Hope Will Never Die...the many roads of earth that lead to specific destinations. Yet, that one wanderer with no set goal in mind takes road after road to come to a fork. To go where all are traversing, or to take the road that leads into the darkness, on an adventure yet to be discovered by man or to meet an unfortunate and silent end...

Chapter 7: A gap between Truth and Lies

The trail that lead beyond the Hokage's Tower was barren. The trees on either side of the road were either dead or dying. Broken leaves fell to the ground and made a soft crunch beneath her feet, and her feet only. She had noticed a while ago that Ibiki made absolutely no sound at all, and looking back at his steps, saw that the leaves under his feet remained untouched. Kin wondered just how much chakra control one needed to pull off a feat like that.

"You'll learn." Ibiki said as if reading her mind. The slightly terrified girl could do nothing but nod her head.

As they continued further down the road, and the bustling sounds of the village died down behind them, the path abruptly ended. Now in front of them was merely dead trees that seemed to stretch on for miles. It made her shiver. Subconsciously it made her feel...lonely. Ibiki jumped up into the trees first, Kin following right after. The branches were almost paper thin and her first step snapped a branch, almost sending her plummeting towards the ground below. Luckily, she was close enough to the body of the tree to grab a hold of it with her hand and then used chakra to stick to it. It was too fast at first and she ended up skinning her hand a bit, the pain just a throbbing pulse for the moment since the bleeding was minimal.

Ibiki stood several trees ahead, looking at Kin with a bored expression. It wasn't as if he expected her to get it on the first try. He was glad to see her reaction time at least let her catch her balance before she hit the ground. She would need that, because the trail to ANBU headquarters only got more rigorous from there. This wasn't even a taste of the training that he would be putting the girl through. It was merely the precaution area used in case genin or chunin decided to wander through there.

"Um...Ibiki-sama, how am I supposed to follow you?" Kin honestly wanted to know. There was no way she would be able to figure it out on her own. She didn't know any on-field chakra control exercises that would let her regulate just enough chakra to traverse on such thin branches.

"You do know the water walking technique, right?" Ibiki questioned, not making any move to go help the girl. Kin nodded. "Water has a surface thinner, or just as thin as these branches. The only difference is that there is more if it. The density and mass is much greater. Now think about the regular tree branches that you usually traverse. Due to the rough terrain and the fact that each branch is a different shape and size, what do you do?"

Kin thought for a second. "You...change the amount and flow of chakra to each branch. Because when you're moving, you'll never know if a branch is weak or not, so you don't want to overload a smaller branch with too much chakra and have it explode under your feet!"

"Yes. The principle for tree walking and the first lesson is easiest. Standing on a single tree and single tree branch does not need such consideration. However, when traveling through the tree networks, split second calculations and decisions need to be made, which in truth, makes tree climbing much harder than water walking. On water, you use a constant flow of chakra to stay on top of it, but since there is a mass of water beneath you at all times, you never truly need to regulate your chakra, unless the water is greatly disturbed."

Kin was happy to have answered Ibiki's question right, but it didn't really help her from hanging off the side of the dying tree either. The confused gaze she was giving Ibiki relayed the message.

"Think of the density of each branch. When you travel amongst larger trees, you can use more chakra. But since these branches are smaller than our fingers, you are going to need to use the bare minimum amount of chakra possible. And I'm not going to tell you it's easy either. To be able to use as little chakra as possible to perform actions that you usually use more for is anything but simple."

Kin groaned. Just what was Ibiki playing at? To be able to perform something like that, you'd need to have as much chakra control as a Hyuga and then some. It was damn near impossible for her. She yelped when Ibiki began to leave her. "Hey! Wait, where are you going?"

Ibiki stopped and looked back. "There's a clearing two hundred meters from here. You have an hour to reach it or I'll be escorting you to a Torture and Interrogation Cell as an enemy of Konoha. If you want to live until tomorrow, you'd better get a move on." With that he left Kin's view. The dark haired girl's heart beat a mile a minute.

"You're joking!" She yelled. Silence. "Seriously, you're joking right?"

