Thank you, thank you, thank you to my reviewers who are so awesome they inspired me to get to work on this right away. Special thanks to: ncpfan, alchemist19, Tristan Ludlam, IasWraith, En Satsu Koku Ryuu Ha, Kethatril, luckyschoolgirl, Unkown Shinobi, high lord mage, war sage, Bard of Death, Waymu, JAKdaRIPPER, AvidReader321, Animogx, wolfey141, and overlord7 (if I missed you lemme know!). Extra special thanks to: shadowelf144, who's review made me smile so hard I just /had/ to get back to work :)

So begins the true first arch of the plot (the previous chapters were more like a prologue arch). This fic has been raised to an M rating, and it will definitely earn it. That's not to say it's all doom and gloom but, well, you'll see ;) There's a lot of OC's (hopefully they're not too annoying) but remember what I said before, and after this Naruto will be back in Konoha for a bit and a little later be back permanently with all the canon characters.

Alright lets get to it!

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They were just four short of fifty, but that was four shorter than they should have been. The tragic death of two of their fellow trainees and the gruesome injuries of two others weighed heavily on the minds of the newly promoted genin as they traveled towards their destination. They traveled by foot, as fast as the genin could manage but still apparently too slow for their chuunin guide.

"We gotta move it or we'll miss the caravan! Double time!" the female Chuunin whose name Naruto couldn't remember called out behind her before speeding up. The rest of the genin sped up too as they desperately tried to keep pace. The plan was to travel to the not so near town of Torii, then hitch a ride on a supply caravan that was heading to the western border of Fire Country. The group of young ninja had already been traveling for two days and they only had till nightfall to reach their destination. Naruto's feet continued on autopilot as his thoughts drifted back to the day after he had finally been promoted to genin.

They were lined up in five rows, as usual, and Takashi stood in front of them. This would be the last time.

"Alright you brats! This is the last time I will be speaking to most of you directly, as you're still way too far down on the chain of command for me bother with, so listen up! There has been trouble brewing on the western border of the Hi no Kuni. Some upstart samurai have decided that they would be better suited towards governing the land than our Daimyo. Thing is, that's high treason, and the Fire Daimyo doesn't do well with treason. And if the Daimyo doesn't do well with it, then neither does Konoha," the olive green clad jounin said. He looked them over for a moment before continuing.

"The Lord of the Land of Fire has seen fit to request five hundred ninjas of the Reserve Corps to assist his Samurai Legions and private contractors. Normally such a thing would be handled by experienced ninja and not green as grass genin such as yourselves. However, you have had the best training the Reserve Corps has to offer, and as such you are expected to apply that training to your highest potential. You are not going to let me, your Hokage, and your Daimyo down, are you?"

"No sir!" the genin responded in unison.

"That's what I thought," Takashi said with a nod as his ever present smirk made an appearance once again. "Pack your bags, you will be met by a chuunin who will escort you to your destination at ten hundred hours sharp. You will do the Reserves proud and bring honor to its ninja, understood?" it was a question but it sounded more like an order with how loud Takashi said it.

The genin responded with what they knew he wanted to hear. "Sir yes sir!"

Takashi smiled grimly. "Good. I'd say it's been an honor but it hasn't, so just do your jobs and maybe you'll earn a bit of my respect. Dismissed!"

On the way to their destination, the genin had come to find out from their chuunin guide that Takashi was actually not a trainee instructor. He was a field commander. However, he had been scheduled for overdue vacation time and like a true scarf-head bastard he had chosen to spend his time making their lives miserable. 'That sadistic bastard would consider torturing trainees a vacation', the blond thought ruefully. Yet at the moment he couldn't help but be thankful for all the extra conditioning Takashi had put him through. It didn't make the man any less of an ass, though.

Their chuunin leader noticed some of the genin beginning to lag behind. "Oi! Do you guys want to stop to rest for a bit?" she asked. At least half of the genin let out breathless "yes ma'ams". She smirked. "Well too bad! You can rest when you're dead! Move it!" Even Naruto grit his teeth at that, but he didn't stop running. The rest of the group glared at the chuunin girl with what little energy they had but they didn't stop running, either.

They reached Torii only a half hour before nightfall...and all of them were completely exhausted. More than a few genins didn't even have the energy to stay standing and had instead chosen to lay out on the dirt road in front of the town gate. Naruto had too much pride to do such a thing, so instead he rested against a fence post on his forearms, sweat dripping down his face and soaking every inch of his fatigues as he gasped for breath. The dog tags he had been issued with his deployment papers hung loosely outside of his uniform.

"Pathetic," the chuunin stated to herself as she looked at the Reserve's newest batch of genin. "I thought Commander Minahara would be able to do better, but I guess you can't make gold out of shit." The girl was succeeding in sounding condescending despite the fact that a light sheen of sweat covered her face and her own rate of breath was quite fast. Naruto fought the urge to flip her the bird with everything he had. The chuunin shook her head and mumbled to herself as she walked into the town. Naruto didn't particularly care, he just wanted to sit down as soon as possible.

She returned twenty minutes later. "All right, our transport is waiting for us at the far gate, so get your acts together and let's go!" she screamed at the still exhausted genin, some of which had already fallen asleep on the ground as they waited. With grunts and groans they picked up their discarded gear and made their way towards the beginning of the second half of their trip.

xXxXx

Naruto awoke with a start, his heading hitting the side of the carriage he was riding in as the wheels hit a particularly large bump in the road. The disorientation of waking up in an unfamiliar place caused his eyes to quickly dart around seeking something he recognized. The chuunin girl picked up on it.

"You're finally awake huh," she said.

Naruto's eyes snapped back to her before they lit up in recognition.

The girl snorted at his still somewhat dazed expression. "Normally I wouldn't talk to a rookie like you, but this silence killing me."

The blond genin's eyes quickly swept over the rest of the cart, taking in the four sleeping forms of his fellow graduates before turning his head back to the young woman who apparently wanted to talk. "Ok, so, what do you want to talk about then?" he asked tiredly.

"Sheesh," the girl said, shaking her head and scratching at the black bandana covering her neck. "Is that all you got? You'll never get a girl with game like that," she teased.

Naruto sputtered for a second before glaring at her. "You're the one who wanted to talk, lady."

Now it was her turn to be embarrassed. "Lady? I'm fourteen years old, brat!"

"Whatever," Naruto was clearly unimpressed. They sat in silence for a moment, before the growing awkwardness prompted Naruto to break it. "So...have you seen a lot of action?" he asked finally. The girl smirked.

"Of course! They didn't give me this vest just because I'm hot. Even though I am sexy."

Naruto raised an eyebrow at her, but she only gave him a shit-eating grin. He studied her for a moment and decided that she was overestimating herself in the looks department. She wasn't ugly, but she wasn't gorgeous either. Instead, she was somewhat average. Brown eyes and brown hitai-ate covered hair that only came to her shoulders didn't exactly strike him as particularly sexy. The only thing that stood out was her larger than average bust size that was peaking out of the upper part of her chuunin vest. She spoke him again, but he didn't hear what she said.

"Um, what?" he asked.

