Top of the Tree

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When I returned home with a forehead protector tied around my head, surprise was my family's first reaction, then joy (which I found utterly disgusting). Surprised that I'd resigned myself to wearing the metal plate signaling my status, my parents didn't utter their opinion, in case of setting me off. Asuma was the first to regain his composure and caught me in a tight hug, muttering how he'd be a badass ninja like his big sister. Hiro and Mom flashed me warm smiles, and Hiruzen, for what seemed like the first time, wore a mask of approval.

We ate sushi for dinner, content in listening Asuma babble about something a friend of his had said, and Hiro describing an eccentric old lady he and his team had to escort, often times expressing his feelings through winces—apparently the old hag didn't think it was necessary to have kids looking after her, so she'd often wander off, getting into heaps of trouble. Hiruzen didn't have much to add, seeing as the majority of his work consisted either of paperwork or classified information, and Mom didn't want anyone to lose their appetite by relating the gruesome wounds she had to patch up that afternoon. I mostly kept to myself, every now and then adding a comment.

By the time dinner ended, Hiruzen called me into his office. I was nervous, of course, not sure why he wanted to talk to me in private; Hiro noticed this, and placed a comforting hand on my shoulder and sent me a reassuring smile. Mom left for the kitchen to wash the dishes, and Asuma left the dinner table oblivious to it all, determined to fit in some training before bedtime.

He sat me down on a chair before him and asked one question.

"What are your dreams for the future?"

I sat silently in surprise.

Thinking he'd brought me into his office for some lecture on how I was supposed to act, as the daughter of the Hokage, and how I was supposed to be the best.

I thought about a thousand answers in the five seconds of silence in-between his question and my answer.

"My dreams for the future…"

I paused, dramatically rolling my eyes to the ceiling in thought.

"is to reach the age of thirty,"

He looked at me in puzzlement.

"Why thirty?"

Because that's when it all starts.

I shrugged, "seems like a good age".

Hiruzen shook his head in exasperation. He'd never understand me—no one would.


Sleep didn't come as easily as I had hoped. Though I tried to crush whatever feeling of excitement I had regarding tomorrow's team assignments, I was unsuccessful, spending the time I had of sleep unproductively creating countless scenarios of the event in my head.

I woke up early with a start thinking that I'd overslept. It took a couple of minutes to regain my composure and realize that no, I hadn't overslept; instead I'd woken up three hours too soon. Dragging my body off my bed to get ready for the day took another couple of minutes, where laziness had settled into my muscles.

Slipping a pair of navy-blue pants, a black tank top, and over it a dark olive-green coat, I proceeded to wrap bandages around my ankles, so that the hem of my pants wouldn't be flapping with every move I made. I didn't bother to brush my curly hair, hastily pulling it into a tight ponytail—it's not like I was going to a beauty pageant or anything.

Stepping into the bathroom, I brushed my teeth after rinsing my face from its natural oils. Getting into my room, I checked the time (0730 hours), and left to grab some breakfast in the kitchen.

I lucked out, because there wasn't anyone there to make awkward early morning conversation. Practically inhaling my cereal in one go, I was about one foot out of the door what I noticed I was forgetting something: my forehead protector.

Treading back into my room, I found the metal plate on my vanity next to a picture of my brothers, Hiruzen and I. Quickly, I slipped the forehead protector over my head, adjusting it accordingly, and after one last check in the mirror, I left the room strapping a kunai hoister around my right thigh.

The streets were already bursting in activity as I made my way to the academy to meet my new team. The walk there went quickly, and without a hitch. I was stuck in a daze, and was only pulled out of it when I reached the building.

It felt odd to be retuning to the academy for any other purpose than to watch a class. The halls were deserted—the school year had ended, and there were two weeks of vacation until a new batch of wanna-be ninjas would start classes (my younger brother included)—my footsteps echoed throughout the building. I reached classroom 102 and entered.

There were about 36 graduates in the room, including myself, thus 12 future genin teams. I let go of the breath I hadn't noticed I'd been holding and took a seat in the only vacant spot. They were really desperate for numbers, I realized thinking back to the manga where there had only been three graduating teams.

They started calling names, none of which were familiar to me; they assigned a location to meet with their new sensei, and a team number. I silently went over the teammate options in my head—being an above average and well-rounded graduate, I'd probably be stuck with two others that were able to balance my strengths and weaknesses. My guess was that I'd be teamed up with a genjutsu specialist (being my weakness), and a highly intellectual graduate (strategies were hardly what I was known for).

Before I knew it I was alone with two other kids in the classroom. The teacher had long gone, saying that our instructor would be there shortly to get to know us. I didn't even bother to look, or rather, study my new teammates. I just dropped by head on the desk and closed my eyes. Granted, I couldn't sleep at such a time or uncomfortable position, so I let my mind wander instead.

Silence echoed across the room.

Then I felt a prickling sensation at the back of my head like someone was glaring holes into it. I felt a wave of annoyance come over me.

"Whatever it is you want to say, just spit it out," I said in a very monotone manner, not even bothering to lift up my head.

"You're the Hokage's kid," it wasn't a question.

I didn't even bother to say anything. Despite my highly antisocial ways, I did have a reputation, one of which I wasn't too keen on.

"I don't get what's the big deal about you," said the boy.

Me neither.

I turned my head to look at the kid. He seemed to be around my age, if not a year of two older. His hair was the ever-average brown much like my own and the majority of the village. He was sitting tensely on his chair, as if he was expecting me to strike him (not likely). His eyes were as blue as the sky, and he seemed to have a scar running from the middle of his forehead all the way to the tip of his nose. He seemed to be extremely short tempered, more than myself.

I raised an eyebrow.

"So?"

