61 60. Life Goes On

"Pleasure doing business with you." Zabuza said as he took the key from an innkeeper.

The Kirigakure jōnin walked outside of the inn. Standing by a tree near the entrance to the inn, under the light of the moon in the sky, were Anko and Kahyō. The two women noticed their third teammate come out of the building and turned to face him.

"I presume you got a room?" Kahyō questioned.

Zabuza nodded, holding up the key in his hand as proof. Both Kahyō and Anko nodded in understanding as the trio proceeded to walk out towards the rooms of the inn.

"You know, I'm actually surprised you wanted to do this, Zabuza." Anko commented with a chuckle. "You always struck me as the type that would prefer to camp out in the woods for missions as opposed to find an inn or some place just to save money."

"I spent many years camping it out when I was on Kiri's missing shinobi list. I only got to sleep on a bed a few times when I actually had clients that would contribute a place to stay. I've stayed enough nights outside that nowadays, if there is an option to sleep indoors, I'll take it." Zabuza answered bluntly, crossing his arms over his shoulders. "Besides, camping isn't much safer. You still run the risk of being identified and caught out. At least staying the night somewhere allows you to have some comfort before a confrontation."

"You've put a lot of thought into this." Kahyō noted with a chuckle.

"I am aware." He said curtly.

The three shinobi proceeded to walk quietly towards the rooms at the inn. Zabuza unlocked the door and they walked inside. The room was relatively plain with a small kitchen area and three beds.

Zabuza, Anko, and Kahyō quickly sat their bags down inside by a different bed. Zabuza then proceeded to lay down on top of one.

"We are roughly three days travel away from Raiga's last reported location. There is a small chance he could have fled to a different spot, but if he has, it would have been a recent move and we could find his location from there. We'll catch him there and kill the bastard." The bandage-wearing shinobi said.

"Heh. It's going to be great." Anko said with a chuckle. "Let me get a chance to fight him, though. I really want to try out some of the stuff I've worked with Shibuki."

"Maybe." Zabuza shrugged in response. "However, I have a personal history with Raiga and hate him. I would really enjoy killing him."

"And technically, I am the one who will be getting the Kiba blades, so I would like to be the one to fight and kill the man whose blades I'll be taking." Kahyō commented, chuckling slightly. "All three of us want to kill this one man."

"Well, it is Raiga. I'm sure there's plenty of people in Kiri would line up to give that man a funeral." Zabuza snorted in response. "Hell, the bastard has this weird thing for funerals, so I'm sure he'd actually like it."

"I kinda just want to pound on him a bit. If I end up not being the one to kill him, that's okay. I just want to test myself." Anko said. "My students have been really kicking ass recently, so I want to make sure in a real fight that I haven't lost my touch."

"Ah. Yeah. Your brats." Zabuza looked over at the Konoha shinobi in curiosity. "How are they doing?"

"Great. All three made jōnin and all three have been picking up great reputations. They really are becoming something in Konoha." A smile developed on the Snake Summoner's face. "Naruto actually got a genin team of his own. He's grown up so much!"

"Really? Him?" He questioned. "Interesting. I wonder what type of shinobi he would train."

"Excuse me; Naruto? As in 'Uzumaki Naruto'?" Kahyō spoke-up, looking at Anko in surprise.

"Yup! I trained him back when he was a bratty academy graduate. Now he's a slightly-less bratty jōnin." Anko said. She then gave the woman a curious look. "You know him?"

"I met him once, yes, while he was on a mission in Nami no Kuni." She answered with a smile. "He was the one who informed me about the civil war being over in Kirigakure and encouraged me to return home with my brother and my son."

"Really?" Anko questioned.

"Her brother, Rahyō, reobtained the jōnin rank with her and, honestly, is a strong contender for the final member of the Seven Swordsmen of Kirigakure once we manage to track down and kill Kisame." Zabuza spoke-up. "And her son, Hakuhyō, has entered the new Shinobi Academy in Kirigakure and is slowly developing his skills as a shinobi."

"I'm surprised you know a little bit about my son's development, Zabuza." Kahyō said with a slight chuckle.

"Haku volunteers every now and then at the academy and he lets me know how Hakuhyō is doing." The bandage-wearing shinobi said. His eyes narrowed in on Kahyō. "You should know that. That's your cousin I'm talking about."

"I know. I just forgot how close you are with him." She said with a chuckle. She then turned her attention to Anko and gave her a curious look. "So, you said he was getting a genin team? How good of a sensei do you think he will be?"

"Heh." Anko smirked. "He'll be amazing. Trust me!"

Anko proceeded to go on for a few minutes, talking about her student and how he would be a great jōnin-sensei… one better than ever herself!

'Ah… morning…' Hanabi grumbled as she pulled herself out of her bed.

The Hyūga stretched lightly as she slowly gained consciousness. Her eyes were only slightly opened as she started to look around her room. She quickly noticed that there was no sign of Hebihiro, causing her to shrug.

'Hebihiro said he'd be here by seven in time to come to Naruto-sensei's training at eight. He's not here. I woke up before seven.' She noted, yawning and rubbing her eyes. '… Guess I got time to bathe and get ready before he gets here then.'

The Hyūga quickly gathered a spare change of clothes and a towel as she prepared to leave her room to get ready for the day. She opened the door to her room, prepared to head out into the hallway of her clan's compound.

Before she could make more than a step out of the door, however, she was immediately drenched as cold water rained down from the ceiling.

"AH!" Hanabi shouted.

The Hyūga immediately shivered. Her now-wet sleepwear clung to her body, only making her feel colder. She shivered as she brought her arms to her shoulders, trying to generate some body heat. Her hands went to the clothes and the towel in her hands, hoping to find some warmth in them. Unfortunately, they too were soaked.

"Wh-What happened?" She mumbled to herself, stuttering slightly.

Her eyes traveled upward, where the water came from. They narrowed as they focused on two different scraps of paper that were stuck to the top. She quickly jumped upward, grabbing them and pulling them off. One was a seal marked with the kanji for 'water' and was wet. She immediately crumpled it in her hand. The other, however, was a note.

Hey Hanabi! Good morning! Hope you didn't forget what I said yesterday; you, like the rest of your teammates, were last to arrive. And I specifically told you all that I'd be pranking the ones who showed up last.

Don't say I didn't warn you. Hope you have a 'refreshing' morning and I'll see you at eight with the rest of the team!

Uzumaki Naruto

She immediately crumpled up the note just as she did to the seal. Now wide awake, the Hyūga ran back into her bedroom, looking for new towel and dry clothes.

"Y-You're horrible N-N-Naruto-sensei!" She hissed to herself, still stuttering from the cold.

Naruto had informed his students to arrive at Training Ground Nine to arrive at eight o'clock. The jōnin walked into the training ground at that precise time, briefly looking around at the area around him, looking momentarily at the large trees and stone formations in the area.

Standing in the center of the training ground by a particularly tall tree were Naruto's genin. The blonde smiled at the sight of them as he approached them, making his presence clear to them. Katsumi and Kanji looked over at Naruto and nodded in acknowledgment of him and seemed to mentally prepare for their training. Hanabi, on the other hand, along with Hebihiro, were glaring at the jōnin as he walked in.

"Hey guys. Looks like you're all on time." Naruto said with a smile. His eyes then moved towards Hanabi and the snake on her neck. "What's up with that look? You look pretty mad about something."

"My scream woke up some of my clansmen." Hanabi answered, her glare tightening further.

"Oh I know!" Naruto's smile grew into a wide grin. "I had a clone at the compound, waiting for the moment. It was hilarious!"

"It was rude!" She replied.

"It was not. I already warned you that I'd do stuff like that." The jōnin rolled his eyes. His eyes then narrowed on the snake on the Hyūga's neck. "And why are you mad at me? I know for a fact you weren't there!"

Hebihiro shook his head: "It doesn't change the fact that what you did to Miss Hanabi was rude."

"Um," Katsumi mumbled, drawing attention to her, "I'm lost. Did I miss something? The hell are you two fighting about?"

"Don't know. I missed it too, I guess." Kanji shrugged.

"Don't worry about it. It doesn't concern you two." Naruto replied with a chuckle. He quickly muttered something under his breath sounding like "yet" before clearing his throat. "Regardless, it's about time we get our first training day underway. You all ready?"

Kanji and Katsumi both nodded in affirmation. Hanabi and Hebihiro, too, nodded, seeming to be less irritated. Seeing the focused looks on his students' faces, Naruto reached into a pocket on his Konoha flak jacket and pulled out three sheets of plain white paper.