The girl rolled her eyes. "I said, are you scared, rookie?" she asked while scratching again at the bandana. Naruto immediately began to say no, that he wasn't scared of anything, but the memories of the graduation mission came flooding back to him, and he couldn't deny the feeling of anxiety that had been bubbling in his stomach since they received their orders. Instead he chose to respond with a slight shrug. She smirked at him again, but this time it was much darker than the teasing one she had flashed him before. "Well you should be." Naruto didn't know how to respond to that so he didn't

The brunette ignored him and continued to scratch at the bandana, before finally having enough and ripping it off of her neck. "Aaaahh" she sighed in contentment as she scratched underneath a colored leather cord that Naruto recognized. 'That's the same kind of weird necklace that other chuunin was wearing'.

"What's that?" he asked, pointing at the ornament.

"This?" she questioned back, holding it away from her neck a bit just to be sure he understood. Naruto nodded at her. "It's my rec-neck," she said as if that explained everything.

Naruto was even more confused. "You're what?"

She looked at him blankly for a moment before she seemed to understand. "That's right, you've probably never seen one of these before. It's a record necklace. The blue and green stripes are my mission tabs. The yellow, orange, and red's are my kill count. Most of us keep 'em covered in the field though 'cause they're pretty visible and all." She shrugged as she looked out the back of the cart but continued talking to him. "You'll either make one, or if you're lucky and someone likes you they'll give you one after you see some combat," she explained.

Naruto didn't know what to think about that, so instead he said something that surprised her. "I've seen combat before."

Her head whipped back to face him as her eyes narrowed. "Don't lie to me rookie. I know you just graduated yesterday," she said as the tone of the conversation made a complete one-eighty.

The new genin's eyes widened a bit at the hostility that now permeated the air between them. "I'm not lying," he explained hastily, "We were attacked by bandits on our graduation mission. There were some...casualties, but a few of my group actually got kills."

Just as suddenly as the tension had appeared it now disappeared. The girl's face lost the scowl, instead adopting an expression of scrutiny. She was sizing him up. "You?" she asked.

"Huh?"

She elaborated. "Did you?"

Naruto turned away, his eyes taking on a glassy quality as memories assaulted him. "...yea" he answered quietly after a few moments. A barking laugh ripped him from his thoughts. He looked over to see the girl chuckling.

"Well goddamn! Looks like the rookie isn't so green after all!" she chortled in grim mirth. Naruto blushed a little at the praise. It was the first he had heard from a superior officer. The girl smiled a bit before deciding to bring him down again. "Don't let it go to your head though. Where we're going one kill doesn't mean shit."

Naruto looked back at her, and the little bit of elation he felt vanished as he gave her a nod, the seriousness of the situating creeping back onto him. The boy let a yawn. He was starting to feel sleepy again, the motion of the cart was lulling him into a dozing state and the girl noticed.

"Bah, got back to sleep kid," she waved him off dismissively. "You're going to need it." Naruto gave her a small nod again before leaning back against the wall. It wasn't long before he was once again unconscious.

xXxXx

It was a few hours later that Naruto awoke once again. This time however, his awakening was much gentler. He blinked his eyes, absently scratching the back of his head underneath the cloth of his hitai-ate. They seemed to have stopped, and Naruto wondered if they had reached the camp already. 'I doubt it. They wouldn't have left me sleeping in here if we did'. At least he hoped they wouldn't. The sound of people talking drifted in from outside the cart and he looked around to discover that the cart was empty except for him. 'Guess I should see what's going on outside' he thought with a shrug.

Popping out of the flap at the back of the cart, Naruto surveyed the scenery. All around him were people. Some were moving things around between carts, some appeared to be cooking and others were sitting around eating. He noticed that besides his fellow genin, there appeared to be at least thirty more people riding with the caravan. 'Guess I was too tired to notice' he thought. Then he grimaced. 'I can't let that happen again, a shinobi's supposed to be aware of their surroundings at all times'. It was one of the many things Takashi had drilled into their heads.

He began walking along the caravan, observing the different groups of people clumped together. Most of the Konoha nins were gathered in small groups. They chatted while they ate or lounged around next to a cart. Naruto didn't pay them much mind, the other people were much more interesting.

In fact, Naruto had never seen anyone like them before. The fact that many of them weren't only different from him but also different from each other made the whole thing even stranger. He passed by a group of men sitting around a box. It was being used as a makeshift table while they all held cards in their hands. The money placed in the middle of the table/box made it obvious they were gambling. Naruto observed them for a moment, before one of the men that was facing towards him looked up from his cards and gave him a hard look. Naruto only raised his eyebrows, unintimidated by the glare. The man shifted a bit and another man looked up to see what the first one was looking at. Naruto's eyes glanced over them, taking in the swords strapped to their wastes before looking back into their glaring faces.

He gave them a shrug and a cocky smile before moving on. He wasn't afraid. If a fight broke out he knew he could take them. At least, he was pretty sure he could. But even in the off chance they were stronger than him, he had nearly fifty comrades to back him up. It would be suicide for them to even try. However, he didn't think his fellow Konoha nins would appreciate him starting shit with their clients, either. He walked along the line of carts some more, taking in the sights and sounds. It wasn't long before a foreign odor assaulted his nostrils.

Naruto paused as he caught wind of the smell. It was obviously some kind of food, judging from the sounds of spoons hitting pots coming from the other side of the cart he had stopped in front of. He could hear people talking but it wasn't a language he recognized. As went to peek his head around the cart to investigate, he nearly bumped heads with two people who emerged from the other side. The blond managed to jerk his head back just in time.

They all froze, both parties surprised at finding the other where they expected no one. Naruto's eyes flicked over their appearance. They were girls about his age, maybe a little older. Both looked almost identical, and he had no doubt that they were twins, but their features were foreign to him. The first thing he noticed was that their skin was darker than anyone he had seen in fire country before, almost copper like. Their brown eyes, which were widened in shock, were set below thin black eyebrows and their long black hair was twisted into braids that fell behind their backs. Their clothes were odd too. Bright colors and strange patterns adorned their frames, one in blue tones and the other in reds. His eyes continued their inspection as he took in the numerous precious metals dangling from hoops in their ears and adorning their wrists. He would have continued if a voice didn't interrupt his inspection.

"Can we help you?" the girl in blue asked through narrowed eyes. Her accent was strange to his ears. Both girl's hands had drifted towards their weapons. Naruto had already noticed they were armed, but considering everything that had been the most normal thing about them. His left hand had found itself inside his shuriken pouch the moment they had started to reach for their own instruments of death. He knew without a doubt that if they attacked him he could kill them both in under a second, but killing two obviously civilian girls, even if they were armed, would look really, really bad. His brain scrambled to find a way to diffuse the situation. "I was just, uh, noticing that you two looked like twins," he replied.

"Duh!" the girl in red replied, hands dropping away from her sword and giving him a look that clearly said 'what are you, stupid?'. Naruto wasn't sure if he should be offended at being dismissed as a threat so quickly, but the fact the girl in blue was still watching him cautiously with her hand near the handle a rather large knife clued him into the fact that maybe that wasn't entirely true. "You got a problem with that?" the blue covered girl asked with not a little bit of hostility.

