Disclaimer: Buffy belongs to J. Whedon, Naruto franchise belongs to Kishimoto. Anbu Himawari owns assorted OC characters from her story Honey and Kunai. She also helped writing/developing/adjusting Hachiko PoV, since she is main protagonist in Honey and Kunai.

Preliminary Exam


***The tower***

Sarutobi Hiruzen and his bodyguards surveyed the genin standing in the center of the arena where the preliminaries matches would be taking place.

Mitarashi Anko and Hayate Geckko were standing in front of the genin waiting for the Hokage to give his speech.

His brown eyes regarded the purple haired snake summoner – his student, who went to the bad side, hurt her badly with his defection. To make matters worse, Anko was orphaned, and Orochimaru took over the parental role for young Anko, much like the way Hiruzen himself did for Jiraya, and as Jiraya later did for Minato.

Orochimaru was in Konoha; now that was a troubling thought, that meant that his former student had supporters, or even high placed allies in the village itself. Jiraya suspected Donzo, and Tsunade expressed her support of that theory, and honestly Hiruzen agreed, no matter how painful that admission was – his best friend since they were genin, and his student was attacking his village, Konoha's children, one from inside and the other from outside.

Speaking of the Konoha children, they did well in the last three days in the Forest of Death. From the Rookie teams, Asuma's, Kakashi's and Kurenai's full teams stayed for preliminaries. Kurama Yakumo however bowed out – Hiruzen understood the girl, being marked by his former student Orochimaru; even with the quick sealing done by Naruto, Yakumo-chan had been unable to compete.

Hiruzen was proud of Naruto's sealing accomplishment. And prouder still of the offering, as the officially re-established Uzumaki Clan Head in Konohagakure, Naruto had offered housing and protection to Uzumaki Karin. Formerly of Kusa now. They objected of course, but Hiruzen put his foot down – citing Konoha Uzu's kinship and the fact that Karin was of Uzumaki's Clan and was recalled back home by the Clan Head.

Grudgingly, Kusakage agreed and Karin-chan became a citizen of Konoha, she was just getting debriefed by Inoichi. Karin would later go to the Academy for a year, before joining the team. Or considering, Tsunade was itching to take the girl on – yes, she was training Uchiha Sasuke as her apprentice but she said that she had a time for the additional full time student.

Then yesterday a young lady came into the village, her name was Honoka, and she and her grandmother Mariko had previously taken refuge with some scientists, living on an island east of Hi no Kuni, who were researching summons. They wanted to create an ultimate summon according to Mariko. Tsunade tested them both and both were descendants of Uzu.

After that, Tsunade admitted that she went even further and sent a call out – that the son of Uzu-hime Kushina became an Uzumaki Clan Head and that any Uzumaki were welcome to come to Konoha. Hiruzen already got four responses from former citizens of Uzushiogakure. He received a letter from Rōran Sāra, which wasn't a surprise as most of the citizens of Uzu had found refuge in Rōran. Sāra-sama's mother Sēramu, who was the Queen of Rōran, wed Uzumaki. After Rōran's destruction at the end of Third Shinobi World War, the citizens of the kingdom became caravan travelers.

The entirety of Sāra's people were relocating to Konoha, along with some staggering Uzumaki families and individuals from the islands.

Hiruzen went from the expectant and antsy young face to a face of the genin, assembled in neat lines.

Besides Yakumo-chan, there were four other genin that quit – Yakushi Kabuto among them. That genin was a puzzle; he failed again and again – not due to his incompetence but because he just gave up.

Hiruzen decided to put Kabuto under surveillance and sent out a command for a background check – this looked suspiciously like Donzo's mind games. He would personally look into this after the exams.

Still, there was an unusual amount of genin this year; even with the five who bowed out of the Preliminaries, there were still thirty-one genin. That was too much, much too much. Ideally, at the finals there usually were a maximum of twelve applications.

Hokage stepped forward, he waited for all of them to quiet down before speaking.

"Congratulations on passing the second stage of the exam." Some of the genin flinched as his eyes passed over them. "However, your real test begins here. No longer are you with your teams of three. Now you'll be divided into two man teams, and those two man teams will fight among themselves. You will be forced to fight with other genin, as well as genin from your own village."

One of the Suna genin raised his hand. "From our own village?" he asked fearfully. Hiruzen well understood the child's fear; Suna's jinchūriki was unstable, like most of his predecessors.

