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Burning Hatred, Blossoming Love

Chapter Text

Prologue - Trapped in the Darkness


 

I can't tell whether this book should be a T or an M rated fanfic or not, only time will tell.

It's been such a long time since I've posted anything to this site, I hope you all enjoy my first full Naruto story! :D

Enjoy!


It was a cold, dark night in the hard, suffocating containment cell she had grown accustomed to. Sitting in the shadowed laboratory, against the glass wall of her unbreakable prison a lone woman had her head hung low. She was still, not moving an inch from her hunched position on top of her battered bedspread. The only indication she gave to being alive was the shaking sob that left her at irregular intervals, if not for that, many would have believed her to be dead.

She might as well have been, empty brown eyes stared down at her roughly scarred thighs with fire-like spiked hair shielding those emotionless, tired irises from view. Tears staining her cheeks and the pale blue gown she adorned, her collar in this disgusting excuse for a dog's kennel. She was a mess, lifeless, thoroughly depressed and void of any and all hope in ever escaping this dreadful, empty existence.

She wasn't always like this, hell she had been happy, so many years ago. Back when she was just a child, when everything was different and she knew not the darkness that surrounded her now.


 

Chapter Text

Chapter 1 - From Minor to Mature


 

Peace and serenity filled the hot, sand coated village of Sunagakure. Children were playing out in the blistering sun, giggling and enjoying their free time, while the shinobi of the village stayed on alert for any dangers from enemy nations. The top five nations of the world were preparing for war, and it was just a matter of time before tensions snapped and all hell would break loose.

Despite these facts, two of these ninja were having a better day than anyone else. A man and woman were in a special medical unit at the centre of the village. A man with short, spiked fire-like hair stood with his hands on his wife's shoulders, looking down at her with concerned, excited ocean blue eyes as he encouraged her through the pain of birth.

The woman, features warped with pain, sat with her fingers digging into the material she lay upon as her dark brown hair clung to her features and she cried out in agony. "C'mon Ayame...You're almost there!" Her husband urged with a nervous smile, looking down at the medical shinobi hidden behind a large sheet.

"The baby's almost here, just one more push!" The professional said her and the woman let out a broken sob before tensing up completely, letting out a hard wail as she put her all into this final act of force.

When the noise of a baby crying filled the small room with only three, now four, people inside, Ayame sagged down and gasped lungfuls of air with a hard, heavy chest as she recovered from the stress of birth. The man at her side watched with awe as the baby was cleaned and wrapped. "Congratulations..." The shinobi said, smiling as he handed the baby over to the man. "It's a baby girl, Hiroshi-san."

"A girl..." Hiroshi breathed, holding the small infant carefully as she wailed, her little firey flicks of hair sticking to her head, not yet grown, but still noticeable. "Ayame, it's a girl! She's got my hair!"

Ayame laughed softly at the excitement her husband showed as he grinned down at her, something that made her heart flutter every time she saw it. "A girl..." She repeated in her own soft tone, surprised when Hiroshi crouched down and handed the baby to her. "Hiro-kun?!"

"A mother, who had taken care of the baby for so long already, should be the one to hold her when she is named..." Hiroshi spoke almost poetically as he waited until she had a good support on the child's head before letting go and straightening his back. Ayame was stunned at the sight of the gorgeous little girl in her arms, with her chubby cheeks and little orange strands on her small scalp.

"She's beautiful..." The newly made mother choked, smiling with a quiver to her lips as her tears fell. The man, exciteable as he was, had the brightest eyes any father could have had at that moment. "Oh Hiro-kun, she's just beautiful!"

"She takes after her mother." Hiroshi said, touching the baby's nose gently, earning a small sneeze which caused both their lips to stretch into wide smiles. "Do you want to name her, love?"

Ayame hesitated, looking up at her husband who laughed off her concern, waving his hand dismissively. "Go ahead, I'm just happy she's here! Besides..." His smile softened into a look of affection as he met his wife's chocolate brown eyes. "I want you to name her."

She could have cried right there and then, just as their little girl was, and her lip quivered more noticeably. Looking down at the small baby in her arms, she recalled the name she had always wanted for a girl born with Hiroshi's red hair. "Kaede..."

"Kaede, hm?" Hiroshi stroked his chin and grinned when he realized what it meant. "Her hair is the colour of maple leaves in the middle of autumn! I love it, our little Kaede..."

"Mmhm." Ayame hummed, her exhaustion beginning to set it. "She'll grow up to always be happy, and to love those who love her in return..." Hiroshi gently took the baby and kissed his wife's cheek as she closed her eyes to rest.

"And we'll always be there to protect her..." Hiroshi continued, watching as little Kaede opened her eyes and brown met blue. His heart warmed at the sight almost bringing tears to his own. "To love, cherish and believe in her no matter what happens..."

So on that day, Mari Kaede was born.

~BHBL~

"Kaede!"

A young girl, about four in age with fire coloured hair tied back in a messy ponytail turned quickly from her mother, holding a little bag of pegs, to see her two best friends waving at her from the distance.

One was a serious looking boy with dark orange eyes and dirty blonde hair, smirking beside a timid little girl with lilac hair and deep blue eyes. "Ah Shinako, Takeshi!" the little girl known as Kaede exclaimed, her chocolate brown eyes alight with joy.

"Mama, can I go play with them?!" Kaede asked, bouncing excitedly as her mother felt her lips curl at the way her daughter acted so much like her father. Who coincidentally, was leaning his head out of the kitchen window with a smile.

"Of course Kaede-chan, just don't-"

The little girl exclaimed in cheer as her mother stopped mid sentence and watched with surprise as she dropped the pegs and ran out to see her friends. With an awkward laugh, Ayame bent down to collect the pegs, shaking her head slowly at the girl's unwavering energy. "Just like her father..." She spoke softly, watching the girl chase her friends, smacking them on the back a little roughly before running away herself.

"But she has your temper~" Hiroshi teased, a wet slap echoing as a tea towel made contact with his face, hanging over his features.

~BHBL~

Kaede hummed softly with a pencil to her lips as she kicked her legs playfully and listened to her sensei. She had been in the academy for over a month and she was so excited to finally learn about shinobi and their duties.

"Now, can anyone tell me what a female ninja is called?" Their sensei asked, and Kaede shouted out before anyone could raise their hand, causing irritation to those who were not her friends.

"A Kunoichi!"

"That's correct, Kaede-chan!" He said with a smile, only to turn strict and glare at her. "But do remember to raise your hand next time..."

"Eh heh, heh..." Kaede chuckled nervously, rubbing the back of her head as the others laughed at her. Her friends nudging her and giving her little teases, which she responded to with a bright, outgoing grin.

Throughout the day the girl showed no shyness or sorrow. Even when she was bullied, she just threw her spoon at the boy and stuck her tongue out as he ran away crying. She was a boistrous, wild little girl who didn't let anyone get her down.

This could both nourish and sabotage her school life, as she was often scolded for speaking rudely, yelling at bullies and even hurting them. But she would defend herself by saying that she was practicing being a kunoichi, they help their comrades and stop bad people from hurting others.

Of course none of the adults could find a good answer for that, other than 'don't do it again.' In the end she'd just grin and promise she wouldn't, before going off to play and learn once again.

A ball of fire, a burst of energy and a kunoichi in the making.

~BHBL~

"Alright, today we're learning about Ninjutsu!"

The entire class that Kaede had become accustomed to after being here for almost four years stood outside in the gardens by a log with a funny drawn on face. Their sensei was leaning against the log holding a clipboard with all their names on it. "When I call your name, I want you to step forward and try out a ninjutsu from your clan...Don't worry if you can't, this is just a practice test!"

All the children began to brag about their different ninjutsu skills and how they were already at Kazekage level, while Kaede stood there. Her hair cut short and spiky with plasters and dark marks all over her hands and chin as she waited for her name to be called.

"Shinako-chan." Their teacher called out, pushing away from the log and stepping back a fair distance to avoid harm.

However, Kaede's friend, Shinako, the girl with lilac hair and blue eyes, hesitated with a nervous frown on her lips. "U-uhm...I-I don't know any N-Ninjutsu..."

"Eehhhhhhh?!" All the children in their class, except Kaede and Takeshi chorused. This made Shinako's little face burn a bright red. "How do you not know any ninjutsu!" A boy said with a sneer, making tears fill her eyes. "You're weird!"

"Hey, Kai! None of that!" Their sensei scolded, glaring at the boy as he shut up. Sighing, the qualified mentor crouched down by the crying little girl and wiped her eyes. "Don't cry Shinako-chan, I'm sure you'll learn some powerful Ninjutsu soon...I'll be sure to teach you Suiton later, I promise."

"R-really?" She choked on her sobs and the teacher nodded, pleased to see a little relieved smile form on her lips. "Thank you S-Sensei!"

Standing, the man then returned to the clip board, putting a cross by Shinako's name. "Alright Kai, since you were so rude to Shinako-chan earlier, you can go next!"

Kai made a noise of disbelief, before blushing and making out like he had all the skills he needed. However when he tried, he ended up farting instead and burst into tears when everyone laughed.

Even Takeshi was in stitches at the fool Kai had made out of himself, while Kaede leaned against his shoulder and wiped a tear from her eye.

"Moving on!" Sensei interrupted, trying to regain order as the laughter began to die down, putting a cross by Kai's name before continuing. "Kaede, how about you? I know the Mari clan are very skilled with Ninjutsu!"

"You bet!" Kaede said with a grin, pointing her thumb at herself, making everyone aware at her roughed up appearance. Some of them questioned the plasters strewn across her features. "My papa's been teaching me Ninjutsu for a year!"

"Oh well then, we really want to see your skills now!" He told her, smiling as she stepped forward and got into a fighting stance. Slowly she muttered to herself as she tried to remember the seals, making the bullies snicker at her stupidity.

Then she let out a noise of realisation and moved her hands at a much quicker pace, forming the seals she needed. "Katon: Gokakyu no Jutsu!" She called, inhaling a large amount of air infused with her chakra before exhaling a decently sized fireball.

Everyone watched in awe as it enveloped the tree and dispersed a moment later leaving nothing but scorched remains behind. Even their Sensei's glasses fell down his nose in shock.

Suddenly every child in the class let out noises of excitement and amazement before swarming around Kaede and asking her how she pulled it off. The little girl placed her hands on her hips and grinned with her chest pushed forward in pride.

Their sensei's shock wore off and he straightened his glasses, smiling down at her as she told them about her father training her and what she went through.

Maybe she would make an excellent Kunoichi after all.

~BHBL~

Standing in front of their mentor that had taught them for many years, each and every student of his class stepped forward one by one to collect their rewards. Kaede stood before him with her trademark grin as her tearful sensei picked up a stip of fabric embellished with metal and handed it to her.

"You did well, Kaede, I hope all of you do well in the future and become fine ninja..." He said, as the girl lifted the band and tied it around her forehead. The forehead protector she adorned with the symbol of Suna on it was her first step in becoming a strong kunoichi.

Now, she was a Genin.

...

Of course when she, Shinako and Takeshi ended up working together with their new sensei Nakada Daisuke, a Jounin put in charge of teaching them the way of the ninja, they did not expect a final exam, in which the four of them would spend the night out in the desert with only the clothes on their backs and nothing more.

Kaede ended up struggling the most out of all of them, unable to find anything suitable to drink while not having the option to ask her sensei for help. However Shinako came to the rescue when she used Suiton: Daibakufu no Jutsu to shoot a massive jet of water at the girl.

Of course Shinako panicked and ran over as Takeshi and Daisuke became aware of the situation and joined them, helping fish Kaede out of the wet sand. Instead of getting angry however, like Shinako expected her to, Kaede began to laugh and shoved Shinako with a playful rage. The poor girl was covered in wet sand and couldn't even open her eyes, but the sheer amusement of the accidental force behind the Ninjutsu alone made her tummy tickle.

Shinako apologized over and over as she helped Kaede regain her sight while Takeshi scolded Shinako for her inexperienced use of the obviously unmastered A-Rank technique.

It was then that Daisuke realized with a smile, that these three were born to work in a team and would make fine Genin.

~BHBL~

After being with her team for a short while, they had completed quite a few D-Rank missions, even a few C-Ranked missions on top. The three of them were developing quickly, with Takeshi as the intelligent, Taijutsu fighter, Shinako as the shy, but forceful Genjutsu user and Kaede as the wild, unreliable Ninjutsu expert.

They were in the middle of a C-Rank mission to collect water for an orphanage inside of the village. Kaede was coated with sand as she climbed dune after dune with Takeshi and Shinako while Daisuke watched from the distance, only to intervene if there was trouble.

Though they all had their own skills and methods of learning, Kaede was struggling with these missions more than the other two, though she was strong when it came to Ninjutsu, she couldn't fight in hand-to-hand combat at all and she was only just starting to learn some Genjutsu from Shinako. On top of that, she was irrational and tended to jump into things without thinking them through first.

He knew it'd take them some time before they would be ready for anything other than D or C ranked missions, and though the three of them were an excellent team together, Kaede's lack of talent in any other area aside Ninjutsu was holding them back.

His expression softened when he heard Kaede yelling down at him from a tall mountain of sand.

"Daisuke-sensei! We found an oasis!"

At least she had keen eyes.

~BHBL~

"What d'you mean 'we can't enter the Chuunin Exams?!"

"It means exactly what I said, Kaede, you and your teammates will not be entering the exams..."

Kaede stood before her sensei, nearly thirteen years of age, with a frustrated, begging expression on her face and her two teammates behind her. One of them disappointed while the other was saddened by the development. "We're ready Daisuke-sensei! Aren't we guys?!"

Shinoko nodded with a shy hum, but Takeshi huffed, his arms crossed as he turned his head away. "No we're not, Kaede..." He said, meeting her gaze with cold orange eyes. "Me and Shinako might be, but you're not!"

Kaede froze and her eyes widened in pure shock. "Wh-what d'you mean?!" She turned to him with an angry tone melting into her voice as her eyes sharpened. "I've been practicing my Ninjutsu for years! I should be ready-"

"It's not all about Ninjutsu, okay?!" Takeshi interrupted her with a glare of his own. "You lack the common sense of a shinobi! You can't do anything but shoot fireballs!"

His words hit her like a tonne of bricks and she listened with a shocked expression and nothing but silence on her end. Unable to think of a proper comeback to his harsh truths.

"You can't use Taijutsu and your Genjutsu has only gotten a little better since you started using it! Everytime we go out to collect water or food for others, you struggle to find even the slightest drop of hydration without help! How can you become a Chuunin with your skills?"

With a sharp tsk, Kaede grabbed Takeshi by the collar and dragged him up close, their noses almost touching with intimidating and sharp eyes locked in anger. "Who d'you think you're talking to?!" She snarled. "Is this the thanks I get for being there for you since we were four?"

"Get off me, Kaede. This has nothing to do with a 'thanks' and you know it!"

With a soft grind of her teeth, she shoved him away and walked off, crossing her arms with a hard curse thrown into the air. Daisuke sighed at the dark turn this debate had taken and turned to Takeshi. "That was a little too harsh, Takeshi..."

Takeshi stared off to the side, feeling only slightly guilty for his words. "I know she can be a good kunoichi if she worked on those areas..." He muttered, closing his eyes. "If no one told her straight, she'd have never figured it out."

"But Takeshi-kun..." Shinako started, trailing off before her soft expression hardened slightly and she ran after Kaede. Daisuke tried calling her back, but Takeshi told him to leave it.

"If anyone can get through to Kaede right now, it's Shinako." The boy said as Daisuke sighed and relaxed his posture, watching as Shinako caught up to Kaede and began to discuss what Takeshi really meant.

When he saw an argument start his concern began to rise. However, as time passed it slowly died down before Kaede hung her head low. He knew then that Takeshi had been right in leaving this to Shinako. Returning to them, Kaede hesitated before blushing slightly. "I'm sorry for overreacting, Takeshi..." She admitted, holding out her hand. "I should've known y'only meant well..."

Takeshi stared at her for a moment before he smirked and took her hand, giving it a hard squeeze. "Don't worry about it."

"I'll be sure to train up so we'll be ready for the Chuunin exams soon!"

"You'd better, I don't want to have to wait for you to catch up!"

Daisuke smiled at the sight of the two rivaling teammates, if they kept up the enthusiasm, her promise might just be fulfilled. They were a strong unit indeed.

~BHBL~

"Kaede!"

The door burst open to the medical unit as Ayame and Hiroshi rushed in with concern written all over their faces. On the furthest bed from the door lay her daughter with bandages covering various parts of her body and a tired, dehydrated look in her eyes. Running over, her mother dropped to her knees with tears in her eyes while Hiroshi stepping up behind her a moment later and placing his hand on her shoulder, looking just as worried.

"Oh thank God, I thought we were going to lose you!" Ayame choked, looking at the sixteen-year-old Genin. What unsettled Ayame the most was how emotionless Kaede's expression was. She was still so numb to it all.

"I...Lost, didn't I?" Kaede asked, having just regained consciousness less than ten minutes ago. She and her team had finally entered the Chuunin exams, now that they were a little more mature. They had even made it all the way up to the second test when the fiery redhead wandered away from her team in search of nourishment, only to go too far and lose them in the massive sandy abyss.

She had managed to last a while without water and food, but the blistering heat began to take its tole in the end. When she was just about spent and dehydrated, she was jumped by another team of Chuunin candidates from Amegakure.

After that, she didn't really remember anything.

"Yeah..." Hiroshi spoke honestly, looking just as sad about it as she was. She had waited so long for this, trained for so long, only to fail and wind up back at square one. He hadn't known anyone try as hard as her over the last four years, she would constantly be training, in Ninjutsu, Taijutsu and Genjutsu to the point of injury.

Yet she had fallen just as she was about to touch the sky.

"But there's always next time, there's another Chuunin Exam in six mo-" Hiroshi started, only for a knock on the door to interrupt him and a man wearing a white gown with a head full of dark red hair entered.

"Fourth-sama?!" Ayame gasped, standing and turning to the man as he entered and walked towards the bed. Kaede turned her head away from him in a silent form of acknowledgment. She knew why he was here.

"Ayame...Hiroshi..." The Kazekage started, looking from one parent to the other. "Please don't talk so enthusiastically about the next Chuunin exam..."

"Eh? How come?" Hiroshi asked.

"Kaede and I had an arrangement so that she could enter this exam. I knew it was too soon, but she was adamant...Therefore I struck a deal with her if she failed this exam, which she has...She may only enter the exam once every year..."

"What?!" The once proud father looked down at his daughter, who clenched her fists tightly, despite the pain flowing through them. Her teammates had arrived moments ago, now stood at the door, overhearing the conversation with wide, horrified eyes. "Kaede, why would you make such a rash deal!"

"I didn't want t'make my team wait anymore!" Kaede shouted, turning her head towards them too quickly, and hissed when pain shot up her neck. "It ain't fair that Takeshi and Shinako have t'wait for me to 'mature' before they can enter, they're ready and I thought I was too! Are you happy, Kazekage?! Y'got your stupid reward!"

"Kaede, don't speak to Fourth-sama like that!" Ayame scolded her, but the girl just turned her head away once more, shaking now. She was so disappointed in herself, she hadn't meant to raise her voice.

"It's alright Ayame...She knows what she has done is foolish..." He turned to leave. "Perhaps next year you will understand the true meaning of maturity..."

The man of authority then left, which allowed Takeshi and Shinako to enter. Of course, Kaede shooed them all off shortly after, wanting to be alone. She was an idiot for trying to pull a hood over the Kazekage's eyes in the first place, this was her own fault.

There, alone in a room with no one watching her, she let tears of disappointment and anguish fall freely.

~BHBL~

The second exam passed quickly and this time she didn't even pass through the written part of the exam. While she stressed at home, her hair gripped in her right hand, she knew Takeshi and Shinako were still going through the tests, having been given permission by the Kazekage to continue without her. She was the one to suggest it, after all, it wasn't fair that her failure would keep them back as well.

It took some convincing before the pair of them finally caved and did as they were advised. Leaving Kaede a total mess, she was starting to think she'd never pass the Chuunin exams. Especially with such a harsh handicap caused by a reckless bet.

"Kaede..."

Kaede hummed and let go of her hair, raising her head slightly to meet her mother's gaze, her hand still raised, causing half of her face to be covered. "What d'you want, mom? I'm wallowing in depression here!"

Ayame let out a huff of laughter at her daughter's obvious attempt at humor. Recently it had just been the two of them in the house, Hiroshi having been sent off to assist Konohagakure in the Second Great Shinobi War. That alone dulled the mood of the household, so Kaede's humor was always appreciated.

Placing her hand on her hip she spoke with a smile curling her lips. "I have a way you can become stronger...But!" She quickly added as her daughter straightened up with an excited gleam in her eyes. "I have one condition..."

Kaede's enthusiasm dulled down as she prepared for whatever her mother would say. "You take a break from the Chuunin exams- Let me finish!" She scolded as Kaede went to complain. "I know you're an excellent Ninjutsu user, therefore I'll see if you have the capacity for Futon and if you do, I'll teach you some of my Ninjutsu..."

"Really?" Kaede asked, the excitement of learning new Ninjutsu taking over the condition for the Chuunin Exams. If she could learn some really powerful Ninjutsu, what was a year or two? "Alright!" She thrust her fist out with glee with a bold grin planted upon her lips. "I'm going t'be the best Chuunin in Suna!"

Ayame smiled at her daughter's enthusiasm, she didn't like her stressing out over the Chunnin Exams every year, it wasn't good for her health or happiness. She used this to give her daughter a break from that stress and give her a little more self-confidence as well.

Nothing was worse than a Genin who doesn't believe in herself.

"When d'we start?!"

~BHBL~

"Futon: Daitoppa!"

The eighteen-year-old Genin inhaled sharply, infusing the air with chakra before exhaling a gust of strong wind. She had been practicing this technique along with another for about a year. Of course, they were only C-Rank Ninjutsu, but that didn't mean they were easy to master.

Of course, today was another day she was doomed to fail, hissing harshly as the wind backfired and began to cut at her clothes and skin along with the rest of the landscape. "Ah crap!" She ground out as the wind stopped and she hugged her bleeding arm to her chest. This was the fourth time today that she had failed with this jutsu.

"Kaede, how many times have I told you to make sure you're concentrating at all times during the duration of the Jutsu?" Her mother shouted as she walked out from behind a faraway tree and made her way over to the young woman. "If you lose focus, the wind loses control and can injure both the enemies and allies in the disorder!"

"Yeah, I know..." Kaede sighed, lifting her hand to see a little blood on her arm. Replacing it, she laughed and her lips split into an awkward grin. "Sorry, mom, I guess a year ain't enough for me t'master your Ninjutsu, is it?"

Ayame frowned softly before placing her hand on her daughter's head, surprising the young adult. The woman was almost as tall as she was now, Kaede was growing up so quickly. "Everyone learns at different speeds, Kaede...You mastered Katon in a year. Even though you were nine, you were suitably adapted for that style. Whereas this is your secondary Chakra nature, it takes more time to unlock it's true potential..."

"Heh, at least I managed t'master the other move." Kaede boasted as she wiped the blood from her hand onto her trouser leg and stepped back. "Go and take cover, I'm going t'keep trying!"

"Just don't wear yourself out too much..." Ayame told her, going back towards the faraway tree.

"Can't make any promises~!" Kaede called, hearing her mother laugh before the young woman turned back towards the trees to avoid harming the older kunoichi and began casting once again. "I'll master Futon! I ain't going t'rest until I do!"

~BHBL~

Never had she felt so empty, so saddened by the scene playing out in front of her. She felt useless, disappointed and painfully angry as her friends walked out of the Kazekage's office in their flak jackets. Takeshi and Shinako were now Chuunin and she was still a Genin.

Nineteen years old and still a Genin.

Humiliation swept through her as Shinako spotted her and both her old teammates came over to tell her the good news. Of course, being the good friend that she was, she smiled happily and told them how proud she was to see them stood there, as full-blown Chuunin.

She had only mastered her mother's Ninjutsu a few months ago, but due to over-excessive training, she had been bedridden during the application process and had missed out on all the fun. Therefore she could only watch as her friends shifted to their own team and did missions that she could scarcely imagine.

They rambled on about their hardships during the exams while Kaede laughed and grinned openly. Bandages and plasters on her form from the early morning training she had done to strengthen her body. They weren't the only ones working hard.

"I wish you could have become a Chuunin with us Kaede-chan..." Shinako admitted, her voice soft and a little saddened. Even Takeshi's smirk faded, they had always been together, since they were mere toddlers, now they were to be separated until Kaede could finally prove that she was an eligible candidate for the promotion. "It's not going to be the same without you..."

Kaede's heart broke at Shinako's words and her smile turned soft with her turmoil of emotions, eyes dulled with sorrow. "Don't worry..." She said, slapping her hands on both their shoulders, her expression melting into the bold grin they had grown accustomed to. "Give me a year! I'll be back on track in no time!"

Though they could see the false bravado in her words, they both smiled and nodded. "We'll hold you to that..." Takeshi warned her, which she responded to with a wink.

"Go ahead, I could do with the challenge!"

It was then that she vowed she would pass the Chuunin Exams and become a Kunoichi her friends could be proud of, no matter what happened. She didn't want to fade away into the distance.

Not ever.

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 2 - Casualties and Personalities


'Don't stop, keep going!'

Every second or so she'd have to jump, dodge or avoid an assault of ninjutsu, they came in quick bursts, giving her little time to react and respond. This was truly the hardest test of her skills, the final hurdle in her mission. She couldn't afford to lose here, she needed to find an opening!

Right now Kaede was in the middle of a massive arena coated with sand, having just made it to the finals of the Chuunin Exam. Before her stood a Kirigakure shinobi named Akira who dealt with both fire and water style ninjutsu, against him, her own techniques were child's play. However, she would not be defeated.

Skidding to a stop as the shinobi slowed his ninjutsu assault down to nothing, catching his breath, she began to weave signs of her own. "Katon: Hosenka no Jutsu!" Inhaling deeply, she spat out an array of small fireballs, which shot towards the enemy at high speed.

With a gasp, the slightly younger ninja began to dodge each of the fireballs, however, Kaede's serious expression melted into a grin as she inhaled once again. "Impossible!" Akira gasped as she spat out a large fireball straight after, which he barely managed to dodge, singing his arm.

"She really has improved her ninjutsu..." Takeshi commented from the audience, his arms crossed as he and Shinako stood side by side, watching the event. "I didn't expect her to master three different Ninjutsu in under three years..."

"Well, she was always better in that area than anywhere else..." Shinako replied, smiling as Kaede did a backflip to avoid a large torrent of water. She then used Futon: Renkudan to elevate until the liquid sloshed away from her. "She makes up for her lack of Taijutsu skills by increasing her speed and array of techniques."

"Maybe she has matured..."

"She is twenty...I personally think she matured a long time ago, when she took that break to train, it really opened her eyes to the difficulties a shinobi must endure..."

Takeshi nodded and smirked when Kaede ran around Akira, who was forming the correct seals for the same fire Ninjutsu she had used on him first. "Too slow!" Kaede shouted, kicking off the ground and diving towards him. Of course, she made a fatal error when she tried to thrust her fist out to connect with his face, her skills were too low and he ducked easily from the slow punch. Kicking her hard in the chin and sending her sailing into the air.

"Hah! You're the one who's too slow!" He called, creating the seals he needed. "Suiro no Jutsu!" A large jet of water spilled from his lips, which shot up towards Kaede with incredible speed.

Cursing, Kaede managed to flip herself in mid-air and gasped when she saw the water coming towards her. Inhaling, she spat two air bullets, both of them splitting the currents, but not stopping them. "Fu-!" She started, gurgling the rest when the water hit her and encased her in a bubble, a prison she could not escape from easily.

She let out a stream of bubbles as the prison began to fall. If she hit the ground, it was going to cause her some serious injury. Forming seals, fusing her Chakra, her eyes snapped open and she released a few more bubbles. Before they transformed into a torrent of wind which then started to swirl around the water prison, scratching and slicing at it.

The opponent grinned as he fused more Chakra into the prison, making it so the water would not be pierced by her wind. Gritting her teeth, Kaede forced as much Chakra as she could into the jutsu and a strong slash of wind split the prison.

With a harsh gasp of air, Kaede flipped mid-fall and landed on one knee on the ground. Coughing hard as she water slammed down on top of her, soaking her and the sand around her. "You're..." She wheezed, standing and wiping her eyes clear of droplets and her hand clear of wet sand. "Going t'pay for that!"

"Just try it!"

Kaede grinned viciously and her hands moved with dexerity. "Futon: Renkudan!" She spat out air bullets that travelled at a speed that only a bullet could. Akira was hit by both of them, but Kaede's eyes narrowed. That was too easy.

Her suspicion was correct as the shinobi melted into a water clone and sloshed into the sand. Tsking, Kaede looked around with alert eyes for the teen, but didn't react in time, as Akira appeared behind her and shot out a massive fireball, enveloping her in the flames.

"KAEDE!" Takeshi and Shinako cried out, diving forward simultaniously and holding onto the bars. They could hear her screaming inside the inferno. Their hearts sank as the flames died down and Kaede staggered forward, landing hard on her front. Her usually tanned skin was now charred by the heat of the fire, however, she remained conscious.

"A-aaaggghhhh..." She ground out, hissing when the shinobi kicked her hard, again and again. Akira gasped when a hand shot out and grabbed his leg, grinning, she yanked hard and caused him to topple over. Diving onto his chest and raising her fists she began punching him repeatedly until the weak skin of her knuckles broke and bled. Droplets flying through the air with each thrust of her arm.

"Even injured she doesn't give up..." Takeshi mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck, blushing slightly as it wasn't in his nature to worry easily. "She's even using Taijutsu...As long as her target is unable to move, she'll be fine, but if he manages to counter, her rash actions will cause her more harm than good."

Of course, the enemy wasn't going down that easily. Waiting until she went to punch him again before he shot his head forward to connect with her fist, injuring both his head and her hand. She let out a strong cry as she stumbled and landed on her ass, holding her bloody hand. He'd broken it, the way her fingers bent proved this.

The teen however didn't get out unscatched, he had a concussion and struggled to sit up. The Jounin in charge of the match raised his hand to stop the fight, seeing no reason for them to continue in their state. "Due to a draw between the two fighters, I am forced to decide the winner based on their injuries..." He said, thrusting his arm to the side and pointing his fingers at the Kirigakure shinobi. "Ike Akira is the winner!"

"YES!" Akira cried out with excitement, only to feel a sudden surge of dizziness before he collapsed. Kaede stared at the shinobi in horror before she ground her teeth and glared down at the sand beneath her.

She was so close!

Tears pooled in her eyes and she stood, only to sway, said eyes glossing over before she collapsed once again. Finally, the pain of her injuries had taken over and shut her body down. "Kaede!" Both her friends called, jumping over the railing and landing on the sandy arena floor.

As they crouched down to try and bring her back to consciousness, they were shooed off by the medical team, who had just returned after taking Akira to be treated. Standing, Takeshi stared down at the injured woman with a frown.

No one had worked as hard as she had these past few years. Not in training, or in battle.

"Fourth-sama..." He started, looking up at the Kazekage, who was sat watching the matches. His eyes were transfixed on the unconscious kunoichi, as if contemplating her performance. "I hope you make the right decision..."

The fourth's eyes narrowed as he mulled her actions during the exam as he exited the Kage booth to think about the selection of Genin and how many would become Chuunin.

~BHBL~

Groaning as a wash of pain rolled over her, Kaede opened her eyes, the world a blur in her clouded vision. Blinking several times, it began to clear and she realized she was staring at the familiar ceiling of the medical unit. "Great..." She mumbled, her expression one of distaste at the memories of her last two visits here.

Trying to sit up, the woman hissed and tensed as the various bandages over her body tightened around stinging wounds. "Ah yeah...Scorched..." She laughed awkwardly and tried to carefully sit back against the headboard in her condition. It hurt, but she managed it.

With a hum, she looked up as someone knocked on the door. "It's open!" She called, hoping to dear God it was so she didn't look like a fool. When the door did in fact open, she was surprised to see the Kazekage on the other side, his face stern, as usual.

Her surprise soon melted away and she huffed, looking at the wall with a glare. "Come t'gloat about my newest failure?" She asked, irritated at the man's refusal to make her a Chuunin on many different occasions. "I thought after four years it'd get boring..."

"Don't jump to conclusions." The village leader warned her, walking up to her bed and watching her as she glanced up at him with confused eyes. "I'm not here to rub your face in defeat..."

"Then what're y'here for? Can't y'see I'm trying to rest?"

"With an attitude like that, perhaps I'll take back the promotion I was about to offer!" His tone turned harsh, indicating a final warning.

Kaede's expression went from irritated to blank in a matter of seconds, processing the Kazekage's words. "Y'mean...?" She started, a grin slowly stretching over her lips. "I'm a Chuunin?"

The Suna leader stared at her for a moment before closing his eyes. "You have shown the same determination and maturity you showed during the battle in your recent missions and have improved your strengths to counteract the weaknesses...I believe that makes you worthy to be a Chuunin-"

"YES!" Kaede did an air punch, only to swear loudly when she hurt her arm, hugging it to her chest. "Aaaaaaggggghhhh! Crap!" She snarled, earning a chuckle from the Kazekage.

Somethings never changed.

~BHBL~

It had been two years since that rather eventful day and Kaede was now a more experienced Chuunin, having been sent off with a group of less experienced Chuunin for an important mission. This was an S-Rank mission and that meant they couldn't afford to mess it up.

Right now the four of them were at the Amegakure's border, having been told that a group of Konohagakure shinobi were going to pass through here to attack Sunagakure, who had weakened forces because of this war. Kaede had not wanted to join the fight, or battle in any way against the other nations, but it was her duty to do so.

The Second Great Shinobi War had been going on long since she was a child, in fact, she didn't really remember the day it started, having been too young to remember. She knew that war was an inevitable part of conflict, but wished there were ways it could be avoided.

"When y'see the enemy make any suspicious movements towards Suna, we attack, understood?" She asked, looking back at the three Chuunin, Taiga, the sensory type, Sayuri, the Taijutsu fighter and Hiro, the Genjutsu expert. "Our mission is to stop them before they get to our village, this is an S-Rank mission that needs t'be treat with urgency!"

"Yes Ma'am!" They all whispered and she blushed, grinning at them.

"Heh, less of that, just call me Kaede, I'm Chuunin like all of you!"

"Uhm, Kaede-san?" Taiga said softly, looking a little hesitant. He was a new Chuunin, so he didn't understand the role very well, but had a strong and tactical mind for it. "Shouldn't we plan how we will attack and escape before it actually happens? I feel a little unprepared..."

Kaede stared at him for a moment before looking down at the abandoned village, soaked with rainfall, from their place in the faraway trees. "A battle can't be planned, Taiga...Sometimes the rash actions are the best actions, and they've never failed me!"

"But your Chuunin battle-"

"Hey, c'mon, don't y'trust your superior?" She asked teasingly and the three younger members looked at one another with discomfort before whispering to themselves. However, their noise soon stopped when Kaede raised her hand, silencing them.

Ahead stood three Konohagakure Jounin, holding a scroll. Two of them were tall males, while the other was a shorter female. From their distance, it was hard to define their appearances but she could make out small details. One had dark black hair that went down to his waist, one had white spiked hair in a ponytail of sorts and another had blond twin ponytails.

Though their appearances were a little difficult to see properly, Kaede knew those flak jackets were from Konohagakure. She had visited the village a few times during her many exam attempts, so she could tell a Konoha Jounin from other Jounin easily.

"Is that them?" Hiro asked, Kaede hissing for him to shut up when the man with black hair turned his head towards the trees. Staying silent, the four of them felt sweat slide down from their foreheads to their necks as they awaited his movements.

Staring at the trees for a moment, the man turned back to his comrades and they pointed towards the city in the centre of Amegakure, jumping over some rocks and vanishing from sight. Breathing a massive sigh of relief, Kaede leaned back against the tree trunk. "Ahhh, that was close."

"Weren't they the ones we had to kill?!" Taiga interjected with wide eyes. Kaede blinked before looking back at where they had been heading. "No, Sunagakure is Southwest of where they were stood, they're heading North, towards Amegakure."

"But they're our enemi-"

"Even if they're our enemies, I'd rather not kill any more than we have to!" Kaede snapped, glaring at Taiga. "This war won't last forever and alliances will be formed, I don't want their blood on my hands unless they give me a reason t'have it there!"

Taiga went to shout back, worrying for the safety of his village, only to freeze, his eyes wide as he gurgled before falling forward. "TAIGA!" The three of them shouted as the man dropped from the tree, a kunai embedded deep into his back. "Shit!" Kaede growled, turning to see four Jounins from Konoha standing thirty feet away, smirking.

"This mission will be easier than I thought..." The leader said, holding up some more kunai. "That little redhaired fool let us know exactly where they were with her useless shouting..."

Kaede gasped, watching with horror as two more Jounin appeared behind her fellow Chuunin and killed them, breaking their necks. "H-Hiro, Sayuri!"

"You'd think she'd be a little more tactical, wouldn't you?" The leader jeered, before appearing in front of her, she was frozen, fear in her eyes as she fell back, sitting on the branch. "Now we'll finish our mission easily, Suna has no idea what'll hit them!"

'What do I do, what the hell do I do?!' Kaede thought, the paralizying terror she felt clouding her mind. She wasn't tactical, she was rash, but one move and she'd be dead. 'Calm down, think, think!'

The leader huffed and glanced back at his fellow Jounin, they looked as if they didn't want to be there, but he didn't care. They nodded in an urging motion, wanting to get this over with. "Let's clean up here and keep going..."

Lifting one of the kunai towards her, Kaede took deep breaths, closing her eyes. She needed to think calmly and come up with something. Her mind calculated different strategies as the Jounin pulled back his arm, and came to a decision just as he thrust it forward.

Her eyes snapped open and she grabbed his wrist, just as the kunai dug into her flak jacket. Coughing hard as a trickle of blood left her lips and the wound, she grinned with a nasty edge and spoke darkly. "That was a mistake...I'm really pissed that y'killed my comrades..."

"Crap!" The Jounin cried out, panicked now that he had been caught, unable to free his arm easily. Grabbing his other arm, she yanked him forward before shoving him out of the tree.

Kaede stood quickly and tore the kunai from her chest, hissing with pain as she tossed it at one of the other distracted Jounin, hearing a cry of pain as it hit him in the side of the head and he too fell from the tree. "Katon: Hosenka no Jutsu!" She spat out fireball after fireball, hitting each of her targets as they were unable to move easily through the cramped branches.

Watching them fall from the tree, Kaede stared down at the one remaining leader with his injured and dead comrades. The fireballs having set the tree alight behind her, the glow making her seem dangerous. "Spare me!" He begged and the woman's eyes narrowed, pulling out a kunai.

"Spare you? After y'spared my friends?" She huffed and ground her teeth angrilly. "Like hell I would!" She roared, jumping from the branch, the kunai poised over her head as she fell towards him, thrusting it down as she decended into his point of view.

His screams filled the air, causing the three Jounin from before to stop and look back, wondering what life had been taken once again. It was the one with black hair that closed his yellow eyes with a grimace and continued onwards, his comrades followed behind with solemn frowns.

They hoped it hadn't been their own shinobi who had been killed.

Kaede straightened up and stood over the dead Jounin who had taunted and murdered her friends. He had been right, if it wasn't for her rash actions and loud words, they'd all still be alive and would have completed their mission with maybe just a little more ease.

Her vision fell to Taiga, Sayuri and Hiro, their eyes open wide and blank without a drop of life left inside of them. "I...I can't let anyone else die 'cause of my stupidity..." She murmured, walking over and crouching down beside Taiga. "...I'll improve my tactics, before I let myself take care of any more ninja...I'll become a strong kunoichi in memory of all of you!"

She closed their eyes one by one before standing and tightening her forehead protector, her own eyes filled with determination. She wouldn't let anyone else die by her hand ever again!

~BHBL~

Ayame was worried about her daughter, after coming home from the mission alone, she'd spend some time in her room researching tactics and how to formulate effective plans. The mother had noticed a change in her daughter's personality, she had become a little more serious but appeared to have no control over it at all. She could be calm and collected one minute, and grinning the next. This wasn't normal behavior for someone like her, who had spent her whole life being the girl who picks others up with her enthusiasm.

Kaede had explained her reasons for studying tactics, and she understood, but she seemed unaware of the change in her personality. Even when she was reading, she looked so severe, so concentrated.

She wished Hiroshi would return soon from his long missions to talk with Kaede. After all, her father was the most like her in every sense. He'd understand what to do.

Was Kaede going to be alright?

~BHBL~

"In light of the past three years, after your mistake in a vital mission to Suna, however successful the mission was, we have seen a remarkable change in your actions..." The Kazekage, a man known to have shunned Kaede for her maturity in the past, sat before the bowing woman now, though serious, his eyes shined with pride. "Though you find my actions since you became a Genin unfair, it was all to shape you for the future...Do you understand?"

"Yes, Kazekage-sama..." Kaede accepted his words easily, her tone soft, unlike her usual wild voice pitch. He would never have expected this much of a drastic change in her attitude since that event which still haunted her to this day. Perhaps sending her on that mission had been an irreplaceable learning curve for her.

Though he doubted she saw it that way.

"It is because of your recent successes and how you have grown that I will promote you here and now...Mari Kaede, from this day forth, you will be a Jounin, a kunoichi of the highest rank."

Kaede gasped and raised her head with wide eyes. A Jounin, she had achieved her dream of becoming a strong kunoichi, what she had strived for since the day she decided her future. "Yes!" The woman yelled, standing and flexing her arms with a bold grin. "Finally! I was hoping I'd be promoted soon!"

The Kazekage arched a brow, wondering if it was too late to take back that promotion. She still had a little bit of growing to do.

However he knew her personality would never truly change, therefore he sighed and pressed his fingers to his forehead. "Calm down and listen, would you?"

Kaede hummed, relaxing and looking at him curiously.

"There is still a war going on and now that you are a Jounin, you will be sent on many more missions to stop enemies from destroying the place we call home..." He saw her eyes narrow, she had been given various missions along that line since she was twenty two, she always worried about a repeat of last time. "Until this war is over, you need to be on high alert, you may be called out on a mission at any time, understood?"

"Yes, Kazekage-sama!"

"Good, now go and tell your family the good news...A full family of Ninjutsu masters all at Jounin level, I'm certain they are proud..."

Kaede grinned and placed her hand on her hip, giving him a quick two fingered salute before she turned and left without another word. He wondered if she was ready for this title yet.

Only time would tell.

~BHBL~

Standing alone in the sandy desert outside of her village, Kaede had her eyes closed, coated with burns as she took a breather from her training. The sun had long since set and she was exhausted, but she was so close to finishing her new jutsu, she didn't have time to rest.

The war was nearing it's end and she had spent a majority of her time as a Jounin in the battlefield. Now that she could return home and relax, she wanted to finally increase her abilities. It had been so long since she had trained alone.

Opening her eyes, the woman smirked as she flexed her fingers before forming seals a little slower than she normally would, cramp was setting in. "Katon: Kasai Suīpu!" She inhaled sharply and exhaled a large stream of fire, unlike her fireballs, this continued to spill from her mouth without end, like a flamethrower.

Leaning back, she swung her head round to spill the fire out in a sidesweeping motion. Stopping the breath, she was quick to form more seals. "Futon: Daitoppa!" Exhaling a torrent of wind, she jumped high into the sky and watched as the wind caught the blaze and the entire area was engulfed in an inferno.

Grinning with triumph, she landed as the flames died down and huffed out an exhausted laugh. She had finally mastered her move, after working on it for over a month already. Feeling dizzy, she fell on her ass and sat there, catching her breath.

Looks like her limit for this Jutsu is only once per day right now. She'd have to train further to increase it's use in battle.

"Ah ha ha...The training never ends..."

But as long as she had breath in her body, she'd continue to improve and protect her village from every threat that presents itself. She lived for her village and her family, and she would make sure her new dream would be achieved.

Smirking, she leaned back and contemplated this while staring up at the stars above.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 3 - The 'Perfect' Relationship


"This is not a good start!"

Kaede had a soft snarl to her tone as she paced back and forth in front of the exit to the village, glaring ahead with her arms crossed as she drummed her fingers off her bicep. She looked a tiny bit like her mother when she did that. "Where the hell is my patrol partner?!"

It had been a few years since the Second Great Shinobi War ended and peace had returned to the five nations. Kaede was now a mature woman at the age of thirty, often looking back at her time as a Genin and felt nothing but pride swell within her at the fond memories of her childhood. She had come a long way and was determined to continue improving until she achieved her dream of keeping her beloved village safe.

Of course, right now, she couldn't do that because a certain patrol partner she'd been assigned was missing. "I swear if he appears right now, I'm going t'kill him!" She said angrily and flexed her fingers, thoroughly annoyed. "A Jounin is meant t'be a symbol of an excellent ninja!"

"I myself think I do the name justice..."

Kaede jumped and quickly spun round to see a man stood behind her, his arms crossed, looking very serious. He had spiked blonde hair, far lighter than Takeshi's and fuchsia colored eyes holding no warm emotions. How could a shinobi this determined be late for a patrol mission?

"You're late..." Kaede told him, eyeing him, her own seriousness leaking out with the tension in the air. The Jounin's eyebrow arched at her sudden emotional change, but he paid it no heed, closing his eyes. "What took y'so long?"

"I was asked to assist two Chuunin with a quick supply mission...I returned five minutes ago and made my way here as soon as I could." The man said, opening an eye and looking at her curiously. "It's far more productive than just standing here, waiting for back-up."

"What was that?" Kaede asked, stepping closer, her eyes sharpening. "You have no right speaking t'me like that when y'hardly know me!"

"Mari Kaede..." The man started, causing her to stop in her tracks. "A remarkable kunoichi when it came to ninjutsu, able to use them one after the other with quick succession without using too much of her Chakra..." He opened his other eye and uncrossed his arms. "Singlehandedly destroyed a group of Jounin from Konohagakure during the Second Great Shinobi War when she herself was just a Chuunin..."

Kaede felt both unnerved by his knowledge and flattered that he knew her so well. She must have made an impression on the village. "Also, rather unreliable, immature and completely unpredictable..." She almost fell when he finished.

"D'you have t'ruin it by saying all that?" She asked, frustrated by this man's attitude. She stopped when a hand was extended towards her, Staring at it, she felt a little annoyed. With a tsk then a sharp smirk, she took it, squeezing hard as she met the man's eyes. "Y'know my name, how about your's?"

The shinobi could feel the strong power she had in her hand and squeezed back to show his own strength. "I'm Hamada Kiyoshi...It's a pleasure to meet you at last."

"Heh, wish I could say the same~" She let go of his hand and placed it on her hip, smirking. "After all, Y'didn't give me the best first impression."

Kiyoshi huffed out a laugh and gave her a rare smirk, his eyes were sharp, narrow, but very strong and fit for a leader. She found herself staring into those eyes with a slight tint to her cheeks. "It appears I'm not the only one, Kaede-san..."

The older man started walking past her, pausing at her side she noted that he was only a few inches taller than her, but it was enough for her to have to look up. "Shall we get going? We have a patrol to undergo..."

Kaede watched him with a smirk before she grinned devilishly and walked beside him, making sure to overtake him as a challenge. Amused by her games, he followed suit, the two of them seeming to have a rivalry.

Kiyoshi found her rather interesting, her personality changed easily and she wouldn't back down from a challenge, even if that challenge involved Taijutsu. He could become friends with her if he had time during his rigorous, stressful missions.

Whereas Kaede herself felt uncertain about the man, he had been rather kind, then rude, then kind again, as if he was gauging her reactions. She was reminded of Takeshi and wondered if he had said those things as a form of criticism. The thought of seeing how they interacted in the future made her grin.

Now all that was left was to survive this patrol without the two of them starting a fight.

~BHBL~

Two months passed since the day Kiyoshi met Kaede, the two of them had started off on very shaky ground, with their different personalities and attitudes. However, as time went on they began to have more and more missions together and eventually saw one another in a different light.

Kiyoshi, who was currently sat in a cafe, drumming his fingers off the table with a coffee in front of him, thought that Kaede herself was far more complicated than people gave her credit for. She had two personalities so gauging her reactions at first was difficult, but now he understood her a little better and could tell what triggers caused which personality to appear. He was curious about the fact that she was unaware of her personality changes but kept that to himself. After all, it'd only hurt her feelings and over the past two months, that thought became more and more unbearable.

With a sigh, Kiyoshi stirred his coffee and brought it to his lips, cheeks flushing when he remembered the day he realized he was beginning to see Kaede as more than just a partner, but as a beautiful woman as well. He usually found himself thinking back to the days he looked look at her and saw her vibrant grin and how it would force a smile onto his own lips. Even if he was full of sorrow and couldn't smile on his own.

He was starting to think he was falling in love with her.

Of course, the memory that amused him the most was the day they first met, he had been late after a returning from a mission and ran to meet her. Now he was here, sitting in the cafe, waiting for the woman in question to arrive, who was far later than he would have ever been.

Almost half an hour, in fact, he was starting to worry in case she had second thoughts and decided not to come. After all, a first date is always a nerve-wracking experience for anyone.

"Ahhh, sorry I'm late!"

Kiyoshi hummed and looked up at the entrance to the cafe, where Kaede stood, hunched over, holding her knees and grinning awkwardly as she gasped for air. As she walked over to Kiyoshi's table, everyone in the cafe gave her strange looks, and Kiyoshi could tell she didn't care. Another thing he liked about her. "I thought I'd missed y'there..." She said, letting out a relieved sigh.

"You're late..." Kiyoshi said, mirroring the greeting she gave him when they first met. Leaning against his hand, he watched her laugh awkwardly and tug on her flak jacket, flushed from the running and the embarrassment of her delay.

"Yeah, y'can blame Fourth-sama for that..." She complained, crossing her arms on the desk with a groan. "He called me into his office t'scold me for refusing a mission for this..." Stroking her chin, she grinned with a laugh. "Heh, the old asshole is just jealous that I've got a date and he doesn't~"

Kiyoshi chuckled at her laid-back nature and a warm smile curled his lips, lighting his usually cold eyes. Kaede opened her own, only to meet his gaze and blush at the handsome man she saw before her.

Kaede herself had begun to see Kiyoshi in a different light the longer their little rivalry went on. She eventually ended up hurting herself while she tried to outsmart him during one of their spars and he had given her first aid and refused to leave her side until they were safely back in the village and she was in the arms of the medical unit.

She was surprised by his refusal and determination to protect her. When she asked him why he had gone so far for her, he'd shown a rare smile and said that she was his comrade, and he never left a comrade to suffer. Of course, that was less than a month ago and it had sparked some sort of warmth within her, which eventually grew into the flames of early love.

She had been so happy when he had plucked up the courage to ask her to this cafe, she refused any mission that intertwined with that date, despite the consequences.

She believed she deserved a little break.

It wasn't long before the two of them fell into conversation, laughing, eating and sharing secrets between them as they grew too close to be labeled as just comrades. At one point, Kiyoshi's hand landed on her's accidentally, and they both became flustered, but when he went to retract it, Kaede took hold and entwined their fingers.

Kiyoshi stared at her and she stared back, smirking, another challenge. With a chuckle, he held her hand tighter and their date continued, both of them happy to be there.

They were happy to be together and hoped this romance would blossom for a long time.

~BHBL~

"Don't y'dare help me!"

Kiyoshi sighed with an exhausted frown as Kaede tried to lug a box up the stairs to his apartment on her own. So far she had done well, but after her seventh box full of heavy luggage, she was beginning to waver. "Kae-chan, it's alright to let me assist you, you've done most of the move yourself, it's time you put your feet up."

"I'm only thirty-one, I'll put my feet up when I'm too old t'walk on them!" Kaede told him, grinning when she got up the last step and turned to face him. "See? I ain't some weak kunoichi, just finish making dinner and I'll get these boxed sorted!"

Kiyoshi knew arguing with her wasn't going to help, and rolled his eyes, walking over and kissing her lips gently. "Alright, just don't wear yourself out too much..."

"Can't make any promises!" Kaede told him, walking past him into the apartment. The man smiled softly as she left and crossed his arms.

They had been dating for almost a full year now and Kaede had complained about how she had to travel halfway across the village to see him. So after some time to mull her words, he asked if she would move in with him and move their relationship forward a little. It was only slight hesitation, since it meant not living close to her parents, that she agreed.

"I'm going down t'get the last box," Kaede told him, stepping out of the room again. "Hurry with dinner, I'm starving!"

With a chuckle, he walked back into the apartment. "Alright, alright, perhaps this move was a bad idea after all...I have the esteemed Ninjutsu Expert treating me as her personal servant~"

"I heard that!"

