The Griffin and the Fox
All characters copyright Kishimoto Masashi and/or J.K. Rowling.
"So, let me see if I've got this right," Jiraiya murmured, rubbing his forehead as he looked around the circle of jounin seated at the table. "Despite multiple years in the academy, the only genin who didn't fall prey to this Kabuto's sleep jutsu were Haruno Sakura, Nara Shikamaru and Aburame Shino?"
"You'll recall, of course," Anko spoke up. "That I was rather surprised so many made it into the chuunin exam. My complaints were dismissed." She glared in Ibiki's direction.
"Whether or not they were ready for the chuunin exam is not the issue, they made it. And it's over. We are more focused on filling in this hole. Had they been prepared for such a thing, the attack on Konoha would never have accomplished as much as it did. The forces arrayed against us, with a select few, were hardly a serious threat in anything but numbers." Ibiki retorted, ignoring her glare. "It took several of them just to call forth a major summoning. The genin would have been very useful in repelling the forces gathered against us while we dispensed with the few who were a threat."
"I agree," Kakashi said, from his position by the door. "The situation wouldn't have been nearly as desperate if we had had their support."
"I have a suggestion," Jiraiya said, glancing around to be sure he had everyone's attention. "I think we should take a group of the genin on a trip. Give them a little reorientation on their basic skills, things that they should have known."
"What are you proposing?" Asuma inquired, leaning back in his chair.
Silence reigned over the meeting at this, then Kurenai spoke up. "Is that wise? We haven't had particularly friendly relations with that branch of the outside community since that incident."
"Wise?" Jiraiya asked in reply. "Probably not. Necessary, however."
"How is it necessary?" Genma inquired, rousing from his expression of boredom finally.
"For one, there's no better place that isn't the village to refresh their skills on the basics." Jiraiya replied. "For another, it may give them the opportunity to deal with someone less of a threat than Orochimaru. It would be interesting to see how their skills match up against him."
"Who?" Kakashi asked, disliking the grin forming on the legendary shinobi's features.
Kurenai reacted first. "Are you mad? As if Orochimaru wasn't bad enough, you want to bring that bastard down on our village again by parading the genin around at his number one target?"
"I have to agree," Kakashi said. "And I submit my recommendation that Naruto not be sent on this little endeavor. Whether it is approved or not."
"I'm afraid I'm taking Naruto off your hands, Kakashi." Jiraiya responded, his tone clear that he would accept no arguments on the matter. "Whatever your reasons, there was no excuse for your blatant favoritism before the chuunin finals. You've forfeited the right to have any opinion on the matter when you abandoned him to train Sasuke. I am his sensei now."
The grey-haired jounin looked shocked at the rebuke, but, before he could reply, Kurenai resumed her interrogation. "And let's discuss Naruto, while we're on the subject. You were the one who taught him how to tap into the chakra of the Kyuubi, weren't you? And now this! I almost think you're trying to destroy the village yourself with these actions!"
Jiraiya snorted. "And would you prefer he remained ignorant of the power he contains, so that the next time he is in a situation where he thinks someone he cares for is dead, he loses all control because he doesn't know how to deal with the Kyuubi's chakra and that demon is unleashed on us again? I do know what I am doing."
"He was in control the entire time." Genma said quietly, drawing the stares of everyone.
"What?" Kurenai inquired, still rather enraged.
"When he called on the Kyuubi's chakra against the Hyuuga, he was in complete control the entire time." He repeated, expanding on his original statement. "Not once did he lose rationality or awareness. In fact, he became even more aware and focused. That was how he defeated Neji."
"I don't see how Naruto's ability to remain aware of himself in a situation that is entirely under our control has any bearing on the utter arrogance displayed by Jiraiya in teaching him to tap that thing's power." Kurenai snapped.
"I'm so flattered that you consider me to be completely lacking in any sort of sense, Kurenai-san," Jiraiya replied, crossing his arms as his expression darkened. "In fact, I would assume you think you could do a better job, is that it?"
Kurenai blanched. "I didn't..."
"So, leaving aside the question of whether or not Kurenai-san believes she can instruct my student better," Jiraiya announced, voice raising slightly to cut Kurenai off. "Does anyone want to know the details of what I propose before going off and calling me an arrogant fool?"
"Please, Jiraiya-sama, share your intentions with us," Maito Gai said, speaking for the first time himself.
"I, Naruto, and whoever else you elect to send, along with a few jounin, will escort the genin to Hogwarts. At Diagon Alley, however, I will be taking Naruto and separating from you for a time. I have been charged with a task by the council."
"Which is?" Kakashi asked, voice low, evidence that he was still stinging from Jiraiya's words.
"Retrieving Tsunade." Jiraiya announced. "To assume the role of Godaime."
Again, silence descended upon the meeting, before Genma spoke up. "And those of us who accompany the genin? What will we do?"