"Before we begin, though, I want to do what my jōnin-sensei did for me." He explained. "I have three sheets of paper and I want you all to take one of these sheets of paper and channel your chakra in your hands and into the paper."

Hanabi and Kanji nodded their heads again. They each took one sheet of paper from their sensei. Katsumi, on the other, shook her head.

"No need to, Naruto-sensei. I know what this is and I know what mine is." Katsumi commented, grinning slightly.

"I figured you might already." Naruto chuckled. He still, nevertheless, held out the paper to her. "Then can you explain to your teammates what it's for and demonstrate how it works?"

"Sure." Katsumi nodded her head. She took the sheet of paper from Naruto and held it up in a slightly-dramatic fashion. "You all know elemental affinities, right? This paper reacts differently to a different affinity. For example," Katsumi channeled chakra into her hand and the paper, causing it to crumble into dust and fall to the ground, "I have an earth affinity. And this is what it does if you have that affinity."

"That doesn't make sense." Kanji stated, a small grin developing on his face. "I wouldn't really call you a down to earth person!"

A scowl quickly developed on Katsumi's face: "I was in a good mood until that pun, you jerk."

"Anyway," Naruto clapped his hands, drawing attention to himself, "I think that was a good explanation. Good job Katsumi!" He then gave the kunoichi a curious look. "How did you find out your element, though?"

"I, er…" Katsumi's voice began to trail slightly and she rubbed the back of her head. "It's kinda a long story. I'd rather not talk about."

Naruto's eyes narrowed on his student slightly, which caused her to shrink away slightly. He sighed in response.

'Note to self; don't let my curiosity about my students be so obvious.' He sighed. He then shook his head before speaking aloud. "Well, regardless, let's see what elements your teammates have. Hanabi? Kanji?"

Both Hanabi and Kanji nodded their heads in understanding and began channeling chakra in their hands with the papers. Hanabi's paper, just like Katsumi's, quickly turned to dust and fell to the ground while Kanji's paper proceeded to crumple up.

"Ah sweet! Another earth affinity!" Katsumi clapped her hands together excitedly, perking up.

"Mhmm." Hanabi commented with a small smile. "Same as my father."

"That makes sense. Hinata-chan told me most Hyūga shinobi have the earth element as their affinity." Naruto nodded to himself. He then turned his head to Kanji. "Yours is a little more surprising, though. Lightning isn't too common in Konoha."

"Aren't all elements outside of fire not common here?" Kanji asked.

Naruto nodded his head: "True, but I only know two people with that nature affinity, my friend Sasuke and a guy named Hatake Kakashi."

"Heh." The Yamanaka chuckled. "And I was always told lightning never strikes the same place twice. Guess it strikes thrice!"

Naruto immediately started to laugh at the joke. Hanabi giggled while Hebihiro and Katsumi proceeded to shake their heads in annoyance.

"Anyway, thanks for showing me your affinities! I'll keep that in mind for a little bit later." Naruto commented. "Now, let's get on to the format of how are days are going to go. I'm doing something very similar to how my jōnin-sensei trained me, because I think it worked out very well for me and my team! Basically, we will start the day off with a thirty minute warm-up exercises. After that, we have an hour and a half of team training where I will work with all three of you at once. We will have a ten minute break after that, then, using two shadow clones, I'll spend an hour with each of you individually so I can train you all in specifics. Once that's over, we'll take a break for lunch, then go look to see if there are any available missions for us. Does that routine sound alright to you all?"

Hanabi, Hebihiro, Katsumi, and Kanji all nodded in agreement. Seeing that they were all on board, Naruto grinned in response.

"Awesome! So, let's just jump right into things then. Let's get some good warm-ups out of the way real quick!"

'Well this is going well.' Naruto chuckled to himself.

The blonde jinchūriki looked at his students, who were lying on the ground, panting heavily and trying to cool themselves off.

His warm-ups were, admittedly, hard workouts for completely-fresh genin. After completing different stretching exercises and having his students perform a ten minute meditation session, Naruto had his students perform fifty sit-ups, fifty push-ups and thirty pull-ups on nearby tree branches. He had intended on having his students due a couple laps around the training ground as well, but they hit the thirty minute mark he had assigned.

… On other days, Naruto would probably ignore an arbitrary 'thirty minute' time limit for something like this, but this was the very first day! He was going to do his best to follow it, at least once!

Immediately after, Naruto got his students working on practicing their chakra control and increasing their reserves. He introduced them to the 'tree walking' exercise and had them perform it over-and-over again. Once they started to pick up the exercise, he had them do the exercise simultaneously with the 'leaf concentration' exercise, making sure to rush up the trees as quickly as they could while also making sure that the leaf on their foreheads would not fall off.

After an hour and a half of work, the genin were now drained: physically and chakra-wise.

"Just think after a few more sessions like this, these exercises will all be easy for you all!" Naruto exclaimed cheerfully. "Then we can start moving on to more fun things, like water walking. And then I can show you some really cool chakra building exercises when-"

"Naruto-sensei, give… us a moment. We're all tired as hell." Katsumi commented, breathing heavily.

"H-Heck." Hanabi corrected, despite her own heart breathing.

"R-Really?" The civilian-born kunoichi found the strength to look over at the Hyūga in annoyance. "Hell isn't even swearing!"

"I second that. Honestly, 'hell' isn't that bad of a word, Hanabi." Naruto said with a chuckle. "And, to be honest, you all should not be 'tired as hell'. Those were just general exercises. I went on you three lighter than my jōnin-sensei did!"

"Really?" Kanji gave his fellow blonde a surprised look. "Your… old jōnin-sensei sounds like a horrible person."

"Yeah, but she's the best 'horrible person' there is." The Uzumaki replied with a cheeky grin.

The genin took a few more minutes to rest before they pulled themselves off the ground, feeling refreshed. Seeing his students were ready to continue, Naruto brought his hands together in a singular hand sign and created two shadow clones.

"Alright, so as I said, I'll be doing work with you all one-on-one through my shadow clones. I'll rotate which days either I or my clones spend with you, but in the end, it doesn't really matter. It'll still be the same training, regardless of if it's with me or my clones." The Uzumaki commented. "So, we'll separate for today for our personal training. I think for today, I'd like to work with Hanabi. So Hanabi, stay with me. Kanji and Katsumi; go out with my clones for today. Everything good with this?"

The three genin of Team Nine nodded their heads in agreement. Katsumi and Kanji proceeded to walk over to one of Naruto's clones. The clones then started to walk off to different parts of the training ground, with the genin following behind. In a few seconds, only Naruto, Hanabi, and Hebihiro were left still standing in the center.

"Alright Hanabi, before we begin, I'd like to ask you a question." Naruto commented. The Hyūga gave him a curious look, signaling him to ask. "How do you feel about medical ninjutsu?"

"Medical ninjutsu?" Hanabi repeated in confusion. "I think it's interesting, but I never really thought much about it."

"The reason I ask is because of something I had heard from Granny Tsunade. She believes that every shinobi squad should have one medic on it for missions in order to increase the odds that everyone would survivor the mission." The jōnin explained. "I agree with that and would like to make sure one of you three learn medical ninjutsu."

"And you would like it to be Miss Hanabi?" Hebihiro questioned, tilting his head slightly.

"I would." Naruto replied. "Is this something you'd be remotely interested in?"

Hanabi did not answer for a few seconds. The kunoichi closed her eyes briefly as she began to contemplate the offer.

"… Most Hyūga don't practice specialties like that." She mumbled. "Actually, I don't think there's a single Hyūga medic shinobi."

"I know, but I think that's kinda stupid. The Byakugan actually would be super useful for a medic, because you could actually really get a good look at a person's internal organs and chakra system, which could really help with trying to heal somebody." Naruto explained with a sigh. "I know Hinata-chan had wanted to learn medical ninjutsu at one point, but she was always concerned about what the clan would say when she was just starting to become a shinobi and at this point, she already discovered her 'niche' and wanted to focus on that instead of just beginning to learn the basics of medical ninjutsu."

"Ah." Hanabi's eyes opened up in recollection. "Y-Yeah. You're right. She did have an interest…"

Hanabi brought her right hand to her chin and began to rub it in contemplation. This was something she had never considered, but she had to admit that Naruto had a point; a medic with the Byakugan would be incredibly useful. It would make her unique and give her something to work on that would let her stand out from all the other Hyūga shinobi, including her own sister.

