Tesseract @time_parad0x
Chapter 10 - First Mission

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto

This chapter was edited by PraetorXyn and Issexwithyourcloneincest

Chapter 10: First Mission (16.10.36 AfoK)

The seal I had put on my wrist went off and jolted me awake. I rolled onto my back and opened my eyes to the white ceiling of my room. "Damn," I cursed.

I was just in the middle of such a great dream featuring my new onii-chan and his chiseled body as he... I moved my hand down into my panties and noticed the wetness between my legs. Despite being rudely awoken from a really great dream, I had a happy smile plastered on my face.

This was going to be a great day, I decided then and there — my first day as a full-fledged genin — my first true steps on the long road towards becoming Hokage. But what I felt was even better was me being on the same team with Naruto-onii-chan... if only those two weren't on it. How could I ever hope to hog his attention with them around? I bit my nail in thought, only now noticing that my fingers were still wet from... I jumped at that, and in the same moment, the second timed seal I put on me - to make absolutely sure I wouldn't oversleep placed at a far more sensitive body part went off with a higher voltage.

Unbalanced as I already was, the involuntary twitch had my legs and body buck against the mattress tangled into my blanket, I fell headfirst from my bed. I hit the back of my head on the floor whereas my legs laid still on my bed pointed at the sky...

Damn, that hurt. Rubbing my head, I untangled myself from my blanket and threw it onto my bed. This would definitely become a bump... for a moment, I considered asking Naruto-onii-chan if he would heal it... and discarded that thought immediately — he would undoubtedly ask how I got it and even thinking about telling him the story had my face burning.

Nope — I definitely won't tell him about that. And for the first time, I didn't regret my decision to take care of my hair by myself. It wouldn't do to win Naruto-onii-chan's heart if he only saw me as his little sister.

I removed the seal on my right wrist and the one on my hip and put them onto the nightstand.

A little groggy, I scratched the place where the seal had been a few seconds ago under my shirt and skillfully maneuvered around the things on the floor towards my wardrobe. I grabbed a towel, some underwear, and my usual attire — which my wardrobe was filled with to the brim — and made my way to the bathroom.

I sighed — I would really like to change my clothes from time to time — stupid recognizability rule.*

I already grew far too accustomed to my current clothes... and their colors. Perhaps I should change them, and I already had the perfect idea in mind into what. A smiling blonde and his black coat came to mind, hmm perhaps not black but red... like my hair.

Yeah, that seemed right — not those boring colors Mikoto-baka and Akiko-baka wear all the time. Red being a signal color might even help drawing the attention of Naruto-onii as I outshine the others.

Yes — I grinned to myself — that's what I was gonna do. I was so smart... Uzumaki Kushina was getting the man she set her sights on, and she was gonna become Hokage.

Closing the door behind me, I felt my cheeks heat up and my still lingering arousal spike at the thought of Naruto-onii-chan bursting through the door in another world where I might have forgotten to lock it. He would then ravage me with his... I hit my cheeks with the palm of my hands, scolding myself to get my mind out of the gutter. The renewed wetness in my panties was a problem though; I had to take care of it in short order. As a girl on a mission, each step I took towards the tub saw a piece of my clothing leaving my body to be carelessly thrown behind me onto the floor.

...

Following the delicious smell coming from the kitchen, I seated myself on a chair. Slightly exhausted from my ordeal, a warm glow permeated my body, originating from my center. Naruto-onii-chan was wide awake, standing at the stove adding some ingredients to his pan and stirring it. He must have been at it for some time, judging by the rich selection of dishes already on the table.

My mouth was watering just looking at them. Before I could make up my mind if I should wait for him to finish so that we could eat together. He called over his back without turning.

"Go ahead, I won't be long, I just have to get the seasoning right."

I wouldn't let him tell me twice. I stuffed my plate, taking something from each dish, and was about to dig in when Naruto-onii-chan arrived at the table pan in his hand. Wearing a small smile, he said, "here you've got to try this."

I looked from my overladen plate up to him, tilting my head. He huffed at seeing it and then proceeded to pile parts of the contents from his pan on top of it.

As it turned out, it was fried rice with a variety of vegetables, and from up close, it didn't just smell good — it also looked that way.

He rounded the table and went to the chair, his black coat was put over the armrest, and he filled his plate with a good chunk of rice. He then placed the pan on the prepared placemat and seated himself. All the while, my eyes never left him; without his armor and mesh-shirt he wore over the black fabric of his undershirt, I could trace every muscle on his body.

Grinning, he said. "Eat up, you will need the energy for your very first mission," which brought me out of my daydreaming.

Right. Inwardly, I frowned; my actions to take the edge off were apparently useless when confronted with his godly body and his ocean blue eyes. I had to do better... but for now, I enjoyed the show of his muscle-flexing while he ate. I followed his example, and as I did, it turned out I was eating the second best thing after ramen.

He knew how to cook; I had to give him that, and everybody knew the way to a girl's heart was through her stomach. To be able to eat meals prepared by him to the end of my days... a girl could dream.

We finished our plates around the same time. Naruto-onii-chan went to the sink and cleaned his as I got seconds. It was just too good. I knew I would probably regret overstuffing myself, but there was no resisting. When he returned to his seat his facial expression had turned serious.

"We have to talk Hime," he said.

"Aboud what," I asked with my mouth half-filled.

"Yesterday, during the fight against that jōnin, when you cradled Akiko you wanted her to bite you. I have a pretty good guess as to why; the thing is, that ability of yours is dangerous."

"Ischn't," I protested, and pieces of the food fell out of my mouth. Covering it with my free hand, I added "Schorry."

"I'm aware it isn't for others — the ones biting you, tearing into your flesh, and drinking your concentrated chakra. It is dangerous for you — easy to give away more than you can spare, thereby hurting yourself beyond the bite itself. Even more dangerous, is if the information of this ability of yours were to spread. There are many out there who would do a lot to get their hands on it." I managed to swallow during his explanation.

"We are a team. Why does it matter if the others know?" I wondered cocking my head.

He sighed "You are right, we are a team, and you are also right, that it shouldn't matter that they know. It is usually even in the best interest of each member of a team to be aware of the capabilities of each and every one of the others. Usually. This ability, on the other hand, is one of the exceptions."

Leaning forward in his seat fixating me with a penetrating gaze, he said. "Let me ask you this: do you trust your teammates with your life?"

I was tempted to say yes. However, I caught myself before doing so. After all, I barely knew Akiko and Mikoto. We had a few short interactions in the academy, nothing to write home about. I grimaced at the memory. We certainly weren't friends, acquaintances at best. No, I didn't trust them with my life.

"Your hesitation tells me enough — by letting them know about your ability, you are doing exactly that — entrusting them with your life. An inconsiderate comment here or there, mentioning it in the presence of the wrong kind of people, and the secret is out — and people will come after you."

I opened my mouth to interject, Naruto-onii-chan raising his hand forestalled me. "I know you believed yourself to be in a life or death situation, and I can't fault you for falling back on this ability under those circumstances. But," He said, sharpening his voice "those are the only circumstances under which you should ever use those abilities — if your life or that of a teammate hangs in the balance. Understood?"

