The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill

I PROBABLY SHOULD HAVE MENTIONED THIS EARLIER: All the ANBU characters are real. I don't use any OC's in this fic—none at all!

Towa and Koga and Komachi (who I think referenced once) are from Naruto: Clash of the Ninja

Yugao is Hayate's girlfriend.

Yamato is… Yamato.

Hiding from the beast

But the beast is always there;

Watching without eyes because

(the beast is just my fear)

Naruto entered the Hokage's office with an indubitable amount of apprehension; made only worse when he noted that it was not the Hokage in the room, but his sensei, lounging on the window and leafing through his porn.

The copy-nin lazily moved his gaze towards the ANBU entering; Naruto caught the slight narrowing of his eyes and the tremor in his shoulder in a manner he would have never even noticed before. He shook off the vertigo; it wasn't all that strange. He'd become unnaturally observant in the past couple weeks but he chalked all that up to having a demon alter ego. It seemed like the most plausible cause.

"It's me, Sensei." He called, and also caught the relief seeping into the man's shoulder. Strange, though—why was Kakashi awake at four in the morning? "Ah, do you know where Hokage-sama is? I'm about to leave for my mission, but he asked to report here first…"

He fidgeted slightly with the hem of his glove. Truthfully, he was hoping to get laywaid by the Hokage over something or other—if only to skip out on the mission. The fox was… beyond communication. He'd attempted everything he knew to rouse the fox—meditation, breathing practices, even going into his mindscape and attempting to fish the fox out physically—but nothing had worked. Naruto swallowed. He didn't want a repeat of the last mission he'd gone on without Kyuubi awake; a very brief and lucky transformation the only thing saving him from an inopportune death.

Kakashi waved off his distress. "Your mission was cancelled."

Naruto sagged in visible relief. "Oh."

"The Hokage is out on business and won't return until the afternoon." Kakashi explained. "I'm here to fill you in on the latest information we've received."

Naruto blinked, confused, before apprehension clouded his face. "Tell me? Or tell…" He swallowed. "Kyuubi?"

"You." Kakashi answered immediately. "And there's something else I'd like to discuss with you, personally."

Naruto straightened, rigid.

"This year, the Chuunin Exams are going to be held in Konoha." He intoned, blandly. Naruto wondered why, exactly, this information was so pertinent to him. "And when Kyuubi was instated into ANBU, we obviously couldn't write his name down; so the official record states that Uzumaki Naruto is the most recent acquisition of Captain Yamato's black-ops team."

Naruto paused, still not following. "…Okay?"

"Naruto," Kakashi sighed. "You can't participate in the Chuunin Exams, is what I'm trying to say. Legally you're already ANBU rank. It'd be a moot point to have you compete and many countries would see it as cheating."

"Oh." Naruto let out a breath. That's all? "That's fine, Sensei. To be honest, I really didn't want to compete in them anyway."

"There's more to it than that." Kakashi shook his head. "The real crux of it is that Sasuke and Sakura will be joining the Exams, but you can't."

Naruto blinked rapidly. "Uh, but… wouldn't that be a disadvantage for them? All the other teams will have three, right?"

"Yes, that's the problem. You see, until the Chuunin exams are over, you won't be able to be on the same team as them—we'll need to instate a new member who can participate in the exams with them. And we'll have to start now, because they'll need all the time they can get to assimilate as a team. Already they'll be at a disadvantage against teams who have worked together for so many years."

Shock bloomed mutely against his ribcage; his mouth worked but no sound came out.

It wasn't the end of the world, he consoled himself, it wasn't like he had much time to spend with them anyway.

And it would be really selfish of him to expect them to not take the exams—he knew how much getting stronger meant to Sasuke. And even though he might act like Sasuke was the most troublesome and tiring person he'd ever met; deep down he knew that Sasuke was the most important person to him. Between him and Sakura, hell, they practically made up all the people he cared about, period. He had a bond with them that he'd never had the chance to form with anyone else; something more than camaraderie, more than friendship.

They were, in a lot of ways, the cornerstone of his universe. What he anchored to when he lost sight of himself (which was often these days). To have them taken away… out of reach once more….

"They'll get a replacement?" He asked faintly.

