Disclaimer : You know, if we're this far in and you still don't realize I don't own Naruto, there might be something wrong. Just saying.

Rating : M. And although this chapter isn't really all that violent, we'll get to it eventually.

Author's Note : So… I'm really sorry for the delay. Had a health scare earlier last month, and on top of preparing for some tests it just knocked me right out. For all of you that gave your condolences for my grandfather, thank you dearly.

However, since it apparently needs to be stated yet again. Natsumi is nuts. Like full on insane to the point if she was in the real world she would get a fancy, really long sleeved jacket and a free stay in a padded room… and all the meds she would ever want. Complaints about her mental health had better not try breaking the fourth wall, because that's just several shades of stupid right there. Point of fact, she doesn't know for sure that she's really in the Naruto universe.

But seriously, if I can just rephrase part of the storyline to answer whatever complaint you have I'm not going to be nice. Especially if I can do it for each point you attempt to raise.


Part Fifteen : Wait For It

If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?

- John Wooden


"I will not cut the third year of the academy, Shimura-sama." Natsumi glared at the Village Elder, wondering what in the hell had possessed him to request such a thing.

Danzō dully stared back at her, and with his one eye and bandaged face it looked a bit creepy. "We need the soldiers now, Nara-sama, not later."

"Look, cutting the third year would only harm us in the long run." The assassin ran a hand though her hair, frustrated. This hadn't been what she was expecting when she finally got back to looking over the academy after coming back from Sunagakure no Sato.

"I can start shoving them out a few months early, we've been doing that for years. I can start them on genin mission work half a year early, in small groups when they prove capable for it and work well in their little mocked up squads. I can even do first kills and the counseling for that while they're here. But cutting the third year would only harm the Genin Corps, as they usually get half to two thirds of every class. And we rely on them, for continuing the busy work most jōnin-sensei use for team building exercises and an ungodly amount of minor but required jobs around the village or the greater parts of the country. Graduating the kids early would only give us about fifty new bodies more than usual, and even then they wouldn't be nearly as good as the ones that do eventually graduate from the entire academy coursework. They won't have the same skills or knowledge as most genin, and training them up later on would eat away at that time you're hoping to save."

Hiruzen puffed on his pipe in the corner, just watching his old friend and the ANBU captain he had shoved on the academy argue.

Koharu, the one female member of the Village Councilors she somewhat liked, subtly positioned herself in front of Danzō to retain her attention. "Are you suggesting that Danzō-sama's request is a bad one?"

"No, Utatane-sama. It's something we'll only be able to do once, and even then the end results would be questionable. I'm not suggesting, it is a bad idea."

The Hokage coughed, but she ignored him for the moment. She had bigger fish to fry.

"I can start them on genin work early. Usually by second year we kind of know what team they might end up on, and I can stick a jōnin on already half-formed teams. That way, we'll get the benefit of genin without actual genin and I can finish training them here while it happens, even the jōnin would probably get around to heading out of the village on missions a bit earlier that way. You can even take the money they would've earned if they had been graduated, although I'm aware that's not really all that much."

Homura scowled, squaring himself off against her next to Danzō. Natsumi was just idly amused that she could take an impression that the old men were aligned for this change but not old woman, making her wonder if Koharu just went along with Danzō for lack of a better option. But for some reason she also wasn't over on the side with Hiruzen, who seemed to be neutral on this little argument.

"That will not give us any significant advantage, Nara-sama. You need-"

"To do nothing. Butchering out the third year will not give us that significant advantage you are seeking either, Mitokado-sama. All it will do is get the genin killed faster, and that's bad for morale." Natsumi made it a point to include Danzō in her irritated glare, as the one-eyed bastard seemed to like proposing something then remaining silent to observe and be overlooked.

She knew that ROOT had a purpose and had fulfilled that so far ever since the Second War, it was half the reason why Hiruzen was being stubbornly blind to the greater issue Ne would become in only a matter of time. Danzō plainly wasn't a nice person, he would never pass as a fatherly or uncle type to anyone with half a brain. What he was, was a good leader when it came to dodgy situations and no slouch on the political side either. ROOT was, at this time, less of a fringe group working in spite of Konohagakure's benefit and more of a second shadow of the Leaf. She knew it was almost ready to start going against some of the Leaf's long held aims just for the old man's delusional bid for the hat.

It was just… Danzō was getting a bit strange now. Not that she had any great dealings with the man before she was unofficially introduced to him in the Hokage's office as Panther the assassin, but she knew he usually had kept to his own corner of Konoha before starting to gain some confusing interests in both the orphanage and the academy.

As someone who was a bit strange herself, he just rubbed Natsumi too far the wrong way for the two of them to ever be polite to each other… or maybe she was just predisposed to hate his guts.

She didn't care enough to try figuring that one out.

"Do you have a different suggestion then, Natsumi-sama?"

The assassin glanced at the retired kunoichi for a moment, frowning only slightly at her. "Genin won't solve any personal shortage we're having in other countries. Point of the matter is that they're too green to be of much use on the battlefield and they're not even deployed that far out. Try talking to my husband, and see if he has a suggestion on how to change around deployments for better results. He is a tactical genius."

Homura bristled slightly, trying to glare down the ANBU captain standing in his way. "If Shikaku-sama has no acceptable solution, will you then-"

"No." Natsumi didn't even allow him to finish, highly unwilling to allow these two retired shinobi to screw up what she had spent so much time on at this late date. "Gutting the academy will not solve the problem, so I'm not going to do anything to it without urgent need for genin to save the village."

Which she knew was fully possible, but since Naruto wasn't even born yet she wasn't going to do a damn thing about it right now.

All three of the retired ninja looked to the Hokage, who only mildly stared back at them as he puffed his pipe.

Since it didn't look like their leader would reprimand the kunoichi, Danzō suddenly swept out of the office room most of the academy-sensei used when not holding classes. Homura was only a few steps behind him, but Koharu was at least polite enough to give Natsumi a nod of her head before making her own way out.

The assassin herself pinched the bridge of her nose, sinking backwards into her usual seat when overlooking the academy's progress reports and possible genin team builds. "I really, really don't like him."

"Which him, neko-chan?"

"Mhmm, allow me to rephrase that. I really don't like those old men."

Hiruzen studied her for a moment, but just inclined his head to acknowledge the point. "I was going to mention sometime soon that you did not have to remain as the academy's head, as I only wanted for you to solve the issue you were so concerned over and fix the problems you caused. But, in light of this, would you mind…"

"Remaining as a kind of oversight? I was going to do that anyways." Natsumi told the older shinobi honestly with only a slight smirk. "I like doing this. If I didn't think the chūnin would revolt over a jōnin taking one of their responsibilities, I'd ask if when I retire if I could do this full-time."

He chuckled, pulling the pipe out of his mouth. "I do not believe you would have the time, Natsumi-chan. You always seem to be involved in something. However, you passed along that you wished to speak with me?"

"I'm going to go over Summons and their Contracts with my gakis soon. They're almost ready to decide if they're going to get one or not. I'm not sure what Koichi-kun wants to do, he refuses to tell me if he wants one of his own or yours."

The Hokage nodded, looking up at the ceiling and frowning faintly. "I will speak with him."

Natsumi remained silent and let him gather his thoughts, knowing full well Hiruzen had a few regrets on how little time he had to spend with his first born son.

The Hokage's hat had slightly estranged father and son, which was neither's fault but just circumstance and life getting in the way. Even young Asuma wasn't strongly attached to his father, he preferred getting attention from his older brother or mother since that was what he was used to.

The Sandaime was a war-time leader, he had guided Konohagakure through the end of one war already and seemed to be going strong enough to finish the second one they were involved with. That ate up a lot of the older man's time and energy, to the point that he was rather infamous for not going home in the evening just to get everything he needed to do for any one day done.

Hopefully Minato won't have as much trouble when he got the hat, as he would possibly be getting the damned thing in a time of peace and would have less to do overall. Hiruzen would probably be willing to assist her blond almost-brother as well, which would go far in making less work for the Yondaime to handle.

Before that, though, Natsumi wanted the Danzō situation decided one way or another. She had to wonder if this was the crotchety old man testing the waters or just a feint to attract attention in the wrong direction. She knew he had been sniffing around Tenzou and Naomi, from what Ito had told her once she had returned from the fighting in Earth.

She also knew vaguely that he had done something to the orphanage from her little alternate story in her head… but what the heck had he been doing here?

"Thank you for informing me, neko-chan." Hiruzen replaced his pipe, folding his arms behind himself. "I will leave you to this, since it is in good hands. However, you may wish to warn Shikaku-kun you're about to drop that situation in his lap."

The assassin blinked at him, then bolted out of her chair and ran for the door. Throwing a half-garbled thanks to the Sandaime over her shoulder once clear of the doorway and thanking every kami she knew that Minato did have such a bad habit of spamming his Hiraishin seals everywhere.

She'd take the option of teleporting over trying to outrun a trio of retired ninja.

\V/

"So… can I ask a possibly awkward question?"

Shikaku sorted through the equipment he had brought with him on their mission, looking for the slightly different rations his wife occasionally stuck in his traveling packs. They at least tasted better than the standard fair, and if you added enough water it wouldn't threaten to break teeth. He held the suspicion they were ANBU standard rations she mixed up in order to give him something slightly better now and again, and usually spared a few ill thoughts on whoever decided the jōnin standard rations had to be worse than ANBU's. "Depends on the question."

Inoichi tapped his fingers against his thigh, frowning faintly into the dark. "You and Natsumi have a… err, healthy relationship, right?"

"Yes?" The Nara clan head offered uncertainly as he looked up from his pack, wondering where the heck the Yamanaka was going with this.

Even Chouza looked over with some surprise, and he was on watch for their target at the moment.

"Why?" The head interrogator of Konoha flushed lightly when Shikaku gave him a slightly incredulous look, but continued anyways. "I mean how did it end up that way? I know the two of you have had a few fights, but at the end of the day she's still usually sitting in your lap perfectly happy to be there."

"Is this about the long string of girlfriends you've gone though over the years?" The shadow master asked instead of answering, giving his best friend most of his attention instead of what he was probably going to be eating that night. "Are you trying to figure out why those relationships didn't work out right?"

Inoichi scowled, running a hand through the ponytail that held most of his hair back. "Maybe. I know most of why, but what I want to know is what I'm doing wrong."

Shikaku slumped back against the pine tree he was hidden behind, giving up on finding the ANBU standard rations he was sure Natsumi had hid in his mission gear. "I'm fairly certain she's addicted to it. It just makes her happy, so she's doing everything she can to ensure it continues. Most of what she ends up doing isn't really necessary, but I can at least appreciate the effort she goes to in making it last longer."

The blond blinked at him, shocked speechless.

"Of course she's knows some of what she does isn't really publicly acceptable behavior… but damn if she really doesn't care in the first place."

"What?"

"What? I thought you were asking about her overly affectionate public cuddling? Natsu's addicted to being touched and held. She's bold enough to do it right in front of Hiruzen-sama, you know. Though, he's one of the few nice enough to look away while she snuggles up to me."

Inoichi looked to be wishing rather hard for the cover to reach over and smack his team leader, so Shikaku swallowed back his snickers and answered the man honestly.

"We share interests, which helps. She also knows me and what I like, and I know her and what she likes. More often than not, those interests and likes are almost the same. So it works. She gets to be held and I don't care enough to make her stop, so I get a happy wife and she's willing to let me nap or play shogi after handling our clan's business while she fusses over the day to day chores. Mostly our off days follow that pattern."

"Momo and I are like that too, Ino." Chouza piped in helpfully, keeping most of his attention on the road they had staked out for a couple days already. "Beyond the part where I like to eat and she likes to cook, she likes the freedom to experiment in a kitchen and help out with the restaurants my clan controls and I like that she helps out in my place when I have to handle the clan's other business."

He knocked his head back against the fir tree he was crouched under, and Shikaku idly wondered exactly when he started caring what kind of trees they were passing by while the interrogator gathered his thoughts.

Probably around the time he started bringing back a few bits so Natsumi would know what kind of trees were where when she wanted to find some more stock wood for her carving hobby. She was always very appreciative that he did it, and that kind of reward was something no self-respecting male would pass up… or maybe that was just her expressing her appreciation for his return from whatever mission, as she never really liked it when he was gone from home and she had to remain behind.

Either way, going home was something the Nara clan head looked forward to at the end of every mission and not just because it meant he could take it easy for a few days.

"Target spotted." Chouza spoke up suddenly, easing himself back behind the bolder they had found and moved for the added cover. "He's got guards, Shika."

"Not a problem, switch to the pincer plan. How many?"

"Six."

The shadow master snorted softly, easing his way up the trunk with a judicious application of chakra control when there wasn't a handy branch positioned where he needed it. He examined each of the guards, picking out the weapons and where it was likely they had more stashed. Probably not higher ranked than chūnin. Konoha, Iwa, and Kumo was stressed out too much to commit more to any purely civilian mission request.

It was just luck and happenstance that his team had been available for mission work when the Intel on this Kumo diplomatic mission to Mist had come through Intelligence.

"Chou, once I move. Ino, you ready?"

Inoichi applied a minor genjutsu to the tree trunk he was against, rolling up to his feet once it took hold to hide his bright hair until it was too late. "Yep."

