In which the D-rank situation becomes untenable, Minato and Lee eat what is no doubt a ridiculously unhealthy amount of ramen, and Jiraiya witnesses drastic measures the likes of which he's never seen.
Lee was very familiar with her D-ranks.
Although she hadn't known it she had been acquainted with D-rank missions nearly all of her life. The Dursleys just had never bothered to actually call them that, in retrospect they hadn't referred to them as anything, there was just that order to "get to it, girl" and if she didn't get to it fast enough she was thrown back into her cupboard for being an ingrate.
The Dursleys were very fond of asking her to jump and expecting her to respond 'how high', only non-verbally because the Dursleys also didn't approve of talking back.
Still, things like pulling weeds, cleaning gutters, walking Aunt Marge's terrifying dogs without somehow getting eaten, vacuuming while Dudders was watching television, cooking breakfast, and basically everything and anything that apparently fell under the category of D-rank she'd done pretty much every day of her life while she'd lived in Surrey.
What no one had bothered to tell them in the academy was that genins were D-ranks' little bitches. If they had then no one would ever in their right mind want to be a genin and your only hope once you were a genin was that your sensei took pity on you and gave you some C-ranks and that you passed your chunin exams quickly.
No one had said, either, that apparently using jutsus to make everything go faster and just generally be more efficient was also cheating.
"I don't understand." Lee's arms were filled with the demon howling cat that went by the name of Tora, which had apparently been plaguing Konoha since its founding and possibly before (which was a major sign if there was any that Konoha was in some bizarre fake reality), and belonged to the fire daimyo.
The cat had put up a good fight, for about two seconds before Lee had summoned it to her with the very handy and infinitely useful 'grabbing no jutsu' that she'd developed long before she even knew what a jutsu was.
So what had been slated to take all morning had taken about two seconds; this was after the first three D-ranks which were also supposed to have taken all morning and had also only taken about two seconds each. After the third time stepping into the hokage's office for a D-rank the old man had started to stare at their sensei with a very odd expression on his face.
Their sensei had apparently just reached his limit, "You can't just use ninjutsu for everything. There's going to come a day where your… grabbing jutsu… isn't going to work and you're going to have to try something else."
"Then I'll use a different jutsu." Lee said, because if there was anything she'd learned over the years it was that there was an infinite number of jutsus and chances were she could develop one on the fly to help the situation. As if in agreement to that sentiment the angry cat let out a howl and continued its struggles for freedom.
"No, you're missing the point, squirt." The man sighed, running a hand through thick and spiky white hair, "Alright, pop quiz, why do we do D-ranks?"
Lee blinked at him, she actually had no real idea, her best guess was that somebody had to do it and since the jonin weren't doing it and the chunin weren't doing it that meant the genin had to do it because there was nobody lower on the ninja totem pole.
However, Lee had been around long enough to know that probably wasn't the answer that the man was looking for. The last time she'd given an answer like that, in her history essay on why the Shodaime hokage Senju Hashirama was the greatest hokage ever, she'd just written 'because my textbook said so' until it'd filled up a page. She'd failed the essay and had detention for failing to grasp the Will of Fire (which she'd learned was something akin to the True Spirit of Christmas and was a truly baffling concept which she still didn't quite get).
Ninjas, as a rule, never straight out asked you what they wanted or expected you to return with the real answer. They were all about underneath the underneath as it went.
So Lee went for her bag of Will of Fire words that usually got Minato better grades on essays than her, "Teamwork."
"…Well, that's actually sort of right." Their sensei said, looking somewhat stunned that she'd managed to give him what he wanted, but then his eyes narrowed, "Wait a minute, why teamwork?"
"Because my comrades are important… And doing petty tasks like catching rabid cats aids in the glory of Konoha." This apparently, judging by his expression, wasn't the right answer to his question so Lily tacked on the only thing that might save her, "And the Will of Fire."
This apparently was also not the right answer and it was at this point in her floundering that Minato decided to save her ass and say what she was supposed to say the entire time.
"We're learning how to work together as a team to complete various tasks, even ones we don't necessarily find interesting or see the importance of." Minato said with a cheery grin, his blinding smile overriding Lee's own failure to answer.
"Namikaze, good answer. Eru, terrible answer." Their sensei summarized, pointing at Minato then at Lee in turn.