After the little outburst from Kurenai, the teams had been moved to the main room of the tower. Viewing platforms sat on both sides while a giant set of hands stood on the far side of the room opposite the door. Kurenai herself had went to find the Hokage and Vash, set on hurting the man to some degree. Asuma had dragged Gai and Kakashi to help stop the woman, though Anko herself refused, saying that perverts deserved to be put in their place. It didn't help that she glared at Kakashi as he had just began to read his Icha Icha book either.

"Well kiddies, since Hokage-sama hasn't said anything about postponing the exams or anything, you all just got a free pass to the next round."

The genin now sat in a big circle on the floor of the room. Anko was in the middle of them, acting as temporary proctor, or as she called it babysitter, until Hayate could show up.

"You all have got an entire day until the next part of the exams are announced, so what the hell are we going to do? We can't leave the tower, I'm not bringing any of you little bastards anything to eat, and I'm pretty sure the only bathroom is in a restricted area."

"Shit, really?" Train called, dancing around as if he had to use the bathroom.

"Ano, sensei, where'd Naruto-kun go?" Ino asked. Everyone began to look around and found that the blonde shinobi really had disappeared.

"What the hell? Did he go with the other jonin?" Anko asked turning towards a corner where she knew an ANBU was waiting.

"No ma'am. He's in the next room preparing himself for his meetings." An ANBU appeared wearing a cat mask. She knelt before Anko and quietly took a look around at the genin. They eyed her suspiciously for more reasons than she could count, but she knew the main reason was her status. The ANBU were always there in almost every part of the village. She could only guess that they were thinking how much she knew of them. The honest truth was that she knew very little though. She was not a field operative until today. She had spent most of her time in the ANBU headquarters training under Ibiki and Anko sometimes.

"Hey Neko. Remove your mask." Anko ordered. Neko's posture showed just how shocked she was to hear such an order from Anko. But she didn't voice it. For an ANBU, questioning an order would be just like treason. However, her hesitation was enough to show Anko that she was against the order.

"Ye...yes ma'am." Neko slowly moved her hands up to her mask. She could feel the tense air growing as even the other ANBU watching seemed to understand her pain. When ANBU were ordered to remove their mask, they were usually getting demoted. Though Anko didn't have that power, she could still order them to remove their mask and put their life at jeopardy by having their identity revealed.

"Neko, you didn't get the memo did you?" Anko asked as she saw how slowly the woman before her was going. Neko paused, cocking her head to the side in confusion.


Anko sighed and held her head. "Go back to headquarters and check your missions. Ibiki should be sending your sister to take your place. Come back immediately and stay with Naruto-kun in case these brats try to do something they'll regret.."

"Hey!" The collective call of most of the genin rung out towards her. She chuckled and dismissed Neko.

"Why does Naruto want to have meetings with us?" TenTen asked.

"I take it he just wants to talk to some of you privately, and vice versa." The Special Jonin indicated Naruto's own team as well as Ino and Hinata.

Sakura and Sasuke stood and walked a bit further from the group. Sasuke looked at the girl to see she had her head down and her shorter hair covered her face so he couldn't see her expression. The girl in question was still weighed down with the guilt of her actions for the past several years, but especially recently. She couldn't think of anything else except ways to truly make up for her actions.

"Sakura." Sasuke called to get her attention but it did nothing. He stopped walking and upon instinct, so did she, but made no move to acknowledge their lack of motion. Sasuke shook his head but smirked slightly. "Sakura, me and Naruto want to take you on a three way date."

For a moment Sasuke thought that even such a remark had no effect. However, no less than three seconds later, the girl fainted on spot. Now with a look at her face, it resembled a lecherous old man that he was sure he would meet one day, creepy smirk and all.

"Man, is everyone I know a pervert?"

Before Sasuke could answer his own question with a resounding yes, the door to the room opened.

"Sasuke and Sakura, the boss will see you now." A clone said. Sasuke groaned as he saw that Sakura wasn't going to be spontaneously waking up and picked the girl up bridal style, getting some knowing smirks from some of the other genin. Sasuke blushed and looked away.

"Oh shut up. It's not how it looks." He called, though with a small smile hidden.

"Oh right, you're gay." Neji said seriously. A short pause filled the air...then one of the hidden ANBU burst into laughter igniting the rest of the room as well. Sasuke's embarrassed blush doubled and tinted red with anger before he stormed out of the room, grumbling about stupid Hyuga's and there new found sense's of humor.

