Hidden 4 yrs ago 4 yrs ago Post by Typical
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Natsuko Rinha

Afternoon || Land of Lightning

Aside from slapping herself silly in her head, Natsuko was also having a hard time feeling bad for calling the white-robed man what she had. After all, he had been rude, and it seemed he’d trashed the place too. Besides, who in their right mind scaled the cliff in an all-white ensemble? If you asked her, he was just looking for some excuse to smudge up his overly perfect outfit, not only because she tended to dirty things before she even noticed it herself.

That said, Kazuhiko and Koharu clearly didn’t agree with her mental justifications. Judging from the tightness she could see in Kazuhiko’s jaw and the stance Koharu was adopting, her sword coming out from its sheath, Natsuko could guess that they held a few opinions about her actions in the previous few minutes, and she was almost glad they were in a situation when the two couldn’t gang up on her. Almost, because now that she’d opened her mouth, she had to deal with three swordsmen and a white-washed man who she was beginning to realize might be a bit out of their league.

There was a brief moment of stillness in the room as the two sides sized each other up, the swordsmen glancing between the team as the white-clad man smiled, shaking his head as he tsked and stepped back, crossing his arms. Koharu broke this silence by interjecting that the men had no technique, which took Natsuko off-guard since she hadn’t paid much attention to their stances—or, rather, hadn’t known what to pay attention to. With Koharu’s observations, Natsuko thought she could see some disorganization between then men's stances, each standing in their own way but none in a formation so clearly refined as Koharu’s. This brought a grin to her lips since it was a given that her teammates were pretty amazing people, and suddenly the man in white didn’t seem so daunting anymore, just a bit arrogant.

However, given that she was now the closest to the swordsmen and had no weapon at her disposal, Natsuko knew that she’d have to jump back to buy herself some time to prep. She hesitated, trying to figure out how to signal it to her teammates, but thankfully Kazuhiko took the burden off her shoulders, hurling three sparking kunai at the swordsmen and allowing Natsuko to jump back and dodge their retaliatory slashes, which were met by her teammate’s blades in one way or another as she quickly drew a kunai, stuck it in her mouth, and began signing her Wind Release. Thanking Minoru for his insistence that she should at least have one jutsu she could sign instantly, she was glad to see that Koharu and Kazuhiko were more than capable of fending off the three swordsmen for the moment. Again, Kazuhiko picked up her slack for her, kicking one swordsman’s feet out from under him and rolling away to dodge the other one’s sword, glancing at Natsuko as he did so.

Giving him a nod, Natsuko leapt forwards, thrusting her open palm into the swordsman closest to him. The wind she stirred up whipped around her, blasting the man back to send him crashing back into the stone bookshelf behind him, where he landed with a heavy thud. From beside her, Kazuhiko leapt at the man who he’d tripped before, his kunai again sparking with light as it made contact with the other man’s sword, prompting him to flinch back with an angry cry instead of dropping his sword.

The swordsman at the bookshelf rose to his feet, grunting as he hefted his sword again, and Natsuko grinned, jumping back and signing another of the same technique before she grabbed her kunai from between her teeth. From the way the man snarled, rushing at her, she could guess that he thought he knew what was coming, but she wasn’t so dumb as to think she’d achieve the same results from the same riff and tune. This time, she concentrated her wind around her kunai, hurling it at the man who clearly hadn’t been expecting it. With the gales boosting its speed, the kunai flew right past the man’s attempted parry, burying itself in his shoulder as he cried and sunk to his feet, grabbing at the knife. Natsuko took this chance to run over and aim a kick at his head that, aside from sending his head into the bookshelf beside him with a bang, appeared to knock him out cold.

A glance at the man in white showed that he was already heading for the exit, prompting a spike of annoyance from Natsuko.

“Hey radish face! Why don’t you turn around and fight?” she yelled.

A glance from Koharu had Natsuko meet her teammate’s eyes, which appeared to help the white-haired girl make a decision that she relayed to Natsuko with a cryptic message that had the brown-haired genin completely confused. A second later, though, the word ‘fly’ made full sense as ice sprouted up from the ground at Natsuko’s feet, raising her up so quickly she was practically thrown at the white-robed man, who was in the process of turning around to see what the fuss was about. Just as she met the man’s eyes, Natsuko managed to retrieve another kunai, and she thrust it at the side of his neck as she crashed into him. Her momentum sent them both into the floor behind him, his body taking the brunt of the impact and quite literally caving beneath Natsuko’s weight. Just as she was about to yell that no, she was definitely not that heavy, Natsuko realized that the man was, in fact, rippling beneath her, his eyes round in surprise, though the corners of his mouth still hooked up in amusement.

“Not bad. Not bad at all,” he said, then exploded into water, which pretty much soaked Natsuko and everything around her.

“Eww!”

Shooting to her feet, Natsuko rushed to shake herself off, then groaned when she found that she couldn’t.

“I got soaked by ninja guts,” she whined, holding her arms away from her body as she dripped water.

“Not guts, water. That was a clone,” Kazuhiko said, the clothes of the swordsman he’d taken down still trailing wisps of smoke behind him as he walked over.

“Right. I knew that,” Natsuko said, again attempting to shake off the water on her before giving up with a sigh. “Still, ew.”

Looking to Koharu, Natsuko grinned, giving the girl a thumbs up.

“Good call there, throwing me at him! I guess I really pack a punch—or a stab, in this case.”

She shrugged, then opened her arms.

“Celebratory hug, anyone? For a job well done. C’mon, do it for you ‘ol buddy Suko-chan, your adorable little Susu?”



Kazuhiko Taketori

Afternoon || Land of Lightning: Daimyo’s Residence

After regrouping with Minoru and once again explaining themselves and their situation, the three genin were able to take a breather and let Minoru handle the logistics of clean-up, seeing as there were still three swordsmen present, however indisposed. At this point, Natsuko was clearly pooped, remaining almost silent apart from some scattered clever remarks here and there, and Kazuhiko wasn’t feeling much livelier. He and Natsuko relied on their jutsu for battle, unlike Koharu, who had the option of using her sword instead, but it was only the difference between a spiritual strain and a physical one. That difference, though, probably didn’t make too much of an impact, especially considering that Koharu too had used her jutsu, this time in some sort of invented burst move. Add all of their expended energies onto the deficit from their long hike and Kazuhiko could almost begin to justify admitting that he was a bit tired. Almost.

With the swordsmen and the genin’s accounts of the fight taken in by the Kumogakure ninja, the team returned to the Daimyo’s residence to spend the night, where they were greeted by a very huffy Hachiro, who’d apparently expected them to stick around and keep him company for the rest of the day, given that they were staying at “his house.” Nevermind that he’d hardly been there his whole life or that he’d only arrived earlier that day because as far as Hachiro was concerned, he was in his element and his previous genin escorts were guests that ought to now pay him respects.

“That’s father’s garden, where mother will probably want to plant flowers in the future, and that’s the patio where I’ll be able to feed the koi every day,” he said as he led the team of genin through the property, his hands on Kazuhiko and Koharu’s arm. It was this forced proximity that had Kazuhiko hold his tongue, nodding along with a strained smile as he listened to introductions and descriptions of various landmarks and locations he likely wouldn’t see ever again, as far as he was concerned. While he’d had experience with tolerating the adults of Konohagakure, especially those in his family, Kazuhiko was at his wits end here. It’d been a long day of trekking and fighting, and as much as he hated to admit it, he was beginning to understand why Natsuko found the boy annoying. Could he not tell that they’d arrived back tired? And besides, as both one of their current hosts and their previous client, shouldn’t he be doting on them?

“You know what would be more interesting than all of this? Dinner!” Natsuko said loudly from where she trailed behind them, and—much to his surprise and slight horror—Kazuhiko found himself internally agreeing.

“Yeah, whatever, chubby!” Hachiro called back, not even bothering to turn around.

His word choice brought an exasperated smile to Kazuhiko’s face because, while it was funny in that it precisely needled Natsuko in being a completely unnecessary yet present fear of hers, Kazuhiko wished the boy would stop annoying his most troublesome teammate so much. Sooner or later, tensions were going to boil over, and someone would have to clean up Natsuko’s mess—or tolerate her taking out her frustration on them. From what he’d seen of Hachiro, Kazuhiko knew that the boy knew what he was doing, at least partially, and for that Kazuhiko didn’t feel that Hachiro could be considered innocent, young age or not.

“Perhaps we should check if dinner is ready,” he said, attempting a kind tone.

Hachiro whipped around to face him, his face awash with the sadness. “Not you too!”

His sudden change in demeanor took Kazuhiko aback, and the black-haired genin opened his mouth to say something to try and rectify the situation, but Hachiro let go of his arm with a laugh, skipping away.

“Dinner’s this way!”




@Sunflower
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Afternoon // Land of Lightning:Daimyo's residence


Her patience for the child was greater than what her teammates had for the boy. She was just as tired as they were. Koharu was not as physically strong as she could have been, although both her Uncle and her teammates were helping her along the road to becoming physically stronger. For all her skills in ninjutsu and kenjutsu, she was weak in taijutsu. That wasn't to say that she was hopeless. No, Koharu tired easily and lacked some of the oomph behind her hits to make a difference. She took in the excited tour, nodding when appropriate. Although when Hachiro insulted Natsuko, she'd swatted the back of his head. Before she could scold him, he was skipping away.

Dinner was a nice affair, if a little slow. All she wanted to do was crawl into bed after kicking off her sandals and shawl. The Lightning Daimyo was a long winded man, giving speech after speech to thank the genin and their sensei for delivering his son unharmed. Hachiro sat between her and Kazuhiko, hastily stuffing his face with rice and dumplings. He choked once or twice, coughing and sputtering with Koharu patting his back until he was done. He'd excitedly told her about some of the new toys that his father had given him earlier, rambling on long enough to miss the way she fell asleep at the table. She'd come to rest against Natsuko's shoulder and when Minoru had seen, he gently scooped up the small girl. She shared a room with Natsuko while Kazuhiko and Minoru shared the one across the hallway. Hachiro, not liking that one of his guests was being taken away, demanded to do with Minoru. His face was dull of dessert but he still followed behind the jonin, who was slightly annoyed that the boy seemedlike he'd wake Koharu. The girl was a light sleeper but now as she was nestled against his chest with her small fingers knotted into his shirt, she stayed asleep.

In the morning, Koharu awoke to a sliver of sunlight shining in her eyes. It was annoying but she guessed that it was better to be woken up by the sun than her sensei or Hachiro. She adored the little boy, as annoying as he could be. He reminded her so much of her little sister. Despite living in the same compound as her, Koharu rarely spent time with the girl. Most of her free time was spent studying or training with their Uncle. After she dressed for the day she brushed out her hair before retying it into its usual style. Koharu's arms were a little sore but she'd power through it. In the hallway she met up with a watery eyed Hachiro, who clung to her middle tightly with small arms. She wasn't that much taller than he was, so the angle of his hug was a little off. He wailed about not wanting any of them - Natsuko included - to leave. He repeated the words and gesture with Kazuhiko when the boy emerged from his room.

Breakfast was just as quiet as dinner had been. Hachiro had cakmed down a little and they were able to fill their bellies well. When it came time for them to officially say their goodbyes, it was Koharu who cried this time. She didn't sob, nor did she make many sounds. Only the occasional sniffle or shaking of her shoulders let them know that she was crying. Minoru had scooped her up and settled his smallest genin onto his back so they could get moving. Minoru made sure to turn Natsuko around the moment she tried to glare at Hachiro one last time.


Afternoon // Land of Fire: Konohagakure main gates


Their trip back had been much faster without the wagon or guards to slow them down. Along the way they came across few obstacles and Minoru asked them more about what had happened at the abandoned temple. They'd practiced a lot on the way back, using the opportunity of seclusion for him to see what they were truly made of. As happy as he was to have the chance to train them, he was equally excited about returning to the village. He missed his wife, Azumi, they'd only been married for a year, having their ceremony a few weeks before he'd been assigned Team Six. He'd be finding out an important bit of information upon his return to the village and they'd planned it so the kids could also receive the news. Azumi adored the genin, taking a shine to both Kazuhiko and Koharu. She tried her best to get them out of their shells whenever she was around them. It was easier said then done but she'd made progress. As they passed through the gates they were welcomed back by two chunin on guard duty. Minoru nodded at them, ushering the children forward.

"Welcome back you four!" The sound of his wife's voice caught his ear and he steered the children towards her. He noticed that standing with her was Kazuhiko's parents as well as Koharu's uncle. He noted that Natsuko's parents weren't present and he decided that taking them out for lunch later would be best. Azumi smiled at them, stepping forward to lace her thin hands with his. She was a Hyuuga, which had likely been an awkward point between her and Kazuhiko's parents. Her typical lilac colored kimono had been replaced with a white short sleeved shirt under a simple lilac colored dress that fit loosely around her middle. Her kong raven colored hair was left free flowing and he itched to run his fingers through it.

"I trust the mission went well? Come, Koharu. There is a family matter that we need to discuss." The deep voice of Koharu's uncle cut those thoughts and desires short. Minoru turned to look at the other man, meeting stormy green-gray eyes in a harsh glare. Osamu Wakahisa was a tall man, even taller than Minoru. Where Minoru was lean, Osamu had a thick build. It was a miracle that his yakuta could hold such bulky arms without splitting apart every time the man flexed. His waist length hair, which was the color of ink, was pulled into a ponytail and secured with a piece of brown twine. Overall he didn't look much like his niece aside from the shape of their noses. The man had an odachi strapped to his side and his hand rested on the hilt. Minoru knew that the gesture was nothing more than the man simply seeking comfort. Koharu had the same habit when idle. The small genin obeyed and began to follow him. It was sad to see her retreat back into her shell at his presence.

"Yes Otousan."

"Hold up! Can't we just borrow her for a little while? She only just got back from a mission and-" His words made Osamu pause and Koharu had nearly run into his back. Minoru knew that she had been studying the other adults out of curiosity. It occured to him that his team had never met each other's families before. He wondered if they'd question why Natsuko's weren't waiting for her.

Osamu glared at Minoru. The air grew colder around them to the point that their breaths came out in small white puffs"Do not tell me what to do with my daughter, Kawaguchi-san. There are matters that Koharu must attend to."

"Ah...Wakahisa-san? This will only take a little while and then we can escort Koharu home. It's very important." Azumi cut in, shyly smiling at Osamu. She has assumed right in that he was cold natured. He hadn't been one for conversation either although he'd ensured that no trouble started between her and the Taketori. He regarded her for a bit, glare still on his face before he turned to his adoptive daughter.

"Koharu."

"Yes?" She looked up at him curiously.

"You have fifteen minutes before I expect you home."

"Thank you Otousan." She gave a small nod with her words. As much as she wanted to return with him to see what was going on with their clan, she wanted to hear what Minoru-sensei and Azumi-san had to say.

""Does he always have to be so serious? Fifteen minutes is hardly enough time to talk."

"I'm afraid so. But it's better than nothing. Sorry for that...scene."Azumi wasn't haopy that her plans had to be condensed. She'd prepared a whole speech and everything! Ah well, her husband was right. Osamu could have spirited her away without hearing any of them out. She watched her husband bow to Kazuhiko's parents, apologizing for what they'd seen. He wasn't surprised to see white hair and snall sandals in his peripheral as Koharu apologized along with him. Sometimes it was hard to remember that she, like Kazuhiko, did represent their respective clans. He tried his best to treat then like normal kids. "Would you mind if we borrowed Kazuhiko for a moment? My wife and I have a special announcement. Hopefully." Minoru gave his wife a hesitant smile. She gave him a wide grin in return and it soothed him.


Afternoon // Land of Fire: Konohagakure main gates


She felt a little awkward without her uncle beside her. Despite how much he demanded of her, she loved him. He'd taught her everything she knew and had provided for her. As she watched him leave, quickly blending into the crowd of civilian and shinobi alike, her attention turned back to her teammates and the parents. Well, she assumed that Natsuko's parents weren't there because no one cane to greet the brown haired girl. This was the first time she'd seen any of her teammates's parents and it made her nervous. The Taketori were a well known clan and she didn't know if her own clan had dealings with then or not. While she was included in many clan meetings, negotiations were another thing.

Koharu moved back to be closer to her teammates and she gently poked Natsuko and Kazuhiko in turn to get their attention. Her heart was beating rapidly and her pale cheeks had colored pink. "Maybe later or tomorrow we can all....hang out? If you guys want to, I mean?" She asked awkwardly as the adults talked. Usually it was Natsuko who'd invite them to do things. Koharu had fun on their mission, opening up a little bit to then despite her hesitance.

When Minoru-sensei and his wife turned back to them, she noticed the curious way that Azumi pressed a hand to her clothed belly. The gesture confused Koharu until Azumi broke the news. "We're going to have a baby, you three!" She grinned widely at the three genin. Beside her, her husband was whooping.
Koharu brightened, letting a wide grin come to her face at the news.

@Typical
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Natsuko Rinha

Morning || Land of Lightning: Daimyo’s Residence

The morning was nigh unbearable after Hachiro’s sob fest. Reality was finally sinking in: Team Six was about to be free of Hachiro, possibly forever. While Natsuko knew she should be thrilled that she would soon be free of the cheeky boy calling her new names every day, she also knew that nothing about this morning felt happy, and when the boy greeted Kazuhiko with the same wail and tune, she almost wanted a hug herself. However, on account of her pride and Koharu crying silently, she kept it to herself, even as they were making to leave.

“Bubye Sensei, Koharu, Kazuhiko, Ugly,” Hachiro blubbered from behind, earning him a soft gasp from his mother and some chiding from his father.