'This was something Hinata-neesan wanted to focus on, but didn't because she was concerned about what the clan would think of her…' Her eyes narrowed slightly. 'I shouldn't let that concern me! I can do whatever I want! And maybe…'

"Why not?" She voiced aloud. "I never thought about medical ninjutsu before, but the reasoning makes sense. Yeah sure!" A small smile developed on her lips. "I'd love to learn."

"Great!" Naruto clapped his hands together in excitement. "I'll make preparations to get you training scrolls and begin working with you starting tomorrow. I wanted to make sure before I got them for you, however, that you'd be interested."

"Well I am now, so go right ahead. Thank you for the idea, Naruto-sensei." Hanabi said, her smile growing wider.

"No problem." He said with a chuckle. "So, for today, I wanted to work with you and Hebihiro on some stuff you could train with together. Because your preferred fighting style is your clan's gentle fist, right?" Hanabi nodded in response, causing him to turn his attention to the snake. "And you do some work with any of the other snakes of your clan, right? What do you really work on?"

"They work on helping me improve my speed and strength, so that way I can move quicker and strike harder. They are also working with me to build up better poisons, because I can't really produce strong poison for combat yet." Hebihiro admitted, frowning slightly. "I know a little water style techniques that I was taught, but I'm supposed to learn more water and earth related jutsu when I get bigger and stronger."

"Hey, don't sound so down on yourself." Naruto shook his head. "Remember; you're part of this team too! We can work on things together too and try and get you stronger as well!"

"I… could use the help." The snake said, smiling slightly.

"And who knows? Maybe that means we can get to a point where you actually talk to on your own volition instead of just speaking when spoken to." The Uzumaki commented. His comment caused the snake to shirk back around Hanabi's neck, which caused the blonde to chuckle. "Alright, I'm kidding. No need to react like that!"

The Uzumaki proceeded to reach into his jacket and pulled out a scroll: "Anyway, back on topic; I know you guys have good compatibility and a lot of your style revolves around making sure that Hanabi is able to really hammer in on somebody with her gentle fist. With that in mind, I think I have a jutsu that both of you could learn that'd help with it."

He tossed the scroll over to Hanabi. The kunoichi caught it and opened it up. She and Hebihiro then looked at the title of the jutsu.

"Ninja Art: Poison Senbon?" The two read in near-unison.

"It's a C-Rank technique and isn't too difficult to use. But it also gives another venue to strike at people. Your style involves getting close to fight others, so if they are trying to block, you can just spit out senbon at them. It'll probably take them by surprise. Besides, it gives you a little bit of range, since it kinda is a mid-range technique." Naruto explained. He then looked over at Hebihiro and smirked at him. "And if you really wanted to work on developing stronger poisons, then this jutsu could help you, Hebihiro."

"Ah!" The snake seemed to grin in response. "It would."

Naruto chuckled at the elation on Hebihiro's face. He then proceeded to pull out another object from his jacket's pocket: a small container filled with senbon. "So, we'll work on medical ninjutsu starting tomorrow. For now, let's see if we can start some work with this jutsu."

"Of course, Naruto-sensei!" Hanabi and Hebihiro declared in near unison.

After walking away for roughly a minute, Katsumi, along with one of Naruto's clones, reached the edge of the training ground. They were now in a particularly rocky area with not many trees in sight. Upon arrival, the clone turned to face her.

"Alright, let's begin. And before we do, can I give a quick, honest assessment of something?" Naruto's clone asked.

"Go ahead." Katsumi shrugged in response.

"Well, I think you clearly have a lot of strength." The clone commented with a smile. "I know you didn't want to go into details, but you knew an elemental jutsu before getting out of the academy. That's impressive and, thanks to the spar we had yesterday, it also says something about the amount of chakra you have if you can use it more than once and not exhaust yourself."

"Heh." Katsumi rubbed the back of her head, grinning widely. "Thanks-"

"However, on the other hand, your fighting style is all over the place." The clone continued, his smile dropping.

Likewise, Katsumi stopped grinning and gave Naruto's clone a confused look.

"I mean, you use both a sword and a crossbow and it kinda feels like you use them because you just want to use weapons." He clarified with a sigh. "You barely used the crossbow in the fight yesterday and your kenjutsu was barely passable. I know you were using a wooden sword and that changes things, but I honestly think you'd actually have been better yesterday if you just used taijutsu."

"Well you just said it; I'm just learning kenjutsu!" Katsumi defended herself, glaring at the clone. "And I never used the crossbow much because we were fighting up-close! I didn't think it'd help much!"

"You could have tried to place distance if you wanted to use it. My girlfriend is actually pretty good with knowing how to establish distance so she can fire at people with her bow." Naruto's clone commented.

"But isn't she a jōnin? You can't compare me to a jōnin yet!" The brown-haired kunoichi exclaimed.

"I'm not, but I'm just saying that you could have worked harder to create distance if you wanted to." The clone replied. "My point was that I think you don't really know what you want your fighting style to be and I wanted to talk to you about it so we can help narrow it down more."

Katsumi's body language softened slightly at his words. The kunoichi was quiet for a few seconds before she proceeded to shake her head.

"I think I'd like to be an aggressive, quick fighter that can get up close and create distance if I want to at any given point." She noted. "Kenjutsu really appeals to me and I'd love to use a sword. But I do think I need to have some long-range techniques. I don't want to be a sitting duck to be picked off if someone can attack me from afar, you know?"

"Well, based off that, I'd suggest ditching the crossbow entirely." The blonde suggested. "Long-range seems to the only reason you have a crossbow and I can definitely teach you jutsus that will help you in that category. Hell, I can give you elemental ninjutsu if you'd like to work on it."

"So more earth style jutsu?" Katsumi asked.

"Well, yeah, but not just earth style techniques. Remember; your nature affinity does not make you exclusively use one nature affinity. You may, at one point, master only one element, but that does not mean you can't learn jutsus of the other elements. It makes you more well-rounded." Naruto's clone informed her. "For starters, I got a few wind style techniques I could teach you for long range. I think I know one lightning style jutsu too. And I can always look into earth style jutsus as well if you really want."

"I see." The civilian-born kunoichi crossed her arms as she closed her eyes in thought.

"Regardless, now that I know what you'd prefer and that you are actually serious about kenjutsu, we can work on developing that style. And I'll begin working on kenjutsu when you get a real sword." The clone commented. "And do not say anything about getting a 'real sword'. I'll get you one. I'll make sure to have one as quick as I can. No charge."

Katsumi's eyes widened in response. She opened her mouth to respond, but she couldn't really think of something to say that accurately reflected what she was thinking.

"But for now, let's work on just developing some jutsu for you. And I do have one technique I think you'd like. And, conveniently, it is an earth related jutsu." Naruto's clone grinned. "Ever heard of Earth Style: Headhunter Jutsu?"

"I… have not." His genin admitted.

"Well, it's an earth style jutsu." He answered. "It's D-Rank, so it's kinda easy to use, but it's incredibly versatile and has so much potential for usage. It's one of my favorite jutsus ever and I think it suits your style well. It'll help if you want to sneak up directly behind an enemy with a sword and cut into them. It's not too difficult to learn either, so I think you'll pick it up quick, so let's start working on it right away!"

Katsumi nodded her head in agreement, which prompted him to pull out a copy of the scroll for the jutsu. A small smile developed on her face as he tossed it to her.

"Naruto-sensei?" She spoke-up. Naruto's clone eyes focused on her. "Thanks…"

"For what?" He questioned with a chuckle.

Katsumi opened her mouth to respond, but she opted to just shake her head: "… Just thanks." A determined look then developed on her face as she opened the scroll. "So, let's get to work on this! How is this technique going to work?"

A small smirk developed on the clone's face as they began their lesson.

Kanji, along with Naruto's second clone, finished walking upon reaching the other end of the training ground. They reached an area that was more forested, covered in more trees than the rest of the training ground. There were also more training dummies and posts in the area.

"So, what do you have planned for me, Naruto-sensei?" Kanji questioned as he turned his full attention to the clone.

"Well, before we begin, I'd like to give an assessment of you based on the fight yesterday. That alright?" The clone questioned.

"Knock yourself out." The Yamanaka shrugged in response. He then seemed to realize what he had said and shook his head. "Actually, don't. I don't want you to accidentally dispel. That'll cause Naruto to have to send another clone here and I like you. You're my favorite clone he has ever created!"

"… Suck up." The clone shook his head, resisting the urge to chuckle to slightly. Nevertheless, he kept a serious demeanor up as he began his assessment. "You seem to display good supplemental tactics. I know you got the information about my location from the Yamanaka's Mind Transfer techniques. You also were good at getting Katsumi's sword from me using that string tactic with the shuriken. I got the vibe that you could be a good strategist."