Carrying Sakura into the next room over, the tinges of red never leaving his face, he was greeted with the sight of Naruto sitting behind a desk, ANBU carrying paperwork and putting them in filing cabinets included. At first glance, Sasuke could've sworn that he had entered the Hokage's office and none other than the Fourth himself was sitting before him. Taking a moment to shake away the shock of seeing this, he walked forward and sat Sakura in one of the three chairs that sat in front of the desk, taking the next one for himself.

"Naruto...what is all this?"

"I don't know. I walked in while they were filing stuff and refused to leave."

At that, two ANBU paused in their work to send what could no doubt be glares behind their mask at Naruto.

"This is Ibiki-sama's office! You better hope he doesn't come back while you're playing Hokage." One of them spoke.

"Whatever. Well, what happened to her?" Naruto asked, noticing the perverted smile on the unconscious pinkette's face. Sasuke's mouth cemented itself shut and he looked away, the pink tint of his cheeks returning.

"Nothing that will be repeated today." Sasuke growled through grit teeth. Naruto just shrugged.

"So what did you two want to talk about?"

Sasuke looked at Naruto in confusion. "You were the one who started putting together meetings. I said what I had to, I guess you really only need to talk to her."

Almost as if by some divine fate, Sakura would begin to stir in her sleep. She yawned cutely, rubbing her tired eyes with a small, content grin on her face. "~Yah~, what a wonderful dream! I can't believe I went on a three way date with Sasuke-kun and Na-" Upon realizing whom she was in the room with, the images of her dream flooded her mind. The pink on Sasuke's face was nothing compared to the blazing red that was Sakura's being as she almost passed out again from the images of her dreams 'end'.

"Wh-what's going on here?" She called, sitting bolt upright. Her eyes darted between both other shinobi, refusing to look either of them in the eye.

"Questions people. We don't have all day! I'd like to get some sleep before the next part of the Chunin exam." Naruto said, motioning the pink haired girl to get on with it. Being reminded of their current situation Sakura sobered up instantly just to become downtrodden by what she needed to discuss with Naruto.

Even the ANBU moving around the room sensed the dread that fell over Sakura and many of them slowed in their work to listen to conversation that was about to happen. Sakura's head hung low again and she put her hands in her lap.

"I'm...I'm sorry Naruto. For everything. The way I treated you back then, and the things I do and say to you now too. I-"

"Dammit Sakura, I thought I said I forgave you already. Seriously, to be one of the smartest genin, you really act slow sometimes. I think you get that from Ino."

A part of her wanted to get upset at his insult, laugh at his taunting of Ino, and hit him for interrupting her. But the biggest part of her heart was telling her to just smile and thank him.

"Arigatou, Naruto-kun." She slammed her hands over her mouth instantly after speaking the words. Naruto had flinched when she called him that. "I'm sorry..."

"It's fine. Just...not really used to hearing that, especially from you."

Sasuke rolled his eyes. "As if Hinata hasn't called you that enough, now that TenTen girl and Ino have started. You've got almost as big a fanclub as I do now."

"Oh god no!" Naruto called in horror. Images of mobs of rabid fangirls chasing him entered his mind and sent a shiver down his spine. "I'd rather angry mobs with pitch forks again."

A short silence followed, the ANBU in the room tensing at that statement too. They slowly got back to work, finding it in their best interest to ignore the following conversations. They knew all about what happened to Naruto, and on some occasions had looked the other way. They regretted it now, seeing how the boy had been growing up. And then hearing the revelation in the next room solidified their respect for the boy. They had all been in the wrong at some point. It took the next generation to see the truth that they had denied for so long.

Sasuke gritted his teeth. "If you want to get payback, I'll help."

"No Sasuke. That's not the way I want to do things. If you've noticed, some people actually act different now. I'm not going to put myself as low as them just to get a moment of satisfaction. I'll work above them and eventually reach a satisfaction that no one can deny me, one that will last for years to come." Naruto's look made Sasuke think of himself. Was trying to kill Itachi really worth it? It wouldn't bring back his family, that he knew, but the rage he felt whenever he thought of his brother made his avenger mentality seem all the more justified.