"Yes. There's a lone Gennin who passed in… very unconventional ways." Kakashi struggled to hedge around the total shit show that explaining ROOT to Naruto would inevitably be, "He'll be joining their team for the time being—just until the exams are over."

A brief flicker of hope lit. "So I'll be able to join them afterwards?"

"Ah…" Kakashi hated to ruin the small spark of hope he could see in the blonde; he knew how much Naruto's team meant to him, even when they showed such little affection towards him. He didn't claim to know anything about how deep the bond between Sasuke and Naruto was—though he was aware that it was much deeper than their interactions bellied. And Sakura, although she rarely expressed much maturity, or much interest out of Sasuke, did truly care for the blonde. Had been asking about him a lot, actually, now that Naruto was away so often.

"There's a good chance you will." Kakashi hedged.

"What do you mean?" The blonde questioned, something like panic coloring his voice "It's not a done deal?"

"If Sasuke and Sakura don't pass, they may be transferred to other teams. Gennin teams normally break up after the exams—advancing to Chuunin is based on individual merit, not on teams, so it's not uncommon for one to advance without the others. The remaining Gennin are then resorted, and tried for the next exam."

Naruto digested this seriously, a morose expression on his face as his gaze averted to the ground.

"And Naruto," Kakashi pressed, austere. "You have to consider your own future. Already you've proven to be a capable ANBU team member; but there are many other viable options. You may want to branch out, try new roles, even become captain of your own squad."

For a brief moment, he thought on how incredulous it would be to even possibly contemplate usurping Yamato, before Kakashi's words caught up to him.

"Kyuubi?" He snorted. "And a team? I doubt that."

"Kyuubi isn't the only part of you qualified for ANBU, Naruto." Kakashi implied, seriously. "You've grown immensely in these past weeks."

Naruto plopped into one of the Hokage's chairs, moping. "That's not because of anything I've done." He pointed out.

Kakashi moved to lean against the side of the Hokage's desk, smiling slightly at the pouting blonde. "You know, Naruto, this eye of mine wasn't always mine. It belonged to a dear friend. Sometimes I wonder if having this is the same as cheating. The Sharingan can copy anything it sees, essentially stealing other's hard work—and to top it all off, it wasn't even mine to begin with!"

Naruto, having never heard this story, looked up interestedly.

Kakashi shook his head with a chuckle. "But that's a pointless thought—that's what being a Shinobi is all about. We us any method available to advance higher than the rest. Even if you feel you don't deserve this power you have, it is yours, and you shouldn't feel bad for having the upper hand from your peers."

"I guess," Naruto muttered, quiet.

"Think about it, alright?" He patted the blonde's shoulder, moving to stand upright. "At any rate, you should probably head out, we have a team meeting soon."

Naruto eyed the clock on the wall skeptically. It was still… hours before Kakashi normally showed up. "Really?" He deadpanned. "And shouldn't you?"

"Well, yes." Kakashi rubbed the back of his head. "But I might get lost on the road of life on the way there."

And before Naruto could berate him further, he flipped out of the open window.




The river roared to life under the red bridge like a jubilant water sprite, occasionally spraying mists of mountain water as it crashed into rocks near the bridge. Naruto thought it all rather picturesque; the glitter of water in the soft morning sunlight, and the gleam of the red bridge, such a lovely, radiant color. Sakura thought the opposite, scowling when the humidity got into her hair and frizzled it up. She frowned thoughtfully at the water below; last week's inordinate amount of rain was no doubt the cause of this.

Thinking on last week's temperamental weather reminder her of how strange the week had been in general; with both Kakashi and Naruto's inconsistent attendance, it felt as if decades had gone since she'd last been to this bridge. Even Sasuke had started to skip meetings, opting to train alone, often leaving Sakura as the lone figure on the bridge. On these occasions Kakashi would finally make his appearance around eleven, shake his head at the lack of teammates, and give Sakura a quick hour lesson before whisking away.

Which was why, when she made out Naruto's flickering form in the distance, she greeted him with great relief.

"Naruto!" She smiled, and then, the expression quickly morphed into an irritated frown. "Where have you been?"