~BHBL~

Kaede could not believe this was happening, it was surreal, unnerving and completely different to what she was used to.

Standing before a mirror, Mari Kaede, a woman of thirty-two, wore a beautiful white gown with a veil over the back of her head, left open as her mother and Shinako currently worked on her make-up and hair.

"I've never been this scared in my life!" Kaede told Shinako, only to get a scolding from the shy girl as she tried to apply gloss to Kaede's lips. "Oh sorry..." With a glare from her lifelong friend, she shut up with a soft laugh.

"There's no reason to be scared Kaede-chan..." Ayame told her daughter, trying to figure out what to do with the short spikes of Kaede's hair. If she flattened it, she'd look ridiculous. "After all, the love you and Kiyoshi share is as plain as day, this was the best decision the two of you could have made after being together so long..."

"I'm not saying I regret it!" Kaede said, turning, only to smear the lipstick on her cheek, hearing Shinako slap her forehead in response. "Ah, crap..." She turned back and tried to remain still while the girl mumbled incoherently and began to wipe away the mistake. "I've never felt my heart beat so fast, not even during my first S-Rank mission!"

She grinned and Shinako smiled too, deciding to sit back and wait for the bride to be to finish beaming before she'd continue. "I'm so excited I could burst!" She snickered, holding the skirts of her dress in a tight, gleeful grip. "I never thought I'd ever find a man like him, or fall in love! This is the best day of my life!"

"That's the spirit!" Shinako said, holding Kaede's chin to keep her mouth shut. "Now please let me finish your makeup."

Both Shinako and Ayame giggled when Kaede laughed awkwardly and refrained from further conversation so they could finish their tasks. Once done, Kaede was met with her father as they left the room, he looked ready to burst into tears.

"You look beautiful, Kaede..." Hiroshi told her, holding out his arm for her. "I couldn't be prouder than I am right now..."

Kaede felt warmth spread through her at her father's words and took his arm, holding back some of her own tears. She the overwhelming joy begin to take control of her emotions. "Thanks, Dad..."

Patting her hand, he escorted her into the main hall, where her soon-to-be husband stood, looking at her in nervous awe as she was walked down the aisle to a beautiful melody. Kaede met his sharp fuchsia eyes with her own soft brown ones, hidden behind a veil and they both smiled. From this day forward, they would be married.

It made their hearts swell with joy as she stopped by his side, the Kazekage's subordinate giving the ceremony that would bring these two together.

By the end of it all, their promises of love for eternity were sealed with a gentle kiss, two unlikely lovers brought together by their hearts. It was a wonderful experience that Kaede wouldn't soon forget.

~BHBL~

Kaede sat on the couch in her shared home, holding a new copy of Icha-Icha Paradise that Kiyoshi had bought her a month back. At first, she had read the book and laughed at the mature content inside. However, after reading it once, she read it again and again and now it was no contest about which book was her favorite out of her small collection of different books from different people.

Hearing the front door open, she hummed and looked over the sofa as Kiyoshi stepped into the room, looking tired and carrying a huge pile of papers with him. Frowning she spoke up. "Hey, you've been gone a while, did something happen?"

"No, I just stayed behind to finish some work..." Kiyoshi told her, rubbing the bridge of his nose to smooth out the stress building between his eyes. "I'm still not finished, so I won't be going to bed early tonight..."

As he went to leave, Kaede's concern bubbled. For the last two years since their marriage, Kiyoshi had slowly been doing more and more paperwork outside of missions to the point where it was beginning to get out of hand. He spent more time at work now than he did at home, and whenever he was home, he was working. Hell, she hadn't seen him follow her up to the bedroom in weeks.

"Kiyoshi..." She started, knowing she had to speak up before this problem got worse and endangered his life. The man she loved stopped with a hum and turned to look at her, he was exhausted, the dark circles under his eyes were proof.

"What's up, Kae-chan?"

Gritting her teeth, feeling unsettled by the wave of disquiet washing over her, she looked him in the eye and spoke her mind. "I think y'may have a problem..."

Confused, Kiyoshi tilted his head to the side. "What do you mean?"

"Y'spend all your time at work, and when you're home, you're working! You're tired and have skipped meals on occasion...I think y'have an addiction, you need t'see a doctor!"

Kiyoshi's eyes turned cold at her words, and her own widened in shock, that was the first time he had shown her such a stern expression since the day they met. "I haven't got an addiction..." He said, his tone flat as he turned and walked away. "Don't bring it up again."

Watching him leave, she stared after him before frowning, looking down at the precious book he had given her. What was going on, why was he acting like this around her? Gripping the book tighter, she ground her teeth. "Tsk, stupid bastard..."

Though she said this, she couldn't hide the pain his cold words caused and the sorrow that doused her anger and left her feeling weak. Love could both hinder and strengthen a person, after all.

For now, she'd listen to him and drop it, not wanting to start an argument and say something they would regret. However, if things went too far, she'd take matters into her own hands. He was a talented shinobi and the love of her life if he died because she didn't try to stop him...She would never be able to forgive herself.

~BHBL~

That's it!

Kaede couldn't take this anymore. It was going too far now, she hadn't seen him in three days and after he came home he barely spoke to her. Since the Ninjutsu fighter had confronted him, he grew cold around her, as if his love for her had dried up and left bitter irritation behind in its place.

Her heart ached, she couldn't take his harsh glare anymore and she needed to do something to make him wake up to reality. It had been a full year since the confrontation and she was at her wit's end.

With anger fueling her usually carefree, boisterous brown eyes, she snatched up the documents he left on the desk, during his shower, and walked out of the apartment. "Try working now, you asshole!" She hissed out, yanking open the trash chute and tossing the papers inside, hearing the shredder catch the parchment down below. "If y'won't get help by yourself, I'll make sure y'get it one way or another..."

Slamming the chute shut, she turned, only to freeze when Kiyoshi stood before her, his eyes wide as he stared at the closed lid of the trash shredder. Though she hadn't planned this, and her heart sank with guilt at his horrified expression, she held her ground.

"Wh-what did you...?" Kiyoshi started, his voice a soft whisper.

"I did this for your own good!" Kaede told him, clenching her fists. "You're always away at work for long periods of time and when you're here, y'don't even say 'hello' t'me anymore!" She felt tears pool in her eyes and held them back by closing them tight. "Y'don't sleep enough and y'haven't eaten anything for two days-"

"WHAT DID YOU DO?!"

Kaede gasped and stepped back when she opened her eyes to see Kiyoshi's angry fuchsia eyes burning holes into her face. He was furious. "Ki...yoshi?"

"WHY THE HELL DID YOU DO THAT? WHAT KIND OF SICK PUNISHMENT IS THIS?!" Kiyoshi stepped forward and Kaede slowly backtracked to keep the distance between them, she had never seen him lose his temper like this. Realizing that he was going to knock her down the stairs at this rate, her expression matched his and she stepped forward so she was confronting him.

"I'm scared dammit!" She roared, causing him to step back instead. "I've been holding back my fear for a year! A whole damn YEAR!" Tears began to spill down her cheeks as she let out the emotions she had held onto for the duration of his problem. "I love y'too much to see y'do this t'yourself, you'll die if y'keep this up! Please, just stop and get some help!"

Kiyoshi's shock was evident on his features as Kaede relaxed her posture slightly, breathing heavily as she choked on her tears. Slowly, her eyes widened as his expression turned cold and he leaned close, his fuchsia irises burning with hatred and disgust. "Well then...I've learned something from all this..."

His next words froze her heart and shattered it into tiny pieces.

"The only problem here is you...I should never have married you..." Making a face of distaste, he straightened up. "This 'love' has been one-sided for a long time, it's about time you learned that and left me alone..."

Kaede stood there, staring straight at Kiyoshi's chest as he turned and entered the apartment, slamming the door shut behind him. Her cheeks were soaked with tears as she absorbed his words and her heart bled.

Unable to stop herself, her lips curled back into an angry snarl and she punched the door. "FINE! Keep t'yourself y'selfish bastard, suffer, starve t'death for all I care! Don't expect any sympathy from me, we're through! Y'hear me?!"

Standing there with her fist against the door, she stayed still only a moment longer before the pain became unbearable. Making a noise of pained anguish and uncontrolled fury, she turned quickly and ran down the stairs out of the apartment blocks. People stared as she kicked up sand making her way down the streets with droplets of salted water glittering in the moonlight behind her.

"Is that Kaede?" Whispering voices asked.

"I don't think I've ever seen her cry."

"Is she alright?"

"Where's Kiyoshi-san? Did they fight?"

"Oh dear..."

Their words only hurt her more as she tripped and caught her footing, running through the night until she stopped at the opposite side of the path to her parents' home. Trying to hold back a fresh wave of despair, she ran over and opened the door.

Ayame gasped, having been about to leave to meet Hiroshi at a restaurant for a date, and grabbed the Jounin by the arms when she saw that it was her daughter, and she looked like she had been crying.

"Kaede-chan?" She started, only to make a noise of shock when the grown woman let out a sharp gasp and sobbed against her. "What's wrong? Has something happened?!"

Unsure what to think, and unable to get a response from Kaede at that moment, she just led the woman inside and closed the door.

~BHBL~

It wasn't three months after this event that a divorce was finalized between the two of them. Kaede sitting there on her mother's couch, staring at the papers with a heartbroken look in her slightly dull eyes. Hiroshi had never seen her so distraught, so he took the day off to stay with her, hoping he could get through to her.

Since Kiyoshi had broken her with his words, she tried to keep her emotions to herself, behind a smile and her usual boisterous attitude. Though people could tell it was fake, it was still unnerving Ayame because she hadn't seen hide nor hair of her daughter's serious personality since.

Well during the divorce process it had peeked out, but it was much more hidden now than before. Her tactics were still good, so it was still there, but not on the surface where it used to reside half the time. Hiroshi knew and trusted their daughter with all of his heart, so he did not fear this change, but Ayame did, which upset him greatly.

Couldn't his wife see that Kaede needed nothing more than their full support right now?

"Kaede?" Hiroshi started, pulling her eyes from the papers. "C'mon, put them down, you can't change history by staring at it..." He stood up and walked over to her, taking the papers, which she allowed.

The divorce had been a cruel and brutal process for her, she had tried to speak to Hiroshi just two months ago, after calming down and pushing away her pride enough to do so. However he hadn't changed, he still hated her and he was so cold around her. Hell, it was him who asked for a divorce, the same man who asked for her hand in marriage only three years prior.

As a father, it took all his power not to march down there and give Kiyoshi what for, however doing so would end badly for him and his daughter, and he didn't want that. "Where's that smile I like to see?" He asked his beloved child, who stared at him for a moment before grinning silently.

Though he could see she was trying, he frowned at the false grin and let out a soft sigh. "Tell you what, I'll make you your favorite curry, how's that?" He asked and she nodded, giving him a soft thanks.

With eyes fueled by concern, he turned and went into the kitchen, Kaede's smile fading when he was out of visible sight. It hurt so much, but she kept this smile because though it was painful, it made the world seem a little brighter.

Even if it was just for a while.

~BHBL~

A year passed since the divorce and Kaede's smile was no longer distinguishable as fake or real. Having kept up the act so long, she could grin no matter what emotion she felt, though she couldn't in the most serious situations.

Ayame was aware of the fact that her serious personality only peeked out once in a blue moon and it scared her a little bit. Because Kaede was still a tactical woman and therefore she could be planning an entire assassination and the way her uncontrolled personalities were right now, none of them would be able to tell until it was too late.

Though she trusted her daughter, every time she saw that grin, she couldn't help the cold feeling that ran down her spine, even if her smile was genuine, she wondered what was hidden beneath it. Guilt always kept her mouth shut when it came to these suspicions and she didn't let her daughter know otherwise, but she just felt that one day...

Kaede would do something that she would not be able to repent, and that thought scared her more than how easily her daughter could hide her malicious or serious thoughts.

~BHBL~

Kaede was walking down the streets of Sunagakure, towards the two walls hiding the village from view. She and her friends Shinako and Takeshi had been put on a special mission to patrol the border. A threat from a smaller nation was looming towards Suna and she was prepared to protect the village she loved with her life.

Though she had her heart broken, she recovered well and was no longer hung up on what she and Kiyoshi had said and done, in fact, she felt stronger because of it. She was a kunoichi, and kunoichi endured whatever they could for the sake of their village. She had endured and recovered and now she was going to keep moving towards her goal she had made after first becoming a Jounin.

"While I breathe, no harm will come t'my village..." She said out loud, only to have the wind knocked out of her when she bumped into someone during her thoughts. "Ah damn!" She grunted, dusting herself off before she looked up at the man before her.

He was a unique one, that much she could say. He had deathly white skin, and long black hair slightly covering one of his snake-like yellow eyes adorned with purple markings. His expression was blank as if assessing her, and it was unnerving, to say the least.

"Heh..." She started awkwardly, placing a hand on her hip. "Sorry 'bout that, I was in my own head!" With a wave, she started walking off. "Try wearing a bell next time!"

Ignoring her, the man continued down his path, only to pause about ten feet from where he was halted to begin with. Slowly he turned and watched as the Sunagakure Jounin kicked off into a jog, his eyes narrowed slightly in recognition. He knew that face, it had been the face he had seen in the trees during the Second Great Shinobi War. She was the woman who had single-handedly killed several Konoha Jounin out of pure rage.

The man's blank frown slowly warped into a malicious grin as he felt the excitement bubble in his chest. He had been right to keep her alive, though back then it was because he saw no use in killing her there and then. What an amusing turn of events.

She could be of use to him, after all, it had been ten years at least since that day and there was no doubt she would have improved during all this time.

Lifting a single hand, he positioned his fingers into a seal and vanished from sight in a puff of smoke.

Meanwhile Kaede got to the gates and stopped in front of her friends, breathing heavily, she had ran the remainder of the way there to avoid being late, but as usual, Takeshi had to point out her mistakes. "You're late Kaede..." He said, his arms crossed with a frown on his lips. "This is a crucial mission, what were you doing?"

"Ah sorry, I bumped into someone on the way here, it slowed me down a little!" She said, straightening up and placing a hand on her hip, looking as carefree as ever. "Alright, what're we standing around for! We're going t'get scolded if we wait around for too long!" Without waiting for them, she kicked off into the desert, making her friends sigh with defeat.

"That's what we should be saying to you..." Shinako said softly with an amused giggle while Takeshi just rolled his eyes and kicked off after her, with Shinako following behind. Soon after, the three of them were running side by side towards their destination, like a true team.

Unaware of the shadow that pursued them.

~BHBL~

The three Jounin spent a long time traveling towards the border, in fact by the time they reached a valley full of cylindrical boulders, it was past midnight. Despite the time Kaede and the others kept their wits about them, their expressions blank, only their eyes showing caution.

They felt like someone was watching them, eyeing their every move. "Guys, d'you feel that too?" Kaede asked softly, and both her teammates nodded silently.

Takeshi listened carefully for any kind of noise and suddenly moved when sand crunched a little bit to their right. Tossing a kunai from his pouch, he heard someone cry out and fall to the ground. It was a shinobi from one of the smaller nations.

Before the three of them could do anything, they were surrounded by the man's platoon, three strong Jounin with evil smiles. "Looks like they found us!" The leader said, glancing towards his dead comrade with a frown. "You'll pay for this!"

"Guys get back, I'm going t'end this quickly!" Kaede told them, thrusting out her arm to exaggerate her point. "Trust me, this'll be over in no time!"

Shinako and Takeshi looked at one another curiously, both showing slight hesitance before they nodded. "Alright, but if things get rough, we're joining in!" Takeshi told her, jumping up at the same time as Shinako and landing on a cylindrical boulder, out of harm's way.

The enemy shinobi all laughed and taunted her for trying to take them on at once, and she smirked, preparing her hands for her flurry of complicated seals. Unknown to her or any of her team, a man with snake yellow eyes stood in the shadows of one of the faraway boulders, watching Kaede's every move with a curious curl of his lips.

'Now...Show me your power!'

Suddenly the shinobi kicked off from the ground and ran at her with a battle cry. Kaede's lips split into a quick grin, her hands moving in a flurry, forming her seals. "Katon: Kasai Suīpu!" She called, inhaling a large portion of air before swinging her head and exhaling a moderately sized line of fire.

Of course, the shinobi stopped and staggered back out of it's range, laughing at her weak jutsu. "You call that fire?" One of them taunted, pausing with a hum of confusion when the fire slowly separated, still hanging in the air, but enough sohe could see the new signs her hands were making. "Oh crap!"

Panicking they stepped back only for Kaede to call out the name of her jutsu. "Futon: Daitoppa!" She took a large intake of air and blew it out onto the flames, jumping into the air when the fire spread across the whole battlefield.

The man in the shadows, watching this, hearing the shinobi scream as they were burned to a crisp, let a gleeful grin twist his lips. His snake-like eyes fueled with excitement at her powerful jutsu. 'Wonderful...' He thought, licking his lips. 'Her power has room for improvement, however...I could find great use in her...'

With a dark chuckle, he performed the same sign as before and vanished in a puff of smoke, while Kaede landed beside her friends and watched as the shinobi all fell, dead. He would return in a year's time to collect his prize, until then, he would let her continue training and improving.

If she was powerful now, he could only imagine with elation what she would be like in another year. With her power, his ambitions may just become reality.

A sinister laugh echoed in the moonlight as the man appeared back in the Country of Fire's borders, continuing his trek back to his village. Eagerly awaiting the passing of the next year.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 4 - How it All Began


She was exhausted.

With a heaved sigh in the dark moonlit night, Kaede trudged through the two stone walls of Sunagakure with a heavy backpack slung over one shoulder and bags under her brown eyes. "God, that mission took a long time..." She said softly, slowing her footing as she held the back of her neck and moved it around until it cracked. "I ain't doing that again for a while..."

The thirty-eight-year-old kunoichi started walking down the path to her home with her head held high. She was looking forward to just sitting there on her sofa with a tasty meal with peace and quiet as her company.

Though it was only a smaller mission, she had to go with a team of medical specialists to a dark forest and guard them as they collected herb samples for their research in various cures. She didn't expect them to take so long, but those specialists were stubborn.

Kaede let out a soft laugh when she remembered one of them confronting her, demanding she understand the importance of medicine. Of course, she yelled back in defense but they made up in the end when the specialist found a rare plant and forgot she was even there to begin with. Just looking back to that moment made her laugh.

Suddenly the Jounin froze, an unsettling sensation weighing down her chest as she looked both left and right with caution. Was someone watching her? Deep in the pit of her stomach, she felt as if she was being followed like a destructive shadow was waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

Knowing she had stayed still for too long, she took a deep breath and continued. Kaede was finding it hard to believe she imagined it after all another war was looming, and every ninja in her village was on edge.

She was no exception.

As time passed, the feeling slowly melted away and Kaede relaxed, a comfortable smirk replaced her tense frown. Stretching out her arms, she linked them behind her head and stared up at the moon. It was full and large, beaming down rays of white, dim light onto the world they stood upon.

It was very calming.

Before long, Kaede stood outside her apartment, feeling around her flak jacket and trouser pockets for the keys to her front door. "Ah, where did I put them?" She mumbled, only to let out a noise of triumph when she found them. Unlocking the door, Kaede stepped over the threshold and kicked the wooden barrier closed behind her.

The older kunoichi grinned excitedly at the thought of relaxing after so long and tossed her bag onto the ground by her dresser, she'd sort it out later. Within minutes she had her flak jacket, forehead protector and shuriken case tossed half-hazardly on her bedsheets and was making her way into the kitchen with her beloved Icha-Icha Paradise in hand.

"Should I have homemade curry or ready-made curry?" She asked herself as she stopped at the kitchen counters and reached up into the cupboard, shrugging. "Heh, there's no contest! I'll take ready-made curry over homemade curry any day!"

However just as Kaede's fingers brushed the box with her favorite meal tucked inside, she felt that unease come back suddenly and heard a noise in the corner of her kitchen. Before anyone could even blink, she dove from the cupboard to the corner of the room and pinned the intruder against the wall, her arm pressed against the stranger's neck to hold them.

With a mental curse, she remembered that she left her shuriken holder on the bed and she knew even so much as shifting the weight from her arm could be dangerous in her situation. Hell, she couldn't even use Ninjutsu without torching her house or cutting it to shreds. "Who're you?" She started her tone and expression the opposite of what it was a moment ago. Cold, dangerous eyes kept their gaze on the shadowed figure with a deep frown set upon her lips. "What're y'doing in my house?"

The person did not answer, not for a moment anyway, instead what filled the air was dark, sinister laughter that held nothing but sickening amusement. "Interesting, despite being unarmed, you willingly approach an enemy..." Kaede's eyes narrowed, that voice, though painfully hoarse, was indeed male.

She had many questions for this intruder before she would choose the appropriate actions in dealing with him. Who was he, what was he doing here and which village did he work for? Along with several others of equal importance.

However, Kaede made one fatal mistake in her both her interrogation and restraining methods...Her mind had wandered, only for a second, but this man, though pinned, was far quicker than she was.

Suddenly Kaede coughed hard and bent at the waist, staggering back while blood filled her vision. The stranger had moved so quickly, landing a blow to her right abdomen. However, the pain was too unbearable to have been a weaponless blow.

Of course, she had been right.

The woman's eyes fell to the kunai embedded into her abdomen she knew she had been right. She could see the blood dripping from the blade and her hands trembled near the handle of the dagger. "A-agh!" She ground out, coughing up blood before gritting her stained teeth tightly due to the intense sting that made it's way through her body like electricity across water.

Seeing no immediate threat, the man slowly walked forward towards the weak rays of moonlight coming through her closed curtains. He stopped just as his body began to become visible in this soft illumination, showing his entire upper torso and the lower half of his face, a smirk on his lips against his deathly white skin. Kaede felt as if she had seen this person before, but with the injury and threat stood before her she didn't have time to recall where.

However she was able to distinguish the green Konohagakure flak jacket the man wore, she felt nothing but discomfort at the sight. Why would they send a Jounin to attack her, what use was she? Right now Konoha and Suna had an alliance, wasn't this a step in the wrong direction?

The pain was flooding through her mind, confusing her, making her dizzy as the world began to darken around the edges. This attack had been well executed, he had stabbed her in such a way that she would be unable to move immediately or die suddenly. Therefore his intention wasn't to kill but to keep her alive.

This caused even more questions to flood her dull mind as she tried her hardest to keep conscious before the threat she faced.

"What a foolish decision that was for someone of your rank." The man sneered, taunting her with her mistakes. Grinding her teeth in anger at his obvious mockery, she yanked the kunai from her stomach despite the pain and coughed up a little more blood from the internal damage. Then, despite knowing her own weaknesses, kicked off towards the man, lunging at him with the bloody weapon in hand.

Of course, Kaede had once again underestimated the man she faced as he moved ever so quickly, appearing behind her. Gasping with wide eyes, Kaede didn't have time to turn before the man's hand slammed into the back of her neck, making her freeze in place and drop her weapon.

The shocked expression that had overtaken the Ninjutsu expert's features melted into daze and weakness as the world tilted and swayed around her. She was only just aware that she had fallen to her knees by the dull thump in her ears and the tingling sensation in her numb joints. Kaede barely heard the man's dark laughter as she careened forward and landed hard on her stomach, eyes blank, staring at the door before her.

Slowly those eyes began to slip shut as if she was settling into a deep slumber, and the world darkened until her vision finally shut down. The laughter that had filled the air moments ago began to melt away into muted silence as the strong Jounin lost consciousness.

Staring at her as the intruder moved a little closer and crouched down, looking over her form to ensure she was truly inert. When he was certain that she would be unable to resist he grinned maliciously, with her unconscious, it would be far easier to remove her from the village. He didn't waist a moment as he gathered her up in his arms and tossed her over his shoulder, holding her thigh to keep her in place.

'I need to be quick...If I stay too long, this simple task will become far more difficult...' The stranger thought to himself, making haste and stepping towards the door to the next room. However, he stopped with a hum when he stepped on something that was slightly too high to be the floor.

Curious eyes tilted down and focused on a book under his foot, holding a name he was very familiar with. A frown set deep on the shadow's features as he stared at it in thought. 'This woman had it on her person, even during the fight...' Crouching down, he lifted Icha-Icha Paradise and turned it at different angles for inspection. 'judging by the state of the book alone I can tell that this is a valuable possession to her...Perhaps it will prove useful later."

The sinister man stood and pocketed the book in the pouch at the back of his pants, before quickly leaving the building without any more delays.

...Or so he thought, just moments after leaving the village and entering the harsh terrain of the desert, he crossed a small difficulty that needed to be resolved fairly quickly before it became a big problem.

"Kae-chan!"

Looking back, the man saw a Sunagakure Jounin with spiked bleach blonde hair and fuchsia eyes. "Stop right there! I won't let you take her!" Kiyoshi yelled to him, pulling out several shurikens from his holder in case the intruder fought back.

The stranger's lips twisted into a sickening grin and he stopped, keeping a firm grip on the unconscious Kaede as he looked Kiyoshi in the eye. "Hmhm...I could do with some exercise..." He said, licking his lips with an unnaturally long tongue, his eyes alone scaring Kaede's former lover, however the unnerving action the shadowed figure made only added to the feeling, causing him to step back.

Without hesitation, Orochimaru lunged forward with a dangerous hiss.

There would be no witnesses.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 5 - Ten Years of Hell


Pain.

That was all she could feel in the darkness that enveloped her. Unable to see or hear, this was the only thing she had that proved she was alive. There was a light, a small, flickering light, but she was too tired to reach for it.

As if hearing her struggles, the light grew brighter, forcing her consciousness to reawaken and her eyes to slowly open to a blurry, unfamiliar setting. All she could see was a blue-tinted room with blurry figures in containers some distance away.

"Wh-wha...?" Kaede slurred, slowly sitting up, only to hiss and grip her abdomen in agony, rousing her completely from her dazed thoughts. "Ah crap!" She snarled, gritting her teeth and hugging her wound a little tighter.

It was then that she hummed and moved her arm, noticing that her upper body was covered in nothing but bandages and a strange blue gown was folded neatly a small distance in front of her. "The hell...?" She mumbled, trying to make sense of the situation.

Her eyes widened suddenly when she remembered the events that took place in Sunagakure and with a gasp, the Ninjutsu expert's head snapped up and she looked around with clear vision. She was in a laboratory of sorts, tinted blue with several inhuman experiments in the containment cells around her. Feeling a sense of distress, the woman's eyes widened and she quickly got to her feet to inspect further.

"Where in God's name...?" She questioned out loud as her head jerked from left to right, turning her body a full 360 to see every area around her. She was in a larger containment cell than some of the experiments. There was a toilet, a sink with a mirror situated above it and a mattress settled in the far right-hand corner.

With the way this looked, it was likely that she was nothing more than a prisoner. "Where the hell am I?!" She roared, turning and quickly running towards the door, tugging hard on the handle of the only exit connected to the glass walls of her 'room.' "C'mon y'son of a-" After a growl and a hard tug, she hissed and staggered back, having flexed the muscles of her abdomen too much.

Breathing heavily and hugging the wound she adorned, she wasn't aware, at first, of the familiar laughter that filled the air. Finally hearing it, Kaede's entire body froze and her head snapped up in the direction of the unsettling chuckle. "Is that all you're good at?" She called, her eyes narrowing with disgust as nothing but bite and hatred filled her tone. "Hiding in the shadows?"

Before her, a figure she recognized all too well began to walk forward from the darkness until he was stood right in front of the glass, completely visible, unlike their last encounter. She knew this man, though she couldn't pinpoint where from, his appearance was familiar.

He was a man with long, waist-length black hair and unsettling snake-like yellow eyes adorned with purple markings and a grin that made even the most peace-loving of people hate his sorry ass. The sight of this stranger alone was both sickening and unnerving.

"I have to say, little fire-breather, that your bravery in this situation is quite commendable..." The man said, his hoarse, twisted voice making her grimace while nothing but a grin curled his white lips.

"Where am I?" Kaede repeated once again now that the panic she had felt calmed. Letting go of her stomach and standing in an alert, battle-ready stance, if push comes to shove, she'd kill him right there and then. "Why am I here? I demand y'tell me right now!"

The man lifted his chin and spoke to her as if looking down at her under his nose, his words were almost dripping with glee. "You're currently in the darkest corner of my lovely little hideout..." He chuckled and lowered his head once again. "I have seen your remarkable ability to control both Katon and Futon based Chakra Natures and feel if handled correctly, those skills could be both devasting to some and irreplaceable to the one who commands them...Therefore until I believe I have reached some interesting results, I will perform a series of experiments on you until that wonderful power you hold is unlocked for me to use accordingly."

The hair on the back of Kaede's neck stood on end at the way this man was speaking, she felt like nothing but an object he planned on playing with and it disgusted her. She would not be used to cause misfortune to others, that was not what she wanted, she was a Suna Jounin, she would help her village, not hurt it.

"Sorry t'burst your bubble, asshole..." Kaede started, her brown eyes fixed on his with nothing but suspicion and anger. "But there's no way I'll be used as your little lab rat!" Though she said this, there was a whisper in the back of her mind telling her she had no choice in the matter.

Of course what made this whisper worse was when the dangerous creep before her voiced her uncomfortable thought. "I don't think you have a choice...Either way, your abilities are mine to manipulate..."

With quick, furious movements Kaede's fist connected with the glass, having moved from the middle of the cell to the wall in a matter of seconds. Her rage induced snarl did nothing to intimidate the man who had not even flinched when she punched the glass right where his nose would have been, save for the barrier separating them.

Though she was proving very defiant with her angry motions and strong tones, she looked nothing but pathetic, like a mouse trying to scare off a hungry snake. "Listen t'me, Snake Eyes!" She started, her knuckles white as her fist continued to press against the glass, trying to vent her anger a little. "I don't care what kind of sick, twisted thoughts go through that psychotic mind of your's, I ain't going t'be your personal guinea pig! I'll escape this hellhole, find my village and lead them here to take out your sorry ass, got it?!"

Silence filled the dark air for a moment before Kaede's blood ran cold at the sinister laughter that echoed around the room and the chilling, mind-numbing words left the snake man's mouth. "Oh, I doubt your precious village would even bother to waste their time listening to you~"

Kaede's expression softened into numbing confusion. "What d'you mean?" With a quick hand, she punched the glass again and glared at him with furious hatred. "Tell me!"

Finding nothing but glee and entertainment in her panic, the man spoke without hesitation. "In the desert, not far from your precious little village...Lies the body of a shinobi who tried to save you." Kaede felt like the entire world just stopped around her. "At this moment they will have discovered the fact that you are missing...Your forehead protector, still sitting on the cold bedsheets in your room, along with the blood on your kitchen floor will make you a suspect in the man's murder..."

Kaede's fist slowly fell from the glass wall, her expression blank, unsure how to process his words. "Once the body is found and the evidence is piled together, there is a very high probability that you will be given the title of a Rogue Kunoichi and upon entering your beloved homestead, you will be imprisoned and perhaps even executed for your crimes."

"...Liar..." She breathed, letting out a noise of uncontrolled anger as she struck the transparent wall once again. "Liar, liar, liar!" She continued, repeating the word over and over, hitting the glass each and every time. Eventually, the skin of her knuckles tore away and blood splattered along the clear surface as the strong woman dropped to her knees, slamming her fist against the floor below her and she ground her teeth.

Having had his fun with her, Orochimaru decided to leave, turning and walking towards the door leading to a barely lit hallway. "Just..." He heard his new experiment start, only to trail off, in which he responded to by looking over his shoulder, indicating his focused attention.

Collecting her voice, she spoke with nothing but strangled disgust, anger, hatred, and denial. "Just who d'you think y'are?" She looked at him through her short bangs, a snarl curling at her lips.

Smirking, he wasted no time in answering. "I am Orochimaru...You'll do well to remember it..." Turning once again, the man left her to her thoughts.

Grinding her teeth, Kaede hissed out the name with bile rising in her throat at the mere sound of it. "Orochimaru..." Punching the ground again she recognized the name, he was one of the Legendary Sannin, a man who had almost spotted her platoon hiding in a tree during the Second Shinobi War and someone she had accidentally bumped into on an uneventful day over a year ago.

Cursing her luck that she caught his attention she ran her fingers through her fringe and tried to calm her ragged nerves. All she could do now was make sure he didn't get his way.

Eventually, she would either escape, or her village would find her. She refused to believe what he said was true, surely her family and allies alike knew better than to believe she would be capable of killing a comrade.

~BHBL~

A month had passed since she arrived in this hellhole, well, she thought it was a month, it was hard to tell in this dark, underground hideout. Sitting on the semi-soft bedspread in her Suna Jounin pants and the blue hospital gown covering her torso, she did nothing but count the hours, and search for a weak spot in the glass.

Apparently, according to her captor, until her wounds healed completely, there was no way he could conduct his inhuman experiments without risking her life. Therefore to save her own skin, she had spent the last two days pretending to change bandages and feigned pain whenever she stood up.

Of course, she was aware he probably knew otherwise and was just amusing himself with her attempts at keeping herself safe, but that wouldn't stop her. If he found humour in it, that must mean that he would continue to draw out that entertainment until it lost meaning.

With a heaved sigh, Kaede rested her head on the glass behind her, looking up at the lights on the top of the cell, wishing she could get out of here and go home. She wasn't an idiot, more than once had she attempted to escape using different methods.

Slamming into the glass, pointless.

Cutting the glass up with wind first to weaken it, not a scratch.

Melt the glass with fire, it was hot to touch, but that didn't help at all.

It only took these three things for her to figure out that it was Ninjutsu proof glass and only the most powerful ninja could break free of it. Either that or Taijutsu experts, but just her luck that she failed miserably in that aspect.

"Enjoying a moment of peace, Kaede?"

The woman looked down without so much as a noise of acknowledgement and stared at the man she swore would pay for his atrocious crimes. "What d'you want, Orochimaru..." She asked bitterly as the man chuckled and looked at the clipboard tucked under his arm.

"It seems you've finally recovered from your little wound at long last..." He said, smirking as he met her gaze. "For a kunoichi, your skills at deceit are rather stale."

"Yeah, but y'open that door and my other skills may just burn you a little." Kaede threatened him, not a hint of her usual laidback attitude on her face. The entire time she had been here, her more relaxed side had not shown itself once, the situation was that dire, she didn't feel like smiling.

Orochimaru laughed at her words and lifted his hand, causing her to go on the alert. "Threatening your captor may not be the best idea, Kaede..." He warned her, before snapping his fingers.

Suddenly Kaede gasped and spun as a strong hiss was heard and she looked up to see a blue-tinted gas coming from small nozzles in the corners of the room. "Shi-" She started, before covering her mouth with her arm, keeping the gas that now began to creep over her head from entering her lungs.

She had to escape, now! Even with her level, she was still human, she couldn't hold her breath for very long.

She would have used her jutsu, but with the gas slowly filling the cell, she'd end up blowing not only the entire hideout to smithereens, but kill herself in the process. However, she might be able to keep herself conscious a little while longer if she kept a constant stream of air swirling around her.

Removing her arm from her lips, she created the signs needed for the jutsu, only to stop before she inhaled. 'Oh crap!' Cursing vividly in her head, she covered her mouth with her hand and gripped her chest, feeling the ever so desperate burn for oxygen.

She couldn't use Futon without inhaling, and right now that was dangerous.

Orochimaru watched her with a sick look of pleasure as she struggled to fight his gaseous assault. It was amusing to have a defiant experiment for once. He watched Kaede run towards the door and tug on the handle as hard as she could, but it wouldn't budge, she was trapped and her vision was darkening around the edges.

Her muscles spasmed for air and she couldn't hold it any longer. With a harsh gasp, she inhaled a fair amount of the gas and felt her lungs burn from the intruding fumes. Her mind was going fuzzy and she staggered back with dulling eyes.

"Now perhaps I can work in peace..." Orochimaru said to her as she fell to the ground, losing consciousness upon impact. Laughing darkly, he walked towards the cell door and pulled out the key.

"Your Chakra is my first priority~"

~BHBL~

It was her own groan that made her aware of her surroundings as she slowly came to after hours of unknown experimentation. Slowly opening her eyes, Kaede looked around the glass room with blurred vision. She could feel the mattress below her and knew she was back in that hellhole she wished she could escape from.

All she could remember was being in this cell and inhaling some sort of gas, then her mind went blank. She could feel an intense burn in her chest and groaned again, hugging the area as curled into a ball to avoid the pain.

"Ahhhh, crap!" She cursed, opening an eye and looking down the collar of her hospital robe to see what was going on. Her blood ran cold at the sight that met her.

She was wrapped securely in bandages and had nothing but the robe keeping her decent now. Unsure what to make of this situation, she slowly sat up, holding her chest to keep the pain in check as she looked herself over.

"What the hell...?" She slurred, shaking her head to remove the last of the anesthetic. It took a moment, but she realized what had happened. Orochimaru had sworn to experiment upon her, and that meant she would find new wounds every time she was knocked out.

At that moment, a wave of sickening nausea overpowered her and she covered her mouth, standing and running to the toilet. She barely had enough time to drop to her knees before she threw up into the metal bowl.

Disgust flooded her as she stared down at the contents of the toilet with wide eyes and a shaking gasp in her elevated breathing. She had to get out of here, she couldn't afford to stay much longer. If she remained for too long, she wouldn't be able to call herself human anymore.

If she didn't get out of this trap she had fallen into, he'd continue to dissect and change her as much as he pleased. The thought alone made her stomach furl once again and another wave of bile to escape her system.

"I'm not going t'let y'change me..." She growled, spitting into the bowl before her lips curled into a snarl. "I'd rather die first!"

~BHBL~

Kaede had lost track of the time several days ago, but assumed it to have been about two months since her kidnapping. Now she laid back against her mattress and just lost herself in her thoughts to pass the time.

On her chest, just slightly visible over the collar of her hospital gown, were two tips of a large X shaped scar covering the expanse of her brests and collarbone. Turns out, after the healing had finished, she realized that he had inspected her Chakra System during the first experiment. Now she was stuck with a permanent reminder that she was nothing but a lab rat now.

Nausia filled her at the mere thought, but she was getting better at holding it back. Her second experiment had already taken place over a week ago, and there was a small scar on her lower abdomen to prove it. Even then she'd thrown up, but given time, that would pass and she'd be able to stomach the thought of this torture without losing her lunch.

Unless she managed to escape first.

Hearing a familiar set of footsteps, she pretended to be lost in thought, as she was just a moment ago. Hoping the asshole she wanted dead would just do his business and leave her in peace.

Of course, that didn't happen often, and today was no exception.

Eventually, she looked down her nose to the glass wall facing his lab, and saw him standing there, staring at her, awaiting her to acknowledge him with a sickening smirk on his pale lips. "What're y'so happy about?" She asked, irritation in her tone as she sat up and leaned against the wall, her legs stretched out to avoid him seeing up her gown.

"I have some wonderful news~" He stated, shoulders shaking as a sinister chuckle left his throat. "I believe I know the identity of the shinobi that fell by 'your' hand..."

Kaede felt her stomach sink with disturbing premonition and huffed, looking back up at the ceiling. "Just hurry up and leave...I ain't in the mood for your sadistic crap-"

"Hamada Kiyoshi."

It took less than a second for the name to register to Kaede and for her eyes to widen and heart to stop. She must have heard wrong, Hamada Kiyoshi? It couldn't be, he lived on the other side of the village, what would he be doing near her home on the night she was attacked?

"Liar!" The captive kunoichi snapped, sitting up suddenly and glaring at the dark figure on the other side of the glass. "There's no way in hell Kiyoshi would die by your hand!"

"Oh? Is this Kiyoshi-kun important to you?" He asked, knowing full well that they had been romantically involved. After hearing the name, he had done some digging and found out that she was once his spouse. "I'll have you know, little fire-breather, that I am not lying."

She could hear the amusement and honesty in his voice and her heart clenched, only to tighten into a burn that was akin to strong anger and hatred. With the speed of a vengeful soul, she ran at the glass and slammed her fist into where his face would have been, reminding him gleefully of the day she had awoken in this dark laboratory.

What fueled her anger even more, was the fact that he hadn't even flinched, not then and not now. He knew she couldn't fight back, and that made him arrogant and her helpless.

"You liar!" She roared, punching the glass again, her eyes almost alight with an insane form of fury while her teeth ground together so hard the man himself could hear it, even behind the glass. "You're a monster, a scumbag, a spineless bastard who deserves t'DIE!"

Grinning at the sight of her horrified anger, he turned and left without another word, having wanted a reaction out of her. Meanwhile, the traumatized woman dropped to her knees and gripped the transparent wall with one hand while she clung to her gown with the other.

Soft pattering noises filled the air and Kaede choked out a sob as she sat there, crying over the death of the man who had stolen and broken her heart so long ago. Hamada Kiyoshi may have hurt her in the end, but a first love was never forgotten.

Now she'd never see him again.

~BHBL~

She was pacing with an unsettling look of discomfort on her face. The experienced kunoichi had forgotten how long she'd been there for, but guessed it had been several months, if not a year at best. She was losing the will to fight back now, and had to keep herself moving to avoid her own mind.

Kaede knew the moment she sat down and allowed the weight of her non-stop experiments to get to her, she'd never find the strength to stand again. Sometimes she'd count her scars, or take long naps, even pace or train to keep herself occupied, but the urge to sit down and just let the world pass was beginning to settle into the back of her mind.

Every two weeks to a month she was knocked out in various ways to be experimented on, sometimes it was a drug, sometimes gas and sometimes Orochimaru himself entered the chamber and knocked her out forcefully. When she awoke, there was always new scars, be it one or several and it was making her nervous.

When was her next experiment, how long would she be out for, and what if she died on the table and never awoke again? With a groan, she finally sat down on her bed and closed her eyes, leaning it against the glass wall behind her.

Hell, she'd tried everything to escape, but hadn't trained in so long. She didn't want to please the bastard by increasing her powers under his observation. However whenever she had a moment alone, she'd secretly do Chakra training to increase her powerful Ninjutsu, but it did nothing to weaken the strong walls surrounding her.

'Will I ever get out of here?' She asked herself, opening her exhausted eyes. 'I've forgotten what freedom feels like...'

~BHBL~

It wasn't two months later that Kaede rested lifelessly on her bed, her head hunched forward with a blank, fightless expression covering her once defiant features. She had sat down and since then had thought back to her torturous experiments more and more. Eventually, the darkness that had been covering the back of her mind had taken over the rest of her body, leaving an empty shell.

She didn't have the strength to fight any more, she could only sit there and accept her unending fate. She couldn't escape, she couldn't see her loved ones ever again and she'd die here, as a pathetic lab rat with no future.

Eventually, just like the experiments before her, she'd live out whatever time she had left and die in the container she might as well call home.

What use was fighting any more?

~BHBL~

Orochimaru stared at Kaede, frowning at the less than promising sight before him. She would barely move these days, even with his taunts she refused to respond, as if she had died. The only proof he had that she was still alive was that she'd shuffle around when she needed the toilet, when she ate, and sometimes when she took a decontaimination shower before an experiment.

She'd given up fighting him and sometimes she would just walk out of the cell with him keeping a close eye on her, and allow the tests to take place. Sometimes she was conscious but numbed, but most of the time she was unconscious.

She ate her food, but didn't check for pills any longer and she slept far more than before, but was plagued with many night terrors, leaving her a broken mess. Hell, the only thing that still reminded him that she was Kaede was the fact that she would throw up after most of the experiments out of disgust.

Though she lacked an emotional response even then.

Three years after she had been kidnapped and it was too much for the kunoichi. Her promising powers when he had first seen her were the only reason he had allowed her to live this long.

If she showed any signs of failure in an experiment, he'd dispose of her there and then, until such a time, she was lucky he was even allowing her to live at all.

~BHBL~

Five years into her experimentation and her depression began to mix with other, more powerful feelings. In her mind, she would make up scenarios, a daydream of if she ever escaped. Recently one of her more dominant daydreams involved the death of the snake Sannin currently reading some older reports from her experiments and comparing the results between that and the newer ones.

She was lucky, after five years she had slowly, but steadily increased in her abilities, going by the chakra charts he held, her power had upped enough for her to use her jutsu more effectively, with less strain. However, this was just theoretical, only when she could be of practical use could he test this theory to see if that was the case.

Kaede watched him with a glare that could kill a weaker man as she ate the meal that had been prepared for her ten minutes ago, having found the energy to eat and move around more than she had earlier in the year.

She wanted him dead, and to do that, she needed to refuel and train, even if it meant giving him the results he wanted. If she didn't, she'd end up nothing more than a pawn in his mysterious plans.

Why else would he kidnap and experiment on people? No one did that without a motive, and she would stop his one way or another.

~BHBL~

It was very peaceful in the hideout one night, Kaede hadn't felt this at peace in a long time. She felt like something good was going to happen, and wondered if this would be the night she'd finally escape.

Right now she was on her stomach, doing push-ups to keep herself in decent shape. She barely had time to exercise during her six years here, due to healing and experiments, but when she did, she made sure to keep up her kunoichi build with at least an hour of non-stop training.

The silence surrounding her and the hideout, made her plans to escape easier to formulate and put into action.

Of course, all good things come to an end, and this was no different. Down the corridor, she could hear footsteps and voices. Letting out a groan, Kaede realized that her 'lord and master' had returned from his 'walk.'

"This is my hideout. No one knows about it." Orochimaru's faint voice spoke, sounding as if he was speaking to another. Pausing in her exercise routine, she got to her feet and walked up to the wall facing the laboratory, sitting down against it, as if she were resting. "Which means you're my very first visitor."

Kaede's eyes narrowed, making sure she was looking ahead to avoid suspicion. The new arrival was a volunteer, another experiment, maybe...Or perhaps an apprentice? Orochimaru wasn't against new talent, after all.

Hearing the footsteps come closer, Kaede's head turned as the door opened and she watched Orochimaru enter the room, giving her one glance before allowing the visitor in after him. Before her stood a boy, no older than fifteen with white hair and black eyes. By his garb, she assumed him to be part of Iwagakure. Why would a boy like him be here? he looked confused and very much an innocent, kind person at first sight.

If anything, he looked scared and traumatized, which only made her wonder what had gone on before he arrived.

Orochimaru closed the door and walked over to the faraway chair near his desk, sitting down while the boy looked around and locked eyes with Kaede. Who huffed and looked away.

He too wondered why she was here, but judging by the other creatures and human hybrids in tanks around her's, he realized that she was probably an experiment of some sort. Fearing this, he stepped back and swallowed hard.

Just where the hell was he?

"You can approach me, Kabuto..." Orochimaru told him, chuckling at the confusion the boy named Kabuto adorned on his features. "I won't bite."

Kaede let out a loud laugh to counteract his statement and Orochimaru only smirked in response. She had her old attitude back, so he expected nothing less.

Kabuto hesitated, but stepped forward until he was a small distance from the 'throne' Orochimaru was sat upon. Collecting his thoughts for a moment, a rather prominant question left the scared teen's lips. "Why did you bring me here?" He asked, raising his arms slightly, as if begging for an honest answer. "What are you going to do with me?"

Kaede was surprised to hear that the boy had entered the hideout of his own accord, but knew nothing of what would become of him. Like a mouse walking into the snake's hideaway without knowing it was the reptile's latest meal.

"You are becoming more and more curious..." Orochimaru stated, his tone softer than usual, as if to ease the boy's discomfort. "That's a good thing. People can never escape their curiosity...Which is why you followed me here."

"Then tell me quickly!" Kabuto demanded as he yanked the Iwagakure forehead protector off his head and tossed it aside as if it were poison. "You know what I want to know, don't you?"

Kaede turned her head further, no longer hiding the fact that she was listening. Orochimaru held a lot of information, she understood this, even a sick mind had intelligence. Just what information did this 'Kabuto' want to know?

"To be frank, the Root had decided to dispose of both you and Mother..." Orochimaru began, his expression still holding that unsettling smirk it always had.

Kabuto let out a soft gasp as he processed this, his confusion only strengthening with the vague explaination. "What do you mean?!" He asked, fear and dread sinking deep into his stomach. Somehow, he doubted he wanted to hear the answer.

"You both were too brilliant as spies." Orochimaru said, causing Kabuto's expression to soften and his mouth to fall open a little. There were more questions threatening to leave his lips, but he forced them back to allow the Sannin to explain. "You ended up knowing too much."

"What?" Kabuto breathed softly, looking as if all his strength had been drained away. "We risked our lives for so long, gathering intel for the sake of the village...And this is what we get?"

Kaede felt sorry for the boy, her expression softening as she listened to his saddened words. He was going through a lot right now and she understood what it was like to lose someone, assuming he had lost this 'Mother' to begin with.

"At times, intel becomes even more powerful than the mightiest jutsu or weapon. You are seen as a very dangerous person right now." Orochimaru explained, his tone serious, but a smirk plastered across his lips, showing his lack of empathy. "Well, your fate had been decided from the very beginning...It was in the scenario for you to kill each other in a mutual strike."

The lone woman in her cell grimaced as she listened to every word being said, looking away once again to avoid the man's gaze as he glanced towards her. Intel was surely a dangerous thing, and her disgust for the Sannin who had captured her only increased with each word.

She listened in once again as Orochimaru continued his words, breaking her from her thoughts. "Right after you left the orphanage, Danzo revealed the real reason why you had left. That you sacrificed yourself and joined the Root for money for the orphanage." Kabuto's expression was one of horror as the rogue ninja's words slowly sank in. "Mother wished to liberate you from the Root. As a condition of accepting her wish, Danzo ordered the assasination of a certain person several years ago. Ironically...The target of the assasination...Was you."

The teen's eyes widened as he finally realized why the attack had taken place, but none of Orochimaru's answers brought him peace of mind. Each explaination just gave him more and more questions.

"I thought it was the condition for my release!" Kabuto pointed out, his body tensing as he tried to force back to growing discomfort in the pit of his abdomen. "Why didn't Mother realize it was me?!"

Orochimaru closed his eyes. "I told you...The Root intended for the two of you to take eachother out." He opened his eyes slowly and yellow met black as he continued. "And there was other trickery afoot."

"Trickery?" Kabuto softly repeated, numbed to it all now, he was confused, shocked, scared and traumatized. It was no wonder his emotions had escaped him.

Kaede understood his pain, he had killed someone he loved dearly. Though she had not done the same, she knew the agony of guilt and loss, she had been the reason her platoon had died on a mission so long ago. The poor boy was only a few years younger than she had been, he must be wrung tight with mixed emotions.

The woman turned her head to look at them again when she heard the fluttering sound of scattered papers and saw that Orochimaru had tossed photographs into the air. Which were slowly gliding down to the floor below. Each of them looked a little like Kabuto, but their features had been warped slightly so it was recognizeably a different person all together.

"You and Mother were sent into separate enemy territories so that you would never meet and Mother was kept informed of your well-being and progress through photos." Orochimaru stated as Kabuto looked from one photo to another, surprised and disturbed by the likeness and differences they had with him. "The photos of you were skillfully replaced with those of another without her noticing it. Over time, Mother was made to think that someone else was you."

Kaede was amazed by the thought that went into this process as Orochimaru continued. "Gradual brainwashing. A common practice used by the Root." The boy in the photos looked like Kabuto, but his nose was larger and his eyes held a dull boredom of sorts. "That's the other Kabuto. And so, Nonou tried to kill you, never in her wildest dreams imagining you were Kabuto...She thought you were a double agent who betrayed the village."

The skilled medical shinobi, who had closed his eyes and lowered his head shortly after seeing the photos for the first time, slowly lifted it again with an intake of air, even Kaede was unsettled by the anger in his eyes. "And the Root dispatched you to deal with whoever was left...Is that it?" Even his tone showed how much emotion he was holding back behind restraint.

Tough kid.

"For someone who knows nothing about himself...You're very perceptive."

Of course, Orochimaru barely had time to react as Kabuto quickly made seals and his hands became shrouded with blue chakra forming into a point, like knives. Kaede gasped and stood up as the boy kicked off towards Orochimaru and dove ontop of him, with a flick of his wrist as his hand settled on the pale man's throat, she watched as Orochimaru's blood sprayed through the air.

"I always wanted an explaination about who I was!" Kabuto snapped, eyes alight with insanity as he squeezed his eyes shut. "And I thought I had finally found it! But thanks to you Root bastards, I've lost myself again!"

Without hesitation, Kabuto began to slice into Orochimaru once again, venting out his overwrung anger as he voiced his pain. "These glasses were what linked me to Mother! The name she gave me was mine and mine alone! Mother was supposed to be the parent that didn't forget me, no matter what! But everything's wrong!"

Kaede was a little scared of what this boy was capable of as he cut into the flesh of her captor again and again and again, still stuck in his anguish, still speaking of his suffering. "Then who in the world...am I?!"

