A Song for Them @nihilistic_bunny
Montage Arc, New Development

Naruto Fan Fiction!

Adventure! SI-OC!

(Title)

"A Song for Them"

A/N: Happy Anniversary! …oh. I'm late again, aren't I? I feel like that is becoming a habit. Maybe like a certain someone else we know? Ah well. I'm just so stoked about the fact A Song for Them has made it an entire year! So much has happened and I just want to thank you guys from the bottom of my heart. This wouldn't be happening if weren't for all the support you've given me all these weeks. So, this is for you. Enjoy!

DISCLAIMER: I do not own 'Naruto' or any of the cannon characters! Nor will I admit to putting them in ridiculous situations for my own amusement.

WARNING! RATED M! For...? Nothing? Maybe some mild language? Huh.

Exam Deux Arc,

Chapter Forty: "New Development"

"No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another." -Charles Dickens

She fidgeted, hands folded neatly on her lap as her nervous minty eyes kept glancing up at me.

I was leaning back casually in the booth, arms crossed over my chest as I gave her a considering look.

'Please, Sora-san! Teach me Fuinjutsu!' she had shouted, causing people to shoot us strange looks. I remember that she had said that, very clearly. I felt my lips twitch into a frown again. Not a mean one, mind you. But a thoughtful one as I tried to figure out this latest puzzling development. I couldn't yet.

I was befuddled.

After the initial favor asking Sakura followed up with an offer of treating me to lunch. I had waited as she changed out of her nurse uniform into a red, summery strapped dress with the that white circle of hers imprinted in between her shoulders, leaving her long hair down. I had followed her obediently without saying anything. I don't even think I had agreed to eat in the first place. I was in that much of a shock. Now, we were sitting across from each other at The Golden Treat, a plate of Manju sitting in between us. I've been thrice tempted so far to eat one but every time I begin to reach for it, that damned Scarecrow's words come to mind and I get self-conscious about my weight. I know he was just screwing with me but I can't help it, dammit! I've always been naturally plump in some places, my hips and bust particularly but I'd always thought it was rather pleasant-looking! And now...

Damn it. I love my sweets.

…I think I got sidetracked. I looked up at the very awkward twelve-year-old across from me again.

"...so?" she muttered quietly, twiddling her thumbs now, "W-What do you think?"

I felt another whisper of denial of my current situation in the back of my brain and reached for my pad, writing on it briefly. "Why do you want to learn Fuinjutsu?" That's a good question, for starters at least. Her spine straightened and she lifted a hand to sweep her bangs behind her ear, looking every bit a professional that I felt a bit bad for slouching. I wasn't going to stop, but I felt a bit bad. Still not bad enough to straighten up though.

"Sora-san, I wish to learn the Schools of Sealing so that I may apply my knowledge to modern medical practices." she said formally. I nodded, gesturing her to go on. I kinda worked that much out myself. She took a deep breath, that glint shining in her eyes once more. "Alright, so, I've been doing some research on my free time over the last few weeks and learned that there hasn't been any new, medically-predisposed Fuinjutsu designs created in over five decades." I blinked rapidly, processing that. There is Medical Fuinjutsu? Sakura rolled on, oblivious to my brain stalling, "The current ones in the textbooks are still in use today! Some of them even require four-to-eight highly trained medics actively fueling it, and even then they have to switch out because of the drain of chakra after hours of operation! Not to mention the incensed oils that some procedures use!"

At the point she finished my eyebrows were reaching my hairline as she took a well-deserved breath after all that. There's no specific branch or School dedicated solely to the purpose of healing, I knew this for a fact. Else, I would've found something on it by now. But then again, people can be horrifyingly ignorant when it comes to Fuinjutsu designs. I almost felt a shudder come on when remembering how I'd found an amateur's scribbling of a low-grade explosive tag filed away under genin learning materials in the Public Library! Someone could've and probably already had lost a few limbs over that bit of learning. Didn't matter if it was low-grade, it had been improperly placed where an absolute novice looking for a cheap way to pump out flashy moves could get their lazy hands on it!

Sky-girl. You're ranting. Terra commented.

Right. Back to the task at hand. A follow up question.

"Why Fuinjutsu? Why me?"

The pink-haired girl lost a bit of steam at that, pressing her lips together nervously into a little squiggle as she considered her words carefully. "The seal you used after you... electrocuted yourself the last time we saw each other, I hadn't thought it was possible for Fuinjutsu to be used that way. I assumed it was only for storage and explosive tag making until I saw what you had done! You had ran a dangerous amount of electricity recklessly close to your brain and you heart, you could've gotten brain damage or went into cardiac arrest!" she shouted, now turning this into a scolding. I frowned defensively, shoulders rising. It was entirely non-lethal! It was just a little bit of raw Raiton and I would've been just fine! She was just exaggerating... a bit. Kinda. Well...

Terra snorted a sardonic laugh, And you wonder why people want to smack you upside the head.

I ignored her comment, not voicing the retort of wanting to smack her. Kami knows she'd only have a field day with that. And to think, I had been enjoying the recent lack of sarcasm and cynical outlook on my life. There goes that peace of mind.

Sakura took a calming breath, I refocused on the girl and felt her releasing the frustration from her chakra. She looked back up at me and switched back into the introverted Miss Perfect again, blushing at her frankly understandable outburst. I could recognize that I was a horrible patient. "Sorry about that... m-my point was... The seal you made not five minutes before. It had been looked so clean and simple. Sasuke-kun had placed it on your chest and you... you just..." she trailed off, eyes sliding over to something beyond my shoulder. A tiny smile pulled on her lips. Iridescent green eyes met mine again and I was stuck by the sheer determination reflecting in them.