His words, however, brought forth Natsuko’s first grin that morning, and she whirled around to wave back at him. “Minoru’s my sensei, not yours, kid! Find your own!”

“If he were my sensei, I’d be a better genin than you!” Hachiro shot back.

Natsuko opened her mouth to shout something ruder back, but Minoru was quick on the uptake, spinning her around and pushing her along. So, closing her mouth, she exhaled, then followed her teammates along, trailing a bit behind them as she stared down at her feet silently.

A few minutes later, though, when she realized that the quiet had been stretching on for a bit, she brought back her grin full force. Running up and hooking an arm around Kazuhiko, she peered up at his face as he tried unsuccessfully to dodge away from her, spluttering.

“Hey hey hey, looks like you’re not the only one crying, Haru!”

“Wh—Natsu—I am not crying,” Kazuhiko asserted, stopping in his tracks to glare Natsuko down with a frown.

“Really? Not even a little? I thought I caught a bit of a glimmer in your eye there,” Natsuko said, grinning.

Shaking his head, Kazuhiko sighed, then turned away from her to start off ahead at a faster pace than before.

“Hey, woah, are you upset? Don’t be upset! Kazuhiko! Kazu-kun! Please? Ka-zu-hi-ko-kun. Ka-zu-cha-a-an. Hey, I like that! Kazu-chan! Wait for me!”




Kazuhiko Taketori

Afternoon || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Main Gates

When Team Six arrived back in Konoha, Kazuhiko was surprised to hear Azumi’s voice call out to them, and he was even more surprised when he saw that his parents were waiting with Azumi. Standing next to each other, the height difference between the two was accentuated, and their expressions were fairly placid compared to those of the two beside them.

Misami Asukai, Kazuhiko’s mother who was over a head shorter than his father, stood stoutly, waving at him with the polite smile he’d come to associate with her. From the look of the tidy bun atop her head and the simple, lavender dress she had on, Kazuhiko guessed that she’d come straight from the daycare. She’d picked up the job soon after he became a genin, and from what he heard, she loved it.

Natsuru Rinha, Kazuhiko’s father, stood tall and lanky beside his wife, his hair brushed back to hide his thinning locks. Though he smiled as well, his was almost indectable compared to Misami’s, all but flat yet able to communicate a semblance of happiness anyway. Predictably, Natsuru was standing on the other side of Misami, putting distance between himself and Azumi, and seeing this made Kazuhiko’s heart drop a pitch. While it was no secret that his sensei’s wife was a Hyuuga, knowing and seeing were two very different things. It was easy for his father to dodge the topic at the dinner table, but now that he came face to face with reality with the knowledge that Kazuhiko was spending a decent amount of time at Minoru’s house, Kazuhiko wasn’t sure what to expect. Natsuru knew that Kazuhiko knew of their feud with the Hyuuga, knew that he knew he bore the weight of earning the title of clan head and making their branch of the family the main branch once again. And, since Kazuhiko had known all this from early in his childhood, it’d been a long time since Natsuru had had to speak seriously with his son, and Kazuhiko wasn’t too keen on listening to anything about the Hyuuga at the moment.

When he was young, his parents’ word had been his gospel. He had no figures to look to, no other perspective to think from, so he’d internalized his father’s beliefs and prejudices. On one hand, they’d helped: He’d learned to work hard from a young age to earn a place at the top and make his parents proud. On another, though, he learned to doubt his parents; unlike what his father liked to suggest, the Hyuuga seemed as honorable as the Taketori, if not more so. From what Kazuhiko had seen of Azumi and the Hyuuga heiress, Mariko, the Hyuuga were not as fixated on ranks and debts, on notions of symbolic honor and owed favors.

In a way, the Hyuuga were almost happier, despite their family system. Their successor was chosen, and they hardly gave the Taketori a second thought. While Kazuhiko had tried to tell himself that they could easily have been hiding their internal struggles from him, he knew Azumi and Mariko, and both struck him as honest people. Honorable people. Believing that they were lying to his face, that all their interactions with him had been duplicitous, would be a low move—a dishonorable one—and so went the struggle between heeding his parents as he’d always done and skirting the truth around them. After all, letting his father know that he went to Minoru’s house precisely because Azumi was there was virtually unthinkable, and this thought gave him a strong pang of longing for the comforting atmosphere of Minoru’s house.

“Father, Mother.” Kazuhiko bowed respectfully, then straightened. “What brings you both here?”

“We’re here to celebrate your first mission, of course! Good job, Hiko-chan! Mom’s so proud of you!” Misami said, enveloping Kazuhiko in a hug that he relaxed into after a beat.

From beside her, Natsuru nodded but otherwise didn’t move.

“Thank you for coming, Mother, Father.’”

Kazuhiko bowed again, then glanced at Minoru and Azumi, who beamed at him from where they stood. Their smiles seemed a bit wider than usual, and Kazuhiko took this as indication that Azumi had come for a reason.

“Can I meet you after? I’d like to debrief the mission with my sensei,” Kazuhiko said, looking to his father just as his mother did.

Natsuru met his eyes with a hard, flat gaze. “I would have thought you debriefed on your way back,” he said, but when Minoru added on, Natsuru relented.

“Okay, dinner will be waiting,” he said.

With that, his parents headed away, bidding goodbye to Koharu’s uncle and thanking Minoru, Natsuru averting his eyes from Azumi entirely. Thankfully, they were succinct people, and their farewells took little time.

A glance to his right saw Natsuko idling beside Minoru and Azumi, tracing shapes in the dust with her feet. From what Kazuhiko knew of her family—and there was quite a bit to know, given her various siblings and their paths—her parents had a lot on their plate. Knowing what other Konohagakure ninja were doing was a perk of being in his family, he supposed, given his father’s penchant for dwelling on other peoples’ lives, but there were benefits too. In this case, Kazuhiko knew Natsuko had a sister getting promoted up in the Konoha police this week, so perhaps that was where her parents had decided to focus their attention.

While he wanted to communicate that he didn’t mind and neither should she, he figured she probably didn’t want anyone to bring it up. Natsuko was the kind of person who would rather swim for the end of the earth than try and talk about a hard topic, and Kazuhiko knew that she’d probably crack a joke the minute Osamu left.

Her sadness—or lack thereof—brought to mind his own conflicted feelings about Hachiro. While he was sad, factually speaking, the mission had started and ended pretty much exactly how its instructions had detailed, and Kazuhiko felt that formulated sadness couldn’t top any scale. On the other hand, though, he also couldn’t say he didn’t feel a twinge of something deeper when Hachiro had hugged him, his face so covered with snot and tears that he ended up leaving a partial print on Kazuhiko’s shirt. Kazuhiko had both wanted and not wanted to share in the group’s sadness, and that lack of decision had resulted in some mixture of sadness and resolution that bored on artificial itself. While being sad would have made sense, the facts didn’t line up for it since they’d chosen the mission. So Hachiro himself was a surprise, but from day one they’d known that they were to be separated.

As he looked between Koharu, who was apologizing for her Uncle, and Natsuko, who looked on with a uncharacteristically stoic expression, Kazuhiko found himself wishing it were tomorrow, when he could seek out Azumi’s listening ear in private. For some reason, talking to her about things like this helped him better reason things out and lessen mental burden he sometimes thought he was imagining.




Natsuko Rinha

Afternoon || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Main Gates

Natsuko’s parents hadn’t come, but she hadn’t told them to. Azumi probably did, or at least left a note they promptly ignored. After all, they were busy with her sister’s promotion. Mie had finally finished her probationary time in the police force and was finally earning her badge to become a full-fledged Konoha officer. It was a formal ceremony—one that called for flowers and pictures and hugs—and Natsuko suspected her parents had gotten too wrapped up in spreading the news to remember her return. A D-rank mission was hardly comparable anyway, so no, Natsuko was neither mad nor surprised. Her parents had other children, and it wasn’t like she never got attention. Getting attention for checklist Genin stuff wasn’t in the books was all.

Forcing herself to perk up when Koharu finally freed herself of her uncle, a big man who seemed so utterly different from the small girl that Koharu wouldn’t have pegged them for relatives in a million years, Natsuko hesitantly closed the distance she’d put between herself and Azumi. She knew from experience that Azumi could match her one for one in antics, so pulling tricks around her wasn’t the best idea. Thankfully, Koharu distracted her with a poke, turning her and Kazuhiko around to ask whether they could hang out.

“Maybe? Of course! You heard me, Kazuhiko, free up that weird schedule of yours. We’re going on an adventure!” Natsuko said, jabbing at the taller genin, who glanced between her hand and face with a confused frown.

“Yeah, I have time tomorrow,” he said, glancing in Minoru and Azumi’s direction. “Should we clear it with Minoru though?”

“Don’t be a party pooper,” Natsuko asserted, then focused on Minoru and Azumi as they finished up their conversation and turned towards the genin. Natsuko frowned a little at the strangely happy smiles on their faces, but that and Azumi’s odd hand placement were explained in a single sentence. Her jaw dropped, and she stared at Azumi’s stomach, then glanced between Minoru and Azumi to check that they weren’t pulling some sort of prank, only because the statement was so left field.

“A baby?” She glanced at her teammates, who looked equally surprised, then grinned. “Oh my god! That’s so cool! I’m going to be an aunt! A team aunt. A genin aunt. Whatever, an aunt!”

Pumping her hands, Natsuko dove at Koharu, hugging the girl as Kazuhiko looked on, mouth still open as he glanced slowly between them all.

“Dibs on helping with naming! And babysitting! Oh, have I got things to teach her. Or him,” she said, shrugging, then held up her palms. “Good things! Good things of course. I’m a bundle of manners, just ask Minoru!”

Natsuko looked to her sensei pleadingly, eyes wide.


@Sunflower
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Afternoon // Land of Fire: Konohagakure main gates


Minoru was happy that his genin were surprised and excited by the news. He was happy as well. Azumi had given him the opportunity to be a father. They'd been together for a long time, since they had been chunin. Although it hadn't been love when they were that young, just a simple and innocent crush that persisted despite being on different teams. After they'd both passed the chunin exams and had been placed on a mission during which she'd saved his life, did that little crush turn to something more. At Natsuko's pleading, he chuckled. "It's okay, Natsuko. We want all three of you in the baby's life. You three are our first children, after all." That's how he viewed them. They just weren't genin that he had to train. They were his kids and he loved them. A few seconds later her scooped up his smallest genin when she started to sniffle. No tears fell, although he could see them welling up. He held onto Koharu tightly. It was odd that she was crying so much but he didn't question it. Perhaps she was finally learning that it was okay to be a child around them. Azumi pat the girl's pale hair, smiling gently. Minoru set Koharu back on the ground when the sniffling stopped and she quietly asked if they could all go over tomorrow.

"Of course. You kids are always welcome in our home!" It wasn't much longer after that before Koharu had to leave. She gave them all an awkward wave before heading off to her clan's small compound. He quickly lost sight of the girl anong the crowd. When he finally said goodbye to Kazuhiko, he ruffled the boy's hair and pulled him into a hug. Azumi hugged him too, although it was a brief embrace. They both escorted Natsuko home. He was disappointed that her parents hadn't been there. It hadn't been fair to her. They hugged the girl and promised that they'd have something fun planned for tomorrow.


The next morning // Wakahisa compound


She awoke to the sun cutting through the darkness of her bedroom. It was odd that she wasn't up before the sun and that could only mean that her uncle had allowed her to sleep in. Their meeting yesterday been run of the mill and as boring as ever. That was, up until her Uncle had congratulated her on her first mission and surprised her with a new sword. Osamu was not an affectionate man, but he did care for his niece a great deal. She had been using an old hand-me-down of a katana, so it was time for one that she could call her own. The new sword was resting on a wooden rack on the other side of the room. She mechanically got ready for the day, opting to leave her shawl home. It was a little too hot to be wearing it anyways. She slipped on a clean short sleeved shirt that had her clan symbol embroidered on the back. The Wakahisa clan symbol was circular with geometric designs along the inside that mimicked the designs sometimes seen in snowflakes. It was, as far as clan symbols go, quite intricate with varying shades of blue, with the center being a dark blue.

She brushed out her hair before putting it into her usual style. When training, she'd pin her braids up so they couldn't get in the way. She could remember her cousins tugging the ends of her braids whenever she slacked off when they trained her. Koharu missed them despite the tendion her being named heir caused. She'd always looked up to them. Nobuyuki had been her favorite because before the attack on Kazahana castle he used to give her piggy back rides. After a quick breakfast she practiced her kata with her uncle before he turned her looe. They always practiced for a few hours, going through the movements with slow and deliberate swings of their swords.

Koharu knew the way to her sensei's house quite well, taking short cuts through alleys or over low walls to cut the time down. Minoru had a simple single story home with a nice front yard. It was located in a busier part of the village. The closer she got, the quicker her feet carried her. She wanted to show Minoru her new sword and she was a bit excited to spend time with Azumi and her teammates. Minoru was already waiting for his genin when she arrived, normally pale cheeks flushed from running.

"What's the rush, Koharu?" Minoru laughed. She just gave him a small smile and excitedly gestured down to her sword. "Oh? What happened to the other one?"

"My uncle felt I'd earned a new one!" Koharu was normally quiet but he knew one thing that could make the girl shed her quiet demeanor for an excitable and eager one: swords. He didn't understand half of what she said when she'd babble about swords, but it was cute when she'd talk so much. He hoped that his own child would find something to be passionate about like Koharu had.

"Head inside. We're still waiting on Natsuko and Kazuhiko." He smiled at the girl as she bowed in thanks before heading inside. She removed her sandals before heading into the kitchen where she could hear Azumi bustling around. Koharu greeted her with a small smile and a bow. The woman smiled and pulled Koharu into a hug. The genin froze up at the contact but soon melted into the embrace, returning it after a few beats.

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Natsuko Rinha

Morning || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Rinha Compound

“Mother, Father, I’m heading out!” Natsuko called down the hallway of her house. Silence followed her words, but after the pause came an affirmative grunt that indicated that her father had heard.

So off she went, down the stone porch and out the wooden gate, dashing through the streets with a grin on her face. Her hair was tied up to allow the Rinha sign to show on the back of her light purple shirt, which she tucked into her shorts to add an edge of “put-together-ness” that she’d come up sometime during the morning. While breakfast had been an unremarkable affair, with family already busy into their daily schedule, the tow around her was anything but. Along the streets were vendors calling out names of various brunchtime foods, and it took Natsuko a bit of effort not to get sidetracked when she heard “mochi” get called too.

Soon enough Natsuko reached the street that turned onto her sensei’s street, and at her destinated corner she was surprised to see a familiar figure holding an unfamiliar bag as he paced. With a grin on her face, Natsuko sped up her pace, though Kazuhiko looked up before she even got close enough to pounce.

“Morning, Kazu-kun!” Natsuko called, waving as she sprinted towards him, but he turned the corner before she had a chance to catch up and grill him on why he’d been standing there and what he was holding.

Muttering under her breath about how a certain male teammate of hers could thank his lucky stars she wasn’t inclined to ask Koharu boost her into fly-kicking his ass, Natsuko turned the corner as well, spotting that same teammate again as he spoke with Minoru outside their sensei’s house.

“Thank you… gift… didn’t know… mochi,” Kazuhiko was saying to Minoru, but Natsuko was too far away to make out more. From what she did make out, though, it sounded like Kazuhiko had brought a gift she could appreciate as well: mochi.

“Kazu-kun, wait for me!” she called, but again Kazuhiko simply ignored her, entering into the house before her without so much as a second glance. So, okay, she’d have plenty of opportunities to talk to him in a minute or two, but did he really need to ignore her so many times?

“Ugh, morning Sensei!” Natsuko said, finally reaching the doors. “I need to teach Kazuhiko not to ignore me. Now, I know you told Haru-chan not to use that ice thing again with me, but hear me out: What if we use it to check Kazuhiko? Please? If not for me, then for my honor! They’re not the same, promise!”

Once inside, Natsuko was greeted by the delightful smell of lunch already being made. Spotting her teammates with Azumi in the kitchen, Natsuko dashed over as well, pulling back just as she got within distance to hug the Hyuuga. Would she hurt the baby if she hugged Azumi too tightly? Well, not if she was gentle!

“Good morning, Azumi-san! The food smells good!” she said, hugging Azumi gently around the waist.

Spotting Kazuhiko and an open box of mochi and sesame powder on a counter, Natsuko ran over as well, a grin on her face as he vocalized some surprise before she wrapped him into a hug as well.

“Morning, Kazu! Thanks for the mochi!” she said, swiping a bite and popping it into her mouth before Kazuhiko could stop her.

“Natsu—”

“Nope, too late, it’s gone.” she said, opening her mouth for him to see.

Kazuhiko pulled a face, then sighed, turning back to Koharu. “So, again, new sword right?”

“Oh, new sword?”

Natsuko’s eyes stretched wide as she crouched down next to Koharu, looking her teammate’s new acquisition over. Truth be told, it looked about the same as her old one, though clearly more expensive. That its quality had gone up was about the only thing Natsuko gleaned from looking at it, and soon she was back on her feet, listening to Koharu chatter on to Kazuhiko. The talk didn’t interest her much, being of swords and the like, but both her teammates were invested. Kazuhiko seemed to show an open curiosity for it, but Koharu was much more animated, indicating some sort of deeper interest that Natsuko could only admire on the surface in this case.

