Auburn and Gold

Arc I, Childhood: For Learning

Synopsis: A Chunin kunoichi from Konoha dies from elemental chakra poisoning during the Fourth Shinobi World War, only to be given a opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to change everything. Time Travel, AU, Tenten-centric

Kushina snickers at Hikari and Tenten's identically deadpan faces, and Takashi's eye is twitching as she saunters towards the food stand.

"Really, sensei? We eat here at least twice a week!" Takashi grumbles. "You could've at least taken us to eat yakiniku or something, geez... Treat us, my ass."

Kushina only chuckles at his mumbling. Their last mission, a low-ranked courier job, marked the one-year anniversary of the formation of Team 6 - and as a celebration for surviving one year as a team Kushina offers promises of delicious food, her treat.

Of course, it's more of a treat to her than to her students, but her little Genin know better than to call her out on her little scheme.

"Yakiniku, really? And let you three eat me out of house and home? No thanks." She smirks at the disgruntled looks of her genin team, plopping down into one of the bar stools. "The usual, Teuchi-san!"

"Coming right up, Kushina-san," the older man says, and as her students place their orders the redhead's smile drops, a hand toying with the folded pamphlets in her pocket.

Running a finger over the glossy, thick paper, she wonders if she is overestimating her students. Or rather, if the Hokage is overestimating them, and in turn, overestimating her.

Kushina's relationship with Sarutobi Hiruzen may be one of easy camaraderie, even (dare she say it?) father and daughter - but it doesn't change the fact that what he asks of her is too high. And it's even worse, because the risk of failure that it brings will come at the price of her students.

When Teuchi places her order in front of her, Kushina begins to eat slowly, the flavor of the noodles and broth lost on her as she loses herself in her thoughts. War is coming, Kushina... We need a new squad, a better one... and your Genin are the best suited, a voice says, the echoes of the Hokage's voice ringing in her head. I'm sorry.

Kushina has few memories of the last shinobi war, but she recalls the role of the ShoKo-tai ninja with no small amount of pity. They were, in essence, the frontmost line of assault, trained to fight in specific combat environments with all the power of a close combat team and the finesse of a tracking/scouting squad - requirements that her personal team of Genin fit perfectly.

Kushina closes her eyes, her bowl of ramen half-eaten in front of her as she looks at the three children next to her. She watches Hikari eat with stately grace, trading sarcastic quips with Tenten, while Takashi keeps score on his dirty napkin. Children, she thinks sadly, because that is all they really are.

There was a saying in her time at the Academy, when she was taught the different types of team formations Konoha utilized - one that made her vow to never be part of the ShoKo-tai, but the maudlin words play in her head automatically, her memory supplying the sickeningly cheerful tune to the rhyme:

And the ShoKo-tai, in red and white;

Protecting by day, hidden by night.

But for all they try, for all their might,

They are first to die - and first to fight.

"Sensei?" a voice breaks through her daze, and she blinks. A glance at her students shows they are looking at her with varying degrees of concern, their empty dishes already swept away, while her own bowl is still half full, lukewarm and still.

"You're all done then? Let's go," she says, managing to smile, before she pushes her bowl away from her and lays out enough bills for everyone's meal plus a hefty tip. A quick thanks to Teuchi and she's striding away from the stand, her Genin following after her.

There is something wrong.

Well, not wrong, per say, but there's... something.

It's a gut feeling at first, one that settled in Tenten's stomach earlier in the day, but her unease is heightened when Kushina walks away from the food stand without finishing her bowl of ramen.

Ever since meeting Kushina the day genin squad formations were formed, Tenten had never seen the woman not finish a bowl - or sometimes, bowls - of ramen. That is, until now.

"Uh, are you guys kinda freaked out too, or is it just me?" Takashi asks, shifting his weight on the balls of his feet. He's nearly vibrating with nervousness and tension, as the the three of them follow Kushina from a distance of at least three body lengths.

"Sensei's nervous," Hikari says, her eyes trained on Kushina's back. "She kept touching something in her pocket during lunch."

Hikari's tone is telling where her face isn't, and Tenten glances at the Hyuuga. "You think she's going to dump us?"

Hikari hums. It's as good of an answer as Tenten will get, but she still knows what her teammate doesn't say. I don't know. Maybe.

"Maybe the Hokage wants her on some mission or something?" Takashi speculates, his voice quiet.

Tenten knows Kushina is listening when the lines of her shoulders tense ever so slightly. "Or maybe... maybe it has something to do with us?"

