Hey there evryone! To my new readers from the last chapter, welcome! To the old ones, thanks for sticking around! Now, i got my sencond bad review, but i didn't feel bad! More confused, because they accused me of a bad story, when their own review was badly written and confusing. I lol'd, i won't deny it. Speaking of reviews . . .

Silverpop: Your review is my favorite by far . . . it made my day, and made me finish this up!

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Naruto, he belongs to Masashi Kishimoto. Similarly, i do not own any songs english or japanse in this story.

Chapter Ten

Immerse in Shadows, Uzumaki Naruto

"Alright, now who will be the next to read?" Minato asked, holding out the book with his thumb on the current page to the others.

Rin looked at the remaining contenders. "Rock, paper, scissors for it?" she suggested.

"Sounds fair to me." Tsunade shrugged.

Tsunade, Obito, Rin and Kakashi put their hands out between them in fists, shaking them three times as they chanted, "Rock, Paper, Scissors shoot!"

"Crap, paper." Rin grumbled.

"Scissors." Tsunade growled.

"Heh, looks like it's between me and you, Obito." Kakashi chuckled. The two played the game again, with Kakashi getting scissors while Obito had paper.

"To the winner go the spoils." Minato said with a smile, handing the book to the younger boy. Kakashi took it with a grateful incline of his head, focusing on the page and clearing his throat.

The next morning found Teams seven and eight chatting together pleasantly as they ate their fill of breakfast, Tsunami and Tazuna watching in amusement and sometimes pitching into the conversation. Sadly, despite Naruto's attempts to bring the boy into the fold Inari had once again left the table early on, completely disgusted and angered with what he believed was the cheerful idiocy of the ninja in the face of such a threat as Gato.

"I don't get how this kid could not have heard about the awesomeness that is ninja." Obito scoffed.

"He's a little boy, leave him alone." Rin scolded exasperatedly.

As all this was going on, Naruto took advantage of the busy and distracting atmosphere to fade into the background, if you will, to observe his fellow genin. He pretty much had the two he wanted to take along already decided, hell he'd known even as soon as Kakashi cleared it.

"Let's see how well this was thought out as well." Minato murmured with interest.

Sakura was a definite no. She had been working on her abysmal ninja skills, but she still wasn't serious about it. Not to mention, sad as it was, she wouldn't know stealth if it came up from the shadows, bitch slapped her with a fish, and then disappeared in the shadows again.

Kakashi burst into laughter after reading it, followed by the rest of the room after they'd gotten over the shock of hearing Kakashi's genuine laughter.

"What a colorful comparison." Tsunade managed through near crippling giggles.

"Ultimately true however. Unlike Naru-chan, she didn't train to remain hidden even in the brightest colors. That pink hair and red dress are beacons for the kill." Rin added, breathing deeply to return breath to her lungs after her laugh.

Hinata was skilled, it was true . . . but she didn't have the fortitude yet to really do what it took to complete this.

"Is he talking about her stuttering? That won't have much effect on the mission." Obito wondered, thinking it over. She certainly had the skill, so wasn't that enough?

"Skill doesn't do much if you freeze up after your first kill." Kakashi explained in an oddly gentle voice. Obito looked down at the table for a minute, before looking up and nodding, showing he'd understood.

If Kakashi's words came true, he doubted she'd be able to kill someone— before they could sound the alarm at least. Though, her stealth certainly was impressive, if he recalled her tracking (read: stalking) him back in the early days of the Academy . . .

"Stalkers already in the Academy! Minato-boy, you didn't even get any until you graduated early!" Jiraiya recalled, feeling proud of his little godson as he guffawed heartily.

"Keep talking sensei." Minato invited the older man with a deadly smile.

Kiba was a definite negative. The boy also wouldn't know stealth if it beat him with a sock full of change out of nowhere. Not to mention, that no matter how skilled the boy was, he didn't have proper self-control. He could just see it now— Kiba would get caught up in a fight, or the intensity of the moment, and then bam! Cover blown, so, NO.

Now, Sasuke . . . as reluctant as he was to admit this— and he'd never say it out loud to the egotistical boy— but the boy was a superb ninja in his own right, even now at just genin level. He had the stealth, skills in taijutsu and ninjutsu, as well as the mindset to complete the mission no matter what. Now, was he worried that Sasuke's mindset might lead to possible fatalistic injury on the mission? Yes he was. But, hey, that's ninja life for you.

"Not in Konoha. If you don't trust your teammate to help you out, don't pick them, or speak with your commanding officer, that's what you should do!" Kushina scolded her son.

"If only her were here to hear this." Obito lamented, crying out in mild offense when Kushina hurled a throw pillow at him.

"Despite all that though, I have to agree with him. Sasuke would be good for the job." Minato was only slightly reluctant when he said it.

Shino was the next pick for his little operation. Those kikaichu of his were perfect for stealth and assassination missions, stealing the chakra of its victims unobtrusively until they noticed too late. Not to mention that he was also extremely logical, almost to the point of being cold— thank Kami for that Will of Fire Shino surreptitiously had— and he was also prepared to do whatever it took to get the mission done, within reason . . . whatever those parameters might be.

Yes, he'd made his decision, and he would tell Kakashi during training today.

"Good decisions." Jiraiya esteemed.

"Oh I can't wait for when he becomes a chuunin." Kushina smiled.

"Naruto, we'll be going to the bridge again today, but Kakashi tells me you have your own training you'd like to do today?" Kurenai's voice cut through his thoughts, though he was not visibly startled. With a bright smile, he turned to the crimson-eyed jounin.

"Yes, Kurenai-sensei. I'll be joining you guys later on today, but for a little while I've asked Kakashi-sensei to supervise my while I trained in my taijutsu style, see if there wasn't any tips he could give me."

"Is it the scroll I see you reading e-every night after dinner Naruto?" Hinata asked in interest.

"Dedicated child." Rin murmured softly.

Naruto nodded. "Yes, one given to me by a . . . interesting contact of mine. I suppose he could be called a friend, actually."

"And what is the taijutsu style called?" Sasuke asked brusquely, interested in knowing the taijutsu style that annoyed him ever since they became team members. It infuriated him that no matter what, he could never really win against Naruto, even though he was getting better at dodging the attacks. Oh, just wait until he got his Sharingan . . . that shit was so getting copied, and then Naruto would see how it was on the receiving end!

"Just tear my eyes out now. The sharingan is getting no love." Obito said to Kakashi seriously.

"So, you weren't really gifting me with it . . . you were cursing me? You son of a bitch." Kakashi declared, looking just as serious.

"I may be your best friend, but that doesn't stop me from hating you with everything I have." Obito returned, shrugging carelessly. They only grinned at each other after their joke ended up making everyone groan.

"Oh, the Kung Fu Hustle." Naruto answered proudly. Sasuke snorted out loud while Kiba barked out a laugh, making Naruto feel some annoyance.