"I don't understand," I slowly contemplated what he told me "Who would come after me? We're in Konoha. We're all on the same side, right?"

"We're supposed to be," Naruto-onii-chan conceded. "Unfortunately, in an organization as big as Konoha — made up of a variety of different groups — the interests of said groups don't always align. Well, there're also spies to consider. While it gets increasingly harder to put a spy in a position of power the higher it is, low-level spies are to be expected. Some are even tolerated."

"Tolerated!" I couldn't help myself but cry out.

He chuckled "Strange, right? The thing is, if you know about a spy, you can use him to your advantage by feeding him the information you want his superiors to have. Of course, that is a balancing act. You can't always be one hundred percent sure the spy doesn't pick up anything he shouldn't, and then you can only use him so many times to deliver wrong or faulty intel until the other side gets suspicious, or even eliminates the spy for presumed inability or betrayal. It is tough work being a spy." I gulped.

"Eat up, we don't wanna be late on our first day as a team," he urged.

I took a look outside. The sun's position indicated that we had more than half an hour left before the time of our team meeting. "Huh? It's too early..."

"I didn't say anything about directly going to meet the others. There's something I have to do before that. But if you don't want to go with me..."

"Nope, I will go with you. Wait for me..." I pleaded as I shoveled the food into my mouth. A few moments later, I noticed my cheeks were puffed out with all the food in my mouth. A resounding laugh escaped Naruto-onii-chan. Confused, I searched his eyes, sparkling with mischief. He reached over the table and poked my right cheek. "You look like a chipmunk Hime."

Embarrassed, I swatted his finger away, "'m not a schipmonk," I pressed out.

In response, he only laughed harder.

"I'll geth yow four thwat," I mumbled under my breath.

"What was that Hime? I didn't get that."

"Nothing…"

With a more measured pace, I cleared my plate. Waiting for that Naruto-onii-chan grabbed my empty plate and everything else on the table. "Why don't you get yourself ready? I'll take care of this," He then proceeded to store the leftovers in seals and cleaned the rest.

Pushing myself off the chair, I went back up to my room and grabbed my kunai holster, sealing kit, and my utility pack from the floor of my room, the very place I discarded it the day before and put it on.

By the time I got to the door, Naruto-onii-chan was waiting for me leaning, against the wall wearing his shoes. I sat down on the stairs of the genkan and put mine on too.

"Let's go, little chipmunk," he said amused.

"I'm not a chipmunk," I protested while jumping to my feet.

"If you say so Hime," he sing-songed and followed it up with a mock bow, turned around, and left through the door.

"I saw that," I shouted a moment later.

He stopped half-turning his body and looking back and asked, "Saw what?" feigning ignorance.

"Your smirk," I said and promised, "you'll regret making fun of me."

"I'm shaking in my boots," he mocked good-naturedly and ruffled my hair before he continued on his way. Scowling, I followed in his footsteps, silently vowing my revenge. We walked along the small paved path through the forest to the main gate in silence.

After we left the compound behind, Naruto-onii-chan went in a direction leading past the Hokage tower.

"Where're we going onii-chan?" I wondered.

"That, Hime, is a surprise," he said, and my scowl deepened. Looking around, I noticed that I haven't been to this region of the village before. That stirred my curiosity, and the last vestiges of sleep fell from me.

I followed Naruto-onii-chan through some side-streets. We came to a stop in front of a shinobi-weapon and surplus store. Turning to me, he asked. "You wanna wait or come in with me?"

At my deadpan stare — which seemed to communicate enough of my irritation that he even asked for me to wait and miss out on what he was doing there — had him relent, and with raised arms, he said. "Sorry — I should've known."

I snorted — as if I would waste a chance at getting more information than those two baka in my team — and huffed. I was a step behind Naruto as he entered the shop; a doorbell announced our presence.

A few moments later, a sleepy old man limped through the door behind the counter. The clacking wood on wood — a sound he made whenever his right leg made contact with the floor — reminded me of my uncle... and his wooden leg.

He was one of the few in Uzushiogakure to have one, unlike in Konoha, where it was a more common occurrence. Most of the shops I'd visited had some early retiree either as employee or owner — forced retirement while certainly cruel was better than the alternative; how was it, my uncle put it? "We're the lucky ones; we only lost a limb — others lost their lives."

"Hello..." Naruto-onii-chan started to say only for the man's eyes to widen in recognition.

"Ah Naruto-sama, are you here to fetch your order?"

"Yes, I am Kaito-san."

"Just a moment," Kaito said as he bent down behind the counter. When he emerged, he placed two scrolls on the counter. "One thousand blunted Kunai of the highest quality, quite the unusual order," He mused, handing the first scroll to Naruto-onii-chan "and this here, if I may say so, is the best work I have ever done. I have to thank you, Uzumaki-sama, to be allowed to work with those materials."

"There's no need for thanks; if it's truly your best work, then it's me who has to thank you." Naruto-onii-chan then placed a few sticks of gold on the counter. "I hope that's enough to pay for your services?"

Kaito, whose eyes widened in a comical fashion, answered, "I can't accept that kind of money Uzumaki-sama..."

"Sure you can, I insist," Naruto-onii-chan said. "Besides, I also need three sets of adjustable ankle and wrist weights with spare parts."

"Those are in the back, if you would excuse me for a moment Uzumaki-sama I will bring them to you right away," at onii-chan's nod Kaito went back through the door he emerged from.

"Why do you need weights?" I asked.

"To train you, Akiko and Mikoto, of course."

Confused by his answer, I wondered aloud, "Why not just use seals?"

"Good question. While resistance and gravity seals are better suited as a training tool simply because once applied, they are infinitely adjustable and can be deactivated in an instant — making them superior in any way that matters — they are not a tool I can use."

His explanation only increased my confusion, and something in my face must have given it away. "I should have worded that better. They are a tool that I'm not allowed to use. The problem stems from the fact, that they are seals."

"I don't understand."

"Right," he drawled, "you haven't been in Konoha that long. The Hyūga, the clan Akiko belongs to, have a rather dark history when it comes to seals. Their main house is using one to essentially enslave part of their family. So it wouldn't have been well-received if I had attempted to give her one, no matter its function. In addition, those seals are interlinked with a person's chakra network— albeit in the loosest sense of the word — which makes it even more problematic. Add to that the need to get the permission of the village to apply a seal to somebody outside of your clan's purview — which by the way is a very sensible precaution — and this whole thing would have been far more trouble than it was worth just to get the permission to do it. Which by no means would have been a certainty. I'd wager it would have been forbidden, and the act of asking would have angered the Hyūga. So I asked myself why bother? The weights, although nowhere nearly as goodwill do, at least for now."

"Couldn't you've used seals on me?" I asked hopefully.

"Of course I could've, but then again, that would've been preferential treatment, wouldn't it? Not to mention that the others would've asked me the same thing you did, and Mikoto could've insisted that she gets the seal, and then Akiko might've pushed the issue..." He stopped his musing and then just added, "Nope, not going down that route."

