Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or the rights to Plants vs Zombies. I do own a copy of the game that has recently taken a back seat to my new copy of Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. Sorry Popcap, it's an awesome game, but it's not quite Zelda awesome.

AN: Thanks to everyone who left a review! Apologies for taking so long to update, but I have three explanations. First is Exams which took place shortly after I posted the first chapter. Second is the holidays where my free time was spent with family and I was barely on my computer at all. Third is that I'm not exactly writing this in a linear fashion. I've actually been more inspired to write events that will be occurring in later chapters than I was to finish up the final holes for this one. So, yeah, don't expect regular updates from me. I simply don't write like that.

To everyone who threatened me with Maito Gai and Rock Lee's infamous 'Sunset of Youth genjutsu', please stop. Himawari's been asking to see it and I'm running out of excuses.

To Danget the critic personally, I will not be making it so only Naruto can mold 'solar chakra'. That isn't to say that everyone is going to be able to, or that everyone who can is going to be particularly good at it either. What I want to do simply wouldn't work if only Naruto could pull it off. I will reveal as time goes on just what, in my view at least, 'solar chakra' is, how it works, and just what can stop a person from using it. I've already given one humongous hint in the last chapter if you can spot it.

Baron von Nobody - You know, I often have that song playing on my computer when I write this...

Oh, and to anyone who thought that I was going to try and follow the plot of the manga, I think the first segment of this chapter should show that not only do I not intend to follow it, I intend to outright butcher it. The only reason I'm going to include familiar plots is so I can show you just how far from canon I'm intending to go.


Chapter 2: First Strike

I'd have called it: Musings on the Intelligence of Several Characters and the Related Question of Whether or Not a Zombie Can Actually Starve to Death, but not only is that too long, it also has no bearing on the chapter.


Orochimaru scowled to himself as yet another scream issued forth from the halls. He had gotten a report earlier in the day that the village, though 'complex' would be a more accurate term, was under attack by a horde of unknown enemies.

The report had also mentioned that each of the enemies was individually weaker than a fresh genin so he had stopped reading there and ordered his ninja to take care of it and not bother him with the details.

The screams has been getting progressively closer in the hours since which made Orochimaru disappointed in his forces for letting themselves get overrun by such weak opponents. However, he was confident that they would not abandon their posts. He gave his shinobi three options for their service to him: Succeed in their assigned tasks, die trying, or die anyway when he discovered their failure.

The fact that the screams had entered the hallway just outside the lab he was working in was starting to distract him. If he had to get involved himself, heads were going to roll.

At last the screams stopped and he breathed a sigh of relief at finally being able to focus properly.

So when the knock came on his door, he had to restrain himself from using a jutsu to incinerate the door and whoever was behind it.

"Well?" he asked irritably. "Report! Then leave me!"

"Brraaaaiiiinnnss..." came the groaning response from the door.

Orochimaru blinked. That was easily the oddest report he'd ever been given, and he'd had the misfortune of having to file some of Jiraiya's back when he was still in Konoha. He'd made honest efforts to invent a memory bleach jutsu after reading the one involving a brothel, copious amounts of sake, and a couple of Jiraiya's summoned toads. He was jolted out of his surprise when the door started rattling like someone was fumbling with the door knob.

"Did I not say I was to remain undisturbed?" he yelled.

Needless to say, he was a bit flummoxed when his angry shout went unheeded. None of his underlings were so audacious as to ignore a direct command from him.

The door opened and he was further surprised when what shambled into the room was clearly not one of his underlings.

It looked to be a rotting corpse of some sort, but the features he could make out past that were so plain that the living equivalent would have been horrendously average.

"Brains?" it asked with childish curiosity to which Orochimaru responded with a kunai to its forehead.

He was thus very surprised when the figure kept advancing with no discernable discomfort despite having a kunai embedded to the hilt in its skull. His next shot was to the neck and successfully decapitated the thing which, after a second, began decomposing at an accelerated rate until the only thing on the lab floor was a pile of dirt that smelled like rotting flesh.

He had barely enough time to observe this before a second such being came through the door, practically identical to the first one. He dispatched it just as easily, but a third came, then two more. All identical in appearance. Each one was dispatched easily enough for one of his skills, but more kept coming through the door, heedless of the fallen before them. Every so often the influx of animate corpses would cease, sometimes for as long as half a minute, but it would pick right back up again. The one time he'd tried to enter the hallway, it had been so packed with the things that it was impossible for even a ninja of his caliber to break through, and the numbers just seemed to keep growing.

Orochimaru had lost count of how many he'd destroyed, first with kunai, then with simple jutsu. Unfortunately, while he had stamina and chakra reserves that would rival any of the Kages in the hidden villages, neither were inexhaustible. The tide of his opponents on the other hand seemed to be endless.

Eventually, he found himself throwing yet another fire jutsu, which seemed the most effective against his opponents, when his vision swam before him. 'No!' he cried mentally in fear and defiance, recognizing the onset of chakra exhaustion.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" was the final scream heard from Otogakure before the entire village fell silent.