"What a stupid name! That's not the real name, it cannot be. Answer the question." Sasuke demanded, irritated.

"Demand something from my son one more time brat." Kushina growled a look promising pain to the boy in her eyes.

"He's not even born yet." Tsunade pointed out tiredly.

"But he will be." Kushina said smugly.

"Well, the real name doesn't matter for me. When one is close to mastering the style, they can give their own name to it. I may not be a master, but the person who gave it to me also gave me special permission to go ahead and do so. So, I, along with Katsu, decided to name it Kung Fu Hustle." Naruto explained patiently, smile turning a bit plastic in his annoyance.

"Yeah, tell them!" Rin and Obito shouted.

"Makes sense you'd pick such a stupid name." Kiba snickered.

"How dumb can you get?" Rin groaned, correctly anticipating the beat down Kiba was about to receive.

Naruto felt a spark of anger at the audacity of the stupid little flea bag. How dare this insignificant puppy continue to defy his place and try to overtake him as alpha?

"Control freak." Tsunade threw this at Minato instead, smirking as she saw his lower eyelid twitch on his right eye, before his face smoothed over into a mask again.

"Brat needs to learn his place, what can I say?" Minato said placidly.

He didn't enjoy securing his dominance over others . . . except Katsu—especially in the future . . . but he would have to do it, and he'd be lying if he said he wouldn't enjoy it.

"HENTAI!" Kushina, Rin, and Tsunade snarled.

"I swore I wouldn't cry in front of others." Jiraiya said almost to himself, though the others could hear him, even though his voice was muffled by the hand over his face.

"Sad for his fate against these three?" Obito asked, jerking a thumb to the hissing females.

"No, tears of joy . . . of pride . . . !" Jiraiya said, fake sniffling as if he were trying to hold back tears.

"Kiba." Naruto sighed. Kiba immediately sensed something amiss, and froze uncertainly— one part cursing himself for always slipping around Naruto, the clear alpha of the situation, and the other part demanding he start running now.

"Too late for that." Minato and Kushina matched bloodthirsty grins and evil voices, something that sent chills down the spines of the others.

"Let's spar today, okay? Before I go with Kakashi-sensei, I mean after all, you were really good against those Zabuza clones. I'd really like it if we could spar together, you know, from one fellow Konoha nin to another." Naruto's tranquil voice had the interesting effect of rubbing Kiba's nerves raw with his anxiety and nervousness.

"Many don't know this, but those sixth senses dogs have are actually able to pick up the vibes of an impending bitch beat-down." Rin informed with all seriousness and importance, as if telling them a little known fact. The others just found it freaking hilarious.

But he had no choice, did he? Who knows, he reassured himself, perhaps Naruto doesn't even mind the jabs— after all, he never really bothered to hold back either in Academy, and Naruto had done nothing.

"This isn't the Academy anymore!" Obito sang.

"Yeah, sure." Kiba agreed boisterously, and Naruto's smile was sunshine, all bright and happy. The others however, unbeknownst to the poor Inuzuka, were just as nervous as the boy himself was not too long ago. They remembered well the icy commanding aura that materialized around Naruto that day Kiba had yelled at Inari. Naruto, without asking for it, had an aura that commanded obedience and respect, and perhaps, at its highest peak . . . subservience.

"Nah . . . that's only for Ku— I mean . . . Katsu." Minato muttered, grinning wickedly when his girlfriend, being the only one who heard, whipped around to stare at him with something akin to trepidation . . . and a little anticipation.

"My pervert senses are tingling but . . . it's not Jiraiya?" Tsunade mumbled to herself, eyes full of suspicion roving over the potential perverts in the room.

Breakfast ended in a more awkward, tense atmosphere despite the cheerfulness of Naruto, and the oblivious cockiness of Kiba. Even as the teams gathered up dirty dishes and helped clean up the kitchen and table, the wariness that now was enveloping the Konoha ninja were enough to unsettle the civilians. His unsettled nature, however, wouldn't stop Tazuna from watching what he was sure to be something fun. So he took steps to ensure that he would be there to watch . . . and perhaps Inari could benefit from seeing real strength in action.

"Even the civilian knows it's going down." Obito snickered, hands tapping a beat out on his knees.

As he and Kurenai were putting away plates, he quietly called her attention. "Er, Kurenai-san . . ."

Kurenai turned to Tazuna, polite curiosity on her face. "Yes, Tazuna-san?"

"Well, I imagine that the spar those boys want to do need to be supervised right?" Tazuna asked with gruff "concern."

"Yes . . . some also like to bring bags of popcorn and their money to the table. Maybe some sake, for the older group." Tsunade suggested, sniggering when she high-fived a euphoric-looking Jiraiya.

Kurenai nodded slowly, though she had an idea that what Tazuna was interested in was not in the safety of the boys . . . at least not hers. "Yes, they do. Technically, the respective sensei of each genin in the spar should be present. Spars between genin of different teams are good learning experiences."

"Well, that's what I thought." Tazuna said, almost to himself. "That'd be rather difficult if you were going to be guarding me right?"

Kurenai nodded, hiding her amusement. Tazuna only wanted to see a show . . . and if she was honest with herself, she was also curious. Being Anko's best friend, she had been treated to many stories concerning the blonde genin and his flame-haired companion, ad she had become interested in the two.

"Ah, I actually wanted to ask you about that." Kurenai played the typical ninja still trying to remain professional even through her sheepishness.

Tazuna nodded, as if he was about to do her a favor, and not the other way around. "Well, it's fine with me if you wish to stay. I can be a little late today."

Kurenai smiled, biting a small corner of her lip to hold back a giggle. "Why thank you Tazuna-san." With amused smiles on both their faces, the two adults continued to work on in silence.

"Compromises can be such fun." Minato informed them all cheerily, monstrous grin showing off pearly whites.

There was no putting this off; eventually, the cleaning was done, and Kakashi told the genin it was time to get started with their day.

"Or for Kiba, time to go sleepy-time again." Obito muffled his snickers with his fist, though it couldn't quite hide the ferocious grin on his face.

"So, first things first!" Kakashi clapped his hands, thankful for the mask that hid a wicked grin. "Let's just get that spar out of the way, what do you say?"

"Sure, it'll be quick anyway!" Kiba said loudly, smirking as Akamaru barked his agreement.

"He's got that right." Everyone agreed, vindictive smiles blooming on their faces.

"I have no problems with that." Naruto was polite and still smiling.

"Like a BOSS~!" Obito and Rin sang under their breaths, double fist bumping.

Kiba's smirk died a little when he saw that smile . . . he would just have to wipe it off that smug face. This narrator wonders why Kiba keeps forgetting that Naruto is a BOSS. You don't just win against bosses, but back to the story . . .