"Remain in Diagon Alley and stay at the Leaky Cauldron," Jiraiya told him. "I have a fairly good idea of where to find that princess, so I expect to be gone little more than a week. Once I've returned, we'll escort the genin on to Hogwarts."
"And we'll be wandering around Diagon Alley, staying at the Leaky Cauldron, in full view of everyone, while you traipse about the countryside looking for Tsunade-sama," Kurenai muttered. "Might as well send a message to Orochimaru. Here we are! Come and kill us!"
"Orochimaru won't be going anywhere near Diagon Alley," Jiraiya countered. "If the old man did what I suspect, Orochimaru has only one option left to him at the moment to undo what was done. And that's Tsunade. I'm hoping to put an end to him there if we cross paths."
"This sounds like a rather risky gamble," Gai pointed out. "You're hoping that Orochimaru will be looking for Tsunade. You think you know where Tsunade is. Doesn't sound too solid, if I might point out."
"There is absolutely nothing and no one in Diagon Alley that can help Orochimaru's problem." Jiraiya asserted confidently. "Tsunade is the only one with the skills to restore him. More precisely, she is the only one with the skills to restore him that would even give him a moment to explain himself."
"And thus, you expect to encounter him and end this whole affair, yes?" Kakashi asked, a frown creasing his mask.
"If at all possible, yes." Jiraiya confirmed. "It would be advantageous, since Tsunade would be there and I could gather her support."
"And if she turns against you?" Kurenai demanded. "Even you are no match for two of the san-nin."
Jiraiya grinned. "Perhaps not, but Tsunade will no more allow Orochimaru to run loose to destroy Konoha than she would accept my advances. Whether she agrees or not, she has too many ties to the village to simply let Orochimaru have his way."
"Well, it seems like the great Jiraiya has it all figured out," muttered Kurenai. "Why do you even need us?"
"Because," he said. "I need a few of you to watch the genin while I'm away. I'm not stupid enough to leave them for a week in Diagon Alley by themselves."
"So we're babysitters?" Kurenai asked, incredulous.
"I wasn't going to put it so crudely, but yes." Jiraiya told her with a vicious grin. "Now, you can figure out who you'd like to come amongst yourselves. I have other business to conduct. Kakashi. I will speak with you." He turned on his heel, not looking back to see if the jounin followed.
"Should we bow and call him your majesty when he enters and leaves?" Kurenai muttered under her breath as he passed out of hearing, ignoring the looks she received from several of the other jounin.
"Well, it seems like it is time to figure out who should go," Gai said quietly.
"I'll be wanting you to accompany us as far as the Shinobi training center," Jiraiya said. "I want you to keep Sakura and Sasuke there. Keep them there until he can control that curse seal. Orochimaru has one other option left to him if what I suspect is true about that seal."
Kakashi nodded. "He isn't just interested in turning Sasuke to his side, is he?"
"No," Jiraiya confirmed. "It's something worse. And it isn't the only problem. There are those who may be interested in the Kyuubi as well. An organisation I have been hearing about. That is why Naruto will be staying close by me."
"That's not the only reason, is it?" Kakashi asked of the silver haired legendary ninja.
"No," Jiraiya answered. "But it's the only answer you are going to get."
"Are you really that upset about my training Sasuke?" Kakashi asked, after a moment.
"No," Jiraiya replied. "Training Sasuke was your prerogative. Training Sasuke at the exclusion of your other students was insulting and a disgrace to the one who trained you. That is what I take exception to."
"Naruto didn't need my assistance the way Sasuke did," Kakashi countered.
"No?" Jiraiya raised an eyebrow. "Sasuke wasn't the only one Orochimaru put a seal on."
"He cursed Naruto as well?" Kakashi's single visible eyebrow rose. "I've never seen any evidence.
"Not a curse seal, but, for the time it was present, just as debilitating." Jiraiya explained. "Orochimaru cut off his access to the Kyuubi at some point. Probably when he met Sasuke in the forest of death."
"And you spotted and undid it?" Kakashi's eyebrow rose higher, his voice tight. "And you compare that to a curse seal?"
"Naruto was unable to perform something as simple as water-walking while his chakra was disturbed in that fashion." Jiraiya cut him off. "Had I not taken an interest, he'd have been prey for anyone who wanted him. Ebisu never noticed, nor did he possess the skills to undo it if he had."
"I made a judgment call, based on the situation," Kakashi growled. "I do not have to justify my actions to you concering my students."
"No, I don't suppose you do." Jiraiya agreed. "Which is exactly why Naruto isn't your student any longer. You can just continue on obsessing over the Uchiha and ignoring your other student, singular, now."
"The tales never painted you as being this bitter." Kakashi remarked.