Naruto was just grateful things hadn't degenerated into a brawl yet. Takashi would kill him. "Nah, of course not. I'm a twin too," he answered casually as he moved his hand farther away from his shuriken pouch. Not far enough that he couldn't reach it in a split second, of course.

The red covered twin made a cooing noise as she clapped her hands together. "Cool! Does your brother look like you?" she asked. The way she was staring at him now was starting to make him a little uncomfortable.

"Nope, I don't have a brother. My twin's a girl, we're fraternal," he responded.

"Awww," Red, as he had labeled her in his head, was obviously disappointed. Blue rolled her eyes at her sister's apparent childishness. "Cut it out, Parvati."

The newly christened Parvati humphed with her hands on her hips as she glared at her sister. "What? He's pretty cute! If he had a brother we could both get in on the action!" she explained. Blue only palmed her forehead, her other hand finally moving far away from the knife that Naruto could relax a bit. Still, his cheeks reddened a bit from Parvati openly hitting on him.

Blue looked back at him with eyes that were still cautious but not quite as suspicious. "Sorry about that. My name is Padme. The spaz over there is Parvati. Who are you?"

Both Naruto and Blue, who he now knew as Padme, ignored Parvati's cry of "I am not a spaz!" as the blond introduced himself.

"I'm Naruto," he said, hands drifting to the back of his head in a nonchalant pose he thought looked cool as the tension dissipated. "Sorry about almost running into you there."

Padme only nodded at the apology and the conversation halted for a second. Neither Naruto nor the girls knew what to say to each other. The young genin's eyes drifted back to the girl's weapons. The girl in red, 'Parvati', he reminded himself, had a short sword strapped to a leather belt that hung loosely around her waist. It was a strange, curved blade the likes of which he had never seen before. Despite being curved it was nothing like a samurai katana. Instead the blade was fashioned into a crescent shape, the scabbard fanning out before abruptly tapering off into a point to accommodate the sword's bizarre shape. His eyes flicked to the other girl, instantly studying the bow and quiver she had strapped across her back. He had all but dismissed it during their almost scuffle earlier because there would have been no chance for her to draw and fire at close range before falling to his shuriken, but it was curious nonetheless.

"You got a staring problem kid?" Padme asked with a raised eyebrow and hands on her hips.

"Bah, relax," the blond warded off her accusation with a lazy wave of his hand. "I was just checking out your equipment. You any good with those?"

"Hey! What's that supposed to mean huh? I'm gonna be the best swordswoman on the frontier buddy!" Swching! the sound of a sword being drawn had the young Namikaze's hand by his kunai pouch immediately, his index finger hooked in the blade's loop ready to draw in an instant, but it was completely unnecessary. The girl wasn't attacking him. Instead, she was pointing the sword skyward, legs spread out unnecessarily with her left hand clenched in a fist and eyes toward the cloud as if she was challenging the heavens themselves. Naruto squinted his eyes as the sun shone brilliantly from behind her.

'But...how could...the sun rises in the east' he thought, eyebrow twitching as the logical impossibility of the sight boggled him. Padme just narrowed her eyes at her energetic twin.

"Put that away Parvati! It's not a toy!" she angrily reprimanded the red clad girl.

"Awwww. You're so mean to me sis," the foreign girl whined yet obeyed her sister's command.

The blond haired genin's eyebrow continued to twitch. "She's...pretty excitable, isn't she?"

"Tell me about it," replied the Padme with a roll of her eyes. Parvati merely stuck out her tongue. Naruto almost made to walk off before thinking about it. He realized that he didn't have anything to do besides wandering around the caravan. The two in front of him were different from anyone he had ever seen before which piqued his innate curiosity. 'Couldn't hurt to try and talk with them a bit' he reasoned.

"Hey, you guys..." and it wasn't long before the conversation began in earnest. Before he knew it, Naruto was sitting down on the other side of the road, conversing easily with the two twins. He had forgotten how nice it was to just shoot the breeze with kids his age who without all the aggressive tension. The whole time he was in the Reserves he hadn't had a civil conversation as most trainees had disliked him purely for the fact that his father was the Hokage. Well, to be honest they were they weren't too keen on how he ended up in the Reserves in the first place, either.

"You girls wanna hear a joke?" The blond queried as their conversation hit a lull.

"Oooooh, I love jokes!" the less serious of the twins indicated the affirmative in her weird yet endearing way. The other one just let out an apathetic "whatever."

"Okay, so," Naruto began as he cleared his throat. "A man working with an electric saw accidentally saws off all ten fingers. He rushes to the emergency room. The doctor says, "Give me the fingers and I'll see what I can do."

"But I don't have the fingers!"

"Why didn't you bring the fingers?!" asks the incredulous doctor.

"Doc, I couldn't pick them up." he finished with a chuckle.

Within moments the girl clad in red was rolling on the floor laughing, pounding the ground as tears rolled dripped from her eyes. In contrast, the girl in blue found it was her turn to sport an eyebrow twitch. "That...was really corny," she said at last.

"Hey, your sister liked it," replied the blonde.

"My point exactly," Padme deadpanned. Naruto could only shrug as his hand scratched the back of his head sheepishly. Unexpectedly, a gurgling noise erupted out of his stomach. "Uh, my bad."

"Hey, you're hungry!" Parvati all but yelled as she popped up off the ground, her previous laughing fit disappearing.

"I guess I haven't eaten since we left HQ this morning," he said feeling somewhat embarrassed at making an unattractive sound in front of two girls who, while totally different from any he'd seen before were admittedly kind of cute.

"Hold on!" Parvati leapt up from her seat and disappeared behind the other side of the cart. The sound of arguing in a language he didn't recognize could be heard drifting over the caravan, followed by the sound of cutlery hitting dishes. In moments the flame colored girl was back in front of him holding some kind of dish and a cup of water.

"Here!" she chirped.

Naruto was taken aback. "Um. It's okay, really." The girls face fell at his response.

Padme's eyes narrowed once again, which Naruto was beginning to believe she did without noticing. "It's rude not to accept when someone offers you food. Especially when there's not much to go around."

His cheeks flushed a bit at that. "Well...if you insist."

Gingerly taking the plate at fork he looked down at the dish. It seemed like some kind of chicken and rice except if was covered in a strange green spice that was almost overpowering in smell. He licked his lips nervously. This was the first food he'd had other than 'gruel' in months. 'Here goes nothing' he thought while scooping a bite off of his plate and popping it into his mouth.

He was coughing in seconds.

"What," cough, "is this?" cough cough.

Parvati's disappointment was evident. "You don't like it?"

"No no," Naruto waved defensively, " That's not it. It's just...different from what I'm used to is all."

Padme chuckled a bit. "I take it you've never had curry before."

"Ku Ri?" Naruto parroted back, trying to pronounce the strange word and failing miserably. The two girls laughed before a whistle rang out across the entire caravan.

"You lot have five minutes to get your stuff together before we move out!" bellowed the driver at the head of the assembled carts. Recognizing the need to hurry, the green clad genin scarfed down the remaining food on his plate before chugging the water to relieve the burning on his tongue. Finishing, he handed the plate back to Parvati.