'Madara' stood above the area and smiled behind his mask. 'Test successful,' he thought to himself.

-Konohagakure: Training Ground 3-

Hatake Kakashi was many things. He was one of the youngest ninja to ever achieve the rank of jonin, the former student of the Yondaime Hokage, famous for his use of a doujutsu that was not originally his, copier of over a thousand jutsu in the heat of battle, the only surviving member of his genin team, the rather unwilling eternal rival of one Maito Gai, a former elite member of Konoha's ANBU, son of the legendary 'White Fang', inventor of the famed Chidori, die-hard fan of the Icha-Icha series, about as lazy as a ninja could get short of being a blood member of the Nara clan, perpetually tardy, holder of almost as many ridiculous excuses for his tardiness as he had copied jutsu (most of which he'd cribbed from his deceased teammate Uchiha Obito), a man who hid his lower face behind a mask and his left eye under his hitai-ate, and at the moment, incredibly disappointed.

The reasons for his disappointment were currently sitting, brooding, and struggling angrily against rope bindings in front of him. He'd given them the standard bell test. Don't eat breakfast; show up early; each of the three students must acquire one of the two bells to pass; they must do so while facing an elite jonin, himself, in combat; and only those with a bell get to eat. And the test was on quite a tight time limit to boot. The purpose of all that being to see if they could put aside their, admittedly considerable, differences and work together under a stressful situation. Stress was key of course as nearly anyone could work together under optimal conditions. They'd failed rather miserably. He was planning to give them a second chance right after he finished the by now familiar speech on the importance of teamwork. It was, in fact, practically the same second chance and speech that his own sensei had given to his team.

Now, he hadn't been surprised that they'd failed the initial portion. That was quite a bit more common than any of them would likely learn until they were ready to take their own genin team. The 'second chance' portion of the test was where many teams ultimately passed, and where many more invariably failed. And Kakashi had conflicting feelings about this disaster of a team.

First was Naruto, currently tied to a log for trying to sneak the lunches during the test. Kakashi was actually a bit glad for that as he had needed a good excuse to tie the boy to the log for this portion. Simply put, the boy was a mess. Oh, he was clever, fit, and had chakra reserves that were unreal for a genin, but did not have the discipline to use them with anything resembling efficiency. He had a love of ramen, plants, and wanted to be Hokage. He also thought the world of someone called 'Himawari-chan'. This was obviously a nickname as no one in the village records matched it, but neither the Hokage nor Naruto's primary academy instructor Umino Iruka knew her real identity. Naruto had attention problems out the wazoo and Kakashi wouldn't be surprised if some of his academy training had been subtly sabotaged. His taijutsu was a hodgepodge of barely-decent forms and absolutely atrocious forms, meaning he'd need to have the kid run through every kata he knew just to find out where the problem areas were. His chakra control was among the worst he'd ever seen, so he'd need to drill the kid on control exercises so that he wouldn't accidentally blow himself up using a simple campfire lighting jutsu. During the test, Naruto had come at Kakashi without even considering working with his teammates, something that Kakashi regretfully chalked up to Naruto's status as a social outcast. He'd clearly never really learned that he could, much less how to, rely on others in his age group. Kakashi had taken his time to play around with Naruto partly because he knew the other two were watching, partly because he needed to show Naruto that even grit and determination had their limits, and partly because it was just so much fun to wind the kid up. Naruto was a disrespectful knucklehead for sure, but he was able to tell when he crossed the line as evidenced by the fact that when informed that the names on the stone before him were of ninja killed in the line of duty all of his hyperactivity had drained like water from a sink.

Of the three, he felt that Naruto really needed the second chance he was offering, but due to his position could not really take part in grasping it.

Sakura, who sat on Naruto's left, on the other hand seemed to have it all together, at least on the surface. Sure, she was top of the class in academics and had higher than average chakra control. However, she appeared to despise one of her teammates while nearly worshiping the other through a girlhood crush. During the test, she'd left Naruto even though she'd been in a position to help him and searched for Sasuke instead only to have Kakashi take her out with a very basic genjutsu. After the test, she'd begun to panic during Kakashi's little 'hostage scenario' after their third teammate had tried to charge him in anger. Kakashi might be able to make a good Kunoichi out of her, but she'd need to get her head out of the clouds first and learn to focus and he really couldn't do that for her.

Sakura could probably use a second chance, however she was far too by-the-book to pass it on her own.

And then there was the brooding Uchiha Sasuke on Naruto's right. Sasuke was every bit the psychological mess that Naruto was a practical mess. Ever since the Uchiha massacre that had claimed every member of his clan save for himself and his older brother Itachi, who survived due to being the one doing the massacring, he was a recluse in his own village. The boy saw nothing other than his path to killing Itachi and it was hard to say how much of his loyalty was real and how much was him toeing the line so he could get the training he needed to carry out his murderous ambition of vengeance. It was true that his ability was head and shoulders above the other two, which had led to Kakashi putting in some extra effort to utterly dismantle Sasuke during the test, leaving him buried up to his neck in the ground. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the fact that Sasuke had attacked in anger when he suggested that they give up being shinobi, that hadn't put so much as a dent in his ego. Trying to break through Sasuke's superiority complex could prove dangerous given his past psychological history, but leaving it alone would likely prove to be worse in the long run. Getting through to Sasuke would likely take a miracle, and Kakashi was well aware that he was notoriously bad at miracles.

