Don't own Naruto

This had just not been a good week for Sakura Haruno.

The first stage of the Chunin Exam had gone well enough; the written exam had been tough, but doable. She had even gotten through the surprise trick question with no problems. Sure, Naruto's little ploy to get through his own part of the test had thrown her off a bit, but it all worked out in the end. Her team had been one of the few to actually get to the next stage of the exams, and with Sasuke on her team she was confident they would make it through the next stage of the test just as easily.

Then came the Forest of Death, where everything had gone horribly wrong. Next thing she knew, they had been attacked by an S-ranked criminal, Sasuke had abandoned his teammates to pursue some sort of family revenge thing, and her other teammate was in the hospital and injured so badly that even if she recovered, her ninja career was over. It was terrifying how quickly everything had fallen apart.

Then Naruto had shown up and things had taken an interesting turn, only to go wrong again a few days later when the boy politely informed her that he was not interested because he was in a relationship with another girl. A girl she was going to have to fight in the tournament next month. Moreover, given that this girl had an entire year of growth and experience over her, a girl who was also probably going to win this fight easily. Given that she had found out Sakura had asked her new boyfriend out and was no doubt less than pleased by that fact, it was probably going to be a painful experience as well.

So in a bit less than a month's time, she could look forward to a physical defeat to compliment the social one she'd already gotten from Tenten. Just to make things that much worse, everyone in Konoha and even dignitaries from other nations would be there to witness her public humiliation. Years from now, people would still remember her as that girl who got utterly crushed during the Chunin Exams.

Oh, and on top of all that Kakashi was late for her training session. Not that this was a huge surprise, but it was yet another entry on the very long list of things that were going badly in her life.

Just as if thinking of her eccentric sensei was enough to conjure the man out of the æther, Kakashi walked up. "Yo, Sakura. Sorry I'm late." To the pink-haired girl's annoyance, Kakashi barely even bothered to look up from his well-worn copy of Icha Icha Paradise when he greeted her. "I had an important meeting with the Hokage, so…"

"You said you had a meeting with the Hokage when you were late for our team meeting last week." Sakura glowered at her sensei suspiciously. "You can't use the same excuse twice and expect me to believe you."

"Oh, I used that one before?" Kakashi gave a careless shrug. "Well, that time I was lying, so it doesn't count. This time though, I really did have a meeting with the Hokage. Honest."

"Sure you did," Sakura crossed her arms over her chest and hit her sensei with a particularly nasty glare she had learned from watching her mother. "So, what did you and the Hokage talk about during this meeting you supposedly had with each other? Since it was just a few minutes ago, I'm sure you can remember."

"Oh, I'm afraid I can't tell you. Classified information and all that." Well, he probably could have told her some of the things that the Hokage brought up during the meeting without getting into any real trouble since not all of it had been top secret. However, what he could tell her would not have made much sense if she did not know any of the secret stuff, so she probably would have spent the rest of the day pestering him to fill in all the gaps.

For her part, Sakura took his vague answer as an admission of guilt. "I can't believe you. You could at least have a little bit of responsibility and tell the truth. What kind of adult are you?"

Kakashi briefly debated trying to defend himself, but that would probably just make the girl even more agitated than she was already, and it would really just be more trouble than it was worth. A lot simpler to let her think she had won and simply toss out another excuse. "Alright, fine, I actually got lost on the road of life."

"You used that excuse two weeks ago." Sakura shot back.

"Had to help an old lady cross the street?"

"Last month."

"A giant evil ninja raccoon from Kumo broke into my apartment last night and stole my headband, and I had to spend the entire morning chasing it down and getting my headband back."

Sakura just glared at him silently.

Kakashi let out a slightly frustrated sigh. "Darn, I was sure I hadn't used the raccoon one yet; that's one of my best stories. Maybe this would go faster if you just told me which excuses I've already used, so I know what to say?"