"Alright, here's why we do D-ranks. One, you're not ready for real missions yet, because you're twelve and tiny. Two, like Minato-kun said you guys need to learn to work together as a team and it's best to get that down now before you get out in the field and it's actually important. Three, you have to learn patience and to try out new methods. Now, tell me why you can't just grab the cat?"
He was looking directly at her, his dark eyes burning, practically daring her to say the incorrect answer, "…The Will of Fire?"
Lee closed her eyes and thought about it, truly thought, and let her memories drift to those long ago days when she used to watch television over Dudder's fat shoulders and learned the various moral values that still sometimes guided her today. Then, all at once, she realized, "Oh, it's like Karate Kid."
"Karate Kid?" Jiraiya asked looking a bit stumped at the reference.
"Daniel-san is a dweeby newcomer genin from another village who gets beat up by the various rookies of the years. In order to improve his standing in the academy and not get his ass handed to him he seeks out and manages to convince an old taijutsu master in the area to teach him the ancient art of karate. Unfortunately, instead of teaching him badass jutsu the old man makes him wax his car and paint his fence. Every day it's wax on and wax off and Daniel-san gets kind of fed up by it, but he eventually realizes that these tedious and petty tasks are actually teaching him taijutsu. This, along with several touchy feely moments, allows Daniel-san to master the crane kick which wins him the academy spar. Although he still has to live with the shame of getting his ass handed to him by small village genin."
There was a moment of silence before the man said, "…Yes, it's exactly like that."
He then clapped his hands together and gave her a somewhat pointed look, "So, you know what you have to do now?"
"…Wax cars?" Lee asked in English but their sensei just grinned and shook his head.
"Release the cat."
Unfortunately Lee's realization did not stop the wave of D-ranks and as they progressed the D-ranks became things that weren't so easily accomplished such as babysitting or else Inuzuka dog walking (which was all too reminiscent of Aunt Marge's beasts from hell). And after two weeks of nothing but D-ranks Lee called an emergency council meeting in her and Minato's shared apartment.
(On leaving the orphanage, after becoming genin, she and Minato had looked at their meager earnings and decided that if they wanted to have ramen on a nightly basis and make sure it wasn't instant it would be best if they just shared an apartment.
Lee thought this was a perfectly sensible solution and Minato didn't seem too bothered.
Their landlord seemed strangely uncomfortable with the situation and whenever she or Minato left would always stare at them silently with a particularly twisted expression on his face.)
The relatively expensive tea was steaming in cups, the ramen had been purchased and placed in front of them, and behind them a map of the elemental nations loomed in large. This was where and how all of their greatest and most life altering decisions were made and though the village might never realize their significance it was clear to both Minato and her that these moments were what decided the fate of the village.
"Comrade Minato, something must be done about the D-rank stagnation, the situation is insupportable."
Comrade Minato said nothing, instead stared across at her with that stony sober expression he only gained in the most serious of circumstances, and instead sipped his tea as he thought over the severity of the situation.
"Jiraiya-sensei has assured us that after we have progressed through a number of D-ranks we will have a C-rank mission." Minato mused but even as he said it the fact that they were having this meeting made it more than clear that the possibility of a C-rank was not enough.
"I suggest we resort to drastic measures." Lee said, meeting Minato's eyes, and watching as they hardened and became sharp as kunai at her words. For drastic measures truly were drastic and they had only called on them rarely in the past.
"I suggest we release the clones."
Both fell into strained silence after her words, the shadows seemed to grow more stark, the electric light dimmed, and the room seemed to warp as if the genjutsu was pulling it apart from the corners and stretching it thin.
"Perhaps, Comrade Lee, before we resort to such actions we might call in the consultants. There may be angles we have yet to consider, opportunities we've overlooked."
Between the two of them, between Minato and Lee, there rarely were paths they overlooked. If there were it was for lack of knowledge and resources. She knew, that he knew, that they may be forced to paths they would rather not take regardless of the advice of others. Still, this was why there was a council, this was why it was Minato and Lee and not just Lee alone in a cupboard.
If he had an idea that was different than hers, even if it didn't work, she would take it.
If anyone asked Nara Shikaku what he thought about Namikaze Minato he would remind them that to know Minato one must first know Lee. When they asked him about Eru Lee he would give them the shortest response he could possibly think of, "Troublesome."