Jiraiya's expression darkened as he regarded the copy-ninja. "My sensei is dead, at the hands of one of my own companions, for all intents and purposes. I find you disgracing your sensei with your single-minded fixation on the Uchiha boy. Forgive me if I don't appear to be meeting this fantasy expectation you have in your mind. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go find Naruto. I'm sure you have something to do that's more important. Idolising Uchiha Sasuke, perhaps?" With that, he swept out of Kakashi's presence and did not look back.
Uzumaki Naruto was never one to shirk in the physical aspects of his training. As most of his teachers could attest, however, in anything not directly related to getting stronger or being acknowledged by the village, he paid it little mind. So, it would be to the surprise of them all to find him with his nose in a book at a time when he would ordinarily be training in the woods around the village.
"Kuchiyose no jutsu.." he muttered, his eyes scrolling down the list of jutsu and their effects. "Ah!" He flipped to the page indicated and carried the book to a table to read more comfortably. That done, he began to read, the words running through his mind.
Kuchiyose no jutsu is one of the primary space-time techniques that bridges the temporal as well as the spatial, depending on the intent. Various applications of it have been developed. One such is Doton Tsuiga no Jutsu, used as a tracking and capturing device. This uses the summoning effect with a specific goal in mind, rather than calling a creature forth and then dispensing commands. Kiriki Mai is another application of the summoning, which calls forth a warrior-beast to augment a wind-based attack. Some clans are permanently in contract with another entity, such as the Aburame of Konoha, who give host to insects within their bodies in exchange for their assistance in combat, stealth, and other needs. The Inuzuka family are tied to canines as permanent partners, and often are raised as pairs from birth, to further enhance the partnership.
Another application of Kuchiyose no jutsu is Edo Tensei, which is a kinjutsu of the highest order. Usage of it is a violation of the natural order of things and should never be attempted, let alone learned. Edo Tensei calls forth the deceased, provided you can make an offering of bodies for them to reside in. The basic Kuchiyose, however, merely calls forth a creature from another plane to add the caller. Examples of this are the legendary san-nin and their well-known partners; Jiraiya and Gamabunta the Toad, Tsunade and Katsuya the Slug, and Orochimaru and Manda the Serpent.
"Was that the big snake that the Snake-freak summoned against me in the forest of death...?" Naruto wondered aloud.
"Che! Not hardly. As powerful as you are, you would not survive an encounter with Manda," a voice interrupted.
"Eh?" Naruto turned, his eyes bugging out. "Ero-sennin!"
Jiraiya sighed. "Why do you always call me that whenever I see you?"
"Because you're a pervert!" Naruto exclaimed, pointing as he said this.
"We are in a library, you know," Jiraiya pointed out.
"What's that got to do with anything, Ero-sennin?" Naruto demanded.
"You're supposed to be quiet in a library," Jiraiya told him.
"Oh." Naruto was silent for a moment. "Then why didn't you say so in the first place?"
"I can't win," Jiraiya muttered. "How did I get saddled with such a no-talent idiot for an apprentice? Oh, that's right. I volunteered for the job."
"Quiet!" Naruto pronounced, making a gesture for the older man to stop talking. "This is a library!"
"Let's go," the legendary shinobi said, hoisting the loud boy by the collar and carrying him out, ignoring his protests.
"Oi! Ero-sennin! Let me go!" Naruto shouted, struggling in the older man's grip.
"Be quiet, idiot." Jiraiya muttered. "I need to talk to you."
"Bah! I have no time for a perverted hermit like you!" Naruto stated. "I have to find Kakashi and train. I want him to teach me the Chidori."
"Eh? Chidori?" Jiraiya inquired, considering. "In all honesty, you aren't the type to be able to use the Chidori."
"And how would a pervert like you have any idea?" the boy asked. "All you do is spend time peeping at the baths!"
Jiraiya glanced nervously at several woman who gave him glares as Naruto revealed that tidbit. "Quiet! Do you want to ruin all my secrets?"
"Pfft. Everyone knows you're just an Ero-sennin!" Naruto said. "Now, I gotta go find Kakashi."
"Oi, wait a second," Jiraiya told him. "I need you to come with me, to find someone. A woman."
"Aaaah! I knew it, Ero-sennin!" Naruto yelled, pointing. "You just want me to come along on your perverted peeping sessions!"
"Tch, like I'd want you along," Jiraiya replied. "You're too noisy for those. No, this woman is a legendary shinobi like me. She knows lots of special techniques that you can learn."
"Not interested," Naruto muttered.
Jiraiya shrugged. "I do know a jutsu more powerful than the Chidori, but, since you're not interested, I guess I'll ask Sasuke." He started to walk away.
"Hey! Hey!" Naruto shouted, rushing to stop him. "I'll be ready in a minute. Ero-sennin! Stay right there!" He took off at a run, leaving a massive dust trail in his wake.
"Heh. What a cute kid." Jiraiya said, smiling.
He stood before the door, raised one hand to knock, then dropped it. He couldn't do this. Not after what he'd done to her.
"Neji-nii-kun?" a timid voice inquired from behind him, almost fearful.