She shifted her weight impatiently as Naruto only stared dumbly at her. As if he had never seen her before, or something. Or as if he couldn't possibly believe that she was really here, in front of him.

Naruto shook himself out of his reverie.

"Ah—you know, I've been busy…" He hedged, still caught up in the shock of seeing her once more. She was—well, Sakura always looked pretty—her soft pink hair just as picturesque as the rest of the scenery behind her, and a light of gold tucked around the slope of her cheeks, her eyes alight and sparkling.

She looked—worriless. Like Naruto had been, not even a few months ago. He could clearly remember a time when she symbolized everything he dreamed of in life: recognition of his peers, the ability to protect his friends—and her. He wanted to win her. She was the life he could no longer have.

"Naruto?" She called again, a little worried. "You're spacing out again."

He blinked out of his thoughts. "Sorry, Sakura-chan. I'm just thinking about a lot."

"I'll say." She put her hands on her waist, canting her hips slightly. She giggled. "It must be very hard for you… thinking so much…"

"Thanks—hey!" He sputtered, and she laughed harder.

She shook her head, her mirth disappearing. "Really though, Naruto, what do you mean 'busy'? Too busy to go to team meetings? You know, with you and Kakashi-sensei regularly missing them, Sasuke-kun usually stays home and trains alone!"

An uncomfortable guilt bloomed in his stomach. "Sakura-chan…" He started, hesitantly. "I know. I'm really sorry. And uh, actually, I kind of have to tell you—

"The dobe is back, I see." Sasuke noted, dry, the clattering of his sandals against the wood marking his entrance.

"Sasuke." Naruto acknowledged, too tired to bother with their usual banter. His heart wasn't in it; not today.

"Naruto." He frowned. Naruto wondered if he even noticed the lack of rivalry between the two.

Probably not.

Naruto turned back to Sakura, even more disheartened than he had been before. He watched the tilt of her head mournfully, the slow slide of her hair as it fell from behind her ears; everything in him wanted to stay. He opened his mouth, defeated, but once again he was interrupted.

"Oh! All the ducklings are here today!" Kakashi smiled, strolling out of a cloud of smoke.

The three Gennin eyed him varying expressions of disbelief; one with vague annoyance, one with unveiled annoyance, and one with exasperation for once more being interrupted.

Naruto took a closer inspection of his sensei, noting that his usual garish orange book had been replaced with a mission scroll.

The Jounin tapped it on Naruto's head, before handing it to him. "Guess it wasn't cancelled after all, huh?" He smiled, wry.

Naruto sighed, returning smile equally as sardonic. "Guess so."

He readied his resolve, and walked away from them.

He could hear the confusion behind him, could almost imagine the scene in his head; Sakura's expression clouding, a scowl marring Sasuke's features, brows crowded angrily.

"Why does Naruto get all these missions?" Sakura pouted, as he made it back onto solid ground. "Aren't we a team?"

The word team hit him like a blow to the heart.

As he rounded the corner, he could vaguely hear the beginning of Kakashi's speech. "Well, that's what I've come to talk to you about…"

This time when Kyuubi leapt into his skin, the change was only met with relief.




Naruto thought the new team seven didn't look nearly as good as it had when he had been on the team.

Granted, he certainly made for a biased source.

The dynamic did not appear to have changed much at all without his presence; Sasuke still looked broody and angry, Sakura remained a constant jovial presence, Kakashi was still late, and Sai… was just unnerving.

Naruto had to avert his eyes as they crossed paths on the street, wishing fervently for Kyuubi to take over, if only for the slight reprieve it would give him.

The confrontation was inevitable; all Naruto could do was avert his eyes and attempt to sink into the ground.

"Sempai," Towa greeted with an amiable two-fingered salute, respectful. This only alarmed Naruto further: never would he consider Towa 'amiable', or anything approaching 'respectful'.

"Towa," Kakashi returned, with a nod.

Team Seven trailed after him, only Sakura sparing a curious glance their way. Naruto immediately looked in the other direction, unable to watch the expression flourish on her face.

He wanted to—to crawl out of here. Run, jump over the fence, bury himself into the ground—anything. He'd thought the most trying part of his day would be masquerading as a demon; turns out he was wrong. The emotional trauma of losing sight of himself was infinitely easier than this.