Of course, that was the short answer, the long answer was more complicated.
When he'd told his father, the clan head, he'd started as simply as he could, "As clever and unmotivated as a Nara, as crazy and overpowered as an Uchicha, and as charismatic as an Uzumaki."
This, too, only brushed on the surface of what she was. When she and Minato had first arrived from the orphanage he had not expected to be interested. But they had been interesting, from the very beginning. The two were inseparable, no not inseparable, they complimented each other and worked together like a well-oiled machine even at the age of six.
When Minato had gone out of his way to befriend him, had labeled Shikaku as someone worth knowing, he had explained it in his own words, "We work better together. Lee masters the jutsus first and notes all the details. I'm the one who puts it together to find the larger picture. She's the fire that blazes and I'm the shadow that stretches behind."
Hokage, he hadn't said it then, not the title itself but he had spoken of the fire and the shadow.
And she did, her eyes (her green so green he had almost wondered if it was a dojutsu because human eyes didn't look like that) would flicker quickly through a room and would seem to take in everything and anything, cataloguing and dissecting in a way that he had only assumed Naras did.
She focused on what she felt she needed to and disregarded the rest; was pragmatic almost to a fault but made up for it with her ridiculous ability to master any jutsu on the first try. In any given class either Shikaku or Lee or both of them would be sleeping through the lecture.
And when she spoke, when she simply stood in room, it was as if there was nothing in it but her and you were forced to stare at her and think of nothing else but her and what she was planning or else doing, all while Minato stood slightly to like a calmer and more distant star.
But this also gave the wrong impression. Because Minato too was very charismatic, drew people in and forced them to stare and acknowledge him. When he smiled it felt as if the sun had just moved out from behind the clouds and there was warmth bubbling up from your stomach. He was a softer more welcoming glow, something you could almost comprehend, something that drew you in.
Together they were this overwhelming force of charisma against which you could not look away and could not say no.
And that was how, in short, Shikaku had ended up befriending the pair.
It occasionally got him into troublesome, if somewhat interesting, situations.
"We've gotten a fair share of D-ranks too."
It was the first time they'd really sat down to talk after graduation and of course they were doing it over bowls of ramen. When one was dealing with Minato and Lee one had best be prepared to eat ramen, of course they were paying for it so he wasn't really going to complain, but for once he couldn't help but wonder if they wouldn't settle for barbeque instead.
"All genin get D-ranks, it's all we're really qualified for." Shikaku said with a shrug, it was troublesome but it was also temporary so there was no real point in getting upset over it.
"Please, I am the master of D-ranks." Lee said, that insistent purely Lee expression on her face, the one you didn't dare to contradict. "I am overqualified for D-ranks; Minato is overqualified for D-ranks. The only one remotely qualified is Dead Last."
"Haru-kun." Minato interjected, not that Shikaku cared since the closest Lee had ever gotten to remembering his own name was Lazy Nara.
"Right, so, what exactly was it you needed advice with?" Shikaku asked, deciding to get to the point, because it was at this point that things always got interesting.
Back in the academy, whenever Lee wasn't involved in some sort of madness, he'd convince her to play shogi with him. She always began in an appalling manner, taking very known and easily predicted moves that almost guaranteed him victory. It was when you got to the endgame or sometimes even midgame that her strange turns in logic would surface and the game would veer in directions he had disregarded much earlier on.
Once you dug past the formalities, past the pretense, Lee would make things more than worth your time.
"We need a way to do D-ranks efficiently and painlessly until our sensei finally hands us a C-ranked mission." Lee summarized, her expression reminiscent of those only worn by people in positions of high command.
She held up a single hand and as she spoke began to lift fingers, "Unfortunately there appear to be a few conditions. One, we can't simply invent a jutsu to solve the task within a very short amount of time. It has to take the same amount of time that it would take Dead Last to do, since he's useless. Two, we have to work together as a team meaning that Dead Last has to carry his dead weight in whatever we're doing so that we can say we learned things. Three, the jonin sensei can't catch on that we're attempting to solve the matter in the most efficient and painless way possible and has to be utterly convinced that we are trying our hardest to benefit the glory of Konoha."