That was when Kaito returned and placed three sets of adjustable wristbands and ankle bands on the table. They each had small pockets arranged alongside them. The same size as the stack of small thin metal slabs he brought with him.

Naruto-onii-chan lifted one of the slabs and inspected them. Humming to himself he said, "Those will do. Thank you, Kaito-san." He then rolled out a small storage scroll he took from his back placed the items on it and with a puff sealed them. He took it and the other two scrolls and stored them in his belt.

"I wish you a good day," Naruto-onii-chan said as a goodbye.

"The pleasure was all mine Uzumaki-sama, thank you for your patronage."

With those parting words exchanged, we left the shop, and this time the direction Naruto-onii-chan took pointed straight to our meeting place. The small bridge spanning over the sidearm of the Naka River.

Both Akiko and Mikoto were already there. Akiko, in her white loosely fitting Kimono, was perched under the railing of the small bridge. Her feet were dangling down the side a few inches above the water's surface. Mikoto, clad in black, stood close by, leaning her back against the railing, carefully watching the few people walking over the bridge and passing them by.

When Mikoto spotted us, she gave Akiko a slight tap on her shoulders. In response, after verifying with her own eyes that we approached, she stood up and dusted herself off. She finished by the time we came to a stop in front of them.

"Ready for your first D-rank mission?" Naruto-onii-chan asked everyone.

The reaction of both Mikoto and Akiko consisted of a simple nod. What was wrong with them? This was the start of our shinobi careers, our first step to greatness... how could they not care? Rescuing princesses, defeating the bad guys, this was what we signed up for, and they just deflated.

"HELL YEAH, I'M READY!" I screamed, making up for their lack of enthusiasm by myself.

From the corner of my eyes, I noticed some people giving me strange looks. Naruto-onii-chan just chuckled to himself, "I hope you can keep this zeal up." The way he said it, with the strong emphasis on zeal, made it look like he was privy to some joke that escaped me and the others. Suspicious about it, I was about to ask him what he meant. When I heard the word "Idiot" from Akiko's mouth.

Apparently, she still hadn't learned her lesson and was in dire need of a remedial course; she was literally begging for it, and I was more than willing to provide her with one. Only Naruto-onii-chan's, hand which settled on my shoulder, kept me from showing her exactly who the idiot on our team was by hammering her marble face in the ground.

"Enough of that," he warned. "Let's go inside."

Naruto-onii-chan removed his hand and walked past us towards the Hokage tower. My glare followed the smug Akiko joining him wordlessly. "You better watch yourself, you bitch," I thought to myself.

We climbed the spiral stairs of the Hokage tower and came to a stop in front of the closed door to the mission room. Faint chatter was coming from the other side. Onii-chan had barely motioned for us to wait until it was our turn when the doors opened, and a well-built guy with spiky white hair came out of the room laughing. Wiping away tears from his eyes and, by doing so, smudged the silly red paint he had on his face. He was wearing a red haori reaching beyond his hips over his green shirt kimono with matching pants.

Following in his wake were three children I vaguely remembered from my academy days. There was this blond wimp who sat two rows behind me in class. The jackass Keigo, who came up with my nickname Tomato, and that tramp Mio who was hanging from another boy every other week.

The wimp's eye widened in surprise when he saw me, and he gave me a nod paired with an encouraging smile. I huffed in response; the nerve of him; Mio, on the other hand, reacted as I knew she would. Grabbing Keigo's arm and dragging him away from us, her lips moving to form the word Tomato. Tsk, as if I would be interested in that guy... even my idiot teammates could do better without even trying. After all, he was a sissy, even weaker than the wimp.

Finally, with the extras out of the way, we could get our first assignment. I followed Naruto-onii-chan inside the room and was utterly surprised to find the Hokage in his red robes and the iconic hat sitting behind the desk.

"Hokage-sama," the words from the mouths of Mikoto and Akiko already bowing to him brought me out of my stupor, and I hastily repeated after them and nearly stumbled over my words. When I raised my head, I saw a glint of bemusement in Akiko's eyes. I balled the hands into fists at my side.

The Hokage took it with good humor. "It seems you are surprised to see me here, Kushina-chan. Did you expect to see someone else?"

"Yes... I mean... it's great that you are here, Hokage-sama... but why are you here?" It was strange, that was for sure. Every time I accompanied Mito-obaa-chan to the Hokage tower, some chūnin manned the mission desk.

Chuckling, he said. "It's an old tradition; upheld since the conception of the village. That the reigning Hokage himself hands out the first mission to newly minted genin. Not only does it allow me to see Konoha's future up close, but it also presents me with the opportunity to thank you in a more intimate environment for your commitment to serve in Konoha's forces in the years to come. It is, after all, not something that should be taken for granted. But if you prefer to get it from somebody else, I can arrange for that."

"Nope," popping the 'p', I said, "I'm good."

Akiko, immediately interjected, "What my teammate, who is obviously lacking in manners, meant to say was that it won't be necessary to accommodate us. On the contrary, we are honored to receive our first mission from you, Hokage-sama, and I deeply apologize on her behalf."

She was about to bow when I flared up "The hell you are!" halting her motion. "mahamahah" was everything of my vicious response that ever saw the light of day as the rest was muffled under the hand of my Onii-chan that closed over my mouth.

"Thank you, Akiko, but I think it might be a bit presumptuous of you to speak on behalf of your teammate." Naruto-onii-chan's tone slightly shifting to a more dangerous connotation. "It's even more presumptions of you to speak in the name of this team. I am its captain, and therefore it is my place to do so."

I ceased my struggling a few words into Naruto-onii-chan reprimanding her, cheering him on even. The liberties this bitch thought she could take were outright astounding.

"I'm sorry, sensei. I didn't mean to offend," she meekly proclaimed. No, you only tried to undermine your commanding officer after making me look like a savage. Tsk, as if anybody would be fooled by that pathetic acting of hers.

Chuckling from the Hokage sitting behind his desk had us all focusing on him. "That takes me back to the times my pupils were genin — their bickering was legendary."

"I can't say I remember my days as a genin as fondly, Hokage-sama." The way Naruto-onii-chan said it, dry without any inflection, gave off the impression that he was accusing the Hokage of something.

Wiping away the faint smile the Sandaime wore on his lips in the process.

The exchange seemed to go over my head until I remembered what he'd told us about his teammates. Could it be we are similar to... no, I discarded that thought. Surely even that bitch Akiko wouldn't betray the village.

Following removing his hand from my mouth, "I hope you're ready for the absolute joy that is D-rank missions," Naruto-onii-chan asked us instead, distracting us from whatever it was that went on between the Hokage and him.

"Yes!" I screamed, giddy to finally get started. Facing, the Hokage I said. "We," and stopped myself there, remembering the chastisement Akiko received for speaking on our team's behalf and tried again, "I'm ready. What does the mission entail you'll send us on? Are we going to fight a legendary monster?"