It was then that the teenager slowed to a stop and caught his breath, the chakra fading from his bloody hands. Kaede relaxed and walked towards the door as Kabuto gasped and his head snapped up, looking at the mutilated man beneath him.

What had he done? He'd just killed out of cold blood alone, without hesitation, without remorse.

What was he?!

"Hey, kid!" Kaede called, getting the boy's attention, scaring him enough to stagger and fall back. With a quick snap of his head, he met her eyes and she tugged on the door. "D'you mind getting me out of here, I ain't your enemy, I just want t'get home!"

"Wh-what...?" Kabuto whispered, a shake in his voice and fear in his eyes as Kaede groaned and tugged a little harder.

"C'mon! I'm from Sunagakure, I've been trapped here for six years, I just want t'go home, let me out, please!"

Kabuto could hear the desperation in her voice and the begging in her tone and almost plucked up the strength to stand and help her, however, both their eyes shot to the chair as they heard a splattering noise and saw Orochimaru spit up some vile gunk.

"What the hell?!" Kaede called out in horror and shock as she stumbled back until she was against the wall of her cell. Orochimaru slowly slithered out of his own mouth, covered in the same disgusting bile he had upchucked mere seconds ago.

Kaede had never seen something so unnatural, so inhuman in all her life, and she had seen her fair share of horrible sights. How the hell did this man find new ways to prove to her that he lacked any human qualities?!

"You merely lack sufficient intel with which to define yourself." Orochimaru said to the boy who had frozen in fear the moment the man had proved he was alive. "It's just that neither the glasses, nor your name, nor the fact that you're her child were things that denote who you really are."

Orochimaru, who had risen fairly high into the air, still connected to his former skin's mouth, raised his arms and looked down at the shinobi before him. "And that's fine. If you're not satisfied with what you've had so far...Just find other things and add them onto yourself, one by one."

"That's not how someone defines themselves!" Kaede called out, stepping forward with an angry pair of brown eyes. "T'even suggest that proves y'lack morality-"

"I did not ask for your opinion, Kaede..." The way Orochimaru looked at her would have frightened a lesser ninja, but she stood her ground, glaring back without hesitation.

"If you plan on killing me..." Kabuto interrupted, unable to move from his place on the ground. "Why are you telling me all this?"

Orochimaru finally disconnected from his former skin and his legs formed, slowly landing on the ground by his old self's left arm as he answered the scared young man. "I also want to know who, or what, I am and I've been collecting all sorts of things."

A drop of blood falling into a vial beneath it broke through the convesation like a pin dropping in an empty room. It almost made Kabuto jump, but Kaede herself was used to this noise.

"I repeatedly experiment on and inspect these many things I've collected a little at a time...And stored the gained knowledge and abilities within myself." The Sannin slowly started walking towards him. "And then, I undergo rebirth, ever evolving toward a more perfect me. Afterward, I again obtain even more newer items. This time..." A drop of blood interrupted them again as Orochimaru stopped in front of Kabuto. "It's you."

The two of them stared at one another in silence for a moment, the teen unsure if he should trust the man before him. "There's no way you couldn't derive who you are and what you are by gathering all the intel and things that exist in this world."

"Why am I one of those things to you?" Kabuto asked, sitting up, finally able to move once again. Kaede herself listened with curiosity, Orochimaru was insane and this just further proved said point to her already vengeful mind.

Orochimaru let out a weak huff of laughter and raised his head slightly, softer snake-like eyes clearly more visible now that his hair had fallen away from them slightly. Kaede knew not to believe the softeness she saw, he was a monster, a wolf wearing an old woman's clothes. Not to be trusted.

"Because I recognize your talent more than anyone else in this world." The snake shinobi said, raising his hand to emphasize his point. "It would be a waste to kill you. Besides this medical research facility was prepared just for you."

"Bullcrap!" Kaede called out, crossing her arms. "I've been here six years, y'can't tell me that you've been waiting for him for that long!"

"How could you be certain, little fire-breather?" Orochimaru challenged her, his tone all but demanding her to be silent. "My mind is a complex thing, too complex for someone of your level!"

Kaede growled at his obvious insult, she knew for a fact he would not have built this lab purely for this boy, he was just manipulating him into becoming his apprentice. What a dispicable, disgusting, horrible excuse for a human being.

"What are you plotting?" Kabuto asked softly, knowing what Kaede said was true, no one would plan that far ahead, not even the twisted man before him.

"Instead of the Root, which erases individuality...I will create an organization which guides individuality. I will create a village." Orochimaru's grin widened at the thought of his new ambition. "Otogakure...That does not belong to any nation." Kabuto's expression melted into surprise.

"From this moment, you and I will desert Konoha's Root. From this moment, I will be your superior, your brother and your parent. I will protect you from Danzo. From this moment, this will be your new personal history: When you were young, you were found and raised by a Medical Squad Captain following the Battle of Kikyo Pass. After returning to work under Danzo, Yakushi Nonou kept her cover as a captain for the Medical Unit...And you shall be reborn today as her son, Yakushi Kabuto."

Kabuto just stared, unsure what to make of these words as Orochimaru stepped a little closer. "I am Orochimaru. If you want to know who and what you are..." He raised his deathly white hand for Kabuto to take. "Come...Be by my side."

"Don't listen t'him!" Kaede called as Kabuto thought for another moment before slowly standing and stepping towards the Sannin. She even resorted to banging on the glass to get the boy's attention. "Hey, Kabuto, listen t'me! He's a monster, don't listen t'him!"

A single drop of blood cut her off as she realized it was too late, Kabuto had made up his mind, the two men then left the room to find some more suitable garbs for the new Oto shinobi.

"Ah...crap..." Kaede breathed, hitting her head off the glass and resting it there. "Dammit, I was so close too!"

She stood there, like that until the two of them returned, raising her head, despite the red mark she had gained, and listened as Orochimaru gave Kabuto his first order. "There's another organization I want you to look into..."

"Please leave it to me..." Kabuto said, his tone dull, unable to feel anything else after such a stressful couple of hours. "What is this organization?"

"The Akatsuki."

Kaede didn't feel too good about the future that would follow this new development. Maybe she should have just stayed over her friend's house the day she came back from that mission, all those years ago. Maybe then she wouldn't be witnessing such annoying and horrible events take place.

She missed the simple life.

~BHBL~

With a groan of exhaustion, Kaede rolled over in her bed to continue her comfortable rest. She was dreaming that she had just finished another mission for her village and was going out to celebrate with her friends and family.

Of course, that was only a fantasy as the woman opened her eyes slowly, returning to the land of the living as her consciousness slowly awoke to a new 'day.' Hell, she had no idea what time it was, due to the dark laboratory she was in, which lacked windows, she only had her own exhaustion to tell her when it was time to sleep.

It could be midnight for all she knew.

Sitting up, she yawned and stretched, only to hiss when she closed her mouth and felt something cut her lip. "Ow, dammit." She mumbled, touching the soft flesh and bringing her finger away from it, seeing a drop of red liquid on the tip. "Great..." She grumbled, touching it again.

However, she froze when she felt a foreign object digging gently into the skin of her thumbpad. It felt like...A canine, but it was sharper, more lethal than any canine a normal human being possessed.

Realizing something was wrong, Kaede quickly scrambled to her feet and ran to the mirror, almost skidding past it in her slight panic. Grabbing the sink, she prepared herself for what she'd see and lifted her head, inhaling sharply at the sight that met her.

On the left side of her slightly agape mouth, one of her canine had extended further and was noticeably sharper than the other. In the eyes of anyone viewing it, it looked like an out of place fang, as if her body had mutated and she was changing.

Realizing what had caused such a strange disfigurment in her healthy top teeth, she growled and gripped the sink so tight, if she had been a Taijutsu expert, it would have cracked. "Damn you, Orochimaru..."

This was proof that she was changing, becoming something inhuman and disgusting. Something that had been warped by constant experiments and would be seen to society as a freak of nature.

This revelation both disturbed and angered her as she took deep breaths, trying to calm her rising fury. She had finally decided on what her plan of action would be the moment she escaped this vile, disgusting hellhole, first she'd return to her village and regain her title...

Then she'd come back and wipe out the bastard that did this to her. She had wanted him dead yes, but now she desired to be the one to end his life. She would not rest until he was a corpse at her feet.

With a roar fueled by rage, the Ninjutsu Expert swung her fist into the mirror and shattered the glass, cutting her hand to pieces in the process. This caused Kabuto to actually look up from his desk in surprise.

'Mark my words, Orochimaru!' She vowed to herself, glaring at her fragmented reflection. 'One day you'll regret ever considering me as a lab rat!'

~BHBL~

Kaede couldn't be bothered with this anymore, it'd been nine years and she was sick and tired of being drugged and knocked out. She knew her next conscious experiment was going to take place soon, and they had had a terrible emotional impact on her, she didn't like seeing herself cut open at all.

Recently she'd been through a rather large experiment that left her unconscious for several days and had to recover over two months. Apparently, the results from said experiment were so good, that Orochimaru had decided to perform another one. Now she was just waiting until his subordinates dragged her from the cell to be shoved into a decontamination shower.

She missed being able to shower every day without worrying about what was going to happen to her afterwards. After this long, it was just a pleasant memory she'd look upon with longing, just like every other normal daily task she'd taken for granted.

"Kaede-chan."

Kaede hummed and looked up to see Kabuto with two Otogakure Jounin, standing by the door to the cell. "It's time." Was all he needed to say before she grinned and sat up.

"Why should I?" She taunted, standing and dusting off her ass before placing a hand on her hip. "Since I'm able to choose, what makes you think I'll come with you?"

"Well it's either you follow me willingly, or..." Kabuto smirked, reminding her vividly of the Sannin she despised, and almost flinched at the sight of the needle Kabuto lifted into view. "I use more difficult methods to make the task easier~"

"Y'realize you're sounding more and more like that asshole everyday, right?" Kaede asked, knowing that it was just easier to get it over with than let herself be knocked out again. It was already bad enough for her health as it was, she didn't need the stress on top.

At first, the Ninjutsu expert had felt sorry for Kabuto, since he had been through so much, but after he joined Orochimaru she'd began to hate him more and more, to the point of digust, just like his superior. Oh, how she wished her family would find her and finally save her from this dark prision. However, after this long, she no longer assumed she would eventually be rescued.

All she could do was find her own way to escape.

Walking towards the door, it was unlocked and she stepped out, only to be grabbed from behind by one of the Jounin and restrained. "Agh, easy!" She snapped, feeling a tense pain from her arms being tied roughly behind her. "This is the thanks I get for 'willingly' coming with you?!"

"Now we both know that's not the case..." Kabuto told her, chuckling as he pushed his glasses up his nose. "By now you know the routine behind experimentation, correct?"

"Y'have little faith in my intelligence, don't you?" Kaede said sharply, before looking away. "Just hurry up. I only agreed to this because I get t'enjoy a shower."

Kabuto found her irritation and defiance annoying compared to his lord, however as the subordinate he allowed it and she was taken forcefully to the room where the experiments took place. Orochimaru smirked when they entered and flicked the tip of a needle. "Good evening, Kaede..." He welcomed her, earning a huff and a glare as a response. "It's lovely to see you willingly accepting your fate~"

"Bite me, Snake Eyes!" Kaede snapped, the door locked and guarded before Kabuto undid her ropes and she walked into the decontamination shower. She was outnumbered, with the two Jounin guards, Kabuto and Orochimaru, if she tried to escape now, it'd end in her death instead.

No, she needed to plan this, not rush into it.

Tossing her hospital gown out of the shower, she felt the water cascade down onto her flesh from the outside, where Kabuto controlled the temperature. "Hey, could y'turn it up?" She asked, earning an arched brow from the teen behind the shower curtain.

It was rather high as it was, however, he did not question it and raised the heat. Some people enjoyed the pain of a hot shower.

However Kaede herself barely felt it, closing her eyes and relaxing under the heat of the water, she allowed her serious mind to wander and formulate new plans to kill her captor. She could poison him, however with his paranoia, she assumed he'd see right through that, and without him letting his guard down, she couldn't take his life when he was alone.

With a tsk she began to wash her hair, staring at the drain beneath her feet, wondering how someone of his level could be bested. She was indeed a strong kunoichi, but she couldn't underestimate a Sannin. Even someone such as him would have a weakness.

She'd have to think about that later, right now she needed to focus her thoughts and brace herself for the experiment that would be forced upon her once again. However as she lost herself to her thoughts, she was unaware that the water touching her skin began to get colder, until it became a source of discomfort. "Hey, what're y'trying t'pull, the water's freezing in here!" The annoyed kunoichi called out, glaring at the curtain.

What was this a punishment for refusing earlier?

Kabuto glanced to Orochimaru with concern, causing the older man to glance in his direction, approaching when the teen gestured for him to check the thermostate. It was almost hot enough to burn skin! "Kaede-chan, the water is too hot as it is. You should be in pain right now." Kabuto informed her, making her blink several times in confusion.

"Burning up? I'm colder than ice right now!"

Kabuto and Orochimaru shared a look of curiosity and the Sannin smirked, walking back over to the table, checking his equipment. She was either faking this to get out of the experiment, or that desperate for escape that she'd kill herself under the heat. "Don't turn up the thermostate any more, Kabuto...She's delusional, we don't want to injure her skin before our experiment."

"I'm not delusional y'senile old bastard! I'm serious, I'm shaking right now!" Kaede wasn't lying, her entire body was beginning to fall victim to a case of the shivers. Unable to calm them, she hadn't trembled this much in years. The last time she'd been this cold was when she had visited the Country of Iron.

Opening her mouth to ask for the water to stop, Kaede found herself unable to speak, the pain of the biting cold taking over her entire form as she grabbed both her bare arms as a way to keep the heat in. It hurt, her breathing was faltering and she almost felt like she was trapped in ice. Her fingers and toes felt numb and she would have feared frostbite if she wasn't certain this was unnatural.

Slowly that numbing sensation spread through the Ninjutsu Expert's entire body and she had to hold onto the wall of the shower to keep her legs from buckling underneath her. With deep, uneven gasps of air, she felt the world sway around her. This wasn't right, what the hell was going on?

Kabuto, who had went to steralize the scalpels, returned to the shower to turn off the water, when he heard Kaede's uneven breathing. "Kaede-chan, is there a problem?" He asked, awaiting a response.

However the only answer he received startled both himself and Orochimaru, the two of them snapping their heads towards the shower when they heard a heavy thud. "Kaede-chan?!" Kabuto called as the Sannin ran over and yanked the curtain back.

Kaede was sitting against the wall, a little blood on the back from her head making impact with the stone. She was unconscious, her lips turning an unsettling grey and her body wrapped up in tremors. As if she had fallen victim to a severe case of hypothermia.

"Kabuto get some towels!" Orochimaru ordered the boy, who took off without hesitation. "It seems you weren't faking it after all...Kaede."

~BHBL~

It was warm and comfortable.

Kaede hadn't felt this content in the long years she had been stuck here. In fact for the first time in ages, she didn't awake with alert caution. Instead the kunoichi slowly stirred and rolled over, trying to keep herself clinging to the fingers of sleep for just a little longer.

Why was she so comfortable? She was rarely warm in this dark, cold lab, so what was making her feel so content?

Curiosity taking over her mind, she slowly opened her eyes and sat up, letting out a sleepy groan as she stretched her arms over her head and looked down at her legs.

"Eh?" Kaede hummed, blinking away the last of her sleep as she realized she had far more blankets covering her than she had this morning. Even more surprising, was the fact that she lacked a new bandage, hell she was actually naked.

Realizing this, she quickly yanked the blanket over her chest to avoid anyone seeing what lied beneath. Looking around, she saw her gown, freshly washed beside her mattress.

"What the hell?" She mumbled, confused by the current source of warmth she felt, glancing out of the glass container to see Kabuto hunched over his reports. "Hey, kid!"

Kabuto hummed and looked up, smirking when he saw who had addressed him. "Well, well, it seems you finally woke up..."

"What's with the blankets?"

He laughed at how dumbfounded she looked and stood up, walking over to the transparent wall to speak with her more directly. "According to the medical evidence, you had a case of hypothermic shock after spending little under an hour in water..."

Kaede was silent for a moment, unsure what to do with this information. "What does that mean?"

"Well judging by how quickly we had to get you dry and warmed up, we realized that you cannot be directly in water for too long without it becoming fatal to your health...Further examination shows that when it has time to absorb into your skin in a fair amount, that's when the effects take control...At this rate, even drinking water can end your life."

Kaede's eyes widened as he explained the details of her situation, slowly her shock sharpened into anger as she gripped the blanket over her chest tightly. This was it, the proof of what she had feared. With a sickening sensation and a curse, she slammed her fist against the floor.

She was no longer human, no longer seen as a person, but a freak of nature created by a madman with a disgusting curiousity she wished she had never discovered. All she was now was an inhuman lab rat without a purpose.

Anger fueled her brown eyes as she looked up, her pupils mere dots, another side effect to her screwed up genetic make-up. She vowed then, no matter what happened, no matter what she had to do, or who she had to kill...She'd end the man who ruined her life.

She'd wait for him to lower his guard, or become injured, then end him before he could react.

Even if it took the rest of her miserable life!

 

Chapter Text

'Focus...Keep your mind clear and let the Chakra flow through you...'

Kaede stood there, hands pressed firmly together with her eyes closed as a blue swirl of Chakra rippled beneath her feet in a neat circle. Her breathing was calm and even and her gown fluttered under the power her energy created.

Today was the day she would escape. She had been training non-stop since her last attempt over three months ago and she vowed not to fail again.

Right now the 'village' known as Otogakure remained silent as many of the members were out recruiting new shinobi or were training outside to prepare for missions. Kabuto was currently sitting at his desk a few feet diagonal from her cell and the only noise in the room was the 'swoosh' of the Chakra and the scratching of his pen.

Kabuto had long since gotten used to Kaede's constant attempts at escaping, he'd stopped caring after so long. Not many could break through shinobi proof glass, only the strongest fire could melt it, and the heaviest fist could shatter it.

She possessed neither of those.

With a hum, Kabuto looked up as the door of his laboratory was pushed open and two Oto shinobi entered the room. "Hey, Kabuto-san, we need-" One of them started, only to be interrupted by a certain red-haired experiment.

With a roar of might, Kaede's Chakra flowed back into her and she made the signs necessary for her jutsu. "Katon: Kasai Suīpu!" She called out, inhaling deeply and exhaling a large torrent of fire onto the glass, holding it as the strength of the blaze increased rapidly. The Ninjutsu Expert narrowed her eyes in anticipation as she watched the clear material begin to fog up under the strong heat.

The three shinobi watched as the flames died down and Kaede stepped back, only to kick off in a run towards the transparent wall. With all the strength she could muster, the weak Taijutsu novice slammed her shoulder into the material keeping her captive, only to curse as she bounced off it and held her arm as pain washed through her entire left side.

It still wasn't strong enough. Though she had felt a small instability in the glass when she made impact, it wasn't enough to shatter it and allow her freedom. She needed more power, more training, more time! It was always about time, why didn't she have the strength to leave already?

Kaede had lost count of the years, but assuming by fact that she could no longer have children due to her age, she estimated it had been over a decade at least. A decade of her life she'd never be able to get back, so much time wasted and nothing done with it.

What a pitiful existence she had.

The sound of arrogant laughter filled her ears and brought her back to her senses, glancing down at the two shinobi who had just watched her fail miserably. "What a pathetic jutsu! This is the 'strong fire expert' I've heard about?" One of them sneered, only his green eyes visible through his ninja mask. His taunts caused a small flicker of irritation to lick at her mood, they could talk, she'd seen stronger looking flees on Ninken.

With a soft huff of air to remove her irritation, Kaede began to roll her injured shoulder, trying to work out the pain so she could go back to her training. The longer she spent here, the older she'll get and the more likely she'd never see her family again. "She'd last three seconds in front of an Uchiha, Orochimaru-sama would've been better off capturin' one of 'em instead!" The other shinobi, with blue eyes, continued.

Kaede paused, looking at the two men with a sharper gleam in her already sharp brown eyes. Seeing a reaction, the two men smirked, amusing themselves by torturing her. "That fired ya up, didn't it?" Blue Eyes taunted, stepping forward. "After havin' so many experiments happen, you're nothin' more than a freak, aren't ya?"

Anger began to burn under Kaede's tanned skin, where there were flickers of irritation, there were now flames of anger, licking at her, making her want to rip their heads off. Kabuto could see the rage seeping into the woman's expression and chose to stay out of it, looking down at his work. What the others chose to do in their free time did not affect him, they weren't causing her harm, so he had nothing to do with it.

Their words replayed again and again in Kaede's head and her teeth ground together gently, her skin taking on a soft glow. "Ha, look at this!" Green Eyes jeered, pointing at her. "She's a walking nightlight too! What will she accomplish with that?!"

"Heh, she'll probably power the entire hideout's lightin' at this rate!"

"Yeah!" They both glared at her tense figure with cruel grins. "Heh, that's a better job than being a wanted criminal, I s'pose!"

Every nerve in her body ached with the desire to make them eat their words, force them to apologize and cry for mercy as she beat them within an inch of their lives. However, that damn wall stood in her path, the one thing stopping her from kicking the crap out of them.

"At least here she'd get food and shelter! They wouldn't even give her a cardboard box if she asked back there! After all, they're not exactly jumping at the chance to rescue her, are they?"

"Y'better SHUT THE HELL UP!" It was this dangerous roar that silenced the entire room, even causing Kabuto, who had sworn to mind his own business, to look up. The sight that met the three of them made their eyes widen in surprise. Kaede was stood there, grinding her teeth hard, taking in deep breaths as she tried to remain calm. Her skin was almost bright orange with sparks crackling off it into the air, like the bright particles that come from hitting two rocks off one another over a fire pit.

Kaede could see these odd symptoms for herself as the sparks flew into her line of sight before fading, only to be replaced by more. However she was too far gone to care, it was probably another messed up side-effect of the most recent major experiment.

Kabuto slowly stood up as the men scoffed, not alarmed by her sudden ability to crackle like a firework. "See what I mean by 'freak?' If ya hadn't have been born, maybe that guy, Kiyoshi...?" Blue Eyes looked to the other, who nodded. "Yeah, Kiyoshi! Maybe that guy Kiyoshi would still be alive!"

It was with that last statement that Kaede snapped, every single cell in her body burned with unimaginable anger, feeling her body tense, she tried to breathe, but found the task impossible. Even the sparks that had covered her body threatened to envelop her in light, some of them becoming flames in the air before fading away.

She couldn't hold it back, the pain, the rage, it was boiling, burning, aching to be vented and she would do just that. In less than a second, she raised her hands into her hair and gripped the fiery strands. Arching her back she let out a mighty roar of anger as the sparks surrounding her engulfing her body at once.

Suddenly there was a bright flash of light and everyone had to look away before the sound of harsh fire crackling in the air was heard. Kaede couldn't contain her cries as flames surrounded her whole body, enveloping her in a burning heat that scorched her skin and began to melt her clothes into her flesh.

The strong temperatures of the flames began to warp the glass before it bubbled and slowly turned to liquid, creating holes in the cell. Kabuto couldn't believe his eyes as he watched the walls holding the woman back for ten years fall so easily at her powerful flames. Even the two shinobi who had caused this new development stumbled back against the laboratory wall in fear at the heat.

The Ninjutsu Expert staggered back and forth in pain, holding her hair as she continued to wail, the agony of her burning flesh was making her unaware of her surroundings. Kabuto decided that this would be the best time to find Orochimaru, with her current instability, none of them could take her down alone. With a look of determination, the medical specialist ran from the room in search of his lord, the two shinobi following behind to escape the woman's wrath.

"I-It hurts!" Kaede cried out, dropping to her knees, her tears sizzling away the moment they left her eyes, it was so hot, so painful, how was she even alive?! "Why am I-?" Kaede began, only to stop mid-sentence when she was able to open an eye and saw that the glass of her cell had melted.

At that moment she was unaware of the searing heat as her heart filled with confusion, joy, and hope. This was her chance! She could finally escape!

Gritting her teeth hard, the kunoichi stood and ran towards the wall, vaulting over the hot material before kicking off into a fast sprint into the hallway. While she ran she hissed and cursed mentally, her burning feet slapping off the cold stone, leaving bloody footprints behind as her skin peeled away.

'I have t'hurry!' She thought, increasing her speed, tripping over herself once or twice with the unfamiliar sensation that came with not being able to run for over ten years. 'I don't know how long I can last with this pain! If I die now, it's all over!'

Skidding around a corner, Kaede let out a noise of pain and stumbled, collecting her footing as she saw the double doors of the entrance before her. Her clothes had melted into her flesh a fair deal and the burns that covered her body became more severe by the minute, blood leaking from her lip as her grin split the dry, hot flesh.

'I'm almost there!'

Of course, it wasn't that easy. In a split second, a figure rose from the ground before her, blocking her exit, was Orochimaru. His arms were crossed and his lips curved down into a contemplating frown. 'Crap!' Kaede cursed mentally, her eyes narrowing as she kept up a good pace towards him.

She wouldn't stop, she couldn't afford to stop!

"Out of the way, Orochimaru!"

"I'd stay right where you are if you know what's good for you..." The Snake Shinobi warned her, uncrossing his arms and straightening his posture, prepared to stop her if necessary. "If you attempt to take another step towards this door, you'll die. Be it by my hand or the flames slowly eating away at your weak flesh."

Kaede laughed, squinting as the world began to lose focus around her, her flames overflowing from every nook and cranny of her fragile human body. She'd have to be quick, even fighting would be foolish with her current condition. "I don't care!" She called out to him, preparing to form seals, her footsteps were becoming sloppy, she caught herself tripping more often than not. It was now or never, she either broke through or died trying! "I'm getting out of here, just like I swore I would all those years ago!"

Orochimaru, though irritated by her defiance, found her strong will rather admirable, if used in the right way, she could become a valuable pawn in his future plans. Chuckling darkly, the Sannin lowered his head slightly and met her gaze with cold, dangerous yellow eyes. "Then I challenge that vow! I doubt you will easily pass me!" As if he was goading her, he raised his arms and waited for her to strike.

Kaede's anger was fueled further by his words, the flames around her intensifying as she formed her seals, only eight, maybe nine feet away from him by now. "Ka-" She started, however, her mind went blank for a moment, the pain clouding her senses and caused her vision to blacken around the edges. The entire world tilted and faded away as the burning heat made her numb to every other sensation and she could no longer focus on anything else.

Orochimaru watched as her hands separated weakly and her eyes slipped shut. Lowering his arms when she tripped over her own feet and landing face first, only a foot away from him, unconscious as the flames surrounding her died down and left nothing but a burnt, bloody mess.

He could see that she was still alive by the occasional twitch of her fingers or limbs. His experiments had lead to failure after all, her fatal genetic side-effect proved this. What use would she be to him in her state?

If she could learn to control the flames, perhaps her purpose would still stand. If she had escaped, that must mean she had melted the Ninjutsu Proof Glass with her newfound 'power.' Therefore her fire Ninjutsu must have also increased in strength as well.

Letting his irritated frown curl into a malicious grin, he chuckled darkly as he licked his lips. The thought of her newfound power alone made excitement rise in his chest.

If all went according to plan, her Ninjutsu's strength would have surpassed the Uchiha Clan's. Of course, the first priority was to get her healed.

...Right now.

~BHBL~

Two Days had passed since that spectacle, and Kaede had not regained consciousness. Kabuto had performed emergency surgery to remove the clothes that had melted into her flesh and to repair her severely damaged skin and feet so that she would not lose the ability to move freely.

Once all the damage had been taken care of and the inert woman was checked for any signs of permanent head, internal or chakra based damage, she was wrapped in bandages from the neck down and placed in one of the spare rooms to rest. There was even a bandage strewn across the bridge of her nose, two burns on either cheek concealed beneath them.

Kabuto stood by the woman's bedside, preparing the medicine for when she awoke, knowing the pain was going to be excruciating. He was surprised that Orochimaru had chosen to keep her alive, even after finding out about her obvious flaw. Yes, she had taken out Ninjutsu Proof Glass, however, her attitude had to be considered here.

'Just what are you hoping for, Orochimaru-sama?' The teen asked silently, glancing over to the woman, who's covered fingers twitched and her eyelids flickered before fluttering open. "You're finally awake, it seems..." Kabuto told her, plastering a smirk on his lips as he continued his work, the clinking of different vials and glasses the only other noise covering the thick silence of the room.

Kaede blinked, unable to process where she was, due to the lack of familiarity in the room. "Uhm..." She slurred, shifting her fingers slightly, only to flinch and wake up a little more from the ache that caused her entire hand to throb, the sensation slowly creeping around the rest of her body.

She hurt all over.

The medical shinobi didn't say anything else as she got her bearing and poured the powder into a glass for her to drink. She was disorientated, only natural after such an extraordinary day.

"Oh yeah..." Kaede finally mumbled after a silent moment, remembering the event clearly. If she was still here, and Kabuto was stood next to her, that meant she hadn't managed to escape. "Terrific..."

Kabuto chuckled at the obvious irritation that seeped into her strained voice and quickly turned his head towards her when he heard movement and saw she was trying to sit up. "If I were you, I'd remain still, Kaede-chan." He told her simply, watching as she glanced up at him, distrust in her eyes. "There is no reason to aim such looks at me, if I had been instructed to kill you, you wouldn't have even opened your eyes to begin with."

Though those words sent a shot of discomfort straight to her stomach, twisting it, she knew he spoke nothing but the painfully honest truth. Just like his superior. "A chip off the psychotic, sadistic block, aren't you?" She sneered as she slowly rested herself back onto the bed. How tightly her skin pulled when she sat up proved that it was still in the process of healing, so movement was a very bad idea.

Kabuto smirked as he continued with his work, finding slight amusement in her words. It seems she did have a sense of dark humor, after all. However Kaede didn't find anything funny about this, in fact, she was angry and confused.

Of course, the woman never got a chance to dwell on these thoughts when she heard the door open and in came the man she wished she could just throw off the nearest bridge. "Well, it seems our little fire-breather has regained consciousness..." Orochimaru said, his tone showing just how little sympathy he had for her as he closed the door. "How are your wounds?"

"Oh I never knew y'cared," Kaede said, her words just oozing with sarcasm. This only caused the Sannin to laugh softly, his subordinate's shoulders shaking with a chuckle of his own. "Why the hell am I alive? I burst into flames for God's sake! Shouldn't I be completely useless by now?!"

Hell she still had hair, shouldn't that have all singed away?!

"Your flames are a mental instability where your harshest emotions cause an imbalance of Chakra that overflows and overtakes the human body in a way that is fatal to the user..." Kabuto started, glancing at Orochimaru, who allowed him to explain. "This chakra is native to your own body, therefore like Katon users themselves, you are the least affected by your own embers. That's why your body is still mostly intact, the effects of these flames differ from external infernos."

"How d'you know this?"

"You have been unconscious for two days, this gave us plenty of time to extract some tissue damage and perform genetic scans to find the source."

"So getting angry makes me into a walking fireball?" Kaede watched Kabuto laugh and nod at her rather blunt, and strange way of absorbing this information. "But I'm still a fire hazard that can burst into flames at any moment! So why am I still here? I thought y'would've disposed of me by now."

Orochimaru's smirk only curled his lips further, his eyes filled with amusement and a little glee. He got a kick out of her confusion and misery, that bastard! "That may be the case, however even a failed experiment has its uses..." He explained, pulling no punches, he rarely lied when it came to things he had no reason to hide. "You were once a Kunoichi with an elite status in your own village, known for her strong Ninjutsu abilities. Therefore I plan to take advantage of that to bring forth my ambitions..."

Kaede wanted to argue, wanted to refuse every little thing he said, but ground her teeth as she forced it back. It was a good idea to build up her trust with the man so he'd lower his guard around her, but the thought alone made her want to rip out her hair. She just had to accept that she'd have to bear with his company a little while longer, until she could end his miserable life.

She drew strength from the idea of enacting her revenge.

Of course, before she could achieve all that, she had to escape and go to her village. No matter what Orochimaru told her, she refused to believe that her village had written her off as a Rogue Kunoichi. Her parents and friends would defend her.

After all the years she'd assisted that village and all the hell she'd been through, what else would she cling to but the one place she could call home. No one there would abandon her for such a foolish reason.

It had been so many years, she just had to let her family know she was alive and well. Her heart swelled in her chest at the thought of seeing them again.

Hopefully, it would be a heartwarming reunion.

Chapter Text

The sound of running water was heard throughout Kaede's room as the woman in question checked the drawers by her bedside for some soft towels. It had been two months since the incident that had left her bedridden and she looked forward to a nice comfortable shower. Even if others believed this wasn't the first priority for someone in her position, she did. For almost the entirety of these two months, she had to put up with some random Oto kunoichi washing her when she couldn't do so herself.

Now that she could move, she looked forward to a long soak under the beads of hot water, well as long as she could with her genetic condition. If she started to feel cold, no matter the heat of the shower, she had to get out and dry herself until there wasn't a drop left on her.

Honestly, she wouldn't have any trouble figuring out when she was starting to get cold since she had collapsed in the decontamination shower a few years ago, Kabuto had checked her temperature after she'd recovered, and it was high enough for someone to have a fatal fever.

The odd part was, she was completely healthy, she didn't feel sick, or hot at all. After running some deeply despised tests, Orochimaru and his loyal subordinate confirmed that her normal body temperature had risen and wouldn't lower unless she was exposed to water for too long.

"Heh, I remember when I was normal..." Kaede mumbled to herself a frown on lips as she finished collecting the necessities for her shower and walked into the bathroom, kicking the door shut behind her.

After stripping herself of that godforsaken hospital gown, which was sadly, her only article of clothing, she washed it briskly. So she could get it clean, but keep herself from touching the water for long. "I ain't done my own laundry for a while...!" Kaede grunted, as she scrubbed it a few more times, then hung it up to dry.

The older woman couldn't help but stare at it as she dried her hands on a spare towel. It was a different gown to the one she had when she was in the containment cell, but that didn't mean it didn't hurt to look at it. Those gowns hold the worst memories for her, of a time of loneliness, suffering, and pain she couldn't get out in the battlefield.

Even now, she would feel a pang of grief when she thought to her family, who had lost their daughter and probably assumed her to be dead by now. Just washing that gown, despite the disgust she felt for the article of clothing, she felt nostalgia crash into her like a wave, and she longed to see her family again.

"One day...I'll get home."

~BHBL~

After a semi-long soak and a vigorous drying period, the Ninjutsu Expert emerged from the bathroom fully dressed with rather mussed hair and flushed cheeks from the heat. Apart from the fact that she was trapped in a place, she hated above all else, that had been a pleasant experience for her. Strange how she used to take small tasks like those for granted when she was but a young woman.

Sitting down on the bed, Kaede let out a soft sigh as the mattress dipped under her weight. She hadn't felt the comfort of a bed for a long time either, it was oddly soothing. "I must be getting old." She joked, but the grin that spread across her lips didn't reach her eyes, which were swamped with sorrow and loneliness.

With a shake of her head, Kaede stood and walked towards the door, she couldn't waste time just feeling sorry for herself, she needed to find a way to escape.

Grasping the handle of the wooden barrier between her and the hallway which would lead to her freedom, the woman gave it a hard tug, only to stop and blink with confusion. It wouldn't budge.

"Eh?" She voiced, knitting her brows together and pulling at the handle again. "Why the hell is the door-"

Realization hit Kaede like a sack of bricks and her expression washed into blank shock. Orochimaru had sealed the door, probably to avoid another escape attempt.

Within moments, that shock began to warp into something she didn't know she would feel, fear. She felt suffocating terror towards the thought of being locked in this room. Maybe it was because she had a taste of normality, or that she had managed to escape just once. However, at that moment, everything seemed to freeze and all she could do was try to calm herself down as her breathing elevated.

"You son of a bitch!" Kaede shouted as she kicked the wooden barrier between her and even just a small sense of freedom. She should have known, she should have been able to find a way around this! Each thought she had was accentuated with another swift blow of her foot, an attempt to break free from another suffocating cell.

Of course, no one could keep that up for long, as she gave the door a few more beatings before she turned and leaned against it, her hand coiled into her short spiked hair. "I should've seen this coming..." She breathed, her lip pressed between her teeth as she slowly suppressed her anxiety and fear.

Not only was she stuck here, but the thought of being in here made her feel like she was being threatened with death, it scared her to the point of wanting to scream. She not only had physical scars to prove her suffering but mental and emotional scars too.

"I should've seen this coming..." She repeated solemnly, closing her eyes as she slowly began to calm down. With the small comforts she felt, she had let her guard down, foolishly, blindly forgetting that her captor was not only insane but terribly paranoid too.

She should have known she'd only go from one prison to another.

~BHBL~

The sound of rustling paper filled the semi-silent Otogakure base as Orochimaru pulled open a large, freshly unsealed scroll and began to read the Kinjutsu hidden inside. Though he was trying his very hardest to focus on the words before him, his eyes scanning the long parchment, he knew there was little point.

Kaede hadn't stopped yelling for three days, in fact, her protests were that loud, he could hear her all the way down in his office, which was at least a corridor away. 'Her energy would be better used honing her new skills...' The older Rogue thought to himself as he slowly continued his way through the scroll, still musing his redheaded experiment.

Orochimaru knew full well that Kaede had no use when locked in that room, and he'd get less work done the longer she kept up her rather vocal display of rage. 'Perhaps some semblance of freedom will make things easier...' A smirk curled his lips as he thought this through.

If she was given a chance to wander the halls at least, that will most likely end with her finding the training room and testing out the strength given to her through his experiments.

Humans were curious being after all. For years he'd been collecting data on the increase of her strength, and so far, all of it was theoretical. He licked his lips at the idea of seeing her true strength, to see the fruits of his hard work.

Mind made up, Orochimaru stood and chuckled darkly as he left the room. His footsteps that echoed through the hallway were drowned out by sharp cries of anger and rather viscous, almost terrifying curse words that even the most dangerous ninja didn't express.

Who knew the little fireball had such a foul vocabulary?

"Release," Orochimaru said as he made a special seal with his hands, causing the tags holding the door in place to burn away until nothing remained. Grasping the handle, the Sannin opened the door slowly and felt amusement at the sight that met him.

First of all, the back of the door was charred and very badly damaged, obvious signs of her attempts at escaping over the last few days. Then there was Kaede herself, who had her hands posed in the last seal formation needed for the Futon: Renkudan. Her expression was humorous, she was stood there, looking rather dumbstruck and confused as to why the door was open.

"You're free to leave your room if you so please..." The snake shinobi started, smirking when he saw her features melt into shock. "As long as you follow my orders and refrain from disrupting mine and my subordinates' duties."

Kaede couldn't believe her ears, a man who had made himself known for being paranoid and rather tactical in the mind, was openly letting her wander the halls. "However..." There it was. "Bear in mind that the entrance to the hideout has been sealed and only a select few know the seal formation to unlock it..."

Anger and irritation took over Kaede's steeled expression and she tsked, her fang sticking out of her mouth when her lip curled up slightly. Orochimaru's smirk only widened at the sight of her reaction and he couldn't help but taunt her further. "We wouldn't want another incident now, would we?"

'Paranoid asshole.' Kaede thought to herself, as she tried to weigh up her options. Now escaping would be near impossible. However, between wandering the halls freely, or being trapped in a small room without escape, she'd rather be able to wander at least.

She had no choice but to accept at least some of his agreement.

Orochimaru could see the hesitation melt from her brown eyes and knew she had reached a decision. "This is your only warning, keep these conditions in mind, or you will be punished..." He watched as she began to walk past him, only for the Sannin to grab her arm and speak threateningly in her ear, his voice low and breath cool against her severely warm flesh. "I will not hesitate to kill you if you defy me, is that understood?"

Looking over her shoulder, she locked eyes with him, only to let out a huff of laughter and show a recently rare grin, yanking her arm out of his grip. "Don't act so high and mighty, Snake Eyes!" She told him, beginning to walk away. "I'll happily ignore your 'precious' subordinates!"

"You on the other hand..." She stopped and turned so she was sideways, her entire face visible to the Sannin. "Shouldn't expect me t'do anything for you..." She grinned and continued on her path down the corridor. "You'd have t'earn that right~"

Irritation swelled within the dangerous rogue as he watched her get further away from him. He hated the fact that she would openly defy him, and at that moment, desired nothing more than to grab her by the collar and toss her back into that room to rot. However while it was aggravating, to say the least, her reaction held some amusement within it as well. Not many would talk back to him the way she did.

He rather enjoyed a challenge.

With a dark chuckle, he decided to allow her the freedom he had offered, despite her punishable behavior. "Believe me, Firecracker." He called out, grinning when she faltered at her newly hated nickname and clenched her fist. "You'll soon see things my way."

A loud laugh filled the halls. "Yeah right! That'll never happen!" She turned to walk backwards and bowed her head, speaking with such obvious mocking, it was a surprise he hadn't killed her already. "Good day, Orochimaru-sama~"

The older, wiser shinobi watched as she continued and turned a corner. He knew his decision to let her roam free was a step in the right direction for his plans. However, he would have to keep into account her unpredictable nature.

Very rarely had he seen her act so...carefree, in fact, it had surprised him to see her show it at all, especially to him.

Dear me, did our little Firecracker hold a second personality?

~BHBL~

"Haaah!"

With the speed of a kunoichi who was slightly out of practice, Kaede moved in many different ways, like a dance, loosening her muscles and preparing herself for the training she had planned. First, she would be testing her Ninjutsu strength, to see if she still held that impossible power she used to melt the Ninjutsu Proof Glass, then she'd train up the Taijutsu she had very little pride in to begin with.

She continued her warm-ups for at least ten minutes before slowly relaxing into a fighting stance, preparing herself for the one thing she could call her talent. Unaware that Orochimaru was currently watching her from the shadows in the furthest corner away from her, awaiting what he desired to see the most since capturing her.

Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and allowed the feeling of her Chakra to bubble under the surface. She could feel a power she had contained within and with that knowledge, she began to form the seals needed for her jutsu.

"Katon: Gokakyu no Jutsu!"

With a deep inhale of air, she felt the heat coil in her lungs before she exhaled pure chakra in the form of a giant fireball. Gasping as it shot across the training hall, it was larger and quicker than it had been ten years ago, and the scorch mark she left on the wall proved it would cause more effective damage against opponents.

Unable to stop her 'human curiosity' she began to form more seals and continued to use her different jutsu while Orochimaru, who hadn't moved from his spot, grinned gleefully as flames and wind ripped up his halls. His experiments had not all been in vain, after all. With her current skills, she surpassed the Uchiha Clan. Excitement welled up in his chest when he thought of the advantages her fire could give him, assuming she could remain calm long enough for her to be of any use.

The last thing he wanted now, after seeing her burning embers, was for them to be extinguished by her own hand.

Kaede's jutsu died down as the last of the air left her lungs and she stared at the flickering flames that were left, slowly fading away as she relaxed. She was shocked by the increase in her strengths, she hadn't seen any physical proof that they were indeed the flames that could melt the strongest material, but she could feel the difference, even after so long.

Though there was awe from her newfound power, her gut sank as she realized where this strength came from. Could she have really gotten this strong without the aid of the Snake Sannin's experiments?

With that thought came a sudden wash of disgust as she shook it from her head and her expression melted into cold seriousness. 'There's no way that'd make a difference...' She thought to herself as she prepared herself to try out her wind jutsu. 'With ten years of training, I'd be at this level, at least! His experiments didn't improve me!'

Fueled by her irritation over the experimentation, she continued testing her jutsu and improving on the skills she needed to polish up. However, she couldn't deny the amazement that swept through her when she saw a particularly impressive burst of power.

~BHBL~

A few weeks seemed to fly by for the older kunoichi as she spent a lot of that time in the training halls, refocusing her mind and body in the art of the ninja. Right now, she was using very poor Taijutsu against a training dummy, which had received more damage being moved than it was right now.

Though she did spend some time trying to develop her terrible hand-to-hand combat 'skills' Kaede had spent the majority of these three weeks training her Ninjutsu. She knew if the time for her revenge were to surface, she wanted that to be her main playing card during the fight.

If she ended up having to rely on her Taijutsu, like the last time she had confronted him, all those years ago, she knew it'd just end the same way.

Of course, just like all those years ago, every so often, when Kaede would perform a roundhouse kick, or attack the dummy from behind, she'd see an all too familiar shadow in the corner of the room, but chose to ignore it.

Orochimaru was an asshole, yes she knew that but this was his hideout, therefore he had a right to go and do as he pleased. Therefore, as long as he didn't disrupt her training, she couldn't care less where he was and what he was doing.

Though she did feel a little disturbed that the sensation of someone's eyes locked onto her form had been in the air for the last twenty minutes at least. It reminded her a lot of the night she was kidnapped, and that wasn't a nice feeling.

"Haaaahhh!" Kaede ground out as she spun into another kick, slamming the top of her foot against the dummy's head, feeling the pain of the solid wood smacking off her bare foot. Was it weird that she missed this sensation from her years spent training back home?

However odd it was, she knew it was true. The pain that came with overexerting your body, or hitting something the wrong way was one of the many things she remembered as she grew older. All those days training as a Wanna-be Genin, then an actual Genin, all the way through her Chuunin and Jounin ranks made a warm sense of nostalgia envelope her heart. Though she was no closer to leaving this hellhole and rejoining her beloved village, the memories of her home alone brought a grin to her lips.

Orochimaru was surprised to see such a smile during her many training sessions, but let out a soft chuckle and crossed his arms with a smirk as she continued to 'destroy' the training dummy before her.

Her Taijutsu was indeed the worst he had seen in a long time, she was slow, sloppy, and many people could catch her attacks with very little difficulty. Even then he knew her other talents could be cultivated with a little assistance and perhaps they could even smooth out that awful hand-to-hand combat while they were at it.

Mind made up, the Sannin slowly stepped out of the shadows, catching Kaede's attention just as she finished blowing out a strong stream of fire. With a soft hum, she turned her head to look at him, her hand lowering slightly, but still in the position needed to extract fire from her chakra.

"What d'you want?" She sneered, caution settled deep in her brown orbs. This made Orochimaru chuckle, her distrust in him was blatantly obvious as if this stubborn woman refused to hide the fact that she couldn't stand him. How amusing.

"I was watching your training from afar..." Orochimaru openly admitted, he didn't have a reason to lie, therefore he wouldn't. "It seems my little experiments paid off in the long run, your Ninjutsu even surpasses that of the Uchiha Clan..." He smirked and outstretched his arms slightly. "With a little more training, you will be quite the useful tool in my ambitions."

"First of all, there's no way in hell I'll become your 'tool.' For anything!" Kaede started as she turned to him, raising a finger to show her first point. "Second-" She raised the second one. "What's your point?"

Orochimaru decided to brush off her obvious refusal and crossed his arms, they stood eye-to-eye, dangerous yellow on stubborn brown. "With my assistance, your powers will greatly increase, can you cope with me as your training partner, Little Firecracker~?" The way he spoke, mixed with a tilt of his head and a rather arrogant gleam in his snake-like eyes made irritation bubble up deep within her.

She hated the idea of working with the sadistic villain before her, it was risky for one. Since she desired his death, she didn't know if she could control her bloodlust during their sparring session, if she couldn't, her plan to gain his trust would fail exceptionally quickly and she'd be killed before her revenge was enacted.

Of course, saying that, there were positives to this as well, if she were to control herself and spar with him on a regular basis, she'd see what jutsu he could use and how he moved in battle. It'd give her a slight advantage in future events. Plus, she could deal at least a little damage to him as well, like stress relief in it's best form.

Knowing her resolve to harm the man had won her over, she smirked darkly and rolled her shoulders, preparing her body for a fight. "Alright then, I'll accept your challenge, Orochimaru..." She said strongly, confident in her abilities as a fighter.

If she avoided close combat, she may be able to deal some serious damage, but she had to be cautious too. She may be confident in her Ninjutsu, but it had been a long time since she was in a spar, especially with an opponent like Orochimaru.

The Sannin chuckled with a hoarse rumble in his chest and only slightly changed his posture. "Excellent..." He started, his eyes narrowing and smirk widening as he thought of the possibilities that her skills could unlock. "Shall we begin, Kaede?"

"Ladies first~"

The man, though slightly irked by her taunt, laughed at her obvious mockery, she was trying to get a rise out of him, make him perform the first attack so she could analyze his movements.

How clever, he knew about her second personality, but this was far beyond his expectations. She was both tactical and laid-back, wild but sensible. How amusing would his days be with this knowledge?

"Very well, I'll see the fruits of my experimentation for myself...!" He started, only to quickly kick off in a sprint towards her as he finished his sentence. Kaede who had prepared for this, flipped backwards when he went to swing his foot into her cheek.

Though she didn't have the fighting strength, she held a good sense of speed, since she had to avoid blows often when fighting with only her Ninjutsu and the odd punch. Her blows were slow, but her body reacted quickly to assault.

Knowing her speed from the day he kidnapped her, Orochimaru crossed his arms over his face when Kaede's foot hit the ground and she instantly shot towards him, her arm pulled back for a hard blow.

Seeing her move, he knew he could avoid it easily, so he uncrossed his arms and dodged the thrust of her fist. Grabbing her arm he flung her over his shoulder, slamming her hard into the ground behind him. With a sharp gasp, the air left Kaede's lungs along with a little blood from her mouth.

Dammit, she wasn't going to be beaten so easily by a man she despised.

Growling softly, she grabbed his arm and used it as leverage, bending her body before flipping up, aiming to kick him hard in the chin. However, he wasn't easily caught, using his long tongue to wrap around her legs, stopping their movement with a strength she was surprised a muscle such as that could contain.

Yanking his arm from her grip, he used his tongue to drag her across the floor, before tossing her towards the wall. Kaede gritted her teeth and flipped in mid-air, landing against the wall, using her chakra to keep her planted against the stone surface.

With a noise of amusement, Orochimaru kicked off towards her again, showing just how little effort he dared to use in this battle. Feeling the fires of irritation seeping within her at his mockery, she created signs with her hands and called out the name of her Jutsu. "Katon: Hosenka no Jutsu!" She inhaled deeply before spitting out several medium sized fireballs which shot towards the Sannin relentlessly.

However Orochimaru was no amateur, he avoided each of the fireballs with elegant, oddly graceful movements, appearing right in front of her within seconds. Unable to react, she saw nothing but a grin before a foot was planted into her cheek, sending her barreling to the right, bouncing off the ground before she scraped to a stop, hitting the other wall hard.

Spitting blood, Kaede coughed relentlessly, pushing herself to her feet with a sharp glare in her serious eyes. He was going easy on her, the strength behind his kicks felt slightly too weak in comparison to the many rumors she'd heard. "Don't underestimate me!" She called, getting to her feet and forming the seals for her Katon: Gokakyu no Jutsu. With a deep exhale, she engulfed the area before her in a fireball, which was sent straight towards the Sannin.

The man quickly formed seals for Suiton: Bakusui Shoha, drawing the water from the air and sending a mid-sized wave of it towards the fireball. He landed on one knee as the flames fizzled out and gasped when three figures jumped out of the steam, landing in an arrow formation a few feet in front of him.

'Bunshin no Jutsu...' He thought, looking from one Kaede to the next, all of them wearing the same grinning expression. She had used the flame to distract him so she could create clones of herself to act as decoys. How interesting.

Orochimaru performed seals and thrust both arms out. "Sen'ei Jashu!" Without any other warning aside from the name, three large snakes, the size of Boa Constrictors came out of his sleeves, rocketing towards each version of the Ninjutsu Expert.

Of course, only the real Kaede was able to avoid them perfectly, jumping up into the air as two of the three snakes passed through her clones, making them poof out of existence, while the third snake arched and shot up towards her.

"I hate snakes!" She called out as she formed more seals and shot forth a large torrent of fire towards the reptile, which hissed sharply as it was engulfed, before falling to the ground, dead.

Landing at its side, she grimaced at the sight of it, before kicking off towards her opponent. Ninjutsu was getting her nowhere, though it was risky, she had to meld her usual tactics with other forms of fighting to increase the probability that she would land a blow.

'Considering the lack of strength during her last failed blow, I'm surprised she would succumb to her weakest skill...' Orochimaru thought to himself, dodging punch after kick with ease, catching her arm and smirking darkly at her. "It seems you're becoming quite impatient, Kaede..." He taunted, kicking her hard in the chest, making her cough blood as she was sent flying backwards, slamming into the wall.

She wasn't doing so well, even after spending days training, she was still rusty after all. Spitting blood to the side, she wiped her lips with the back of her hand and staggered to her feet once again. Not once had she landed a single blow on the Sannin, and they were both equally experienced in the field, well she was younger, but that didn't make much of a difference.