An annoyed growl and the sound of grinding teeth was the only answer Kakashi got until eventually the girl just snapped. "Forget it; it's obvious that you don't care and nothing I say is ever going to turn you into a responsible sensei who actually shows up on time, so why should I bother?"

"That's a very positive attitude, Sakura. I'm glad to hear you say that." The jonin idly hoped that this would mean that she would stop spending the first few minutes of every meeting being mad at him for showing up late. After all, he was only half an hour late; for him, that was practically showing up early. "You know, that reminds me; I need to go see a man about a dog, so we might have to cancel today's training session. Oh well, see you tomorrow." Kakashi turned around to leave

The jonin had barely taken two steps before Sakura shrieked like a pink haired banshee. "Get your ass back here, Kakashi-sensei!"

Kakashi sighed, and turned back around to face Sakura. "Fine, fine, I guess I can take care of that after we finish up today's training. You really should make up your mind though; first you say it's fine if I'm late and lazy, but now you're yelling at me again. I'm really getting some mixed signals here. You should try to follow my example, and always be clear and consistent."

"I'd rather die than end up like you," Sakura growled. She was about to go into full-scale rant mode until it occurred to her that every minute she spent yelling at Kakashi was a minute lost she could have spent training. "Never mind, let's just get started."

"Right, training for the tournament," Kakashi shot a disinterested glance at Sakura. "Who's your opponent again? I forgot."

"You forgot." Sakura stated flatly.

"Well, the meeting where the matches got decided was a long time ago."

"It was yesterday."

"Really? Huh. Well, to be fair a lot of things happened yesterday." Kakashi gave a careless shrug and very reluctantly closed his book. "Anyway, it's not like you have a very good chance of winning; Tenten's older than you, stronger, tougher, has a year of training and practical experience over you, and she's really good with weapons. In contrast, frankly you're really not that great of a ninja. I don't think you have a very good chance of winning. In fact, if I had to place a bet on the match I'd probably bet that you'll lose in less than a minute."

"Whose side are you on, anyway?" Sakura groused. The worst part was that deep down, Sakura had to admit that everything he said was true.

"Yeah, everyone knows you're no match for her. You know she's better than you are. I know she's better than you are. Gai knows she's better than you are. Her teammates know that she's better than you are." Sakura shrank a little lower with every person Kakashi mentioned. She could feel whatever faint hope she had of winning collapsing. "Most importantly, she knows that she's better than you are. That actually gives you a bit of an advantage, if you think about it." Sakura's bowed head shot up at that. "Since she knows that she's better than you, she won't take you seriously as an opponent. She'll try to save her energy for the rest of the matches and she'll hold back her best jutsu; everyone wants to have one two nasty surprises ready to pull out for a tough fight, and she'll want to save hers for the opponents she'll face after you. You're no match for her if she goes all out, but she won't want to go all out at first. That just might give a chance to sucker punch her and squeak out a win."

"You really think I can win?" Sakura asked, feeling a little bit hopeful about the match for the first time since she learned just whom she would be fighting.

"It's not the likeliest thing in the world, but I wouldn't say it's impossible. Like I said, even if you do lose, everyone knows she's better than you are. That includes the judges. Going up against an opponent who seriously outmatches you and putting up a good fight will still count for a lot with them. Remember, you don't even have to win a single match to get promoted."

"So she could beat me in the fight, and I'd still end up getting promoted." A smile slowly made its way onto Sakura's face. "And since everyone knows she's better than me, her winning the fight probably wouldn't impress anybody. No matter how badly she beats me, that won't get her promoted to Chunin, but all I have to do is put up a decent fight and I'll earn a lot of respect. Everybody loves an underdog, after all."

"Feeling better about the tournament now?"

Sakura stopped to think for a moment, and then nodded. "Yeah, I am."

"See, I'm a great sensei."

