Author's Note: Gotta thank formerly tonyblu, now discontinuedprojects since he took an indefinite break from writing fanfiction all together, for betaing this and every chapter so far. Even if he hates how I abruptly cut my sentences off.

And it drives him up the wall.

I don't own Naruto. If I did, I would have released the good ending by now.

~Chapter 6~

Back at the present time...

Panda was leaping through the trees as fast as her night vision would allow, followed closely behind by Butterfly.

No wait, they weren't Panda and Butterfly anymore. Those were ANBU codenames. They had just failed their ANBU try-outs right at the start of their final exam. Months of staving off hypothermia and the overwhelming urge to cave in the skulls of drunken villagers she was supposed to be waiting on with the blunt end of a kunai had been wasted. The promise that she had made to her former sensei was wasted. She had let him down. She let her idol Lady Tsunade down. She would soon have let her parents down, who were so proud of their youngest daughter being the first in their family to make ANBU. But worst of all she had let her teammates down. Not just the rest of Copper squad, but every one of the Konoha 11, her friends. All of them had been together for so long since the chūnin exams she couldn't help but think of all of them as her extended team, her family. Especially Lee. He was her longest surviving teammate. They had been classmates in the academy together. Even if she hadn't paid him any mind until they were put on a genin squad together and even then she was drawn more to Neji at the start (him being the Rookie of the Year back then), he was her closest brother-in-arms.

Tenten remembered the months after the war when the Leaf council was attempting to get their forces back in order. When the fate of their now two man squad remained in doubt. There was talk of splitting the two up and cycling them into other squads that had only lost one member or promoting them both straight to jōnin instructors and giving them their own genin to lead. Neither of them felt up to the task of teaching though. Not yet anyway. Then Lee came sprinting towards her on his hands to tell her about the ANBU exams. A chance for the two of them to stay together and make their sensei proud.

"Stupid Sai." Tenten thought. "Who is he to fail me?"

It wasn't fair. It just wasn't fair.

Gold squad and Silver squad got actual experienced ANBU captains to lead them. Guys who knew how to properly lead a squad, not this ROOT foot soldier. Sai was a lot of things, but a squad leader was not one of them, that was for certain. He only got the position because all the other ANBU captains were taken and he had the most black ops experience.

No doubt the other teams were breezing through their mission assignments under competent leadership.

Tenten thought about how all her other peers were going to make ANBU before she could. Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke; the three new powerhouses of the Leaf would no doubt soar through the ranks and each make captain in a year, followed by the rest of Sasuke's merry bunch of misfits. And not to forget Kiba and Lee… she was going to lose her best friend just like she feared she would. If he wasn't on a squad with all their old friends he would be placed on a new squad, he was bound to make new friends. Surely they would have to get used to his eccentric personality, his overly enthusiastic rants about youth, his tendency to overwork himself to the point of exhaustion, and how all that training made his back look like a jigsaw puzzle when he took off his disgusting green jumper in the river that one time and - where was she going with this?

Tenten blushed at her own train of thought. Why was she having this kind of thoughts about Lee? He was her best friend, her teammate but that's all that he was. Plus, the guy was an idiot; an overwhelmingly enthusiastic idiot whose antics exhausted Tenten every single, damned time she was around him. She just didn't want to be separated from her last teammate from her original squad.

That was all.

Back at the Leaf village, in the Konoha Hospital emergency care ward.

Lee sneezed, enough to jar his injuries and wake him up. The Blue Beast of the Leaf issued a soft groan before the pain medication eased him back to sleep.

Back at the mission site with Tenten and Chōji.

Come to think of it. Shino was still in the running for an ANBU position. Sai hadn't called him out on using his clan jutsu. Shino was always the quiet type, so of course he would have no trouble going unnoticed. Hell, he'd be perfect for ANBU work. He'd screw up a mission and get himself caught, then by the next morning none of the enemies would even remember him. Tenten wondered to herself why they hadn't tried to recruit him into ANBU before he even became a genin. It sounded like the perfect fit.

Getting back on track, Tenten leapt down to the base of the Willow tree and skidded to a halt. She was joined by Chōji about ten seconds later, in time to catch her punching the Willow tree with all her might.