"OK, let's go to the backyard, it's large enough." Kakashi said easily, leading the procession that followed out the back door, but stopping on the porch whilst Kakashi, Kiba, and Naruto ventured out a bit farther. Kakashi reckoned that even if they didn't know jutsu destructive enough to need a lot of space, genin tended to go all out and it'd be best to be prepared anyway.

"Good thinking." Minato approved, sending a smile Kakashi's way.

"Alright, in the spar ninjutsu and weapons are allowed, but you are not to go for any killing blows. Nothing to maim or lead to lasting injury that could mess up your performance on the mission, understood?" Kakashi sharp eye stared the two genin down, who agreed quietly.

"Yeah . . . I don't think that's going to work." Rin said matter-of-fact.

Suddenly, he smiled. "Alright then! You'll keep going until there's either a clear winner, or I stop you and decide the winner. So, ready? OK . . . Hajime!" Kakashi suddenly was gone, and reappeared on the porch steps, settling down next to a watchful Sasuke.

Naruto and Kiba didn't immediately make any moves. Indeed, Kiba was feeling that old wariness and fear creep up on him again as he found he couldn't tear his eyes from the swirling depths of truest blue, almost seeming to suck him in.

"Like . . . oh, I don't know . . . a whirlpool?" Kushina laughed at her own joke.

Obito clapped, twice, and slowly. "Oh, now I didn't even see that one coming." He said in faux amusement.

"Jealous that I said it first?" Kushina taunted, waggling her fingers at the snickering boy.

Kiba suddenly felt a burning, white-hot anger explode inside him, and with a guttural sound of anger he looked at the alert and growling form of Akamaru next to him, and ordered passionately, "Let's bring him down Akamaru!"

"Did he just look away from his opponent?" Obito asked, wicked glint in his eyes.

"Did he just look away from his pimp? Oh hell no!" Kakashi cracked.

Akamaru responded with a bark of affirmation. Smiling widely, Kiba's eyes flickered back to Naruto and— BAM! Kiba felt a pain explode in the small of his back as he was propelled through the air, landing and skidding face down on the ground before coming to a halt. Not a second after that Akamaru landed whimpering by his side with a heavy thud.

"D-D-DAAMN!" Jiraiya, Rin, and Obito yelled out, leaning back into their seats.

"Akamaru!" Kiba yelled. Getting up quickly, Kiba rounded on the perpetrator— Naruto, who still had his knee kicked up high, leg still outstretched from the kicks it had just bestowed on the Inuzuka and his partner.

"Damn you! How are you so fast?!" Kiba demanded, growling.

Looking all-too-modest, Minato raised his hand. Kushina playfully pushed him on the shoulder with the giggle as the others laughed.

Naruto didn't answer, merely looked at him with cold, calculating eyes. Slowly, his foot came down, and he positioned himself in the stance of the Kung Fu Hustle.

"You looked away from your opponent too long. It was simple for me to kawarimi with a leaf on the ground behind you, and catch you unaware." Naruto answered.

"Especially when one can do it without hand seals." Tsunade added in a superior voice.

"Like a BOSS?" Kushina asked with a smirk, giggling when Rin and Obito crowed in excitement, jumping up to exchange high-fives with her.

With a shout, Kiba settled into a crouch in front of his partner, who was struggling to stand on all fours again. With a grunt, Kiba shot off, rather fast for a genin as he closed in on the still form of Naruto. Rocketing forward, he at first started to go for a right hook, but then dropped down and tried to sweep Naruto's feet.

Naruto jumped up, and without missing a beat, his foot lashed out at the side of Kiba's head and collided with a satisfying sound of pain being torn from a tumbling Kiba's lips. Alighting on the ground once again, Naruto spun around and kicked the boy in his ribs, making him go up— and then moved forward to have an elbow in Kiba's back make the feral boy come crashing down. This time Kiba was prepared though, and it the ground with his hands, tucking forward to roll and coming out of his roll with a spring and two backflips to get some distance. When he landed, he was joined by a now partially recovered Akamaru.

"Lucky shot!" Kiba shouted at the blank-faced Uzumaki.

"Lucky shots, you mean." Jiraiya stated.

"What . . . you mean all three of them?" Naruto asked with a sardonic smile.

"Grr!" Kiba shot forward again, determined to bring Naruto down. This time, though, instead of going straight in, he created bushin clones of him and Akamaru to confuse Naruto and run around him in a circle.

"That would work . . . on an Academy student." Naruto observed, before suddenly turning on his left foot and catching the real Kiba with a right hook to the jaw, then pivoting on his heel and sending a hard kick to Akamaru. Both of them flew back and hit the ground.

"What?!" Kiba spluttered.

"Bushin clones don't have shadows. But you do. Not to mention the fact that bushins don't have the same smell . . . the same sound. You ought to know better than that, Inuzuka." That last word, Kiba's surname, spoken in that chilling tone . . . seemed to be the indicator to a change in the fight.

"Yeah, that's the sound of shit getting real." Kushina said, like that was obvious . . . actually, it really is . . .

A change that was not good at all for the poor Inuzuka. Making two shadow clones, the two clones shot forward and grabbed a growling and barking Akamaru, holding him down and away from Kiba. Naruto walked forward slowly, and though the others couldn't see the expression on his face, it had to be something since all the color from Kiba's face just drained away.

"We like to call it . . . the Flash Doom face." Team Minato answered in all seriousness, prompting a burst of laughter from their sensei and the other adults.

"You laugh now . . ." Rin shook her head.

"It's all fun and games . . ." Obito started off somberly.

"Until sensei decides you fucked up, and show you the face." Kakashi ended, shaking his head at the tragedy.

A moment later, they understood. What happened next was . . . plain and simple, a thrashing for Kiba. The poor bastard never had a chance to even backpedal because Naruto was just there, and he wasn't letting go until he was good and ready.

"Sounds like you." Minato mentioned to Kushina.

Of course, Kakashi had gotten up earlier when it seemed that Naruto would never stop stomping on Kiba's midsection, but a clone kept him from doing it.

"Kakashi-sensei." The Naruto-clone spoke so seriously that Kakashi had to hear him out. "Don't interfere. This is a matter that you should understand well. Kiba knows I am alpha of the genin, but he still continued to overstep his boundaries. You, a wolf in your own right, know how this must be."

Kakashi sighed. Indeed, being with his own dog pack summons for so long, he knew the . . . shall we say, etiquette required. But still, it didn't look like Kurenai was buying it.

"He's going to put him in a coma!" She cried, flinging an accusing finger at the real Naruto, who had now moved to continually backhanding Kiba.

"Not only did he keep back-talking Naruto, he never gave him his money either." Obito said.

Naruto snorted, even as Kiba's screams of pain were dying away to groans of agony. "If that's all it takes to kill him, he wouldn't have made it very far in the ninja world anyway. He agreed to the spar; now just hold on for a little longer. Boss won't be much longer; we think Kiba's starting to get the picture."