Nervous chuckling was the response the Hokage gave me.

"Saving a princess?" I hopefully guessed again.

Only to notice that his chuckling increased as my hopes for an exciting mission started to plummet.

"Fighting enemy shinobi?" I tried again, slightly dejected.

A small shake of the Hokage's head shot down even that. "Bandits?" was my last hopeful grasping at straws with my guessing. "Please, at least tell me we are going to fight bandits and protect some folk from them."

Another shake of his head.

"Stupid," escaped Akiko's mouth. I shot her a glare as I balled my fist at my side.

Raising my hands in defeat, "Then what is it we are going to do?" I asked at a loss.

"Well, you have the choice between babysitting the kids of the Akimichi Hotaru, catching Tora the Daimyo's wife's cat..." the Hokage started to lay out our options when Naruto-onii interrupted him.

"No, they aren't ready for that hellspawn of a cat." Looking from one to the other unable to believe what I was hearing. I wondered what kind of cat this was that we weren't ready for, a tiger perhaps? When the other parts of their conversation sank in "babysitting," I repeated in my mind.

"You've got to be kidding," it burst out of me. "Tell me this isn't true!" I begged Naruto-onii-chan, holding onto his coat. "Tell me our first mission isn't catching a cat or babysitting!"

Softly placing his hands on my head and ruffling my hair he said "Don't worry, Hime. I won't allow for that to happen," with a serious expression.

Addressing the old man, he said, "Hokage-sama, I request one of the missions to take care of the orphanage."

Turning to the Hokage, I repeated the demand. "Yes, we'll take the orphanage mission." Only after I said the words did I realize what it was I said. "Wait, what?! Orphanage?" Looking back to Naruto-onii-chan, I asked. "What orphanage?"

"One of the two orphanages that were placed under the aegis of the Uzumaki-clan," He explained. "I want to take a look at them."

'Orphanage' had to be a code I gathered. "Our mission is so secret that we can't discuss it in the open." Naruto-onii-chan's slightly amused expression made me so distraught that I pleaded with him. "Please onii, don't tell me our mission is to look after snot-nosed brats."

"Don't be so overdramatic," Akiko leered. In response, I shot her a glare.

With a smile playing on his lips, Naruto-onii-chan addressed the old man. "I think, I finally understand why the Hokage personally hands out the first missions. The look on their faces when they realize what D-rank missions are all about is just priceless."

"I know," the old man agreed with a smug grin.

Me, I couldn't believe it. Mouth gaping, I stood there, watching all my dreams of adventure shatter into pieces in my mind's eye. All my fantasies of how our first mission would play out. Saving someone from certain doom, defeating the bad guys, and at the end of it, Naruto-onii-chan discovering his feelings for me just vanished into thin air, staying just that — fantasies.

Searching the faces of my teammates, hoping to find some sympathy for my situation because they suffered the same fate, was a fruitless endeavor. Mikoto was just standing there uncaring, Akiko on the other hand, displayed this smirk, conveying to all how she thought everybody is beneath her.

The crushing disappointment was replaced with anger. Anger at Akiko, Mikoto, the Hokage, and Naruto-onii-chan for tricking me, but above all else anger at myself for falling for it. Before I knew what happened, I did what I knew best and lashed out, hitting Naruto-onii in the hip.

"Au" he hissed. I immediately regretted what I did. Especially after seeing Akiko smirk getting wider. Already committed, I hit him again, this time carefully restricting my strength. And mumbled "jackass" directed at him.

It really hurt, although I knew it was just a prank. It wasn't that Naruto-onii pranked me — that I would have had no problems with. I would have liked it even, sharing such moments with him. What hurt was that others were part of it; they made fun of me, as they did in the academy to the outsider. Naruto-onii was supposed to have my back; he promised.

With a gulp, I swallowed my rampant feelings and buried them deep down. A swipe with my sleeve wiped away the increasing wetness of my eyes. I was showing a smile when I looked up again, trying to play it off. Hoping that it would be enough to hide the redness of my eyes.

When I came home from my first day in the academy crying and distraught, I vowed that I wouldn't succumb to their taunts and bullying. I vowed that I wouldn't cry ever again, to never give them the satisfaction of having gotten to me. I vowed to be strong and make them eat their words at every turn.

Least of all, I wanted to be seen in such a state by that bitch Akiko. I would rather die than suffer that humiliation. A humiliation she would never let me live down.

The look I received in return from Naruto-onii-chan when our eyes met told me I failed. The softening of his facial features spoke volumes.

"Hokage-sama, could you please hand over the mission scroll so that we can be on our way?" Naruto-onii-chan said, diverting the attention to him.

"Of course," he responded and tossed the scroll to Naruto-onii-chan, who caught it with no trouble.

He gave a short nod towards the old man, "Hokage-sama," and then said, "Let's go."

Akiko and Mikoto were the first to leave the room with me following in their wake. I barely made it past the threshold with the door closing behind us when a hand was placed on my shoulder and softly squeezed.

It was just a small gesture, but it meant the world to me for Naruto-onii wordlessly letting me know that he would have my back. When I looked over my shoulder, he gave me an encouraging smile.

Naruto-onii-chan led us out of the building to a less frequented side street. There he handed the mission scroll over to Mikoto. "Go ahead, read it. When you are done, hand it over to your teammates. We all need to know what our mission entails."

When she was done she gave it to Akiko, who then handed it to me.

Go to Konoha Willow Tree orphanage and assist the Matron.

"That's it?" I wondered aloud as I handed the scroll back to Naruto-onii-chan "What does it even mean to assist her?"

"I have to agree with Kushina-san," Mikoto said, "the mission parameters are too unspecific, making it impossible to even guess at what lies in store for us."

"You better get used to it," he replied, "most missions you will be sent on will be sparse on details like this. Simply because they often are unknown, and the clients aren't always very forthcoming or are unaware of any details themselves. Because of this, it is important that every single one of you goes with your eyes open into a mission. Don't assume what's written in the mission scroll is all there's to it. Most importantly of all: take everything you are told by the client with a grain of salt. They are known to be unreliable. Better yet, assume they are lying or withholding information, and double and triple check everything they say; never take it at face value."

"Are clients really that bad?" I asked "I mean, why would they lie? Aren't they paying for us to do a mission? Why would they make it harder on us to complete it?"

"There're many reasons. It could be like I said, that they're just unaware themselves, bias, or them just being misinformed can all be factors that make their statements unreliable. Then there are those who lie to obfuscate."

"Obfuscate," Mikoto repeated after Naruto-onii-chan.

"It happens, clients who have something to hide. The most common reason is that they're criminals of some kind and don't want us to look into matters because we might take offense, and then there's a lack of funds from the client. As you know, the price of hiring a team of shinobi mainly depends on what rank the mission gets labeled as, so clients occasionally try to save money by playing down the danger. A threat of shinobi could become bandits, for instance. Lowering the mission from at least a B-rank down to a C-rank. Given the sharp increase, every increment has on the price it can save them a lot of money, and in some cases, it's the only way they can even afford shinobi in the first place."

