Disclaimer: I don't own the rights to Naruto. I wonder if Kishimoto would be open to a trade? I can offer him... um... I could get him tickets to UF football games? That's probably the most valuable thing I could get actually get my hands on. Whelp. Gotta start trying to get something worthy of enough for a trade!
"Sasori no Danna, you still haven't answered my question; is there any reason we are in Suna, hmm?"
Sasori sighed before turning his attention to the man walking next to him. He was a man with long blonde hair, worn in a half pony-tail while the rest hanged freely. He had blue eyes and wore an eye scope over his left eye. He wore the same black cloak with the red cloak pattern that Sasori wore. He also had on a pair of navy blue pants and wore a belt with two bags attached to it underneath his cloak, which would occasionally become visible every time the wind blew at his cloak. On his forehead was a forehead protector for Iwagakure, with the symbol for Iwa having one, singular cut running straight through it.
Both men were standing on a cliff overlooking the village of Sunagakure. The sun was just beginning its ascent into the sky, which still covered the area mostly in darkness.
"It is as I said earlier, Deidara; I have business here." Sasori explained.
"Yeah, yeah, I get it. But you're not answering my question, hmm!" The man, Deidara, replied. "We already completed our last assignment in Kaze no Kuni and collected the money for Akatsuki. We need to be on our way out of here if we want to get to our next mission on time, hmm."
"We have plenty of time before that mission and you know it. Don't lecture me on following a schedule." Sasori stated. "I'm surprised you even care about this, Deidara. I thought you were only in Akatsuki because of your little bet with Itachi. Do you now have some 'true' loyalty to Akatsuki that you want to complete our mission weeks in advance?"
"Hmph." Deidara shook his head. "My loyalties are the same as they've always been, hmm. I just know that I want to make sure when the jinchūriki retrieval missions begin again, that we capture them and I can outshine Itachi!"
"Heh." The hunched-over shinobi let out a small chuckle. "You are still focused on your loss to him. Still focusing on just one moment. Fitting for someone who views art as just a collection of moments as opposed to something that is eternal."
"Oi!" The blonde-haired man shouted. "That is what art is! How can you truly appreciate something if it last forever? After a period of time, it loses its value. It just becomes some boring constant! No, art is meant to be fleeting; it is an explosion that lasts but a moment, hmm!"
"But what's the point of art if it is only temporary? One cannot appreciate something that is gone before they had the time to truly understand it." Sasori countered.
"Hmph." Deidara shook his head. "We are at an impasse, Sasori no Danna. I respect your view as an artist, but you are wrong. And I'll make sure to prove it to you one day!"
Sasori rolled his eyes behind his mask, but said nothing. He turned his attention back to the village and continued to look out to it. Deidara, realizing that Sasori was not going to reply, sighed and closed his eyes as he began to plan out his next 'artistic piece'.
A few more minutes passed by before two shinobi jumped to the cliff. Both were men dressed in standard uniform for Sunagakure shinobi and both had dark-colored eyes. One was a rather short man with black hair that covered his right eye. He also a goatee on his face. The other was a man taller in comparison with spiky brown hair.
Deidara immediately became alert of their presence. He pulled one of his hands out of his cloak and opened up one of the bags on his belt. He was about to stick his hand in the bag, but he stopped himself as the two Sunagakure shinobi bowed at them.
"Sasori-sama, it is a pleasure to see you again." One of the men, the one with brown-hair, stated.
"Heh. Yūra." Sasori looked at the man with black hair. "Mukade." He then turned to face the man with spiky brown hair. "I am pleased you two showed up on time. Since you two knew exactly where to meet me, I trust that your full memories have been restored."
"Of course, Sasori-sama." Yūra nodded his head, smirking slightly. "Your technique was quiet effective. I, personally, have managed to enter the shinobi council in Suna without anybody suspecting anything."
'Hmm?' Deidara's eyes narrowed at the two men in front. 'So, Sasori is restoring his sleeper agents' memories? What for? They were supposed to be used whenever we entered Suna for our mission to capture the Ichibi jinchūriki!'
"I have a task for you and I'd like you to ensure it goes as planned." Sasori declared. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a picture of Kabuto. He then handed it to Yūra. "This is Yakushi Kabuto, a subordinate of mine. He is working on my behalf and should be arriving in this village no later than tonight. He is a punctual man, so he will be here by then. It is your duty to ensure that he is able to get entrance into Suna without being detected. Once he is in the village, follow any orders he has for you two. His work is to our benefit."
"Understood, Sasori-sama!" Yūra declared.
"It'll be quite easy." Mukade grinned in response. "As the jōnin in charge of the gate to Suna and our defenses to hostile shinobi, I can ensure that Kabuto-san will have easy, undisturbed access to the village. We can meet with him immediately after."
"Good to hear." Sasori nodded his head. "Kabuto will report back to me in one month. If everything went smoothly for him, I will make sure to reward you both when I get back. For now, though, you are dismissed. After my meeting with Kabuto, I will make plans to contact you both."
"As you will, Sasori-sama!" Both Yūra and Mukade said in unison before rushing off into the village.
Sasori and Deidara were now left alone. Sasori proceeded to turn around and walk away from the village.
"Now, we can leave as you wanted, Deidara." Sasori stated.
"… Sasori, you aren't working against Akatsuki, are you, hmm?" Deidara questioned. "You're using the very sleeper agents you installed in the village to assist us in capturing the Ichibi jinchūriki."
"I am doing no such thing." Sasori replied dismissively..
Neither Deidara nor Sasori said anything as they continued to walk away. Deidara was too busy thinking to himself. A few minutes of travel passed by before a smirk developed on his face.
'Sasori no Danna… You claim to still be with Akatsuki, but in the end, you are using a resource for them for some other purpose. You're risking your sleeper agents potentially being discovered for some other goal. Heh! I have no idea what you are planning, but this should be interesting, hmm.' Deidara realized.
At eight o'clock, Naruto noticed his students approaching the training ground at the scheduled time. He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath as they approached. It took a few seconds before he opened them again. By that time, his students had arrived and were all staring at him.
"Hey, Naruto-sensei! You ready for today?" Katsumi questioned. "Cause I am!"
"I am, but before we begin, I need to let you all know a few things." Naruto responded back. "First, we are not going to be training today. The Hokage has requested a mission for us."
A brief look of horror crawled onto his students' faces.
"Please tell me that we aren't skipping training just to look for more missing animals or help some merchants in their stores." Katsumi pleaded.
"No, no." Naruto laughed at their first thoughts. "It's a C-rank mission. We'll get more info when we get to the office to discuss it with the Hokage, but it's a legit mission."
"Really?" Both Hanabi and Hebihiro exclaimed in unison.
"Oh thank God!" The civilian-born kunoichi shouted, clapping her hands together in excitement. "Finally! Something worthwhile!"
"Our first C-rank mission, huh?" Kanji brought his right hand to his chin in thought. He rubbed it for a second, as if contemplating something, before a smirk developed on his face. "Interesting. Wonder what it is? Guess we'll be c-ing soon, won't we?"
Katsumi's excitement immediately vanished and she looked at him in annoyance. She opened her mouth to respond, but Hanabi proceeded to giggle, cutting her off.
"I c what you did there, Kanji-san!" She said.
"Ha!" Kanji chuckled in response. "Nice one!"
The Yamanaka held out his hand to Hanabi. The Hyūga nodded and proceeded to high-five him. Naruto immediately burst into laughter and tried his hardest to remain standing. Hebihiro was also laughing at Hanabi's joke. On the other hand, Katsumi's eyes widened at the interaction before she immediately shook her head, a scowl on his face.
"Hanabi, please, not you too. Don't encourage him." Katsumi hissed.
"It's just a joke, Katsumi-san." Hanabi replied, still giggling. "Don't be too upset."