Instead of listening to them, Natsuko found her eyes wandering to their casual clothes. They’d all opted for shirts, which was just as well, considering most shinobi’s limited wardrobes. Practicality over all and all that. For Kazuhiko, that meant a black shirt and baggy cargo shorts of a similarly dark shade, calling into question whether he owned anything that wasn't in tha range of grey to black. His clan sign was a lot simpler than either Natsuko's or Koharu’s, being a circle with a line through it, but the line had a sort of elegant curve that suited Kazuhiko well. Resembling a brushstroke more than a cut like Natsuko would expect, the line reminded Natsuko of the refined stiffness she’d seen in Kazuhiko’s father, but she quickly moved on to admire the intricacy of Koharu’s clan sign, which was much more to her liking. Symmetry could be tacky, but clan signs and symmetry went together like water and tea leaves: They’d been used together for so long Natsuko couldn’t imagine a world without them.

“Azumi-san, when’s lunch?” Natsuko called, eyes drifting to Kazuhiko’s mochi again.

When his hands swept the box closer to him, Natsuko’s eyes shot to his, and she pouted. “Oh c’mon, Kazu-chan. I’ve been so good this morning—give me some reward.”



Kazuhiko Taketori

Late Morning || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Kawaguchi Household

“Buy your own, or eat them after lunch with everyone else,” he said, putting the lid back onto the box. “I didn’t buy them just for you.”

“You should’ve,” came the retort, which prompted an eye roll from him. He’d wanted to bring an impromptu gift to set the tone for his apology to Azumi and Minoru, not feed the endless well that was Natsuko.

“Anyway, Wakahisa swords. Do they get passed down? Or is it just the techniques that get transferred from generation to generation?”




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Mid morning // Land of Fire: Konohagakure - Kawaguchi household


"In a little while, kids. Why don't you just sit down and talk?" Azumi said as she hugged both Natsuko and Kazuhiko in turn. She ruffled Kazuhiko's hair when she pulled away from him before returning to the kitchen.

Koharu had been excited to see her teammates, but her reaction was much more subdued than Azumi's had been. It was just a simple wave and slight smile. She didn't miss the gentle giggle that Azami gave when she started to talk to Kazuhiko about her new sword. She kept it sheathed out of respect for her sensei and his wife, but the sageo, the braided rope that looped around her obi, was tied around the saya and into her clan's preferred knot. This katana was slightly different than her other one but she didn't know if her teammates would see the differences. The tsuka-ito was a pale blue that matched her clan symbol and a standard of all Wakahisa swords. The Tsuba, the small metal piece that prevented her hands from sliding onto the blade during combat, was stamped with her clan symbol. Her last sword had been plain. It was the little differences that made it truly special. She loved the saya the most. It was all black except for her clan symbol that was stamped on the outside edge in the sane pale blue of the silk wrapping of the tsuka-ito.

"Both, actually. My other sword actually belonged to ny Uncle Osamu when he was a boy." she said, cheeks coloring slightly at his words. Koharu had never talked to her teammates about such things. "My clan has roots as samurai in our homeland so proper techniques and good swords are our customs. We learn with real swords until our training with ice release has progressed enough and then we train with ice swords. We use both in combat." Koharu felt that it was important to tell her teammates such things now that she had the opportunity. They'd seen her train and fight primarily with a sword, using her ninjutsu as supplementary elements. She wasn't the fastest or physically strongest so she primarily used her ice to snare feet and catch enemies off guard. But they'd also seen her practicing a lot on her own, going through the motions of combat with invisible enemies.

"That's why I practice my kata. They do have some practical uses in combat, but ultimately they are a form of meditation. You both have seen my ice...act out. My clan isn't unstable by any means but when we're young we can't control it as well as the adults can. The kata help by giving us something to focus on." Koharu trusted them greatly. They were her team and she'd grown used to their fighting styles. Her kata also helped to strengthen her spirituality and mental resolve. It gave her time, while cutting down invisible enemies, to think over why she was making each cut and what it meant to take a life.

She looked at both of them, green-gray eyes flicking back and forth. Koharu noted that Natsuko was staring and her cheeks flared pink. "I know that right now my skills aren't much and I practice by myself a lot...but I hope to make you two proud!" Koharu was a little too awkward to have made many friends in the academy and if she was honest her days in the academy had been rough. Kids had learned early on to not tease her about the ice or her hair. If they did then they'd usually suffer ice down their clothes or trapping their feet. She'd made a friend in the academy but she hadn't seen him in a few months."And Kazu-kun? When you and I become heads of our respective clans, I hope we can be allies. You too, Susu-chan." She grinned slyly at the girl, using the cutesy nickname she'd given her when tossing her in that temple. "Even if you aren't the heiress of your clan, you'll always find an ally in mine."


Mid morning // Land of Fire: Konohagakure - Kawaguchi household


Azumi was listening quietly to the genin. She liked that Koharu and Kazuhiko had some common ground. She'd noticed that Koharu was hesitant but just under the surface she was like Natsuko. She worried for Kazuhiko, who was much more serious than either of his teammates. "I don't think I've ever heard her talk so much." She told her husband, gesturing to the pale haired genin.

He smiled and looped his arms around his wife's hips, pressing his chest against her back and resting his chin on her shoulder. "That's a good sign. See how she went from excited to serious though? I think she's been wanting to tell them this for a long time." Minoru had talked with Osamu extensively over Koharu and the expectations the clan had for her. It mirrored the conversations with Kazuhiko's parents. It was nice to see his genin all getting along. Here they could just be kids, not two heirs and the last child. "Kazuhiko and Koharu have so much piled on them. Their shoulders are so small." Despite Kazuhiko being tall for his age, he wasn't as broad shouldered as Minoru thought he would be as an adult. In stark contrast Koharu was petite. How anyone could expect someone so small to be the heir to a clan was beyond him.

"I know, honey. All we can do is support them and give them some relief from all that stress and pressure." Azumi said, checking on the rice she was making. "But they have you and they have Natsuko-chan to help them."

Minoru hummed, thinking on her words. He wondered what they'd be like as adults. "The day when I realize they aren't kids anymore is going to be hard." The kids--their kids--were important parts of their lives. He'd been their sensei for a year already and he knew that eventually they'd all go their own ways. Minoru wasn't sure about how far their paths would take them and he worried. Listening to Koharu offer to be their ally when they were older warmed his heart. He remembered when her clan had come to the village, seeking asylum. They'd been welcomed but villagers loved their gossip. He wasn't sure if that gossip had colored Natsuko or Kazuhiko's views of the Wakahisa or not, or if Koharu being on their team was something that had pulled them above such talk.

"Isn't that just cute?" His wife giggled again, covering her smile. "We probably won't have to worry too much about them. She is offering to be their ally. Yes, things might change in ten years but if I know anything of that child, she cares for them. I doubt Koharu would let them stray too far from the right path."

"You've got that right. She'll glare them into submission." Minoru laughed. Koharu already had a wicked glare that he'd seen mirrored in her uncle. He feared that when she was an adult, it would only grow even more wicked. "Lunch is done kids. Natsuko, leave the mochi alone. Koharu, you can put your katana in the living room on my stand."

The genin nodded and disappeared into the living room with her katana, coming back empty handed after a minute or two. Minoru helped his wife take the food to the table. Lunch or dinner at their house wasn't uncommon so they flowed quite smoothly.

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Kazuhiko Taketori

Mid-morning || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Kawaguchi Household

Kazuhiko listened to Koharu with interest, nodding here and there as he cross-referenced what she said with what he knew about her family. Since he’d met her uncle, Osamu, the other day and seen a snippet of their relationship, it made sense for her to be excited to receive a sword with a history like that. Her uncle was her hero or something along those lines, Kazuhiko figured. Though he had no real “heroes,” giving the default answer of the Hokage when asked, he understood that others tended to find figures they looked up to, pushing themselves harder to be like their idol.

As for the details of how the clan trained in kenjutsu, he compared it to his training in taijutsu: Just as the Wakahisa had a disposition for kenjutsu due to the possible applications of their ice, the Taketori favored taijutsu because it meshed well with possible utilizations of their dojutsu. While his clan also had levels of improvement people rose through, they were much looser than Koharu’s, perhaps because of the Wakahisa’s samurai roots. The act of focusing on kenjutsu rather than their kekkai genkai first was similar to the Taketori preference to hone their use of their chakra nature before their dojutsu. Again, though, the reasons differed—the Wakahisa using the kata as a vehicle to train control of their kekkai genkai and the Taketori favoring ninjutsu to knock out enemies disabled by their dojutsu—their methods were similar, proving again that the organizational system most clans operated on was a universal one, though with variations. Kazuhiko was half-tempted to ask Natsuko about her clan’s training system as well, but a glance at his currently less talkative teammate showed that she’d completely lost interest in the conversation, having moved onto watching Azumi cook out of boredom. At this point, though, he didn’t even bat an eye at the sight, instead focusing his full attention back on Koharu without a word.

When Koharu brought up her lack of control with her ice, it was clear that she had some insecurities about it, but Kazuhiko was relieved to see that she wasn’t as bothered by it as she might once have been. She continued, saying that she’d make the team proud and that she’d be open to an alliance.

At the mention of the latter, Kazuhiko’s eyes widened, but he quickly recovered with a gentle smile. “You’ll find an ally in the Taketori as well. As will Natsuko,” he said, catching the eyes of his still-surprised teammate as she tried to understand what the conversation had turned into.

“Um, thanks you two, but I’m not the heir, okay? I’d sooner become a missing-nin than try to climb that social ladder,” Natsuko joked, her laugh a bit off-beat. “But you can bet I’ll be there to fly-kick anyone who’s threatening either of you.”

Looking at her, Kazuhiko decided not to pursue the topic, choosing to nod instead. Then, deciding he needed to change the topic, he figured he’d take a page from Natsuko’s book, for once, because she was pretty good at doing just that.

“And Koharu, you’re a great teammate. My best teammate, actually.”

Natsuko’s jaw dropped. He shrugged, which seemed to throw her out of her shock.

“That is so not—”

And, right on time, Minoru called for lunch.

Natsuko Rinha

Noon || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Kawaguchi Household

“Mochi really is the best,” Natsuko said, sighing in contentment as she popped the last piece of mochi into her mouth and chewed. Across the table, Kazuhiko stared at her with a pointedly flat glare, but she easily avoided eye contact with him, instead looking to Azumi and Minoru.

“Minoru-sensei, Azumi-san, can we step out for a bit? We’ll be back in an hour or two. We’ve barely spent any time together outside of missions and training, with these two’s heir schedules.”

She pouted. “Please?”

Then, at the first sign of weakness—or hesitation, because they were pretty much the same thing in her eyes—she leaped to her feet, a grin on her lips as she looped her arm through Koharu’s and looked to Kazuhiko, whose gaze was shooting wildly between everyone at the table.

“C’mon, Kazu!” she said, skipping towards the door with Koharu in tow. When she didn’t hear two sets of footsteps behind her, she turned around, catching Kazuhiko give Koharu a near-imperceptible nod as he dashed deeper into the house.

“Bathroom!” came echoing out from where he disappeared, and Natsuko frowned, looking to Koharu.

“I swear he’s acting all funny. What’s with him today?”

Soon enough, though, Kazuhiko reemerged, sighing. “Alright—”

“Alright!” Natsuko repeated, her grin returning full force as she attempted to loop her arm through his as well. He easily dodged out of the way, tsking, and Natsuko flashed him a pout before she returned to grinning.

“Let’s go let’s go let’s go!” she said, practically bursting out the door. Dragging Koharu down the street—or however long she managed to hold onto her—Natsuko led the way through town, taking turns she’d memorized off a map the night prior. Judging by the worried expressions on her teammates’ faces, they were about a hair’s breadth away from asking her where she was leading them, but if they asked her only reply would be a casual “to adventure!”

Eventually, she led them down a road that faded into light-trodden grass that soon opened up into a village-side courtyard with sparse patches of grass on one side and dirt on the other. On the barren side were various wooden logs that had been embedded in the earth, some with branch stumps and some without to act as training posts. Most importantly, though, on the dirt field stood four figures, three of which were sparring with the posts while the final, noticeably taller one watched from a short distance, their black robe contrasting sharply with their pink-brown hair.

“Mariko-san!” Natsuko called, waving at the grey-haired girl in their midst, who turned around when her name was called to reveal near-white eyes. “Team Six has arrived!”

“Natsuko! Hello!” Mariko called back, waving as she walked over with the rest of her team. Her Byakugan flashed on briefly, the corners other eyes tightening into lines, but then she immediately relaxed her vision, a smile on her lips.

“Isn’t this rather rude, Kazuhiko?” she asked once they closed the distance.

Natsuko snapped out of staring at her teammates—both of whom were significantly taller than her—to glance between Kazuhiko and Mariko. At this point, Kazuhiko seemed rather uncomfortable, having set his jaw with a tight smile.

“Sorry, I didn’t know we were coming to see you, Mariko,” he said.

“Hm.” Mariko’s smile widened. “I suppose Natsuko’s responsible for this surprise on your part?”

Kazuhiko nodded. Natsuko crossed her arms.

“Will someone please explain what’s going on?”

Kazuhiko looked to Koharu. “Koharu, um, do you mind—”




Kazuhiko Taketori

Early Afternoon || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Kawaguchi Household

Kazuhiko stepped out of the bathroom, making his way to the kitchen with a sheepish smile.

“Minoru sensei, Azumi-san, sorry for forcing you both to play along with that. Natsuko can be very… pushy at times. I actually wanted to come today to apologize for yesterday,” he said, bowing. “Please forgive my father’s behavior. He’s a bit judgemental, especially about Hyuga since the Taketori… haven’t been getting along with them.”

He bowed lower, sinking to a near right angle. “Please forgive him, and please forgive me.”




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Noon // Land of Fire: Konohagakure - Training grounds


The white haired genin had been standing patiently with her hands laced behind her back. Her katana had been strapped to her obi again and she looked around the training grounds with a rather blank look. Part of her was trying to not draw attention to herself. Among the genin that had been training was Kouji Tataki, a boy who'd picked on her in the Academy, calling her hair weird and telling her that her ice didn't belong. She hadn't seen the boy since graduation. He'd pushed her into a wall, although she understood that it had been entirely an accident. He'd tripped and well, she'd been standing in the way. Still, she doubted that Kouji had matured at all since then. Her attention was snagged away by the pretty Hyuuga heiress approaching them. So she noticed that Kazuhiko had sent a clone with them. That spelled trouble for Koharu, as she'd be the one putting up with Natsuko's ranting over the matter.

There wouldn't be any way to make te situation better. Natsuko was a little oblivious to social cues but she knew the girl was far from stupid. It wasn't the first time one of the heirs had sent a clone out instead of going, although most of the time they'd done it due to needing to tend to their clan business rather than staying away from Natsuko. "Sorry Kazu-kun." Koharu took a few steps closer to the clone and punched him in the stomach. He disappeared with a brief blue spark. It had been better to come clean rather than lie to her. "He probably needed to talk to Minoru-sensei. Please don't be upset. He at least made an attempt to include himself." If Koharu condemned him then she'd be a hypocrite. Her green-gray eyes shifted to the other genin and she sighed softly.

"You're a cruel traitor, Wakahisa." Kouji said, coming up from behind Mariko. He was taller than any of the girls before him but he was still shorter than the silver haired boy who was looking at the ground a few feet behind them. "Selling out Taketori like that. Some teammate you are."

"T-that isnt fair, Kou!" The other boy piped up. Despite his intimidating size, his face was bright red and he stuttered his words. Black eyes flicked quickly to the girls and his face grew into a darker shade. He looked uncomfortable standing there and he fiddled with his fingers. He was impressed that the short girl hadn't started to tell at Kouji or anything. Kage didn't think she'd cry like he did when he was teased; if anything she looked pissed.

Kouji snorted. "Whatever Kage. You can't even look at them without blushing!" He jabbed a finger at the other boy. Their sensei was watching from a few dozen feet away so he wasn't as mean to Kage as he normally was. He turned back to scowl at the girls, folding his arms over his chest. Kouji tried to ignore the glare the white haired girl was giving him. It was concerning just how much she looked like she wanted to kill him. Kouji tried to glare back but his wasn't as cold as hers. It didn't help that the air around her cooled rapidly and frost formed below her feet. The ice crept closer towards Kouji's feet the longer their staring contest went on.

Kage looked like he was going to cry, although he usually looked like that anyways. "Hey please d-don't fight! Come on you guys!" Kage wasn't a total chicken, he knew he could use his size to break up most fights. He wormed his way between them, pushing Kouji back slightly. He would have pushed Koharu back too but she was just so small compared to him.

"Let them fight, Kage. It'll do Kouji some good and the girl needs to calm down." Their sensei, Reiko, approached them, long hair swaying in the breeze. She folded her hands in front of herself, hiding them within her long sleeves.

"But sensei!-"

"You can handle insulting the girl, who'd done nothing to you...but you can't handle trying to fight her." Reiko watched as the small genin unsheathed her katana and lashed out at him. She noticed that the girl used controlled moves, as if she'd done them a thousand times in the exact same way. Reiko knew of the Wakahisa and their reputation for being excellent swordsmen. Perhaps this child would live up to that. "You there, girl, that little one is of the Wakahisa clan, is she not?" She asked Natsuko. Reiko wrapped an arm around Kage, who looked dangerously close to crying. He wasn't a fighter, she'd learned that quickly. He was a little too gentle for this world and she's asked hm many times why he wanted to be a shinobi in the first place if he was afraid to fight. Kage had told her that he wanted to save people as a medic.