"Thanks a lot, I really appreciate it," he said. And he meant it. While the dish was strange it was definitely better than what they had been served in the mess hall. "I'd better get going. I don't wanna get smoked for holding up our contingent." If the girls were confused by his lingo they didn't show.

"No problem!" the cheerful girl replied with a smile. "I hope we get to see you again, you're pretty cool." Padme just nodded slightly in agreement.

Waving over his shoulder Naruto headed off towards his own cart. He hopped in, parting the curtains just in time as the caravan began moving a moment later. The Reserve genin in his cart only spared him a withering glance before going back to talking quietly amongst themselves. 'Stuck up bastards' he thought with a "hmph". He half wished he could ride with the twins. He had enjoyed his time talking with the two foreigners, even though Padme was a little uptight and Parvati reminded him of his sister. With a pang of guilt he squashed that line of thought as he settled back down in his spot. The chuunin girl only cracked an eye open.

"Good thing you made it, 'cause we would have left your ass."

Naruto just scowled.

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When they arrived at their destination it was night. It wasn't much to look at. In fact, it was little more than a collection of structures, none of which looked like houses. The eleven year old spotted a few rowdy men out front of a wooden building which he rightly assumed was a tavern. There were some other buildings whose purpose he couldn't figure out lining the one dusty dirty road. In the middle of the 'town' was a some kind of open market with merchants selling their wares from little stands. The whole town was lit up by torch light, fires bathing the street orange. 'It's like I just stepped a hundred years into the past' he mused. The boy looked around for Padme and Parvati's caravan but he couldn't spot it. He shrugged, assuming they had taken the cart deeper into town before letting his eyes wander back to his comrades.

The by this time the genins were eager for their journey to be over, but they soon found out this wasn't the case. "Alright punks, listen up!" their chuunin leader, whose name Naruto still didn't know began barking out orders. "we're not stopping here for some R and R if that's what you were hoping for. Our order's are to get to Base Camp ASAP." she stopped as she waited for sounds of complaints, but she heard none so she continued on. "However, even though we are a good distance behind the front lines there's still a chance of encountering hostiles, so we'll be moving in formation. I got point. The rest of you form two lines on either side. You'll be responsible for watching our flanks. Namikaze, you've got rear guard. Any questions?"

"No ma'am!" the genin chorused in response. Naruto scowled a bit at his assigned duties but made his way to the back and he shouldered his pack. He contented himself by rationalizing that the reason he was picked was because he was the only genin whose name she knew. Probably because he was a spitting image of his father. Still, rear guard was actually pretty important and he'd be damned if he let any of his comrades die because he didn't take his duties seriously.

The teenager in the flak vest nodded in satisfaction. "All right then. Base Camp is only six kilometers away, so we'll be there in fifteen minutes if we move it double time. Move out!" She didn't hesitate a moment before dashing off down the road, and they didn't hesitate to follow her the moment she did. The pace she set was fast and the trees blurred together as they blasted down the even smaller dirt road than the caravan had traveled. It reality it was little more than a path, but Naruto barely paid it any attention. He moved with his head over his shoulder, swiveling from one side to another with only his peripheral vision keeping him from running into the genin in front of him.

It wasn't long before they arrived at Base Camp, and sight that greeted him took Naruto's breath away.

Like the town the entire camp was lit by torch light. Unlike the town the torches went on for kilometers. To his eyes they were like orange stars glowing in the night sky. 'There has to be thousands!' he thought in awe. Their leader held up a hand but kept running as she was only signaling for them to slow down their pace. They came to a stop in front of a massive tent, their chuunin leader signaling them to stop with a closed fist this time.

Naruto didn't even stop to catch his breath. The six kilometers had seemed like a light jog down the street compared to the combined hundred and fifty they had run to get to Torii. He noticed almost all of the other genin seemed fresh too.

But he only spare them a glance before his eyes were once again drawn to his surroundings. He had never seen so many warriors in one place. Ever. Samurai walked back and forth across the street, some emerging from the torch spattered darkness on the horizon while others traveled back into it. On either side of the large tent were two guards fully clad in samurai armor complete with oni masks. They were still as statues and their eyes gazed unblinkingly at the newcomers. Naruto would have thought they were just that too, if not for their gleaming eyes that watched the young ninja like wolves. He had no doubt that the two would spring into action instantly at any perceived threat.

The female Reserve leader walked up to them without hesitation, but it was easy to tell that she had lost some of her usual bravado. "Reserve reinforcements reporting for duty." she said without any of the arrogance she had when she addressed the Reserve genin.

The guard on the left stared unblinkingly for a moment before letting out a grunt of affirmation and stepping smoothly inside the tent. To Naruto, it sounded more animal like than human. He shifted nervously in place as his eyes darted back and forth between wandering samurai. He noticed that all were equipped with the traditional long sword and short sword that samurai were known for, but many carried other weapons from spears to halberds to bow and arrows. Most spared the genin barely a glance, but a few looked them over with steely eyes.

A passing samurai sized them up. He was comparatively young, the Namikaze boy noticed, probably in his late teens, but he walked with the swagger of a grown warrior. His eyes swept over the young ninja causing them to look away. Naruto gathered his nerves but was still unprepared for the moment when their eyes met. His eyes...his eyes were empty. In that moment the world was swallowed up. All Naruto could see were those eyes that seemed to look through him, piercing to the core of his very being. But the young samurai's gaze didn't linger as he continued to study the other rookie genin. Naruto let out a breath he didn't realize he was holding, shivering as a chill passed over him. Death had just walked by and he knew it.

The samurai continued until his gaze locked on to their leader. She glared right back, this time refusing to show any nervousness. They continued on for a bit until the young man casually broke their staring contest, not cowed the slightest bit but merely returning his eyes towards the direction he was walking. The chuunin glared at his back for a bit before turning back to the tent while absentmindedly rubbing the ring of a kunai in her thigh pouch with her thumb.

After what seemed like forever but was really only a few minutes the armoured guard returned followed by another Reserve chuunin. He was a young man clothed in the same green fatigues as them and a standard flak vest. His rec-neck was tucked in his shirt, but Naruto could tell that instead of one cord there were two looped around his neck and they both seemed almost completely full.

"Sir!" their leader barked out with a crisp salute as she came to attention. Her tone was full of respect.

"At ease," the male chuunin said easily. His voice was neither loud nor soft but pure business. Naruto wondered how someone who looked like a teenager could hold so much command in his voice. "Roster?" he asked the girl in the same tone of voice. She didn't hesitate as she pulled a scroll out of a pouch in her vest and handed it over.

"Good job. Report back to me at twenty-one hundred, I'll have your orders after I sort this lot out. A couple squad leaders are catching some R and R at the barracks if you want to head over there."

"Yes sir!" she answered in typical fashion of a Reserve ninja speaking to their commanding officer before continuing on her way without even sparing the genins a glance. The male chuunin turned his attention back to the loosely assemble genin with squinted eyes.

"All right, form up," he said once again without raising his voice but still conveying authority.