Katsumi opened her mouth to respond, but she was cut-off by Naruto clearing his throat. His students turned to him, giving him his full attention.
"Hate to interrupt the jokes, but I actually did have something I need to talk to you guys about." He stated as he sighed heavily. "And it's kind of a big deal."
"Is everything alright, Naruto-sensei?" Hanabi frowned at Naruto's tone-of-voice.
"Yeah, everything's fine. However, as we start doing bigger missions, I feel like there's something you should all know about me." He said. His eyes then narrowed. "However, what I am about to tell you is forbidden to discuss about, by law, with those who do not know. The law doesn't really apply to me, because it concerns me, and I honestly think it should get revoked entirely and that the truth should just straight-up be announced, but until that happens, none of you can bring it up with any of your peers. Do you understand?"
Hanabi, Kanji, and Katsumi were silent for a few moments. The three genin were looking at the jōnin with surprise on their face as they pondered what he had to say that was so serious. A few seconds passed by before they all nodded in near unison.
"Alright." Naruto sighed again. "… So, let's talk about the Kyūbi attack sixteen years ago."
It did not take long for Naruto to finish his explanation. He informed them of the village's lie about the Yondaime Hokage killing the fox. He explained how a bijū could only be sealed into a person that could contain it and he explained that he was chosen to be the jinchūriki for the Kyūbi.
The blonde made a note to keep certain information secret: the Kyūbi's real name, the fact that he attacked the village because of Uchiha Madara, and the fact that he was chosen as the candidate because his father was the Yondaime and that his mother had been the previous jinchūriki. That was all information he would tell them later, if there was a need to tell it at all.
He did, however, make a note of Akatsuki. He wanted his students to be aware of the personal dangers that he would be facing and how it could potentially affect them. Although he made the point across that he would guarantee their safety in any event involving them, he wanted them to be aware of their existence.
Hanabi, Kanji, and Katsumi were all silent, processing the information. Naruto gave them a minute to digest the information before he cleared his throat, drawing attention to himself again.
"Look, I'll be honest with you guys. I know that some people are uncomfortable with me having the Kyūbi sealed in me, so if any of you are, that's fine. If you want, I can tell the Hokage and he'll get you all on new teams with different jōnin-senseis. You're all already genin." Naruto informed them. "But just let me know-"
"Why would I pass you up for something like that?" Katsumi questioned, being the first to speak-up. Her eyes were narrowed slightly. "No seriously; why would this actually make me uncomfortable?"
"Well, some people think I'm still dangerous. That, at any given moment, the Kyūbi could take control of me and have me attack the village." He explained.
"And has that ever happened?" She questioned.
"No." The Uzumaki replied. "I'm just-"
"If it hasn't happened, then there's no concern for it." Katsumi interrupted. The kunoichi proceeded to spit out on the ground before turning her attention back to Naruto with visible anger in her eyes. "Hell, even if some event happened, that's not your fault! You're the one holding it back. That should make them want to celebrate you or something. Seriously; fuck anybody who's actually 'uncomfortable' around you!"
"I'll second that." Kanji admitted. "We haven't known each other for that long, but I'd say that you're pretty much the most loyal Konoha shinobi I've ever met. You're the last one who'd do anything to harm this village."
"You really wouldn't, Naruto-sensei." Hanabi replied, shaking her head. Her eyes then studied Naruto. "Hinata-neesan knows, right?"
"Of course she does." Naruto nodded his head.
"Then that's more proof. I trust her and I trust you. You're no danger or anything." Hanabi declared sharply.
Naruto remained still for a few moments. A smile began to develop on his face as he rubbed his eyes, preventing any tears from developing.
"Heh. I don't know what to say, guys…" He mumbled.
"You didn't actually think we'd ditch you or something, did you?" Katsumi questioned as a grin developed on her face. "We got assigned to you for a reason and you've been doing a great job as a sensei!"
"Although, if you actually want Katsumi to leave the team, you can start making some puns of your own, Naruto-sensei, just like Hanabi did." Kanji offered with a smirk. "Which, by the way, I don't think I've ever told you, but do you know you have a really foxy smile?"
Katsumi's grin immediately vanished and was replaced with a scowl: "Kanji-"
"Foxy? Heh. How many times have I heard that one?" Naruto stated with a chuckle. "Nine times? One for each tail!" A sly grin developed on his face. "Could you bijū more original?"
"Ha!" Kanji clapped his hands in approval. "Good! Good! That's the spirit!"
"Teehee." Hanabi started to giggle loudly. Hebihiro joined the Hyūga in her laughter.
"Alright, screw this. I'm outta here." Katsumi hissed as she began to walk out. "I'm going to get a new team. Not dealing with you punny jerks!" She immediately stopped in her place and turned back to her team, shaking her head. "I-I meant funny, not-"
"'Punny?'" Kanji interrupted, repeating the word with a smirk. "A little basic, but it's a good start if you wanna develop some good jokes."
Hanabi and Naruto laughed loudly in response while Katsumi said nothing. Instead, she opted to fume silently in her spot.
'Really, what was I concerned about? My students are amazing.' Naruto thought to himself, smiling as his eyes wandered to each of them.
Images then began to develop in his head: images of the deceased Akatsuki member Nasumareta, Kakuzu, Hidan, Zetsu, and Itachi. His eyes narrowed slightly as he tightened his hands into fists.
'And Akatsuki or not, anybody that dares lay a hand on one of my students is going to suffer…'
"We're going to Suna?" Hanabi questioned.
The members of Team Nine had headed over to the Hokage's office after discussing everything Naruto wanted to talk about. Upon arrival, Jiraiya had informed them of their first C-rank mission: a delivery of goods to Sunagakure.
"Yes, you all are." Jiraiya answered with a smile. "As a heads-up; the mission will not just be delivering the supplies. The merchant also asked if you could help set them up in appropriate places in his shop, so I would appreciate if you all could help him."
"That sounds like a D-rank task, but I really don't care. We're going to be traveling out of the village! Yes!" Katsumi cheered. "This is going to be awesome!"
"I'm glad you are all excited." Jiraiya said, his smile growing wider. "I hope you all also do not mind, but I have some company for you all."
"Company?" Naruto spoke-up, giving his godfather a strange look. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"We received another C-rank mission to Sunagakure; a request for a chūnin or two to come to the village and introduce academy students there to some foreign shinobi." The Hokage explained. "It was an idea proposed by myself, and the Kazekage agreed and said he would do the same for our village soon. The idea is to improve our village's relationship since the invasion during the chūnin exams three years ago."
"Okay…" The Uzumaki frowned slightly. "And you want these chūnin to travel with us?"
"It can't hurt. You're all going to the same destination. Besides, safety in numbers." Jiraiya shrugged his shoulders. "Regardless, if you want to get Suna as quick as possible, you ought to prepare right away. Get ready for the mission now and let everyone know that you want to know that you will be out of the village."
"Yeah." Naruto nodded his head as he turned his attention to his students. "Go and get packed for the mission and report to the gate by 10:30. We'll head out then."
"Understood, Naruto-sensei!" His students declared in unison.
With those words, Hanabi, Katsumi, and Kanji all left the room, heading to get packed and prepared for the mission. Naruto and Jiraiya were now left alone. The Uzumaki turned his attention to the Hokage, who was now digging for a scroll on his desk. After a few seconds, he pulled out one and tossed it to Naruto. The blonde caught it in his right hand.
"Here's the scroll I told you I'd write for you. Look at it whenever you want; just make sure you discuss everything in the scroll with the Kazekage when you get to Suna." Jiraiya explained.
"Got it." Naruto nodded his head. His eyes then narrowed slightly. "So, what's up with the chūnin coming with us?"
"They are going for the C-rank mission I informed you about." Jiraiya replied simply.