"Sakura, we can try to mend our friendship later. Same with you Sasuke. For now, we should focus on the exams."

The two nodded, all three feeling happy that their team had somewhat come back together. As they stood, Naruto turned away, a small tear forming in his eye. He was ready to cut ties with them both, but just a little time and they had come around on their own. The ANBU were slowing in their work as they listened to the conversations. In a swirl of leaves, one more person entered the room. It was a woman with long black hair, wearing a black leather sleeveless vest, black leather capri shorts, and a leather jacket at her waist. Naruto rose an eyebrow, trying his hardest to keep from getting a nosebleed as the woman had the biggest chest he had seen in Konoha to date.

"Uzumaki-san, Anko has assigned me to watch over you during these meetings." The woman spoke in a subdued tone. She didn't seem upset, but something was bothering her.

"Uh...I don't really need anyone to watch me. I trust...most of the others. By the way, what's your name?"

The woman looked down. "Tifa. That's all I can tell you."

Naruto shrugged at the woman's behavior. A few seconds later, the door opened again. Ino walked in by herself, taking Naruto by surprise. "Hey Ino, what's up with you?"

Ino blushed a bit and held her arms behind her back. She didn't make eye contact with Naruto and cast a strange glance at Tifa, having never seen the woman before. "Um...Naruto-kun...I want to say sorry..."

"Not you too! Okay, if you're just going to be apologizing about things that happened years ago, I forgive you already. I don't hold grudges...well not against petty stuff."

Ino was about to get upset at first but calmed down quickly. She shook her head, seeing the childish smirk on Naruto's face and her blush increased again. "Naruto-kun, you should really let people apologize. Even if you've already forgiven them, maybe they haven't forgiven themselves."

Naruto looked genuinely surprised. "I hadn't thought of it like that..."

Ino giggled. "There's the Naruto-kun I know."

Now it was Naruto's turn to blush. He scratched his cheek sheepishly before looking at Ino apprehensively. Her smile faltered under his gaze. "Ino...is there something you want to tell me?"

"Other than apologizing, I don't know. I still don't understand what I want to do after this. The first thing was making amends for the things I've done with you. I want to be your friend again Naruto-kun...and maybe even..."

Both genin went silent, their red making the room glow. Even Tifa had a small blush as she watched the scene. 'Lucky kids. Love is hard to find for a shinobi.'

"I can't make promises Ino...me and Hinata-chan have already decided to be together later."

"But not now?" Ino asked, her head perking up at the info.

"Uh...no, not now but-"

"Then you're mine for now." Ino said in finality.

"Ino-chan, I don't think-"

"And you called me Ino-chan. It's settled. I'll see you later Naruto-kun!" Ino blew him a kiss and quickly ran from the room before he could reply.

Naruto, Tifa, and the other ANBU blinked.

"What...just happened?" Naruto asked. Tifa smiled, showing a devious side of her that never came out when she had her mask.

"You, my friend, just got a girlfriend. A headstrong one at that."

Naruto's head hit the desk. "Kami, I'm going to die before the end of the day."

"Why is that Naruto-kun?" The door opened to reveal Hinata, Shino, and Kiba. Hinata seemed to be back to her old self, the permanent scowl that had adorned her face for the most part of the exam gone and replaced with her cute smile that Naruto had gotten used to seeing.

"Uh...no reason...heh." Naruto sweat dropped as he got deadly glares from Kiba and Shino. "Ehem, well, I don't know what else I have to discuss with you three, but you're here so..."

"Naruto-kun I don't want to wait anymore!" Hinata called instantly, her face flushing red and her hands clasping over her mouth just as Sakura's had. Naruto's head hit the desk again.

"Death. I knew it. Kami wants me gone." Naruto groaned as Tifa was in almost hysterics, holding her sides laughing while the other ANBU just chuckled alongside her. "I'm guessing you heard Ino-chan then?"

Hinata pouted but nodded anyway. "Naruto-kun, you aren't obligated to...to be with me." She blushed but Naruto could see that she was also sad about this too. "If you want to be with Ino...I can't stop you. But I want you to know that I want to be with you now, even if we aren't exactly where we want to be."