"I want to be able to do that. I want to be able to do what you do."

I felt a grin quirk up on my face as I leaned back more comfortably in the booth, giving the girl across from me a serious consideration. More people steadily began ducking under the blue curtain and entering The Golden Treat, just in time for the beginnings of the lunch hour. Takara-san was doing an admirable job attending to everyone by herself even as her grandmother began giving some of the customers the side-eye.

Teach Sakura? It... was possible, I allowed. Even taking consideration of my time constrictions in the coming month and ensuing aftermath we could possibly come up with a lesson plan of sorts. It wouldn't be like when I learned, Sakura already knew the language and vocabulary and I know from Kunoichi class that she has one of the cleanest and nicest writing styles of our classmates, so there wouldn't be much instruction there. It would primarily depend on Sakura and how much effort she's willing to devote to studying the practice on her own time. But... Kaa-chan had trained me for years. Reconditioning how my mind worked out a problem and taught me the kind of logic her style of teaching required, the kind of problem solving that I still use today. I hadn't even realized what had really happened until recently, after looking back at all our time together with the new information I had about her. Kaa-chan had imprinted herself on me in more ways than one. Sakura is her own person through and through, even at this point in time. I can't teach her the same way I was taught.

I picked up a manju and popped it in my mouth, shewing slowly to savor the coffee jelly filling inside. To hell with Scarecrow's teasing. I love my sweets too damn much. I then leaned forward and picked up my pen, putting it to the pad as I gave her a serious look.

"If we're going to do this I need to make it clear that I won't be able to walk you through this step-by-step." I warned, her eyes widened impossibly and an ecstatic grin spilt her face. I felt my stern look was in danger of faltering. I persevered and continued. "I'm going to be really busy the next few weeks training for the Third round of the Chuunin Exams so I won't be available to answer all of the questions you might have."

Sakura's eyes bulged from her head.

"Wait-you're in the tournament next month!? You're applying to become a chuunin!? With less than a year of experience being a genin!" she squawked disbelievingly. Then she blinked and flushed with embarrassment, "Not that I'm saying that I think you're underqualified or anything-I wouldn't be asking for you to teach me if I'd thought that-I mean-Oh Kami, I-I'm so sorry! I didn't mean it like that! I wouldn't have bothered you with this request if I'd thought you'd be so busy!" she cried. I tilted my head at her very surprised reaction. She didn't alread-Oh, I guess they haven't informed the public about the match-ups, yet. I suppose that's understandable. It's only been a day since the preliminaries.

I waved my hand dismissively, trying to calm her growing panic, adding, "So are Naruto and Sasuke. We're all in the finals next month." She looked inordinately pleased as her eyes landed on Duckie's name. I was tempted to roll my eyes. If only she knew how annoying that brat could be. Well, she did, didn't she? And that didn't stop her last time. I snapped my fingers to get her attention again as my stomach rolled uncomfortably with the reminder of Sakura from Before.

"Back to the point. Before you decide to pursue this any further, I want to give you some learning materials and see if this is something you really, really want."

"So-you're really-!? I'm really going to learn?!" she asked excitedly, her entire bubbly chakra radiating delight and gratitude, erasing any lingering worry she had left behind. I felt the urge to ruffle her hair and pinch those cheeks of hers but valiantly kept my hands to myself. I continued writing before she could get too excited.

"We're only going to try it out at first." I stressed, dampening her excitement slightly. "Anyone willing can learn how to use Fuinjutsu but not everyone is suited for it. Learning how to copy an already tested and approved Seal and having the skills necessary to create one by one's own merits are entirely different. Most people lack the thought process and ability to solve complex problems to succeed. Fuinjutsu is far from drawing pretty patterns and then hoping for the best, it requires forethought and planning."

"Don't worry, Sora-san! This isn't a mistake, I am confident that I will succeed!" she exclaimed. I felt my grin grow a little wider. It's nice that she has the confidence down, but...

Well, we'll just have to see.

We finished the rest of our sweets and slipped out before it got too crowded and it was her turn to follow me back as I weaved my way through the late morning crowds, I checked behind me very now and then to make sure I hadn't lost her, also scanning the roofs for that static I felt in the back of my sensing. The same static that had unnerved me in the hall. It's been constantly there and it was starting to make me think that maybe there was something wrong with me. Something else that was wrong with my head. I focused on my surroundings instead of following that line of thought. The streets were unusually full for this time of day, even for this time of year. The merchants were arriving early this year. Everywhere I looked there was people dressed in colorful clothing I knew didn't originate from anywhere in the Land of Fire, they were so... exotic. I was nearly distracted from my path multiple times on our way up to the Northern Residential District. We reached the shabby little apartment building that I called home and Sakura began to have doubts again.

Her entire body had froze up on my doorstep as I turned the handle and stepped into my rinky-dink apartment. I kept my smile to myself as I pretended not to notice her hesitation and sat down at the step, waving her in behind me as I took off my sandals and leaving the front door wide open for her to follow me in. Sakura was utterly torn between an abundance of unbridled curiosity and propriety. We were friends by the loosest of standards, one as well-cultured as her did not simply waltz into someone else's apartment. I didn't wait for her to make up her mind before I stood up again and crossed the main room and swinging open the door to my bedroom. I felt Sakura's chakra finally enter as I rummaged through the large, old bookrack that took up one side of the four walls. Dragging my finger across the spines of the many, many books I owned before I found the right one. My very own Tome. I ran my thumb over the character scratched into the worn spine, a small smile growing at the memories of all the hours I've spent pouring my findings into this.

