"A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at

night, and in between he does what he wants to do." - Bob Dylan

Chapter Five

What You Want

day 1 – deer diary i stil dont see wy i hav to rite in this stupid thing. sak- sasuke sez i hav to do that thing sensei told us to do if i dont pretend to be a gurl she sez shes gonna do sum thin looked it up it sez acting with force o e. sak- sasuke shur can be violent sum times. now i hav to study this book on gurly stuff i dont think i can do it. staying at sak- um my house is weerd. mom is nice tho. well anyway i hav a gurlfrend now! i asked hinata and she sed yes! now maybe i can work on turning into a boy agane. oh butt (heh heh) gramps and sensay figerd out that i wuz a gurl sorta.

...

"Naruto."

"Yeah gramps?"

Sarutobi sighed. "What happened to your hair?"

"Oh, that? That was sensei's fault. Isn't it cool?"

"..."

"..."

...

wel maybe not butt it was clos if i dont turn back into a guy agane soon ile go crazy! we got our first mishun today it was lame. we had to dig up weeds from this old womans garden boring! Whatever ile get sum cool mishuns soon and then every body wil see im the gretest ever! i gess ile go to bed now um goodnite I gess

day 2 – uh oh i forgot to study the stuff sasuke sed i had to he sez if i dont no it by tomorow hell do sum thing to make m it. i gess i gotta do it. we got a lame mishun agane today. sasuke and um naruto (weerd) didint mind tho they lookt awful today. maybe theyr coming down with sumthing. i went out with hinata today shes weerd sumtimes she keeps turning red and pasing out for sum reeson maybe shes getting sick to i hope i dont cach it. sins we started doing that henge thing last night nobody looks at me anymore! gramps and sensei thought it was weerd tho

...

"Naruto?"

"Yeah gramps?" This time the response came from an unexpected source.

Sarutobi found himself sighing again that day. "When I told you to change your hair, this is not what I meant."

"You mean this? This is sensei's ide-oof! What was that for Sak- Sasuke?"

"..."

"..."

...

we told them it was for traning butt kakashi sensei kept calling us weerdos. anyway ime tired now so I gess ile say goodnite.

day 3 –

"Hey old man."

"Ah, hey there little lady. Aren't you one of Naruto's friends?"

"What? Oh, right. Yeah, that's me. Sakura. My name. Heh.

"..."

"Anyway, I want a pork ramen please."

"Coming right up... Here you go."

"Alright!" Snap. Reach. Bite. "Aaaaargh!" Spit, Spit, Spit.

"What is it!"

"It tastes awful!"

"What? Let me see that." Sip. "Ugh. I'm sorry miss. I don't know what happened. Here. Have another, on the house."

"Really? Thanks. You're great!" Snap. Reach. Bite. Hissss.

"Uh. Is it supposed to make that sou-" Kraboooooooom!

...

aaaaaaah! its horubl! i went to get a ramen cuz I was hungry and i bought one but sasuke took a bunch of peper and suger and salt and i coodnt eet it so i got more but then he took a bunch of tags and put them in my ramen and i coodnt get them out and they exploded AND IT WAS RUINED! i dint no the stuff i was suposed to no and sasuke was mad and sez i wont get any more until i no the stuff i hav to no i askt mom if i cood hav sum but she sed i sed i was on a diut but i didnt say that but she sed i sed i wood say that but that i sed i wasnt alowd to hav any no matter how much i asked and wat am i gonna do i dont no! wy does everybody got to pick on my favrit food like that its not fare! i think your my only friend maybe cuz you lisen. you no I shood giv you a name to. . . . . . i think ile call you kits cuz of the fox i drew on your cover. I gotta go study now kits so ile talk to you tomorow.

day 4 – aw man kits i still cant get any ramen sasuke is a reel jerk. ime starting to feel weerd to maybe ime coming down with sumthing like sasuke and naruto. is this wat hapens wen you dont eet ramen? ive never not eeten ramen before for so long. sasuke sed ime a freek cuz it took so long. she sed its like ime going thro s. I just looked it up it sez th (a bunch of stuff that makes sumthing) of often painful physical an (thinking stuff) (just syndrome spelled different cuz i gess there jerks) that follow (stopping sumthing geez this is a pain) of an addicting substance. no! i dont want withdrawals! i just want to eet ramen agane! i dont no wat to do kits. maybe ile feel beter tomorow. nitenite kits.

day 5 – to sick gonna sleep

day 6 – oh man kits i feel teribl. sorry i missed you. gramps made us stop taking mishuns yesterday cuz we wernt feeling well.

...

"Kakashi?"

"Yes, Hokage?"

"What is wrong with your students?"

"My students? Hmm... They're sick with something."

"...All three."

"Yes, Hokage."

"At once."

"Yes, Hokage."

"...Perhaps we should discuss your teaching methods later, Kakashi."

Sigh. "Yes, Hokage."

...

i feel like sumone set my stomak on fire. mom has been reely nice tho she keeps giving me soop its not ramen butt its still good. sasuke made me practis all day tho. were suposed to meet later so we can find ranma sensay. i gess they reely want to trane. i was just stoping to say hi in case i died before i got back. i think maybe i can sneek around sasuke and get sum ramen wen he isnt looking. i just gotta find him first. Gotta go later kits.

~o0{O}0o~

The smells wafting from the Ichiraku Ramen Bar were pleasant enough to bring a smile and warm feelings to anyone passing by. A true aficionado of the dish couldn't help but stop for a helping. To a young genin suffering from self diagnosed ramen withdrawals, it was a hellish torment.

Slouching against a wall, a pink haired girl with a weary face stood in shadows underneath the awnings across from Ichiraku. Slowly raking her eyes across the busy streets, she would occasionally fixate on the bar for a few somehow desperate minutes, before returning to her watchful slouch. She stayed like that for quite some time, each pass over the streets becoming shorter, each yearning look toward the bar lasting longer, until finally her gaze lay unblinking on it.