Hyuuga Neji froze, then slowly turned around. "Hinata-sama."
"C-can I help you?" she inquired, not moving from where she stood some distance away, but clearly poised to run if he made any threatening moves.
"Hinata-sama..." Neji repeated, then sank into a bow. "Forgive me."
"Neji-nii-kun..." Hinata murmured, shocked. "Anou...what?"
Neji was still for a moment, then he pressed his forehead to the ground. "Hinata-sama, forgive me. I did terrible things to you for no other reason than to sate my anger and dislike of the main family. I beg your forgiveness."
"Stand up, Neji-nii-kun," Hyuuga Hinata said, voice barely above a whisper. "You are family."
"Hinata-sama..." Neji murmured, slowly raising his head to regard her. "I..."
"Hinata!" a voice called out.
"Kurenai-sensei!" Hinata said, bowing in acknowledgement.
"Neji-san!" said the familiar intonations of Hyuuga Neji's sensei, Maito Gai and one of his other students, Rock Lee. By their side limped Lee, struggling along with his single crutch. Kurenai appeared to be quite aggravated by their presence.
"Gai-sensei?" Neji said, a question in his voice.
"It is good that we find you here settling your differences," Gai nodded. "But we have something to discuss with Hinata."
"Kurenai-sensei?" Hinata asked.
"Hinata," her jounin instructor began. "A group of the genin will be going on a mission. You've been chosen as one who will be participating."
Hinata said nothing, eyes wide.
Gai turned his head to look at Neji. "Yes?"
"I would like to go as well, as Hinata-sama's protector."
Gai and Kurenai both blinked, and Hinata's eyes widened as Gai spoke. "Why?"
"I have done...terrible things to Hinata-sama," Neji said, bowing his head. "I must atone for my actions. Hinata-sama is still injured from what I did, so she requires aid."
Kurenai looked at Gai, who shrugged, then at Hinata. "Hinata? The decision is yours."
"Um...Neji-nii-kun," Hinata began. "I would b-be honored."
"Yosh!" Lee cried, pumping one arm in the air. "That was so beautiful. Gai-sensei!"
"Lee!" the two embraced, both crying over what they had just witnessed.
Kurenai sighed. "I think I have a headache."
"What's the mission, Kurenai-sensei?" Hinata asked her.
"Travelling, to start. You and several others will be accompanied by several jounin, to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry."
Hinata and Neji's eyes widened simultaneously before Neji spoke. "You're serious? Why?"
"Not my decision," Kurenai shrugged. "I was over-ridden. The genin who will be going are in need of refreshing their basic skills. It was decided this was the best course of action. To provide those genin lacking in the fundamental principles a understanding of them through study at the premier institution for such things."
Gai nodded, disengaging from his hug with Lee to confirm. "Hinata-san was selected, as were several others. You had not, in actuality, been chosen, Neji, but since the heir to the house has spoken, you will be accompanying her, as you requested."
"Who else will be coming?" Hinata asked. "W-will Naruto-kun be there...?"
Kurenai sighed. "Naruto will be accompanying you as far as Diagon Alley, then you will remain there with the others until he and Jiraiya return from their task, at which point you will all proceed to Hogwarts together."
"Naruto-kun..." Hinata said quietly, then, hesitantly spoke up again. "When do we leave?"
"Three days." Gai told her. "You just have to get everything in order within that time and then we'll be departing."
"Lee, will you be coming?" Neji asked.
Lee shook his head. "Not yet. Once Naruto and Jiraiya-sama complete their mission though, I should be able to join you all." He smiled, though a bit weakly.
"Take heart, Lee!" Gai declared. "The fiery spirit of youth and passion can never be overwhelmed!"
"Gai-sensei!" Lee shouted, crying again. "I won't fail you!"
"Lee!" Gai shouted as well, and the two embraced once more.
Kurenai sighed, rolling her eyes, clearly wishing she was anywhere but there at that moment. Neji merely shook his head, used to the antics of his sensei and fellow genin. Hinata giggled quietly, one hand covering her mouth to muffle the sound as her cheeks reddened.
"At any rate," Kurenai told Hinata after the spectacle had subsided somewhat. "Get what things you'll need. Clothing, equipment. All the usual things you'll need for any mission."
"Hai, Kurenai-sensei." Hinata bowed, then turned to Neji. "Neji-nii- kun, excuse me." She gave him a small bow as well, then quietly departed into the Hyuuga household.
"I'll take my leave as well," Neji murmured, incling his head to Gai and Lee, and then excusing himself.
Kurenai glanced at Gai. "I have to find Shino. You'll excuse me?"
"Be well, Kurenai-san," Gai nodded, turning to Lee as the two began to walk away, conversing quietly.
Sasuke gasped for air, his arms hanging limp at his sides as he looked at the rock face before him. Holes and cracks covered it, from where he had struck it repeatedly with the chidori.