"ARGH!" Tenten yelled at the tree.

The first punch hurt as Tenten had stripped herself of the ANBU gloves before beginning. She needed to feel this. She needed to punish herself. How could she fuck up such a simple mission so quickly?

The second punch also hurt. Her bare knuckles digging into the bark. The third punch hurt less, as did the fourth and fifth. Soon she couldn't feel it at all. Just the tree trunk cracking under her barrage of fists. Had she been Sakura, Tenten probably would have knocked the whole damn tree down in one blow because she was so much fucking better at everything.

Now anyone, even with Sai's social skills could understand that Tenten was upset. But only her close friends could tell just how significant that punch was. For one thing, it was a punch. Tenten never punched anything, she had maces for that. She was the weapons specialist. That was her whole thing. She never risked her hands like that. She needed them to wield weapons. Failing the ANBU exam must really be eating at her.


"Don't start Chōji. I don't need this right now." She gave the poor trunk one final whack.

"Actually, I think you do." Chōji stated with a conviction he hadn't felt since the war.

"I get how you must feel right now. I failed too."

"No. You don't." Tenten choked out through bitter tears, her whole tough girl act was crumbling all around her. She didn't dare turn around to let her teammate see her like this. She was the tomboy of the Konoha 11. The last girl to cry. She never let this persona slip; maybe with her mom, or off duty with the girls around an open tub of cookie dough ice cream, or Lee if she couldn't help it. Never to a fellow ninja though.

"You don't know what it's like. I didn't just lose my shot at being ANBU. I don't even care about that. I lost my last chance to stay with my teammate."

Choji just stood there. Years of listening to Ino's rants had taught him when it was best to just listen to a woman rather than respond.

"Neji is dead. Guy-sensei is crippled for life. And now Lee is gonna join a new ANBU team, leaving me all alone!" Tenten sniffed.

Again, Chōji just let Tenten get it out of her system. She needed this. Ninjas, no matter their gender, all had their breaking points. Whether it be after days and nights of endless fighting or just a harsh dose of reality. That stupid rule about ninjas never shedding tears during missions was set up by old farts who didn't want soldiers completing their missions, they wanted tools. Well, ninjas weren't tools; they were people. That was something every ninja had to learn if they wanted to keep their sanity in check. That didn't mean that a ninja would allow his comrade to just fall to ruins though.

"Here's the thing, Tenten. I do know what you are going through."

"No you don't."

"Yes, I do. I've lost my old squad too. Don't you remember?"

Tenten's eyes shot wide open. Of course, how could she forget?

"My sensei Asuma died fighting the Akatsuki. And my teammates and best friends had to resign from the ninja corps for a few months to deal with their clan politics after their fathers died during the final battle of the 4th war."

Every word felt like a punch in the gut to Tenten. The fact that he had to remind her of his own tragedy like this. That she had forgotten…

"So my team has been disbanded. Ino joined the ANBU torture and interrogation branch while Shikamaru joined the 12 Guardians, leaving me all alone."

At this point Chōji actually started chuckling to himself.

"It's funny. We've always been the best team, yet I was always the odd man out. This was supposed to be my thing. My chance to shine and… and I screwed it up."

Chōji scratched the back of his head and looked around, trying to be nonchalant as possible. Tenten had given into her fatigue and slumped down onto her butt. The two of them just stood there and sat for a good few minutes. After a minute, Tenten's sobs went silent.

"I'm sorry."

"It's fine."

"No it's not."

"No, it is."

Tenten sighed. Her experience with boys her age taught her that this was an argument she wasn't going to win. You have to throw them a bone sometimes. Her mother used to tell her.

"So, what now?" Tenten wiped her tears before facing Chōji.

Chōji stood ten feet away from her, shifting his neck and his shoulders from side to side, hoping to get a good crack in.

"Well I don't know about you, but I'm thinking of pulling a Naruto."

"Doing something stupid and getting punched by Sakura?"

"No. Screwing orders and doing what I think is right." Tenten made an 'oh' face.

"ANBU or not, there still are villagers out there missing and having God knows what done to them. I came here to find out what happened to them and that's exactly what I'm going to do."

The weapons mistress couldn't help but crack a smile. Here she was bawling her eyes out and this guy had already decided to do the noble and heroic thing.