Kakashi must have perceived his discomfort; placing two hands on both Sasuke and Sakura and vaulting them in front of him.

"C'mon guys," He said cheerfully. "Those plants aren't going to water themselves!"

Sasuke made a noise of resignation, and Sakura sighed loudly. "Sensei." She harrumphed, but her eyes strayed back to the ninja in black, heading in the other direction.

She'd seen them before. Or, well, people like them. Dressed in black with bone white armor, elaborate colored masks obscuring their features from sight. Though rationally she knew they were just like her; ninja, people, human—she couldn't logically process this. They could have been an entirely different race for how much she related to them. One with a tall, graceful countenance peered over the fringe of her glossy purple hair—Sakura startled, caught in the act.

They looked… intimidating. She turned away, shivering involuntarily.

"Do you know them, Sensei?"

Naruto could make out Kakashi's distant, vague reply. "Ah, well, sort of…"

Koga shook his head, straightening and continuing forward with a renewed purpose. "I don't trust them…" He hissed. "Ne."

Yugao scoffed. "They're disbanded." She intoned, flat. "Don't get so worked up over it, rookie."

Koga glowered at her words, huffing and turning away. "You don't really believe that bullshit for a moment, do you?"

Yugao turned to him, sharply. "And what are you insinuating?" She asked, slow and dangerous, her eyes making a quick sweep of the perimeter around them. Aside from tides of civilians, there was nothing much to see.

Towa elbowed Koga sharply in the gut, and the other man grunted. "Yugao's right; no need to get worked up over it." He echoed, and there was something deliberate to his words.

Naruto blinked rapidly, feeling like he was missing a punchline somewhere in there. Was this a joke of some kind?

Their Captain burst into existence with a cloud of smoke.

"Yamato-taichou." She nodded respectfully, and they followed suit-well, everyone but Towa, who picked his nose.

He waved a hand. "All Jounin have been called to a meeting," He said by way of greeting. "Though since none of you have a Gennin team, I don't suppose you have to go… But since we're not on a mission, it might be helpful to take the time and get an update from Hokage-sama…"

His eyes flickered to Naruto's masked face. "And I think some of us would like to know the Chuunin Exam nominees from Konoha."

Naruto stiffened at the implication, but said nothing.

Towa sighed. "What's it matter, anyways?"

"It'll be informative, at the very least." Yamato badgered.

Koga and Yugao gave noncommittal shrugs, following Yamato without complaint as he led them to the meeting area. Large cloths buffeted the ceiling of the tent, drooping low and clotting the air with sticky humidity. They provided excellent seats for ninja, however, and Naruto could make out many ANBU lounging from the rafters. Familiar looking Jounin were gathered center stage; Naruto could discern Kakashi's sliver of silvery hair amongst the crowd. Like the rest of the ANBU attending, Yamato's team leapt into the rafters and made themselves comfortable among the support teams, Naruto following suit with greater reluctance. He could make out Iruka's ponytail in the crowd, and wondered if it would be remiss of him to go up and say hello.


The Hokage coughed once, bringing the attention of the room to the center point.

"Thank you everyone for attending." He greeted loudly, effectively cowing everyone into silence. "First we'll hear from those who are watching over the new Gennin."

Kakashi, Sarutobi Asuma, and Yuuhi Kurenai stepped forward.

Sandaime nodded. "Kakashi, Asuma, Kurenai. Well? Are there any Gennin you'd like to nominate for the exams?"

"Team Seven, Uchiha Sasuke, Sai, and Haruno Sakura," Iruka sputtered the loudest, and torrent of confused murmurs besieged the crowd. "Under the name of Hatake Kakashi, I nominate them to take the Chuunin selection exam."

Many were almost…pleased by the missing name in Kakashi's infamous team seven. Naruto couldn't help the disappointment he felt when he heard the positive murmuring of his absence.

"Team Eight, Inuzuka Kiba, Hyuga Hinata, and Aburame Shino. Under the name of Yuuhi Kurenai, the same as to my left." The Genjutsu mistress inclined her head.

"Team Ten, Yamanaka Ino, Akimichi Chouji, and Nara Shikamaru, under the name of Sarutobi Asuma, the same as to my left."