As the clone said, about eight minutes later Naruto came sauntering back, dragging a now unconscious Kiba with him on the ground, before hauling him up and proffering the body to Kurenai-sensei.

"Hot damn." Kakashi muttered, and kept on reading.

"Anko-nee tells me you know some simple medic jutsu. Should be just enough to heal him up so as not to be a burden on the day we face Zabuza." Naruto said cheerily, not even blinking as Kurenai's ice-cold glare attempted to freeze him. Stiffly, Kurenai took Kiba from Naruto.

"I know he was being rude, but was that really necessary?" Kurenai asked sharply.

Naruto nodded, now totally serious, something that shocked Kurenai. "Believe me, yes it was. It's . . . well, probably his mother, the Inuzuka clan head Tsume-sama, could explain it better than me. For now, just please understand that this is the way insubordinate, disobedient pups like him are to be dealt with."

And that was that.

While Kurenai set a bandaged Kiba into his futon in the house, Kakashi and Naruto went off further into the woods, both rather aware of the attempted boring of holes into their backs by a set of black eyes.

"You might want to give Sasuke a nice B-ranked fire jutsu to appease him." Naruto said conversationally, once the feeling of daggers being stared into your back disappeared as they went deeper into the forest.

"Yeah . . ." Kakashi agreed absently. Kakashi and Naruto suddenly stopped, and leaned against the nearest tree as they looked at each other.

"Judging by your performance in the spar . . . I'd say you don't really need any tips from me in training it. By the way, did you use the chakra sticking exercise to keep Kiba in your grasp?"

"Now that's a novel idea." Kushina said resolutely.

"Using chakra to stick to your enemies and keep the hits on coming, it's great." Jiraiya said, wondering at the simple brilliance of it all.

"Nice of you to notice. I did, but only for the first five minutes. After that . . . he just didn't have the strength to move much anymore." Naruto admitted with a chuckle.

"So Kushina at that moment." Tsunade snorted.

"Ruthless." Kakashi commented.

"I do try." Naruto said demurely, taking a bow.

"So, are you here to tell me your picks for the two genin you want with you?" Kakashi asked, turning the topic to more serious matters.

Naruto nodded, all kidding put aside for later. "I have, Kakashi-sensei. I choose Sasuke and Shino to be on this recon mission with me."

Kakashi nodded slowly, thinking over the two choices as his eye drifted around the rather scenic clearing they were in.

"Good choices, the both of them. I'm glad you're really taking this seriously. I won't ask for the why's since I'm sure you've thought of them extensively, and they're probably the same as what I'm thinking of."

"Sensei . . . when do I have permission to carry this out?" Naruto asked, the excitement not quite perfectly hidden.

"It might seem exciting now, but when you're actually doing this . . . will the gravity of the situation really hit on you?" Minato wondered.

Kakashi looked at him seriously, and Naruto straightened up again, he had been leaning forward a little bit in interest. "Naruto, there's something I have to tell you about this mission you've decided to undertake."

"Yes, sensei?" Naruto asked promptly, looking directly at his superior.

"When we were attacked by the Demon brothers, and after Tazuna had explained what was really going on, do you recall that I sent a letter to the Hokage via one of my nin-dogs?"

"Yes . . . a greyhound, if I remember correctly. I'm assuming you've been in contact again with the Hokage?"

"Yes, while I was supervising the others training on the tree, I sent the same greyhound, with information of Zabuza's employment, as well as his accomplice. However, there was one other letter sent . . . the letter stating the additional mission some enterprising young genin wished to undertake."

"Please tell me Sandaime-sama saw the folly in this." Rin prayed fervently.

A smile flickered onto Naruto's face before it resumed its marble-like countenance. "Did the Hokage decide not to let the mission happen?"

"No, no, I expressed my views clearly about how I thought this would be a good idea. I just received the hawk with the answering message earlier this morning, while everyone else was still asleep. Kurenai also knows about this, and though she had some reservations, the go-ahead from the Hokage managed to . . . silence her doubts."

Silence, but not banish. Naruto thought shrewdly, but it didn't really matter. It was now official, and he was going to do this with Shino and Sasuke. Hell yes.

"Hell no." Kushina's mumbled whine escaped through her lips half-heartedly. Minato heard her and kissed the top of her head, snuggling her closer.

"No, what I wanted to tell you was that . . . the Hokage has decided to take this opportunity to . . . do some good. For everyone of course, but most especially for Konoha. The Hokage has decided that this will be an assassination mission."

"Wily old monkey just wants a nice big fat cut of those profits from Gato's corp." Jiraiya snorted.

"I wonder if he'll destroy the company or take it over?" Minato asked. Jiraiya shrugged, not knowing the answer himself.

Naruto gulped. Did the Hokage expect them to . . . ? "Are we . . . that is, Shino, Sasuke, and I . . . will we be the ones –?"

"NO!" Everyone said firmly.

"No." Kakashi's forceful answer made Naruto startle a bit, and so Kakashi softened his tone. "We don't make our genin do the dirty work . . . not until they reach well into their chuunin careers at least. I will be the one to do so."

Naruto's concern switched from his wariness of killing, to his worry over Kakashi's health. "But, sensei, you're still not strong enough yet right? I mean, you still need the crutch!"

"Aww! You've got a protective little brother figure!" Kushina cooed, getting up and skipping over to Kakashi, squishing his cheeks and shaking his face between her hands from side-to-side.

"Ugh, come on . . ." Kakashi grumbled, reaching up with the hand not holding the book to pull gently at Kushina's wrists, glaring at Minato for just watching and shaking with mirth.

Kakashi smiled at the boy. "Well, no need to be so concerned Naruto." He reassured the genin, though his usual lazy tone did nothing of the sort for the blonde. "The crutch is really just a precaution now, I don't need it anymore. As a matter of fact, by tomorrow I'll have full mobility, if not full strength. Even at half-strength though, I'm more than a match for some common thugs and wannabe-samurai."

Of that, Naruto had no doubt. "Ok, sensei. So, when are we going to do this?" Naruto asked his last question again.

"If I can find out the location of his hideout, then tomorrow night." Kakashi answered shortly. Naruto nodded.

"That's rather soon." Rin fretted.

"Any later and we might have to face Zabuza, then the plan would be for naught." Kakashi reminded her.

"How will you find that out?" Naruto inquired.

"Ah, well, I sent a couple of shadow clones in a henge, out to do some snooping. They should be sending me some Intel before the night is over. Still, I'd like you to keep your ears out for anything." Kakashi said.

"Hmm, sort of a sloppy plan, really." Jiraiya critiqued, folding his arms.

"Well, we can't all be spy masters Jiraiya-sama." Kakashi shot back with an apathetic tone of voice.

Kakashi suddenly switched gears and resumed his lazy, hip-and-cool attitude. "So, let's just head on back and start with our duties. For now, don't worry too much about it. I'll be helping the three of you prepare. Sasuke's made it to the top of the tree now, so he'll be going with the rest of you to the bridge, in place of Kiba."