Reiko didn't bat an eye at the fight that she'd allowed. The short girl wasn't letting up on Kouji, who only had kunai to defend hmself with. Koharu was taunting him softly as they fought and she used a combination of her sword and her ice to keep him moving. He'd been able to land a few good hits, seeing that her moves largely followed a pattern but it was easy to tell who had the advantage. Kouji hadn't been expecting her to use her saya in the fight--most didn't. It was a good way to momentarily stun someone. Koharu hit him in the stomach with it, making the boy double over and gasp for air.

She paused to let him regain his breath. This was training, not a real fight, so she had to play fair. Kouji was a lot stronger than she was and his hits had hurt. If she hadn't gone at him with little room for him to breathe then she'd likely be on her ass in the dirt right now.

"You kids can spar too." Reiko would probably end Kouji and Koharu's fight soon. She was sure the boy had learned his lesson.


Afternoon // Land of Fire: Konohagakure - Kawaguchi Household


Minoru hadn't been surprised when Kazuhiko stepped out of the bathroom once the girls were gone. He'd been acting a little odd, like there was a weight on his chest that he couldn't wait to get off. Minoru had been doing the dishes while Azumi packed away any of their left overs. They paused what they were doing as the boy apologized for his father's behavior. He gestured to his wife to take the lead. It was clear that he was apologizing to her more than to him. Minoru knew that his wife had a soft spot for both of his quiet genin and he loved her for that. She was such a kind woman.

"Kazuhiko," Azumi stepped closer to the boy, "it is okay." She gently pushed him to stand to his full height. They were rougly the same size, so she could look in his eyes. "You have been raised one way, with one frame of mind. You do not need to apologize for anything." She said, pulling the boy into a hug. The slight swell of her stomach was a little more pronounced when she hugged people. "You are one of our first children, you know? We love you, Kazuhiko. You never have to feel bad around us."

"Yes. You are our first son. We will always love you, and you being able to apologize for...something that isn't your fault is admirable." Minoru joined their hug, standing on te other side of the boy. "We want you to be a big brother to our child. You are a good kid and one day you will be a great man. Minoru smiled at the genin. He really did think of his genin as his kids. He'd been their sensei for a year. He'd trained them and learned from them.

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Kazuhiko Taketori

Early Afternoon || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Kawaguchi Household

Azumi’s words left Kazuhiko stunned, unable to formulate a thought in response. While he hadn’t expected anyone to be angry at him, he also hadn’t expected complete forgiveness, and he listened to the rest of Azumi’s words silently, his mind empty for her words to fill. By the time Minoru chimed in too, Kazuhiko had hugged Azumi back, his head buried into her shoulder. When Minoru’s arm wrapped around him, his eyes welled up, and he inhaled as they let go, nodding at them.

“Thank you, Minoru-sensei, Azumi-san,” he said, bowing again. “I-I’ll do my best.”

He wasn’t the best at putting his thoughts into words, especially not when feelings where involved, and he knew that. Currently, he was searching for more to say, more to help express how grateful he was, but he kept drawing blanks. Besides ‘thank you,’ it didn’t seem like any words properly encompassed his thoughts, and he was tempted to repeat those words—thank you, thank you, thank you. But, meeting Azumi and Minoru’s eyes, Kazuhiko realized that he didn’t need more words; they’d already understood. The specifics weren’t necessary because his true intents and emotions had already been expressed, and that was enough.

“Thank you,” he repeated once more, hugging them both again. Then, looking around, he grabbed a dishcloth off the counter.

“I’ll clean the table.”

Further words weren’t needed, and he was grateful for that. At home, cleaning up after meals was never his job since he was to focus on training and learning to be a proper heir to the clan, but outside of his clan compound Kazuhiko felt that he wasn't just an heir. Here, he was simultaneously less and more, both merely human and a treasured part of his sensei’s family. Being here made him feel like he was different, like he was tapping into another part of his personality, and he appreciated it.

Another few minutes or so of helping around the house later, Kazuhiko felt his clone dissipate with a twinge, almost like something had metaphorically popped inside him. Blinking, he turned to Minoru and Azumi.

“I think I should go find my teammates,” he said. “My clone just got dispelled.”

Natsuko Rinha

Early Afternoon || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Training Grounds

Natsuko’s jaws dropped as Kazuhiko vanished with a ‘pop,’ but her surprise quickly morphed into anger. Though she listened to Koharu’s reassurances, her annoyance didn’t waver until Kouji interrupted to call Koharu a traitor. Natsuko’s eyes instantly focused on the boy from the other team who wore a smile too cocky for his own good. Before she could interrupt, his teammate, Kage, did, his voice trembling even as he spoke. Though the way he’d held himself had prompted Natsuko to write him off, his protest had her reevaluating him in a new light. With some encouragement, perhaps he’d grow a backbone after all.

The banter passed her by, though, and soon enough Team Five’s sensei, Reiko, interrupted to allow the fight to take place. As much as Natsuko hated the idea of allowing Kouji to fight Koharu, she also trusted that her teammate was strong enough to hold her ground, and she pumped a fist before cupping her hands around her mouth.

“Go Haru-chan! Show him why Team Six is the best!” she shouted, easily ignoring the glare Kouji shot her way. Compared to Koharu’s glares, his was pretty tame.

When Reiko spoke, it took Natsuko a moment to figure out that the stern-looking woman was indeed addressing her. Truth be told, Natsuko found Reiko intimidating since she was used to Minoru’s laid-back style of mentorship. Reiko reminded her of her teammates on the days when they would train without taking a break, as if training was be all end all of activities. It was because of this that Natsuko was glad Reiko hadn’t been Team Six’s sensei since though she knew Reiko was probably stronger and sterner than Minoru, a genin-ship without Minoru’s bad jokes and Azumi’s caring presence was hard to imagine, especially for Natsuko’s teammates.

“Yep, Koharu’s a Wakahisa, so she’ll kick Kouji’s butt,” Natsuko said with a grin before remembering to tone it down a notch for Kouji’s sensei. “No offense, I mean.”

A flash of amusement crossed Reiko’s face as she met Natsuko’s eyes. “No offense taken.”

Nodding quickly, Natsuko focused back on the fight, relieved when Reiko did the same. Soon enough, though, the fight alone was enough to transfix her, and she called out another cheer when Koharu caused Kouji to double over, gasping.

“So, are we just going to watch?” Mariko asked, glancing at Reiko, who gave permission without batting an eye. With her sensei’s approval, though, Mariko turned to Natsuko with her trademark sweet smile.

“Don’t hold it against me, Natsuko-chan.”

“Wait, Mariko-san, hold on,” Natsuko said, backing away with wide eyes. “I don’t think me sparring you is a good idea. How about I, um, spar Kage over there? He looks like someone that wouldn’t flatten me immediately.”

Mariko’s smile remained on her face as she followed Natsuko’s steps, her smile unfaltering. “Are you going to bully Kage too, Natsuko-chan? That’s not very nice.”

“What? No, no, of course not. I would never!”

“Hm.” Mariko paused, then looked to her tall, nervous teammate. “Kage, what do you think?”

“I-I don’t know,” Kage said, glancing nervously at his sensei. When Reiko gave him a nod, though, he copied the motion, nodding to himself as he turned back to Natsuko, his back a little straighter than before.

“Okay, N-Natsuko-san, a-are you ready?”

“Ready? Yeah, yeah I’m ready,” Natsuko said, retrieving a kunai from her belt as she glanced again to Mariko.

“Alright, have fun,” the Hyuga heiress said, still smiling as she stepped aside. “I wonder how long it’ll take for Kazuhiko to get here?”

Natsuko didn’t know the answer to that question, though it reminded her of her flaky teammate, stirring up annoyance she’d momentarily forgotten about. What was with heirs being freaky strong and thinking they knew better? While it was comforting to have two teammates who knew their priorities, it became annoying when they were hindering themselves, especially when it came to opening up or being honest. In what world was attempting to deceive her better than telling her the truth?

“Right, Kage, let’s do this,” she said, bracing herself as she crouched. Then, leaping towards Kage, Natsuko swung her kunai forwards, only to find herself blown back by a sudden burst of wind from Kage.

Rolling to her feet a few meters away, Natsuko grinned. “Great Breakthrough?”

“Y-yeah,” Kage admitted with a sheepish smile.

“Nice, but I can do Wind Release techniques too,” Natsuko said, signing her Gale Palm. Across from her, Kage mirrored her signs, causing Natsuko’s grin to grow wider. So she might not be winning this fight either, but hey, at least she wouldn’t get her chakra paths blocked for a good few hours due to “practice.”



Kazuhiko Taketori

Afternoon || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Training Grounds

Kazuhiko arrived on the training grounds by hopping off a nearby rooftop and jogging over. There, he found Koharu and Natsuko already engaged in battle with two members of Team Five as Mariko and the Team Five sensei, Reiko, watched from the sidelines. Koharu seemed to be easily winning against Kouji, the boy who’d earned a reputation for himself through his use of callous words, and Natsuko was—though far from winning—surviving against Kage, a boy who, though taller than Kazuhiko, tended to stumble over his words. When he neared, Reiko looked over without much emotion, Mariko following suit to glance over with a smile and a wave.

“Nice of you to join us, Kazuhiko!”

Rather than responding, Kazuhiko spun around with just enough time to dodge out of the way of Mariko, who dispelled the clone standing at her sensei’s side with a sheepish smile.

“Oh, I wasn’t going to hurt you, Kazuhiko-kun, just surprise you a bit. Besides,” she said, her Byakugan flashing on, “dodging wouldn’t work if I used a Shadow Clone.”

“I’ll deal with that when we get there,” he replied as his Sensaigan blinked into life as well. Though it was mostly intimidation tactics since neither of them had much experience using their dojutsu yet, there was more at stake here than just who won. Unlike when they sparred inside either clan’s dojo, which was a long-held tradition to pay respects and avoid further conflict, there was no conceding to let the dojo master’s heir win. This meant that whoever won here would prove their superiority and, by extension, their clan’s.

“You sure this is a good idea?” he asked.

“Where’s your sense of fun, Kazuhiko-kun?” she said, her tone light. And, springing back, she quickly signed as Kazuhiko jumped forwards, signing around the kunai in his hand.

From a backpack beside Reiko, a stream of water was called up, splitting into three orbs of swirling water. Needles sprouted from the edges of the orbs, lengthening as Kazuhiko threw a crackling kunai that left a zig-zag trail of lightning as it flew through the air, exploding an orb on touch. Then, with two loud splashes, the needles flew through the air at Kazuhiko, who dodged out of the way, another arc of electricity sparking to spark through the needles closest to him. Hit with electricity, the needles lost their shape, popping into droplets of water that hit the ground, darkening the dirt in splotches.

Kazuhiko took this chance to close the distance, taking up a stance opposite of her and prompting Mariko to take up her own stance. Across from his Keen Fist stance was her Gentle Fist stance, each posed to take down the other. Meeting Mariko’s eyes, Kazuhiko wasn’t surprised to realize that her smile still hadn’t budged, and he doubted his frown had either.



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The next morning // Land of Fire: Konohagakure - Training grounds


Reiko watched the genin, all six of them, as they fought. Kage was holding his own against Natsuko and she was proud of him. He'd been a bit of a sad sack, never getting the hang of a particular technique and often being bullied into submission by Kouji. At the thought of the blond boy, she looked over at him and the smaller genin. They fought fiercely although the girl was fast enough to leave him few opportunities to perform hand signs. When it came to power Kouji had the girl beat but she had him on speed. It was interesting to see how Minoru had trained his students. Even if Natsuko wasn't winning against Kage she was able to told her own and use skills that she'd been taught.

When the Taketori boy arrived, Reiko had no objections to him sparring with Mariko. It was an interesting match up and they were able to matc each other blow for blow. She had to be careful though, in allowing them to spar. They could easily end up hurting each other due to the long standing rivalry of theur clans. She'd been so caught up in the match between Kazuhiko and Mariko that she'd missed seeing the Wakahisa girl beat Kouji.

Koharu stood with her katana drawn and pointed at Kouji, resting the tip just below his chin. He was sitting on his behind, legs sprawled out and arms were holding up his upper body. His lips were set into a scowl as he looked up at the girl, who's own expression was cocky. "You lost." With those simple words she moved her sword back and sheathed it before turning her attention to the other matches. Kage and Natsuko's match ended quickly when they'd both managed to knock each other backwards, although Kage clearly could keep going if he wished. Kage landed roughly on his own hind end, looking sheepish for a few moments before he got up, helping Natsuko to her feet shortly after. His dark eyes narrowed on Kouji, seeing the small scrapes and a few bruises on his arms. Koharu's eyes widened when Kage grabbed Kouji by the shirt and made him look up so he could check the wound on his cheek.

He set the work, grumbling softly about Kouji being reckless. The only time the boy was confident in any way was patching up his teammates after practice. When he grumbled about needing water to clean up Kouji, Koharu quietly approached and cupped her hands together, forming ice cold water in her palms. Kage looked up at her with a startled expression. "Th-thank you." He dipped some gauze into the cold water and wiped away the blood, wondering if Koharu minded the way the water clouded pink in her hands. He applied some strong smelling ointment to the cut before smoothing a bandage over it. She'd noticed the way that Natsuko seened drawn in by what Kage was doing and she smiled a bit. Perhaps they'd find something that Natsuko could do that she or Kazuhiko couldn't.

The girl had since discarded the water in favor of watching Kazuhiko and Mariko fight. She was always impressed by what the other heirs could do. They had to work harder and train better because of the weight they had on their shoulders. Just because her clan wasn't as big as the Taketori or the Hyuuga didn't mean that she couldn't sympathize with them. It wasn't much longer until Rieko stepped in, forming a large earth wall between the two sparring genin and telling them their match was over. They'd done good, even if it ended in a tie. She gathered up her genin and left quickly so Kazuhiko and Mariko wouldn't try to fight again. That left the girls to usher Kazuhiko back to Minoru's house in time to help with dinner.

The sparring had lasted a lot longer than expected but they'd had fun. Koharu finally got to beat up Kouji without it reflecting badly upon her clan, Natsuko seemed interested in how Kage had patched up Kouji and Kazuhiko actually got to fight Mariko without their families looming over them. When they'd told Minoru he'd seemed proud and he'd gathered all three of them into a group hug, causing Koharu's cheeks to heat and turn a bright red. In celebration, rather than cook, he and Azumi decided to take them out for ramen. The rest of the evening had passed nicely. The kids were lavished attention and treated like kids and spoiled by their sensei and his wife. Soon they'd have more low rank missions and more training and in a few years they'd be ready for the Chunin exams.

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Natsuko Rinha

Morning || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Outskirt Forests

After the sparring session with Team Five, Team Six had been revitalized, and they threw themselves into training even without encouragement from Minoru. Kazuhiko and Koharu each seemed to have their own reasons, probably clan related, as did Natsuko this time. While before she didn’t have much interest in training, meeting Kage and seeing what he did for Kouji changed her mind. Sure, Rinha were known for being medical nin, and she’d be falling in line with the pack if she chose to pursue that path, but she diidn’t mind that. Before, she’d always thought of medical nin as a lesser counterpart of the shinobi ranks, hanging back and relaxing while others risked their lives, but seeing what they could do in action changed her mind. In fact, she now saw medical nin as an integral part of the shinobi forces, because who else could patch up the wounded and save lives that might otherwise be lost? Besides, there was the matter of being of instant use since injuries were a steady part of life as a shinobi, and the more Natsuko learned about medical ninjutsu, the more she wanted to pursue the craft. So what if it required her to possess fine chakra control she didn’t have at the present? She’d sharpen her skills and get that control. Whether or not Kazuhiko shot her funny looks was irrelevant, as was the fact that her immediate family already had two medic nins. Whether her mother and brother would be pleased about her choice didn’t matter because Natsuko was choosing this for herself, and whether or not she was sure about the decision came second to making sure she could choose if she wanted to.

After a few days of training, during which Natsuko practiced jutsu and worked chakra like some chakra junkie, the Team was again off on a mission. At long last, Natsuko had managed to properly managed to absorb some chakra using the only Dark Release technique she knew at the moment: Kusunemasu. Her poor test subject, being obligated to volunteer by duty, had been relentlessly ranted at throughout the process. Though Natsuko didn’t hurt them while she practiced since failing to properly perform the technique resulted in the failure of stealing chakra, she was, however, able to shout and scream when she failed, and she only apologized after they were done, thanking her sensei with a hug that he got out of when she realized was the perfect way to sap more chakra from him.

Now, the team was off on another mission. Something about a bear problem in one of the forest settlements in the fringe woods of Konoha. Since they were technically part of Konoha, the village owed them protection, and as such there was money tied to it and a mission available. While the mission itself sounded less than exciting, Natsuko was intrigued by the possibility of seeing a bear. Having grown up inside the main village, she rarely saw any animals outside of summons, pets, and livestock, so she was interested to see what the fuss was all about.

“Are bears big, Sensei?” she asked as the group jumped through the branches. “Are they bigger than me? Kazuhiko? You?”

At his name, Kazuhiko glanced back from where he was up front. He didn’t slow, though, and in response Natsuko grinned and waved.

“Don’t mind us, Kazu-kun! I’m just asking to see whether you can get crushed by a wild animal.”



Kazuhiko Taketori

Afternoon || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Mumi Village

Mumi Village was a small forest village that was largely self-subsisting. What few goods it did produce were traded to Konoha or other nearby villages in exchange for things they couldn’t produce, but they largely specialized in foraging and gardening, the latter of which they did in the small clearing by their vine and log cabins. Around the village also roamed small, tusked pigs, likely domesticated inhabitants of the forest, wiry hairs striped tan and brown as they lumbered and foraged in the town’s apple orchard. The gardens were fenced off, likely to prevent them from digging anything up, but that didn’t seem to phase them as they went about their busy existence.