His power was indescribable, how would she counter that?

It was then that she realized something very important, Orochimaru knew her Taijutsu was pathetic in comparison, and he was not fighting seriously. If she found a way to use that to her advantage, she could find an opening and strike when he least expected it.

Hiding her grin, her eyes lit up with determination, she knew she had a sense of a strategy, now she just had to find a way to bring it out.

"If you won't approach me, Firecracker..." Orochimaru started, taking off in a quick sprint towards her, his eyes wide with the intent to harm. "I'll bring the fight to you!"

Oddly, her chest burned as the ache of breathing heavily kicked in, she hadn't fought like this in years, even if she hated the man, the adrenaline that coursed through her during a fight was the one thing she loved the most.

Kaede couldn't help the grin that spread across her lips as she kicked off towards him with the same intent, her eyes sharp with strength and prepared for anything he would throw at her. When they met in the middle, both clasping the other's hands in a tight lock, they pushed forcefully on one another, a test of strength between them.

The kunoichi could feel her feet scrape backwards at the power Orochimaru displayed and her eyes narrowed slightly. With his strength, fighting with Taijutsu was risky, but it was the best way for her to lower his guard. Using her head, she went to slam it against his, but he saw this and let go of her, jumping backwards.

How amusing, she was trying so hard to inflict pain upon him, yet failing so miserably. However in an analytical point of view, despite how she paled in comparison to him when he was in top form, she had more power than any of his other Jounin, even if it was only a little.

However her taijutsu was nothing to worry about, he could defeat her even if he was on his deathbed.

Caught in his thoughts, Orochimaru's eyes snapped to Kaede, wide and surprised when she let out a roar, reared back in the air right in front of him. When had she moved?!

Without being able to deflect, a foot slammed into his cheek and he was send tumbling into the nearby wall, his training partner dropping to one knee, she had pushed herself to near exhaustion just to inflict even the slightest injury on the man.

Kaede let out a noise of surprise when a pit opened up below her and she slowly began to sink into thick mud. "A-ah, dammit!" She hissed out, struggling to break out of it. The disgusting slime beneath her was almost as powerful as quicksand, she couldn't escape it.

While she thrashed, making herself sink faster, Orochimaru slowly staggered to his feet, his hands in the form of his Doton ninjutsu. Those yellow eyes were malicious, a large red bruise upon his cheek.

He had let his guard down, believing her current strategy not to be a threat. Wiping his cheek, he glanced down at the back of his hand and tsked, it seemed she had broken the skin, considering there were small smears of blood covering his pale flesh.

When she had her head tilted, almost completely engulfed in the disgusting fluid that would mean her death, the Rogue Shinobi released his jutsu, causing the mud to crack and crumble. With a sigh of relief, Kaede yanked her arms out of the drying fluid, spraying crumbled pieces of it everywhere, before using both her limbs to pull herself from the mess so she was on dry land once again.

Orochimaru walked over to her as she staggered back and landed on her knees, taking deep breaths. "I...Need more...Training..." She gasped, wiping the sweat from her forehead, smearing a little of the mud on it. "Guess I'm still...A little rusty!"

Kaede knew then that she was no match for Orochimaru at her current level, she needed to train far more, build up her lost stamina and strength before she could actually consider seriously killing him.

Footsteps caught her attention and she glanced up to see a pair of grey trousers, knowing Orochimaru was stood in front of her, probably with his arms crossed and that infuriating smirk on his lips.

"Though you lack the energy you once held when you were a Suna Jounin, you still contain the same potential I sensed when I first saw your jutsu in battle. In fact, since the experiments ended, your Ninjutsu power has strongly increased." He chuckled with an air of arrogance in his tone, his pride sickened her. "However with your stamina and Taijutsu skills less than impressive at the moment, you would only be useful as a decoy, which, even then, would most likely end in your own demise."

Kaede glared up at Orochimaru before she slowly got to her feet, dusting off her filthy hospital gown. He glanced down at it, noting it was going to take far more than one thorough scrub to remove all that dirt. "I don't need your criticism, Snake Eyes..." She said strongly, crossing her arms and meeting his sinister gaze. "So just get to the point. You have a point, don't you? You're not the type to focus on things like that without a motive behind it."

Amusement flooded his form and his lips curled back in a grin as he processed her words. Clever woman, she knew him well after ten years. "Fine, I'll cut to the chase...Since you lack the things needed to make a fine ninja, I will no longer be your training partner...Instead, I will be your Sensei."

The words made her blood freeze as she imagined herself getting lessons in the art of fighting by the one man she hated the most. Irritation and rage fueled up inside of her and she tried not to grind her teeth, suppressing the anger that would make her glow if it got out of control.

'Calm down...Think about this..!' She thought to herself. 'If you get trained by him, you can learn all his weaknesses during your sparring sessions, it'll give you more of an advantage later on. Even if you have allies at your side from Suna, you'll need to know how he moves to formulate a good strategy!'

With a huff of false laughter, the Ninjutsu Expert smirked, her eyes strong and determined as she locked eyes with him. "Alright then." She started, raising her hand, even if his touch burned, she had to make it look believable. "We'll shake on it. Until the moment I prove myself useful in battle...I'll allow you to train me."

Orochimaru's laugh darkened and his shoulders shook, clasping her warm hand in his not-surprisingly cold one, tightening his grip almost painfully in sheer excitement. How much entertainment would he get from training this stubborn, fire-hazard of a woman? How much use would she be afterwards? All these questions made glee stir deep within him.

If all went according to plan, she would be of great use in his up and coming mission.

"Very well, every day, once you've washed and eaten, we'll meet here for excessive training..." His eyes narrowed slightly, though his expression remained the same. "Just because you're of a Jounin rank, does not mean I will not push you past your limits!"

"Don't flatter yourself! It'll be me telling y'to raise the difficulty, old man!"

How 'bright' the future seemed with these two training together.

~BHBL~

Five days passed since then, and Kaede was getting better in her abilities to fight. Since her biggest weakness was Taijutsu, strengthening her defenses and best moves was a good idea so she would be able to cover her blind spot expertly. However, her rigorous training sessions were making her look worse for wear, as she stood in her room, cloaked the same hospital gown she awoke in, which was burned, tattered, had mud stains and was even torn in places.

She wished she had something else to wear, but sadly her old clothes were probably long gone now, and even then, she wouldn't fit them anymore, she must have shrunk in height at least a little since she last wore them.

With a deep sigh, she sat down on the end of her bed and ran her fingers through her hair, hell she didn't even have her precious book anymore. So other than training, all she could do was wander the halls and get some food.

It was less boring when she was an academy student. If her younger self could see her now, she would refuse to allow Orochimaru to have gotten the best of her and would have threatened to beat him up if he tried.

Laughing at the memory of herself when she was an innocent child who knew no better, she wasn't aware of the knock on her door at first, until it grew in volume. "Hey, if you're in there, answer already!"

Irritated by the sudden interruption, she stood with a serious expression and walked over to the door, yanking it open with a glare. "What d'you want, I'm bus-" However her words were stopped short when a Sound Shinobi slammed a pile of fabric into her hands, glaring at her.

"Orochimaru's orders." He told her vaguely, stepping back and crossing his arms. "These were made for you, can't have a Sound walking around looking like something from a zombie movie. The black bodysuit is made of a flame retardant material that won't burn if you do."

Kaede stared down at the clothes in her arms, a pair of wooden, tall sandals placed on the top. surprisingly there was an article of maroon material within the pile, something she was known to wear as a child, as it was her favorite color.

How had he known? Was it because of that little scrap of Maroon fabric she wore on her Jounin outfit ten years prior?

'Seems right that a psychopath like him has a good memory too...' She thought, though her bitter mental words had less force than usual. 'Better than this crappy gown at least.'

Looking up, she went to say something but found that the shinobi had gotten bored and left. Amused by the attitude of the man, she smirked and walked back into her room, closing the door behind her.

Though she felt a speck of unknown emotion at the sight of the new clothes, she glared at them all the same. Orochimaru was the reason she was in this mess, otherwise, she wouldn't need these clothes at all.

However, compared to the horrible memories these hospital gowns held, even clothes from that snake were like diamonds in comparison, so she quickly changed.

Once she had finished, the former Suna Kunoichi made her way to the bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror. Before her stood an almost unrecognizable version of herself. Ignoring the clothes, she could see the tole her burns and scars had on her body and knew the disgust that swept through her wasn't groundless, she avoided her reflection as much as possible nowadays because of those horrible marred marks.

She switched her uncomfortable gaze to the freshly made clothes in her hands. "Guess they ain't that bad..." Right now, without the outer layer, she stood in a semi-tight fitted black bodysuit which lacked sleeves and only went down to a quarter of her thigh. Covering her decently, while keeping enough of her exposed for easy movement. "So this is the flame retardant material, huh?" She mused, tugging on the strap, it was flexible, but not too stretchy.

The high sandals were strange though, not once in her life had she even considered wearing a pair, but if she were to escape this place, shoes were a good option on the hot sand leading to Suna. Actually, walking in here, she did enjoy the sound the shoes resonated, though she knew she'd have to remove them for cover purposes.

With only a little hesitation, she grasped the maroon clothing off the hook on the door, having placed it there when she entered the bathroom, and quickly pulled it on. With a harsh tug on the sash in the middle, she tied it shut before clipping the top closed. Out of all the clothing she wore, this was the one that suited her the most.

Standing before her was the reflection of a woman wearing a long maroon colored robe that went down to her mid-calf at least, around the edges there was a hem made with pink fabric, accenting the darkness of the maroon shade she loved. Her sleeves were at least a forearm longer than where her hands stopped, keeping them hidden, an excellent tactic for hiding weapons and secret documents, depending on her missions when she returns home.

Around her waist, keeping the clothing tightly closed, was a gold sash, tied several times to secure it perfectly. While on the top, above her breasts were two small black buttons with a band of gold around them used to seal the top of the robe, avoiding any loose fabric while moving through the trees.

Despite her hatred for the man who gave her the clothing, she couldn't help but smirk, now she had more appropriate coverage, her training would run even a little more smoothly.

Soon she'd be far more powerful than she was ten years ago. It wouldn't be long now.

~BHBL~

"Katon: Gokakyu no Jutsu!" Kaede roared as she inhaled air and exhaled flames fueled by chakra. Her robes and shoes were discarded a fair distance away, to avoid the flames as she stood there, coated in cuts, bruises, and burns, while Orochimaru stood at the other side of the hallway. Avoiding her attack before standing once again, only slightly wounded.

Since their training started over two weeks ago, she had begun to become more brutal in her training as the time passed. She had recovered her stamina enough to only notice a small gap between her former energy and her current strength, and her eyes always shined with a determination he thought would be lost the more she accepted his conditions.

He was curious about her motivation and why she continued to accept his help, knowing full well how much she hated him. However, he had never needed an answer to his question, as he already had his suspicions on the matter.

Of course, at this point, those suspicions were just that, suspicions. Therefore he did not voice or think about them until he was presented with more proof, so he just continued his lessons with an unoccupied mind.

"Your fireballs are indeed large and swift in battle, however, that's your go-to tactic," Orochimaru called out to her, crossing his arms. "Try using some of your other techniques more often and switch from Ninjutsu to the other forms of fighting frequently. As a Jounin, I expected this to be drilled into your mind."

"Yeah, well, I'm a little out of practice!" Kaede called back, huffing softly, this training session had been going on for at least six hours already. She hadn't eaten since it started and didn't sleep well the night before, so she was running low on energy quickly.

"No matter what the circumstances are, a ninja cannot afford to lose their keen edge. Retrain your mind to stop yourself going back to your first instincts, if you continue on that path, your actions will become predictable and easily countered!"

"I know that! Let's just keep fighting, I learn better putting lessons into action!"

Orochimaru chuckled and nodded, he preferred show to tell anyway. Within moments, the two were locked in battle once again.

~BHBL~

Over the course of a month, Kaede went from just training to regretfully accepting small tasks around the lair, with Orochimaru's approval first, since no one actually trusted her here. Walking through the halls, having just gotten another task from the Snake Sannin himself, she tsked and hastened her pace.

She was sick of being here, she just wanted to go home, but if she lost her patience, it'd all be for nothing!

While she walked out of earshot, Orochimaru's chuckle filled the air, slowly melting into full force laughter, leaning back against his throne as he let out waves of glee in a single breathe. After her strong words when he allowed her freedom, he hadn't expected her to cave into his command so easily, and the thought alone pleased him.

Lowering his head as his laughter died down, he grinned maliciously at the door which she had closed when she left. If he put a recent idea he had into action, perhaps he could destroy her disobedience completely, making her nothing more than one of his pawns.

With her current state, he could only think of one such thing that'd break her spirit enough to cause some confusion on her part.

Narrowing his eyes, he weighed the options and finally came to a decision, straightening up as the door opened once again and Kabuto entered. "Ah, Kabuto..." The older ninja greeted him, his lips curling back further. "Just in time. When Kaede returns from her task, I will need you both to accompany me..."

Kabuto, who had just entered the room, and was not aware of his lord's plot, looked a little confused for a moment before he pushed his glasses up his nose. "Your deviousness knows no bounds, Orochimaru-sama...Do you intend to keep me in the dark?"

Orochimaru chuckled. "Sharp as ever I see..." He said, gripping the throne a little tighter with anticipation. "The details are not important, therefore I have no need to explain them."

Kabuto's eyes narrowed with suspicion, but he bowed quickly. "Understood, Orochimaru-sama..." He stated, knowing that asking his lord for any other details would be pointless. He always did enjoy keeping his subordinates in the dark.

Without another word, Kabuto got to work and Orochimaru silently awaited the return of his stubborn, disobedient experiment, his chin resting on his hand with only a slight bit of patience kept him from going to find her.

The next few days would be entertaining, to say the least.

~BHBL~

Honestly neither Kaede nor Kabuto had expected this, not one bit, especially this soon after she had 'joined' their ranks.

Orochimaru stood by the sealed exit of the hideout, his hands moving quickly, forming the signs needed to release the jutsu, allowing her freedom. "Release!" He hissed out as the sheets of parchment covering the door began to peel and disintegrate into the air. Turning to face her, he spoke without hesitation. "I have a mission for you, Kaede..."

"Mission...?" She repeated, confused, after only a short while, he was trusting her to leave the hideout, assuming she'd return? Suppressing the grin that threatened to break out on her confused face, she shivered with excitement, here was her chance to return home, a chance to finally act out her revenge!

"Yes. We're running short on ninja tools and medical supplies, therefore I want to you head to the nearby town and meet a man dressed in a long black cloak with a hood. He will sell you the supplies for a pre-agreed price..."

Orochimaru tossed her a small bag that jingled as she caught it. "This is the amount needed for our regular purchase since you haven't been outside in ten years, I'll allow for you to take your time, however anything over a week and you'll be severely punished upon return, am I clear?"

Kaede however, didn't give him a response, or time to act as she quickly kicked off in a run through the doors of the hideout leading to her freedom, a massive grin over her lips, unable to force it back any longer.

She was free, her eyes stung as the sunlight burned them, the heat making her body shiver, but not unpleasantly. With this, she could return home and see those she had thought of constantly without end.

She would finally see her family again!

"Orochimaru-sama!" Kabuto protested, not expecting his sudden decision, raising his arms to emphasize his point. "How can you carelessly drop the barrier like that? Kaede-san is not someone we can trust just yet, she won't return if her life depended on it!"

"No..."

Kabuto hummed and relaxed slightly, unsure why, but the strong confidence in his lord's voice made him realize there was more to this than meets the eye. Was this his plan all along?

"Kaede will return..." Orochimaru continued, smirking darkly, watching her retreating figure until it vanished from sight. He wouldn't go any further into the details, but he knew his plan would be successful.

Though it would have its setbacks. "However I doubt we'll receive our supplies until the week is almost up..." He shrugged slightly, closing his snake-like eyes. "Oh well, such sacrifices are a must when the situation calls for them..."

Though Kabuto was a little confused with Orochimaru's plans and words, he didn't question them. The Sannin was a genius, he would have calculated every outcome before making a decision. Even if he hadn't, he tended to do things without telling others anyway, so it'd make no difference if he understood or not.

What mattered was that he would get his way. Otherwise, there would be trouble.

~BHBL~

Days passed and Kaede continued to move, having only stopped several times over the course of her trip to rest. Her shoes hit the sand hard as she kept up her rigorous pace through the desert she had entered maybe two hours ago.

It was strange that after so long, the things she took for granted, like the dry sandy air and the hot desert sun were some of the things she missed the most about her time in Suna. Along with her family and friends, of course.

She hoped they'd be as happy to see her as she was to see them.

Kaede's grin couldn't spread any wider as she approached the two walls separating Suna from the sandy trenches that surrounded it and she didn't waste a breath sprinting inside towards her freedom. What had changed, were there new, promising Genin that she could teach?

How were her mother and father doing without her?

Just as she reached the end of the two large walls, she skidded to a stop, panting hard, her forehead soaked with the sweat of constant movement and newly found heat. Before her stood a very familiar, yet slightly different city that she had been born and raised in.

New and old ninja walked about their daily lives in front of her and Kaede was found speechless, her expression blank as she stared out at the bustling streets, filled with faces of comrades and long forgotten acquaintances who's faces were remembered upon sight.

Her heart swelled, tight in her chest as she held back the wave of emotion that washed over her, taking a deep breath to calm her aching heart. "I'm home..." She murmured, taking a step forward, then another, and another until she began to slowly trudge through the streets towards her family home.

She did plan to return to Otogakure, once she had the reinforcements needed to take him down, but right now, what mattered to her most was seeing her beloved mother and father for the first time in at least a decade. Hell, it'd been so long, she wasn't even sure how many years she'd been gone.

Looking around, her expression warped into a smile, seeing new things and new stalls open with new goods for others to buy. She had been gone so long, if it wasn't for the familiar structure of the city, she'd have mistaken it for somewhere else. Last time she was here, a war was about to break out, the Third Great Shinobi War, and now the city was in the realms of peace, not a threat in sight.

This was the place she belonged in the most, not that disgusting excuse for a hideout.

As she made her way through the crowds, people stopped and looked back at her, before mumbling to themselves, some of them recognizing her face, but not sure where from. Her stomach twisted when she caught some of their confused expressions and words, but knew that after ten years and constant experimentation, she wouldn't exactly look like herself anymore.

With this thought in mind, she quickened her pace a little more, her fists clenched at her sides as she stared at the road ahead of her, her body moving on its own, remembering her way home as if she had only been gone a day.

Humming, she stopped as she reached the apartment building she had lived in so long ago, looking up at her room window, she frowned when she saw someone walking out onto the balcony for a smoke. It was only natural that they'd move all her stuff and give her place to someone else, she wasn't exactly keeping up her rent the past decade.

However, her gut sank with dread, had they assumed she was dead? Did her mother and father mourn her? Filled with unanswered questions, she began to jog towards her parents' home, wanting answers as well as the comfort of her mother's embrace.

When she finally arrived, she skidded to a halt at the door, only slightly out of breath now, and inhaled deeply to steady herself, before rapping her knuckles against the wooden surface three times.

"Hold on a moment! I'm coming!" Ayame's voice called through the wood of the door, making Kaede's nervous expression melt into a soft smile. Her mother's voice, something she hadn't heard for so long, made her feel so welcome, even if the older woman wasn't aware of her presence yet. Tears welled up in her eyes as the thought of her mother's relief and joy upon seeing her daughter again and she quickly wiped her tears on the back of her hand.

The last thing she wanted was her mother to see her crying first thing after seeing her again.

"Hello-" Ayame started as she opened the door with a smile. However the moment her eyes locked with Kaede's, it fell, a look of pure shock coating her features, mixed with an underlined sense of horror as if she had turned up bloody and almost dead.

This unsettled the red-haired kunoichi to no end, but she just swallowed her fear, assuming it was because of her strange features. "Hey, mother..." She started, her voice wavering slightly, throat tight with pent-up joy and sorrow. "It's me, Kaede, I've come home."

"Kaede..!" Her mother gasped, hand raised to her heart, clenching the fabric tightly as she looked her daughter up and down, she had changed so much. Were those scars? "What happened to you?!"

Kaede blinked and frowned with discomfort as her mother stared at her, the youngest Mari covering her lower face with her hand. "It's a long story..." She said vaguely if she explained where she had been, she'd instantly become a target for arrest. Orochimaru would have been put in the bingo book by now for sure. "But I'm back now. I've missed y'so much..!"

As the lost woman went in to give her mother a hug, she froze in shock as Ayame stepped back, fear and caution in her brown eyes, like a kunoichi who was protecting her life. Her mother...Was afraid of her?

"You shouldn't be here..." Ayame told her, making Kaede's warm smile fall, mirroring Ayame's former look of shocked horror. "After what you did to Kiyoshi-kun." It was as if someone had blown a gust of wind over her heart, freezing it and shattering it to pieces.

Orochimaru's words echoed in her mind.

"In the desert, not far from your precious little village...Lies the body of a shinobi who tried to save you. At this moment they will have discovered the fact that you are missing...Your forehead protector, still sitting on the cold bedsheets in your room, along with the blood on your kitchen floor will make you a suspect in the man's murder...Once the body is found and the evidence is piled together, there is a very high probability that you will be given the title of a Rogue Kunoichi and upon entering your beloved homestead, you will be imprisoned and perhaps even executed for your crimes."

Though she had not believed him, and over time had forgotten his words, he had told the truth. Her family, her friends, they thought she had killed her ex-husband in a blind rage. That she had killed in cold blood and ran away to hide her shame.

"No...!" Kaede gasped, stepping forward, looking alarmed and brokenhearted at the same time. "Mother, listen t'me, please! I swear, I didn't kill Kiyoshi!" Ayame's panic rose as her daughter stepped closer and closer with each word she said.

"Futon: Daitoppa!"

Kaede cried out as a sudden burst of wind hit her full force, sweeping her off her feet and sending her flying into the wall of the building opposite her family home. Opening an eye as pain washed through her, she let her expression turn blank as Ayame called for Hiroshi, her father. Other shinobi, who were nearby, looked over and knew then who she was, all their expressions going cold and determined at once.

'I'm going t'get captured!' Kaede thought, the realization sending a shocking tsunami of fear through her as she reacted upon instinct, standing and kicking off into a quick sprint away from the shinobi and her father, who called out to her and began to chase her down.

Glancing back, her eyes widened as she saw Takeshi and Shinako within the ranks that were on her tail. Even her best friends...

With a pained heart and pure despair, she quickly hopped onto the roof of one of the building, moving from one roof to another, towards the large stone wall that surrounded the town. She had to escape, she had to get out of here before they caught her!

Who did she have left, what did she have now that her entire village had given up on her? Why did her family- her friends, her comrades believe she would be capable of such cold-blooded murder?! They had listened to the Kazekage over their own teammate, their own daughter! They had abandoned her over false evidence, not even listening to her side of the story.

She was alone now, there was no one else.

As she reached the wall, she quickly turned and formed seals for her own jutsu, only seeing the saddened, hopeful expression her father held before she belowed fire before them, forcing them to stop to avoid the flames.

"Dammit, where did she go?" One of the shinobi hissed as the flames died down and Kaede was no longer there. "She got away! Unit one, secure the city, units two and three, we'll begin the chase!"

"Kaede..." Hiroshi breathed as he and her former friends stood there, watching the other ranks chase after her.

~BHBL~

Kaede stopped on a branch a very fair distance from the desert where Suna was situated, sitting against the wood as she caught her breath finally having lost her pursuers. Tears spilling down her cheeks as she relived her mother's reaction to her return over and over again.

Grinding her teeth, she gripped the bark hard as anger began to fuel her in waves, She would achieve her desire for Orochimaru's death now more than ever before. This was all his fault, she had no friends, no family, no home, because he was a selfish bastard intent on power. She didn't have to be a victim, but he had become infatuated with her powerful fire ninjutsu.

Why her? Why not someone else?!

Her skin began to glow as she took deep, heavy breaths to calm herself, if she burst into flames now, she'd be killed and she would not allow that to happen until she had that snake's head mounted on her wall.

Looking up with tear stained, determined eyes, she kicked off towards the town Orochimaru had requested with a newfound resolve. She would gain his trust, like she planned, but instead of recieving help from her village, she'd take him down herself.

Whatever it took, she'd kill that bastard where he stood.

~BHBL~

"Well, well, you're just in time..."

Kaede ignored Orochimaru's words as she entered the hideout, and kicked the door shut hard behind her. In her arms were several bags of ninja tools and medical supplies. It took everything in her power not to attempt his death right now, as he stood there with his arms crossed, a smug, arrogant smirk upon his white lips.

Of course, with her burning anger bubbling just below the surface, it only too one blunt question for her to snap. "Did you enjoy your little trip~?" Without giving him a second to react, she dropped the supplies and let out a roar of anger as she lunged at him.

However, her fist was caught easily, Orochimaru's large hand keeping her from even touching his face, his smirk widening at the sight of her enraged eyes. "Now, now, I allow you freedom and this is how you repay me?" He taunted, catching her other fist when she tried to hit him again. His smile faded slowly and his eyes turned sharp with dangerous authority. "You are well aware of what your anger does to your body, now calm down, or I will be forced to take action."

Kaede however, didn't try to calm down at all, her rationality leaving her for a moment, as she went to kick him. Of course, Orochimaru knew that was coming and disconnected their hands, jumping back and sending a snake shooting towards her. "Agh!" She gasped as the serpent coiled around her form tightly, restricting her movements. "Let me go!"

"I'll only ask you once more to calm down, Kaede. Don't test me when you know what I am capable of..." His words were true, he would not hesitate to inflict punishment upon her if she didn't relax.

"Why should I listen t'you!" She ground out, struggling against the tightening snake, her skin taking on a soft glow as sparks began to flicker off her skin. "This is all your fault, you and your crappy experiments!"

Orochimaru ignored her words and remained silent as she continued to thrash uselessly, slowly beginning to calm down as the time passed. She stood there, breathing hard, her eyes sharp, fueled with hatred, eventually closing her eyes with a deep exhale. "Let me go..."

His eyes narrow, a little skeptical at first before he accepted her words, retracting the snake, which vanished up his sleeve with a soft hiss. Kaede remained still for a moment before she turned and left without another word, her shoulders tense, stiff with concealed emotion.

The Sannin knew his plan was a little like a double-edged sword, for example, her anger and the fact that she would refuse his orders for just a little longer. However, with her new mental instability, he may just be able to turn this to his advantage, as he originally planned.

~BHBL~

Kaede was quick to enter her room and close the door hard behind her, spinning and leaning against it with her head hung low, eyes covered by the dark shadows of her small flecks of hair. Her teeth were clenched tightly together and she was breathing heavily, wanting nothing more than to wring Orochimaru's neck, but unable to without severely jeopardizing her goals and her life.

She was livid, losing her family and home in one day made nothing but aching pain and loneliness simmer within her. She pushed herself off the door and walked over to her bed, dropping down into a slouched sitting position at the end of the comfortable mattress. Her throat was tight like something was forcing it's way up and she just needed to cry, to let out her frustrations in one burst.

However, she couldn't, no matter how much she willed herself to let out her agony, her body refused, having held back for so long, it was like she'd forgotten how to vent, how to share her feelings even to herself. 'That's what happens when you're surrounded by people you don't trust, you change to suit them, no matter how much you fight back.'

Taking a deep breath, her anger began to subside, still very much on edge, shaking with adrenaline. She began to sort through her thoughts, how she would get Orochimaru to lower his guard, and how she would strike if he did.

With her earlier actions at the doors, she had set herself back a little, making it harder for him to relax around her, but even then she wouldn't give up. He had taken everything from her, it was her turn to take everything from him. He valued his jutsu and his life so much to sacrifice others for it, what better revenge than to take his precious last breath and end his ambitions?

Despite how paranoid Orochimaru was, he was able to lower his guard, he had done so on the first day of their training, therefore she knew she could get him to do it again. She would, she swore that on her own life.

It wasn't easy to come up with a solid plan however when your village and their cruel betrayal came to mind at every moment. She knew her mother had felt off about her for many years since she had returned from her Chuunin mission without her squad. So that wasn't much of a surprise, and still didn't excuse her actions, but her father, her friends, those who she believed to trust her more than any other. They easily turned their backs on her.

Slowly, a dark, cynical grin curled her frowning lips, making her look as dangerous and malicious as the man she hated, glaring up at the wall with harsh eyes as she came to a decision.

'What's the point in villages if they give up on their own?' She thought to herself, tightening her fists against her legs. 'How can I work in a place like that?'

At that moment, she shredded a little of her morality.

Chapter Text

"Put more force into your blows, you're gaining speed, but your power is pathetic!" Orochimaru told her strictly as he stood behind her, his arms crossed, watching her kick the ever loving crap out of a training dummy. "If you can't put strength into your punches, then you're enemy will overpower you in close range combat. Get a feel for your movements and move your body in a way that is both comfortable and effective, that'll help increase your force."

"Alright, alright!" She said with a small amount of bite, listening to his words as she stepped back and moved her body forward, lunging at the defenseless doll. Her fist slammed into the head of the dummy with as much force as she could muster, however only a few splinters came from the surface she made contact with, though he had told her what to do, it'd take more than one attempt to master these skills.

Orochimaru frowned at the weak hand-to-hand combat skills he had been observing for quite some time. When she was fighting him, she had put everything she had into that one kick, whereas here she seemed to be lacking that drive, that motivation. Perhaps she fought better when constantly on the move? Movement can help the momentum of the attack, after all.

Noting her heavy breathing and the fact that they'd been here for about four hours he decided now would be a good time to stop for the day. "That's enough." He said, arching a brow when she huffed.

"Not yet! I can keep going!" She promised, preparing to attack the dummy once again. Orochimaru's frown slowly melted into a smirk and he chuckled, admiring her stubborn determination. She may be a disobedient terrible hand-to-hand fighter, but her reactions would always amuse him.

"Now...I understand your desire to improve, however, I have another mission for you, so it can wait." He started, his words forcing her to stop and turn her head to look at him over her shoulder. Now he had her attention. "Kabuto has an important task to complete, therefore he is currently held up at the moment. I want you to return to the city you visited last month, and collect this month's supplies."

Kaede narrowed her eyes slightly as she pivoted completely to face him, her last trip had been the deciding factor that she no longer had another left in the world she could trust. It wasn't a pleasant memory, but as her goal was not to revisit her old home, she knew she would have to accept this mission. No matter how much she didn't want to go.

Gritting her teeth, almost forcing herself not to refuse, she nodded her head. "Fine." Her words were cold, showing her distaste as she clenched her fists visibly.

Orochimaru's smirk only widened as he tossed a bag of ryo into her hands. "Good girl." He said, his tone almost patronizing, causing her expression to sharpen into irritation. "Now get going, if you desire training so much, then let's see how quickly you can finish this mission."

With a huff of bitter laughter, Kaede's hatred infused brown orbs followed the Sannin as he went to leave the room. "Don't underestimate me, Snake Eyes...I'll be back before y'know it!"

"Hm, hm, I may just hold you to that."

~BHBL~

She kept to her word, having really pushed herself to increase her speed during this mission, she returned to the hideout within three days, panting hard from constant movement, her arms filled with bags of supplies. "Hah, hah...Damn." Kaede rasped, placing the bags down as she sat against the wall for a moment to catch her lost breath. She hadn't traveled a distance like that, that quickly in years.

The speeds she had been traveling at would have startled anyone who saw her, but at least she was taking her training seriously. How else would she overpower one of the Legendary Sannin?

Running her fingers through her hair for a second as she thought of her growing power, she then decided it was time to report to the one man she had left to despise. Using the wall as leverage, she got to her feet and picked up the bags, making her way down the hall slowly towards the office/throne room Orochimaru spent most of his time in.

Meanwhile, the Snake Sannin himself was holed up in his office, just as she suspected, his head low, back bent slightly as he read through the Kinjutsu scrolls he had acquired recently, calculating them and finding out how long they'd take to master. Just as he was about to come up with a conclusive answer, he heard a knock on the door and lost his train of thought.

A little irked, he glared at the door for a moment with a soft hiss, resembling the snakes he used in battle, before closing the scroll and leaning back against his chair. "You may enter." He said, relaxing slightly, assuming it to be Kabuto.

However, he was pleasantly surprised and forgot his former anger when he saw the door open and Kaede's head pop out from behind the wooden barrier. "Ah, Kaede." He said, chuckling. "I'm surprised you're back so soon. I never expected you to take my little joke during our training so seriously~"

"Don't flatter yourself," Kaede said stubbornly, walking over and shoving the bags in his arms, crossing her own when they were free once again. "I just thought I could be doing better things, so I decided t'make up for lost time."

"Is that so?" He mused with a hint of amusement in his tone, searching through the bags. If his eyes were correct, she had collected everything he asked, surprisingly there was even a little Ryo in the pouch he had given her.

Had she even haggled for a cheaper price? Well, well, she was full of surprises, wasn't she?

"Hm, hm. I see you've done a thorough job..." He said, placing the bags down, leaning back in his chair once again, his smirk morphing into a strong grin. "I didn't expect you to make such improvements, especially after the last time, when you took just under a week to return. Perhaps I'll give you this task more often."

Kaede blinked, unsure how to process these words. Was he praising her? In a split second, she felt both surprised and pissed off. Why was he praising her? He was just a monster who wanted to use her for his stupid schemes. She told herself that he was just mocking her, that he didn't have the heart to honestly praise someone, and huffed softly, asserting her own mental struggle.

Not that any of it mattered, in time his taunting would end with his life.

~BHBL~

Kaede laid on her bed, her arm over her eyes, her other hand resting gently on her stomach as she tried to settle down for a gentle nap. After a hard day of training, and a harder week of being taught by Orochimaru, she just wanted a bit of time to herself, some peace so she could rest her strained mind.

Suddenly there was a heavy knock on her door and she lifted her arm slightly, acknowledging it.

Well look at that, she got a whole two seconds to herself, that was a whole new record!

Growling softly at the interruption, she stood and walked over to the door, her bare feet slapping off the stone as she yanked it open. "What? Can't y'see I'm trying t'sleep?!" She snapped, exhaustion making her irritable.

The kunoichi on the other side of the door, Kin, was it? Stood with her eyes wide, her hand raised for another knock. She was one of Orochimaru's recent Genins who'd been wandering the halls and training in the same room as her. Honestly, she didn't really have many good skills, Kaede didn't see why Orochimaru even bothered with her, he was just ruining lives for the fun of it now.

"Kaede-sama?" Kin questioned and Kaede's eyes also widened with surprise, -sama, who called her -sama?

"...Yeah." Kaede eventually answered, her eyes alight with suspicion. "What d'you want?"

"Orochimaru-sama is calling us to his office, I was asked to collect you on my way there."

"Eh? Who else is going?"

Kin hummed and stroked her chin, she didn't really interact with them a lot, so she had a hard time remembering their names. "Zaku and...Um...Dosu, I think."

"Aren't they Genin?" Kaede asked, getting a swift nod from Kin. Unsettled and curious, the older Jounin told Kin to wait a minute and walked over to her bed, slipping on her robe and sandals before following her. "Did Orochimaru give y'any details?"

"Only that we have a very important mission."

"Right..."

The walk to Orochimaru's office was suffocatingly silent, Kin being the one to knock while Kaede stood in the background, her arms crossed, seriousness leaking to the outside with her suspicions high.

"Come in."

The two of them entered to see Orochimaru sat in his throne, a boy with black spiked hair and another with wrappings all over his body stood before him, looking very much like subordinates of an evil snake. "Zaku and Dosu, right?" Kaede asked as she walked in with the black haired girl.

"Yeah, what's it to you?" Zaku, she assumed, sneered, he was already pissing her off, and she'd only been in the room five seconds.

"That depends on what ol' Snake Eyes wants..." Kaede countered, standing at the end of the line they'd formed facing the leader of this little village she was forced to work for.

Orochimaru chuckled at her obvious attempts at insulting him, leaning back in his throne with both hands on the armrests. "I have a mission involving the four of you..." He started. "The five of us, including some other shinobi from my village will infiltrate Konoha under the pretense of taking the Chuunin Exams."

Kaede's eyes narrowed, she was a Jounin for one, so that confused her, how would she join the Chuunin exams...? "What's your motive?" She asked out loud, her fingers gripping her arms a little tighter, though they were hidden behind her massive sleeves. "I don't see y'trying t'make someone here a Chuunin without gaining something yourself."

"Very perceptive, Firecracker." Orochimaru taunted with a mocking tone of praise, resting his chin on the back of his hand as his eyes lit up with glee. "We're going to infiltrate Konoha, assassinate the Third Hokage and destroy his precious village!"

Kaede's eyes widened with a gasp, shocked by this sudden decision on his part, what did he want to do that for? Since leaving Suna, her alliance with Konoha was no longer valid, but still, the thought of harming the Third Hokage and destroying Konohagakure bothered her greatly.

"However, you have another mission before that. Not the first priority, but still important..." Orochimaru said, interrupting her thoughts. "Zaku, Dosu and Kaede, you three will be taking the Chuunin Exams as a team, your first mission is to find someone by the name of Uchiha Sasuke, and take his life. Kin you will be working with me, I have a special task just for you."

Kin bowed her head, accepting this.

Hearing his whole plan, Kaede couldn't stop her stomach twisting with disgust and sickening dread, however, she forced it back with as much effort as she could. Just a little while ago, she had sworn to do whatever it took to end this man's life. If that meant taking on this horrible mission, then so be it, she'd swallow her guilt and sorrow and do what has to be done for the sake of her sanity.

She actually jumped slightly when Orochimaru's gaze snapped to her's with a look that could be considered a snake cornering its dinner. "Kaede, If you defy me at all during the course of this task, I will kill you without mercy. A slow painful death for ruining my ambitions, is that understood?" His expression went from dangerous to serious. "You're an important part of the main mission...Your Ninjutsu skills will aid me greatly in the final battle, therefore you have no choice but to participate."

Kaede wanted to defy him, wanted to tell him where he could shove his nasty ass plan, but knew that she would be forcing herself into a corner doing so. With a soft scrape of her teeth, she grinned maliciously. "Alright then, but I ain't doing it for you! I haven't had a good serious fight in ages!"

She felt bile rise in her throat when the Sannin's lips twisted into a sickening smirk of amusement and glee at her acceptance.

Seeing his grin had a negative effect on her as she ground her teeth softly, fingers clenched tightly into fists as she tried to suppress the rage simmering beneath her carefree exterior. Hell, she was used to doing this, after all, ten years of fury meant ten years hiding it.

Kaede mentally shook herself from her rage induced thoughts and focused her attention on Orochimaru, who had chosen to explain the entirety of the mission for all of them to hear.

~BHBL~

"Ah crap! These hand signs are a pain in the ass!"

Orochimaru chuckled as he stood outside of the hideout, awaiting Kaede to finish her transformation before joining them. He didn't look like his usual self, in fact, he had humanly pale skin with black tied back hair and the appearance of an Oto Jounin with the forehead protector and flak jacket included. Of course, that didn't mean his expression had changed, he still looked like the evil criminal mastermind he was.

Zaku, Dosu, and Kin stood near one another, feeling rather inferior with the amount of Jounin and Chuunin level shinobi surrounding them, as part of the plan there were at least four platoons escorting them to the village.

Kabuto, Yoroi, and Misumi had gone on ahead to the village, Orochimaru having told them to leave early to make sure they settled in as spies very easily without much fuss.

Right now, Kaede was in the hideout, trying to perform the jutsu he had taught her several hours ago when she came out, she would be fully disguised and very much unrecognizable.

Hearing footsteps, the entire group looked towards the doors as they opened and Kaede walked out, surprising everyone at her strange new appearance. Stopping a few feet from them was a woman with pale skin and no burns or wrinkles. She had the same brown ringed eyes, lopsided fang, and coppery red hair, but other than that she was no longer the Kaede everyone knew.

Hell, she looked nineteen, not forty-eight!

"Hm, hm, quite the difference I must say..." Orochimaru commented cheekily as Kaede looked at herself, she still wore the same outfit, but other than that, she couldn't even recognize herself. "Have you decided on a name for yourself? If you address yourself as 'Kaede,' your former village may recognize you..."

Kaede almost flinched when he mentioned her village, but forced it back. She knew there would be Suna shinobi there since most villages liked to send their best Genin forward to participate. She couldn't afford to be caught now.

A shiver went up a spine at the thought of being confined in a cell.

"Akari..." She stated, her expression all the more serious now that he'd mentioned her village. "I'll go by the name, Akari..."

He chuckled darkly at the meaning behind the name. "How fitting, a woman who sparks fire to go by a name meaning glimmer..." He said, and 'Akari' nodded, knowing just by the sight of his unpleasant snake-like eyes that it was Orochimaru who addressed her and no one else.

He was quite the master of disguise, able to pull off looking even slightly human. Now if only he could change his creepy personality too.

Without wasting a second, Orochimaru gave them a signal and the entire group shot into the trees, heading towards the Country of Fire. Konohagakure their target, and the Third's head as their bounty.

~BHBL~

They arrived in Konoha perhaps several hours before the exams were due to take place, having traveled for many days with very few stops for rest. The main group in charge of the missions remained in the village, while the shinobi who served as reinforcements stood back, hidden a fair distance from the village awaiting their signal to start the attack.

For the remainder of the day, they would wander the town, acting as if they were sightseeing and preparing themselves for the challenge when in actual fact, they were scanning the village borders and other areas for all it's weaknesses. Akari felt like she was betraying her allies, but knew this was not the case.

She was no longer affiliated with Suna, well with any village, therefore she was just a wandering falsely accused criminal waiting for her soul to turn black with the blood she would drench it in.

As the group scanned the village, they noticed that many of the other contestants and civilians would look at them with discomfort. She didn't blame them, out of all of them, her with her carefree grin and relaxed posture, made her the only kunoichi in Oto that looked approachable. The rest looked downright creepy.

Even though Akari's expression and posture made her out to be kind and happy, she wasn't. Right now she was putting up a front so others wouldn't see her true nature beneath it. If they could, they'd find her the perfect candidate for the village she pretended to work for.

Hell, she'd probably kill anyone who made that assumption, just further putting herself in their ranks.

"Before the exams, I should really get myself a nice curry..." She mused out loud as she looked from left to right, taking in the 'sights.' However, it was then that her blood ran cold and she faltered, freezing in place.

Stood a few feet in front of her, were three very familiar children from Suna. Kankuro, who had a painted face and a strange bandaged object on his back, Temari, who had blonde hair and carried around a large fan and Gaara, known as Gaara of the Sand, a boy who carried around a goard around on his back. The three children of the Fourth Kazekage, a man she knew was truly despicable on the inside.

Her expression only further faded to shock when Kankuro looked at them and nodded his head slightly, acknowledging them. Were Oto and Suna...Working together?! Akari's head snapped to Orochimaru's eyes alight with questions and he smirked.

"They currently have an alliance of sorts with us..." He explained arms crossed as his eyes danced with amusement at her reaction. "They'll be assisting us in our plans to eradicate Konoha."

Unable to hold back the horrified anger that swept through her, Orochimaru's smirk fell when he saw her start to take deep breaths, teeth grinding together viciously as she began to take on a soft glow. Her rage was understandable in a way, after all, she was once part of a village that betrayed her and were now betraying Konoha as well.

'Snakes, the lot of them!' Akari thought to herself, shaking on the spot, the other Genin looking at her with surprise when they saw her obvious light display.

If this continued, she'd attract attention.

"Kaede." A pale hand clamped down on her shoulder, Orochimaru's hushed voice of warning brushing against her ear. "Calm down, you'll attract unwanted attention if you lose your temper here..."

Her harsh breathing continued and she shook off his arm, walking away from them. "I need some air..." She said abruptly.

"You know where to apply for the exams, correct?"

"I'll be there..."

He knew leaving her to calm down was the best decision so he nodded, choosing to trust her words, just this once. He then ushered the others towards the building where they would apply and Akari didn't even look back as she turned a corner, out of sight.

The 'Genin' sat down on the side of a wall, staring down at the gravel beneath her feet with a solemn frown. She couldn't fall any further than she had right now, her village were lying cowards who didn't even trust their own kin, while her 'current' village wanted nothing more than to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting village who had no idea what hell awaited them.

Couldn't she catch a break? For once, couldn't she just sit at home, eat some curry and relax with her favorite book?

With a deep sigh, she stood and made her way towards the hall.

~BHBL~

"That's a lot of Genin..." Akari muttered as she sat down with Zaku and Dosu. Inside the room, there were at least a hundred applicants for the Chuunin level, and each of them were just as serious as the rest.

Well except a group of nine by the front doors, they didn't seem to realize they were disrupting the entire exam hall with their loud banter and tough words. If they took a second to look around, they'd see how much trouble they were really in. "Looks like Konoha's Genin know how to act tough..." Zaku said with a smirk as he and Dosu watched the scene take place intently, while Akari just spectated over her shoulder, her back to them.

"Hey, you guys." A familiar voice called out, the Ninjutsu Expert's eyes narrowing slightly. Kabuto walked from the crowds over to the nine pre-teens, a smirk on his lips. "You should quiet down a little." He warned, stopping in front of them, placing a hand on his hip as he looked from one to the other.

They were all unique to say the least, each of them had different styles, appearances and the determination in their eyes was noticeable. Except for the girl with white eyes, she was a little softer than the others. "So you're the nine rookies that just graduated from the academy, correct?" His tone took on a hint of exasperation. "You're all fooling around with those cute faces. Geez, this isn't a field trip."

"Who are you to tell us that?!" A girl with long blonde hair snapped at him, making Akari smirk, it was funny how easily she was offended by that.

"I am Yakushi Kabuto." Kabuto introduced himself, speaking with a little mystery in his tone. "Look around you..."

The group of rookies looked around the room to see every other Genin's eyes locked onto their's, glaring at them because of their noisy conversations. The ones behind them were especially brutal looking. "The ones behind you are from Amegakure. They have a short temper."

The looks on the pre-teens' faces were enough to make anyone think they weren't ready for this, it was almost like dread. "Everyone is tense since it's right before the exam. I warned you so you won't get picked on." Their expressions tensed before they turned back to Kabuto, who smiled with a soft sigh. "I guess it can't be helped though since you are just rookies who don't know anything." He opened his eyes and looked at each of them. "It makes me remember the old me."

Akari rolled her eyes at the way Kabuto settled into their little group, making them feel comfortable around him. Uchiha Sasuke must have been somewhere in that cluster of rookies then, otherwise, he wouldn't have bothered.

"When do we get to mess them up?" Zaku asked, itching to cause a fight.

"Not yet," Akari told them, having been appointed leader of the group at the door before Orochimaru left with Kin. She was a Jounin and they were just juniors, it was only right that she lead them until their mission was done. "When I give the signal, y'can beat them until they're black and blue, alright? Remember, we need t'make them realize that we're not pushovers."

"Isn't it strange that we have to provoke them?" Dosu questioned cleverly, he was rather sensible compared to Zaku. "Our target is amongst them somewhere, so won't fighting put them on guard?"

"Orochimaru's orders," Akari told them, feeling sick at the mere words she uttered. "He told us t'show our true colors and make them recognize us. I don't know what that lunatic's planning, but I don't like it..."

"Whatever, I just want to kick some ass!" Zaku commented, and the experienced kunoichi decided then that Zaku was the most irritating one of her 'team.'

Kabuto caught their attention once again when he pulled out some sheets of paper called 'Recognition Cards' as he put it. Surprising Akari, as someone with a lot of experience, she had never seen cards that show information using Chakra, and she'd seen a lot of things over the years.

"What are you doing?" A girl with pink hair asked as Kabuto spun the card with his finger, warming the surface of it.

"It's made so you can't view it without my Chakra." He raised his hand in a sign. "Like this." In a split second, smoke surrounded the card with a 'poof' sound and an image appeared on it.

"Wow, what information is this?" She exclaimed, obviously the clever one in her team by the glee she got from new sources of information.

The exam's total number of examinees and countries participating." Kabuto explained. "It also has the number of participants from each hidden village." He looked up at them. "Let me ask, why do you think we do the Chuunin Exam together?"

Not one of the rookies answered the question, proving how little they knew. The only sound coming from them was the crunching the fatter Genin made whenever he ate a chip.

"First, it's to deepen the friendly relationships with the other countries." Kabuto continued after the silence stretched on. "Next, it's to heighten the level of the ninja. That's what they say."

"That's what they say?" A boy with black hair asked, Akari's eyes narrowing, she couldn't quite see the clan symbol on his back, but could make out white and red. Was he the Uchiha boy? She clearly remembered that the Uchiha clan were known for having a symbol of a white and red fan.

"Yes, the real purpose is to confirm the level of the shinobi in each adjacent country to try and balance out the power." The look in Kabuto's eyes showed how honest and serious he was being. Experience his source of information.

"Power? Balance?" A boy with blonde hair spoke, his arms crossed. He looked the least impressive of the rookies, the only unique thing on him was the orange jumpsuit and the whisker patterns on his cheeks. The confusion on his face showed the lack of intelligence he held, Akari knew he was nothing to worry about.

"And why do we go through such a troublesome task?" A boy with black hair tied up in the shape of a pineapple questioned.

Kabuto placed his hand over the card and another puff of smoke covered it, leaving it white once it dissipated. "If they don't do that, the weak countries will be invaded and dominated by the strong ones. So they need to check and restrain each other's powers."

After that Akari zoned out a little, they went on to talk about personal information for some of the slightly more experienced Genin in the exam hall. The only thing that caught her interest was when Gaara's name was mentioned. She knew he was aiding their plans, so it wasn't a massive surprise. 'Still...They let the Ichibi Jinchuuriki join the exam? That creature is not to be messed with...' She thought, eyes narrowing. 'We'll have to be careful.'

She paid attention once again when Kabuto continued, explaining something about the ninja villages taking the exam. "Konoha, Suna, Ame, Kusa, Taki, and Oto...This year many talented Genins from these hidden villages have come here to take the exam." He stared at the entire hall for a moment, all the eyes meeting him didn't unnerve him one bit, before finally looking back at the cute little wanna-be ninjas before him. "Oto is a village of a small country that was just made recently, so I don't have much information on them."

That's when the three of them twitched slightly, Akari not so much, but she knew their cue was coming up.

The fiery red-head closed her eyes and looked away, she would decide when they move, but right now was too soon. These children were already scared, if they frightened them any more, then they would quit the exam and Uchiha Sasuke would get away.

However her thoughts were groundless when she was startled by a loud, obnoxious voice coming from the door, spinning around, she saw that it was the blonde boy with the overly bright jumpsuit. "My name is Uzumaki Naruto! I'm not going to lose to any of you! Got that?!"

He relaxed while the two loud female rookies argued and rested his hands on the back of his head. "That felt good!" He exclaimed happily.

Akari's shock turned into a wide smirk as she watched the boy. He reminded her of herself when she was his age. All talk and no brains. At first, she had underestimated him, but maybe he was a tough kid after all.

'Now's probably the time to make ourselves known...'

"Did you hear that?" Zaku said, sounding irritated and excited at the same time. "They said that Oto is a minor village of a small country..."

"I'm hurt..." Dosu said, his own eyes alight with the idea of causing a fight. "They spoke as if we're just leftover ninja." Dosu agreed. "Let's make him add this to his data. Ninja from Oto are somewhat cruel!"

Akari grinned slightly, that small tear in her morality showing in her darker than usual eyes. "Then why don't y'play with them a little?" She said with a sinister tone, nodding her head, giving them the signal they had been itching to see.

"Shall we?" Dosu asked.

"Let's go." Zaku confirmed and within a second, the two of them rushed from the crowds in a blur Zaku jumped into the air above his comrade, forcing Kabuto, who had already noticed their movements, to turn in shock. The older teen dodged quickly when his 'enemy' tossed two kunai at him without hesitation.

Taking the opportunity, Dosu appeared in front of the older teen with his hand forming a seal, pulling up his sleeve to show off a strange device attached to his forearm. The bandaged pre-teen lunged at the medical shinobi, forcing him to dodge his blow, just like he had done with Zaku.

He smirked when the punch didn't brush his nose, however, his pride was short lived when his glasses cracked and he shuddered before falling to the ground, vomiting on the stone.

Seeing him in that state caused Akari's smirk to warp into a gleeful grin, since he had drugged her and assisted in Orochimaru's experiments for many years, she felt a sense of justice when he was forced to his knees like that. Maybe she'd have more fun in this exam than she thought if she got to do things like that.

Now she regretted not joining them in their little game.

She could hear Dosu taunting Kabuto and leaned back in her chair with a soft laugh. "That's what y'get for acting all high and mighty! I thought you'd be better, Mr. Veteran!" She taunted, calling to them from across the room, getting everyone's attention for a moment.