"Yeah, that sounds about right." Kanji admitted. He then gave the clone a curious look: "Now, on to the negatives you noticed about me, I assume?

"Correct." He responded. "For starters, you really did not get involved in the fight. It seemed like you do not have much going for you in regards to actually fighting for yourself. You stayed too much in the back. To be honest, you didn't really do anything until you got the idea to try and pin me against the stone wall with that shuriken-string trick of yours."

"To be fair, isn't that what a strategist should do?" Kanji asked. "We should be fighting carefully. No use wasting chakra or weapons until we have a clear plan that we are sure could work."

"That is true and I like that you're careful, but it almost came across like you were alright with letting your teammates do most of the actual fighting for you, or at least at first." The clone explained. "I'm trying to rationalize whether you did on purpose or if you just didn't know how to actually get involved in the fight."

I'll answer that; I didn't want to lump the responsibility on just my teammates. I just didn't think my skillset suited the fight and couldn't really find an opening early on about what to do in the fight until I had my idea to pin you down with my string." The Yamanaka answered. "I'm not suited for most direct fighting. You'll find that I'm an incredibly stereotypical Yamanaka."

"And that's not a bad thing." Naruto's clone stated.

The clone was about to continue with his statement, but he noticed a small frown develop on Kanji's face. The frown disappeared as quickly as it came and was replaced with the same goofy smile that was usually on his face. This caused the clone's eyes to narrow.

"… Although it seems like you think it's a bad thing." He commented.

"Hmm? Not really. It just means I'm average." Kanji shrugged in response. "Like, not to get too ahead of myself and assume too much about Hanabi and Katsumi, but I'll probably be the last of your three students to reach chūnin. And I will probably be the only one of the three to not get anything higher than chūnin. I'll be the textbook average Yamanaka and average shinobi of the village, which probably isn't a bad thing in some contexts. It does mean I probably will live the longest. I'll just live a boring, safe, simple life."

Naruto's clone's eyes narrowed on his student. "If you really think this, then why did you even become a shinobi? If you wanted a simple life, you could have just been a civilian!"

"I don't 'think'. I know." Kanji elaborated. He then shrugged his shoulders once again. "Although I guess I should say I don't know if I'll live the longest. Accidents do tend to happen on missions. I could very well not even live to reach chūnin. That happens from time to time."

"How do you speak so casually about this?" His sensei questioned.

"Because it's just general knowledge to be aware of." The Yamanaka answered nonchalantly. "I'm not saying it like it's a good thing or a bad thing; I'm just saying it like it is."

"So this is what you want from life? You just want to be an average shinobi? You want to live a life that'll be 'safe'?" The clone questioned.

Kanji's eyes narrowed in response to the clone's question. The nonchalant, goofy expression disappeared and was replaced with a more serious, harsh look.

"I'm talking about facts, Naruto-sensei. I'm talking about things I know. I did not say that being 'average' is the life I want." Kanji explained bluntly.

The boy's serious, borderline angry tone took Naruto's clone by surprise. The clone softened his own demeanor as he continued to focus his attention on the Yamanaka.

"Then what do you want? What kind of shinobi do you want to be?" He asked.

"It doesn't matter." The genin rolled his eyes. "I know what type of shinobi I'll be."

"Just humor me for a moment." The clone replied. "I know I came across probably a little harsh earlier, but that was just because of how casual you were talking about it, but there is nothing wrong with being an average shinobi. But is that actually what you want? Is that the lifestyle you want or the lifestyle you simply 'think' you'll have."

"I know I'll have it." Kanji repeated his sentiment.

The two blondes remained quiet for a few moments. Naruto's clone's eyes began to narrow on the Yamanaka. After roughly thirty seconds, Kanji finally sighed and shook his head.

"… Fine, I don't want to be average." He admitted. "I want to be more than that."

There seemed to be more to Kanji's answer than he was letting on, but that didn't matter to the clone, as a small smirk developed on his face: "That's all I wanted to know. Thank you, Kanji."

"It's not going to change anything, Naruto-sensei." Kanji said dismissively.

"Maybe in your perception, but as far as I'm concerned, I'm going to make you the most above-average shinobi I possibly can." The clone smirked. "And I'm going to start by giving you some better offensive techniques so you can get on the front line with your teammates instead of just waiting until you have a plan."

Naruto's clone reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a scroll. He then tossed the scroll over to the Yamanaka, who caught it. The genin opened the scroll and read the title: Lightning Style: Thunderbolt.

Upon reading it, Kanji's demeanor relaxed. A smile developed on his face and he began to chuckle good-naturedly.

"Oh, immediately after we found out my affinity was lightning, you give me a lightning style technique. How shocking." He said.

"Well if I want to get your offense up, I think a good idea would be to start with your jutsu repertoire, and why not give you one that suits your element." Naruto's clone admitted. "Look over the scroll. We'll begin to practice when you're ready."

Kanji nodded his head in understanding as he began to read the scroll, studying it intently.

"So, overall, did training go alright for you guys?" Naruto questioned his students.

Team Nine was now brought together at Ichiraku's. The three genin had taken a little bit to respond, as they were all currently eating from their bowls of ramen. A moment passed by before Hanabi set down her bowl and wiped her mouth with a napkin. She then looked at her jōnin-sensei and nodded.

"Yes it did!" She answered cheerfully. "I feel like I can tell that I'm going to get stronger."

"I'd agree." Kanji commented mid-bite of his ramen.

"Kanji-san, please; don't eat and talk at the same time. It's not proper." Hanabi requested, looking over at her blonde teammate with a frown.

"Hmm?" Kanji looked back at her, a single ramen noodle hanging from his mouth. He eventually slurped it up. "What's not proper?"

"Ugh…" Hanabi grumbled, feeling grossed out.

She had another comment she was going to say to Kanji, but the words died on her lips as she heard more slurping. The Hyūga turned her attention back to her own bowl of ramen and noticed that Hebihiro was leaning from his position on her shoulders to her bowl, eating her ramen.

"Ah, Hebihiro, come on!" She exclaimed with a pout. "I asked you if you wanted any ramen and you said no earlier. If you changed your mind, you should have asked."

The snake lifted its head and licked off the broth from its mouth. It then frowned as it looked back at Hanabi.

"Sorry. I just wanted to try." He mumbled in response.

"No, it's fine." She shook her head and smiled gently at the snake. "Just ask next time and I'll get you a bowl."

"Ah!" Katsumi sighed as she sat down her bowl of ramen, completely finished. She then held up her hand. "Hey, Ichiraku-san, can I get another bowl? Shio Ramen please!"

"Of course." Teuchi commented with a chuckle as he went to the back to go prepare another bowel.

"… You know, I just realized. There's such a thing called 'Shio' ramen. My mother's name is Shio." Kanji's eyes lit-up as a grin developed on his face. "I'll definitely be using that later today when I get home!"

"Make a pun out of it. I don't care; it's frickin delicious." Katsumi said with a smirk. "Thanks a lot for introducing me to this stuff, Naruto-sensei!"

"No problem at all." The jōnin chuckled in response. "Feel free to eat as much, by the way. At the very least for today, this is my treat."

"You may regret that decision. I could probably eat a couple more bowls." Katsumi replied, chuckling as well.

"Trust me; I can too. I'm not concerned about how much you all can eat." Naruto admitted.


Naruto, along with the genin of Team Nine, turned around to see a shinobi walking towards them. Naruto grinned at the sight of the guy walking towards them.

"How's it going Chōji?" He asked cheerfully.

The Akimichi had definitely changed over the past two and a half years. His brown hair that he had styled upward now went down to his waist in length. He wore a red suit and black pants with plated armor over his torso, arms, and his upper legs. He now wore a red Konoha forehead protector over his forehead and had stud earrings on.

One thing that had not changed, however, was his love for food. He was carrying a bag of potato chips as he walked up to Naruto and was eating them casually.

"Things are going great Naruto. I've been relaxing recently after a busy week last week." Chōji said cheerfully. His eyes then moved over to the genin by Naruto's side. "Are these three the genin I've heard a lot about?"

"You've heard about them?" Naruto blinked in response.

"Naruto, you know whose on my team. Of course I have!" The chūnin said with a hearty laugh.

"Oh. Yeah. Duh." Naruto snickered. He had not talked to her since he heard about his promotion, but there was no way Ino did not know about his genin. "Anyway, yeah. This is my team." He then pointed at his former classmate. "Team, this is Akimichi Chōji. He was in my graduating class at the academy and he's one of the nicest guys you will ever meet."

