Author's Note: Thank you so much for reading my first fic. This is normally the point where I ask you to be gentle in your reviews cause it's my first time, but nuts to that. The point of critique is to give constructive feedback and you can't do that while holding my hand. So if you've got to break my heart to point out a glaring flaw, do it. I can take it. I'm a big boy. That being said, reviews that sing my praises are appreciated too. Helps boost my ego and has been linked to speedy releases of chapters.

Balls in your court, reader.

Now please enjoy my first fic…

The Out Man Squad

~Chapter 1~

Somebody once said something about being the odd man out. Of course, nobody remembers what that was, cause people rarely pay attention to that guy. That's the thing about being the third wheel, no one expects anything of you. It makes your few minutes in the spotlight shine all the brighter. People do know what they say about the brightest candle thou, it gets snuffed out the quickest.

But were getting off track now. It's time to get on with the story, which asks the question what happens when you put four out men on the same team? To answer that, we must first start at 10,000 feet in the air on the back of an ink black falcon. Where four ANBU in training were crouching together to try and stave off the high altitude wind chill.

Below them was their mission site. A dense forest filled with rogue ninja, size and strength of their forces unknown. The whole valley was enclosed within a mountain range. No easy way in or out. For weeks, a local village had been reporting monster sightings at night. After the first kid went missing, the village elder had sent a message to the Leaf asking for help. By the time the nameless genin team arrived, the village had been completely razed. Not a trace was left. This prompted the Leaf village to send an ANBU team and the perfect chance for a squad of ANBU-to-be, to prove themselves.

The team, codenamed Copper squad, had been sent in to investigate the valley and report back any new Intel. So far, they had been flying circles around the valley just below the cloud line for a good three hours. Praying to the Sage that their ink black bird would be mistaken as just another part of the nighttime sky. The kunoichi, codenamed Panda, was keeping her eyes on the treetops below. Waiting for Beetle's "little friends" to signal a safe drop zone. One with the least number of hostiles.

There. Near a break in the tree line just big enough for their ride, Panda spotted a cluster of fireflies dancing about. To the casual observer, they were just a cluster of night time bugs. To the bug user in the group, they were his allies and tools. To Copper squad, they were a landing strip.

Panda patted her team leader, codenamed Copper in honor of leading the squad, to get his attention of the fireflies. Copper nodded in acknowledgement and steered the Ink Bird.

Copper had his Ink bird fly in low, just above the tree line. Unlike his usual ink creations, this one was painted completely black to hide against the black nighttime sky. On a cloudy night like tonight, they were a shadow in the sky.

Butterfly got into position. Seeing an opening in the forest roof he dove in and activated the simpler version of his clan's signature jutsu.

Expansion Jutsu! He thought.

Instantly the shinobi puffed up like a balloon and bounced like one too as he hit the forest floor rolling.

He immediately leaped to his feet and did a perimeter sweep of the clearing. Sensing no hostile forces, he radioed two blips, giving the all clear.

Copper then landed the ink bird down in the clearing. While Panda sealed the large bird in a scroll in case the team needed to make a fast exit later, Copper briefed the team using military sign language.

Butterfly and Beetle will head north, Panda and I will move south. Once you are within radio limit, head west until we reach the other side of the valley and we will rendezvous at the base of the mountain range to plan our next sweep of the valley. Basic ninjutsu only. No clan techniques that could give away our-

Before Copper could continue he was interrupted by Butterfly. "Oy, Sai, can you just say what you mean? It's hard enough to understand you in the pitch black but I can't see anything out of these stupid masks."

He was met with a quick slap over the head by Panda. "Will you shut it Choji! We're supposed to be covert on this mission. Stealth and silence is key." She quoted from the team's earlier briefing with Lady Tsunade.

"I think you'll find that your yelling is even more counterproductive." Beetle whispered. "Why? Because it creates a loud noise that will alert the enemy to our presence."

Panda glared at Beetle giving off a pissed off look. How she managed that through a mask, Beetle and Copper would never know. "Oh don't you start, Shino." Panda hissed at him. "I swear, I trade one tiresome teammate for a-mfph

Panda was cut off from her low volume rant by Copper (Sai) placing his palm over her mouth. Which was a bit redundant considering that they still had masks on, but he message was clear.

Shut.

Up.

Copper looked at each of the three rookies under him. All three of them had been hailed as the top ninja of their generation. Nearly a year after the 4th Shinobi War, the Konoha 11 had gained notoriety as the pillar of the Leaf's next generation of ninja. While the older generation had struggled to maintain order. The Konoha 11 had carried the Leaf. Each member was beginning to take up leadership positions in the Leaf. This had in turn inspired the rest of its allies. Particularly the younger generations to step up their game. Like it or not, the three ninjas who stood before him were now symbols and inspirations. But they sure as hell weren't acting like ones.

