Chapter Seven: Soldier of Fortune
Sasuke leaned back to a tree just five in the morning as he waited for his sensei to arrive. He looked downright annoyed, forgetting the fact that his teacher would be two hours late yet again. Up on a branch was Sakura who was writing something on a scroll and seemed to be thinking seriously. Sasuke snuck a glance at her scroll and seemed to have been perplexed with all the numbers and baffling equations being displayed to him. The last of the Uchiha chose to ignore this in favor of waiting for their captain to arrive.
In the thought of it though, he had to wonder, where was Naruto? It had been more than a week since he had gone missing and some of the Jounin he met kept hushing at themselves to never speak of the boy's current status. Not that Sasuke cared but the team needed Naruto as the last member to fill in the slot. Sasuke knew that Naruto was a pivotal part of the team, even he could tell that much just from seeing what he had done.
So when Kakashi came earlier as it was much a surprise to both Sasuke and Sakura, they had to wonder at the question, where the hell was Naruto?
"Ah, complete attendance, that's good."
"We don't have Naruto, Kakashi." Sasuke stated the obvious as Kakashi raised an eyebrow at this.
"Oh, I forgot to tell you, Naruto was deployed on an outside mission for something really important. He's gone with a very high profile shinobi so there's no need to worry."
That got Sasuke thinking, with the village still reeling from the attack of both Suna and Oto, deployment for outside missions especially for genin, had been suspended. So as far as he knows, Naruto wouldn't be qualified for something like that and if he were requested by some high profile shinobi, it must mean that the said person is someone who the council simply couldn't say no to.
Sakura, normally reinforcing whatever Sasuke would say, decided for the first time to keep quiet of the whole issue. She had heard from Shikamaru just a day before that Naruto was deployed outside the knowledge of his own team.
Both of the genin also took note of Kakashi's look. He had looked like he was sent through hell and back. Bandages on his forearms spiraled all the way to his elbows and he was supported by a pair of crutches. Sakura and Sasuke noted that the last time their sensei was beaten this bad was when he was facing against Zabuza, one of the shinobi swordsmen of the Hidden Mist.
"What happened to you, anyway?" Sasuke asked in manner of disrespect. Kakashi had always noted how both Naruto and Sasuke viewed him as a teacher. Of course, Naruto would comment on his many bad habits but Sasuke would disregard them as nothing more than annoyances and simply shrug him off.
Kakashi took note that he had to fix that part of Sasuke's attitude or future missions involving superiors who aren't as lenient as him would prove problematic.
"Ah, perfect timing too. I was tasked by the jounin commander to have some serious words with you concerning the current state that I am in and what happened a few days ago."
He motioned for the two to sit down on the grass as Kakashi did as well. There was no book in sight and his mood changed from laidback to utter seriousness of the issue.
"First, let me make it clear that you need to stay calm to what I'm about to tell you, Sasuke, because this involves you as well."
Kakashi noticed the scowl forming from his student's face. Gone were the perpetual frown and the apathetic look that Sasuke held and showed to the world. Somehow, the survivor of the massacre had started forming ideas in his head again.
"Is this about my brother?" Sasuke asked and said the last word with utter disgust. He could feel himself just spitting at the title he once had for Itachi.
"Correct. Now, a few days ago, when you were out and collecting your scroll from one of your warehouses, we were infiltrated by your brother. Unsurprising, as he was a former member of the ANBU, he knew the ins and outs of the village at the back of his mind." Kakashi noted how easily Itachi and Kisame had slipped under their radar, it really made him feel uneasy just at the thought of facing his former subordinate at full power with his current level.
Sasuke clenched his teeth in anger and his fists where shaking in outright fury, he stood up from his spot and asked his teacher with gritted teeth, "Why didn't anyone tell me?"
"And what would that have accomplished? What could you have done, Sasuke?" Kakashi had retorted with another question as Sasuke answered flippantly.
"You know what I would have done! I could have killed him then and there!"
His voice, now louder than usual, Sakura had never seen Sasuke this enraged before. She had noted just how cool and composed he was most of the time, but there were subjects that literally made Sasuke change moods quickly and just explode in burning rage.
This was a Sasuke that was completely foreign to her to say the least.
Kakashi had decided to knock his student down a peg from what he deemed as a dangerous mindset.
"As you are right now, you are in no position to be making that claim, Sasuke. You have yet to climb the summit where your brother stands on. To him, you are an ant, an insignificant bug. He won't even bother killing you at this point. So until you are at his level, then I suggest to tone down your killing intent, or else, Asuma, Kurenai and I shall restrain you by force."
Sakura glanced around and noticed the presence of the two jounin that were eyeing them from afar. Their genin teams were nowhere in sight. She noted that the three of them all had bandages in their person (in this case, more so to Kurenai). They had been watching the whole conversation with team seven ever since Kakashi had arrived.
"I won't try to deny you of your quest for vengeance. I have no right to hold it against you. But never, ever, jeopardize your team and put them on the line just so you could fulfill your personal vendetta." Kakashi looked at Sasuke with his own killing intent locking Sasuke in place.
Up in the distance, Asuma was whispering to Kurenai.
"What is he thinking? Shouldn't Kakashi's priority be to stop Sasuke's dangerous grudge against his brother?"
Kurenai looked at her companion and answered.
"Anger is deep seated into Sasuke at this point. You should know better than to try and tell Sasuke to stop seeking revenge. His anger would hear none of it. For him, justice delayed is justice denied. The longer he has to wait to get stronger and match Itachi, the more the thought of revenge slips from his mind. His anger has no direction, but at this point, all we can accomplish is to try and point it to where Sasuke's heart should be, by being a true teammate and abandoning all thoughts that would be detrimental to the development of their entire team. Most of all, this is for his sake. So he won't die a dog's death."
"Sasuke has suddenly become a major player in these events, huh?" Asuma asked as he took out a cigarette from his pocket and lit it up.
"Moreso to the point, that the cases involving him are quite high profile. First Orochimaru, now his brother… You'd think at any time he could go insane just from the many problems that are placed on his shoulders." Asuma added as he let go a drag of smoke from his mouth.
"Sucks to be him…"
Kurenai nodded in agreement.
"Candid, but not uncalled for, we will see just how effective Kakashi's talk to Sasuke really is."
Back with Kakashi and his team, Sasuke was clenching his fists once more in frustration just how far the gap between him and his brother had thoroughly increased.