"You're flattering me." Chōji chuckled as he took a bite of a chip. "Anyway, it's nice to meet you all."

"Same." Hanabi bowed her respectively. "I'm Hyūga Hanabi and this is Hebihiro." She gestured towards the snake around her neck, who bowed respectfully at the Akimichi. "If you were Naruto-sensei's classmate, that means you were Hinata-neesan's classmate too!"

"I was. You're her little sister?" He asked while chuckling. "You know, I can kinda see it now. Hinata-san was always very nice to me, so I'm sure you are probably just as nice and strong. It's a pleasure to meet you." He then looked over at the snake on her shoulder. "And nice to meet you too!"

"Th-Thanks." Hebihiro spoke, looking away slightly.

"I'm Inoue Katsumi." Katsumi introduced herself with a smirk as she extended her hand towards Chōji.

"And I'm Yamanaka Kanji. Yo." Kanji said, waving slightly.

Chōji chuckled as he shook Katsumi's hand. "It's nice to meet you both." He then turned his head towards Kanji. "Yamanaka, huh? Do you know Ino? She's my teammate!"

Kanji's eyes twitched for a brief second, but he managed to maintain his lazy, carefree smile to nod: "Yup. I think we're seventh cousins? Eighth? I'm not fully sure. You're an Akimichi, so you know how those clan family relationships work and how confusing they can be!"

"Ha! Believe me, I know." Chōji laughed in response. He then turned his attention to Naruto. "Anyway, I didn't mean to interrupt like a team lunch or something. I know more than most people how important a good meal together is. So I'll just be leaving-" The Akimichi's eyes immediately lit up. "Wait, Naruto, are you going to the party tonight for Shino?"

"Huh?" Naruto blinked in response. "What?"

"You know… the party for Shino's promotion to jōnin." Chōji elaborated.

"No, I remember hearing about a party. Hinata told me something about hearing something from Ino. I just don't know who this 'Shino' person is." The Uzumaki said with a light chuckle.

Realization dawned on the Akimichi's face about what Naruto was doing and he sighed: "Naruto, come on. You know how sensitive Shino is about things like that. Don't make a joke like that to his face tonight."

"I won't, I won't." The blonde jōnin reassured. "Regardless, Shikamaru, Hinata, and I should be there."

"Good. Then I'll see you all there." Chōji nodded in agreement. He then turned his attention to the other genin. "It was nice meeting you three. I'll see you later."

The genin waved goodbye to the chūnin as he walked away, eating from his bag of potato chips. When the man was gone, they turned their attention back to their sensei.

"What was that guy talking about? What party?" Katsumi questioned.

"Basically, his other teammate, Aburame Shino, got promoted to jōnin just a few days ago, so he, Ino, and their old sensei, Asuma, are throwing him a party." Naruto said with a chuckle.

"Well that should be fun." Hanabi said with a smile. "Have fun then!"

"I will, thanks." The jōnin smiled back in response. "Anyway, we probably should go over and check on missions-"

Just as Naruto was about to finish his statement, Teuchi came walking back with another bowl of shio ramen. He placed the bowl in front of Katsumi who grinned at the chef, bowed in gratitude at him, and began eating at an alarming rate. The ramen chef then looked over at Naruto expectantly.

"… Oh yeah. The bill." He grumbled as he fished out his wallet.

A loud knock sounded on the door to the Hokage's office. Jiraiya, who had been giggling to himself while writing something on a piece of paper, quickly stashed the paper, and pulled out a stack of paperwork. He took off one sheet and began looking at it.

"The door's open. Come in." He announced coolly.

The door opened up and Naruto, along with his genin, walked into the room. The jōnin grinned as he waved at the Hokage in a cheerful manner.

"Hey Ero-sennin; Team Nine is reporting for duty!" Naruto exclaimed.

His comment caused Jiraiya to drop the sheet of paper down to his desk. The Toad Sage proceeded to shake his head.

"Ero-sennin?" Hanabi repeated the name in question.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Katsumi asked.

"Well, that name directly translates to 'perverted sage'." Kanji commented. "I would assume that means that Naruto-sensei is calling Hokage-sama a-"

"Honestly Naruto; can you act professional in front of your students?" Jiraiya questioned, quickly interrupting the Yamanaka.

"I have been acting very professional, thank you very much!" Naruto said with a smirk. "Just to them, though. I don't see a reason to be professional with you."

"I'm the Hokage." Jiraiya deadpanned.

"And?" The Uzumaki shrugged.

Jiraiya opened his mouth to respond, but decided not to. He, instead, shook his head and sighed.

"Why do I even bother with you?" He grumbled to himself. "Well, what are you all here for? For a mission?"

"Yup. I want my team to have a super special first mission so that they understand fully the importance and difficulty of D-Rank missions." Naruto explained, his smirk turning into a slightly-malicious grin. "Is the retrieval mission open right now?"

"Oh. That mission." The Godaime Hokage's eyes lit up slightly. He proceeded to chuckle as he reached for a scroll. "Yes, it is. Of course it is. This one usually opens up once a week or so."

"A retrieval mission?" Hanabi questioned, giving Naruto a surprised look. "What are you talking about?"

"Are we rescuing somebody? As our first mission?" Katsumi questioned. "I wasn't expecting anything this important for a first mission! Holy sh-" The kunoichi cut herself off after noticing Hanabi giving her a knowing look. She proceeded to cough slightly. "Holy crap, this is awesome!"

"Yes, it is. You'll be rescuing someone directly related to the daimyo of Hi no Kuni." Jiraiya informed them as he tossed the scroll for the mission to Naruto.

"This is for real?" Kanji blinked in response. "You're giving a mission of that much importance to a newly appointed genin squad who just finished their first day of training?"

"You're forgetting; I'm not completely fresh and I'm a qualified shinobi." Naruto explained with a chuckle.

"Then what are we waiting for? We need to go help out this person!" Katsumi declared. She was nearly jumping up-and-down as she looked at Naruto eagerly. "So, who are they? What do they look like? Where were they last reported being seen?"

"Well, their name is Tora. They were last seen somewhere in the market districts of Konoha, although that might have changed by now. As for what they look like…" Naruto proceeded to open up the scroll, revealing the picture of 'Tora' – a brown cat with a red ribbon on her right ear. "She's a cat."

Hanabi, Katsumi, and Kanji all looked blankly at the picture: "Huh?"

"Naruto, you did not give them the 'Tora' mission as their very first mission, did you?" Shikamaru nearly gasped.

"Yeah. I did." Naruto admitted with a chuckle.

"Why would you do that to them?" Hinata grimaced slightly. "Don't you want them to enjoy being a shinobi?"

"I do!" The blonde quickly replied, shaking his head as a playful smirk developed on his lips. "I just wanted to have a little fun."

Both of his friends sighed in response. Shikamaru reached for a bottle of sake and began drinking while Hinata began to eye her own unopened bottle, mentally debating whether or not to start drinking.

The three shinobi were currently in a corner booth in the restaurant Yakiniku Q for Shino's 'promotion party'. The entire restaurant had been reserved for the night by Chōji and the Akimichi Clan. Despite this, every booth and seat was filled in the restaurant. Many people had come out to celebrate the promotion of the Aburame.

"So, how did the mission go?" Shikamaru questioned. "How long did it take for them to get her?"

"I think two hours? Not too long, considering what the mission is." Naruto shrugged in response. "What did happen, though, was that Kanji accidentally stepped in cat shit, Katsumi ended up barreling into a stand in the market area of Konoha and had to spend time after the mission helping fix the damages she made, and Hanabi got scratched quite a bit from Tora."

"I'm probably going to hear about the mission then later tonight from her." Hinata sighed again. She shook her head slightly after coming to the decision to reach for the bottle of sake. "Is there anything else I should be aware of that you did to her? Other than the prank from this morning?"

"Did you already find out about that? Oh, that's good! And just wait till you see what I have planned for Kanji and Katsumi later." The jinchūriki said. "Other than that, though, no. Everything went well, I think. I think they're going to realize that training's going to get easier, missions will get less tedious, and they're going to get strong soon. Then, we can begin going on some cooler missions." A small smile developed on his face. "Honestly, the team's a lot of fun. Love working with them."

"That's good at least." Hinata smiled. She proceeded to take the cap off her bottle of sake before continuing to speak. "I knew Hanabi wouldn't be a hassle, but I'm glad you get along well with the other two genin."

"I do." Naruto nodded in agreement. He grabbed his own bottle of sake, opened it, and tapped his drink against Hinata's. The two lovers took a drink together before he continued to talk. "Yeah, Kanji and Katsumi are great. I kinda want to learn more about them, but I like them a lot and I want to help them become better shinobi."