Eru Lee might not bother to remember his name, too troublesome for her which in itself was troublesome for him, but she always did manage to wrap up situations which seemed banal (such as having many D-ranks as genin) into a game of strategy that he would enjoy solving.
In the earlier years of his friendship with Minato and Lee he might wonder if this was something he should encourage. D-ranks were an important part of the village, they bridged the gap between civilian and shinobi and assured villagers that shinobi weren't simply merciless killers. They also were designed to ease genin into the shinobi lifestyle, into completing missions and following orders, as well as working together as a team.
However, Lee, in her own way, was actually seeking to perfect the art of D-rank missions. She was showing initiative and creativity in how she approached a problem and this was something that would be commended in any chunin or jonin. She was still completing the mission, still seeking to follow mission parameters, she was simply forcing it into a less troublesome state for the team.
And there was the fact that Shikaku was just there to give advice and if she didn't like what he said she'd just disregard him and do what she wanted anyway. So it was best to play along with these sorts of things and see what trouble it landed the pair into this time.
"Who's your jonin sensei?" Shikaku asked, his eyes flicking to Minato as it was unlikely that Lee actually remembered the name.
In other words one of the most highly respected jonin in the village, recently dubbed one of the sannin for his fight with Hanzo in Ame towards the end of the war.
"Well, that makes things a little more difficult." Shikaku said musing over the ramen, "If it was anyone else I'd suggest one of your genjutsus and then use whatever jutsu you want to complete the task but I doubt that's going to work on a jonin of that caliber and even attempting it might lengthen the period you have D-ranks for."
It would certainly piss off Shikaku if he was a jonin and some brat tried to do it to him.
"Any other ideas?" Minato asked as Lee thought over her genjutsus and how far she could stretch them.
"Nothing immediately comes to mind." He said with a shrug, although it was an interesting problem it might just end up being easier to simply do the D-ranks and suffer through it, that was what he, Inoichi, and Chozu had chosen to do after all.
"Thank you for your services, Comrade Shikaku." Minato said when it became clear that Shikaku had nothing else to offer, and in a single motion he and Lee rose from the table, gave Shikaku a pair of shallow dignified bows, and then walked off leaving Shikaku in the middle of the ramen shop wondering what disaster ANBU was going to have to deal with this time.
Because the one thing he'd learned, from the last time he'd played advisor Comrade Shikaku to Minato and Lee, was that it somehow always wound up being ANBU's problem.
Kushina wasn't about to say it out loud but she was jealous of everyone else. Everyone else who had graduated had been placed on genin teams and even though they all had to do D-ranks they still saw each other every day and trained together.
Being an apprentice, even to someone as great as Uzumaki Mito and who was also one of the few people left who she was related to, was sometimes pretty lonely. She thought about Uzushio too much in those moments, about the home that… didn't exist anymore and all of the family she didn't have.
Whirlpool princess, how could you be princess of something that didn't even exist?
But there were certain things she was never going to say out loud. That was one of them.
The other one was admitting that back in her academy days, when she and Eru Lee had declared war against each other after Kushina had told her that Minato was too flakey and pretty to be hokage, Kushina had handily gotten her ass handed to her and was never going to live down the shame of being out pranked by someone who didn't even appear to understand what pranking was.
"Namikaze Minato will be hokage."
It was the first thing Lee ever said to her and she said it as if she was writing these things into reality, carving this future out for Minato right then and there, and that there was nothing in all of the world that could stop it from happening.
But Kushina didn't have time then to think about how Lee said it, how different it was than Kushina's own grin and loud words, shouting at the top of her lungs, "I will be hokage! Believe it."
Because Lee was still talking then and Minato was watching her out of the corner of his eye, waiting for their next move, because Minato and Lee always worked and functioned together, "What do you have that he doesn't?"
"I'm not flakey." Kushina had said, and she wasn't, at the time she was just thinking how Minato wasn't even bothering to defend himself. He was just sitting there next to Lee, smiling, and looking like he wanted to write the whole thing off (it'd probably have been less embarrassing if he had succeeded.)
"I don't think I'm flakey either. I can't really help being pretty." Minato said, his cheeks reddening into a healthy flush that almost matched the color of Kushina's hair.
"Anything besides Minato's pretty face?"