"Hold on Hinata-chan! I didn't say anything like that!" Naruto was on his feet fast as he saw tears start to enter the girls eyes. "Me and Ino-chan need to work on our friendship, we aren't anywhere near ready to date each other. I think she's still just confused about what she wants to do!"

The truth was, Naruto was the same way. He was confused on what to do now too. Ino didn't seem like she was joking, and he didn't want to hurt her feelings. But he and Hinata had already decided to be together. Even if they were now only doing it so that Hinata wouldn't lose her chance. Naruto remembered that Fuu was also after him, and could only guess that TenTen was slowly falling as well. He held his head in frustration, now realizing how deep he was now.

'If only the fox were still here...'

"Naruto-kun..." Hinata's voice brought him back to reality and he almost jumped back when he saw that she was standing next to him, leaning in closer and closer. Her eyes were closed and her lips slightly puckered. His heart raced in his chest as he realized what she was doing and with very little time to think settled for closing his own eyes shut tight. Only a small second later did he feel the delicate touch of her lips on his own and his heart began to settle. Hinata began to lean in and Naruto obliged by wrapping his arms around her petite waist.

"Ehem." Shino cleared his throat loudly, startling the two whom had entered their own little world. Somehow, Hinata had found her way onto Naruto's lap, their arms encircling each other. The kiss had gotten so heated that Naruto lost all thought, focusing on nothing but the soft touch of her lips, the silky flow of her tongue and the building heat between them both.

"Damn you two move fast." Kiba called with a grin.

"Not really, Kiba-san. It did take them over three years to finally get together." Shino corrected, earning groans from the new couple and laughs from all others present in the room.

When it settled down and Hinata had moved back to stand with her team, Kiba moved forward. "...We've got your back Naruto, no matter what. Even if mom or the others are too blind to see that you aren't the Kyubi, we know that you aren't. Besides, if we didn't Hinata would make us see the truth."

Naruto looked down for a moment before smiling at Kiba. The boy had grown since the academy, surely now. He was glad to see that he could still think for himself and had become a level headed person. It most likely came from his sister and Akamaru though. Kiba's need to protect his family and partner was all he needed to discern what he wanted to do or not.

"Thank you guys. You don't know how much this all means to me." Naruto was genuinely happy. He couldn't remember a time when so many people ever accepted him for him. Besides wave country. It made wanting to protect this place, these people, all the more worth it.

As the three prepared to leave for the next group, Anko appeared at the door. "Brats, Hayate's here. He's going to tell you all what to do. You can finish up with the rest of them later. Tifa, let's go. We've got business to take care of back at headquarters for now."

"Yes ma'am." Tifa called and both her and Anko vanished.

Naruto shrugged and stood up to follow the other team back to the main room. Once they were inside, they saw the group standing in straight lines, four empty spaces left for them to slide into. In front of the group was a tired looking chunin with a clipboard. He coughed into his fist as the group finally all arrived.

"As you may have heard, my name is Hayate Gekko-cough,cough-. I'm the proctor for the next part of the exam. However, because of certain circumstances, -cough,cough-, you all have been granted a pass into the next part and this part of the exam is still on going. Rooms have been prepared -cough, cough, cough- for you all, -cough-, and you will be required to stay there for the remainder of this portion of the exam. I advise -cough, cough- you all get as much rest as possible and report back to this room -cough, cough- at noon tomorrow."

The genin sweat dropped at the sickly chunin. It seemed as if he had a hard time getting through that explanation. They wondered what happened to make the man so ill. They also didn't mind having to go to bed either. From the looks of things, it was already about ten at night anyway. They welcomed a nice shower and a cozy bed over the forest any day. Once dismissed, no more words were spoken and the teams all followed a chunin to their respective rooms. One for girls the other for boys.

Girls room

The room prepared was obviously an infirmary. Anko had said there were no bathrooms in any area not restricted and so far it seemed she was telling the truth. There was a shower area, but it was an open shower. There was no bathroom area as far as any of them could tell. That was fine though too. Ninja had to be versatile with things such as that and even if they were technically inside, they were in an unknown place that just as well could have been the wilderness.

"Well...let's get acquainted!" Fuu called as she jumped onto one of the many beds in the room, looking a lot like Naruto with her bright smile and confident air about her.