Study

Years and years ago I had made a entire study guide, filled with all the basic material needed to learn Fuinjutsu in case Naruto ever showed any more interest in it beyond making things go boom. He didn't and still hasn't sadly, he has such a natural spark for it. I pulled the black book from it's spot and braced it's sizable weight in my arms as I snatched up a blank notebook on my way out of the room. Sakura was the picture of uncomfortable as she stood in the middle of the room, awkwardly undecided between sitting on the couch or at the table or if she should even sit at all! It was adorable. Before I could tease or coo at her I caught her eye and nodded towards the table, she took a seat and dropped the Tome on the table. It landed with a startling 'THWUMP!'.

Sakura stared wide-eyed, her total disbelief warring with unrepentant excitement inside as she beheld the five-inch thick book.

I smirked, pleased with that reaction.

She tentatively lifted a delicate hand to brush over the pages that were, embarrassingly, only barely attached and nearly spilling out. My own added pages to add to it's unnatural size, all filled with my findings from over the years. I set down the blank notebook in front of her, green eyes drifted to before looking up at me in question.

"...is this all...?" she trailed off, vaguely gesturing to the Tome. I pulled out a chair from the table and sat down, pulling out my notepad and pen.

"This is what you'll be learning."

"All of this?"

"All of it. To begin with, at least. Personally, I know every word in there from front to back." I confirmed, I then tapped the white notebook beside the Tome. "This will be your personal journal from now on. Fuinjutsu is a complex and diverse set of subjects. You'll need it to keep track of your thoughts."

Her eyes darted from my page to the notebook, she reached out and picked up the white book. It was a cheap corner store book that I had bought along with a dozen others and a can of soda, but Sakura was looking at it like it was made of gold. Shiny minty eyes finally tore themselves away to look at me.

"What is the first step, Sora-san?"

I opened the Tome to the first page.

調査 Study

"Uhm, Sora-san?" I called, seeing her walk out of the bathroom, toweling her wet hair and making it look significantly more curly than before.

After giving me instructions to begin reading the quite large book she informed me that she was taking a shower before disappearing with a set of clothes behind the one of the three doors here. Now she was wearing a baggy dark-grey tank-top and a pair of black shorts that looked to be a few sizes too big, they were only just clinging to her hips. She looked very... comfortable. I shifted, feeling a bit constricted in my dress suddenly. Lilac eyes landed on me and I saw her lips quirk into an almost smile. I wondered what she could be smiling about and realized I had moved positions while she'd been in the shower. I was currently sitting on her living room floor with papers strewn around me, I had already made use of the notebook she had given me, listing questions about the 'Schools' and all their functions, copying down descriptions of 'Base' characters and their various purposes and so many other things. There was just so much and I've barely even started! If this was the kind of thing Sora-san had been doing while we were in the Academy then I feel like I've been underestimating her all this time. Knowing all this now, it's really no wonder she became a genin and was put on Sasuke-kun's team...

She tossed her hair-towel over the back of the brown-grey couch and adjusted the orange scarf around her neck before crouching down beside me, I straightened up from my hunched position and tucked my bangs behind my ears as I spoke up, "I know that you said that you wouldn't be able to spend a lot of time instructing me, but, maybe... do you think you have time to explain a few things real quick?"

She stared at me a moment before nodding and sitting cross-legged beside me, pulling a spare paper over and pulling out a pen from somewhere I didn't see. I didn't think too much on that before pulling the large book closer and pointing towards an intersecting design of lines and words. "Is this an example of a Seal? And should I try and replicate it so soon after beginning studies? It just seems so..." Not quite right, I finished silently.

Thankfully, she snorted a laugh and shook her head. "No, that is not a Seal. Don't worry, I'm not going to teach you to build a house if you can't tell the difference between a hammer and a saw." she tapped the multicolor diagram, dragging the end of the pen across the interconnecting lines. "This, is an example of the Schools of Sealing and their connection to each other. At least what I've figured out about them."

I knitted my eyebrows together, "What do you mean? Isn't there other material you can reference? Written by a Master of Fuinjutsu or... something?" I asked.

She shook her head again. "There are no true Masters of Fuinjutsu." she wrote, confusing me. She elaborated further, "It would be like claiming to be a Master of all Ninjutsu or every type of Taijutsu style. It's too broad a discipline for one person to cover, too diverse. Don't get me wrong, there are still skilled users and novice's but anyone who claims to have 'Mastered' Fuinjutsu is a liar and an idiot. Fuinjutsu is an Art of it's own. Each person interprets it differently and that's why a lot of Fuinjustu users can't work together or come to one agreed consensus about what is the best way. It is always changing and ever-evolving." Sora-san then flipped through the book, flashing glimpses of the progress throughout. I saw more and more diagrams, more complex and written in different colors of ink... there was so much I had to learn yet. I placed my hand over my stomach, feeling the same way I do whenever I see Sasuke-kun or when Nori-sensei praises me for a job well done. It felt like a dozen butterflies were dancing in my chest.

Her pen scratched against the paper, "As a potential user of Fuinjutsu, Sakura, you will have to be just as adaptable. Fuinjutsu is not a hobby or something to be taken lightly, it is equally useful as it is volatile. If you are lenient in any aspect of Sealing then you could get yourself killed or worse." Her eyes were staring into mine in the most serious look I've ever seen from Sora-san, making me sit up straighter. "Do you understand?" she asked. I nodded jerkily, swallowing around the lump in my throat.

What could be worse than dying?

Sora-san stared at me in silence and I couldn't help but feel even more nervous. I couldn't tell what she was thinking at all. Then she nodded to herself and began writing again. "The actual practice of Fuinjustu comes in three stages: Theory, Technique and Application." she wrote, "Until you fully understand the Theories behind the Schools and after I'm satisfied with your Techinique only then will we start with the Application."