"Yeah, I guess you're alright." Sakura conceded. "Out of all the lazy perverted senseis that always show up late for everything that I've had, you're the best of them."

"I'm flattered," Kakashi deadpanned.

"It is a pity Naruto will not be training with us," Lee lamented as he dodged through the nearly constant stream of kunai, shuriken, and other throwing weapons Tenten hurled in his general direction. "Since my opponent in the first round will be a wind user, practicing against him would be excellent training."

"I suppose it would be useful, and I'm not exactly happy about who he found to run his training program," Tenten agreed. "Then again, if he was training with the two of us I wouldn't have any surprises to use against him when we fought." Tenten mixed a few exploding kunai into her next barrage and managed to get one close enough to leave Lee's right leg just a bit singed.

Lee held up his hand, and Tenten halted her attack. Lee took a moment to check his injury, and confirmed that it was not nearly bad enough to need immediate medical attention. The burn was barely worse than a bad sunburn, and a bit of pain would just make the rest of the day's training that much more challenging and intense. Lee signaled that he was ready to resume, and soon he was once more frantically dodging Tenten's attacks. "You seem quite interested in defeating Naruto. It is curious, considering…" The boy hesitated for a moment, trying to think of exactly how to bring up the fact that Naruto and Tenten were dating now without being crass about it. "Considering recent developments between the two of you."

"Just because he's my boyfriend now doesn't mean I'm going to start going easy on him." Tenten shot back, hurling the next kunai just a touch harder than was strictly necessary. "If he holds back on me when we have our match, I'll kick his ass. It's exactly the kind of thing that idiot would do, too."

"If you will forgive me for saying so Tenten, I do not believe either one of us is currently capable of defeating Naruto if he were to truly unleash his full strength against us." Something halfway between admiration and annoyance entered Lee's voice as he added. "His growth has truly been phenomenal."

"Yeah, it has." Tenten paused her attack, and glance at Lee speculatively. "Does it bother you that he's so much stronger than us now?"

"At times." Lee confessed. "As much as I admire his growth, and the training he has put himself through to achieve his current level of skill, I am bothered by the fact that no matter how hard I work, he still outpaces me. Gai-sensei always tells me that hard work can overcome any level of natural talent, but Naruto works just as hard as we do, and his natural talents are quite impressive as well."

"Not to mention the whole jinchuriki thing he has going for him." Tenten added. "It's hard to believe that a year and a half ago I was explaining some of the most basic ninja skills to him, and now he's gone and left us both in the dust. Pretty soon he'll probably be the one teaching me things instead. Or he'll be doing something stupid like trying to protect me when we're in the middle of a fight."

"Would that not be natural?" Lee asked. "We are comrades. If you were at a disadvantage, any one of us would assist you, just as you would protect us if we needed your help."

"Well, yeah, but it's different for me, especially with him." Tenten frowned, idly twirling a kunai as she tried to find a way to put words to her thoughts. "If it's you protecting me, well, we're both equal in skill, and Gai-sensei's our sensei, so that's normal, but Naruto... The thing with him is, he's stronger than me, and he knows it. So, he might do something like think that he has to protect me all the time."

"And you dislike that idea?" Lee looked slightly confused. "If he began displaying such concern for your wellbeing, would that indicate that he cares very deeply about you?"

"Well, um, yeah, I guess." Tenten flushed slightly, before recovering from her brief flash of embarrassment and returning to the matter at hand. "But it's not about that, it's about the fact that I don't need him to protect me in the first place. I'm a kunoichi, a trained warrior. I don't need him to protect me; I can protect myself just fine. I'm not going to end up like one of those girls from the Academy who constantly dreams about being rescued by their boyfriend."

"You are concerned that your new relationship with Naruto will somehow compromise your ability to be a functional and independent ninja?"

"There's no reason why it should." Tenten frowned down at her kunai, idly testing the sharpness of its blade. "It's not like being involved with him is suddenly going to make me forget my ninja skills and training. Plenty of kunoichi have boyfriends and even end up getting married and having kids. They're still very good at what they do."