TenTen giggled at her friend while Hinata, Sakura, and Ino sweat dropped. This was the first time they had gotten a real good look at the girl. She seemed younger than them, but maybe it was just her height, just like Naruto. Her demeanor even reminded them of Naruto and they were starting to find it scary how much the two seemed to be alike, even in posture.

"Hello Fuu-san, I'm Hinata Hyuga. It's nice to meet you." Hinata offered first, trying to be polite. Naruto had seemed to taken a liking to the girl and she didn't seem all that bad. Hinata hoped she would be able to make a new friend in this girl.

"I'm Ino Yamanaka." Ino waved to Fuu.

Sakura didn't respond. When she was about to speak, Fuu shot her deadly glare that she wasn't prepared for. She knew Fuu was still upset about how she was talking about Naruto back in the Forest. She couldn't blame her either. She couldn't believe the stuff she had been saying and wanted to bang her head against the wall just to forget it. She just kept quiet and avoided all eye contact.

"Hello to the both of you. I'm TenTen Hiroshi." TenTen held her hand out to Hinata and Ino, trying to lessen the tension that had started to build. Ino laughed at TenTen.

"We know who you are TenTen. You graduated 6 months before us. All the girls in our class looked up to you." This revelation brought a blush to TenTen's face.

"R-really? I had no idea..." TenTen held her hands under her chin, picturing herself as the loving big sister to all of the younger girls. It's what happens when you're an under-appreciated person.

Fuu dropped down from the bed and shook everyone's hand except for Sakura. A frown made its way upon her face as she noticed Sakura walking away towards the other end of the room. With a sigh, Fuu jogged after her.

"Hey!" Fuu called out to her, making her flinch at first. She slowly turned around but still refused to meet Fuu's eyes. Fuu sighed again, holding her head in frustration. "Even though I'm still pissed at what happened in the forest, if Naruto can forgive you then I guess I have no choice either. My name is Fuu, what's yours?"

Sakura looked at the girl in skepticism and confusion. Then the situation just made her feel even worse. There were complete strangers who treated Naruto better than she did and she had known him for years. It just made her guilt return full force. She hadn't forgiven herself for anything yet and felt like she didn't deserve the forgiveness of anyone else either. With that in mind, instead of shaking the girls hand, Sakura surprised even herself when she embraced Fuu.

Fuu's eyes widened as the girl wrapped her in a hug. "Thank you for not being like me." Sakura whispered. "Thank you for not judging Naruto and for actually treating him the way he's deserves to be treated."

"Uh...what?" Was the only thing Fuu could think to respond with at the moment. Her eyes were swirls of confusion and her head lopped to the side, her brain fizzled from trying to comprehend what was going on.

"Amazing how a single event can change one's view." Ino mumbled to herself next to TenTen. The older girl looked at Ino and saw a single tear in her eye.

"I have no clue what you all are so solemn about, but I want to take a bath. Anyone want to join me?"

At TenTen's words, the four other girls in the room paused...and then slowly turned as red as tomatoes. The bun haired girl rose an eyebrow, especially when the younger four suddenly got nose bleeds.

"What? Was it something I said?"

Boys Room

Just like the girls, the boys room was a large infirmary. There was still no bathroom as they could see which meant they would be using the forest still. The boys didn't converse like the girls did, opting instead to claim their beds right away. Naruto took the one closes to the door, Shikamaru taking the one next to his. Sasuke grabbed the one across from Naruto while Train and Uriu were next to Sasuke's. Chouji grabbed the one next to Shikamaru while Shino and Kiba took the farthest two. Without a word to each other, all the boys fell asleep.

"What...the hell was that?" One of the hidden Anbu asked. The other just shrugged.

Forest of Death...

The tower was finally in view as the sand trio made their way through the forest with both scrolls in hand. They found it extremely quiet and extremely...less bloody than they expected. More so, there didn't seem to be any other teams around. The tension in the air wasn't founded, they figured, as no traces of other people were even near them at all. However, the youngest of the group was leaking a bit of killing intent and grumbling beneath his breath as they slowly made their way towards the goal.