Of the three students before him, Sasuke was the only one that Kakashi wasn't sure deserved the second chance. Oh, Sasuke would likely figure out the test, but Kakashi had a feeling that it would be due to figuring out the trick, and thus playing the system, rather than actually learning the lesson involved. Unfortunately, the unholy stink that would be raised in the village if he did fail the last Uchiha would be legendary. Kakashi hated politics.

"Well, you seem to grasp the situation at least," he said casually, "so I'll give you one last chance. However, this time is going to be even harder since you had to have the answer spoon-fed to you rather than discover it yourselves. If you want to take this challenge, then you can eat lunch. However, none of you are to give any food to Naruto."

"What?" Naruto asked in confusion.

"It's punishment for trying to sneak lunch on your own," he said before addressing Sakura and Sasuke with his best 'commander's glare'. "If either of you give him any food you will immediately fail. I am the rules here, understood?"

With that, Kakashi vanished from their sight and took up a nice vantage point from which to observe them. If Sasuke didn't figure out the test from all of those hints he'd dropped, then he was going to have to think of something else. Naruto attempted to put up a front of being fine, but his protesting stomach was almost as loud as his voice. As he predicted, Sasuke seemed more interested in the situation than in the food itself and he had taken no more than a single bite before handing his food towards Naruto. Though Kakashi noted that he made no move to free Naruto or assist him so he could actually eat it as Sakura started protesting the gesture. He'd predicted that too. Bookish types like her tended to memorize the rules and rarely, if ever, question them. He'd need to try and cure her of that before it got her, or someone else, killed.

"Don't worry, I don't sense him near us," Sasuke reassured her, though Kakashi had a sneaking suspicion that Sasuke believed he was nearby anyway given that he'd taken no pains to lower his voice. "After lunch, we'll work together to get the bells. Without food, he'll just be in the way and that will only hurt us."

As Sakura's attitude did a complete reversal, offering her barely-touched meal to a still tied-up Naruto, Kakashi mused that he still wasn't certain if Sasuke had used the term 'us' because he was genuinely including the others or because he knew it was what Kakashi wanted to hear. The kid suppressed his emotions so much that even Kakashi had trouble getting a read on him. That could not be healthy for him at this age.

When Naruto gave Sakura a heartfelt, honest, thanks, Kakashi made his move. He made it as impressive as he could, giving in to the theatrics of the moment and his desire to shake up his new highly dysfunctional team.

"YOU GUYS..." he yelled with as much anger as he could muster, fooling even Sasuke into thinking that his wrath was genuine, and making them all back off in surprise, Naruto at least tried to lean back against the log he was still tied to, as he got into their faces.

"... pass!" Kakashi finished happily, letting his false angry intent instantly shift to a more playful atmosphere, and leaving two utterly confused genin and one glaring Uchiha who did not seem happy with the prank. Darn. He'd been hoping for a full set of confused genin.

"Everyone else would just do whatever I told them like good little morons," he said over Sakura's and Naruto's confusion, and outright ignoring Sasuke's ire. "All ninja must see underneath the underneath. Those who break the rules of the ninja world are called trash. But, you know what? Those who don't take care of their comrades are lower than trash."

Both Sakura and Naruto seemed to consider that phrase to be either impressive or inspiring considering their reactions. Even Sasuke seemed to take something from his words, and Kakashi hoped that the boy wouldn't simply discard them later. With that, Hatake Kakashi dismissed the newly minted Team 7 until the next day when they would begin their training and duties in earnest.

Of course, he couldn't resist winding Naruto up one more time by pretending to leave while he was still tied to the log.

-The remains of Otogakure-

'Tobi' whistled to himself happily as he positively skipped through the corpse-filled halls of Orochimaru's, the late Orochimaru's he cheerfully corrected himself, complex. The potential of 'necro-chakra' was far more than he'd ever dreamed of! The zombies he'd unleashed upon the traitorous Orochimaru were the weakest variety, below even some academy students individually, and they had performed beautifully. He'd have needed the chakra of a biju to produce Zetsu clones in a fraction of the numbers he'd overrun the complex with using a small portion of his own ability.

