Subject: [FFML] Re: [Naruto] One Hundred Days - Chapter Fourteen: The Darkest Hour
From: David McMillan
Date: 11/6/2006, 2:50 PM
To: Aaron Nowack <>, FFML <>

Aaron Nowack wrote:

One Hundred Days
A Naruto Fanfic
By: Aaron Nowack

Chapter 14: The Darkest Hour

Disclaimer:  Naruto does not belong to me, strange though that may seem.
Instead it is Kishimoto Masashi's creation.  However, the text of this
fanfic is mine, and may not be used without permission.  Also, Japanese
dwarf flying squirrels!

[Day Eighty-five]

unmarred. "You're late, Kaida-san," Itachi stated flatly, no sign of
irritation in his voice.

	...oooKAY.  Did *not* see *that* coming.
        Kaida ignored him, focusing on Itachi.  "I suggest you make
haste.  I except Jiraiya-kun to return soon, and that will make things

	SP:  expect

        "We'd best not attract attention, even so," Itachi responded
after a moment.  "Four days."
        "Very well," Kaida said.  "I'll try to keep things under control
until then."
        "What of your partner?" Itachi asked.  "Can we expect his
support as well if it comes to violence?"
        "That mercenary bastard?" Kaida replied, snorting.  "I've no
idea where in the world he is."

	And I have no idea WHO he his.  But I'm sure we'll find out.

        In one tiny hand she clutched a piece of paper, the force of her
grip needlessly crumpling the paper.  She had forgotten what it was in

	Double rep of "paper"

the years since, but that detail had never left her.  Curiosity made her
want to look, but instead she merely walked forward, idly practicing
moving without sound like her teacher had been teaching her.    Her

	Extra spaces.

        "So?"  Midori recognized the anger in her mother's voice and
shrank back.  "If she hadn't run off to avoid this marriage, it would be
her life being ruined by your stupid mistake!"  At the time, Midori had
been merely confused, but now she knew too-well the meaning of her
mother's words.

	"Too well" doesn't need hypenation.
	And, *ouch.*  What a thing for a child to have to deal with, from her
own mother.  I'm actually feeling some sympathy for Midori.

        "Idiots," her mother snarled.  "A generation ago they would have
been wise enough to order the infection eliminated."  Now, Midori knew
just what her mother was advocating, and hot rage boiled inside her.  It
was her parents' fault that she was born with such cursed genes.  Why
should she pay with her life for their faults?

	Like I said, you're making it hard to hate Midori as much as I did the
last few chapters.

        "Absolutely," Midori's mother said, then she laughed bitterly.
"You need not worry that a mother's love for her child will spare her,"
she promised, and even then Midori had heard the terrible honesty in her
voice, and at that she burst into tears.

	Midori's *mother,* OTOH... her I could get to hate really easy.

        Knowing that she'd get little sympathy when she arrived home,
she'd instead made for one of the places where a small child could slip
outside the walls of the Haruno Clan's compound and headed for a nearby
grove of tall trees.  Beat to get the tears out of her system, she knew,


her hands going to rub at her watery eyes.  "I won't let this happen
again," she promised herself as she stood on unsteady legs.  "I'll get
stronger, until I can beat all of them up."
        "Beat who up?" an unfamiliar voice said, and Midori looked up to
see a strange girl around her age standing in a tree overhead.
        Midori leapt to her feet, backing away cautiously.  "Who are
you?" she asked.
        The other girl jumped down to stand before Midori.  "Ren," she
answered.  "Shimano Ren."  She grinned.  "What's yours?"

	...ohh, dear.  Which must make Ren's friendliness with Sakura *really*
burn Midori.

        "...Midori."  She rubbed at her face, trying to wipe away the
        "Are you going to go to the ninja academy next year?" Ren asked.
Midori nodded cautiously, and Ren's grin widened.  "So am I.  Want to be
friends?  My family just moved here from the clan's island, so I don't
know anyone."
        At the time, Midori had eagerly accepted, old enough to suspect
that friends would be in short supply at the academy.  Now, Midori
wanted to snort.  The Shimano Clan hailed from the islands of the Water
Country's east, and it was likely that Ren had never heard of the Haruno
Clan or its shame.  If Ren had known as much then as she knew now, would
she still have become her friend?  Likely not.  Maybe even now she only
stuck to it because of habit and to keep the team functioning well.