"… And that's why you are sending them at the exact same time as my mission?" The blonde questioned.
"I can show you the letter and the mission report with the Kazekage's signature, along with the academy instructor in Sunagakure, if you want to think that I'm making up a mission." The Hokage replied.
"… Whatever. Guess it makes no difference." Naruto shrugged. His eyes started to soften, but they contained a curious glint to them. "Who did you send on the mission? Do I know them?"
The Godaime nodded, chuckling to himself as he showed Naruto the profiles of the two chūnin that would be accompanying his team.
"So, you are going on the mission?" Hinata questioned.
Naruto nodded his head in affirmation. The blonde had showed up at the Hyūga Clan compound to inform his girlfriend about the mission. He was already packed and prepared to travel; he was going to spend his time saying goodbye to his friends for the next couple of days.
"Do you know when you all will be back?" The Hyūga questioned.
"I don't know. Maybe a week? Two weeks?" The blonde shrugged. "We'll see. It just depends on how long it takes us to do everything in Suna. I don't think it'll take us that long to get there."
"I understand." Hinata admitted. She then smiled at Naruto. "Regardless, good luck with your team's first C-rank mission. Enjoy the travel and let me know how it goes!"
"Of course. Of course." He chuckled in response.
The two lovers proceeded to hug each other. They held each other tight in their embrace.
"… Also, and I know you will do everything you can and I trust you, but please; look out for Hanabi, okay?" Hinata requested.
"I will. Don't worry." Naruto told her, tightening their hug.
The two shinobi shared a kiss with each other before they broke their hug.
"I should probably say goodbye to Shikamaru and Dosu while I'm thinking about it and have the time." Naruto informed her.
"Go ahead." Hinata nodded her head in understanding. "Love you, Naruto-kun!"
"Love you too Hinata-chan!" He stated.
With that, the Uzumaki rushed out of the compound, heading towards Shikamaru's home. Hinata waved goodbye to him as he left. Shortly after he was gone from her sight, Hanabi began to walk inside. The younger Hyūga looked at her sister in confusion.
"Was that Naruto-sensei?" She questioned. "I thought he was still with Hokage-sama."
"That was him, yeah. He was just saying goodbye before the mission." Hinata answered.
"… He got here before me?" Hanabi sighed. "I know he's a jōnin and all, but I thought was getting faster. I should have been here before he got here."
"Hanabi, don't be too upset." Hebihiro informed his partner, frowning.
"If it's any consolation, he only beat you by a couple of minutes. He didn't stay long." Her older sister chuckled in response. "Anyway, you ought to get ready for your mission. It's your first time out of the village, so you need to prepare!"
The mention of the mission perked up Hanabi instantly. A grin immediately developed on her face.
"Right, I will!" She declared. She then turned to the snake on her shoulders. "Help me decide what I need to pack! Let's go!"
With that, the genin ran through the compound, heading towards her bedroom. Hinata stood in place, laughing to herself at her sister's enthusiasm.
"Your team's first C-rank mission, huh?" Shikamaru brought his right hand to his chin in thought. "Sounds troublesome."
"That should be something interesting, at least." Dosu offered as he took a sip of a cup of tea.
When Naruto went to seek out both Shikamaru and Dosu, he found out that they were at a tea shop called Eichū in the center of Konoha's marketing district. Upon arrival, he sat down with them and informed them of his mission.
The teashop was not a particularly big one; there were six tables and a counter up front with a door to a backroom where different teas were brewed and snacks were prepared. There was one worker at the counter: a young girl that looked around thirteen years old. She had long blonde hair that was tied into two ponytails and had green eyes.
"I'm hoping for some small action, at least." Naruto admitted to his friends with a chuckle. "Going on nothing but D-ranks has me a little bored. I'm hoping that something interesting will happen."
"I'd be careful with such thoughts, Naruto-san." Dosu warned, chuckling slightly. "You do know why C-ranks are often called cursed, right?"
"Huh?" The blonde blinked in confusion.
"C-ranks have a tendency to get re-ranked later as the mission proves to be more dangerous than previously thought." Shikamaru explained. "Hence why some people say the 'C' in C-rank stands for 'cursed'."
"It seems to be especially true for first-missions." Dosu noted. "It's almost the universe's way of informing newly-appointed genin that the 'real world' is more dangerous than they probably expect."
Naruto shook his head: "Ah, come on! You're trying to get me nervous, aren't you?"
"Remember our first mission to Tenchi Bridge where we met Kurotsuchi and Han?" Shikamaru offered. "Remember that we ended up fighting those Akatsuki bastards that nearly killed us?"
"Also, if I recall correctly, Kakashi-sensei's team's first mission involved a fight with Zabuza-san and Haku-san in Nami no Kuni and forced them to have to fight against an army of thugs." Dosu stated.
"And didn't your first C-rank mission as a squad captain with Sakura and Kiba end in having to fight some insane Jashinist?" The Nara remembered.
"… Alright, alright. Your point is noted." Naruto frowned, crossing his arms.
While the jinchūriki was hoping for a mission that would excite him, he wasn't hoping for anything that was actually dangerous for his students. They were easily prepared for a C-rank mission, but he had to admit that the thought of something happening to them scared him. He quickly rejected the thought, shaking his head.
"If something happens, it'll be alright. My team is pretty damn awesome and have made great progress. They'll handle just fine!" Naruto declared. "Plus, I'll be there and I'll make sure nothing happens. And we'll actually have some back-up too, I suppose."
"The chūnin Hokage-sama requested to go with you all?" Dosu questioned.
"Yeah." Naruto nodded his head, his face picking up a neutral expression. "I don't know why he did that. I don't think it's as coincidental as he made it sound, but I suppose if there's a chance of something happening on the mission, I'll appreciate any help."
"Do you know who he assigned?" Shikamaru questioned.
"Yeah, and so do you two." Naruto replied with a chuckle. "He assigned-"
"Alright, I finished them!" A loud familiar voice declared, interrupting Naruto.
The blonde turned his attention to the source of the voice. At the back of the teashop by the counter, the door to the backroom opened up, revealing his student, Inoue Katsumi, causing his eyes to widen.
The civilian-born kunoichi was ready to travel, as she was wearing a large backpack that appeared to be entirely full.
"Well you took your sweet time." The tea shop attendant commented with a giggle. "I hope you didn't actually eat all of the cookies!"
"I… may have…" Katsumi replied sheepishly as she poked her index fingers together.
"What?" The girl nearly shouted. "Katsumi! Come on! There was like twenty of them and they took thirty minutes to bake! You should have at least left two for me!"
"You said I could have them, Naomi!" The kunoichi answered. "You should have said if you wanted me to save some."
"Naruto?" Dosu spoke-up, pulling the Uzumaki from the conversation. "Do you know her?"
"Y-Yeah. That's one of my students." Naruto answered with a chuckle.
"Really?" Shikamaru eyed the brown-haired girl and chuckled. "Actually, I can believe that. Considering I can hear her conversation all the way from over here, I'd say she is just as loud as you are."
"Shut up." Naruto shoved his friend lightly.
The two girls remained still, talking for a moment. Naruto resisted the urge to eavesdrop and turned his attention back to his friends. After roughly a minute, the girls stopped talking. They exchanged a hug before Katsumi began to walk towards the exit.
"Good luck out there, Katsumi; the most amazing and beautiful shinobi of Konoha!" Naomi stated with a giggle. "I'll see when you get back, okay?"
A small blush crossed over Katsumi's face as she nodded her head: "Of course! You take care yourself, alright?"
The kunoichi was close to leaving the tea shop when, in the corner of her vision, she noticed Naruto's table. She immediately turned to face the table and looked at him in surprise.
"Naruto-sensei?" She questioned. "The hell are you doing out here? I thought you'd be getting ready for the mission!"