That was somewhat discouraging. I knew before-hand that this wasn't going to be simple, but... "Um, Sora-san? Can I ask how long it took until you were ready to create your first seal?"

"I spent four years learning Theory and Technique and spent an entire year under strict supervision, perfecting my Technique into a viable Seal."

"Oh..." I sighed. That is... a lot longer than I had been expecting. A weight landed on my head all of a sudden. Startled, I quickly looked up to see Sora-san smiling playfully down at me. Then I noticed it was her hand on top of my head.

She then ruffled my hair.

I yelped, lifting my hands to stop her before she completely knotted my hair. She pulled away her hand away with a wider smile and felt a bit annoyed. It was like I was some little kid to her! I frowned at her and she seemed to laugh! Laugh of all things! I directed my eyes back down to the book to begin reading again. This chapter was about detailing the different functions of the Schools of Sealing, first was about Elemental and Physical Manipulation. I asked questions about some more specific aspects of the subject and Sora-san was helpful, even correcting the book and adding additional notes to the chapter. She leaned over, pointing towards a diagram exampling and Elements in relation to each other and I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. On her left arm, her deltoid, there looked to be some kind of... ink.

That couldn't be... a... a...

Sora-san got a tattoo?! But she was only fourteen! She moved her arm forwards, pointing out a paragraph and writing something down and I could see into the open sleeve of her-Oh, uh... I felt heat rush to my face and darted my eyes back down to the pages.

…she wasn't wearing a bra either.

I tried to focus on the words Sora-san was writing but my mind just wasn't cooperating! I'd have never guessed that Sora-san was so... bold. Even when I'm at home I always have a training bra on, it's just didn't feel proper to go without one. Unconsciously, I glanced down at my own chest.

Damn! Her boobs are bigger than mine!

I let out a quiet sigh of defeat, trying desperately to focus back on what she was teaching me as I inwardly chastised myself for acting so ridiculous, though I was also seriously readjusting my past views of who Sora-san really is. I'm learning that Sora-san wasn't just a unsocial tomboy that liked to pull pranks and skip class. Looking down at the thick book full of handwritten notes and glancing at the stocked bookcase in the other room and the wall of what looked to be research papers pinned beside it, I don't think that I've ever had any idea of who she really is at all.

There was a hand waving in front of my face. I blinked at it blankly until I realized that I had just completely spaced off!

"I-I'm so sorry!" I apologized quickly, speed-reading through the last few things she'd written.

"I'll try to help you where and whenever I can, Sakura." she wrote as she frowned slightly, her eyebrows pulling together in a look that had my ears burning with shame. She looked disappointed. "But at the end of the day, this only works if you're willing to put in the effort and dedicate yourself to learning. If you don't think that you can-"

-"I promise that I'll do my best!" I shouted suddenly, startling her so much that she flinched away slightly.

I held the white notebook firmly in my hands as I bowed my head. This was something that I wanted, to learn Fuinjutsu. There's not much I can do, I know that without anyone to remind me. I'm not any good at Taijutsu, or Ninjutsu, I've never learned any Genjutsu because I lack the creativity needed to ever be actually good at it!

I wasn't even good enough to become part of a team...

But I'm good at making sure that the hospital sheets had been cleaned and dried. I'm good at changing out IV bags and delivering the right medications to the patients that need them. I'm good at talking with the walk-in patients about finding out what is wrong so they can get the help they need. I'm good at distracting the little kids by pulling faces when they're getting their shots! I'm good at staying up on the 48-hour shifts with Nori-sensei so I can learn everything she can teach me about healing people and giving them the care they need! I am good at being a Medic! Learning Fuinjutsu and creating Seals specifically designed for healing and the expedient recovery of the patient's health will only allow me to help more! With this, I'll be able to be better than the me of right now!

I clutched my notebook to my chest as I raised my head and met her wide-eyed look. "I won't make you regret spending your time on me, Sora-senpai!"

She blinked rapidly at me after I said that. Then she smiled... almost embarrassedly. Her eyes slid shut with the smile as she rubbed the back of her neck awkwardly, her cheeks dusted with a light shade of pink. "Alright, I believe you, Sakura. Let's get back to it then."

I returned her smile, only glancing at the new words on her paper once more before returning to my studies.

"By the way, you really don't have to call me that."

"Really."

疑い Suspicion

I watched from my position on the rooftop as Sasuke continued to go about preparing for our departure tomorrow. I had given him a vague outline of what I had planned for the next few weeks and he didn't seem to have an objection, even showing a bit of excitement at the promise of specialized training. It'll be good for them, I reminded myself. Each of them need some space to capitalize on their individual growth they acquired from the second phase of the Exam. This is the best route for them. A little separation to grow never hurt anyone.

There was a new presence that landed on the empty rooftop.

"Senpai, how long have you known?"

Oh, so there's Tenzō. The smell of it, at least he finally went and cleaned up. He was starting to reek. I was wondering where he'd run off to. I gifted him with a clueless look. "Maa… you'll have to clarify, Tenzō. I know a lot of things."

The younger man stepped forward, a scowl prominent on his face. "About Tera."

Ah. So that's what surprised him most during that conversation? I might have to speak with him about his priorities. "Since I tested the team back in January. She made quite the impression on me." Or indentation, I should say. On my glove specifically.

"January?" he repeated incredulously. "I don't understand. If you've known since January then why is Sora still on active-duty?" he looked up me in what almost looked like panic. "Then did you-"

"No." I cut him off, a bit offended by the idea and the fact he thought I had reported my own student. "I didn't."