And then Kushina had paused, because she didn't know, she'd just said it because she was the one who wanted to be hokage and she didn't need competition right after she'd said it. Not when she was alone in a foreign country, with red (too red) hair, and a face that apparently looked like a tomato. She'd just said it and then she'd had to back it up when this pretty blonde boy had said that he wanted to be hokage too.
Because you couldn't have two hokage.
So Kushina said the only thing she could think of, "I'm a genius at pranking, believe it!"
And without hesitation, without even blinking, Lee's face contorted into a strangely fox like grin and she said, "I bet we can do it better."
"No one beats an Uzumaki at pranking!" Kushina said, because it was true, there were a few things Uzumaki did better than anyone else: ramen eating, pranking, and expressing their nindo.
"If a hokage has the right resources he can do anything. Between me and Minato there's nothing we can't do. So I bet, between Minato and I, that we can beat you at pranking and you'll have to admit that one day Namikaze Minato is going to be hokage."
Before Kushina had even blinked she'd been dragged over to Nara Shikaku where they'd decided on the rules of their competition. They would have a month to perform as many pranks as possible, they could delegate to whoever they wanted and use any ninja techniques at their disposal, the winner would be declared by which of them ended up with longer academy, police, or even ANBU records for the mayhem they caused around the village.
Kushina had started with their academy instructor by placing an eraser over the door and watching as it fell and glued onto his head.
Lee had started by infesting ANBU headquarters with giant, pink, sparkling creatures she called unicorns that, after escaping, paraded through the streets for two days until the Uchicha force managed to capture them all.
Kushina had upped her game to paint the Hokage monument painting on geisha make up onto Senju Tobirama in the greatest work of art she'd done to date.
Lee had invented a jutsu that canceled gravity in the hokage tower and left everyone inside floating around trying to sort the floating paperwork only to exit through a window and find gravity reasserting itself.
It was at this point that Kushina realized she would have to do quantity over quality and decided to enlist Uchicha Mikoto and together they would pull multiple pranks at the academy in any given day but as her pranks increased in mass somehow Lee's did too.
At the end Kushina's academy record was as thick as a book. Lee's ANBU record filled an entire cabinet.
What she hadn't realized was that Lee had only been acting as the shinobi, as that which carried out the mission, it was Minato who had designed the plan and strategized. On her own Lee didn't seem to even understand what a prank was or what the goal of it was, she did daily pranks almost unintentionally just by existing, but Minato did and so he was the one that guided.
Minato still might be a little too pretty looking to be hokage but Kushina had learned to respect them or at least respect them as a pair. And they must have learned to respect her too, maybe even become friends with her, because every once in a while Minato and Lee would show up out of the blue and offer to pay for her ramen in exchange for a conversation.
She was still closer with Mikoto than she was Minato and Lee but she liked to think they were friends and that if she really wanted to she could go up and talk to them and feel like a team like everyone else.
So she was secretly really pleased that they had invited her for lunch, even if she didn't say it.
"So you guys have got D-rank problems?" Kushina asked rhetorically, grinning over at them as if that was all too bad and not her problem because apprentices didn't have D-ranks like the rest of them. Well, Kushina did have to learn how to mix ink and chakra, and practice her calligraphy, but it wasn't the same thing.
Minato and Lee nodded solemnly in unison, sometimes they got on the same wavelength, usually when they were about to do something awesome and spectacular, and would do things in perfect unison with each other.
"If I had half-pence for every garden I've ever weeded then I would be able to afford a thousand bowls of ramen." Lee said with a wistful sigh, her hands doing that erratic gesture thing they always did when Lee was getting emotional.
"Well, my answer to any problem, is that nothing can't be solved with a good prank." Of course, this wasn't true, there were deeper and darker problems that couldn't be solved with laughter and jokes but Lee and Minato weren't asking about those problems.
D-ranks were simple in comparison to that.
Lee made a face at this, after the month of pranking had ended Lee had more or less abandoned the cause, which was really just too bad because Kushina could swear that somewhere in Lee's family there must be an Uzumaki because she was just too good and had too much of a taste for ramen to just be an orphan.
(That and, whenever she saw the color red, Lee's hair, she couldn't help but feel that it would be truly nice if there was another Uzumaki besides she and Mito somewhere.)