	Somehow, I don't think Ren's that shallow.

        Sakura sighed as she locked the door to Naruto's apartment.  The
rather brutal sparring session with Tsunade had served it's intended

	it's<>its -- possessive form doesn't apostrophize.

        If Naruto were the son of some infamous traitor like Orochimaru,
it would explain everything.  Sakura wasn't able to stop herself from
giggling at the ludicrous idea of Orochimaru himself being Naruto's
father - it wasn't like she knew what clan the renegade Sannin hailed
from, after all.  Then her mirth faded, as it was all too easy to
imagine how terrible it would be to be Orochimaru's son.  Even as
unlikely as that was, it seemed perversely plausible.

	<twitch>  Man, wouldn't *that* be ugly.

        "No," Shizune agreed, "but if there'd been time for Tsunade-sama
to formally name you as her apprentice you would."  Shikamaru raised an
eyebrow at that, but didn't bother to comment.  "It's expected that
you'll be exposed to a lot of material above your usual clearance."  She
sighed.  "Even so, there's a lot of stuff in there that you shouldn't
read, but compromises have to be made.  I'm trusting you not to get
curious and read too much and to be discreet about what you do read."

	Uh oh.  Sakura... in a library full of classified data.

        The former Storm ninja himself was also there, though he kept
mostly to himself and gave little sign that he paid more than cursory
attention to his guests' conversation.  He too had not left the building
since Naruto had awakened, claiming that it wouldn't be safe for him to
be seen either.  He judged it too likely that Kaida had guessed his
involvement in the plan to remove Naruto from her control.

	Naruto's "rescue" of Kakashi was a *setup* to get Naruto away from
Kaida?  That's... awfully convoluted, even for a ninja.
        Naruto gave the Cloud ninja a suspicious look.  "I also don't
see how Kaida-sensei could be one of those Akatsuki people.  Ero-sennin
isn't stupid, and he trusted her."
        At this, Zeshin abandoned his pretense of not listening, letting
out a bark of laughter.  "See, Hatake?  He agrees with Junhime-sama and
I.  The Toad Hermit had to know that he was giving the Kyuubi to
Akatsuki by leaving the boy with Kaida."

	Now *this* is ninja-level twistiness.  Someone's been laying false trails.

        Sakura almost stumbled backward, her mind racing at the old
ninja's simple words.  "He... my father... what?" she asked, unable to
believe what she thought her ears were telling her.  "But then -"
        "Yes," the Hokage's adviser confirmed, glancing away from
Sakura.  "That would make you my great-granddaughter."

	Whooo.  I'm not sure how many more of these emotional shocks Sakura can

        All save one of her men had died at the hands of Orochimaru when
they stumbled across the missing ninja - and disastrously, three other
extraordinarily powerful ninja.  One of the men in the strange black-
and-red cloaks that Jiraiya hadn't then recognized had perished as well,
but Orochimaru and the other two had escaped with the body.  By the time
Jiraiya and his two companions, all badly wounded, had arrived in the
Cloud Village, the Kyuubi had begun the rampage that would end months
later at the gates of the Leaf Village.

	Coincidence?  Somehow I think not.

   It seemed beyond imagining to Jiraiya that Kaida could have
joined Akatsuki, but no other explanation for her apprentice's actions
and words presented itself to him.  Besides, he need only remember
Orochimaru's laughter to recall just how easily some could forsake all
the bonds that men like Jiraiya found unbreakable.  Why should he be so
surprised that Kaida had turned out to be among them?
        "You seem distracted," Sinobi Junhime said as she sipped a cup
of tea.

	<blink>  Gee, the last time we saw these two, they were trying to kill
each other.

        Junhime nodded.  She'd sent her men, so far as they could tell
still unknown to Kaida, into the Cloud Village to scout and make contact
with Junhime's organization inside.  "Thankfully, we finally managed to
goad your brat into trying to rescue Hatake and got him out of Kaida's
hands."  She laughed bitterly.  "If he was half as stupid as he seemed,
we wouldn't be in this mess."