"Won't they be punished for doing that?" I asked.

"It depends," Naruto-onii-chan said. "It isn't often cut and dry that a client lied to us, and without definite proof, it's hard to take action. It doesn't help that quite often, you won't be able to figure out that something's wrong until after you are well on your way on the mission, and it comes down to the question of what to do. In most cases, as I said, if you've no definitive proof of the client misrepresenting the mission, you can't just abort it. Even if you do have proof, it might not be the best idea. Word might still spread, and in the case that it does, it'd reflect badly on the village; it'd suggest that we are unreliable. That's not something any shinobi village wants to be known for. From that alone, there's some pressure to continue the mission despite the lies or omissions of the client. If it isn't a time-sensitive mission, the standard procedure would be to pause the mission until such a time the request for reinforcements could be answered. If it is..." he shrugged "you better hope the one in charge is someone sensible who knows what he's doing."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because otherwise, we die," Mikoto helpfully added.

"What she's trying to say is that in such a situation the decision of what to do has to be made on the spot. Do you continue with the mission and potentially die, or do you abort, and the village suffers a loss to its reputation? Either way, whatever you chose to do, it will have consequences."

"What's that got to do with who is in charge?" I followed up with my question.

"Inexperienced or arrogant commanders will almost certainly continue the mission, no matter the odds, fearing the ostracization of their peers more than getting themselves and their team killed," Naruto-onii-chan explained.

"That's..." I was struggling for words when onii-chan started to supply me with options. "Unbelievable, preposterous, crazy? Take your pick. They all fit."

I was violently shaking my head, having found the perfect word to describe it as "Idiotic."

"Well, that too," Naruto-onii-chan dryly commented. "But it can't be helped; this is just the world we live in. Some would even endorse such a decision. After all, what's the life of one shinobi or his team compared to the village's reputation? In the Grand scheme of things, it would be a small price to pay for an unblemished track record. We are soldiers first and foremost; the mission therefore always has higher importance than our survival."

"Do you think that too?" Akiko questioned, "that we are expendable, pieces on a board, our lives just a means to accomplish a mission?" How could she even...

"And I'm the stupid one," I sneered.

"I never answered that question yesterday, did I?" He answered, "What do you think Kushina? Would I place your life over the success of a mission?"

"As if that deserves an answer," I spat at Akiko. "I know you would." The smile I received in response said it all.

"With that out of the way, there is one little thing we have to take care of before we can start with our mission." He reached into his coat and produced a scroll with a practiced movement. He rolled it out on the floor and then released one of the seals.

The next moment three sets of ankle and wrist weights appeared in front of us. "Put those on," he commanded.

Akiko, who was the first to reach for one, wondered "weights?"

"They are a great training tool for helping develop muscle, and one of the easier ways to increase one's speed," Naruto-onii-chan explained.

"I'm aware," she said, annoyed. "But we aren't training, we are about to start our mission."

"D-rank missions are training," he told her. "Besides, it takes time to get used to wearing them. So by putting them on now, the time spent on doing the mission isn't wasted. It also allows us to save the time it would take you to do this later. Two birds with one stone, as they say."

"You want us to wear them throughout the whole day?" Akiko asked, less than thrilled about the prospect.

"You make it sound like it's something bad. Trust me, it isn't. You all are gonna like the results. Moreover, you won't even notice they are there, after the first week."

"Weeks," Akiko expressed her reservations rather strongly, "you want us to wear them for weeks."

"Of course, a training tool is only beneficial if you actually use it. Incidentally, the greatest results using weights are achieved by incrementally increasing their load," he explained while his gaze lingered on Akiko, only for a smile to cross his lips as he added, "It seems that you already realized what that will mean for you. Every day before we set out for our daily D-rank mission, I will increase the weights you are wearing by adding more of these," holding up one of the metal slabs he bought with them.

"Eventually, in order to avoid the ankle and wrist bands becoming too cumbersome, I will resort to using fūinjutsu on the slabs to the same effect. So you'd better get used to wearing those fashionable accessories because they will accompany you for a long time." A soft groan escaped Akiko as she heard that. "Enough talk," he ushered. "Put them on so that I can explain how the release mechanism works."

I affixed the weights around my ankles and my wrists and did some trial movements — lifting my legs, walking a few steps, and stretching my arms. It was surprising how difficult it was to move with them on, despite weighing only a few pounds. Not only did they unbalance my body, but they also made it harder to control my limbs. The added strength required to overcome the increased inertia to get them to move and the added strength needed to slow them down and stop them made my movements jumpy. A far cry from the grace most shinobi adopted as their own.

I felt like a toddler having to relearn how to walk — carefully gauging every single step in order to not fall on my face. When I looked up to see how my teammates were doing, I was expecting to be met with a condescending grin from Akiko. Instead, I surprisingly found her bracing herself against a wall, her forehead creased in concentration while she was taking one slow deliberate step after the other. Watching her display — which made my own flailing around seem like the smooth movements of a world-class dancer in comparison — gave me a deep sense of satisfaction.

Not so great are we now, little Hyūga-hime.

As I started to pay closer attention to her stumbling around, it became painfully obvious why she had such a hard time. Her kimono usually hid it well, but with her loose sleeves hanging from her elbows her underarms were exposed; they were stick-thin with barely any muscle on them. If the rest of her body looked the same, it was no wonder that she had trouble lifting her soles from the ground.

It seemed that highly praised jūken of hers wasn't that great after all if it meant that those who train in it only train their bodies to a level where they possess what little strength is necessary to effectively use it.

Not to say it was all bad — I knew for a fact, she was more agile than I — but this was pathetic, an opinion Mikoto who also stopped to observe Akiko seemed to share. At least, I thought so as I glanced at her from the corner of my eyes, because her face was as unreadable as ever. However, it was the only explanation that made any sense to me.

Naruto-onii-chan waited for Akiko to gain a semblance of being able to walk with those weights strapped to her before he continued. "I'm sure you've all noticed by now that those weights can have a serious impact on your fighting capabilities," I nodded along with my two teammates, truer words were never spoken. "Since there's a chance that you might find yourself in an unfavorable situation while wearing them. Say an ambush, for example, in which being at your best is the difference between life and death. The fasteners of those weights can be opened by channeling a little chakra into them. Ultimately, a necessary addition because we obviously can't reasonably expect for our enemies to pause the fight to give us the time to remove them." That made a lot of sense, now that he said it.

"Try it," he ordered.

We did. The first thing I noticed was that it required barely any chakra — such a minuscule amount that I feared accidentally losing them whenever I attempted to use a jutsu with my abysmal chakra control. Grimacing, I realized that I really needed to look into that, if only to prevent potential unfortunate accidents. With the weights being a source of failure for Akiko, I had to make sure of that. I was adamant about not handing her any more ammunition to use against me, and also to not be deprived of my own — I could hardly use anything she and I both failed at.

We all fastened the weights once more onto our limbs only to hear him telling us, "Again." He made us do it five more times, for whatever reason, before he was satisfied and finally said, "Let's go."