"If you want strength, Sasuke, I can give it to you. The current commander of the ANBU squad has owed me a few favors in the past. I can recommend you without any further need of advance in rank. Itachi had undergone the same treatment that I'm offering you and came out of it strong enough to be put in an elite squad, my squad. But if you want to undergo the training, then you must meet the conditions that I will place in from this moment on."
Sasuke looked at Kakashi in apprehension, as Kakashi made a motion for his hands and held out three fingers.
"There are three conditions that you must fulfill in order to get into the ANBU training program and undergo its hellish training regimen. These three, you must fulfill at all costs or else I will leave you here and now and hope to your ancestors that you would be spared before you are hunted down like an animal."
A long silence sat between all of them, Kakashi looked at his student who had somewhat calmed down and looked as if he was thinking greatly. He should, after all, life changing moments like this should be taken with great thought as well. He knew he shouldn't rush his student with such decisions…
This time, it was Sakura who had cut them off with their thoughts. She looked rather anxious at what she was going to say, second thoughts were looming in her head. It showed when she looked at Sasuke unsure of what she was going to say but decided to push forth anyway.
"What did Sasuke-kun's brother want in the village anyway?"
Kakashi simply raised his visible eyebrow and answered perfectly without much of a stutter.
"That is what we don't know. What we do know is that he slipped under our radar undetected. That's something that should be alarming."
Sakura quietly nodded but took note of this instead. She looked beside her and noticed Sasuke didn't look convinced of their sensei's answer too.
'Konoha intelligence shouldn't be this dull. For all we know they have already guessed what Sasuke-kun's brother was after but decided to keep it a secret to everyone else.'
With this information, Sakura had another groan inside her head, 'Great, more secrets that we don't have access to. We really need to have our own conference on this matter.'
And she knew just who to find and settle these talks once and for all.
'We can't fight a war without an ounce of intelligence. We need to gather up and start thinking.' She thought.
Elsewhere in the village:
Hyuuga Hiashi had been to the latest meeting with the jounin force when he received word that the current crop of genin who had done unexpectedly well during the chuunin exam were going to be placed on a comprehensive training program. Neji, he could understand, but his first daughter?
Hiashi could tell that his daughter lacked the potential and the drive. She didn't have the natural instinct of a true Hyuuga. A true, decisive and calculating clansman much like her forefathers, much of that potential he saw with his second born and with his twin brother's son, Neji. Those two had what it took to be true and powerful Hyuuga clansmen.
Hinata? Hiashi simply didn't see it. Her potential lied elsewhere and it was that thought that simply frustrated the man to no end. Hinata was much more empathic, understanding and connecting to the world. She understood weakness, pain and all the horrors of the world in a different manner than the rest of the clan who bore the persona of calmness in the midst of chaos. Where they as cold as ice, Hinata was the opposite.
Indeed, Hiashi could see such an attitude did not befit a future leader of the household. Hinata didn't have those qualities that made countless leaders of the past. She was different, a complete opposite if you will. But if her potential were to be tapped differently, then there was no way of knowing how strong she could get at any given moment.
But tapping that potential was something he had never had quite any success of unearthing. Maybe she needed a different approach.
He could hear the sounds of flesh slamming on to something hard, akin to wood, he had thought. At this hour, most of his clansmen were doing their duties, be it administrative or otherwise. This was usually a dead hour during the day when most of them would be doing whatever it is they feel like doing.
Surprised that one member was doubling their training today, Hiashi made his way towards the dojo and was further surprised to see his nephew training his eldest daughter.
"Hinata-sama, your posture must not slouch, straighten your back. The reason your jyuuken is not as effective as mine is because you are not in a proper stance. I can see why this is one of the factors that cost you your match against me."
Instead of feeling discouraged, his eldest daughter looked much more determined than ever and instead of committing mistakes again and again, her usual habits were disappearing altogether.
What happened for such a thing to occur?
Neji, for his part, noticed his uncle and bowed to him, "Hiashi-sama."
Hiashi waved his hand and let the boy be at ease. Ever since their talk after Neji lost his match against Naruto, the dynamic between his family and Neji changed. He seemed, much more receptive, less hostile. Even if his face did not show any sign of happiness, it was clear that the boy seemed like a weight had been lifted on his shoulders.
"Hinata, why are you training now at this hour? What changed for something like this to occur?" Hiashi asked, obviously puzzled to Hinata's decision all of a sudden.
His daughter, with not a stutter nor a waver in her voice, finally spoke straight and true to her own father.
"I am doing this because I wish to gain strength. I want to be stronger, strong enough to protect my friend from all of his sadness."
Hiashi raised an eyebrow at this, "And what would you gain from this? What would the clan gain from this?"
Hinata was silent at first but her answer showed much confidence in them, "Nothing. But this is of my own accord, father. I wish to protect him further from what he will experience. I wish to support him with his dream."
Ah, so it was indeed Naruto, the jailor of the Kyuubi no Yoko. Upon further inspection of his daughter, he noticed the fierceness of his wife manifesting within Hinata. It was a major leap as to what she used to be: timid, shy, unsure of what to do. But now, she was acting the exact opposite. Hinata was ready to give her all to Naruto. Hiashi's eyes were suddenly opened with a realization.
Honor did not mean much to Hinata, but rather, her emotions. Her desire did not rest on such intangibles like honor, tradition and perfection. No, her motivations lied somewhere far, far more powerful.
It was the thought of losing someone she loved, someone she held dear. That was something Hiashi had not, for even once, thought about when training her daughter, he had never motivated her to think that her weakness would lead to the death of the one she loved the most.
But now, he finally understood. He understood her so well that he felt absolutely horrible for even treating her the way he did.
"Very well, do better in your training. Tomorrow morning, we shall practice what you have learned today and gauge your strength. If you wish to protect this person that you say, then you must not let even a god stand in your path."
Hiashi nodded and turned away from the dojo as a thought entered his mind.
Having a son-in-law potentially becoming Hokage sounded like a very tempting political gain. The elders would flip out and never let this opportunity miss. Just as long as they don't create a hostile environment on his daughters then all should be well.
It would be nice having a bigger advantage for once compared to what he has now.
'Do well, Hinata, and I shall do my part as the head of this clan and more importantly, as your father.'
Kakashi held three fingers up front to Sasuke, emphasizing the three points he wishes to make for the Uchiha to obey to.