“Eat up. We have tons, so don’t feel guilty,” Mika said, handing each member of the team a yellow-and-red mottled apple before turning the basket over to Minoru. “Nothing to do around here during the day anyway. Our bears are night dwellers, so best get some rest in now.”

She fixed her rolled up sleeves and brushed down her apron as she led the group into a large cabin with rows of benches and tables, like a mess hall of sorts. There, she sat them down at a table and called for someone to bring them some cider.

“We’re working on getting a freezer system so we can get ice, but that hasn’t happened yet, so try the most authentic cider there is: lukewarm cider. Cheers,” she said, raising a glass and clinking it with the team’s before taking a hearty swig.

“Now, the bear situation,” she said, setting her glass aside. “Bears, actually. See now, we like bears. We’ve had a few bears move through and settle down around here. Currently, there’s two long-timers: Toto and Toro. Toto’s the resident boar, and a big hunking male. He lives somewhere to the east over there, and all he does is eat. If we give him apples, he leaves us alone. Same thing with Toro, our sow to the southwest over there. She’s got cubs, apparently—two. They’re pretty young, maybe a month or two old, and she drops by every three days or so for apples.

“So yeah, we like bears, actually. We get along with the two we have because they understand the situation. In exchange for apples, they leave us alone. Problem is, there’s been a new boar in town—a big one we call Nusu. He’s messing with both our bears, as far as we can tell, invading their territory and all. One time we had Toro bring her cubs into the village orchard for a day. Freaked our kids out good when they found them there in the morning, and probably freaked her out too. Momma bear protection instincts are pretty crazy

“Worst of all, though, is his diet. He eats apples sometimes, we think. Knocked down some apple trees and all by trying to climb them. Thing is that he recently discovered our bees. We keep them in garden, which we have fenced to keep pigs and animals out, but he’s been visiting every night. Trashing the place, digging up veggies and ripping apart bee boxes. And we don’t know what to do. Can’t move the box into the village or he’d head there, and plus we need our bees to have enough honey to brave the winter, or we’ll have to start anew next year. That’s where you come in.”

Mika smiled, looking at Team Six. “You shinobi are more than enough of a match for a bear, I reckon, so do us a favor and scare some sense into Nusu, alright? He’ll probably be back to break open one of our remaining four bee boxes tonight. After sunset, most likely. So eat up and rest up—we’re counting on you three. Otherwise, feel free to roam our humble village. We love visitors, so don’t be afraid if someone’s doing something. Just because our hands are full doesn’t mean we don’t want to chat. Our garden is to the right of here, and it’s pretty big, so no way you’ll miss it. I’ll be in the house across from this cabin, so lemme know if you need something. Otherwise, I need to authorize a bunch of trades. Paperwork. Stuff I didn’t know I signed up for.”

With that, she drained her glass and dropped it off in a basket in the back, turning to go about her day. Kazuhiko looked between his teammates and sensei to see what they were to do next. Personally, he liked the idea of exploring the village, or at least the garden. If they were going to protect the place from a bear, they should at least know what the place looks like.

“Let’s check out the orchard,” Natsuko said with a grin as she looped her arm through Koharu’s. “These are pretty good. Don’t you wanna see the apple trees, Kazu-kun?”

Kazuhiko shrugged. They had an afternoon of time to kill, after all.

“Sure.”



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Afternoon // Land of Fire: Mumi village


The idea of exploring the village made her excited and she couldn't wait. The same excitement that had shown itself in the temple in the Land of Lightning now bubbled beneath her skin. She looked over at Natsuko when their arms were linked together and she smiled. "This place is beautiful. It's going to be fun exploring it." Although she'd lived a majority of her life within Konoha, she still faintly remembered her homeland. Sparse trees grew but beyond that there was little plant life, or so she'd been told. To see this much life and to smell the damp dirt and blooming flowers awakened something in the girl.
Minoru had told them that he'd stay behind to learn more from the villagers. The kids would probably learn things on their explorations so he wasn't all that worried. Plus, like this there wasn't any danger of them coming across the bear. He hadn't forgotten the trouble they'd gotten into in the Land of Lightning. She'd said goodbye to their sensei before she looped her free arm around Kazuhiko's. Usually it was Natsuko who pulled the boy into things, not Koharu.

She have the tall boy a small smile before she practically pulled her teammates along by their linked arms. Their first stop was the orchard. She'd tucked away the apple she'd been gifted, fully intending to eat it later after their mission ended. Koharu let go of the other genin before she tucked her arms behind her back. She was itching to climb the trees. It seemed fun and while she could climb them through the use of chakra, climbing them in a much simpler way was so much more appealing right now. "Let's explore! We might end up finding out more about the bears if we can see where they've been." Koharu was a little nervous about this mission. Bears were big and she was the smallest on the team. She didn't give her teammates much time to decide on anything before she was heading further into the orchard, green-gray eyes scanning the trees as if she'd find a bear hiding in one.


Afternoon // Land of Fire: Mumi village


He'd asked around about the bears, gathering enough information to get descriptions of the two boars, the sow and the cubs. With all that information stored away in a scroll he'd decided tk find his team. It'd been a good hour or two since he'd seen them and part of him feared the trouble they could get into. Natsuko and Koharu in particular seemed to get into situations a lot. He asked around again, this time asking about his team. An elderly woman with a bent back told him that they'd been in the orchard the last time she'd seen them. He thanked her with soft words and a bow before jogging over to the orchard. Minoru didn't see the kids but he did find Koharu's shawl. The white fabric was a bit dirty along the edges, stained a rich brown from the soil. There were a few stray leaves and some small twigs stuck to it. In a fashion that he'd come to associate with the quiet girl, the shawl had been slung over a small fence that ran halfway across the orchard. A few ladders were propped on either side of the fence.

Minoru picked up the shawl, dusting it off and slinging it over his shoulder. "Kids! Where are you three?" Minoru called as he looked around the trees. He caught sight of pale hair among dark green leaves and he knew it was Koharu. When he ventured closer to the girl, she climbed higher. Was she...playing with him? A smile came to his face when he realized it. He was thrilled that she was acting like a kid for once.

What he didn't know was that he was now part of their game. It was a simple game of tag, which sounded like something a toddler would enjoy, but they had to stay within the trees and they couldn't use anything but their own physical skills. It was training made fun. Ninjutsu was outlawed in this game, making it quite an interesting challenge.
"Sensei I'm stuck! I-I need some help!" Koharu's warbling voice made him sigh softly. She was a little bit fearful of heights, despite her urge to climb the trees. He began to climb up the tree and spotted her among the branches, higher than he thought she'd enjoy being.

"Hold still, Koharu. I'm almost there." The trees were sturdy and he was thankful that he found one that would support his weight without worrying if it'd break. "What are you doing up in a tree?"

"Playing tag. You're it, Minoru-sensei." Koharu poked him on the cheek before she vanished into a small shower of ice shards that sprinkled to the ground. He sat in the tree for several moments before he began to laugh. Oh so they wanted to play then. He knew that the girl needed to be close because she wasn't quite so skilled with long distance use of her ice aside from small projectiles. Or perhaps Natsuko would be the easier of the targets.

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Kazuhiko Taketori

Afternoon || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Mumi Village

Kazuhiko’s eyes widened when Koharu looped her arm through his, and his brain short-circuited, blank as he processed her smile. As such, he was unprepared for the tug that came, and he managed to just recover his balance as he was strewn along down the village path.

“The orchard first!” Natsuko said from Koharu’s other side, but Kazuhiko wasn’t focused on that right now. Rather, he was focused on why his heart was beating so fast and what that meant in relation to what had just happened. His teammates had been his teammates through thick and thin, through summers and winters, so what was so different now?

When Koharu retracted her hand, Kazuhiko summoned up enough sense to stuff the thought aside, nodding at her words. “Mika said that Nusu usually visits at night, so he’s probably trying to avoid the villagers. He’s also focused on the garden, so we should check where that is too and see if we can figure out where he tends to come in from.”

“Ooo good idea. Now, I’ll leave you two lovebirds be and check the perimeter. Feel free to try holding hands instead!” Natsuko said, waving at them with a grin as she ran towards the far side of the orchard. Her words caused Kazuhiko to widen his eyes, but he recovered more quickly this time, being used to Natsuko’s jabs.

“Right, that should be the south wall, so you check the east and I’ll check the west?” he asked.

At the first sign of agreement from the pale-haired girl, he was off for the wall. He needed a moment to sort through his thoughts. Just as he and Koharu trusted Natsuko to deliver joking jibes, Koharu and Natsuko trusted him to be able to deflect them. He was one of two pillars of strength in the team, and to keep doing what he did on the team he needed to not start thinking of things like how the crook of his arm was still somewhat warm.



Natsuko Rinha

Afternoon || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Mumi Village

Sometime during their scouting trip around the village, the subject of boredom had come up, and one thing led to another until there here and now where the team had challenged their sensei to a game of tag. Though three-on-one was hardly far number-wise, considering that it was three genin against one over-qualified jonin, no genin had thought it unfair. The goal, then, was to keep their sensei from catching any of them, thus proving that their perimeter scout had not been for naught. One of a ninja’s greatest weapons was how they could wield their knowledge of the landscape around them—a lesson that Minoru had taught the three with a previous session of tag that the three had been utterly crushed by.

Currently, she was hiding behind a tree, not daring to peek out at her laughing sensei. This was a game of taijutsu given that ninjutsu was off-limits and the team’s genjutsu skills were rather limited. So, looking at purely Taijutsu, Natsuko was… still last, but not by as big of a berth as she was with ninjutsu. That fact gave her some confidence as she tried to relax and slow down her heart and therefore the rate of her breathing. Step one was avoiding detection, and as hard as that would be, it was possible up to an extent.

With her heart rate stable, she shot a glance at Kazuhiko, who was positioned nearby on a higher limb. He gave her a nod, and she grinned. Unlike last time, the team had a plan for victory this time: Ambush. The tagger had an aura of invincibility due to their ability to tag, but this was a lie. Minoru was not invincible.

On Kazuhiko’s cue, she’d sign a breeze into existence, rustling some leaves and attracting Minoru’s attention. When he decided to investigate, walking over, he’d position himself in the ‘target area’ so that all three genin could jump him.

Now, whether or not the three could knock out a full-grown jonin man was debatable, but they were to prepare to whip out anything and everything they had up their sleeves. For now, they waited until Minoru made the first move.



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Team Six

Afternoon || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Mumi Village

Kazuhiko waited, peeking out from behind a tree. He’d been elected as lookout due to the fact that his hair was darkest and therefore the most inconspicuous. Well, that and because he was the most ‘reliable’ team member, but that part was implied because no one would trust Natsuko for timing, and Koharu had already done her part getting their sensei's attention. Now, he played the waiting game.



Minoru had been left sitting alone in the tree as his laughter died down to small giggles. It was nice seeing the kids act like kids. He looked around, trying to find any source of the kids. They could hide decently well, far better than the last time they tried this. He'd wanted to make their training fun and hide and seek was a rather good way to have them learn the skills they needed to survive on missions. Of course he smeared them into the ground.

He was on the lookout for pale hair, since poor Koharu was at a major disadvantage. Natsuko probably would be easier to find as well. He didn't doubt that she could hide, but he knew that out of all his genin she was the one most likely to yell at him if he got too close. "Alright kids. Just remember to not complain too much if I win. Again." He teased. The teasing was bait for Natsuko. He knew that she'd give in easily to his challenge.



Natsuko’s eye twitched. She does not, did not complain too much last time! A fierce glance from Kazuhiko, though, reminded her of the task at hand, and she set about trying to calm down and focus again. It was obvious from the way that Kazuhiko had instantly looked at her that Minoru’s jibe had been for her, and she didn’t like it one bit. Dirty tactics from the jonin with the upper hand were never appreciated, however much he was outnumbered.

Biting her lip, she focused on looking at Kazuhiko, intent on carrying out the plan.



He hadn't seen any sign of the genin so he assumed that they were a little deeper into the orchard. He jumped from tree to tree looking for signs. He thought he'd seen Koharu amongst the branches but it turned out to be a reflection on the tree branches. Minoru wondered if they were waiting for him to get closer, or if the small genin had been joking with him. That was something he highly doubted but he had learned that his kids were full of surprises.

Minoru paused on a sturdy branch, listening to the sounds of the orchard. He could hear birds and the rustling of leaves that he'd assumed was a breeze until he realized that there wasn't a breeze or anything to move the branches. It could have been birds nestled in the branches but he had a feeling it was his genin.
He caught a flash of something pale and headed towards it, unknowingly entering into a trap set by the very genin he was searching for.



‘Now!’ Kazuhiko mouthed, signing his lightning release. The goal was to hit fast and hard since they likely wouldn’t get a second chance without someone being tagged. From his hands came an arc of lightning that stretched and widened before shooting towards Minoru.

Beside him, a single clone from Natsuko popped forth to charge at the jonin.

“You’re going down, Sensei!” her clone shouted, signing her Gale Palm technique. Her real form, though, stayed behind to start signing her dark release, as they’d planned. As it went, the plan was as follows: Kazuhiko would stun Minoru enough for Koharu to trap him with an ice technique, which would then allow Natsuko to utilize her dark release to sap his energy and keep him trapped. Whether it would all come together remained to be seen, but as of this moment, the plan was working.



Minoru had known that it was silly to stop and stare instead of moving but it filled him with pride to see them working together. Although there was no realistic way to have dodged lightning, he still could have attempted to instead of standing there like an idiot. The pride didn't last long once the lightning made it's contact. His muscles in his arms and legs spasmed and he was stunned.
He'd never get used to it, and he'd been Kazuhiko's sensei for a while now. In the aftermath of the lightning he was a sitting duck.

Something cold crept up his legs and held firmly. Ice encased his feet and up towards his knees. The cold feeling grounded himself and he turned his head to see the smallest genin, hands pressed firmly against the tree trunk above him. "Get him Susu!"
She was close enough for him to reach out and tag, but she'd scampered up the tree trunk just barely out of reach. His arms were a little sluggish from the lightning and he'd flailed as he tried to tag her.

Minoru heard her little whine of fright and remembered that she'd been terrified of heights at one point. He didn't get to mull over things though, because the kids had a plan and they did it perfectly.



“Oh no you don’t!” Natsuko yelled, dispelling her clone and launching herself at Minoru in one motion, her hands giving off the faint purple glow of her dark release technique, Kusunemasu. Coming to a stop before him so that she was just out of reach, she held her hands out in front of her, white wisps starting to come off from Minoru and float towards her glowing hands.

“I’m doing it! It’s working!” she shouted excitedly as she felt the first wisps float into her hands, a faint euphoric feeling energizing her as she absorbed the chakra. Despite the number of practice sessions and failed attempts in training, this was the first time she’d been able to call up the technique on the field.

“Are you seeing this, Kazu-kun, Haru-chan?” she called, grinning up at her teammates. Kazuhiko was standing on the branch beside Koharu, likely having helped her out earlier when Minoru tried to tag her. While Natsuko usually would have teased them about it, she didn’t care right now. She’d finally pulled off her dark release technique!

“Natsuko!” Kazuhiko yelled, his eyes wide. “Watch out!”

But she’d been a beat to slow in realizing what she should be watching for. Her excitement had distracted her, and she’d looked away from her target: her sensei who, while proud, was clearly not enjoying the treatment.




He'd praise her later for actually getting her dark release to work, but right now they were still playing their game and he could still win. Minoru was feeling even more sluggish as his chakra was slowly drained from his body. He trained with Natsuko enough to know what was happening and how it felt. In all honesty it was exhausting, even in little amounts.

With a smirk he reached out, taking advantage of Natsuko looking up at the other two genin. He tapped her lightly on the forehead with the pads of his fingers. The angle was awkward as his feet were still trapped in ice, but he supported his weight by pressing his free hand against the tree trunk. "Tag. Good job, Natsuko, but I win. Never let your guard down." Poor Minoru didn't get very long to savor his victory.
Koharu, who'd been watching everything unfold, forced the ice that was surrounding their sensei's feet off the tree branch and it knocked Minoru off his feet.

He landed on the ground below with a dull thud. They hadn't been up high enough for him to get injured but it still hurt a little bit. With a groan he rolled over, shaking the last remnants of ice off of his legs. He could hear Koharu talking to Natsuko.

"Good job Natsuko. We lost but you did well." The girl had left Kazuhiko's side (and she'd deny that she'd been holding onto his shirt for balance) and stood where Minoru once did. She was smiling up at the other girl. "Isn't that right, Kazu-kun? She's making leaps and bounds." Encouragement was a powerful thing, especially for one like Natsuko. She had to work hard, possibly harder than Koharu and Kazuhiko. She didn't have the same pressures they did, but she had her own. Koharu wondered how it was to be the technical weak link for your team. They couldn't protect Natsuko forever. But she was proud of her, and she hoped the other girl knew that.
She pulled the other girl into a brief but tight hug.

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Natsuko Rinha

Afternoon || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Mumi Village

“Thanks, Haru-chan,” Natsuko said, hugging Koharu with a smile. Though she was a bit put out by the fact that she’d let her giddiness get the best of her, her teammate’s choice to blast Minoru away with ice wagered humor against her disappointment, and when Kazuhiko landed at her side, she was full-on grinning.

“Sorry about that, Kazu-kun. I’ll get ‘em next time,” she said.

Kazuhiko raised his brows slightly, then sighed, smiling. “Yeah, you better.”