With some trouble walking, we made it to the gates of the orphanage. Standing before its wooden enclosure, I became painfully aware that this could have been the place I might have ended up in, at least for some time, if not for Naruto-onii-chan returning to the village when he did. At that moment, I realized that I never really thanked him for it.

"So here we are," Naruto-onii-chan stated. "Before we enter, I need to remind you that the purpose of those D-rank missions is to simulate real missions, to further teamwork, and let us get to know each other, all without risk to our lives. In order for us to make the most of this, I expect you to treat this like a real mission — like our lives could be in danger and that we might need to defend ourselves at a moment's notice. This means: stay alert at all times, carefully watch your surroundings, and watch each other's backs."

We nodded in understanding, whereupon he opened the double doors and stepped inside the orphanage. Before the first of us could follow him inside, we heard him say over his shoulders. "After all, I look forward to your detailed reports of today's mission; be mindful of what you observe."

I groaned at this, and here I thought it couldn't get any worse. On top of babysitting, we got saddled with paperwork.

While I was already regretting that I had gotten up this morning, a middle-aged woman approached us carrying a toddler in her arms. More than once, one of the children playing all around us nearly ran into her. As she came closer, it became clear why her head was skewed to the left away from the toddler on her right arm. It was only a halfway successful means to keep her brown shoulder-length hair outside of the kid's reach. A measure that seemed to only further the kid's fascination with it. A fascination, that I doubted would last. Since the kid obviously did so in order to eat them. The kid would regret his persistent attempts. I was sure of it. I do, whenever I wake up with my hairs in my mouth. They taste disgusting an unfortunate side-effect of having long hairs.

"You must be the shinobi for this morning," she greeted us. What immediately stood out to me was her soft voice that felt out of place on her stern-looking exterior.

"We are," Naruto-onii-chan confirmed with a disarming smile. "Allow me to introduce ourselves. My name is Uzumaki Naruto, the jōnin-sensei of team 7."

Before he was given the chance to continue, she interrupted him "Uzumaki? You wouldn't happen to be the one responsible for those recurring missions sent our way?" she accused.

Taken a bit aback by the bite of her question Naruto-onii-chan said, "I am," with a hint of trepidation.

Her response was as sudden as it was unexpected, her austere attitude making way to a welcoming smile, "Finally, I get to meet our benefactor in the flesh. I was wondering when you would turn up." Looking him up and down, she nearly purred, "and what a fine specimen you turned out to be, my imagination couldn't do you justice."

"Haha," he awkwardly laughed in response.

"You better keep your hands to yourself, or you might lose them," I blatantly threatened.

"Kushina," Naruto-onii-chan hissed, "that is no way to treat our client."

"She isn't our client, you are," I corrected him, "and even if she were, it still wouldn't give her the right to leer at you like that."

He was about to open his mouth again, no doubt to chastise me when I received help from the last person I expected. "Oh my — it's fine," the woman waved him off with her free hand and then went on to add conspiratorially "she was just staking her claim," and immediately changed the topic. "I'm sure you want a tour of your new acquisition. Why don't you allow me to show you around while your genin entertain the kids."

Overwhelmed, it took Naruto-onii-chan a moment to get his bearings, which was good because I had to fight down my blush. Damn that woman.

"That sounds good," he agreed. "Just allow me to finish introducing my team. I'd wager we will be here and in the other orphanage quite often in the future. The little red-headed whirlwind you already had the pleasure of talking to is named Uzumaki Kushina, and I can assure you that she isn't normally that ill-mannered."

I huffed at his words, "I'm not little. You are just huge."

"Whatever you say, Hime," he teased. That was all it took for my blush to return at full strength.

"Oh my, how precious," the woman cooed.

"The young lady in all black is named Uchiha Mikoto, and our last team member is named Hyūga Akiko."

"That is quite the assortment of Konoha's most prestigious clans. It is my pleasure to meet you all," she said while bowing as much as the child on her arms permitted. "My name is Yamada Saki, and I'm the matron of this orphanage, and the little one here," she said, lifting the child in her arms for all of us to see "is called Kazue."

Giving the kid a short wave, I tried to gain his attention. He just looked so cuddly in his blue rompers. The child, confused about where the hair he was after disappeared to, searched a moment for it and then settled to sucking on his thumb — ignoring me entirely in the process.

Trying again, the child just turned away and wiggled in the hands of the matron. This gave her no choice other than to pull him close to her body again.

I angrily huffed at being denied the chance to play with him.

The matron straightened her body as she half-turned and offered, "Please, Uzumaki-dono follow me."

"Akiko, Mikoto, you both stay here with the kids. Get a lay of the land and remember to treat this like a real mission — so stick together," he ordered them. Turning to me, he said, "Kushina, you are with me."

Good, that way I could protect my onii-chan from anything that woman might try to do to him.

"As you can see, the orphanage consists of this singular complex. It was one of the first non-clan buildings erected in the village with two hundred rooms over three floors. At the moment, we are accomodating two-hundred and ninety-three children of various ages, meaning that most rooms have two inhabitants," she explained. "Luckily for us, the first Hokage was generous enough to also allocate a large patch of land surrounding the orphanage for its use. I can only imagine how hard it would be otherwise just to get a semblance of control over those children without presenting them with an outlet for all the energy they have in abundance."

"Aside from you, I counted five other caretakers. Surely that can't be all there are?" Naruto-onii-chan wondered, "Taking care of that many children would take more than twice that many at least."

"Oh, you are indeed correct. Our full staff, including myself, consists of twenty-one women."

"That means every one of you has to take care of more than ten children," I blurted out, appalled.

"Actually it is 13.95 children," Naruto-onii-chan corrected, "Nonetheless, Hime, your reaction is more than justified." Addressing the Matron, he said, "Am I right to assume that of those twenty-one employees, not all are here working all the time?"

"Of course not," she answered "most of us have homes with children of our own to care for, and this is just their day job. If I had to guess on average, you'll find five of us here during the day."

"And at night?" he followed up.

"Two or three," she conceded.

I was horrified hearing that.

"Oh, you find those numbers bad. Back during the first shinobi world war, we had more than five times the number of children to care for and only half the staff." Something she said disturbed Naruto-onii-chan. He got that far away look and clenched his jaw, if only for a moment. "We literally had stacked the children on top of each other just so everyone had a roof over their heads."

"That bad," he murmured, lost in his thoughts.

"You have to understand that we do the best we can with the resources at our disposal," she defended.

"I'm not blaming you," Naruto-onii-chan said. "It is the village's fault for not providing you with the funds needed to do your job. Rest assured, that is the exact reason why I took over the aegis of the orphanages from the village in the first place. Things will be different from today on. Tell me, what else do you need besides a larger staff?" he prompted.

"It is probably best if I show you," she answered, leading us into the building. We entered a small lobby with rows of shoe-filled cabinets tagged with nameplates. Apart from the door, we stepped through there five other ways out of the lobby. Straight ahead an open double door allowed for a clear view inside what I assumed to be the dining hall; full of rows of chairs placed around tables.