How much stronger do I need to be? His thoughts fell back to the fight with Gaara, where had been a helpless observer as Naruto put forth an inhuman display. How had he done such things?
"When did I become so weak?" Sasuke screamed, generating another chidori. Without another word, he charged at the wall, a wordless cry tearing from his throat. His open palm slammed into the rock, channeling his rage into the surface. Cracks spiderwebbed out from his palm, the rock wall beginning to collapse. His eyes widened as he began to pull his hand away. He wasn't going to get clear in time.
"Sasuke-kun!" a voice shouted, hands circling his waist. There was a wrench and he was pulled away from the collapsing rocks. He tumbled to the ground, someone taking the brunt of the fall beneath him.
"Are you alright, Sasuke-kun?" Sakura asked breathlessly.
"Sakura..." Sasuke murmured. "Thank you..." He disengaged from her, then offered his hand to help her up.
"I wanted to thank you, Sasuke-kun." Sakura said. "For saving me from the grip of that sand."
Sasuke was silent for a moment. "I didn't."
"What?" Sakura blinked.
"Naruto was the one who saved you." Sasuke said quietly.
"Don't be modest, Sasuke-kun," Sakura said dismissively. "I know Naruto's strong..."
"No. You don't." Sasuke cut her off. "You have no idea how strong he is. You've never noticed him at all. He risked everything to save you. Succeeded where I failed."
Sakura said nothing, eyes wide, then opened her mouth to speak.
"Oi, there you two are!" Kakashi called out, walking into view. "Sorry I'm late. Got lost on my way here."
Great, another pitiful excuse. Sasuke grimaced, then spoke. "What's the mission for today, Kakashi?"
"No mission today," Kakashi replied. "But, we have to go to the Shinobi training center soon. You and Sakura should prepare."
"Naruto isn't going with us?" Sakura asked.
"No," Kakashi told her. "Naruto will be on a different mission. You have three days to get your things in order." He spared no other word for them, apparently distracted by something as he walked off.
"I've got to go get my things in order," Sasuke said, not giving Sakura the opportunity to speak. "I'll see you later."
Sakura stood there for a moment. "Sasuke-kun..." That said, she too turned to depart, picking her way forlornly through the rubble back to the village.
"I somehow thought I'd find you all here." Asuma said, pushing aside the curtain as he entered the restaurant and focused on Shikamaru, Ino, and Chouji. "I have a mission for you to prepare for. Well, Chouji has a mission. And I'd like Shikamaru to go with him."
"What about me?" Ino demanded.
"You'll be teaming with Kiba and Tenten while they are gone," Asuma told her, glancing at Chouji. "You and some of the other genin will be going on a mission that will take you away from the village for a while. Shikamaru, I want you to go with Chouji and tutor him."
"Che...How troublesome..." Shikamaru sighed. "Fine, fine."
"Why do I have to be teamed up with dog-boy?" Ino demanded, furious.
"Because there won't be that many genin around while the rest are gone," Asuma interrupted. "Get used to it." He walked off, leaving the genin team to stew over what he had just told them.
"Oi, Ero-sennin!" Naruto complained. "When are you going to teach me a new jutsu?"
"If you keep calling me ero-sennin," Jiraiya muttered. "Never."
"Why did you decide to bring me along, anyway?" Naruto asked. "Is it because I'm so talented and cool?"
"Heh, you wish," Jiraiya snorted. "Why I chose you is my business. Maybe I'll tell you later."
"Hey, hey!" Naruto said, ignoring that. "What's this jutsu that's stronger than the chidori?"
"You remember that?" Jiraiya blinked, then looked thoughtful. "Here. Watch." He held out his right hand and began to concentrate. A moment later, chakra began to appear in his hand, rotating slowly, then picking up speed until it was moving so fast that Naruto could barely track the direction it was moving in. When it was fully formed into a perfect sphere, he took his hand, palm out and shoved it against the nearby tree. The spinning ball tore into the wood in a spiralling motion, shredding its way through easily.
Jiraiya straightened. "Did you see?"
"There was a lot of spinning..." Naruto said, eyes wide.
"You've mastered the water walking and tree climbing exercises, right?" Jiraiya asked. "I know you've mastered the water, since I taught you that. With this, you use the tree climbing exercise and release a moderate amount of chakra. Then, you use the water walking exercise and keep it flowing out constantly. Then, with it flowing, you spin it around constantly." He produced a water balloon and tossed it to Naruto.
"Eh, what's this?" Naruto asked.
"Use that. Channel the chakra into the water of the balloon. When you can make the balloon explode from the spinning motion, a constant spinning, mind, then you've mastered the first part of this." Jiraiya told him.
"Ero-sennin, what's this called?"
"Rasengan." Jiraiya replied. "Now, there's more balloons in that box over there. Keep at it. But don't get discouraged. This is an a-rank jutsu and not just anyone can learn it."