"All of them," Muttered the Hokage, so soft it seemed only Naruto could hear him. "How rare…"

Iruka pushed to the forefront. "Hold on a second!" He cried, and Naruto felt his heart leap to his throat. "Hokage, please let me have a word!"

"What is it, Iruka?" The Hokage asked calmly, turning toward him.

"I might be speaking out of line," He began quietly, shaking a bit. "But most of those nine were students of mine at the academy. Of course, they are all very talented, but it's too early to take the exam."

He averted his eyes, Naruto felt himself freeze. "They need more experience. I can't understand their teacher's reasoning."

Naruto clenched his hands into the rough canopy beneath him. He felt Yugao and Yamato train their eyes onto him, and he bowed his head. Iruka's heart was in the right place…but it was a moot point now. He only hoped Kakashi wouldn't say anything to his former teacher.

"I became Chuunin when I was six years younger than Naruto." Kakashi reminded suavely.

"Naruto is different then you!" Iruka shouted back.

Am I?Naruto mused softly to himself. Already was he an ANBU, whether it was him or Kyuubi, to the public, it was the same. Theywere the same. He was just as much of a killer as the fox who stole his body. His eyes slid shut. Unnoticed by the blond, one of his fellow ANBU caught the motion; hair sliding over his face to obscure his eyes, the distressing grip of his shaking hands in the canopy. This was stupid, he thought miserably. He was stupid. Thinking on how much easier his life would have been if the seal had never broken was stupid. There was no point in reminiscing, on lament or regret; it wasn't about to change anything.

The Jounin below dissipated; some erupting into clouds of smoke and leaves, others opting for the doors. Naruto wasn't sure how much time had passed—but the meeting was well beyond over.

Yugao had been surreptitiously beckoned by the Hokage during the ceremony using ANBU code, and she had thought it best to wait until the crowd thinned before following.

Towa and Koga had immediately left via Shunshin, while Naruto had leapt down—obviously disheartened by something—and meandered almost aimlessly to a billowing flap in the tent and lead himself out.

When the last few mingling Jounin walked out, Yugao jumped from the shadowed confines above and bowed before the Hokage.

"You wished to see me?" She asked respectfully.

The Hokage nodded, taking a lung-full of his pipe before replying. "I see you are on…conciliatory levels with Naruto-kun."

Her brows furrowed beneath her mask.

While she was amicable with him, and not openly antagonizing him like Towa and Koga did, she would not consider them even the slightest of acquaintances; they didn't have any foolish quarrying like the two moronic boys. In fact, there relationship was nothing but mutual understanding. And, she'd secretly admit to herself, she probably had more of a relationship with Kyuubi than the demon's tenant.

"I suppose…" She hedged, cordially.

He leaned over his desk, and she saw the unquestionable unease in his tired eyes. "He's having a lot of trouble in coping between his normal life and his ANBU life, according to my reports."

Yugao didn't have to guess to know who reported daily to him.

"And I know there aren't many people he opens up to," Unbeknown to the female black-ops, Sarutobi's worry regarding Iruka's brash words (whether unknowingly or not) and Naruto's reaction to them was near palpable. "And even fewer with his new circumstances, let alone the fact that he's a Jinchuuriki at all. Kakashi, I'm certain, is one of them. However, as you well know he's quite busy with his own Gennin team. And while Naruto has many friends his age, none of them are aware of Kyuubi, or of his status as a black-ops, and I doubt he's inclined to tell them—and he's been steering farther away from them as of late."

Yugao nodded slightly, wondering when it would get to the part of the conversation relevant to her.

"—so, I'm imploring you to become acquainted with him, at least for the next to days." The Sandaime finished.

Uzuki blinked, once twice, and then wondered if she heard right.

As if catching her sudden stiff and surprised facial expression, his eyes softened. "He needs a friend, Yugao."

Sadly, there wasn't much she could say to that.

She bowed wordlessly, and saw herself out.

"Of course, Hokage-sama."

The trepidation she felt was well worth it to see the relief seep into the tired lines around the Hokage's eyes.

Yugao fluffed her hair as she stepped out from the tent.