In companionable silence, the two walked back to the house, surprising the other genin as they thought it would be a while longer before Naruto and Kakashi came back.

"I thought you guys were going to work on taijutsu for half the day?" Sakura asked, looking at the two from her seat on the porch steps, waiting for Kurenai-sensei to come out and lead them to the bridge again.

"Well, there really isn't much I could say to Naruto, since I'm unfamiliar with the taijutsu style and I don't want to say anything that might conflict with the style. Anyway, I'll be leading the team to guard the bridge today."

"What about Kurenai-sensei?" Sakura asked, shocked.

"She'll be putting the med-skills she has to use on Kiba for as long as she can. So, the teams are as follows! Shino, Sasuke, and Naruto are going with me to the bridge. Sakura and Hinata, stay here and guard the house."

"Hai, Kakashi-sensei!" The genin said swiftly, breaking up into their respective groups.

Kakashi and the genin escorted Tazuna to the bridge, noticing that there were few workers.

"Tazuna-san . . . there were twenty of them yesterday. Now there's only fourteen?" Naruto muttered to the grim-faced man.

"The closer they get to completing the bridge, the more scared they are of Gato's wrath." Tsunade summed up, shaking her head.

"Wouldn't it make more sense to be scared at the beginning of the project, rather than when it's about to be finished?" Obito asked quizzically.

"Humans are strange creatures, after all." Kushina murmured, as if that were an answer.

"Well . . . they're scared of backlash from Gato. I'm more afraid of the repercussions if we don't do this." Tazuna said gruffly, before opening his toolbox and getting to work.

"Come on, everyone pick a spot." Kakashi said, grabbing the genin's attention again. Doing as told, they each picked a spot around the area Tazuna was working on, and surveying either their surroundings, or the work being done by the workers. For a while, the four of them stayed in their positions, growing a bit bored. Then, Naruto got up from his slouch on the steel beams, and ambled over to Tazuna, who was deep into some schematics.

"Hey, Tazuna-san, I might be able to offer some assistance in the way of numbers." Naruto started, grinning at the man who turned to him with a slight scowl, half of his mind still on the plans before him.

"Yay, more shadow clones!" Obito hailed.

"What's that boy? Just the four of you won't solve my problem with lack of hands." Tazuna grumbled, peering up at Naruto from where he was crouched.

"No, I mean I can make solid clones— great for cheap labor. Hell, it's free. I can make as many as you need! I may not have much experience in bridge building, but . . . I figure your other workers can help with that and take a team for themselves; teach the clones some stuff. When the clones pop, their memories will come back to me, so I'll know a bit more each time. What do you say?" Naruto pitched his idea rather well, if the gleam in Tazuna's eyes were anything to go by.

"You do that, and I'll name the bridge after you!" Tazuna cheered, slapping his thighs as he got up, turning to the young blonde.

"No need for all that, but . . ." Naruto chuckled, putting his fingers in the correct hand seals and murmuring, "Kage Bushin no Jutsu!"

Immediately, a haze of smoke covered the immediate area, and wafted away to reveal two-hundred eighty clones, all milling around and greeting the gob smacked workers.

"Not as much as his debut into the ninja world." Kakashi said loftily.

"Still a hell of a lot though, even Sarutobi in his prime could only make about 50, and Minato can make 60." Jiraiya insisted.

"Just how many clones are there?!" Tazuna yelped, holding a hand to his helmet as if it might fly off. The others as well were looking rather shocked, staring with incredulity at the sheer amount of Naruto's there were.

"Oh, two-hundred eighty of them. Enough for each worker to get a team of twenty." Naruto answered with a flippant tone of voice. In unison, each Naruto on that bridge turned to face Tazuna and asked cheerfully, "What are your orders, boss?"

Tazuna's jaw was still unhinged and swinging for a few moments, before he cleared his throat. Slowly, he chuckled, which eventually turned into laughter, before guffaws escaped him with incredible force. After calming down, Tazuna put his hands on his hips and started directing his workers to take twenty clones each, and show them the ropes.

"We'll be done with this bridge in just about a week, boys!" Tazuna crowed, reveling in the relieved and loud cheers of his fellow people of Nami.

"Oh good, he won't have to spend too much time from away from home." Rin effused.

Meanwhile, Kakashi snorted softly with amusement as he put away his book in favor of watching the amusing antics of his student's shadow clones. He had never seen shadow clones argue with each other before . . . he briefly wondered if perhaps that was bad news for Naruto's mental health, but then brushed off the concern. It would only be Naruto to have completely independent shadow clones.

"The clones have their own personalities?" Tsunade asked, with raised eyebrows.

"I didn't think shadow clones could do that." Jiraiya admitted.

"Well, they are separate entities in a way, but with the personality of the caster of the jutsu, so it's just a show of Naruto's unpredictability that the shadow clones are like their own people." Minato illuminated, seeing this as the only logical explanation.

Sasuke and Shino watched the clones work with barely restrained interest, though Sasuke's was more strained to be withheld than Shino. Sasuke's teeth were grinding to dust in the back of his mouth at the sheer amount of chakra it had to have taken for Naruto to do that . . . that sort of power would be well appreciated, by him . . .

"You can only appreciate power after you've done the hard work to achieve it." Obito admonished.

"Well said Obito." Minato commended, causing the boy to scratch at his nose with a bashful smile.

"Sasuke, hey!" Naruto suddenly popped up in front of him, forcing Sasuke to take a step back in surprise. With a growl, he bonked the boy on the head, believing it to be a shadow clone, but was mildly surprised when instead of Naruto popping into oblivion; he winced and rubbed at the top of his head.

"Well, that was rude, wasn't it Sasuke?" Naruto asked rhetorically, with a reproving look on his face. Sasuke snorted, but looked away for a minute before his eyes flickered back to Naruto's. Naruto hid a smile at that action, because he knew it meant Sasuke was feeling almost sorry.

"And that's an improvement from him not caring at all!" Rin piped up optimistically.

"What do you want, Naruto?" Sasuke grunted, watching his teammate straighten up and look at both Shino and him with a look of triumph.

"Sasuke, Shino, I have a favor to ask of you. But first, I have to explain something." Naruto said quietly, motioning the boys to come closer, so that they wouldn't be overheard, just in case the other Naruto's couldn't keep the others away.

"A couple nights ago, after my first bridge sentry duty, I was thinking about the whole situation in Nami . . . about Gato. And, I was thinking about our impending confrontation with Zabuza and his accomplice. I was thinking, how . . . a fight wasn't really necessary, that we could avoid conflict with Zabuza and the addition, as well as perhaps figure out a solution to Gato."

"Gato, Uzumaki-san? Would his business with Nami not be finished if we thwarted Zabuza, thus allowing the bridge to be completed?" Shino asked, head tilting just ever so slightly to the side.