	It *was* a setup.  Oy.

        During her brief glance, she had noted the familiar characters
of her own name.  Unable to stop herself, after glancing at the door to
the classroom to confirm it was still shut, Sakura's attention returned
to the report, and she began to read.

	Knew it.

        Seeking some further information, Sakura quickly read the rest
of the page of debriefing reports, but found nothing that explained
things further.  Then, after debating the matter with herself for a few
moments, she checked the file number on the page, found the rest of the
folder, and skimmed the rest.  Still, she had questions.  It seemed that
there had been some reports that the Kyuubi had been seen in the forests
outside the Leaf Village during the battle, and ANBU had been,
understandably, concerned.  Yet there was something odd about the...
tone of the concern, Sakura supposed.

	Yep.  She's putting the pieces together.

        This strange fact paled before the oddest part of the report,
though.  It seemed that almost everyone who might have been in the
forest during the battle had been interviewed by ANBU under the guise of
an ordinary debriefing like Sakura, except for one glaring exception.
No matter how she looked, Sakura couldn't find any record that Naruto
had been questioned.  It was vexing, as Sakura was more than a little
curious as to just how he had defeated Gaara, and Sasuke's debriefing
report simply stated that he had claimed to have not seen most of the
battle either.

	And *this* is the kind of dangling loose end that gets intel analysts
onto the scent.

        Sakura forced herself to set that minor irritation aside.  When
Naruto returned, she would just have to ask him what had happened.  What
was more important was why ANBU hadn't interrogated him.  Sakura poured
over the report a third time, searching for some explanation.  When she
finally found a casual, easily overlooked reference to another report on
"the surveillance of Uzumaki Naruto" the folder slipped through
nerveless fingers.

	Uh oh.

        ANBU had received reports of a sighting of the supposedly dead
demon fox Kyuubi, in the same area that Naruto had been fighting.  They
had questioned everyone who might have seen the demon, except for Naruto
himself.  Instead, Naruto had been placed under surveillance.  Almost
absentmindedly gathering up the fallen papers, Sakura swallowed
        "It must be terrible for you, having to be with that monster,"
one of Naruto's neighbors had told her once.  Sakura roughly shoved the
papers back into the folder and shut it.
        "I was worried that some of your neighbors might cause trouble,
particularly since -"  That had been Anko, talking about the dangers of
openly displaying knowledge of snake summoning in the Leaf Village.
        "The Third Hokage's special order, huh?" Sakura said, her eyes
narrowing as she remembered how Anko had said she couldn't talk about
whatever she had almost said.
        The implications of what she had just uncovered were staggering,
but it explained so much.  Sakura wanted to laugh at how wrong her
conclusion, mere days old, that her neighbors' hatred for Naruto was
based on something about his family had turned out to be.  It had been
the obvious answer, based on her own experience, but it wasn't even

	She's figured it out.

        Sakura nodded.  That was close enough, from Shikamaru at least.
Speaking quickly, not pausing to let the other chuunin interrupt, she
explained how she had stumbled upon the ANBU debriefing reports and laid
out what they had contained.  She carefully avoided mentioning what she
thought of the matter, simply repeating the facts.  "You're probably
smarter than me," Sakura finished finally.  "What's your conclusion?"
        Shikamaru's eyes were wide.  "That's impossible," he said.
"Naruto isn't -"  He cut off suddenly, his eyes widening.  "No way," he
said softly.

	Great minds *do* think alike.

        "Oh, shut up," Arata grumbled.  Whose bright idea had it been to
make his first job as a chuunin commanding the other two members of his
genin team, anyway?  That was just asking for all kinds of trouble.

	<snort>  Yeah.  Imagine if Shikamaru had been put in charge of Ino and

        "I can't believe," Junhime muttered, staring at a bloody kunai
in her hand.

	Believe what?  Was she supposed to be trailing off?

        A minute later, all ten were dead.  Gasping, Zeshin fell to his
knees, staring up at his rescuer.  "As you commanded," he managed to
say, "I did."
        The man in the red and black cloak smiled underneath his bamboo
hat.  "So you did.  You served well."

	<boggle>  Good grief, is there any *limit* to the layers of deception
and betrayal in this mess?