Her blond teammate and partial demon god plodded along sullenly a few paces in front of her. She could relate to his situation; she started ANBU young as well and knew the strain that pressed against his sanity right now, how it twisted and warped his morals into something he couldn't relate to anymore. Naruto was young, but he presumably had his own set of morals. On more than one occasion in reports, she had read that never breaking promises and protecting his important people were traits he valued greatly. ANBU could easily break both of them (and she would be quite surprised if the job hadn't already).

But, she had never been a Jinchuuriki.

The strain of being in such a unique situation that only eight other people shared must be a towering burden indeed. One she couldn't comprehend.

The thought tugged furiously at her heartstrings, and she quickened her pace to approach the boy.

"Naruto," She called softly.

And behind the shifting mask she could see a relentless blue, the sky flickering behind the porcelain with the refracting light, and Yugao could clearly remember the same eyes on ayoung child as she crouched in the trees, miffed that once more she was made to look after Konoha's resident Jinchuuriki, her equally annoyed teammates playing cards on the academy rooftop. Mika smoothed out battered playing cards onto the coarse cement of the roof, one leg dangling as Ryuu cried aloud, floored at the royal flush. Beneath them, a young child with round fingers and defeated, limp, lemon colored hair swung desolately beneath the tree Yugao crouched upon.

While she certainly wasn't enthralled with this particular duty—one which most black ops under the Sandaime's regime were painfully familiar with—she took it seriously, smoothing out orchid tinted hair and eyes moving in time with the distant swish of the wooden plank, as the boy sullenly kicked his foot into the terse dirt.

This was Uzumaki Naruto, she was aware. He was small, malnourished on an explicit diet of ramen, with eyes of defiance and fiery brimstone; but they were embittered as he watched the other academy students. They played unawares some paces away, tackling each other into the grass and shrieking in laughter. Above him, shrouded in the shadows of the tree's canopy, Yugao only sighed.

The end of the day found the ANBU in the shadows of the building, Yugao in particular slouched against the wall, head bent beneath her knees until wisps of plum-colored hair swathed her sandaled feet. Mika was stubbornly looking away from his defeated teammate, eyes peering into the distance, only wavering onto their young, unknowing charge for mere moments before he brought his gaze away. Like many of the black-ops who were assigned this task, the thought that Konoha wasn't as innocent as he'd like was restless and uneasy against his braved, battle worn heart. Ryuu tucked the cards into his breast pocket, watching the boy as well with a stony, impassive face.

This was nothing but a peeling shred against the tough, outer shell that the young, newly minted ANBU were yet to understand. The many secrets of Konoha that the Sandaime bore with heavy, weighted shoulders; ones that they would soon be tested against and ones that could perhaps waver their confidence, composure lost completely in the steadfast threads of Danzou's manipulations, between Homura and Koharu's Machiavelli principles and the Sandaime's weather-worn face.


Naruto watched the woman in front of him curiously, as he stood nervously before her in the broad street. The Jounin had departed long ago, leaving nothing but a faint wind, too far to leave anything more than a whisper to clear the heady silence.

The woman shook her head, hair amaranthine at the edges, like orchids blossoming in the sunshine.

"Sorry, I got lost in thought." She stood stiffly then, unsure what to say to the young, malleable child in front of her. "Listen, Naruto-kun, I know what you witnessed back there was probably a lot to take in, and hard to hear."

"A little bit, yeah." He confessed sullenly, suddenly keenly gracious for the mask adorning his face.

A bit unsure how to continue on, she fiddled with her hands—a horridly implacable habit she'd taken on some years ago, though she had never once used it in her many years of combat, facing down a distraught young preteen seemed to make her lose her countenance completely—"But your Academy teacher is only saying that because he loves you, and obviously cares enough about your welfare to go against the Hokage, and your Jounin-sensei. It doesn't mean that he thinks any less of you, or that he will, once he realizes your rank now—

At this, the young Gennin turned ANBU flinched back, as if recoiling from a physical hit.

—it only serves as an undeniable testimony to his love for you." Her eyes softened when she realized that this was probably effecting the boy much more than he'd show. It scared her, a bit, to know that she could hold so much power over him with but simple, little words. "I don't think he'd think of you any less for being a black ops. In fact, I think he'd probably be proud of you."