"Flakey as always Minato," Kushina said with a smile, not really meaning it, and with great bravado relayed her expertise, "Prank your sensei, prove to him that you're so awesome that you can do D-ranks and prank him at the same time, and that the longer you do D-ranks the more prankings he's going to get. That way he has to give in and give you a C-rank, believe it!"
"That actually might work." Lee said slowly, blinking, processing Kushina's words and Kushina didn't have to fake the smile that appeared on her face because of it.
"Of course it will work, it was my idea, and my ideas are awesome!"
The pair had nothing to say to that but they didn't deny it, didn't mention anything about her hair, and on the whole took her quite seriously like her opinion was something that should be valued and held in high esteem.
"Thank you, Comrade Kushina, for the advice." Minato said with an appreciative smile.
She just grinned as the pair stood in unison, offered her a small bow like they would to the princess of a village, and then walked out of the ramen stand without looking back. Sometimes, she thought to herself when she had spent too long on calligraphy and explosive seals, she wondered if she couldn't have been on that team with the pair of them.
If anyone asked Sakumo, which several had on multiple occasions, then he had no idea how he had got involved with the kids or why he stayed involved. Sometimes, he'd say with a grin, it was to mitigate damage, sometimes it was for recruitment purposes, but sometimes he would honestly admit that he just liked them.
Eru Lee and Namikaze Minato were the oddest, most charismatic, and frankly bizarre children he'd ever met in his life and he liked it. To be honest he didn't even really want them in ANBU, they'd do well, the girl would be devastating, but that was always why he hesitated to suggest her.
She might do a little too well and there were certain factions in ANBU that would take advantage of that. He didn't want to see her lose that bright spark in her eyes or the friendship that tethered her to the boy.
Because without Minato she could become very dangerous, Minato humanized her, gave her direction and kept her steady. Even with only knowing them in passing, only learning about their existence when Lee had taken an interest in tormenting ANBU, he could tell just by watching them that she needed him.
So Sakumo did his best to keep them out of ANBU, to keep anyone from looking past the aggravation of being glued naked to the ceiling, and had written in very large dark letters over their files to never recruit them.
And every once in a while they'd somehow manage to track him down, usually waiting until he was off-duty to do so (which was nice since somehow, without giving any real explanation, Lee inexplicably knew one ANBU from another and how to find them in any room), and would ask him to join them for ramen and for advice on their latest shenanigans.
Over the years it had mostly been about things in the academy that somehow gotten out of hand, such as Eru Lee's infamous clone incidents, but they had recently graduated to genin so he was unsure what this new problem would be about.
(Jiraiya, he thought offhandedly, was their jonin sensei. He'd have to ask him what he thought about the pair and how the third child was interacting with them.)
"Oh yes, I remember D-ranks." That had been a very long time ago though and while he remembered being bitterly frustrated at the time he now felt a twinge nostalgia. The war had been… long, long and brutal, and it made him miss with a tenderness he didn't know he had the innocence of weeding a garden or else painting a fence.
"Comrade Hatake," Lee started, and he honestly loved how she said that, the lack of sama or san, but still with the respect in her eyes that she might use to address the hokage, it was somehow refreshing, "You're a jonin of reputed abilities. How do you suggest we deal with the D-rank situation?"
"Does it need to be dealt with?" He asked, looking at them both, and they were both so cute when they were frustrated, "If I know your sensei, and I do, then he's perfectly aware of your level and will no doubt ask for a C-ranked mission soon enough."
As hard as it was to tell straight out of the academy it was no secret that Eru Lee and Namikaze Minato were the next generations' sannin in the making if not more. They might not have the maturity to be chunin yet but they certainly had the power and Jiraiya would know that.
There was no point in this team doing the average amount of D-ranks. Jiraiya would push them to take the exams soon and for that they would need a certain amount of C-ranks so he doubted their situation would last long.
"Not soon enough, I've done my fair share of D-ranks! I have walked dogs, rescued cats, weeded gardens, vacuumed living rooms, cleaned gutters, cooked breakfast, entertained Dudders, and any and every D-rank in between!" Lee said pounding her hand on the counter for emphasis, seeing Sakumo's confusion (since they'd only been genin for a limited amount of time), Minato explained.
"In Lee's old village her relatives had her do multiple D-ranks without pay on a daily basis." Minato then grinned and held up his hands, "Of course, I wouldn't mind and I'm sure Haru-kun wouldn't mind if the D-ranks came to an end."