“But hey, ‘leaps and bounds,’ huh? Let’s talk about who’s making ‘leaps and bounds’ in their relationship, yeah? Don’t think I—what—no wai—sto—”



Kazuhiko Taketori

Evening || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Mumi Village

“Alright, dinner. Is. Served!”

Mika headed the small line of villagers bearing plates of food, walking over to the large, long table at the center of the mess hall and setting down the platters. Roast chicken, stir-fried vegetables, and other vividly-colored home-grown goods were on the menu, and Kazuhiko realized suddenly that he hadn’t had shared a home-cooked meal with anyone since Azumi last invited him over. While the cook his parents employed was good at their job, he still somehow, almost illogically, knew that this food would be better. Here, with his sensei, teammates, and a village of happy, appreciative farmers around him, he could barely resist salivating.

“Well? What are you waiting for? Dig in! You lot will need your energy to deal with Nusu,” Mika said, crossing her arms at the head of the table. “And be sure to leave some room for dessert! Our apple pies are the best, and we say that with confidence.”

“Ah, I wish I could stay here,” Natsuko said, sighing in contentment before forking another piece of food into her mouth. “Ith stho gwood!”

Kazuhiko smiled, tasting his first bite of food as well, and—yep—it was just as rich and savory as he’d imagined. Though he knew there was no way it could have been perfectly seasoned or cooked, mostly because nothing could be done ‘perfectly,’ he felt it came close enough today.

“You guys gotta try some of this vegetable and bread thing, it’s so good,” Natsuko said, pointing at the dish in question.

“I see you’re a woman of taste as well,” Mika said, grinning. “That’ s a recipe passed down from my grandmother. Best vegetable pudding you’ll ever find.”

With her spoon in her mouth, Natsuko gazed at Mika imploringly. “Can I ple-ase have the recipe? Tomorrow? If we get rid of Nusu?”

“We’ll see,” Mika said, laughing and raising her cup of cider. “Cheers, you four. Thanks for your help, and good luck!”


Night || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Mumi Village

Under the cast of the moon, the forest became a flat tone of silver where the light fell through the leaves. In the air was the sound of crickets and the gentle rustling of the nightime breeze, and though fires burned on the torches by the village houses, the apple orchard saw no orange light. And, although the orchard was quiet under the metallic sheen, Team Six was on high alert in the trees around the orchard, dispersed but still connected via clones, each person maintaining one clone that stayed with another in order to connect them all via chain message, if need be.

While Kazuhiko had no trouble keeping his own clone up, he wondered how his teammates were faring. Minoru had suggested it as an exercise while they waited, but as a shinobi specializing in Taijutsu, Kazuhiko naturally tended towards clone utilization in battle. His teammates, on the other hand, specialized in ninjutsu and… nothing in particular. Given that cloning jutsu were a form of ninjutsu, he’d expected Koharu to be fairly proficient at them, and Natsuko wasn’t a lost cause either. However, this was a battle of endurance, not skill; maintaining a jutsu drew slowly but surely on the user’s chakra reserves, and after nearly an hour of so of waiting, Kazuhiko wondered how much longer he would last, and whether Nusu would show at all. Another hour would be easy, but two, three, or even four? He could only hope he had that much chakra in him.

That said, there was also the matter of boredom. Kazuhiko considered himself to have a high tolerance and patience for things, but he couldn’t say the same for his teammates, specifically one, noticeably droopy-looking girl across the clearing from him.

“Koharu,” he said, pointing out the half-sleeping figure of Natsuko, who was bobbing, her head propped up on an arm.



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Evening | Land of Fire - Mumi village




Their little game earlier had been entertaining, even if he'd ultimately been bested by one of his genin. His back was a little sore but he knew that it'd be gone by the morning. When they were invited for dinner he was quite happy. His own upbringing had been similar. His home village was far to the east of here, on the coast. It was, for lack of a better word, a Kawaguchi village. It was heavily populated by his small clan, with only a few of them actually settling elsewhere. Because it was predominantly one clan that lived there, communal dinners were not uncommon. He'd observed his genin, taking in their reactions.

Koharu didn't seem to show much reaction to the communal meal and it made him curious. She came from a small clan as well so he assumed that communal meals weren't uncommon either. When they'd sat down to eat, he'd voiced his question. She gave a faint smile, pushing away her plate briefly so she could talk to him without being rude. Koharu explained that because they'd been without a home for a while, her clan had communal dinners. It was easier to feed everyone at once rather than allow for individual families within the clan to cook their respective meals. They didn't have a lot of supplies either, so sharing helped a great deal.
She'd also told him that because she was so young, only four, when it happened, she couldn't remember the fine details.

He asked about the types of foods they ate in their homeland and she seemed to fall quiet and it took him a while to notice that she was indeed drooling slightly. "Roasted seals were common. It was a land of snow and ice so we didn't get fresh vegetables often." Indeed a glance at her plate had shown that most of what was there were vegetables. They talked quietly, with her asking him about his home. It made pride well that the genin seemed to be genuinely interested in asking.

As dinner wound down and people began to get desserts, Minoru laughed as Koharu marvelled at the apple pies as they were being scooped out of the pie pans. If the thought of roasted seals had her drooling, the freshly baked apple pies did as well. It was a little unusual to see the girl being so animated but he came to understand that she'd had a much more worldly experience than her teammates. This sort of thing, learning about new places and people, was a genuine interest for her.

"Alright kids, after this we need to come up with a plan and get Nusu out of the village. But first I would like to talk to Koharu and Natsuko."

Minoru had gestured for the girls to follow him a short distance away. He wanted to make sure they wouldn't do anything stupid like they had on their last. There was no easy way to say this so he decided to rip of the metaphorical bandaid. "Don't throw your teammates at the bear." He warned Koharu, giving her a pointed look.

"I'm not that irresponsible, sensei." Koharu said, usually impassive face breaking into a pout. The air around them cooled rapidly to temperatures unusual for this time of year. "I only tossed her because there was no other option." Minoru was suddenly reminded of the girl's uncle in that moment.

"I know, but this is-" Minoru shrunk under the glare the small girl was giving him. And with that the topic was dropped. It was more unnerving like anything else but he couldn't help but assume that in time she'd be able to out glare men much bigger than her and win.





Night | Land of Fire - Mumi village



Why had Natsuko insisted that the real Koharu go with the real Kazuhiko? Koharu didn't mind the teasing, it made things a little lively but at times it was a little awkward. Of course she'd done the opposite and gone with the clone. Or at least the one that she assumed was a clone. There'd been too many poofs and clouds of smoke for her to see and they hadn't exactly stopped to ask who was what. Her own clone had gone with Natsuko to ensure that the girl was going to behave and because her clones couldn't perform the same jutsu that she could. Minoru telling her that throwing Natsuko at the bear had stung a little. She wouldn't risk her teammates like that, not with a bear that they couldn't stop like they could a human.

The thing about clones that the Wakahisa used were ice based and a little more tangible than most other clones. As a drawback, they used a larger amount of chakra but to compensate for the chakra use, younger Wakahisa who didn't have the same chakra levels as adults relied on making their clones a little more incorporeal. They'd still explode into little showers of ice shards, capable of inflicting damage just as the ones the adults used. It wasn't uncommon for adults to use their clones as suicide bombers on the battlefield. It was a trick taught to her by her uncle and she was still learning to get the hang of it.

"Natsuko you need to wake up or I'll put ice in your shirt." The clone warned. It was a little bit harder to tell Koharu apart from a clone because both ran a little cold. This knowledge was something that she used well when she did manage to use clones. No one liked ice down their shirts, period.

Back with the real Koharu, the girl was watching her clone briefly before scanning the rest of the orchard for Nusu. Minoru-sensei was off doing his own recon with a clone of one of them. He reminded them that this was their mission so they'd do a bulk of the work. He was just there to make sure they didn't get killed. A breeze picked up, causing the tree they were in to shake. Despite being a shinobi who frequently needed to climb or jump to get to destinations, she was still afraid of heights. Out of instinct when the tree branche swayed beneath them she reached out for Kazuhiko, which was a slightly stupid thing to do considering that his clone couldn't do anything to save her. But she'd been scared and misjudged the length of her reach...and had basically fallen against the boy.

Instead of Kazuhiko vanishing into a puff of sparks, her hands gripped onto a warm shirt. "K-Kazu-kun?" Koharu looked up at him, cheeks warm and red at how close together they were. The branches stopped swaying when the wind died down and she was able to stand on her own two feet again. Still, standing to her full height didn't lessen the rapid pace of her heart nor did it take the color from her cheeks.





Night | Land of Fire - Mumi village




He was with a clone of Natsuko or had been at least until it vanished. He didn't think that anything had happened to her because his own clone, which oddly enough was with Kazuhiko's clone, had been stationed close enough to keep an eye on the kids. Minoru had smiled at the knowledge that Kazuhiko and Koharu had gone scouting together. From where his clone was he could see the two genin and he'd definitely seen the way the branches had swayed and the two found out they were with the real deal.

A rustling from below caught his attention and he looked down to see a large shiny black object lumbering towards the orchard. Nusu was massive, as were other boars, and such a shiny black that Minoru thought for a moment he had frost clinging to the very tips of his fur.

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Natsuko Rinha

Night || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Mumi Village

At Koharu’s words, Natsuko startled awake, blinking rapidly. “Huh? Yeah? Bear?”

When, upon scanning the orchard floor, she found no bear, she relaxed, flashing Koharu a sheepish grin. “Sorry, Haru-chan. Waiting is just sooo booriiing,” she whispered, her voice hushed. She didn’t want the bear to hear, after all, if it was even coming.

“Ugh, my clone poofed.” She frowned, then shrugged. “Eh, Minoru-sensei can handle himself.”

Then, remembering her plot from earlier, Natsuko grinned. “Hey, say, you’re the clone Haru-chan, right?” she asked, cupping her hands around her eyes and peering into the darkness towards where Koharu’s post should have been. “And Kazu-kun’s clone… yep. Yeeeep. No need to thank me, Haru-chan. I’m just doing my job as a teammate.”



Kazuhiko Taketori

Night || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Mumi Village

Natsuko was up again, thankfully. Koharu had made sure of that. Honestly, Kazuhiko would have volunteered for lookout duty with a clone or two if Minoru had made that an option. It’d have been more efficient, for one, though rather unnecessary considering that they were up against a simple bear. Without chakra, the amount of resistance their enemy could show was minimal, so they could stand to take a few mistakes from Natsuko. What he couldn’t stand, though, were Natsuko’s plots, which had been mounting in intensity since the morning. Unfortunately, Natsuko seemed to have a sixth sense for which ideas would be particularly irksome, and while Kazuhiko could usually brush her antics off pretty easily, her current angle was, to say the least, jarring. Specifically because it didn’t just involve Natsuko; it involved—

A rustle in the leaves snapped up his attention, distracting him enough to have him flinch when Koharu grabbed him. Freezing, he had a few thoughts run through his mind: that she looked scared, that she wasn’t popping like a normal clone would, that she wasn’t a clone, couldn’t be a clone, that she was currently clutching onto him, that she was actually currently clutching onto him, and that she was currently very, very close to him.

Her surprised voice brought him back to his senses, and, hesitantly, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders. He’d done just this earlier during tag, having noticed the fear on her face when she looked below her feet. Of course, he hadn’t forgotten that she was afraid of heights, but touching a clone would dispel it, and… that didn’t apply right now.

“Y-you okay?” he asked, then cleared his throat, focusing his eyes on some random point across the clearing. The point he chose, though, was close enough to Natsuko’s post that he caught her waving and making heart shapes at him with her hands before blowing him kisses and giving him two thumbs up.

Naturally, he quickly looked away from her, and his eyes ended up on Koharu, causing him to freeze again. This time, though, he squashed the instinct to immediately avert his gaze, instead meeting her eyes hesitantly. Was she alright? With this?



Natsuko Rinha

Night || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Mumi Village

Natsuko was cackling, clutching her belly as she balanced laughing and not falling from her perch. “Oh god, this is too good, too good,” she said, wiping tears from the corner of her eyes. “Too. Good.”

She paused, mid-wipe, her brows furrowing as her hand went down to her side. “Wait a minute… what…”

She turned to Koharu’s clone with wide eyes. “Haru-chan, do you actually like Kazu-kun? Like like like? Not just… that you’re embarrassed cuz he’s cute or something? Which he is, obviously, but like…”

At Koharu’s expression, Natsuko clamped her mouth shut, slapping her hands to her cheeks. “What? Whaaaat?”

Her hands went up to her forehead“Oh my goood,” she said, her voice pitching up impossibly high at the end. “Oh my gooooooood.”

The loud crunching of leaves below, though, quickly drew her attention, and she looked down to see a goddamn monster. Black with a silvery sheen under the moonlight, the thing was huge, stirring up stray leaves as it moved forward through the orchard. Another moment or two of staring in awe allowed Natsuko to place the monster as Nusu, and she realized with a thrill of fear that she’d have to get close to that thing soon enough.

“A-all right, one distraction coming right up,” she said, signing to release a breeze in Kazuhiko and Koharu’s direction. It’d draw Nusu there to investigate, most likely, and then everything would go according to plan, just as it had during the team’s game of tag. Well, hopefully it did.

“Haru-chan, get ready,” she said, flashing her teammate a grin as she pushed the breeze towards its destination. It blew over Nusu’s head, whistling past bark before landing not too far from the tree her teammates were on, rustling up the leaves there and scattering them in a small flurry of debris.

Across the clearing, Kazuhiko looked like he tensed, signing his jutsu as well, the signal no doubt close. Now, Nusu just needed to take the bait.



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Minoru

Night// Land of Fire - Mumi village




From his hiding spot he watched the two genin, forgetting the bear for a moment. It was adorable really, seeing how the taller of the two remembered her fear of heights. His team was good. They all knew things about each other that seemed minor, and likely were, but they took care of each other. He smiled widely at the scene before him, and that smile widened a little bit when he could hear Natsuko laughing. Apparently she was excited about what was unfolding before them. He knew that the girl often did try to get her teammates alone, but honestly both were a little cold and distant so it was always amusing that the plan backfired quite often. Minoru watched, forgetting the mission entirely for a moment, as Koharu seemed to grip onto the boy a little tighter before she regained her footing. At least that was what it looked like to him.
She'd moved back a few steps after that and in the dim lighting Minoru thought he'd seem her smile up at the boy.

He watched their distraction and the way the bear seemed interested in the rustling leaves. He lumbered over, sniffing and grunting.





Team Six

Night || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Mumi Village


The clone looked at the original, sharing a look of determination. Her embarrassment about how she'd clung to Kazuhiko and Natsuko's question seemed to vanish. Of course they'd been placed on the back burner for now. She'd deal with those things later, Nusu was their priority now. (Of course that didn't mean that her red cheeks had lost their color yet. And really, Koharu was trying her best to forget how Natsuko had stated that she like liked Kazuhiko. Koharu herself didn't have much of an answer but apparently the irritated look of her clone had been enough for the girl to determine something.)

The moment that lightning zipped towards the bear, both Koharu and her clone were heading towards the bear. Her fear of heights made getting down a little slower than she'd have liked but her plan was simple: trap his feet and make it easy for Natsuko to get close.



There was no doubt that Nusu was big. Judging by where his shoulder blades lined up with the tree trunks, he was taller than Kazuhiko, and lengthwise he was almost twice as long. His panting was audible even from the trees, coming in low rasps as he lumbered towards where Natsuko’s breeze had landed. As he approached, his sniffing got louder, and Kazuhiko realized with a jolt that he might smell them before he got in range.

Shooting Koharu a meaningful look, Kazuhiko dashed through the trees towards the one above Nusu, his clone doing the same. His clone, however, was too far away to arrive on a timely manner, so instead he elected to release his jutsu now, finishing his last sign as he came to a stop at his destinated tree. The leaves rustled slightly, giving away his position just as lightning crackled to life in his hands, lighting up his position.

Nusu looked up, his eyes white with the reflection of the arc of lightning Kazuhiko directed at him. His roar died in his throat as the arc of electricity made contact, plateauing into a growl through clenched teeth.

Kazuhiko was already onto signing his next jutsu, not looking to give Nusu a chance to recover. “Koharu, ice him!” he yelled over his shoulder as he directed another arc of electricity down. His clone was now in the tree on Nusu’s other side, ready in case anything unexpected happened. At best, he had a few more charges before he ran out of chakra, so ideally they’d get Nusu pinned down before he ended up channeling all his chakra into electricity.




Unfortunately her ice still took a lot out of her if it needed to cover a larger surface. She had one chance at this before she needed to rest and regain her strength. The clone would help some, being made of ice that she could manipulate. As long as Kazuhiko could keep the bear stunned then she'd do her part just fine. When he yelled at her, both the girl and the clone jumped down from the trees they were in. Koharu wondered if their sensei remembered that all three of them needed to get close to the bear in order to complete their mission. The moment that her hand signs were done, she slapped her hands onto the ground while her clone distracted the bear.

Dispelling the clone caused it to turn to ice shards as her own ice crept from her hands, snaring Nusu's back feet. The moment her ice stretched far enough under Nusu, reaching towards the small pile in front of the bear, it solidified into a solid mass. Koharu had missed one of his front paws but three out of four wasn't bad. "Natsuko!" They had one shot at this. Her ice wouldn't hold forever.

Already she felt drained but she reached for the sword at her side with one hand, the other was pressed to the ground, holding Nusu in place. The village didn't want to actually harm the bear but if Natsuko was in danger then it was likely that force was necessary.