"But, I didn't do anything to deserve it."

"That's the way of the shinobi." Yugao retorted without missing a beat. She'd think that he'd realize this fact by noting the 'borrowed' Uchiha eye that his sensei carried under his mask.

She bit back whatever she wanted to say, opting to stand anxiously; conscious of the tense silence that spread over them. He was her colleague, perhaps not by choice, and she was his teammate, who surely hadn't the same relationship with him as his old ones.

And the young, plum-haired woman was certain not known for her tact. "You look hungry." She observed, whether this was simply a mild guess or an accurate prediction was lost in translation.


"Come on," With lithe, long legs she strode ahead of him, almost cat-like as the smooth, honed contours of her body shifted as easily as the shadows against the pavement. "Ichiraku's this way." She beckoned him over behind her shoulder.

He followed, a bit confused, but suddenly besieged with a strange warmth. Yugao was nice. She wasn't precisely the easiest to talk to, but her tactless, brutal honesty was rather refreshing compared to the sweetened words he'd heard for most of his life when speaking to genial people like the Sandaime or Captain Yamato, who usually tried to placate him by using large, endearing words to describe a not-so-endearing reality.

Instead, she'd tell it to him as straight as it was, sun setting to the west, rising in the east.

"She doesn't like you." The woman inputted bluntly, picking at her ramen with such an innate delicacy that the noodles seemed elegant in return. She'd asked on his teammates and he'd responded truthfully: Sasuke was a bastard and Sakura was the most beautiful, amazing girl in the world. "And honestly, she sounds like a rather shallow girl, who shouldn't be a kunoichi at all."

"Sakura-chan's not that bad." Naruto defended lamely in the face of his wayward teammate. "I mean... she sure does like Sasuke, and sometimes that's all she really sees, but she's a good person, really."

"Really." Yugao echoed flatly, not believing this in the slightest.

"Really." Naruto persisted. "And I mean, I don't like Sasuke-teme very much, but..."

The boy trailed off, and behind ocean eyes was a fractured face, Sharingan wide, wide open like black fish in a crimson pond, "My body just moved on its own...idiot..."a shallow ocean of russet pooling at his feet and needles in his back.

"He's alright." The boy shrugged, finishing his trail of thought without an inkling to what he saw behind his iris. Yugao only cleverly held her tongue, watching his distinctly shaking hands from the corner of her eye.

"Teammates grow on you." She decided upon, as he nodded. "My team...I suppose I didn't like them much either. One was rather annoying, the other was too quiet. That's usually how Gennin team's are. You don't like them much."

"You and Yamato-taichou and Towa and Koga never talk about your Gennin teams." Naruto surmised, with a sudden clarity on how little he knew about his new team.

The woman made a small noise in the back of her throat, as if she was considering the ways to avoid the subject. "By the time you're our age, you won't want to reminiscence about it very much."

"Oh..." Even without much for thoughtfulness and perceptive judgment of social cues, Naruto was aware that he had stumbled upon a topic which Yugao didn't want to discuss. He flushed in embarrassment.

"Anyway," She swiveled in her chair, to stand up and pull her hair out of her face. She had taken off her mask to place it at her hip, and he was struck with how human she looked without the demonic looking white skin over face. "Ramen leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I have some eelong tea that I think you'd enjoy."

"Tea." The blonde repeated with a scrunch of his nose. "Ew."

"You should learn to like it." She warned with a bit of mirth. "It shows elegance."

"It's bitter and tastes like dirt."

She rolled her eyes at his hasty retaliation, opting to instead stride in front of him and lead the way to her apartment. Once there, he seemed to flounder a bit in her entrance hallway, as if unable to comprehend that there was actually a person behind the mask. She wasn't entirely surprised; he'd never seen her without the cat over her face, and ANBU hardly appeared human with the mask on. Of course, Naruto always seemed to convey this sort of helpless humility to him, even with the blank sheen of porcelain covering the awareness of his eyes. But perhaps that was simply because he was young, and emotions were just as easily identified in one slender, mobile shoulder as they were in the distinct crease of an eyebrow.

