The Twisted Reality 8

A voyage, no matter how great, always starts small. No man may run before walking, and no warrior can fight untrained. Growth is the key to everything, even in one's skills.

Konohagakure no Sato – Taifuu Shimura

His eyes met with the golden hued ones of the Hokage, the white complexion of the man being a neat contrast with the otherwise dark clothes he was wearing. Orochimaru of the Densetsu Sannin did not appear as a strong man. Indeed, he seemed a normal looking fifty years old, with streaks of white hair coming down together with those locks that remained brown. The man wasn't old, but at fifty years he clearly was no longer on top shape.

At least, that would have been indeed the normal thought of an enemy, and indeed they would be proven wrong by just staying in the same room as the man.

He felt the power hiding behind the façade of normality. He understood the underlying strength that poured through the body of the Yondaime Hokage, and better yet, he had known the man's feats during the war were not exaggerations. So it was with a kind of worried feeling that he waited for his instructor to undertake the first mission for his team.

"As per protocol," the Yondaime spoke smoothly, "You will be assigned a total of forty D-rank missions, before moving onwards to C-rank eligibility. You will be tested on the C-rank level before undertaking one, and then you will need promotion to Chuunin before becoming eligible to test for B and A ranks respectively. You team will remain together until the moment you are all made Jounins, but missions might require the particular talents of only one of you, or an addition to the team to be made. Finally, your Jounin-sensei is Morino Ibiki and as such you will come across highly classified information more than once during your training career: I advise strongly on not referring any type of information to any acquaintance, friend, or enemy. That is to say: keep your mouths shut and you might avoid making more enemies than normal."

Ino flinched, she was probably thinking something along the lines of the entire discussion being centered for her, and he couldn't help but blink his eyes for a moment.

He had thought there had been someone outside the window, just a second before…he had to have been mistaken probably.

"The forty D-ranks you will have to take are…" Orochimaru's sneer was clearly visible, something that normally a shinobi could hide pretty well, but maybe it was indeed in the Hokage's intention to make it clear how much he despised those missions, "Nothing more than chores."

For a moment nobody breathed in the office of the Yondaime, whose windows appeared to have been neatly closed by black drapes to avoid the light from filtering inside. The only source of illumination seemed to be a flickering flame in the corner of the room. In the shadows, the Anbus were probably hiding, ready to assist their Hokage should the need arise; not that they would actually be necessary though if somebody tried such a stupid thing as to attack the Hokage.

"I truly feel that doing such things is debasing for the profession of shinobi and kunoichi alike," Orochimaru kept on talking, "Why should a man trained to kill paint a house? Why should he pull out weeds? Then again, delivering reports throughout the land of Fire is a D-rank mission, and a pretty important one at that, but it is not what I want to tell you." The Snake Sannin slowly lowered his gaze to his desk, before pointing to a set of documents stacked in a corner of the wooden surface.

"These here are a pile of D-ranks. These are your pile of D-ranks. They have been preemptively taken, assigned and graded. None of these missions would take more than an hour a day to complete, and that is why I am expecting you to complete eight missions a day, for the following five days…I do not expect you to need being cuddled." The man hissed, "If you can't walk a dog in a park, then I suggest you renounce being a shinobi to begin with. Now, you have until the end of the week to complete your stack of missions. You will find that some papers have a red border, meaning those have a fixed date and time to work in, while others do have a yellow one, meaning they must be done during an allotted period of time on specific days…finally the green one are those to be done at leisure…"

He didn't want to ask why the Yondaime was telling this to them, but then again it was just like if the man could read in his mind, because the next second a small smirk appeared on the lineaments of the Sannin, who spoke once more.

"Indeed, I am not merely speaking to you to pass my time that is precious as it is: from the moment your stack is done, and you pass your initial testing for C-ranks at the end of them, you will no longer direct yourself here for missions, but instead head downstairs of the Hokage Tower, at the first floor. Mind you…" this time an underlying threating tone found its way from the Yondaime's throat to the room, "Do not have me look at you again for anything less than an A-rank or S-rank mission, which I personally assign…are we understood?"

"Yes Hokage-sama," Ibiki spoke first, soon chorused by him and the other two of his teammates. He kept quiet as Ibiki moved to grab the stack, bowing one time to the Hokage before turning to leave. He bowed too, together with a stiff bow from Shino and a slightly more gracious one from Ino. As they turned to leave however, the voice of the Hokage cut in on their retreat.

"Genin Shimura, stay for a moment." He stopped, turning around and standing to attention with his eyes moving worriedly from Ibiki to the Hokage and vice-versa.

Ibiki merely snorted, before muttering.

"We'll be waiting outside, kid."

With the team gone, he waited there for the Yondaime's next words, half-expecting another interrogation on the matter of where he had ended up being during his missing time.

"I have received a report concerning the wounds you have suffered in protecting one of your comrades…even before the official start of her career." The Sannin spoke quietly, "It is apparent you have healed well enough to be fit for service, however seeing how this fact primarily concerns you and your friend, and until a case can be mounted, I would suggest steering clear from the Uzumaki compound. As you will realize no mission assigned to your team even goes close to it. I must insist on not taking any, at all, contact with any Uzumaki clansmen of sorts. Understood?"

"Yes Hokage-sama." He replied stiffly, waiting to hear if the Hokage had anything else to add.

"Concerning your permission to re-enter your father's house, it has been granted. Civilians you designate are now authorized in the premises, but you are responsible for any documents or information you might find within it: if the village of Konohagakure no Sato or any of its inhabitants were to end up damaged by your lack of responsibility, you will be the one held accounted for."

