Chapter 8: Reconnaissance

Ten whole minutes had passed since Team 7 had split up and already Naruto had to drag Jiraiya away from two titty bars and a strip club. Each time he had tried to argue with his former/future/current pupil that he was only looking for his teammate Lady Tsunade, but Naruto knew better than to believe that Tsunade would ever be caught dead in a strip club. Sakura-chan had told him about the one time that Tsunade did go into one. She was evading some debt collectors and needed a place to hide. Before she could even sit down some guy had stuffed a 50 Ryo bill down her cleavage and now that strip club's owner got free escort missions curtesy of the Leaf whenever he wanted. Or he did… He will? This time travel stuff still gave Naruto a headache. Sakura had told him that it helped if he thought of it like time was a straight pathway. Even though they technically went back in time to reset everything, their pasts didn't change. What they were experiencing now was still their future. They were moving forward on the same path, but the scenery was just very familiar.

Naruto sighed while Jiraiya asked a regular bartender if he had seen a girl with features likes Lady Tsunade's picture. He wished that he had teamed up with Sakura on this one. Let Kakashi deal with Pervy Sage's antics. As much as he missed hanging out with his old mentor, he was already missing his longest standing teammate and best friend. Ever since Sasuke had decided to be evil for good, this hidden wall of awkwardness between Naruto and Sakura had evaporated. Sakura wasn't pining after Sasuke anymore, choosing to protect the Leaf instead. And Naruto was no longer trying to save Sasuke's soul, save for that one time a month earlier. They both were older and wiser now. They had responsibilities and drives to protect the Leaf and the world of Shinobi. But most importantly they had each other. When the 5th War broke out, standard team structures broke down. Individual ninjas were sent where they were needed. Luckily for them, wherever a weak section of the front needed a powerhouse ninja to reinforce it, chances were good that a top-notch medic was also needed. So Naruto and Sakura were both always on the move. Fighting at one battlefield for a day or a week and then moving on to another one in need. They would team up with Sai and Yamato, or Ino and Shikamaru, or Lee and Tenten, or just do missions alone. Frankly, even with all the death and suffering, Naruto would privately think it was the time of his life. Constantly fighting, on the move, making a difference, and among friends. Sufficient to say, he would be much happier right now if he was searching this big old vice town with Sakura. They would have so much more to talk about, even if she would smack him for any perceived acts of perversion on his part.

"Oy, brat." Jiraiya said, tapping Naruto's arm to snap him out of his thoughts. "We are being hollered at."

Naruto looked over to see a 4-man squad of Leaf Shinobi heading towards them. The crowds parted without the ninjas having to say anything. All of them looked like experienced veterans. Made up of Chunin and at least one Jounin. They would have to be if they were assigned to work a Garrison so far away from the Hidden Leaf village. Their leader, leading the pack, looked exactly like a veteran soldier should. Tired eyes, stiff posture, and a J shaped scar running from the left of his eye down his cheek and looping up to his chin. They were all wearing their headbands like bandanas on their heads. Probably the style of their Garrison. And they all wore ninja vests with scroll pockets on the front.

The blond ninja readied himself. If Pervy Sage's intel was correct, these guys were in the pockets of criminals.

"Lord Jiraiya, the Toad Sannin." The Jounin in charge bowed, followed by all his underlings. "I am Commander Chin."

Naruto snorted, but kept quiet. Chin with a chin scar. Okay.

"Welcome to Meichong."

Jiraiya caught a quick glance with Naruto's eyes. 'Can you believe this guy?' He thought before raising its hand. "Thank you, although no need to be so formal. The Gallant Jiraiya needs no pomp and ceremony whenever he arrives." The big headed Jiraiya laughed off, making his pupil roll his eyes and a few onlookers raise an eyebrow.

"Of course, sir. My men and I came to inquire what you were doing here. We received no warning of your arrival and you did not check in with our station. Revered as the Sannin are, you are still a Leaf ninja and must follow procedure." Commander chin scar reasoned.

"Well we Sannin were never good at following regulations. I'm just hear for some sightseeing and then I'll be on my way." Jiraiya waved off.

"All the same, I still need you to check in. It would be a huge hassle if you didn't."

"Then I apologize in advanced for trouble I'm going to get you in with your boss." Jiraiya said, raising his voice so that the whole block could hear him.

"Boss? I don't know what you are insinuating." Chin questioned. "I serve only the Hokage by protecting this village."

"Sure, but he isn't the one topping off your paycheck each month to look the other way." Jiraiya said, raising his arms as if proclaiming a major plot twist in the ninja equivalent of Hamlet.

