Disclaimer : Naruto © Kishimoto
A/N : First off, I would like to apologize from the depths of my heart for this incredibly overdue update. I... I have... I have excuses. XP … I was lost at sea for ten years fighting cyclops and witches and sea monsters and gods... okay, seriously, I only battled two monsters.. the California State Bar, and writers block. But recently I overcame the second of these beasts and so decided that almost an entire year was more than long enough to keep you all waiting. I hope to finish this story soon but... well I can't promise anything.
To RECAP (because it has been that long) : Tenten is in Suna, Koudo told Neji the truth about their mother, the Merchant of Death is about to mount a full-on inter-shinobi-nation attack (or something of that scale), and his daughter, whose the new/future MoD is in Suna... oh and did we mention... she's Tenten and Koudo's long lost mother who abandoned them shortly after Tenten's birth, but of course our beloved weapons mistress has no idea since Koudo has been hiding this truth from her ever since he discovered it fourteen years ago?

And now we return you to your regularly scheduled drama...


THE AMETSUCHI DRAGON

The dark haired woman had arrived in Suna five days after leaving Iron Country. Though it was a shame that she had had to kill the operatives she had sent to attack the Sand Village, Rei reminded herself that she had not had any other choice. It was a necessary act in order to ensure that she was able to leave Suna before her true plan took place. And while it meant that that the Hidden Sand would be the one major shibobi village which would not be attacked during the massive inter-shinobi nation assault, and that she had lost four of her best agents, it also meant that Rei would be able to return to the Land of Iron in time to sneak into the hidden fortress during a time where she had ensured there would be minimal security.

Rei had waited years for this opportunity, a time when the shinobi world was in enough chaos that it would effect the dealings of the Merchant of Death. The fourth Shinobi War had just ended and she had finally seen her chance. Everything would have gone smoothly had the old man not sent her away. Even in his senile state, it seemed the old man still had enough sense to know that she was a danger to him.

"That crazy old coot!" the forty-five year old woman muttered under her breath as entered a small weapons shop near the outskirts of the Sand village.

Though Rei had initially intended to buy anything she needed once outside of Suna, not wanting to draw attention to herself in a major village, she had spotted the little shop on her way out and was instantly drawn into it. It wasn't that there was anything special about the shop really, but something in the window display had caught her attention. A simple green-bladed kunai that looked to be about three-fourths the normal size, perfect for a more slender hand. Being the daughter of a long line of weapon's dealers, Rei knew quality weapons when she saw them, and this was most certainly one. But it wasn't the quality which had attracted her to the weapon, nor the unique size and material. What had caught the woman's attention was the small and simple dragon emblem carved into the handle. Rei knew this symbol and she knew it well. For nearly a decade she had lived with that symbol. Under a different name, Rei had married a man who wore the simple dragon symbol on his clothes. The dragon of the Ametsuchi clan.

"This is it!" a blonde woman with four spiky pigtails exclaimed as she and another girl walked up besides Rei and grabbed the jade blade. Rei instantly recognized the Kazekage's older sister and so discretely turned away, leaving the kunai for later. It wasn't that it was important. That dragon and it's owner had been from another life. Rei wasn't the sentimental type. She held no feelings for the man she had married and later killed. It had been a mere curiosity that she had walked in at all, and really the only interest she now held in the blade itself was the fact that she knew the Ametsuchi clan had been a talented group of weapons smiths. She knew that any weapon which bore the Ametsuchi dragon was sure to be highly prized. And although there was no shortage of weapons the Merchant of Death owned, there was always room for more.

"Wow, you're right!" the other girl, who Rei could only see the back of, commented from besides the Suna Princess.

The two girls were looking at the kunai that had caught the older woman's attention, which of course peeked Rei's curiosity. Tucking herself away to a corner, the arms dealer made herself look busy eyeing the blonde girl and her bun-haired friend. As she watched them, Rei couldn't help but be drawn to the brunette. There was something about her that felt familiar, but she couldn't quite place it.

"I can't believe you found it!" the bun-haired girl exclaimed as she expertly flipped the black kunai I her slender hand.

Temari of the Sand crossed her arms and with a triumphant smirk on her face said, "So I was right, that was the kunai you were looking for?"

"Yes!" the other girl excitedly replied as she continued playing with the weapon. Rei was impressed, the girl obviously had great skill with the blade. The way it moved in her hand, one would think the weapon was an extension of the girl's body and not merely a ninja tool. A kunoichi no doubt, or at least that's what Rei assumed. "It's the Jade Dragon of the Ametsuchi," the girl went on as she flipped the blade over and showed the craved dragon to the blonde kunoichi. "Only five of these were made, out of pure Jade!"

"Huh..." Temari took the kunai and carefully inspected it, taking a good long moment to feel the weight and check the sharpness. "It's heavier than I thought it would be."

"Yeah," the bun-haired girl nodded as she was handed back the blade and effortlessly balanced it in her hand from the dull end. "Most people see jade as a purely decorative mineral, but in fact it can be quite strong. And it's deceptively dense, so this blade won't break at the first strike, which I can see in your eyes was the next question."