"Yes sir!" the genin shouted back before assembly in five rows of ten without the slightest difficulty. It was all but ingrained into them as Takashi hadn't been fond of waiting for them to get it together.

The chuunin paused, taking a deep breath before speaking. "My family name is Shinzato. You don't need to know my first name, because you already know how you will address me. The only reason I'm only telling you my name at all is so you can relay orders correctly."

"Yes sir!" the genin said, only to be sharply reprimanded.

"Knock that off," Shinzato commanded. The genin's faces took on a look of shock and confusion as they glanced nervously at each other. Shinzato only sighed. "Listen. You're not in Basic anymore. I don't need you parroting back to me every time I say something. I don't have the time and honestly I don't have the patience for that shit. You will respond only when I ask you a question, give you orders or address you directly," he said. This time the genin said nothing.

"Good," the chuunin officer said with a nod. "I'm not going to repeat myself so you better get it right the first time. Now, when I call out your name your front and center to receive to squad assignments. Akubi!"

The names went alphabetically as always, and when almost half of the rookie genin were left Naruto heard his name called. "Namikaze!" Naruto didn't waste a moment before coming to the front of the line. He stood before his commanding officer at attention, willing himself to stare right into the black eyes in front of him. He absently noted that Shinzato had an unusual haircut, with his head shaved close but not completely bald.

The young officer looked down at the scroll as he studied it for a moment for before addressing the blonde. "Let me see. Good marks for conditioning, throwing accuracy, leadership skills, even scored the best time for the Field Examination," the chuunin said without looking up from the scroll. Naruto would have been proud of the praise but the chuunin didn't seem at all impressed. "Interesting," he said before bringing his eyes back to Naruto. "It says here you have a kill already. Is this true?"

Both the question and the casual way it was spoken brought up all the confusing and unwanted feelings he had been suppressing. He hadn't felt like this when their previous leader had brought up the topic but then again, that had been a one on one conversation and not a public spectacle. Because of this, all Naruto could do was nod.

Shinzato's eyes flashed dangerously. "You will answer me when I address you, genin." His voice once again failed to rise in volume but the sudden steel that filled it was enough to make Naruto gulp. "Yes sir!" he barked out, his conditioning overriding his emotions this time. "Hmph" Shinzato grunted before glancing back at the scroll. "You're in Delta Squad 3. One of your teammates will be waiting for you at the barracks"

Even without the usual "Dismissed!" Naruto could tell he was being told to get the hell out of there, so with a "Yes sir!" he jogged off away from the group, happy to be away from his strangely intimidating CO. If it wasn't for the fact that the jounin had ground him into meat paste for even the slightest screw up he would say that Takashi seemed almost more approachable than Shinzato. Almost. Before he cleared the line however, his head turned unconsciously and he found himself staring into the gaze of Machida Ono. In an instant something flashed between them that he couldn't quantify. It wasn't anything like their previous aggression or antagonism, it was just...something. Naruto shook his head as he continued to jog off towards the 'building' his previous team leader had headed towards.

It was obvious by the Reserve ninja casually sitting out front smoking cigarettes that this was the place he was looking for. Naruto's eyes scanned the structure, concluding that calling it a building was generous. It was little more than a hastily constructed log cabin that stretched less than fifty meters and was less than half as wide. There were no steps. The door was ground level and Naruto would bet money that the same dirt outside matched the floor inside. Still a little nervous from being in an unfamiliar place with so many armed people he decided to ask the shinobi closest to the door about his squad mate.

"Um. Yo" he greeted the shinobi uncertainty. The genin who couldn't be more than thirteen flicked his eyes over to him but the only response the blonde recieved was a raised eyebrow as the other boy continued to smoke his cigarette. "Um, right," Naruto chuckled sheepishly as he scratched the back of his head in a nervous gesture. "I just got here and I'm looking for someone from Delta Squad 3. You guys know where I can find them?"

This time both of the boy's eyebrows raised as he let out a low whistle. "They're putting a rookie in D3? You're one unlucky son of a bitch, kid." Another boy lounging against the gate let out a dark chuckle at that and Naruto's eyes flashed to him. The boy on the gate met his gaze unflinchingly as he spit out a wad of phlegm with cancer stick in hand. Naruto turned back to the first boy.

"Yea, she's inside. Look for the purple haired chick," he said simply.

"Thanks," Naruto grunted, put off by the foreboding encounter. He walked past them briskly and entered inside. He had thought the shinobi that were lounging outside smoking cigarettes were doing so because smoking inside wasn't allowed, quite reasonably. He was wrong. He couldn't have been more bewildered if he had walked into a cloud. In fact he wondered if he had done just that. A grey haze drifted over the room, filling the air with the stench of burning tobacco and making his eyes water. If it wasn't for the windows on either side of the room he was sure he would have passed out from asphyxiation. Waving away a tendril of smoke that drifted over from a table near the door he made his way deeper into the room.

After about six steps in the smoke surprisingly wasn't as bad. He scanned the room, looking for the person described before finding her. She was a teenager like the rest of them though younger looking than most. Her purple hair framed her face but the back seemed to be pulled tight into a low, loose bun. The top was covered by her hitai-ate as regulation called for. Dressed in standard fatigues her dog tags and rec-neck hung open from her neck. He noticed that while it had a few stripes there were far less than the chuunins he had encountered. The girl wasn't alone, to her apparent annoyance. Another shinobi, huge and muscle bound in a manner that reminded Naruto of Ono was obviously trying to hit on her. After a few moments she had obviously had enough and loudly told the shinobi to "Fuck off, asshole!". The muscle head stiffened before glaring at her and replying with a "Frigid bitch!" before stomping away from the table. 'Great. First time meeting her and I can already tell she's not in the mood to talk'. With a sigh a resignation he made his way over to the table.

"Yo," he said in way of greeting as he sat down in an empty chair. She merely glared at him.

"So you think because I'm not into bodybuilder wannabes I'd go for the short and scrawny type? Do me a favor and get lost kid." she said dismissively as she looked away. Naruto didn't hesitate to fire right back.

"Don't overestimate yourself. I'm your new teammate."

She turned and a single eye looked him over again with a derisive snort. "That's even worse."

Now Naruto had already had an exhausting day. He had been forced to travel at a fast pace, been belittled by his commanding officers, was in a place far away from everything he had ever known only two days after he had killed a man for the first time, and was surrounded by an atmosphere so tense that if it was a spring it would have snapped yesterday, and here this girl was talking down to him. She wasn't his friend. She wasn't his CO. Hell, even though she was kind of cute her attitude had turned him off already. 'I don't have to take this shit,' he thought with a growl.

"Listen bitch, I don't know what your problem is and honestly I don't give a shit. I'm not here to be your friend, I'm here to do my job and go home. You got a problem with that then you can shove it."

Her eyes widened a bit in shock, only for her to burst into dry chuckles a second later. Naruto's eyebrow began to twitch as a vein became visible on his forehead.

"What's so funny?" it was more of an accusation than a question.

The girl chuckled a bit more. "Nothing really. I heard we were getting rookies, but you sure don't talk like one," she said at last before relaxing back into her chair with a sigh. "Sorry about that, it's been a crappy day and an even crappier week."