"I've been ready!" Naruto replied with a smirk. "I was just saying goodbye to some of my friends, who were out over here. What are you doing here?"
"Well, same as you." Katsumi replied. "I got packed very quickly and just stopped here to say bye to-" She stopped talking as a thought occurred to her. "Oh! I can introduce you! Hey! Naomi!"
Katsumi rushed over to the girl behind the counter and grabbed her by the hand. She then pulled her away towards the table, ignoring the confused look on her face. The blonde-haired girl was then forced directly in front of the table. Katsumi had a large grin on her face while her friend seemed to fidget slightly, feeling awkward.
"Naruto-sensei, this is Naomi, my best friend and the brewer of the best tea in Konoha!" Katsumi declared, her grin growing wider.
"Katsumi, I'm not that good. It's a family-run business." The girl, Naomi, quickly stated. "I'm just the server-"
"Quit being humble!" The kunoichi interrupted as she pulled the girl into a tight hug. "I repeat: best. Tea. In. Konoha!"
At first, Naomi blushed slightly in response. Her eyes then widened and she started choking, however, as Katsumi's grip became too much for her.
"Anyway, Naomi, this is my jōnin-sensei that I've been talking about, Uzumaki Naruto!" The brown-haired girl stated, letting go of her friend as if she had not just been choking her. Her eyes wandered over to his companions and she shook her head. "And… I have no idea who these two guys are."
"Nara Shikamaru and Kinuta Dosu. They're two of my best friends." Naruto answered. Both shinobi waved politely as the genin. Naruto then looked over at the blonde girl with a smile. "Regardless, it's nice to meet you, Naomi."
"You as well." The tea shop attendant replied, bowing slightly. "Katsumi has had nothing but amazing things to say about you, Naruto-san." She then turned to face her friend. "Er… I-I'd like to talk, but I really shouldn't be away from the counter too long. If my parents came out and saw I wasn't there, I'm sure I'd get in trouble."
"Whatever." The kunoichi shrugged in response. "I just wanted to actually introduce you to my jōnin-sensei, since he is here. I probably should be going myself, anyway." She then gave Naruto a confused look. "Wait, shouldn't you be heading out too?"
"Hmm?" Naruto gave her a confused look.
"Well, it's 10:15. If we all want to get to the entrance to the village, we should be leaving now. It's like a little longer than a ten minute walk there." Katsumi answered.
"Yeah… for you." The Uzumaki stated with a smirk. "But I can get there in three minutes."
Katsumi shook her head, mumbling something akin to 'stupid fucking jōnin' under her breath.
"Well, for someone like me, I should be leaving now. I'll see you later Naruto-sensei." Katsumi declared. She then looked over at Shikamaru and Dosu and bowed slightly. "Nice meeting ya both. Hopefully next time we meet, we'll have more of a chance to talk."
"No worries." Shikamaru said. "Good luck on your first C-rank."
"Thanks." She let a smile cross her lips as she bowed again. She then turned her attention back to Naomi. "Bye again! Thanks for letting me stop by and use your kitchen!"
With those words, Katsumi rushed out of the tea shop and headed out into the streets of the village. Naruto, Shikamaru, and Dosu watched the genin leave for a few seconds before turning their attention away.
"Yeah, she definitely resembles you." Dosu commented with a chuckle.
"Is she always that scatterbrained?" Shikamaru questioned with an amused smirk.
Naruto opened his mouth to reply, but he was beaten to the punch: "Yes, she is. Always has been, always will be."
The three turned their attention to Naomi, who was giggling slightly.
"She moves faster than she can think. It's actually really funny. But still, she's a really, really amazing girl. She's the best friend someone like me could hope to have." She commented. Her eyes then moved to Naruto. "So make sure she comes back home safely, okay Naruto-san?"
"Heh." Naruto smiled in response before giving her a thumbs up. "That's a promise!"
As Naruto had predicted, it only took him three minutes to arrive at the entrance to Konoha after leaving the teashop and saying goodbye to Shikamaru and Dosu. Upon arrival, he noticed his three students standing by the gate to the village. All of them were carrying backpacks and seemed ready to travel. A grin developed on his face as he walked towards them.
"Looks like you three are here on time. Good." Naruto stated.
His voice got the attention of the genin. Kanji and Hanabi smiled upon seeing their jōnin-sensei, but Katsumi shook her head.
"Did you really get here in three minutes?" She questioned. The Uzumaki nodded his head, causing her to sigh. "Damn. I only got here two minutes ago. I left so much earlier than you and you still got here around the same time."
"Don't be too concerned." Hebihiro commented. The civilian-born kunoichi turned to look at the snake around Hanabi's neck. "Naruto-sensei apparently beat Hanabi-san and I to the Hyūga Clan compound and had a full conversation with Hinata-sama before we even got there."
"Wait, so you all are telling me that Naruto-sensei is faster than you all at an alarming rate? Wow, what a shock." Kanji stated. His eyes then focused in on the Uzumaki. "It's almost as if you are a whole league above us in skill… maybe even two leagues! I'm starting to wonder if you are a jōnin or something!"
Katsumi crossed her arms over her chest: "Sarcastic ass-"
"Ah, Naruto-kun!" A voice shouted, interrupting the brown-hair girl. "You are here! I hope we did not keep you waiting!"
Team Nine turned their head as two shinobi walked up to them. A smirk developed on Naruto's face as he waved at them.
"Hey Lee! Tenten! You guys are just on time." Naruto stated. "It's been a while! How've things been?"
Despite it being a while since Naruto had seen them, Rock Lee had not changed much in physical appearance; his hairstyle was still styled the same and he still wore the same clothes. The only actual differences to Lee's appearance were the addition of a Konoha flak jacket over his green jumpsuit and the fact that he was a few inches taller.
In contrast to Lee, Tenten wore an entirely different outfit. She now wore a white long-sleeved blouse with maroon edges, black fingerless gloves, and maroon hakama-styled pants. She also had a large scroll attached to the back of her blouse. Like Lee, she was also a few inches taller.
"Things have been alright, Naruto." Tenten stated with a smile. Her eyes then moved to the genin by his side. "Are these your students?"
"Yes they are! Tenten, Lee, these are my genin: Hyūga Hanabi, Inoue Katsumi, and Yamanaka Kanji. Oh, and the snake on Hanabi's shoulder is Hebihiro; he's her partner." Naruto stated. He then brought his hands forward, pointing to the two Konoha shinobi. "Guys, these are the two chūnin we'll be traveling with, and two friends of mine: Rock Lee and Tenten."
Immediately, Lee rushed forward directly in front of each of Naruto's teammates. He shook their hands one-by-one, not even waiting for them to reciprocate.
"It is an honor meeting you three. Naruto-kun is a marvelous shinobi full of youth! I know for a fact that he will guide you all down the path to being fantastic shinobi as well!" He declared.
"Th-Thanks?" Katsumi mumbled in response.
"Hyūga huh… Ah!" Tenten's eyes widened slightly in recognition as she looked at Hanabi. "You wouldn't happen to be Neji's cousin, right? Hinata's little sister?"
"I am." Hanabi nodded her head in agreement.
"Ah. Well, we are Neji's teammates from our genin days. Now, we are chūnin, hopefully going to be promoted to jōnin soon in order to get back on his level." Tenten stated.
"Oh yeah. That's right. Neji made jōnin too." Naruto's eyes widened in realization. He then shook his head. "Damn, it's been a while since I've seen him, and I'm over at his clan's compound all the time because of Hinata-chan!"
"Yeah, well, he has been pretty busy. He's been getting a lot of missions recently and he's been training like crazy. He hasn't had much free time." The kunoichi mentioned with a shrug.
She was about to say something else about Neji, but she stopped herself as she noticed the look Kanji was giving her. She turned her full attention to the genin.