"Um, S-Sakura? Are- Are you okay? Do you, would you like me to do something?"

Starting from his absorption, Naruto turned to find Hinata standing with a rather worried look on her face. "Oh. Hey, Hinata. Na- No. I'm fine." Watching and correcting his speech all day was annoying, but so far the alternative was worse. Sakura had begun threatening to go beyond ruining his ramen to actually buying and eating it while he was forced to watch.

"Oh." Hinata shuffled her feet a bit, looking slightly forlorn.

Had he done something wrong again? She asked if he was okay and he said- wait, no. She asked if she could do something. How did Sakura's rants go again? Girls like to do stuff for guys 'cause it makes them feel good and stuff? That still seemed weird, but maybe things were just supposed to work differently when you dated. Besides, he needed all the help he could get.

"Um, maybe I could use some help?" Hinata seemed to perk up. Huh. "Well, you remember about," Naruto looked about, then leaned forward. "you know, the henge training we're doing."

Hinata nodded, and again thanked her stars that the Sakura henge Naruto was using allowed her some small measure of coherency around him. He was every bit as much fun as she had imagined. Naruto's sensei may have been uncommonly cruel, but there were certain side benefits, not the least of which was...

Naruto barely noticed Hinata's face turn red. While it had concerned him at first, he'd quickly learned it was just the way she was. "Sasuke still won't let me eat any ramen. I'm trying to figure out where he's hiding so I can sneak past him. Maybe you could help me find him?"

"D-do you mean, that Sasuke..?" Hinata pointed down the street, behind Naruto.

Sure enough, as Naruto turned, he saw Sakura, Sasuke illusion in place, painfully making her way down the street towards the bar. From the way her head was angled, she clearly had noticed them.

"Or that Sasuke?" Again she pointed, this time at the stools at Ichiraku, where a blond figure was perched atop one.

"H-how the hell did I miss that!?" Naruto's earlier gusto, already flagging, completely deflated, leaving him slumped in a defeated pose.

Hinata giggled at his overblown antics. "Um, m-maybe you were distracted by something else? Yuhi sensei says you have to- to always keep your mind focused on your mission. What were you thinking about?"

Naruto's stomach chose then to interject itself into the conversation, causing him to sheepishly rub his head and Hinata to clasp her mouth with both hands to keep from giggling too loudly. "Aw man, but that means I can't sneak any ramen now."

"Ah, maybe..." Hinata paused, her natural reticence coming forth once more.

"Yeah?"

"Well, m-maybe I could... Sakura wants you to pretend to be h-her?"

Naruto winced. "I wouldn't say she wants me to. But we gotta anyway."

Absently, Hinata corrected, "But we have to."

"Eh? What?"

"Eep! Ah, n-never mind. I- I could have an idea, um, if you want me to that i-"

"Yes! I'll do anything!" Naruto wasn't one for halves.

"O-okay. Um, just wait here. I'll go see."

"Go see what?"

But Hinata was already on her way, a determined look on her face. Naruto watched as she intercepted Sakura a little ways from Ichiraku's and proceeded to say... something. Whatever it was, it seemed to annoy Sakura who tried to brush the other girl off. Before she could, Hinata said something else which caused her to pause. A few more exchanges and she finally shrugged and nodded, then continued towards a seat. Hinata returned, a triumphant smile on her face.

"What was that all about?"

Immediately, Hinata's smile turned shy. "Mm, w-well, I asked Sasuke if- if he would let you eat ramen." Naruto's eyes turned round. "He said he wouldn't. But! B-but," Hinata hastened to correct her mistake; Naruto looked so forlorn. "if you had, um, help, in pretending I mean, it would be okay."

Naruto gave her a hopeless look. "Help? Where am I gonna find that?"

Hinata fidgeted, playing with her fingers as she looked down. "Um, well, I... I wouldn't mind." Before she knew it, she'd been grabbed by the shoulders and was looking deep into eyes that briefly flashed blue before returning to a green hue.

"Really?" Naruto's question literally came out a squeak.

Hinata could only nod, lest her answer come out the same way.

"You're gonna help me turn back into a guy and get ramen? You're the best girlfriend ever! Way better than Sakura!"

A week of near constant exposure to Naruto's outbursts was the only thing keeping her from fainting when he enveloped her in a hug. "Y-you're welcome?"

"Yeah! This calls for a celebration. C'mon 'Nata, I'll treat you. Plus, I gotta make that bastard fix my hair."

"Need t-to. You- you mean you need to talk to Sasuke." At her correction, Sakura's face broke out into a wide, sunny smile, a look that was quickly becoming Hinata's favorite, no matter who was wearing it.

"Exactly. Hey, since we're gonna-" Hinata winced. "'going to be' busy, why don't we go home so you can show me stuff?"

"I- I can k-keep you company. I don't, um, mind. B-but, what about your friends?"

"No no, that's what the shadow clones are for! You've figured it out right?"

"Wha-? Y-yes, b-but I can't use it. It- it takes too much chakra and, and-"

"Don't worry about that. You'll use mine. Here." Naruto placed both hands on what she knew to be major concentrations of tenketsu on her back.

"Your-yours? But what about-" Before she could finish, an intense wave of heat began to flood her system, nearly causing her to fall over. It felt terrible and wonderful at the same time. For a short moment, she was connected to Naruto's chakra. An ocean! It was so much! How could one person have so much? Quickly, it flooded her system to capacity, then kept on going. She was going to burst. "A-ah! N-Naruto, stop!"

Immediately he took his hands off and watched, agape, as she began hopping and dancing around as if she had been possessed.

Hinata knew it was just a small amount of what Naruto had available, but what she'd received was enough to more than double her own reserves. If she didn't use it soon, it would rupture her pathways. Was this how Naruto always felt? No wonder he was so... so hyper.