"Tell me about it," Naruto replied as he eased back into his own chair. They sat in silence for a moment before the kunoichi decided to break it.

"Name's Nami. Yamagata Nami," she introduced herself while extending her hand. Naruto took it while replying in kind.

"Namikaze Naruto."

She couldn't have looked more shocked if he had thrown her drink in her face. "You're shitting me," she said breathlessly.

The young Namikaze boy was confused. "What?"

The girl, Nami, shook her in disbelief. "I had heard a few months back that one of the Namikaze twins had been sent to the Reserves but I thought it was just one of those stupid rumors the pop up around the Corps from time to time. Looks like I was wrong," she laughed again before shaking her head. "Damn, you just cost me twenty five ryo."

"Considering it cost me my career I'd say you still made out much better," he replied bitterly. This had her laughing once again.

"I might even start to like you despite myself rookie."

Naruto, however, was not amused. "I have a name as you know," he said with aggravation clear in his voice. She only waved him off.

"Bah. To us you're just Rookie until you prove yourself."

"Whatever," he answered with a glare, but Nami was completely unfazed as she continued to sip her drink. Naruto studied her features, noting a familiarity that had been tugging at the back of his mind since he had sat down. "Hey...do you by any chance have a sister?" he asked at last.

The purple haired kunoichi was a bit surprised at that. "Yea, actually. Her name is Ami. How'd you know?"

"She was in my old class," he answered.

She raised an eyebrow. "Were you two friends or something?"

Naruto grimaced. "Not exactly."

She only snorted. "Well, she is somewhat of a brat so I'm not surprised."

Naruto looked back at her and this time mischievous grin adorned his face. "So...Nami and Ami?"

"Yea, real original I know," Nami said in disgust. "My parents thought it was cute. I think it's more like the start of a bad comedy." It was Naruto's turn to laugh, more at the face she made than the comment itself. Despite the rocky beginnings it seemed as if they might be able to get along alright. The sound of an argument breaking out on the other side of the common area drew their attention as well as the entire rooms. Two genin boys were arguing loudly. One apparently had enough and pushed the other boy who in turn took a swing. The punch was ducked, and before the fight could begin in earnest some other shinobi, probably their respective teammates, grabbed them and began pulling them away. One was ushered to the other side of the room while the other was dragged quickly out the door. The conversations immediately picked back up, suggesting that such things were quite common.

"Is it always this tense around here?" Naruto asked. It had been bugging him since he arrived. Nami just shrugged.

"That's what happens when you know there's a good chance you're gonna die soon. Wait till you get to the front, it's even worse," she said casually. Despite this, Naruto could tell that she wasn't really as blasé about it as she tried to appear. The faint air of depression that seemed to hover over her and indeed everyone in the room suddenly became very clear. Naruto looked away as the anxiety he had been avoiding suddenly bubbled back up in his stomach. Nami noticed.

"Here kid, have a drink," she said while offering her cup to him. His eyes narrowed once again.

"What's with this kid stuff? You're like a year older than me. And aren't we heading out soon? Drinking doesn't seem like a good idea," he said, leaving out the fact that she seemed way too young to be drinking because he didn't want to sound younger than he already looked. And because so many other genin seemed to be doing it as well.

The kunoichi just smirked. "Goddamn rooks. I'm two years older than you, but that isn't the point. It's about experience not age and to me you're just a baby. And I said have /a/ drink, not get wasted."

The blonde grumbled under his breath but didn't argue as he took the offered cup. It seemed like everyone in the Reserves liked to talk down on people of lower status, like it was some kind of bizarre hazing ritual. The very epitome of the saying "shit rolls downhill". Naruto had thought it was just because he was in Basic Training that things were so, but he was beginning to realize that it was just a part of their branch. The Corps seemed to have it's own culture that was different from the main forces and indeed Konoha in general. He sipped on the drink which he now recognized as sake as he chatted with the purple head for a bit before inquiring about where he could sleep. He was exhausted mentally and physically after the day's events and it was getting late.

"Through that door is the bunks," Nami said while pointing to a small door in the back of the room. "Just grab one that doesn't have a rucksack on it. We'll be heading out at o' five hundred tomorrow."

Naruto nodded, grabbing his stuff and making his way through the door and onto the first empty bunk he could find. He was asleep the moment his head hit the pillow.

xxxxxxxxxxx

"Rise and shine Rookie!"

The voice pierced the hazy veil of unconsciousness as Naruto struggled to wake up after only five hours of sleep. He wasn't fast enough. A burst of cold water in his face left his sputtering and coughing but instantly awake.

"What the hell was that for?" he yelled while wiping the water from his eyes. Nami only laughed at him.

"We're going to have to work on that. When it's time to go it's time to go kid," she replied with a grin. Naruto gave her the middle finger as he dragged himself off the bed and began to gather his stuff. He followed the girl outside and towards the edge of the camp, all the while grumbling under his breath about sadistic kunoichi. As they reached the edge she stopped before addressing him.

"Alright, our squad has been assigned to Zone 3, which sucks because that's dead center of the areas of engagement and likely to see the most action. Our camp is ten klicks north west of here so let's move it 'cause right now they're totally undermanned."

"Klicks?" Naruto asked with evident confusion. His teammate gave a sigh.

"Kami-sama are you serious? Klicks, kilometers. Come on Rookie you can't be that stupid."

"Shut up," was his scathingly witty reply.

They sprang off across the terrain, navigating over grassy plains and trees and hills as far as the eye could see. Every now and then he caught sight of groups of samurai traveling in the same direction or back the way they had come. After traveling for awhile in silence Naruto asked something that had been eating at him since he had arrived at the Border.

"So have you guys seen a lot of action already?" he asked somewhat nervously.

Nami looked back at him over her shoulder briefly before answering. "Nah not really. We've been here a little over a week and while there's been a bunch of skirmishes we haven't had a full blown battle yet."

This wasn't exactly reassuring to the new genin. He was pretty sure the battle he had taken part in would only be classified as a 'skirmish' and it was already pretty terrifying. 'Whatever. I'm no coward' he resolved. He was a ninja even though he was just beginning to understand what that truly meant, and he wouldn't disgrace himself by shying away from combat.

They moved on in silence with neither ninja talking for the rest of their journey. Eventually they crested a hill and Nami came to a stop. Naruto looked down into what appeared to be a camp. It was smaller than Base Camp but still relatively large. Nami spoke, answering his unasked question.

"There's actually a lot more people out here than Base Camp believe it or not." At Naruto's confused face she elaborated. "Base Camp stretches about, oh I don't know, six or seven kilometers across. The front line, however, is divided into five zones, about five klicks each. The majority of the legion is out here even if you can't see them." Naruto was stunned by the revelation and could only sweep his head back and forth across the horizon in an an attempt to imagine what it all actually looked like. Nami chuckled a bit a clapped her hands together. "Alright, let's introduce you to the rest of the squad."

The made their way down the hill and into the camp as the first rays of sunlight could be seen breaching the horizon. Naruto's took in the sights as the walked through. Tents were erected in a haphazard fashion. Some of them were well crafted, while others looked like little more that ragged tarps strung over sticks. He noticed that the condition of the samurai seemed to match their equipment with some obviously from wealthier clans than others. Those who seemed of similar status congregated together. He walked by a somewhat rough looking warrior and quickly looked away with his face burning.