A muscle on the side of Kushina's neck jumps. There.

Takashi and Hikari notice it too, because they both fall silent. Minutes later, Kushina stops in an empty park and turns to face them, her expression indecipherable as she pulls three pamphlets from her pocket, slightly crumpled and worn. The kanji on the thick paper, dark and bold, jump out as Tenten reads the words.

"Sensei, what-?"

"Read it first, Takashi," Kushina says, her voice uncharacteristically quiet. "Then we can talk."

Tenten's eyes scan the contents of the paper quickly, and the gut-dropping feeling in her stomach doubles in intensity as the words swim in her vision.

Name: Shoki-sento Machibuse Kogeki-tai (Initial Combat-Ambush Attack Squad)

Purposes: Defeat enemy ninja near or within lost territories affiliated/allied with the Fire Nation, hold and defend territory until reinforcements arrive.

Specializations: Primary specializations include close quarters combat, assassination, and ambush. Secondary specializations include scouting, tracking, stealth, trapping, survival, reconnaissance, and basic interrogation.

Duties: Patrolling the Fire Country's borders under the specific purpose of capturing enemy border posts, destroying enemy camps, eliminating enemy groups near or within Fire Country territory.

Training Requirements: Specified combat conditioning required for missions in the following terrain environments: arctic (Yuki no Kuni, Mizu no Kuni, Tetsu no Kuni), aquatic (Nami no Kuni, Mizu no Kuni), torrential rain (Ame no Kuni), jungle/forest (Kusa no Kuni, Hi no Kuni, Taki no Kuni), mountain (Tsuchi no Kuni, Kanimari no Kuni), desert (Kaze no Kuni), wetland (Ta no Kuni), and plains (Kusa no Kuni).

"Heh, I knew you weren't going to give us the boot!" Takashi laughs cheerfully. "Are we finally picking our team specialization, sensei? 'Cause I always thought it'd be pretty awesome if we were one of those stealth specialist teams-"

"Scouting would suit our skills better," Hikari cut in, her voice sharp. "With my Byakugan, Takashi's sensor skills, and Tenten's long-range support, we'd be better suited to a reconnaissance squad, or even a tracking and survival team. "

The Hyuuga girl looks at Kushina closely, and says deliberately, delicately: "Sensei, why did you only give us this pamphlet?"

"Because you're only going to need this one." Kushina's smile is both sad and regretful. "I'm afraid you... we, don't have much of a choice. As of today? We're officially registered as a ShoKo-tai squad."

I'm sorry.

There is stunned silence on Takashi's face, stoic grimness on Hikari's, and a odd sort of sad acceptance on Tenten's. By the looks of their dazed eyes, they are recounting memories of the morbid rhyme from the Academy - Takashi is even muttering the words to himself out loud, looking paler and paler with each passing moment.

Kushina can't help the feeling of anger bubbling in her stomach at the expressions of her Genin team, and forces the words from her mouth.

"Shoki-sento machibuse kogeki-tai," Kushina says, her mouth set in a grim line. "As the pamphlet says, initial combat-ambush attack squad, colloquially called ShoKo-tai amongst the ninja ranks. After the last war, Hokage-sama deactivated all remaining ShoKo-tai squads and distributed squad members to different departments within Konoha's ranks. But with the current... conflicts going on lately, he has deemed it necessary to reactivate the ShoKo-tai squads."

"If Hokage-sama is reactivating the program, then why us?" Takashi asks quietly, needlessly. He knows why.

"He believes that you three are most suited for the role." Kushina closes her eyes, exhaling slowly. "He..."

"He wanted this from the beginning," Tenten interrupts, her eyes darting through blank space, searching through details nobody could see but her. "That's he put us together. That's why you're our sensei... he planned it all along, didn't he?"

Kushina nodded reluctantly. "After the events of the birthday celebrations of Hokage-sama's son, it was obvious that there was something more serious going on than some rogue ninja looking for some quick cash. When he started to pick teams, he put the three of you together not only because your skills complemented each other but also because you all had the potential to be a great ShoKo-tai squad - potential that he... urged me to bring out and cultivate."

There is a flash of hurt and anger on Hikari's face, and Kushina can see gears twisting in the Hyuuga girl's brain as she hisses, "You knew and you didn't - ?!"

