Disclaimer- I don't own Naruto

Chapter 21


"How did you do that?" Izumo asked as they walked through the village streets to get lunch.

She hummed, her arms that she was stretching over her head falling to her sides as she turned to Izumo. "Do what?"

"You were padding the hits you landed, at least on me," he said, glancing at Kotetsu who was rubbing at a sore spot on his ribs with a sour look on his face.

"Oh, that," she replied. "It was easy, I used my chakra to soften the blows. Well, most of the time." She tossed a carefree grin at Kotetsu who glared sulkily at her. "I do the same with the genin. It's just to make sure I don't actually hurt anyone. The only person I don't often do that with is Kakashi because he's, well, Kakashi. Plus, it's kind of fun to beat him up once in awhile."

"Why does that sound like an insult?" Kotetsu grumbled.

"I didn't mean to insult anyone. You have to keep in mind that I'm not used to sparring with anyone aside from Kakashi and genin anymore. So I'm either fighting with someone that I can go all out with or with someone that I have to do the opposite with. I was trying to find a middle ground. Besides, the point of sparring is to get to know your teammates and to get stronger together. If we're all sore and beat up then what good does that do but slow us down?"

"I guess you have a point," Kotetsu muttered grudgingly.

Kaya was opening her mouth to respond, even offer to heal the bruises she had left him with, but the shadow of a bird and a soft cawing sound drew her attention skywards. Her lips briefly pinched into a tight frown before she looked away. She was being summoned.

"We'll go on ahead," Izumo said, having also noticed the bird and Kaya's distraction. "Catch up when you're done."

She sighed, but nodded. "Yeah, see you guys later." With a wave, she cut away from the two and made her way to the Hokage Tower.

When she reached the steps of the Tower, she was greeted by a familiar face.

"Asuma?" She questioned, pausing in her walk up the steps to the Hokage Tower.

Her former teacher flashed her a smile, the cigarette in his mouth bobbing. "Hey, Kaya, got a minute?"

"I was actually just on my way to see the Hokage, I was summoned."

Asuma grinned knowingly. "I know, but you're here to see me, not the old man."

She tweaked an eyebrow upwards. "Why?"

Clapping a hand on her shoulder, he winked mischievously. "So where are Izumo and Kotetsu? I know you were planning on getting together this morning. That's why I had the bird find you, I didn't want to interrupt if you were still busy."

"They were headed to get some lunch, but since I was summoned I figured it best to go see the Hokage first."

"Well, how about we join them?" He suggested.

She hesitated, glancing at the tower.

Asuma clapped her on the shoulder, his grin still in place, but a more serious look was in his eyes. "It's alright, Kaya. The summons was just to get your attention. You're not needed."

Still she hesitated, but only for a moment. Asuma would never jeopardize her position with the village, even if he didn't like what she was forced to do for it. There were somethings that were necessary, no matter how horrible they seemed. They both understood that.

Nodding, she let Asuma turn her away from the Hokage Tower. "I think they were headed to that cafe with the awesome sushi. It was my suggestion though since sushi was a bit scarce in prison, and I can't seem to get enough of it." She noticed a slight, but still perceptible twitch in Asuma's smile and stopped walking. Asuma continued on a few steps before stopping and looking back at her. "You don't have to do this, you know? You don't have to be strong for me. You don't have to look out for me either. You also don't need to blame yourself. You taught your team well, sensei, don't ever think otherwise. What happened to all of us was of our own making. Itachi is who he is because he chose to be a murderous traitor. I am who I am because I was doomed from the start. My blood will never let me be anything but a killer. And Hinote... Hinote.."

"I'm not doing this because I'm trying to look out for you, or even be strong for you. I'm doing this because you're important to me. And you're not a killer. Doing your duty isn't the same as being a killer, that's something you need to remember. I know you're not my student anymore, Kaya, you're my friend and you're a fellow ninja." He grinned at her before putting an arm around her shoulders. "Now lets go and get some food, I'm starving."

"You're something else, Asuma," Kaya replied as he led her away. "And it's still weird to not address you as sensei, by the way."

Asuma laughed. "And it's weird to see you all grown up and in love."