"I'll master this in one week!" Naruto told him, concentrating on the balloon.
Jiraiya turned his head to look at Naruto. "Yondaime invented this technique. It took him three years to perfect this jutsu. That should give you an idea of how difficult it is."
Naruto stopped focusing on the balloon, his eyes latching onto Jiraiya. "Yondaime..." After a moment, he grinned.
"Alright! I really will master this in a week and prove I'm worthy of being Hokage!" he shouted.
"Good luck," Jiraiya said, trying not to laugh as Naruto set to work.
Shino paused in the middle of the clearing, then stopped. "Kurenai- sensei?"
"How'd you know I was here?" Kurenai asked, stepping out into the clearing as well. "I made no sound."
"Your scent," Shino murmured. "It is pleasing to them."
Kurenai nodded. "I've come to tell you about your mission."
"Neji, Hinata, Chouji, Shikamaru, Naruto, and I will be leaving the village on a mission to Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry, for a length of time that is unspecified. Several of the jounin as well as Jiraiya-sama will be our escort. Kakashi will be taking Sakura and Sasuke to the Shinobi training center, but will accompany us part of the way." Shino stated. "I know."
"How did you find out?" Kurenai asked, unsurprised, but curious.
Shino made a barely noticeable motion that might have been a shrug. "They see everything, and thus, so do I."
"Anyway, you know when you're leaving then?" At his nod, Kurenai took a step back. "I'll leave you to your preparations then." She launched herself into the trees and was gone.
Shino stood there for a moment, allowing himself a faint smile before going back to his training.
The sun was setting as legendary shinobi, Jiraiya, engaged in his favorite past-time. Peeping at the women's baths. It was a delicate task, one that required stealth, patience, and above all, silence.
"Oi, Ero-sennin!" Naruto screamed. "Aren't you going to at least give me a hint?" Which is why loudmouth shinobi where usually not invited on such a mission.
"Oh-ho-ho-ho-ho!" Jiraiya cackled, peering through his telescope at the women's baths some distance away. "Konoha's women are the best."
Naruto's shoulders slumped. "He's ignoring me. IDIOT ERO-SENNIN!"
"Keep it down, would you?" Jiraiya retorted. "You'll give me away."
The water balloon smacked against the his head. "Pay attention, ero- sennin!"
"Geez," Jiraiya rubbed the back of his head. "Why didn't you just ask for my help?"
"That's what I've been doing!" Naruto shouted.
"Have you mastered the first stage yet?" Jiraiya asked, straightening to regard the young genin.
"Well, no..." Naruto began.
"Then you don't need my help yet," Jiraiya said, turning back to face the baths. "I can't help you until you figure it out for yourself." He extended the telescope again and began peeping once more, occasionally cackling to himself.
"Maybe I should have gotten Kakashi-sensei to train me." Naruto muttered, picking up another water balloon. Concentrate. Focus the chakra in your hand and start it moving until the balloon bursts from the spinning. He frowned as the balloon stretched flat, the water inside clearly moving, but not doing anything more than forcing the rubber out into a flat disc.
Jiraiya turned slightly, watching Naruto while continuing to gather information for his novel. After a moment, he sighed. "That's all wrong. Stop." He walked over to where the young man stood.
"Going to help at last?" Naruto snarked, releasing the chakra in his hand. Jiraiya said nothing, merely reaching out to lay one hand on Naruto's head and tilt it forward.
"Hey, hey! What are you doing?" he demanded.
"As I thought." Jiraiya murmured, crouching down and letting go. "Understand. Your body's chakra rotates in a certain way, depending on various things. It could be left, or right. Your chakra rotates to the right. The thing you must do to master this stage is make it rotate against its nature. The disruption will cause the balloon to pop."
"Which way does my chakra rotate?" Naruto demanded. "And how can you tell?"
"Your hair," Jiraiya replied. "Your hair tells me which way your chakra rotates. In your case, it rotates to the right. So you want your chakra to rotate to the left while keeping it within the confines of the sphere."
Naruto nodded slowly. This is a lot harder than I thought it would be. "Alright! Just watch me, ero-sennin, I'll do it!"
"Sure, sure." Jiraiya waved a hand absently. "Keep at it. I'll be right over here." That said, he went back to peeping. Naruto glared at him for a moment, then returned his focus to the balloon.
It was fully dark when the pair headed back into town. Jiraiya smiling, as if amused by something and Naruto barely able to keep up, having exhausted himself in his attempts to master the first stage.
"Oi, ero-sennin..." Naruto muttered. "This is pretty hard..."
"I told you that, fool," Jiraiya snorted. "Who was it who said they'd learn to do it in a week?"
"I take that back..." he replied, then fell flat on his face. Jiraiya stopped, nudging him with one foot lightly. A second later, Naruto began to snore.