"Yes. And from the other villages as well. Does anyone know why?" Hiruzen answered as he eyed the genin below.

"It's an excuse for war." Surprisingly, it was the quiet Shino Aburame who had said this.

The Hokage nodded at Aburame. "Exactly. We are in times of Peace for now. Konoha has treaties with each of your villages. But we still need to look after the younger generation's progress in shinobi arts. Anko?"

With that, Mitarashi Anko stepped forward. "All right, Maggots, line up two genin per team."

The young ones started to shuffle around and soon there were fifteen teams of two standing before the Hokage, with one of the Sound Genin, who climbed the stairs grumbling. Anko meanwhile distributed numbers to the teams.

"Now, the rules are simple," Anko continued, "the fight will last for five minutes unless your team surrenders or is knocked out. And one more thing, we are judging how well you fight together. So even if your team loses the fight, you can win the match. There is another exception, if both teams have one participant defeat the participant from the other team at the same time his or her partner is also defeated, then each winning individual moves forward. In addition, if one genin manages to get hold of the two opposing genin then that genin advances as well. Good luck."

"The winning teams will have individual fights among themselves tomorrow," Hiruzen continued. "Now the teams whose numbers get picked, stay, and the rest will go to the balconies."

The numbers started to spin …. until they stopped.

***Team 10 Vs Team 5***

"Team 10 versus team 15," Anko yelled, "the rest of the brats to the balconies."

Hiruzen sat down to observe the match between the four genin facing off. The fact that both teams were from Konoha did not surprise him – they after all had the strongest presence in the exam. Nevertheless, three genin would not compete today; Hiruzen wondered which ones, besides that lone genin from Sound, would be spared from the fight today.

Haku-kun and Kochō-chan squared off with Tsume's boy Kiba and Idate-kun. Well, Hiruzen had a pretty good scoop on his genin abilities to know that Inuzuka and Morino would not win this fight. In terms of ability, Haku was at least Tokubetsu Jōnin, while Kochō-chan skirted on the edge between Tokubetsu Jōnin and Chūnin. While Kiba was nearing a high genin ability, he was not quite there yet, and Idate-kun, Ibiki's younger brother was scooped out from the Genin Corps.

Anko stood between the teams, her hand raised … "All right, three, two, one start." Her hand fell down and she disappeared with a quick body flicker.

"Prepare to go down!" Kiba yelled as he crouched down on all fours – Hiruzen made a mental note that he should talk to Tsume about her boy's brashness; he was just as loud as Naruto still was, on occasion.

Idate-kun started by throwing kunai that multiplied – kunai shadow clones, not bad but not good enough. When cloned, the kunai dispelled when they impacted with Kochō-chan's barrier.

The barrier was solid, Kakashi-kun had mentioned that Kochō-chan was proficient with barriers which were mostly made from Chakra and Reiryoku. That was to be expected, she inherited chakra from the shinobi side of the family. Konoha's Shunran Clan and the Uzuki Clan originally came from the border with Oni no Kuni. The Reiryoku was inherited from the Miko side of the Uzuki Clan when the son of the Head Priestess and the ruler of Oni no Kuni married a kunoichi.

Tsunade informed the Holy Empress of Oni no Kuni Miroku about Kochō-chan, and the leader of Oni no Kuni agreed to allow Kochō-chan to train with her daughter Shion. The fact that the two were cousins only helped matters.

While Kochō-chan took on Idate-kun with her barriers and twin blades, Haku-Kun used his Ice Kekkei Genkai to restrict Kiba-kun and his dog partner Akamaru's movements.

Just like that, Kochō-chan used her barrier to smack Idate-kun unconscious, and Haku-kun used his senbon on the Inuzuka duo.

It was over.

Anko appeared in the arena. "Team 10 consisting of Yuki Haku and Shunran Kochō wins! And they will fight individually tomorrow. Team 15 loses and won't continue."

The fight went much as Hiruzen expected it to go. Which did not surprise anybody watching either; it looked like Idate-kun and Kiba-kun would stay genin for a while yet.

*** Team 11 Vs Team 5***

"Would Team 11 and 5 come down," Anko intoned when the arena cleared again. Hiruzen leaned forward a bit and pulled the brim of his hat down – so that the competitors would not see how intently he watched them.