Laughing, Kaya smacked away his hand that tried to ruffle her hair. "Shut up," she drawled, smiling as she walked ahead. "Lets go and find Izumo and Kotetsu."

Asuma watched her as she turned away, she might not be a child anymore, but she still had many of the same habits. She still tried to hide beneath masks, still tried to hide the damage that had been done by the village and its elders, by Itachi, and even by her own brother. While she had moved on in many respects she still had scars and those scars were not as invisible as she tried to make them appear. He followed her through the streets, glad that she at least had friends who saw in her what she didn't see for herself. Perhaps it would help her realize in time that she wasn't as bad a person as she thought.

When Kaya disappeared into a cafe a few shops ahead, he took his time in sauntering up himself. He couldn't help but to smile as he entered the cafe himself. Kaya was sitting between Izumo and Kotetsu, smiling happily and laughing while Kotetsu looked annoyed and Izumo sighed and shook his head.

"Took you long enough, old man," Kaya teased as Asumo walked up to join them.

"Don't start with me, kid, or I'll make you go run the old obstacle course. Just like old times."

Kaya shuddered as memories of her childhood training flooded back to her. "Please don't joke about that."

"I will give you all the money I have if you do," Kotetsu put in.

"And I'll make you wake up every morning at dawn if you don't shut it," Kaya warned.

"So, Izumo, what's it like watching after these two all day?"

Izumo chuckled in response to Asuma's question. "It's kind of like attempting to herd cats. It's impossible and tiring." He noticed that it seemed to have quieted and glanced over to see that Kaya and Kotetsu were both staring at him. He was saved any further scrutinizing when food began to arrive.

Kaya made a sound of appreciation as she began to help herself to the array of sushi they had ordered for their table. "Sushi, you're awesome," she sighed, grinning as she picked up another piece with her chopsticks.

"So, how about a few drinks, my treat?" Asuma suggested after a few moments spent in silence while everyone munched on the food that was nearly gone now.

"Sounds good to me," Kotetsu answered cheerfully.

"Me too," Izumo replied. "Kaya?"

She shrugged. "Well, I think I'll stick to tea, but I don't see why not. I'll even buy you two a round myself." She smiled while nudging Izumo with her shoulder. "You have definitely earned it."

"It's settled then," Asuma replied. "How about I meet you at the bar in about thirty minutes?"

"Sounds good to me," Kaya piped up. "It'll give me a chance to run home really quick. I'd like to clean up and change."

"I'll see you kids there then," Asuma said, waving as he excused himself from the table.

"Why don't you guys go on ahead?" Kaya suggested. "I'll catch up."

"We haven't paid yet," Kotetsu pointed out.

"I'll get it, don't worry about it. This morning was hard, it'll be my way of saying thank you."

Kotetsu shrugged, rising from his seat. "Works for me."

"You sure?" Izumo asked Kaya.

Kaya nodded, smiling. "Yeah, I still have a bit of money saved and I do owe you both for putting up with me today. Go hang out for a little while, I'll meet up with you guys a little later." Noticing that Izumo was hesitating, she smiled and kissed him on the cheek before turning to Kotetsu. "I have a mission for you, take this guy out for some drinks and fun. Think you can handle that?"

He grinned. "I sure do, Captain."

Kaya paused outside of the bar, it was rather crowded and she didn't like crowds, but she had said that she would join everyone once she had changed. Dulling the buzz of chakras in her head, she stepped inside only to wish she had turned and run when she had had the chance.

There were shouts of "congratulations" and "surprise" from every direction. Confused, she looked around thinking that perhaps she had just spoiled someones surprise party.

"Don't look so scared, kid, this is all for you," Asuma said, stepping away from the crowd.

"Me? Why?" She asked, eying her former teacher suspiciously.

Asuma pulled something from his flak jacket and held it out to her. "Because you've earned it."

Looking at what he was holding out to her, Kaya saw it was a headband with the Leaf Village symbol etched into it. She hadn't even thought about the fact that she no longer possessed one, it had been taken away when she had been deemed a traitor. Now Asuma was presenting her with a brand new one.

"This is why you were summoned, but I thought it would be nice to surprise you and so did everyone else. I thought you could use a reminder that there are a lot of people who are happy to have you back."