"Heh. What a cute kid." Jiraiya said, bending down and picking Naruto up. Humming to himself, he began carrying the genin back into the village. Without being slowed down by the exhausted boy, Jiraiya had him in his bed in short order.
"Sleep well, Uzumaki Naruto..." he said, quietly closing the door and heading outside.
"What is it, Ebisu?" Jiraiya asked as he stepped out into the street.
"Jiraiya-sama," Ebisu dropped down near him, kneeling. "I was curious to see how your training of the boy was going."
"He's an irritating loudmouthed brat." Jiraiya said with a sigh. "But, he tries hard and grasps principles quickly, which is surprising, given what I saw of his records in the academy."
"He is a better teacher than I," Ebisu said quietly. "I was so puffed up with my importance of being Konohamaru's tutor that I failed to see that I was teaching him nothing but puffing his opinion of himself up."
"Oi, Ebisu," Jiraiya said, slinging a arm around his shoulders companionably. "Don't get so depressed. Come with me, I know what we can do to cheer you up."
"Er... Jiraiya-sama, I really should go and tend to Konohamaru-san..." Ebisu said, trying to free himself from the larger man's arm.
"Nonsense!" Jiraiya declared. "We're going to broaden your horizons a bit and show you some things you've never seen before. I promise you, this will be an experience you'll never forget."
"Jiraiya-sama..." Ebisu protested, cringing at the grin on the shinobi's face. Still protesting, he was led off into the night by the older man.
Several hours later, Jiraiya looked down at Ebisu's comatose body and sighed. He noted the blood splattered against the wall and the small trickle coming from the jounin's nose.
"Lightweight," Jiraiya muttered, hefting the jounin over his shoulder and setting out to take the unconscious jounin home.
Hyuuga Neji liked spending time out in the forests outside of the village proper. It allowed him to test the full range of his Byakugan and practice without the irritation the presence of large numbers of people caused him.
"Ready, Neji-san?" Tenten asked, sliding into a crouch as he nodded. She leapt into the air, kunai and shuriken flying from her hands at her fellow genin. As expected, he executed the kaiten, deflecting all of her weapons. Tenten grinned to herself as she performed several seals. "Kage Kunai no jutsu!"
Immediately, several other kunai appeared, soaring at Neji as he came out of the spin. Unsurprised, but mentally applauding Tenten's tactic, Neji released chakra, but did not execute another spin, instead just stopping the kunai and grabbing them for a return throw. As he expected, the kunai struck only a tree. Tenten had taken up a defensive position. Reactivating his Byakugan, Neji scanned the area for her. There! He pushed off the ground, aiming for a tree nearby that had revealed itself as her hiding place.
"It's over," he said, as his palm struck her chest. Tenten grinned, then exploded in a cloud of smoke, revealing a log.
Kawarimi. Neji drew back, intending to reassess the situation when he felt the prick of a kunai at his neck.
"Bang." Tenten grinned. "You're dead."
"How did you...?" Neji asked, straightening.
"Genjutsu." She smiled. "I was there when you saw me, but after that, you saw only what you expected to see." She smiled again, then jumped down from the tree, followed closely by Neji.
"So you're leaving soon?" she asked after a moment as they began walking along the trail back toward the village.
"Yes," Neji replied. "Some foolish mission. Several of the genin are being dispatched. I volunteered to go as Hinata-sama's protector."
Tenten stopped, and it was a moment before Neji noticed. "Tenten?"
"You're going...as her protector?" Tenten asked, an undecipherable note in her voice.
"I did a terrible thing to her." Neji told her quietly. "I have to make amends."
Tenten didn't speak for a moment. "Just be careful, please?"
"I shall do my best." He murmured. "And that goes for you as well."
Tenten's smile returned and the two walked down the trail in silence.
For the second time in as many days, the Jounin were gathered in the conference room.
"Well?" Jiraiya prompted. "Which of the genin did you decide on and which of you will be accompanying them so that they don't get into too much trouble while Naruto and I are tracking down Tsunade?"
Asuma spoke first. "Neji. Chouji. Shikamaru. Hinata. Shino."
"As for who will be accompanying you..." Anko murmured. "I'll go."
This caused a stir, then Gai spoke. "I'm going to remain behind and join you once Lee is recovered."
"Asuma and I will look after the remaining genin." Kurenai murmured.
"I'll be going, but only as far Sunagakure before I take Sasuke and Sakura to the training center." Kakashi murmured, not looking up from his book.
"I would like to accompany you as well." Another voice spoke, as Ebisu entered the room, looking decidedly pale.
"Oi, Ebisu," Jiraiya shook his head. "Didn't expect to see you up and about so soon."
"...Jiraiya-sama," Ebisu inclined his head. "Is that acceptable?"
"It's fine." Jiraiya nodded. "Anyone else?"
"Che," a voice snorted from the back. "I'll go as well." Genma stood up so he was visible, looking irritated as he chewed on his toothpick.