"I take it you two are the chūnin that Hokage-sama mentioned earlier." He stated. "You both will be coming along with us to Suna?"
"That's right." Tenten answered. "We're going to be spending some time there doing a few guess lessons with the academy instructor there to better the relations between our villages."
"It is a fine idea! I, for one, cannot wait to get there and meet these youthful students!" Lee exclaimed. His eyes shined and, to the genin watching him, it almost appeared as if there were literal flames in his eyes. "Naruto-kun, please, let's get moving!"
"Heh. Yeah, we should probably start heading out now." Naruto nodded his head in agreement. "It's probably going to take us maybe four to five days at the pace I think we should be moving at. Not horribly long, but let's not waste too much time. Let's move on out!"
With those words, Team Nine, along with Rock Lee and Tenten, headed out through the gates of Konoha towards Sunagakure.
"Kabuto-sama, right this way!"
Kabuto chuckled to himself upon hearing the call. He had arrived at Sunagakure just as the sun was beginning to set. Upon his arrival, he noticed a cave that had no visible signs of shinobi patrolling it. After entering and walking through the cave, he was greeted by a man with spiky brown-hair.
"You are one of Sasori-sama's sleeper agents, are you not?" Kabuto questioned with a knowing smile.
"Of course. My name is Mukade." The man introduced himself. "Yūra was supposed to be here with me as well, but he is currently in a meeting with the others on the shinobi council. He can't afford to miss it."
"I understand. You all have a duty to make sure you do not blow your covers. It would be bad if anybody were to suspect your true loyalties." Kabuto noted with a chuckle.
"That it would. That is why I've been keeping a close eye, waiting for you." Mukade stated. "I've diverted any and all potential shinobi away from this cave. Not a single person is going to be aware of your entrance to the village. Not even our Kazekage."
"Well, then I must say, job well done!" The smile on the grey-haired shinobi seemed to widen.
"Think nothing of it, Kabuto-sama." The Suna jōnin stated.
"Oh, no need for that honorific." Kabuto said with a chuckle. "You and I are both loyal subordinates to Sasori-sama. We are equals, Mukade-san."
"I suppose you are right." Mukade replied with a chuckle as well. "Well, Kabuto-san, what goal are you here for exactly? Sasori-sama has requested that both Yūra and I follow your orders until directed otherwise."
"Well, I suppose I should explain a little bit about myself first, then." Kabuto commented as he adjusted his glasses. "Sasori-sama and I share a great deal of passion. The difference is that, while he is an artist, I am a man of science. My passion is my research. My current project revolves around bloodlines and the concept of immortality."
"Ah. I'm starting to see what you are wanting to do." The brown-haired man realized.
"Heh. Good." Kabuto smirked. "Any corpses I can obtain, once my research is done, will be delivered to Sasori-sama for his art."
"I can direct you to the cemeteries of note in the village and I can mark where bodies are that you'd be interested in." Mukade offered. He then crossed his arms. "However, this is something that will be a little difficult to cover for you. While I do believe I can guarantee you that we can get you inside and give you the chance to take what you need, there is no chance that it will go undiscovered. What we are actually probably going to have to do is try and pin your grave robbing on somebody else. We need to discuss this with Yūra."
"I understand." He stated, adjusting his glasses once more. "For now, though, let's find a suitable place for me to stay and hide at."
Mukade nodded his head in agreement. The two shinobi then walked off into the village together.
"Thanks for cooking, Naruto-sensei!" Hanabi said politely.
As the sun began to set, Team Nine, along with Lee and Tenten, decided to find a place to camp out. Immediately after, Naruto managed to catch fish from a nearby river and prepared dinner. It did not take him horribly long to have it finished and, much to the joy of those traveling with him, he managed to create a good meal.
"Heh. I'm glad you liked it." He stated, rubbing his nose slightly at the compliment.
"I was unaware that you could even cook, Naruto-kun. What prompted you to start learning?" Lee questioned.
"Well, for my fourteenth birthday, I got a cookbook from Teuchi and Ayame at Ichiraku's ramen and I kinda started experimenting from there." He admitted with a small smile. "I'm not really good at it, but I like to think I can actually make good food from time to time."
"Since when are you humble, Naruto? You prepped the fish really fast and it was great!" Tenten stated with a smile. "Much better than when I actually try to cook something." A shiver then went down her back. "Or worse; when Gai-sensei tried to make something."
"I would not say that, Tenten. Your cooking and Gai-sensei's is also phenomenal! You should be proud of what you can accomplish. It is more than I can." Lee stated. He then turned to Naruto and stared at him intently. "Naruto-kun, you have inspired me; from now on, I will try and cook my own meals. I am most certain I can reach your level if I try!"
"Ha! Go ahead. I'm sure you won't take too long to reach it." The Uzumaki stated with a laugh. He then turned his attention to his students. "So, how are you all doing? How does it feel to be out of the village for the first time?"
"Actually, it's super exciting." Katsumi stated with a grin. "I can't wait to see what Kaze no Kuni is going to be like!"
"Well, we should find out Suna or later." Kanji stated, chuckling to himself.
Katsumi's grin dropped. A scowl developed on her face as the rest of the group started to laugh at the Yamanaka's pun.
"Why do you all let him get away with crappy puns like that? You're just encouraging him more." She grumbled.
"Oh, Kanji-san is only joking, Katsumi-san. Do not be disheartened by a few jokes." Lee quickly informed her.
"In fairness to Katsumi-san, he does say them quite a lot. And sometimes, they get a little too much." Hanabi admitted. "And I think sometimes he says them on purpose just to get a rise out of her."
"Really? Me?" Kanji clutched his chest in a dramatic fashion as he looked intently at Hanabi. "Well, I'd never do that! Honest!"
"You got some colorful students, I have to admit." Tenten admitted to Naruto with a chuckle.
"And I, for one, would like to get to know them better!" Lee announced, getting the attention of all of the students. "Do you mind answering a question of mine?"
"Uh… sure?" Katsumi spoke-up for herself and her fellow genin.
"Why exactly did you three want to be shinobi?" He asked.
"Why?" Hanabi asked.
"It is what our jōnin-sensei asked Tenten, Neji, and I when we became genin. I would simply like to know why you all chose this lifestyle." Lee explained. His eyes then widened slightly and he shook his head. "That is, if it is not too much of a personal question. I realize we just met, so I do not wish to make any of you uncomfortable."
"No, it's not. At least, not for me." Katsumi shrugged her shoulders. A smile developed on her face as she cracked her knuckles. "I just wanted to do something for Konoha, you know? I love the village and I wanted to do something for it. The life of a merchant that my parents lived didn't seem right for me, so I wanted to contribute to Konoha in my own way. That's when I started listening to shinobi that entered the shop talk about what it meant to be a Konoha shinobi and their missions. I knew instantly what I wanted to do with my life."
"Ah!" A grin developed on Lee's face. "I can feel the passion coming from your voice! It's been a long time since I've met someone with as much love for the village as I do!"
"It's a beautiful place! How can you blame me?" Katsumi questioned.
"I cannot!" Lee chuckled. "Katsumi-san, if you ever wish to train anytime in Konoha, seek me out. I would love to see you develop further as a shinobi."
"Wait, really?" She blinked in response. "Y-You mean that? You want to train with me too?"
"Why, of course! I am sure Gai-sensei would want to meet someone as youthful as you are as well!" He stated. His eyes then proceeded to light-up slightly. "Out of curiosity, what is your opinion of the color green?"
"Er, Lee?" Tenten coughed, drawing attention to herself. "Don't you want to ask his other students the question?"
'Thank you Tenten.' Naruto started to sweat slightly. 'I was starting to get worried about where Lee was going to take that conversation…'
"Ah yes. My apologies." Lee rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. He turned his head to Hanabi. "How about you, Hanabi-san?"