He nodded once more, and this time the Yondaime nodded too, but towards a corner from which, silently, a masked man emerged without making a single noise. As he watched the man near him, he couldn't help but feel nervousness at the sight of the Anbu in question. Not even his breathing could be heard, and the porcelain mask that appeared harmless, just like the Yondaime after all, was in truth something that struck fear in the hearts of those who knew what an Anbu really was. A machine for war, a tool for death and an instrument of the Hokage…these were only a few of the appellatives given to the Anbus, who answered only to the Yondaime and worked in the most high risking positions.

The Anbu's right hand held a small packet, with his name and ninja number on it, followed by what appeared to be an enclosed letter.

"In the package you will find the various keys of the house, the letter merely list what key does what and where, and how the Fuinjutsu seals are placed in the house: while normally every possessor of a building must give out the full list of defenses installed within the compound, it is a highly…practiced thing to forget about one or two traps." The Snake Sannin's voice turned thoughtful, "Which is the reason that usually forces the Hokage to have people transfer until the apartment is once more cleared for use following the death of the owner."

He nodded curtly, murmuring in a clear voice.

"Thank you Hokage-sama."

"You are dismissed, Genin Shimura...stand tall in the shadows of the leaf, hold your roots firmly and let the will fire burn brightly in you."

"Hai, Hokage-sama!" And with that final exclamation on his part, he left the office of the Yondaime. Coming out from the door, he blinked a bit, his eyes tearing up from the increased light that came from the ceiling. The secretary of the Hokage merely smiled at him, before pointing with the tip of her pen towards the exit.

"Your sensei is outside, hope everything went well with Orochimaru-sama." The secretary had flaming pink hair and her eyes appeared to be a light brown color. He vaguely recalled her as an acquaintance during one of the few times his father had held guests in his house, Tay- something being her name.

"Thank you." He replied calmly, before heading off alongside the corridor. He could swear he heard the girl giggle as he left, but it was probably nothing about him…he knew secretaries tended to have inside-jokes of strange nature, and send to each other post-its and messages to pass the boring times.

His father had told him once that he had condoned that type of activity because it helped lower the stress at the workplace, especially with documents marked triple S-Secret going around.

His eyes adjusted to the bright light of the outside just in time to see his sensei look at him with his usual gruff demeanor, his arms crossed and one of his brows raised in the pretty universal gesture of curiosity mixed with repressed frustration.

The man was probably mad at him for being so late.

"House keys." He murmured quickly, not wanting to make his sensei any angrier for his lateness.

"Alright." Ibiki replied after a brief glance at the package in his hands, before turning to move together with them, at the same time looking over the stack of papers the Hokage had assigned them.

"Today, you have to pull out weeds, do the grocery for a lovely lady called Mai and assist the Inuzuka compound with dog problems in the afternoon." Ibiki's face was positively murderous as he handed over the three assignments to Ino, who took them graciously. "The Hokage said to do eight a day: well…I am one for efficiency above anything else." That said, he took three others and handed them over to Shino.

"You have to babysit a rowdy kid, paint a fence and repair a roof."

Finally, the sensei turned to him, and grabbing three assignments he merely shoved them into his arms.

"You have to report to the weapon department and proceed with cleaning their warehouse, reach for the Central Intelligence Office and take the written down scrolls back to the Central Processing Office and finally, for the last assignment, head to the Retired Shinobi Association and help the residents with their problems."

Ino looked ready to say something, but a sharp glare from Ibiki closed her mouth quickly.

"Now move! You will report back to me at Two and a half sharp this afternoon for three more each. We have no choice concerning the fixed time ones and the day fixed ones, but for all the others? We're going to go through them as fast as possible!"

"Hai, sensei!" With the loud exclamation, the three dashed off.

He looked at the first one of his, the cleaning of the weapon department warehouse, and scoffed. Technically it would take only one hour for him to finish a mission, believing the Hokage's words. That would have left him, since it was early morning and all, a long enough time to transfer his things back to his old house. He had to get the guest room ready after all: Katsu would be coming with him, and that would be the end of the line. He had to keep far away from the Uzumaki though…at least until the Hokage looked into that and brought forth the solution to his friend's problem.

To think that Sakura didn't even seem like a psychotic girl: it's always the quiet ones that apparently brandish the biggest knives. He didn't want to think about being constantly followed, eyed or maybe even spied during the night by the girl in question. If somebody had asked him before, he'd say that being followed by a girl would be some sort of flattery to his beauty. Now, however, he understood just how creepy it could be: being spied upon without you knowing, being followed everywhere or maybe not, not actually knowing when and if the girl in question would be lurking in the shadows waiting for you and when it wouldn't…It was scary.

It was really scary.

Training Ground 44 – Katsu Uzuki

She was there, holding her kunai. The only weapon her sensei had told her to bring had been a kunai after all, yet as much as she looked around worriedly she couldn't sense her sensei anywhere outside of the gate. She couldn't go in without her, could she? Yet again, it wasn't like the Jounin had given her the number of the gate in question…and there were forty-four gates to look for. Of course, as she had begun walking around them, she had felt the dreadful sensation that she knew, deep down, at what gate her sensei was going to wait for her.

She was proven correct: Gate Four sported a purple haired woman dressed with a visibly wide trench-coat and a fishnet shirt beneath it, twirling a kunai in her right hand as to pass time. Of course the feral grin was still there, if a little bit abated by a bored look; which, of course, didn't bode well.