"I don't know half of these people," Kaya whispered urgently when Asuma clapped her on the back.

"They're fellow ninja. Some that you helped at the prison, and some that know those you did. And some that know a good ninja when they see one. I'm sorry Kakashi couldn't be here, but we'll just have to celebrate again when he gets back. Until then, congrats, kid."

"Thanks," Kaya chuckled, taking the new headband in to her hands. She stared at it for a moment before tying it around her forehead. When she looked back up, the bar broke into cheers and more cries of congratulations.

"Oh, it's just all so heartwarming!"

Kaya cried out in surprise as she was suddenly engulfed in a bone crushing hug by Guy who was crying and sniveling with joy. "Guy, let go of me!" She demanded.

"If only your brother was here! He would be so proud!" This declaration brought more tears and sniveling.

"Get off of me!" Kaya insisted.

Finally breaking Guy's grasp on her and darting away only to end up in the middle of mostly nameless faces who were all congratulating her and welcoming her back into the fold of Leaf Village ninjas. Some faces she vaguely recognized from the prison. She thanked everyone as best she could, but she wasn't one for crowds and was soon ready to dart for the door. An arm was placed around her shoulders and her first impulse was to aim for a few vital points with the needles in her sleeves and ask questions later, but she restrained and instead smiled falteringly up at the newcomer.

"Izumo?" She questioned, relaxing into his arm.

"Sorry to interrupt, but I'd like to steal the guest of honor for awhile," he said, smiling at all of the well wishers.

Kaya was grateful when there was no argument, and let Izumo lead her away to the bar where Kotetsu sat with Asuma, Kurenai, Genma, and Guy who had now calmed down. "Thank you."

"No problem. You were beginning to look a little bit like a hunted animal who was about to dart. I thought I should step in before you did. So, how about a drink?" He asked as they joined their friends at the bar.

Before she could even open her mouth Genma was beside her and shouting at the bartender for a round of shots for her and their group.

"You realize I could kill you where you stand, right?" Kaya hissed, a smile falsely in place as she looked over at Genma.

The brown haired man grinned and then winked. "But then we'd never get to compare poison recipes. And what fun would that be?"

"I just want to go home," Kaya groaned pathetically when a shot of brown tinted liquor was placed in front of her.

Her fingernails tapped idly on the wooden desk top until she yawned widely and raised her hand to her lips to cover her mouth. Beside her Kotetsu snorted and she glanced irritatedly over at him to see that he had fallen asleep in his chair. Sighing and rolling her eyes Kaya raised her foot and smashed it into the chair her dark haired teammate occupied. A devilish smirk blossomed on her face when Kotetsu tipped over and fell onto the ground with a shout of surprise.

"What?" She asked, not even pretending innocence when Kotetsu glared hotly at her as he stood up and dusted himself off. "You shouldn't be sleeping on the job."

"And you shouldn't be allowed in public," Kotetsu grumbled, plopping himself back into his seat and rubbing at his head.

"Have a little too much drink last night?" Kaya inquired, smirking tauntingly.

Kotetsu grimaced. "No. I just can't stand the sound of your voice."

"That's enough you two," Izumo cut in from Kaya's other side. "Our shift is almost over you can do whatever you want after that. Until then lets just pretend you're both dutiful shinobi, alright?"

"I'm plenty dutiful," Kotetsu muttered.

"Just because you showed up doesn't mean you're dutiful," Kaya commented acerbically. "I think you actually have to work to be considered dutiful."

"Then I guess you're not very dutiful either," Kotetsu muttered. "You haven't done a thing all day."

Kaya turned to him to retort, but was interrupted by the sound of a bird cawing high overhead. Her cheek twitched and she sighed, but she glanced up, shading her eyes with her hand. A large bird was circling above them, she stared at it for a moment before sighing again and standing up. Stretching her arms over her head and moving her stiff neck from side to side to loosen up her muscles that had grown stiff from sitting so long.

"The shift's pretty much over," she said. "I'm going to go ahead and file the paperwork for the day and log our hours. After that I'm going to take a nap."