"Rule one: you are to give respect to the current ANBU commander at all times. First name references within the ANBU will be labelled as insubordination, you will be considered as the lowest of the low during your stay and as such, you are expected to follow your orders unquestionably."
Sakura looked quite nervous at that she had heard of stories about the harsh training conditions that ANBU had to be put through. During the first test alone, only about ten percent of entrants will be admitted into the squad and from there, the training will only get harsher.
Sasuke didn't seem to faze for a minute there before he nodded. Falling in line and following orders were no problem for him, as long as the one that gives him commands was superior to him in every way.
"Second rule: You are not to divulge any secrets that the ANBU have. Share them, and you will be cut down for treason. ANBU are silent, they are the shadow of the Hokage himself. So much as a peep out of your mouth about the workings and mission logs of the ANBU, then you are guaranteed to have a session with Morino Ibiki."
"Third rule and it's the most important one: Your loyalty is only to Konoha and the Hokage. You will be assigned missions that can make you disillusioned at times, even question your loyalty due to missions that will surely leave a bad taste in your mouth. But you must know that what you are doing is for the sake of the village. Those are the rules of the ANBU that you must never disobey. They are the principles that guide the shadow of the village and the path that you must only see."
Sasuke remained quiet and then looked down. Kakashi noticed that Sasuke seemed contemplating on the offer. He was being offered a chance to become a member of the elite forces that work directly under the Hokage. How could he pass something like that up?
"If I become a member of the ANBU, will I be stonger than Itachi?"
Kakashi answered him straight away, "That is for you to find out. Are you willing to take the necessary step, Sasuke?"
Sasuke never hesitated on his answer and he gave a nod.
"Very well, applicants are to be under intense training from a member or former member before they can enter. Luckily for you, I was a former commander of an entire squad. This will be your initiation starting now. I want you to run around the entire village ten times at its perimeter. Come back here within thirty minutes or else you will be severely punished while I tend to Sakura."
Sasuke seemed surprised at that but obeyed nonetheless.
When Sasuke disappeared from their sights, Kakashi grabbed a scroll from his pouch and tossed it over to Sakura who caught it with ease.
"I've heard from some of the members of the R and D that you are in possession to one of its most recent projects. I've asked a few of the members what it was and I was surprised that you were allowed to have it."
Kakashi pointed to the newly acquired accessory Sakura had on her back. The scroll on the girl's hand exploded into smoke and changed into what was apparently, a shinai.
"I've planned to teach this to you three once you were capable enough. But this is as good a time as any. Learning Kenjutsu will be demanding, especially for you Sakura. But out of your teammates, you are the most inexperienced and perhaps, the least effective fighter there is. So now, I'm going to teach you how to use your newly acquired equipment effectively. Remember, I'm serious about your survival. So if you want to survive, then you must take everything that I have to offer. That includes the pain that I will unfortunately dish out and to have your body memorize that pain and adapt to my teachings."
Sakura gulped at Kakashi's statements at that. She knew she was going to have bruising throughout the day.
She gripped the shinai with her hands and went into a simple Chuudan no kamae (Mid-level stance).
"Sakura, your stance is wrong. Your shoulders are too stiff. You will never achieve a clean cut if your shoulder muscles are not relaxed. Do it again."
Her sensei had seemingly changed from a laid back soft spoken instructor, to a hard-nosed, sharp-tongued superior.
Sakura knew then and there that she was in complete hell.
Shikamaru appreciated the tranquillity of their home when his mother was not around or when his father wasn't snoring in his room. The sound of bamboo hitting the stone of their small pond was the only thing that echoed in their house and he could feel the serenity of peace lingering in his mind.
"So, who decided that you're going to be the one that would watch over us, anyway?"
His thoughts were cut off when a bishop had just entered his line and took down a rook.
Shikamaru leaned forward towards the board and then to his opponent. It was the Suna Kunoichi from the chuunin exams. He had never understood why his father would assign him with chaperoning one of their prisoners into his home in the first place. They were on house arrest, he saw no logic of setting at least one of them free.
"Put it up to my father. He's the one who assigned me for this. He said the village need the genin to do some of the grunt work while the jounin try to maintain order in the village." Shikamaru replied, placing his knight to where Temari's bishop once stood. The girl scowled.
"And you're not complaining?" Temari asked. She knew his type. The boy in front of her was the kind of guy that would complain to just about anything and not do anything about it.
Shikamaru merely shrugged at her question before he answered.
"Not that I have a choice in the matter. Your invasion cost us a lot of good men and women. Frankly, I still don't trust any of you that participated in the attack."
The girl winced at her opponent's lack of tact. She knew that his words hit her hard.
"Shinobi die in battles a lot of times, it's in our job description." Was her only defence to his words, Shikamaru knew when and how to speak to any person despite his attitude.
"I know and we kicked your asses because of it. Not only that, the village is making you as bargaining pieces for Suna. Their jinchuuriki is a pricey chip after all, I'm sure they can work it out between our two villages."
Temari once more winced at his words. The girl noted the treatment her youngest sibling has within the walls of her village. If anything, they would be glad to get rid of Gaara.
This didn't go unnoticed by Shikamaru and he raised one eyebrow at her reaction.
"So it's like that too, huh? No wonder he's gone crazy."
Shikamaru noticed a slip on Temari's strategy and decided to attack aggressively with his knights.
"What would you know about jinchuuriki? You don't know a damn thing…"
"I don't." Shikamaru had cut in and then looked at her in the eye.
"But I can make objective observations. Gaara is a mere product of what your village has done. Childish innocence gets destroyed the moment that they realize that they have no one to turn to. Do you know how damaging it is mentally to a child who has no one that he or she can grab on to? No, you probably don't. You've probably been pampered because you're the children of your Kazekage."
"Gaara is too! He's our youngest sibling!"
"Yet he holds contempt that is deep seated within him. Do you know how anger works? Gaara holds contempt to the world for shunning him and in return, just as a child would, he would do the same. That's how it is normally. He holds the world responsible to his pain because he has nothing to gain from anything and like a child, he would be petulant about it, defiant and antagonizing. He would create his own moral code because nothing will stop him from doing so. If the world around him hurts him, then he would react accordingly based on his own beliefs. And you should know how dangerous that is."
Temari looked down, her emotions were somewhat calmed by Shikamaru's objective reasoning. Her opponent had been right to the letter about his assessment.