"Well… it's expected of me, kinda." She admitted. "Most main branch Hyūga become shinobi. Father has trained me for as long as I can remember. It feels like I really didn't have a choice."
"Nonsense! You always have a choice!" Lee shook his head.
"Well, I don't think I did." Hanabi admitted with a slight frown. She then shook her head. "But I am alright with that. I'm used to the lifestyle now and I want to develop further and become an amazing shinobi like my father and Hinata-neesan and Neji-niisan!"
"And she has been making progress." Hebihiro spoke-up. "She will get there one day!"
"Ah! Hebihiro-san! I forgot about you for a moment. My apologies." Lee quickly bowed his head. "Do you have a reason for wanting to work with Team Nine as well?"
The snake immediately recoiled at his question. A small, understanding smile crossed Hanabi's lips as she reached her right hand for the snake.
"Don't take it personally, Lee-san, but Hebihiro would like to keep some things to himself." She spoke for him.
"Ah. I understand." Lee nodded his head in understanding. "Again, it is as I said; if it is too personal, you do not have to answer. I have no intentions of forcing an answer out of you."
Hebihiro remained coiled away from Lee, but the snake did manage to smile slightly at his response: "I… understand. I appreciate it, Lee-san."
The bowl-haired shinobi smiled back at the snake. He then turned his head to face the final genin. Kanji raised his eyebrows at the chūnin. He proceeded to shrug his shoulders.
"Did you have a situation like me, Kanji-san?" Hanabi questioned. "Did your clan want you to become a shinobi?"
"Nope." He shook his head. He then sighed slightly as far-off look developed in his eyes, as if he was zoning out. "It's not like your situation. It's not like I'm related to the clan head too much, so I wasn't expected to be a shinobi. My parents also didn't want to force me into the shinobi lifestyle after what happened to my-" He then shook his head again. "Never mind. Honestly, I don't know why I became one."
"Huh?" Katsumi gave him a confused look. "What happened? What were you talking about?"
Kanji's eyes narrowed slightly on Lee: "You said I didn't have to answer anything I didn't want to, correct? If you don't mind, I'd like to exercise that right, just like Hebihiro."
Silence filled the area around them. It lasted for a few more seconds before Katsumi proceeded to cough slightly and reach in her bag.
"Well, if we are just gonna sit here and not talk, how about we all play a game to kill time until it gets dark and we got to sleep?" She offered as she pulled out a deck of cards. "Anybody up for a game?"
"What kind of game?" Hanabi asked.
"Oh, I have several card games we could play!" Katsumi's face developed into a smirk. "Just a little something to lighten up the mood and help us get to know each other more!"
Katsumi had brought two different sets of cards; karuta cards and 'western' playing cards. After explaining a few games that she knew, the group of six played a variety of card games until it got too dark.
A 'night watch' was established, along with an order: Tenten would take the first watch, then Hanabi, then Lee, then Kanji, then Naruto, and then Katsumi. The group of shinobi proceeded to go to sleep.
After a few hours, it was time for the fourth shift in the night watch. Lee walked over from his position and walked over to the sleeping shinobi. He then placed his right hand on Kanji's shoulder and shook lightly.
"My apologies, Kanji-san, but it is your turn to be on watch." The chūnin whispered.
The Yamanaka, after a few seconds, pulled himself. He yawned rather loudly before nodding his head. He proceeded to wake himself up as he started to walk off towards to Lee's former position. He then began to focus as he began his shift.
As his watch shift was over, Lee was supposed to go to his sleeping bag and fall asleep. The chūnin, however, turned his head to Kanji and looked at him. After a few seconds, he walked over. Kanji turned his to face the elder shinobi and looked at him in confusion.
"What's up Lee-san?" He questioned.
"Terribly sorry to bother you, Kanji, but I wanted to apologize again for earlier." Lee said, bowing his head slightly. "I was simply trying to take a moment to get to know the three of you as shinobi and I evidently opened up a subject you were uncomfortable to discuss. I made the situation for you awkward and I am very sorry about that."
A frown developed on Kanji's face.
"No, there's no need to apologize. I made that awkward. I could have responded better." He admitted with a sigh. "I… I don't know. I just-"
"You do not have to explain yourself." Lee stated as he took a seat down on the ground by Kanji's side.
"I know I don't. It's just… I don't know. I don't like thinking about stuff like that." Kanji answered.
"You mean your motivations?" The chūnin questioned.
The Yamanaka nodded as he took a seat on the ground next to Lee.
"I don't like thinking about motivations or plans for the future or anything." He stated. "There's a philosophy I have towards life; 'Forget the past, ignore the future, and focus on the present'." He let out a small chuckle. "I mean, there's enough stress that goes on now that there's no reason to think about anything else."
"I understand that." Lee stated. "Having said that, and I mean no disrespect, but I would like to remind you that you cannot just ignore your past and future. They are important to consider with your decisions. Especially your past; it helps shape you into the person that you are today, so it is important to recall it."
"… Yeah, yeah." Kanji sighed. "I just have some things that I'd be better off forgetting."
The chūnin looked at the genin, waiting for a moment for elaboration. When he did not respond, Lee placed a hand on the boy's shoulder, drawing his attention to him.
"I completely understand that. I know that I do not know anything about what has happened to you, so maybe what I am about to say does not compare in the slightest, but I do know what it is like to want to forget something." He said with a small, sad smile on his lips. "I had a difficult time in the academy. I was a very poor student and was told that I had no chance to develop my ninjutsu and genjutsu. The only thing I had was a very poor level of taijutsu, so I was told that I would never amount to anything and that I should quit being a shinobi."
"You only knew taijutsu?" The blonde looked at him in surprise.
"Still do. I am, to this day, unable to perform either genjutsu or ninjutsu." Lee admitted with a small chuckle, which caused Kanji's eyes to widen. "Because of that, though, I had a horrible time at the academy. All of my fellow students mocked me and my instructors advised to quit. Even my teammate, Neji, always told me how I was not fated to be a shinobi. There were nights where I would wish I could just forget everything that they ever told me." His hands tightened into fists. "However, I am glad that everything happened the way it did. Because of these experiences, I was able to push myself harder and harder. This helped me become stronger and now, I believe, I have made incredible progress as a shinobi that only uses taijutsu."
"… You made it to chūnin. With just taijutsu." Kanji realized. He looked at the shinobi in front of him with a look of amazement on his face. "That's… damn. That's incredible."
"Why, thank you." The chūnin smiled in response. "But I was only able to accomplish this because of my past. I recall the things that my peers all told me and used that to push me forward. I believe that your sensei did similar tactics."
"Naruto-sensei?" The blonde questioned.
Lee nodded his head: "Yes, Naruto-kun was told that he would never amount to anything because of bad grades and performances in the academy, but he used that to motivate him harder. And when he finally started to find people who believed in him, he pushed himself even harder to become the elite jōnin that he is today."
Kanji remained still for a moment as he processed what Lee said. He closed his eyes briefly before shaking his head.
"I… I don't want to elaborate much, but certain things that have happened have led me to the conclusion that it is pointless to try and better myself as a shinobi." He commented.
"Then reevaluate your past. Look at those events and use it as motivation to defy that conclusion. Prove to yourself that you can be better than you ever dreamed possible!" Lee declared.
The Yamanaka opened his eyes and looked at Lee's face. He noticed the chūnin starting at him with shining eyes, that appeared as if fire was inside them. Strangely, the sight was comforting to him. Kanji nodded his head in agreement and clapped his hands together, letting a smile cross his lips.
"I'll try." He stated. "Thanks for that Lee. I needed that. You really rock!"
"Ha!" The chūnin chuckled in response. "A pun on my name. Very clever!"