On the other hand, a lot of kunoichi wound up retiring from active duty once they had children too, and most of the women who stayed on active duty were not married to active shinobi. Konoha's society generally frowned on having both of a child's parents serving as active ninjas. A ninja's life inevitably meant spending considerable stretches of time far away from Konoha, and a child with two ninja parents would inevitably have to be placed in someone else's care whenever duty called. The larger ninja clans had an easier time dealing with that kind of thing thanks to having larger family support networks, but even in the clans having both of a child's parents as active ninjas was rare. Aunts, uncles, and grandparents could take care of a child, but abandoning a child into a relative's care was hardly an ideal solution. Then, of course, there was always the possibility of death in the line of duty for active ninjas. Losing one parent would be bad enough; nobody liked the idea of having a child turned into an orphan because a single mission went horribly wrong.

Tenten let out an annoyed growl and commented to herself, "I'm doing it again.'

"Doing what?" Lee asked.

"Worrying about what ifs and things that might happen years from now," Tenten answered. "I've got enough to deal with in the present; I don't need to add all the problems I might have to deal with ten or twenty years from now to the list too. If I'm worried about Naruto outpacing me, then I'll just have to work twice as hard as he does so I can keep up with him. No, I'll work three times as hard as he does so that I'll end up being better than him again!"

"Ah, Tenten, the fires of your youthfulness are so inspiring!" Lee declared exuberantly. "You're right; instead of worrying that Naruto is surpassing us, his example should inspire us to push ourselves to new heights! I shall also train three times harder! Truly, your words are as inspiring as Gai-sensei's!"

"Thanks Lee." It took Tenten another moment to process just what Lee had said. "Wait – What?"

"I said that your words were just like the inspiring speeches Gai-sensei gives to us!" Lee declared, his enthusiasm blinding him the horrified look on Tenten's face.

"I knew it," the girl groaned. "Sensei's insanity really is contagious, and now I'm catching The Gai."

Maeko charged in, but her first attack failed when her opponent flicked a lazy punch at her face that clipped her along the jaw. Maeko fell back a step before coming back in with a sweeping roundhouse kick that her opponent easily blocked before catching and trapping her leg with a deft twist of his arm.

Taijutsu was not an option anymore; she certainly could not try any more kicks with one leg trapped, and in her current pose even if she managed to twist around enough to land a punch there would not be any force behind it. That left her with only one other way to win the fight. Her hands shot through a few quick symbols and she hit her opponent with a genjutsu that should have convinced him that her captured leg had turned into a gigantic snake. Judging by the fact that her opponent did not let her go, it did not work.

Her opponent said nothing, apparently content to wait until she conceded that she had lost the match once more. That had been the pattern for every single training session they had gone through so far; she would do everything she could to win, and he would casually counter everything and beat her without even trying hard. Then he would oh-so-patiently explain what she had done wrong, and how she could improve on her skills.

That was not good enough. Not nearly good enough. Obviously, she could not expect to win against her sparring partner every time, but she was sick of losing every single time, of never managing to even make him work hard for his victory. Her frustration boiled over, and before she realized what she was doing, each of her hands started blurring through a series of independent signs.

Moments later her leg was free again after she her first jutsu used her captured leg as a channel to deliver a nasty electric shock, and when the man stumbled back a half step in surprise his foot landed in a slick mud patch Maeko had created with a simple water jutsu. The man's leg slid out from under him, and he fell flat on his back. A second later, a thrown kunai buried itself into the mud a few inches away from his head.

With a confident smirk, Maeko haughtily announced, "Looks like I win this round, Iruka-sensei."