Hopefully, Sakumo thought as he looked at them, there wouldn't come a time when they'd long for those D-ranks they threw aside so easily. Being a genin was a time period you never got back, Sakumo was of the opinion that you should enjoy it as much as you could, but of course nobody liked to listen to an old man's wisdom.
"Well, that's all very convincing but I'm still of the wait and see tactic. If you're still doing D-ranks a month from now then come talk to me and we'll find a more aggressive strategy." They wouldn't be, not with Jiraiya as their sensei, but it was still so cute to see them so frustrated about it.
Of course, a frustrated Lee usually meant the Uchicha police force and then ANBU would eventually become involved, but it was a small price to pay and ultimately harmless. Dealing with the aftermath of the pair's adventures was usually something that could be wrapped up in an afternoon and was fodder for gossip; Minato dutifully kept it from being any more than that.
"Thank you, Comrade Hatake, for your advice and wisdom." Minato said as the pair stood in unison and offered him a slight bow and he watched as they stepped out of the ramen shop and out onto the street quietly talking in that strange language they'd been speaking since Sakumo had first met them. And as always, after he talked to the pair of them, he felt a smile growing on his face.
"One day," He confessed to the ramen stand owner, who he knew was more than familiar with the pair's antics, "I'm going to take either or both of those strange hooligans as my apprentice."
"That advice was all terrible!"
"Maybe we're being too impatient, it's only been a few weeks, we can last longer if we have to."
"But if we don't have to why should we?"
"For the greater good of the village. You know what happened last time."
"I think I've figured out how to fix that, so we should be okay, we'll do a test run."
"Are you sure it's worth the risk?'
"Yes, it's absolutely clear, we've long since passed the point of no return."
"I'm Eru Lee and I like painting fences!" The little girl, Lee, grinned up at him in that way only children under the age of five should be able to manage and the air around her seemed to glitter with the force of her enthusiasm.
Beside her, Haru continued to look as mildly disturbed by everything as ever and Minato was strangely sober and stone faced, not even looking at Lee but instead straight at Jiraiya; like he was waiting for Jiraiya to make his move.
The three orphans in Ame, Jiraiya found himself musing, hadn't been nearly this weird. He didn't know who Eru Lee reminded him of but he was almost desperate at this point to find some comparison if only so that he could ask someone for advice.
She was like an overly cheerful version of Orochimaru. She didn't get people, she didn't get why you did some things and not others, she didn't understand why relationships were important, and she was also very loyal when she saw the worth in someone else, the way Orochimaru was loyal to the idea of Konoha and to his own teammates. If she said bastard a bit more often, frowned a little more, then she'd be a little miniature copy of him.
But then again, Orochimaru would never in a million years, even brainwashed with the strongest of genjutsus, say what Lee was saying or smile like she smiled. Lee had absolutely no shame in the way Jiraiya had no shame, she grinned with all her teeth and didn't at all seem concerned with how she was perceived. So maybe Orochimaru was a bad comparison.
"Really, because I thought you hated painting fences?" Jiraiya said, because in the past few weeks Lee had made her opinion about D-ranks more than clear. To be fair, no one enjoyed D-ranks, but that being said everyone had to do them.
Which was why Lee's about face in attitude was a little… suspicious.
The girl stepped forward, the grin not wavering, and the fires of passion and determination burning in her eyes, "Painting fences is the reason for my entire existence! I paint fences therefore I am! And I like my momentary purposeful existence so I like to paint fences."
And like Jiraiya eventually did every time Lee opened her mouth for an extended period of time and spouted words he completely ignored everything she said and moved on, "Right, well, you'll be happy to know we aren't actually painting fences."
The girl's smile vanished and the light dimmed in her eyes, "…Not… Not painting fences? You said we were painting fences."
"Well, the hokage gave that to someone else, so we're finding Tora the cat again." They'd love that, it would get them good exercise, and maybe this time he wouldn't have to try to explain why everyone did D-ranks. There were two talks you shouldn't have to do more than once in your life, the sex talk, and the D-rank talk.
Lee didn't seem to be taking the news well, "But… I… I was made, I was created to paint fences. If I don't paint fences, then why am I here? Will I ever stop existing if I never paint a fence? Will I be this solid, physical, pointless thing forever?"