'Is he doing a thing?' Naruto thought.

'A thing?' Kurama deadpanned.

'A distraction thing.'

'Probably. Might as well play along.' Kurama thought.

"I beg your pardon?" Chin stated, growing increasingly annoyed.

"Pretty crummy job you've been doing. Getting bought out like that." Naruto spoke up.

"How dare you!" Chin snapped at Naruto, taking his frustrations out on the first person he could find who didn't outrank him. "Just who do you think you are?"

"My name is Naruto Uzumaki!" Naruto declared out of habit. "Jou— 'You're not a Jounin yet.' –Junior ninja in training to Pervy—I mean the Toad Sannin."

"An apprentice to the Sannin? Bah, you need to learn some manners first, brat."

"You had better watch your own manners first, Commander." Jiraiya stepped in. "Otherwise someone might get the wrong impression."

By now the twin rivers of civilians had turned into a crowd of onlookers. The trio of Chunin flanking Commander Chin began to sweat. Crowds were never ideal for law enforcement. Gather enough people together, mix in some rowdiness and alcohol, and the meek little civilians might decide to try their luck against the uppity ninja guards. Plus, this was a Sannin they were talking about.

"Are you drunk?" Chin snapped at Jiraiya, trying to regain control of the situation. "Perhaps a night in the drunk tank with improve both your attitudes. This is Meichong and I will be respected."

"Fine. Have some respect." Jiraiya said as he snapped his fist into Chin's face. The commander fell backwards into his underlings and Jiraiya pulled back his fist, quick as a cobra.

"HELL YEAH!" Someone shouted from the crowd as one of the Chunin guards lunged at him with a kunai drawn. His blade came in low, intending to gut the Sannin like he was a lowly Genin. Naruto quickly stepped in and blocked the knife. Crossing his arms underneath him to stop the thrust and then twisted the blade out of the fellow Leaf ninja's hands, all while stepping into the man's stance.

"Brat!" The man spat before Naruto shoulder checked him to the ground. His shortness serving an advantage by giving him the lower center of gravity. By all accounts the Chunin shouldn't have been caught off guard by that, but once again Naruto realized that his age made him easily underestimated.

"Arrest them!" Chin shouted through his broken nose.

Naruto sheathed his new kunai in his pouch and readied for a fight. Corrupt or not. Every last one of these men were fellow Leaf ninjas. Allies he would need in the future. He and Pervy Sage would have to take care not to kill them. The first of the two standing Chunin came at Naruto with a low kick, thinking he could punt him into next week. Naruto hopped over his sweeping leg and gave two airborne kicks to the Chunin's sides. His opponent kneeled over and Naruto's feet hit the ground just in time to duck underneath a straight jab by the second attacking Chunin. Naruto came underneath his arm and came back up with an uppercut to the jaw.

Feeling victorious, his action star moment was undercut when the first Chunin kicked him from behind, knocking the blond ninja front first into the dirt. Ten years of combat experience kicked in and Naruto raised up his arms and rolled with the kick. Tumbling back into a kneeling stance.

"Anytime you wanna jump in, Pervy Sage, feel free!" Naruto shouted before noticing that he was indeed fighting alone. The crowdy was cheering like maniacs and the three Chunin were each back on their feet with Commander Chin barking orders at them. Yet no Toad Sannin in sight.

'He ditched me again, didn't he?' Naruto growled.

'Oh like you can't take these four losers.' Kurama thought.

"Agi Katana No Jutsu!" One of the Chunin shouted, reaching into his belt to pull out a katana made of flames. His buddies shouted similar ninjutsu words and created a spear made of flames and a weighted chain made of fire as well.

'Well obviously I can take them. But it's the principle, isn't it?'

'I'd call it just like old times.' Kurama deadpanned.

'Har-dee-har.' Naruto thought.

The three Chunin charged at Naruto with the one wielding the flaming katana taking the lead. He slashed down, forcing Naruto to sidestep. He could feel the heat from the flame jutsu singing his eyebrows. Fast as the wind, Naruto turned on his heel and slammed a hastily made Rasengan right in the Chunin's abdomen. The man went sailing butt first into a novelty hat shop and disappeared underneath a pile of broken shelves and oversized Hokage hats.

"You little brat!" Another Chunin shouted as he came at Naruto with a downward thrust of his flame spear. Naruto rolled underneath the thrust and came up kicking at the man's groin. Somewhere, a bell rang and the poor Chunin collapsed to his knees. Naruto gave him a quick jab to his temple and he crumpled into an unconscious heap.