Quickly running through the seals Naruto had taught her, she shoved as much chakra as she possibly could into the jutsu and released. With a dramatic puff of smoke, there before her was an exact duplicate. Hinata stared in shock before staggering a bit, her chakra levels a good deal lower than they should have been.

Leaping forward, Naruto grabbed her, concern welling up. "Aw man, I didn't know it would do that. You okay Hinata?"

"I-I'm fine." The response in duplicate caused all three to blink.

"Uh, right. Two of you. Okay! Now it's my turn!" Wasting no time, Naruto immediately created a Sakura clone.

Right away the clone began glaring. "Hey! How come you two get to eat ramen and we have to study?"

"Because we're the real ones you idiot!"

The clone took that with about as much grace as could be expected, but then her sullen look became sly. "Hah! Come on Hinata, we've got better things to do, and I know just the thing."

"Oy, you better not slack off!"

The clone's only reply was a protruding tongue and a slap on her butt before it grabbed the Hinata clone's hand and took off.

"Geez, stupid clones sure have been acting weird. Ah well, I'll figure it out later. And hey, now we get to spend twice as much time together! That's great!"

"T-twice?" Hinata wasn't sure she could handle that much exposure, henge or no.

"Yeah, bet we'll learn all sorts of new things. Our clones knows everything we do so we can teach each other even when we're busy. Come on, we're wasting time. I'm starving."

"Ah, o-okay." Hinata still wasn't quite up on exactly how the shadow clone technique worked, but she trusted Naruto.

As Naruto rushed them toward his waiting meal, he had one last thought. "But man, Hinata. I didn't know you could dance like that."

"Eep!"

~o0(O)0o~

For the fifth time in the past few days, Sasuke found herself sitting on a stool at Ichiraku's cogitating on her situation. The past week had been miserable, betrayed by her body as she had been. Muscles screaming. Chakra overflowing, demanding to be used at all hours. Bloodshot, sleep deprived eyes belying her otherwise perfect Naruto henge. Now that she had finally managed to master her Sharingan with its two tomoe she actually found it more troublesome to turn off. She had to wear sunglasses just to keep from breaking the illusion.

It hadn't helped that nearly every adult she'd run into while under the illusion had been hostile to some degree. It was bizarre to know that Naruto was just that annoying. And now she couldn't even rely on missions, no matter how inane, to take her mind off her troubles. She nodded to Sakura as her teammate sat next to her.

While she had been masquerading as Naruto all week, it hadn't been until their forced sick leave that she started taking her pretense more seriously. It turned out Naruto's persona was simple enough to distill: pranks; idiocy; volume; ramen. The first two weren't happening, even if she had known where to start. Naruto would just have to suffer an improved reputation. Increasing her volume had meant a simple jutsu. No problem. That left one thing. Ramen. It was in pursuit of this final... virtue that Sasuke stumbled upon the highlight of her week and, if she was honest, the last several years.

"Here you go Naruto. Now you eat all of this okay? Papa and I can't have our favorite customer ill. We'd never forgive ourselves." Ayame, the daughter of and waitress for the proprietor of Ichiraku's, fussed over the young nin as Sasuke accepted the meal with thanks. She managed to pull her illusion's face into a wide grin, but couldn't dredge up the will to fake Naruto's vociferations as well. Still, underneath she couldn't but help a small smile.

Sasuke was about as certain as she could be that Ayame and her father knew her team had switched places with each other. How could they not with Naruto and Sakura carrying on like they did? Somehow though, she couldn't bring herself to drop her own act and dissuade the older girl from continuing her ministrations. It was... nice to have someone care for her again. Besides, the ramen was excellent.

"Oh my!"

Sasuke halted her musings to see Ayame looking over her shoulder. Turning around, she found Naruto, his new girlfriend in tow, looking like death warmed over through his henge. Finally. Sasuke grumbled to herself at the unfairness of life. Naruto's ridiculous stamina had to be a bloodline of some sort. No-one was that resilient otherwise. Still, that half crazed look didn't bode well.

Ayame gave Naruto a concerned look. "Oh you poor dear. You look terrible. Is your sensei still making you do that awful training? I can't believe how hard they make you work."

"Now now, Ayame," Teuchi chose then to break in. "That's just how ninja life is. No need to discourage her."

"But father, ruining good food, our food, just for training? That's barbaric!" Sakura was looking uncomfortable.

"Hah, you've got me there. Still, ninja life is perilous. What do you say little lady? Feel like trying your luck again today?"

Naruto's response was immediate. "Yes! I mean, yes please. A pork ramen." The twin glares from his teammates plus the stuttering fit from behind him let him know in no uncertain terms that he had little room for error.

Teuchi at least seemed pleased with her answer. "Good enthusiasm! You're quickly becoming our second best customer."

"After Naruto of course." Ayame gave Sasuke a small smile, which she returned.

Relaxing her tense and achy muscles, Sasuke went back to ignoring the goings on around her for her meal. Setting about demolishing it in as similar a manner to Naruto as she could tolerate, she thought further on her team's situation.

Naruto and Sakura had at least been making the effort to follow Ranma sensei's directions, no matter how pathetic the former's was... Perhaps that was unfair. The dumb-ass had proven to be clever when he put his mind to it. And pretending to be Sakura was clearly a nightmare. Sasuke's only directive to Sakura had been to stop talking, whereas Naruto had to deal with aping a lovesick harpy. Still better than having to mimic a clueless moron but-

Sasuke shuddered, then gave a wan smile in response to Ayame's worried inquiries. Okay, perhaps her job wasn't nearly as bad. Or as funny. Watching Naruto deal with his predicament had been amusing. Oddly relaxing as well.

Another plus was Sakura's attention had been driven completely off herself, and the henge made it unlikely to return anytime soon. A boon she wouldn't be taking for granted. It was then Sasuke heard the only other voice that could make her cringe in annoyance.

"Sa-suk-e!"