"Write this in your cards!" Zaku ordered Kabuto, who wiped his mouth with his arm, no glasses perched upon his nose, having removed them earlier before hitting the ground. "The three from Oto will definitely become Chuunin!"

While everyone tried to find a reason as to why Kabuto vomited when he did indeed dodge the blow, Akari just laughed and placed her feet on the desk comfortably. Now she could enjoy the first exam at least. Hell since she was kidnapped, this was the first time she'd truly had any fun.

It was a nice feeling.

She almost fell off her chair when her moment of content was disrupted by a smoke bomb going off in front of the chalkboard, a strong male voice calling from the depths of the mist. "Quiet down! You punks!"

Everyone watched as the smoke slowly cleared and several Chuunin stood there, the largest one being the man in the middle, his body riddled with scars and his head hidden behind a bandana with his village symbol on top. "Sorry to keep you waiting." He said with a large smirk. "I am the examiner of the first test of the Chuunin Selection Exam, Morino Ibiki."

Everyone remained silent as the large man who had seen his fair share of bloodshed pointed at Zaku, Dosu and then finally Akari. "You three from Oto!" He called out. "Don't think you can do anything you want before the exam. Do you want us to fail you already?"

Akari huffed, she felt humiliated being scolded by her junior, but to keep up appearances, she pretended to feel a sense of guilt. "Sorry." She stated quickly, glancing to Dosu, who nodded. "It's our first exam, we got a little overexcited..."

Ibiki smirked at them before slipping back into his sinisterly serious expression. "This is a good chance to say this...You are not allowed to fight each other during the exam unless given permission by the examiners. Even if the permission is given, you are not allowed to kill the other." His eyes were almost as dangerous as Orochimaru's at that moment, as he glared at the two Oto Genin stood by Kabuto's fallen form. "Pigs who go against me will fail immediately. Understood?"

Almost all the Genin in the room didn't dare speak back to the man who could kill them without strain or effort, except Zaku, who Akari had noted was a troublemaker. "This exam seems so soft and easy." He commented rudely, smirking at the proctor.

Akari didn't feel unnerved when the examiners all laughed at Zaku's blatant ignorance, she had taken enough of these to understand how dangerous they could be. But she would keep that to herself, she doubted her teammates would really care even if she warned them.

"We will now begin the first exam of the Chuunin Selection Exam," Ibiki announced the only one who didn't laugh at the obvious stupidity the Oto Genin had displayed. "Turn in your applications, take one of these number tags, and sit where the number tells you to. Then we will pass out the papers for the written exam..."

Akari huffed out a laugh and smirked at Naruto when he panicked over the idea of a paper test. She and her 'comrades' quickly collected their numbers and sat in completely different places in the exam hall. Whatever the examiners were planning, it wasn't going to be easy.

Hell, it was strange that all the examiners were sat on one side of the room, staring at them intently with a board and pen. It was like an interrogation. 'This exam has more to it than it seems, each of them are different, but I ain't been in one that's set up like this before...'

Her thoughts were broken when Ibiki tapped a piece of chalk on the blackboard, getting the entire hall's attention. "This First Exam has a few important rules." He explained, his expression not easing up once. Damn this guy was pretty intense. "I will not accept any questions, so listen carefully..."

With a quick turn, the chalk tapped off of the blackboard as Ibiki wrote down the rules. "The first rule is you are all given ten points at the start. The written exam consists of ten questions and each is worth one point." Everyone was listening intently as the examiner spoke without hesitation or pause, they had no choice if questions weren't allowed. "This test is a deduction based test...If you get one problem wrong, you will get one point deducted. If you get three problems wrong, your points will be reduced to seven."

'So ten wrong and you're out, eh?' Akari mused, crossing her arms as she leaned back in her chair, her eyes alight with calculation. 'Since these are Chuunin based questions, I should have no problems finding the answers, and because this is a team based exercise, I know that I can't be the only one who knows them...'

"The second rule, the pass-fail decision will be determined by your team's total points." Ibiki continued, shocking everyone else in the room except Akari, who scoffed out a soft laugh.

'Called it.'

She heard a thud in the room and turned her head to see the pink haired Genin, who was only three chairs away from her, lift her head and cause a ruckus. "Wait! Your team's total points? What?!"

"Shut up!" Ibiki demanded, silencing the confused young girl. "There is a reason for this. Just shut up and listen." He turned back to the board. "Now that you know, let's move onto the next rule. If an examiner determines that you cheated or do something similar during the test...Each action will cause you to lose two points."

Akari blinked, arching a brow with soft confusion. 'Eh? Just point deductions?'

"In other words, there will be people who will be forced to leave this place without their tests being graded." Akari looked at the examiners with the clipboards.

'That's why you're there...I thought it was a bit strange...'

"Those who try to cheat without thinking carefully will only hurt themselves..."

"We'll 'check' you at any time..." One of the other proctors threatened, smirking sinisterly, his board held up by one hand against his knee. People became unnerved by this fact, knowing they didn't have an escape option.

"You are all trying to become Chuunin," Ibiki stated, his own curled grin just as cruel. This was the first time she'd seen him show any emotion, and it was unsettling. "If you're a shinobi, act like a first-rate one. Also, if anyone in a team gets a zero, everyone on that team will fail."

This caused a chilling cold to freeze up everyone in the room, another outburst by the pink haired girl almost causing Akari to jump. "What did you say?!"

'Why did I get put on the table with this noisy Genin?'

"The last problem will be given forty-five minutes after the exam begins." The main examiner continued, ignoring the girl's constant yelling. "You have one hour for the exam."

The clock ticked slowly, seconds passing as Akari straightened up, preparing to take the exam she knew she would pass with flying colors. When a new hour began as the final second ticked by, Ibiki's voice rang out strongly. "Begin!"

Akari was quick to turn over her paper and read over the nine questions presented to her on the page. 'I was right, I know all the answers to these problems.' She looked over at Dosu and Zaku, who were reading over their tests as well. 'What that Ibiki said really bugs me...If I was caught cheating in the academy, I would've been kicked out there and then...' She closed her eyes and thought hard, running her fingers through her coppery red hair out of habit. 'Only a two-point deduction...And he even said...'

"Those who try to cheat without thinking carefully will only hurt themselves..."

Akari's eyes snapped open with realization, he wanted them to cheat. A shinobi must be able to collect information without being detected, this was the whole point of the test! 'Ah ha, ha...Pretty clever. I hope those two figured it out as well...'

Glancing back at Dosu, she noticed that he was writing quickly, and just after the person behind him did too. Seems he used sound waves to figure out the writing patterns the other Genin used. However, Zaku himself was just staring at his test, unsure what to do. 'That idiot...' She rolled her eyes, knowing that those who fought using sound had to know vibrations, therefore morse code.

Grinning as her idea formed, she wrote down the answers to her tests and knew Zaku wasn't far enough away not to notice her assistance. Without being too obvious, Kaede tapped her foot in the form of morse code, her grin widening further when Zaku flinched slightly, becoming aware of the noise.

When he began to write too, she knew she'd gotten through to him. 'Bingo! Now for question two...'

For the remainder of the forty-five minutes allotted to the nine starting questions, everything ran smoothly for her and her 'comrades.' By the end of the first three quarters, thirteen or so teams had failed out of the original fifty-one. By the end of her first test during her first exam, there were far less left than that.

How the generations have changed.

Ibiki smirked as the clock ticked in the silent room, an indication that everyone in the room had finished their tests, except one. "Okay, I will now give the tenth problem!" He announced.

'Finally...' Akari thought to herself, leaning back in her chair with her arms crossed and a smirk on her lips. 'I always hated these written tests, the sooner it's over, the better!'

"Yes, but before that, there's one thing I must say..." The tall examiner continued, his expression beyond serious. It was almost chilling. "There will be one special rule for this last question."

The Ninjutsu Expert's head lifted slightly, taking in these words. 'Another rule? This guy doesn't pull any punches, does he?'

Before he could speak, the doors to the room opened and Kankuro came back in with another proctor. Ibiki chuckled and spoke with no hint of amusement in his tone, which was unnerving in itself. "You're lucky..." People began to glance at the confused Genin. "Your puppet show didn't have to go to waste."

The Suna born shinobi looked utterly shocked and scared at the same time when Ibiki said this, Akari was almost impressed, seemed that Kankuro had more up his sleeve than being the Fourth Kazekage's son.

"Oh well, sit down." Ibiki continued, stepping forward with his hands in his pockets as Kankuro sat down, slipping a piece of paper to Temari as he passed her. "I will now explain. This is...A hopeless rule!"

"Eh?" Akari muttered with confusion. "What the hell is a 'hopeless rule?'" Now this was new, none of her former Chuunin Exam experiences mentioned a 'hopeless rule.'

"Shut up and listen." He ordered her bluntly, which caused a little irritation to bubble under the surface. "First, you are all going to choose if you wish to take this tenth problem or not."

Everyone in the room sported looks of question as they each tried to debunk the logic behind this rule. 'Won't we be removed from the exam if we choose not to take it?' Akari mused, running her fingers through her spiked hair as she did so. 'That must mean there's some danger, or special condition attached, otherwise this rule makes no sense at all...'

"Choose?" Temari called out. "So what happens if we don't take the tenth problem?!"

"If you choose not to take it, your points will be reduced to zero..." Ibiki explained, making Akari arch a brow.

'So much for 'no questions'...'

"In other words, you will fail." The way he said that with that sinister grin made Akari's eyes narrow with suspicion, and she braced herself for whatever he had planned. "Your two other teammates will fail along with you."

This caused an uproar in the room, people questioning and arguing with the rule given. Akari had to admit, this was both unfair and fair at the same time. If you can't put forth the effort, you shouldn't pass the test. That's how everything in life worked, this exam was no different.

"And here is the other rule...If you choose to take it and you get it wrong, you will...Lose the privilege to take the Chuunin Exams forever!"

Akari's eyes widened. "What?!" She gasped, sitting forward, eyes alight with confusion. "What kind of a rule is that?! People don't stand a chance in hell with a crap law like that in place!"

"Yeah, that's right!" One of the other Genin called out, pointing at the examiner as if threatening him. He wore a hood and had a cute white dog resting on top of it. "There should be those here who have taken the Chuunin Exam in the past!"

Ibiki chuckled, finding this outburst amusing. "You were unlucky..." He stated, cruel eyes locking with their's one at a time. "This year, I am the rule. That is why I gave you the option of quitting." This put the boy in his place, silencing him. "Those who are not confident can choose to not take it, and take the exam next year, or the year after that."

The pressure that settled in the room was almost suffocating. Akari glanced at Dosu, who nodded, causing her to nod back, the same applied with Zaku and even Kabuto too, who had shared this nod with his own teammates.

None of them would give up now, with every mission she achieved, she was one step closer to enacting her sweet revenge. Not even this so-called 'hopeless rule' would stop her.

"Let us begin. Those who will not be taking this tenth question, raise your hands. After we confirm your numbers, we will have you leave."

One at a time, the fearful and unconfident Genin raised their hands, leaving with their teammates slowly, each of them apologizing for their weakness. Akari clenched her fists, her smirk fading the moment the rule was announced.

'I won't give up now!' She thought to herself, noticing something from the corner of her eye. Gasping softly, she watched as the blonde haired boy named Naruto raised his hand, looking very tense. At that moment she felt disappointed, she had assumed he was like her and would refuse to give in to a rule like this...

But he was just like those other cowards.

With a sigh, the woman rested her chin in her hand and picked up her pencil, twirling it with a hint of boredom in her brown eyes. 'I had big hopes for you kid-'

Suddenly the boy's hand slammed down on the table, which startled Kaede into lifting her head from its comfortable position. He looked at Ibiki with a glare that almost begged to start a fight. "Screw you! I'm not going to run away!" He boldly stated. "I'll take this problem! Even if I become a Genin forever, I'm going to become a Hokage no matter what anyway!" He stood up quickly. "I'm not scared!"

Ibiki just stared as Naruto settled down next to the smiling blue haired Genin beside him. Kaede relaxed back into her hand, smirking down at the young boy a few rows from her. 'Looks like I was wrong~' She thought, laughing softly, remembering her own reckless bet with the Kazekage during her first Chuunin Exam. 'You just might become Hokage after all...'

Her doubts for the boy's talents washed away and she leaned back in her chair, still twirling her pencil in her hand as Ibiki reined in the conversation. "I will ask one more time..." He started. "This is a choice that will impact your life. If you want to quit, now is the chance."

"I'm not going to take back my words," Naruto told him, smirking away. "That's my Nindou!"

Everyone in the room wore confident, amused and determined expressions at Naruto's outburst and Ibiki huffed out a soft chuckle. 'Interesting kid...' He thought, not a shred of fear in anyone's eyes. 'He wiped out everyone's uncertainty.' The examiner walked forward slightly, counting the Genin left over. 'Seventy-eight students, eh? There's more left than I expected. Looks like there's no point in waiting any longer.'

With a quick glance to the other proctors, seeing them all nod in agreement and nodding back with acceptance, Ibiki called out to the remaining examinees. "Nice determination. Then...For the First Exam, everyone here..." He closed his eyes for a second before grinning. "Passes!"

Silence filled the room for almost ten seconds, shock in the eyes of everyone there, even Kaede as the sound of Naruto's pencil falling onto the table broke through the suffocating stillness that had clouded the room. The poor boy looked lost.

It was that sound that broke the pink-haired girl out of her frozen state, and she stood, slamming her hands on the desk as she lifted herself. "Wait, what's the meaning of that? We pass already? What about the tenth question?!"

Ibiki laughed and the already obvious grin on his lips spread to a frightening size. 'I'd prefer t'have failed than ever see that expression on this man.' Akari thought, quite uncomfortable with his smile. Someone that sinister shouldn't have that kind of glee hidden away.

"There was no such thing, to begin with!" The proctor explained. "Or you could call the two-choice question the tenth question."

The pink haired girl didn't know how to respond to this, still thoroughly confused while Temari called out, her voice strong, a true Suna kunoichi. "Hey! So what were those previous nine problems?! It was all a waste!"

"No, it's not." Ibiki glanced out the window at the blue sky as he explained. "The nine problems accomplished their purpose." Without hesitation, his eyes met Temari's, confidence exuding from them. "The purpose to test each individual's information gathering skills."

"Information gathering skills?"

"First, the test's purpose lies in the first rule...Your pass-fail decision is based on your three-person teams. By giving that idea, we have given you an unprecedented amount of pressure to try and not be a nuisance to your team."

Naruto nodded with his arms crossed. "Yes, yes, I was kind of sensing that in this test."

The pink haired girl and Akari both thought the word 'lair' at the same time the blue haired girl giggled beside the young Uzumaki. 'He's just like me after all...' Akari thought with a wash of nostalgia, she brushed it off and focused on Ibiki, he was the proctor, after all.

"But these test problems cannot be solved by you, Genin..." He said, not hearing Akari scoff slightly. "So most of the people here must have come to the conclusion...'I have to cheat to get points!' He raised his hand, gesturing to the entire room. "In other words, this exam assumed that everyone was going to cheat. So we snuck in two Chuunin who knew the answers to be targets of cheating."

The two Chuunin in question raised their hands in a wave, letting the entire class know who they were. Some of them were as young as Kabuto! Akari was impressed, she wasn't far off Kabuto's age when she became a Chuunin, but some of them even acted like experts, despite their young age.

"It took a while to find the guy..." One of the Genin called out, a friend across the room nodding in agreement.

Naruto let out an over the top laugh and leaned back in his chair with his hands behind his head. "It was so obvious. It would be weird not to notice it! Right, Hinata?" He looked to the blue-haired girl at his side, who smiled warmly at him.

Akari froze for a second, able to see the girl's face, she knew that look well. That Hinata girl was in love, as she had been so long ago.

Painful memories threatened to surface and Akari's carefree nature almost wavered, of course, she was unaware of this change, the coldness in her eyes the only indication of her thoughts being different to her body language.

One man had captured her heart, ripped it apart and left her, while another took away any chance she had to repair it. Even though she no longer held ties with her village, and anyone inside, Kiyoshi had tried to save her so long ago, therefore, for his sake as well as her own, she would follow through with her goal for revenge, until the very end of her life.

If it weren't for the grin on her lips and the relaxed posture she held, everyone would have sensed the bloodlust slowly seeping deeper into the darkest corners of her mind.

Her morality continues to whittle away with each passing moment, she no longer had any need for it or the irritating washes of guilt. Slowly she'd become stone cold to the world she once loved.

If it meant getting what she wanted, she'd gladly give up her soul, her heart, and her warmth.

"But those who just cheated like a fool failed, of course," Ibiki said, even the trained interrogation expert couldn't sense her emotions. He slowly unraveled his forehead protector and pulled it off, putting the entire room, even Akari into a state of shock.

"Why? Information can have greater value than life at times, and in missions and battlefields..." Covering the top of his head, where not a speck of hair lie, were the worst torture scars Akari had ever seen, and she'd seen a fair few during her time in Suna.

The sight alone sent all her previous thoughts to the back of her mind within a second. "Information is contested with the lives of people!"

"How awful..." The Uchiha Boy breathed, looking both uncomfortable and disgusted. "Burn marks, screw holes and cut marks...They're the scars of torture..."

Having scarred some of the Genin for life, Ibiki replaced the forehead protector once again. Shielding his scars from view, speaking as he did so. "The information that an enemy gets after being noticed by a third person will not necessarily be accurate." He straightened up and dropped his hands. "Remember this. Getting incorrect information can cause great damage to your teammates and village." Closing his eyes, Ibiki smirked. "So we made you all gather information in the form of cheating."

When his eyes opened again, he scanned the room. "We kicked out those who were lacking in that field. That's what went on."

"But I still can't agree with that last question..." Temari said with a slight complaint in her voice, seems she'd calmed down since her outburst earlier.

"But this tenth question was the main question of this first exam."

This confused most of the Genin in the room, and some hummed with question, Ibiki had a knack for causing their minds to run round in circles. "What do you mean?" The pink haired girl asked.

"Let me explain," Ibiki said, stuffing his hands into his pockets. "The tenth question was a 'take or not take' choice. Needless to say, it was a painful two-choice problem." He raised his hand and showed them two fingers to emphasize his point. "Those who did not take it failed with their teams. If you chose to take it, and could not answer it..."

The rather sinister examiner's eyes snapped open in a dark glare. "Your right to take the exam would have been taken away forever." They narrowed slightly. "It was a very insincere problem."

Temari could not come up with a response at this point as Ibiki walked towards the center of the room and turned to them once again. "How about this two-choice problem...Let's assume that you have become a Chuunin. Your mission is to capture a secret document. The number of enemy ninja, their abilities, and armaments are unknown. And there may be traps that enemy ninja have set up. Now will you accept this mission, or not? Just because your life and the lives of your teammates may be in danger, are you able to avoid dangerous missions?"

Akari huffed and leaned back in her chair, twirling her pencil once again. "No way, if we did that, what kind of ninja would we be?" She said rather matter-of-factly.

Ibiki was amused by her knowledge and nodded. "Exactly. There are missions that carry heavy risks, but cannot be avoided. The ability to show your courage to your teammates when needed, and the ability to get through a bad situation...That is what we look for in a Chuunin, a squad leader."

The way the atmosphere in the room began to change during this explanation was rather prominent, those who had been stricken with confusion now wore looks of strong determination, glad of their decisions. "Those who cannot bet their fate in a critical situation...Those who give up when given the chance because there is a next year, and let their minds sway over an uncertain future...Fools who only carry a light determination like that have no right to become a Chuunin. That is what I believe."

He scanned the room once again with his black, proud eyes. "I am saying that you here who have chosen to take it, gave the right answer for the difficult tenth question. You can deal with the difficulties you will face. You have broken through the entrance! The First Exam of the Chuunin Selection ends now! I wish you luck."

Oddly even Akari felt some sense of motivation at Ibiki's strong words, not even aware that Naruto was causing another outburst with his excitement. She thought by now those words would mean nothing to her, but the truth was, they could be applied to anything. Her personal goal for instance, if she had light determination there, then what was the point in fighting at all.

With a curl of her lips revealing her white half-fanged teeth, she straightened up with eyes that shone with a newfound resolve, leaning back with her arms behind her head.

She had no idea what the future held for her.

Of course, the sudden swell of motivation she felt was soon forgotten when something large crashed through the window and unfurled, two kunai stabbing into the ceiling as a woman skidded to a halt in the middle of the room. "Everybody, there's no time to be happy!" The tarp straightened out as the woman stood up, it read 'Second Examiner Mitarashi Anko is here!' "I am the Second Examiner, Mitarashi Anko. Let's go to the next exam!" She thrust her fist into the air. "Follow me!"

Akari sweatdropped at the sight she was met with, this woman might be bold, but she had a few...quirks it seemed. The entire room had fallen into stunned silence as Ibiki peeked out from behind the sheet. "Grasp the atmosphere." He told her simply, causing the second proctor's face to take on a bright shade of red.

As the 'atmosphere' settled, Anko counted the leftover students. "Seventy-eight?" She asked, surprised more than anything. "Ibiki, you let twenty-six teams pass?" Her expression turned to a sneer and she tilted her head up, looking down her nose at the Interrogation Expert. "The First Exam must have been too soft."

"It looks like there are a lot of excellent students this time." Ibiki clarified, smirking with a hint of pride.

Anko huffed and turned back to the students with her own twisted grin. "Oh, well...I'm going to make more than half of the teams fail in the next exam."

'This examiner really has faith in herself...' Akari mused, her eyes narrowing as seriousness overtook her, preparing her for the next exam as she crossed her arms, resting one hand on her elbow as she ran her fingers through her hair. 'More than half...Looks like we're going t'need a plan for the next part then...'

Anko hummed gleefully and Akari got a chill, a sense of familiarity. This woman reminded her of someone. "I'm getting excited~," The younger woman said with a very creepy voice, just further cementing that Kaede knew who this woman reminded her of.

Orochimaru.

Her eye twitched with slight anger, just her luck, she finally gets some time away from that irritating, creepy snake-eyed bastard, and someone equally as creepy comes along.

"I will explain the details tomorrow!" Anko said strongly. "We will go somewhere else, so ask your Jounin teachers about the rally point and time. That is all. Dismissed!"

The room was filled with the sounds of chairs scraping back and footsteps as Genin after Genin left the room for some fresh air. Kaede was approached by Dosu and Zaku and she nodded with agreement. They had to see Orochimaru for the rally point, the sooner the better.

With a deep sigh at her situation, she stood and walked out of the room with her 'teammates.'

Though she was still slightly reluctant at the end goal of their plan, she wouldn't back out now. Her eyes narrowed at the mere thought. No, she would see this through to the end.

'Uchiha Sasuke first...The Third Hokage soon after...Things are heating up...'

Chapter Text

Silence coated the village of Konoha that night, the large spherical moon creating a soft glow on the safe streets below. Very few awake at such an hour, and for good reason, tomorrow was the day the Second Exam would take place, and many of the taking part Genin had to rest well for what would come.

Well except one, in an inn not too far from the Ichiraku Ramen shop, Akari was sat up in bed with her arms crossed behind her head, watching the moon through her slightly opened window. Despite knowing the severity of her mission, she couldn't find it within herself to sleep for the night, plagued by the deed she would be forced to act out.

Uchiha Sasuke...

Before leaving the First Exam, she had managed to sneak a peak at the black haired boy's paper, and had confirmed that he was, without a doubt, her target. Therefore, tomorrow would be the day that Uchiha born child would be killed by her hand. It made her gut sink as she closed her eyes to avoid the feeling. He was barely out of the cradle and she was going to greedily snatch his life away for her own ambitions.

She sensed the flickers of self-hatred inside herself, and huffed out a laugh, smirking bitterly at the sensation. "Oh yeah? Makes sense I guess..." She muttered to herself, shuffling down so she was resting against her pillow, one arm moving from behind her head to rest on her flat, scarred stomach. "But that's the price y'pay for your goals..."

The Ninjutsu Expert narrowed her eyes slightly before closing them. "There's no point dwelling on it. I already swore I'd do what it takes anyway..."

Her morality continued to be eaten away by the darkness seeping into her cold heart. Soon she'd be nothing more than a shell of her former self.

And she'd accept it if it meant she'd find peace.

~BHBL~

No matter how many times Akari saw it, it would always send a chill down her spine, reminding her of what was to come, and how many hardships would have to be faced to get to the end goal. Even the other shinobi, who hadn't seen this place before, felt a sense of dread and discomfort at it's dark depths, understandable, it was one of the most dangerous places in all of Konoha.

Before them stood a large forest, spanning so wide that the curve leading around to the other side was unseen due to the horizon blocking it's path. This forest was one Akari had visited once before, during her second to last Chuunin Exam. It had been a mere miracle that she was able to make it to the end at all!

As she stepped closer, finally spotting her team, she was passed by a man with long black hair and prominent lips, his voice, though warped and higher pitched, echoed in her ears, making her freeze with the familiarity. "Now I will see the results of our training..."

The Ninjutsu Expert spun round and watched the man walk away towards his own team, her eyes widened with realization. Only one person had trained her recently, and that was Orochimaru.

What the hell was he doing here?!

Anger seemed to bubble slightly under the surface as she glared after him, her teeth grinding together softly as she pushed back the feelings, in addition to the glow that threatened to overtake her. He was a selfish man, why send them on this mission if he was just going to interfer himself? What was the point?!

Taking a few deep breaths, Akari turned back to the area ahead, the Second Examiner...Anko wasn't it? Stood by the gates to the forest with a small kiyosk of sorts nearby where three other Chuunin sat, waiting patiently for the exam to begin. "This is where the Second Exam will take place." Anko explained, looking at all of them one by one, zeroing in on the more scared of the bunch. "The forty fourth training area...Also known as the Forest of Death."

"This sure is a creepy place..." The girl with pink hair from the last exam muttered, within ear distance of the Oto Genin and their unexpected leader.

Akari disliked the sinister, sadistic smirk that curled the younger Chuunin's lips at the girl's words and grimaced herself, which could be taken as a form of displeasure towards the area itself, not her. 'God I get so many creepy vibes from this woman...'

"You will be able to experience why this place is called the Forest of Death." The Orochimaru clone stated, only to get a childish repeated comment from Naruto, who mocked her in plain sight, amusing the former Suna Jounin and embarrassing his teammates.

"There's no point in trying to scare us like that!" Naruto said strongly, smirking with all the confidence he had gained from the First Exam. "I'm not scared at all!"

'This kid...' Akari thought with a soft snicker.

Anko's smile turned brightly innocent as she tilted her head to the side slightly and closed her eyes happily. "Really? You sure are energetic." No one seemed to register what happened next. Well, aside from the two more experienced Jounin hiding among amateurs. Her eyebrow only quirked slightly and then, in a flash, a kunai was drawn and tossed towards Naruto, shooting right past Orochimaru into the ground below.

Although the attack happened over a second ago, it was then that the cut formed against Naruto's cheek and one of the Sannin's strands of long, black hair seperated in two, falling to the ground while the disguised man remained emotionless.

The Proctor was quick to move before Orochimaru's hair even got halfway to touching the floor and she appeared behind Naruto. "Boy's like you die the fastest." The poor boy was frozen with shock as Anko held his uninjured cheek and leaned down, trying to intimidate him further. "After spilling out that red blood I love all over the place."

Just as the woman went to touch the blood, she felt something behind her and pulled another kunai from her sleeve, turning quickly in an attempt to attack. However she stopped just before reaching the person's neck, looking over as the disguised snake shinobi let his tongue unfurl with the kunai held inside, offering it to her. "Here's your knife." He said, his voice still holding that familiar creepy tone, despite the change in pitch.

'Those two know each other...No one is that similar to Orochimaru without prolonged exposure.' Akari thought as she sweatdropped, placing a hand on her hip with a roll of her eyes. What the hell had she gotten herself into?

"Thank you!" Anko said happily, her eyes locking with Orochimaru's both holding a sense of warning as she continued. "But don't stand behind me like that. That is, unless you want to die young." She took the kunai without so much as a change in her facial expression.

Orochimaru retracted his long tongue and a sadistic smirk overtook his lips. "Well, I get itchy when I see blood. Also my precious hair was cut, so I got a little excited."

She watched, fueled with an alert sense of caution as the mysterious 'Genin' turned and walked away from them, amused by the events that just too place. "I'm sorry!" She said, oddly polite as he passed the pink haired Genin, who watched him like he was a deadly monster.

Even little Naruto peeked out from behind the younger Orochimaru clone. When Akari saw the boy, she actually let out a soft laugh as he tried to stretch his tongue. She could tell his thoughts instantly without having the ability to read minds, even she was startled by the length of his tongue when she first saw it. Luckily they'd sparred enough times for her to grow accustomed to it.

"It looks like there are a lot of hot-headed people here today." Anko said with a grin matched one she'd seen on the Sannin many times. Seriously, was she related to him or something?! "This is going to be interesting~"

Naruto glared at her as she turned and walked back towards the gate. "Before we begin the Second Exam, I'm going to pass these out to everyone." With a quick spin to face them, the Proctor pulled out a pile of forms from her brown coat.

"Ah, here they come..." Akari breathed, only her teammates able to hear her. But neither of them needed to question it, knowing she was a Jounin who had taken many of these exams before.

"These are consent forms." The young Chuunin explained, lifting the papers so the examinees could see them more clearly. "Those taking this exam must sign these."

"Why?" Naruto asked innocently, only a select few from the Genin unsure what the forms were for, while some of the more frequent participants understood them perfectly.

"From here on out, people will die." This Examiner may be creepy, but she was direct and honest at least. "Therefore, we need people's consent before we continue. Otherwise I'd be held responsible." Her grin and words at the end however, made her sound a little irresponsible. She even laughed.

Akari wondered how the hell someone as twisted as her managed to gain the trust of the Third Hokage. She seemed far too similar to a certain rogue from the same village. Was it possibly out of nostalgia for his former pupil?

Everyone shared looks of determination within their cells, Akari not even glancing at her's as they looked between one another. She was completely aware of the yellow eyes boring into her back but ignored them. Orochimaru could get stuffed, she didn't trust him or this mission, so anything he wanted right now could wait until later.

"Now, I will begin the explaination of the Second Exam." Anko began handing the forms to Naruto who took one, then handed them to the next person, starting a not-so-fun game of pass the papers. "To be concise, you will all go through an extreme survival match." She pulled out a large brown scroll and unrolled it to reveal that it was a map. "First, I'll explain the training area's geographical features. The forty-fourth training area is a circular region surrounded by forty-four locked gate entrances. There is a river, a forest, and a tower in the middle. The tower is approximately ten kilometers away from the gates."

Akari glanced into the gates at the lush forest sourrounded by danger, from this distance, the tower wasn't visible, but she knew from memory where it was situated.

"Inside this limited space, you will have to go through a certain survival program. The program consists of..." The Examiner cut off for effect, causing the Ninutsu Expert to roll her eyes as the proctor rolled up the scroll and put it away. "...A competition where everything goes...Over these scrolls." In addition to putting the scroll back, she pulled out two new scrolls, one dark, one light, both marked with symbols.

"Scrolls?" One of the Genin pondered out loud.

Anko lowered her hand with a swift nod. "Yes." She held out the lighter scroll for them to inspect, the symbol now clearly visible as opposed to before. "The scroll of Heaven, and the scroll of Earth." By the symbols, anyone could tell that the Heaven Scroll was the light one, and the Earth Scroll was the dark one. "You will fight over these scrolls."

She looked up at the group of examinees before her. "Twenty-six teams in total passed the First Exam. Half of the teams will get the Scroll of Heaven. The other half will get the Scroll of Earth." She lifted them for the others to get a proper look, more specifically for those who were further away. "Each team will get one of these scrolls. Simply, you have to fight over these."

"And?" Sasuke called out in question. "What's needed to pass?"

"Bring the Scrolls of Heaven and Earth to the tower with your teammates."

It was then that the girl with pink hair interjected. "In other words, the thirteen teams, or half the people here, that get their scrolls stolen will fail."

"But it needs to be done within the time limit," Anko said. "This second exam has a limit of one hundred and twenty hours." She finally slipped the scrolls back into her jacket. "Or exactly five days."

"Five days?!" The girl with blonde hair exclaimed, her fat friend interrupting her. "What about food?!"

"Scrounge it up yourself." The Second Examiner told her with a no-nonsense tone, not interested in their complaints. "This forest is a treasure box of nature. There should be plenty of food."

"However..." A familiar face called out, Kabuto looking back at some of the other examinees before facing forward towards the forest once again, his expression more than just a little serious. "There are a lot of man-eating beasts, poison bugs, and poisonous plants.

Akari took those words to mind, she'd never luckily enough, she had never been poisoned, now was not the time to find out what it felt like. Though she'd been here before, she had not been in charge of food collection, if anything, she was the long-range attack force, and was in charge of the water supply.

Here she'd have to take charge, which meant avoiding dangerous food items and creatures.

Another Genin, with long brown hair and white eyes, obviously part of the famous Hyuuga Clan, spoke after the fat rookie finished complaining. "Also, it is not possible for thirteen teams, or thirty-nine people, to pass."

"As time passes, you will be required to move more." His comrade continued for him, a rather unique individual with large eyebrows and a very shiny bowl cut. "So, the time to rest your body will become shorter." His smirk showed how much he enjoyed a challenge. "This seems quite rough."

'Heh, all the Genin here seem really eager...' The hidden Jounin mused, placing a hand on her hip with her trademark smirk, amused by their words and actions, everything here reminding her of her own time as a Genin looking to improve.

It filled her with an odd sense of nostalgia.

"And we're surrounded by enemies..." Sasuke said softly, looking around at everyone as if suspecting them of crimes unknown to even themselves. "We won't be able to sleep in peace."

Anko made a noise of uninterest and brought the conversation back to her. "People will get hurt in the process of fighting over a scroll, and those who cannot bear this program's strictness will emerge as well."

"Excuse me." Pineapple called out, raising his hand as he stood between the blond girl and the fat rookie. "Can we quit inbetween?"

"As a rule, you are not allowed to give up during the exam." The proctor's strict expression melted into a cheerful smile. "You will spend the five days in the forest~"

"Just as I thought...How troublesome."

What kind of ninja was this guy? Never had Akari known someone so lazy as to wish they could quit in the middle.

"While we're on this topic, here are the conditions that will fail you." Anko lifted a single finger. "First, a team that cannot bring both scrolls to the tower with the three teammates will fail." She raised a second finger. "Second, the team that loses a teammate or produces an unrecoverable teammate will fail. Also, just as a note...You are not allowed to look inside the scrolls until you reach the tower."

"What happens if you look?" Naruto asked.

"That's a surprise you'll see when you look at it!" The examiner's words were filled with taunting, a tease to make their young minds curious as to what lay inside the rolled up parchment. "If you become a Chuunin, you will be handling top secret documents. It's to determine your reliability. That is it for the explaination. We will exchange three consent forms for one scroll at that hut." She pointed to the kiyosk with the three other examiners sitting inside. "And after picking your gate entrance, everyone will begin at the same time." With a deep sigh, she looked away and closed her eyes. "Here's a last piece of advice. Don't die!"

This, strsangely enough, caused a wave of determination to flood through the group of examinees, all of their eyes hardening with the severity of their choice.

And with that, everyone disbanded, either alone or in groups, to read and sign the forms. They were given a generous amount of time to make their decision. Live and quit, or take the exam and risk dying.

Akari had already made her choice as she walked over to a rock and sat down, taking out a pen she was given and writing her name, not even reading over the form. 'There's no way I'd back out now.' Just with this simple action, her serious side had surfaced and she sat there, scanning the area for any signs of danger.

Obviously, Uchiha Sasuke was one of them, he was an Uchiha, though her fire jutsu was stronger, his Sharingan made things more difficult. He could copy and use her moves against her, the psychological advantages that came with the eye weren't something to sneeze at.

Then there was Orochimaru himself, standing with what she assumed were two Oto Jounin in disguise. He was hiding in on the mission he had ordered them to ackomplish, that meant he had something else planned as well.

Just what was did he have in mind?

She could see Zaku and Dosu conversing some distance away, glancing back at her once or twice, but she ignored them. Her strength was double their's at least, if they tried anything against her, she could wipe them out. Of course, it'd take effort, they may be Genin, but they were, in no way, considered weak.

'Nothing'll get in my way...I just need that paranoid, pale, snake-eyed bastard to trust me long enough for me t'enact my plans...' Akari thought, running her fingers through her hair. 'I have t'be patient and clever about this...That's all.'

One of the examiners poked their head out from the curtain they had put up to keep the scrolls hidden and spoke loudly so the separated Genin could hear him. "It's time to trade your forms for a scroll." He then pulled the curtain closed again as they all stood or started walking towards the kiosk with determination, forming a line to collect their rolled up parchment.

When Akari, Zaku and Dosu entered the little hut, they handed in their forms and Akari was given the Earth Scroll. "This means we need t'find someone with the Heaven Scroll." She said to the others, who nodded. With a grin she tucked it away into her sleeve. "Alright then! When the exam starts, we get the scroll as soon as we can!"

The three of them left the Kiyosk and waited as Anko checked her watch, then looked out at the teams. "If you have received a scroll, follow the person in charge and move to your designated gates." As she said this, more Chuunin, enough for each team, appeared. "We will begin in thirty minutes!"

With a swipe of her hand, the Chuunin approached the groups and began leading them towards their gates. Akari noting that Orochimaru was being lead in the opposite direction, which was good news for her, the less time she spent around him, the more sane she would be by the end of this mission.

"The chance has arrived..." Dosu spoke as the three of them hovered by their gate, the Chuunin not hearing him as he spoke in a very quiet tone. "To accomplish our task."

On the opposite side of the circular region was Orochimaru, sitting with his subordinates in dusguise, waiting patiently with his hat tipped as his comrade spoke in a much creepier tone than Orochimaru could even muster. "So we're going after the rookies first, right?"

Orochimaru lifted his sedge hat slightly and glanced at the man by his side. "It seems we can kill from here on, so it will be easier for us."

He enjoyed the thought of testing Sasuke's power for himself, licking his lips at the thought of battling an Uchiha who is directly related to Uchiha Itachi, one of the best ninja from the clan.

He felt impatience bubble under the surface as he lifted his head, hearing the distant shout of Anko as she made the announcement they had all been waiting for. "We will now begin the Chuunin Selection Second Exam!"

As soon as the gates were flung open, Akari's and Orochimaru's cells both kicked off into the woods. "Find the kids!" Orochimaru ordered his subordinates at his side, who looked just as entertained by this task as their leader did.

"Those three, right?" The same one as before asked.

"Yes, the one with Uchiha Sasuke! If found, report to me immediately!"

"Yessir!"

Akari however, gave different orders as she and 'allies' jumped into the trees. "First thing's first, Sasuke can wait 'til we collect some supplies, our mission will mean nothing if we starve here!" She said, glancing back at them. "Zaku, you're on water duty, Dosu, you and I will collect a sufficient supply of food using whatever edible sources we can find!"

"Why should I do what you say?" Zaku sneered, not liking the thought of this experiment leading their group.

Kaede grinned back at him. "Because if given the chance, I can kill y'instantly! Orochimaru put me in charge, so you'll follow my orders!"

Zaku tsked, he didn't like her one bit, but knew if he disobeyed her and they failed the mission, Orochimaru would kill him without question. "Fine, but one slip up and I'll work alone!" The young teen vowed and Akari huffed, kicking off another branch as they continued to vault the forest, as to avoid any other Genin for the time being.

"You two understand that our target is one thing, right?" Dosu asked, "The annihilation of Uchiha Sasuke, that should take full priority."

The Ninjutsu Expert nodded her head with a swift motion. Her expression matching the seriousness she felt deep within her form. "I know, but if we can't find them and end up losing our energy out of hunger or dehydration, then what's the point in even trying?"

"Like you could dehydrate!" Zaku taunted, only to feel her fist slam into the top of his head. "Ow, dammit!"

"One more word, and I'll kick the crap out of you, understood?!" She was sick and tired of his attitude, repetatively mentioning a part of her life she truly wished she could forget. Since then, she couldn't come into sustained contact with water, therefore was in a permanent state of dehydration, however, it wasn't life threatening due to the fact that she could still drink certain fluids, as long as the water levels were exceptionally low.

Just then, their argument was abruptly interrupted by the sound of a scream and the three of them stared off into the direction the sound came from. "Seems like one team is already down and out..." She said, narrowing her eyes. "Keep your guard up while you're scavenging, otherwise the next ones to scream might be us."

The two Genin nodded and Akari smirked. "Alright, split up, we'll meet back here in two hours! Move out!" With that, Zaku went in one direction, while Dosu and Akari went another, preparing to collect the supplies they would need.

~BHBL~

"This is harder than I remember..." Akari muttered with irritation as she waded through the overgrowth in search of edible plants. Most of the ones she had found had been harmful if consumed therefore the pile in her arms was far smaller than she expected it to be. Already she had been attacked by a giant spider, and that thing had been really difficult to kill, infact it almost bit her, she hated this forest, it was worst than she remembered.

Of course, it had been over twenty years since her last visit here, it was bound to become more difficult and dangerous, creatures evolve and grow in numbers as years pass. She was lucky to have trained so much before this mission, otherwise, she'd be dead right now.

"I can't go fishing, so I have to leave that t'Dosu..." Akari said, looking around, she was alone right now, having sent her junior to do his new job. It was nice to be on her own for a little while, so as long as she kept within the time limit she had set, she'd enjoy some peace.

Looking around, she spotted some leaves and hummed, crouching down and checking them over, out of all the poisonous plants she'd seen, this didn't seem like one of them. If anything, it looked like a type of herb. "Agggh!" She groaned, glaring at the leaves as she picked them. "If only I'd paid more attention in the Academy! I ain't got a clue how t'check if they're poisonous or not without eating them!"

With a bundle of 'herbs' in her arms and some other things she managed to find along the way, Akari shot up into the trees and made her way back to the rendezvous point, hopefully, her comrades would be able to figure out if they're poisonous or not.

She could swallow her pride enough to ask them that, after all, she didn't want to die by the hands of an iffy plant.

Looking around as she made her way back, she couldn't find anything else that she deemed edible and landed on the branch where she had separated from her group. A kunai sticking out of the trunk near the expanse of green leaves which swayed softly in the wind.

"Yo."

Akari hummed and turned her head to see Zaku sitting on a higher wooden surface, looking rather comfortable as he held the containers he'd filled with cool water. "I found some berries that can be eaten too." He said, tossing the vine to her, which she caught quickly, with only a slight hint of surprise. "Will that do?"

"Will that do for what?" Akari asked, confused, these berries were small, they would not make a fitting snack, let alone a meal.

Zaku just rolled his eyes. "Did you lose your smarts out there in the forest?" He snapped, lifting one of the water containers. "You can't drink water, idiot! Will those berries keep you alive long enough?"

The strong ninja was both shocked and very much insulted as she glared at him, processing his words. Even if it barely worked, he got her some form of hydration. It was enough to stop her dying of thirst, therefore she was grateful.

"Heh." She huffed out, smirking as she took a berry off the vine and inspected it, glancing up at him with distrust. "How do I know they're not poison?" She questioned, suspicion dripping from her tone of voice.

Zaku rolled his eyes and mimicked her expression as he pulled out one lone berry, flicking it into the air and popping it in his mouth. With a few chews, he swallowed and stuck his tongue out with a gaping jaw, proving his mouth to be empty.

With an amused chuckle, Akari accepted his proof and slipped one of the small fruits into her mouth. "Show off~"

Though she'd never like him, she had to admit, he was slightly smarter than she first anticipated. However she would not thank him, she didn't trust any of the Oto shinobi, it was only because he gave her proof that she ate these berries in the first place.

It was then that Dosu made himself known, landing on a branch near Akari, a makeshift basket in his grasp filled with fish. "This should last us at least three days alone."

"Good work, the pair of you." The lone Jounin of their little group said, yanking the kunai from the trunk at her side, spinning it a few times before slipping it into her sleeve. "Since we have time, let's spend the rest of the day searching out another team and take their scroll...The sooner we get both, the sooner we can focus on our main goal."

Both the Genin nodded having no words against this plan. They agreed their priorities were important, but it would all be for naught if they were kicked out of the running now.

"Right, let's get moving!" With that, she kicked off the branch in a random direction, her two 'comrades' following behind, silent and quick, the true vision of shinobi at work.

They spent a majority of the day searching the forest for their victims. Their teamwork may not be perfect, but all ninja had to learn to adapt in order to be used to their full potential and being an experienced Jounin, Akari learned to do this quickly.

She hated her team, but if it got her closer to Orochimaru, she'd tolerate them as much as she could.

Suddenly she heard a sound to her left, and kicked off the trunk of a thick jungle tree, shooting off in that direction, her juniors following behind her. "I hear movement!" She told them, looking back as they kept up with ease.

Dosu closed his eyes and listened closely, his sensitive ears calculating the noises that he heard. "They sound like ninja sandals...It's a rhythmic set of steps, but neither match the other sources of sound...It's a team of Genin, and by their actions, they haven't noticed our approach."

"Perfect!" The Ninjutsu Expert grinned at the thought of getting a little exercise, the three of them stopping when they were above the team. "I'll weaken their ranks...Dosu, I want you t'secure the scroll, and Zaku, take out anyone left behind. Don't kill them!" She glared at the pair of them. "I may be on your team, but I don't want pointless bloodshed!"

"Heh, when did you become an angel?" Zaku taunted her, pulling out his kunai. "We're Oto ninja, we don't give mercy!"

"I don't care if y'kill for sport!" She snapped, grabbing his shirt and pulling him so close, he could see every form of anger in her eyes, she wasn't angry enough to glow just yet, but neither of her 'allies' were willing to risk it. "If I tell y'to spare their lives, y'do it! Got that?!"

"Guys, we've got company!"

Dosu looked at them with a stale sense of irritation as Akari and Zaku's gazes quickly snapped down to the alerted Genin below, who were making their way towards them quickly. She tsked sharply at the sudden turn of events and spun away from Zaku, diving down towards the Genin. "It doesn't matter, just knock them out!"

Zaku huffed and leaped down as well, Dosu following behind. "You don't have to tell me twice!" The stubborn teen yelled as they made contact, a full-on battle commencing between the teams.

Akari had to fight with a lowered level of power, at least the level of a rookie Chuunin, which would be difficult, she'd never had to suppress her powers before, but for the sake of the mission, she'd do her best. "Katon: Gokaku no Jutsu!" She roared, jumping back from the scuffle, inhaling deeply before spitting out a massive fireball.

The three Genin panicked and jumped away from the fireball, only for Zaku and Dosu to appear behind their separated ranks and slam their hands into the sides of their face, only to kick the other side and send them flying with full force concussions due to the shock of the double impact.

Akari then appeared behind the three of them and inhaled deeply, spitting out a sweep of fire, engulfing the lot of them, hearing their pained cries within the scorching flames. Her eyes twitched with regret as the flames died down and the three Genin landed on the ground, unconscious and burned almost severely.

Zaku and Dosu landed on one knee on the ground, the two of them straightening up as their leader crouched down and began searching for the scroll. "Your flames weren't as strong as they should have been..." The bandaged Genin spoke, looking down at her as she kept her eyes on the task at hand. "You were showing mercy."

"It wasn't mercy..." Akari told them, pulling out two useless jutsu scrolls, tossing them aside. Though she was lying to some extent, it was the truth as well. "If I showed my true power, whoever has t'clean up their bodies would see that whoever killed them had a level far beyond a Genin...If I exposed my full strength in this exam, our mission would fail then and there..." She looked up at them. "Call it mercy if y'want, but I won't risk this mission over bloodlust. If sparing my enemies is the only way t'continue this rouse, I will do so without hesitation."

Zaku huffed, rolling his eyes. She was just making excuses, and the last thing he needed was some sentimental old fool leading them.

With a little more rummaging, Akari pulled out the scroll she was looking for, however, it wasn't the Heaven Scroll. "Crap." She hissed out, her expression turning to a sneer as she stood and tossed it to Dosu. "Well we might as well take it, we can use it as a bargaining chip if necessary..."

"Like that would ever happen!" Zaku said arrogantly.

"It's better to be prepared..." Dosu interjected, pocketing the scroll. "The sun will set soon, we should find the Heaven Scroll as soon as possible, at this time, people should be getting tired."

"Dosu's right." Akari said, walking towards them, letting her sleeves fall over her hands once again, clenching her fist around the scroll she herself held within the depths of her clothing. "By nightfall, we should have a second scroll, let's get moving."

The three of them nodded with acceptance, their plan in place as they kicked off into the trees once again, their target, the Heaven Scroll.

They will not fail this time!

~BHBL~

"There he is..."

In the trees, far above three very memorable Genin from Konoha, stood the three Oto shinobi disguised as Kusagakure Genin. Their eyes locked on the young forms of Uchiha Sasuke, Uzumaki Naruto, and a pink haired girl who's name continued to elude them.

They had just watched Uchiha Sasuke fighting an Ame Genin who had fled soon after being injured, the young prodigies fighting causing a stir of glee in Orochimaru's gut as he licked his lips with anticipation.

'Uchiha Sasuke...' He thought, eyes widening slightly with the excitement of battle. 'Let me see that power for myself, show me your Sharingan firsthand!'

The Sannin looked from one subordinate to the next, both of them sharing his gleeful amusement. "Let's go." He said simply, performing the seals needed for his jutsu. "Stay in hiding, for the time being, don't let down your guard, they're more in tune with their instincts than they appear."

He lifted his arm and a snake slithered out onto the shoulder of his 'ally', hissing gently in his ear. "This snake will give you the signal, once performed, use a kunai to distract them, then force them to separate."

"Yes, Lord Orochimaru." The more talkative one agreed and Orochimaru just chuckled darkly. His body began to melt into the branch, the look in his eyes pure evil in comparison with the innocence of the rookie ninja below.

The fun he would have with them.

Once hidden in the tree, he made his way into the ground and poked a bamboo shoot out so he could hear their words, listening in as Sasuke sat them down and spoke quietly. "If the three of us get separated, don't trust anyone, even if he looks like one of us." He said, scouting the area with his eyes, alert at all times. "There's a possibility that an enemy will transform into one of us and approach."

"Yeah." Naruto agreed, nodding once.

"So, what should we do?" The pink haired Genin asked.

Sasuke was silent for a minute, looking around quickly, sensing some form of sinister aura nearby, someone was listening in. "Let's decide on a password." He said, narrowing his eyes for a moment before looking back at his allies.

"Password?" Naruto asked, not sure what Sasuke was getting at, this boy was purely working off brute strength and instinct it seems.

"If a different password is given, assume that he's an enemy no matter what he looks like, got it?" Sasuke asked, raising his hand slightly as if to explain his point. "I'm only going to say this once, so listen carefully. First, you will ask, 'the ninja song 'Ninki?' The answer is the following..." He took a moment to remember the song, then looked from Naruto to his female comrade. "'It is a good chance when a large number of enemies are making a scene. There are no hideouts even in a quiet place. It is important for a ninja to know the right time. The time when the enemy is tired and has his guard down.' That's it."

The girl had a large smile on her face as she memorized it and nodded. "Okay."

However, their less intelligent friend looked completely dumbfounded. "Can you say it one more time?" He asked stupidly, rather lost.

"Huh?"

"I said that I'm only going to say it once." The young Uchiha explained, he had a plan, but he couldn't let the others in on it, or their little mole may find out.

"Could you not remember it all?" The girl teased, smirking at the blushing young blonde. "You're stupid. I memorized it right away!"

Naruto made a soft sound of irritation, offended by her cheek. "I remembered it perfectly, too!" He demanded stubbornly, though it was a lie. "I just wanted to be sure by hearing it one more time..."

Sasuke slowly got to his feet. "I'll keep the scroll." He said as the others joined him.

"Hey, wait, Sasuke!" Naruto complained suddenly, however his words were cut off when the snake with the Oto shinobi hissed gently, tightening it's grip. Taking that as their cue, they tossed a kunai from the trees, slicing open Naruto's other cheek.

The rookies all looked towards the direction the kunai came from with alert confusion and caution. "What was that?" Naruto asked, holding his bloody cheek.

"Now!" The ninjutsu expert of the two said strongly, slapping his hands together in the form of several different seals before shooting out a massive torrent of air towards Sasuke, Naruto, and the girl, causing them to let out noises of surprise.

"A new enemy?" Sasuke shouted above the sound of the gale, however, his rhetorical question was interrupted by the wind suddenly increasing in pressure. Causing a large cloud of dust to overtake them, forcing them to either duck away from it to avoid injury, or to be swept far off into the distance.