"hahaha," the sand princess laughed loudly at her friend's last statement. "Oh you know me so well Tenten," she smirked, grabbing the Jade blade back from her friend before proceeding to the checkout counter. "Well, come on," she gestured for the other girl to follow, "Bet I can get a good deal on this."

"Oh you don't have to-"

"Nonsense," the blonde cut her younger friend off, "this blade belongs to you, Ten. It's your birthright!"

"But-"

"No buts!" Temari replied, shaking her head and smirking before she added, "Plus, you've never seen me barter Ten. Just you watch. For next to nothing, I'll get you your father's dagger!"

And that's when the girl named Tenten turned, and the older woman's heart just about stopped. From behind a rack of hanging swords, Rei was looking at herself. Albeit a younger version of herself, some twenty five years in the past, but the face was unmistakable. "How can this be...?" the arms dealer whispered to herself as she watched the two girls haggle with the shop keeper, bringing the listed price of the dragon blade down to a tenth of what it was worth. And then she remembered.

The Sand princess had referred to the blade as the bun-haired girl's birthright. Her father's dagger. That made the the young brunette the daughter of the Ametsuchi clan. A daughter that looked exactly like Rei, but with a smile like "Warai..." (1)

Rei could still remember the day she had killed her husband. She had been pregnant with their second child. A girl. Rei had never named her. She had given birth and then vanished from the Hidden Leaf no less than two days after. She had never known Warai's daughter, only their son, Koudo, a spiteful little boy who never seemed to warm up to his own mother. Not that Rei could blame him. She'd never known parental love herself, so it was impossible to ask that she have been able to give that which she had never received herself. As such the boy had grown closer to his father.

"Hmph..." she furrowed her brow, realizing she had never once thought about her children since the day she left Konoha. "Guess that brat survived after all."

.:.:.:.:.

"Achoo!" Koudo loudly sneezed, nearly knocking himself over as he jumped from one tree to another. At any other time he would have stopped to contemplate who might be speaking ill of him, but at the present moment the only thing on the former ANBU's mind was the fact that his baby sister had disappeared from the village four nights ago. Sure Tsunade had told him that she had sent Tenten off on a mission to deliver some papers to Suna, but for the last two nights Koudo had been unable to shake this overwhelming feeling inside of him that something was just not right.

"We should stop to rest," the deep, somber voice of his traveling companion jarred Koudo out of his silent musings.

"What?" the older man turned and glared at the white-eyed shinobi following closely behind him. For once he was angry at the younger man for reasons other than that he just annoyed him. Though he had been reluctant to let the Hyuga tag along in the first place, Koudo had believed that the boy had been genuinely interested in protecting his precious Tenten. But now he was asking him to stop? As if they had any time to waste!

"Both of our chakra systems are at their limit, if we push further we will cause irreparable damage and be of no use to Tenten should she require our assistance," the Hyuga sternly informed his older partner before plopping down to the forest floor just outside the outskirts of Fire Country.

They were so close, maybe a day away from Suna. But as much as he wanted to continue, Koudo knew the young boy was probably right. And with his Hyuga eyes, Neji was more likely to see the levels of their chakra were depleted. Reluctantly, the former ANBU followed suit and dropped down to the forest floor, following Neji as he led them to a clearing next to a nearby river.

"Tenten is strong, and smart," the Hyuga reminded him as the two men began setting up a small camp with a quick fire at the center. "And she's in Suna with friends. The only danger she could possibly face is on her way back to Konoha, and as we have yet to run into her or any tracks she may have left, Tenten is likely still within the walls of the Hidden Sand, so we have little to worry about."

"You're right," Koudo nodded. There was a bitter taste in his mouth with those two simple words. Never would he have imagined that he would actually be working with the long-haired man her sister called a boyfriend. It wasn't that he particularly disliked the Hyuga. By all accounts, he was good, decent man with high aspirations and good intentions. But his overprotective nature made Koudo reject anyone who wanted to be too close to his little sister. The younger man was a good man, but he had yet to prove himself of being worthy of his precious Tenten. Still... he was grateful to the young Hyuga that Neji had supported him when Koudo went to see Tsunade and demand that he be allowed to bring Tenten back. And he was even a little grateful that Neji had volunteered to help him in his quest, without ever revealing what they had spoken about a few nights earlier, despite his obvious desire to inform the Hokage of the true circumstances behind Koudo's apprehension about his sister leaving the village at such a troubling time.

"Yeah... it's probably nothing" Koudo ominously whispered, shivering slightly as the two men shared the warmth of the fire on this chilly winter night. The fire didn't seem to help though. "I just have this very, very bad feeling..." he added, remembering feeling a similar chill in the air the night his father died. He'd been unable to do anything then, but this time Koudo swore to himself it would be different. "Hold on Tennie," he whispered softly as his eyes followed the flickering of the fire's flames. "I'm coming..."


(1) Warai, for those that have forgotten, is Tenten and Koudo's father. Oh and Ametsuchi is their clan name so... yeah...