Ino. While not normally as bad as her counterpart, the reprieve from fan-girls had been too nice to have to give it up so soon. Knowing that Ino was far more grabby than Sakura, Sasuke braced herself... and watched, flabbergasted, as a blonde streak collided with Sakura. Ah. Right. Henge. It was all she could do not to burst out laughing as the dumbfounded look on Sakura's face twisted into one of pure horror. As Sakura opened her mouth to protest, Sasuke knew the girl was about to mess everything up. Couldn't have that happening.

"Get off me Ino p-ah!"

A chopstick bounced off her forehead and skittered across the ground before coming to rest back at Sasuke's feet. That should take care of that problem.

"Naruto! Eat like a human being you idiot! What if you'd put someone's eye out?"

Ino was clearly incensed at her. That was new. While normally being insulted would leave her seething, this development was strangely refreshing.

Ino turned back to Sakura. It was then she noticed her state through the illusion. "Oh my god! Sasuke! What happened to you? You- are you alright? Your eyes are- and your body feels a little different somehow."

Having gotten the message, Sakura responded in as similar a manner to Sasuke as she could. "Hnn. It's fine. Leave it."

She sounded almost as annoyed as Sasuke would have been. Having her body mistaken for a boy's, no matter if that was the point, was apparently not something she wanted to hear.

Ino, however, wasn't going to listen to Sakura's gruff dismissal. "No, it isn't fine. How in the world could you let Sasuke get in this state Sakura? What is wrong with you?"

Naruto, for his part, looked completely clueless. "Heh?"

"It's your job as his teammate to look after him and- holy... What- You look terrible! Are you..." She nibbled her lip, then leaned forward and whispered, "on your period?"

Period? How did Ino know he was doing grammar homework?

While Naruto puzzled over Ino's question, Hinata paled. She knew very well what Ino was talking about. But Naruto... didn't. Naruto didn't, and didn't have anyone to explain it to him. Didn't have anyone to explain it, except for... her. Oh.

Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, Hinata tumbled from her seat. With alacrity that took Ino completely off guard, Naruto leaped forward and grabbed the falling girl before she hit the ground. "Are you okay? Geez, you're a lot clumsier today for some reason."

Ino suddenly turned indignant. "Honestly. You're fine aren't you? Is this some desperate ploy to get Sasuke to pity you? Because it's so far beneath him it's pathetic. And why are you hanging onto Hinata like that?"

Relieved to have a question he could understand, Naruto answered honestly. "Hinata? She's my girlfriend, of course." Perhaps too honestly.

For a moment there was silence. Then, "Oh my! Ninja these days are so, modern."

"S-Sakura..." It was far too late for Hinata to save Naruto. She had barely been hanging onto consciousness as it was.

"Yeah? Yes? Did I... say something wrong?"

It was too late. Hinata was out. Her realization combined with being 'outed' was simply too much for her.

Taking a moment to consider the new wrinkle in the plan, Sakura drew in a long breath. Then her face turned purple. Naruto would die. She was going to murder him to death. If she failed in strangulating him first, then from a thousand explosive notes shoved down his throat. Regardless, he would never. Eat. Again.

At that point Sasuke hunched over her meal, her shoulders shaking. Ayame rushed over to make sure she was okay.

Ino, for her part, was reeling, her mind feverishly trying to make sense of it all. A... a girlfriend? How could that happen? What was Sakura thinking? Was she thinking?

Finally, glancing over at Sasuke and seeing the fiercest scowl she'd ever seen on his face, she came to the only possible explanation. An explanation that could only be... only be the most devious thing she'd ever heard! How could Sakura do this? Using poor Hinata like that to play with Sasuke's feelings!

More importantly, how was Ino to catch up? There was only one thing to do. Use what she'd learned and lie."I- I have a girlfriend too!" That brought everyone up short. At their incredulous stares, Ino rushed to defend herself. "I do! Her- her name is Ranma!"

"Hbttt-krkrkrkre hwa-?"

Jerking their heads towards the strangled cry, they found a familiar red head choking on her ramen. Ranma. She was staring back at them with a look of disbelief. Their own reactions were equally unbelieving. Ino turned bright red and Sakura and Naruto looked on in shock, speechless. Sasuke on the other hand simply grit her teeth, all traces of humor gone. Their sensei had been right by them for who knew how long, and they only noticed her due to a random accident.

No! That was the only thought going through Ino's head. "I... I... Please excuse me!" Her face flaming, eyes tearing, she ran off.

"Hey, wait! What was... ah crap." Now Ranma was doubly flummoxed. Slowly, she turned back to her bewildered students.

Silence.

"S-sensei?"

"...So-o, how you guys been?"

"Sensei!"

~o0{O}0o~

Deep in the forest of training ground forty-four, four figures dashed through the trees.

"Sensei, where are we going? We're not... we're not going back there are we?" The possible answers to that made even Naruto and Sasuke uncomfortable. Going back in to that forest was bad enough, but right into the lair? Again?

"Nah." For a moment they relaxed. "We're going in further." Apparently, that was not what they wanted to hear. Better explain things then.

"Why do you think there's this huge forest with so many freaky monsters right next to your normal little town?"

The question left them confused for a moment. That was an excellent question. Such a dangerous place surely hadn't escaped the notice of the Hokage. Suddenly, Naruto had it. "I know! Gramps is too lazy to clean up after himself!"

His answer nearly had the others careening into trees. "Idiot." Sasuke was especially peeved. "That's not what it is." For a moment, she had almost considered it.

"Ah, right." Perhaps Ranma would have to do something about 'Ruto's tendency to come to bizarre conclusions. A talk or something.

"Training."

"Hmm?" Ranma turned to Sakura.

"It's used for training isn't it? For chuunin probably."

"That's pretty close. They use it for genin who want ta become chuunin. Twice a year they give you guys an exam. If ya pass, you get promoted. Part a' the test is held here. An' here's where we're gonna train till ya know the place like the back a' your hand. An' here we are."

Stopping, they looked around to find themselves at the banks of a stream. Several rocks jutted out, making a path across. Other than that, there was nothing to set it apart.