This 'necro-chakra' was amazingly potent stuff. He'd initially been afraid that it would be difficult to either collect or control. Imagine his surprise when, after the initial difficulties of matching his chakra to an unknown chakra nature, it was not only easy to control, but also ridiculously common. The very dirt beneath his feet was saturated with the stuff, making its gathering as easy as rolling in the mud (which was also fun he had to admit). Channeling it directly had also shown him why such a thing went unnoticed to even his highly developed doujutsu. 'Necro-chakra' was black as shadow, and easily outshone by any amount of any other kind of chakra as a result. Unchanneled in the dirt, it was effectively invisible. Even channeled into one of the zombies, he had to strain his eyes to make out any trace of the power that animated them, and even that could be written off as a trick of the light if he hadn't known what he was really looking at. It was no wonder that it had gone unnoticed by the whole world for so long. If he had to liken it to a known chakra nature, he would have to say that it was very close to Yin-natured chakra. He had to stifle a giggle at what doton users would think if they knew the untapped power that inundated the same earth they used directly.

In terms of raw power, making a basic zombie rise from the dirt would have been child's play back when he was still a child. Making a horde that could overwhelm an S-rank shinobi and his pet army was a significant effort even for him, but the zombies were self-sustaining once made. So he'd made a week of it, just to be sure he'd built up enough, before setting them on the twice-over traitor.

He paused a bit as that thought crossed his mind. Come to think of it, the force that had broken Otogakure to pieces had been a bit... smaller than he'd remembered making when he'd unleashed it... 'Tobi' shrugged to himself and continued skipping cheerfully through the complex. The zombies were, ultimately, mindless and shambled about without purpose until he gave them a direction. It wasn't like some of them could have wandered off on their own, right?

-Konohagakure: The following day-

Team 7 was starting to realize that their sensei's tardiness was normal for him. The day they met could have been an abberration, and the day of the test could have just been one more piece of stress to get under their skins as part of the test itself. However, being late on their first official day of active duty was making the three realize that this was likely going to be the standard pattern for the foreseeable future. He had said to meet at 7:00 to go over a skills evaluation and it was now close to 10:00.

The three had been told to meet with their sensei on a small bridge just outside the main part of Konoha. Sasuke was casually leaning on the railing, Sakura was staring dreamily at him and squealing to herself about how cool he looked, and Naruto was doing warm-ups. When he'd been asked about his workout routine, and subsequently told them about how Himawari-chan had suggested it in case Kakashi was late again so he didn't fall behind in training, Sasuke had scoffed at him and Sakura had immediately taken his side and berated Naruto and Himawari for being idiots.

Now, Naruto really did like Sakura, but he also didn't like how she dissed his best friend like that. As a result, he'd left Sakura alone to sort out his feelings on the matter and poured his frustrations into his workout instead.

"Yo!" came the voice of Kakashi into the scene, prompting both Naruto and Sakura to turn and yell at him for being late. "Sorry," he said, looking all too pleased with himself, "I had to stop and smell the roses. You should try it sometime."

"LIAR!" came the reply in stereo from both Naruto and Sakura.

"Anyways, now that I'm here we can begin the formal skills assessment so I know what to have you all work on in your spare time."

"What!" came the near-despairing cry from Naruto. "You're not going to train us?"

"That's not it at all Naruto," Kakashi replied, completely unruffled. "Our time together will mostly be spent either on missions or training that can only be done with all of us. Occasionally I may take time to give individual help if needed, but for the most part I expect your individual training to be done on your own time, understand?"

"...I guess so," Naruto said, still looking a bit dejected.

"Cheer up," Kakashi said, smiling so obviously that his students couldn't miss it even with so much of his face hidden, "The further you three progress together, the more advanced stuff I'll be able to teach you." Kakashi spotted Sasuke trying to hide his scowl and understood the boy had, at least partially, understood the hidden message. 'That's right Sasuke-kun, you're going to need to help your teammates get up to par if you want to keep learning.'

"All right!" Naruto yelled enthusiastically, making Kakashi chuckle at his antics. "What are we waiting for!"

"Hold up Naruto," Kakashi said patiently. "Since you've been working out already this morning I want you to rest for a bit while I start with Sasuke and Sakura."

(A few hours later)

"Well now," Kakashi said cheerfully, "I think I've got a good idea of what each of you can do so why don't we break for lunch and I'll see you in the mission office in a couple of hours for our first mission."

Kakashi was almost as giddy with anticipation as any of his genin at the prospect of their first mission, though for much different reasons. His genin were likely imagining some awesome task that they could brag about to their peers. Kakashi on the other hand was imagining their reactions to the reality of D-rank missions. He'd gotten a brand new camera for the occasion and had remembered to bring extra film as well.

"Er, Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto said uncertainly.


"Um, I have one more jutsu to show you."

Naruto now had everyone's interest, even Sasuke's though he was trying not to show it.

"Well, feel free to start any time Naruto."

"Er..." Naruto said nervously, but steeled himself. His sensei had asked them to show everything after all. Naruto was still nursing the bump Sakura had given him when he'd demonstrated his Oiroke no Jutsu for Kakashi-sensei. He'd gotten her back though with his super-suave Tuxedo Sasuke variant though. Normally, he'd have left Sakura out of his pranks, but he had still been feeling a bit vindictive over how she'd insulted Himawari-chan just to impress Sasuke. Not only had he rendered Sakura unconscious via swooning, he'd also gotten a rise out of Sasuke himself and apparently impressed his sensei to boot. "Well, this one takes a minute."