        "What now?"
        "Now, there is one more task for you to perform," the Akatsuki
member said.
        "What is it?" Zeshin asked.
        "You have to die."

	...apparently not.

        "Outnumbered, am I?" The High Priestess's hands formed a seal.
"Now," she said.
        In a blur of motion, one of the Raikage's two remaining guards
pulled out a kunai and plunged it into his master's back.  As the
Raikage stumbled forward, the other guard recovered from his shock and
attacked his treacherous comrade.  Screaming, the traitor tackled the
other guard off the roof, leaving the High Priestess and the Raikage

	This fic is going to need its own Wiki to keep track of who's betraying
who, how many times, and for whom.

        Kakashi's visible eye wandered over to his student.  "What was
the first lesson I taught you, Naruto?"
        The genin thought for a moment.  "The tree-climbing exercise?"


        Kakashi laughed.  "No, before that.  Do you remember the bell
        After a moment, Naruto nodded, remembering his teacher's words
explaining the reason for the test.  "Ninja who don't follow the rules
are called scum, but those that don't take care of their friends are
worse than scum."
        "I understand," the young boy said.  He glanced, almost

	Unnecessary paragraph break.  Sug:  "'...scum.  I understand.'  He

        "That work Kaida was doing," Jiraiya said, "had nothing to do
with strengthening the seal.  Quite the opposite, in fact."


        This statement apparently snapped Junhime out of her worries, as
she whirled around to face Jiraiya.  "What do you mean?" she demanded.
"Why would even Akatsuki want that?"

	Good question.

        Jiraiya only shrugged.  "I expect Naruto-kun had difficulty
keeping the demon in check while training with you," he said.
        Junhime shook her head.  "None," she replied.
        Jiraiya glanced at Naruto, who nodded.  "Huh," he said after a
moment.  "That's very good, boy, but don't get cocky."  His eyes were
hard.  "You can't afford to let your guard down for an instant."
        "Always good advice," a weak, familiar voice said from just
outside the grove.
        Junhime's eyes widened and she spun around again.  "Zeshin!"
        The former Storm member stumbled into the grove, weakly
clutching at his bloody shoulder.  "Hello, Junhime."

	Isn't he supposed to be dead?  I got a bad feeling...

        Kaida shook her head.  "You still do not understand, Junhime-
chan.  You cannot defeat me."  One arm slowly emerged from her cloak,
covered almost entirely with purple writing similar to the band that had
encircled Junhime's arm.  "I have had far longer to seal away excess
power and far more power to seal away."  Without visible cause, blood
began to ooze out of Kaida's arm in a dozen places, filling gaps in the
elegant tracery of characters.  She gave her student an almost sad
smile.  "One Element Unseal: Lightning!"

	What *is* it about Akatsuki that they seem to get so many of the
sannin-and-above class ninja?

        "My victory does not depend on your permission," Kaida said
coldly as she advanced on her student, forming seals with one hand.  The
night began to turn to day as lightning flashed between the clouds
overhead.  "Raiton: Breath of the Thunder Dragon," she intoned, a
massive ball of lightning forming in the air of Junhime.  It impossibly
hung there for an instant before descending.

	"air of Junhime"?  ITYM 'above'
	Sug:  "hung there impossibly"

        The burst of thunder shook the countryside for miles around, and
even Kaida had to stumble backward, raising an arm to shield her eyes
from the glow.  When she lowered her arm, Junhime stood again, a
familiar, glowing pattern visible even through her armored vest for a
moment before it faded.  "Now," Junhime said, her voice strong once
more, "the real battle begins."
        After a long moment, Kaida nodded.  "So it does."

	...Junhime wasn't kidding about any fight with Kaida being "loud and

        A sudden wind kicked up a cloud of dust and fallen leaves.  When
it faded, Kakashi stood before the three other ninja.  "Jiraiya-sama.
We have a problem."
        "When don't we?" Jiraiya grumbled.  "What is it?"

	<snicker>  It *has* been that kind of a month (or three), hasn't it?

        "I found a Cloud border patrol."  Kakashi frowned behind his
mask.  "They were already dead."
        Naruto's eyes widened.  "What?"  He swallowed nervously.  "Was
it... them?"
        Kakashi hesitated before saying, "No."