Minoru was watching, waiting for the moment he'd have to step in. They were doing fantastic though and he had to applaud their timing. Now hopefully the last piece, Natsuko, would fall into place.




“Coming!” Natsuko yelled, haphazardly dashing across branches as she signed her jutsu. Her hands darkened with a faint purple when she was done, blending into the shadows around her as she dropped down from the tree, landing in a roll. Leaping to her feet, she rushed towards the ice-coated bear, which growled and huffed in his white-sharded prison.

Having learned from the training session earlier that day, Natsuko made sure she was outside of Nusu’s immediate range in case he broke free. As much as she trusted Koharu, ice was ice, and if Minoru could break free, so could a huge bear.

Raising her hands, she focused, willing the purple haze on her hands forwards. She strained her brain, her eyes, her hands, and… nothing.

Retracting her hands, she looked them over briefly, muttering under her breath. Before she could try again, though, Nusu let out a loud roar, the sound vibrating against Natsuko’s pounding heart, which only pounded harder as the crackling of breaking ice filled the air. Stumbling back, fear drove through her, chilling her before the first few shards of ice bounced off her. Something underfoot tripped her, causing her to fall backwards, and she caught herself with her hands, eyes wide as Nusu bellowed again, towering over her on his hind legs.

Suddenly, something dropped down from above, landing squarely on Nusu’s snout. The bear was left reeling as Kazuhiko grabbed onto the bear’s neck, fixing his eyes on Natsuko. “Natsuko! Run!”

Natsuko scrambled to her feet, charging away from the bear. A second or two of running reminded her that there were trees here, and she quickly made to scale one, jumping up while signing a jutsu. As soon as she was up, she looked back, prepared to loose a Gale Palm, but instead she found a sizzling Nusu facing down Kazuhiko, who charged straight at the bear’s face.

“Kazu—”

A hand clamped down on her mouth, and Kazuhiko spun her around, a finger pressed against his lips. Then, jumping away, he waved her towards a nearby tree where the team regrouped. A glance back at Nusu showed her what had happened: The bear, who’d by now dispelled the clone, was grunting and growling, trying to catch the new scent trail over the smoke and debris around him. Natsuko wasn’t sure how good bears were at smelling things, but she didn’t really want to find out.

Joining her teammates, she gave them a sheepish smile, rubbing the back of her head. “Sorry, everyone. I thought I’d be able to pull off a short-distance chakra absorption, but I guess I was assuming too much...!”

“It’s fine,” Kazuhiko said quickly, his words rushed. “But we need to figure out a way to beat Nusu. Ideally, we shouldn’t be looking to kill him, just knock him out. I’ve got two or three charges of lightning left, but it’s definitely not enough to knock a bear of that size out. Also, when I was on Nusu, I think saw something stuck in his neck. A kunai. Not sure, but it was weird. Had a strange tag attached.”

“Like a summoning jutsu?” Natsuko asked.

“No, summoning jutsus don’t work like that. They don’t need to stay attached. Only effects that stay active need to stay attached.”




"There are few things in this world that can prevent a summon from returning home. The death of their summoner before the jutsu is released is one of those causes...but that tag sounds like the culprit." Minoru came to rest in the same tree as the rest of his team. They hadn't learned about summons yet, as it was a fairly advanced technique and the kids needed to Pace themselves, despite two believing otherwise. [color=dark gray]"Put your sword away, Koharu. We can't kill the bear."[/color] He looked at the pale-haired genin. She gave him a mildly irritated look in return.

Minoru sighed when she didn't put it away, holding it in front of her. Her fingers traced along the design in an idle fashion. She was thinking and he could see the gears whirling in her mind. Koharu re-sheathed her sword and folded her hands together in front of her as she looked at each of her teammates in turn. Her eyes narrowed in thought as she stared at Kazuhiko. Minoru was proud of all of his students, but he had a feeling that Kazuhiko was the brain of the group. That wasn't to say the girls were dim-witted, they weren't, but Kazuhiko definitely was a strategist.

"We need to get that tag and kunai." Minoru assumed that she was talking to herself at this point because he didn't see how any of her words helped their situation. Koharu looked down at the bear that was still trying to find their scents. Yes, her plan was foolish but if that bear really was a summon then she wanted to send it home. Something told her that the summon wasn't bound by a contract anymore, if only because it was cruel to not help a creature that allied itself with you. "We need to get close to Nusu. Even though we're all used to close quarters Kazu-kun is better skilled than either of us."

Minoru wasn't sure that he liked where this plan was going. Koharu wasn't a reckless person but she definitely was a risk taker compared to her teammates. "We are not going to do something that endangers anyone."

She glared at him. "Then why are we even here? If this plan goes off without a hitch, then we'll be fine. Nusu needs to get that kunai removed and the village needs to be rid of him. We have this one opportunity to make this right for both parties." In that moment he could definitely tell that the girl was indeed related to Osamu. He had to admire her conviction. She really wanted to help. It was also the most he'd heard her talk on a mission. "I have just enough chakra for one more jutsu before I can't use my ice anymore. We have a move at our disposal--"

"You are not throwing Natsuko again!"

"I never said I would throw her. Kazu-kun is who I'll throw. He knows where the kunai is located and he can shock Nusu again to stun him. He'll be safe. Natsuko will make a distraction with her wind, lure him close, he can zap Nusu and then I can launch him." Koharu looked away from their sensei and to her tallest teammate. She gave a faint smile, knowing that he'd object. But really they had no choice. "You trust me, don't you Kazu-kun? This is the only way that we can complete this mission." Koharu hoped that he'd understand that.




“Yeah, I trust you,” Kazuhiko said, meeting Koharu’s eyes briefly before turning to Minoru. “Sensei, throwing me is the safest option, and, as Koharu said, I saw where the kunai was.”

He stared at Minoru, hoping his sensei understood the unspoken reasons why he was volunteering. Besides the fact that he was better suited than Natsuko to take on Nusu, better able to both attack and withstand attacks, he was also able to protect his teammates by volunteering. Both Koharu and Natsuko could support him from a distance, and if it came down to it, he could attempt to use his taijutsu on the bear. Considering how large the bear was, Kazuhiko doubted physical combat would do too much, but his skills were likely flexible enough to ensure he could surprise Nusu a bit.

As soon as he got confirmation from Minoru, Kazuhiko looked to Natsuko, nodding. “I’ll be counting on you to support me.”

“Y-yeah. Yeah, I’ve got your back,” Natsuko said, her voice growing firmer as she spoke. “You can count on me, Kazu-kun.”

Kazuhiko smiled, then turned to Koharu. “Let’s do this.”




Minoru wasn't happy but he let them do as they planned. If Kazuhiko was fine with it, then he'd let them try. He could always step in and finish their mission for them. It wouldn't teach them much but it would keep them a little safer. He looked at the boy as their plan was set into motion. "Good luck." It was easy to see that Kazuhiko was the leader of his group, and he understood the boy's need to keep his teammates safe.
It was rather adorable, and quite admirable.

While Minoru was lost in thought, Koharu studied where the bear was. She wasn't the best with strategies, beyond offering up ideas, but she had a fairly good grasp on projectiles, and in this case that was Kazuhiko. Usually it was her little ice shards shaped like rough birds that she'd use. They were a lot smaller than Kazuhiko, fitting snugly in the palm of her hand, but the concept was the same. "I will count to three. It'll come from below your feet and up at a slight angle. 1...2..." Before she could get to three she'd planted her hands on the tree branch he was standing on and she'd forced her ice to balloon under him. Hopefully he'd actually land on the bear, she thought as she watched Kazuhiko fly through the air. Koharu was exhausted but readied herself if the worst happened.

Their sensei watched, dark eyes a little wide, as the pale-haired girl launched Kazuhiko into the air with her ice. It remained as a shiny clear blue sphere where he'd been standing moments prior before she dispelled the jutsu and it crumbled in on itself.




Standing where Koharu directed him, Kazuhiko waited for her countdown, ignoring his audibly pounding heart in favor of staring at Nusu. The bear was approximately twenty-five meters away, give or take a few meters for height. Considering the major dangers—Nusu’s jaws and paws, both of which tapped into the bear’s enormous musculature, would easily crush through skin and bone—Kazuhiko figured the safest place to land would be squarely around Nusu’s shoulder or scruff area. Aside from momentarily knocking the wind out of the bear, landing in that area seemed to be his best bet at trying to get a grip on the bear without it throwing him off.

This all, though, came second to pulling out the kunai embedded in Nusu’s left shoulder, which would hopefully dispel him. That Nusu was a summon and not a normal bear was obvious now that Minoru had pointed it out, and it explained the bear’s massive size.

Koharu started the countdown, and Kazuhiko braced himself, signing his jutsu. On two, Ice blossomed beneath his feet, and he was launched into the air at the silent three. He repositioned himself in the air, stretching his hands forward so that he was falling headfirst as his momentum started to arc downward. Waiting until he was right on above Nusu, he finished his signing, electricity crackling to life just as he stretched both hands forwards to deliver the shock. Nusu’s snarl was cut short as he landed on the bear, gripping at the fur on Nusu’s back as he searched the silvery-black fur for the hilt of the kunai he’d seen earlier. He had a few seconds to blindly feel through Nusu’s fur before the bear recovered from the shock, so time was of the essence, but how quickly the bear would shrug it off depended on—

With a roar, Nusu rose onto his haunches, reaching his arms backwards to paw at his head. As he did, though, a strong blow of wind batted against him, pushing both he and the bear forwards and forcing Nusu to plant his arms to prevent himself from smacking into the ground. Kazuhiko, though, took the opportunity Natsuko granted him to renew his efforts with searching for the kunai. The fur around Nusu’s scruff was longer than it was around the rest of his body, but his hands managed to knock against something hard underneath all the hair.

“Hey you, you want another blast?” came a yell from the trees, drawing Nusu’s attention briefly as Kazuhiko managed to wrap a hand around the kunai. Tugging, he freed the small blade, jumping free as Nusu reared back again with a roar.

Mid-roar, though, the bear disappeared, silenced with a smoky ‘pop,’ the leaves around where he stood flattened but no longer covered. Landing a few feet away, Kazuhiko straightened, giving it another second or so before he relaxed, the kunai in his hands still warm.

“Yes, we did it!” Natsuko yelled, tackling him from behind with a hug.

“Yeah, we did,” he said after he regained his balance, managing a smile. He had a little too much adrenaline in his system for the current hour, and though he knew sleep was buzzing at the edges, he still felt a thrill of accomplishment at the fact that the team had managed to work as a unit and pull off the plan, even if it was the second iteration. How far would they be able to go once they started tapping into the full well of their skills, only time would tell, but Kazuhiko was looking forward to seeing it.

“Ooo, is this the kunai?” Natsuko asked, bending down to peer at the blade in his hands.

“Yeah,” he said, handing it to her. As soon as he let go of the handle, though, he fell silent, his eyes fixed on the blade’s handle.

“Is that?”

“Yeah.”

Engraved on the blade’s handle was the symbol of a flower—one that was familiar enough that it brought back memories of the windswept landscape of Kazegakure and a strange man in white.






To say that he was proud of his kids was an understatement. They'd shown good team work and a great deal of trust between them. Minoru doubted that there were many willing to let their teammates throw them into the face of danger. Minoru and Koharu were a little slow in getting from the trees. He'd congratulated Kazuhiko by ruffling his hair before stepping aside so Koharu could congratulate him as well. Her small arms locked around him in a hesitant hug before she quickly pulled away to check him over for injuries before doing the same to Natsuko.

When all was said and done, he'd pulled them into a group hug, his long arms wrapping around all three of them. He grinned widely down at them, forgetting the kunai temporarily. He promised them that they'd look into it back in the village, but for now they were going to celebrate their success. They deserved this. There weren't going to be as many successful, happy missions in their future.

@Typical
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Natsuko Rinha

Afternoon || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Training Grounds

With a shout, Natsuko landed another kick on the tree she was training against, which shook on impact, leaves rattling. She paused a short distance away, panting but maintaining her form with a kunai in one hand. ‘Train,’ Minoru had said. ‘You have to have good form to attempt further learning.’ So, as he’d bid, here she was, grinding away against the most challenging opponent she could find on a regular basis. Telling herself that Kazuhiko and Koharu probably did just this back in the day was only half-encouraging, petering off into ‘not’ each time the ache of muscle exhaustion tried to settle in. Was landing kicks and punches on this tree really going to help her become better? It wasn’t moving or fighting back, which apparently made it the ideal practice partner for both form and bruises.

Slashing out with her kunai, she cleared another line or two of bark before jumping up and kicking off the tree, making sure to maintain her form as she landed, panting. Bruises and aches and pain be damned. If this was going to help her catch up to her teammates, Natsuko was going to do it. She could stand being called the weak link compared to the two heirs she had for teammates, but not weaker than her genin peers. No, compared to the other genin, Natsuko was average or above on the field, period.

Kazuhiko Taketori

Morning || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Taketori Compound

“Otou-sama, Oji-sama,” Kazuhiko said, bowing.

“Kazuhiko, I heard you’re looking for a sensaigan tutor?” Kazuhiko’s uncle, Norima, asked as Kazuhiko straightened. Though Norima’s gaze held no malice, his tone and choice of words betrayed his faint resignation, which had stuck around ever since Kazuhiko proved himself a far better choice as heir than any of Norima own children. They’d proved to be weak competition, with Kazuhiko awakening his sensaigan far earlier his older cousins, and it’d been obvious who the true choice was once Kazuhiko enrolled as a genin.

This was all according to Kazuma, who stood beside his brother with folded arms, his face solemn and his gaze communicating his pride in his son. “Yes, Kazuhiko’s sensei made the recommendation since Kazuhiko has already mastered most of the basics.”

“Hm,” Norima said, rubbing his beard. Then, with a sigh, he nodded. “Good, good. One of the biggest criticisms I hear is that I’m not the strongest in the clan. Now, even though I would argue that strength isn’t related to leadership, I’m glad that you might not have that problem, Kazuhiko. Come, let’s talk to our clan’s strongest,” he said with a wry smile. “Hopefully he agrees to take you under his wing. He’s been getting more finicky in his old age, and, well, your father must have told you the rest.”

It was a short trek from the main hall to the dojo, and even from meters away, the sound of shouts and thwacks inside could be heard. When the trio entered, the source of the sound revealed itself: A group of civilians were practicing rudimentary taijutsu on wood dummies, shouting as they executed their kicks and punches.

“Hidemi!” Norima called.

The dojo master’s name faded into the roomy training hall, the combination of space and the sound of training quickly smothering it.

“Hidemi!” Norima repeated.

“Huh?” Slowly, the man laying on the bench beside the door sat up, scratching his head with a yawn. His clothes were wrinkled and faded, and more than a few day’s worth of stubble shone on his chin as he looked between the trio at the dojo door impassively. “Oh, Norima. What’dya want?”

“Hidemi, this is Kazuhiko. He’s looking for a sensaigan tutor,” Norima said, gesturing towards Kazuhiko.

“Please take care of me,” Kazuhiko said, bowing.

“Kazuhiko, huh,” Hidemi said, fixing Kazuhiko with an intense gaze that instantly melted into disinterest. “Well, don’t see why you’re telling me. You know I don’t train sensaigan anymore.”

“He’s the future clan heir, and he’s considered a genius in the village. Surely he’d pass live up to your standards?” Norima said. At his side, Kazuma’s blank face had just a trace of a frown, which fully encapsulated his displeasure in the situation. Kazuhiko lowered his eyes again, maintaining his bow.

“Nah,” Hidemi said with a wave of a hand. “Ask Genzo or Atomu.”

“Hidemi, I’m not asking,” Norima said with a frown.

“Yeah, yeah,” Hidemi said, yawning as he stretched his arms above his head.

“Hidemi-san, please give me a chance to prove myself to you,” Kazuhiko said, straightening to meet the man’s eyes.

Hidemi paused, retracting his arms with a wisp of a grin on his lips. “Oh? How ‘ya planning to do that?”

“I’ll fight—”

“Hah!” Hidemi slapped a knee, laughing. “That’s funny, boy, but save it.”

With that, he laid back down on the bench, his arms crossed behind his head and one leg propped on the other. Norima sighed, shaking his head.

“Let’s go find Atomu,” he said.

Natsuko Rinha

Noon || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Main Streets

Natsuko pressed her forehead against the glass, looking at the mochi displays behind the glass longingly. Since her family had a cook who stopped by three times a day, Natsuko barely got any pocket money. According to her parents, this was fair; according to her, this was definitely not. Her monthly allowance was barely enough to cover three mochi days, and that was being generous. So she tended to go a bit overboard when ordering, but that was no excuse. That Kazuhiko had been willing to purchase her mochi not once but twice this month as a means to get her off his case meant that his pocket money was easily more than Natsuko’s. Now, the Taketori were a larger clan than the Rinha, but the Rinha pulled their weight and more economically. Something about having a widely-applicable kekkai genkai and being heavy on investments. Natsuko knew this much from basic clan heritage training, or whatever being forced to attend a few clan discussions was called. In her opinion, she deserved a little grease on her palm for patiently sitting through them, but apparently her parents disagreed.

“Natsuko?”

Turning around, Natsuko broke a grin as she recognized Mariko. “Mariko-chan! Hey! What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to pick up some mochi for my younger brother. You?” Mariko asked, walking towards the shop entrance. “Did you run out of money again?”

“Hehe, what gave it away?” Natsuko asked, following after Mariko. “Say, Mari-chan, you wouldn’t happen to be in a generous mood, would you?”