The two Konoha shinobi shared a laugh to each other. Unbeknownst to them, a jōnin was also awake.
Naruto looked over at them from his sleeping bag, a smile on his lips.
"I suppose this will be a good place to reside for now, Kabuto-san?" Mukade questioned.
Kabuto said nothing as he studied the building in front of him. It was a large, grey two-storey building away from the markets of Suna. There was a small pond in front of the building and a few cacti plants growing by the entrance. Not many buildings at all were nearby and the ones that were did not compare in size. Unlike the other buildings, this one did not have any sand on the building at all.
"It looks quite clean, Mukade-san. You've obviously taken good care of your home." Kabuto said with a smile.
"Thank you." The brown-haired man replied with a chuckle. "I don't enjoy the 'sand' aesthetic that the other buildings in Suna have. I think my place stands out just because I actually bother to clean my place once a week or so of any excess sand."
The two shinobi walked into the building. Kabuto's eyes scanned the area around him. He noted the expensive looking furniture inside and the amount of space that was there.
"So, this whole building is just for you?" He questioned as he adjusted his glasses. "You certainly know how to live, Mukade-san."
"If you think my place is good, Yūra's is better." Mukade admitted with a shrug. "You would probably have enjoyed staying there more."
"That is true, but it makes more logical sense for him to be here."
The two shinobi turned their attention to a hallway in Mukade's residence to see Yūra walking forward from the shadows.
"I live in a much more densely-populated area and, as a member of the council, I often get visitors. While I do not believe Kabuto-san would make his presence known to them on purpose, it is best to minimize the risk of contact as much as possible." He answered. "Your residence, however, is on the edge of the village. This is a more suitable place."
"Yūra, you've been here waiting for us, haven't you?" Mukade questioned. "How was the meeting?"
"Nothing spectacular." Yūra replied dismissively. His eyes focused on Kabuto and he bowed his head slightly. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Kabuto-san. Here's to making this a profitable experience for you, myself, Mukade, and Sasori-sama."
"My sentiments exactly, Yūra-san." Kabuto returned the bow with one of his own.
"With you here, we can discuss the specifics of your plans." Mukade stated as he brought his hands to his face in contemplation. "As I said, both Yūra and I can give you easy access to any graves that you with to go and you can work with the bodies at your pleasure. If you wish to do extensive research, however, I am afraid that you may run the risk of alerting the people of your presence."
"My research may take some time. I'll need at least a day or two with the bodies." Kabuto admitted. "I suppose that means that I will, in the end, alert the people."
"There is no issue. We simply need to cover it up." Mukade stated. "The only catch is picking a target that would be believable to the Kazekage and the higher-ups."
"To the Kazekage? That's not important." Yūra stated with a shrug. "Sunagakure, as a village, does not fully trust the Kazekage. The Yondaime was a man that was apparently working with Orochimaru and helped plan an invasion against Konoha. The reputation of the position has hit an all-time low. Then, take into consideration our Godaime's history and the connection that he has with the Yondaime-"
"Are you suggesting that we pin the missing corpses on the Kazekage?" Kabuto gave the councilmen a surprised look. The surprise quickly faded and a smirk developed on his face. "My, my; how daring of you. The political implications of such a move would be very interesting."
"While you are right, that would create an interesting environment here in Suna, that's not what I was suggesting." Yūra corrected. "Based off what you've said about your research involving corpses, I don't really believe there's anyway to twist evidence to make it look as if the Kazekage was stealing them. There's nothing of interest to him. However, I think there is a possibility we could argue that somebody else would have a slight interest. I think we have an opportunity to implicate somebody close to the Kazekage; somebody who the villagers and the higher-ups could suspect that the Kazekage would be covering for."
"Interesting." Kabuto said as he adjusted his glasses. "Do elaborate more."
Yūra nodded his head before continuing his explanation.
Four days had passed since the shinobi from Konoha had left Konoha. The group had made quick progress on their way to complete their mission, just as Naruto had predicted. They made it into Kawa no Kuni at the end of their second day.
As the afternoon began for their fourth day, the environment slowly started to change. Trees became less frequent of a sight. The visible plant life began to change as well, as more plants close to the ground began to become common. The ground itself started to change composition; most of the dirt and grass was gone and was beginning to become replaced with sand.
"Looks like we are going through a desert now." Tenten noted with a small chuckle. "Looks like we are just getting to Kaze no Kuni."
"It's just as you said when we left Konoha, Naruto-sensei." Hanabi commented. "We'll probably be getting to Suna either today or tomorrow."
"Ha! Awesome!" Katsumi grinned in response.
Both Kanji and Hanabi, just like their teammate, were beaming with excitement as well. They were, at most, a day's worth of travel away from stepping foot into a new village and completing their first C-rank mission. Accomplishment rushed through their bodies as they processed everything.
Naruto, too, was excited for his students. However, behind his grin and laid-back nature as they rushed through the desert of Kaze no Kuni, he remained on constant alert.
'Nothing has happened this mission that'd be something to handle; not even some non-chakra using bandits have attacked. Everything has been going peaceful.' Naruto told himself as he resisted the urge to scowl. 'I… I don't want to admit it… but Shikamaru and Dosu have a point. No mission like this goes without some kinda hitch. Something has to happen eventually.'
His eyes then focused in on the chūnin with them. Both Lee and Tenten were keeping up with his team with almost equal excitement as his students had.
'Ero-sennin showed me that mission with the academy in Suna, so I know their reason to be with us is legit… but something seems off.' He shook his head slightly. 'I know Lee and Tenten aren't here for no reason. He could have sent them a little bit later or earlier. He waited to send them until my team left. I think he has to suspect something too… something that may require us to have back-up.'
Instinctively, Naruto tightened his hands into fists. He looked forward at the approaching path with a determined look on his face.
'Well, whatever. We can handle whatever is coming our way.' The Uzumaki mentally declared.
With that thought, Naruto's pace began to increase. This, in turn, prompted his team to increase theirs as well.
Omake 6: Kunoichi?
"Well, I guess we should all be going to sleep soon." Naruto noted.
The group of Konoha shinobi had set up camp at a small oasis in the middle of the Kaze no Kuni desert. They had just finished eating a late-night meal and prepared their camp. The moon was now high in the sky.
"If your calculations were correct, Naruto-kun, we should be arriving in Sunagakure sometime tomorrow afternoon." Lee rationalized. "I cannot wait to arrive!"
"Ditto!" Katsumi nodded her head in agreement as she clapped her hands. "I can't wait to see what the village is like. I wanna know if it's anything like Konoha!"
"I'm actually curious myself." Hanabi admitted. "I've heard things about Kiri that Hinata-neesan has told me, but I don't know anything about Suna." The Hyūga looked over at her third teammate. "What do you think, Kanji-san?"
"Huh?" He blinked in confusion.
"About Suna." She elaborated.
"I'm… sorry. Can you repeat the question?" Kanji asked with a nervous smile.
"Dude, we've been talking about what we think Suna is going to be like!" Katsumi responded.
"Ah. My bad." The Yamanaka rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "I just had a thought and it was bothering me."
"What is troubling you, Kanji-san?" Lee questioned, looking at the blonde in confusion.
"Yeah, everything alright?" Naruto's eyes softened on his student. "Do you want to talk?"
"Er, it's nothing that serious. It's just a thought that I've been thinking about." Kanji mumbled. "… Ah, what the hell. Maybe you all can give me answer. Do any of you know why the word 'kunoichi' is a thing?"
"Kunoichi?" The other Konoha shinobi in the group looked at him in confusion.
"Yeah. Kunoichi. Why do we refer to female shinobi as kunoichi?" Kanji continued to question. His eyes then moved back-and-forth from Hanabi, to Katsumi, to Tenten. "Like, why do you all call yourselves kunoichi?"