Sasuke and the girl managed to hide, but Naruto wasn't so lucky, crying out as he was sent flying away into the darkness the forest leaked out naturally.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Once the dust settled and the wind calmed, Three sinister figures, each wearing wicker hats, and Kusa forehead protectors stood in the center, in front of a large groove in the ground they had made. In the middle was the man from the exam explanation earlier, head low, hiding his dangerous eyes, but not his devious smirk.

"You two go have fun somewhere else." He said to his subordinates, who only glanced in his direction. "I will go in alone from here."

"Yes sir!" They both said simultaneously, shooting off into the trees to find another team to kill. Leaving Orochimaru alone among the debris of his attack.

Laughing darkly, he licked his lips. "Now then..." He began walking alongside the delve he had made. "Let the games begin~"

~BHBL~

A fair distance from the place of attack, Sasuke lay crouched under a thick layer of brush, his eyes scanning the area for any signs of the new enemy they had come into contact with, armed only with a kunai at this moment. However, he heard a sound from behind him and gasped, spinning to see his female ally stood there, surprised by his movements.

"Sakura!" He said with his own hint of surprise. Why had she snuck up on him so suddenly?

"Sasuke-kun!" Sakura said, relief flooding her voice as she kicked off towards him, only to stop when he raised his kunai.

"Stay back!" Sasuke demanded with an air of dangerous strength, glaring at her with cold black eyes. "Say the password first. The ninja song 'Ninki?'"

Sakura made a noise of realization and nodded, the password leaving her lips flawlessly. "It is a good chance when a large number of enemies are making a scene. There are no hideouts even in a quiet place. It is important for a ninja to know the right time. The time when the enemy is tired and has his guard down."

He relaxed slightly when she'd finished. "Okay." She was Sakura, only Sakura could memorize something so perfectly.

"Ouch..." The two pre-teens turned when they heard a very familiar voice and saw Naruto running towards them. "Hey everyone, are you okay?"

"Naruto, wait a minute." The pink haired genin called, forcing the young blond shinobi to halt mid-step. "Say the password."

Naruto looked a little confused for a second before placing his foot on the ground, grinning at his comrades with his usual bold enthusiasm, a boy amongst men. "I know." He said confidently. "It is a good chance when a large number of enemies are making a scene. There are no hideouts even in a quiet place. It is important for a ninja to know the right time. The time when the enemy is tired and has his guard down."

Sakura sighed with relief, but Sasuke wasn't fooled, smirking he suddenly tossed his kunai at Naruto, forcing the boy to quickly turn to avoid the blade, landing hard on the ground. "What are you doing?!" He asked, an obnoxious tone of irritation coating his words.

"This time, we have someone good enough to dodge my attack?"

Poor Sakura was left out of the loop. "What are you talking about, Sasuke-kun? Naruto said the password correctly."

"That's why we have a problem."

"What?"

Naruto sat up while Sasuke tried to pry the realization out of Sakura. "Do you think he could remember such a long password?" Sakura gasped and turned to look at 'Naruto' with an alert, cautious gaze. "If I asked 'What's the password?' What do you think the normal Naruto would say?"

"Sorry, I forgot." She recited. This was not Naruto.

"And the movement he showed when he dodged my attack is different from Naruto." Sasuke clarified, his guard never down, not even when he saw the young teen for the first time. "Show your real self, faker."

It was in that moment that the confused, innocent face Naruto wore warped into something far too sinister and unsettling for his personality. Licking his lips with a tongue that was too long to be his. "I see." He said, voice dripping with malice and amusement. Suddenly he was engulfed in smoke and the figure wearing the thick purple rope belt and wicker hat made himself known. "But if you knew that he was going to forget it..." His small black irises locked onto Sasuke's own. "Why didn't you use a shorter password?"

The prodigy smirked, a standoff of genius. "I knew that you were eavesdropping on our conversation inside the ground. That's why I made a long password."

Orochimaru removed his hat and smirked knowingly. "I see. So you don't let your guard down. Looks like I can have more fun than I expected." Once again he licked his lips sinisterly, eyes narrowing with the glee he felt. Uchiha Sasuke, the only surviving member of the Uchiha clan and Uchiha Itachi's younger brother.

Just how much did this boy know? How strong was he?

The Sannin would have quite an amusing time finding out for himself. With the real Naruto wrapped up in a dilemma involving one of his larger snakes, there would be no interruptions.

This little Sakura girl was no concern either, according to Kabuto she had no recognizable skills, one flick of a kunai and she would be out of his hair.

Slowly Orochimaru reached behind him and pulled something out of the rope belt he adorned, revealing it to the others as the Earth Scroll. He laughed when the clumsy little female kunoichi gasped, revealing exactly what he already knew. "You want our Scroll of Earth, right?" He asked, mocking them as he lifted the scroll up towards his face. "Since you have the Scroll of Heaven."

Sasuke showed no outward emotion as the Rogue shinobi allowed his tongue to fall out of his mouth, wrapping it around the scroll., He slipped the rolled parchment between his lips and pushed it in until it was enveloped by his jaw. Lowering his head, he swallowed the thing whole, a remarkable feat among men, horrifying the pink haired novice, while the Uchiha brat just raised his guard further.

What else could this enemy do?

"Now let's begin..." Orochimaru started, licking the remnant saliva from his lips. "The fight over our scrolls..." He put his fingers to the bottom of his left eye and yanked the lid down slightly, showing off his slitted black irises to their view. "By putting our lives on the line."

It was in that moment that Sakura and Sasuke were overwhelmed with images of blood and violence, their deaths behind their own eyes as it ended with a kunai digging into their foreheads, causing them to fall back slightly.

The images faded from their minds and the two young children shook with the revelation of what happened, poor Sasuke staggered, breathing heavily. 'Genjutsu?' He asked, vomiting everything he'd eaten earlier onto the ground in front of him before falling back onto his backside. 'No...It was just an intent to kill! I can't believe it. After seeing his eyes, I was imprinted with an image of death.'

The child stared at Orochimaru with wide, frightened eyes, the older man not moving an inch, not showing any emotion, a cold, detached psychopath in front of the mentally sane. 'Who is he...?'

"S-Sakura..." He started, looking towards his comrade, only to stop as he noticed her sitting there, crying, unable to move an inch, unable to hear him as she kept her eyes locked on the insane Sannin. 'This isn't good...' He thought. 'We need to run! Otherwise...Only...' He looked back at their enemy, whose lips curled into a chilling smirk. '...Death awaits us!'

Orochimaru let out a deep, cruel laugh as he looked at the quivering pre-teens before him, amused by their fears, their inability to move. Mice in front of a vicious snake, baring its fangs and threatening their lives. "You can't move already?" He asked, taunts and mocking filling his already frightening tone.

No matter how much Sasuke wanted to get up and run, his entire body was locked in fear, twitching, but frozen in place. 'He's going to kill us!' He told himself, gritting his teeth in frustration. 'Move! Move! Move! Move!' The scared boy looked down at his hand as he reached towards his shuriken holster. 'Move! Move! Move!' Picking up a kunai, he managed to get to his feet, albeit slowly due to his trembling, unstable limbs. 'I don't care if I can only move a little bit...Move!'

The sinister adult before them lowered his head slightly at the sight of his foe and his kunai. "What are you going to do with that?" He asked, though there was no fear, no caution in his tone, at his current level, the Uchiha was no threat to his life.

Just those words alone had the boy locked in place once again, unable to make a single motion, his hand shaking, the grip on his kunai so tight his knuckles were white. 'I can't move...'

"Relax..." Orochimaru told him as he began walking forward, pulling out two kunai from his belt. "I will end it in a won't have time to suffer."

Silence filled the opening in the trees as he stopped and raised his arm back, aiming his weapons at their heads. "I wanted to have a little more fun, but..." The malicious man stated, sounding almost bored. "Now I'm disappointed."

With a flick of his wrist, the small daggers were sent hurtling towards the terrified Genin, and no one could prepare for what happened next. Orochimaru only had time to blink before Sasuke was suddenly on the move, taking Sakura and diving off into the trees. Blood smearing the ground where they once stood as the two kunai hit the root of a nearby tree with two audible 'thunks.'

Looking around the area, assessing the damage and the situation he came to a conclusion. "I see." He said, amusement filling his tone as a smirk curled his lips and he looked down at the blood beneath his feet. "He must have hurt himself at the last second, and got rid of fear with pain."

It was a shame he had missed that split second of action, but the proof of their missing bodies was enough so that he knew now he could freely chase his enemy without holding back. Leaning back on his heels, he looked up in the direction the boy and his teammate went with a knowing smirk.

"He's not normal prey."

~BHBL~

That was close, far too close for comfort.

Sasuke and Sakura were hidden a decent distance away from the psychotic 'Genin.' The poor Uchiha looking at the kunai embedded into his leg while the pink, useless kunoichi tried to process what had just happened. "Sasuke-kun..." With a sudden gasp, she watched as he yanked the kunai from his leg and tossed it to the side, droplets of red blood flying into the air before spattering against the dirty wood of the forest trees.

"Sasuke-kun..." She repeated, now more aware of her surroundings, the concern in her eyes proving how severe the situation was, but Sasuke wasn't having any of it. "Are you okay-" He slapped his hand over her mouth, keeping her quiet as he leaned out to scan the area, alert, far too alert for his own good.

He looked borderline frightened. 'We need to run!' He thought, his form shaking with each ounce of fear that rushed through his system, hopping him up on nothing but adrenaline. 'He's going to find us out soon. How?! How should we run?'

The terror in his eyes overtook so many of his senses, that he didn't notice anything around him until Sakura yanked his hand off her mouth. "Sasuke-kun! A snake!" She called, catching his attention, the two of them barely had enough time to dive in opposite directions to avoid it's venomous, large fangs as it dug them into the splintering wood of the thick branch they'd settled on.

"I was so upset that I didn't notice the presence of a snake...?" Sasuke questioned out loud in shock, how had he not seen that creature, it was massive. It's body coiling around a thick, unimaginably thick, trunk before it lunged at the Uchiha child without mercy.

In the way that the snake moved, he could see the deadly eyes of their new enemy and actually screamed out in fear, tossing kunai and shuriken towards the massive serpent. "Don't get near me!"

The snake let out a pained hiss as the blades entered it's mouth and sides, falling against a branch, blood spilling onto it as the creature died. He landed on another wooden surface far from the dead creature and his eyes widened in shock when the scales began to crack and split.

As if Orochimaru wasn't creepy enough, his body began to slowly ascend from inside the snake itself, like a parasite who'd lost use of its host. "You can't let your guard down, even for a second. Prey need to strain their minds all the time and run around..." He lifted his head and his eyes were filled with insanity and a sick sense of glee at their fear. "In the presence of a predator." Hell, he even went as far as sticking his overly long tongue out and wiggled it like a snake would it's own.

This man gave even the toughest men a chill.

It was then that the insane Sannin lunged forward, his legs seeming to stretch from the body of the snake. Taking on the attributes of the serpent's tail as he coiled around the trunk, making his way towards Sasuke, who just screamed in terror.

However, it was then that several kunai and shuriken came from out of the blue and pierced the bark of the tree right where Orochimaru was heading, forcing him to stop before they could inflict harm upon him. "Sorry, Sasuke!" An all too familiar voice called out as the villain raised his head to look up alongside the Uchiha in question.

Several high branches away, standing with his arms crossed and a mischievous smirk on his lips, stood Uzumaki Naruto; the number one shinobi at surprising people.

"Naruto!" Sakura called in glee.

Naruto only just acknowledged her words, his eyes locked on the events playing out in front of him. "I forgot the password."

"Good Naruto! You look kind of cool!" The pink haired genin called, she was useless in both her fighting and her words with how she acted right now. The only thing she knew she was good for, was cheering her teammates on. So that's what she was going to do.

"Naruto!" Sasuke called up to him, getting the arrogant young boy's attention. "You must have come here to show off by helping us, but don't get involved! Run!" The prodigy turned to Naruto with a look of desperate fear. "He's way above our level!"

Orochimaru smirked at the conflict that was starting to arise and let one hand drop, getting comfortable for the moment. "Looks like you defeated that big snake, Naruto-kun."

Naruto made a noise of surprise, looking at the man's bent legs, remembering how his tongue moved earlier when his cheek was scratched. 'That guy looks like a snake...' He mused, his smirk falling as he pictured the snake that attacked him in his mind. 'I see. So it must have been that guy's doing.'

While the reckless rookie assessed the situation and the Snake Master turned ever so slightly to assess him in return, the fire wielder of their little group was struggling to keep a grip on himself. Frustration taking over now that his other useless teammate was here. 'There has never been a situation where things got better when he came. What should I do...?'

"Hey, hey, hey, hey!" Naruto called repetitively, not knowing who he was messing with, he had missed all the action up until now. "Looks like you were picking on the weak, eh?" He shot out his hand to point at Orochimaru, not an inkling of fear in his bright, blue eyes. "Now that I, the great Uzumaki Naruto, am here, I'm going to beat you to a pulp!"

While the Sannin felt pure amusement at Naruto's words, Sasuke flinched at the heavy burden they caused. 'Crap!' He cursed mentally. 'All three of us are going to get killed at this rate! What should I do...?'

He looked from a concerned Sakura, to a confident Naruto and finally at the bringer of all this commotion, Orochimaru, as he thought over his slim options. He only had one solution that contained even the slightest hope that they would somehow survive. 'Crap...This is the only way I know of...'

Changing his eyes back Sasuke relaxed, calling out to the silent group. "Wait." The Snake Wielder hummed, surprised by the sudden vocalization as everyone's eyes locked onto the black haired genius of the Uchiha Clan. He slipped his hand into his equipment bag and pulled out the Heaven Scroll. "I'll give you the scroll." He declared, tossing it into his other hand with as serious an expression as he could muster.

Well, well the boy was drawing his last cards, so soon? Perhaps he wasn't as good as Orochimaru originally thought.

"Please..." Sasuke continued, holding it out. "Take this and leave us in peace."

A cold chill shot down Sakura and Naruto's backs as they heard their fearless comrade utter those words. "Hey, Sasuke! What are you doing?!" Naruto yelled. "What are you trying to do by giving the enemy our scroll?"

"You shut up!"

"What?"

sensing the tension, Orochimaru lifted himself up by his arm, as if sitting comfortably, smirking with amusement at Sasuke. "I see, you're smart. The only hope the prey has from a predator...Is to hand over something else to eat to save itself." The two intelligent shinobi locked eyes, a brawl without words, so to speak.

The boy didn't even honor his senior with a response as he tossed the scroll towards him. "Take it."

However, Naruto didn't allow this trade to take place as he kicked off from his spot on the wooden platform and dove at the rolled up parchment. Without giving enough time for even a beat of the heart, he grabbed the scroll and kicked off another trunk, landing beside his sensible ally.

"You...! Don't butt in!" Sasuke snapped as Naruto began to turn. "Do you understand the situation you're in?!"

It was sudden, as sudden as his last move, but Naruto didn't just turn, he slammed his fist into Sasuke's cheek, hard, sending the Uchiha back with blood dripping down his lips. The anger in the young Uzumaki's eyes and body language enough to know that he didn't agree with any of this.

When did his rival become such a sniveling coward?!

Sasuke latched onto a branch and swung around, facing the blonde rookie once again as he wiped the red fluid from his chin. "Why you...Why did you do that?!"

Naruto stood there, catching his breath for a few seconds with clenched fists, before looking up at his comrade. "I...Forgot the password, so I can't make sure of this, but..." He paused for a second, fury and denial building in his blue eyes as his words echoed through the silent area they stood in. "You're a fake Sasuke, aren't you?"

"Naruto, what..." Sakura started, her presence forgotten for a moment until she spoke up. "What are you saying?"

"You idiot!" Sasuke hissed out, anger rising in his own eyes as well. "I'm the real one!"

"Liar!" Naruto said simply, but strongly, causing Orochimaru's lips to quirk up further, this was becoming far more entertaining than he thought it would. "The idiot and coward I see in front of me right now can't be the Sasuke I know. I don't know how strong he is, but there is no guarantee that he'll let us go even if we hand over our scroll!"

His teammates were shocked by his words and logic, while the Sannin suppressed a chuckle, to avoid suspicion. This little fool was slightly smarter than he first antiscipated. How amusing.

"You're the one who is scared, the one who doesn't understand the situation."

Now Orochimaru couldn't help the soft laugh that escaped him. "Naruto-kun..." He started, the boy's blue eyes locked onto his from their widened corners as the older, wiser man unwound his legs and stood up. "You're correct!" With yet another creepy lick of his lips, he slipped into a more aggressive stance. "I just have to..." Pulling up his sleeve he revealed a symbol-like tattoo beneath it, two snakes in the middle, symbolizing his very nature. "...Kill all of you to take the scroll."

The Sannin bit his thumb with one of his dagger sharp fangs and wiped the blood over the symbol, revealing it's purpose as Naruto reacted, yanking out a kunai and running at his far more superior senior. "Don't mess with us!"

"Stop! Run Naruto!" Sasuke called out, fear gripping his heart, he's going to get himself killed!

'Damn it!' The brave boy thought to himself as he jumped up above the unfazed Orochimaru and prepared for attack. 'I've lost faith in you, Sasuke!'

"Kuchiyose no Jutsu!" The Snake Master called out, forming the correct signs before a large torrent of wind broke through the air, forcing Naruto back a little and destroying the thick trunk of a nearby tree with ease. The reckless rookie's eyes widened at the sheer size of the snake that appeared beneath its summoner's feet, it looked like the daddy of the snake he fought earlier!

Within a beat of his heart, the snake lunged up towards him. "Naruto!" Sakura called out in fear as it drew closer, however, he just managed to maneuver out of its path, causing the creature to slam the bottom of its jaw into another large, sturdy tree instead of his small, fragile body.

The winds that whipped around him forced him to cover his face with his arms, splinters of wood from natural platform to scratch his body as they flew around him in the torrent.

As the winds died down, Naruto did a flip in the air and landed on a solid branch only a small distance away, breathing heavily. The force of the small hurricane had knocked the air right out of his lungs.

Orochimaru let out an unsettling laugh as he looked down at the little Genin trying to outfight his superior. "How cute." He commented in a demeaning tone. Mocking the boy's efforts. "What a cute prey."

Suddenly the snake's tail swung towards the branch, not giving Naruto time to react as it slid beneath it, before shattering it from below, pushing him into the air. "Naruto!" Both his teammates called out in panic as he flew further into the air, smashing through several more branches before hitting one that was too hard to break through. With a harsh gasp, blood sprayed from his lips and Sasuke felt something inside him twinge at the sight.

Naruto began to fall towards the serpent, and Orochimaru's dark smirk only widened as he realized he'd knocked the brat out. "Eat him for now." He told his pet, which hissed in response and waited for its dinner to fall closer.

Sasuke felt helpless, this was completely out of their leagues, yet there his teammate was, risking his life to keep them alive and well. Just what kind of ninja let his comrade die because of fear?!

However, it seemed the childish Genin had more in store for the Snake Master than he originally thought. Naruto opened his eyes and let out a feral noise of anger as he slammed his foot into the serpent's nose, making it shrink back slightly with the pain. Another hiss left it as its tongue flicked through the air, smelling the change in Chakra.

Orochimaru was surprised, to say the least, using his Chakra to cling to the reptile's head as it moved, unsure how the boy had caused harm to his summon. Of course, when the blonde rookie started falling towards them with an anger that looked almost wild, he saw a pair of blood red, slittled irises looking back at him, his own slitted eyes narrowing as realization shot through him within a second.

"Is this kid...?"

Naruto was quick to land on the reptile's nose, slamming his fists into it's scaled nostrils with roars of pure rage, he had truly lost it, even Sakura believed he'd gone berserk. The snake felt only slight pain at his punches, using it's tongue to flick him off, but the boy wasn't having any of it, kicking off a trunk towards the serpent and it's master once again.

The Sannin let out a sinister smirk as he raised his hand, causing Naruto's eyes to widen, not giving the child enough time to react as he blew into his palm and a large torrent of fire shot out towards his opponent, enveloping the possible Jinchuuriki in flames, causing him to cry out in utter agony before falling through many weaker branches, landing on a solid one further down with a pained gasp.

"Those eyes..." Orochimaru mused, spoken under his breath as he watched the boy struggle to move. "I'm sure of it now." This boy was the Kyuubi's Jinchuuriki, the ultimate weapon of Konohagakure.

Why would they put such a powerful beast in the hands of a boy who couldn't even control his own temper, let alone the beast's power. The curl of his lips that had fallen during his musing returned once again with a huff of entertained laughter.

'This is getting interesting.'

He turned towards Naruto's black-haired comrade with a dangerous gleam in his eyes. "You're next." He called out, the snake he stood on turning towards the boy. "Sasuke-kun. how will you fight?" Without giving him a chance to answer, the serpent and it's master lunged towards him, both determined to take him out.

However poor Sasuke couldn't find the strength to move, fear coursing through him, even with encouragement from a terrified Sakura.

At this rate, he was going to die!

~BHBL~

Akari was stood in a clearing, awaiting a team to pass that she believed held the scroll they were missing, her eyes scanning the nearby areas like the Jounin she was. She had heard a commotion before and chose to avoid it, knowing that her being alone would probably end with a full group being able to take her out with ease.

'I may be hot-headed, but I ain't no fool.' She thought to herself, hearing footsteps, singular, her eye's narrowed and she looked around quickly. 'Who's there?'

With a hum of confusion, her eyes locked onto the moving form of their Second Examiner, rushing through the trees with an alert stance and a hurried pace.

"The hell...?" Akari breathed out, curiosity urging her forward. Shaking her head, she ignored the urge to follow and continued her task. "She's probably searching for any dead or fatally injured examinees. I can't get distracted out here, it'll get me killed."

With a sense of her former kunoichi attitude, she moved through the trees, continuing her pursuit of another scroll.

~BHBL~

The dust cleared from the snake's movement, both Sasuke and Sakura staring in shock, while Orochimaru was mildly surprised by the sight. In front of the large serpent, with two kunai sticking out if it's tank-like scales, stood Naruto, using all his strength to keep the beast at bay, able to stop its attack before Sasuke was harmed.

"Hey..." The brave young blonde rasped out, breathing heavily from over-exertion. "Are you hurt..." Naruto raised his head, Sasuke seeing nothing but red eyes and sharp teeth. "...Scaredy-Cat?"

The Uchiha Genius couldn't speak due to shock, staring at his friend as he remembered a time when he once called Naruto that. Had the tables turned? Was he the scaredy-cat now?

"This idiot and coward I see isn't the Sasuke I know." His friend said, those red eyes and tone speaking volumes of disappointment and annoyance.

However, the distraction this conversation caused gave Orochimaru an opportunity to wrap his tongue around the boy's arms and torso, yanking him up above head level, rendering him immobile.

"Let go!" Naruto demanded, wriggling, thrashing and struggling uselessly to break free. "You snake bastard!"

The Snake Master had to chuckle at those words, the image of one other defiant, hot-headed fool he knew coming to mind. She even looked a little like him too, spiked hair, obnoxious sense of determination, even their language was the same. How amusing.

Pulling Naruto close, he took a good look at him. 'I'm surprised that the Kyuubi kid is still alive.' He thought as he formed a sign with both his hands and moved a little closer to the struggling pre-teen. 'So he got excited emotionally, and let a part of the Kyuubi's power leak out..." Moving one of his hands to his wrist, he turned the other and a small purple flame sprouted out of each of his fingertips. 'He has grown in an interesting way.'

Naruto was just able to see the man use his tongue to lift his shirt, revealing a strange tattoo of sorts against his stomach. 'See?' Orochimaru mused silently, looking down at the markings. 'Your seal has surfaced.'

The boy shook as he finally stopped his thrashing and watched as the Sannin reared his arm back. "Gogyo Fuuin!" He called out, slamming his five fired fingers into different points of the seal. Naruto gasped from the sudden impact of his touch while the embers turned to steam which hissed out of the points the Otokage had touched, burning new symbols into the permanent mark on his stomach.

"Sasuke-kun! Please help Naruto...!" Sakura called out, her voice high with fright, unable to do anything herself as the boy fell limp in Orochimaru's grasp, his eyes returning to their usual blue.

Sasuke wanted to help, he really did, each and every word or action he heard that involved the events happening right before his eyes chipped away at his fear, he needed to move. Now!

'Twelve years have passed since it has been sealed.' Orochimaru thought, staring at his victim. 'Naruto-kun and the Kyuubi's Chakra are starting to mix together with each other.' Noticing something in the boy's pouch, he reached in and his sinister smirk widened as he pulled out the Heaven Scroll.

It was no surprise that he could take it so easily, after all, this boy had snatched it before, and was too foolish to pass it to one of the others before being captured. Despite this, Orochimaru had to praise his courage, even the genius he'd sought out was currently quivering with fear, while Naruto had openly attacked him, without a care for how strong he was.

'But you're in the way right now.' He thought as if speaking to Naruto himself. Using his tongue, he tossed the Jinchuuriki behind him without so much as looking back, knowing he would hit the tree behind him, and not caring one bit.

However, Sakura finally managed to make herself useful as she pulled a kunai out of her pouch, tossing it towards her ally. "Naruto!" The blade caught his jacket and hit the tree with a 'thunk' keeping the boy suspended there, safe from falling for the time being.

Relieved to have saved him, the pink haired Genin turned to the remaining member of Team Seven with hard eyes and a harsh tone. "What's wrong, Sasuke-kun?" Her eyes widened when she saw the state of turmoil he was in, stuck between fear and duty, friendship and survival. Tears filled them and her eyebrows knit together with aggravation. "Naruto is different from you, Sasuke-kun...He's dumber, and a nuisance sometimes, but..." Her expression turned sharp once again, she wasn't having this now! "At least he's not a coward! Right?!"

Her words actually managed to reach the boy and he closed his eyes, shaking as memories of the man he wanted to kill, his brother, passed through his mind.

"No!" Suddenly his eyes opened and two red Sharingan were visible, the resolve in them causing Sakura to relax slightly. There was no way Sasuke would be beaten by Naruto, that wouldn't aid him in his ambitions at all!

Orochimaru met his gaze and huffed slightly with amusement, his curious frown turning to a slight curl of one side of his lips as he spotted the doujutsu he had wanted to see from the start. 'He is definitely part of the Uchiha Clan.' He mused, glee flooding his nerves. 'His blood must be making him excited.' Now he could really have some fun.

"I will take my time and see how strong you are."

The psychotic 'Genin' let out a dark laugh as he called back his summon, which vanished in a puff of smoke, leaving the man to fall onto the branch, landing perfectly on both feet. However he didn't just straighten up, he stretched out his arms and hunched forward slightly, intimidating and ready to fight.

Sasuke took this as a sign for him to prepare and slipped a kunai between his teeth, his determination unwavering as he rushed forward with his arms behind him, picking up speed as he drew closer to his enemy. The Sannin let out a burst of chakra, preparing for any jutsu he'd need to defeat the boy as he jumped above him in rough spin-like motions, tossing several weapons down as he did so.

Orochimaru dodged them without effort, his lips curling back to show his white fangs, amused and not even remotely serious. This gave the boy the perfect opportunity to land on the trunk of a tree and kick off, infusing his jump with chakra so he would fly further, a roar of might leaving him as he hurtled towards the target.

His enemy couldn't deny the boy's speed as he blocked his kicks and tried to attack him as he flipped overhead, showing the true strength he held within. With a backflip, he landed a fair distance away from the Snake Master, who moved forward in a zigzag motion with such speed, Sasuke was only just able to keep up with his Sharingan as he too rushed forward.

The two fighters met in the middle with a flurry of kicks and punches, blocks and blows heard and felt by all those watching as they matched each other punch for punch, kick for kick and speed for speed.

Orochimaru had to admit, this is far more power than he thought the hatchling would have, considering his young age and fearful disposition earlier. Perhaps with a little training, he would surpass his brother and become the true genius of the Uchiha Clan.

Jumping into the air he landed behind Sasuke, only to use extreme speed to vanish out of sight, leaving the boy to use the power of his eyes to find him as the Sannin rushed towards him at a pace even the Konoha Jounins would struggle to achieve. Slithering through the trees without a breath between, his legs transformed into the tail of a snake and he dove up, slamming into the ground where the boy had been.

Oh ho, he evaded his attack pretty well.

Sasuke skidded to a halt nearby and blew out several strong fireballs at Orochimaru before taking a deep breath and exhaling a large torrent of fire, finishing off his combo.

The man could only grin as he covered his face to shield himself from the heat, quickly forming seals, the man fell into the tree before digging his way towards the young Uchiha, bursting out and swiping at him, as if to grab his ankle. However, Sasuke was quick to jump back, staggering before the dust settled and the two of them exhaled, recreating their alert battle stances.

'Pretty good.' Orochimaru thought silently watching his opponent's movements. 'He was able to predict where I was going to move, and attacked accordingly.' Black slitted orbs locked with red patterned ones. 'He must be able to see me.'

Neither of them had noticed the sky beginning to turn a burnt orange as the sun started it's descent into a twelve-hour sleep, letting the moon take its place in the sky. Soon Sasuke and the others would lose visibility and the Snake Sannin, a natural ruler of the night, would gain the advantage.

With a noise of strength, Orochimaru formed a sudden seal and hit the ground, causing large fragments of wood to crack and rise up as potential daggers, which Sasuke reacted to quickly. bounding up into the air with all the force he could muster, diving off the pointed top of the branch as the jutsu followed him, stopping when the branch cracked and fell like a chopped tree would.

The young genius hit the branch above his enemy's head and kicked off, grabbing the man who called out in shock and sending them both hurtling down towards a larger wooden platform below them. The distance so vast, whoever hit the ground first would not survive!

"I got you!" Sasuke called, being the one to use this move, he would be safe as long as his head didn't hit the floor. However Orochimaru wasn't so lucky, his skull slammed into the wood so hard, it reverberated and his entire body locked up with a shock of his nerves.

Then within a moment, his arms sagged and Sasuke jumped back, away from the body, allowing his legs to fall too. Watching, the corpse trembled and shifted, only to smirk stiffly before collapsing completely, turning to mud.

It wasn't Orochimaru!

"A replacement?!" The boy exclaimed with a surprised tone, only to hiss as something sharp sliced his cheek, forcing him to turn towards the weapon's owner and perform a series of flips to avoid the many more projectiles coming his way. With a gasp, he noticed the edge of the branch coming up behind him and jumped off, pulling out wires and attaching them to a lower natural platform, using them to swing around and land on the wooden structure further down safely.

Still a novice, Sasuke looked behind him to see if Orochimaru was following, unaware that he was actually in front of him, running at him with high speed. The pre-teen made a startled noise and turned only to receive a heavy blow to the face, followed by another and another before he was sent hurtling back with force, landing hard on his side a mere few meters away.

Orochimaru relaxed slightly, hearing the shrill whine of the pink haired child above. Slowly walking forward, he laughed cruelly, watching the barely moving form of his prey. "That was too easy." He said sinisterly. "You're not living up to the name of Uchiha." Little did he know, there was a small surprise awaiting him. "Oh well. I'm going to slowly beat you, and then kill you...Just like a bug!"

Sasuke sluggishly opened his eyes and hid a smirk as the small bombs clinging to Orochimaru's clothes exploded, forcing his superior opponent to fall forward. Without waiting even a second, the boy dove into the air and tossed several shurikens attached to wires, which whirled in the air around him.

"This is..." The psychotic Sannin started, looking around as Sasuke moved the wires and shuriken with his teeth and hands. "Sōfūshasan no Tachi!" Of course just as he was about to move to avoid them, a hard tug was given and the wires tightened around him, forcefully pinning the older man to the tree at his side.

From this angle, he could see Sasuke and his movements, but even a slight shift of his own may result in the wires cutting his throat and killing him. Watching the boy form seals, he could do nothing as he exhaled fire onto the thin, bendable metal between his teeth, sending a dragon made of burning embers towards him without mercy.

All that was heard as the fires hit their target and broke through the tree were the agonizing screams of a man who was being burned to a crisp.

"He did it!" Sakura rejoiced as she watched the event play out and the fire slowly dims down into nothing, leaving a motionless figure behind, only standing by his wire prison. Sasuke relaxed then, letting out an exhausted gasp as all the fires died down at last.

Sakura ran down to his side with a gleeful smile. "Sasuke-kun! You did it!" But the boy wasn't as happy, only just able to stay standing. His enemy had been powerful, pushing him past all of his limits just to end his life. "Are you okay? Get ahold of yourself."

'It looks as though playing dead was the right choice...' Orochimaru thought as he yanked himself free of the loosened wires and walked forward, slapping his hands together with a glare as his purple accented eye was revealed by the burned mask that was slowly melting away.

This motion and that one yellow eye left the two children frozen, Sakura falling to her knees with the numbness she felt. His own form of Genjutsu, now they were completely at his mercy. "I'm impressed that you can use your Sharingan so well at your age." He called out to them, smirking darkly as his voice transformed, returning to the creepy, hoarse tone he usually held. "You live up to the name Uchiha."

"I want you after all." Were the words that sent a horrible shiver down Sasuke's spine as the man uncovered his Oto symbol he had hidden on his forehead protector.

Sasuke let out a roar as he tried to break the paralysis, but it was ineffective.

"You two are definitely brothers. Your eyes say that you carry more potential than Itachi."

Ther boy froze up. How did he know about Itachi? "Who are you?!"

The strange man tossed their former Heaven Scroll into the air and caught it, his sinister eye holding more knowledge than Sasuke could fathom. "My name is Orochimaru. If you wish to see me again, get through this exam as if your life depended on it." Suddenly the scroll burst into a ball of green flames.

"The scroll!" Sakura gasped.

"In other words, you'll have to defeat my subordinates, the three Oto ninja."

"What nonsense are you chattering about? We never want to see your face anymore!"

Orochimaru could only snicker at Sakura's naivety. "It doesn't work that way." Forming a sign, his head suddenly rose up as if made of elastic and shot towards Sasuke. Unable to move, the man bit into the boy's neck and a noise of pain left his victim and he twitched involuntarily.

"Sasuke-kun!"

Letting go with a grin, the cruel man reeled his head back in and a mark appeared on Sasuke's neck, causing him to react as if it was burning, excruciating pain rocketing through his nerves. "Sasuke-kun!" Sakura called out, worried for her comrade and obvious crush. "What did you do to Sasuke-kun?" She snapped, giving Orochimaru a glare he found purely amusing.

"I gave him a farewell present." The mysterious man explained, his fingers pointed up, Shunshin no Jutsu. "Sasuke-kun will seek me. He will seek me for power. It was fun being able to see a lot of your moves." He began to melt into the ground, a Shunshin Sakura had never seen before.

And then, like that, the stranger was gone and Sakura had to protect both of her comrades in a forest filled with death.

~BHBL~

Akari stood before three unconscious Genin, holding the Heaven Scroll they had been missing. The night was almost upon them and she had spent the last few hours searching them out, before taking their precious parchment with little hesitation.

Though she felt a sense of guilt as she looked down at their burned, pain addled forms, she knew if she hesitated even once, it would end in her demise. "Sorry kids." She said quietly, pushing away her morality as she pocketed her prize and stretched her arms out over her head, looking up at the forest trees as the orange light touched them. For those who enjoyed the beauty of small things, like she did, this sight made her grin boldly.

After being locked up for so long, she appreciated these little moments that made the world truly beautiful. With the lighting, the forest almost looked like it was on fire, and it was gorgeous. "Heh, too bad it didn't take us long to get the scrolls." She said, hearing her comrades approach as they landed beside her, looking irritated at how long she took. "I could stay in this forest for a few more nights before that sunset would get boring~"

"You know why we can't leisurely take our time." Dosu told her with a serious tone, almost like he was scolding her, which was met with a brown-eyed glare. "Since we have our scrolls, we can start the attack tomorrow. We have to kill Uchiha Sasuke, no matter what."

Zaku laughed and walked over to the unconscious Genin, kicking one of them in the head, hard. "Heh, like that's going to happen with this wuss in charge!" He taunted, hearing a huff of irritation from his 'leader.' "If she can't even kill these little scraps of trash, how is she going to finish off someone like that?"

She moved quickly, pinning Zaku to a tree with her hand clenched into the collar of his shirt, if she looked any more ferocious, her skin would glow. "Don't underestimate me, brat." She warned, her sharp words filling the air full of tension. "I could kill y'right now if I wanted to."

"Prove it!" He said, his tough act really starting to piss her off, her skin looking just a little brighter.

"Stop it, the pair of you." Dosu spoke, pushing Kaede away from Zaku, who fell, landing on his ass with a curse. "If you fight, we'll draw attention to ourselves and we'll become targets, especially with three scrolls." He stepped back and Akari ground her teeth as her anger began to subside, her skin returning to its normal bronze hue.

"Fine." She snapped with a tsk, running her fingers through her hair. Her anger was getting worse, she had noticed since the start of the exam she had quite a few little moments where she nearly lost her cool and revealed who she was.

She needed to calm down and think about this rationally, if she had killed Zaku, they would be at a disadvantage and they would fail at their mission. 'Keep it together. I ain't some weak kunoichi who can't keep a lid on her emotions.'

Shaking her head, she looked at her comrades and crouched down, the three of them settling as she drew out a plan of attack in the dirt, tonight, they would prepare.

Tomorrow...They would destroy their target.

~BHBL~

Once the night had fallen and the forest grew silent, the sound of shifting matter was heard and Orochimaru slowly peeled himself from the ground, standing in a quiet area far from any of the other teams. Due to his lack of seriousness, that boy had harmed him, even if it was only slightly.

He needed to sit back and rest his body in case of any other attacks. He shifted the remainder of his form that was still within the wood upwards until he was hanging upside down in the tree and sank in further so he was settled.

'Even though I have a secluded place to rest, I can't let me guard down.' He thought, knowing that he would soon be found out, one way or another. 'I didn't exactly hide the evidence of my attack. Soon I will be approached by Konoha shinobi. Even if I rest, I have to keep myself alert for any sort of movement.'

And of course, he was right as he heard a ninja move through the trees in that moment, before stepping towards him. Slowly opening his eyes, the upside down sight that met him surprised him to say the least and this time he couldn't help the twisted smile that curled his lips. "It's been a long time...Anko."

If there was one thing he wasn't expecting, it was his cute little student coming back to end his life.

"You are an extremely dangerous S-Ranked wanted criminal," Anko explained flatly, without emotion. "That's why I'm going to kill you, even if it costs me my life." With a gentle flex of her fingers, four sharp acupuncture needles shot out of her sleeve and she caught them. "It's my job as your former subordinate who learned everything from you, right...Orochimaru?!"

He couldn't hide the glee he felt as her expression went from serious to harsh, his words tipping her over the edge. "You can't." He said simply, which in turn, lead to her moving back to toss the needles at his vital points. However, though he couldn't move his tongue still could. The large muscle shot from his mouth, knocking away all the little pins before slamming into the ground at Anko's feet, forcing her to jump up out of the way to avoid harm.

Just as she landed against the vertical trunk, using chakra to stick to the surface, she let out a gasp as the tongue followed her up and coiled around her arm, pulling her down towards the ground. Anko managed to land expertly on the wooden natural floor as the muscle continued to retract, and flexed her hand, pointing her fingertips at her former sensei. "Hidden Snake Hands!"

Four strong green snakes lunged from her sleeve and slammed into the bark of the tree around Orochimaru. "I won't let you get away!" She ground out, yanking her arm back and forcing the man to emerge from the tree using her four snakes. As he hurtled through the air, she controlled his movements with her serpents and slammed his face into the ground before swinging him into a nearby trunk, where he stood motionless for a second due to the shock of impact.

Pulling back the summons with no hesitation, she rushed Orochimaru and slammed her hand against his, piercing them both with a kunai before giving him a pained grin. "I got you." She said confidently. "Orochimaru, I'm going to borrow your left hand."

Without waiting for permission, she used his hand to create a sign, which Orochimaru knew but didn't respond to, oddly, only surprised that she would use this jutsu. 'That seal is...' He looked at her with an eye that said it all and she just gave him one of his own malicious smirks as a response.

"That's right. You and I are going to die here."

Taking a deep breath, she began the jutsu, only to freeze up when she heard Orochimaru's voice somewhere in the distance, an eerie disembodied chuckle that shocked her to the core. "Are you trying to commit suicide?"

She heard movement behind her and didn't have to turn to know that Orochimaru appeared from the roots beneath her feet, standing there, she let out a soft gasp as his overwhelming presence surrounded her. Truly he was the predator and she was the prey.

And the prey made one fatal error, she turned her back to her attacker. Soundlessly she looked behind her and the sinister snake took hold of his mask, ripping it off to reveal his usual white flesh beneath, accented with purple and topped off with a gleeful grin that sent unsettling chills down her spine.

"That's a replacement." He told her as the moon shone down upon them, giving him an unearthly, dangerous look which frightened her almost as much as his words. She quickly looked around and watched as the body she had pinned turned to wet mud and her former sensei laughed at her stupidity.

Feeling a sense of regret and disgust in her own impatience she looked down and ground her teeth. If she had thought this through, she would have seen the signs. Orochimaru wasn't so weak as to be defeated this easily, even after battle. She should have known that first hand, but she had just been too scared.

It was Orochimaru that returned her attention to him. "You're one of the village's Special Jounin..." She tsked and stepped back as he made his way towards her slowly. "So don't just use the Kinjutsu I taught you." She spun to face him and yanked the kunai from her hand, hurtling it at her opponent in hopes of slowing him down.

However, the man, keen with his senses and strong beyond his many years, caught it without so much as a bat of his eyelids. "I told you that it's useless." With a raise of his hand forming a two-fingered sign and a noise of strength, he forced chakra into the mark on her neck, activating it, causing her severe pain and inhibiting her movements.

He only had to glance at the weapon to know it was of no use to him and dropped it without a second thought, smirking all the while as he walked over to her, standing before her trembling, trapped form. "Why did you come...?" Anko asked through gritted teeth.

"We haven't seen each other in a long time, but you're treating me so coldly," Orochimaru spoke with sarcasm, not even trying to sound hurt, he couldn't care less what she thought, but the idea of taunting her even now was too tempting to pass up.

"Did you come to assassinate Hokage-sama?" She pressed on, ignoring his obvious attempt to steer away from the topic. This man would spill his secrets, she'd be certain of it.

The man could only laugh as he shook his head. "No, no." He lied. "I still don't have enough men to do that. So, I was planning on 'reserving' some outstanding ones in this village." He watched as Anko's pain increased and she dropped to her knees. "I just gave someone that cursed seal as a present a while ago."

It was unnerving her greatly that he would openly speak his plans, but what unnerved her more was how comfortable he was as he crouched down to her height, knowing she wouldn't have the strength to kill him. He was confident in his abilities, and he had every right to be, being one of the three Legendary Sannin.

"There's a boy I want." the madman said with a sinister, hushed tone as if telling her a secret.

Anko tsked and glared into his eyes, she feared him, yet opposed him, like many he met, she was nothing special. "As usual, you do what you want...But that boy is going to die!"

"Yes, there is only a ten percent chance that he'll survive. But he might be like you and not die."

She smirked at his words. "You seem quite interested in this boy." If she could kill him, his plans would be foiled. Even if this boy was Konoha's comrade, sometimes sacrifices had to be-

Her thoughts were cut off in fear as Orochimaru raised his hand and cupped her cheek, stroking it as if with affection, even though all it was, was another of his taunts. "Are you jealous?" He teased. "Are you still angry that I used you, then cast you off like trash?"

When he removed his hand, her expression harshened once again, she hated how easily he could manipulate her fear. "Unlike you, he seems like an excellent shinobi." The Sannin continued, making sure to really grind his foot down on her feelings. "After all, he is the boy that carries the abilities of an Uchiha." Oh the grin that spread across his lips was more disgusting than any of his words. "His body is beautiful, and he is capable of becoming my successor." He rose to his feet once again. "If he survives, things will become interesting."

Spreading his arms to emphasise this, he just looked down at his former student like the garbage she was, not even remotely worried about the threat she could be. "Whatever you do, don't cancel this exam." Then he turned and walked away. "Three from my village are under your care."

He paused with a hum, as if remembering something important, looking at her over his shoulder, a single eye fueled with amusement caught her attention. "Oh, and one of them is like you...A subordinate whom I teach. However once again, unlike you, she is an excellent kunoichi..."

Anko's eyes widened in shock and she watched the man continue on his way. "I'm going to enjoy this." Suddenly he vanished in a ball of purple flames. "If you take away my joy...It will be over for the village of Konoha."

Not only was Orochimaru trying to corrupt one of Konoha's young Genin, but he had another who he was training, someone who by his words, far exceeded her power when she was being taught.

Just who was she, and what was Orochimaru's full plan?!

Chapter Text

"Hey...Hey, wake up!"

Akari groaned as she heard an obnoxious voice within her ear, whatever time it was, she wasn't interested, she was tired after having kept watch most of the night, so she'd decide when she woke up. However the persistent droning continued in her ear until at long last, she swiped her hand out and her wrist was caught. Opening her tired, brown eyes, she saw Dosu staring down at her, no amusement or any form of emotion in the one eye he kept visible.

"It's almost time."

With a deep sigh, the Ninjutsu Expert yanked her wrist from his grip and sat up, running her hands down her face to refresh herself. "Yeah, yeah. I know." She told him, peeking between her fingers to find that Zaku was still snoring away. "Get that lazy ass up, I'll scout the area for any other unwanted guests."

"No need, I did that a minute ago." Dosu told her, causing her to hum with slight surprise. Dosu was more useful than Zaku at least. "There are no other teams nearby, and by the looks of things, Sasuke is asleep. The only person who's awake from their cell is a girl named Sakura, but she's no problem."

"How can y'be sure?"

"I've been watching for about three hours now, and every so often, she'll drift in and out of consciousness." He said, pulling apart the brush to show Kaede the pink hair girl fighting desperately against sleep. "Unlike us, they don't seem to do many nightly missions, so their bodies can't cope with the long hours."

Akari had to grin then, unable to keep her seriousness up when she had at least one capable 'ally.' "Nice work Dosu." She said, standing and stretching, hidden by a tree. "I'll wake Zaku then, you get the trap ready."

Their plan was to send in a harmless animal armed with an explosive tag and blind their enemies before taking them all out without so much as a scream between them. With the three of them sleep deprived, this would be far easier.

Walking over to Zaku, the older woman stared down at him, knowing his type, if she tried to wake him normally, he'd tell her where to shove it and just go back to sleep. Smirking mischievously, she slammed her foot into his ribs, waking him with a harsh gasp. "Up. It's time t'start the attack."

"Ack! Ya bitch!" Zaku coughed, gripping his bruised ribs while Akari just placed a hand on her hip proudly.

"I know~ Now get up."

Dosu entered the trees just a minute later holding a struggling squirrel with the tag on it's back. "This was the most harmless thing I could find in this forest." He explained. The older woman felt a sense of guilt overwhelm her at the sight of the poor creature, knowing it would die once the tag exploded. However at this point, she was getting good at suppressing her morals, so she just took the small rodent and crouched down into the brush.

"Let's get this over with." Was all she said before she was joined by her two comrades and she let the creature loose out into the field, towards Sakura and her teammates.

The poor Pinkette froze with fear as the bushes rustled, pulling out a kunai for protection. Akari was amazed that she was still here, considering how frightened she was. However, the older Jounin had to stifle a laugh when the girl turned and her expression switched to disbelief when she spotted the squirrel sitting there, chewing on an acorn. "Geez, don't scare me like that." She whined.

Both Akari and Dosu raised their eyebrows slightly with surprise when the girl suddenly let out a startled noise and tossed her kunai at the squirrel, making it panic and run off in the opposite direction and into the bushes.

"That was close."

"Did she figure out that there was an exploding tag on the squirrel?!" Zaku asked, dumbfounded by the underwhelming Genin.

Akari's eyes scouted the area for anything out of the ordinary while Dosu replied. "No, that's not it." He had the same feeling as Akari, something wasn't right, that girl wouldn't have turned back to check on Sasuke and Naruto if she had noticed the squirrel was rigged.

Just what had caused her to react like that?

"Yeah? then why?" Zaku continued, not the brightest of the three as he struggled to figure out what was going on, while his two other allies were starting to have their suspicions.

'The only way she could stop our attack was if something else caused her to react...' Akari thought, drowning out Zaku's voice as she ran her fingers through her hair. 'Maybe to protect the squirrel from an unknown danger...Like...' Without warning she gasped, getting both their attention as she looked at the terrain around the trunk.

A smirk curled her lips and she returned her attention to her two comrades. "We'll find out when we get closer." She said, and Dosu's sharp mind clicked onto her deduction as well, nodding with agreement.

The bandaged Genin pulled the brush apart to peer at the weakened Genin inside the large tree. "So let's get going, soon."

"Can someone tell me what's going on?" Zaku complained but received no answer as Akari and Dosu stood and stepped out from the bushes, walking up to the unarmed Genin as she struggled to stay awake.

Akari's bandaged teammate chuckled darkly at the sight of her nearly falling over with exhaustion, she was trying so hard to save someone who was destined to die. "Not sleeping and taking watch for the entire time." He started, making the girl gasp and turn to face them.

Zaku hopped up onto a rock and got comfortable while Akari stood there with a hand on her hip and a smirk on her lips, but her eyes held complete seriousness, she knew her goals and hated them. "But y'didn't need to do that~" She said, shaking her head with a mocking sigh. "Y'have teammates t'help you, y'know! Speaking of which, can you wake Sasuke up for us?"

"We want to fight him..." Dosu finished.

Sakura's eyes sharpened with determination, if she had been stronger, she probably would have made a good kunoichi. Standing, she reached towards her shuriken holder. "What are you talking about?" She demanded strongly, despite her fear. "What is your purpose? We know that a guy named Orochimaru is behind all of this."

The cell from Oto all froze with soft gasps of surprise when she mentioned their leader's name. 'What the hell? No one's supposed to know that, he's in disguise for a reason!' Their Jounin Squad Leader thought to herself, glaring at the girl as she tried to make sense of this new information.

"What's that weird bruise on Sasuke-kun's neck?" The pink haired rookie asked, desperate for answers, even if she was outnumbered. "You want to fight Sasuke-kun after you did this to him?"

"I wonder too..." Dosu spoke softly, unsettling the young girl as she could see their lips moving, but not hear the conversation. "What is that person thinking?"

"You're not the only one who's confused..." Akari mumbled, her eyes sharpening with distaste. "If he's done something reckless, then we might end up paying the price for it." She knew his methods firsthand from her time in the glass containment cell, he wouldn't think twice about putting them in danger just to test one of his new experiments.

"But now that we heard that, we can't ignore it." Zaku reasoned, not moving his eyes from Sakura, still smirking, he was slightly slower than the others but seemed to have full trust in his leader.

Ugh, mindless sheep.

"I'll kill this girl, too." He continued, sneering at his target. "I'll even kill the Sasuke guy." He stood up and went to hop down from the rock when Dosu shot out his arm.

"Wait, Zaku."

"What?"

Akari huffed out a snicker and lifted her chin with an air of knowing as Dosu walked over and crouched down on the ground. "How unoriginal." He said mockingly as he pulled the grass out of the way to look at the dirt. "The color of the dirt indicates that it has just been dug up. This grass doesn't grow here."

Sakura tsked as Dosu grabbed the grass and looked directly into her determined, if not aggravated green eyes. "There's no meaning to a trap if it isn't made well." With that he peeled away part of the layer, causing her eyes to widen.

Zaku huffed while Akari looked around for any more obvious traps. "So she threw the knife so that the squirrel wouldn't get caught in the trap." The pre-teen commented, glancing at the offending dagger as his older teammate smirked and looked at him.

"I ain't much better at this than you, kid..." Akari started as she slipped into a battle stance. "But as a fellow Genin, I'll give y'some advice. If you're going t'set a trap, set it well. No matter how long it takes."

"Enough." Dosu said, tilting his head to the side as he stood up, saying the words Akari was dreading but knew had to be followed. "Let's kill her right away."

And in that split second, the three of them jumped into the air, to avoid the trap and begin their assault. Of course, none of them were prepared for the smirk Sakura gave them as she used her kunai to cut a thin wire, invisible from a distance.

"Another trap?!" Akari called out as the wire snapped and a giant log was sent hurtling towards them.

"So there was a trap above us too? Crap!" Dosu called out as the trunk took out some of the trees on the way down. However, instead of making impact with the three of them, Dosu just placed his hand on the log. "Not." With a hum of strength, he formed a seal and sent Chakra down his arm, using the resonating sound to shatter the log, saving himself and his allies from harm.

"Nice one, Dosu!" Akari called, grinning at him. She wasn't fond of them, but it seems each of them had their uses. She would praise those who used their head in a tough situation, no matter which side they were on.