"I don't have anywhere pressing to be," Kakashi reassured him, earning an amused snort from his student who recalled his sensei's lateness that very morning, not to mention the days prior, and realized that 'nowhere pressing' could mean almost anything coming from Kakashi.

Resigning himself to potentially being Kakashi's latest excuse for tardiness, Naruto pulled what looked like a seed from one of his jacket pockets. He placed the seed on the ground and held his hands over it and began channeling the 'solar chakra' he'd been practicing with under Himawari-chan's guidance.

Kakashi looked interested in the process, partly because it was taking a minute. He could just barely feel the chakra gathering if he concentrated which did not mesh with what Naruto had been displaying previously. He'd been running some basic unobtrusive chakra-detecting jutsu for the evaluation to get a better handle on what his genin were doing when using jutsu, and it was giving him some very interesting information right now. For most of his jutsu, Naruto's chakra had practically gushed out of him like water under pressure that had finally found an outlet. However, whatever he was doing now had him struggling to pull the chakra together, and Kakashi knew that Naruto had to be far from depleted. Whatever this jutsu was, it was already flying in the face of everything he knew about his hyperactive student.

Almost a full minute after he'd started, proving that Naruto had a good estimation of his own skill with the jutsu if nothing else, a large sunflower erupted from the ground beneath Naruto's hands with a dirt-muffled *pop*.

"Hah!" Naruto declared triumphantly. "Awesome, right?"

The reactions of the other three in the clearing were rather varied. Sakura looked like she was at war with herself regarding being honest with Naruto about how she liked the flower and not wanting to encourage his attentions by giving praise. Kakashi was rather fascinated by the way the flower's leaves were unfurling as if it was stretching upon waking from a good night's sleep. And Sasuke...

"Congratulations, dobe," Sasuke deadpanned in a manner that sounded like he was sneering condescendingly even though his face never changed expression, "you managed to grow a flower." The word 'flower' was said with the same kind of inflection reserved for the unidentifiable gross thing a person might find on the bottom of their shoe. "I suppose you finally got tired of being the most useless thing in the clearing..."

"DAMMIT TEME! YOU TAKE THAT BACK!" Naruto yelled and tried to attack Sasuke.

Kakashi had to restrain the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose as he grabbed the back of Naruto's jacket and held him off the ground so as to keep him from trying to cave in the smug face of the Uchiha.

Sakura stood off to the side, now torn for a different reason. On the one hand, her past friendship with Yamanaka Ino had given her a love of flowers that hadn't left her when they'd become rivals for Sasuke's affections. Sasuke's insulting disrespect for Naruto's flower-growing jutsu cut her deeper than she really wanted to admit. On the other hand, if she disagreed with Sasuke he might come to really hate her and she'd lose any chance of ever being with him! Thus Sakura stood paralyzed with indecision on the matter.

"Naruto," Kakashi sighed out in exasperation, "we don't attack teammates outside of sparring in any fashion." The last part was said with a subtle glare towards Sasuke who merely smirked and turned away. Kakashi was starting to gain an entirely new respect for Minato-sensei if Sasuke's attitude was in any way similar to what Kakashi himself had thrown around back before Obito's sacrifice.

"In any case," Kakashi said, realizing that this issue wasn't going to be resolved today even if he could dedicate the time to it, "I need to go give my evaluation of your skills to the Hokage. I'll meet you at the mission office in about two hours which should give you plenty of time for lunch and getting necessary equipment."

With that, Kakashi left. The three hours until he'd meet up with his team should be plenty to get himself lunch, make his report, grab an extra camera for embarrassing first mission photos, and catch up on some reading.

"Teme..." Naruto growled after Kakashi vanished, looking like he'd be happy to make Sasuke significantly thinner in the area around his neck.

"Can't take the facts, dobe?" the Uchiha said smugly. "That flower has no use in any part of the ninja profession. It has zero combat potential, no poisonous aspects, can't make any decent medicine, and couldn't serve as a sub-par distraction even if you managed to grow it at anything resembling a respectable speed."

Naruto looked ready to try planting Sasuke in the ground next to see how well he would grow covered in dirt and water, but he just managed to restrain himself. He wasn't going to disappoint Kakashi-sensei by rearranging Sasuke's face. That was neither following the rules or caring for his comrades. But that smug look on Sasuke's face was really testing his resolve... Naruto glanced at Sakura who was still looking lost regarding what side to take and got an idea. He didn't have any pink hair dye currently, but that was easily remedied and breaking into Sasuke's bathroom to spike his shampoo shouldn't be too difficult for a prankster of his skills. Sakura would probably be ecstatic and ignore him to fawn over the teme even more, but that was a small price to pay for taking the Uchiha duck-butt down a peg. And even Kakashi couldn't take that as a real 'attack', right?

"You'll see teme!" he declared, pointing dramatically at Sasuke. "By the time I'm through with you, you'll be on your knees begging to be even half as awesome as I am!"