While he peered curiously at pictures of her and Hayate, guffawing at the fact she even had a boyfriend, she slipped a bit of sugar into his tea and stirred it in until it swirled to the same shade as hers.

"It's good, isn't it?" She smiled with amusement, as he slurped his cup down and demanded more.

"It sure doesn't taste like the tea Iruka-sensei used to make me drink." He confessed with some amount of surprise. Iruka probably didn't dump half a sugar bowl into it. "It's really good; better than milk, even!"

"You should keep drinking that anyway, though." She reminded cautiously. "You're bones are still growing, you know."

"I know." Naruto rolled his eyes supposing he should be more annoyed at her mother-henning than he really was, perhaps because no one had ever really pattered about, worrying at him, and it was a pleasing sensation.

"Can I have more, you think?" He asked hopefully, as she only grinned wryly at him as she poured more tea for him—this time, distinctly lacking any other additives.

A moment later;

"That's disgusting!"




Kyuubi smirked as he cleaned his blade.

The river cooled the air around its bubbling surface by a startling drop in temperature, one the ANBU resting near it took advantage of.

Kyuubi was closest to the river's edge, mask hiding his grinning and malicious features as the blade's surface shined his unwavering mask-eyes back at him.

Something about dead humans made him cheery, and maybe it was the fact that he killed them without Madara's influence.

The female was keeping her distance, no doubt the cause of this was due to her newfound relationship with Naruto. Kyuubi snorted. Humans were deceitful above all else. Such brash creatures. He'd never understood their need for compassion or companionship. One of them would die in the long run, anyway.

At least her presence was tolerable, unlike the bumbling male idiots that he sadly shared the team with.

Koga was laying spread eagle against the river bank, farther down where rocks didn't cliff the river's edge with jagged stone, but where it was mossy and soft and damp. He was near comical, sighing graciously for the sharp relief from the besotted, thick heat. Towa had, at first, reluctantly dipped his feet in. This action was followed immediately by his entire body going face first into the icy water. Yamato was out scanning the perimeter, which left Yugao to stand in charge. Said purple-haired female looked as immaculate as ever, even when washed with heavy waves of moisture and burning heat.

The team had been out for a full week on a mission almost inside the borders of Ame.

Sadly, the infamous rain country was experiencing one of its seasons rightfully called the steam season. The others were (in chronological order) the rain season, the rain season, and the rain season.

When Yamato finally dropped from the dense canopy of leavs towering far above their heads, the entire team shared a feeling of alleviation in unison.

The week had been to travel into the heart of Ame, the mission's actual work much more espionage and reconnaissance, rather than the usual all out offensive the team usually took. (Yamato had suggested that this hadn't always been the case, and the team's paradigm had shifted drastically with the assimilation of Kyuubi onto the team) And finally, after many days of simply sitting around in the sticky heat that clung like cobwebs they were finally heading home. Let it not be said that Kyuubi did not get his fair share of entertainment; his chance for bloodshed came eventually, and he merrily stole the kills from his all too willing ANBU teammates. He would have even gone on for more, had Yamato not stopped him.

"That was quick." Koga appraised—although 'quick' was relative.

"Probably because Hokage-sama wants to have as many ANBU as he can back home." Towa remarked as they began their journey, grabbing a branch and flipping himself over.

Yamato nodded, but said nothing.

"I don't get it." Towa sighed, taking this as a sign to continue. "It sounds a lot like little shrimps going from being stupid to slightly less stupid. I remember when I was a Gennin—I can't believe how dumb I was."

"Chuunin was no better." Koga chortled, ribbing him lightly. The two of them descended into stifled laughter; undoubtedly there was a joke in there somewhere.

"It's a smart move on the Hokage's part." Yugao sniped icily.

"Yes. The Chuunin Exams means many foreign diplomats and shinobi will be entering Konoha's borders. This is one of the few times Konoha experiences such large influx in visitors. ANBU should be near the village at all times; not only to keep the peace but also in the case of emergencies." Yamato explained to his team, the two main catalysts of the lecture only nodded, successfully cowed.

Kyuubi looked forward to it. Demonic premonition, perhaps, but he was certain there would be some sort of bloodshed to partake in.

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