"There you are!" Anko exclaimed with a smirk, "My cute little apprentice ready to learn!"

She had barely reached her sensei that the purple haired woman's hand shot forward, striking her in the stomach before grabbing her arm through a successive motion and pinning her on the ground.

"Lesson number one! Never be taken off guard!" The woman chirped, before whispering, "And I want your reply to show me the proper respect, girl."

"Y-Yes Beautiful and…Supremely Sexy Anko-sensei?" No, it was…it was the wrong way. The woman merely grinned wider, before grabbing a hold of her and disarming her with relative ease.

"For having used the wrong appellative, which still flatters me by the way, you'll go inside without weapons!" And then the woman walked through the gate, ignoring the Chuunin guard stationed inside who said nothing.

"In the forest of death, there are a lot of snakes," Anko sing-sung, "A lot are poisonous and a lot are venomous, and a lot will kill you, and a lot of a lot of a lot will eat you." It was a merry song, at least to hear because she was not feeling merry at all, being held by the woman and being brought deeper into the forest.

"Now! I'm sure you'll be thinking: is this going to kill me? And the answer is, of course, yes!" The woman chirped, "I need an apprentice with guts! The other two? They were worthless failures who died because of the poisoning! I could go around a couple of laws and explain…but let's just stick to the usual: you fail with me? You die!"

And then she was thrown against a tree bark near a small meadow that held a river crossing through it. The grass was a bright green color, and the tall trees surrounding them appeared menacingly frightening with their twisted branches and dark green leaves. The river by itself was nothing more than a stream, which seemed to be going towards Ovest.

"This here is a nice spot as any to drop you off." Anko shrugged, before getting into a loose stance with her right hand in front of her and her left dangling to her side. "Now come at me!"

She stood up slowly, gasping for air and wincing because of the pain flaring in her stomach. Barely able to breathe, she simply charged at the woman with her right arm coiled over her shoulder, ready to hit the sensei with a punch.

Of course it was then that Anko's right hand blocked the incoming blow, and then a sharp set of pain hit her through the right side ribs.

Anko's left arm, loose and left behind, had struck like a coiled snake against her ribs, forcing her to wince and let out a startled gasp as she could hear the sickening crunch of her ribs being…tenderized? Was that even possible?

"You left your side open." Anko hissed quietly, "And you get no extra points." She added thoughtfully, before sending a sharp kick against her lower stomach, blinding her in pain as she rolled on the ground before hitting the river's side. The cool water shocked her from her possible oblivion, but every little movement in her crawl back to land was positively hellish to sustain.

"Are you a brawler?" Anko queried, "Or maybe you're a wrestler. No, let me guess: you're a fighter right? Please, pray tell me why of all the stupid things to do, you had to charge in?"

She bit her lip as she wobbled back up on her two feet, her lower half drenched in the water of the stream.

"I…I'm good at Taijutsu."

"Are you better than me?" Anko asked again, raising an eyebrow, "Are you some sort of stupid prodigy who thinks he can defeat a Jounin as a mere, weak, pitiful Genin?"

"N…No." She whimpered back, and once more, she realized she had done something wrong. She had forgotten to use the appellative…and it had been twice at that.

"Two strikes. Waste the third and I'll have you feel real pain." The woman hissed, once more a feet stamping her on the ground, her face buried in the grass, in the dirt.

"And to think it's just that simple. Can't you do it? Are you stupid? Maybe you're retarded. No, even a retard could use my appellative…are you thinking something about 'She's not really going to kill me?' perhaps?" The woman rambled, before removing her weight from her leg and grabbing her by the neck.

"Now…I want to hear it." Anko's warm breath behind her ear made her shiver as she could feel her arms limp around her, her hands trembling.

"Supremely…beautiful…and…" She hiccupped, her voice remaining in her throat.

"And?"

"And…and you're a bitch!" She yelled at her, "A fucking damn bit…" She couldn't finish, because her mouth impacted against the ground once more, the taste of dirt entering her throat as the pressure on the back of her head increased.

"I'm not in the mood for wasting time." The voice growled, "There is a thin line between childishness and maturity, you know?" The woman murmured, "There is a thin line between madness and morality. There is a thin line between truth and lie, and there's a thin line between being alive and being dead. So tell me, do you really want to cross that line? Because once you do, you snap the line. And once you snap it, one way or another you will pay for it." The pressure on the back of her head abated, probably because the woman had let her go

"Now stand up." Anko hissed. "And show me if you're a shinobi, or a thug of the streets."

She spat out the dirt from her mouth, standing back up with her eyes blinking away the tears of pain she was feeling falling down from her eyes.

She couldn't attack head on, could she? Of course she couldn't: she didn't even have a weapon with her. She couldn't even run, because she knew how fast the woman was. She couldn't…no, nothing came to her mind. There was no way out of there even by using chakra. She could try still, but it didn't mean she'd manage.

"Well? I'm waiting." Anko commented, the woman's right hand being brought under the scrutiny of her hazel eyes as if to look if the nails needed to be polished. The woman was even going as far as tapping her right foot on the ground, in wait.

She gulped heavily, letting her saliva slump down her throat as her hands trembled and moved closer to make the necessary signs. She could feel the chakra being molded, and when no pain came immediately, she began to think this was the right thing to do.

Just as the last hand sign was about to complete itself a Kunai struck her with unnatural ease through both of her palms…for a single instant, she did not register the pain of having both of her hands pierced by the metallic weapon.