The man was completely naked, bathing in cold water without shame even though his privates were bare for all the world to see. As a Namikaze Naruto was no stranger to onsens and they had had shared showers, gender separated of course, in Basic, but the sight of a man completely naked in the middle of a camp surrounded by others fully clothed was completely foreign to him. His eyes fell on another group of warriors gathered near the edge of the camp and found something else unexpected.

They were foreigners. They're skin tones ranging from black as night to pasty white and everything in between. Nami's voice broke him out of his incredulous staring.

"Mercenaries," she said quietly and a bit condescendingly. "The Daimyo saw fit to employ some extra swords for hire. Apparently they're some of the best but they don't seem like much more than expensive thugs if you ask me." Naruto didn't know what to say to that so he said nothing.

Though he was somewhat nervous about meeting his new teammates the young Namikaze was extremely grateful when they finally reached their destination. It was a relief to see people wearing his own colors after being surrounded by a completely different type of warrior. The disdainful looks from some of the samurai were starting to grate on his nerves. However, it seemed he wasn't in the clear yet as he could see they were being talked to by yet another samurai.

She was a woman, which was completely surprising as he had yet to see a female among the traditionally male swordsmen. 'I've never even heard of a female samurai actually' he thought to himself. Admittedly he didn't know much about them, either. As they approached the group the woman turned to face them even though there was almost no way she could have heard them approaching with all the noise in the camp.

She was nothing like he expected.

The woman was, for lack of a better word, a bombshell. Blue hair pulled into back into a tight ponytail topped a regal looking face. Shaped like an hourglass with perfect hips, thin waist and bountiful D-cup breasts, she looked straight out of a pin-up page from one of the dirty magazines Naruto used to steal for fun with his hooligan friends. She was surprisingly short for an adult, probably standing just under 5'5" if he had to guess, but the intensity in her cold emerald eyes which glittered like diamonds made up for it. A light scar crossed her right cheek, but instead of detracting from her beauty it seemed to add to it in some mysterious fashion.

As soon as she faced them Nami snapped into an extremely crisp salute. Naruto hastened to follow her example. "Ma'am!" Nami spoke clearly. The woman's green eyes only narrowed.

"Who is this...child?" she asked, arrogance painting her voice like a white picket fence. Naruto stiffened a bit at the blatant insult but kept his face blank. Takashi had done his work well.

Nami's reply was instant. "Namikaze Naruto ma'am, our newest teammate." If the woman recognized his clan name she didn't show it. "He looks like he should still be suckling his mother's teat," the snickers from his still unintroduced teammates made Naruto's teeth grind so hard he was sure they were going to break. With just one sentence this woman had managed to break all the self control and humility his stint in the Reserves had earned him. The urge to fling a kunai at her as hard as his arms could manage rose in a flash of white hot fury, only sputter and die as a sudden chill caused the hairs on the back of his neck to all but jump to attention. This woman...somehow she knew what he wanted to do and she was more than ready to put him down instantly should he try. She wasn't even looking at him, but her following words confirmed his feelings. "I don't have time to babysit. Just makes sure he follows orders. He costs us a battle and I'll gut him myself." Despite her insistence of him being a child it was clear that she was more than willing to kill him anyway. 'This woman is a fucking psycho' Naruto thought with a shudder. She turned and walked away so smoothly and gracefully it was more of a glide than a walk.

His teammates chuckles were just beginning to die down as he watched her back. "Ah, don't take it personally man, the lieutenant's one hardcore chick." The voice was male, and Naruto turned towards the speaker to see a lazy looking boy with black hitai-ate covered hair looking back at him. "Aint that the truth," agreed another genin with spiky brown hair jetting out from under his own bandana. Nami just shook her head with a sigh.

"Sorry you had to go through that," she said apologetically.

Naruto grunted before finally relaxing his still tense muscles. "Feh, whatever. I'm used to taking crap by now." His voice was somewhat despondent however. 'Guess Nami was right, things really /are/ worse on the front lines.'

"Shit rolls downhill kid," said the black haired boy with a grin. The declaration echoed Naruto's earlier thoughts about the Corps exactly. Nami had apparently had enough.

"Okay, back to where we started," she said abruptly. "The slacker looking boy who spoke first is Kyo. He specializes in reconnaissance." The black haired black eyed genin responded with a "Yo" and a haphazard two-fingered salute. "The brown head over here is Shinji. He's in charge of our explosives, and not surprisingly he's a bit of a nutjob."

Naruto wondered a bit at that. 'He seems alright to m-' as if to answer his thoughts the boy was suddenly in front of his face with a pen and a piece of paper that he had apparently whipped out of nowhere.

"Can I have your autograph?" Shinji asked with a cheery smile, though there was mischief in his eyes.

"Huh?" Naruto asked dumbly.

"I just want to have something from a future legend, being that you're a Namikaze and all," he said though it was clear from the tone in his voice that he was joking.

Despite the fact that Naruto wasn't on the best terms with his family he found himself smiling at the joke and decided to play along. "Of course. How could I ignore my adoring fans?" he said with a laugh. He liked this kid already.

"Knock it off," a rather serious, though rather soft voice cut it.

"Sir!" Shinji said while snapping to attention. Naruto followed right behind on instinct alone. The boy who had spoken was older looking than the rest of them. In his mid-teens, his black hair and grey eyes was all business. The only saving grace was that he seemed far less intense than the last two. 'Geeze, what crawled up his ass?' It seemed like Reserve chuunins only came in two personalities: brash and arrogant or none whatsoever.

The purple haired kunoichi only palmed her face before continuing. "This is Yoshimura, our squad captain. We call him Yoshimura-taichou or just taichou for short."

"Sir," Naruto acknowledged him quietly with a nod. The teen didn't say anything, content with merely studying him silently. Naruto fought the urge to fidget as Nami continued.

"You already know me of course. I'm nice with traps. You need a nice setup for an ambush or a getaway you talk to me," the girl said proudly as she stuck her thumb into her chest with a smirk. Naruto only smirked back, glad she was starting to warm up to him. "Lastly," she continued as she pointed to the last team member. "This, is Aoi. Aoi here is our long range support."

"Nice to meet you Namikaze-san." The kunoichi's voice was soft and melodic. The bright, closed eyes smile made his cheeks flush a bit. The kunoichi was without a doubt one of the most beautiful girls he had ever met. Even covered in Reserve Corps fatigues her long, pale blond hair a doe brown eyes had him a bit entranced. He could hear Shinji snickering a bit in the background. "Um, nice to meet you too," he managed to mumble out.

"Alright, enough with the meet and greet. We have a new member on our team and a rookie at that, so while we have some down time we'll being doing teamwork exercises as basic procedure dictates," stated their captain. Grumblings and mutters of "Goddamn rooks" could be heard from some of the team. Except this time Naruto noticed that it seemed more just for tradition than genuine annoyance at his presence. 'This team...might just be alright after all,' he thought with not a bit of relief. Except for Yoshimura, that is. 'Can't have cake and eat it too I guess.'