Konoha had a tentative alliance of no regression with both villages. Kusa was used as a base for Iwa's shinobi during the last Shinobi war. But Kusa's ninjas stayed out of it – Konoha respected their decision and surprisingly so did Iwa. But Hiruzen suspected that Iwa's cooperation was more due to the Hōzuki Castle – or Blood Prison as it was more commonly known where Iwa had some shinobi imprisoned.

"The match between team 5, consisting of Nenryō Ryuzetsu and Muku from the Fuiuchi Clan, of Kusagakure," Anko was saying.

Hiruzen watched as the two Kusa genin bowed, a kunoichi with white hair and gray eyes with a circular pattern, a holder of a rare blood-limit - Hiruzen had seen it done when he was young. But it always came with the cost of the Kekkei genkai holder's life. But in return, they could restore a life. Hiruzen's mouth twisted – pity that he doesn't hold this blood-limit; if he did, he'd have revived Minato or Kushina.

Hiruzen then looked at the boy – Muku, like most if the members of the Fuiuchi Clan, was as pale skinned as ivory, with ebony black hair and gray eyes. And he had proficiency with Fire Releases based jutsu, including Hidden Release; Katon: Tenrō the imprisonment technique.

"Versus team 11. Consisting of Hiboshi Sumaru and Hokuto from Hoshigakure."

Hiruzen was eager to see the genin from that village; he wanted to know if that rumor was true, that the shinobi of Hoshigakure received their chakra from a star that had fallen. Considering that their hidden village was in the crater made from a falling star, that lent credence to it.

The Hokage turned his attention to the two Hoshi genin – the boy, and Hiruzen had invested interest into Hiboshi-kun, as he was a distant relative, a cousin twice or thrice removed from Shunran Kochō through her maternal grandparents.

"Begin!"

Both sets of genin jumped back at Anko's proclamation to begin.

The Hiboshi genin slapped their hands into a hand sign along with shouts, "Kujaku Myōhō "– which was used for whatever technique they were about to perform, but sure enough, the lilac chakra manifested in the form of a feather-shaped array behind the Hoshigakure ninjas and spread out from behind them like a peacock's tail feathers, around the two genin. All together, the jutsu looked similar to the Akimichi Clan's butterfly mode – the clan member had gained that ability when converting the calories of his body into the chakra … shaped into butterfly wings on clan member's back.

Nenryō Ryuzetsu's hands blurred and then she called out, "Katon: Onidōrō," and large, as large as the genin herself, fireballs appeared. They were all shaped like demon heads and swarmed toward Hokuto, colliding with him. Hokuto managed to ward off some of the attack with that lilac star chakra, but some still collided with her as well, rending the girl unconscious and on fire. Hiruzen made a move to signal the Anbu to remove the burning genin from arena when Sumaru-kun formed his hands into another sign, "Kemono," and a large canine animal formed from Sumaru's feather chakra. Then it leaped toward Hokuto, dousing the flames, while the beast grew tendrils from its back that wrapped around the Kusa genin and slammed them into the wall.

Fortunately, both the Kusa genin used a substitution jutsu and only two logs fell from indentations on the wall. The lilac chakra beast then jumped and deposited Hakuto on the balcony section where Hoshigakure jōnin sensei was already waiting to receive the fallen genin. After Hokuto was safely out of harm's way – Hiruzen approved of the boy's actions - he signaled Anko to allow the Hoshigakure genin to advance. Not that the Hoshi genin lacked skill – he did have to ward them away from the two skilled Kusa genin.

Suddenly, Anko appeared, just as Muku was thrown into his partner. "Time!" she yelled and the genin stopped the jutsu.

"Team 5 advances. Team 11, Hiboshi- kun, you are advancing as well," Anko ruled.

Sumaru bowed toward Anko, and bowed again, only shallower this time, toward his Kusa opponents; it was a bow that was returned.

"All right," Anko continued, "next up are team 7, consisting of Gaara and Mamushi of Sunagakure versus team 2, consisting of Konoha's Nara Shikamaru and Akimichi Chōji."

There was a whirlpool of sand, and the redheaded Suna jinchūriki stood there, soon joined by a genin with wide opened, bulging eyes with noticeable veins; he also wore almost floor length sleeves. Hiruzen knew that Gaara used sand, like his predecessor.

"Come on then... stop dawdling, you two slowpokes!" Anko called to … ahh Hiruzen shook his head, Asuma's students – and Shikaku's son had this calculating glint in his eye and had his hands in Nara 'thinking' seal.