Chouza might be a massive shinobi well suited to intimidation tactics like the rest of his clan and Shikaku could pin people in place with their own shadows like the rest of his, but both of them had limitations on moving when doing so. The Akimichi, in full armor and about a quarter more than his usual body size, was slow in any ninja's estimation even without the added weight. A Nara, when concentrating on their clan's signature jutsus to bend the very shadows to their will, couldn't spare much attention to moving their body when securing more than two or three targets at the same time.

Their Yamanaka team member more than made up for that. Inoichi read body language well enough to the point he could reliably predict where and when who would move for what, and counter it all usually before their opponents moved to take out either Shikaku or Chouza until their trap snapped them in place.

Dropping a few feet before the front guards, the shadows around the Nara's feet lashed out and snagged three of them before the rest of their targets realized they were under attack. Inoichi bolted in with a shunshin and snapped the neck of the one on the left before he could get out of Shikaku's reach or retaliate, and when their main target moved to retreat he instead ran smack into Chouza's chest and missed the bō's sweep in the nick of time to save his head from cracking.

His last two guards weren't as fortunate. As focused as they were on the shadow master and the threat he represented, they missed the Akimichi's silent arrival by shunshin and never knew they were in his path. One of them might have nicked the Nara with a kunai, but they still hadn't been able to do much damage to him thanks mainly to Chouza.

Shikaku made his three dig a weapon out and cut their own throats, giving a nod to Inoichi when he took the weapon he grabbed in order to make the others mimic him.

With the guards taken care of, the Intelligence team focused on the emissary they had been sent to take prisoner.

Who was squarely under Chouza's armored foot, pale as a ghost and almost gibbering in fear.

The Nara sighed and wiped the small trickle of blood off his neck, reaching down to start stripping off metal from the six Kumo ninja they had just killed. "Well… this will be fun."

Inoichi eyed the diplomat suspiciously. "Think we should knock him out? Or do you think he might have the skills to get himself loose if he wakes?"

"I've got a few of Natsu's seals, but none of them are for taking prisoners. More like blowing them to bits."

The interrogator checked his thigh holster, tugging a few slips of paper out of it. "I've got something Mina mocked up for me years ago. I never got around to using them, and they should still work."

"It's not the squirrel seal, is it?"

Chouza risked a look up at them. "Wasn't that one the one that made the squirrels turn inside out when released?"

The emissary gave a squeak, his eyes rolling back into his head as he fainted dead away.

"This is why ninja villages have shinobi diplomats." Shikaku commented idly as the Akimichi poked the insensible man with a toe, shaking out a weapon pouch to remove the Kumogakure forged kunai out of it. "Less easy to rattle."

"He might be faking?" Inoichi tried uncomfortably, dropping the faked suspicion for some concern. Their mission was supposed to end with that man still alive to be questioned, not suffering a heart-attack. "He can't be that wimpy… can he?"

"Well… look at it this way Ino. He'll be less trouble to crack back in the village."

"Isn't he some noble's diplomat?" Chouza asked before the interrogator could throw a rock at their team leader's head out of irritation, checking to ensure the man was alive and hadn't suffered from a sudden heart attack and didn't have anything that would allow him to escape later. "He makes his living by talking at things. Why would he know what to do when attacked by shinobi?"

"I'm pretty sure Kumo tells it's civilians to get the hell out of the way when ninja start fighting." Inoichi claimed as he moved to help Shikaku gather what metal they could before burning the bodies. "Of course we practically tell ours the same thing, but add that they should remain behind the ones with the Leaf hitai-ate or take cover."

"Umm… guys? He soiled himself. I think we may have overdid it."

Shikaku pinched the bridge of his nose, trying not to snicker like a little boy. "There's a river somewhere south of us. We'll throw him in and force him to walk back."

Their Yamanaka teammate slid away from the prone form, pointedly gathering up the loose metal off the ground now that the dead bodies had been searched. "I'm not carrying him down there."

Chouza glared at the blond, so the Nara stopped to dig some rope out of his pack. "Tie his hands together and just drag him, Chou."

Shikaku also found the ANBU rations Natsumi had packed for him at the same time, so he chewed on that while the interrogator pack away the metal so it wouldn't clank and their taijutsu user finished tying up their mission's target.

In exchange for not carrying the prisoner, Inoichi shouldered the bulk of the steel they had gathered up after setting fire to the corpses and Shikaku remained on point to keep watch for any trouble now that the main part of their mission was over.

The sting of a fresh cut rather pointedly reminded the Nara that even a well-placed genin could hit a jōnin with something lethal if that jōnin was even a bit overconfident. He didn't have his wife's chakra control over blood, that kunai could've killed him if Chouza hadn't knocked the aim off before the chūnin could release the weapon.

(ooo000ooo)

Hatake Midori was born on the twenty-seventh of October, and spent most of the morning of her birth being cooed over by the nurses before Eri was packed up and sent home with baby in tow.

Midori, once she figured out what this being born business was all about, apparently decided she heartily disliked it. She then let the rest of the family know her displeasure with the new circumstances by voicing it.

Loudly.

"Maybe a stubborn gas bubble?" Kakashi wondered, having spent the last few months picking his way through the few books medics had for newborn babies and what they required.

Natsumi tried not to cringe as she started patting the baby on the back, the last attempt in an ever-widening search for what was bothering the newborn to the point she was wailing out her little lungs. The exhausted mother of the little girl was confined to the couch, as that was as far as Sakumo had gotten the two of them before Midori decided she wanted to find out how much vocal range she had. The shinobi himself was rather desperately searching for what else they could try to settle his new daughter down.

Midori apparently agreed with her new brother. The baby suddenly spit up half her stomach's contents all over Natsumi's chest, then burped loudly in the kunoichi's face.

Sakumo ducked his head in a hurry, but not before the assassin spotted the smirk on his face to go with the hastily smothered snickers. Even Eri didn't spare the Nara's dignity, chuckling as she gingerly took back her new and now quiet daughter from the kunoichi.

Kakashi just looked at the mess disgustedly, gingerly scooting away from her. "Is she going to do that often?"

Natsumi plucked the front of her tank top, pulling the reeking, milky mess away from her skin. "Yes, and go through an unholy amount of diapers for the next few months. Joy to be you, Kashi-kun."

Tugging at his half-face mask to ensure it was covering his sensitive nose, the genin looked desperately at his father. "Really? That's disgusting."

"You weren't the cleanest baby either, Kakashi-kun." The head of the Hatake clan informed his son blithely, giving the daughter he never had a grin in exchange for her sour look. "Go wash up, neko-chan. I think you still have something to wear around here somewhere."

"I'm pretty sure what little is left here is either Minato's or Shika's old training clothes I stole for nightwear because they can't do their own damn laundry or I was a bit too lazy, taicho." She got up from the couch anyways, keen to get the baby mess off her. "Where are they?"

"I'll get them." Kakashi streaked up the stairs before the assassin, probably just to get away from the smell.

Natsumi didn't blame the brat, she was feeling rather grimy herself. "Don't bother moving, Eri-kaa-san. I'll cook dinner."

"What about your husband, neko-chan?"

"Shika's out on mission, so he's not due back for another night or two. And if he gets home early, it's not that hard to figure out where I'm at."

Eri, who had gone into labor late last night and ended up giving birth to Midori in the early hours, didn't have enough energy to argue now that the newborn wasn't keying her nerves up too much to nod off. Sakumo ended up waving the assassin off to her shower as he circled around the couch to ensure his wife was as comfortable as a woman who just gave birth could be.

After Natsumi peeled off her soiled clothing and washed up, she did figure out the old clothing she had left here was in fact Minato's old things. One of his training shirts that was more holes than cloth and a very old pair of her chūnin training pants… which she almost couldn't fit back into.

Damn her broad hips, and the rather stocky body she had now.

(ooo000ooo)

Shikaku did actually make it back home early, and didn't seem to mind relocating to the Hatake clan for the evening while she cooked dinner for them all.

Natsumi doled out dinner wherever the members of the Hatake clan had ended up by the time it was done, Sakumo and Eri in the living room and Kakashi's dinner left in the dojo's entryway for when he finished up whacking the living straw out of his current training dummy. She served herself and her husband before packing the last of it away in bento boxes for tomorrow, since she was sure Eri wasn't going to be in any real mood to cook for the next few days when she had to add handling a newborn baby to her usual duties.

"Inoichi asked about our sex life?" She echoed incredulously, chopsticks suspended halfway to her mouth as she gaped at the shadow master she had married.

Shikaku shrugged lazily, smirking a little behind his own bowl of stew and rice. "Not in so many words, more like Ino asked about the 'health' of our relationship. But I did manage to make him think I was talking about our sex life for a moment."

"I so wish I was there to see that." Natsumi marveled over this version of Shikaku compared to the vague idea of a man that story painted him as in her head. He seemed to be fundamentally different than the Jōnin Commander he would have been in another life, as she was damn sure her husband didn't do more than casually drink with the other shinobi she mostly knew and had witnessed him turn down a few more drinks from Chouza when they went out for dinner occasionally.

There didn't seem to be a reason derived from his life that made the shinobi clutch a bottle of rice liquor, and the assassin was cautiously hopeful that her assumption on being proposed to was correct. That it had been his other wife that caused the Nara clan head to down a bottle of sake whenever he had the time, and not mounting pressure from a four-way war or losing a Hokage who was also a good friend.

Of course she was also cautiously doubtful that any changes in Shikaku were contributed to her meddling, as that wasn't something she knew for sure before diving into the deep end of marriage with the man. That was depressive, and those kinds of thoughts led back to the problem she had been stewing over before her husband showed up.

As of right now, Natsumi was more concerned over her bland reaction to Midori's birth than a bit of gossip she did appreciate hearing. While she was happy for Sakumo and Eri, as it was a great moment for the Hatake clan, she really didn't have any emotional investment in the baby. Not like she had for Kakashi's birth and first baby days, which made her wonder if she was relying too hard on a story that had a limited cast to it for what relations she made in this life.

It wasn't like the next generation would be exactly as it was in her head, not with her involvement with the generation before Naruto's and her current aims. Heck, even Midori's birth meant nothing was going to be exactly as it was in that story as she hadn't been part of that cast.

Was relying on a character list she only vaguely recalled healthy, or should she actually get started on making more connections outside her usual circle like Inoichi had been nagging her to do for years?

Maybe it would just take some time, as she hadn't intended on sticking around for Kakashi's later childhood years either.

"Are you fretting over the inhuman parts of your Contract's exchange again?"

"I'm not fretting. Purring isn't supposed to be possible for humans, excuse me if I'm a little nervous that I can do it." Natsumi waved around her chopsticks again, this time to dismiss that idea. "I'm… just… not as excited as I thought I was going to be."

Shikaku simply chewed and continued to eye her, so she snorted at him and explained what did have her bothered.

"…is it because you expected the next baby to be yours, wife mine?"

Natsumi paused, the stew soaked rice balanced on her two sticks frozen halfway between her mouth and her bowl. "Huh… possibly."

What had she expected?

Midori wasn't in that story, so Eri springing it on taicho had caught her by some surprise as well. Mostly because Eri probably had been killed by this point in that other version of this life, no mother meant no future baby princess of the Hatake clan. Taicho should've been dead by this point going by that time line, and Kakashi should've now probably hit rock bottom after a depressive tailspin after his father's suicide.

That was actually rather depressive to dwell on now, so her attention turned to the reasoning Shikaku suggested for her bland reaction to Midori.

What order was Naruto's generation born in, anyway? She knew the soon to be her favorite young, blond brat was supposed to have been the youngest, but that was it. Naras were generally accepted to be lazy, a year in either direction for whatever heir she and Shikaku had would be doable. Heck, the Nara she married was almost a full year older than Minato and he still had been in their academy class that normally started with eight to nine-year-olds.

Natsumi had been mostly praying that the next generation was going to take being born into their own hands and get it done somehow on their own, as she really couldn't figure out how to influence the procreation of several of those kids Naruto had relied on for his own shinobi years. Hiashi and Hinata for one, because she was relatively sure the jōnin head of the Hyūga clan was avoiding her as much as he could get away with. Something she was sure Fugaku wished he could get away with on more than a few occasions, and knew that Shibi had thought a time or twice from Tsume.

Gaara was another one, she had probably screwed that all over to hell and back to the point she wasn't even sure the Sand Siblings would exist here. Kind of hard to do when the Kazekage that cause Gaara to become a jinchūriki probably wasn't going to become Kazekage for a few more years yet, or lose the hat to Sasori.

Whoops.

Shikaku had worked out something between himself and his two team members about a year, year and a half before he proposed to her. They were going to try and have their children close enough together to start them on a team well before they would even have to worry about that kind of thing. It appealed to Shikaku because that would give his heir more time to plot for his or her own team; Inoichi because then his heir would know explicitly who she, or he, would have to work with; and Chouza just because keeping that triad together was something his clan was always interested in and this had been an interesting and new way to display that strength.

Natsumi hadn't argued against that because it really had been an awesome team, almost or approaching as good as the father's team was now when Naruto needed to rely on them.

She knew that Hizashi was almost due to marry Misaki this upcoming year, which would mean the class right before Naruto's was almost due to be born soon. Neji's parents weren't probably planning on waiting a long time to have him, like how Mikoto had Itachi almost immediately after getting married herself and unlike how long the assassin had waited so far. She knew Misaki was due to have a child sometime in the next few years or so.

Kakashi had been about a decade and a half older than his students, probably. Somewhere in that time range, because twenty to twenty-five was the age range in which jōnin got their genin teams… if they were expected to take one on. If that was the case, she still had three or four years left before her 'generation' would start on the next. For that matter, she really did desperately hope Inoichi actually found someone instead of settling with whoever because he wanted the rather exhausting dating part of his life over with already.