The girl then, out of nowhere, had a kunai in her hand before Jiraiya could move she was stabbing herself repeatedly in the neck. He watched in silent horror as blood spurted out of her neck, suddenly not in Konoha anymore but Ame, wretched war torn Ame where the streets were paved in mud and blood and death. Haru was screaming, Minato was moving towards her, and he was just thinking that he had to move had to get her to a medic (if only Tsunade was still there, if only she hadn't left, because she would know what to do and this couldn't be happening because he was in Konoha and this didn't happen in Konoha and…)
And then in the gory mess that was once his kunoichi there was a loud crack and a new, perfectly alive and untouched Eru Lee was standing in front of him, "I'm Eru Lee and I like catching demonic cats!"
(Later, Sarutobi sensei would tell him that he could hear him screaming in terror all the way from the hokage tower.)
"That is not a clone!"
As usual it had gone too far and ANBU had somehow gotten involved.
After the masked ninja had appeared to investigate Research and Development had shown up to poke at the various corpses with instruments, who were shortly followed by the hokage, and then Orochimaru who was staring at the bodies with undisguised curiousity. And the longer team seven stood there the more people started showing up until the training field, where they had decided to meet before every mission, was overflowing with people.
Their sensei Jiraiya was not taking it well.
This was also what Minato had been hoping to avoid but unfortunately nobody had been convincing enough and this way they also prepared their sensei for some of Lee's more extravagant solutions. If this had happened on a C-rank mission, on any mission besides a D-rank, then it would be a lot worse than it already was.
He was mitigating the damage as best he could, of course he couldn't actually tell anyone that as Lee would take it the wrong way, and Jiraiya sensei would be unappreciative but it was true none the less.
That's what D-ranks were really for, they were practice runs, times to push yourselves and learn when too far was too far. Now was the time for this sort of thing, not later.
"Well, my clones are a little… real." Lee attempted to explain with a somewhat sheepish look on her face, which for her was a close to an apology for things getting out of hand as anyone was ever going to get.
"A little real? They had chakra signatures, they had heartbeats, they stabbed themselves to death with kunai!" Jiraiya said, waving vaguely towards what was left of Lee's clones, "Clones don't do that!"
Lee said nothing for a few moments, simply looked wide eyed and blinking up at Jiraiya, and then said quietly, "I thought I had them under control this time."
"All they want is to do their purpose, you give them a simple task and they do it, then they self-destruct and stop existing. That's it. I thought that way…"
"You thought what?"
"The last time Lee made clones, in the academy, they always tried to kill her and replace her as the real Eru Lee." Minato filled in for Lee, when she drifted off into silence. They didn't like to discuss the clone incidents too often, mostly because they had very quickly become very dangerous.
Minato himself had once been held hostage by one of Lee's clones, luckily Lee's clones only had issues with Lee and actually liked him just as much as the original Lee did, otherwise Minato might not have survived that day.
Jiraiya took a moment to process that. After standing there in silence for a moment, listening to the mutterings of the hokage and his old teammate, he took a deep breath and appeared to center himself, "Alright, no more clones."
"No more clones." Lee repeated with vigorous repentant nodding and then dully added, "I guess this means more D-ranks though, right?"
Then, surprisingly, the man grinned at them, "Nope, we are officially vacationing from D-ranks! We'll let R and D… clean up your clones… and we're all going to get some dinner and then a nice, long, exciting C-rank that has nothing to do with dead people."
The man then put arms around all of them, somehow being large enough to usher them all forward at once, and moved them away into town and towards the restaurant district. Lee grinned across at Minato and Minato grinned back feeling as if they'd only narrowly dodged a kunai.
If they had had any other instructor, if they had still been in the academy, then he doubted their sensei would have ever forgiven them.
This was going to work, Minato thought to himself, they were going to be a real team.
"But seriously, warn me about stuff like that next time."
Author's Note: A surprising amount of people also said they wanted to see Lily derp around in the Naruto universe or rather you didn't know you wanted it until you saw it. So here we are, not sure what the next chapter will feature, probably kidnapping attempts but possibly Orochimaru, grave robbing, and zombies. We'll have to see.
Thanks to reviewers and readers. Reviews are very much appreciated.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or Harry Potter.