Her old Academy instructor picked himself up from ground and let out a sheepish chuckle, swiping a hand through the back of his hair to knock a few bits of mud and dirt free. "I'll admit, you surprised me that time. You don't use much ninjutsu, and I don't think you've ever used your kekkei genkai in a spar in all the time you were at the Academy so I wasn't expecting it. Don't expect me to fall for the same trick twice though."

Maeko had gone completely stiff as soon as he mentioned her kekkei genkai. A few seconds too late, the chunin realized that would probably have been better to let the fact that she had used her bloodline abilities pass unremarked instead of drawing attention to it. In any case, it was too late to take it back now. "Look Maeko, if you ever want to talk to somebody about what –"

"Drop it Iruka," The girl in question snarled. "I'm not going to be your next little pity project. You think I'm stupid enough really believe that you just coincidently happened to be training in the same area I was, and offering to work with me was just a matter of convenience? I've seen how you worked at the Academy; find some kid with a sad past who's having trouble keeping up, and try to be that kid's friend and help him. I'm surprised it took you this long to get around poor little dead-last orphan Maeko. I bet once you saw me training by myself you just couldn't help yourself, could you? So sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not interested in becoming one of your pet projects."

For his part, Iruka stood patiently and endured Maeko's annoyed rant. Once the girl seemed to finish her venting, the chunin sighed and very calmly answered, "It's not a matter of pity, Maeko. I'm a teacher. It's what I do, and even though you graduated from the Academy a long time ago, a part of me will always think of you as one of my students. Whenever I see one of my students having trouble, it's only natural for me to want to help."

"Well, I don't need your help!" Maeko snapped at her former instructor. "Just like I didn't need my jonin-sensei's help, or my teammates' help, or anybody else! I can manage just fine on my own!"

"No Maeko, you can't," Iruka responded placidly. "Training by yourself is never a good way to improve you skills; an outsider's perspective is incredibly important. Even outside of training, ninjas work in teams for a reason. That was one of the first lessons I tried to teach you at the Academy; nobody can do everything by themselves. A ninja has to have teammates they can trust and rely on in order to reach their full potential."

"Well, I've been managing just fine by myself, so I guess all that teamwork stuff is a bunch of bullshit," Maeko shot back. "I don't need teammates, or senseis, or anybody else! The only person in this entire craphole village I need is me! Myself! Nobody else! So the rest of you can just leave me the fuck alone, because that's how I like it!"

Iruka decided to make one last effort to reach out to the girl. "Maeko, have you ever tried talking to anybody about what happened with your moth–"

"Shut the fuck up right now, or I'll kill you!" the girl snarled with a hint of bestial madness in her voice. "I'm not kidding. Don't talk about that; don't even think about it. Ever. It's none of your damn business."

Iruka let out a resigned sigh. He made a genuine effort, but there was nothing he could do for Maeko. At the end of the day, it was almost impossible to help somebody who did not want help. Despite that, he offered the girl one final opening. "If you ever change your mind, you know where to find me."

"I won't. Now get out of here. I don't want to see you again anytime soon." The girl turned her back on her former sensei and growled to herself, "I can train just fine by myself."

Iruka reluctantly turned around and walked away, giving her exactly what she wanted. Even if he had a chance of getting through to her one day, she was far too angry to listen to him now.

Iruka almost jumped in shock when he heard the first crashing sound coming from the training ground where he had left Maeko. He turned around, and moment later he saw a flash of light followed moments later by a tree falling to the ground. The process repeated itself several more times, and for a moment he was tempted to go back. That would probably be a bad idea though; all things considered, it was much healthier for everyone involved if Maeko took out her rage on a few trees.

Naruto had finally managed to focus himself perfectly. It had taken most of his month of training to pull it off, but now all of his hard work was finally paying off, and he had reached the mental state he needed to control the Fox's chakra perfectly.

Then someone smacked him over the head and broke his concentration.

"What the heck was that for?" Naruto shouted, rubbing the now slightly sore part of his skull and leaping to his feet in the middle of the grassy clearing that was serving as their training area. "I was finally starting to get all that perfect concentration stuff you were telling me about, and then you go and hit me like that!"