"If I knew, I would've told you," she says blandly. I didn't know. Kushina can't stop the bitterness from leaking through her voice either - realizing she was being played the entire time, by a grandfather-figure nonetheless, cut deeper than she thought it would. "Hokage-sama informed me of the team specialization today."

"So what now?" Tenten asks. Takashi - and Hikari, surprisingly - send the bun-haired girl twin looks of incredulousness at the seemingly nonchalant reaction, but Kushina sees the effect the news has on her last student. Tenten's hand is loose at her side, red under her fingernails and crescent moons in her palms, as the other clenches the crumpled pamphlet in a tight, vice-grip.

The girl smiles wanly, and says, "We're soldiers until we die." The glaze comes over her eyes again, and for what seems like the hundredth time Kushina wonders what causes that look in her student's eyes... the eyes of a mere (mere? is that really the word she should use? after that...?) thirteen year old girl. Tenten exhales shakily, and says, "And we're the soldiers of our commander, the Hokage."

It is silent, but then Hikari recovers first, the mask resettling on her features as she murmurs, "It's our duty to fight; to fight until we die..."

"But..." Takashi is now the last, looking between his two female teammates with badly concealed worry - Tenten in turn gives him a soft smile, and Hikari gives him a look of challenge.

Kushina watches on with a twinge of pride as her Genin shuffle closer together, Takashi's fingers brushing against Hikari's wrist, and Tenten's shoulder leaning into her male teammate's arm. Takashi looks at both of them again, and then turns to Kushina.

"So what now?"

Kushina looks at all three of them, silent. Then, she opens the vest pocket of her Jounin vest, pulls out the contents and holds out her palm.

"We start training."

Numbly, she watches each of them take a shiny silver key, and prays. I hope you know what you're doing jii-san, or I swear to Izanami-no-Kami herself, I will never forgive you... or myself.

"You're leaving?"

Tenten spins quickly, seeing Nono-san in the doorway, and smiles.

"Moving out," she says, giving the older woman a wan smile. "Sensei thinks we're better off living closer together than so far apart."

"I thought one of your teammates was a Hyuuga?" Tenten pauses ever so slightly in her packing, before dumping the last of her clothes on her bed and storing it all away with a quick smear of blood and chakra on a blank sealing scroll. "I can't imagine how your sensei convinced them to let your teammate out of the compound..."

"She is," says Tenten casually, moving to her closet. "But sensei's somehow persuaded the clan to allow her some flexibility with living arrangements. Can't imagine how fun that might've been."

"Mm, great fun, I'm sure," Nono-san remarks dryly, laughing lightly as she steps into the room, "Can I help you with anything? Moving out can be quite a hassle sometimes, I've bounced around quite a bit myself before settling here."

"Could you clear out the rest of my drawers?" Tenten calls from inside the closet. "I think I have a few scrolls left in there..."

"Of course." Nono-san replies.

Why is she stalling? Tenten grabs what little formal clothing she owns and seals it away as well, watching from the corner of her eye as the older woman loads the scrolls into her knapsack. Tossing the filled storage scroll to Nono-san, the woman catches it deftly with a single hand, not even looking as she deposits the scroll with the rest.

"Could I take an apple or two with me?" Tenten asks, catching the matron's eye. "I'm not sure when I'll be able to go shopping for food..."

"Of course," comes the reply, and with one last glance at Nono-san Tenten slips out of the room.

Ducking behind the door, she pulls her chakra into herself slowly, mimicking the decreasing chakra signature of a retreating person, and watches through a crack between the doorframe and the door as Nono-san subtly releases a gentle pulse of chakra.

When the chakra hits her, she closes her eyes and holds her breath. Sensor. She's seen Takashi perform this same technique before, but never to this level - she can barely feel the brush of chakra against her senses, even at such a close proximity.

She has her eyes closed for less than a second or two, at most, but when Tenten opens her eyes, Nono-san is flipping through a familiar sketchbook that causes her gut to clench in panic.


It can't be the first time. Not with the way Nono-san flips through the pages - the woman has to have looked at her drawings multiple times, and Tenten can't believe she's never caught it. I should've sealed it away with the rest...

Tenten releases her chakra slowly, watching as Nono-san glances at the door quickly before flipping through the pages faster. Tenten darts around the door, to see the matron shove the sketchbook in Tenten's backpack.

"I couldn't find any apples," Tenten says calmly, hoping that her voice isn't as shaky as she feels. "Maybe I'll stop by the market on the way..."