"The world isn't a wonderful place, it's terrible. I understand that. But what makes a child's life worthwhile is the life that he gains with those that should be the ones that give him affection. A child is selfish but let him be selfish. He has little understanding on the concepts of altruism and sacrifice like an adult. That is something that you should have understood the moment Gaara was tormented by the people around him."
Shikamaru inwardly slapped his face at his own hypocrisy. Then again, he had not known much. A benefit that he learned when he knew about Naruto's condition was a form of empathy he had little understanding back then. But now, he had deduced himself well and he would make it up to his friend by getting to know him better.
"I know that. I know all of that! But what could a kid do? My father isolated both of us from Gaara, he separated us, made us complete strangers to him! He alienated us from our youngest sibling! My mother was so happy when she was pregnant with Gaara but when she died, we couldn't associate with Gaara anymore! I tried to get close to him, I did but by then he turned to something that made me fear him!"
Temari punched the floor of Shikamaru's home, making the wooden floors crack from the sheer force embedding her arm within it.
Shikamaru remained quiet for a time, when he finally heard sobs coming from the girl. Temari was a strong woman that much he knew. But she was also human and as human circumstances go, she was also fallible with her emotions, just like any other human.
"I distrusted my father after his actions. He was willing to torment his own child, HIS OWN CHILD! He would not hesitate to kill my brother!"
Shikamaru had suddenly grown some disdain at the Kazekage.
And Shikamaru's thoughts and beliefs were reaffirmed once more when he knew.
This was a cruel world that they lived in.
He hadn't realized fully until the very end of their conversation, how he grew somewhat cold in a span of weeks after the invasion. This was not the empathy that he had thought about before.
He could only watch as Temari let her emotions finally let out. It was a terrible sight to see on her mind, but she couldn't care less anymore.
It was rather unfortunate of Shikamaru when his mother had walked in on them and upon seeing Temari cry, decided to reprimand his son for his attitude.
Shikamaru sighed and massaged his temples.
'This world really is cruel.'
Konoha, night time:
Sakura had to help Sasuke up as she aided him to his home. For better or worse, the brunt of Kakashi's sadistic attention was brought to Sasuke. She had some of it as well, but he was not as harsh. She couldn't tell if their sensei was showing favouritism or not. Or, maybe Kakashi just liked to be sadistic now. Maybe he was showing his true colors now. Sakura had thought it was possible but then she remembered Kakashi's speech to him earlier.
He'll do whatever it takes to make sure they survived.
Her thoughts were derailed when she saw Shikamaru just across the street, who happened to have escorted Temari back in her hotel room with her siblings while Hinata stood just in between the two, greeting with a polite curt. Shikamaru noticed Sakura's expression was filled with questions. The only conscious male of the three tilted his head to a nearby barbecue joint indicating that they had something to talk about.
Sakura shook her head, pointing to her knocked out teammate and Shikamaru simply smirked as he went inside indicating that Sakura should follow anyway. Sighing, Sakura had to comply anyway and watched as Hinata entered the stand.
Sakura went inside with Sasuke in tow and placed the boy at the edge of the bench leaning on to a wall and nudged him awake.
"Sasuke-kun, before I could take you home, you need to eat." Sakura added helpfully. Sasuke looked around him and noticed not only was his teammate there, but there were Shikamaru and Hinata as well. They all looked at him rather expectantly.
The boy merely replied with a nod and leaned back the pain in his body was palpable.
It hurt to even sit down.
"So why did you invite us to talk, Shikamaru?" Sakura turned to the strategist who was looking sideways before answering her with a low voice.
"I heard what happened to your sensei and how you're all not supposed to have missions for a while. I've been meaning to ask dad about it, apparently there was a commotion a few days prior when Sasuke was out of the village. But he's surprisingly tight lipped about it saying that I already knew too much." He said as he leaned back while Sasuke clicked his tongue in distaste as he was reminded about Kakashi's reasons.
"Why should I tell anything? As far as I can tell, it's not like you to poke your nose in on anyone's business, Shikamaru." Sasuke replied. He winced a little as he adjusted his sitting position. He was starting to hate the fact that he was forced to sit down here and socialize. Shikamaru narrowed his eyes to Sakura and Sasuke before he spoke.
"So you already know the answer and judging from Sasuke's predisposition, it upsets him quite a bit. Maybe it's a little personal, then?" Shikamaru stated and Sasuke clicked his tongue.
"This is pointless. I didn't ask to be questioned by someone who has nothing to do with our team or our business." Sasuke replied but just as he was to leave the table, he staggered once more and he leaned back to his chair once more because of the pain.
Shikamaru looked wordlessly at the stoic member of Team Seven and just as he was about to speak, the quiet girl beside him spoke.
"T-They're keeping secrets from us. Everything is piling up, we may not have anything to do with your team but we have every right to know what is going on in our village. We cannot protect Konoha if even we are kept in the dark." Hinata answered. Shikamaru smirked at Hinata's newfound courage to the people around her, a subtle but very positive change, he noted.
A few seconds of silence was settled within the quartet as their meals were presented to them and the meat and vegetables were grilled in front of them.
"Tough luck then, that I already know what happened a few days ago. I received the news from Asuma-sensei when he too was hospitalized, it's just I wanted to hear it come from your team, Sasuke, because I cannot believe the amount of shit that's piled on your team. I may be prying into it, but your brother wouldn't come back here without a reason."
This time, it was finally Sakura who spoke up, "That's what I would like to know. What were the motives of Sasuke-kun's brother to come back here in the village? Being the son of the Jounin commander, I always knew that you may have the answers."
Shikamaru shook his head, "It's unfortunate. Even my old man is tight lipped on the situation. I won't be able to get that information out of him unless I do my own digging and quite frankly, everybody I know who is chuunin or higher are determined to keep this down."
"So, you can't give us the information we need?" Sakura asked, Shikamaru shook his head and then looked at Sasuke before he answered.
"Oh, I could probably give you an answer in a few days. But some of the answers that I could obtain would be conjectures at best, so I won't be able to give you solid proof to that. I don't want to be labelled as a conspiracy nut; that would be a pain."
Sakura turned to Hinata and asked her this time, "What about you, Hinata-san? Do you have an idea?"
Hinata shook her head, "U-Unfortunately, even Kurenai-sensei is silent on what Uchiha Itachi's motive is. S-She seemed unusually evasive of the topic."
Sakura sighed, "Now even more secrets. How deep does the rabbit hole go, anyway?"