"But protocol states-"

"The same protocol you followed?"

He deflated after that. Yeah, he didn't inform anyone about Sora's head problems either. I let out a sigh and kept Sasuke's movements in my peripheral vision. "I didn't have to tell anyone because they already knew. From what I found out, there was some incident that happened during the Academy and they found out then. It was on some class trip that her alter, 'Tera', first manifested."

"How did you find this out?"

"I have my ways." I said vaguely, he didn't appear satisfied with my answer. I had actually been trying to find out how many psychological issues an active-duty shinobi is allowed to have before it gets looked down on when Inoichi-taicho just flat-out told me he knew and has known about Sora's little quirk. Him and Hokage-sama were the only ones in the know, that I knew of at least.

Tenzō rubbed his face tiredly, looking completely exhausted. "Then why wasn't it put in her file? I checked years ago and there was no mention of her disorder!"

"Don't know." I told him honestly. I had no clue why Hokage-sama would let someone who was potentially insane, graduate and even place them on a genin team with two high-profile targets. That's always bugged me to be honest. "There's no mention about the manic episode either." I mentioned. He now looked alarmed. He didn't know about those either? Really Tenzō?

I've experienced a few episodes firsthand, though she usually ends up channeling the energy into her Fuinjustu designs. Maybe that's why Hokage-sama assigned her to my team? It wasn't as if I was unused to dealing with Manic episodes, I've had to deal with Gai's for years only he's gotten better at hiding his 'low' days with exuberant amounts of exercising. Getting his genin has helped a lot, too. I learned a lot from seeing Minato-sensei defend himself against Kushina-san's mood swings as well, I should count myself lucky that Sora prefers to focus on her self-appointed tasks instead of taking to more physical and potentially painful options.

"It's interesting though, don't you think?" I mused aloud. Tenzō looked up at me in question. I continued, "That Sora had been allowed to attend the Academy at all. Hokage-sama has known about the personality disorder since her first year."

"That's because she no longer had a choice. It was taken from her after she was recruited into the Foundation against her will." he said, a melancholy look came over him then. I realized he still felt guilty about her abduction. He spoke up again, only in a whisper but I'd still heard it. "...did you know that Sora had never wanted to be a shinobi in the first place?"

I didn't know.

I leaned back against the roof railing, still speaking casually. I had a point to get to after all. "I've just always found it odd that she, an orphan without even a solid claim to a surname, had been granted so much leeway and protection by the Hokage himself. Especially for someone that hadn't been born in the Village and no known connections to it."

He paled as it dawned on him, finally. After the information Sora gave us this morning, a fair few questions surrounding her presence in the Village seemed to suddenly fit. I was relieved it wasn't just me that came to the same conclusion, that I wasn't being overly paranoid. His voice was low, only loud enough so that I could hear him. "...you're thinking that the Sandaime already knew about the connection between Sora's mother and Orochimaru."

I nodded.

He closed his eyes tightly as he took a deep breath.

"I'm gonna hurl." he informed me as he leans on the railing beside me to steady himself. I take a step away in case he's not exaggerating. He shook his head, straightening his back. "If that's true... Kakashi-senpai, that's..." he couldn't even finish before hanging his head again. I felt the same. It meant that we've known Sora's been a potential target for that psychopath since day one.

"Tenzō, what are your plans for the next few weeks?" I ask suddenly.

He looked up at me in question, face tinted a bit green. "What do you mean?"

I looked him in the eye and he straightened up out of habit, "After he's finished healing and I introduce Sora to her teacher tomorrow, I'm going to be taking Sasuke outside the Village so he can train for his match against the Sand kid. We'll be moving around often with an ANBU squad and a decoy so Orochimaru won't be able to find Sasuke and finish what he intended the other day, so that means I'll be out of reach for the time being. I need to know if you'll be helping Yūgao with tracking Yakushi and his coincidental appearance or if you'll be out running patrols, looking for him."

His expression was strained. I could almost see his desire to string up Yakushi conflicting with his urge to find Orochimaru. His brow cleared as he came to a decision. "I'm overdue for some leave time, I believe." he announced, effectively resigning his choice and waiting to hear what my idea was instead.

"Good." I see Rabbit's squad show up for their shift across the way and I turn and start heading towards the stairs, glancing over at the setting sun. I could eat and get back before my gloomiest student could get into too much trouble, couldn't i? Maybe catch a few hours sleep before dawn if everything is quiet. "C'mon, I want dinner. We can talk more then."

"Really, Senpai?" he asked, exasperation clear in his voice. He still followed me. I shrugged in response. I couldn't help it, I haven't had any appetite since I found out an S-ranked psychopath attacked my students. Funny how that happens.

"Yep!" I replied easily, remembering the shit-eating grin Sora had on her face this morning. "I hear you've been wanting to take me out for a while now."

He groaned miserably, cursing out his pseudo little sister I imagine. I kept my thoughts to myself as I made my way down the building. There was a lot of things that Sora doesn't tell her Neko-chan I've found out. What other surprises should I spring on my cute kōhai before dinner? I racked my brain for something and came across a lighter subject, one that wouldn't cost me my appetite.

"By the way, Tenzō, what do you know of Gai's students? The lookalike, specifically." I inquired. His expression turned to one of absolute confusion with an undertone of morbid curiosity. I smiled under my mask. This'll be good. Maybe next time I tell Sora she's forbidden from doing something -Like reading porn. How the hell did she even get that in the first place? Something to figure out later- she'll actually listen to me. If not... well, I think I can find ways to make her see things my way. When it comes down to it, Sora more often than not acts just like a misbehaving pup.