"Heh, for a man with money and a soul black as dirt, it would merely be a bump in the plan." Jiraiya snorted derisively.

Naruto shook his head. "Would it really? Perhaps he would back down a bit from Nami once the people's morale was heightened, but what if he just saw it as a minor setback? His campaign against Nami would be even worse than it is now. Or what if he sets his sights on another place? One that might have a relation to Konoha, and affect us?"

Sasuke snorted. "Highly unlikely, and even if it were so, I doubt the repercussions for Konoha would be that bad. If he became too much trouble, then we could always kill him."

"The popular fallback of every shinobi." Kushina quipped.

"Why wait?" Naruto asked even more quietly than before, face grave.

Sasuke's eyes narrowed at the same time Shino stiffened slightly. Was Naruto actually saying . . . ?

"Uzumaki-san, what are you asking of us?" Shino asked, and though his eyes were hidden behind sunglasses, Naruto fancied they were gazing straight through him to his very soul.

Naruto stared at each of them levelly, his voice cold. "Sasuke, Shino, will you accompany me on a recon and assassination mission to Gato's hideout?"

Sasuke's eyes widened as he ran the words through his head again. They were going on a recon and assassination mission?

"Field trip!" Obito called out.

Why is this being asked of us, if we are only genin? Why is Naruto asking us this, and not Kakashi? Sasuke wondered shrewdly.

"Naruto, what is your involvement in this? Shouldn't Kakashi be telling us this?" Sasuke asked.

Naruto chewed on his bottom lip, wondering how this would go over with the power-hungry boy.

"Well, there's a first time for everything." Rin muttered hopefully.

"Well, it's because technically, I'm the leader of this mission . . . for you guys anyway. When I brought it up to Kakashi-sensei, once he approved it he named me team leader, though he will be coming with us and lending his advice."

Sasuke sneered, and opened his mouth to tell Naruto exactly what he thought of having to follow someone like him, when—

"You and your glass half-full mentality." Obito nagged at Rin.

"Pot meet kettle." Kakashi supplied, smirking at the dirty look thrown to him by Obito.

"It seems fair, as you were the one to think the furthest ahead of all of us. Additionally, Kakashi-sensei will be with us, so if any mistakes were made he'd let us know or help us correct them, yes?" Shino asked, logic acute as always.

Naruto nodded, the uncomfortable knot in his chest loosening a bit with, what seemed to be Shino's approval. "Yes, and beforehand he'll be telling us the mission objective and any tips or some such we can use."

"Can't wait to hear that." Jiraiya muttered, grinning when Tsunade nudged him in the side with her elbow.

Sasuke suddenly thought of something, and had to ask. "Naruto, who was it that chose this team?"

Ah, an opportunity, and one Naruto all but pounced on. "I chose this team to accompany me." He said simply.

Shino quirked one eyebrow, shock as far as Naruto was concerned. Sasuke's reaction was a bit more pronounced; a raised eyebrow along with his jaw going slightly slack, but not enough to look gawping.

"You chose us?" Sasuke repeated, feeling surprise, smugness, and some suspicion.

"Because my sochi is the bigger man, that's why." Kushina said firmly, brushing back strands of red hair from over her shoulder.

"The better question is, why?" Shino asked.

"Did an Aburame just make a joke?" Kushina asked in shock.

Naruto turned with amused incredulity to Shino. "Did you just make a joke? Nevermind, what's important is answering the question. I chose you two because of your exceptional caliber in the ninja arts, as well as the fact that I know you two can get the jobs done— no matter what the job might be." The last statement was added as an afterthought, but the dangerous edge to his voice lent verification to the fact that it was by no means the least important.

Shino and Sasuke understood immediately, and nodded with tight faces . . . or at least, Naruto thought Shino's face had tightened.

"When will this be?" Sasuke cut to the chase, excitement and the desire to prove himself coursing through his veins.

"By tomorrow night, if all goes well. I don't think I need to impress upon you the importance of keeping this confidential?" Naruto asked them with a cocked brow, satisfied when they answered with negatives in a serious, curt manner.

"Good." He said. Then, just as suddenly as he popped up, Naruto whirled around and was lost in the sea of passing clones and workers, all laughing and working hard.

"He's been so much like sensei this chapter!" Rin squealed.

"Hasn't he? I'm not sure who he has more of in him— Kushina or Minato." Jiraiya said reflectively.

The two genin blinked, before Sasuke clucked his tongue and resumed his guard duty, same with Shino. Unbeknownst to the two, Kakashi also slipped back into his guard position after having heard their favorable answers, as well as some good fortune from his clones.

He had found Gato's headquarters.

"It's down to the last stretch now." Tsunade murmured, leaning her elbow on the back of the couch and holding her head up.

Several hours later they had returned back to Tazuna's home, the man himself in high spirits. With the help of Naruto's clones, they had gotten a week's worth of work done in a day. And, as Naruto assured him, since now the clones would know what to do, they could get even more work accomplished tomorrow!

"Hooray for mass production!" Obito whooped.

"Hooray for big businesses!" Rin chimed in.

"Boo." The others cried at the two genin.

"Yes indeed, with that bridge bringing in new life to this little country, I'll pay double what I owe to the Hokage!" Tazuna boasted as he dug into his dinner that night at the table. Both genin teams were present, with the exception of Kiba, though he was looking better than he had at the beginning of the day.

"I'm sure the Hokage will be most pleased." Kakashi said pleasantly. Though his genin were keeping an eagle eye on the man, they couldn't see him remove his mask at all— and yet somehow, little by little, food was disappearing.

"Kami that's annoying." Obito muttered.

"Hmm? You say something?" Kakashi asked the boy, hiding his grin when the boy turned an interesting shade of red from anger.

"Neat trick." Naruto commented.

Kakashi chuckled. "Funny, a little firebird told me the same thing."

Naruto raised an eyebrow at the strange comment, but let it slide and returned to trying to coax some sort of conversation out of Inari. The little boy was proving very stubborn in his surly silence, but he would win!

"Aw, he's so cute." Rin and Kushina cooed.

"Which one are you talking about?" Minato wondered with a grin.

"Excuse me, Tsunami-san, but that picture . . . it looks like someone has been torn out of it." Naruto looked up to see Sakura pointing at a picture on the far wall, a family portrait it seemed; Tazuna, and a man who had his arms around Inari and Tsunami . . . but the face of that man had been torn out.

"That's a strange thing to do." Obito grumbled.

"Jilted lover?" Kushina wondered.

"Debt collectors?" Jiraiya mused, pointedly looking away from his teammate.

"Traumatic death?" Tsunade asked, though it seemed more of a threat, as she looked pointedly at Jiraiya.

Still, it was rude of Sakura to ask about something that was clearly personal to the family, if the man's face had been ripped out of the picture. To his surprise, Tsunami answered his teammate in a voice that was quiet and sadder than any he had heard her speak in before.