"Judging from the jounin, I'd say it's pretty deep. But until we can stop with conjectures, we won't be able to act accordingly and prepare. So I say we need to cool it until new information surfaces."
Hinata nodded for once and then looked at Sakura to change the topic, "S-Sakura-san, may I ask where Naruto-kun is right now?"
"He's been sent on a separate mission. We don't know who pulled him out, but we're guessing it was some big shot within Konoha's ranks if he could pull strings like that. We're not allowed to take missions outside right now, remember?" Sakura replied with a little smile as she leaned forward when Hinata blushed a little.
'The girl can be so cute at times when she's around Naruto or with even a mention of his name.'
Hinata nodded and then looked at Shikamaru, "Whatever the case may be we'll have to dig around for more info. I'm sure whoever pulled out Naruto for this mission, if he could throw his weight around like that then he'll be in good hands."
Hinata sighed in relief.
"WE HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE NOW!" Jiraiya shouted as he grabbed a startled blonde who was concentrating on his balloon to not let it pop before being grabbed by the waist and subsequently carried by his sensei.
"COME BACK HERE, PIG! TAKE YOUR SUPPOSED BEATING LIKE A MAN!" Shouted one of the women from behind them, Naruto just sighed in exasperation with his sensei. Naruto looked at his teacher with a deadpanned face as he was being carried by his teacher.
"You just can't stop thinking with your dick, can you Ero-sennin?"
"Y-You're right, I'm sure he'll be fine." Hinata answered as they all began to dig in.
"… Can you ascertain as to what Itachi's motive is to enter the village? I'm sure he'll try again sometime in the future." Sasuke finally spoke as he ate. The conversation had taken a turn for his interest. Shikamaru raised an eyebrow at this but then replied calmly.
"Suddenly taking interest, huh? Give or take a few days. This is detective work the like of which I need to have confirmations first. Snooping around the mission logs would definitely cost me, so the best that I can give you are, like I said, conjectures. But you need to understand that you need to be patient, Sasuke. I know that a mere mention of your brother's name drives you on edge but you need to be calm about it. Your revenge would be for nothing if you die by his hands."
Sasuke nodded. Even though it felt like he was using them to his personal gain, he felt a little bit of weight lift from his shoulders when Shikamaru had offered his services to help. It felt somewhat helpful to him.
"Don't worry. By the time he returns to the village once more, I'll be ready for him."
Somehow, Shikamaru felt Sasuke's determination seep through. It seemed there were things that Naruto imparted unconsciously in all of them.
He could only give a grin.
Outskirts of Tanzaku City, Five days later, morning:
Naruto stared at the balloon in his right hand. He felt that he was getting closer and closer to finally mastering this jutsu. Determination setting in, Naruto had set out to do just that. All the while following his teacher around as he gathered information. This time, Naruto had decided not to be left behind to supervise his sensei. Naruto sighed in annoyance at how it was supposed to be the other way around. The pervert had cost them their accommodations in the last town. He was not about to let it happen with this one just because Jiraiya decided to be a jackass and invaded the women's side of the bath.
"Well, the last informant said that Tsunade was going here. Wouldn't be a bad choice too, Tanzaku city is famous as a gambling hotspot, legal or illegal." The man said as he used the telescope in his bag to survey the town from afar.
"Just remember your job, Ero-sennin. I don't want a repeat of five days ago." Naruto reminded the older man who sighed in exasperation.
"One time, Naruto, one time! Yeesh! You let one thing happen and the next thing you know they're not letting you live it down."
"Then do your damn job! You're supposed to be searching for your teammate! I'm not the one who's supposed to be keeping you in line, why the hell does a twelve year old have to be the one to watch over you?" Naruto reminded his lecherous master of his tendency to neglect duty over his unhealthy habit of voyeurism.
"Killjoy." Jiraiya snidely commented making Naruto a little angrier.
"When you say it like that, it sounds like you're having one of those moments where you try to live out your youth again, Ero-sennin." The blonde mentioned earning a raised eyebrow from the older of the two.
"You mean a midlife crisis? When you put it like that…" Jiraiya trailed off and his shoulders slumped down as if he was being reminded of what being a hermit was all about.
"I never got to settle down and have a woman in my life…" The gloom radiated from the old man earning a little chuckle coming from the blonde. But as soon as Jiraiya's realization had hit him, he quickly recovered surprising even Naruto and forcing the balloon in his hand to pop.
"But that's okay! My love cannot be contained by one woman alone! I, the great Toad Sage Jiraiya, have enough love to go around to all the beautiful women in the world!" He proclaimed proudly earning a deadpanned look from Naruto.
"That has to be the stupidest excuse that I've heard in my entire life. And I've met Kakashi-sensei!" Naruto proceeded to dismiss him as he grabbed another rubber balloon in his bag and started blowing air within it.
Inside him, Kurama huffed and thought, 'That's saying something, coming from an idiot.'
Suffice to say; the whole day that they were searching, Jiraiya realized that Naruto was his golden Buddha at the casinos and even the lottery. A little over a few conversations earlier, he was dragged into a game and Naruto had accidentally blown away a set of dice that were meant for something else and turned into Jiraiya's bet, astounded by the kid's luck, he fooled his apprentice into several games such as blackjack and even the slot machines. The kid won close to five-hundred thousand ryo in a span of three hours and he didn't even have a fucking clue to what was happening around him. He even managed to turn the tide at a game of poker, for goodness sake!
"I'll bite your call and raise you a hundred." One of the high rolling players said looking at Naruto with sweat pouring down his face in the bucket loads. On his front, the blonde was looking rather confused at his pair of cards and got impatient and decided to throw all of the chips he had onto the table. Of course, he didn't know that the chips had a cost of a thousand or more per piece. But Naruto thought the game was boring and frankly, his jutsu wasn't even finished yet!
Everyone looked at the steel brass balls that the kid was displaying and looked in awe. Jiraiya was figuratively biting his nails and cursing the blonde for betting his entire money on his cards. His opponent looked like he wasn't going to back down. He had a good pair on his hands and on the river already. He had a king and a queen, a very good hand indeed.
There was a king and a queen on the river, followed by a pair of twos that were a spade and a club and a single ace of diamonds. He looked at the blonde as he looked down on the river with pure disinterest and the man misinterpreted the blonde's non-verbal cue as a taunt. Getting a little over his head, the man pushed all of his chips down to the center of the table as well and showed his cards immediately.