His face turned an interesting shade of purple in frustration of my nonchalance answer. It took him a couple of seconds to recover and come up with a comeback. On the other side of the room sat a girl older than the boy sitting quietly, observing. I spared her a glance, and noticed her calculated look, staring at us—the situation.

"So, you're probably all bark and no bite," He said, trying to get a rise out of me, obviously.

I shrugged and said getting up from my seat, "I suppose you'll find out soon enough,"

As if on cue, our future sensei barged into the room. He stopped, took one look at us and groaned in annoyance. He seemed to be the really muscle-y, brawn-over-brain kind of guy. His somewhat un-kept black beard seemed to take over the majority of his face, leaving quite a contrast between his face and shinny, bald head. He had several scars, including two on his face, running vertically down his left eye side by side—I'm not entirely sure how he hadn't lost his sight to such an injury (if he had, it certainly didn't seem like it). He actually reminded me of my superior, Lieutenant Higgins, when I first started army training. And if he was anything like Higgins, he was an extreme hard-ass, hardcore rule and protocol follower.

There was a slight pause as the man observed us intently—neither of us moved or made a single sound, hell I even held my breath.

"My name is Morino Matsumoto, that is all you'll need to know for our time as squad 17. I already know your names, so I'm not going to bother with introductions. Since you three will probably be dead by this time next year; I don't encourage you to get attached to each other. Any questions?" he asked, raising a single brow.

I think my jaw was hanging loose in bewilderment. I quickly glanced around, and the two others' reactions were similar.

I wasn't the first to recover.

The other girl spoke first, "how do you expect us to work as a team if we don't have the slightest clue to whom we're working with?"

"The only thing you need to understand is that there is a mission, and it needs to be completed. How it's done isn't the issue," the man drawled.

"The most efficient way, however would be through teamwork, and that can't be reached without the slightest level of trust," countered the girl.

So the he was an only-the-mission-matters kind of guy.

"We're at war, girl, your own family members could be spies, and you would never know."

I decided to step in, "so you're saying that we shouldn't trust. Does that include not trusting the decision of our team leader?"

"The only thing you need to know how to do is follow orders, not question them. No trust is necessary in such. You are now soldiers, weapons. You only have one purpose, and that's to help end this war," he spoke emotionlessly.

"You want us to be mindless followers?" yelped the boy, finally recovering from our new 'sensei's' bluntness.

"To put it eloquently, yes".

There was another uncomfortable pause, which seemed to last an entire eternity.

Matsumoto clenched his jaw, which for a moment threw me off. In an interrogation, the way someone closes their mouth can mean several things, two of which are in anticipation or restraint. He wanted something to happen; he wanted the conversation to continue, and not just end with him as the final say.

He was testing us.

"Then I suppose you should find another team to lead," I said, not quite sure where the courage to confront the bear-like man came from, "and while we're on the subject of not knowing one another, my name's Kozue".

The boy looked rather shocked opening and closing his mouth like a fish. The girl had a small smirk on her face, something akin to respect glinting coming from her eyes. Matsumoto looked ready to strangle me and pat me on the back in, approval, simultaneously.

"I'm Nara Toshiko," said the girl.

I took a long glance at her, studying her stereotypical Nara black hair, pulled back into a tight, high bun, and those intelligent black eyes. Her clothes, much like my own, were neutral and dark colored, making it easy to blend into the background, not matter the situation.

Almost instantly Toshiko and I turned our gazed to the boy, waiting to hear his name, not that I actually cared (I agreed with Matsumoto that we'd all probably be dead by that time in the next year).

"Kurama Satoru," re replied rather grumpily.

He was a genjutsu specialist? The boy who didn't have the least self-control?

We all returned our attention to Matsumoto.

"Did we pass?" asked Toshiko rather smugly.

The older man grumbled under his breath, and sighed in defeat, "with flying colors, though I think Kurama could've stepped up a little,"

Our attention turned to said boy, who had a look of confusion smacked across his face—he hadn't the slightest idea of what was going on.

"W-wh-what?" he stuttered looking around. I couldn't help but roll my eyes.

With a deadpan expression Toshiko explained, "it was a test, idiot".

To make him feel like even more of a moron, I added, "You didn't actually think that going through the academy exams would make us official ninja did you?"

"Uh…"

"You're from a shinobi family renown for their genjutsu. You should know that there's an eliminatory test given by possible future sensei to see if we have what it takes to be real shinobi," sighed Toshiko.

Frankly I was surprised she had the energy to speak an entire sentance.

"Ever heard of the fourth shinobi rule? A shinobi must always put the mission first,"

The boy nodded.

"This was a test to see if we're are mindless soldiers or potential leaders. You should've pieced this information together by the presence of Sarutobi in our squad alone,"

This made me raise a brow. I hadn't thought about that, but I suppose it made sense. Despite my and Hiruzen's rocky relationship, he wouldn't put me in a weak team only to get me killed in my first week. I guess I can be grateful for that, at least.

"Now that we've cleared things up, and have gotten acquainted," to put it lightly, "We are officially squad 17, and we'll be specializing in intelligence gathering. We'll meet tomorrow at 0500 hours on training ground 11 to start training," spoke Matsumoto.

"Yes, sir!"

And we scattered.


I'd like to apologize for the incredibly long wait. The only excuse I can give you is that I was writing my own life story (that and time simply flied by, and next I know months have gone by).

I spent over a month or so trying to decide what character personalities would best mesh with Kozue, and Toshiko, Satoru and Matsumoto came to life (so to speak).

I might have a bit of a time skip for next chapter, though I haven't quite decided.

Also, I'd like to thank all of you who have followed, added as a favorite, or reviewed my story. It's officially hit over 50k views, and I'm really grateful to all of you who've been a part of its growth.

Cheers,

CupcakeLoopy