"Uh...you okay Gaara? You seem a bit tense." Kankorou asked, feeling more normal than he had all day. Gaara doing anything BUT leaking killing intent wasn't natural, even if he was starting to get used to it. 'That didn't last too fucking long.'

Temari sweat dropped as their little brother ignored them and kept walking with his arms folded. To most people, it would seem like the normal Gaara. However, Temari couldn't help but hold back a giggle because instead of Gaara's normally stoic face, the young jinchuriki was actually pouting. "Aww, poor Gaara. Is it really that serious?" She asked, letting a bit of mirth enter her voice.

"It's not fair..." Gaara's even tone didn't give hint to him being upset, but it may as well have come out as a girlish whine to Temari who couldn't hold back her laughs anymore. Kankorou looked between the two in confusion.

"What? What's not fair? Seriously, I'm lost here, and I know I'm not the sharpest knife in the crayon box, but there seems to be some important context missing here."

Temari waved her brothers comment off. Gaara just ignored them both and picked up the pace, just hoping to get to the tower to meet up with Naruto. Temari slowed a bit and put an arm on Kankurou's shoulder. "I know why he's upset."


"Because we didn't get the first scene in this chapter like we did in the last two."


The trio stopped walking, Gaara looking back with the same stoic pout on his face. "It's just not fair.."

Kankurou held his head in frustration. "I seriously hate everything right now."

"And apparently someone else hates the fourth wall." Temari finished with a happy chirp as the trio finally reached the tower.

Girls Room

"Holy crap! This bath is huge!" Fuu exclaimed as she saw the large bath in the tower. It was also found out Anko lied about the bathrooms. They were on the opposite side of the bath in a locker room like area. The tower had most likely been used as a commercial resort before whoever built it found out that having a resort in the middle of a place called the Forest of Death wasn't such a good idea.

"Wow...even the public bath back in town isn't this big." TenTen called in amazement. Sakura, Ino, and Hinata just looked on with the same amazed expressions as the two other girls.

The small group of girls walked over to the locker rooms and admired the amount of hospitality that seemed to be engraved in the details of the place. While outside and in the other halls it seemed like a place for ninja, this one simple area really did seem like somewhere they would be able to relax.

In the locker room, TenTen continued to marvel at the surrounding architecture while taking down her hair. When it was done, flowing down past her shoulders, she turned around to look at the girls behind her whom had gone silent. She rose an eyebrow at their shocked expressions.

"What? Something on my face?"

Ino was the first to raise a finger at her. "TenTen-senpai...you..."

"Your hair..." Hinata continued.

"IT'S GORGEOUS!" All the girls chorused in unison. TenTen flushed pinker than her shirt, once again gaining praise from her peers that she wasn't used to getting.

"Eheh, it's nothing special...it's actually a mess most of the time, which is one reason I keep it in buns."

"What the hell is wrong with you?!" Ino hollered, quickly moving to TenTen's side and running her fingers through the silky locks. "Senpai, you are one of the most beautiful girls in this village! Why the hell are you still single?"

The other girls nodded their curiosity on the situation as well. TenTen shook her head at the questions though. "It's not really something I want to talk about right now. Or at least, let's get comfortable in the bath first, okay?" Her tone was low, a hint of sadness escaping with the sentence. However, she didn't seem too upset with sharing the information with her new found friends. She did notice Fuu rubbing her shorter hair sadly. "What's the matter Fuu?"

Fuu jumped at TenTen's words. She smiled sheepishly. "Ah, nothing. Just remembering something, that's all."

The girls began to undress, with a little persuasion on Hinata and Sakura's parts, but soon all the girls were unclothed and in the large bath. Immediately, all eyes fell on Hinata and TenTen, who were the most developed out of all the girls thus far. Fuu and Sakura were next to each other, in the water with nothing but their noses and eyes above the surface with despair over them. Ino just shrugged, feeling at a natural point in her feminine growth.

For the first moment, the girls were silent, enjoying the feel of the water. Then after several minutes of getting used to the water, Ino looked at TenTen, her own hair sprawling in the water around her. "So what's up senpai? You never told us why you're still single!"

TenTen blushed. "Well...The other reason I keep my hair in buns is so I can fight better. The hair only gets in the way when training and can be used against you in a fight."

"Yeah, but you have it up even when you're just walking around! Why not take it down when at home or something?" Sakura inquired.