Frankly, Sakura didn't care about her surroundings, ninja training be damned. What she wanted to know was where the hell their sensei had been the past- was that a puppy? Poking out from their sensei's jacket? "What- what is that?"

"Huh? Oh, you mean Mao? He's a ninken. Don't worry. He's a friend."

That was not what concerned her. "You're stealing ninja companions now?" Sakura was halfway to crying.

Ranma took exception to her accusation. "Dammit, that ain't what happened! They forced me ta take 'im. I didn't have a choice! They even conned me inta working this job playing nurse to a bunch a' ungrateful mutts. 'Sides, it ain't like you've been taking my training seriously till just a couple days ago. What have you even learned?" Saotome Secret Technique: Verbal Riposte!

Uzumaki Triple Counter! "Hey! What are we supposed to learn from you hiding all the time!?"

Sasuke chose then to break in. "Enough. Focusing too much on one sense can leave you blind and vulnerable."

They all paused to consider that, Ranma especially. "Huh. Yeah, I guess that works." Probably shouldn't mention that she had just been hungry and stopped for a quick bite. She had barely even noticed them until her name had been called. And now they were glaring at her. Crap. "Said that out loud didn't I?" A small bark answered in the affirmative.

"Sensei!"

Heaving a sigh, Sasuke made to calm her incensed comrades. "It doesn't matter."

"But Sasuke, she's being totally irresponsible." Why couldn't they get normal teachers like everyone else?

"Whining won't change anything. We've done what she's asked. Now it's time to get what was promised. Correct?"

Ranma waved her hand dismissively. "Sure sure. But first we gotta go over some stuff."

Sakura narrowed her eyes. "What 'stuff'?"

"Nothin' much. Just need ta check an' see if my ideas worked like I thought they would." Reaching into her pocket, Ranma pulled out a few slips of paper.

Sakura recognized the small slips immediately. "Chakra paper? Sensei, we already did this test in school. I'm earth, Sasuke is fire and lightning because of his super cool bloodline-"

Perking up at the interesting terms, Naruto interjected, "Hey, hey, what am I?"

"How the hell should I know, you idiot? You probably skipped that day. That's not the point. Other than Naruto, we don't need this."

"Really?" Ranma seemed amused. "I guess since ya don't need me I'll just go th-" Before she could finish, the paper in her hand vanished. She smirked. "Alright then. One at a time. Sas, you go first."

Eying it with a look that screamed suspicion, Sasuke channeled a scant amount of chakra into the paper. Instantly it disintegrated in a tower of fire. Dancing back in surprise, she nearly lost control and started cursing. Taking a moment to gather herself, she murmured, "That was... different then last time. Stronger."

Lacking in spirit though she might have been, Sakura couldn't pass an opportunity to fan-girl. "That must mean you're getting stronger, Sasuke. You'll be a jounin in no time at this rate."

Grunting noncommittally, Sasuke turned a curious eye to the paper Sakura was holding.

"Pinky? Your turn."

Scowling, Sakura quickly pumped chakra into it. For a moment, it glowed brightly, then it too burst in flames, though not quite as spectacularly. "W-what? That- that's impossible. I- I'm earth." She turned on Ranma. "How did you... you can't just switch types like that. It's-" Her eyes widened and she whispered, "Land of... Fire?"

Ranma looked insufferably pleased. "Yep. Your chakra is-"

Bang! Everyone looked up to find Naruto, impatience incarnate, cradling his hand and dancing in pain. No vestiges of a flame could be seen, but it was obvious he had burned himself.

"An' that's what happens when you get air and fire and put 'em together."

Sakura raised her hand. "Sensei, how do you know it was air?"

"Uzumaki clan are always air." At her wondering look, he chided her. "Still ain't figured it out yet? Feh, you had a whole week and you ain't even got that far." Sakura jutted her chin out stubbornly, but Ranma only widened her smirk.

"What the hell was that!" It seemed Naruto had recovered.

"Told ya. Fire and air. Mostly air if I had to guess. Wanted to wait longer, but..." Ranma shrugged. "Eh, whatever. You guys had your natural types, and I just added the extra fire ki. Sucks, right?" She grinned at their indignant expressions.

"Alright!" She clapped her hands together. "Time ta get ta business. If you guys wanna get rid of your little problem, ya gotta learn about the seven chakra, and I don't mean chakra like you learned in school."

"What do you mean?" Ranma had Sasuke's undivided attention.

"Where I come from, chakra means somethin' different. They're these little whorls of energy in your ki self. 'Round here they call 'em gates, near as I can tell."

Quick as ever, Sakura picked up the essentials. "Wait, gates? The eight gates? I know this. But... you said seven?"

"That's 'cause they are just seven, not eight. The eighth is really just- well, let's go through 'em." Waving Sakura forward, Ranma reached out and touched the top of her head. "This is the crown chakra. You guys call it the open gate. It's where the ki starts ta flow in. Sends it to the muscles and such.

This is the one I opened up a little, so it's why you're feeling so crappy, but it's also why you've got so much energy. Why you can't sleep as much, but still can do the henge for so long. It ain't open all the way yet, but it's gettin' there."

She moved her hand and tapped Sakura's forehead. "Brow chakra, the healing or energy gate. Also called the third eye. It actually curves out from the crown chakra instead of continuin' on ta the next. This one is important. It'll let ya see natural ki, feel out intentions, do all sorts a' stuff without thinkin' 'bout it. We need to get ta this one fast. Faster the better. It'll be the one that lets ya control the flow of energy in your body. You'll need ta be able to get around that whole polluted ki thing first though." At their hungry looks Ranma raised her hands. "Which we'll get to in a second here."

She moved on quickly, pointing out each chakra as she said them. "Throat, life gate. Heart, pain gate. Stomach, limit gate. Hips, view gate. Root, wonder gate. Root curves out forward a bit too. That curve on the root and the third eye are important ta remember. This is where the eighth gate, the death gate, comes in."