On the other hand… fuck, she was old. A year away from starting down the old-timer's hill, her next birthday would make her almost exactly fifty mentally.

Sue her if she was a little impatient to get started on the next generation. Children had been a dream she had though she wouldn't ever have, until her sometimes thoughtful husband proposed.

"Thanks, Shika."

"For?"

"Putting words to what was wrong, hubby mine. You're pretty awesome, for someone who told Eri-kaa-san I could purr."

"I'm going to hear about this for years, aren't I?"

Natsumi set her half-finished dinner to the side, moving to plop herself in his lap. "Yep."

Shikaku snorted and kept eating, so she made herself comfortable and watched the last of the daylight sink under the leafy horizon that was their village.

Sakumo intentionally made the wood under his feet creak in order not to startle them, and he gave both Naras on his porch a tired grin sometime after the sunlight finally disappeared from the sky. "Thanks for the help, neko-chan. But you should probably be getting home soon."

She grinned back at the silver haired shinobi, resting her chin on Shikaku's shoulder. It wasn't much of Sakumo expressing concern for her personal safety, more like sound advice to beat the traffic control points before they started up and it would take a good hour to get home even if they took the roofs. After nightfall both ANBU and the Uchiha MPs started looking harder at the pedestrians wandering the village's streets, and even having solid excuses for why they were out and about wouldn't keep them from looking hard for any possible infiltrators.

"Mkay. There's bento boxes in the fridge, taicho, and you should probably go make sure Kashi-chan actually ate. He's in the dojo again."

"He's rather determined to get that jian of yours before Minato-kun gets his other two genin students."

"Yeah… that's not going to happen. Minato's getting the rest of his team a bit early."

The head of the Hatake clan snickered as he reached down and patted her on the head on his way past them, probably looking to kick his heir out of the clan's dojo before turning in for the night.

In training habits, Gai and Kakashi were pretty well matched. They both liked to refine every skill they could until even the perfection obsessed ninja ranks around them started feeling a little inadequate next to them. It really made some of their forfeits for losing whatever silly challenge they put themselves, but mainly Gai, to even more ridiculous.

"So," Natsumi poked the half-healed cut on Shikaku's neck, frowning slightly as he tensed up at her touch, "bit close there?"

"Got a little sloppy. Chūnin doesn't mean inept, after all."

"An inch more in any direction, Shika, and you might not have been coming home."

"Well… inch to the left and he would've missed me entirely, Natsu."

She made a wordless sound of frustration, rolling up to her feet so they could put the dishes away and leave the Hatake clan compound. "Please don't give me a complex, hubby mine. If I start panicking every time you're overdue to return from missions I'm not going to be nice about it."

Shikaku deftly slipped the bowl she had only half finished out of her hand and kissed her hard on the lips. "I'll be more careful, I swear."

The assassin gave her husband's back a dry look. "More careful to get healed up before I see it or more careful out of the village?"

"Both."

Natsumi huffed, but since she did it too there wasn't much room for her to complain. Half the reason Shikaku got her bare and counted her scars after she got home was her habit of getting everything healed over by an ANBU medic before leaving headquarters.

\V/

Minato scratched the back of his head as the three young ninja stared at him.

He knew, sort of from a few tea shop visits with Natsumi to see Hizashi and Kizashi about their own students, that sometimes genin could get up to some very exasperating or simply baffling incidents occasionally when not supervised. There had been his sempai's stories about Gai-kun's enthusiasm not actually helping her team out of a situation or Koichi-kun getting them into one, Hizashi's deadpan recounting of Genma-kun's occasional slip ups around clients that had to be hastily patched up by his other two students, and Kizashi's gripping over his own students starting the path down puberty and all the joys that brought to the jōnin trying to lead combat capable genin teams.

Seriously though, he had only left them alone for fifteen minutes.

Kakashi was, or at least had been, an exceptional student compared to the others he could get stories about. Yes, the heir of the Hatake clan could occasionally be a little rude and somewhat unsociable. But he was a genius, never needed any lesson to be repeated, and generally made himself useful when not actually training or griping about whatever the two of them were doing.

After Natsumi finally slapped him with the last two students he was supposed to lead for the completed Team Seven, Kakashi stopped talking like he was a somewhat human if still brilliant. Instead, what the longest serving genin on the team would open his mouth for was either scathing insults or dry lectures.

If Minato was a betting man, he would lay a chunk of ryo on the silver haired brat hating his new teammates.

Nohara Rin hadn't seemed to be a problem at first. She was the team's kunoichi, all around medic, and had appeared to be a sensible genin on paper. Except… she seemed to have developed a bit of fascinated hero-worship for the established member of Team Seven. She wasn't obvious about it, but she was easily distracted when the silver haired heir to the Hatake clan passed her.

Kakashi had started to avoid standing next to her. Minato could sympathize, the staring was a little distracting even for him and he wasn't who Rin-chan was staring at.

Uchiha Obito was… a klutz. He was late almost regularly, with some of the most convoluted excuses for it he had ever heard. He also wore goggles, apparently for his easily irritated eyes. Not just any goggles, but orange tinted ones.

Minato seriously wondered if that genin was color blind, no matter what his medical record said. That much orange in his vision couldn't be healthy.

Obito was also uncoordinated enough still to mess up fairly often, which was normal enough for any genin fresh out of the academy and would slowly stop after a couple more months of regular taijutsu practice.

Kakashi just… hated it.

He really should've been chūnin if they were going to go by skill level alone, but his age and lack of physical growth made Natsumi and now Minato reluctant to push him ahead into more dangerous missions even if he probably could compensate for it.

Sticking an overly skilled genin with a less skilled but older genin and the friction was inevitable. Obito occasionally screwed up, not any more than normal for genin, but Kakashi would take the opportunity to mock the kid in lieu of actually helping more often than not, so the two of them got along as well as two wet cats.

…so much for Natsumi's promise of handing him the easy genin out of the next graduating class.

On second thought, they could've been worse. Obito-kun could've been a stereotypical member of his clan, and Rin-chan could've been a shameless fan-girl.

Minato risked another look to the irate shop keeper, who was splattered orange from head to foot, and back to his team.

Kakashi blinked lazily back, Rin had a look of horrified curiosity about her and couldn't look away from the poor man, and Obito was trying not to cringe as he grinned weakly back at their jōnin-sensei.

He carefully made his tone light, adding a bit of curiosity to it as he addressed the newer of his male students. "Where did you even get that much orange paint?"

"There's a shop out on-" the Uchiha hastily clapped a hand over his mouth, remembering a moment too late that he had been professing his innocence of the prank to their team leader.

"Mmhmm." The fūinjutsu master looked the irate civilian in the eye. "Was it just you or is your store also slightly discolored, sir?"

Since mouthing off to a jōnin was so beyond stupid even drunks didn't do it, the middle-aged man simmered angrily only a moment before answering Minato as evenly as he could. "There is a whole puddle of paint on my floors, jōnin-san."

"I see." Turning back to Team Seven, he looked all three of his students in the eye. "Well then, I suppose my team has just volunteered themselves to clean your floors."

A vein in Rin's forehead throbbed, and she turned on the aghast Obito with sheer irritation in every line of her form. Kakashi even straightened up from his habitual slouch he adopted for when not fighting, half-copied from Natsumi's usual leisurely lope when not in a hurry and his own father's seemingly effortless gliding stride. Minato frowned down at all of them, getting Obito to suddenly inspect his ninja sandals and Rin to lower the hand that almost was in reach to slap the Uchiha.

Kakashi glowered back, shooting the cringing genin a heated look before scoffing and boring a hole in a nearby fence with eye power alone.

"Before the paint dries, genin. Or it'll be harder to get rid of."

Having been his student for almost a full year now, the silver haired genin was the first to move. Kakashi didn't even make it to the door before even more orange paint burst from the overhanging eaves, and only his kenjutsu refined reflexes saved him from a paint shower.

Minato blinked. Obito would really make a good trap specialist, if he could even now catch his prodigy teammate by surprise.

"Damn it."

A quick glance told the blond that the Uchiha had been trying to get Kakashi with that, and he kept the frown up as he pondered what the hell he was going to do with this team to cement it together.

Kakashi hated failing, Obito was a bit too uncoordinated still not to fail now and again, and Rin was a little unfocused in her day to day tasks.

This wasn't going to be pleasant few weeks.

(ooo000ooo)

Natsumi would fully admit to hording what spices she came across.

Apple pie never tasted the same without cinnamon, and there wasn't much of that around anymore. She had even, after a whole lot of headaches and more than a little gold spent on the project even before she got married, found some rare vanilla beans that were only now gaining popularity as a cooking ingredient. She could find ginger everywhere, wasabi, curry, and nearly every type of fruit wasn't at all that hard to find… but some of the old ones she knew of were no longer even used.

She hadn't seen a blackberry in ages, and raspberries were really only a distant memory who's probably hybrid replacement didn't seem right to her. Cherries were always around as were plums, strawberries, and peaches, even a few variations of oranges, figs, lemons, and limes. But very few of the bush berries she used to just munch on between meals were available in the markets other than strawberries.

The one thing she did bitterly miss about her last life was the food. Both in how it was stored and sold to how much easier it was to cook. There might be electricity in Konohagakure, a very restricted version of what she had once known that was mainly just used for lighting, but most of the older homes still had wood stoves instead of electric ones. To make matters worse, her old life's fridge didn't need weekly feedings of ice to remain cool.

Hot plates, which had been used for a few years in laboratory settings instead of Bunsen burners, were only just becoming popular to use in the kitchen for quickly heating up leftovers or water for tea. She held the hope that electric fridges were only just a few more months away, but she had held that hope for years now. She knew she would eventually get that back, as she was mostly sure Naruto had an electric fridge in his crappy little apartment. It wasn't here yet though, and she was rather irritated at this ice requiring fridge of hers. There were some around, she knew that because popsicles needed icy temperatures so they didn't melt which had to mean the bigger shipping companies had to have some version of one, but they weren't commercially available yet.

Open air markets weren't all that great either without air conditioning, so the one thing she would trade nearly anything for was a half decent grocery store. Instead, if you needed both meat and some vegetables for one meal you had to cross about ten or so streets to find what you needed. The meat market and butcher shops were closer to the Naka River, and the better farmer's market was closer to the village's gates. Since it was all stored in either iceboxes or wooden ones, not all the food sold was guaranteed not to be slightly spoiled by the time you ate it.

Shikaku had only recently replaced their kitchen's thankfully electric stove for her, a belated birthday gift from him and his team, and now Natsumi had to figure out how this clunky version of her old life's stove worked. It was very temperamental, and proving to be slightly tricky to set for certain temperatures.

She was probably going to burn this pie too. Minato would pout at her, he liked apple pies.

"I thought it would be easier."

"Why the hell did you think that?" Natsumi asked archly, dumping her apple slices in a bowl and turning to him with a grin. "We were a bit unusual, Minato. We knew each other pretty well before being stuck on a team, and then Jiraiya-sensei lucked the hell out of that situation by replacing what's her name with me. Then our genin team was two good friends and a probably overly trained pseudo-genin being guided by a sannin. Of course there wasn't much damage caused by our Team Seven, we were already comrades by then. We didn't need excessive team building to click."

He sourly eyed her expression, giving her half-finished pie a hopeful look before sighing. "I don't suppose you have a suggestion then?"

"Beyond some time? They really don't know each other, there's nothing to start establishing a rapport like you did for all of us back in the academy."

She did a bit of sighing herself when he gave her a flat stare, slinking down on top of the kitchen table as she rubbed her aching neck and actually put some thought into her kouhai's genin problem. This wasn't the Team Seven of her mind's story, so there had to be something that was different beyond Kakashi not being such a colossal, depressive prick.

The brat she had help raised was a perfectionist, it appealed to his logical mind and you had to be when sparring with live blades. A millimeter off and you would do some serious damage to your sparring partner, ensuring you only used live weapons against those you knew were good kenjutsu users.

Rin had to be somewhere approaching perfect in a way too, iryou-nin jutsu demanded it just to work right. Part of the reason Natsumi would never be able to heal with chakra was her horrific control compared to most jōnin.

Obito… probably wasn't a great third for that team then. The slightly foolish, slightly childish, and somewhat negligent genin out of the supposedly perfect Uchiha clan had to fit somehow, according to that story.

"You've notice Obito-kun's pranks, right?"

"Little hard to miss, sempai."

"Right." She had heard about the orange prank, and even admired the gall it had to take to try pranking a known prodigy even if it hadn't worked in the end. "So… Kashi-chan's not that good at thinking out of the box, yes? I know he gets a bit frustrated with creatively thinking something over, it's part of the reason you're sure he'll never become an even casual fūinjutsu master like the hime is pretending to be. Find something that needs Obito-kun's plans and Kashi-chan's skill."

Her favorite blond mused on that for a moment. "And Rin-chan?"

"Will follow Kashi-chan like a lost puppy."

"I'm not trying to encourage that."

"I don't think there's much you can do that won't, Minato."

He grumbled a bit, settling himself down on the kitchen chair instead of against the wall.

"Why is Obito-kun always late, anyways?"

"As far as I can find, his excuses usually are true. Someone asks him to do something and he gets a bit caught up in some of them. Of course, then he goes and exaggerates a bit when telling me the reason he's late."

Natsumi gave him an incredulous look. "You mean he's rescued the same cat over fifty times?"