Left and right of the dining hall were staircases leading up and down, as were two long hallways right beside them with a door every few meters along with it.

"As you can see," The matron said, accompanied with a sweeping motion with her free hand, directing our attention to our surroundings — to which to my shame, I had to admit, I didn't pay particular attention. "We are lacking in more than just personnel."

She was right, taking a closer look. The walls were damaged, tears and fractures littering the wooden panels. A few poorly done patch jobs over the worst marred section told us more than words ever could. My gaze fell on some of the worn-through shoes filling the cabinets, hardly deserving to be called more than trash.

"Show me one of their rooms," Naruto-onii-chan demanded. The playfulness was gone from his demeanor.

Walking two steps in front of us, she brought us to the first door on the left in the right corridor. She then stepped aside and motioned for us to enter. Naruto-onii needed no second invitation and did as she bid. The first impression I got following him inside was that room was small, scarily so. On a second glance, I noticed that it was in a similar condition to the lobby.

The two futons within the room were placed right next to the walls on both sides of it. The unoccupied space only allowed for a small corridor in between, barely enough for an adult to walk in unhampered.

Naruto-onii-chan walked to the wall opposite the door and softly placed his hand on one of the cabinets at the headrest of the futons, trailing it. Even from where I was standing, right next to him, I had trouble understanding the words as he whispered to himself, "Seems like nothing much is gonna change."

I was at a total loss as to what he meant by that. Sighing, he removed his hand took another look around. His eyes eventually landed on one of the futons and stayed there. Following his gaze, I also noticed the problem he discovered. Kneeling down to inspect it, he pulled the covers to the side, revealing the full scope of what was wrong with it. The lining was ripped and matted, and the futon even had some holes in it. A clear case of it being damaged beyond repair. Naruto-onii-chan restored the futon to its previous state before he stood up and ushered me out of the room.

After he closed the door behind him, he asked. "Do all the rooms look the same?"

"In a sense," she admitted in what I wrongly assumed to be the start of her trying to deflect the question only to give a detailed account. "Every single room we have is damaged to a different degree. We are hosting children with ages ranging from just being born up to twelve — the age they either become a shinobi or start an apprenticeship. It can't be expected of them to be considerate with their surroundings, especially since we can't offer them much. We have barely any toys or other means to keep them busy, let alone any books. As a result, whenever we can't simply rely on sunshine and good weather to allow them to spend their energy running around, considering the extremely limited space at our disposal. We're pretty much forced to coop them up inside, which for the most part means inside their rooms."

"As a result, they find other outlets for their urge to move," Naruto-onii-chan added.

Throwing him an odd look, she agreed. "That is exactly what happens. They run against the walls, climb on top of each other, or some other shenanigans of the week. With our current staff, it is simply impossible to watch them all," she admitted, resigned.

"What about the dining hall," I wondered. "If you move all the furniture away, wouldn't that give you the space you'd need?"

"You think we wouldn't have thought of that?" she scoffed. "We have hardly enough space as it is to allow half of our children at a time to just sit down and eat. It's a far cry from being large enough to provide twice that number with enough room to play. Nevertheless, it's far better than nothing, and we make extensive use of it, but..."

"You are doing the best you can with what little you have been provided so far. Rest assured, that is definitely going to change," Naruto-onii-chan assuaged her. "What about the rest of your children's needs, can they be met?"

"Barely. The village provides us with a fixed amount of money for every child in our care. The money doesn't account for age, gender, or anything else that has an influence on their needs. This is why it is not uncommon for us to struggle with the necessities. Just having to replace a futon unexpectedly amidst all the other expenses can pose a problem."

No wonder the bedding was in such an abhorrent condition.

"That's an easy problem to solve," Naruto-onii-chan reassured her.

"How?"

"By just giving you the much-needed money," he said grinning.

Suddenly the matron was put on guard. She even went so far as to turn away the child in her arms as if to shield him. "What's the catch?" she questioned with barely contained hostility.

I was taken aback, Naruto-onii-chan, however, responded with a question of his own "What did he make you do?" I have never heard his voice taking on such a grave undertone. If didn't know any better, I would have been sure that he was about to kill somebody.

"I... I can't talk about it," she said, almost pleading as she clutched the child closer to her chest "Please, don't make me."

Taking a deep breath to calm himself, Naruto-onii relented, "Don't worry, I won't. I know that it would be you or the children that would suffer the repercussions." While I was trying to make sense of their words Naruto-onii-chan, after a short pause, continued to say. "Actually, he is the reason why I'm here in the first place; to end his machinations. The children have suffered for far too long under his capriciousness. It is time to put a stop to it once and for all."

The features of the matron went through a range of emotions. I wasn't able to recognize them all, but they included surprise, disbelief, apprehension, hope, acceptance, and trust.

"You aren't lying to me?" she tried to make certain.

"I'm not," Naruto-onii-chan affirmed.

Watching this exchange, all the while not knowing what they were talking about, I finally had enough. "What is going on here, and who the hell is this the person you mentioned? You can't just exclude me like this dattebane!" I fumed at them.

"You are better off not knowing," the matron tried to dissuade me.

"I'm not talking to you," I snarled back at her.

"That is no way to address your eld..." the matron started to rebuke me. It took Naruto-onii-chan to raise his hand palm facing her way to get her to stop.

Staring into his sapphire blue eyes, I challenged Naruto-onii-chan to tell me the truth. It took just a few moments, and his conviction faltered with a groan. He averted his eyes and mumbled something to himself that I couldn't understand.

He then searched my eyes again and poignantly pointed out, "This is no game Kushina, what I'm about to tell you can get you in big trouble if the wrong people learn about you having this kind of information. Are you sure you want to know?"

"Yes," I declared.

Searching my eyes for a moment, he eventually conceded defeat, and following a heavy sigh, he began his explanation. "Remember when I told you about the various factions making up Konoha as a whole?" I nodded at his question. "There's a man named Shimura Danzō, a clan leader and village elder, who uses his considerable influence for dubious means."

"What has that got to do with anything you were talking about?" I interrupted.

"I was coming to that. Patience, Kushina — a bit more of it would undoubtedly suit you," in response, I just snorted. "As I learned just recently, this individual is in charge of an ANBU training program called ROOT, whose sole purpose it is to turn children into emotionless killing machines. To that effect brainwashing and other harsh conditioning, methods are used with a complete disregard for the recipient's lives. Rumor has it there is less than a fifty percent chance of survival of the basic training."

I gasped at that horrified "How could he? Does the Hokage know about this?"

"He does," he admitted. "At least the basics are known to him. Shocking, isn't it?" He asked.

"Yeah," it certainly was.

"Never judge a book by its cover," he warned. "Established Shinobi often develop a certain persona they use in public to hide behind. Make no mistake, behind that caring grandfatherly mask of the Sandaime, lurks one of the most dangerous and accomplished killers the elemental nations have ever seen. As long as you don't end up becoming the mask by constantly wearing it, it's, in fact, a good idea to remain approachable by not giving off the air of a killer. It makes people underestimate you."