As they began to walk out of the camp and presumably towards an open area to train Shinji sidled up next to the blond. "Sooooo. What do you think of Aoi?" he asked with a shit-eating grin. Naruto turned head away at the question.

"She's alright I guess," he replied, obviously uncomfortable with the line of questioning.

Shinji pressed on undaunted. "Oh, I think you think Aoi's more that 'alright'. Come on, we're teammates now, you can tell me the truth."

Naruto wasn't really interested. "Can you leave it alone?" He could see Kyo in the corner of his eye shaking his head. Shinji still didn't stop though.

"Fiiiine. It takes a real man to admit what they really think. But if you're scared I guess I understand. You're still a rookie after all."

Naruto finally caved under the pressure. "Fine! I think she's cute alright!" His embarrassment tripled when Shinji burst out into a round of loud guffaws.

"Wow man, I-I didn't think you were like that but-ahaha-who am I to judge?" he gasped out between chuckles. Naruto didn't get what was going on but he knew he was missing something. At that moment Kyo decided to take pity on the new kid. Kind of.

"He's messing with you man. Aoi's a guy," he said nonchalantly.

Naruto froze, standing stock still as his teammates continued walking. Sometime later he managed to find his jaw. Right around his foot.

xxxxxxxxx

"This area's clear," the muted voice crackled into his ear. Naruto adjusted his headset by turning down the volume a notch. He had quickly discovered that despite being a throwback to an older era, the Samurai Legions were surprisingly equipped with some of the latest field tech. They're radio headsets were much newer and sleeker than the ones used by Konoha ninja with longer range and a ridiculous battery life. The Officer's Tent back at the FLC, or Front Line Camp, even had a strange large radio that could reach the ten kilometers all the way back to Base Camp. Naruto had found it surprising that the samurai had things even Konoha didn't. It both did and didn't make sense. While the Hidden Villages were the Elemental Countries' version of Special Forces they had to foot their own bill and equip themselves. The Samurai Legions on the other hand were equipped from the Daimyo's war treasury, and with Fire Country being the most prosperous nation around they were fitted with some of the latest stuff. In some respects at least.

"Roger that," radio'd Shinji. The rest of the squad all chimed in affirmative as well with Naruto speaking last. They were doing border sweeps about two kilometers from the FLC. Intel put the enemy camp at four klicks north of their own position, making it six kilometers of potential combat zone. Their designated team comchannel was Channel 12. Channel 10 was the officer's channel which only Yoshimura had clearance to use and channel 3 was the zone-wide channel that all radios were tuned to pick up on no matter their current channel setting. It was only to be used in the strictest emergencies, punishable by severe disciplinary action.

"Regroup, we're heading back to camp." Yoshimura ordered. As the squad once again began to acknowledge the orders Kyo chimed in suddenly.

"Belay that Taichou. I've got movement. I'm going to try and get a better view." The voice of their recon specialist crackled across the radio. Kyo was positioned almost a full klick further north of the rest of the squad.

"Copy that. We'll hold here. Tell me when you have a clear view but stay out of sight, understood?" Kyo acknowledged and the channel went silent. Naruto waited, his heart pounding in his chest. In the three days he had spent doing sweeps with Delta Squad 3 things had been almost completely quiet. He knew however that it was only a matter of time before that changed. Still, he had his mental fingers crossed that now was not the time things did.

His luck didn't hold.

"Taichou, we've got serious movement up here. Looks like they're gearing up for a large scale engagement this time." Kyo's voice spelled doomed for Naruto's desperate hope. The rookie genin could hear a muffled "shit" coming from somewhere in the trees nearby. It sounded like Nami but he couldn't be sure.

"Numbers?" their captain asked. His voice still sounded the same and despite how Naruto felt about the guy he couldn't help but give him respect for that.

"About a thousand, give or take a hundred,"

"Roger that," Yoshimura said. "Good job, now get back here ASAP. I'll radio camp and give them a sitrep."

"Copy that. Kyo out."

It was off limits for him to actually use the officer's channel. Tuning in and just listening would probably get him in trouble if he was caught, but Naruto's anxiousness to hear what was going on overrode his fear of discovery so he tuned his radio to channel five while muting his mic. Just in case.

"Lieutenant Nobunaga this is Delta Captain Yoshimura, do you copy?"

After a moment the Lieutenant's voice chimed back sounding very nonplussed. "What is it Yoshimura?"

Yoshimura didn't seem to be fazed by her attitude which was understandable given the circumstances. "We have a large contingent of hostile forces advancing into the neutral zone approximately one-thousand strong. Recon suggests a large engagement this time."

The Lieutenant responded much quicker this time. "Understood. Get your squad back to camp."

"Roger. Delta out."

Naruto clicked his com back down to the team channel and waited for further orders.

"Kyo, where are you?" their captain hailed their RC specialist once again.

"Approaching your position taichou."

"The treeline south of here where we entered the forest is where we'll regroup. I need you here in four minutes. The rest of you, move out!" The squad "roger'd" and "copy'd" while Kyo shot out a quick "I'll be there in two." Naruto blasted off the branch he had been standing as he made a beeline for the regroup point. He was eager to be back with his teammates instead of by himself in the forest despite how far off the enemy was still was. He heard movement in the trees to the left and his hand went to his kunai pouch instinctively before relaxing as Nami burst out of the leaves and matched pace alongside him. They looked at each other silently, both sets of eyes grim.

They broke the treeline a minute later only to found Yoshimura already waiting for them. Following them closely was Aoi and Shinji who had apparently decided to link up as well. Last to arrive was Kyo, though he made it in the time he had said he would. Their captain spoke up once again.

"Lieutenant Nobunaga has ordered us back to camp so let's move."

Their trip back to the FLC was short being that it was only a kilometer away from where they regrouped. As soon as they reached camp Naruto could see that things were already gearing up for the coming battle. Samurai were equipping themselves with their armor and weapons and they all had deadly serious looks on their faces. The squad came to a stop in front of the Officer's Tent which was buzzing with more activity than Naruto had ever seen.

"Kyo, you're with me."

"Hai."

The two Konoha ninja walked into the Officer's Tent leaving the rest of the team waiting outside. Naruto shifted from foot to foot. Despite his resolve to face what was coming the pre-battle tension continued to rise inside his stomach. An icey ball of fear was beginning to form and he couldn't seem to shake it no matter what he tried.

"Try to relax Rookie. Getting all wound up will affect your combat ability," said Nami quietly. Despite her words her own anxiety was showing through but not as bad as his. Even Aoi's usually bright and cheerful demeanor and Shinji's exuberance seemed to have taken a hit in the face of the coming conflict. Shinji attempted to lighten the mood with his usual antics.

"No sweat right guys? We'll kick their asses back to the other side of the border!" he said with a grin that was obviously forced. Still, it helped to lighten the mood and Naruto found himself cracking a small smile along with the rest of the team. Their captain and last teammate finally emerged from the tent. He only nodded his head towards the front edge of the camp and started making his way over. The rest of the team followed without a word.

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Don't even look at me about the updates…

Peace,

-Z