"Kinda switching the topic, but do you all actually no anybody at this party?" Shikamaru questioned the two.

Naruto and Hinata both turned their attention toward the party around them. They focused on the different faces sitting down at other booths and the people walking between the tables. They noticed Asuma and Kurenai standing by the entrance together, chatting to each other. They also could see Chōji talking to a few Aburame clan shinobi. Many of the other people, however, were people that neither shinobi recognized.

"I only see Kurenai-san, Asuma-san, and Chōji-kun." Hinata admitted. "I don't see anybody else."

"I knew that Sasuke, Sakura, and Kiba were all on a mission and wouldn't come to this, but I was expecting there to be some other people." Naruto said as he stood up from his seat. "Well, we already ate and are just drinking drinks. Want to go walk around and say hi to people?"

"I'm fine with that." Shikamaru shrugged as he stood up.

"Let's say hi to Shino-kun first!" Hinata suggested.

Naruto nodded his head in agreement as he began scanning the restaurant for Shino. Within a few seconds, he spotted the man he was looking for. The Aburame was by the entrance to the restaurant, talking to someone.

Shino's physical appearance had not changed too much over the past two and a half years – he had grown slightly taller and more muscular, but not much had changed for him. He now wore a different grey jacket that went down to his knees. There was a hoodie on the jacket, but he was wearing it down, revealing the same bushy brown hair he always had. He wore a Konoha flak jacket underneath his grey jacket, wore black pants, and wore black sunglasses over his eyes. He also had on a pair of stud earrings, similar to Chōji's.

Naruto began walking towards Shino with Shikamaru and Hinata following behind. As the trio approached the Aburame, the person that he was talking to bowed and said goodbye to Shino before leaving the restaurant. He turned around in time to see the three shinobi walk up to him.

"Ah, Naruto-san. Hinata-san. Shikamaru-san." Shino nodded his head in acknowledgment of them. "How are you three doing? Have you been enjoying your time tonight?"

"We have. Good food here and we're here for a good reason!" Naruto exclaimed with a chuckle as he placed his right hand on Shino's shoulder. "Congrats on getting promoted again Shino!"

"Thank you." Shino responded, adjusting his sunglasses slightly. "I had been working diligently to improve myself in order to reach jōnin as quick as possible. Why you ask? I wanted to not lag behind you three and Sasuke-san."

"Not gonna lie, I still think it is kinda bullshit that you didn't get promoted to chūnin that year in the exams when we all got promoted." Shikamaru admitted with a chuckle.

"I would agree with that, but I am I did not then." The Aburame admitted. "That is precisely what I used to fuel my desire to self-improve, which only makes me a more capable shinobi for Konoha. It worked out better this way."

"It did work out, didn't it?" Hinata smiled at her former classmate. "Has everything else been going good for you, Shino-kun? It's been a while."

"Moderately well, although I recently have been annoyed." Shino noted. Hinata opened her mouth to question why, but Shino quickly cut her off. "Why? Because Ino has recently taken an interest in my relationship status."

"Really?" Shikamaru asked, smirking slightly. "How exactly?"

"She has come to the conclusion that my life would benefit with a girlfriend in it and, therefore, has taken up the responsibility of playing 'matchmaker' with me and various women around our age." Shino answered. "The dates she sets up never end too well and the women usually have no interest."

"Because you don't bother to try to be social with them, you jerk!"

Naruto, Hinata, and Shikamaru turned their heads at the sound of the voice. Ino walked toward the group with a small, playful smile on her lips.

The kunoichi had definitely changed over the past two and a half years, developing her figure more and wearing a more revealing outfit to accentuate it. She wears a purple top that shows off her midriff and shoulders and a purple skirt that goes down just past her knees. The Yamanaka also has on mesh armor underneath her clothes and on her elbows. Her blonde hair is styled in a ponytail, but the hair goes down to her upper-back. She also wears the same stud earrings that Chōji and Shino wear.

"Ino." Shikamaru greeted with a wave as the kunoichi.

"How's it going Shikamaru? Hinata? Naruto?" Ino asked cheerfully as she entered the conversation.

"What did you mean I don't bother to try to be social?" Shino questioned her, interrupting any of the Team Three members from answering her question.

"You just don't!" She rolled her eyes. "I've asked all the girls I've try to set you up with and they say that you never tried to keep the conversation going!"

"I did try. None of them however seemed particularly interested in any topics I chose to bring up." Shino said. "Therefore, the logical conclusion was for me to remain silent until they could choose a topic to discuss."

"Ugh." Ino shook her head. "Look; next time, just try and talk to them about different topics than training routines and insects, okay?"

"But if I am going on a 'date' and I'm trying to give them the chance to get to know me, should I not be discussing things with them that I am interested in?" The newly-promoted jōnin asked.

"Ahhhh…" Ino groaned, bringing her hands to her head. "You're hopeless."

"Maybe you should just throw in the towel on this one, Ino." Naruto suggested with a chuckle.

"No way! I gotta find Shino the perfect girlfriend. He's one of my best friends and I gotta look after him!" Ino said excitedly. She brought her hand over his shoulder and brought him close to her. "I've already worked on just him making him more social and it's kinda working. See all the people that came here? There all people I helped introduce him to! And he invited everybody here!"

"Really?" Hinata blinked in surprise. "Shino-kun, you know all of these people?"

"Every person, yes." Shino admitted. He then pulled himself away from Ino's grip over him. "Anyway, Ino, I believe that I am alright. Why, you may ask? Why, there is a girl in the Aburame clan that I intend on asking on a date soon and-"

"But I haven't met her yet!" The Yamanaka stated sharply. "Let me meet her first to make sure she's right for you!"

"Come on Ino; Shino's a jōnin now. Let him take care of himself." Naruto said with a smirk.

"… Eh, you're probably right." Ino sighed in response. She then punched Shino's shoulder lightly. "Once again, congrats on becoming a jōnin. You did good, bug boy."

"Thank you, Ino." Shino responded back, smiling slightly in response.

Ino was about to say something else to him, but her eyes widened as she recalled something. She then turned her attention to Naruto, grinning slightly.

"Speaking of being a jōnin, I heard you, Naruto, got an interesting job recently." She commented. "What's it like being Kanji-kun's jōnin-sensei?"

"Interesting." Naruto admitted with a laugh. "He's very funny. I don't think I met someone who can be that consistently funny."

"I know what you mean." Ino giggled at Naruto's answer. "His jokes get old fast, but he still manages to earn a laugh at least once a day. He's that good at coming up with things on the top of his head."

"He's definitely good. I think he'll make a great shinobi. I just want to kinda figure out more about him." The Uzumaki admitted with a sigh. "For someone as outgoing as he is, he's pretty secretive."

"… That I also know you mean." The blonde-haired kunoichi frowned in response. "He doesn't talk much about what he's thinking about. Actually, he doesn't talk much to me in general. I think he only says jokes to me sometimes to be polite."

"Do you have a history with him or something?" Shikamaru questioned curiously.

"Not that I'm aware of, no." Ino shook her head, her frown growing deeper. "I know he gets along with my dad just fine and most of the Yamanaka clan. It's just me he acts a little weird around. But I really don't think I ever did anything to him."

"That's very weird." Hinata frowned in response.

"But he's still a good kid!" Ino said, clapping her hands together. "I'm a great read of character and I know that Kanji-kun is a very kind person. I just wish he'd actually talk to me about whatever I did…" She then looked over at Naruto. "Hey. You'll let me know if you ever find out, right? I do want to find some way to fix things with him."

"I'll do what I can to help." Naruto nodded his head. "I don't want there to be any bad blood. I'll try and talk to him and do what I can."

"Thanks. I really, really appreciate it." Ino smiled back at him. She then turned her attention back to the rest of the group and smiled. "Sorry to derail the conversation and make it serious. Let's go back to what we were talking about earlier!" She then pulled Shino back into another headlock. "Finding this new jōnin a girlfriend."

"Ino, I thought you just said you would me focus on my relationship status." Shino replied, pulling himself out of her grasp.

"I did, yeah, but let me try one more person. I think I have the perfect girl for you!" She requested.

Naruto, Hinata, and Shikamaru all laughed as Ino began to describe a regular customer at the Yamanaka Flower Shop that she thought would be perfect for Shino, much to the Aburame's chagrin.

"Well, that was fun. Long and tiring, but fun." Shikamaru admitted with a sigh as he walked into his bedroom.