After a short pause, TenTen answered her. "My mom died when I was really young." TenTen started, making all the girls gasp. "Our weapons store started going under once dad started losing the will to make weapons. First the quality dropped, then the time-frame in making the pieces, until dad had gotten us to the verge of bankruptcy. By the time I was ready to enter the academy, I knew I would have to help him by any means necessary. So I spent all four years of the academy learning how to use the forge, and how to make weapons on my own. Once my father saw how much time I was spending in the forge instead of out with friends, he started to gain some of his spirit back. He wanted to be there for me and it made me happy that I could get him back on his feet."

She sighed, a sad smile making its way onto her face. "But because of what I did, I didn't have any friends. I was always working, studying, and training, even while home, and I got so used to my hair being up in buns. I never had any friends outside of Lee and Neji if you can call him a friend. I've never been to a birthday party, I've never played at the park...hell, I guess I've never had a childhood. So of course, I've never had a boyfriend. All the boys thought I was a workaholic tomboy. Some of them thought I really WAS a boy."

"Why not just take your hair down and show them the truth?" Hinata asked.

"I'm not the type to want to prove something to worthless people. Besides, the last reason I keep these buns up is to remind myself to never stop working to make things better. Not just for my dad anymore, but for everyone else too. I wanted to be the one to make Neji come to his senses, but you beat me to that Hinata. I'm not mad about that, I'm really grateful, but it reminds me that I had stopped trying at a certain point. I won't stop again."

Ino, Sakura, and Fuu all had tears in their eyes from the story. They all waded through the water and hugged TenTen, making the older girl blush even more. She didn't know if she could handle much more.

"Aww that's so amazing TenTen-senpai!" Sakura cooed with Ino nodding her agreement.

"You're truly a role model! I wish I would have been like you back in the academy!" Ino called.

Fuu had her head against TenTen's chest, her arms around her waist. "You're amazing nee-chan!"

Those words did it. TenTen's face heated up to the point where the water around her began to boil like a hot spring. Before she could get lost in her own little world, she noticed Hinata looking into her own reflection on the water's surface. She had a serious gaze on her face, one that TenTen recognized as self-reverence.

"Are you okay Hinata?" She called, getting the other girls to turn their attention the Hyuga heiress as well.

Hinata didn't respond right away. After a few moments, she sighed sadly and looked up at the others with an obviously forced smile. "I'm alright. Just thinking..."

Knowing that it was her fault for the shift in mood, TenTen derailed the conversation. "So, you all wanted to know about me, what's up with your love lives? Any of you have boyfriends?"

At her words, all four younger genin turned bright red and moved to their own respective corners of the bath, so to say. Even more ironically, all four girls were thinking of the same person, although one of them was thinking of an extra person as well.

"I have a boyfriend..." Ino started with a sly smirk. Hinata took note and grinned deviously herself.

"Yep. And he's a wonderful kisser, ne, Ino?"

Ino's eyes widened and her jaw fell open as she saw Hinata's narrowed eyes and devious smirk. "B-but..."

"Don't worry Ino-chan, I'm sure Naruto-kun wouldn't mind us sharing." Hinata was joking, however, her words sparked something within each and every female in the bath. As Hinata took note of the metaphorical 'light bulbs' going on above all the other girls heads, she suddenly regretted trying to be devious...

(To Be Continued...)

I guess first things first is an apology for the agonizing wait for a subpar chapter. Yes, I cut the chapter short (or better yet in half) due to the fact that this has been sitting on my laptop for well over a year or two now. So instead of attempting to slap another 6000+ words on it, I decided to leave it at a point where the next chapter can open easily. This was also so I can get it up on the site and let everyone know I'm not dead, nor have I abandoned my fanfics.

The bath scene was supposed to continue on, though I completely forgot where it was supposed to lead to.

The scene with Tifa removing her mask made absolutely no sense and I have no idea what I was thinking when I put that in there...but since it was already there and so much had happened afterward, I decided to just leave it and take the flames that will come. (I can use them to keep myself warm through this damn winter.)

Other than that, I'm too tired to apologize about anything else, or to tell you what to expect from me. Let's just hold hands and sing a love song until the next chapter is done.