"We forfeit," Nara Shikamaru called out while Akimichi Chōji nodded and while eating from a bag of chips. Wise decision, Hiruzen ruled.

The Suna genin looked murderous – but after a while, the unstable redhead walked back up the steps, while Mabushi followed a couple of steps behind him.

"Well then," Anko called out, "Suna genin advance forward due to forfeit. Next, team 6 versus team 14, come forward."

"From the Sunagakure genin, two kunoichis stepped forward, one of them was gray-green eyed with long braided light violet hair; she had no visible weaponry. The other had her long light blue hair in two side ponytails and yellow eyes were circled with red pigmented makeup – similar to the perfect Sage Mode, with bright red lipstick, and she was holding an old porcelain doll – the doll was dressed in a formal red kimono with wide lavender obi, with a round white face under black hair in a hime cut."

A puppet user?

With a child's doll?

Usually Suna puppets that shinobi used were bigger – sometimes they eclipsed the user in height and width. This kunoichi's puppet more resembled a noble girl's toy.

Hiruzen then turned his attention to the shinobi of Otogakure – the kunoichi was tall, black eyed, with long black hair that reached the ground and was tied with violet ribbon near the end – not very piratical, her opponent could grab at that, not that said opponent didn't have hair to grab at in return. Oto kunoichi had no visible weaponry.

Her partner however was covered in bandages, most of his face was bandaged – only leaving one eye exposed. The genin's body was clothed in a poncho, and there was some sort of metal contraption on his arm. His back was also hunched over.

"The fight is between Sana and Saya of Suna versus Kin Tsuchi and Dosu Kinta of Oto," Anko announced and jumped away.

***Team 6 Vs Team 14***

"This should be easy, ne Saya One-Sama?" Sana drawled, when the genin squared off. Saya was holding her doll and rubbing her cheek on its hair.

Hiruzen sighed – well trash talking, to rattle the opponents, was valid, but did Suna kunoichi have to be creepy with her doll? Granted, all puppets were always odd or eccentric. Sometimes downright disturbing.

"I'll take the ugly guy," Sana stated.

"No." Saya hugged her doll closer while smiling, her yellow eyes trained on the two Oto genin.

"Then I'll take the girl."

Saya raised a hand, and Sana quieted down. "No. I will curse those two victims before us!"

The doll suddenly grinned – its red painted lips pulled apart and it flew from Saya, guided by the kunoichi's chakra strings toward the Oto genins.

Dosu didn't wait for the doll to reach him, he attacked Saya –

"Kyōmeisen," Dosu shouted right before the doll reached him – the doll shattered and Saya screamed and slapped her hands over her ears, while doubling over and retching– Sound attack?

"Stop it, stop it!" Saya started to scream, "I will make you clean the toilets for hundreds of years!"

Dosu without words did a quick shunshin towards Saya just as the Suna kunoichi recovered for a moment, raising her hands into position similar to that of Yamanaka – while the doll's head collided with Dosu, tearing some hair from the genin.

Mind based Jutsu, Hiruzen heard about the Suna having something like that – this was the first time Hiruzen saw it in action though.

"Kugutsu Modoki no Jutsu! "

"Kyōmeisen!"

There was an explosion – Saya was thrown into a wall by the force of Dosu's sound attack, while Dosu crumpled to the ground, and he did not stand back up.

Then there was quiet.

"Oi maggots, you have two minutes left. Fight!" Anko yelled from the sidelines at the remaining kunoichi who were standing at the side.

Hiruzen watched as Kin threw senbon – she missed and was mocked relentlessly by the Suna kunoichi, but Hiruzen's trained eye noticed something at the end of each senbon. There was a tiny bell attached to it and was swaying; it was being pulled by the Oto kunoichi.

Sana appeared to be dizzy, throwing kunai at Kin but missing her.

"Having a problem?" Kin taunted, "this is my bell ring genjutsu, you cannot find me even if you are a sensor shinobi."

Sana threw a punch at Kin next, missing her and hitting a wall, where it opened and spilled a cloud of sand on the ground.

"Sunaarashi no Jutsu," yelled Sana, and a whirlwind of sand engulfed Kin and expanded through the arena.

That would disperse the sound based genjutsu.

Sana was breathing heavily, while Kin was coughing.

"Time!" Anko appeared between Sana and Kin. "Well done Sana of Suna and Kin Tsuchi of Oto. You are advancing to tomorrow's round."