I can handle pups.

食物 Food

"I'm HOOOME!" I shouted, kicking off my sandals and putting them next to Sora-chan's on the shelf. Mmm... something smelt good. I lifted my head and sniffed the air. I smelled... Sora-chan was making Pasuta! I looked over into the kitchen and saw her cutting the noodles, spots of flour all up and down her arms and on her apron. She stopped cutting and looked up, grinning at me and raised a floury hand.

'Welcome home, Hero.'

"Pasuta?" I asked, walking in and sitting on a stool at the counter. She nodded as she picked up a bunch of noodles and put them in the pot with the water, cooking them. She dusted off her hands on her apron and stirred the pan with the cheese sauce! Yum! That's gonna be good~

'Have you showered yet?' she asked, her purple eyes looking me up and down. I grinned nervously and shrugged, trying to hide the dirt stains on my sleeves under the counter.

"Ehhh… kinda? The Closet Perv took me to the hot springs right outside the Village, up past the north-east wall. Said something about training my chakra control or whatever but I'm sure that he just wanted to perv on the girls bath 'ttebayo. Anyway-" she held up her hand and I stopped talking.

'Go wash and change clothes.'

"But!"

She pointed at the door and put a hand on her hip.

I rolled my head back and groaned, getting up anyway.

After I got done cleaning and throwing my dirty clothes in the pile, I changed into whatever was on top in my dresser and went back to Sora-chan's place. I walked in and I saw her staring out the window above the sink. When she didn't turn around or stop staring I walked up to her and looked out the window too. The sun went down when I was heading back about an hour ago so I couldn't see much outside 'cept a couple lit up windows from across the way, closer to the middle of the Village I could see a lot more lights though. I sniffed the air when I noticed something started to smell smoky. Like, really smoky. I think something was burning-

Oh crap.

"SORA-CHAN!"

So, we weren't having desert tonight. She turned the faucet off, looking at the remains of the fruit pie with one of the saddest looks I've ever seen from her. I covered my mouth with my hands to hide my laugh but Sora-chan still turned around to glare at me, only making me laugh harder. I like it when she's like this, like she was when we were younger and her smiles were more... more.

'What are you staring at?' she asked before she put the noodles in the pot of sauce. I grinned and shook my head.

"It's nothin'... oh! Wanna hear about my training today? I learned a lot of stuff-and I met someone too!" She smiled and nodded. I told her all about what happened today after I left the hospital, how the Closet Perv began to teach me about controlling my chakra but then he got knocked out by the Pervy Sage and how I got then got the Pervy Sage to teach me instead! She started laughing after I told her how I got the melon but that wasn't really what he wanted and then Sora-chan got really excited for me when I told her that I learned how to water walk! Then she told me that even the Bastard and her hadn't learned that yet! I had to give it to the Closet Perv, he might've gotten his ass kicked by the Pervy Sage but at least he kinda knew what he was talking about even if he couldn't help me.

'The Pervert. The old one,' Sora-chan asked with a weird, blank look on her face, 'Do you like him?'

I thought about it.

"He's a letch." I decided before putting the plates on the table. Right, we need glasses for drinks, too. I should get those, Sora-chan was almost done with the Pasuta. "I mean, he's definitely strong and he says that he's gonna teach me but he's like, really shameful, Sora-chan!" she snorted, "I'm serious 'ttebayo! I only met im today and I saw him get slapped a bunch already! My Sexy jutsu worked really good on him. He caved after that, y'know? Oh! And the Double-D upgrade we made, definitely helped." her shoulders started shaking with laughter and I grinned.

I like it when things are like this.

There was a knock on the door. Sora-chan looked surprised and did that head-tilting thing she does when she's doesn't know the answer to something. I set the cups on the table and leaned over the table to see who was knocking at this time? Hinata was at the hospital still, right? So she wasn't coming over. And everyone else had families to eat dinner with so who could it be? Sora-chan opened the door and... it was Sasuke, he was dressed like he always was except he had on a black shirt -Damn, did he like dressing so gloomy all the time?- and he had somethin' in his hands.

"Here." He thrust a bundle forward, into Sora-chan's arms. What the hell? We both stared at him in confusion and I saw the Bastard glance in here before he stuffed his hands in his pockets and acted like he was just too damn cool to care. "It's to replace the supplies you gave me the other day, after I ran out."

Sora-chan blinked at him before opening the bag and-yup. I could see a couple handles of kunai and a spool of wire. Huh. That was almost... nice, for the Bastard. Was there something wrong with him? Did he get a fever or something? Sora-chan says that people could act weirder than usual if they have a fever. I don't know if that's true 'cos I've never had a fever and I don't think Sora-chan has either. My stomach cramped suddenly and I put a hand over it as it growled. Urghhh… I'm so hungry! I looked back at the door and frowned. She put the stuff he gave her next to the door to talk. I knew that's she's probably gonna try and convince the Bastard to stay and eat with us but he's just gonna keep saying no but Sora-chan'll keep trying to change his mind. I don't know why she tried so much. If he didn't want to stay then I didn't care...

…it's fine when it's just me and her. Just like it's always been.

Right now Sora-chan was thanking Sasuke for bringing the stuff and trying to tell him that he didn't need to, he told her that he didn't want to owe her and I rolled my eyes at the Bastard. He didn't need to try and act cool to Sora-chan, Sora-chan didn't like other people giving her stuff either. My stomach growled again and I groaned. They were taking too damn long!

"Oi! Sasuke!" I shouted, making them both look at me. "You comin' in or not? The food's gettin' cold 'ttebayo!"