For a single instant, her blood ran cold with the feeling that Sakura had ambushed her, and that she was going to die there. Then her eyes settled on her sensei, who was no longer twirling a kunai, but was looking at her with a grin, a wide predator like smirk that made her far scarier than Sakura herself.

"Wrong answer!" The woman chirped.

Just then, just as the words came…she screamed in pain as she began to run, trying to unstuck her hands.

"Now this isn't funny!" Anko's voice came from her side, before yet another Kunai struck true on her shoulder. "Run my little pet! Run!"

Her vision blurred from the tears of pain, but fear, fear and fright, made her run. Her feet stomped against the grass and the dirt, the noises of the forest forgotten behind the maniacal laughter of the purple haired woman that seemed so keen on following her and trying to kill her.

"Is this the best you can do!?" The Kunoichi snarled from behind her, just like if she had been whispering in her ear.

She did not turn around to look, but instead kept her dash, her hands felt cold and unresponsive, except for the flaring pain that came when she tried to move them. It hurt, and yet she had to do something about the Kunai, because unless she removed it, she'd be without Jutsus.

"You know what? You're no fun!" The voice was mock-pouting, she could swear the woman was having fun with her, she just knew that had to be the case.

"I kind of hoped to keep you around for at least a day or two…maybe four, just to make this a bit more symbolic." The woman teased. "Then again if this is all you have, maybe I should have been merciful and offed you with the kunai, instead of just taking away your hands."

This wasn't what she had! She could do much more! She…she knew how to mold chakra, and she knew the basic three. That was what she could do. The survival training hadn't…it hadn't…

Her eyes narrowed down for a moment, before she snapped them close, within herself hoping that this was the case. Her heart was beating fast, pouncing within her ears like it was about to burst, and yet as the chakra slowly dwindled away from her brain she felt better. She felt things clearer, light headed as she felt…and then she opened her eyes slowly.

Her hands weren't being impaled by a kunai.

Anko hadn't even moved from her spot.

She didn't feel as sore as she thought she'd be from being thrown raggedly around.

She narrowed her eyes on her sensei, who, apparently, was doing the victory sign with her right hand.

"And the victory goes to the Super-Beautiful Anko-sensei!" The woman cheered fist-bumping in the air, "I knew I had it in me to make my whiny little apprentice better! Well, how do you feel?"

She didn't see it, but she knew she had just then narrowed her eyes and clenched her fists. Her teeth were gritting one with the other, and there was a positively furious look on her face.

"First lesson of the day is thus the following!" The woman shrugged after not receiving a reply, "How to recognize Genjutsu and how to disrupt it!" And then, once more, a punch landed itself straight into her guts, but this time she didn't wince as much as putting her hands together in the 'release' stance.

"First off, Genjutsu is tricky because it requires both eye contact and a set of signs." Anko began talking calmly. "In truth, the reason the sharingan is hailed as one of the 'most important Doujutsu of Konoha' just like the Byakugan," Anko sneered as she quoted with a false-mocking tone, "Is because their eyes can memorize the hand signatures of a Genjutsu they have previously seen and automatically disrupt it. Meaning that…"

The silence stretched in the meadow for a moment, before Anko's forehead sported a tick mark.

"I'm talking to you!"

"They are…immune to Genjutsus?" She hesitated, only to jump to the side and avoid a kunai, one that seemed all the more real.

"No!" The purple haired woman yelled. "It means they can disrupt them without wasting the time for the hand signs! But if they get targeted by a Genjutsu they haven't seen before…"

"Then they suffer from it?"

"Good…there's still hope." Anko nodded to herself, before grabbing yet another kunai and starting to twirl it. "Now, ways to counter Genjutsu?"

She stood quiet for a moment, and then a kunai came her way. She ducked under it, realizing that these ones were positively slower than before.

"Kai. Feeling pain from outside. Disbelieving it?"

"Your hands are blocked and you don't have enough chakra to disrupt it. The pain comes from the Genjutsu itself and you believe everything is real…what do you do then?"

The question asked appeared simple: nothing and suffer from it. Yet there had to be an answer, because after all her sensei had asked her that.

"I…die?"

"No, but you'd wish it was the truth." Anko replied smoothly. "So the only choice left, when you're in deep shit is the following: don't end in deep shit!" The woman basically yelled while pointing her kunai at her like it was a stick of sorts. "If you end up in an ambush, then you're in shit! Why didn't you act with more care? Why did you fall for an ambush? If you end up captured, then you're in shit! Why did you let the enemy capture you alive? If you end up failing a mission, then why did you fail it? You must be prepared, brat, to do everything in order to succeed…you must be prepared, girl…" Anko took a deep breath, before whispering out with her eyes cold and narrowed, "For the worst and act based on the extremely worst scenario."

She blinked. She…

"I know you don't understand me now." Anko sighed. "But one day…one day you will. Maybe. Right now it's going to be enough if you'll survive till tomorrow."

And then, of course, the Kunais she had been conveniently ignoring began to disappear into smoke clouding her vision.

"What was I saying about eye contact?"

Konohagakure No Sato Training Ground Thirteen – Taifuu Shimura

"The first lesson I will teach you is the value of silence." Their sensei spoke clearly, sitting cross legged on the branch of a tree of the training ground. Apparently, Ibiki had hanging from the branch a long scroll filled with senbon needles.

"Each of these senbon is coated with a mildly paralyzing toxin: if you get hit, you will probably freeze for at least five minutes." Their kept on talking, "If any of you make a noise, I will hit you with one of them. The one who will get hit most times will have to remain here one additional hour taking a tongue lashing on the importance of silence. Meaning he will finish his chores one hour later. You may begin."