	Sug:  "...before answering.  'No.'"

        "What makes you say that with such certainty?" Zeshin asked.
        "It's best I show you," Kakashi said.  "Follow me."
        A few moments later, they were standing over the bodies of four
Cloud ninja.  "You see, Jiraiya-sama?" Kakashi asked.
        The legendary ninja knelt beside one body, turning it over.
"They were all killed the same way.  It's a fresh kill; whoever did this
can't have gone far."  He stood.  "This technique," he began, before
trailing off with a glance at Naruto.
        The genin frowned.  "What is it?" he asked, looking slightly
pale as he stared at the bodies.
        Kakashi ignored his student, kicking the corpse Jiraiya had
disturbed back over.  "I only know one other person who knows that
technique," he said.  "You know who I speak of."

	I'm guessing that we're looking at four faceless corpses, yes?

        "Well, Jiraiya," Orochimaru said, smiling.  "It looks like you
have an important choice to make."
        "Damn you," Jiraiya snarled, but he turned away from the other
Sannin, his attention focusing once more on the two Akatsuki.
        Orochimaru laughed.  "Very good.  I'll let you handle Itachi-
kun, while I deal with Kisa-chan here."

	...does it say something about the depth of the crap Our Heroes are in
that I'm actually a tiny bit glad to see Orochimaru?
	Well, I'm sure it'll pass if I go lay down for a while.

        Jiraiya laughed as he blocked Itachi's attack and captured his
arm, the rotating chakra spinning out of control and harmlessly shoving
the older man back less than a foot.  "If that technique could be copied
so easily," he said, "don't you think someone else would have done it
already?"  Itachi tried to break away, but the Sannin had a firm grip on
his hand.  "Let me show it to you again," Jiraiya said, a storm of
chakra gathering in his free hand.  "Rasengan!"

	...pheeeew.  A technique that the Sharingan *can't* copy on first view?
  I wonder if there are any others?


        Naruto knew that it wasn't Sasuke he was following.  Sasuke
wouldn't run away from him like this, nor could he have moved so
quickly.  A part of him even realized that the image he was following
probably wasn't real.  What real thing moved so quickly, but only when
it was out of sight?  Still, Naruto didn't care.  The image of Sasuke
was too accurate; it's words were a dead perfect imitation of the other
boy.  Whoever had created it knew Sasuke.  Whoever had created it knew
where Sasuke was.

	Wow.  Naruto's actually thinking, while giving a really good impression
of having totally lost his head.

        It was a trap, Naruto also knew.  He didn't care about that
either.  He would find a way to turn the trap on its maker, defeat
whatever challenge presented itself.  He would find out where Sasuke
was, and then... he wasn't certain what he would do, but he knew he
would do something.  Somehow, he would make things right again.  He
would find whatever words he couldn't find at the Valley of the End,
invent whatever strategy he'd been unable to invent.  Everything would
go back to the way it had been, to the way it was supposed to be.  It
would be like he had never failed.

	...okay, so he's not thinking as much as he really *should* be....

        "Akatsuki," Kakashi said.  Naruto's blue eyes widened fearfully.
"This is their trap.  You won't learn anything about Sasuke-kun today."
        "Is that so?" a very familiar voice asked from behind the pair
of Leaf ninja.  In an instant, both of them were facing the speaker,
weapons in hand.  "I'm disappointed in you, Kakashi-sensei," Uchiha
Sasuke said, the last shreds of the powerful cloaking genjutsu that had
hid him fading away.

	Okay, so it's somebody else's trap.  Oh, boy....

        "Kabuto and Sasuke are the most dangerous," Kakashi said.  "Keep
the others bust while I deal with them."

	<boggle>  I know Kakashi's a badass, but... Kabuto *and* Sasuke?  I'm
not sure I'd want to be on that fight, even if Kakashi was in top form.

        "It's better that they take me and you escape to tell Ero-sennin
what happened then for them to take both of us," Naruto said rapidly.
He grimaced.  "And I only see one way to win against them," he added,
"and I'd prefer if you weren't around it."

	Translation:  "I'm about to nuke the block."