Turning, Ranma hopped out onto the rocks in the middle of the stream. "Alright, think of it like this. Water flows down from mountains down to the sea, right?" At their nods she continued. "So how does the water get ta the top of the mountain?"

As always, Sakura had the answer. "Evaporation, condensation, and precipitation." She paused." Are you saying that the eighth gate is just taking the end of these chakra, the gates, and looping it around?"

Ranma was pleased. "Exactly. The third eye ain't part of the stream, but it pulls the ki from the base back up to the crown. In you the crown and brow chakra was completely closed off, and the others were just squeakin' by. And there wasn't any loop; you're just wasting it. In me, these chakra're open full blast all the time. I've got to use my third eye ta purify the ki, but you three'll hafta do it different till we can wake it up safely. If you were ta let that polluted ki circulate... well, they called that gate right. Ya'd get some pretty good benefits for a bit, then keel over."

Demonstration time. Lifting up a piece of her own chakra paper, Ranma held it out where they could clearly see. "This's what happens when you use just ki." For a moment, the paper glowed a barely noticeable amount. Then it began to shift. Slowly, delicately, wooden tendrils began to emerge from the paper, tentatively stretching about as if searching for something. A bit of mist from the stream hit them and they stilled.

The paper exploded in a flurry of movement. Dozens of tendrils reaching down and outward engulfed Ranma's hand, then her arm. Even before they reached the water they had all but swallowed her. Diligently, they set about digging down, taking root, forcing the river to split in twain. The trunk, and it was now a trunk, doubled and tripled in size, enormous limbs shooting out, grasping, forcing the genin back. Like colossal arms they began to gouge great trenches of earth from the banks, heaving them up and around its base until a small island protected it from the water's onslaught. Then it shot upwards, reaching for the sky, branches and foliage growing apace, blocking the sunlight from view.

As suddenly as it started, all was still. In mere moments before their awestricken eyes, a monstrous tree, easily the match of any other in this godforsaken forest, now stood.

And their sensei was gone. Before any reaction could take place, they heard a creaking noise coming from within the tree. A crack appeared, followed by a hand bursting forth. The crack rapidly grew to the length of a person, then exploded. Dull shrapnel stung their skin and forced them to cover their eyes. When they looked again there Ranma stood, none the worse for wear.

"Dammit. Forgot that stuff's stronger than the regular plants 'round here. Sorry 'bout that Mao."

"Hnn." Mao chose to jump down, sullenly swimming to shore.

Ranma followed after, leaping across. She began brushing herself off, paying no heed as the damage she'd wrought behind her was quickly healed.

Sakura, her curiosity urging her on, was the first to speak, her voice a whisper. "W-wood release? No. Something... ki?"

Ranma nodded her head. "Pure ki is like pure chakra, but it's a thousand times more potent. It's the life of the whole world you're usin'." She continued dusting herself off as if she hadn't just blown their minds. "It ain't as easy ta control and it responds more to your emotions than intelligence. Whatever you feel's gonna have a major impact on how your ki responds. You'll hafta work on emotional control if ya want any a' this to work right for ya."

"Wait." The talk of driving techniques with emotions sparked Sakura's memory. "Moko... Moko Takabisha?"

"Yep. Ki fueled by pride. My own invention. The original was... well, it didn't work so well. Still ain't completely perfected it, now that I think about it."

Sakura wasn't completely satisfied. "Wait. That, I'll just call it wood release. You can teach me that?" Her eyes were practically sparkling.

Ranma chuckled. "Yeah, sure. I ain't an expert at it or nothin', but I can get ya started."

"As interesting as all this is, how does it help us? We can't use this third eye." Awestruck as she had been, Sasuke was impatient with no clear way forward.

"Hmm, near as I can figure, there are three ways of dealin' with it. First is just for me ta keep purifying it for ya. Not too keen on that idea, honestly."

The three nodded their heads. The less time spent with their crazy sensei the better.

"Heh, thought so. Second way's your best bet. Making fire chakra means molding it till ya get the right mix. If ya just reverse that, you get what ya need."

"Just... just reverse it? How do we do that?" Sakura had to fight incredulity just to get out her question.

Ranma leaned forward. "Not a clue."

"...Sensei, you aren't funny."

"Heh heh, if you say so. But I think we can figure it out. Shouldn't take more'n a few months."

"Months!? No way!"

"Unacceptable."

"Not a chance! Believe it!"

Taking in her students' consternation, Ranma decided it was time to lay the bait. "Well, there is the third way."

The cat'n canary look Ranma sported sent warning bells through their brains, daring them to ask. Whatever the answer was, it would not end well. Sasuke found more and more that hypervigilance was necessary when in the presence of their teacher. Then again, Sasuke was wary, but the idea of taking months was unpleasant at the least. "What does this... third way entail?"

"Well, after I first got here, I did some poking around, looking for a way home and such. Found all sorts a' interesting things. You know there's a clan here that gets their power by eating till they're fat?" At the glares sent her way, Ranma decided to get to the point. "Anyway, there's this clan with a technique that lets you take your chakra and put it into somebody's head. You can read minds, talk telepathically, even take over another person's body. Real freaky stuff.

This all sounded eerily familiar to Sakura. Hadn't there been a classmate... "Wait a minute. You stole Yamanaka clan secrets?"

"Yep. Why?"

Ranma's nonchalance did nothing to ease Sakura's anxieties. First ninken, now prized techniques? "We're gonna get branded traitors for sure." She slumped to the ground.

"Ah, don't worry so much. You'll be fine."

Sakura wasn't so sure about that, but she had come this far. And she really wanted that wood release. Who didn't consider the first Hokage a personal hero? "How are we supposed to use these techniques?"

"You're not. I am." They all gave her questioning looks. "Heh, it's simple. I'll gather my ki, focus on how to use the third eye and maybe some other techniques, then use the jutsu on you. It'll probably knock you out, so while you're down I'll open up gate number two. You wake up feeling fresh and ready ta go."