"His third cousin on his mother's side has a kitten that likes to climb trees, but can't seem to figure out how to get down. Of course, that kitten is now an adult cat, but the point remains it's usually the same animal every few days." Minato told her with complete honesty. "And then his clan has noted he's got some good chakra senses, so of course they go to him to find lost pets and delinquent children."

"Oh dear kami."

"Obito-kun's used to helping out, he's been doing that for years and hasn't quite figured out how to tell someone that he has to be somewhere instead of assisting."

Natsumi busied herself in checking how hot the oven was, but the sensation of someone staring a hole in her back told her she hadn't fooled him. Probably because she was letting herself snicker audibly. "Wow, okay. That… uh… hmm. Suppose all I can say for that is be careful on your first C-rank, then."

"Why just the first one?"

"Do you recall our first C-rank mission, Minato?" She grinned at him when he flushed a bit, hefting her pie to slide into the oven. "And what sensei said his first C-rank mission was like?"

"That doesn't necessarily mean my team's first one is going to go a bit…"

"Strange?" The assassin finished for him as she shut the oven door and rejoined him, sitting on the table instead of one of the chairs. "I bet you fifty ryo it will."

Minato eyed her with exasperation. "Your team didn't have an unusual first C-rank. It's possible my team will have a completely normal one, sempai."

"Your team is Team Seven." Natsumi refuted easily. "Admit it, Team Seven is cursed or something."

"No. There are no such things as curses."

"I had a cursed seal."

"That's different." Her fellow fūinjutsu master huffed amusedly, leaning back in the chair. "That had an actual source, not something based in pure superstition."

She hummed, a grin on her face. "Sure Minato, whatever you say. I'll bet the hime then, that you'll be whistling a different tune soon."

He snorted at her and slouched down to stare pointedly at her oven.

Natsumi snickered, kicking a heel against the table leg. "Hey Minato, want some pie?"

"Sure." He replied just as blandly as she spoke, grinning at her again as if he hadn't been waiting for her to offer since he spotted her buying apples. "When will it be done?"

\V/

Koichi shot to his feet, fairly vibrating with irritation. "But that's not fair, sensei!"

Natsumi sighed and carded her fingers through Ling-Ling's fur as the scout processed what she had just told them.

Part of the reason her Contracted Summons had been so understanding in light of her injuries after facing Orochimaru was that she showed some to them in the first place. Ling-Ling hated being Summoned, so much so that the then kitten had begged not to be a Summons for the assassin. However, the Contracted they had with her stated as long as Natsumi trained them, she was due an additional Summons for every two cubs she trained for the Leopard Clan.

The kunoichi had Summoned Jin, who was her usual method of speaking with Tamika-sama instead of trying to Summon the regal, big as a two story house feline; and worked out a compromise Ling-Ling wouldn't hate as much. Instead of being a Summons, Ling-Ling was from then on her Seal Key Keeper. In return for taking the kitten's wishes in account and at least trying to find her something better, the Leopard Clan had let Kenta go from his usual responsibilities within the clan so she could rely on him more in place of his fellow Summons.

The other half of the reason was that any Summoning Clan with an actual human Summoner held a bit of prestige in the Summons' realm. Having a Summoner was a lot of work for them, to the point every clan under the Noble really would only allow one or two Summoners at any given time and usually only for one or two specific Summons only.

They had their own world, and their own relations with other Summons, and so those ninken had their own jobs and duties to fulfill like anywhere else.

Kenta had been a guard, a Leopard that patrolled their territory against any other Summons that wanted either their land or to eat them. Ling-Ling was in fact a caretaker for cubs not yet grown enough to do much of anything, who greatly preferred caring for the young to fighting. Tsuyoshi was one slotted for battle duty for both her and his clan, he probably would get to be a very large cat by the time he finally finished growing. Akira was truly her father's daughter, she would join him in scouting and guarding their territory as well as probably give Kenta the slack to go back to working for their clan again.

There were times Natsumi had to Summon Ling-Ling, when she needed one of her seal keys for whatever reason or that one time Kenta sorely needed some backup and Tsuyoshi wasn't old enough. She normally tried to at least warn the feline through Kenta whenever she could, and when her normally fussy seal keeper had heard her fellow Summons was going to help her teach her own students more about the Summons' realms and those within it she had asked for the task.

Ling-Ling really liked to teach, and had actually somewhat liked her students the only other time the four of them had met. Scratching Gai out of surprise aside, apparently.

She had also taken a whole lot of relish in telling her genin that the feline clans and the serpent ones had not gotten along at all even before the assassin got them as a Summons Contract, it was more like a bitter blood feud between the two races over the borders they shared. Natsumi had wanted to cringe, because that incident hadn't been something she told her genin about. Her taijutsu obsessed genin hadn't realized there was recent history behind that bit of news, but Ibiki and Koichi had shared confused looks when Ling-Ling had gotten to what clans her clan didn't have good relations with and which ones were actually part of Konohagakure's Summon-able allies.

It really was only a matter of time until they put that together with her injuries, hospital stay, and the subsequent execution of one Snake Summoner before she got them; but hopefully only once they were chūnin.

Speaking of chūnin rank, Ibiki had a hand clamped down on Koichi's shoulder so he wouldn't do anything stupid as the he struggled with his anger.

Gai was frowning at his teammates, looking a bit lost. Ibiki hadn't seem to think anything of it, other than the outburst their last teammate had given over the news she just gave them.

The eldest of the Sarutobi brothers turned on their jōnin-sensei when he was sure he wouldn't shout. "We only just got you back. Why are you pulling away again?"

"I have to go back to ANBU soon. It's almost been two years, Koichi-kun. I can't put it off anymore if I want to stay in and help you later on."

Her tai using genin didn't even flinch, he had known that was likely when she told them they would soon be doing mission work without her. Ibiki scowled a bit at them all, realizing the source of the scout's ire and that he was the last to catch on.

Koichi gave a rather impressive growl that even caught Ling-Ling's wandering attention.

"It was never going to go back to how it was, gaki. I'm no longer nursing some major injuries and you three aren't green academy graduates anymore. You all don't need me as much, and there are other things that do need me to handle them. And besides, you would eventually get to chūnin rank on your own. I'm just hurrying that along somewhat."

He stopped getting angry, and instead started to mope darkly as he sat back down.

Hormones and puberty, joy. She wouldn't have pegged Koichi as a moody brooder, she had honestly thought Ibiki would go through that method of growing, but the scout could give the infiltrator a good run for his money when he felt like it.

Natsumi sighed again, ruffling her Leopard's ruff one last time and getting up to her feet. "The best I can do for you now is ensure the team won't break up unless you three want it to, and come back a few times for a mission here or there. But now you know where you're going, you know what you need to do and no longer need my full attention to help you get there, so I'm going back to jōnin and ANBU work at least part of the time while you rack up the missions needed for a field promotion to chūnin. But with two Summoners and a fūinjutsu user, I'm not expecting you'll have a lot of trouble with getting it."

Ling-Ling discreetly padded off to unsummon herself, leaving the human team to figure this out themselves.

"The last few things I'll be teaching you all is how to use Shunshin to the point you can do it instinctively and assisting with the acquisition of Summoning Contracts. We'll do the C-ranked time-space jutsu later this week and actually signing Contracts right now so you'll have a block of unspoken for time to adjust to them. Then… I'll be more of an occasional team leader depending on the mission. But the war effort will be the main deciding factor in which missions I will probably get, not my genin or chūnin Intelligence team. Until the war is over, it isn't likely I'll have the time to lead the team again like I could in the beginning."

Koichi didn't look at all placated by that, and she understood why.

Her own genin year had been short and sweet too. She only had six months on an actual genin team compared to their two years of it, but those were days she had rather desperately wished to go back to when picking up her ANBU work again.

Genin rank just always seemed better the more time you put in being a shinobi. Of course, no one would actual admit to it after a year or so past their promotion but everyone she knew had made some kind of noise about not realizing how good they had it as genin. They might not be chūnin yet, but it was likely by the time the war was over they would be.

"Right, so with that out of the way." Natsumi turned to Gai, who brightened considerably as he figured out what that day's lesson would end with.

She thought it was unfair that shinobi could work up the charka stores for Summoning so much easier than any kunoichi sans Kushina could. They were ready for non-combat Summons now, when it had took her until sixteen to work up both the chakra reserves and the guts to get in contact with one. The minor fact that Jiraiya had been the one to get ahold of her Contract for her was ignored.

"You said you wanted your own Contract, Gai-kun?"

"Hai, sensei!" The teen went on to claim he would gain another Summons clan to ally with the village, most of the other words and claims he spouted off ignored for the sake of their collective sanity.

Their jōnin-sensei placed a firm hand on top of his head to hold him still. He may be up to mid-chest on her, but they were still shorter no matter how fearful they acted to tease her. "Be respectful, no matter how rude they seem in the beginning. Sometimes it's just a method to see if you are worth their time to create a Contract with. Or at least that's what Jiraiya-sensei said, but then again his Toads are a little brutish when you first meet one."

She backed up a bit, mainly to ensure Gai had a good view of her hands but also to get out of the way. The idea of a reverse Summoning still gave her the creeps, but that was the path her tai obsessed genin wanted to go.

"The hand-seals are Boar, Dog, Bird, Monkey, and Ram. Run through it a few times before attempting it."

With the taijutsu user occupied, Natsumi turned to Ibiki.

He just shrugged in response to her questioning look. "I'm too busy for a Contract, sensei. I'll look into it later if I really want one."

"I can see that." She really could. The infiltrator was working steadily on his scripting methods for fūinjutsu, which was really a whole lot of experimentation in what worked for him and what didn't. It was not really that difficult, just a whole lot of repetitive work. Trying to add the conditions of a Summoning Contract on top would probably stress the broody little brat out. "Go work on your calligraphy then, we're not going to be doing too much more today."

Ibiki stared at her shrewdly for a moment, flicking a glance to their remaining team member then turning sharply on his heel to stalk off and work on his seal designs. "I wonder if I can link an explosive seal to the kanji in my name."

Natsumi vaguely wondered when he would switch to interrogation, Inoichi could certainly use the help from what she knew of the inner workings of T&I. He was a perceptive little brat to be sure, but that idea he wanted to be working on was a little alarming.

"I… think I am going to ask Otou-sama for his Contract, sensei."

"That's fine." She ignored his small start of surprise to instead call out to Gai. "Go for it, but remember to be polite!"

Gai struck what she supposed was supposed to be a heroic pose or something, before rapidly repeating the hand seals she gave him to use. This time he did it with almost all the chakra he could stand to use formed up in his hands as well as a small cut for the blood offering.

"Sensei?"

"Did you know Jiraiya-sensei asked if I wanted the Toads when I was about your age?"

The assassin couldn't quite hid her wince as the tai user slammed his hands into the ground and disappeared in a cloud of burnt chakra as his best matched Summons clan seized hold of his offering and pulled him into their realm. Hopefully Jin and Kenta would be able to keep an eye on her student's jaunt into the Summons' Realm, and keep him from wandering into something dangerous. She might not have been able to warn them which Contract the teenager would probably end up with, but having them on the lookout for him made her feel better about all of it anyways.

"Sensei even asked if I wanted his teammate's Contracts for them."

Koichi looked pretty dumbfounded, but mainly confused. "What?"

As far as everyone else knew, Minato had always been Jiraiya's handpicked successor as the Toad Summoner. Which was true, she was pretty sure the man hadn't been serious when speaking about it to her. He had probably been sounding her out to take on his blonde teammate's position for Minato, but she would never be able to get the hang of healing and the Slugs really would be better off with Sakura.

"It's more a vouch of confidence, and I'd imagine a secondary option to any other means of getting a Contract, when someone offers to let you sign on to their Summoning Contract." Natsumi ruffled Koichi's short hair, smirking at his still shocked but now slightly irritable expression. "I didn't offer to make you choose between your Otou-sama and myself, I just wanted to let you know that if you wanted you could sign my Contract instead of looking elsewhere. I honestly plan on letting my first child sign my Contract, if it makes you feel any better."

The scout now looked rather disgruntled, almost what she would call pouting if he would just jut out his lower lip a little more.

"But, since you decided you wanted your Otou-sama's Noble Monkey Contract and not my minor Feline one, I want you to know you'll be agreeing to whatever Hiruzen-sama agreed to pay in return for Summoning their members. You can't negotiate for better terms when signing on to an established Contract."

"He told me, sensei." Koichi told her seriously, still sitting a bit stiffly next to her as they waited for Gai to return. "And that I might share a few Summons with him, though he hasn't been in many fights where he needed to call on the Monkeys lately."

"I would hope not." That would mean someone in ANBU wasn't doing their job right. "But yes, that would be what you needed to know. Did he go over how to incorporate Summons into a fighting style with you yet?"

"Yes."

"Then be warned, kiddo. You've got less than a year before I pull you into ANBU for training, and it took me a year and a half to learn to fight with Kenta and not around him. You've got it easier, the Monkeys already know the Sarutobi fighting style already so it shouldn't take you nearly as long as it did for me or will for Gai-kun." Natsumi paused as something occurred to her, as her third genin wasn't exactly what anyone would call a moderate shinobi. "On average, anyways. But, knowing him and his habits, it'll probably take him less time than it did me."

Koichi snorted, finally relaxing back into the tree truck that was propping them both upright. "So I'll have what, a year of being chūnin?"