"Mm." Dosu hummed, accepting her praise as they tilted their bodies to fall towards the shocked Genin below. "To be blunt." He started, directing his words towards Sakura. "You have no talent at all. People like you need to work harder!"

Just as the pinkette's eyes filled with tears and she could see her death coming...

"Konoha Senpu!"

A rushing shadow passed her form and kicked Zaku, sending him landing on his back against the solid dirt. Without giving the others time to react, he gave each of them the same crushing blow, sending Akari flying back until she managed to use the Chakra to stick her feet to a nearby surface, standing horizontally against a wooden tree trunk mere feet away. She watched as Dosu flipped mid-fall and landed on his feet, scraping back from the impact.

"Then the three of you also need to work harder." the mysterious Genin countered, using their own words against them after appearing in front of a terrified Sakura, the little squirrel they stuck a bomb tag to, sitting on his shoulder.

'This guy's good...' The copper-haired Jounin thought, wiping the blood from her lip, glaring at the big-browed boy standing before here. He was a unique individual, to say the least, but not someone to mock for his power. "What's your name, kid?"

"Konoha's Beautiful Blue Beast..." The boy started, his eyes, though strange, were filled with a sense of honor and pride Akari had only ever seen from the most loyal of shinobi. "Rock Lee!"

Silence filled the area as the three Oto Ninja assessed the situation and Lee awaited their next move. This silence didn't last very long when Sakura spoke with uncertainty. "Why are you here?" She asked the unique boy before her.

"When you are in danger, I will appear at any time," Lee answered, petting the squirrel before taking it off his shoulder and leaning down to the floor. "It was thanks to you." He told the rodent gently, as it hesitated in leaving. "Now go."

With that, the little squirrel dove off his hand and ran away to safety.

"But right now, I am your enemy too." The pinkette reasoned.

"I told you before. I will protect you with my life."

Sakura's eyes widened as she realized what he meant, and a soft tone of gratitude left her. "Oh, thank you..."

'We're going t'have t'be more careful now...' Akari thought as she glanced at Dosu, who pulled out the Earth Scroll which she had given him the night before so she could fight easily. 'I can't increase my strengths too much without causing suspicion, and this child seems about the same level I am pretending t'be..."

'We have no other choice...' Dosu thought, both he and Akari on the same wavelength and unaware of it. "Zaku, I'll give Sasuke-kun to you." He said, tossing the scroll behind him to the more immature of the three. "Akari and I will kill these two."

The older woman posing as a nineteen-year-old Genin smirked and shifted further into a fighting position, still latched onto the bark she had landed against. "Now we can party!"

Without waiting another moment, Dosu pulled up his sleeve to reveal his holed barrel contraption, both of them rushing at the taijutsu fighter without remorse. Akari had pushed aside her morality temporarily, she had no choice in this fight. Her mission and revenge were riding on the results of this battle.

Sakura tossed a kunai at Dosu, who dodged it and jumped up into the air to dive onto Lee. However, the boy was clever as he dug his hand into the dirt and shocked their opponents as he yanked out a giant root and used it to stop Dosu in his tracks.

"Your attack has some sort of trick to it, right?" Lee asked, focusing his attention on Dosu, who was, in his opinion, the biggest threat right now. "I won't dodge it in a normal way."

"Yeah?"

The pre-teen let out a startled noise and looked up to see Akari stood on the very tip of the root, her fingers intertwined to form the sign of the Tiger.

"Dodge this!"

Without giving him even a moment to blink, she inhaled and spat out a large ball of fire, unable to see what Lee had done as it instantly scorched the area the two younger Genin were stood. When the smoke cleared however, she wasn't surprised to find them both gone and a large black crater where her fire jutsu had delved into the ground.

Hearing a whoosh behind her, she and Dosu turned to see the two Konoha comrades a fair distance away, Lee holding his slightly charred arm, with a surprised Sakura close behind him.

"You're a fast one, aren't you?" She taunted, humming with curiosity when the boy began to unwind his bandages.

While Akari stayed back with caution, Dosu turned and ran at the teen with his best speed. However, Lee held his fingers up as if performing a seal and with his inhuman speed, vanished from sight. The Oto Genin gasped and skidded to a stop with startled realization, but it was too late, the boy appeared beneath him and kicked him in the chin, sending him flying into the air.

"Dosu!" Akari called out, forming seals, as the Konoha Genin dove into the sky behind him.

"I'm not done yet!" He said with determination and without hesitation his bandages unravelled, The Jounin below stalled for a single moment in shock as the cloth tied around Dosu, rendering movement impossible before Lee's arms linked around him.

Zaku shifted slightly, alert and ready as the two Genin of different villages came barelling down towards the ground, their Oto comrade tied up in such a way that he couldn't stop it. "That's not good." Zaku said, preparing to assist. "He can't break the fall like that."

"I'll leave the landing to you, Zaku!" Akari called out, performing her own seals, prepared to send the kid flying.

The two of them performed different seals for different purposes just as Lee called out the name of his jutsu, the Secondary Locus and put a topspin on his move to cause more damage. Zaku shoved his hands into the ground just as Dosu made impact, and when Lee jumped into the air to avoid harm, Akari send out a stream of fire, which scorched him from behind.

The talented hand-to-hand fighter let out a pained cry as he was sent forward a little and landed on his side, a large, bloody burn mark on his back. However his major concern was not his wound, he slowly lifted his torso and looked at the Dosu's legs sticking out of the dirt. 'That feeling.'

The dirt felt too soft, usually, it was rather solid with such impact, but this time it wasn't, it was like it had been cushioned somehow.

"Oh boy." Zaku breathed out as a sigh of relief, smirking as Sakura ran back over to Sasuke and Naruto to protect them, and Lee managed to get to his feet. "Looks like I made it in time."

Where Zaku stood, his hands burrowed into the dirt, were two raised trails of mud, like something had dug under it, leading to a rather odd hill that Dosu was burrowed into. The ground wasn't like that before the Secondary Lotus was used, therefore the less intelligent of the three Oto Shinobi had used his head and done something to counteract the strong Taijutsu attack.

The teen in question moved slightly before pulling himself out of the mound, shaking the dirt and pain off his head. "That can't be!" Lee called out, shocked that Dosu was alive after such a hard blow.

"That's a terrifying move..." The injured boy said, as he waited for his throbbing headache to dim down. "I was dropped onto this sponge ground, but it still hurt like hell."

Eyebrows stood up slowly, gasping for breath as his body reached it's limit. Akari knew then that he'd used his trump card, and had run out of moves. 'That's the only problem with being a Genin...' She said, crossing her arms as Dosu stood up. 'Your move pool is limited at best, and you barely have anything worth using in battle."

Her comrade covered in bandages pulled up his sleeve and revealed the sound barrel he kept hidden beneath it. "Now it's my turn." He said, desiring his revenge for that near fatal assault. "Akari, don't intervene...I can take him alone."

"Heh..." The red-headed 'Genin' scoffed, placing a hand on her hip with a bold grin. "Alright, I'm going t'enjoy this!" Walking back, she hopped up onto a rock and settled comfortably.

Dosu ran at Lee without hesitation as the boy struggled to move much with the weakness in his muscles. Unable to dodge the unconventional way, he jerked back when his enemy swiped at him and the strange effect that bothered Kabuto came to greet him as well.

"Your movement is indeed fast." The bandaged shinobi told Lee as he struggled to keep his balance and the ability to see straight. "But our moves are the speed of sound, and exceed your's."

"Well, their's are." Akari said, pointing between Zaku and Dosu. "But I ain't nothing t'sneeze at either! I control both Katon and Futon, with the right seals, I can take down this entire forest."

"And you called me a show off." Zaku sneered, earning a grin and middle finger.

Lee's legs finally gave out and he collasped onto his knees, using a hand to keep himself from faceplanting the floor. "I will teach you that there is a wall that you can't pass, just by working hard." Dosu said, he and his allies smirking at their enemy's struggle. Well, Akari was just smirking because her carefree nature had kicked in, she had no fight right now, so she was just enjoying the show. After all, any morality she felt come forward she just pushed right back.

Nothing would stand in her way.

The dizzying sensation Lee felt suddenly intensified when he tried to move and instead vomited on the ground in front of Dosu, who wasn't fazed at all.

"Lee-san!" Sakura called out, making Akari realize she was still there. Honestly, she wasn't even trying to help, if anything she was just part of the furniture at this point.

'Seriously, this is what the kunoichi of this generation are like?' She thought, looking thoroughly dissapointed. 'Useless kid. I'd think someone who could set the traps she does would have the bravery t'help at least...'

Blood trickled down Lee's ear and he gripped it with both hands, Akari, being the team leader in this mission, knew about Dosu's abilities and sighed. The boy wasn't going to hear anything in that ear for a good while.

"There's a little trick to my attack." Dosu told him, lifting his arm to drop his sleeve before gripping the metal barrel which was riddled with holes. "Just dodging it won't help." He laughed darkly, entertained by the thought of his weapon working so well. "It's sound. You dodged my fist, but the sound attacked you."

Realization shot through both Lee and Sakura at the same time, now they knew their enemies strengths, and why they could so easily deafen and harm them without actually landing a physical blow. "Do you know what sound is?"

"Vibrations?" Sakura stated, though it sounded more like a question than an answer.

"Correct." The Oto Genin raised his hand to tug on his ear, using it to make his point. "Being able to hear something means that your eardrum catches the vibrations in the air...And the human eardrum will shatter at anything above one hundred and fifty decibels. On top of that, by applying a shock to the semicircular canals...The opponent will lose his sense of balance."

Lee took in a sharp intake of air, knowing why his balance was lost and why the sudden change had made him sick. Dosu had purposely attacked his ear, so he would become defenseless.

The cruel Ninja laughed again, amused by the unique boy's reaction. "You won't be able to move your body well for a while."

"Your outdated taijutsu moves won't work on us." Zaku called from behind, his hands still buried into the ground, enjoying the show. "It was effective for a while, but I showed you my jutsu. So it's not going to go as smoothly as you thought it would be." Finally, he pulled his hands from the ground, smirking all the while. "I can control supersonic waves and air pressure...And I am capable of destroying even a rock."

"That explains the big mound there." Akari said, pointing to said pile of centre-less dirt.

He nodded, confirming her curiosity. "I can send air into the ground and make it a cushion, as well." He turned his hands around to show two holes which shot out air at such a speed, it looked like currents of wind. "It's different from your dumb moves."

The look of frustration on the eccentric pre-teen's face made a slight dip of guilt stir in the former Suna Jounin's stomach, she didn't want to harm someone who had so much potential, but she had no choice.

Sadly, for her to find peace, she had to sacrifice her old mentality, even if it meant hating herself and others.

"Okay..." Dosu spoke, snapping both Akari and Lee from their thoughts. He kicked off in a run towards Sakura before the male Konoha Genin could react. "You're next!"

Shock passed both their features before they steeled and Sakura yanked a kunai from her holder. Her eyes set on Dosu's movements.

What he didn't expect was Lee running towards him with vim and vigor. "That can't be!" The Oto Genin called out in shock, however, he had nothing to fear.

"Konoha senpu!" Lee roared, however just asd he was about to make contact with his enemy his ear suddenly throbbed in pain and caused him to falter, giving The evil teenager time to grasp his falling leg for balance. "Looks like my previous attack was effective!" he jumped from Lee's leg and lunged at him. "You surprised me a bit...But I don't see a trace of your chain combo that was executed in a flash!"

The Konoha taijutsu user raised his arms to protect himself from the blast, and Dosu's eyes narrowed. The barrel made contact with his arm and a high pitched ringing filled the small area surrounding them, causing Akari to grimace at the shrill sound of it.

That was loud.

"This arm amplifies the sound that is generated inside to it's maximum, like a speaker." The Second in Command said, his voice almost unheard through the squeal of his weapon.

"Lee-san..." Sakura gasped with concern, the poor boy was completely powerless in the face of those three.

"But the sound of impact is not limited to the direction of my hand..." He continued, slowly, the whistling wind coming from the circular holes of the contraption turned and forced themselves straight into Lee's ear, shattering his eardrum without mercy. "I can use my chakra and join it into the target!"

Akari let out a sympathetic hiss, as if she herself was feeling Lee's pain, but knew it was only a reaction to how he must be feeling, like when someone hit their head off a door, or slammed something on their hand. Even the boy's expression itself was fueled by agony and startled beyond comprehension, and the disguised Jounin knew she wouldn't want to be in his shoes in that moment, if his screams were anything to go by.

Dosu stepped back and moved his arm as Lee lost his balance and hit the floor with a hard thud, unable to find the strength to move anymore. "Now to finish you off." He said to the semi-conscious Genius of Hard Work.

"I won't let you!" Sakura called out, reminding everyone once again that she was there as she tossed three kunai at Dosu, who reflected them using the barrel on his arm.

"Geez."

He knew he should have killed her the moment Lee fell to the ground.

The pinkette didn't let the deflection faze her, pulling out a few shuriken and tossing them at Lee's opponent, Akari watching as Zaku appeared and used his air pressure to send them right back at her.

Akari sighed with irritation, especially since she'd just gotten comfortable, knowing she would have to join the fight now. With a quick flick of her wrists, she formed the signs for Shunshin no Jutsu and appeared behind Sakura, grabbing her hair so she couldn't fight anymore. "C'mon, d'you think I want to be here, fighting?" She asked the immobalized girl.

Her hair was glossy, too glossy for a kunoichi. So this is why she didn't help, didn't use her strengths. She had none, she had spent her time making herself look beautiful instead of training.

Honestly, for a kunoichi, that was pathetic.

"Hey, Zaku. Just kill that Sasuke kid." She called to her 'teammate' who looked a little confused. "This one ain't worth killing. Let's just finish the job and get out of here."

"Heh, showing mercy again?" Zaku taunted as he started walking towards the giant tree behind them.

"How many times are y'going t'keep saying that?" Akari sighed and used her hand to hug the opposite side of her body, a make-shift crossing of the arms. "If anything this is more merciless, we'll be killing her comrade in front of her own eyes. Plus I ain't going t'kill someone who'd rather spend their time dressing up than training. It'd be just like killing a civilian."

The teen laughed as he got closer to the two of them. "That sounds good. You're more of an Oto Ninja than you like to admit!"

"Don't make me punch you."

"Hey, now..." Dosu let out an exasperated sigh at their irritating banter. Now was not the time for a fight. Well...A fight among them, at least.

Sakura tried her very best to stop them, pulling against Akari's grip, but it was futile as the older woman just yanked her back, making the girl freeze in place from the sudden pain shooting through her skull. "Don't move. It ain't going to help anyone if y'rip your own scalp off."

She could see how helpless Sakura felt as she dug her fingers into the dirt and tears dripped down onto her lap. The once kind Jounin felt a twinge of guilt and regret, she understood why Sakura was crying, the poor girl felt useless, weak and pathetic. Akari herself had been in a situation similar back when she was a Genin, when her entire team became Chuunin and she was left in the dirt.

The older woman shook the memories away and subconsciously gripped the Pinkette's hair a little tighter. She couldn't allow her emotions to flood in now, a strong kunoichi held her emotions back for the sake of the mission.

Always.

"Then let's do this." Zaku said, breaking the two of them out of their thoughts as he neared the tree where the two unconscious Genin lay. None of them were aware that right now, small wisps of purple chakra were flooding from the strange mark on Sasuke's neck.

Sakura suddenly moved, pulling a kunai from her holder. "Stop kidding yourself." Akari said, tightening her grip and yanking hard to stop Sakura in her tracks. "I'm in a completely different league t'you. I ain't going t'fall for that."

However, the woman's eyes widened when the weakest Genin looked back at her with a dark smirk. "What are you talking about?" She asked with a confident tone, and Akari let out a noise of surprise, only just moving her hand out of the way as Sakura sliced through her pink hair.

Akari stumbled back, watching the strands float through the air as the pre-teen's forehead protector fell from the top of her head, no longer supported by the volume her hair once had.

She couldn't believe it, even this child, who's hair was in perfect condition, no where near as strong or competant as her teammates, would rip out her own hair to save them. Honestly, she was more ashamed of herself for not realizing the girl would do this, especially since she would have done the same thing if the tables were turned.

Even now, she watched as Sakura stood and clenched her fist, a look of pure determination in those green eyes that once held nothing but regret and tears.

Zaku tsked with irritation and yelled as loud as he could. "Akari, kill her!" He said, waving he arm out, emphasizing his point. "Don't you dare hold back!"

Akari registered his words and tsked, yanking out a kunai and running at Sakura with high speed, she didn't have time to form a jutsu, she just had to hope her attack landed. However, she saw Sakura's hand signs and smirked as she stabbed her in the back.

Of course, as she expected, the Genin's body transformed into a log, no longer in her vicinity. "Heh, Even Zaku wouldn't fall for that!" She said, glancing back at Zaku, who had already seen her jutsu and formed the seals needed for his own, as the predictable Pinkettw ran towards him.

"Akari, stay back!"

"You got it!" Akari called out, jumping into the air and onto the branch above, just as the enemy threw several kunai at Zaku, who deflected them easily with his wind jutsu.

"Air Cutter!" He snarled as the attack caused the kunai to hit her dead on. However she performed the same signs as before and when hit, transformed into a replacement.

'So obvious. She's above.' Zaku thought as he looked up to see her falling towards him, performing the same obvious signs, yet again. "I'm telling you, it's not going to work more than two or three times." Yanking out a few of his kunai, he tossed them at her with a merciless sneer. "This is good enough for you!"

Sakura crossed her arms over her face and the small daggers dug deep into her flesh, Zaku huffed and looked around. "Now where did she go?" He asked, only for his eyes to widen as blood dripped onto his cheek, even Akari and Dosu were shocked at this strange turn of events.

"Zaku, look out!" The woman perched in the tree called out as her 'ally' quickly looked up with an exclaimation of disbelief. Sakura was quickly falling down towards him, holding one of his own blades as her weapon.

'That's pretty clever...' Akari thought with praise as the girl landed on Zaku and embedded the kunai deep into his arm with an unshakable strength in her once weak eyes. 'She used the replacement twice to fool the enemy into thinking she had little intelligence in battle, then risked hurting herself just to catch him off guard and attack from the inside.'

The red-headed Ninjutsu Expert jumped down from the trees and arched a brow as Sakura bit into Zaku's arm and refused to let go, immobalizing him...Well, almost. He was still beating her within an inch of her life just to get her to release her grip.

"Let go, damn it!" Zaku roared, his punches hard on the back of her head, somehow she held on though. "Dammit, let go!"

"Typical..." Akari called out mockingly as she walked towards the two of them to help remove the girl. "Y'can't even defeat a woman who's only good move was t'bite y'on the arm!"

"Shut up, Akari! Just get her off me!"

"Yeah, don't worry, I ain't going t'let her eat you!"

She walked up to Zaku, who had made Sakura bleed profusely, and frowned, forcing back an apology as she kicked Sakura hard enough in the jaw to cause her to detach herself from the male's arm. Landing hard on the ground, he huffed and stood, holding the bleeding bitemark. "Cut it out, already!"

Akari crossed her arms as she watched the girl try to stand. "Y'could've avoided this by letting us do our job." She said, walking over and grabbing her arm, lifting her so she was on her knees. "I ain't a fan of pointless bloodshed...But I also ain't a fan of jeopardising a mission." She looked back at her injured teammate. "Zaku, feel free, I'll keep her still."

Zaku grinned maliciously and pointed his air jets at Sakura, who knew she couldn't fight anymore, she had tried so hard, but in the end, it had been pointless. "You bitch." He told the young girl angrilly as he calculated which jutsu to use.

However before Zaku could kill Sakura, Akari was suddenly punched hard in the face and sent flying, only just able to flip herself so she landed on her feet and skidded to a stop a small distance away, with a bust lip. "Nnng!" She ground out as she wiped her chin free of blood, though it was a weaker punch than she was used to, it didn't mean it didn't hurt. "Now what?!"

Before her stood three other pre-teens, all from Konoha, all rookies from the first exam, the blonde one, the pinapple haired one, and the fat one, who didn't look too keen to be there.

Oh great, just what she needed, more distractions.

Everyone looked mildly surprised by the sudden turn of events, even Sakura herself, who really needed a hand at this point. Zaku was the one to break the tension with a huff and a smirk. "Some new weird ones are here now."

"Ino..." The pinkette breathed, looking up at her friend, who didn't look back once.

Her smirk widened though at the surprise in the injured girl's voice. "Sakura, I promised that I wouldn't lose to you, remember?" This caused Sakura to gasp in shock, now remembering that moment, when she and Ino were no longer best friends, but rivals.

While she continued to stare, unsure what to say or how to thank the blonde Genin for the help, Ino settled into an alert stance, along with her pinapple haired teammate, who managed to pull off looking bored and serious at the same time.

"Why are you here?" Sakura asked.

"I'm not going to let you take all the good parts in front of Sasuke-kun!"

Akari let out an annoyed chuckle and stood up, dusting herself off and wiping her chin again as a little more blood leaked down from her wounded lip. "I let my guard down." She said, smirking, her eyes serious. "I never even knew you were nearby. Guess this mission's going to take a little longer now."

"Konoha's bugs have wandered in here again." Dosu said with a bored hint in his tone, even he wasn't too keen on having another set of people to fight. His eyes narrowed dangerously and to no one's surprise, the fat Genin froze up.

He quickly turned to his teammates and spoke with a whimper, truly a coward. "What are you two thinking?! These guys are too dangerous!"

"Y'should listen to your friend, kids." Akari said, placing a hand on her hip. "I ain't known for my patience..." It was true and this turn of events was starting to strongly test it's limits. She didn't even want to do this mission in the first place, now it was being dragged along by Genin she could wipe out in a second if she was at full power.

She hated having to limit her strength for the sake of keeping herself from being recognized.

The pinapple boy glanced to Akari with an irritated look in his small black eyes, before he focused on his friend once again. "It's troublesome, but we have to do this. Since Ino revealed herself, we men can't just run away."

Ino let out an awkward laugh. "Sorry to get you two involved, but we're a three-man cell, we do everything together."

Even the lazy Genin smirked at that. "Oh well, whatever happens, happens."

"No!" The chubby kid cried out with fear. "I don't want to die yet!" Akari watched with sweat sliding down her cheek as the pre-teen tried to run away, but failed miserably. "Let go of my muffler!"

"Shut up, stop moving!"

Zaku looked at the lot of them with an arrogant, amused smile. A dark chuckle leaving his throat as he let that smile twist into a grin. "You can run if you want..." He jeered. "Fatty."

It was in that instance that Akari felt a change in the atmosphere as the fat Genin's ear twitched. The air felt heavy, dangerous and very unsettling to those who were just spectating.

"What did that person just say? I couldn't hear him too well." The boy asked softly, breaking the silence, but not the tension. Geez, Akari could feel his anger from her place near Zaku. Hell, she was tempted to move so she wouldn't be caught up in the fight.

Her temptation was only fueled when Zaku got irritated at the Genin's ignorance and started yelling insults. "I said that you can go jack off in the woods if you want...You fat ass!"

It was almost as if the tension snapped as those words were left hanging in the air, before the boy turned with a viscious snarl. "I'm not fat! I'm big boned!" chakra spilled out from under his feet, already twice his normal strength and he hadn't even tried to mold chakra yet. "Hurray for big boned people!"

Even Sakura sweatdropped as he turned to his comrades with more determination than the Damsel in Distress had ever seen. "Okay! You two understand that this is a fight between Konoha and Oto, right?!"

Ino only smirked at her friend's attitude, while Pineapple huffed and looked off to the side with a pout. "Geez, this is going to be troublesome..." He complained.

For once, Akari had to agree with him, this was getting rediculous now, all she wanted to do was finish this mission and start on her own personal one, was that too much to ask?!

"That's our line." Zaku said with irritation, voicing Akari's thoughts. His expression harshened with a silent curse. 'Dammit, we were told to kill Sasuke before the exam ended...'

The immature Oto-nin glanced behind Sakura to see some strange purple smoke coming out from Sasuke's curse mark, spreading out to the different chakra points in his body. The Pinkette seemed aware of his stares as she too turned to look at the Uchiha brat and her eyes melted into concern. "Sasuke-kun..."

"Sakura."

Sakura hummed and looked back at the familiar voice of her former best friend. "Take care of the two back there." She said with the utmost confidence in the wounded girl's abilities. Sakura felt gratitude bubble beneath the surface as her confusion turned to determination and she nodded at Ino.

"The Ino team is going to go with everything they have!"

"Roger!" Ino's two teammates called with the same sense of pride and confidence, honestly, it was getting boring now.

Akari had actually become less serious than before, her hands on both her hips as she let out a deep sigh of exasperation. "Oh c'mon guys! We've taken out that Lee kid, Sakura and now we've got beat you up too?" She complained, running her fingers through her hair as she tried to find a solution that didn't involve killing more people than necessary. Sadly there wasn't one. "Can't y'just mind your own business and go find some other team to ambush?!"

Of course, the three pre-teens just ignored her, much to her distaste. "Formation Ino-" Ino started.

"Shika-" The pineapple haired teen continued.

"Chou!" And the fat Genin finished off.

Ino-Shika-Chou?!

'Oh right, so they're part of the Akamichi, Nara and Yamanaka clans I've heard about. I think I fought these kids' grandparents during the Second Great Shinobi War.' Akari mused, her fingers combing through her copper strands, a habit she had whenever she was thinking. 'Heh, maybe I'll have some fun after all. I want t'see how much the generations have improved over the years.'

The three Oto 'Genin' prepared their battle stances as the fatter enemy stepped forward with determined narrow eyes. "Go for it, Chouji!" Ino called out, a bold grin on her lips. Seems she was quite confident.

"Okay!" Chouji called out, lifting his hands to form a seal. "Baika no Jutsu!" Within a split second, the pre-teen's torso and waist expanded into the shape of a rather large ball. "And Konoha Style Taijutsu..." His hands, feet and head disappeared into the large bubble he had made himself into, and a large funnel of chakra left each of the holes in his clothes where the limbs had once been. "Meat Tank!"

Akari gasped when the large ball dove into the air and began to rotate, hurtling towards them without mercy, hitting the ground with an intense topspin and coming at them with rubble flying through the air behind him. "What the hell is this?" Zaku sneered, Akari preparing her strongest wind jutsu in the process. "It's just a fat-ass rolling!" The arrogant, hotheaded teen lifted his hands and sent a large torrent of air shooting at the rolling tank, stopping it in it's tracks. "Air cutter!"

However, despite using all that power just to keep it still, the meat tank continued to roll, not stopping, only making it harder for Zaku to keep it steady and away from the pair of them. "Why you...!" He snarled, adding as much pressure as he could to the jutsu he had cast.

Screeching was heard, like tires drifting on an old road, and suddenly the ball was sent flying into the air. "It flew up!" Captain Obvious exclaimed, and Akari rolled her eyes, inhaling deeply.

'With his rotation, the air pressure from the Air Cutter doesn't work very well.' The more reckless of the three Oto Shinobi thought, as he watched the large Genin hurtle towards them. 'But even if I wanted to send supersonic waves into him, my arms would break touching that thing.'

'Futon: Daitoppa!' Akari thought silently as she mixed chakra within her lungs and sent a large torrent of piercing wind at the ball above them, stopping it in mid air. Zaku looked at her and she nodded her head towards the ball, indicating for him to join the frey, and the teen grinned.

"Alright!" He called out, lifting his hands once again. "Let's try this one more time! Air Cutter!" Another jet of piercing wind left his two hands and was sent into the breath of heavy gust Akari had created, the two of them melded together and created a strong torrent of air that could not be defeated.

Chouji roared with determination, which soon warped into fear and pain as the wind broke his rotation and send him flying away from the battlefield. A moment later, a large cloud of dust errupted over the treetops and everyone knew the landing had been a rough one.

"Chouji!" Ino and Shikamaru called out in alarm as Akari took a deep breath to relax her empty lungs and Zaku laughed arrogantly, making her huff. If it weren't for her, he'd have been crushed.

However, her irritation was short lived when she suddenly heard Dosu gasp and the two of them spun to face him. Pineapple was stood there with a serious smirk on his face.

"Hey, what're y'doing?!" Akari snapped as Dosu made a stupid sign with his arms, shaping them into an M above his head. "This ain't the time t'be acting like a fool!" She looked from Dosu to the young Konoha teen and had to do a double take, he was standing in the same stupid pose.

Was this a new jutsu from the Nara clan?!

"This must be the Kage Shibari no Jutsu..." Dosu managed to say as his hands were forced to point outwards.

Zaku growled and kicked up in a sprint towards Dosu, but before he could do anything to help, Chouji reappeared in his tank form and forced the teen into battle with him once again, setting up a rhythm of the fatso attacking, while the more agile teen could do nothing but dodge.

Akari was stood there, looking between her two comrades, trying to figure out a strategy to help them out of this situation, when Pineapple's voice reached her ears. "Ino, now it's up to you women."

"Okay." Ino said, and Akari's eyes narrowed, raising her hands in case she had to make some fast signs. "Shikamaru, take care of my body!"

"Sure."

'What the hell is she talking about?" The Rogue Jounin thought as she watched the girl make a sign with her hands. "The Yamanaka jutsu can't be used in battle, it's not stable enough! She's bluffing!"

However, the woman knew standing still would be her downfall, and went to move, when suddenly, she too was forced to remain still. "Ah crap!" Akari called out as she looked down, her shadow was connected to Shikamaru's. 'I underestimated him! I only thought he could capture one person at a time! He has more chakra than I thought!'

Shikamaru grunted when Akari tried to force herself to break away from the jutsu, but it was too late. She tsked sharply and watched as Ino's smirk deepened. "Ninpou, Shintenshin no Jutsu!"

The two women's eyes locked and something in the older woman gave way, her eyes softening as she lost control of her body. Shikamaru made a noise of effort as he caught Ino's unconscious body and Dosu copied his movements. Meanwhile, Zaku was still occupied avoiding Chouji, who was putting up quite a fight. "Damn it..." He ground out, looking back at their squad leader. "Akari!"

The Ninjutsu Expert herself did nothing but lower head to the floor, eyes closed, not one muscle moving to respond to Zaku's calls. "What's wrong?!" Dosu tried, his eyes wide.

Suddenly she walked over to a kunai sticking into the ground from the earlier attacks made by Sakura, and snatched it up, pointing it at her own neck with a cocky smirk. "This is it." She said, her voice the same, but her words different.

Akari's speech pattern was different, she usually melded words together for easier sentenses, that wasn't Akari.

"If you move, this Akari girl is dead! If you don't want to retire here, leave your scroll and get out of here."

Definitely not Akari.

The girl, who they assumed was Ino, since the blonde Genin wasn't conscious at the moment, saw Zaku and Dosu smirk as she tried to negociate with them. "Once you two back off far enough where we can't sense your chakra, I'll let this girl go."

'Why are they laughing...?'

"Chouji!" 'Akari' called as the boy let out an acknowledging shout and dove towards them. However, Sakura's voice broke through the assault.

"No, they're trying to...!"

However, it was too late, as Zaku raised his hand and sent a powerful barrage of wind at the Ninjutsu Expert they called their comrade. Chouji didn't make it in time to stop the entire blast as she was sent barrelling into the nearest tree and Ino let out a pained cry through the woman's lips, while her original body started bleeding from the mouth.

"Ino!" Shikamaru yelled with concern as Chouji tried his best not to throw up from all the spinning. 'Akari' hit the floor, stomach first as a very similar trail of blood trickled down her chin and dripped onto the dirt ground below.

Slowly the girl possessing the woman's body raised up using her arms and glared at Zaku and Dosu. "What's wrong with them...?" She ground out as pain continued to wrack her form. "They hurt their own teammate."

Zaku sneered, his smirk only widening at the confusion the enemy Genin held on their little rookie faces. "You took us too lightly." He told them bluntly, glaring at them over his shoulder, like the villain he was.

"Our purpose is not a dumb scroll or to get through this exam." Dosu continued, lying through his teeth. Yes, they had to make it through the exam, but their first priority was Sasuke's death. Plus they had a spare scroll for insurance purposes.

The gasp that filled the air made all the Konoha Ninja's eyes widen with shock. "What?!" Ino gasped, voicing her surprise. Honestly, how she hadn't figured it out yet, after watching them in the bushes would be beyond Akari if she was even slightly conscious right now.

"It's Sasuke-kun." Dosu finished, his one visible eye almost unseen as the pupil shrank to the size of a pin's head, a sinister, deadly expression made even more unsettling by the way the rest of his face remained hidden. However there was a slight panic in there as well, he could see purple streams of Chakra floating from the Uchiha boy's body behind Sakura and knew whatever happened when he awoke would be very, very bad for them.

They had to end this fight and kill him before they could find out exactly what this 'bruise' was capable of.

Just as the intelligent Oto Ninja thought that, he felt some of his movement return and glanced down to see the shadow connecting him to Shikamaru waver and met the teen's eyes as he saw Pineapple's expression warp into frustration.

Seems like his time was up.

Dosu moved his arms and flexed out his hands as the feeling came back to them. "I see that your Kage Shibari no Jutsu can only be used for five minutes at most."

"It's not Kage Shibari no Jutsu, it's Kage Mane no Jutsu." Shikamaru called back with a correcting tone, he was in no place to criticize them now.

"And that girl's jutsu...It seems that she is able to slip into another person's mind and take control of the body." The Sound Based Shinobi continued, completely ignoring Shikamaru's obnoxious words. "Seeing that blood from her mouth, it looks like that if we kill Akari, that girl will die too."

"You're going to kill a teammate?"

This time it was Zaku who responded, raising his hand to Akari's pain wracked form. "If we have to, yes." He knew Orochimaru wouldn't be pleased, but like them, she was disposable.

Both Ino and Shikamaru shared looks of frustration, and finally, it was Pineapple that relaxed with a deep sigh. "This is over." He whined, which would have irritated Akari, had she, once again, been conscious.

"Damn it..." Chouji whined too, trembling with the ache of defeat.

The spiky haired Oto Genin straightened up with a dark smirk. "Close." He complimented them, though he still managed to sound like he was mocking them at the same time. "You almost had us."

"You let your guard down." Dosu added on.

Suddenly a huff was heard in the distance and everyone looked up into the trees. "How disgusting." Before them, on a high branch, stood another young teen with brown hair and pale lilac eyes, his arms crossed as if passing judgement on them. Beside him, was a girl with two buns in her hair and brown eyes, wearing a Chinese style dress and an amused smirk.

"A mere minor Oto Shinobi." The male finished, frowning down at them with a look of pure dissapointment. "Acting like victors by beating those second-class Ninja?"

"What?!" Dosu ground out, irritated and surprised by the sudden appearance.

The only one who didn't express a sound of surprise was Sakura, who shed some light on their identities. "They're from Lee-san's team..."

The female of the group looked down at their fallen comrade. "Lee!" She gasped, her high pitched voice laced with concern.

"Looks like he screwed up." Her teammate confirmed with condescention in his eyes.

Zaku let out a sound of irritated amusement as he glared up at the newer Genin's in their little party. "You guys just keep coming out, like roaches..."

"That bobbed haired kid there is on our team..." The white eyed Genin called back, just completely brushing Zaku off. However the two Oto Shinobi felt their hearts sink when his eyes suddenly turned intense and veins spread around them, the view made more unsettling by the anger swimming through them. "Looks like you went overboard with him!"

Dosu was frozen in place by the sight that befell him, unable to look at anything but those dangerous irises. 'What's with those eyes?' He thought to himself. 'It looks like he's able to see everything with it...'

"If you're going to continue to fight, we will fight with everything we have." With the stronger boy's words, his female teammate picked up a kunai in preparation.

However, she was sidetracked when he gasped. "What's wrong, Neji?" She asked, confused to see that his eyes had returned to normal.

"If you don't like what we're doing, stop showing off and come down here." Dosu interrupted, an oddly juvenile response for a man who was almost as cautious and intelligent as their senior.

What was stranger, was the smirk that covered Neji's expression as he closed his eyes. "No." He said simply, his tone fueled with amusement. "It seems that there's no need for me to do that."

The Bandaged Teen had to share an expression of confusion then, following the former path of Neji's eyes, his own widening with shock, everyone else following suit.

Before them, was an unconscious Sasuke spewing a vicious purple chakra from every chakra point in his body. Before it was just wisps, but now it was flooding out of him like steam, spreading through the air like an ominous cloud of power.

While inside the boy's head, his memories played out in front of him, warped by one devilish man in particular.

~BHBL~

Sasuke stood in front of an image of his former self, an image he had been facing since before the fight he was unaware of, began. The younger version of himself just stayed frozen in place, trembling uncontrollably with his hands clenched into his short cosmic blue hair.

"If you don't have power..." He started, his older self's eyes widening slightly with a startled step back as the strange yellow space they floated in changed into an image of a house with two bodies laying dead on the floor. This was the night his parents died. "You can't do anything!"

"Because I didn't have power..." Young Sasuke continued, his saddened tone warping into something dark and cruel. "Everyone was killed!"

Older Sasuke let out a startled sound as his younger self raised his head with a sinister smirk on his lips, the look in his eyes maddened as he raised his fingers and dug them into his left eye. "No, you let them die. You just watched them die."

The real Uchiha survivor felt terrified trembles flood through him and his eyes filled with deep horror. "If only I had power..." Little Sasuke tore away his eye and underneath, was the eye of a man who terrified him almost as much as the one who killed his family.

It was the eye of Orochimaru.

"If only you had more power..."

Then without another word the entire area flooded with purple chakra, drowning out the voices and the images that plagued Sasuke's mind.

~BHBL~

'Akari', Shikamaru, Dosu, Zaku, Sakura, Chouji, Neji and his teammate all watched as the purple chakra enveloped Sasuke and slowly the teen rose to his feet. Purple mist swirling around him like a dangerous aura that meant death.

"Sasuke-kun!" Sakura called out with a sense of cheer and relief. "You woke up...?" However, she stopped suddenly, her eyes widening as the strange sensation of evil came over her. Sasuke both looked and felt deadly, like any words would send him into an uncontrollable blood lust. He only had to stand to make everyone feel uneasy and ready to run.

"That's...Sasuke-kun?" Ino breathed through Akari's lips as she and her pink haired friend stared at the Uchiha Prodigee as red marks started to cover half of his body.

The teen stepped forward, sending a rush of purple chakra into the ground. "Sakura..." He spoke, his tone sinister and deep. The light of the purple chakra faded slightly, revealing the sinister eyes of her comrade, red with the Sharingan and surrounded by the now black markings. "Who did that to you...?"

Dosu now knew what that bruise was, his eyes widened with horror. 'The Cursed Seal has covered his body...'

"Sasuke-kun..." Sakura managed to say, finally finding her voice amidst her shock. "Your body..."

Sasuke lifted his hand and looked down at the markings covering it with no emotion in his dangerous red eyes. "Don't worry." He said as he looked back at the three Oto Genin. "More importantly, I can feel power surging inside me." They could all feel his chakra escape his body as he clenched his fist, such a sickening sensation. "I'm feeling good right now."

The image of Orochimaru's eye passed through his mind. "He gave it to me..." Though he knew exactly what he meant, it was an enigmatic statement to anyone who hadn't met Orochimaru before. "I finally understand now. I'm an avenger. I must obtain power no matter what, even if I must let the devil take hold of my body."

Sakura and Zaku both held similar senses of speechlessness. Sakura because of Sasuke's strange behaviour, and Zaku because he could feel this boy's power, and knew he would be targetted first for attacking the brat's friend.

'I see...' Dosu concluded silently. 'Just as I thought. That bruise on his neck that the Sakura girl was talking about was that Cursed Seal. Still, I can't believe he woke up.'

Though he never took his eyes off the enemy, Sakura knew before Sasuke spoke that he would address her. "Sakura, say it!" He demanded sharply, eyes narrowing with a looming sense of bloodlust. "Who the hell hurt you?!"

Being the brainless fool he was, Zaku swallowed his fear and grinned dangerously. "I did!" He called out with pride, amused by this kid's reaction when he turned to him with absolute resolve in those Sharingan tinted eyes. Here comes a good fight!

'Akari' stared at Sasuke with a blank look of confusion, until she heard Shikamaru call out to her and looked in that direction. "Ino! You're going to get confused as the enemy like that!" The pineapple haired boy was actually hidden inside the bushes with Ino's body, ready for a tactical retreat. "Return to your own body!" He then turned to Chouji. "Chouji, you come here too, we're going to hide!"

"Okay!" Chouji accepted as Ino forced Akari's hands into the release sign for her jutsu and finally left her body, returning to her own. Akari was left to stagger on the spot as her mind slipped back to where it should, and she dropped to her knees with a looming desire to collapse.

However she managed to stop herself, planting both hands into the ground as she blinked and stared at the dirt beneath her, vision blurred and her head pounding, but just able to remain conscious. "Nnng, what...?" She gasped out, gripping her forehead with a hiss as pain throbbed through it.

She forgot all about it when she lifted her head and saw Sasuke stood there, a strange set of black markings slowly spreading over his face. Though she had missed most of the events leading up to this moment, she knew instantly that this was too much for them, just by the feel of his overpowering chakra.

'Great...Unless I go expert Chuunin or Jounin level with my skills, I ain't got a chance against this guy!' She thought as she managed to slowly get to her feet, unaware that Dosu was completely terrified, his body trembling as the chakra overwhelmed him more than anyone else on their team.

"Dosu!" Zaku called out, knowing what his teammate was thinking by the fear in his eyes. Quickly he formed a seal with his hands. "Don't be afraid of that half-dead guy!"

"No stop, Zaku!" Dosu called out, being the intelligent one of the two. "Don't you understand?!"

"I'll kill them all with this!" The teen roared, scaring Sakura as he aimed his hands at Sasuke. "I'll finish this in a flash!" Suddenly a large, painful looking torrent of sharp needle-like wind currents shot out of the small holes in his palms and towards the Konoha Genin. "Maximum Air Cutter!"

Akari grasped the ground, digging her nails into the dirt as she and everyone around the area of attack defended themselves against the residual winds, making sure they kept their footing, no matter what they had to hold onto.

The winds burned each of them as if being sliced with knives and slowly, that feeling began to fade, the currents of air changing to normal wisps of wind and everything turned silent as all sounds stopped aside from Zaku's deep breathing.

Akari opened her eyes to see the teen stood there with a groove in the ground before him and sweat dripping down his cheek with exertion. There was no sign of Sasuke, Sakura or Naruto anywhere. "Heh, they blew up into pieces." He huffed, surveying the area in front of him for any signs of them at all.

"Who did?"

Zaku froze with shock, able to feel a breath on the back of his neck and Akari gasped, getting to her feet once again and kicking off in a run towards them. Sasuke stood behind her 'comrade' sinisterly, his eyes murderous and intent on making them pay. "Zaku! Run dammit!"

However, he didn't have time as the Uchiha with his back to them thrust out his arm and sent the other black haired Genin flying away, rolling to a stop near Dosu, covered in dirt and bruises from the impact.

"Zaku!" Dosu and Akari called out as the foolish Shinobi forced himself to lift onto his hands and knees and glared daggers at Sasuke.

'So fast!' Akari thought as she stopped and formed seals for a jutsu. "Katon: Gokakyuu no jutsu!" She called out, inhaling deeply and spitting out a massive fire ball at Sasuke, before jumping up into the air above him and inhaling again, this time several smaller fireballs left her mouth and barelled down towards her target. Without giving him time to dodge those two, she landed behind him and made some new signs. "Futon: Renkudan!" finally she aimed and shot out several bullets made of concentrated air, the three jutsu flying towards that one teen in less than a second.

However Sasuke didn't move, the three jutsu enveloped him and errupted into a large explosion made of fire and stormy winds, rubble and debris from the ground around it sprinkling through the air as everyone watched and waited for the results of this strong assault.

Akari's entire body froze as she watched the fires fade and the smoke clear, only to see no one there, Sasuke had dodged all of her attacks, leaving behind a crater and nothing more. If he had been hit, a charred body would remain, or at least some shreds of clothing.

"But that's..." She managed to speak, looking around for him, unable to voice the rest of her sentense due to shock. 'That's the best combo I can pull off without causing suspicion...He's just too strong like this!'

And her words were proven right when she felt the air behind her change and she only had time to look over her shoulder before an elbow slammed into the back of her skull. Her vision swam and her entire body went numb before finally, she collapsed and her eyesight blurred.

Just as she hit the floor, everything around her went black.

Chapter Text

Pain was the first thing Akari felt, even though the world remained black and empty, the burning sensation on the back of her head was too much to ignore. It throbbed, like a searing ache and slowly roused her to consciousness.

Managing to open her eyes with a groan, everything looked blurred and she could see a figure crouched beside her, awaiting her cloud of dizziness to pass so she would recognize them.

"You're finally up..."

Akari knew that scratchy voice well from their recent mission, the blurred figure was Dosu. She let out a pained grunt as she slowly sat up, using a hand to steady herself by planting it into the grass behind her. She felt nautious, concussed and completely frustrated that she had been defeated so easily.

The expert Jounin remembered the fight with Sasuke well, she had used her best Chuunin level combo and it had done nothing. "How did we get here?" She asked as she rubbed the back of her head, hissing when she touched a sore spot.

"That Sakura girl managed to calm Sasuke down, and we made a deal, in exchange for one of our Earth Scrolls, he'd allow us to escape..." Dosu told her, looking back at Zaku, who was still unconscious and had no use of his arms. "Of course, not without breaking Zaku's arms first."

"So I wasn't the only one who got their ass kicked." Akari said with a slight snarl, that power was far too much for a Genin to handle. "What was that weird mark, Dosu?"

"That was Orochimaru's Curse Mark, it's a special jutsu he only uses on a select few." He told her, narrowing his eyes, he too wanted answers. "Only Orochimaru can use it, so there's no doubt who gave Sasuke-kun that power."

"That bastard...!" She growled, slowly standing and stumbling forward as she lost her balance. "Ugh!" She grabbed the trunk of a nearby tree and dug her nails into it to regain her footing. Her concussion was taking effect, just the slightest shift of her balance made her want to vomit.

Orochimaru had purposely given Sasuke that mark, knowing they would soon attempt to kill him. What the hell was he planning? Why go this far just to force them to fail?!

Grinding her teeth slightly, she ignored all the sickening sensations that came with turning back to Dosu. She raised her hand out as if asking for him to place something in her palm. "The scrolls." She ordered with a serious gleam in her once confused eyes.

The younger shinobi didn't argue, pulling the two scrolls out of his jacket and tossing them at her, watching as she caught them without effort and held them in both her closed palms. With only a slight flick of both wrists, her sleeves fell over her hands and concealed the two unique rolls of parchment from view.

"Once Zaku wakes up, we're heading to the tower, we've got our scrolls and our mission was a failure, right now that's all we can do."

"Agreed."

Akari would find out exactly what Orochimaru was thinking, even if it meant putting her plan into action a little earlier than she originally planned.

~BHBL~

When Zaku awoke, all they heard were curses for at least an hour before they were able to start moving. Akari lead the group through the trees with Dosu and Zaku following behind, the injured Genin being assisted by his bandaged teammate towards the tower.

Right now, it was Akari's job to protect them, even with her injury she had the most power out of the three of them and would be the most useful in the face of battle. However even now her mind was elsewhere, trying to calculate everything that had gone on over the past few hours and come up with a solid conclusion.

The only one she could think of was that Orochimaru had planned to give Sasuke this mark from the start, and had used them to test out it's power. That thought alone made her teeth lock tightly together with a grinding sound echoing in her own ears.

If that was true, she was going to make him pay, one way or another.

Her thoughts were broken when the tower came into view and they were assaulted by a three-man cell of Amegakure Shinobi. Akari wasn't in the mood for their games, so disposed of them quickly, only just able to keep herself from killing them due her heightened emotional state.

Watching the Genin fall to the ground, charred and bleeding, she spared them a softened frown before steeling herself and continuing on her way. "Don't let anything stop you." She told her two teammates, who were just as irritated and furious as she was. "We reach the tower and report t'Orochimaru, that's our mission now."

"Yeah." Zaku ground out, his eyes sharp with a desire for revenge. "And after that, I'm going to find that Sasuke asshole and break his arms the same way he broke mine!"

"Calm down." Dosu scolded him, the three of them nearing the doors to the tower now, the sky tinting a deep orange from their long travel. "We'll pay them back later, right now the mission takes priority."

"Whatever."

The three of them hopped down from the final tree onto the stone platform where the tower was situated. Before them were several doors, some sealed, whereas others had their parchment locks ripped open. Akari knew from past experience that the unsealed doors had been entered by other teams.

"Stay alert." The redheaded woman told her two younger comrades as she walked towards a sealed set of doors and pushed them open, tearing the worded parchment against the metal surfaces in half as she did so. Inside was a small room with a framed quote on the wall.

The three of them looked around for anything that would shed some light on what they had to do next as the door slowly slid shut behind them, sealing them in with a loud jarring noise.

"Hm, hm, hm...I'm surprised you made it back alive..."

The three Oto Shinobi made noises of surprise and looked up quickly to see a shadowy figure on the second floor, staring down at them with his hands in his pockets. By the shape of his form and the tone of his voice, Akari knew it was Orochimaru without a doubt.

Slowly the anger she had managed to force down until now began to rise to the surface once again as the Snake Sannin climbed onto the railing and dropped down, landing in front of them. "Though not in one piece, it seems." He taunted them, straightening up with a sinster smirk and a gleeful cheer in those yellow snake-like eyes. "I'll praise you for your excellent survival skills, however. Most who face up against someone powered by a Curse Mark, never see the light of day again. You have done well."

Akari ground her teeth as a mixture of anger and discomfort began to swirl within the empty pit of her stomach, both from his words and his praise, a man that sinister and cruel should not praise them for failure. "Why the hell did y'set us up t'fail?" She asked, glaring at him as her skin began to take on a soft glow. "We could've died!"

Orochimaru chuckled and stuffed his hands into his pockets, looking down at her like she was nothing compared to him. "That was the plan all along, dear little Firecracker." He told her shamelessly, his teeth glinting in the light of the late afternoon sun. "You were mere pawns to test Sasuke-kun's newfound strength."

"So y'chose not to tell us and used us as lab rats for your screwed up experiments?!" She had, had enough of the goddamn experiments!

"Precisely, it wasn't something I felt the need to share with you."

The glow on Akari's skin only intensified with his arrogant words, small sparks crackling around her tanned flesh, shocking Zaku and Dosu in the background, but the one man she wanted to intimidate didn't even flinch. "You asshole!" She snapped, storming over and grabbing his collar, dragging him down to her height.

"Akari!" Her bandaged teammate called out, stepping forward, holding his hand out as a reaction to her sudden display of hostility. "Are you insane?!"

"Listen to your juniors...Akari-chan." Orochimaru sneered, doing nothing to fight her grip. He knew she wouldn't harm him, he surpassed her twice over. "You know how fighting me will end."

Akari didn't let go, her breathing heavy as Dosu actually tried to pry her away from their leader. However that only ended with her arm swinging round and her fist colliding with the pre-teen's bandaged cheek, sending him tumbling back onto his ass. "Akari, he's our leader!"

That seemed to bring the feiry redhead back to a sense of realization, her plans flooding through her mind until she tugged her lip between her teeth and shoved Orochimaru away from her. He only had to step back once to regain his balance and his mouth curled up into a satisfied smirk at the sight of the usually stubborn woman holding back all the anger she felt. Her fists were clenched tightly at her sides, head dropped, her entire body trembling as she tried her best to dim down the bright glow her skin had taken on.

"That's better..." The powerful Sannin sneered, pulling a hand from his pocket to gesture to her with an open palm. "Remember your place, and perhaps I will let your actions slide just this once..."

The Ninjutsu Expert tsked sharply, turning her head to the side to show how much she detested her need to remain loyal to the man. If it were up to her, and she had the necessary strength needed to surpass him, Orochimaru would have died mere seconds ago, when she had the chance.

"Now. I'll explain your roles in the next part of the exam." He turned his head to Zaku and Dosu, their postures stiffening in fear at his dangerous gaze. "You will both continue the exams, as usual, try to rise through the ranks as far as you can to show Konoha that we Oto shinobi are not weak because of our numbers..."

Zaku smirked with the same arrogance Akari had seen on Orochimaru's face many times before. He liked the idea of that, and though she couldn't see Dosu's face, she knew he too had some apprehensions about their 'leader's' orders as much as she did.

Well, not as much as she did, otherwise he'd have offered to join forces and take him out as a team.

Like that would make a difference.

"And Kaede..."

Akari hummed and looked back at Orochimaru, a displeased frown very apparent on her features as she did so. It was obvious she didn't care for her role, but that wouldn't stop the amused villain from sharing anyway. "You will fight for a fair amount of time to intimidate some of the other participants, however halfway through your first battle, withdraw with whatever excuse you feel is necessary at that moment."