Sora-chan turned to stare at the Bastard with raised eyebrows, a smile starting to grow. He looked really uncomfortable now. Sora-chan didn't even wait for the Bastard to give an answer before she walked back into the kitchen, leaving the Bastard standing in the open door. He made a face that looked like a mix of annoyed and like he had to take a crap. Sora-chan pointed towards the Pausta while she got another plate and cup and I rushed to the stove to pick it up. I wrapped my hands around the handles and-"YEOWCH! HOT-HOT-HOT-HOT!" I shouted, waving and blowing on my burnt hands.

"Idiot." that Bastard said, grabbing a couple towels and picking up the pot instead. I scowled at him, but I followed him and sat down at the table. It was still weird seeing three spots made. The only other people that have eaten dinner with us at home was Kitty-guy and Hinata but Kitty-guy only did it like, twice and Hinata only ate with us that one time she stayed overnight and Sora-chan said that she needed us to help make her feel better. Sasuke put the pot in the middle of the table as Sora-chan poured some water in the cups for us.

It was weird eating with Sasuke.

It was quiet too, after we all said thanks, and not the nice quiet that we usually have when it's just me and Sora-chan. Or even when we're all having ramen at Ichiraku's as a team! It was a bad quiet. I was starting to get annoyed and I could tell that Sasuke was too 'cos of how he was sitting like he had a stick up his ass. I felt like I should've talked about something but I just couldn't think of anything! It was so frustrating!

Then Sora-chan asked me to talk more about water-walking.

I saw the Bastard's eye twitch and Sora-chan hid her smile. I grinned wide and started telling him how I've already started getting stronger than him after only one day of training!

It definitely wasn't quiet after that.

"Well, I still learned it first 'ttebayo!"

Sora-chan couldn't stop grinning as she bounced on the balls of her feet on top of the bath water. I could feel Sasuke rolled his eyes at me from where he was drying off on the couch, I spun around to glare at his stupid head and he was smirking at me now. It's not fair! First, the Bastard didn't believe me when I'd said that I learned something before he did and after Sora-chan had the idea to prove it by filling up her bathtub with water so I could show that I wasn't lying and as soon as I had, Sasuke had to try and do it too! I had laughed really hard when he didn't get it right away and sunk to his knees in water and cussed at how hot it was before slipping and getting completely drenched but after he got back up he ended up getting it in less time than I did! Not that I admitted that to him... but that wasn't the point! The only good thing that happened was that Sora-chan did it better than the Bastard. She had gone a lot slower than either of us but she didn't even fall in, she sunk down to her ankles in water but she got it.

But, now she looked really happy, so... I guess it's all fine.

"I should be going." Sasuke said suddenly, hanging the towel over the chair at the table.

Sora-chan stepped off the water and frowned as she looked at the clock in the kitchen, she waved to catch his attention before he could head out the door. 'It's midnight and you are still dripping wet.'

"It's still warm out." he retorted, rolling his eyes at her. I sat on the end of the couch, watching.

Sora-chan frowned harder, her eyebrows pulling together in the same way as when she gets worried. 'You can stay here tonight. Sensei said he would come by in the morning.'

Sasuke was scowling now, "I'll be fine."

'I'll walk you back.'

"I said I'll be fine, Sora." he said, sounding like he was starting to get angry. "And I don't need your permission or your protection."

It seemed like the air in the room got harder to breathe all of a sudden. I looked between them unsurely. I didn't know what to say or even what was happening. It wasn't like Sora-chan to push like this, usually she just lets Sasuke do what he wants but there's something different now. I didn't know if it was because of Not-Terra or something else but it was making Sora-chan weird and it was making me worry.

Sora-chan's warm eyes were hard now. She raised her hands and spoke, 'It's not safe to walk this late at night. People get taken off the street even now. They can disappear without anyone noticing.'

My chest got tight. That sounded a lot like when Sora-chan was adopted all those years ago. One day I was playing pranks on some of the stupid storeowner while she went to the library to read and when dinnertime came... she wasn't there. Stupid-Kobu told me that some Uncle and Aunt she didn't know about came and adopted her and they took her away without even telling me goodbye. I had never cried so much that night than I ever have in my life... I never ever told Sora-chan, but, I was happy that they decided they didn't want her and gave her back.

Sora-chan stared Sasuke down until he scoffed and made a face, but...

He didn't leave.

After that Sora-chan told me to get the extra bedding and to push the couch back. We were all gonna camp out in the living room. I don't know why, but... it kinda made me happy to see Sasuke scowling as he helped me push the couch and throw the extra blankets across the floor. Then that feeling went away as I watched Sora-chan go up to the front door and press her hand against the middle of it. Blue lines and words lit up, all of them. All across the tops and bottoms of the walls, around the windows and doors I saw Sora-chan's seals light up. I frowned.

"What was that?" Sasuke asked, moving his pillow and blanket farther away from ours. I swallowed around the lump in my throat. I know why Sora-chan's been acting different and it wasn't because of Not-Terra. Sora-chan was scared.

I whispered so she couldn't hear. "...she's locking the door."

She hasn't locked the door since the first year after we moved in. She put those seals up a long time ago but she's never used them before. Not much was said by anybody after that as the lights went out and we all laid down to go to sleep together. I moved closer to Sora-chan and grabbed her hand in mine. She gave my a small smile as she closed her eyes.

It was harder for me to get to sleep that night then usual.