Everyone looked in shock at the two pairs sitting nicely just below the king and queen's river. Naruto on the other hand, displayed his set of cards to the floor and the man's jaw literally dropped at the cards Naruto had.
An ace of spades and a two of diamonds…
And instantly, Naruto's income tripled from five hundred thousand, to one and a half million ryo.
The man fainted on the floor as to how much he had lost against a child who had fooled him thinking he didn't know anything about the game of cards.
Jiraiya quickly ran over to the boy's side of the table and patted the boy on the back. By the lucky stars, the boy routed a high rolling gambler with a full house!
"My apprentice has been blessed by the goddess of luck… I'm so happy I could just…"
"Can we go now?" The blonde asked, Jiraiya most certainly nodded and walked away, along with thirty percent of the winnings that Naruto had with him and a grin so big it threatened to tear his face in two.
His happy mood suddenly changed when he heard and felt a low rumble coming from somewhere a little farther. Naruto felt the sensation too, but Jiraiya stopped him then and there.
"Cash your chips in at the teller by the edge of the building to your right. Meet me back at the hotel after this all blows over."
"No buts, to where I'm going, you'll only get in the way. This is an order from your master, Naruto. Out there might be Tsunade and if my instincts are telling me, she's throwing a fit. You do not want to be in Tsunade's warpath once that happens, trust me on this one." Jiraiya had cut him off and disappeared in a cloud of smoke. Naruto sighed as an assistant came to help him carry his chips over to the bank and exchange them for cash. The blonde reluctantly obeyed his master only because the perverted hermit looked unusually serious compared to his behaviour he had earlier.
Jiraiya had arrived at the scene, weary and most likely anxious. From the smoke and debris that he could see from the distance, he could tell that a large portion of the castle had collapsed and add to that, a huge section of the wall crumbled in on itself destroyed most likely by his female teammate.
When he had arrived, he had expected for Tsunade to be in a sour mood and quite right he was. She was scowling and her hands were clenched into fists while she was staring at nothing in particular. That meant that Tsunade had met someone to have pissed her off. Now who could that be?
"Well isn't this a sight for sore eyes, I get to see two of my former teammates in one day. What are the chances of that happening?" She opened to Jiraiya. The toad sage right then and there, looked serious.
She had encountered Orochimaru and by the looks of things, he got under her skin too much for what Tsunade needed.
"Tsunade." Jiraiya greeted with a nod before he jumped down from the tiles above and landed beside her and her assistant.
"What did you come here for? Are you here to make an offer for me too?" She asked rather abrasively affirming Jiraiya's observations to be true.
"No, I came here to talk about something. We can settle this over a cup of sake." Jiraiya had mentioned, hoping that the alcohol would help lighten the mood. Tsunade looked apprehensive for a few moments but complied. Whatever it was, she really needed that drink as memories of years past suddenly wore down on her and felt the need for something mind numbing. Her assistant beside her, Shizune, brought her out of her thoughts when she spoke to Jiraiya.
"Jiraiya-sama, I don't think this is the time to…"
Tsunade decided to cut her off, "Shizune, no. I want some sake right now."
Jiraiya clapped his hands together and grinned, "Good, at least we can try to catch up over at dinner. I'm paying, by the way. An angel just gave me a good amount of money a little earlier."
"Oh, you managed to swindle some poor girl? I knew you were a scumbag, but I never thought you would sink so low as to leech off of someone." Tsunade commented dryly. Jiraiya simply huffed and replied.
"I don't want a lecture coming from the vagabond that is wasting her family's fortunes away by gambling. It's not like I can't afford it anyway, I'm a best-selling author, after all." Jiraiya replied proudly earning a look from Tsunade that made her sick of her teammate's pride on erotic novels.
"Let's just get that sake now before I change my mind."
Jiraiya's suggestion for dinner before getting wasted seemed like a good offer though, it's not like she was the one paying anyway.
"Right then, I'll lead the way and we'll start after we get dinner. Let's make our way to the hotel I'm staying, I hear the food's great there."
"Probably the alcohol too but that is beside the point, now." Tsunade replied as they made their way towards the hotel he and Naruto were staying at. Once they made it to the restaurant, they met a little blonde kid with spiky hair and whisker marks on his cheeks and was carrying a leather suitcase that greeted Jiraiya. Tsunade noticed the forehead protector and the chuunin vest he was wearing showing the blonde's occupation as a shinobi of Konoha, probably chuunin level. His appearance was a startling resemblance to her deceased little brother back then.
"You're back already, ero-sennin? Hey, can you believe that all those chips that I won were actually worth something? Oh man, I have so much money right now from playing all of those boring ass games that I don't know where to spend it all, oh and yeah, you wanted thirty percent, right? Well, here's the envelope you wanted, the lady at the cashier said it's worth four hundred fifty thousand ryo. I had that put there because I asked the teller about the numbers and stuff."
Tsunade stumbled a bit when she heard the amount of money her perverted teammate was getting. How in the actual fuck was that even possible?
Her voice shaking, she asked her teammate, "W-Who is this kid?"
Jiraiya looked back at Tsunade with a raised eyebrow while he was counting the money in the small envelope and grinned at her.
"Why, he's my new apprentice, Tsunade-hime. He's practically blessed by the goddess of luck and I would appreciate it if you would not exploit him that way."
'So this was the latest vessel for the Kyuubi no Yoko.' She thought but it only came more as an afterthought when Tsunade drooled at the possibility of winning so much with that child. She can probably pay off all her debts and then some!
"You know, your hypocrisy about this knows no bounds, Jiraiya. Also, ero-sennin? Your own apprentice doesn't even respect you!"
Jiraiya answered rather defensively at that.
"Hey, my apprentice, my rules! And he so DOES respect me!"
"No, I don't." The blonde replied with a deadpan that made Jiraiya turn to his apprentice and said, "You should at least back up your master when he's being falsely accused, brat! You owe me your win at the Chuunin exams!"
Tsunade laughed at Jiraiya's misfortune as they entered the restaurant. Naruto decided to plop the suitcase down at his front and opened the said item to see stacks of money neatly compiled and fitted in the bag.
Tsunade's greed and jealousy were already kicking in as did astonishment and wonder.
"I don't think I've ever seen something so glorious to this day…"
"Maaan, I have this much money right now, I wonder where I'll spend all of this." Naruto imagined himself buying so much ramen that he'd be swimming in it by the time he was done.