As the two kunoichis rejoined the other genin from their village, and medic-nin carried off the unconscious genin, Anko opened her mouth again,

"Team 12 and team 9 come down."

***Team 12 Vs team 9 ***

"Team 9 consists of Temari and Kankurō of Suna," Anko announced. "Kazekage's only daughter, and oldest of three children, Temari was carrying a folded Suna battle fan. The genin that followed her was her brother Kankurō." Hiruzen knew that Kankurō was a budding puppet master. He most likely had mastered puppetry.

"Versus, Konoha's Hyūga Hinata and Aburame Shino."

Hiruzen leaned back, regarding the genin as they faced each other. This could either be a short or a long fight, with an uncertain outcome. It depended on luck and whether Shino-kun could stop any of the poisons that puppeteers are fond of coating their puppets in.

Then his eyes widened as he saw the signaling between Aburabme and Hyūga – Hinata-chan would attack Kankurō, while Shino attacked Tamari with his kikaichū, draining her chakra. All of this was based on observations with a byakugan and information gathered from kikaichū.

"Start." Anko slashed her hand through the air, indicating the beginning of the fight.

Veins around Hinata-chan's eyes bulged as she activated her byakugan and unclasped her water canteen. Right, he was getting reports of Team Kurenai training with Haku-kun. And Kurenai did inform him that Hinata-chan had a water chakra affinity. It appeared she trained with that.

Hinata yelled, "Mizu Hari!" Water needles cut the chakra strings that moved Kankurō's puppet, and then Hinata-chan ran and delivered a juken strike straight at Kankurō's stomach. It was a good thing she held back a blow like that, if delivered by Hyūga, it could – and did kill. Either way, Kankurō-kun was out of the fight, and Hinata moved to aid Shino-kun.

Who was doing a very good job in draining the Suna kunoichis' chakra and his own, since Tamari-kun was proficient with her ninjutsu, and she was chasing Aburame and his kikaichū with her battle fan.

And with gentle fist strikes that shut down Temari's chakra coils, the fight was over.

"Kankurō and Temari of Suna are unable to continue. Hyūga Hinata and Aburame Shino win this match!" Anko announced.

Medic-nins rushed to the fallen Kankurō and put him on the stretcher and carried him off to heal him; his older sister was following close behind.

Now there were only two matches left. Six Konoha genin and two genin from Tsukigakure.

Tsukigakure was a funny village that always give strangers and newcomers warm welcomes because of an old ancient legend of the village. The legend went like this: "In a time of war, a wanderer from afar did happen upon Tsukigakure. Great were the trials he endured to drive off the destruction that placed the moon in such peril. He had a noble heart and a spirit bound by none. So was revealed our heroic savior. His name rang with the pureness of his soul. Like unto a gentle breeze."

They never joined a side during war, but they had very powerful defenses; in addition to that, they were located in the region that didn't hold any advantages for warring, and so the other nations left them out of the conflicts.

"Next match is Team 8 versus Team 1."

"Yooosh! My spring time of yooouuuthhhhh!" the green clad genin hollered while Hyūga Neji just shook his head and calmly went down the stairs.

"Can it, green mini brat!" Anko barked, "Right, next match is between team 8 consisting of Hyūga Neji and Rock Lee versus Uzumaki Naruto and Uchiha Sasuke from team 1!"

"It is your Fate that you'll lose," Neji-kun stated to Naruto and Sasuke. It appeared that the young Hyūga still held great resentment toward the main branch of (the) Hyūga clan.

"Here you are again with your girlfriend called Fate," Naruto remarked with his trademark grin, "When will we meet her, ttebayo?"

"Ouuuuuuuuu!" Rock Lee turned to his teammate. "You have a girlfriend, Naji-kun? How youthful!"

Then Lee-kun cupped his hands and yelled, "SAKURA-SAN! PLEASE BE MY GIRLFRIEND, MY SPRING FLOWER OF YOUTHHHH!"

"I refuse!" Sakura-chan yelled back.

"I don't have a girlfriend, and Mitarashi-san, can you please start the match?" Neji deadpanned.

"I'm unsure, Hyūga-san," Anko drawled; it looked like Anko was having a laugh at Hyūga's expense, "wouldn't you like to share some more about Fate?"