"That picture once held the face of Inari's father . . . his name was Kaiza." The morose look on her face prompted Naruto to send a dirty look to his pink-haired teammate, who flinched as she realized she had stepped on a landmine.

"Well, children can often be rather blunt, she shouldn't feel so bad." Tsunade said knowingly.

Tazuna, also more grave than the others were accustomed to, added, "He was known as the hero of this city."

SLAM! Inari pushed away from the table, hopping off the chair and stomping away and up the stairs. Tsunami called out to him worriedly, getting up to go after him. Just before she hit the stairs, she rounded on Tazuna with a ferocious expression.

"Father! I've told you countless times not to bring that man up!" With that last biting scolding, Tsunami rushed up the stairs.

"Oh, so he must have died." Kushina commiserated with a somber look.

"I'm guessing the manner in which he died must not have been pleasant at all." Minato said softly.

Tazuna sighed heavily, taking a swig from his ever-present sake bottle.

"The hero of the city? Sounds like a promising tale." Naruto said softly.

Tazuna snorted a droll grin on weather-chapped lips. "Well, it is, in a way . . . the story of why exactly Inari doesn't believe in heroes anymore. I'll tell you the tale of Kaiza: our hero of the land."

"Like most little boys, his daddy was his hero. But when he realized his father was not invincible, he stopped believing that the world could be better than what it is now." Tsunade summarized sadly, feeling empathy for the little boy. How many times had she felt like that after Nawaki, and then Dan, had died?

And what a tale it was, Naruto thought to himself later on in the cover of darkness. As everyone else slept, he remained awake as he ran through the details of the story one more time. Kaiza was a fisherman who had come to Wave seeking his fortune. Instead, he had gotten something greater— the love and admiration of a little boy, and eventually a family. Inari and Taiza, while not blood-related, were completely a father-and-son duo. Kaiza also became a hero to the town, his heroic actions and brave spirit giving the town someone to look up to.

"Sounds like an admirable man." Jiraiya commended the man.

That all changed though, with Gato's arrival. Gato began a slow, but sure siege of Nami. Kaiza was one of the few brave ones to try and stop Gato, but the people had only realized it while it was too late: when Kaiza was put to death in front of the entire town by Gato. After cutting off his arms he was beheaded . . . and right in front of Inari.

"Sick bastard!" Obito hissed.

Rin couldn't even say anything, her hand pressed to her mouth in horror as tears filled her eyes. The others could do naught but bow their heads in sorrow for the pain the little boy must have felt . . . and was still going through.

Naruto's fists clenched in anger as he thought about it. What sort of monster would do that, and put a child through that too? The amount of suffering the town had been put through . . . what Tazuna and his family had been put through . . .

Naruto could hardly wait for tomorrow night.

The next morning, there wasn't as much bustle and liveliness at the table as there had been on other days, especially since Kiba was still down, although able to move around much better. The tragic story of Kaiza was settled into their hearts, and the lack of Inari's and Tsunami's presence that morning only heightened it. Well, the latter was Naruto's doing, as he had insisted that Tsunami stay with Inari, while he cooked breakfast.

"Considerate child." Kushina murmured with a soft smile.

They ate quickly, though the others thanked Naruto for cooking, and it was Kakashi this time who stayed behind to guard the house, along with Shino, Hinata, and Kiba. Kurenai took the rest of them to the bridge, where she was treated to the rare (for now) sight of two-hundred eighty clones working around the bridge— hammering, nailing, toiling away, and with a professionalism she hadn't thought a twelve-year old would possess.

When she asked Naruto, he said, "The clones learned this yesterday, so they can do a better job of it now, and learn new things."

"Ah, so you know about that little trick of the shadow clones." Kurenai said, sitting atop the pile of metal beams next to Naruto.

Naruto laughed. "Yes and what a wonder it's been. Can you imagine how much training I could get done with these clones? Months of work done in days with the right amount of clones!"

Kushina pretended to wipe a bit of drool from the side of her mouth. "Ah, the sheer idea is tempting . . ."

Kakashi snorted, while Obito shouted, "Why doesn't everyone do that then?!"

"No one, save perhaps the jinchuurikis, can handle that kind of mental stress from so much information, even if you were very careful about it. Even Naruto must be careful not to overdo it, the mind is a delicate thing." Tsunade lectured in a forbidding tone of voice, letting the kids know that they were not to attempt it.

"Well, wouldn't push it too far Naruto; if you overload your mind, it can be fatal." Kurenai cautioned.

"As if Kyuubi would let that happen." He whispered to her, winking. Kurenai just barely stopped from stiffening at the mention of that dreaded beast. Not that she begrudged the boy his burden, but that night stood out forever in her mind as one of stark horror. Before she could get too lost on memory lane, Naruto's voice pulled her out of it.

"Kurenai-sensei, would it be impertinent of me to ask you about yourself, as a friend of Anko-nee's?" Naruto asked her.

Kurenai blinked twice. The question wasn't that odd, but somehow it struck her as being so.

"Probably because it was asked so politely." Kakashi said in amusement.

"Impertinent? Who says that anymore, I ask you?" Obito asked.

After a moment, she answered.

"No, that's fine. I've actually been rather curious about you and your friend." Kurenai confessed, smiling at the boy.

Naruto smiled. "Question for a question then?"

"Sure." Kurenai agreed, before starting off. "You're a very polite boy for one so young, Naruto, especially considering . . . well, I just wondered how that was so? It couldn't have been Anko."

"Decidedly not. It is actually all the doing of my best friend, Katsu. We took . . . lessons together, tea ceremony, calligraphy, and such. I was so busy learning, I never had the time to fly off the handle as I used to when I was small. Though as I'm sure you've guessed, the old Uzumaki Temper is never far away.

"The old Uzumaki Temper?" Minato repeated, struggling to control the massive grin on his face as he looked down at his lover.

Kushina shrugged with no small amount of reluctance. "Well . . . it is rather legendary in some parts of Water Country. Or rather, it was."

"No, still is." Jiraiya assured her, snorting when Kushina stuck her tongue out at him.

"My turn now— when did you and Anko-nee become friends?"

Kurenai laughed softly. "Well, we were school mates back in the Academy, but we never mingled together much. She was much different back then . . . we didn't really start to hang out until a long time after Orochimaru defected— I know she told you, so don't give me that shocked face— when we were part of the same Chuunin guard squad. Having to be together all those days, guarding the gate, we just . . . started talking, and from there that was that.

"So . . . what is your favorite memory with Katsu?" Kurenai switched it up by asking about a subject that was dear to his heart.

"Which one isn't" Obito simpered.

"You laugh now, but its lines like that, that get you laid my young friend." Jiraiya said with a perverted grin— one that was quickly smashed in by Tsunade's fist.