Albeit it felt kind of heart wrenching, both Shino and he silently looked at each other for a moment, before setting their gazes on Ino who appeared to be already hanging her head defeated.

At least, only for a moment: the devious smirk the blond girl was now showing both of them made the Aburame and he perplexed.

Truly, they should have realized it sooner. She wasn't just Ino, the obnoxious blond girl…she was also Yamanaka.

Her hands cupped up in their natural form for the Shintenshin, and it was there that she stilled. Why did she still herself?

It couldn't be that she still thought that Jutsus had to be named out loud to be used, right? The 'Name-calling' was an unlucky thing that many academy students fell into: one didn't need to mutter, yell or otherwise pronounce a jutsu to make it work. One just needed to mold the chakra with the hand signs, and some time not even with that, to make it work.

There was nothing else to it. Silence is the virtue of the shinobi.

Wasn't that what Ibiki had said? He felt puzzled, because this lesson, albeit important…it was just as if he had already had one similar to this.

It took him a moment to realize that Ino was quietly taking a step in his direction. Just as she slowly landed the foot on the ground, a Senbon needle departed from Ibiki's branch and hit her straight in the thigh. She fell on the ground sprawling, and after a couple of spasms stood very still.

He and Shino merely looked at one another and then blinked.

A light feeling of being walked upon came to his senses, his forehead strangely feeling ticklish. He narrowed his eyes while looking at the Aburame. That was completely unnecessary. Really, to try and trick him into losing? Didn't the Aburame know about the 'being a team' thing? Probably he didn't, because another buzzing sound came right next to his ear.

His eyes more than aptly were practically saying Do It. His fists slowly clenched themselves tightly, before the buzz came to a stop.

"Of course since an Aburame and his bugs are together, the faults of one end up on the other." Shino was twitching on the ground, by the time Ibiki's eyes settled back on him.

He looked at their sensei without as much as making a breathing noise, quietly and silently waiting for the time to pass.

"So you seem to be good at this, a natural." Ibiki remarked drily, "Your breath is barely audible, your posture is relaxed…it's a matter of surviving the heat for fifteen minutes now, isn't it?"

He did not reply.

"You know, the Sandaime was a good man." His sensei began talking, "He did a lot of things that a lot of people don't know about, but that helped Konoha in the long run."

He still did not reply, but he was visibly interested, and that it showed was probably a disgrace to his father's motto of 'keep emotions out of shinobi business'.

"One of the things he did was to secretly have shinobi who had disappeared from the radar followed around by Anbu personnel for a period varying from two to three months, in order to ensure they were not spies." Ibiki spoke again, "You're never sure if the guy that came back is lucky to be alive or a treacherous backstabber after all."

There was still no reply, and he knew he couldn't even clench his fists because it would make noise…so he stared. He looked straight at Ibiki's eyes and waited for the man's rambling to finish.

"Taifuu Shimura came back at 08:34 morning, sporting a variety of flesh wounds and senbon needles stuck within his body in various points. He suffered light charring to the face and apparently lost sensitivity over his left arm for the following hours, until he awoke at 11:56 with a groan."

He raised an eyebrow in silence, well…what was the sensei playing at?

"The first few words were 'Thank Kami' and 'Where am I', and there's much more that came to light in the following time frame." The scarred man's smile grew quite a bit, "However the mystery is not where he has been kept imprisoned, even though it's unknown...not, it's his…Localized Time Frame Amnesia? Over a specific period of one year? No. Such a thing doesn't exist…yet Taifuu Shimura can clearly remember the last day he walked out of Konoha heading towards survival training, but nothing in the middle. He has yet to display any sign of being a rogue or a Nuke-Nin or a spy. Now one might query why the need to put him in the special interrogation department group, when the risk of him being a spy is so high…"

He nearly snorted at that, but he knew his face was betraying the inner turmoil within him. He really had no idea what had happened during that year. Only bits and pieces of flashes and slow murmured voices in the back of his head were all that he could remember. Even then, the majority of them made no sense.

"Him being a conscious spy is tricky at best to define: what could they offer him? The son of the Sandaime could only be brainwashed into servicing an enemy nation, and even then there would be no guarantees. He was devoid of seals on his body at the moment of his arrival, and thus there is positively no way he'd be a spy unless of his own free will…which leaves us to the following conclusion: he might be a sleeper agent." Ibiki mused out loud, fiddling with a senbon needle.

"His attitude is one of seriousness and the perfect shinobi blend that Konohagakure no Sato loves to have among its rows, his training brought him the rookie of the year, which means that had he been a spy, his orders weren't of laying low. The question pertains however as to…what if he is saying the truth? If he is really saying the truth, then there would be positively no way to discern it, because the Yamanaka mind probe turned out inconclusive. There remains thus only one clear crystal way to have the answer…"

Ibiki's tone was soft, as his eyes strangely displayed a light guilt before the next words left his mouth.

"Ask him...are you a spy?"

His eyes widened in shock and disbelief. This was the top of the interrogation department!? It wasn't like he was going to answer that, was he? No, really, was he really expecting someone to answer that question!? He wasn't a spy for heaven's sakes! He…

"Bewilderment." Ibiki muttered with a grin, "Offense. Slight anger. Shock probably. There isn't a trace of smugness of having successfully pulled off a lie and…" What was he saying right there? "Confusion, perplexity, puzzlement…all there." All there what? Was he… "Narrowing eyes, gritting teeth, slightly slow realization isn't it? Yes well, you got it right in one go: I've been reading your body language. You have excellent control by the way, many idiots would have yelled at me midway…might have even worked in putting me off your case sooner."