"I didn't know that," I weakly said.

"You weren't supposed to — it would invalidate the point, but I digress. We weren't talking about the Hokage but about this elder."

"Shimura Danzō," I provided.

"Right. Those children were supposed to be trained by him and then directly introduced into ANBU to allow for a faster replenishment of our troops. He succeeded in that, cutting down the time required for a child to get to that level by about half. His methods, despicable as they might be, got the envisioned results — fast-tracking those children to be capable enough to be considered for the ranks of ANBU. The issues of erasing their personality and individuality were considered a small price to pay in exchange for a loyal soldier without moral inhibitions."

"I'm not sure I follow."

"I have reason to believe that the loyalty of those ROOT shinobi is not one to the village but solely to Danzō and that he is using this organization to further his own goals even to the detriment of the village as a whole."

"So you are saying that he's a traitor."

"Yes, I am. I don't know to what extent, but he definitely is one."

"I still don't understand. Why all this, why taking over the orphanages? If the higher-ups are behind this, and as you say tolerate it or support it, will this even make a difference?"

"That's where you are wrong. ROOT was only given the allowance to recruit children if their guardians have given their consent. The idea behind it was to recruit from the pool of genin as you know..."

"a genin is considered an adult according to the law."

"Exactly — restricting the children they could get their hands on to genin and to those parents who could be convinced to give up their children. It was both a concession towards the 'Will of Fire,' allowing for a choice and also an attempt to preemptively nip any attempts of a draft Danzō might have come up with in the bud. Of course, Danzō found ways around it."

"The orphanages..."

"Go on," Naruto-onii-chan urged. "All the clues are there. You merely have to connect them."

"They're the legal guardians of the children. Meaning that the matrons could hand them over to him. So he just needed to get his people into those positions, and he's set."

"He can't," Naruto-onii-chan said, "They are thoroughly vetted."

"So he needs the matrons to give them up, but why would they even consider doing it? Funding! If he couldn't get his own people to do it, he must be in a position of power from which he can exert his influence to cut down on their funding, blackmailing them into compliance. Give up all the children I want, or the other children will suffer for it."

"Very good," he praised.

"This means that by placing the orphanages under our supervision, we also became responsible for their funding, thus robbing him of his leverage," I concluded.

"Impressive."

"What I don't understand, is why doesn't he just get his children elsewhere?" I asked.

"That's a good question. The answer is quality. Shinobi are bred." I didn't follow. Something in my face must have given it away. Because without further question, he explained what he meant. "Children with even just one parent being a shinobi, or one of their parents coming from a line of shinobi possess on average denser muscles and greater chakra reserves, among other things. Those advantages over civilian born kids become more distinct the longer the line of shinobi on both sides of the family they stem from, and that is without accounting for things like bloodlines."

"What you're saying is that children born to two shinobi parents stemming from a line of shinobi make the best shinobi themselves," I summarized.

"Yes."

"Good," I stated, "then this will hurt him."

"Oh, I very much hope so," Naruto-onii-chan said chuckling.

"Now that I have met you, Uzumaki-dono. I'm glad it is your clan taking over," the matron said from the side. I had completely forgotten she was even there. "On behalf of the children, Thank you, thank you both."

"There's no need for that. I'm just doing what should have been done a long time ago," he played down the issue. "Enough talk of unpleasant village elders. Let's focus on your needs. Can you show me your books?" He asked.

"Sure," she responded. "They are in my office. Please follow me."

Tugging at Naruto-onii-chan's sleeve, "Do I have to... you know... come with you?" I demurely asked.

"You don't, but it certainly wouldn't hurt either. Our clan is responsible for this institution from now on. Among other things, this means that we have to ensure that every child living within it is taken care of. For this reason alone, you should attend this meeting to be aware of the intricacies involved."

"The what?"

"Intricacies — it means details or finer points," he explained.

"Ahh," I said in understanding but renewed my plea, "please, I will be there with you the next time," I promised. I really needed some air. Being made aware of what goes on behind the scenes of a shinobi village was chilling.

"Okay," he relented, "but I will take you up on that promise, no excuses next time. Besides, you'd better get used to this. A great deal of a Hokage's job consists of such meetings."

"I know," I stated emotionlessly, "you also don't become Hokage for being nice," I didn't wait for his response. I just turned and walked away. I had some thinking to do.

Walking through the doors back outside, I was met with the cries of joy only children were capable of. A small smile played on my lips watching them running around. They were so innocent. Looking around, I noticed Akiko and Mikoto standing in the shadow of a tree, observing the children. My good mood was gone in an instant.

They didn't engage the children in any way. They didn't talk to or play with them. Instead, they treated them like prisoners under their care; watching, lurking. At that moment, it felt like they became the face of everything that was wrong with our society, and I felt rage bubbling to the forefront of my mind at the injustice of it all.

Violently shaking my head, I tried to dislodge those thoughts from my mind. This was neither the time nor the place to succumb to those dark thoughts.

Calm once more, a grin split my lips. It was time to show those kids how to play. Taking a few more steps away from the building right into the middle of the field, I shouted.

"Alright, children, come around, gather up! It's time that I show you to have fun!"

"Hey you, I said to gather up. Why aren't you doing what I said," I admonished a kid half my height that ignored me? He turned around poking in his nose. Unbothered by my words. "Are you deaf, kid?" Instead of answering me, he withdrew his finger from his nose with a pebble sticking to his finger. He was looking at it as if he had never seen anything like it. Only to suddenly reach for my shirt and wipe the pebble on his finger on it.

It took me a moment to fully realize what just happened. The kid just looked up at me, and his lips drew back into a grin showing the gaps his falling out milk-teeth left behind.

Something on my face must have given it away because, without warning, he suddenly turned and ran. I allowed him a brief headstart before taking up the chase. Despite the squirt giving it his all with his short legs, he stood no chance against me, even hampered by the weights I was wearing. So it only took a few dozen feet I had him dangling in the air, held up by the collar of his shirt.

"You little shit... I'm so gonna make you pay..."

Authors Note: This chapter got away from me to quite a degree. It was supposed to be one interlude from Kushina's perspective roughly around 10K words depicting the first day of Team 7 — first mission, dinner, and first training session... I had to split it into three parts because it just wouldn't end.

The rule mentioned at the start of the chapter recognizably was inspired by "Walk on the Moon" by SixPerfections — it essentially forces shinobi to always wear a specific set of attire that allows them to be easily identified on the battlefield and stick to that. Preventing friendly fire, finding your team leader are both things that are helped by a rule such as this.

Given the chaos that can ensue on a battlefield and considering that missions can last months, it makes sense that their look is kept the same.

Of course, the reason that in manga/anime the characters always wore the same is mostly done for simplicity's sake and reducing the workload — imagine having to redraw every single character all the time. Especially Naruto with his clones would be a royal pain in the ass.

It was SixPerfection's way of explaining the odd behavior of shinobi always wearing the same clothes in his story "Walk on the Moon." Apparently, it has a historic origin.

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