"Wrong, Naruto," Yugito announced briskly. "You were over-concentrating, that's why I was able to walk up behind you and smack you. I wasn't even trying to be sneaky, but you were so focused, you didn't notice me. You can't overdo things like that; perfect focus is useless if you can only pull it off when you end up being perfectly blind and deaf as well. Controlling your tailed beast with no distractions is easy, probably because it's a completely worthless skill. You wanted me to teach you how to control your tailed beast in combat, which means learning to be mindful of your surroundings."

"Well you didn't have to hit me so hard…" Naruto grumbled.

"I've been giving you gentle little taps since this is just a temporary little bit of instruction," Yugito answered heartlessly. "If you were a proper apprentice, you'd be losing blood every time you messed up. In my experience, pain is an excellent motivator."

"That's not a very nice way to train people," Naruto complained.

"I'd rather be effective than nice, and a few cuts and bruises now will save you from getting killed or worse in the future."

"Yeah, well Konoha manages to train plenty of good ninjas without having to be mean about it."

"Well, in that care you're welcome to get one of the Konoha jinchuriki who knows all about managing perfect control over their tailed beasts to train you." Yugito paused a moment, and then adopted a faux-thoughtful expression. "Oh wait, I just remembered, none of Konoha's jinchuriki ever managed that. Guess that means you'll just have to do things the Kumo way then."

"Well, we've only had like, two jinchuriki for the Fox before me, while most of the other villages go through jinchuriki a lot faster. Sure, you might know more about dealing with tailed beasts, but that's only because you've had a couple dozen jinchuriki go nuts from being pushed way too hard. Konoha never had a jinchuriki go bad like other villages; we had one die of old age, and the other just died in some kinda freak accident or something. Neither one ever went crazy. Can't say that for any other village. Heck, look at Gaara."

"Yes, his state is regrettable, but mastering new techniques requires the willingness to make sacrifices. That's why Konoha has never produced a jinchuriki with perfect control over their beasts; you aren't willing to pay the price that kind of innovation takes. You're fine with letting Kumo pay the price, and then just taking the benefits of our work and sacrifice."

"Hey, it's not like you're training me for free; you got a whole bunch of useful intel on those Akatsuki guys in exchange for giving me a few weeks of training." Naruto crossed his arms over his chest, and added, "Besides, Kumo's really not in any position to complain about other people trying to steal their unique jutsu."

Yugito shrugged, conceding the point. " That's the way of the ninja world, I suppose. When somebody else has something that you want, it's inevitable that you'll try to take it. The strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must."

"That doesn't sound like a very nice world to live in," Naruto commented.

Yugito gave a careless shrug. "Doesn't really matter if we think of it as a nice world to live in or not; that's the way it is."

"The way I see it, if the world really is that way the main reason is that there are a lot of folks like you who think that's the way things have to be."

Yugito thought it over for a moment, and shrugged again. "It's possible you're right, but unless you can convince every single ninja in the world to change their minds, it doesn't really matter. As long as the ninja world is a ruthless place, we will have to train ninjas to be ruthless if they want to survive. Gaara's certainly not going to stop trying to kill you during your match with him just because you start telling him about love, peace, and the magic of friendship."

"Probably not," Naruto admitted with a reluctant frown on his face. "Hey, how is it he's so much better at the whole jinchuriki thing than I am anyway? I mean from what I've seen of the guy, he's not exactly full of inner peace and tranquility, but you've said he's got a lot of control over his jinchuriki abilities."

A flicker of distaste played over Yugito's face. "There are two ways to tap into the power of a tailed beast. One of them is the way I was trained, and consequently the way I'm training you, where you achieve mastery of your tailed beast through discipline and self-control. The other way is to cast discipline aside, and let the beast take complete control over your mind and body. All you have to do is focus on rage and hate, and the beast will do the rest; it's a much easier and faster way of doing things, if you don't mind winding up like Gaara."