The man smiled, before nimbly descending from his branch.

"Well, you really didn't believe the shinobi world was something as easy as 'see the log, hit the log, rinse and repeat' did you? Now, Hatake Kakashi came out with the catchphrase 'Look underneath the underneath' during his Anbu days…which is kind of the good old proverb 'Trust nothing that isn't you'."

He glared at the man, holding his eyes in the most murderous possible way. Suddenly, his ears caught the small groan of Ino, who was slowly standing back up…and got another needle in the shoulder, for having groaned.

"Silence means silence all the time." Ibiki smoothly said. "Take example from the Aburame: he suffered a hit, had his bugs take out the poison, and now he's down on the ground feigning still being paralyzed."

Shino did indeed slightly tense, now that he was carefully analyzing his posture, his 'fallen' posture was pretty much similar to a lazy guy laying out for the sun to tan him…if it weren't for the big bulky coat and sunglasses.

Of course the Aburame had to play the part of the dead possum: it was a perfectly logical endeavor in such a situation.

He didn't wince for the first ten minutes, but as time went by simply standing still on his feet was starting to make him feel a bit…cramped. He didn't dare to even try and take a step, not with Ibiki now far closer, humming to himself a song while walking in circles around the three still Genin.

The sun's blaze wasn't deadly, no matter the fact that the warm months were just behind the corner. The problem wasn't however with the warmth. It was with the fact that once more, Ino was trying to bring her hands into the gesture of the Shintenshin. Was she actually going to?

Well, now that she was indeed two to one with Shino, and two to zero with him, if she did aim at him she'd reach three to zero, but then she'd be in control of his body and able to do noise…but that was only if their sensei didn't hear her.

Or would he hand over the points to him if he ended up under the Shintenshin?

It was a tough call, but as he stood there watching the girl finish the hand sign, his eyes drifted to the walking…walking swarm of Kikkaichu that was apparently headed for his feet.

This was playing dirty.

This was really, really unfair.

It was just an extra hour of work: there was no need to go to such lengths just to antagonize him. He had thought better from Shino. He had at least expected the Aburame to be impartial or…the bugs began to climb softly on his clothes, instead of entering through his pants.

"Shintenshin!" The yell of Ino promptly docked the blond girl a senbon from Ibiki, but then…nothing happened.

He looked perplexed at the paralyzed expression of Ino, then towards the swarm of bugs that had apparently…covered him? Shino had covered for him.

At the expense of yet another senbon coated with paralyzing venom, the Aburame had covered for him. With that thing clear in mind, he did the only thing his heart told him would be acceptable to show his gratitude.

"Thank you." Of course, when the senbon hit him he didn't as much as wince. After all since ten minutes had already passed, and both Ino and Shino had three and two points each. He having only one point made him the lowest, and he could 'spend' off the remaining time in paralysis to avoid making more noise.

"You actually had to deliver that one line now, didn't you?" Ibiki muttered, before moving to sit in front of the tree once more. "I didn't even have to use all the senbons. I suppose I should have expected it from the 'good' team of the academy roster."

Even when paralyzed, he knew better. On a fifteen minute interval, giving off a paralysis that lasted five minutes meant pretty much a maximum of three hits, like those that Ino had suffered for example. Then there were two and finally one or none.

Had they all stood still it wouldn't have happened at all, and Ibiki should have known that. So why did he have to come with what seemed like the stock for an entire sewing industry?

The reason was clear of course.

"Since you're all this good, then I suppose we can keep this going…for the rest of the afternoon."

Of course: no training is done only for the sake of hitting a log, is it?

Konohagakure no Sato – Katsu Uzuki

She stumbled at the doorway. Her apartment had apparently been emptied of all things. Quietly, she palmed the kunai she had so gingerly 'forgotten' to hand back over to her sensei and moved inside slowly, keeping her back against the wall.

First, she peered around the corner, before deciding it was safe to enter the room and look around, frantically searching for some signs of…of where her stuff had ended up going.

There were no traces of things having been destroyed, or trashed. If Sakura had done this, then she had been incredibly cool about it: even the little furniture she had had disappeared!

The window that had been broken by the hail of kunais had apparently been repaired, but except for that the apartment was empty. Even the tatami mat with the small hidey hole, default built for every paranoid shinobi, was empty of her weapon cache. A knock on the door alerted her that somebody was actually waiting to enter the room.

Quickly, she jumped silently behind the door, looking out of the peephole to stare at the guy…Benika?

Taking a sigh of relief, she opened the door and smiled briefly.

"Benika!" Having said that, she quickly exited and closed the door behind her, "I'm sorry, but my room's a mess and…"

Benika blinked once, a small smile appearing on her face before she murmured a single word.

"Empty."

"Huh?"

"Taifuu asked. I'm leaving tomorrow with my team for Wave's border, so since he didn't want to ask Okito, lazy slob staying in Konoha as part of the 'administrative to be' guys, he asked me." The girl smiled gingerly, "If you ever want some lady time, call Fukuyo: she's in Konoha too with the med-nins."

She merely nodded numbly, before moving her head to the side.

"So…where did Taifuu ask you to take my stuff?" She had an inkling of an idea of course, but she just hadn't expected him to act…that fast.

"Shimura's house! Oh right, here's the key!" Benika was pretty much smiling as she handed over to the girl a strange wooden token. "It has a seal on it of some sorts: as long as you have it the gate opens and the traps don't spring."