"Officially, probably. It's not likely ANBU will let you go higher than tokubetsu jōnin while you're with them. But you three are being considered for chūnin promotion right now, and you'll probably get it sometime in the next few months." She considered everything else that might have an impact on the genin next to her, frowning as something else occurred to her. "I'll probably be retiring a year or so after you join."

His head whipped around to her. "What?"

Natsumi raised an eyebrow at him. "I'm the wife of the Nara clan head. Typically, the heir to a clan is conceived by the wife of the clan head. Shikaku didn't have a problem with me remaining ANBU while we are married, as long as I would retire once I'm pregnant."

Blinking, Koichi kept staring at her in horror.

"And they really should call it something else, since everyone else that I've known that has retired haven't exactly left the damn place yet." Ryoko and Sakumo for instance, neither of which seemed all that inclined to leave the running of ANBU headquarters up to the younger generation. Kami knew they were both still in the thick of things as far as training went. "So while you'll see me around, I won't be getting mission assignments anymore."

Technically, anyways. She wouldn't be allowed to officially retire until Koichi attained captain rank, so that would mean she would be getting even more desk duty in HQ while she waited on him to get there. Then again, there hadn't been another assassin as long-lived as her. Maybe they would let her off easy?

…probably not, knowing Bear and his love of shoving mission planning on her. It wasn't even likely that she would escape that once she really retired.

The scout next to her relaxed a bit more again, but this time turned fully to face her with a scowl. "Anything else you feel like mentioning, sensei?"

"My squad is in tatters at the moment. Once you start training I'll find a fourth squad mate, but right now there's only me and the squad's medic Mouse. The fourth will probably be either heavy combat or a bodyguard when I find someone."

"Are you expecting a lot of missions to battlefields or something?"

Natsumi looked down at him, trying not to smirk. "Koichi-kun, saboteurs are so rare that I could probably demand one of the highly sought after ANBU ninjutsu specialists and get him for the squad. You'll be worth your weight in gold if you live longer than a year."

Instead of looking please or proud of himself for her comment on his worth, Koichi paled a little. "So… it's going to be dangerous?"

"Extremely, but you should know that already. Once the other villages start wondering if we have a saboteur, they'll go to great lengths to figure out if it's true and who it is. Your connection to the Sarutobi clan will help there, they won't immediately connect the risky title of saboteur to the heir of your clan." She threaded her fingers through his short hair, mostly so he wouldn't panic on her. "After you start field missions, you'll need to be careful about who you socialize with. I don't think you'll have an issue there, but still."

He snorted, glancing over to where Ibiki had set himself up on a convenient rock and then to the scorch mark that Gai had left behind before starting his trip. "I think I'll stick with what works, sensei."

Natsumi carefully ensured her face was blank. "Mmm, sure. You say that now."

She got a confused look.

"Then you'll get your first girlfriend and that'll be thrown out the nearest window… or do you prefer boys? Is that why you don't think it'll be a problem?"

Instead of cringing like she half-expected, Koichi flushed bright red and stiffly sat up straight far enough to knock her hand away. "Sensei!"

The assassin blinked. "What, really?"

He hesitated, strictly not looking at her. "… I don't know?"

"Fair enough." It could just be hormones confusing the living daylights out of him, but it was just as likely the teenager didn't find females attractive or found both girls and boys attractive and was more confused than any normal teenage male. "Give it some time and revisit it later. If you want, I can go talk to Jiraiya-sensei. While I don't really want to know that much about his love life, I'm sure he knows more than a bit about that kind of lifestyle if you want someone to talk to and don't feel comfortable talking to your old man."

Koichi didn't speak for a while, but when he did his voice was quiet enough she had to strain to hear him. "What about the heir thing?"

Natsumi pressed her lips together. Unlike most of her last life, sexual orientation was a bit of a big deal here. Being gay gave a person some social stigma, even within the shinobi ranks when nearly every vice wasn't even blinked at. It was a bit worse in clans, since continuation of the clan was a big thing to a lot of the members. She really didn't care, so long as Koichi didn't try sleeping with his teammates without warning them of his orientation. That could be more than just a little awkward the next morning.

"That's why you have an otouto, kid." After a beat, she decided the whole topic needed lighting. He did look fairly miserable about it. "And, I know as a matter of fact there's this brothel somewhere south of us that has some really manly looking women on staff. You could always pay them a visit and ask any children conceived be sent on to you."

Now he looked rather horrified. "How do you even know that?"

"Jiraiya-sensei loves women… all kinds of women. My genin team visited that village, really more of a slums on the edge of a town, when he had to go collect some intelligence there." It hadn't been a bad visit, but according to the two boys she had been on a team with it had been an embarrassing one. "The girls really liked Minato, thought he was just the cutest thing they ever saw."

Natsumi had been just old enough in body to be mostly ignored, but she had the suspicion it had been Jiraiya and her hitai-ate that deterred the matron of the establishment from trying to tempt her into changing careers. She wasn't pretty in the traditional sense, but that brothel didn't carter to nobles or picky customers.

Inoichi had just about cowered behind his fellow blond the whole time, uncomfortable in the face of cooing older women.

Her musings on past missions was interrupted by Gai's return, looking a little punch-drunk but whole through the cloud of burnt chakra that preceded his return. She almost leapt to her feet, but Koichi beat her to it and guided the tai user to his old spot next to their jōnin-sensei.

"Gai-kun?"

He beamed in her general direction, and Natsumi got a little suspicious that she let him go ahead with this a bit too soon. With the genin deciding not to cultivate an element in his chakra he was slightly limited on the amount of ninjutsu he knew, and although she had a good chakra sense in people she knew she wasn't very good an judging how much chakra they inherently had.

Which meant she had very nearly screwed this all up.

"Tortoise!"

Koichi flatly frowned at that near shouted exclamation, giving the assassin a confused look. "Is he okay?"

She relaxed a bit, mostly sure that was his Summons in that other life as well. "Tortoises are part of the reptile species of Summons, Koichi-kun. I don't think they deal with the Snakes, but they might have relations with the Toads."

Gai nodded rapidly, getting his bearings back and holding himself straight even without the scout's steadying hand. "They knew of you, sensei. They wish for me to convey their greetings to you and your sensei."

Natsumi smirked at that. Gai had probably lucked out a little then, if the leader of the Tortoises knew he had been taught by the Leopard clan's Summoner. They would have given him the benefit of doubt right off the bat since she, Minato, and Jiraiya were all known to each other's Summons clans and rather well liked. "Did you reach a compromise then?"

The genin nodded again, seriously this time. "They wish for me to assist them in caring for their home. Every year I will be called to work, on a day of my choosing in a month of theirs."

Well… that was a little odd… but no weirder than the Dogs demanding a day of freedom just to run around in a realm different than their usual one.

She let that slid without comment. "Be sure to keep your end of the bargain, Gai-kun. Ideally, you want to build up enough good-will between you and the Tortoises so that if you need to you can get them to change the month if you're committed to something and can't break off. I'll register that you succeeded with Intelligence and what your forfeit is, you should…"

Natsumi trailed off, thinking about what Gai had waiting for him at home. He was way too exhausted to continue with any training, and she didn't want to tempt him into trying to figure out how to use his new Summons until he recovered enough chakra not to risk exhaustion. Without someone at home to distract or watch him, there wasn't anyone that would keep his attention off his shiny new ability.

"…go find Kakashi-kun. Get some pointers on how to learn to fight with your Summons."

Ibiki, who had snuck up while the scout and assassin were distracted by the taijutsu user, spoke up while Gai turned that advice over in his head. "Are we done for the day, sensei?"

Natsumi glanced between them all. Koichi would likely be signing his father's Contract later than night, Gai was too exhausted to continue with anything, and Ibiki still had a lot of seal scripting to work on.

"More than likely. Do any of you have anything else for me?"

\V/

"I'm sorry Mikoto, I can't take him. I've got a mission, and if I couldn't put it off for my own gakis it isn't very likely Bear-sama will let me postpone for you."

The matron of the Uchiha clan sighed heavily, cupping her teacup delicately. "I suppose Itachi-kun will have to come with us then."

"To a battlefield triage point?" Natsumi asked archly, sitting cross-legged on her porch as the two of them watched the almost four-year-old Uchiha heir investigate the beginnings of the Nara forest. "That doesn't sound like a great idea."

"Kushina can't take him for the same reason, Natsumi. She's already gone on her own mission out near the Land of Hot Water." The Uchiha kunoichi told the assassin seriously. "My Okaa-sama is too ill, and Fugaku's parents are already gone. We can't ask Minato, as he's got his hands full right now, which rules Hizashi even if our clans wouldn't protest loudly for the very act of asking."

"And the reason you're both going in the first place is that Fugaku's last reaming relative is going to die from injuries incurred during his mission." Natsumi sighed heavily, freeing her left hand to rub at her persistently aching scars on her neck. "What about Kagami-sama? Shisui-kun's father? I liked him. And the rest of your clan? I know a few families with younger children are in your clan, can't they watch him for a week or so?"

Clan Elders as a childcare option weren't great, because they were all ninja and getting their leader's child to spout off their agenda would be par for the course with any shinobi. As far as the Nara knew, Kagami was about as straight-laced as any ninja could be in their world and wouldn't try to influence Itachi without major influences pressing on him.

"For political reasons, no. It would lean too far to playing favorites to ask any of the shinobi families without a direct familiar link to them, more than most are actually struggling slightly to keep up with their mission loads and their own families right now. Additionally, most of the civilian ones I am on good terms with wouldn't know what to keep watch for in kidnapping attempts or in raising a ninja child. As for Kagami-sama, he's… not doing too well. The medics said it was complications from old injuries, and he is getting on in years. Asking him to watch Itachi-kun for a week when he has Shisui-kun to watch might stress him too much."

The assassin winced at that news. She really didn't want to think on what kind of damage she had already done to herself and how painful it might be if she got to that age, and for a shinobi that fought in the First War without many of the medical advancements available now the Uchiha clan elder had to be feeling the weight of age and his scars rather keenly.

Even Shikai, her father-in-law, was starting to feel the press of old age the last time she saw the man. He wasn't quite as fluid in movement anymore as most shinobi retires with all their limbs, and had even begun to favor his left side a little.

"What about Tsume? I know the Inuzuka clan really isn't an obvious choice for emergency childcare, but Hana-chan is almost due for her ninken and you can tempt the gaki in helping her out with newborn puppies."

The genjutsu mistress perked up a bit, blinking at the kunoichi she was having tea with. "I hadn't thought of that… I'll ask."

"Natsu-oba-san?" Both kunoichi looked over to the Uchiha heir, who placed his tiny hands on the wooden deck they were sitting on in order to lean forward to them. Pinked cheeked, slightly dirt streaked from his terrain investigations, and frowning slightly, it was about the most adorable sight the assassin had seen all week. "I am getting hungry. Do you have anything sweet?"

Mikoto huffed quietly, causing Natsumi to snicker lightly. Bribery or not, she was still a favored person to visit for the little Uchiha even if it was just for her sweets.

"Why yes, Itachi-chan. I've got something made with apples if you would like to try it."

"Yes please." Itachi, like the little gentleman he was, very fastidiously brushed all the dirt he could reach off his miniaturized Uchiha clan uniform before standing patiently by the kitchen's door.

The ANBU captain rocked to her feet, setting her empty cup on the tea tray. "Go ask a few more people, Mikoto. I'll feed your little gaki and work a little on his calligraphy for a bit."

"Sure you will. More like stuff him full of sweets and spend the rest of the day riling him up with wild stories of ancient heroes." The other kunoichi did place down her half-full cup, giving her a slightly thankful smile as she smoothed down her kimono. "If it takes more than an hour to settle him down for the night, I'll come back and put you under a genjutsu that will make you think you're a pretty, pretty kitty."

Natsumi discreetly slid away from the serenely smiling Uchiha, wondering if she wanted to risk that threat or not.

Apparently the assassin wasn't discreet enough, as Mikoto's smile turned wickedly sharp before she swept off after a kiss pressed to Itachi's forehead.

Watching warily to ensure the genjutsu mistress was on her way out and wouldn't hear, the ANBU captain turned back to the latest genius of Konohagakure. "Your kaa-chan is a little scary sometimes, Itachi-chan."

"I know." Instead of acting like the Nara had insulted him or his beloved mother, the usually shy child just preened slightly. "Thank you for the compliment, Natsu-oba-san."

She gave him a crooked grin. "Well… I suppose some milk with your apple pie is in order. I don't want to risk spending the night curled up in a ball on the kitchen table."

Natsumi got a small smile in return as she opened the kitchen door for him.

\V/

"Why do you think I know?"

"Because if anyone in the village would, it would be you Minato." Kushina told her boyfriend a little pointedly, twirling a few ramen noodles on her chopsticks. "You two were practically thick as thieves back in the academy."

He gave her a sideways look, which was equal parts confused and suspicious. "Why do you want to know?"

"I'm curious. All that talk about a possible kekkai genkai made me wonder if one of her parents could do something similar. And you have to admit you've wondered something similar too."

"Well… I know sempai's eye coloring was passed on to her by her okaa-san. Everyone in the orphanage wanted to know that at one point or another, as it was a bit jarring to come face to face with." Minato answered dryly, toying with the bowl of chicken ramen sitting in front of him. "But honestly, the only thing I ever heard out of her about her otou-san was a few sour wonderings if her chakra discoloration was due to him."

The redhead turned on the barstool to pin the blond with a pointed look. "So you know Natsumi's kaa-chan's name then?"

"Mesuji Mana." He replied with a measure of confusion. "But while sempai probably does know her otou-san's name, she's never told me."