"Watch out, kid!" An onlooker shouted. Giving Naruto just enough time to see the flaming weighted chain arching towards him and hop right over it. The Chunin was no slouch with his weapon though, he grabbed the length of his chain to accelerate the spin of the weight, aiming it right for Naruto's head. The young ninja saw the trick and leapt backwards, but not before crossing his fingers and creating three Shadow Clones to charge at his attacker in a suicide run.

The flaming chain cut through the three clones like butter, making them explode into three clouds of smoke, obscuring the Chunin's vision. He wasn't so easily fooled. Looking down, he could just make out two sets of feet hiding behind the smoke. That brat knew the Shadow Clone jutsu and was going to come at the Chunin from both angles to throw him off. His genius deduction was his undoing though.

The smokescreen had made the Chunin hesitate, which was just what Naruto was hoping for. He didn't see it coming when Naruto shot out of the smokescreen like a cannon and kicked the corrupt ninja's teeth in.

Those watching from the side cheered from approval. They had seen how Naruto had used his defeated clone smokescreen to hide the two other Shadow Clones he had created. They both lifted his feet and launched him towards their opponent. The flaming chain jutsu dissipated and Naruto stood over the unconscious man victorious.

As the crowd cheered, one defeated Jounin Captain scurried off out of sight. He found the first empty alleyway he could find and turned on his radio. "Commander Chin to Base. I need back-up at—" He said before a karate chop to the nape of his neck knocked him out. Naruto stood over the commander with a sad expression. This guy was supposed to be Naruto's comrade. His fellow Leaf ninja. Yet here he was, a whipped dog of some gangster, scurrying about.

In a flash, Naruto was back on the battlefield. Looking over the trampled grass plains he and a battalion of Leaf ninjas had fought for so long to defend. It was a costly victory, but what weighed the heaviest was when Naruto overturned the bodies of one of the enemy soldiers, one of Sasuke's men. Laying facedown just as this Jounin was back in Meichong. Except Naruto knew the dead enemy soldier. Naruto and fought beside him a month previously. Before he became a missing ninja and before he decided that the Five Great Ninja Nations were the losing side.

Naruto sighed. The embers of the battle turned back into soft red lanterns. The air stunk of piss and human sin, Naruto could breathe again.

"Hey kid, that was incredible." Someone said, alerting Naruto to the crowd that had gathered around him. A general applause broke out and Naruto gave them a polite wave while scanning the crowd. It didn't take long for him to spot Jiraiya in an alleyway waving for him.

"Thank you, you've all been great." Naruto said before flash stepping away. The crowd looked up, expecting him to have taken to the rooftops like any good ninja would. Instead, Naruto stepped into the alleyway to find his master hiding a tied-up man behind a dumpster. The man wore loose baggy pants, a white sleeveless t-shirt, and a red bandana over his head. His face wore a constant scowl, but he looked to Naruto like he was just catching his breath.

"Hey Pervy Sage, what was that about playing things close to the chest? Not starting fights and leaving me to finish them?" Naruto frowned.

"That was a strategy to see who reports back on ninja fights in this town. And guess who I found? A Cola Gang Looky Loo watching your fight." Jiraiya said proudly.

"What makes you say he is Cola Gang?" Naruto asked, stepping to his master's side.

"He was in an awful hurry when the fight started going your way. So I asked him why. He was pretty hesitant to tell me at first." Jiraiya smirked. "But I convinced him."

The thug pushed himself as far into the brick wall as he could away from the grinning Toad Sage. Making Naruto wonder what methods Jiraiya used to torture this poor loser.

"So what did he tell you?" Naruto asked.

"A lot of things. And he is going to repeat back every single one of those things to you so that I know he wasn't making them up." Jiraiya said as he stepped closer to the frightened gangster and pulled out a white feather. "Or else…"

Meanwhile on the other side of town, Sakura and Kakashi were busy surveying the last brothel in the city. A three-story building of red wood and painted concrete illuminated by golden lights. Made to look like an apartment building with its railways leading to doors of private rooms. With a ten-story concrete gate deterring anyone from sneaking in. Customers could only get in via the main gate which was manned by two bouncers on either side of the arches, who watched everyone coming and going. Inside the compound there were windows with hookers sitting inside little cells made to look like rooms. The women varied in size, shape, and to Sakura's disgust, age. She could see women as old as sixty wearing kimonos and girls younger than Sakura posing in tight little swimsuits.