"So, not a good way to do things then?"

"As a general rule, I wouldn't advise it," Yugito agreed. "Drawing on your tailed beast's power makes it easier for the beast to influence you; that's why you can really only use a small amount of the Fox's chakra safely. Someone like Gaara who is willing to give up his self-control completely can draw an almost all of his beast's power."

"So even though the Fox has a lot more raw power than the Tanuki, Gaara's actually got a lot more chakra since he can use everything his beast has."

"Essentially," Yugito agreed. "If he goes all out against you, you'll have to push past your safe limits to beat him. That's why willpower and focus are so important for you; you might have to push up to the edge of how much of the Fox's chakra you can use while staying in control of your actions. The closer you get to the edge, the easier it is to go over, and let the Fox take control."

"I'm not worried about that," Naruto announced confidently. "I've been using the Fox's power for a while now; I've got a long way to go before I have it all figured out, but I know what I can do, and what's too far for me."

"Well, once we finish talking, I'll expect you to show me just how much you can do. It's been a while since that little sparring match we had, hasn't it?"

Naruto gave her a grin that showed entirely too many teeth. "I wouldn't mind that; I owe you an ass-kicking, and my skills have gone way up since the last time we fought."

"Perhaps. Or maybe it's only your ego that's grown," Yugito shot back with a smirk. "In any case, so far we've been a bit too focused on Gaara. Understandable, but we shouldn't forget you have two other matches before you might end up facing him. I would hate to see you lose in the first round because your training was completely focused on the final round. After all, if you lose pathetically, that would make me look bad. You'll be facing ninjas from your own village, so you'd likely know more about them than I would. "

"Well, second round I'll be up against Tenten; Sakura's no match for her, and I think Tenten's kinda pissed at her too."

"Worried about fighting your girlfriend?" Yugito sniped at him, a knowing smirk on her face.

"Nah, we spar all the time, so it's not a big deal. This time, we're just sparring with an audience. First round's got me more curious though."

"What, the Kimura girl? Are you sure you can beat her?"

"If you'd asked me that question a while ago, I'd have said, I can beat her, no problem. She's not that good, really. But then I found out she's got a kekkei genkai she hasn't been using, and that kinda changes things."

"A Bloodline Limit? Interesting. What type?"

"A combination element, ranton."

Yugito frowned at that. "I didn't think Konoha had any ranton users." A moment later, a smirk ran across her face. "Looks like somebody's been spreading their genes around in places they shouldn't, then. Well, it must be Kiri's fault; her skin's the wrong color to have picked it up from one of the ninjas from my village who has that particular bloodline limit. Kiri certainly had plenty of rogue bloodline users running around. Or I guess it could just be a spontaneous case." Yugito shrugged. "Wherever it's from, I've seen ranton jutsu in action, so I can tell you what to expect from her."

"Thanks." Naruto frowned over at his temporary sensei. "You know kitty, when you're not trying to beat me up, kidnap me, or mess with my head and lie to me for the heck of it, you're not half bad."

"Glad to hear it," Yugito smirked at him. "That means my new plan of subverting your loyalty to Konoha by acting friendly and helpful is working."

"Are you trying to be nice to me because you want to be friends, or is this all some manipulative game you're playing?" Naruto crossed his arms over his chest and glowered at the Kumo woman.

Yugito's answer was a peal of merry laughter. "Ah, Naruto, you really are so refreshingly naïve sometimes." Yugito let out another chuckle and with a wide grin on her face declared, "The simple truth is, even if you were my best friend in the world I'd still be trying to manipulate you."

Author's Note: Cutting Loose actually has a page of its own on TV Tropes. Personally, I think that's pretty cool.

Also, props to TenchiSolutionsForAll for proofreading this chapter for me.