        "Damn it," the genin replied, not able to stop the flickers of
red chakra that were beginning to appear around him as he struggled to
stand.  He could feel his teeth and fingernails sharpen, and finally
managed to leap to his feet.
        He found himself staring directly into Midori's face, and he had
just a moment to realize ho the girl reminded him off before she formed
a seal and spoke.  "Haruno Ninpou: Gaze of Torment."

	...whoa.  If there's anyone who can bulldoze straight *through* the
GoT, I'd bet on Kyubbi!Naruto, but still....

        Kisame snorted, not turning to face his foe.  "All you're doing
is giving us a reason to take the time to lay waste to your pathetic
little village like we should have done long ago."
        "And how many Akatsuki would you be willing to sacrifice, hmm?"
Orochimaru asked.  "I admit, there are many strong ninja in Akatsuki,
enough that if you all gathered to fight me I would die."  He smiled.
"But I would not be fighting alone."

	Except that Orochimaru is supposed to be scared of Itachi, all on his

        Less than thirty seconds later, as the defeated snake dissolved
into pale smoke, Orochimaru reappeared, thrusting a long, thin sword at
Kisame.  The shark-like ninja blocked with the flat of his own massive
sword, but Orochimaru only smiled.  "You should remember, Kisa-chan,' he
said, "that my sword neither cuts nor shaves.  It pierces."  The snake
master's sword lengthened, passing through Samehada like it wasn't even
there and reaching for Kisame's heart.

	I saw that episode of Bleach.  :)

        Dropping his blade, the Akatsuki member leapt away, in time that
the tip of Orochimaru's sword only scratched him.  "Samehada!" he
shouted, and the massive blade flew through the air at him.  Kisame
easily caught its hilt with one hand, his other gently probing at the
scratch.  "Only you," he said after a moment, "would think to poison the
legendary Kusanagi."

	Eh?  He poisoned the Major?  Section 9 is going to be all *kinds* of 
	:)  Sorry -- free-association just up and smacks me, sometimes.

        Orochimaru laughed.  "I don't think I've ever seen Itachi-kun
that scared," he said, walking toward Jiraiya.  "What did you do to

	Itachi?  *Scared?*  I didn't think that was *possible*...
	Of course, if Orochimaru is scared of Itachi, and Itachis is scared of 
Jiraiya, then Jiraiya ought to be able to stomp Orochimaru flat. 
Obviously, the power relationships aren't so linear.

        Jiraiya snorted.  "I showed him a few tricks he couldn't copy,"
he said.  Then he looked away.  "That boy's strong," he said after a
moment.  "I don't know if I'd be able to kill him without dying myself."

	Mm.  So, less 'scared' than temporarily rattled by the failure of his 
Super Sharingan, then?

        Hinata suddenly stiffened.  "I see Leaf ninja," she said.

	"Sixth Sense" flashbacks, now...

        They were almost there when a voice called out, "Shino, Hinata,
Kiba!  You all made it out all right!"  The three genin turned in unison
to face Yamanaka Inoichi, who smiled broadly as they neared.  "Was that
mess at the bridge your doing?"

	"Because, y'know, the giant dog wasn't *quite* enough of a giveaway."

        Shino nodded.  "I believe so."
        "Good work," Inoichi said.  "That gave Shikaku, Chouza, and I
the distraction we needed to get out ourselves.  We got here a couple of
days ago and Hokage-sama quizzed us already, so your debriefing
shouldn't be bad."  He laughed awkwardly.  "It can't be worse than mine
at least."

	Ah, his conversation with Tsu regarding Haruno-san.

        "I'm Shizune," Tsunade's assistant said.  "That's Sakura-chan
behind you."
        The toad glanced back.  "A snake mistress is one of the three
people Jiraiya-sama trusted to take this message?"  He shook his small
head sadly.  "Bizarre."


        "The message," Shizune prompted.
        "Right."  A small scroll appeared on the desk in front of the
toad.  "That's all," it said, then vanished in a puff of smoke.
        Shizune quickly unrolled the scroll and read it, her face
getting paler with every second.  "Damn it!" she shouted, slamming the
scroll back down on the desk.  "And I thought things couldn't possibly
get worse."
        "What's wrong?" Sakura asked worriedly.  