She turned around and was greeted to a leaned over Chōji extending his hand out to help her up.

"When did you turn out all heroic and inspiring?"

"When my friends needed a pick-me-up." Tenten smirked.

Chōji lifted her up to her feet and she began to dust her butt off.

"Alright Mr. Pick-Me-Up, what's the plan?"

"I saw some steam coming out of a clearing a few clicks south of here. In the area we determined was a swamp. This whole skirmish with the bandits got me thinking of something my old team discovered one time we were dealing with a bandit camp. I figure it's as good a place as any to start looking."

Tenten cocked her head to the side to get a better angle at what Chōji was pointing at. A small clearing through the trees showed three plums of steam rising from what was most likely a swamp of some kind. The steam being lightly illuminated by the moonlight coming through a break in the clouds.

She nodded. "Sounds like a plan. You lead the way."

The big man gave his own nod before strapping his mask to his belt and taking off towards the swamp. Followed closely behind by his new partner in crime.


Back with the active members of Copper squad and their prisoners.

"Fucking Leaf scum!"

It was the last words of another thug.

Sai held the man's head upright by his hair, exposing his neck for a clean slice. Like crossing out mistakes on a student's answer sheet, Sai methodically moved on to the next prisoner strung up on the trunk without even waiting for the last one to finish choking on his own blood.

The captives struggled with their restraints as best they could, but the veterans in the group knew it was pointless. They had seen countless executions during their years as rogue ninjas. Some were perpetrated by them onto others, sometimes to their own friends and all they could do was try and maintain their dignity in their final moments.

One of the greener recruits however, was thrashing about for all he was worth; desperate to escape. His name was Hitomu, a young, rogue ninja hailing from the Land of Lightning. Despite being a missing nin, he was too insignificant to merit a page in his country's own bingo book. He had left his home village after his promotion to genin was denied since he thought himself strong enough to venture out of his village's safe haven into the great wide open world. Even if he hadn't quite mastered the art of transformation his taijutsu skills were adequate enough to help him survive in the world through bodyguard work and join a couple of gangs. How he got here, though,was irrelevant for this was how, a single dream and his story were going to end. A fifteen years old executed by a member of the Konoha ANBU black ops then left in a shallow grave or a ditch.

His mother would never learn the truth about his final moments. It all seemed so pathetic when put into context. All he could do is beg for his life. The emotionless ANBU mask responded by placing his free palm over Adrian's mouth, with his thumb wrapped under his jaw to keep the mercenary's mouth shut until his final moments. The ANBU pushed upwards right underneath Hitomu's nose, forcing his head back into the tree trunk. The tip-less blade held in the ANBU's other hand and pressed against the boy's throat. One quick motion and it would all be over and so, Hitomu closed his eyes to wait for the lethal slice that would never come.

"Enough." Shino spoke aloud.

Sai turned his head to face his subordinate who had dared to grab his shoulder.

"Stand down, Beetle. You wanted to become ANBU? This is what we do."

"Maybe it is what Root did, but I am a Leaf ninja first, and we never took life unnecessarily. Not when we could help it."

Sai lowered his sword from the young rogue's neck (to Hitomu's great relief) and stood up to face his new teammate. He went silent for a few moments, to articulate a planned response he probably read somewhere on how to defuse morally outraged comrades.

"Grow up Beetle. The Leaf only gets to play the role of morally outstanding military force because of shadows like me. Like us. If you don't have the stomach for this line of work, then say so and I will personally fail you now and complete the mission myself."

"You should fail me. I used my clan's jutsu to gain victory just like Chōji and Tenten. We had to. Why? Because you, our squad leader, left the three of us hung out to dry against a platoon of enemy combatants."

"I issued you all your orders and the rules of engagement when the mission began."

"You couldn't have done that before we touched down? On the bird ride here, through verbal commands? Giving us ample time to review our orders and voice concerns."

"It always sounds so simple in hindsight, but the fact remains that I issued the orders and you failed to follow through with them. All of you."

"This team is new. As a squad leader, you need to accommodate for our lack of insight to how ANBU missions are carried out. That is the whole point of this assignment. If you can't do that, then our failures fall upon you equally."