"I wonder if Shikaku knows?"

"There might be a reason sempai never spread it around if she knows, Kushina. Or maybe she doesn't want to know."

"Anything more for you two, Kushina-chan? Minato-san?"

The jinchūriki gave the young chef that ran her favorite restaurant a grin as she turned back to her dinner. "Another bowl of miso ramen if you could, Teuchi-kun."

Minato rolled his eyes at her, pushing away his second and unfinished bowl of noodle soup. "No more for me, thanks."

Teuchi took away the bowl in front of the jōnin shinobi, and the tokubetsu jōnin kunoichi that was his girlfriend pouted at him. "Wasteful, you should've finished that Minato."

Well acquainted with her quirks when it came to ramen in all it's supposed glory, he merely huffed. He liked the noodle dish fine, just not quite as dearly as Kushina loved the salty soup. Certainly not to the point he would eat only ramen every day if allowed.

"You think there might be a reason she never dug into it, or told anyone if she did?"

"I'm just saying be careful." Minato denied quickly, turning to her fully. "Sempai might get irritated if you dig behind her back if she didn't want it known for whatever reason."

"I don't think Natsumi would ever get mad at anyone of us. She never has before, and we've done a few stupid things right in front of her."

"Always a first time for everything, hime."

Kushina smirked impishly at him. "So, do you want to know or not?"

He rolled his eyes at her a final time, settling in to wait out whatever number of bowls she was planning on eating her way through before they stated poking at something he didn't already know. "Sure. We might as well start with Shikaku. If anyone would know right now, it would be sempai's husband."

\V/

One month riding herd on a team made up of newly minted ANBU agents should be less tiring than it had been. Panther had almost been ready to kill several of them, more notably the brand new assassin the division picked up in the last year and one of the kunoichi slotted for seduction who decided sleeping with every agent on the mission would be good for her career.

The mission was the last hurdle most ANBU agents went through to get their tattoos, and Natsumi had gone through hers in the last year of the Second Great Shinobi War with a few of her other classmates and a handful of other 'officially' chūnin ninja. Her final ANBU training mission had been a tour of battlefronts and varying terrains just like this one, but there had been less trainees there overall.

Which made her wonder what kind of intake the shinobi corps had right now compared to back then. She was pretty sure the criteria for joining ANBU hadn't changed in recent years, as that was something she was sure she would get notice of since she was a captain and assisted with training now and again with her old ANBU captain. As far as she knew, gaining that swirly tattoo they liked to hide still was limited to either agents noted for their skills in stealth and put on recruitment watch by someone they knew or by attempting the criteria in the academy and getting picked up later on.

That wondering led her to puzzle over if ANBU's training methods needed overhauling to compensate for more trainees than normal.

Then again, Wolf was the unofficial overseer of training in ANBU. Sakumo knew perfectly well how a training facility could change when they started handling more than they had instructors for. He had an example in his own son's academy career, after all.

Her pondering occupied most of the time she spent in transit between one of the varied ANBU HQ entrances and the Nara clan compound, so she pulled her head out of the clouds and nodded a greeting to the two on gate guard tonight and gave an ANBU greeting to the shadow guard lingering around the gates.

Shikaku was on the porch playing a game of shogi against himself, even if it was starting to get chilly at nights now that they were edging firmly into the winter months, so Natsumi slumped next to him rather than go indoors. "Who's winning, you or you?"

"Real cute, wife mine." He tugged her closer and tucked her under one arm anyways, for while she was wearing several layers of cloth and leather in her version of the Nara clan uniform it was all still loose enough for the more intense summer months and not really up to keeping out the biting winds of Konoha's winter. And after six years of marriage, Shikaku knew full well she hated being cold even if she never said it aloud. "How did it go?"

"Besides an overly amorous seduction trainee, not all that bad." She ignored his twitching, because it did sound funny when she put it that way and not an annoyance she had to deal with every night of those three weeks out of the village's gates so he was forgiven for laughing. "There were a few incidents, but most all of them were minor. It was a training mission, they're not all that exciting unless you're the one being trained."

"Good to know." She got a squeeze before he moved the next piece on the game board, one of which she was mostly sure she had carved for him. "Now, where is your paperwork?"

Natsumi blinked up at him. "What?"

"The files you dumped on my desk right after we were married, Natsu. You said it was the sum amount of your family history in Konoha. I recall they were left there one night and disappeared before I got to them."

"That was more than five years ago, hubby mine." The assassin swung herself into his lap, mostly because her ass was cold and there was a warmer seat just waiting for her. "And the bottom drawer of your desk, most of your files are in that one so that's where I put mine."

"I looked there."

"Under the drawer, they're sealed into the bottom."

"Ino's right, you're paranoid." Shikaku rolled his eyes upward, so she elbowed him in the gut.

"I'd rather be paranoid and alive than not and dead, Shika."

He huffed, this time bending over her back to reach the other side of the wooden board his game was on. "True, I definitely prefer that too, wife mine. But I highly doubt you need to be paranoid about some old paperwork that's probably on file elsewhere in the village. Can I at least release them out of there?"

"Yeah, that was a few years after Minato and I puzzled out how to key different people to certain seals. Even if they never touched the seal in question. Why do you think I asked for some of your blood?"

"The security seals plastered over the house?"

Natsumi snorted at him. "I asked for that blood a little later."

"I thought you just needed some more." Shikaku shrugged, and she could feel his muscles move against her back. "That's why I leave the fūinjutsu to you, Natsu."

"Lazy, Shika."

"Nara, all of us are lazy."

She snickered at him as she watched the next move of his game. "Liar, I know the secret now. If you tempt a Nara with something they want, they're properly motivated and not at all lazy."

He just grumbled about troublesome wives.

Still laughing softly, the assassin shifted a bit more to work out a stubbornly stiff tendon in her right knee. "Why do you want them?"

"Hmm?"

"My records, or what there is of them."

"Kushina asked me who your father was while you were gone, and I realized I didn't really know where that was. Almost panicked Koichi-kun when some redheaded tokubetsu jōnin he didn't know you knew started asking questions about you."

Natsumi craned her head around to frown at him. "What did my team do?"

"Don't ask." Shikaku rubbed a hand along his jawline, leaning back and giving up on the mostly finished shogi game. "But officially, Team Seven and Nine have now met. Unofficially, Ibiki-kun and Kakashi-kun still don't like each other; Gai-kun has a new kind of friend in Obito-kun; and Koichi-kun probably won't be able to look you in the eye the next time you see him."

"Well… that's better than I expected. I was mostly afraid Obito-kun and Ibiki-kun might bond over their mutual dislike of Kashi-chan and egg poor Gai-kun along." Something else about what he said occurred to her, and she turned as much as she could instead of keeping her head turned as far as she could make it go. "The hime wasn't content with just you answering her question?"

"I didn't have proof, but Tsunade-sama dug into your file for her so she dropped the question."

"How in hell-"

"Apparently, the head of the Senju clan lost some kind of bet."

Natsumi blinked at him out of sheer surprise.

That was still part of Tsunade's typical habits? She had known the Slug Princess like to gamble, but not that favors were something the woman used as currency. With Nawaki doing rather well under Hizashi and no reason to get close to Dan, the assassin hadn't been expecting any of the woman's bad habits to reoccur in this life. But it seemed the blonde Sannin wanted a bit more risk to her games than usual. She was just happy that it was for something so minor instead of for her ANBU record or something similar.

"Well shit."

"Hiruzen-sama wasn't all that happy to hear that either."

She snorted, turning back so she was facing the path outside their home again. "Anything else that went on while I was gone?"

Shikaku considered that for a moment, and nodded enough so she could feel it. "According to a few of my contacts in the tactical division, the battle lines out in Earth should be about a quarter through the country. Theoretically, Iwagakure should be only a few more miles north of the eastern front."

…fuck. They were almost to Iwa's front door?

Then again, against two Hidden Villages who could actually coordinate with each other Rock had to be feeling like they had been fed through a meat grinder without Kumo's assistance. While Cloud was officially aligned with Iwa, Kumo had stopped trying to get large groups of ninja past the blockade a mile in from the Frost border and seemed to be waiting for whatever results came of Suna and Konoha's dealings with hostile foreign villages.

For the million ryo question, would Minato get his moniker back or not? Sakumo had regained his, from the jōnin missions he undertook for nobles on occasion. She wasn't sure if Shikaku and his team had one to begin with or not, but the trio did have a rather fearsome reputation in Kumo now.

"…and Itachi-chan gained his sharingan."

Natsumi snapped her head up, almost hitting Shikaku in the jaw with the back of her head. "What?"

"Mikoto had to take him along with her and Fugaku, she couldn't find anyone that could take the brat in for a week or so on short notice." He warily kept an eye on her, rather firmly holding her down in his lap until she adjusted to that bit of news. "Somehow, while they were out in some triage point seeing Fugaku's last close blood relative before he died, Itachi-chan got himself turned around and lost them. He wandered into the remains of some Iwa strike team that hadn't been cleaned up yet trying to find his parents."

The assassin actually felt her mind go blank as she stared at her husband.

"Natsu?"

"Holy fuck."

"Yeah, that's one way of putting it."

"What about Tsume?" She tried rather desperately, horrified for the young Uchiha heir. "I thought she had been in the village before I left?"

"She had to go back to the fronts in Lightning half-way through the week Mikoto needed."

Damn ninjas and their paranoid distrust for everything not related to them, and sometimes not even then. Thinking that made Natsumi feel three kind of a hypocrite, since she seriously wasn't the poster girl for trusting in her fellow shinobi either.

"Fuck… poor Itachi-chan." Not only that, but she was mostly sure she had known about this incident. Sort of. At least, she was almost sure about it. It sounded familiar to her. "Motherfucker."

"What?"

"Just… wow that sucks for him." Natsumi told him distractedly as she shoved her hand through her hair, uncaring that she snapped the tie that had held it back.

How much of that story had she forgotten if she dropped the ball on this so badly? She had a sinking feeling this wasn't the first time she forgot something important and didn't act on some incident that would prove to be bad later on. Now a four-year-old would bear the price of her screwing up.

All because she had a freaking ANBU mission she might have had the leeway to skip if she had only just asked Bear.

She felt just as much of a failure as Naomi made her feel on a regular basis.

"Yeah well, if you listen to Fugaku it just proves how brilliant his son is." Shikaku purposely made his tone neutral, but that just let the assassin know the shinobi had a problem with that.

"Why?" Natsumi wrenched her mind from her latest dismal failure and tried to focus on the conversation again. "I thought an Uchiha had to be afraid for their lives to the point they believe they will die before they could wake their sharingan?"

He pressed his lips together, suddenly getting to his feet and setting the ANBU captain on hers. "Come on, it's getting too cold out here to stay out for long."

She blinked at his back, bemused. Shikaku didn't avoid things, he preferred to deal with something when it reared its head and not let it become a problem. Whatever this was, it had to be something the genius thought would make a situation worse by trying something for it.

It wasn't until Natsumi was halfway up the staircase that she realized what her husband's problem was.

Fugaku was probably proud of his son awakening their clan's dōjutsu, and while that was kind of impressive for a four-year-old the situation needed for that awakening wasn't something very many outside of the Uchiha clan would think normal. Actually it wasn't normal in a way, child services in Fiona's time would have thrown a fit over boasting about unneeded emotional trauma to the poor Uchiha heir. Which was probably Shikaku's problem, he was thinking more about Itachi's poor head than what would be normal for the Uchiha clan.

She was used to it, half the reason the academy started at the age it did was because of the Uchiha clan.

Everyone entered it just before puberty, so when the genin started on missions outside the village they would be about at the age most Uchiha normally woke up their dōjutsu. Then there were the overachievers of that clan, the academy Uchiha kids that routinely tried to kill each other so they would have their red swirly eyes before they would see any combat likely missions. No amount of lectures or warnings had made a dent in stupid attempts Uchiha clan trainees pulled, and it wasn't likely anything else the assassin could arrange would make that unspoken tradition stop.

Ryoko hadn't been amused to learn that habit of the noble clan, Uchiha academy students made up about half of all the work she saw in a day.

Natsumi finally started moving again, this time to hunt down where her husband got to. "Unless Mikoto shares some kind of concern, there's no way I can see to warn Fugaku that he's coming off like an insensitive asshole about it."

Shikaku tugged the rest of his shirt off, having been halfway undressed by the time the assassin got moving again. "Mikoto's quiet, she's always like that. I'll leave figuring out what she thinks about it to you, since you'll probably be better at it than me."

She hesitated, biting her lip uncertainly. That sounded like a great recipe to screw over her friendship with the matron of the Uchiha clan, but had to give her husband the point. Fugaku and Shikaku didn't have a very close relationship, and after losing the file on her that had probably just gotten colder on both ends. Mikoto was probably the only Uchiha that would seek her out for some companionship, and she was pretty clear on how Fugaku saw her. Mainly as an annoyance he sometimes liked to study, but was unfortunately a friend of his wife's and a convenient emergency babysitter for his first-born. "Alright."

It wasn't until much later that she started wondering if Fugaku pushed Itachi so hard in that other story because he thought no one outside his clan was impressed with the kid. If the problem was that the Uchiha clan head had alienated his usual support because he hadn't understood how someone outside his clan would see his son's achievement and how he was proud of something any other parent would have been horrified by, then how the hell could Natsumi change that?

\V/

A sharingan was quite literally a pair of red eyes with black tomoe in them.