	"Fire Country Internal Revenue -- we're being audited."

        "What about Naruto?" Sakura demanded.
        "He..." Shizune trailed.
        Sakura swallowed.  "Is he dead?"
        "No," Shizune said.  She grimaced.  "Probably not.
Orochimaru... took him."

	Okay, so Nine-Tails Naruto *wasn't* able to beat out the Haruno GoT. 
That's... not good.

        "Naruto?" Shikamaru asked.  "Why would -"  He cut off suddenly,
trading a horrified glance with Sakura.

	"And you give, and you give, and you give yourself away...."

        "Probably leverage over the Uchiha," Shizune answered quickly.
"Or because he knows Tsunade-sama cares for him."
        Shikamaru blinked.  "Yeah.  Right," he said.
        "That makes sense," Sakura managed to say a moment later.

	Too late.

        Shizune gave both chuunin a long look.  "You know," she said
slowly.  Her eyes widened at the involuntary, guilty glance that passed
between the two.  "You do.  Who else knows?"
        "No one," Sakura said.  "I figured it out, and I talked to
Shikamaru-kun to make sure I wasn't insane."
        "How did you figure it out?" Shizune asked.
        Sakura swallowed.  "The archives.  I... saw some ANBU reports
that gave me the missing pieces of the puzzle."
        Shizune let out a bark of laughter.  "Figures," she said.  "I'll
figure out your punishment when we get back."

	More training with Anko, no doubt.
        Sakura blinked.  "Shizune-sama?"
        "The other thing Jiraiya-sama wants is a team to follow the
trail Orochimaru's men left and rescue Naruto."  Shizune smiled.  "If I
didn't let you come, I imagine you'd follow anyway."
        "I'm coming too," Shikamaru said seriously.
        "It's not too troublesome?" Shizune asked.  Shikamaru just
grunted.  "Good.  You'll be second-in-command after me."

	Hm.  They must be getting pretty short on senior chuunin for Shikamaru 
to pull this duty.

        Shikamaru nodded.  "Who else is coming?"
        "I don't know the chuunin well enough to pick, and we can't
afford to send any of the jounin we have left in the village." Shizune
frowned.  "Three more chuunin," she said.  "That I can probably convince
Homura-sama and Koharu-sensei to let me have."  She grimaced.  "It'll be
hard enough to convince them to let me go."

	Sounds like her "advisors" aren't exactly... advising.

        "Yamanaka Ino and Akimichi Chouji," Shikamaru said.  "They're my
teammates, and I work best with them."
        "Yes on Yamanaka," Shizune said.  "No on Akimichi."  She sighed.
"I'm sure he's strong enough to go if you'll recommend him, but I'm
going to have enough problems without trying to get approval for a genin
to go on an S-class mission."
        Shikamaru grimaced.  "Hyuuga Neji," he said after a moment.
"And Rock Lee."

	Woo-hoo!  The Power Players!
	Neji:  "Lee.  You take the Haruno.  I'll take the rest."
	Lee:  "But... her EYE!  They're... so much like Sakura-chan's!"
	Neji:  "...Lee.  FOCUS."

        "Done and done," Shizune agreed.  "Prying Neji-kun loose from
ANBU training will be tough, but worth it."

	Neji in ANBU?  Wouldn't it have been kinder to let him finish growing a 
personality first?

        Mitarashi Anko smiled weakly at her sometimes student as the

	I'm... not sure, but I *think* that is this useage, "sometime" is 
correct, rather than "sometimes".

ANBU guard shut and locked the heavy door behind himself.  "If I were
dangerous," she said, "you'd be in trouble."
        "You're in chains," Sakura said.

	Which just means things might get kinky.
	<whack!>  Sorry, sorry...

        "Sakura-chan," Anko said, studying the pink-haired girl
carefully.  "I'm sorry you had to see... that."

	And people call Anko shameless.  Hah.

        "I think your sister and her students left with Kabuto-san,"
Sakura said after a moment.  "He said something about taking them to
Orochimaru."  Anko paled.  "What's wrong?" Sakura asked.

	Crap.  Sakura must *really* be off her game if she doesn't put the 
pieces together now.

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