so.
She then opened the scroll, looked at it for a few moments, and then passed it over to Zabuza, who did the same. Cursing harshly, the man closed it, tossed it back to Kushina, and then went to retrieve his zanpakuto.
The redheaded jounin jogged back to her team, "Good news: Na-chan has confirmed Gato's ties to the Black Market, as well as the fact that he has a Oinin squad heading this way to collect Zabuza's head. He's agreed to drop the contract on grounds of betrayal by client."
"And I've decided to follow you and your brats around for a bit," the man grunted, stalking towards them, "Kumo-hime listed the description of the bastard leading the team, and it sounds too close to describing a guy I know to not be him. I've got a score to settle with him, so I might as well join in and make sure you guys aren't in over your heads."
Naruto, Gaara, and Haku groaned, looked at each other, and then groaned again. Anko, on the other hand . . .
"Hold up just a second! This guy was just trying to kill our client, and now you want to team up with him? What the fuck?"
Kushina giggled at the dumbstruck look on the Tokubetsu jounin. "Even thieves have honor, Anko-chan. We kept Zabuza from meeting a nasty end, so he's indebted to us. Plus, a man who double-crosses a nuke-nin, on average, doesn't tend to live long. Besides, he may not look like it, but he's just a big softy at heart!"
Zabuza just growled and swiped at the woman, only for her to duck under it and stick her tongue out at him. Naruto just shook his head and motioned for Gaara to help drag the genin kunoichi and Tazuna ahead of them. Haku fell in beside Gaara, and started striking up a conversation with the boy.
Sakura couldn't help but glance back at the two of them; feeling like her heart was being twisted. The familiar feeling of jealousy settled in her stomach. Naruto, noticing this as he continued ushering Yakumo, Tenten, and Hinata up the path, couldn't help but mutter a curse at the Saotome name.
Somehow, he just knew that they were related to the poor bastard. Who else would have this much bad luck?
COMING UP NEXT: The Mist Hunter Ninja arrive! The girls (and Naruto and Gaara) go through some nasty (yet familiar) training. Oh, and sleepless nights . . . don't forget about that . . .
And soon . . . we meet our first . . . well, third Ranma character in the Narutoverse . . . pity her, please!