"Um… I've never really thought about it." Hanabi admitted with a frown. She brought her right hand to her chin in thought. "I don't know. It's just a term that I've heard used and I've used it to."
"I mean, I call myself a shinobi too. I use them both interchangeably." Katsumi said with a shrug. "It's just a part of my description. By profession, I am a shinobi. I use that word. But, by definition, a kunoichi is a woman shinobi. Therefore, I refer to myself as a kunoichi."
"The term exists to highlight a woman that is a shinobi." Tenten spoke-up. Both Hanabi and Katsumi turned to face the chūnin as she continued. "Our profession is male-dominated… or at least, it used to be for a while. The majority of shinobi in history have been men. I think the term kunoichi was made to make a distinction about a shinobi that was a woman – someone who was entering a dangerous line-of-work not usually associated with them."
"Huh…" Katsumi mumbled to herself. "That… makes sense…"
"I actually love the word kunoichi. I wear the title like a badge of honor!" A grin developed on Tenten's face as she brought her hands together. "As more women decide to become shinobi and make a mark on history, I think it is more and more important to wear the title with a proud. Cause yeah, I'm a kunoichi. I'm a shinobi that happens to be a woman, and you know what? I can kick just much ass as any man!"
"Same here!" Katsumi clapped her hands together, her face developing a grin similar to the one on Tenten's face.
"I agree!" Hanabi nodded, smiling.
Naruto turned to Lee and elbowed him slightly. The spandex-wearing shinobi turned to face him.
"That was a pretty passionate speech." He noted.
"Indeed." Lee chuckled in response. "Tenten has always been very passionate about the topic. She is very proud of herself as a kunoichi and wants to prove anyone who has ever doubted her abilities how amazing she can be. It's an incredibly youthful attitude!"
"I get it." Kanji spoke-up loudly, drawing attention to him. "I understand why it's important. And I think that's honestly amazing. All I was wondering is why use the word kunoichi instead of the other?"
"Huh?" Tenten blinked in confusion. "What other word?"
A large grin developed on the Yamanaka's face: "Why call yourself a kunoichi instead of a she-nobi?"
Silence filled the area. Kanji's grin seemed to grow wider as he looked at the dumbfounded look on Tenten's face, as well as the irritated look on Katsumi's face.
"Was that questioning all set-up for that pun?" Naruto questioned.
"Maybe." The Yamanaka shrugged in response. "I've had that pun in my head for a while. I was just trying to think of a way to have it come into a conversation naturally and-"
The curly-haired blonde stopped talking, as he noticed a rush of killing intent approaching him. He turned to look closer at Tenten. The kunoichi was approaching him slowly, cracking her knuckles.
"So, do you think everything I just said right now was a joke?" Tenten asked in a soft voice.
"N-No! Of course not! Heh. Hehehe." Kanji quickly shook his head as he started to laugh uneasily. "It was j-just I had that pun in my head all day and-"
"Oww…" Kanji mumbled to himself as he rubbed his head.
A comically-large bump was on the boy's head. If he touched it, pain rushed through his body. If he left it alone, it still caused pain. He had no clue what to do to ease the pain.
"Totally worth it though." He told himself as he tried to smile.
The Yamanaka took in a deep breath. He did his best to ignore the pain. He was assigned to the first 'watch shift' of the night and he was looking for any threats. He couldn't afford to be concerned about any pain!
His eyes, however, briefly focused on the sleeping figure of Tenten. A shiver went down Kanji's back as a thought just occurred to him: she was the next person on the rotation for the night watch.
"She was still pissed at me when she went to bed. She'll probably hit me again when I wake her up. She'll probably hit me multiple times. Guess I'm gonna have ten-ten bruises after that" He noted to himself, chuckling slightly at his own pun.
On cue, Tenten's body moved in place. The sight of her movement caused another shiver to rush down his back.
'Okay, note to self; don't make any more puns around her.'
Original Plans: It's been a few chapters. I thought it might be fun to post a few more here, if you all like! :)
9: Here's a small tidbit that never really came-up and basically ended up not happening; Han was supposed to have a summoning contract for horses. I made a brief reference to it, by stating that Han's only friends (other than Rōshi) were horses back in chapter eight. Yeah... the Horse summoning weren't a particularly offensive summoning clan, as they were mostly supporters who help with transportation, setting-up attacks, and earth-related techniques, but their contract was a thing he possessed in my initial plans. I mention this because I also originally considered the idea of Han passing the Horse Summoning Contract to Naruto as a way to solidify their relationship with each other when they met again prior to the third round of the Chūnin Exams. I ended up scrapping the idea though quickly, because as the idea for the summons didn't fit Han's fighting style, it definitely did not fit Naruto's. Besides, I was more so considering either the snake or toad summons for him, so the horses were quickly benched. And with the scrapping of it, I just simply removed the contract from Han's possession.
10: Masakado's role and character was a lot different from when I first thought of him. When I first drafted the Uzushio Ruins mission, I had planned for an elder Uzumaki that was bitter at all current Uzumaki survivors to be present in the ruins. The unnamed Uzumaki would not be really combat able, since they were going to be incredibly old (in their hundreds), so I initially planned on them using seals scattered throughout the Uzushiogakure Temple to torture Naruto/Tayuya/Karin as they moved their way through until they reached them and could convince them to stop trying to kill them. That was the original intent, but that changed once I took a class titled "Samurai War Tales" at UF. I became really interested in the samurai stories of Heian Period Japan and all the legend/myth around them. Suddenly, this unnamed, frail Uzumaki began to fade in my mind and I envisioned an elder Uzumaki that would still be able to talk shit and fight back against people he incorrectly thought descended from traitors. With this change in character in mind, I named the Uzumaki after one of the most famous samurai in Japanese history, Taira no Masakado.
11: Tsunade (and Shizune) were actually supposed to be involved in the Kirigakure Civil War arc. I had actually planned for Zabuza, after surviving past the Nami no Kuni mission, to travel around the Elemental Nations looking to add recruits to Mei's army. He was supposed to find Tsunade and he would have dragged her into the mess either through offering a lot of money or by winning a bet with her. She was going to get introduced in chapter forty-one and would have been the lead medic of the rebels, because… you know… it's Tsunade. Of course she would be the lead medic! I ended up changing this decision for two reasons: one, regardless of if she lost a bet or how much money she was offered, the more I thought about it, I just could not rationalize why Tsunade would go participate in a war for a village that isn't even Konoha. There was no real way to write her in Kiri without it feeling forced. Two: it honestly felt too much to me. The Kirigakure arc already had me introducing a lot of characters and a lot of things were going on; it just felt like too much to try and squeeze introducing Tsunade and Shizune in there too, especially since my justification for her being there was rather flimsy. Therefore, her introduction was delayed to the last couple of chapters before the time skip!
Author's Note: Hey everyone! Here's chapter sixty-two! :)
So fun fact: Hurricane Matthew is apparently going to hit Florida tomorrow. I wanted to make sure this chapter got posted before I went to bed. If this is actually as bad as the media is hyping it up to be, then I don't want to risk the power going out and having to sit with this chapter in my computer, waiting to be posted. So... yeah. :P
Jokes aside: this hurricane is category four at the moment and it has already done a lot of damage in the Caribbean! Please keep the people involved in your thoughts! I'm seriously hoping this doesn't do too much damage and that not too many people will be affected... To any readers in Florida/Southeastern US/Carribbean: stay safe!
On the topic of the fanfic, I hope you all enjoyed the chapter! :) This was another 'light-ish' chapter as they traveled to Kaze no Kuni, but things should be picking up kinda soon. Hehehe. I hope you all enjoy what I have planned!
I've gotta be getting to bed soon, so I'm going to cut this short. I hope you all have a great night and that you enjoyed the chapter! I will see you all when it's posted. Until then :)