Hiruzen's attention however was on Naruto-kun who was shuffling the deck of cards and dropped a scroll that unrolled – the Hokage could not see what this scroll was about but he doubted that the scroll was dropped by accident. Sasuke however shifted slightly so that his right shoulder was almost touching Naruto's left.

Just what were the two planing? Hiruzen pulled his hat forward so that he hid the attention he was giving to Kakashi-kun's two genin.

"All right, all right," Anko laughed, "Begin!" With that, she shunshined away.

***Team 8 Vs Team 1***

Naruto-kun threw kunai, while Sasuke threw senbon, then both of the boys hands slapped into a very familiar hand sign, clone jutsu.

"Shuriken Kage Bunshin no Jutsu," both boys yelled, and the kunai and senbon multiplied.

Rock Lee evaded every impact by running, but Neji-kun stayed at the same place and then …

"Hakkeshō Kaiten."

Neji-kun's chakra spiked as he released chakra from every tenketsu in his body, creating a rotating shield of chakra that tossed away the thrown projectiles.

"Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" that was Naruto – and then his clones swarmed the arena by the thousands – most of them slowing down Rock Lee, and no matter how many Lee-kun dispersed by punching and kicking, Naruto created more.

Sasuke-kun however disappeared– he used the transformation technique and turned into Naruto where he could.

"You are different than the others!" Neji-kun suddenly yelled then rushed at a Naruto that for some reason was wearing a black forehead protector.

Lee-kun, meanwhile, discarded his weights upon Maito's urging and approval and the made the arena shake. He was much faster now, and soon there were only three Narutos left …

"Thanks for the youthful fight!" Lee yelled, "but it's over!"

Both of Maito Gai's genin's fists connected with the bodies of their targets -

Neji-kun's palm strike met with freezing cold, that even Hiruzen felt, as it burst from the point of contact. The Naruto he attacked turned into some sort of seal made of ice, that wrapped around young Hyūga, paralyzing him in ice.

Hiruzen wondered if the clone swarm was meant to exhaust Hyūga's chakra by multiple rotations – after all, that was a pretty consuming chakra technique.

Rock Lee got pinned down by the real Naruto, considering that he could not disperse him by kicking – but judging by the bleeding from Naruto-kun, the kicks had still met the mark and Sasuke-kun knocked him out with a precise blow.

It was over.

Anko reappeared and admired the two genin's handiwork. "Right! That was exciting. Kakashi's brats win! Hey Gai drinks on you."

"Hey whiskers," Anko turned to Naruto-kun, who looked like a panda bear with bruises around both eyes, "thaw Hyūga, will you?"

Naruto just shrugged then attached a tag on the icy surface, which shriveled and then evaporated.

***Team 13 Vs Team 3***

"Right, now for the last match of the day – Tsukigagure's Tsukiko and Itsuko versus Konoha's Haruno Sakura and Yamanaka Ino."

Haruno Sakura, Hiruzen thought as he watched Sakura-chan twirl her bo staff, blossomed into a fine kunoichi.

"Keep it short, girls, will you? I have a date I'd like to get to."

***Two days later in Hokage's office***

Hiruzen was looking at the list of genin that passed the preliminaries and would be fighting in the grand arena for daimyō and other assorted villages, to showcase their skills, so their villages may be hired for jobs.

Konoha had two genin in the finals: Uchiha Sasuke and Uzumaki Naruto. Tsukigakure had one, the chief's daughter Tsukiko. Suna had Gaara, which was not a surprise. Kusa had the kunoichi Ryuzetsu, but Muku, her partner, was in the hospital, gravely injured. Tsunade ensured that he would live and still have his shinobi Carrier, but his opponent was powerful – he fought Gaara and managed to make the jinchūriki bleed. And the boy had paid the price.

The other genin that was in the finals was Kin of Kusa, and right now, she was standing before him with Jiraiya.

Hiruzen blinked. "Jiraiya-kun, doors exist for a reason, and why do you have Kusa limpet with you?"

"Sensei, windows are there for a reason too," Jiraiya said seriously, "for me to enter your office!" Jiraiya laughed and did that silly hopping dance. Then he sobered up and put a hand on the young girl's shoulder.

"Funny thing is, I had an informant without knowing that she was so young. Her mother was my informant but she died in one of Orochimaru's experiments. Young Kin here brought me some information. And she needs safety, since Orochimaru or rather his right hand man Yakushi Kabuto suspects her."

"Are you defecting to Konoha, Kin-chan?"