"Whatever dobe..." Sasuke said dismissively and started to wander off, leaving a fuming Naruto to go the other direction and a torn Sakura to decide which to follow.

As Sasuke walked away, Sakura made to follow him as usual. However, this time she glanced back at the flower Naruto had grown. Useless in the ninja profession or not, it was still a very pretty flower and...

...was it making faces at Sasuke's back?

Nah, surely not. Sakura was wondering just what could have brought on such a hallucination when her stomach decided to make itself known with an audible rumble.

'Must have been due to hunger,' she thought to herself. Yes, that made much more sense than a flower actually making rude faces at someone. She decided then and there to quit her diet so as to avoid any more hunger-induced insanity in the future. Kami knew she'd get enough Naruto-induced insanity as it was. She'd have to exercise and train more to offset the extra calories, but didn't Sasuke often say that he wanted a strong girl to rebuild his clan with?

Nodding to herself with renewed conviction, Sakura went off to try and find the now-vanished Sasuke, or a place to eat, whichever she happened across first. She'd forgotten all about the flower incident before she'd taken even three steps.

-Nami no Kuni-

Gato chuckled sadistically to himself. He'd captured the man Kaiza and was about to have him executed as a rebel. He'd already had one of the man'd arms removed and was preparing to give his speech on how the man was a lowlife criminal working to undermine the glorious future he had planned for the country, removing his other arm as he did so, before executing him.

Gato was unconcerned about the fact that he was really working to suck the country dry until it was so desperate that the people would agree to anything. Only what he said would be put into any official record, and he could spin that whatever way he wanted when he had total control of the country. It was all in how you said it after all.

"Gato-sama!" one of his men called out, interrupting him.

"What is it?" he snapped. "Can't you see I'm busy?"

"Apologies Gato-sama, but we just found one of our shipping transports, the um... 'special' kind, with all hands dead. The cause of death looks like... having their brains eaten while they were still alive," the man related, looking decidedly ill.

Gato blinked. Okay, that was certainly an... odd... cause of death. However, strange causes of death or not, anyone who was attacking his interests needed to be dealt with.

He glared at Kaiza. His enjoyment of the moment had been soured and the man was no threat anymore without his arm.

"Be grateful, criminal scum," he spat at the man. "You have been granted a reprieve. I will spare your life today, but if you commit any more crimes against me, I will have you executed."

With that, Gato walked off, leaving the villagers to cut the man free and treat his wounds.

-Konohagakure: Mission Assignment Office-

The mission office was currently playing host to the fire lord's wife, Madame Shijimi, who had been pacing the room worriedly since she'd practically demanded a 'search and rescue' mission for her pet cat Tora who had run off during one of her frequent visits to the village.

This was not an uncommon sight for the ninja of the mission office, and some joked that they could organize their calendar around the event. Madame Shijimi swore by the cosmetic services of Konohagakure that were normally reserved for prepping active kunoichi for infiltration missions and it was bad form to turn away the wife of the fire lord regardless of what normal business procedures were. However, they did put their foot down in regards to relocating such services to the fire capital, and thankfully the fire lord himself backed their decision, so Madame Shijimi made regular visits to the village for hair treatments, manicures, pedicures, and so forth. She also insisted on bringing her beloved cat Tora with her on her visits despite its penchant for trying to escape from her.

The cat's position was understandable as Madame Shijimi was affectionate almost to the point of outright smothering the beast. However much a ninja of the mission office might object to how she treated her pet, none of them said anything for several reasons. One of the foremost was that correcting the fire lord's wife over how she conducted her personal affairs could be potentially dangerous for any number of political reasons and a near equal number of consequences. The other was that her cat's frequent bids for freedom helped fill up the quota of 'training missions' for rookie genin.

'Training missions' were something of an open secret of the village. The information was available to anyone who thought to inquire, but almost never volunteered otherwise. The fact was that the numerous D-rank missions that the village processed could be separated into two categories, legitimate missions and training missions. Legitimate missions had an actual client paying for them. Training missions on the other hand were for the purposes of honing the skills of various genin, particularly the fresh graduates, under the guise of performing active duty. Obviously, the mission office wanted these two categories to overlap as much as possible so that the village didn't have to arrange, and by extension pay for, the training missions itself.

Today, the Hokage himself was overseeing mission assignments during a lull in the bureaucratic paperwork the village produced. This was something he did often and the chunin who got mission office duty had long ago stopped trying to convince him that they had everything under control.

None of this really made Madame Shijimi's incessant worrying easier to take though. Thus the entire room, Hokage included, breathed a silent sigh of relief when they spotted the orange jumpsuit of Uzumaki Naruto carrying Tora, signifying that Team 7 had completed its D-ranked tracking and retrieval mission.

Tora was handed off to Madame Shijimi who nearly crushed the poor cat with her relieved hug, making several wince in sympathy and a few start preliminarily filing the request for Tora's next escape in their heads.

