It was the 26th of December when Naruto and what he'd collectively dubbed Kabuto's spouse since the term interchangeably applied to all members of Kabuto's team reached the Gates of Suna. The day was far colder than he would've expected for a desert, but then again Suna was High Desert. If it had rained more often, Suna would likely have seen snow. Since it rarely rained, Suna didn't have or see snow. Fortunately, Naruto had brought cold weather gear as well as his rain gear, both of which he might need considering the fact that the Winter was Suna's rainy season. What little there was of it.

The trip to the Kazekage's residence/administration building was relatively uneventful if one discounted the stares and the occasional ninja backtracking and following them again so they could get an extra stare in. While Naruto found the fact that the majority of attention was directed at him annoying, it wasn't nearly as bad as things in Konoha had been when he was little. In Konoha, he had been either completely ignored or glared at with few exceptions. The most notable of these having been the Old Man, Iruka-sensei, and his quasi-friends from the Academy. Things had improved over the last two years, but he still received the occasional glare from the civilians who wanted far less to do with him than his average colleague.

Naruto and the team he was subbing on eventually reached Suna's administration complex in order to check in and the stares from random passers-by were replaced by stares from Sunagakure's administration ninja. The stares were joined by glares from a ninja team from Iwagakure that had arrived at the same time that they did. Fortunately, the desk Chunin whose job it was to sign them in had stopped staring at him long enough to check the team in, give them their information packets, and send them on their way. As they were exiting the building, Naruto spotted Gaara walking past.

"Sensei, may I...?" Naruto asked.

"Have fun." Naruto's substitute Sensei replied. "Just remember to meet us back at our accommodations at curfew."

"And, remember to knock first!" Yoroi added.

Shuddering, Naruto replied "I will!".

"God, I will." Naruto muttered under his breath, remembering the time he'd accidentally interrupted a tender embrace between Yoroi and the team's "Sensei". There were things you could never unsee.

"Hey Gaara, wait up!" Naruto yelled when he'd realized that Gaara was disappearing into the distance and that he would lose the other Jinchurriki if he didn't catch up with him soon.

Sasuke dabbed at his split lip, cursing the day that Naruto had brought him to Utatane Koharu's attention. Thanks to the little "lesson" Naruto had volunteered him for, the woman seemed to have it out for him. He'd encountered the woman twice since that "lesson". The first time, he could've sworn he'd heard the old bitch call him a "little shit" under her breath. The second time, which had been when his sensei had dragged him and Sakura to the tower to get an assignment today, the woman had decided that she didn't like the look he was giving her and had decided that a repeat of his "lesson" would be in order.

His only warning that he would again be "benefiting from the wisdom the great Utatane Koharu had gained through extensive experience" had been when she'd shushined to a spot that was two inches in front of his face and batted him into the far wall. Koharu had then explained why you don't give the enemy any warning that you are about to attack while she thoroughly trounced him, making his defeat look completely effortless on her part despite the fact that he was mid-Chunin skillwise.

The "lesson" had ended when the Hokage had calmly and quietly pointed out that the Mission Assignment desk wasn't the proper venue for such a lesson and suggested that they take it out to one of the training grounds since that was what they were there for. It was after the lesson had ended that Sasuke had learned that the source of the pain he was in was the result of a black eye, as split lip, and numerous bruises all over his body. He had excused himself to a nearby restroom to deal with the split lip so he wouldn't have to go through the embarrassment of walking all the way across town with blood dripping down his chin.

As he added an anti-septic to the wound on his lip that hurt his pride more than anything else, he was startled by a loud pounding on the bathroom door.

"Hurry it up in there!" Sasuke's completely unsympathetic sensei yelled. "We have a mission to complete!"

"Get your hand off of my wallet Satoshi!" Kurosaki Hiro yelled as he stabbed down towards the pocket that contained his wallet with the kunai he normally kept tucked in the sleeve of his coat.

"How did you know it was me?" Kamiya Satoshi asked as he pulled his hand out of Kurosaki's pocket an instant before it would've been stabbed, causing Kurosaki to stab his wallet.

"Since we're on a mission, you're the only pickpocket for miles who's dumb enough to try stealing from a ninja" Kurosaki replied, scowling down at the newly made hole in his pocket and the evidence that the wallet wasn't quite as advertised as the kunai had dented the special metal plate that was supposed to hold up to such things.

"Well, there's always next time." Satoshi said cheerfully.

"Next time, I'll get that special explosive tag working properly, and you'll be missing fingers." Kurosaki grumbled.

"Say," Satoshi said, moving the conversation on to another topic before this one ended in a fight. "Do you think that Naruto's reached Suna by now?"