Mariko turned around to give Natsuko the full view of her smile, which said nothing of the exasperation Natsuko was expecting and was therefore almost scarier. “Always, Natsuko. Come on, I’ll treat.”

“O-okay,”Natsuko said, a little surprised. Still, she quickly followed the Hyuga heiress into the shop, where her attention was quickly absorbed by the large menu with stylized font at one side of the main counter. Sakura, matcha, redbean—the choices varied by season, and Natsuko had yet to find a flavor she disliked.

“A box of strawberry red bean mochi, please, and—Natsuko, did you decide what you wanted?” Mariko asked.

“Y-yeah, can I get, um, a plate of sakura mochi and,” she said, glancing at Mariko, whose smile grew a teensy bit thinner but otherwise remained, “a plate of green bean ones?”

“One plate of sakura mochi and one of green bean mochi, please,” Mariko said, turning back to the clerk at the counter, who nodded, thanking her for her order before retreating into the back.

“Thank you, Mariko-chan!” Natsuko said, tackling Mariko with a hug that seemed to surprise the heiress for a second before she relaxed in Natsuko’s arms.

“No need to thank me, Natsuko-chan. Someone has to look after you while your teammates are busy,” she said, smile softening. Directing Natsuko to a seat at a table, she gestured for Natsuko to take a seat, only sitting after Natsuko did. “How have you been? I heard you’ve been spending some time at the training grounds.”

“Some? More like a ton. I’ve practically been living there, thanks to Minoru-sensei. He says it’s helping, but I can’t tell,” Natsuko said, huffing.

“I’m sure it is,” Mariko said, her smile saying nothing.

The clerk returned with two plates of mochi and a bag for Mariko, thanking the pair again before disappearing into the back. As soon as the clerk left, Natsuko zeroed in on the two plates of mochi before her, mouth watering. When was the last time she’d had mochi? She tended to want mochi right after a hard training session, and with Minoru pushing her to continue training, she’d had many such sessions, so her three mochi drops tended to happen right after she got her allowance. In such cases, Mariko and her teammates were like angels, offering to treat her or being forcefully roped into it. She should stop, she supposed, but she’d do so after she finished training. For now, she thought as she stuffed her first piece of soft, decadent sakura-flavored mochi into her mouth, she’d make the most of every chance she got.

“How are your teammates, Natsuko-chan?” Mariko asked, smile hooked slightly with amusement.

“Gooth.” She swallowed, clearing her throat sheepishly. “Good. They’re training a lot too, and with tutors. They’re working on their kekkai genkai, I think.”

“Hm,” Mariko hummed, eyes glinting. “Kazuhiko-kun’s working with a clan tutor then?”

“I think so. Some dude named A-something? Don’t remember,” Natsuko said, stuffing another piece of mochi into her mouth. Swallowing, she looked at Mariko inquisitively. “Mariko-chan, are you working on your byakugan?”

“That’s a secret,” Mariko said, giggling as Natsuko narrowed her eyes.

“Hmph. Well, at least you have good taste in mochi,” Natsuko said, then pushed a plate forwards. “Have some. I’m not going to not share with the person who bought me mochi.”

“Oh, no, I couldn’t,” Mariko said.

“I insist,” Natsuko said, mimicking Mariko’s airy tone.

The Hyuga heiress shot her a sharp look, then sighed. “Truth be told, I don’t like mochi.”

Natsuko’s mouth dropped open, half-chewed mochi and all. A flash of muted disgust from Mariko prompted her to quickly swallow, but there was a more pressing issue at hand.

“You don’t like mochi?” she demanded. “Why?”

“Well, I don’t love sweets, I suppose,” Mariko said, adjusting the bag on the table beside her.

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of. Here,” Natsuko said, picking up a piece of mochi, “open.”

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly—”

Open.

“W-well, look at the time, I really must be going. It was nice talking to you, Natsuko. Hopefully we see each other again soon, and— eep—”

“Mariko! Mariko, you get back here right— damn it. Well, at least I have mochi.”



Kazuhiko Taketori

Afternoon || Land of Fire: Konohagakure — Taketori Compound

While Kazuhiko had hoped that Hidemi would be his tutor, he couldn’t be disappointed by Atomu, who was one of the foremost sensaigan tutors of the clan. After retiring from the Anbu—something that you could only say after the fact—he’d led a few classes in the academy before settling down in the clan dojo as a tutor. His many years of experience were clear from the way he practiced with Kazuhiko, though Kazuhiko often had to wonder whether Atomu was this picky with others. Even if he wasn’t, Kazuhiko didn’t mind; as heir, it was his job to set the standard and be the example, and he appreciated that Atomu wasn’t cutting him any slack.

“Focus! Picking out the main nerve branch is key, and you need to be able to do that in an instant. Layouts are different for different people, but they usually don’t differ that much,” Atomu said from where he couched, a kunai in one hand. “Try again. Be more precise.”

Circling him, Kazuhiko activated his sensaigan, Atomu’s web of nerves blinking into existence, the minor currents and ebbs glowing against the rest of the world, which was dark and rather mundane compared to the brightness of the pathways his dojutsu highlighted.

Atomu rushed at him, and Kazuhiko met him halfway, their kunais clashing as Kazuhiko stabbed his hand towards the thickest glow on Atomu’s free arm, which happened to be near Atomu’s shoulder. Though Atomu disengaged, hopping out of the way before Kazuhiko could reach him, he straightened as soon as he was out of range, nodding. “Good job. Let’s take a break.”

Kazuhiko relaxed, his sensaigan blinking out of existence as he registered just how tired he was, how the thin film of sweat on his skin had started sticking his clothes to him. While training, he’d barely noticed how much chakra he’d used, focusing only on getting used to the landscape his sensaigan afforded to him. Calling the dojutsu forwards required active effort on his part, as did maintaining it, but all of this was part of the training exercise. Atomu always had him working on multiple things at once, and Kazuhiko frequently found himself impressed at the exercises the past Anbu devised.

“You’re nearly there with navigating sensaigan sight, and you’ve started developing the instinct for nerve system layouts. Try checking out some medical nin materials for anatomy—it might help, it might not. Depends on how you learn, but I have a feeling it’d help you,” Atomu said, tossing a water bottle at Kazuhiko. “Genius for sure, Hidemi’s missing out.”

Kazuhiko nodded, taking a swig of water. The cold of the water helped the last of his panting subside, and he exhaled, looking to Atomu. “Why didn’t Hidemi want to teach me?”

Atomu paused mid-swig, lowering his water bottle to reveal a wry grin. “Hidemi’s a weird one. Believe it or not, it’s because he thinks teaching you will be boring,” he said, chuckling at Kazuhiko’s incredulous look. “Yeah, Hidemi’s probably bored out of his mind not teaching anyone, but that’s how he is. He’d rather stay lazy and bored than commit to boredom, or something like that.”

“He taught you, right? Back in the day?” Kazuhiko asked.

Atomu laughed. “Yeah, yeah he did. He was slightly more willing to take on students back then, but not really. He’s hard to convince because he won’t be straight with you unless he accepts you, and getting him to accept you is the hard part. For me back then, well, I was a terrible student when I was younger. Skipped class all the time, wanted to chase bugs and tease girls instead of going to class. Now, he took one look at me and said I’d never make it anywhere. That was disheartening, yeah, and I was so depressed I actually started going to class again. Didn’t have to motivation to go play. Now, he saw that and told me that was kinda surprising, but I’d need to do more. I didn’t understand at the time, but after some time mulling it over, it clicked: he wanted me to prove that I could be surprising. See, that’s the thing about Hidemi—he thinks predictable people are boring. It took me scoring first in my class multiple times to prove to him that maybe I had potential. So if you want to catch his attention, well, you need to do something surprising. Unpredictable. Something he’d never think you’d do. And you need to do it well—really well—and do it multiple times.”

Kazuhiko stared at him blankly, which prompted another laugh from Atomu.

“Now, I’ve no idea what Atomu wants from anyone, so that’s up to you to figure out. That’s how it works—you figure it out, and you prove to him that you’re not as predictable as you seem,” he said.

“Hidemi wants me to fail my missions?” Kazuhiko asked, bewildered.

“Well, no. In my case, I was a bad student, and I became good. That was self-improvement. Hidemi values accomplishment, if you’ll believe it, and you’re pretty much as accomplished as you can be at your age, which is why everyone’s confused why he didn’t take you on as a student.” Atomu shrugged. “I’ve no idea what he wants from you. Something surprising, but what, become our youngest jonin? Pass the chunin exams alone? No idea.”

Kazuhiko was silent as he processed this, staring down at the water bottle in his hands. Self-improvement? Chasing that was why he’d approached Hidemi in the first place. What more did the dojo master want from him, though?

“Right, let’s go one more round before dinner,” Atomu said, standing and looking Kazuhiko over. “I reckon you got enough for another few tries.”

“Yeah,” Kazuhiko said, standing as well. Self-improvement—he’d figure it out. Later, but he’d figure it out.



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Minoru

Morning // Land of Fire - Konohagakure




The past year had been one of the best years of his life. His team had grown in skill, reaching, and sometimes exceeding, his expectations. Although it was the past six months in particular that were his favorite. His family had grown as well. His wife had welcomed their daughter near the end of winter, and they'd named her Kazuha, in honor of Kazuhiko. She'd inherited Minoru's dark hair but her mother's pale violet eyes and to her father, she was perfect. Having his team, his eldest children, around her was amazing. He'd never expected that Koharu would have taken to caring for a young child but he'd remembered the way she'd been with Hachiro the year before. It was never hard to leave the baby with the genin if they needed to.

Kazuha played favorites though, and while he knew that she loved all of the genin, it seemed that she loved Kazuhiko just a little bit more. If her staring was any indication. He was home, currently, doting on his daughter while his wife was out running a few errands. The genin would be over in a few hours for a team meeting, more of a progress report now that they were finding tutors to help them where he could not. It wasn't unusual for their meetings to be at his house. He and Azumi wanted them to know that this was their second home and they were always welcomed. It was a little more lively with a house full of kids and he'd often joked with his wife about wanting more.
The birth had been easy, despite the screaming. He remembered that she'd gone into labor while he was training the kids and so he'd toted them to the hospital with him. Minoru would never forget the looks on their faces when he'd finally emerged from the room once Kazuha was born. He was pretty sure that Koharu was trying to kill him with the power of her glare but the moment that she'd been allowed into the room to see Azumi and Kazuha, she'd cried. Minoru had cradled the small girl to him, letting her get snot and tear stains all over his shirt.

Right now his daughter was swaddled and placed on a blanket in their living room as she soaked in the sun's rays as they filtered through the large window. He smiled, still awestruck that he'd been allowed the opportunity to be a father. Of course he loved his genin, they were his first kids, but knowing that Kazuha was his daughter was something else entirely. He was a blessed man to have such a large family. Perhaps in a few years when his genin no longer needed him he could retire and take a simpler job at the academy. Minoru was well aware that his life wouldn't be very long due to his status as a shinobi, and he'd thought about it often, but he didn't think he could fully give it up. He wanted to see Kazuha grow up in a safe village. He wanted to see his genin grow up and one day have children of their own.
Kazuha awoke with a loud cry, fussing for milk like every three month old baby did. He chuckled and grabbed her bottle before gently picking her up and cradling her in his arms. She was so small compared to him and he was still a little afraid that he'd drop her, or break her. His hands had taken many lives over the years; they were soiled and bloody but gentle when it came to his wife and daughter.

It'd only been six or seven months since they'd gone to Mumi village and helped the giant bear summon return home. He'd wondered if the genin would ever have summons of their own. They certainly had the potential to. He looked down at the feeding baby in his arms and smiled softly. Kazuha would grow up knowing some pretty incredible people and he was grateful that they would be in her life.



Koharu

Morning // Land of Fire - Konohagakure




In the past six months Koharu had grown with her ice, and was now able to use it a little bit more in combat and was beginning to train with an ice sword. Her father had ensured that she was learning the proper techniques although they were really just going through the kata with a sword made of cold, but still fairly brittle ice, rather than her regular one. She remembered the moment that she'd first made her successful ice sword. Her father had been proud of her, even if he didn't outwardly show it. It couldn't be used in combat yet, but she'd get there one day.

At the moment she was enjoying breakfast with her father. The stern man was dressed in a loosely fitting robe although his massive biceps still threatened to rip the fine fabric. It was a quiet affair, as it usually was, but he was beginning to ask her more questions about her teammates. It wasn't that he hadn't before but he was now feeling comfortable in knowing that they would protect her. Osamu had made the decision to take Koharu from his sister following the death of her husband and subsequent mental breakdown. He'd needed a legitimate heir and his niece needed a parent who would care for her. It had been a win-win for both of them. Osamu loved her as his own, treating her the same as he'd treated his own sons.

He'd been surprised to learn that his daughter had given her promises to both of her teammates that they would always find an ally within her and her clan. It was childish, yes, to believe that they'd even accept them as allies or that she could make such final decisions right now, but he knew that it was not something that she took lightly. He raised her to be serious about her duties as his heir. Their clan was important to them and using it was a cheap gimmick went against their beliefs.
Koharu had told him about the strength in Kazuhiko, about the liveliness in Natsuko, and the way that her sensei pushed them to get better. She'd also told him that she desired to grow stronger as a person in order to help them. It was a good quality, and one that had to grow rather than be forced into somebody.

"Koharu…"

The sound of his voice caught her attention and she looked up at him curiously. "Yes, Otou-san?" She set aside her chopsticks and gave her father her full attention.

"If you are serious about being an ally in the future for your teammates, then you must also become a strong leader. Our clan needs a strong leader who will protect not only themselves but their allies as well." Osamu had no objections to an alliance with either clan, although he knew that the girl on Koharu's team, Natsuko, he believed, wasn't an heir and thus an alliance with her clan would be a longer process than one with Kazuhiko's family. "Now let us clean up and train." They had a small clan so servants were few and far between. It had been hard to adopt that type of lifestyle after having gone from a prestigious position within Yukigakure, but they'd adapted well.
He looked at the small girl as she readied herself in the small courtyard of their home. She was smaller than his son's had been when they were her age. It was surreal, even three year later, to know that one of his son's was dead and the other was missing. Nori, his youngest, had been killed on a mission and within a month his eldest had been declared missing after he didn't report back to his superior.

Koharu noticed the sad look on his face and she frowned. The girl knew more than she let on. He was thinking of his son's again. He always got that pained look when he thought about them. The girl knew that she'd been a convenient choice after it was decided that due to their illegitimate status, Nobuyuki and Nori weren't allowed to become the heirs so he'd taken her from her mother and named her as his heir. Koharu didn't know that her mother had ceased taking care of her and that his choice to take her away wasn't born solely out of needing someone to carry on their clan's legacy.
But she missed her brothers too. They were older than her by a great deal but they'd never been mean to her. Nobuyuki used to let her ride on his shoulders when they walked around the village and Nori used to take her to the river so he could show her how he walked on water. She remembered that the last thing that Nobuyuki had told her before he'd left for his final mission was that he loved her and would always look out for her.

The memories made her throat tight and tears pricked the corner of her eyes. A large hand planted itself on top of her head, smoothing over pale hair before she was gently pulled into her father's side. They were not an affectionate family, so these little moments were precious. He didn't need to ask what she was thinking about. "We will be training your ice today. Try to capture my feet."

Training with Osamu was always a difficult task. He didn't go easy on his daughter, citing that an enemy wouldn't show leeway just because she was a child. That wasn't to say that he smeared her into the ground, quite the opposite actually. It forced her to use all of her skills to her fullest potential if she wanted to land a hit on him. She'd touched his feet with her ice before he jumped out of range and Koharu couldn't have been happier. She was improving.




Minoru

Afternoon // Land of Fire - Konohagakure


Minoru and his wife walked down a slightly bust side street close to the market. Kazuha was clutched in her mother's arms and was sleeping peacefully despite the noise of everyone bustling around. Around Minoru's forearm were a few burlap shopping bags weighed down with supplies that they needed. In one bag was food for their dinner, in another it was diapers for their daughter and in the last were a few articles of clothing.

"Honey...look at that." Azumi pointed to a few things that lay in a shop window that they were passing. "The kids might enjoy a gift." They were working hard towards their goals and she was just as proud of them as her husband was.

"Let's go check out that shop." It was a ninja tool shop and he knew that two out of his three genin would appreciate a gift from there. Natsuko would probably enjoy something different. They could find something easily for her. Kazuhiko and Koharu were just a little bit harder to buy for because they were practical people who valued functionality over aesthetics. "They're one and a half years away from taking the Chunin Exams but no harm in getting them a few early gifts."

"You like to spoil them." Azumi did too.

Together they walked into the shop and looked around,although her interest was much more superficial than his. She was a civilian so needing to learn the fine points of what constituted a good kunai was far beyond her. Her husband explained a few details as he found some items for his genin. There was a new set of kunai for Kazuhiko along with a matching pouch. Azumi had the idea to embroider his clan symbol on the front. For Koharu they'd found a small stand for her swords. It was small and made of plain wood but Minoru commented on fixing it up with some paint for her. They left with their new purchases tucked into another bag.

"We can always just get her a voucher for a year's worth of mochi." The glare his wife gave him made Minoru shrink back a little bit. "What? She loves mochi!"

"I know but she needs something more than mochi."

In the end they'd caved and gotten her two things: a small bracelet made of pale pink and white beads and the gift certificate for mochi. They also got one more gift for the other two venom so it was fair. Natsuko was Minoru's favorite and sometimes Azumi had to remind him that Kazuhiko and Koharu were just as important.

@Typical
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