"Ah, the other children must've eaten them all yesterday," Nono-san says with a smile. She turns to close the drawers, and Tenten catches a glimpse of off-white paper behind the woman's hip before Nono-san turns to her with a smile, hands empty.

"I think that's the last of it," she says brightly, smoothing a hand down the fabric of her apron. She settles a hand at her hip, just over an apron pocket, and Tenten's eyes flicker at the action before returning her gaze to Nono-san's smiling face.

"Thank you," Tenten says, and despite her suspicions on the woman's agendas, she means it.

"You're always welcome here, Tenten-chan," Nono-san says, smile gentle, and extends a hand.

Somewhat startled at the distancing gesture, Tenten glances back and forth between the outstretched hand and the matron's face, her mind whirling. One... two... three... go!

"Oomph!" Tenten feels Nono-san take a step back, her spine stiff from the feel of Tenten's arms around her waist. The tension slips away slowly, and soon the taller woman's arms are settled around Tenten's shoulders, patting her head.

"I'll come back to visit," Tenten says into the fabric of the apron. "Between missions, and everything."

Tenten can hear the smile in her voice as Nono-san says, "Take care of yourself, Tenten."

The matron is the first to pull away, giving Tenten another smile and pat on the head before striding out of the room.

Within seconds Tenten scoops up her backpack, and is gone in a rain of leaves.

Nono looks back into the room, now devoid of the brown-haired Genin and her things, before slipping a hand back into her apron pocket.

Feeling textured rough paper under her fingertips, she sighs, pulling out the crumpled wad. Gently, so as not to rip the delicate paper, she pries the ball open, only -

Nono can only stare at the black mess smearing across the wrinkled surface, completely ruining the drawing that was there previously. A small black dot at the edge of the paper catches her eye, and when she smooths out the paper more she sees it - a tiny portion of a seal, one she recognizes from her days in Danzou's ROOT forces.

Teiden, she thinks. The Blackout Seal is as common as the seals drawn on exploding tags, but there are so many disadvantages in its use that most people never bother to memorize it.

The seal was used most commonly in copies of important documents, most often treaties and contracts, that were meant to be carried by courier ninja between parties. Although it is easy to deactivate - Nono could've done it simply by sending chakra through the seal for thirty seconds - most weren't familiar enough with the seal to recognize it, let alone deactivate it.

If the teiden, normally placed at the edge of a closed scroll or envelope, was damaged or disrupted in any way, it would wipe the contents of the document clean - or in the case of the seal, black everything out.

For such a minuscule size, it is drawn so precisely that Nono can't help but be impressed - but she as she remembers the seal's function she purses her lips in frustration.

She carefully looks over the paper once more, searching for any salvageable part of the drawing, but everything is ruined. She runs a finger over an area near the bottom center of the page, her finger tracing out words no longer visible.

"Ya-ku-shi," she whispers, drawing the strokes, "Ka-bu-to."

A quick fire jutsu and the paper goes up in smoke. Nono stares at the pile of ashes at her feet before moving to her room, clearing her desk of everything but a blank stack of paper and a pencil.

She closes her eyes, faces and names swimming through her head, and takes a deep breath.

Opening her eyes, she begins to draw.

Outside, Tenten breathes a sigh of relief, but there is tension thrumming through her body, coiling in her gut like a tightly wound spring.

She runs towards the center of town, too harried to notice the small, thin snake that pokes its head out of her backpack.

"Do something everyday that you don't want to do; this is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain." ~ Mark Twain

A/N: Okay, I'm sorry for the wait! I originally had this cut off after Kushina's last POV, but I thought I should make a connection with the events of the last chapter, hence the lateness for the chapter this week.

I've planned Tenten's life up until she's 18 years old in her new world, around four years before the Kyuubi attack. Right now she's around 12, give or take a year, and her teens will mostly consist of her role as an active frontline fighter in the skirmishes along the Fire Nation border before the official start to the Third Shinobi World War. These years will be busy for Tenten, but vital - her role in the past has already started to change things, as slight as they are. Unfortunately, Tenten has no idea about how closely she's being watched - and that will be a problem for her in the future.

Notes from the chapter: The idea for the ShoKo-tai comes from, believe it or not, SpecForce regiments from Star Wars. ShoKo-tai are basically Pathfinders and Wilderness Fighters combined, with a dash of shinobi seasoning.

The Color Wheel has also been updated, with a oneshot featuring Yoshino and Tenten. Go check it out!

Next update: No promises, but I'm aiming for late February/early March!