"Yes, Hokage-sama."

"Well then, safest place for you would be at the very heart of Konoha, the secured ward in the Hospital."

Hiruzen puffed out smoke. "Anbu, bring me my son's genin team, then discreetly shadow all of them as they escort Kin-chan to the hospital."

***Later in Konoha's General Hospital***

'Duelo-papa is going to be so angry when he learns I set off to follow the tug.' There was a minute hesitation when that thought flashed through her mind. But her steps hadn't faltered, regardless.

This was not the first time that Hachimitsu Hachiko felt that ever mysterious tug. The difference this time was that it was more pronounced.

Closer and stronger. Much, much stronger.

The young heiress played with her braid's teal ribbon nervously. Then firmed her resolve and removed the charm that blocked her sensory.

There were many things that hadn't made sense. Like her escorts, Team Gai was missing a female on their team, and instead, there was Morino Idate. Then there was that strange feeling in the air, telling her that something big was coming. Then her arrival to Konoha and the appearance of people that hadn't existed before, that she knew of. And Haku being a Konoha shinobi; she half expected to see Zabuza having a contest in drink with Kakashi or something equally silly. There was also her nausea, she had that every turn of the season, but it was never so intense as it was now. There was never need of her to have to be cut off from her emphatic sensory.

But now, however, there was one thing she could figure out and settle on, aside from the unexpected mysteries that cropped up.

The ever mysterious tugging on her very soul.

She had told her dad about it, but he wasn't happy hearing about it. In fact, he strictly forbid her from looking for it, but she let her curiosity win over, as it was so much stronger here at the hospital.

Hachiko, under her dad's persistence, had gone to the hospital to get another expert opinion. So far, her dad hit a dead end when it came to figuring out why she felt more nauseous and how to prevent it with modern medicine techniques. Lady Suisei had been helpful, but Hachiko had refused to wear a seal that would block off her sensory all the time.

She needed her sensory to keep track of a certain white stalker. She was lucky before that Kochō had been there, no matter how much the purple haired girl confused her. From her very existence to her … well everything. She never met a more chaotic and at the same time calming individual. She probably should include Naruto in that column, though he was still as unpredictable as she remembered he being from 'before'.

Suddenly Hachiko flinched and stopped walking; her sensory was warning her, something was seriously wrong with the tug. It … the person connected to that tug felt fragmented, broken with aggression; madness, desolation, and malice all rested at the edges of the breaks, leaking over, spreading …

The golden haired heiress had half a mind to go forward since she could easily purify those feelings, but she knew better than to move forward and face that person, who ever he or she was.

'I should go back to the waiting room before Duelo-papa comes back from talking with Lady Tsunade as I have nothing to defend myself with. I don't have any senbon on me, and I'm gonna trust my hunch and just walk away before trouble finds me. Of all the days to be without a senbon!'

Even as she thought this, Hachiko turned away from the hall, and she froze as her skin prickled and she felt something grainy harden around her ankle. She was about to pull up her teal chima skirt with the golden embroidery to see what the grainy hardening thing was but she stopped when she felt the tug again, only stronger now. There was a wispy and aggressive chakra approaching her from behind. She became terrified all of a sudden but tried to assure herself to calm down.

'It's not him. It's not. Black Zetsu wouldn't come out in the open and I can't even sense Black Zetsu's chakra so then this is… Oh no.'

She turned slowly to see a boy, a boy she didn't want to meet, not yet at least. Not in his current state of mind. His face was hardened in confusion but he was radiating desolation and anger. Her eyes widened as she saw sand wrap around her waist, and it strangely began to caress her cheek. She trembled in fear; this wasn't a person she wanted to show weakness to but she couldn't help it, this red-haired boy could easily finish her life if he so wanted to.

"Something about you pulls me, what is this?" Hachiko slowly felt her face go pale as the boy spoke, his cold and empty seafoam colored eyes demanding an answer.

"Too afraid to speak?" he asked and walked forward to break the distance between them. Hachiko's face hardened; she felt other people approaching. Not large chakras, but, as long as it was others, she could try something and make a scene. Sure she wouldn't get away without getting hurt but it was better than letting her fear of Subaku no Gaara render her useless. Before she could sign, his face neared hers and he whispered into her ear.