"I should not have to say this. This is not your old teams or their old missions. Even if it was, I'd still be expecting better from all of you. Now keep quiet and pay attention." Sai commanded.

Panda looked down at her feet in disappointment. She knew he was right and it was hard to argue with Sai when he got like this. All commanding and serious like.

Still it just bugged her. Here she was on the last trial of the ANBU exams, away from her old team and all the big shots in her circle of friends. This was her one chance to prove herself worthy of joining the ranks of ANBU. And one of her rare chances to impress her idol Lady Tsunade.

Yet here she is with the rest of the third wheels on the least imposing mission of the lot.

Deep down, she couldn't shake the sense that Tsunade was once again playing favorites with her star pupil and her surrogate son.

Sure the two of them were the most qualified for that particular mission; and their skills were undeniable; plus they definitely had her respect…it's just…she could have handled it too if given the chance.

If that wasn't bad enough, it was nothing compared to the Hokage giving the second highest ranking mission to none other than the squad of missing nin who only recently joined their ranks. Sasuke and his merry band of rogue ninja (the Giant, the Freak, and the Bitch; she liked to call them): who went around doing whatever they damn well pleased for years suddenly decide that they want to join the Leaf and they get sent on the 2nd most important mission the ANBU had to offer for their final exam.

But for Panda and the rest of her squad? They get the crappy reconnaissance mission. They weren't even allowed to engage the enemy should they find them. Just observe and report.

And you just know that they weren't the preferred men for the job. All of them were leftovers meant to fill space. Had the rest of their peers from the Konoha 11 not been pursuing different career paths, they would have been selected for this mission instead.

Hinata would have been selected for her Byakugan so that she could scan the whole valley for any threats and to find their target from the safety of Sai's bird.

Ino, likewise, could have done surveillance with her mind transfer jutsu. Or at least could have kept a mental link going between her squad mates.

And you just know that Shikamaru's genius would have been invaluable to any squad.

But Panda…all she had was an endless supply of kunai to throw at the enemy. How did she measure up?

Even her teammate Lee was considered more of a powerhouse than she was. And he couldn't cast ninjutsu to save his life. Literally.

Thinking of Lee always made Panda's thoughts drift back to her old team. Of her youthfully old sensei Guy and of…

…Neji…

Both of them gave great sacrifices to win the last war. Guy's body would never be the same. He would forever be bound to that wheelchair. He always smiled at his pupils when she and Lee came to visit. But every once in a while when he was certain that neither of them were looking. Panda would see Guy look down at his broken body and be…disappointed? Disgusted? Panda wasn't sure which. She would never ask Lee about it. Her teammate was strong. But she knew how much he looked up to Guy sensei. He saved Guy from the clutches of death. He needed to believe that his sensei was unshakable.

That's the thing about tragedy and loss. It stays with you. Say what you want about the genin squad system. Those three other idiots on your team become your family. And no other squad will ever quite measure up to your first.

Damn it. She wasn't a genin fresh out of the academy anymore. She was a fully realized chunin kunoichi god damn it. Yet here she was about to break that one rule in the shinobi handbook that nobody followed. She didn't cry when she learned about Lee shattering half his limbs. She didn't cry when…Neji…came back with that hole in his chest. When they thought he might die. Or that he would never recover enough to walk without crutches. She had faith that they would recover and that kept the tears at bay. But now Neji was actually dead (from an even larger hole in his chest, go figure) and Guy sensei would never walk again. Her team was torn to shreds and so was her barrier.

So she gave in and let herself have one private moment right there in front of her new teammates.

Thank the Sage for her mask so that none of them would see it.

She let one tear slip while watching Sai continue his briefing in sign language. Choji had removed his mask to see more clearly. And Shino stood perfectly still in his usual stoic manner. Both of them were focusing on everything Sai was saying (or signing).

-Plip-

Panda's eye's widened. She was the undeniable weapons expert of the Konoha 11. She knew the insides, outsides, and in-betweens of every make, model, and version of every kind of ninja weapon you could care to name. And over a dozen you didn't even know existed. She had practiced with kunai in all kinds of conditions to get to know the feel to throwing them in every possible scenario.

Like in the rain for instance.

Her trained ears knew the sound of a drop of rain hitting the side of a kunai the same way Sakura would know the sound of a heart murmur.

The problem was, there was no rain. Only her tears, dripping down her chin.

Conclusion.

Tenten knew that there was a knife hovering over her neck. And no doubt an enemy hidden right behind her.

Author's Note: Whoops, did I just finish the first chapter of my first fic with a cliffhanger?

I think I f*cking did! I know what'll fix that thou…

A flashback chapter!

AHHAHAHAHAHAHAA!