"Uh, excuse me? Did you say the Leaf?"

The two ANBU ninjas turned their heads towards the offending prisoner who interrupted them. Who turned out to be the same thug who had attacked Shino with a shovel: finally awoken after passing out from the pain of having his face thrown into a burning tree.

"No, you are mistaken." Sai replied before stepping towards the captive to silence him forever.

"Wa-wa-wait! Wait! We hired you! My father! My father, Ichigo Rein, he asked the Leaf to come help us!" This stopped Sai in his tracks, good thing too, his blade was already pressed against the man's Adam's apple.

"If that's true, then what were you doing attacking us?" Shino gave the so called son of the village chief a stern look.

"I had no choice. The gangsters, they kidnapped all of my people. The women and children were held hostage and the men they didn't take away had to help the thugs fight off any invaders. They threatened our families!"

"Shut your fucking mouth, scumbag!" One of the thugs yelled. "Don't breathe another word to those Leaf dogs or I swear to God I will- THUNK!

At that moment, Sai had flicked his wrist to launch a kunai at the thug which penetrated his skull without Sai having to even take his eyes off of the villager.

"Hold on… You said the men they didn't take away? Who did they take away?"

"I don't know, it was all random or so it seemed! All of them were healthy men, though. Mid-twenties at least. None of them sick or elderly. They took them from their cells, ripped them right out of the arms of their families! We never saw them again. That was a few weeks ago, I think. They don't let us out of cells to go on patrol during the daytime. It's so-so confusing!"

Sai and Shino shared a glance, both of them knew this could easily be a trick. A fabricated story to let them drop their guard and release the man. They could take him if he fought them, but if he ran and he got away, he could warn his buddies about them. If that happened, their element of surprise would be completely shot and they'd have to abandon the mission. That was unacceptable.

Sai took a closer look at the man, he had learned through books that you could usually tell if someone was lying by the looks on their face. It was always something subtle, but this man was a civilian, he wasn't trained like shinobi were to lie.

He studied the man's face, taking in every detail. His round jaw, his almost childlike face, his stern expression that beheld piercing blue eyes. So much so like a certain someone that Sai knew. A man who had broken Sai out of this emotional shell all those years ago. It was uncanny, the man before Sai looked like a whiskerless, brown haired Naruto.

Sai sheathed his sword. "What is your name?"

"Kaneda. Kaneda Rein."

Sai made a quick hand sign and an ink based Shadow Clone oozed to life.

"Alright Kaneda," Ink Sai untied the ropes binding him. "Come with us, we have much to discuss."

The trio walked over to behind a rather thick oak tree, leaving the Ink Clone to watch over the prisoners.


With Chōji and Tenten…

The duo was tree hopping through the woods with Chōji leading the charge. By now their eyes had fully adjusted and there was a break in the clouds to make navigating the midnight terrain manageable.

It was a shinobi's forte to use all their senses when traversing hostile territory. By channeling chakra into their eyes they could improve their night vision and depth perception. With the same trick they could enhance their hearing to catch a twig snapping on the ground even while they were soaring through the tree branches. This caused Chōji to issue the 'hide' command to Tenten, who followed him as he dropped down into the bushes.

Chakra could also be used to silence a ninja's fall. Using the same principle as the walk-on-water technique, shinobi could release chakra through the soles of their feet to create a cushion of air.

Tenten landed next to Chōji and peeked her head over the bushes to get a better look at the patrol the two of them had stumbled upon. A ragtag group of mercenaries clothed in similar garb as the men who had attacked them earlier stood no more than thirty yards away from where they were hidden. Even from this distance, Tenten could tell that the group was struggling. Stumbling through the dark, blind as bats and pissed off about it too. Based on the amount of noise they were making, she knew that they hadn't noticed the two ninjas yet.

Safe. They haven't spotted us.

"Tenten." Spoke a voice behind her.

Tenten whipped her head back at Chōji, about to scold him for breaking silence while they were a stone's throw away from the enemy. Until she realized how stupid that would be.

"You notice anything odd about that group?" He whispered.

Tenten thought about it for a moment and then sneaked another peek at the bumbling idiots.