"Fear is a good thing. Mother says you'll be easier to subjugate." Hachiko's eyes flared in anger and that got Gaara to back off a little. She could feel how amused he was by her reaction, could feel the chakra behind his seal, how Shukaku was so easily influencing his mind.

He raised his hand and the sand crushed her arms to her sides. The sand would for sure wrinkle her skirt and her soft, yellow jeogori shirt.

'Duelo-papa is going to have a fit, and it's this Tanuki's fault! Eh' Hachiko's thoughts died as Gaara stepped closer. Now they were centimeters apart. Hachiko stilled as she felt his breath on her skin, and she felt slight prickles as his bijū began to make the air dense in KI.

"My sand likes how you feel," he drawled then his eyes narrowed. "Mother wants to keep you. For what, I'm not sure but you're supposed to make me feel alive."

Hachiko shook in rage. The five individuals who were approaching before stayed just behind the corner, out of sight, waiting or watching she was not sure. But Hachiko could feel that four of them were very nervous but resolve shined through like banked ember. The fifth one, however, was very well collected.

She was certain that they'd have some sort of plan just like she had one too. Focusing all of her spiritual energy, she mixed it with the natural energy; she couldn't see her hands but she knew they were glowing pink under the sand. She focused the energy and fought against the chakra in the sand. Hachiko felt the soul that bonded Chakra to Gaara, and through the sand, felt his seal. The sand let her go and Gaara jumped back as three individuals jumped into the fray

Nara Shikamaru was at the front with Akimichi Choji and Yamanaka Ino …along with dark haired girl with the musical note on her headband … flanking him. She filed the weird sight of Orochimaru's fodder girl away for future contemplation and focused on the here and now.

"I can't move," rasped Gaara, eyes wide in surprise … and with a bit of panic.

"Troublesome," muttered Shikamaru, his hands firmly folded in the signature Nara hand sign, holding the Suna genin in place with his shadow.

"Ino! Kin!"

"Right!" they coursed, then exchanged glares, while jumping into action. Or rather Kin started to throw senbon with bells attached around Gaara, while Ino went through some hand signs.

Hachiko wasn't sure what to do. She froze up until she jumped when she felt someone approach her. It was a soft but also an alert chakra. Her hands quickly moved up and defensively took a stance, not completely trusting who ever was approaching her in the midst of this... attack? Could she even call it that?

"Hey, relax. I need to get you out of here." She stared at Akimichi Choji and she knew he wasn't a bad person; he was helping her. Quickly nodding her assent, he had her follow him down a corridor until he got ready to jump out of the window. Hachiko paused and Choji looked back at her.

"Come on, they can't hold that guy off forever, and Shikamaru specifically said to get you out."

"I can't use chakra," Hachiko replyed shyly, her one fault she was ashamed of. Choji seemed a bit taken back but he nodded figuring out her dilemma.

"Right, you're a civilian. Follow me, give me your hand." Hachiko hesitantly took his hand and followed him. He led her into a stairwell and they began to run down several flights. His speed was nothing compared to hers, but still, running down the stairs was a hazard all on its own and the last thing she needed was an injury to have Duelo-papa fuss over her or worse have Jun-jiji and Mim constrain her to the estate. It was bad enough that she could never go anywhere on her own.

Once the two tweens got to the first floor waiting room area, Hachiko had half a mind to let go of Choji's hand as they ran through.

'I never get to explore on my own; I'm sorry, Duelo-papa, but just this once, I'm going off on my own, besides, he might lead me to answers about that Sound girl, Morino Idate, and if I'm lucky, figure out the mystery that is Kocho.'

Not caring about the consequences that would follow her actions, Hachiko let Choji lead her through the village.

To be continued


Trivia:

Hitshimitsu Hatchiko and her father Duelo are from 's fic Honey&Kunai.

Katon: Tenrō – Fire Release: Prison (Naruto Shippunden Blood Prison Movie, user Mui (and possibly Muku))

Kugutsu Modoki no Jutsu – Puppet Imitation Jutsu (Shippunden Anime filler, user Saya)

Kyōmeisen – Resonating Echo Drill, Dosu's technique used in anime/manga

Sunaarashi no Jutsu – Sandstorm Tecnique (Shippunden Anime Filler, user Sana)

Kujaku Myōhō – Mysterious Peacock Method (Naruto anime filler, user Ninja from Star Village)

Katon: Onidōrō – Fire Release: Demon Lantern ( Naruto Shippunden Blood Prison Movie, user Ryūzetsu)