The Hokage reached for the list of remaining D-ranks, all of which were thankfully both of the legitimate and the training variety, and began to read them off while secretly watching the reactions of Team 7's genin members. It should be said at this point that one of the semi-guilty pleasures of the mission office was watching new genin teams go through D-ranks and taking bets on which one cracked first, when they would crack, and if they could make a decent case for getting a C-rank mission. Most of the money was on Team 7's Uzumaki Naruto breaking under the pressure first, but Team 8's Inuzuka Kiba was a close second. The most surprising thing to those who had bet on the two of them breaking was that it hadn't already happened. Though that was about to change.

"No!" protested Uzumaki Naruto. "No! No! No! NO THANK YOU! We need to do a more incredible mission! Find us a better one old man!"

The Hokage peaked up over the list he'd been reading and took in the members of Team 7. Naruto was looking ready to shoot down any contradiction to his demand; Sasuke was looking like he agreed with Naruto's sentiments but believed himself far too 'proper', or some such nonsense, to give voice to that agreement; Sakura looked like the only thing keeping her from publicly berating Naruto's outburst was her own dislike for D-rank missions; and Kakashi looked resigned to the whole affair. Though, of course, the mission office couldn't make it easy for them.

The Hokage sighed when one of the chunin on duty that day, Umino Iruka, was the one to respond to Naruto's outburst and try and bring him back in line. He really couldn't begrudge the academy teacher for jumping in and stealing one of his favorite parts of this charade as the man was almost single-handedly responsible for turning Uzumaki Naruto from a hyperactive dunce into a workable genin, a feat that was an uphill battle for numerous reasons. Fortunately, Kakashi brought Naruto under control before he and Iruka degenerated into a shouting match and it seemed Iruka was perfectly willing to let the Hokage give his typical test speech regarding how the various mission requests were divided up and then assigned.

Unfortunately, it seemed that Naruto had taken the duration of his speech to begin a conversation with himself regarding what kinds of fertilizers worked best for certain plants and what flavor of ramen he wanted for lunch. The Hokage's reaction to this proved rather conclusively that even he was not immune to having Naruto get under his skin. Kakashi looked really apologetic for the behavior of his student, but that was incidental at best.

"Geez, you're always giving lectures," Naruto said now that the Hokage had his attention again, making everyone who knew him wince as they recalled just how poorly he responded to such things. "But I'm not the same trouble-making brat you're used to anymore! I'm a proud and dedicated shinobi of Konoha who can't reach the best of his potential by staying inside these walls!"

The room went silent in shock. Naruto had actually sounded like a mature shinobi just then, one ready to take on more advanced duties. The Hokage noticed Iruka smile with pride in his former student, though he was also sure that Iruka would be holding the fact that he'd won the lion's share of the pool over the rest of the mission office for a while to come. In any case, the Hokage couldn't help but match Iruka's slight smile.

"Very well," he said, "If you want it that much, I'll give you a C-rank mission. It's the protection of a certain individual."

(Several minutes later)

The Hokage sighed as Team seven left his office with Tazuna in tow. The meeting had gone about as well as expected. The drunken Tazuna had insulted Naruto with predictable results and Kakashi had to prevent the boy from attacking his own client.

Of course, this was a form of training as well. Tazuna was not a pleasant client, which made him a good one for a genin team's first C-rank. They needed to learn early that not all clients were pleasant to deal with nor, for that matter, respectful of their profession. Better they learn this now than build up unrealistic expectations.

On the other hand, he'd been deliberately waiting to assign this particular C-rank to a genin team for other reasons. It was good fortune that it was Kakashi's team that had gotten this assignment as it put one of his best jonin on the mission as well. He'd seen more than enough people come into the mission office over the years with just enough funds to commission a mission significantly below the rank they needed, but were so desperate that they couldn't wait to scrape together anything more, and Tazuna showed all of the signs he'd come to recognize. Some of his spies out in the field had also recently reported some disturbing rumors coming out of Nami no Kuni where the man was from, and would be returning. Taken together, all of it suggested a mis-ranked mission, but there was no conclusive proof of anything that would allow him to call the man on it. It was entirely possible that his worries were from an overactive imagination and the rumors were unfounded.

Rejecting a mission on the grounds of false pretenses was a tricky proposition and could give the village a bad reputation if they misread the situation. So he'd waited to give the protection mission to a genin team led by one of his most elite jonin and included the standard code line for 'watch for anything suspicious' in the scroll he'd handed Kakashi. The jonin would understand and would be on the watch for anything that would alter the stated mission parameters.

Beyond the issues with the mission, there was the whole issue with Team 7 itself. Tradition or not, putting Naruto, the lowest in the class, on a team with Sasuke, the highest in the class, and Sakura, best academic scores, had been something of a calculated risk.

Sarutobi had, several times, watched the young Naruto and his classmates from his office during lulls in paperwork. He was well aware that, of the nine graduating students, Sasuke and Sakura were the least likely to accept him for who he was. Which was precisely why he'd signed off on the team arrangement.