"I can help with the paperwork," Izumo offered. "It's your first time on this shift after all."

"Don't worry about it, it's my job as captain so I may as well get used to it," Kaya replied. "Since training later would be pointless since the hung over idiot would just pass out on us, we'll train tomorrow after our shift. So that means you might as well take the rest of the day off. I'll see you both tomorrow morning." Picking up the notes she would need to file the daily report she waved and started towards the Hokage Tower.

The paperwork took her almost a half an hour, she had made a mistake on the first report she had written and had to start over. It was simple enough really, just a list of the people that had come and gone. There had been no suspicious activity of any kind so it was a short report.

After the paperwork was complete she made her way upstairs, the Hokage's secretary had been expecting and waved for her to go in to the old man's office. She walked in without bothering to knock or announce herself.

"Well?" She inquired blandly after the door had shut behind her.

The Hokage looked up from the papers in front of him, frowning slightly at Kaya. "It's polite to knock before entering someone's room or office. It's also polite to say hello."

She shrugged, her face blank. "I don't remember ever saying I was polite."

"How are things going with Izumo and Kotetsu?"

She shrugged again. "Fine. It's only our second day as a team, and our first on the job."

"There's a lot of responsibility in being a captain, how-"

"Can we just cut the small talk?" She cut in. "You sent for me, and I'm here. Why?"

The Hokage sighed. "It's been decided that the next Chuunin exam will be held here in Konoha in a few weeks time. That means an influx of people into the village. While the exams are taking place you won't be able to take on any side missions, however, I don't want to waste your skills entirely by just leaving you with your team. You will be more useful in ANBU."

"You're joking?" Kaya relied blandly, face still blank and unreadable. "You don't actually think any of your elders are going to agree, do you?"

"This is my choice, not theirs. You will begin your duties in ANBU in about two weeks, the exams will start two weeks after. You will have to maintain your duties as both captain of your new team and as a member of your ANBU team. It will not be easy, but I think you'll be fine," the Hokage said with a smile.

Kaya stared evenly at the old man for several long moments. Something wasn't adding up. There was no way she would be accepted in to ANBU after her attack on Danzo and her attempt to steal top secret information. It didn't make sense to her, not unless there was something more she was supposed to do. She also found it curious that she would be told that she would still be responsible for her team while in ANBU. She, Izumo, and Kotetsu were typically going to be on the gate. That wasn't likely to change much during the exams, meaning she would be overseeing a good portion of the visitors as they came into Konoha.

"Why do you want me on ANBU during the exams? I understand that I won't be able to act as a hunter with the increased shinobi presence here, it would be dangerous, but placing me back in ANBU, even temporarily, tells me you're expecting something to happen. Are you going to tell me what it is I'm supposed to be looking for?" She asked.

The Hokage's lips twitched slightly whether in irritation or amusement, Kaya couldn't tell.

"The Chuunin exams are a time when many high ranking and very important people gather in one place. We just want to ensure that everyone is safe."

"And why wouldn't they be safe without me?" Kaya pressed.

The Hokage sighed. "There have been some unsettling rumors circulating lately. Some say the Sand may use the exams as an opportunity to start a war. Others say that there is a group who may be targeting some of our shinobi."

Kaya's lilac brow rose curiously. "What group?"

The Hokage sighed, folding his hands in front of him on his desk. "They call themselves the Akatsuki."

Having never heard of them, Kaya frowned. There was still something she was missing. Some reason for this little dance they were playing. Shaking her head, she said, "I still don't understand what any of this has to do with me temporarily going into ANBU."

"It has more to do with who the group may be targeting," stated the Hokage.

Her eyes narrowed. Now they appeared to be getting somewhere and she wasn't sure she was going to like where. The look on the old Hokage's face was calculating, thoughtful. He was trying to anticipate what her reaction would be, meaning he was afraid it wasn't going to be pleasant or he would have continued without her prompting."What do you mean?" Kaya asked stiffly.

"It's Naruto Uzumaki."

"What?" She inquired, her voice taking on a note of anger. "You're not just using that boy as a way to get me to agree to this, are you?"

"No, you will agree because there is someone in the Akatsuki that you wish to see again."