Jiraiya coughed and lectured his apprentice on the value of money, "Kid, there are three vices that shinobi should avoid, and that's sake, women and money. All that money shouldn't be spent so flippantly, you need to have some control over it or it will control you."
Tsunade, Shizune, Naruto and the pet pig all had an eyebrow raised as they looked at Jiraiya with total disbelief.
"Are you seriously hearing yourself say this horseshit, Jiraiya?" Tsunade asked incredulously at her teammate because she explicitly remembered her teammate violating the same rules and is even worse than her. Jiraiya merely ignored that comment.
As if to further prove his point, Jiraiya added, "Look at what money did to my teammate over here. As you can see, she's a homeless bum because she wasted it all away because of her own greed and addiction. You wouldn't want to be like her one day."
"Jiraiya, you might be paying for dinner, but I'll knock your block off and snap your spine like a twig if you keep this up!"
Jiraiya knew when to shut up and let his ill-tempered teammate cool off or else he'd probably be at death's door once more. And he has been there one too many times already.
When the food came, Jiraiya had leaned in front of the table with both elbows and covered his mouth as he was about to speak. Tsunade noticed the seriousness of the situation and remained quiet.
She always knew things were really serious when it was Jiraiya was looking pretty damn focused. Compared to Orochimaru or her, Jiraiya had a knack of controlling the environment around him. If he wanted to be serious, people would listen and tensions began to rise. This was something she had known for quite a while.
"Sarutobi-sensei died the day of the invasion in Konoha and the village is without a Hokage. The elders and the council have decided that you be the successor to both the Yondaime and to Sarutobi-sensei."
Tsunade raised her eyebrow at this and disputed, "Before they could ask me, I'm sure they asked you first, Jiraiya."
The toad sage nodded but replied, "They did. But I had to decline that offer. There are multiple factors that prevent me from taking the position such as maintaining the spy networks that I've set up around the world and laying out what I've planned for the longest time."
"Then it's a smart decision that you didn't take it then. Being Hokage is only a fool's dream."
By then the room had gone eerily silent. Naruto stopped counting the bills in his suitcase and closed it shut. He looked at the person who had dared to insult all of the Hokages that came and lead the village of Konoha to where it was today.
He had finally taken in sight the woman that was sitting right across Jiraiya's side. The most eye catching feature that could be noted from this woman was the size of her bust. Hell, anyone could probably notice it even women. Second was her blonde hair, tied in to two pigtails her hazel brown eyes were staring at Jiraiya the whole looking with disappointment but with conviction. She wore a sleeveless kimono that was covered in a modified green haori that had the sleeves reach just below her elbows. The woman had a purple diamond mark on her forehead, what it was, he didn't know nor would he give a fuck about it. She had said something that really pissed him off.
"What'd you say?" He asked, in a rude fashion that could have resulted in him butting heads with anyone within a ten meter radius.
"You heard me brat, being Hokage sucks. Only idiots would dream to have a job like that."
By now, Naruto was reaching the limits of his very little amount of patience. So he slammed the table with his hand and pointed to the woman in between her eyes.
"You've got a lot of nerve calling all of the Hokages as idiots, lady! I don't give a fuck about what your problem is with the Hokages but you just insulted those that went before you and my dream! Being Hokage is an honor I'm willing to have and a drunken gambling hobo who insults my dream doesn't have the right to criticize those who were given the title!"
For a moment there, Tsunade could see a little part of his little brother in this boy. But she shook her head mentally. Bringing up the dead had no place in the world of the living.
"Jiraiya, it seems your apprentices get uglier and uglier as time goes on. He's horrible on the manners department too. Why do you keep doing this?" Tsunade asked as Jiraiya merely replied and leaned back on his seat with a smile.
"I told you, I have plans, plans that took a long time. I won't disclose it here or ever. Suffice to say that brat the key to solve everything."
Tsunade was looking at the kid and she felt as if he was ready to jump at her and get the chance to deal some punishment. Tsunade laughed at the thought, this kid? Who looked freshly out of the academy even though he was already a chuunin? That takes some other kind of guts in her eyes.
"You want to take this outside, little man?" Tsunade goaded. Naruto didn't need to think twice.
"Bring it, lady!"
Jiraiya had to hit his face with his palm.
Once outside, Tsunade smirked at the bravado of this kid. Did he not know who he was facing against? If he knew Jiraiya, then he must have known about her!
"I'll tell you this just once, brat. You should throw that dream away before you get yourself killed." A fair warning would suffice for Tsunade. But the kid didn't even look like he was having any second thoughts.
"And I'll tell you this just this once, old hag. That I'm not giving my dream up just because some washed up has been told me to!"
That earned a tick mark on her forehead. Shizune flinched at her mentor's dislike on the remark of her age. This wasn't going to be pretty.
"Well, he's gone and done it now." Jiraiya commented as he got outside and stared at the showdown that was about to happen. Did he think of this happening when he brought the boy with him? Most certainly, but he brought Naruto with a much more reasonable justification in finding Tsunade.
Naruto in a lot of ways looked and behaved just like Tsunade's younger brother only with an additional baggage being the bijuu that was sealed in him. Jiraiya hoped that by bringing Naruto along, it would spark something in Tsunade that would throw her out of her game.
So far, that part of the plan failed when Naruto stupidly challenged Tsunade to a fist fight.
"Oh? Jiraiya, not only is your apprentice ugly, he's practically begging to be humiliated!" Tsunade then held out her index finger and pointed it to the blonde.
"Just for you, I'll use just one finger, brat. Let's see how good a future Hokage will be against me!"
Naruto did not give out so much as an emotion other than pure resentment for this woman, tranquil fury being his only emotion. He leaned and charged forward without as much as a hand sign or a flare of his chakra.
Jiraiya, knowing better, frowned and noticed something was up when Naruto charged straight ahead.
'This isn't what I taught him. Naruto is up to something.'
Tsunade raised an eyebrow as the blonde charged at her in a straight line. She shook her head as he reached closer and closer to her. It seemed the credentials of being chuunin was lowered since her time away from the village. A boy like this charging at her with no plan was suicide and not something a chuunin, even the newly minted ones, would have done.