Hiruzen Sarutobi knew more about these nine genin than any other graduating class since he'd taken his own team once upon a time. He was well aware that Naruto had made some passing friendships with Nara Shikamaru, Akamichi Choji, and Inuzuka Kiba, even if it was only to goof off. He knew that Aburame Shino was, at worst, neutral towards the boy, as he was with most everyone in his age group and that Yamanaka Ino, while somewhat antagonistic towards him, would have given him an honest chance. He was also quite aware of Hyuuga Hinata's 'fox watching' habits and wished her nothing but the best in her efforts to drum up enough courage to speak with the object of her affections.

By contrast, Haruno Sakura was openly antagonistic towards Naruto to the point of being well past unreasonable and approaching abusive, and Uchiha Sasuke was so wrapped up in the idea of vengeance that the Hokage wouldn't really be surprised if the last Uchiha didn't even know his teammates' names.

For all practical purposes the two were, psychologically speaking, immovable objects. So, of course, the only thing that had a shot at getting through to them was an, also psychologically speaking, unstoppable force. How fortunate then that one Uzumaki Naruto fit the bill perfectly.

This was not to say that the arrangement was merely for the benefit of those two either. Oh, no. The Hokage was well aware that Naruto's desire to become Hokage was quite genuine and he had no doubts that Naruto could pull it off given even a less than even chance. Hatake Kakashi, while lazy, had the kind of background and attitude to instill the kind of selfless qualities in his charge that the job needed of a Hokage. And, even if Naruto could prove equal to the task, he would have some very hard sells among the Konoha population before he could gain enough respect to be honestly considered for the job.

So Sarutobi had put him with the two hardest sells of his age group. While it was possible that the team environment he'd thrust the boy into could crush his ambitions, if two children Naruto's age was all it took to kill his dream then the boy had never really possessed what it took in the first place. On the other hand, if Naruto could win over those two, one who openly despised him and another who outright ignored him, then Sarutobi honestly believed that there was no obstacle short of death itself that could keep Naruto from his position. Then he could hand the boy the hat himself and go back to his private competition with Oonoki as to which of them would become the first leader of a ninja village in history to be able to retire and die in their sleep of old age.

More recently there was the matter of Naruto's parting request. While certainly excited to be going on his first C-rank mission, the boy had enough presence of mind to file a mission request to have someone look after his apartment while he was gone, mostly to keep his collection of exotic plants watered and cared for. The Hokage had told him to make certain that he left a list of plant care instructions for whoever was assigned to house-sit for him and the boy had left to do just that while preparing for his mission.

Now, the boy had as much right to hire for a mission as anyone and a long-term D-rank was well within his ability to afford. While the Team 7 assignment was a calculated risk, it was a poor leader who didn't hedge his bets whenever the opportunity presented itself. If he played this just right, Naruto could end up with ties of friendship and comraderie outside his immediate team that he could fall back on in case the worst happened, and allow him to be that much stronger if the best happened.

"Team 8 reporting in," the voice of Yuuhi Kurenai cut into his thoughts, "mission successful."

"Excellent timing Yuuhi-san," he said as he smiled at the four and considered the young kunoichi of the team without looking directly at her, "I just got a mission request for a long-term D-rank within the village that I think one of your students might be interested in accepting."

Kurenai looked curious as the Hokage pulled out the mission detail and handed it purposefully to Hinata. The young Hyuuga heiress shyly accepted it and began to read it over, valliantly ignoring the rest of her team as they read over her shoulder. D-ranks were in no way classified material by definition and the only crime any of them were committing was that of rudeness, and as Hinata herself was not about to say anything the Hokage felt no need to speak up either. Hinata began to blush heavily as she read who the client was and her teammates started to grin conspiratorily. Even the perpetually stoic Shino had a smile that peaked out from behind his collar.

"I... I accept H-hokage-sama," she managed to stutter out past her embarrassment and nervousness.

'Perfect,' he thought with a smile.

AN: So there you go. Madara makes his first move and already it seems he's skimmed the book on a few key points regarding his new toys. Then again, that assumes Dr. Zomboss was genuinely thorough with his research... No PvZ fight yet, but we should see it next chapter most likely.

Looking back at what I've written since Chapter 1, both for this and later installments, I seem to have developed a plot. The funny thing is, I'm at a loss to say when this happened.

Oh, and the sunflower Naruto grew was making faces at Sasuke. Just in case you were wondering.

This section is something new that I'll be including in all future chapters until I run out. Challenges to any reader who owns a copy of Plants vs Zombies. All of these will be challenges that I have both thought up myself and completed on my own as well. At this point it's an even toss up as to whether I'll run out of challenges of chapters first. So, have fun all!


Shades of '76 - During an adventure mode replay, successfully plant at least one of every type of Imitater.

(You will need to pick a different Imitater every level that lets you pick plants as there are 40 of those, 50 levels minus 10 conveyor belt levels, and 40 different plants that can be imitated)

And a parting quote for you all:

"If man is God's noblest creation... who found that out?" - Mark Twain (As performed by Kurt H. Sutton)