Natsumi vaguely wondered if the black was more pupil openings, since the eyes were supposed to allow a user to track movement better than any normal human could and see chakra. There didn't seem to be a reason for the red other than to look scary. Though the 'free-floating irises' effect was just plain creepy, and made her only basic understand of the human body quail trying to work out.

Considering she was staring down Itachi's sharingan, she had the best view of an Uchiha's dōjutsu disregarding any of Orochimaru's attempts at dissection.

It was the only other option for her other than listen to Kushina try to pick a topic that wouldn't upset either her or Mikoto or sip more tea than she ever had in one sitting. Which was kind of both funny and sad, since the two other kunoichi had been friends for years and she didn't really care about the topic of her father.

Itachi, for all his brainpower, was still a four-year-old child.

Natsumi wasn't too proud to say she smirked when the kid blinked first.

"Might want to work on that, kiddo." She swept the little prodigy up into her lap, ruffling his somewhat longish hair. "How's your head?"

"It doesn't hurt, Natsu-oba-san."

"Little liar, you're squinting." The assassin tipped him back to see his face clearly, smoothing a thumb down the side of his face and feeling for the tension she could see on him. "Is it more tension without a lot of pain?"

Itachi considered that, and then her, seriously for a long moment with his normal eyes. "Yes."

Natsumi nodded at him, looking up to the surprised Mikoto sitting stiffly in Kushina's living room. Since there seemed to be a rather large, pink elephant in the room, she decided to dive in with both feet. "Are there any medical concerns we need to be aware of? I know he's a bit younger than normal."

The matron of the Uchiha clan's posture relaxed minutely, but her lips were still pressed together before she spoke. "Only that he doesn't drain himself of chakra without knowing, it's easy to do with the sharingan active."

"You look strange." Itachi added without prompting, unusually enough for the more reserved child she currently spent time with. He probably considered himself safe enough with both his mother and godmother there as well.

Natsumi wasn't a regular fixture in his life, so she probably didn't count.

"Like there's something else there."

"She does look different through a sharingan, doesn't she?" Mikoto gave a small smile to her son, ignoring the assassin's huff since it was mostly fake. "Natsumi is special, like Kakashi-kun and his otou-sama or how an Aburame clan member looks when we really look at them. It just means she can do something slightly different than any normal kunoichi."

"Like Kushina-oba-chan?"

Natsumi rolled her eyes even as the redhead next to her winced, and the two of them exchanged a droll look as Mikoto calmly explained Kushina was even more special than that… or at least the two other kunoichi did until the jinchūriki in the room recalled she was avoiding the assassin's eyes for her own reasons.

Reaching over in response of being ignored, the reincarnated soldier flicked the other woman in the temple.

"Ow! What was that for?"

Instead of answering Kushina's question, Natsumi looked over to the bemused Uchiha kunoichi. "So, Mikoto. Did you know I was thrown out of a clan before I was even born?"

"No, I didn't know that." Mikoto spoke slowly, and the assassin wasn't sure if she was more shocked or confused. "Which one?"

"The Kurama clan."

Kushina cringed again, stubbornly staring a hole in her floorboards. "I'm sorry, okay? I didn't know so I got curious. You're trying to find me more of my clan, but you never said who your otou-san was and that made me wonder if you had another clan, a long lost child of the Senju preferably. Or maybe you were the daughter of some noble. Or even-"

"Hime?"

"Even maybe a child of a roaming samurai!"

"I'm pretty sure those are called Ronin."

The redhead blinked at the genjutsu mistress, who shrugged.

"Itachi-kun should have the proper terms for when he writes up mission reports later in life."

"Whatever they're called, they have nothing to do with me." Natsumi interjected a little uncomfortably. "I'm a bastard child of a delinquent, minor member of the Kurama clan, so that clan decided they weren't going to deal with me and proclaimed I wasn't a member after he got himself killed. My kaa-chan apparently figured that was all well and good, so she agreed and tried to raise me herself. I don't even think the current clan head even knows I'm related to him, to be honest."

Even Mikoto didn't look like she knew what to say after that, until Itachi asked what the word 'bastard' meant.

Kushina sat back down, having gotten to her feet in her prior speculation of Natsumi's linage, giving the assassin a searching look. "Don't you care?"

"Not really. I'm a Nara now."

Tokubetsu jōnin or not, there was nothing wrong with the jinchūriki's mind and she frowned slightly. "Isn't that kind of dismissive? They were supposed to be your clan. You have to be at least somewhat bitter over that, it's like being told a puppy isn't worth the time to raise."

"Are you seriously comparing me to a puppy? Do you remember what I was like when I was ten-ish?" Natsumi asked archly, idly watching the Uchihas across from them. "I don't think I would have been a great clan member."

Having set her son right in regards to the word that shouldn't be repeated until he was older, Mikoto looked up at the assassin suspiciously. "Does that mean your supposed kinjutsu is really the Kurama clan's kekkai genkai?"

"I don't think so. Jiraiya-sensei took a look at it with his senjutsu and the Toads and said it was something else before I ever had an inkling of who my tou-san was. Tsunade-sama only gave that theory more weight with her full medical check on the whole team after the Second War, so it is really unlikely if… I suppose, slightly possible."

Although there were times after learning about her father that made Natsumi wonder. The key difference seemed to be while she affected only the mind and made other things seem real with chakra, the Kurama clan could make things real with what seemed to be only their mind and chakra. How… she would really rather not know.

Beyond Summons and their apparently separate realms, creating something out of nothing when there was nothing there seemed too much like playing god to her. If her niggling thought of mass delusion inducing mirages were true than she really did have a very minor version of that kekkai genkai.

It was one thing to make something think what wasn't real was real. It was something totally different to Natsumi to make everyone else believe it too without much effort put into maintaining the illusion.

While she would like to believe she was mostly sane, the other option meant she was as delusional as Madara would hopefully be in the end.

If all that was wrong, she would prefer not dealing with that clan at all.

Childish of her? Quite possibly.

There wasn't much of a reason to go poking at something that had already decided she wasn't worth the time, and connecting some face-less shinobi to her idea of 'father' wasn't really worth the effort if he was so troublesome that his own clan decided to cast his only child out.

"Right, now that awkwardness is out of the way," Kushina turned to Mikoto, "about Itachi-chan…"

The genjutsu mistress gave her best friend a flat look. "Awakening the sharingan is an important milestone in my clan."

"Yes, we know that."

Natsumi held up a finger to make the conversation pause there. "Leave me out of it. I understand most of the clan's stance on this, and while I understand and don't like it I probably don't have the right to try arguing the matter."

The redhead worked her jaw a silent moment, but finally nodded with a huff. "Fine."

"Wait, what?" Mikoto frowned as she looked between the two of them. "What do you mean, Natsumi?"

She grimaced and shook her head. "If the hime pisses you off, at least promise me you'll talk to me before storming off. I don't really want to get into it, I like having the both of you as friends and that's a bit too intrusive for me. Besides, it's a best friend's right to tell you when you've acted like a prick… or more to the matter at hand, when your husband is being a argumentative… err, dick about something."

"Right." Kushina blinked as Natsumi's last words registered to her, smirking a little. "And that's not intrusive?"

"We've been calling Fugaku a… rear-end for years. Mikoto's used to it." The assassin frowned faintly at the impressionable four-year-old still in the room. "Hey, Itachi-chan. Want to go with me and find something besides ramen to eat?"

She got another of the young heir's way too serious, measuring looks, but the kid did nod after glancing at his mother for permission.

At the very least, removing the impressionable child from the room would let Kushina be much more direct.

Natsumi didn't know how this would work out, and she didn't put much stock in a story that she had not only screwed to hell already but had forgotten more than a few points of to date. In the end, it would have to be the jinchūriki's diplomatic skills against whatever stubborn pride the Uchiha clan instilled in it's members.

She didn't particularly like it, it wasn't a great solution and to be honest it probably wasn't much of a solution to begin with, but she needed to stay in the Uchiha clan's good graces to help them… and because they were helping her out right now.

If that meant Kushina would spend a few of her supposed final years at odds with her best friend, then that was what was going to happen. Hopefully they could patch up that relationship later on.

\V/

Tenzou peered around at the place she had brought him to. "This is the academy? I was expecting something… bigger."

The ANBU captain he insisted on taking him to his first day of school smirked as she ruffled his thankfully leaf-less hair. "It's part of the Hokage's Tower complex, gaki. There's a few classrooms beneath our feet, and a whole yard out back a ways for taijutsu and weapons practice. It's not all apparent when looking straight at the building. That would've been just bad tactical planning."

The older of the two results of Orochimaru's experimentation kept his face blank as the two of them watched the crowd gathered to hear the Hokage's speech for the new academy class.

Natsumi didn't know what the young Mokuton user was thinking as he watched the families before them, but was sure it was along the lines of what every orphan thought when some version of a family day came around.

"If Ito's not up to venturing out this far when I can't make it, there's always Shia-chan and Naomi-chan. I don't think the two of them would mind coming out here to pick you up after classes."

Tenzou scowled slightly, which was telling after the amount of self-control practice they made him go through to keep most of his obvious control over plant-life hidden from his future classmates. The grass becoming greener when he was around thing was a lost cause until he got a bit older. "I'll be okay, neko-taicho. You don't have to worry about me."

Well, she was going to do that anyways. Of all of her regrets, Tenzou and his sister/fellow experiment were her biggest. She regretted their early life even more than dropping the ball on Itachi and his sharingan. They hadn't seemed like a big thing before running into the traitorous Snake Sannin, but they were a sucker punch all the same. She didn't want to get rid of Danzō just to turn into a female version of the man, and that little nightmare had cost her two full nights of sleep and a bad week trying to explain her fears to Shikaku without tipping the man off to what was really bothering her.

The assassin knelt down so she was eye level with the eight-year-old. "Tenzou-kun, I'm going to worry anyways. I'm a girl, you know."

He gifted her with a wry look that she just had to grin in the face of. Between Shia and her medical worries, Naomi and her own medical worries, and Natsumi and her own security worries; Ito and Tenzou usually just let the three of them fuss about.

"Okay, seriously. Remember that you probably won't be able to afford having friends here. And I'm really sorry about that, kiddo, but it's likely we'll have to pull you into ANBU as soon as you graduate to keep you safe."

It went against everything that she viewed the academy as, since Minato found her here and she had a good store of memories from her time here. With the security risks behind it they really couldn't afford to let him get too close to ninja that might get captured later on and tortured for information on their fellow shinobi. It was just safer all around to keep him and Naomi hidden from plain sight, no matter how hard she fought to allow them a friend or two.

Natsumi wasn't entirely sure keeping him or his sister from making friends was possible with the new model of the academy, but Bear had been rather adamant on the point.

"I know. I'll be good, I promise."

"You're always good, Tenzou-kun. I'm starting to worry about you. You should be a little more rebellious or something, all this behaving can't be good for you."

He at least cracked a small smile, so Natsumi scanned the new class quickly before squeezing the young boy's shoulder and leaping off into the trees.

She knew Anko and Iruka were part of this class, and wondered if she could get the two of them to attach themselves to her little charge without pissing off the ANBU General. It wasn't very likely, so the next question was could she do it anyways and scrape by with only more paperwork dumped on her?

(ooo000ooo)

Natsumi scowled at the scroll in Shikaku's hands as she let herself into the study. "Already? Didn't we just get back from a deployment a few months ago?"

"They're switching it up again." He responded absently, pouring over the orders that were meant for him. "Four months off, six to ten deployed for jōnin now."

She winced. That would make their whole division due to be cycled out again, and she knew several were still expecting another two months of village guard duty. "Ouch. How badly are the chūnin ranks getting run?"

"Three months on, a month off. They are the next biggest pool of manpower we have after genin."

She was trying to get her brats up to snuff for a chūnin field promotion? Natsumi sighed, sneaking a peek over his shoulder to see where he would be going for the next half of a year.

"Lightning, huh? I suppose they want you three to scare the Kumo-nin?"

Shikaku tried hard, but he eventually smirked a little as she snuck her arms around his waist from behind. "Possibly. I don't think we can do that again, though."

"They didn't have a scroll for me?"

"Not when I checked, but there might be one for you now."

She smirked a little into his back, squeezing lightly before letting him go. "It's probably more likely I'm going to be deployed as ANBU again."

He rolled up the scroll while giving her a considering look. "Inoichi's found a girlfriend."

Natsumi blinked at him, waiting for what else he wanted to say.

"A kunoichi supposedly from the R&D division."

She rolled her eyes. "Tell me when he stops bringing his work home with him. If he keeps doing that, he's going to end up hating going home."

"She's a bit different than that, Natsu."

"Not someone he's in lust with?" Natsumi turned back to him, frowning faintly. "Are you sure?"

"It's not a Chouza and Momo thing, to be sure." The shadow master allowed slowly, thinking hard. "But I think he might actually be happy with this one."

The assassin sank down into her usual couch, thinking a bit herself. If Shikaku was sure, she would go along with that. "So… six months to be certain nothing raises its ugly head, then I'll go talk to the medics?"

He blinked.

"It's going to take me and this girl some time to get into shape for child bearing, Shika." Natsumi smirked a bit depreciatingly. "Kunoichi aren't the most prolific breeders for a reason."

Between their mission accrued injuries, obsessive training schedules, and the slight possibility of birth control complications, sometimes all a kunoichi could do was one child every ten years. It wasn't just tactical planning in ensuring a child could save his or herself or run if needed, or a kunoichi only willing to get pregnant once in her life.