"Think the three of you can handle five genin for a week or more?" Jiraiya inquired, ignoring everyone else in the room now that he had volunteers.
"Are we allowed to exert necessary force if they get rowdy?" Anko replied, cracking her knuckles.
"Do whatever you feel is required," Jiraiya told her dismissively. "Just make sure they're all still in one piece before we take passage to the school."
"Why are we going through the sand village?" Genma asked. "I know they surrendered and we accepted, but..."
"That is begging for trouble." Ebisu agreed.
Jiraiya shrugged. "It will be fine. I've taken steps to tend to that. And I need to speak with some of my contacts while there."
"You have contacts in the Sand?" Kurenai asked, incredulous.
"I have contacts everywhere." Jiraiya replied, giving her a look. "I'm not just the pervert I appear to be. Nor did I waste all the time I spent traveling."
Kurenai answered by glaring, but said nothing as Genma stood. "I'll go get my things in order." He exited the room, followed shortly by Ebisu and Anko. A moment later, after giving Kurenai another glare, Jiraiya departed as well.
Naruto woke about a half hour before he was set to leave. He blinked groggily, staring at his right hand, which was trembling.
This is a even harder than it was before ero-sennin explained it. He pushed himself out of bed, tended to his morning routine, got dressed and headed out, whistling to himself as he did so.
"Oi! Hinata!" he called out, spotting the shy girl. "How are you?"
"Naruto-kun..." she said, eyes widening, then glanced back along the street she had stepped off of. "Anou..."
"Hinata...?" Naruto paused, then his eyes caught on who was behind her. Neji.
"This punk isn't bothering you again, is he, Hinata?" Naruto asked, his backpack starting to slip off his shoulders as he tensed, glaring at the older genin.
"N-n-no," Hinata stammered. "Neji-nii-kun is my protector for the mission I'm going on."
Naruto relaxed slightly. "You two made up?"
"Yes." Hinata nodded vigorously, her eyes flickering back and forth between the two boys.
"I must thank you, as well, Uzumaki Naruto," Neji said quietly. "You opened my eyes."
"Eh, don't worry about it," Naruto said with a grin, relaxed now. "Just try to chill out a little."
"Where were you going, Naruto-kun?" Hinata asked.
"Oh, gotta report to the west gate and meet the ero-sennin for some mission or another." Naruto said.
Neji and Hinata exchanged a look. "That's where we are going as well."
"Oh?" Naruto blinked. "Well, let's go!" Cheering loudly, Naruto set out ahead of the three. Hinata giggled at the display and Neji merely shook his head, sighing.
"How did that loudmouth ever beat me?" he wondered, a wry tone to his voice. Naruto stopped, turned, and gave Neji a dirty look before grinning and starting off again. Hinata giggled once more as Neji sighed. This was going to be a long trip.
Akimichi Chouji, Nara Shikamaru and Aburame Shino were already waiting at the west gate with Genma when the Hyuuga cousins and Naruto arrived.
"It's a mission with Naruto?" Shikamaru muttered. "How troublesome."
"Shikamaru! Hey!" Naruto called out. "Not still mad about the exam, are you?"
"You are entirely too high-strung and exciteable." Shikamaru replied. "You could hurt somebody doing things like that."
"Good morning, Naruto," Chouji murmured, slowly eating from a bag of chips.
"Hey, Chouji," Naruto waved, glancing at Genma. "You were the referee, weren't you?"
"Yo, brat." Genma raised a hand. "Glad to see you're still in one piece. You and Neji there put on quite a show."
"I see you're all here. Except for Jiraiya-sama." Another voice said.
Naruto turned. "What are you doing here, closet-pervert?"
Ebisu caught Naruto in a quick headlock. "All the ramen you can eat later if you never mention that again!"
"You better keep your promise!" Naruto replied. He staggered as Ebisu released him.
"Actually, I am one of your escorts for this mission," Ebisu announced. "Myself, Genma-san there and..."
"Me!" a cloud of smoke exploded in the gate. "Mitarashi Anko, jounin examiner, has arrived!"
"Augh! It's the crazy lady again!" Naruto pointed, screaming.
"Che...it's that loudmouth punk," Anko muttered. The two started glaring at each other, insults streaming from their mouths.
"We're just waiting on Jiraiya-sama, then," Ebisu said, shaking his head at the display.
"Ero-sennin's probably peeping at the baths again," Naruto said, turning away from Anko to share that fact. "That's all the pervert ever does."
"Naruto!" Jiraiya's voice snapped. "You do not disrespect your sensei in such a manner before others!" Jiraiya stepped out from a nearby vendor stand, a bag slung across his shoulder.
"Everyone here?" He looked around, confirming the head count. "Good. Let's go. We have a long journey ahead and little time in which to get to where we're going." That said, he turned on his heel and started through the gates, humming to himself. Conversations striking up between the various members of the party, they all followed, leaving Konohagakure behind.