意外 Surprising

Sora-kun's apartment building was just as unimpressive as it had been the last time I was here. The shingles on the roof were falling off in spots, I could tell the once-white paint was weathered away and was now a dirty beige, there was moss and vine reaching up from the street all the way to the windows on the third floor, to Sora-kun's bedroom. I'd found it interesting that Sauske-kun had decided to stay the night, certainly not the choice I would've expected him to make. Orochimaru-sama was correct in his desire to separate Sasuke-kun from his teammates as soon as possible. He was getting attached, it seems. It was a simple matter to make my way to the roof and approach the window, I didn't sense anyone nearby but that didn't hinder me from taking caution as I walked silently along the roof, idly wondering if I should follow Orochimaru-sama's suggestion and take this chance to kill the boy. I probably wouldn't have another chance like this one for the foreseeable future.

Uchiha Sasuke. You stood out too much and caught the attention of Orochimaru-sama. At least Sora-kun has learned her lesson and wasn't trying to appear unordinary anymore, or else she would catch his attention as well.

I raised my hand towards the window to-I jumped way from the kunai that lodged itself into the tiles at my feet. A warning. Someone skilled if I couldn't sense them beforehand. I turned and was faced with a single ANBU operative in a feline mask. It took less than a minute of thinking to realize why there was only a single operative in this part of the Village in the dead of night, greeting me with hostility. It made sense now.

Sora-kun told them about me.

I didn't know whether to feel impressed that she overcame whatever was holding her back or to feel a little bit betrayed. At least I know why there has been a squad tracking my movements since the start of the Exams. I felt a wry smile grow as I examined who I could only assume was one of Sora-kun's friends. She was good at collecting those.

"Why are you here." a muffled voice demanded from behind the mask. Male, baritone, cold with and undertone of anger. Hm.

I smiled politely, unthreatening, I kept my voice even with no inflection on it. "Just thought I'd pay a visit to my junior. Or rather, former junior seeing as she no longer practices Medical ninjutsu." I was met with a stifled silence, the only sound was the creaking of leather as he tightened his fists. Not a follow-up question? Was he... emotional? A former Ne operative, too emotional to carry-out an interrogation? He cares for Sora-kun more than I had previously estimated. Interesting.

"Yakushi Kabuto..." intoned a cool voice.

I stilled.

An unexpected development.

I'll admit, I was begrudgingly impressed. I hadn't even sensed him approach so that would indicate that he was not underestimating me. I turned my body and watched a tall, slim man with grey hair land on the tiles a few meters on my other side, opposite of the former Ne operative. He spoke again, stance relaxed. "I've been hearing a lot about you recently. I have more than a few questions for you to answer."

"Kakashi-san." I greeted evenly, dipping my head slightly and smiling politely,"...I hope Sora-kun has only said good things about me."

His lone eye narrowed but other than that his posture remained, loose. Casual. In front of me stood one of Danzō's elite pawns and behind me was one of the most infamous assassins belonging to the Leaf. My chances of escape now, although significantly lowered, were still tangible. I realized with finality that I would not be getting any closer to Sasuke-kun tonight.

"Oh-ho? Is there a party going on? Gotta admit though... there's a lot more guys than I'm entirely comfortable with." bellowed another voice. My body remained still as I lifted my eyes to the roof adjacent to us. A white-haired man that I immediately recognized as the Toad Sage and one-third of the Densetsu no Sannin, Jiraiya, announced his presence from above. He was standing on the building beside us with another man, a Konoha shinobi with dark glasses, slightly behind him.

"It's been a while Jiraiya-sensei." Hatake Kakashi greeted calmly, eye never leaving my form. "Funny, running into you here. I didn't know you were back in town."

"Yo, Kakashi! I just got in the other day. Here, I was just talking to Ebisu here about my newest dunce of a disciple when I spotted you all down here. Though, you guys might want to keep the noise down..." he leapt off the building joined us, his geta 'clack'd' against the stone balcony beside us. His falsely cheerful voice was betrayed by the steel in his black eyes. He was angry. "There are kids tryn'ta sleep."

I swallowed thickly as I re-estimated my chances for escape, my smile fixed on my face as a cold sweat ran down my back.

I... may have chosen a very inopportune time to carry out Orochimaru-sama's wishes.

Exam Deux Arc,

Chapter Forty: "New Development"

END

A/N: Pfft. Okay, so I realized that since Sasuke wasn't unconscious in the hospital that the best time to kidnap him besides that would be when he's sleeping. Logical, right? Then I accounted for Tenzo showing up for Sora, Kakashi following Sasuke and at the last moment... I remember in canon that Jiraiya and Ebisu were talking about Naruto's training right outside his apartment. So, that happened. Far more hilariously than I had originally been intending, too.

So! A nice, long chapter with character AND plot development from multiple sources! On a side note, I've noticed that some of you hold some reservations about Sakura learning Fuinjutsu. I've read your comments and have seriously considered them but all I can ask is: Give me -and my Sakura- a chance. I hope that this chapter helped to ease some of your worries and spark a bit of excitement for the plans I have for her.

One. Year.

An entire year I've been writing, reading, laughing and crying with all of you. I probably say it far too often but... YOU ARE AMAZING! INCREDIBLE! SPECTACULAR! AND-AND-Other words that fail to fully express how happy I feel whenever I get to hear how this ridiculous, silly little story. Here's to one year and to getting through to another, guys.

Author Question!

"If you could only wear one color for the rest of your life, what would it be?"

Oh woooow… If I could, I would wear a rainbow everyday of my life but it says ONE!? Ugh... uhm… my choice is lame. Black. I would wear black because it's the easiest to keep clean. See? Lame reason. Lazy, too. Feel free to judge, luvs.

Another week done! A year has passed since the first time I've said this but I hope it's still feels the same to you... I wuv yew guys. Until I see you next time!

-Nanami

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