"And- and that will work?"

"Eh, maybe."

"Maybe!?"

"Using ki to do your tricks with chakra ain't easy. They either don't work, get overblown like your chakra paper, or they warp in funny ways. I've mostly been using it ta make sentries fall asleep when I need ta get in someplace locked up. Never used it this way, so I can't promise it won't backfire somehow. Still, which'd you rather do, months a' meditatin', or a few hours a' me showin' you how ta do it from inside?" Ranma leaned back against the tree, apparently satisfied with her argument.

"But, b-but..."

"I'll do it."

"Sasuke-e." Sakura was outright whining now.

"You two do what you like, but I'll do it."

"Hey you bastard! You won't leave me behind! I'll do it too!" Naruto hadn't completely understood the explanations, but he knew a challenge when he heard one.

"Well Pinky? You're last one out. What's it gonna be?"

Seeing the hopeful look on Naruto and the expectant ones on Ranma and Sasuke, Sakura knew she had no recourse. "Ugh, this is going to be a disaster. Fine. I'll do it."

"Yes! I knew you'd come around Sakura!" Naruto was back to his normal happy go lucky self.

"Please. For once listen to me, Naruto. Be. Quiet. Let's just... get this over with."

"Hnn."

"Yeah! Oh. I mean, yeah."

Ranma was only too happy to oblige them. "Lie down. Get comfortable. No idea how long this'll take."

As they settled in, she began collecting her ki, her thoughts gathering close behind. This had to be perfect. Each needed something special to get them going.

Pinky would be the easiest. A bit of self-confidence, something Ranma had aplenty, and maybe she'd worry less about Sas' and focus more on herself. Focus was something 'Ruto could use as well. Pranks were fine and all, but if she was gonna be a ninja... As for Sasuke, that girl really needed to relax.

Getting in the right mood for each and then overwhelming their systems with the primed ki was questionable, but it was the best way she could figure to get over their hang-ups in a timely manner.

The genin watched as their sensei formed a circle with her hands, then each witnessed as a flash of light consumed them and they knew no more.

Finished, Ranma sat down with Mao to wait out her students' training.

~o0{O}0o~

Flowers. Flowers everywhere. Covering her vision. Sakura sat up, brushing the petals from her face. She was sitting in a field of sakura flowers. Which was weird considering that wasn't the way sakura grew.

"Hihi. The way Sakura grew. That's funny."

Whirling around, Sakura came face to face with... herself? "What the hell is going on? Who are you?"

The answer came crisp and neat. "I'm you, dummy. Just better." The look on the doppelganger's face was somehow infuriating.

Looking closer, Sakura realized they weren't quite identical. Canines? Then what she'd said hit her. "Excuse me? What do you think you're talking about?" There was no way this fake was better.

Instead of answering, the fake simply pointed off to the side. "I'd dodge if I were you."

Before she could fully grasp that, "Oof!" something collided with her, sending her skidding through the field.

Immediately, she sprang to her feet, her instincts taking over and, "Oof!" Once again she was thrown to the ground. Over her stood a boy, black hair shining. He was cute, for a jerk. Before she could react further, he was gone.

In the distance came a sing-song voice. "You'll never beat him with-out me!"

~o0{O}0o~

Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip.

Something was impacting against his face. Something wet. Naruto groaned. Where was he? Looking around didn't help much. He was underground, for one thing, at an intersection of several passageways. Pipes covered the walls and dampness spread everywhere.

Drip. "Ack!" Perhaps he should move. Getting up, he chose randomly and began following the pipes.

Walking aimlessly, he wandered through what appeared to be a maze of crisscrossing corridors. It seemed like hours passed, meaninglessly. Then he heard something. A... a yelp?

He hurried up, running along the path till he reached an opening. A cave filled with massive bars ostensibly blocking the way of something equally massive. There. There in front of him was the largest fox Naruto had ever laid eyes on. Terrified, he watched as the fox set a massive paw on its prison as if it was ready to break out at any moment. It lowered its head to eye level.

"Brat!" The voice boomed and echoed. "You will remove this thing from- aargh!" What? What thing? There, on the fox's back, was a small... cat? What in the...

Naruto did the only thing he could. He laughed.

~o0{O}0o~

Sasuke looked around. She was home. More than that, she was in a home that had yet to be scourged by...

She took off running. Running in a familiar direction, to a house she hadn't stayed at since... since then. No one stopped her. They simply carried on as if nothing was wrong. But it was. Itachi was coming. She had to warn them. She had to save them.

She burst through the door of her house. "Mom! Dad! Where are you? We have to-"

"Sasuke." Sasuke's blood ran cold. That voice. It was so familiar. Slowly, she turned.

"Brother."

~o0{O}0o~

"Huff, huff, huff. Okay. So that didn't work." Sakura was exhausted. Everything she tried to escape the boy ended in failure, her face in the dirt.

"Toldja." And an I told you so from the fake.

"Shut up. You can't even copy someone right. What is wrong with your teeth, anyway?"

The fake shook her head. "I told you already. I'm you, just better. You're never going to get anywhere like this. You need me."

"The hell I do."

"Do you even know why you're running?"

"Why-" Sakura looked at the fake, incredulous. "Because he's kicking my ass!"

"Yeah. He is. Why?"

"How the hell should I know!?" The fake tsked, obviously disappointed. As if Sakura cared. "If you're so smart, you tell me."

A bright grin answered her. "Are you asking for my help?"

Sakura grit her teeth. "Yes."

"Hmm. That wasn't very convincing. Yes what?"

"Ugh. Yes, please."

"Alright then. First of all, where are we?"

"That's a question, not an answer!"

"If you don't want my help you can go right back to getting your ass beat. I really don't mind."

"Fine! We're in a field. Of flowers. I don't know where, I've never seen it before."

"A field of flowers? Really? Hopeless."