She took it, examining the strange symbol that seemed to be a stylized fire covered in more neat and smaller kanjis, all impressed into the wood with a dark red substance…a substance she hoped only vaguely resembled blood: it couldn't be blood, could it?

"Thank you?" She hesitated for a moment, considering the girl was still smiling at her, brightly holding both of her arms behind her back. "Is there something…"

"Chikao told me." Benika blurted out, suddenly losing all of her 'girlish' things that clearly didn't match her appearance, "You could have told us." The tone was filled with hurt and slight anger.

"I…"

"No, no need. It's all water under the bridge." The masculine girl replied with a shrug, "Fukuyo's actually taking your old apartment, since she's moving in from outside."

"That saves me the trouble of finding out where she's living." She replied with a light giggle, "Thanks for everything Benika."

"Not a problem! Don't be a stranger now though! I'm expecting a letter with all the saucy details!" The girl laughed at that, heartily and fitfully. She blinked once, looking at Benika like she was some sort of alien, before slowly muttering back a reply.

"What?"

"You and Taifuu, living together in the same house? Come on lover girl," Benika winked, "Didn't know you had your hooks on him! Son of the Sandaime no less!"

"It's not that!" She was probably blushing, probably because her fists were clenched and her face was filled with disbelief…at least she hoped she was correctly showing it. "There's nothing of the sort between us!"

"Yet."

"No! No 'yet', at all!" She crossed her arms in an X position, shaking her head vigorously.

"So he's just a really good friend?" Benika queried once more, a strange impish grin on her face.

"Yes!" As soon as she nodded that, the tomboyish girl grinned just like a cat that's about to scarf down a mouse.

"Then…you don't mind if I make my moves, do you?" She gagged at that. Benika and…Taifuu? Wait. No! That was completely out of the equation!

"Benika! No! You can't!" She was probably getting all flustered over nothing, but still she had to say something!

"Oh, why not?" Benika chuckled at her antiques, probably thinking something funny along the lines of having fooled her and such.

"Because he's my…" family? That was just a childish thing they had decided upon in the orphanage…and then Taifuu had forgotten even that.

"See? Taifuu and Katsu sitting under a tree, holding hands…" as Benika began to sing, a sudden chill of cold ran on her spine, making her unnaturally wince and then look at the stairs. There was no-one there, of course.

She took a deep calming breath, before scowling at the brown haired girl.

"Benika. You're a kunoichi for Kami's sakes, not a civilian girl."

"Hit a sore spot huh?" The girl stopped singing, before nudging with her head towards the stairs, "Let's get out of here then. I'm thrilled to see what Okito came up with back at Taifuu's home."

"Came up with what?" She asked, not at all thrilled about the other boy's lazy demeanor…being in charge of 'coming up' with…something?

"You know, I put your stuff in a room and Taifuu's stuff went in another. Then of course Okito had to point out how I put your stuff in a bad way for…'chi' or some sort of yin-yang thing. SO I challenged him to place the furniture."

"You just didn't want to place it yourself." She deadpanned, earning a brighter still smile from the short haired girl.

"Precisely!" The chirping sound was a tell-tale sound that indeed, she had hit the bull's eye dead-on.

"Let's just go…" She sighed. She was just kind of glad it was Fukuyo who had stayed behind. Sharing Konoha, big as it was, with Benika was just like inviting stress and nerve related issues to attack her on the back.

Taifuu's house was a really old house. At the same time, it also was very modern looking, depending on which side of the coin one decided to look at. Technically, the iron fence with pointy ends was very much western-like, with the gate swinging open automatically through the use of carefully placed fuinjutsu seals. At the same time, the house's garden was taken straight out of an old painting, with an old oak planted like it was the sole worthy of bearing shade over the house itself.

The rest of the garden was trimmed and cared for like it had never been abandoned, and the door itself was a wooden one painted of a dull black color. The knocker, of course, was a metallic pear elongated tube. She didn't have to knock, because the key in her hand merely sent a tug towards the door, and it swung open in a moment.

The next instant, she was mentally swearing to herself that no, she would never -ever- lose the key. The façade of the house was made of concrete, the windows were slits framed with those paper-like panels that could slide within the very walls and the upper floors apparently had a gothic look to it.

The hallway was instead pretty…normal, for a house. Passing the porch outside made with white wood and parquet, the interior held a surprisingly old Japanese styled fashion, with paper walls for the unimportant walls of the house. Those that instead were important, as in supporting everything else, were made of bricks covered with white paint.

The house was really the dread of anyone with a minimum of fashion sense.

Noises of stuff moving came from the floor above, where the rooms probably were and where Okito was probably fighting his own battle against the 'Chi', whatever the hell it was.

She was about to step inside, when Benika's hand stopped her by the shoulder.

"Tsk. Tsk…You're forgetting something."

"Eh?"

"Repeat after me: I'm home!" Benika exclaimed to the house, only for no-one to answer back.

"That's embarrassing!" She shot back, glancing around and hoping to Kami that no-one heard her.

"Now, no need to fret! Come on girl! Get a move on!" And with that, Benika pushed the girl inside.

Konohagakure no Sato – Taifuu Shimura

"We're done." Ibiki stated quite simply, "See you tomorrow at five in the morning in the T&I department." A quick twirl of leafs, and the man was no longer there. They had finished the last of the day's missions, and had delivered back the successful completion to their sensei, who had then dismissed them…strangely even Ino, albeit she should have stayed an hour more.

"I…I hate that man." Ino sputtered. "And I hate you two too!" She exclaimed, before stomping off angrily.