The Nara returned to his home a little around midnight. He had not intended to stay out that long, but he did end up having fun with his friends. Shino had quite a few stories to tell about horrible dates that Ino tried to set him up on and Ino always had plenty of excuses to justify why she recommended the dates.

It had been a while since Shikamaru actually relaxed like that and he enjoyed it. However, he was now dead tired and wanted to sleep.

Shikamaru quickly changed into nightwear. He was about to lay down on his bed when he noticed two things lying on the covers: a scroll and a note. He quickly took the note and looked at it.

Shikamaru, a shinobi from Iwa came by on a mission and asked if he could drop this off with you. I said I'd give it to you. I know you are at that party, though, so I just thought to leave it here where you will surely find it.

I think the Iwa shinobi said he'd be in the village for another day and would leave tomorrow. If you want to reply, make sure to do it tonight or early tomorrow if you want to respond!

Tell the lovely lady I say hi!

Your amazing and kind mother

'Amazing? Kind?' Shikamaru chuckled at his mother's self-congratulatory note.

The Nara then turned his attention to the scroll. He began to wake himself up as he opened it and began to read it.

Hey Shikamaru! How's it going? Have you been taking care of yourself? Still training like the great shinobi you are capable of being? Or are you still the lazy ass that I've always known? Knowing you, in some weird way, probably both! Ha!

I am replying just after reading the last letter you sent me. Did the Hokage really ask Naruto to take a jōnin team? Oh my gosh! That's hilarious! My condolences to that team! Having to be bossed around by that idiot would be horrible… I'm kidding. Tell him I said congratulations! Did he end up passing them? If he did, have you met his genin yet? What are they like?

More than that, though, how have you been doing? You wrote last time about finishing up your training with the Sandaime Hokage. Go into more detail about that! How did it exactly go? Was the big fight with him exciting? Details Lazy Ass! I want to know details!

… Or if you want to not give me details, try and find a reason to take a mission over in Tsuchi no Kuni. I know I've been trying like hell to find a mission to take me to Hi no Kuni recently, but nothing really has opened up for me exactly. I'm actually super pissed that Akatsuchi managed to get a mission to go there and I didn't! That's not even fair! My grandfather knows I want to go back and he's being a dick right now.

… Okay, that's not really fair to say. He actually kinda needs me in Tsuchi no Kuni at the moment. I'm one of the few people of some political authority really backing him up. I don't know if you heard about this, but the grandchildren of Kamizuru Ishikawa, the Shodai Tsuchikage, just arrived in the village. His grandkids, Suzumebachi, Jibachi, and Kurobachi, apparently had been on a self-appointed exile trying to find some bug called the Bikōchū to find scrolls and forbidden secrets of the Kamizuru Clan. They apparently did find the bug, found all the scrolls and secrets they were looking for and returned to the village. And they haven't been happy that Iwa is trying to have peace with Konoha.

Basically, they've been trying to rile up the public to be against Grandfather's plans for peace with Konoha. And it's… not really working, because no one in Iwa really wants to actually go to war with Konoha, but they are turning some people. And Grandfather can't do anything about it, like jail them or kill them or anything, because they're pretty much all that's left of the Kamizuru Clan and the average people in the village don't want anything to happen to them. Hell, Gramps doesn't want to do anything to them either because of that. He keeps talking about not wanting to attack Ishikawa's legacy.

It's all stupid. But I know it's giving him a lot of stress. That's why I've been working harder and harder to speak out and show the good Konoha can do for Iwa. And I think it's working to some degree. I think I'm stopping them from doing too much damage in Iwa! And I know my father, Rōshi-sensei, and Han-sensei have been using whatever public standing they have to help with that as well.

Sorry, this is probably a stupid thing to rant about. Again, it's not like there's like violent battles about this. But it's been stressful trying to play politics with these Kamizuru assholes and not make myself or my grandfather or the alliance with Konoha look bad. Han-sensei was telling me that this would be good experience when I try and play politics when I become the Tsuchikage, but honestly, I really don't like this. I just want a bit of a break from all this stress.

Honestly, I just want to see you…

… Okay, now I feel like I'm being some needy bitch. I'm sorry about that. I'm kinda just writing the first things that come to my head, if you haven't noticed that yet. But that's something I can actually do with you. I can actually talk to you about anything and not have to worry about you judging me for anything or critiquing me.

… Okay, enough sad and sappy stuff. Let me focus on other things! Um, Rōshi-sensei is just about done with his next book in the Tengoku no Sato series and it's going to be out soon. Let anyone you know who reads it know about it! Han-sensei's doing great as well, although he hasn't changed much at all. Roto apparently has been volunteering as the Iwagakure Shinobi Academy and I think there's a chance he might make that a permanent position. I think he wants to be an instructor and train the next generation! Cool, huh? As for Risho, he just made jōnin. He's pretty proud of himself.

Of course, you and I have already been jōnin for a little while now, haven't we? Hehehe!

Well, I'll probably start rambling soon. Just know that I'm doing alright. I've been stressed and I've been missing you like crazy, but I'm doing alright. And I hope you are as well. I hope you can write back soon! And who knows? Maybe we'll get to see each other as well!

Love you always, Shikamaru!

Kurotsuchi – The Future Yondaime Tsuchikage

Shikamaru shook his head, a wide smile on his face as he gripped the scroll tight in his hands.

"Miss you too Kurotsuchi… love you too…" He mumbled to himself.

The Nara let out a yawn. Despite being tired, however, he walked over to a desk in his room and pulled out a scroll of his own. He then began working on a letter.

'Mom said the Iwa shinobi would still be here tomorrow. Gotta make sure I finish before he heads out.' Shikamaru mumbled to himself. His mind recalled specifics in Kurotsuchi's letter – the comments about the grandchildren of the Shodai Tsuchikage – and he frowned. 'Stay strong, Kurotsuchi.'

With that in mind, he began writing his letter.

The next evening, Naruto walked back to the Uzumaki Clan compound from the Hokage's office. The jinchūriki walked into the main building and headed towards the kitchen. Sitting down at the table eating a plate of chicken and rice was Masakado.

"Hey Masakado-jī-san! How are you doing?" Naruto greeted him.

"Hey kid." Masakado greeted the blonde as he took a bite of his food. "How did training go today? Your brats still good?"

"They're getting better. I'm not worried at all for them. They're going to be great shinobi!" He exclaimed. "But yeah, training went over well and we managed to get two D-Rank missions done on their records."

"Ha. Those are a waste of time." The former Uzukage snorted. "Other than that, though, I'm glad the training's going over well. Do you want anything to eat? I only made something for me, but I think I can scrap another plate of chicken out for you."

"No, I'm fine. Not hungry yet." Naruto shook his head. "Actually, I wanted to know if, when you finish eating, you can help me work on the adamantine sealing chains again."

"Oh?" Masakado raised an eyebrow at him. "Have you been training anymore without me?"

"I have, yeah, but I'm still having troubles creating them." The jinchūriki admitted.

"Understandable. It's definitely worth the trouble. By far, one of the most versatile and useful abilities of our clan." Masakado admitted. "From everything I heard, your mother was infamous for her usage of our sealing chains."

"I know. I've read all about her reputation and I know one of the many nicknames she had in the bingo books was 'Konoha's Chain Reaction'. I hope I can even remotely reach that level." Naruto admitted.

Masakado remained quiet for a few moments as he finished his food. Within a minute, he set down a finished plate and stood-up.

"Alright, so if you wanna get to a point to reach Kushina's level, then let's work to it." Masakado said. "Come on!"

A grin developed on Naruto's face as he nodded his head. The two Uzumaki shinobi walked to the exit of the building and walked to a separate building. They entered the room and entered a large, open training hall. Upon reaching the center of the room, Masakado closed his eyes. Immediately, a chain rushed forward from his right hand. It extended until it reached his left hand, which Masakado used to grip the chain tightly.

"Alright, so just making sure, you remember how these chains work, correct?" The elder questioned.

"Yes." Naruto nodded. "They're formed from a combination of fūinjutsu and ninjutsu. You're molding your own chakra to take the physical shape of a chain and then releasing it from your body."

"Correct." Masakado nodded. "Now, do you remember how the fūinjutsu component exists? How exactly is this related to fūinjutsu?"

"Because we're unsealing our chakra from our own bodies. Our own body acts a seal and, through fūinjutsu, we unseal ourselves in order to release the chains, physical manifestations of our chakra, from our body to use as a tool or a weapon." The blonde answered.

"Correct again." Masakado said. "That also gives our Adamantine Sealing Chains the distinct honor of being the only known fūinjutsu that requires no written seal. Our body acts as the 'seal'."