"He should be, unless those overaged Genin have held him up." Kurosaki replied, almost wincing at Naruto's misfortune at being on a team of five time losers. Considering the fact that Kabuto was pretty much the best ninja on that team, things weren't looking good for Naruto's chances of promotion.

"I hear that the gambling pool for the Chunin Exams opens early outside of the villages." Satoshi said, getting that look in his eyes that usually preceded the loss of a good deal of money on his part. Satoshi was a gambler, and not a very good one at that. He wasn't as bad as the Legendary Sucker, and could occasionally recoup his losses. But, for the most part, he lost money and frequently had to get more through either fair means or foul.

"We don't have time to stop." Kurosaki replied. "We need to get this mission done quickly so we can finish up our remedial homework for the week."

"Damn Naruto." Satoshi grumbled. "We're Chunin, and we're stuck dong Academy stuff because he had to go and catch that traitor."

"It's not all bad," Kurosaki replied. "I've finally learned why that one explosive tag I'd been trying to make since I graduated the Academy kept failing."

"You and your explosive tags." Satoshi grumbled.

"Meh, it's a safer hobby than pickpocketing Ninjas." Kurosaki replied before giving Satoshi a playful shove.

Despite the little thieving habit that kept him on his toes, Satoshi was someone Kurosaki could relax around. They'd been friends Before, and Satoshi had been there and lost friends that day too, so he understood better than anyone else their age. It had taken him a long time to reach the point where he could roughhouse with Satoshi like he'd used to though.

Satoshi shoved Kurosaki back, and the fight that ensued was a great deal more playful than it would've been had it started earlier when Kurosaki had caught trying to steal his wallet. Again.

Kamizuki Suzume did her best to keep the grin off her face as she anticipated what was coming next. Today, she wasn't escorting a client or playing ranger at a nature preserve. Technically, she should be heading home from a just completed mission, but she'd spotted an opportunity for revenge when she'd run into a certain white-haired pervert by chance, and had decided to take it.

She'd shamelessly cribbed Naruto's notes when she'd built the trap, but since she knew it was one of Naruto's improvements on one of Madara's designs, she knew that it was one of the best in the world.

Just a little closer...Closer...Closer...



"I believe this belongs to you." A singed and leering Jiraiya said as he appeared in front of Suzume and handed her the bra she'd used to bait the trap.

Losing all control of her temper, Suzume launched herself at Jiraiya, intent on killing him with her bare hands. It had taken her hours to set up that trap!

Adding insult to injury, Jiraiya not only proved how much a Sannin outclassed a mere Chunin, but he showed that he wasn't taking the fight anywhere near seriously as he spent more time practically groping her than actually fighting, and ended the whole farce by tying her to a tree with the bra she'd tried to trap him with.

One day, Suzume swore as she struggled to get her hands free from the bra that Jiraiya had somehow tampered with during the short encounter. One day, I'm going to bring that pervert down, or my name isn't Kamizuki Suzume!

Jiraiya grinned as he perched himself well away from the young Kunoichi who would soon free herself once she figured out how to break the seal he'd put on her bra. The kid had potential and would be going places if she ever got her temper in check. For now though, she'd given him tons of material to work with. Of course he would be editing out the part where the young Kunoichi had screamed "DIE PERVERT, DIE!", as that didn't fit with the tone of his books. But, the trap baited with a bra was prime material.

Gaara honestly wasn't sure how to react. There had been a time when he would've begged and pleaded for someone his age to play with him rather than run for the hills. That time had long since passed. Now, long after that time had passed, there was someone who was following HIM around, begging him to come and play with him. That someone was the Kyuubi Jinchurriki, which was causing his mother to give him some seriously mixed signals, but still...

The only reason he hadn't killed the pest that continued to follow him around and ended his dilemma before he had to think about it too much had been because it wasn't worth the lecture he'd get from his father over starting a war. If he killed Konoha's Jinchurriki on Suna's soil, there was absolutely no question there would be a war. A war that Suna wasn't prepared for, because his father had dropped Suna's forces back to pre-buildup levels until he figured out how to respond to Konoha's increasing militarization which made the village look less and less like the easy pickings that the Kazekage had been counting on when he'd started arranging the plot to invade Konoha in order to regain Suna's standing and bring more funding and missions back to the village.

"Come on, you're clearly not busy" stated the blond haired Jinchuriki who was still trailing three feet behind him despite the fact that he'd made it clear that he was giving him the cold shoulder. "We've walked around the village three times already and you haven't said one word about being on a mission."

"No." Gaara flatly stated for what had seemed like the millionth time since Naruto had started trailing after him, inviting and later begging him to come and play. The time for playing had passed. The time for seeking love and friendship had long passed. People had proven themselves to be utterly untrustworthy bastards. His purpose was to kill those who would confirm his existence, not to run around playing hide-and-seek or whatever with Konoha's Jinchurriki.