"Hey!"

"Next question. What. Is. My name? And no, it isn't Fake."

Sakura was readying another retort when she realized something."Wait, how do you know what I'm thinking?"

"The same way you know what my name is. The same way you know where you are. Think."

Confused, Sakura clutched her head. "Where... what... the last thing I remember is- is Ranma sensei. Ranma sensei, she did something. This- this is her fault! This place. It's...

"Yes. Think about it. We're not in a field of sakura."

"We're... We're in a field of me. A field of Sakura."

"And my name is?"

"My name is... Sakura!"

With that, the field dispelled in a swirl of sakura petals and the boy was revealed.

"You. You're sensei aren't you?" The boy merely shrugged and grinned. "Whatever. Let's try this again."

Inner Sakura walked up beside her. "Together."

~o0{O}0o~

"Huff, ha. Ohoh. Oh man. That was great." Naruto was exhausted. He'd never laughed so hard in his life. He looked up to see the giant fox glaring at him.

"I demand that you remove this pest from my person immediately!"

"Hah! Why should I do that you big fleabag?"

"Because otherwise you'll never learn the secrets the little hanyo that you've taken as your sensei wishes to teach you."

That brought Naruto up short. "What are you talking about? What's a... handle?"

The fox snorted, then resumed scratching at his back, futilely trying to remove the creature that was still attached to his skin. "I should have known better than to expect a monkey to have figured out even something as simple as that. This thing is an apparition. A piece of the hanyo's spirit. Why it would gift you with something like this is beyond even me, but I do not want it. It... itches."

"Hey, hey! What's a hanyo?"

Shaking its head, the fox answered. "An abomination. Half spirit, half human. This one seems to be in heat, if the attempt to procreate is any indication." At Naruto's continuing confusion, the beast sighed. "Your sensei. Demon."

"Wow. Sensei is a monster? Cool! Hey, that explains some things, too!"

"Just remove this thing so we can both be on our ways."

"Um, how do I do that?"

"Call it by its name, stupid kit."

"Hey! Um, here kitty, kitty." The cat perked up its ears. "Come here, Ranma sensei... Um, it isn't workin-owaaaaaaaaaaargh!"

The fox's booming laughter drowned out his cries.

~o0{O}0o~

Sasuke was exhausted. Mentally, emotionally... sapped of strength. The Itachi before her was a phantom. A message in a bottle meant to be viewed years after his death. What it had to say was... soul rending. "I remember now. When you left, I caught you. You were... crying. You didn't kill them at all."

The phantom resumed. "Sasuke. You must be careful. Madara is a dangerous man, far more so than myself. I never wanted to give you this message. I can only hope that you are ready. Old enough. I can't protect you anymore. If you must take revenge, I can't stop you. I only ask that you save them. Our clan's future—your future—depends on it. You were always meant to be the strong one. I love you, little brother." Slowly, it faded away.

Why? Why had he done it? Itachi had taken all her hate. Directed all her rage at himself. When the real culprit was... Was that why? So that she would not aim it at an impossible goal? Madara. He was to blame.

But how was she even to begin to get her revenge now? If it had truly been one such as Madara, contemporary to the first hokage and greatest Uchiha who ever lived, what hope did she have?

Suddenly, Sasuke felt a pressure on her shoulder. She turned. "S-sensei?" But no, it was just another phantom. Still, it couldn't hurt.

"Sensei. I- I need help. Please. Help me."

Pulling her in, the phantom embraced her. They stayed like that for some time. Sasuke barely even noticed when it began to glow, sinking into her skin.

~o0{O}0o~

Sasuke woke slowly, the sound and warmth of a fire welcoming her. Her teammates were laid out beside her, but Ranma was nowhere to be seen. "Sensei?"

"Hey, Sas'. How ya feelin'?" Ranma approached from the forest, an armful of wood in hand.

How was she feeling? That- that was a loaded question. "I'm... I don't know. I- have you ever been so convinced of something, only for it to..."

Setting the wood down, Ranma sat down beside her. Ranma knew where Sasuke's train of thought was going. "For it to all fall ta pieces? Yeah. More'n once."

Sasuke paused to consider that. Should she? She desperately needed guidance. "Sensei. You told me once that you'd help me, even if it meant chasing him down and fighting him yourself. I just... need some help."

"Sure, what do ya need?" Ranma listened closely. Something had clearly rattled the girl.

"Itachi. He... left me a message. I wasn't supposed to get it until I was much older, if ever. Whatever you did, it unlocked it. Itachi didn't kill my clan. He just took the blame for it. Madara. He's the one."

"Whoa, whoa. I hate ta say it, but... how do you know he ain't just..." Ranma didn't want to finish the sentence.

Sasuke looked down. "When it- when it happened, I caught up to my brother. He was... crying. I- I swore that I would kill whoever it was that- that... He said he wouldn't let me. He put a genjutsu on me. Made me forget. Whatever you did, it broke it. I remember now."

They sat in silence for a moment. Finally, Ranma spoke up. "Well, I made a promise and I won't break it. You need help, I'll help ya."

"...Thank you, sensei."

"No problem. So, tell me 'bout this Madara guy."

They continued talking well into the night.

Well, I finally got off my butt and published this, obviously. Whew, I didn't like this chapter at first and it still has some niggling little things that bug me, but oh well. I have some good news and some bad news and some more good and bad news. The good news is that this story is not dead and will not die until I get to the time skip as I previously intended. The bad news is I'm taking a break from it. The good news is the reason I'm taking a break is because I found another story. The bad news is that I've already thrown out chapter one and two twice now and have no intention of publishing until it's finished. So yeah, gonna be a while before I make a comeback.

To those wonderful reviewers that didn't get a response from me, I apologize. Just know that I definitely read them and am trying to take any and all advice to heart. Except for that one idiot. You know who you are. ;-)

Also, I have been working on making the earlier chapters more legible. There are some word walls and such and that is entirely inexcusable.