There were the exceptions, the Hyūga twins and Mikoto's two boys, but those were exceptions to the norm. Even Tsume's two brats, Hana and Kiba, were unusual in they were less than five years apart. Even if one had been the direct result of the alpha of the Inuzuka clan's birth control failing to prevent the pregnancy.

Natsumi was in awe of the fact her goddaughter was born only slightly underweight, since the pregnancy hadn't been planned on or expected and the mother had still been on the anti-pregnancy pills Tsunade dreamed up. Then again, Tsume had dropped firmly out of kunoichi life while she had been pregnant and there hadn't been a lot that kunoichi did other than eat and obsess over her health while remaining at home.

"I was thinking more like a year from now for the medics, and then another year to make sure you're healthy enough, Natsu." Shikaku told her seriously. "I don't want you finding out when deployed that you're pregnant and aren't built up enough for it. Hopefully we can make a dent in the fighting by then."

She blew out a mostly silent breath. She liked that option better than a sudden death to her ANBU career, and that would hopefully match up with her optimistic timeline in getting Koichi good enough to survive being a saboteur without her. It would cramp how much time she had in the field when Minato received the hat.

Then again, once ANBU always ANBU. It wasn't like there was a great example in the ranks so far that had left that life fully behind them without dying for it.

She didn't really want to go around his back like that, even if it was all on technicalities and they were ninja. But she wasn't going to trust Minato's safety to just anyone.

"Right then." Now that she thought of it a little more, that would fall about a year after Hizashi's upcoming marriage. But it also meant that in the next two or three years Hiruzen would decide to retire and start searching for a successor now that Orochimaru was firmly out of the running. "Two or so years it is."

\V/

Natsumi had long wondered how Hanzō had gotten in contact with Danzō.

It wasn't like Amegakure and Konohagakure were on speaking terms with what happened between Hanzo and the Sannin team. There also wasn't a handy contact point for ROOT, as the blacker option of the Leaf's black ops divisions wasn't advertised at all beyond hearsay and rumor.

The assassin was mostly sure that to any outsider looking in on the village, Shimura Danzō and Sarutobi Hiruzen didn't seem like estranged childhood friends turned one-sided bitter rivals.

What she forgot to take into account was the method ROOT had in mission acquisition.

Anything ANBU turned down was put in a pile to be burned. Officially.

Unofficially, Ne sifted through the remains and picked out the best of it before they were incinerated.

Which meant the suicidal missions and the ones they were sure would do Konohagakure no good were what Danzō's shadow guard picked up. Panther was pretty sure any repeat business gained from that didn't go through the official channels, which was always something that greatly concerned her. They also got the tokubetsu and full jōnin mission requests that were declined by Intelligence or the jōnin themselves, but that was pretty visible and therefore not something she worried over.

For instance, if ANBU turned down a request from a foreign Hidden Village, ROOT would more than likely look over it. If that Hidden Village swore to assist in the Konoha-Suna alliance against Iwa in return for some assistance with a small problem within it's borders, she could see why the one-eyed old man would be interested enough to see what else Hanzō would be willing to do.

It had to be some type of desperate for a foreign village to request help with a rebel group, especially for Ame to ask the Leaf for it.

Smaller Hidden Villages really hated dealing with the larger nations. Not because if the Shinobi Nation decided to squash them there wouldn't be much they could realistically do about it, but because it was more likely that their few jōnin level shinobi might start wondering what it would be like in a bigger village.

That wasn't something that happened often, but occasionally a few nuke-nin did end up in different countries if they could give a good enough reason for abandoning their old village.

For right now, Panther had to decide what to do with the mission request in her hand.

She wasn't sure at what point Ne got ahold of ANBU mission requests, if Danzō had a copy of this yet or not. Given what was written in it, she couldn't even take it to Jiraiya since none of his aliases she knew of were on it.

There was also no way in hell Natsumi could go check it out and possibly warn her fellow students of the Toad Sage. For one she was a week away from deploying to Earth, and two the rebel Akatsuki probably didn't know anything about Jiraiya's other students and wouldn't be very interested in finding out.

…but maybe she could get Jiraiya to look at briefly.

Panther swung around to look at Bear, who had paused in his paperwork to stare a hole in the side of her mask. "Sorry, trying to recall some of sensei's code words. Do you know of any?"

The ANBU General took the scroll from her silently.

Natsumi spent an equally silent moment hoping…

"There's one on here. Toss it in the refuse pile."

Shit.

She took the damn scroll back from him and tossed it into the basket they would light on fire later. So much for that idea.

"Should I warn him? That might be part of his spy network getting in trouble." Bear shrugged, so Panther took up the next scroll and kept her mouth shut.

She'd take that as permission… but would it do any of her fellow students of the Toad Sage any good?


ShadeHawk – Thanks for that. Really, the very next thing I did was go order it off the nearest bookstore. It's been a couple years since I read those books. As for Natsumi making it worse, it was supposed to have been Naomi, but I can see why you wouldn't think of it as worse. I'll work on it.

Babyuknowme13 – I am very sorry for the wait, but it's hard to write when you've been knocked out by painkillers. As for my grammar, I think of it as a work in progress. But I have OCD, so I'm a little harder on myself than I probably should be.

Sethera – I dearly hope I can keep it up for you to enjoy it all. For your question on the admin nin giving her irritated looks, she was interfering for Hiruzen so he and Koichi could have some time together.

Apex Walker – We'll see Komushi from time to time, but not as frequent as he had been. It'll be short, and more like a brief glimpse into what's going on in Suna.

Sin of the Fallen – I tried to do it the way I thought it up, but I was right in that plot point not working for the main story. So the thread has been pulled apart and will be revisited later, but at least I got to answer your question. And I… don't really want to know what else Uzukagure tried to seal into masks. That's creepy enough.

l'-'jj – If I can give you one or two more though, I'm happy. And repeating words is something I know I do, but damn if I can ever catch them before posting.

Doragonkasai-Tsubasa – I think writers get annoyed when reviewers claim their main character is a Mary-Sue and give no actual reasoning for it. It doesn't help anyone figure out how to counter it, or even a handy little guide to keep out of that minefield. Sometimes you have to try mining that information out, which I fully realize would become annoying after a while.

amara – I tried to work it in, I swear. But the scene with Koichi and the rest of Team Nine got really long, so we're going to do it here and I'll put it in an earlier chapter. So, from bottom up. Genin would be the first official rank given, and depending on how it's given would give them different responsibilities. Genin corps would be the grunts of the shinobi world, kind of like foot soldiers without many skills. Jōnin-track genin would be a step above that, since they are being trained up to take leadership positions and specialize in certain skills and they would need some experience in it. However, all genin would be more like labor workers until they got some skill. Chūnins would have two ranks as well. Chūnin corps who run the genin corps and the major, less critical offices in Konohagakure like the academy or R&D. Jōnin-track chūnin would be more like squad leaders, able to leave the village and make usually sound decisions even without higher guidance as long as it's for something rather minor. Tokubetsu jōnin would be the specialists, really skilled in certain areas but not quite jōnin level material either due to skill limitations or other, less major reasons like avoiding assassination attempts. Jōnin would be then the elites, really skilled in a field or two and able to make sound decisions in the field that the village wouldn't counter when they learned of whatever situation. Like field commanders. Sannin is less of a rank and more of a title given to those that might be kage level. ANBU would be special operations, but in the way of not existing unless the Hokage demands it. They're not anywhere in terms of rank, just different responsibilities. Kage would be the boss, the one that could make you bleed in five different ways before you blink. And I loved your view on what the future may be like, I might just flesh it out a bit and put it in my side fic plans. So I don't mind that you found the word cap on reviews, I didn't know that was possible.

snali24 Since so many have requested to at least see what it ends up in, I think we will see what the Konoha Eleven are doing around chūnin rank with all these changes occurring. However, we'll probably go the time skip route to get there. But, I do dearly love your explanation on how Natsumi isn't a Sue. But since that's something that changes with person to person I'm not really surprised I got some comments on her Sue-ness. Don't worry about the rambling, I do it a lot.

Nomurai – Sasori was about sixteen when he met Natsumi. According to canon, it was just months before he would have defected from Suna with both his parents killed by Sakumo after his best friend lost an arm and then poisoned himself accidently. Right now, I think he's eighteen.

MaskedBeauty09 – I don't think I got the passage of time marked down well enough to show it, though. It'll be something I work on when everything is written out. But thank you for the review, dear.

idleone Natsumi's thought process started as my own, but it's gotten well off my beaten track. And I'm trying to set up the end of the Third Shinobi War in this chapter, so more action will have to be the next one.

Baow – I was a little nervous to do it in the beginning, honestly. Since everyone did apparently want to just read the same thing over again. But we're now running into things she can't do anything for personally.

Mybfflisazombie – We'll occasionally see him again now, but not very often. And given we're now on the last stretch of the story it'll only probably be another few times. As for Natsumi's father's death, he died on mission. It's apparently a very common aliment for parents. I wasn't very creative there, I know.

Xhre – I do promise to flesh out that more. But anything in depth will probably have to go in my side fic plan. But we have more Shikaku just for you.

Btralox – Mostly because we're only now looking outward. It's harder than I thought to keep it mostly balanced in terms of good and bad, and I do promise to work on it. Some of the things she thought worked out well didn't work out nearly as well as she thought, I promise.

MeLikesROFL – Plot. What actually happens with that plan relies on a few other people, namely Minato and Shikaku. But we'll visit it, really soon too.

fleetingwhitefeathers – Well still, I kinda screwed that one all up. However, in AU Naruto fics have you read How to Make Friend, Influence People? That one is just hilarious. And It's for a Good Cause, I swear!was pretty damn good too. I don't think I have the last one on my favorite list, I should go correct that. They're both complete though.

Ka (X2) – I feel special, oh so special. And that was pretty much how I started with the term Sue, but a lot of other people have different views on what makes a character a Sue. I wanted to strike the middle somewhere with Natsumi.

Aki no hikari (X2) – Depending on who he was talking to, yes. I'll go double check that one, but if he was talking to someone that didn't know or respect the sannin then it would be sama not sensei.

QualityAssurance – While Komushi is known to the other seal users of Konohagakure, as a foreigner in another Hidden Village he would've stuck close to his sole reason for being there. He did make some contacts among the merchants that Natsumi knew well, for better paper supplies and inks for his village. Trade connections Suna might not have. And Anko is almost ready to dive right in like a cannon ball. She is four years younger than Kakashi, so only now just getting into the academy.

emmalleigh – I'm quickly coming to the conclusion that the naysayers jumped on that before anyone else could comment. So I think I might do one more, as an epilogue.

blackpearrlgurl – Well… we're about to see how Minato becomes a contender for Hokage-dom. That might just be possible.

adamjb - … I'm not sure if that's a personal problem or a real one. But since the whole story is basically my rough draft, major corrections will have to go in once I finish the plot, I'll try to cut back.

Quetzalcoatls – I'm still pretty sure the reviewer replies aren't more than a thousand words or so. If they are, I do tend to contact the reviewer in question.

Matron – You will be forgiven for murder, sweetie. You are damn near my first reviewer ever, and I adore you no matter how long you're gone.

Nameless-dono – I'm good with my reviews, honestly. But I will never say no to more unless they're nothing but complaints.

RealityDidMeIn – I think going through everything as far as canon is concerned would've killed my interest in the story. I swear I am working hard on the occasional typo problem, but sometimes it takes reviewers like you to point them out.

PeachSelkie – Again, I swear I'm working on it. I didn't know I had an issue with your and you're, but now that I know I'll look harder for that. We'll get into Kiri real soon.

Guest #3 – Huh… I didn't know that. Well… I was really wrong in that then.

K – I'm going to guess you're Ka and just missed the a, but I could be wrong. And well damn… you tell me that now. I'll fix it, eventually. But I want to finish the story first.

I am Marina – I'm working on the grammar in the earlier chapters. But I went from five thousand word chapters to ten to twenty, so the writing style had to adjust. I don't think I did it well enough, honestly. Kushina would be a catch-all in the back of the fronts, I think. With both the security around her skills the way it was and the stance Konohagakure took on her jinchūriki status, it's not really likely she's at the front of the fighting but more of a rear guard that would slaughter everything she got to. But the next part is the end of the Third War, so there's going to be a lot more fighting than I've been putting in, so wait another chapter please. The Uchihas are… a mess of problems. That just got worse.

Sanityfaerie – I know where you had an issue, but Orochimaru's lab had a lot of bodies. Natsumi only really thought of who exactly Boar, or Ito, had been protecting at that point in her hospital stay now that the issue of her cursed seal wasn't the major issue. But at that moment she was sure that second little form had been dead and not alive. I will fix that, now that I know it wasn't clear enough. As for Komushi, I'll look it over more closely, but it might have just been him thinking aloud. And he's not a genius, some information would have to be repeated so he would remember it. As for Kakashi's first year of the academy, erm no. Eri called Natsumi in about a few weeks or so after classes started in the late winter early spring. The meeting between them all in the summer months was a report of how well they were getting along with her plan (or there wouldn't be five trap specialists in training to annoy Kakashi's sensei), and then the report thing was near the end of fall and beginning of winter near when the third year academy students would be preparing for the academy graduation test. But I do swear I'll actually work out the ninja time keeping method sometime soon and go back to put it all in. Because wow I suck at getting time passage across.

Ninjagirl2211 – Koichi… wasn't supposed to be a major character. Had I know he would have a roll as big as he does, I probably would have named him something else.

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