Naruto let out a straight hook at her and she dodged effortlessly against his attack. Before Tsunade could topple the blonde over with just one finger, there was a clone that appeared behind her with a hammer fist drawn. Tsunade sidestepped the attack as the real one jumped to the side while the clone did so as well, evading Tsunade finger flick. Both the clones now stood on parallel rooftops and began jumping to the other as they made a weaving pattern against her. Tsunade just stood there and waited for the blonde to attack.
Tsunade had to give the boy some credit. She had almost let her guard down when he charged headstrong against her like that.
Naruto observed the older woman as she kept her composure against him. He understood that she was much stronger than him. A testament in battle he has known since the second part of the chuunin exam. Orochimaru toyed with them and that was something Naruto wouldn't easily forget. How the man could have just as easily killed them merely on a whim.
"Jiraiya, since when did this boy learn a kinjutsu?"
The toad sage smirked and replied, "Before I met him."
Tsunade seemed slightly impressed.
With that in mind, Tsunade took the first step and began to walk calmly at the fast moving blonde and his clone. Both landed to the ground, Tsunade was placed in the middle. Naruto and his clone charged as the woman remained composed. Tsunade noted that this attack would be a feint much like the last one and that the next one would appear when she was left wide open.
She smirked. A simple strategy that could have worked against any other person once, will not work on a member of the Sannin twice.
She sidestepped a Naruto clone and with her index finger, poked the one on the opposite side dispelling him. Anticipating what was next, another clone had appeared from behind her ready to perform another strike that was aimed at her face. The blonde flew past her, and tapped the clone at its throat dispelling it. Now shrouded in smoke, Tsunade heard something that she would have never guessed to have come from the boy.
A blue, shining orb, grinding and ringing in her ears made its appearance known from the smoke. It was the Rasengan. Jiraiya had a look of surprise in his face as he saw the jutsu of his prized student manifest in the hands of his son. It was only for a moment but he realized that something felt wrong about the boy's attack.
The Yondaime Hokage's own jutsu inspired by the bijuudama that was known as many as a destructive mass of round chakra was in the hands of a boy no older than thirteen years old. Suddenly feeling the urgency to end the fight there, Tsunade spun once more using her left foot as a pivot just at the same time Naruto had lunged at her with the Rasengan. Naruto sailed fast and noticed his jutsu destabilized half a second later. Time seemed to slow down once more for him as Tsunade had her index finger pointed at his forehead.
With a flick of said finger, Naruto felt the force of a rampaging bull and then some slam on to him so hard that he felt every bone in his body shook from the impact. He crashed to the opposite end from Tsunade who was scowling all the while as she spoke to her teammate.
"Jiraiya, how careless are you to teach a brat like that with a dangerous jutsu such as the Rasengan?"
Jiraiya shrugged as his reply and pointed Tsunade to his student. Naruto got up from his position and was sitting as he stared at Tsunade with rage in his eyes.
"You lost boy, you can't even hurt me, go now with your tail between your legs. Give up."
Naruto merely scoffed it off and dusted himself as he replied, "Give up? I don't know the meaning of those words. I'm too damn persistent for my own good when my principles and dreams are questioned. And every damn time that people do that for me, I come back fighting harder. So give it your all, hag! My dream is to be Hokage and you won't stop me from chasing it!"
The words of Nawaki and Dan repeated themselves to Tsunade once more and she was faced with the images of her dearly departed people standing beside the blonde who was gripping his hands into fists.
"Alright, that seems to be enough." Jiraiya stepped forth in between the two. Naruto reluctantly relented and didn't speak any further.
Tsunade had relented as well, but before she turned away she told the boy, "A kid like you will never be Hokage, that jutsu that you did earlier? Don't even hope to master it, brat. You will never be able to do it."
Naruto this time turned his back to Tsunade and gave a fierce grin at her, "Don't count on it, you old hag. Give me three days, three days and I'll finish this jutsu and show it to you. And I always keep my promises."
"You want a bet?" Tsunade egged the boy on and the boy raised an eyebrow at this.
"Give me a break, lady. What could someone like you put on the table for a bet? Ero-sennin said you were flat broke."
"Ah but it so happens I have this necklace for up for a bet." Tsunade emphasized her point and pointed to the green necklace that she wore.
"Meh, what's a necklace worth anyway? I don't see the point…"
"Naruto, that necklace belonged to the Shodaime Hokage, Tsunade's grandfather. That thing alone could probably buy five mountains worth of land." Jiraiya pointed that out earning a surprised look from the blonde and then turning back his gaze to the necklace.
The money certainly is a good prospect, but the memorabilia alone of the Shodaime Hokage? Hell that's even more awesome!
"You're on, lady. Make sure you have that necklace ready by the time I'm done. The will of the future Hokage will not be defeated."
This was Naruto's vow. This vow that he made to Tsunade will be one that he intends to keep like all of the promises he had made. Just like all those times when people have doubted him, he will show her just how wrong she was on her assessment of him, he will win this stupid bet.
To be continued…
Preview: Chapter Eight: Legacy Awakened
"You? I admit that you caught everyone by surprise, Naruto-kun. Your display of talent even surpasses that of talented members of prominent clans. I must say that I am quite impressed but do remember this, In Orochimaru-sama's eyes, you are nothing but a hindrance. Compared to Sasuke-kun, you are nothing"
"Oh, but you see, Naruto has a lot more going for him than Sasuke does."
"Please don't tell me this as one of those hair brained prophecies the great elder toad sage came up with due to his senility in that mountain."
"You're probably right, but there's more to Naruto than you think, Orochimaru. Unlike you, he has a much grander potential. In a few years' time, he will be a ninja that will shake the world within its foundations."
"Then he is a threat to my plans that I must take care of myself!"
"I refuse to die before I obtain my dream!"
Hello all, sorry I haven't updated in a while. Dengue season started a few months ago and I've been pretty busy since then. We also had a measles outbreak awhile back due to poor nutrition in one of the poor areas so I couldn't update because we were tasked to take care of the sick during that time. We're also having conferences left and right due to the new Ebola virus strain and MERS-COV (the latter of which, we already have 2 recorded cases) so it's been a pretty busy couple of months. I'm sorry I vanished for a while without notice but real life has been demanding more and more attention from me and my fellow doctors more than my hobby. It has been a strenuous couple of months and it wore me down for a while, but we've been having a string of vacations left and right because of the storms and I'm happy to inform you guys that during those times, I have had time to write. Sorry it had to be this way, folks. My life is being controlled by my work right now even though I am still a medical clerk. So I'll keep you guys posted whenever I'm doing well enough to write.