"Which actually is where I am having problems." Naruto admitted with a sigh.

The blonde Uzumaki closed his eyes and focused. He began to focus his chakra into his hand as he began the process to channel his clan's chains. His eyes widened, however, as a chain rushed forward from his open palm. However, the chain came directly from his body and pierced his skin. Blood began dripping and the chain began to fade quickly after as Naruto began to stop focusing his energy on maintaining it.

"It's literally what we were just talking about." Masakado noted with a frown. "You have managed to perform the ninjutsu, creating the chains from your chakra, but you have not mastered the fūinjutsu element and, as a result, when you try and release the chains from your body, it pierces your skin."

"I-I realize." Naruto grumbled in response. "Thankfully the Kyūbi has been healing my wounds whenever I practice, but I don't want this to be a thing. I want to actually use this technique and then experiment it with to the level that my mother was at and I can't do that if I still can't get the chains to come out of my body naturally."

"Then that's what we shall work on. You are done for the night, right? Nobody needs you until you meet with your team tomorrow morning?" The Sandaime Uzukage questioned. Naruto nodded his head in affirmation. "Alright, then let's work on this now to make sure you can use it by then!"

"One more day of travel down!" Anko declared as she entered the inn room

She, Zabuza, and Kahyō placed their belongings down by the three separate beds in the room. They each then got atop their own beds.

"One more to go. We should be arriving at Raiga's location sometime tomorrow afternoon." Zabuza answered. "They apparently had an operation set up at the Katabari Gold Mines in Kawa no Kuni, but have moved base to a town within the forests on the Kusa no Kuni side of the border." The man's hands tightened into fists. "Apparently, he thinks the land is sacred and has been making a point to give the people their 'burials' that the gods would find appeasing."

"So he's killing a bunch of people for no reason there, basically. Sick fuck." Anko spat out.

Zabuza nodded his head in agreement: "It's going to be great to have him dead."

"So, since we will be engaging tomorrow, do we have an exact plan of action yet?" Kahyō questioned.

"Not fully, because I think we should spend some time after arrival assessing his hideout and the numbers he has in his new 'Kurosuki Family'." The bandage-wearing shinobi grumbled. "Regardless, I think it will most likely be that two of us will completely wipe out the rest of his family, considering we want to make sure that they all die to avoid any shinobi wanting to 'avenge Raiga', while the third member actually confronts Raiga."

Anko sighed, looking down slightly: "And let me guess; you are the one going to confront Raiga?"

"I would like to, yes, but I acknowledge that both of you wish to as well." Zabuza stated, causing Anko to look up at him in surprise. "You expressed an interest in wanting to show Raiga what you were capable of and I have to admit, I think I would love to know how he would react to being killed by a Konoha shinobi that was representing the Seven Swordsman. On the other hand," Zabuza turned his attention to Kahyō, "I know you are taking Raiga's place in the organization. You should deserve the honor to fight for your swords."

"I would like that honor, yes." Kahyō said. "However, I do know that neither Suigetsu nor Honoka had to fight their blades. I understand that it is not an honor that I specifically deserve." She then turned her head towards Anko. "Anko-san, do you really wish to fight Raiga?"

"Honestly, I kinda do." The Konoha jōnin admitted. "I really haven't gotten a chance to test myself in a fight like this in a while. Probably since the civil war, actually. I really would like to try my hand against someone like Raiga."

Kahyō closed her eyes in thought. A few seconds passed by before she held out her hands, directly in front of her.

"Care to play a game for it?" She questioned.

"Huh?" Anko blinked in response.

Kahyō gave no verbal response; instead, she responded by making three different gestures with her hand: one resembling a rock, one resembling paper, and one resembling scissors. Anko's eyes widened in realization.

"You mean like a game of janken? Really?" She questioned.

"Why not?" The Yuki questioned. "We both don't technically deserve it and I believe that you would be alright with me killing Raiga, as I would be with you. So, let's see which way the game decides to take it."

"… Eh, sure. What the hell?" Anko shrugged in response. "Let's do it then."

"Really? You two are going to decide this with that stupid kid's game?" Zabuza questioned. Both kunoichi nodded their heads, which caused him to snort. "Whoever wins, please mention to Raiga before you kill him that his executioner was chosen by a game like janken. That's the kind of thing that would piss him off just before he dies."

"Sure thing." Both Anko and Kahyō said in near unison. The two kunoichi then looked at each other. "Ready?"

Realizing that they were both ready, the two kunoichi extended their hands backwards.




Anko and Kahyō showed their hands, revealing what sign they chose, deciding who would fight against Raiga.


Kurosuki Raiga stood in the middle of a forested area, surrounded by graves. He wore a black cloak over his body and the clothes underneath with a hood that covered his green hair. Tears fell down his blue eyes as he focused on one small grave next to a large tree.

"Of all the funerals I've ever done in my entire life, yours was simply the best." He mumbled to himself. Despite the tears going down his face, the man was chuckling slightly. "That's the only reason I can think why I still come to your grave over and over again."

Raiga's eyes never left the grave in front of him. His smile seemed to widen, as if he had heard some response coming from it.

"I knew you weren't long for this world, Ranmaru, because of your poor health, but I wanted you to see it all while you still could. In the process, you showed me the meaning of life. Life is beautiful and fleeting, so we must all take what we can while we still have the chance. Only through seeing death can someone truly appreciate the beauty that is the life we all have." Raiga proclaimed. The man shook his head briefly before continuing to speak, his smile softening slightly. "I hope you enjoy the grave, Ranmaru. When you died, I knew the Katabari Gold Mines wouldn't be a good land for you. You deserved something beautiful. So I took your body around until I found this beautiful forest. I knew this was perfect for your funeral and your grave."

His eyes then moved towards the various graves around him: "And I hope all of these people are keeping you company. Everyone here was handpicked. They are strong, beautiful people and I know should be good company for you. I mourned for all of these people for days, and-"

The man's speech was interrupted as he noticed a kunai flying directly towards him. He quickly jumped out of the way. The tears in his eyes dried up and his smile turned into a scowl.

"If that was your best attempt to kill me, then you have no shot against me!" Raiga taunted as his eyes began to look around the forest, trying to find his mysterious assailant.

"That wasn't to kill you; that was to get your attention." A voice responded – a woman's voice.

"My attention, huh?" Raiga questioned.

The man quickly pulled off his cloak, revealing a dark brown vest that went down to his knees, grey pants, and bandages that covered his upper arms and his torso. His green hair that was trapped in his hoodie fell down to his waist. Attached to the side of his pants were two swords with double-edged blades. Both swords also had two upward-curved bladed prongs: one near the tip of both swords and one near the base of both swords. Raiga reached for both swords and held them both tight in each hand.

"If you want my attention specifically, I think you know who I am. I'm the patriarch of the Kurosuki Family." Raiga declared proudly. "So, come on out. I'd love to look you in the eye and get to know you through a fight so I can properly mourn for you when I bury you!"

As if a response to his request, his assailant jumped down directly in front of him.

"The name's Mitarashi Anko." Anko introduced herself with a smirk as she held up her own sword, the blast-sword Shibuki. "And I'm here by request of your old comrade, Momochi Zabuza, to put a filthy traitor named Raiga in a grave of his own and collect his swords for Kirigakure."

Quick Notes:

1: Shino's promotion to jōnin is partially a response to the fact that I didn't promote him to chūnin after the exams. I do loosely regret that decision, especially since I promoted Sasuke. Regardless, I just wanted to make a note of this, because it was irritating me. I know my story hasn't given an extensive focus on the other members of the Konoha 12 outside of Team Three (and loosely Neji/Sasuke), but I do intend on rectifying that and I hope you all enjoy the plans I have for all of the characters! :)

2: Ranmaru, in the Raiga arc of the anime, was always mentioned to have a very weak body. I do think Raiga had the best intentions for him, but I also do believe that the lifestyle Raiga lived would be bad for the boy. I think his death, in a story where Naruto/Neji/Lee/Tenten never took the mission to kill Raiga, makes sense, as he never got to live a peaceful life with the ramen chef (whose name is escaping me and I'm too lazy to look up to). I just wanted to make a note why he's dead. Not that I think many really would care, but just saying. :P

3: In the same token as the above mentioned fact, since Sasuke never went missing and Team Eight wasn't thinking of a way to find Sasuke, Naruto/Hinata/Kiba/Shino did not go on the Bikōchū , I think it makes sense that the three Kamizuru grandchildren would, therefore, have had no issues collecting the bug. Just wanting to add that fact as well. :)

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