It's definitely too soon for them to be the guys we took down from before. Even if they did overpower Sai and Shino, they would be heading towards their hideout. Either to store their prisoners or to deal with their wounded. These guys are walking without a purpose, just wandering around. From the looks of their clothing, they have been wandering around for days, maybe weeks, in the outdoors. Which means…

"They're not with the group that attacked us." Tenten hissed back.

"My thoughts exactly. If I had to guess, I'd say they were once in the same group, but had a falling out."

"That's a pretty bold statement."

"Well you know. You hang out with Shikamaru enough and you start to pick up on some things."

"Don't tell me this is what you wanted to check out."

"No, this was just dumb luck. It's interesting, but not what I was looking for. That is still two hundred yards that way." Chōji whispered while pointed towards the opposite direction where the thugs were headed.

"Guys, I think I heard something!" The shinobi froze, careful not to make a sound.

"Oh blow it out your ass, Baal! We're not stopping every time you hear a squirrel!"

The two flash stepped away before anyone from the think tank got wise. They appear shorty after at the shore of a decent sized pond where the three plums of steam were coming from. At the base of the plums Tenten could spot clouds of bubbles breaking the surface of the water, like the jets in a Jacuzzi. During all of this, Chōji was kneeling next to the water's surface, his arm shifting through the algae.

"Hey Tenten, take a look at this." Chōji handed her a dead fish.

Tenten took it in her hands and gave it a thorough once over. It was a tiny little bass with glassy eyes and a sickly look about it. It was the same type of fish that Tsunade used in her evaluation of a ninja's medical potential. Tenten should know, she had failed that stupid test three times already. She could never quite control her chakra enough to use the Mystic Palm technique. That didn't mean she hadn't learned from her failures though. All those tests made her unintentionally good at spotting a fish suffering from asphyxiation.

"This fish suffocated. It literally drowned in the pond, probably because of increased levels of CO2 based on the discoloration of the fish's lips."

"I thought so. That's not all either." Chōji stuck his finger into the pond and tasted it. "There's a distinct metal taste to the water. Whatever they are pumping into water is industrial grade toxic."

"I'm sorry, did you say pumping?"

"Yeah. Back when I was in Team Asuma, we were hunting down some gang hideout in a thick jungle I can't remember the name of. Those guys were well versed in guerilla warfare and had these pipe systems that released all their smoke from cooking fires miles away from their hideouts. So we dug up the pipes and…"

No doubt for some dramatic flair, Chōji leapt to the middle of the pond and landed on top of the water's surface thanks to the walk-on-water technique. He then preformed the necessary hand signs for his clan's signature technique, the Expansion Jutsu, which he applied to his right arm, expanding it down far beyond the murky depths until he pulled out a long industrial grade pipe with a nozzle on the end.

"…it led us right to the bad guy's hideout."

Author's Note: I know that this was supposed to be a fic dedicated to the underappreciated characters from the Konoha 11. Even though up until this chapter, over half the chapters have been about all the other main characters from the series, making my original intention moot.

Well no more.

This is day one of year one. This story is gonna focus more on Copper squad now more than ever before.

Unless it suits the story, in which case we will return to the side story of Gold or Silver squad. Cause they are important to the story, just not the main heroes. The thing is that the way I see it, after the war, all of Team 7's story has been told. They all achieved their goals for the most part. Their demons were faced and defeated. Nothing left to do but pair off and have a bunch of kids before moseying along into the sunset. The rest of the Konoha 11 though, they have some fleshing out to do. They aren't destined to become Hokage or Head Medic or whatever it is that Sasuke does. They gotta find their own calling that doesn't involve becoming a school teacher or a weapon's trader during peacetime. And there is no way that peacetime will come peacefully. Again, not to say that Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke won't be involved, but the three of them are far too OP to allow for any kind of tense storyline without introducing an equally OP OC.

On an updated related note, I'm gonna try my damnedest to get the 7th chapter out before classes start on September 8th. I'll be taking 18 credits this semester so it'll be a miracle if I can update the 8th chapter before Christmas break. I will have time to answer any reviews or PMs that are sent to me though. So in the long weeks ahead of me when I find myself enjoying a bit of free time those reviews will encourage me to get off my butt and type up a few sentences.