"Ah . . . such a question I don't think I can answer. The first one that comes to mind though is when she baked me a birthday cake all by herself. Nami-baba— that was her baa-chan— told me that she combed the eastern and western section of Konoha for orange icing for the cake." He laughed softly, warmth sparkling in his eyes.

"Your turn now." He smiled, turning those sparkling blues on her.

They asked more questions of each other, Kurenai making sure to ask a healthy amount of questions concerning Katsu— she was curious about the girl, to be sure, but she did it mostly to see that wide, almost goofy smile light up his face like a sparkler.

Team Minato coughed in unsion, Obito going so far as to double over and have his hand flop onto the table with a finger curiously pointed at Minato.

"Oh, it's laps for all of you when we get back home." Minato promised, smiling at their immediate protests.

In turn, he asked her questions about her genjutsu, Anko, and some embarrassing stories told by the damn Snake Mistress which she vowed to get revenge over.

Eventually, and with new information on construction, Naruto and the others trooped back to the house. When Naruto moved into the living room, having been firmly barred from the kitchen by a giggling Tsunami, he found himself corralled in by Sasuke and Shino. Well, that was an exaggeration, but he felt that way. Shino had sat on the far end of the couch, but he could feel a sort of tension buzzing around him like the kukaichu under the covered boys' skin. Sasuke stood by the window in the wall behind the couch, but occasionally he would attempt to bore holes in Naruto's back with his stare.

"Maybe they're not as stealthy as he thought . . ." Tsunade sniggered.

"Kami help them on this mission." Kakashi muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose.

Naruto wanted to tell them to clear off, but he had more restraint than that, and just settled for ignoring them best as he could while reading up on an a way to time the explosion on an exploding tag, as well as make something other than fire explode out of them. It was most intriguing.

"Why, kami, why?! Why did he have to learn about advanced exploding tags?!" Obito sobbed, banging the coffee table with his fists.

For seemingly no reason at all, the other Konoha nins found shivers going down their spines, and a sense of foreboding filling them.

"You should be afraid." Kushina confirmed with a wicked smile.

After two additional chapters, Tsunami called them in for dinner, which they all took with gratitude, sinking into the chairs of the kitchen. Inari was, once again, not present. Dinner was a bit more cheerful than breakfast, but still somewhat subdued. The only meaningful thing that took place was the pointed look Kakashi gave Naruto as he said, "Best not to overload yourself by reading so much at once Naruto."

"Hmm . . . the jury is out on that one." Jiraiya decided, not sure how that hidden message would rank with other standard ones.

"Hope remains." Kakashi muttered sarcastically.

Naruto grinned sheepishly as he closed the fuuinjutsu book and put it in his skin seal. "I can't help it; I want to do so much!"

Shino and Sasuke caught the hidden message, but said nothing, revealed nothing in their body language. Soon dinner was done with, and the kitchen was cleaned quickly. The hours after dinner were the most nerve wracking. Naruto sometimes felt like the others somehow had an inkling of their plans, and were staying up purposely.

"Pre-assassination jitters; remember when we used to get them Jiraiya?" Tsunade asked her teammate.

"Yeah . . . the good old days." Jiraiya said in nostalgia, a wistful smile playing across his lips.

His fears were unfounded though, as eventually it was decided they would all wash up and head to bed.

After a while, and some arguments between Sasuke and he, the lights went out and the people inside the house lay down to sleep. Naruto, Sasuke, and Shino as well, figuring some sleep no matter how small was better than none.

"Heh, they were smarter than me . . . I was so keyed up I couldn't sleep." Kakashi mumbled to himself, so quietly he was sure no one would catch it. Unfortunately for him, Minato did.

"When the hell did you go on an assassination mission?!" Minato demanded sharply, and Kakashi flinched.

"Uh . . . moving on." He muttered hurriedly.

At midnight, though Naruto didn't know that, he was awoken by a hand on his shoulder. He looked up from the hand, to the arm it was connected to, and saw his sensei looking down at him with a smile.

"Time to go, Naruto." Kakashi whispered. At Naruto's nod, he got up and went over to Sasuke, who jerked awake as soon as he was touched. Both boys, dressed into their clothes as quickly as they could without making any noise. Kakashi slipped out while they were doing so to retrieve Shino.

After dressing and double-checking their kit, Naruto and Sasuke ghosted out the door, meeting up with Kakashi and Shino in the hallway, and then creeping down the hallway to the window Naruto had used earlier that week to sneak out. One by one, they dropped from the window to the ground.

"Kakashi-sensei, what about the window?" Naruto asked him. Kakashi looked up, as they did as well, to see Kurenai look down on them with a heavy look.

"Good luck." She whispered, throwing one last look to Kakashi, before moving back into the house and closing the window softly.

"A warning if you come back with those kids in worse condition than when they left." Kushina translated, throwing her own look to Kakashi.

"If Naruto is anything like you—which we know he is— then that's a tall order." Kakashi admitted nervously.

Kakashi turned back to them. "Move out."

On that command, he leapt into the trees, the boys following. They leapt through the trees quickly, melding into the shadows and avoiding any patches of light— well, Kakashi did that for the genins' benefit.

"Now, when we get to the headquarters, you are to follow the orders of your team leader, who I have designated as Naruto. However, I will give you signals to look out for throughout the mission should I deem them necessary." Kakashi said quietly, knowing the others would hear it as they were so close.

"Hai." They all responded in hushed tones. Their trek through the forest continued, and by the time Shino started slowing down from the amount of chakra he was using, Naruto was starting to grow concerned. Then, Kakashi halted, and they were barely able to stop in time not to overshoot him.

"Alright, we're here." Kakashi said. The boys turned to survey the compound . . . which looked more like a vacation spot. Naruto sneered at the obnoxious display of wealth, when not too far there lay an entire town wasting away from hunger and death. Sure there were the expected guards milling around the grounds, and gates, and probably even more thugs inside than they knew. But for all that, everything else was lavish, sophisticated . . . and gaudy.

"So . . . let's go over some things." Kakashi said pleasantly, eyes twinkling with mischief.

"And that's the end of the chapter." Kakashi announced, closing the book with a snap.

"Good, now you and I can discuss what it was you said earlier." Minato said with a cold smile.

"Uh, yeah . . . I'm really tired so—" Kakashi choked on his next word as Minato's hand shot out to grab his collar.

"Now." Was all Minato said, but that was all he needed to.

"We're, um . . . . just going to go ahead." Rin said, backing away like the rest of them.

"Traitors." Kakashi growled, glaring at the others as they quickly scampered into their rooms. With an audible gulp, he turned slowly under Minato's hand, gazing up with trepidation into his sensei's stern face.

"Now . . . I know for a fact that only jounin do assassinations . . . and you're still a Chuunin Kakashi. Mind explaining things to me?" Kami strike him down if that smile wasn't the scariest thing Kakashi had ever seen.

Alright, review and let me know what you think! Your support is, as always, greatly appreciated.


Blood Velvet ~3