Kaya's blank facade shattered entirely. Her eyes widened, her heart sped up in her chest, and she felt a deep anger boiling inside of her. She curled her fingers into fists, her nails biting into her flesh as she struggled to maintain her composure.

"Itachi?" She asked, voice dripping with bitterness.

The Third nodded. "Yes, we have reason to believe he's targeting the Nine-Tailed beast inside of Naruto."

"This makes no sense," Kaya growled. "The Chuunin exams would be the worst time to target a Genin. Itachi wouldn't risk showing up here when there will be hundreds of powerful shinobi gathered alongside the Kages. It would be suicide. You're lying."

"I am not. The Akatsuki is real. Itachi is a member and the group is targeting those who house the tailed beasts. We don't know why, but our information is from a very trustworthy source. The same reasons you say Itachi wouldn't risk showing up during the exams are why I think that he may. Even if he doesn't, there are still concerns about the exams being used in the starting of a war. We'll need every well trained and dependable shinobi we have at the ready."

"Why tell me this?" Kaya asked harshly. "You could have denied me answers, but you didn't. Why tell me Itachi might show up? You know how I feel about him, and you know what I'll do if I get a chance to get my hands on him. It won't have a damn thing to do with the village, I will kill him."

"Even if the village was under attack? Would you let your hatred for Itachi keep you from protecting this village?"

"Yes," Kaya replied stiffly before turning her back on the Hokage and walking to the door.

"I can't say that I'm surprised, but you don't think clearly when Itachi is involved. He knows that. Think, Kaya, about the best way to distract you from something, anything. I told you their goal was Naruto, Itachi knows you were close. Don't let your anger cloud your judgment. Itachi will distract you from other things that you value and he will take them away if you let him."

She glanced over her shoulder, her pale purple eyes swirling with bitterness and anger. "That man will not take anything away from me again."

That night found Kaya slipping out of Konoha, unnoticed and unseen. She put several miles between herself and the village before dropping lithely from the tree branches she had been running across. Landing in a crouch, she glanced up at the night sky. The moon was just a small sliver in the sky high above which meant very little light other than that of the twinkling stars. Once she was quite certain that she hadn't been followed and that there was no one within several miles she rose to her feet and pulled a small scroll from the weapon pouch on her thigh.

The scroll was unfurled and with a small burst of chakra and a poof it released its contents into Kaya's waiting hands. An old, bloodied wooden box now sat in her hands. She stared at it for several moments in the dim light before releasing a long, somber sigh and opening the lid to peer inside.

Yellowed, curling papers. Old scrolls with their decorative wrappings fading and peeling. A small notebook filled with small, but precise script. She stared at all of these things for several seconds before settling herself down on the cool earth and putting the box in her lap.

For several hours she read over the papers, scrolls, and notes. It had been months since she had opened the box to look at its contents, even longer since she had fully read through them. As she read her brows drew together and her pale pink lips pinched into a frown.

She finally understood something that should have seen much sooner, but her mother was a Fumei and the Fumei were exceptionally skilled at deception.

"What was it you said once, mother?" Kaya muttered. "About the Fumei.. They are shadows. They are deception. They are not you. Wasn't it something like that? I suppose I was too naïve to realize just what you meant back then, I was only a child after all."

Setting the box down on the ground, Kaya rose slowly while her heart beat echoed in her ears. For several long seconds that seemed to stretch into minutes, she simply stared off into the darkness between the trees. When she finally refocused her attention on the box at her feet there was a fire in her eyes that hadn't been there before. It was hungry, angry, certain, and determined.

"I'm not a child anymore. I am everything you didn't want me to be and I know you lied to me now."

She turned her back on the little wooden box she had once clutched so tightly as her life tried to escape her on a dark night so long ago. The box erupted into dark flames that smoldered and hissed before an icy, bitter wind tore it apart until it was nothing more but a memory that was floating away into the night.


Hmm.. Wonder what Kaya has discovered... ;)

Anywho, thank you kindly for the reviews, faves, follows, and all of that good stuff. It's always much appreciated to know my story is liked. Helps the muses with motivation to keep writing... Usually. Sometimes the muses get fussy and wander off in search of shiny things.

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