Shino remained quiet for a moment, before turning to look at him, who kept his face, or so he thought, completely blank.

"My reasoning for today's…"

"I know." He replied quietly, "At first your idea was to ascertain certainty of passing the test by having both me and Yamanaka get one point. When that failed you waited until the Yamanaka took another one, before finally being sure she would fail a third time, so you could act with ease and attempt to mend the temporary emotional rift the action you made created."

"That is…" Shino took a moment to muster the next word, "correct."

"I know. I had begun thinking the test was but a cover in order to ensure my loyalty to Konoha, still the true matter was probably not the stealth training but seeing how the bonds of strength would work within our team."

"Bonds of strength?" Shino inquired, raising an eyebrow.

"Like familial relations," he replied quickly, "Mother and Father can't both always be right, when one says left and the other says right, and you have no discernible proof on who's right or wrong, then you choose based on a bond and who has it stronger. In this case, it was probably to test our interpersonal relations with one another: Ino acted childishly from the beginning, I suspect that had she not lost any point, none of us would have risked too."

The Aburame nodded.

"It is…refreshing to hear logic from someone who follows my same train of thoughts."

"Do not consider this the normal attitude of myself, I am merely adapting my choice of words to better reflect something you are suited to understand, by doing so I am moving closer to you than the Yamanaka, so that in case of choice by bonds you'd choose me over her. It is a pretty selfish thing." He spoke swiftly, calmly, his eyes showing boredom and not the calculative gleam he hoped he had lost somewhere…why did he have to lose his calculative gleam?

Wait.

What the hell was he saying to Shino of all people!?

"I seem to understand even better your reasoning. I am also inclined to accept this form of bond-ship in the professional term of shinobis watching each other's backs...I do not…swing that way." For a moment, he kept his voice in his throat.

It was just a second, and then…

"What? That's…that's…" He had no idea if he should actually bash the Aburame's head against the dirt, fry him and his bugs to death, or maybe burn him in tar. Maybe the last option would leave the bugs crispy and ready to be eaten?

"A joke. I am…wanking your chain, as some of our crasser colleagues of same bracket of age tend to slang."

"If you create a mask for yourself, don it until you are sure the mask is real and you are false." He replied, droning out for a moment. The best masks are those you wear upon a dead face.

Who had told him that? A boring guy, someone who didn't speak much but had an insane obsession with something…he recalled bits and pieces of floor being smashed to the ground, and wood being chopped and carved. He…he blinked, and then it was over.

"I will take great care in heeding your words in case of a deep cover assignment." Then Shino bowed, and respectfully departed for his own clan compound.

Left alone, he turned around for a moment, slowly touching with his fingers the small hole that the senbon needle had made in his shoulder. He was in need of a bath, urgently.

As he quietly took his steps within the building that was his house, but certainly not a home, he muttered on instinct the usual.

"I'm home!" Before flinching and cursing his stupidity. There was no-one, so it was impossible for someone to come down the stairs and greet him, right?

"Welcome back!" The voices were a mixture of female and male, as Okito, Benika and Katsu came down the stairs.

"See? I told you he'd say it! Cash over Okito." As Benika extended her hand, the other shinobi sighed, before handing over some ryo bills.

"Well then, let's leave and get something to eat, Okito-kun!" Benika's arm swiftly encompassed Okito's shoulders, before starting to move towards the door. Not before whispering something to his ear.

"Remember, I don't want to be an aunt until later!" And with that exclamation, Benika walked out followed by Okito, who was sheepishly mouthing how he'd really like being saved.

"Well…" Katsu sheepishly began, crossing her arms over her chest, "Welcome home."

"She manhandled you too?" He asked, clearly hinting at Benika.

"Of course." Katsu replied, rolling her eyes before turning and heading upstairs, "You'd better to check your room: Okito was the one to set the furniture after all."

"What?"

"Feng Shui crap or something like that…helps to feel the 'chi' flow around apparently…"

There was a moment in which his eyes looked in hers, and then, as one single body, they both began to laugh out loud.

"I don't know if there's anything in the fridge, and I'm beat." He began, "As long as Okito placed the futon somewhere, I'll be more than happy to sleep and care for the furniture later on." And with that, he opened the door of his room.

Only, his passage was blocked by the desk, under which he had to crawl, before climbing what appeared to be two armchairs, a stool, and a lamp, before finally reaching the rest of his room that was far more devoid of furniture…except for the futon, which stood basically pressed against the window.

"Remind me," he exclaimed towards the outside, hoping for Katsu to hear him, "Never to let Okito touch my stuff again!"

"You're lucky you had little stuff! He placed my desk sideways and upside down, before mounting a hammock on it…I also have my futon nailed to the wall…and I'm wondering how he managed to put the nails through the wall." Katsu's voice came back quite quickly, and for once, he strangely felt at ease.

Maybe now the…house…could actually become a home?

Maybe it could.

The beast lurks in the darkness, eyes glittering and ready to strike at the lamb's neck. Silent does the predator slither, yet the lamb might be a wolf in sheep's clothing, and the beast might be just another prey, for a bigger predator...the one that lurks in the skies out of the thoughts of all.

Author's notes

D-ranks, boring.

Apprentices gets no D-rank, that's why there will be a clear variation of what one does (which is another reason one got a team and another an apprenticeship, to show the different sides)

As always, I will reiterate No Oc shipping.

That's all for the moment folks.

Next chapter will probably have the Wa…

(Yeah, right. Like hell. Wave arc? Please! Let's do things the right way for once…the shinobi way!)