"That is disgusting." Sakura hissed.

"That is what happens when you've bought off the police in your city. You can advertise whatever you have." Kakashi said sadly as he watched one of the young girls get chosen.

"I'm starting to come around to Naruto's idea. Just torch the place and destroy the Cola Gang." Sakura said.

"Unless something like that happened in your past, we can't risk altering the underground politics of this region. If the Cola Gang falls, then the lesser gangs will rise up to take over their empire. That would lead to a gang war that the Leaf would have to put down. Costing lives, time, and resources that we might not be able to afford." Kakashi explained.

Sakura sighed. "I hate time travel."

Kakashi gave Sakura a very Kakashi-esc smile while Sakura seemed to scowl. She spotted something. Kakashi noticed and let her work. One of the geisha girls moving between the many doors facing the street looked familiar. She had short black hair done up in a bun like most of the girls, and her face was painted white, but Sakura couldn't shake the feeling that she knew her plain face from somewhere.

As the woman headed deeper into the brothel, she was grabbed from behind by a passing customer. The woman jumped like she was a little girl and Sakura nearly jumped with her.

"Shizune!" Sakura said aloud.

"What?" Kakashi asked, looking up at the woman.

"Do you see that woman?" Sakura asked, not dare pointing her out, less she draws even more attention to her fellow student of the Slug Sannin. "That is Shizune. Lady Tsunade's ward. They traveled everywhere together before Naruto found them."

"Are you sure?" Kakashi asked, lowering his voice to encourage Sakura to lower hers.

Sakura looked harder and noticed Shizune's sharp eyes, at the point of tears since with the lecherous man dragging her to a free room. "That is her. I'm sure of it."

Kakashi stroked his mask like a beard, trying to think. "We need to get in contact with her."

"We need to let Naruto and Lord Jiraiya know about this." Sakura said. "I'll stay here. You go find them."

"Are you sure?" Kakashi asked.

"I will be fine. And I can keep an eye on Shizune better than you can." Sakura reasoned.

"Right." Kakashi said before taking off. Leaving Sakura alone to continue scouting the area.

For ten minutes she kept her eyes on the door that Shizune vanished behind. It didn't take a Nara clansman to deduce what was going on inside that room. What Sakura wanted to know was why wasn't Shizune resisting? She had been Lady Tsunade's ward for over a decade, even before Naruto ever ran into them a few years in the future. Trained to fight by Tsunade, one of the Sannin. While she had been surpassed by Sakura years ago, Shizune was a Jounin level Medical Ninja in her own right. It should have been a simple matter for her to knock her creepy client unconscious and then leap over the brothel walls to freedom. The only reasons Sakura could think of for Shizune putting up with this kind of work were that Lady Tsunade was somehow held captive (which seemed even more unlikely), the brothel owners were threatening someone else's life, or maybe even that they were using some kind of advanced fuinjutsu like the Bird Cage Seal to make a person obedient. The same kind of seal that the Main Branch of Hinata's Hyuga clan used on her cousin Neji's subservient Cadet Branch.

Sakura's train of thought was derailed by the cries of a girl. Her eyes shot over to her left to a dark alleyway next to the brothel where two Cola Gang thugs were strong arming a girl no older than 12 into a back door surrounded by security cameras. Sakura and Kakashi had already scoped the spot out. This wasn't the first time they had noticed girls of all ages disappearing into that alleyway. Kakashi figured it was where all the new "merchandise" was brought in. It made Sakura's blood boil, but she couldn't do anything to help those girls without giving herself away.

That's when a cool gust of wind blew past her, ringing some wind chimes behind her. Her eyes went wide with inspiration. Just in time for Kakashi to return with Naruto and Jiraiya.

"Hey, Sakura-chan. Got any new intel to share?" Naruto asked.

"Intel and an idea." Sakura replied. "But let's compare notes first."

"Let's…" Jiraiya said.

Author's Note: I am not dead.

I am also not promising that chapters will be coming out with any kind of frequency. College is over and adulthood is zipping by me like a runaway train. But I won't abandon this story either. I have ideas for future chapters and I enjoy writing. But if anyone thinks they can give this story idea the commitment it deserves, PM me. I say again, if you wish to take a crack at writing your own version of 12 Ninjas, have at it. All I ask is that you mention my story in the first chapter as inspiration while also linking the chapter to me so that I can read it. I get so happy whenever there is a random person who favorites and follows me and this story even months after I last updated.

On a happier note. Write me some reviews guys. They give me so much inspiration to write and make me feel so happy to receive one.