His grin widened and she could see his fangs visible along with the glee he felt in his next words. "I want you to reserve your best jutsu for the final duel between ourselves and the Third Hokage."

Bile rose in her throat when she remembered their original goal, to destroy Konoha and to rid the world of Hiruzen Sarutobi, the Third Hokage and the one responsible for the alliance built between Sunagakure and Konohagakure.

"Fine." Was the harsh, bitten response he received, which both irked and amused him at the same time. Though she didn't treat him with the respect he desired, her reactions were quite entertaining.

She knew she was no match for him, and she hated it, and that just made him feel even more superior to her. She was like a wild horse, chained to a post and refused to be tamed.

A challenge worth conquering.

"Very well..." Orochimaru said, stuffing his hand into his pocket again. "Dismissed." With that final word, he vanished into a puff of smoke, nothing but a chilling laugh left behind.

'One day, I'm going t'wipe that smug smile off your face...' Akari vowed, glaring at the dissipating smoke. 'Just you wait...'

It was then that the three of them headed into the tower to recieve medical attention, before spending the rest of the day formulating their individual plans for the upcoming battles.

~BHBL~

For the first time in a long time, Kaede felt truly peaceful.

Standing in a field of nothing but white space, she was surrounded by the familiar figures of her family and friends growing up, all the same as they were when she was in Sunagakure. While she herself had somehow reverted back to her original appearance, her Jounin outfit and forehead protecter in place as she lifted her arms to inspect the long sleeves.

"I'm glad you're back, Kaede..." Her mother spoke, stepping forward and placing her hand on her daughter's shoulder with a warm smile she hadn't seen in many years. "We've all missed you so much."

Kaede was stunned, completely dumbfounded by her mother's attitude after their last encounter. Tears pooled in her eyes and she ground her teeth as she hugged her mother tightly. "I missed y'too...Mother, Father...Everyone."

However as she looked up, her eyes widened and her blood ran cold when she saw all their loving smiles had warped into cruel, twisted smirks. What the hell?!

Her mother's arms tightened around her with a dark laugh and Kaede panicked, trying to pull herself away without harming Ayame, but it was futile. She could only watch as the white expanse around them began to taint with the leaking black shadows of her close friends and family, and her mother melted down into nothing but a shade with a liquid-like quality.

Her expression only intensified with horror as the black substance began to climb over her entire form and drag her down into the dark area surrounding her, leaving her completely alone, no one around to help her. Without hesitation, a scream left Kaede's lungs, and though she felt the vibrations and the hoarse pain caused by her high pitched wail, no sound left her.

With a mercilessly slow pace, she was dragged into the darkness and silence filled the void that had once been filled with only love and care.

But the horrors didn't end there, Kaede knew she was viewing the world in the third person when she saw two familiar figures become visible in the darkness. Orochimaru to the right, and herself, after her experimentation, to the left.

The only sound heard within the void of emotionless darkness was a deep laughter that sounded so much like the one she heard from the Snake-like Sannin whenever she did something to amuse him.

However it wasn't Orochimaru that was laughing, getting a closer view, Kaede could see that he was not moving or showing any indication of sound, at all. He was just stood there, grinning maliciously as he kept his arms crossed and watched the mirror Kaede's every move.

When she woman's eyes locked onto the entity she knew was herself, her blood went cold once again, eyes widening as she watched her own form shake with dark laughter before lifting her head. She wore the same sinister, dangerous grin that her worst nightmare always wore and her eyes spoke volumes.

She was no longer Kaede, but a monster who wouldn't think twice about killing.

Akari let out a sharp scream as she sat up involunterily, staring at the wall with wide eyes as she gasped for air after her long and startling nightmare.

She covered her mouth as she choked on the bile she felt rise with each part of the dream she relived and cataloged in her permanent memory. She would never be able to forget the looks she saw in her family's eyes and the evil she felt from herself in that shadowy abyss she never wanted to see again.

Taking deep breaths, Akari tried to calm herself, staring at the wall as she repeated the mantra 'it was just a dream' in her head. Usually, she wasn't so freaked out over such trivialities, but that dream had hit her where it hurt.

Closing her eyes, Akari began to regain control of her emotions, gently coaxing herself into a calmer state. For now, she wouldn't dwell on the disturbing dream, she had, had many nightmares over the years. This one was no different.

The middle-aged kunoichi disguised as a young adult tossed the blanket off her legs and stood up. With brisk steps, she walked over to the window and opened it with a hard tug. All she had to do now was focus on the task at hand, the destruction of Konoha itself. She was one step closer to killing an innocent old man, to gain the trust of a venomous monster.

Akari watched with a relaxed frown as a small green leaf fluttered into view as a soft breeze brushed her hot cheeks, her eyes trained on the small, delicate object in the wind.

Only then would she realize just how real the dream would become.

~BHBL~

Near the end of the exam, another Oto spy made it to the tower, one Orochimaru trusted more than any other. The Snake Sannin leaned against the back wall of the room with his arms crossed as the doors opened and three of his men walked in, the most faithful in the middle of the group.

"Got anything?" Orochimaru asked, looking at Kabuto with a sinister grin and an evil gleam in those snake-like eyes. Kabuto was given the job of gaining Sasuke's trust and getting as much intel as he could on the Curse Mark and how their little ginuea pig was taking to it.

"Yes, more than I expected." The glasses clad spy let his grin widen maliciously to match his superior's. "I've written down all the data pertaining to him from the Second Exam." Without wasting a breath, a small orange card was lifted to the teen's eye level. "You need this, right?"

Orochimaru watched as Kabuto held out the card, and the cold, Snake Sannin reached out and took it. "So, how was he?"

"Hm, looks like you're fond of him, Orochimaru-sama."

"I want to hear your opinion..." The Otokage said, his yellow eyes scanning the thick parchment with little effort. "As a spy from Otogakure."

Kabuto didn't respond at first, his eyes hidden by the light bouncing off his black frames from the bulb above. "You don't need that..." Lifting his hand, the spy gave his wrist a quick flick to the right and the scar across his nose from a previous fight vanished without any trace left behind. "Since you're the one who will determine everything."

A dark chuckle left the pale leader as he pushed off the wall and met the black, empty eyes of his subordinate. "Your cunningness is what I like." He said, obviously praising the young man. Suddenly a swirling vortex of smoke surrounded Orochimaru, and he disappeared without a trace, only his voice remaining in the air where he once stood.

"Good job."

Chapter Text

'Damn, even when I was a Genin, the air never felt this thick...'

Akari couldn't believe the atmosphere in the room as she stood in a large arena with a statue of two hands forming a ninjutsu seal right in front of her. On all sides, she was surrounded by other examinees, each of them staring ahead at the Hokage in the middle of the room with a line of all the Jounin Senseis behind him and two lines of Konoha Jounin on either side of the platform, watching over their every move.

Since the Forest of Death, she had expected everything to become a little more tense, but this was far higher a level than she ever thought they'd go. Orochimaru was an S-Rank shinobi, but they shouldn't know that he was even here, so why were all the Konoha Jounin looking around anxiously.

Did that asshole do something unessesary again?!

The Ninjutsu Expert's eyes narrowed suspiciously and she looked behind the Third Hokage at the man she knew was Orochimaru in disguise, his face was stoice, but his eyes shone with glee and that alone made her assume her fears were correct. After all, when did this man make anything easier for his subordinates?

'Dammit, does he have t'make everything so much more difficult?!'

One of the Examiners, Anko, who they all knew very well, cleared her throat, causing everyone to straighten up and listen as she started speaking. "First off, congratulations on passing the Second Exam."

The tense stress that seemed to flood from the Genin relaxed almost instantly, a few sighs heard from the less confident of the bunch. Akari could almost breathe again now, with the air much thinner than it was a moment ago.

Her eyes locked onto Kabuto's form a moment later and she noticed the bandaid on his nose, a small smirk curled her lips and a sense of satisfaction filled her heart. 'Well at least one good thing'll come out of this mission...The ones who tortured me'll get some good old fashioned karma thrown their way.'

Kabuto stiffened up when Orochimaru suddenly smirked, his signal for the next part to come. Closing his eyes, he smirked himself, causing Akari's brown orbs to narrow once again, just when she was starting to feel satisfied, he had to go and do that.

She knew what was coming, and really wished she didn't have to be a part of it. 'Whoever I go up against ain't going t'come out of this happy.'

"We will now have an explanation of the Third Exam from Hokage-sama. Everyone listen well." Anko called out, rallying in the attention she needed once again as all the Genin focused on the leader of Konohagakure. "Hokage-sama, please do the honors." She said, her voice no longer being broadcast to the entire arena.

The Hokage nodded to the Second Examiner and stepped forward, clearing his throat before calling out to all the eager ears awaiting his words. "The Third Exam will begin. But before the explanation, there's one thing I want to make clear to all of you."

Everyone who was ignorant to the exam listened with soft gasps of confusion, while Akari rolled her eyes subtly and just half listened. She'd heard this a thousand times during her many former exams.

"It's about the true purpose of this exam. Why we do a joint exam with the allied nations." The old man pulled down his hat just a little bit, before continuing. "'To maintain good relations with the allied nations' and 'heighten the level of the ninja'...Do not let these reasons deceive you. This 'exam,' so to speak is..." He paused as he collected his thoughts on how to drop this bombshell, taking out his pipe and letting out a steam of smoke before meeting their eyes one by one. "The epitome of a war between the allied nations."

Everyone ignorant of the world they lived in froze with shock at these words, one of them, which Akari recognized as Rock Lee's teammate, was the first to speak up. "What do you mean?"

"If we go back through history, the allied nations right now were...Neighboring countries that have fought each other over and over again. To avoid wasting military power, those countries decided to choose a place to fight...That is the beginning of the Chuunin Selection Exam."

"Why do we have to do that?" Naruto piped up, looking both confused and angry to be dragged into such an event. "We're not doing this to select Chuunin?"

"Yes, this exam does examine those who are worthy of the Chuunin title." The Hokage responded as he took another drag of his pipe. "But, on the other hand, it's also a place where shinobi fight and carry their country's dignity."

"Country's dignity?" Sakura breathed.

"In this Third Exam, feudal lords and famous people from various countries who may be potential clients are invited here as guests. And feudal lords from countries with hidden villages and ninja leaders will see your battles. If there is a significant difference in power, the strong country will be flooded with jobs. If a country is seen as weak, their jobs will decrease. And at the same time, countries are able to show how their village has grown and possess excellent military power to the adjacent countries. In other words, they can put foreign pressure on them."

"So why do we have to fight with the risk of losing our lives?" The boy with the dog yelled, oddly more vocal and a little more obnoxious than Naruto himself was.

"A country's power is the village's power. And a shinobi's true power is only born in life-or-death battle. This exam is also a place to show off the ninja power of one's country. Since this is an exam where you fight with your life on the line, it has a meaning...And your predecessors have fought and dreamed of being in the Chuunin Exam because of it."

"But why did you say it was to promote good relations?" Lee's teammate asked the whole reason this long-winded explanation began in the first place. Akari just wanted to get this over with and go back to training.

"I told you at the beginning not to get it confused with that." The old shinobi scolded her, sounding a little annoyed. "The custom of shaving one's life and fighting to maintain balance...That is the good relation in the world of shinobi." His eyes turned serious and a little cold. "This is a life-or-death battle for your dream and the village's dignity."

Silence filled the room and Akari sighed with relief, she had heard that speech enough times in her life to recite it word for word, it may be said by different Kages, therefore in different ways, but the meaning behind it was always the same.

Naruto let out a huff of laughter, getting Akari's attention. "I understand now." He said confidently, not a shred of fear in his eyes.

"I don't care..." Gaara hissed out, his voice alone making the older woman shiver, he was a force to be reckoned with, she should know, having come from the same village. "Tell us the details of this life-or-death exam."

The Hokage nodded, commending the pre-teen's bravery, but condemning his impatience. "Then I will now begin the explanation of the Third Exam, but..." He clenched his fist before coughing into it.

Suddenly a Chuunin came out of nowhere and bowed down before the Hokage. "Excuse me, Hokage-sama..." He said, his head lowering further as an apology for the interruption. "I, Gekkou Hayate, the judge, will explain."

Sarutobi stared at him for a second, before accepting this. "Please do."

The Chuunin stood up and spoke without turning to the Genin he would be observing. "Everyone, it's nice to meet you." He then coughed hard, causing some of them to have doubts and concerns, while Akari's brows knitted together with confusion.

'Is he really up for this?' She thought silently, placing a hand on her hip with a sigh, no longer taking this seriously. She could tell he was probably stronger than he looked, but he wasn't the one she'd have to fight, so there was no need to stress herself out over it.

"Everyone, before the Third Exam..." Hayate continued, pausing to cough again. "There's something I want you to do..." He turned to face them, then let out a deep sigh, like he had better things to be doing. "Fight in some preliminary matches to see who gets to advance to the Third Exam's main battle."

This caused a little confusion to wash over the group for another second, before mumbles and loud outbursts of irritation were heard, more specifically Shikamaru's complaints. "Preliminary matches? What do you mean?"

"Sensei, I don't understand what you mean by preliminary matches." Sakura called out, being far more polite than ol' Pineapple Head in the back. "Why can't we just start the Third Exam with the remaining examinees?"

Hayate let out another sigh, sounding tired this time. "In this case, it must have been because the First and Second Exams were too easy, I don't know...But there are too many examinees left. According to Chuunin regulations, we must decrease the number of participants for the Third Exam."

The Pinkette let out a shocked noise before an exclaimation of dissapointment followed. "Oh, no!"

Of course, some of the others felt the same way but said nothing as Hayate ignored Sakura's little outburst and continued what he was saying. "As previously mentioned by Hokage-sama, there are many guests for the Third Exam, so...We cannot just have a lot of matches." He raised his hand slightly with a shrug of his shoulders. "We are limited on time as well. So those who aren't feeling well..." Suddenly he stopped and covered his mouth as a harsh coughing fit overcame him.

Even Akari had to raise a brow now, this man seemed completely ill, weak and unable to perform any of his duties, let alone the one of an examiner...Was he really one of Konoha's Chuunin?

After a moment, the raspy coughing stopped and the Examiner raised his head once again. "Excuse me." He spoke politely. "If anyone wants to quit after hearing the explanation...Please let me know. The preliminary matches will begin immediately."

"Immediately?!" Dog Boy snapped angrilly, his puppy had seen better days, he was frightened and whining softly, any owner would want time to get them help.

"But we just got through the Second Exam..." Ino complained followed by her Pinapple teammate's usual 'how troublesome,' and Chouji's usual meal complaints.

A lazy noise left Hayate and everyone more or less sweatdropped when he spoke slowly. "I forgot to mention this, but you will have one-on-one matches from here on out. So please withdraw if you wish."

Akari huffed, her eyes turning serious as she glanced behind the Hokage to see Orochimaru standing there, that arrogant smirk still curling his creepy lips. 'I ain't giving up now...' She thought, her fist clenching, almost drawing blood with how deep her nails dug into her fake pale flesh.

While the usually tanned woman thought this, Naruto's group were having trouble, as the Curse Mark Orochimaru had passed onto Sasuke as a present began to throb. With a silent chuckle, the Sannin tried not to give away his glee at the sight and listened intently as the Hokage along with two Chuunin discussed the problem.

"Just as I thought," Sarutobi spoke, staring at the three as they bickered over the mark on Sasuke's neck.

"What should we do?" Ibiki asked, having been informed, along with most of the Jounin and Chuunin associated with the exam, about the situation.

"We should take him out of the exams and isolate him with ANBU escorts," Anko told them, looking at the Third seriously. "We need to advise him to withdraw immediately, and-"

"He's not the type that'll listen to you that easily." A lazy voice interjected, and all eyes that belonged within the conversation turned to Kakashi, who didn't seem to care that he had interrupted them since he had a hidden smile on his face. "He is part of the famous Uchiha Clan, after all."

Anko felt a spike of rage stab into her at his cheeky words and spun quickly, pretty much yelling at the man. "Stop fooling around! I'll make him quit, even if I have to use force!" She stepped closer, speaking honestly and openly. "The Curse Mark reacts when he tries to mold Chakra, and it will try to extract power out of him!" Slowly her tone lowered and while speaking from experience, her hand reached up and cupped around her own Curse Mark. "It's a Kinjutsu that undermines the affected person!" She turned and looked at the boy with the serious black eyes. "It amazes me that he is able to withstand it. A normal person would be dead..."

Lowering her eyes for a moment, a small bout of silence in the air as Anko allows her emotions to calm, then suddenly, she turns to face the Hokage, her eyes once again alight with determination. "Hokage-sama!"

The old leader didn't answer as he watched the children continue to fight before Sakura began to raise her hand. However Orochimaru wouldn't allow that to happen, he cracked his neck slightly, a natural reflex for those who had stood for too long, but not so natural for this very unnatural man.

Seeing this action, Kabuto smirked and quickly raised his hand, enacting his part in the plan. "I'll quit." He said, gasps and shocked eyes locking onto his carefree, smiling face.

Silence seemed to be quite common today as everyone hushed for a moment, processing this. "K-Kabuto-san...?" Naruto breathed, the one to break through the conversation barrier.

Hayate hummed with question, not actually sure who this was. Lifting his board, the man searched through his information sheets until he came across the older teen, letting out a soft cough before he spoke. "You're Konoha's Yakushi Kabuto-kun? You may leave then."

"Yes." Kabuto accepted this and turned, starting to walk away with that slight smirk still on his lips. Akari's mood was soured when Kabuto glanced at her as he passed, making her feel nothing more than a desire to drag him back, just so she could kick his ass during one of the fights. It disgusted her how easily he accepted his role and allowed Orochimaru to manipulate his every move.

"Kabuto-san!" Naruto shouted, stopping the white-haired teen in his tracks, as the blonde boy made a gesture of anger with his arms. "Why are you quitting?!" He was just as loud as ever, even with all the news just given to him about the exam. Couldn't he think about himself for once? "Why?!"

Kabuto glanced at the Jinchuuriki over his shoulder, slightly surprised that the boy would care whether his fake friend would be leaving or not. "I'm sorry, Naruto-kun, but my body is completely worn out already." He said, pretending to sound sincere, even though Orochimaru, his teammates and the Oto 'Genin' knew this to be a rouse. "Even before the First Exam, after I had that quarrel with those Oto guys, I couldn't hear anything in my left ear."

"You're welcome, Four Eyes!" Akari called out, looking at him over her shoulder with a wild, slightly malicious grin. "Even just watching, I ain't had that much fun in ages!"

Kabuto stared at the redheaded spy with narrowing eyes. He would have to ask Orochimaru if he could poison her drinks later. Ignoring her words, for now, he returned his attention to the pre-teen who shared her personality, abeit much kinder. "I can't fight right away, especially if it's a life or death battle."

It would have crushed any normal person to see the anguished sorrow in those young, blue eyes. However, for Kabuto, he felt the same sick glee Orochimaru felt whenever he caused pain to others. Though Akari couldn't understand his obsession to remain by his lord's side, it was merely because when around the Snake Sannin, he could act how he usually would without quarrel or judgment.

"I've seen him a few times," Sarutobi said as he watched the boy converse with Naruto, his mind recalling the many exams he'd been in. "I believed he retired during the Main Exam last time, too. What is he thinking?"

Silence passed for a moment before Ibiki broke through it by getting Anko's attention, the woman trapped in her own thoughts. "Anko."

The woman hummed, looking at the scarred man's face before it clicked. "Ah, yes." She said, looking through her own information for this mysterious young man. "Yakushi Kabuto...According to our data, he has failed six times in a row."

The Hokage's distrusting eyes locked onto Anko as a very chilling question was left hanging in the air for a moment. "What about his personal history?"

"He didn't stand out in his Academy years, and his grades were normal. He passed his graduation exam on his third try. After that, he did two C-Rank missions and fourteen D-Rank ones. He doesn't have any outstanding accomplishments." The younger woman lifted her brown orbs to meet the Hokage's. "But..."

"But?"

"It's about before he entered the Academy..."

"Yes?"

"Do you remember the story about the boy that was brought back from the Kikyo Pass battle?"

The mood between them seemed so sour and the Third lowered his head slightly as his seriousness rose beyond normal levels. "Yes. A Jounin from the medic squad took custody of an enemy's boy that was left on the battlefield." He never took his eyes off Kabuto. "So he's that boy?"

Orochimaru enjoyed their little conversation greatly, suppressing the desire to lick his lips for the time being as not to bring attention to himself. To think they would recall such a child, especially after Danzo tried his very best to erase him off the map. How amusing.

Kabuto finally turned to leave, when he heard his teammate, Yoroi, speak lowly, so only he could hear. "Don't act on your own. Did you forget Orochimaru-sama's orders?"

The young adult turned his head and the look in his eyes greatly resembled the arrogance that his lord held within his very frame. "I'll leave it to you two." He whispered, lips curling further. "Especially you, Yoroi-san...You will have no problems with your special ability. It's your chance to show what you're capable of. Since you're irritated because I got ahead of you."

"So you're Orochimaru-sama's favorite...Don't get cocky, kid."

The bright smile Kabuto gave Yoroi caused the man to clench his fists as not to plant his knuckles into the medic's glasses and blind him right then and there. "Okay, Senpai~" Was the last thing he heard before the teen took a few steps, waved happily to Naruto, before finally, oh so finally, he left the room.

If he had stayed another minute, the man in small black shades would have killed him.

'Naruto-kun, Sasuke-kun...' Kabuto thought to himself silently. 'I wanted to play with you a little longer, but if I keep going on...The old blood in me might awaken.' He pushed his glasses up his nose, and a repulsive gleam coated those black irises. 'I'm a spy, even if I don't look like one. I can't let you see my true face here. Also...' Kabuto didn't turn his head but looked into the corner of his eye, where he knew Orochimaru would be positioned a fair distance away. 'If you're going to watch it yourself, my information gathering job is done, right...Orochimaru-sama? Let's save the fun for the future...Sasuke-kun, Naruto-kun, you two, too.'

Finally, the door closed as the white-haired teen disappeared behind its wooden structure, Akari was relieved to be rid of one nuisance for the time being, at least.

A silence stretched for a single moment before the Examiner's soft cough caught their attention. "May I assume there are no more people who wish to retire?" He asked, looking at the examinees. Hushed whispers were heard as Sasuke's cell began to argue quietly among themselves, but no one raised their hand far enough for it to be considered an actual act of retirement.

The Hokage took a puff of his pipe, speaking seriously. "What Orochimaru said worries me a little." His thoughts returned to when Anko mentioned everything Orochimaru had said to her. "Let's let Sasuke go on, and just observe him for now."

Anko's reaction was one Orochimaru, the Hokage and even Ibiki had expected as she gasped and spun to face him. "Hokage-sama!"

"However, if the Curse Mark opens up and his powers become uncontrollable, stop him." The wise old man finished with a slightly raised voice to overtake her's. Ibiki accepted without any qualms, however, Anko seemed to struggle just a little more, going to say something, but stopped herself before she could, gritting her teeth and accepting his orders.

"I understand."

When no one else seemed to raise their hand for several moments, Hayate spoke again. "Then, let's begin the Preliminary Matches." Naruto turned to face the older Chuunin again, while Akari hummed and a grin curled her fanged lips.

'It's about Goddamn time! I ain't had an explanation this long since the Kazekage lectured me on starting fires in people's hair when I was thirteen!'

That memory always both amused and bored her to pieces.

"It'll be a one-on-one match. In other words, it'll be like real combat. Now that we have exactly twenty people, we will have ten matches..." The Examiner said. "And the winners will be able to advance to the Third Exam. There are no rules. You will fight until the other person dies, is knocked out...Or admits defeat. If you do not want to die, give up immediately. However, if I judge that the match is over..." With a pause to cough up a lung, he took a deep breath and continued. "I may stop you to prevent any unecessary deaths. The thing that will hold your destiny..."

Hayate then stopped speaking for a moment, glancing back at Anko, who hummed, giving herself a moment to catch up before she gave him a swift nod and turned talking into the microphone held up near her lips. "Open it."

Everyone watched as a wooden panel situated in the top, left-hand corner of the room clacked, as if some internal mechanism had been activated, and slowly began to open up, revealing a screen beneath the purple pane.

"...Will be this." The sickly Chuunin said. "This electric bulletin board will randomly display the names of two fighters for each match." He looked back at the examinees. "Without further ado, I will now display the names for the first match."

Akari watched, her arms crossed as her serious brown ringed eyes watched the board light up and many of the Genins' names flicker through its black depths. She honestly hoped she wouldn't be the first fighter up, since being knocked out by Sasuke, her head had been throbbing, she could do with a sit down before anything else.

Though she wouldn't mind facing that red-eyed brat just to knock him down a peg for the harm he caused her and the struggle she went through just for this god-forsaken mission.

When the board bleeped, she was only slightly dissapointed to find that Sasuke was facing another Oto Shinobi by the name Akadou Yoroi. She'd heard about him during her time in the hideout, didn't he have some sort of ability that made him useful to Orochimaru? Otherwise, why would the Snake Bastard have such a bland looking ninja around?

Akari dropped her arms and watched as Hayate called the two shinobi out, and they stepped up, standing on either side of the older Chuunin with their eyes locked in a battle of leers. "The first match's fighters are Akadou Yoroi and Uchiha Sasuke. Are there any objections?"

"No." Both of them chimed at once.

Orochimaru, who was more than amused at the match up, allowed a small hum to leave his throat and a very familiar smirk to curl his usually white lips. That smile only continued to widen however when Sasuke flinched, an obvious sign of the pain the Curse Mark caused.

He could already tell that the Chakra infused pattern was causing a change within the young genius, he was hungry for power, a type of which had been lacking during their fight in the Forest of Death. The experiment was a success, perhaps sooner rather than later, Sasuke would come seeking him for power, just as he anticipated he would.

The gleeful chuckle that left him went unnoticed by the others, due to its low volume, he couldn't deny how pleased he was that things were going just as planned. Soon, he'd have the power he sought, and the village would be in ruins.

Oh, the future seemed bright.

Hayate let out a tired sigh, not wanting to drag on the explanations anymore, it was obvious he just wanted to get these fights over with. "We will now begin the first match." The Examiner lifted his fist to his mouth with a harsh cough. "Everyone other than the two fighters, please move up there." With a slow, lazy motion, he gestured to the higher balconies where spectators would stand and watch.

Akari hummed glad to be able to stretch her legs a little after the long speeches. Relaxing her body, she walked towards the steps, only to become rigid once again when a familar form slithered to her side.

"Remember..." Orochimaru breathed, not looking at her. "During your match, you are to withdraw halfway through...I need your true power to remain hidden until the final battle..."

"Why me?" Akari asked a question that had been bugging her from the very beginning. "I'm sure y'have plenty of subordinates who outrank me...Why have someone as unpredictable as me up there during your 'fated' match against the Third Hokage?"

"Hm, hm..." The Sannin chuckled, not answering for a single moment as they climbed the stairs, only the multitude of footsteps their backdrop, drowning out their conversation to wandering ears. "Though you are a loose cannon..." He started, causing the woman to scoff and his amusement to grow. "You have exceptional Katon and Futon abilities that surpass any living Uchiha...Power like that will come in handy against a man who knows all Konoha Jutsu..."

"Heh, sounds t'me like you're scared to face him alone~" The Redheaded Ninjutsu Expert sneered as she stopped on the balcony and leaned against the railing, watching the others heading up the stairs on the other side.

"I'd watch your tongue, Mari Kaede..." His tone was threatening, mouth closer to her ear than before, eyes locked ahead, but there was a predatory, dangerous gleam in their golden depths. "Or I may just end up facing him alone, after all...'

Orochimaru feared no one, he just knew that having more fire power would guarantee his success. However, if she continued to speak to him in such a way, power or not, he may dispose of her anyway. Challenge or not, there was only so much of her attitude he could take before he would lose his patience.

Akari however, wasn't scared of his threats, tapping the metal bar of the banister with her paler-than-usual fingers as she glared at the wall in front of her. She had already tossed aside her own life in pursuit of her goals.

What was tossing away another one?

"Hey! Kakashi-sensei!" Came the obnoxiously loud voice of Uzumaki Naruto who was still stood on the ground below, waving Kakashi, a white haired man in a blue fabric mask, over.

"Sasuke..." Kakashi spoke as he stopped behind the young teen. "Don't use your Sharingan."

Sasuke gasped, his eyes widening for a moment before his expression settled into an impressed smirk. "So you know?" He asked softly, not wanting their blonde buffoon of a comrade to hear.

"If that Curse Mark on your neck become uncontrollable, it may kill you."

Sasuke stiffened for a moment at the thought of death, but his expression just softened into a sharp seriousness befitting his Uchiha name. "That's what I figured."

"If that happens, the match will be canceled." His sensei said with a relaxed tone, almost as if he was patronizing him, but in actual fact, he was just stating the truth. It was then that he decided he'd stuck around enough and began walking towards the stairs once again. "I'll stop you, so keep that in mind."

Sasuke's eyes widened and they locked onto the man's distancing form. 'Cancelled?!' He lifted his hand to cover the mark. 'This Curse Mark seems to react to my Chakra.' The memory of the fight with the Amegakure shinobi slipped into his mind when he used his Sharingan and the mark reacted, nearly causing him to black out from the pain. 'If I try to mold Chakra...It takes over my mind and will extract Chakra out of me without limit.' His eyes locked onto Yoroi's, who had heard everything, despite their low volume, and was fighting the urge to smirk. 'In other words, using my Sharingan is out of the question, and I can't even use normal techniques.'

Orochimaru watched the boy stare down Yoroi with his arms crossed and a sinister grin on his lips. 'But Yoroi's ability will turn out dreadful for you...Sasuke-kun.'

"Hey, Snake Eyes," Akari spoke, catching his attention, golden eyes locking onto brown ones filled with question and distaste. "What's with that Yoroi guy, anyway?" Her tone dropped to a level only he could hear since they stood a small distance from the other villages' shinobi. "Other than those weird black dots over his eyes, I ain't seen him do anything exceptional during training. Why'd y'bring him?"

The Sannin chuckled and stepped only a little closer so she could hear him well. "His abilities are quite unique...I suggest you watch the match to understand them completely."

Akari huffed and looked back at the two fighters awaiting Hayate's command for the match to begin. Why couldn't that asshole give her a straight answer?

Just what was Yoroi's 'ability?'

Hayate looked between the two Genin and raised his arms. "Begin."

Yoroi wasted no time in raising his hands into the signs he needed. "Let's go!" He roared, pumped up to finally show Orochimaru what he was capable of. Kabuto would no longer be the favorite after this match!

"Okay!" Sasuke called back, slipping into an alert stance.

Both of them stood there, staring each other down as Yoroi dropped one hand, now glowing with his chakra, as the other reached into his back pouch. Just as Sasuke grabbed and pulled out a kunai, the older man wasted no time in grabbing several shurikens and tossed them out towards the Uchiha boy.

Sasuke made a noise of determination and slashed at the many projectiles, sending them all shooting back towards his enemy. However, his Curse Mark decided then to glow and his shoulder to throbbed with pain. Due to the shock of the agony, the teen stumbled and fell onto his front just as Yoroi vanished out of sight to avoid the star shaped projectiles coming his way.

Of course, having the keen senses of a promising Genin, the boy's eyes snapped open and he quickly rolled out of the way as Yoroi slammed his hand down, breaking the floor where the child's head had been. Using his kunai, Sasuke stabbed it into the ground to stop his movements and curled his body, using his foot to sweep under the man's ankle, causing him to fall. With little effort afterwards, the 'Konoha' Genin was rendered useless with the Uchiha brat's legs wrapped around his neck and arm, while his wrist was trapped between both his hands.

"He did it!" Naruto called out, however, he did not see what both Akari and Orochimaru did. Yoroi's arm curled around and grabbed Sasuke's neck, his hand glowing with Chakra. This caused the Sannin's lips to curl up into a gleeful grin, exposing his teeth, and his redheaded subordinate to narrow her eyes with curious confusion.

'Is this the ability Orochimaru was talking about?' She thought as Sasuke's grip loosened and the man in question slammed his arm down hard on the boy's chest, before jumping away. 'What did he do? Judging by Sasuke's loosened grip, he's either paralyzed him or weakened him somehow...'

"Have you figured it out yet, Kaede?" Orochimaru asked, chuckling when she looked back at him, her eyes flooded with questions. "Perhaps you should keep your eyes on the match, then you will figure it out..."

"Don't patronize me." She warned him with a snarl, leaning against the bar a little more as she focused her attention on the fight.

Yoroi chose then, while his opponent was immobalized, to lunge forward, ready to strike a decisive blow. "Sasuke-kun!" Sakura cried out, the boy's eyes widened then and his body moved, sitting up in time to see his enemy stood right before him with a glowing palm. Unable to dodge in time, all Sasuke could do was cry out as the hand grasped his forehead and he was pinned to the ground.

Akari's questions were answered then when the genius child, who's grip had been firm on the Oto spy's arm, began to falter, before falling, his hands twitching, arms unable to move at all. "I see..." She said, smirking slightly. "You're going t'use Yoroi t'suck out his Chakra so he has t'rely on the Curse Mark..."

"Well, well, you do have a rather sharp mind, after all." The older Snake shinobi mocked as he stepped closer, his own eyes drawn to the battle, an interest sparked in their depths. "I was starting to think you were losing your edge."

"Heh, you're more likely t'go senile before I do, Ol' Snake Eyes." She taunted, grinning with defiance. "And when that day comes, I'll be there t'put you out of your misery!"

"Hm, hm, don't count on that just yet, Firecracker."

A growl was heard from her throat and that only increased the entertainment the man got from their many interactions, though she was a pain in the ass most days, he found her reactions to his words more amusing than the irritation she caused him...Well, sometimes.

'Yes, Yoroi's unusual ability is absorbing chakra.' The Sannin thought silently, ignoring the scoff he heard from Akari, who focused on the fight to supress her anger. "Yoroi's wonderful technique enables him to suck out the mind and body energy from an enemy's body by putting his palm on the enemy. And once your Chakra is sucked out, Sasuke-kun, you must rely on my Curse Mark.' His thoughts were interrupted for a sheer moment by a pained scream from the object of his interest.

'Now, release it...' His eyes widened with a desire to see the Curse Mark in use, mixed with the power of the Sharingan. 'Release the sweet power. That is the only way you can survive.'

However, his eyes widened for a different reason when Sasuke clenched his fist and used his foot to shove Yoroi away from him. "Get off!" The man landed hard on his back, looking up at Sasuke who managed to sit up in the space of time it took him just to get to his feet once again. It looked like he'd already drained a fair amount of Chakra out of him.

The man with eyes like black coins let out a huff of laughter as he watched the Uchiha boy struggle. "You still had some strength left? You're just a guinea pig though."

Sasuke managed to get to his feet, breathing heavily as he tried to muster up whatever energy he had left. 'That was close...' Was the only thought in his mind at the moment, he was exhausted, any more Chakra and he may have passed out.

"Relax, I'll end this quickly." The Oto shinobi with the unique ability said, his hand glowing once again as he kicked off in a sprint towards the staggering young genius. the boy had to pull all his strength together to avoid the various swipes and thrusts of Yoroi's hand, making sure it didn't touch him at all. However not even a child born an Uchiha could dodge everything, the man's hand brushed his hair ever so slightly, and Sasuke gasped, staggering forward as a little more Chakra was taken from him.

The black eyed Genin turned his head and watched as Sasuke struggled to keep his footing. "What's wrong?" He taunted, smirking behind the cloth covering his mouth. "Are you done for already?" He jumped in the air as the black haired teenager swung his foot out to kick him, and landed a fair distance away from the boy.

Sasuke watched his enemy land as he tried to catch his breathe, coming up with a strategy in the meantime. "He wants close combat...What should I do? At this rate, I'll lose."

"Sasuke!" Naruto's obnoxious voice called out, breaking through the smarter boy's thoughts and catching his full attention. "You call yourself Uchiha Sasuke with that?! Stop acting like an idiot! Get serious!"

The so-called Uchiha stared at Naruto for a moment before his eyes drifted to Lee, who was staring back, looking a little disappointed. 'He's...' Suddenly the black haired rookie's eyes widened as he was struck with realization, an idea that could gain him victory. 'I've got it!'

Yoroi was sick of this kid already, gripping his wrist as it began to glow blue with his harsh Chakra. "You don't have time to look the other way!" He shouted out, running at the young teen with the intent to drain the last of his power from his body.

However, he didn't seem to realize that, as Sasuke looked back at him, the young teen didn't have an ounce of hesitation, nervousness, or struggle within his black eyes.

No...Nothing but resolve.

"This is it!" The older Oto spy sneered, lifting his hand to strike. Thrusting out his palm, he planned to grab Sasuke by the neck, stopping his movements all together, of course, it wouldn't be that easy, since the young Genin just avoided every single one of his blows.

'Ho?' Yoroi thought to himself, continuing his merciless assault. 'Is he finally getting serious?'

During a small gap between the other Genin's attacks, Sasuke found an opening and smirked, using unnatural speed to vanish from sight. This caused his opponent to let out a gasp of confusion and stop his attacks. "He disappeared!"

However that wasn't the case, all Yoroi heard and saw before a harsh blow was centered against his jaw, was a palm slam against the stone tiles beneath him, and a single sandaled foot enter his line of sight before he was sent upwards with a bloody tongue and spasm of agony. Without giving the man time to respond, Sasuke flipped himself over and used all his limbs to shoot himself into the air after his enemy.

Orochimaru grinned as Akari let out a soft whistle, smirking at the boy's intellect and strength. "Looks like he's outranked y'Curse Mark after all, Snake Eyes..." She taunted, glancing back at the man who was paying her no heed. "What y'going t'do now?"

"Don't underestimate the power of the Curse Mark, Kaede..." Orochimaru responded, surprising her a little. Just like a snake to hear her, even when he seemed void of all but his one desire.

Sasuke appeared behind Yoroi who was still accending into the sky, surprising the man at his sudden appearance. "From here on out, it's all original, though." The blue haired Uchiha said strongly, causing confusion within his opponent.

What was original?!

Of course, the man had no time to ponder as two fingers jabbed into his back, making him aware that he was helpless in this situation. "Shadow Dance?" He ground out.

"Eat this." Came the childish response of the pre-teen. However, it was a demand he had to put on hold as a searing pain shot up his neck and the Curse Mark reacted to the signs weaved and the Chakra he had weaved while placing his fingers against Yoroi's back.

Coughing up blood, Sasuke's entire body twitched as the mark began to spread over his skin. "Damn it...It responds when it doesn't need to..." He ground out in agony, unable to move an inch. With a harsh gasp, the mark's power leaked into his eyes, preparing to take over and drive him into power mad hunger.

Though it couldn't stop his memories. He thought of Sakura, and her pleas for him to stop his brutal assault upon Zaku, Dosu and Akari inside the Forest of Death, and the obnoxious words of Naruto when he had been lying on his back, unable to fight off Yoroi's grip upon his forehead.

'I can't believe I've gotten them worried.' The mark stopped it's possession if for a moment. 'I won't...Let this thing take over!' Suddenly the mark began to pull back, as if being dragged back into it's holding upon his neck, slowly, oh so painfully until finally it reverted back to it's black colour and did not move.

It took a true power to stop something so greedy and dark such as that.

Everyone was shocked to say the least, at this new development. Even Orochimaru's eyes narrowed with surprise as Kaede huffed and walked over to him, leaning against the wall by his side with a hint of arrogance in her tone. "You were saying?"

Of course, Sasuke's smirk mimiced her own for different reasons as he steadied his descent. "Let's get this on." Without a moment to lose, he slapped his hand off Yori's back, causing him to turn towards his foot as he lifted it to kick the older man's gut.

But his foot was caught. "Not good enough!" He sneered, though he spoke too soon as the Uchiha genius swung his body round and slammed his forearm into Yoroi's neck, sending the older Genin hurtling towards the ground. Then he punched him hard in the gut, only speeding up his descent further, before finally, Sasuke finished off the combo by spinning back towards him, his foot poised for the final strike. "I'm not done!"

Finally, everyone flinched ever so slightly, when young Sasuke's foot hit Yoroi's stomach and blood was spat into the air, a delve cracking into the stone below him at the heavy impact. "Lion Combo!" The young teen skidded away with the recoil and stopped a fair distance away, after doing a flip onto his stomach, bruised and a little scraped, but other than that, fine.

Silence filled the area as neither contender moved, Hayate taking it upon himself to walk over to the Oto spy, crouching down and staring at his blood coated features, even hidden behind the cloth and small black circles, he already knew this man was dead. 'There's no need to confirm it...'

Everyone who was watching the match stared at Sasuke as he began to stand, breathing heavily from over-exertion. Akari crossed her arms, a small bout of seriousness showing as she assessed his abilties. 'At this rate, I won't be stronger than an Uchiha for long...' She thought, making note of his strengths and weaknesses. 'No wonder this insane asshole has his eye on you...Uchiha Sasuke.'

Speaking of which, she heard something at her side and hummed, looking up to see Orochimaru in a state she had never seen before. His eyes were wide and locked onto Sasuke, mouth slightly agape as he let out an excited breath. His entire body trembling with the desire to take that power as his own. It made her feel sick, her stomach twisting visciously at his obvious glee.

'I feel sorry for you, kid. He ain't no normal maniac either.'

Sasuke wiped the blood from his lip as Hayate lifted his head slightly. "I will stop this match now." He said as he got to his feet. "The first match winner is Uchiha Sasuke. This means he passes the preliminary round."

Naruto and Sakura both send cheers their teammate's way, but he wasn't in the mood for celebrating, slowly, a dizziness swam behind his eyelids and he swayed back, only for something solid to touch his shoulder blades, keeping him upright. "You did okay." Came the familiar voice of his masked sensei.

Of course, the boy turned his head and huffed with a strong smirk. "Sasuke!" Naruto called out, getting both their attentions. His gleeful laugh and broad smile enough to lighten anyone's heart, well if they knew him well enough not to hate him. "You won in such an idiotic way!"

Or not.

"Geez, that idiot..." Sasuke ground out, glaring at Naruto who was still laughing. However he just had to huff out a chuckle of his own, at least he had won his battle, despite being unable to use his Sharingan. He turned his head slightly and locked eyes with Rock Lee, who wasn't moving his eyes away from the Uchiha child one bit. 'Lee, I was able to win thanks to you. If I didn't see your move up close, I would've been done for.'

Just as he said that, a sharp wave of pain shot through his form, causing his body to sieze up and tremble with strain. 'Although it seems I can't use the move consecutively too much...' His breathing was laboured, in fact, if he moved, the dizziness he felt would overtake him and he'd probably collapse where he sat.

On the stands, Zaku let out a huff of amusement. "It wouldn't be interesting if you didn't do that." He commented, arms crossed and in slings, Akari had assumed because of his encounter with Sasuke, considering his arms were fine before the fight.

Orochimaru let out a shuddered breath, the trembles overcoming him increasing in strength as he replayed the fight over and over again in his head. 'Wonderful.' He thought sinisterly, his tongue snaking out of his mouth to stroke his upper lip, a creepy, gleeful smirk on his pale features.

Akari watched with a serious frown as medics took Yoroi away, she could tell, just by the fact that the man wasn't moving, that he was dead. Sasuke had killed him in one blow, and Orochimaru couldn't care less, in fact, he was happy over it.

Disgusting.

"Uchiha Sasuke." One of the medics called out, walking over to the young Genin who had gone way past his own limits. "We medics will give you the best treatement we can."

However, Kakashi was quick to intervene. "This isn't your field." He told the medic, only just glancing up from his perverted book as the doctor hummed with confusion. "I'll take him."

Sasuke was just as lost as the medic, looking behind him as Kakashi crouched down and spoke quietly in his ear. Neither Akari nor Orochimaru could hear him from this distance, but it didn't take a genius to realize that he was going to attempt to seal the Curse Mark.

Sasuke tried to reason with Kakashi, but the older Jounin wasn't going to budge on this. "No!" Was the only word heard from him, which was met with a huff of irritation from his deciple.

The rest was unheard, but Akari smirked when Sasuke relinquished and got to his feet, slowly following Kakashi as the pair of them went to leave the room.

Oddly, the older Ninjutsu Expert had enjoyed that match more than she'd originally thought, it had been some time since she'd seen a real battle, and it was quite entertaining to watch when her own life wasn't in danger. She found it vile that a leader like Orochimaru wouldn't care for the life of his subordinates, but she herself didn't see any of them as allies.

If all of them died, she'd just be relieved, anything to make her mission a little easier.

"Now we will begin the next match." Hayate called out, looking up at the people on the balconies above. With those words, everyone's eyes locked onto the black screen by the Ninjutsu statue and watched as many names filtered through the screen, before falling onto two in particular.

Zaku Abumi and Aburame Shino.

Zaku huffed out a laugh, his eyes moving to look at all the other competitors. "Who's the other weakling?" He asked, unaware that there was a silent pre-teen in small sunglasses awaiting the moment he could step centre stage. Even Orochimaru was smirking with the matchup, this ought to be interesting.

The Third Examinee coughed slightly, his arms outstretched to call the fighters forward. "Fighters, step up."

Doing as they were told, Zaku and Shino stepped towards one another, waiting for the moment they could finally lock arms in battle. "We will now begin the second match."

The two stared at each other for a moment, before Hayate stepped back and uttered the one word that sent them flying into combat.

"Begin."

Akari hummed as she heard a sound at her side and turned just as a puff of smoke bellowed out from where Orochimaru was standing. She knew what he was going to do and huffed, leaning against the railings with disinterest. She didn't care about what he did, as long as he didn't involve her more than she already was involved.

~BHBL~

In the dark room behind the arena, in the centre of some perflectly aligned pillars, stood Kakashi, who was painting symbols onto a sitting Sasuke's back using his own blood. Around them were black circles embedded with several kunai and had the same symbols pointing outwards on four sides.

The Jounin worked quickly as he applied the final marks and made a statement of approval, stepping back. "Bear with this a little." He told the young, teen before him. "It'll be done in no time."

Sasuke nodded with acceptance and turned to face forward, bracing his body for the intense pain that was surely to follow. Kakashi then prepared himself mentally, moving his hands into the right position before he began to spout out seals one after the other with quick succession. "Fuuja Houin!" He ground out before placing his palm against the young boy's back.

A sharp light errupted from their connecting flesh and all Sasuke could do was scream out in agony as the blood symbols began to slowly move up his form, soaking into the Curse Mark on the space where his shoulder and neck met.

Once the symbols all vanished, Kakashi removed his hand and watched the Curse Mark glow aggressively due to the new symbols surrounding it, surpressing it's power. With a final scream from his student, the glowing ceased and the Uchiha boy had to catch himself on his hands as he fell forward, almost collapsing there and then.

"If that Curse Mark tries to activate again, the power of the Fuuja Houin will hold it in." The boy's mentor explained, watching his every move as Sasuke tried to catch his breath and looked over his shoulder at Kakashi. "However, Sasuke, this Fuuin Jutsu utilises your will as it's main source. If you lose faith in your power and your will sways...The Curse Mark will reactivate."

With that, Sasuke couldn't hold on anymore, and collapsed in a heap over the circle they'd prepared. The older Jounin let out a huff of soft concern and amusement. "Looks like he's tired out." He said quietly, unaware there was someone else in the room.

"So you can use Fuuin Jutsu now..." A very familiar, dark voice called out from behind him, causing the white haired teacher to freeze in fear. "You've grown, Kakashi."

Kakashi himself slowly turned his head to look over his shoulder, a cold shiver running up his spine as he watched the man reveal himself, the scrapes of his footsteps the only sound around them right now. "You're..." He managed to say, moving past his fear to speak.

"It's been a long time, Kakashi-kun~" The man said, standing there with his hands in his pockets, an obvious air of confidence and danger around him.

"Orochimaru."

"I'm sorry, but I have no business with you." Orochimaru said without any sense of true remorse in his tone, his eyes darting to the unconscious Genin behind him. "But I do have business with the boy behind you."

Kakashi's face scrunched up with disgust. "Why are you after Sasuke?"

Orochimaru chuckled slightly, raising his head to look down his nose at the Jounin. "You're lucky because you got what you wanted already." He said with an enigmatic air around him. Couldn't he ever just explain something like a normal person would? The white haired man gasped with realisation. "You didn't have that a long time ago. That Sharingan in your left eye!"

Kakashi's body went rigid with digust and anger, shaking ever so slightly as he tried to surpress it. He was no match for Orochimaru, only the Third Hokage could match his strength. "I want it too." The Sannin continued, he didn't even have his guard up, that's how little a threat the white haired male was to him. "Uchiha's powers, that is."

Silence passed between the pair of them as the Snake-like shinobi's words were processed. "What is your purpose?" The Konoha Jounin asked sharply.

"The recently made Otogakure is mine." Orochimaru explained, his smile widening slightly. "You understand if I just say that, right?"

"What a stupid ambition."

"Oh my..." The villain laughed slightly. "That was blunt." He raised his head again, eyes narrowing with desire and determination. "But to accomplish my ambition, I need pieces to become my legs and arms and accomplish things for me." His thoughts went to Zaku, Dosu, Akari and Kin, just for a moment.

"So Sasuke is one of those pieces?" Kakashi asked, eyes narrowing as well as he tried to understand the madman's mind.

"No." His blunt response surprised the white-haired Konoha Jounin. "Sasuke-kun is a supreme piece. And the ones taking the exam are..." His eyes widened with insane amusement. "Merely sacrifices!"

It was then that the Sannin started walking towards the makeshift altar, his guard still down. He had nothing to fear with this Jounin being the only wall between him and his ambitions. As he moved closer and closer, Kakashi's body tensed with every step, until finally his lingering fear of the villainous traitor kicked in and he quickly moved, lowering his arm and posture, he aimed his attack at the ground. "Don't get any closer to Sasuke!"

This actually surprised Orochimaru as he let out a little gasp, watching the sparks of electricity shoot from the Konoha shinobi's hand. "Even if you're one of the legendary Sannin..." He started, glaring at said Sannin with no hesitation in his eyes. "I can sacrifice my life to kill you."

A moment passed before the rogue ninja lowered his head and let out a deep chuckle, which slowly evolved into relentless, cold laughter.

"What's so funny?" Kakashi asked, his expression angered and terrified all at once, a dangerous combination.

The Snake Bastard raised his head, and sent a shiver of pure terror up his opponent's spine at the sight of his remorseless reptillian eyes. "What you say and do don't agree with each other..."

"What?"

"There's no point in using that seal..." Orochimaru continued. "You know, right? He has a heart that seeks power no matter how evil it is. He possesses that kind of disposition. He is an avenger..."

"So you took advantage of that." Kakashi breathed. "But Sasuke won't..."

The snake-like shinobi tilted his head to the side curiously. "Eventually he will seek me out." He turned and started walking away, he didn't have time to play with insects. "Seek me out for power, that is." He paused near the exit. "Also, you said that you could kill me? Try, that is, if you can."

Kakashi's eyes widened and he felt a deep shudder run up his spine, and without another word, Orochimaru vanished into thin air.

Was he right, would Sasuke seek him out, or was he stronger than that?

Chapter Text

It had been a fair few matches since Sasuke fought Yoroi and so far Akari had seen Zaku lose, the two girls; Sakura and Ino, have a hissy fit and knock each other out, and Tenten who was in a cell with Rock Lee, lost to Temari, which wasn't at all surprising.

Now the next matches were being announced and Akari sighed, leaning against the railings with a bored expression on her formerly tanned features, if only she had her Icha-Icha book, she'd be able to enjoy this a little more. That and if she wasn't at a much higher level than her opponents. When the screen beeped and showed the names, her eyes widened ever so slightly with surprise.

Nara Shikamaru Vs. Akari.

Well, well, looked like her mission was finally about to start. With a serious frown, she pushed off the railings and went to head down. "Be careful of the shadows..." Dosu said behind her, causing her to huff with a smirk.

"I already know." She said, glancing at him from over her shoulder. "I was there during the fight, remember...And I know far more about Shinobi Clans than you do...Don't underestimate your superiors."

The underling himself huffed in a similar manner. "Then I expect an easy win." He taunted, but instead of making her laugh, like he assumed she would, this only soured her expression.

'Trust me, if I was allowed to...It would be.'

Without another word, the copper haired individual made her way down onto the battlegrounds and looked over Shikamaru with narrowed eyes. She remembered him, he was the irritatingly lazy one with the powerful shadow jutsu. As long as she kept her distance, watched her shadows and attacked while he was trying to form seals, she'd be fine.

All she had to do was wait until the match lasted a fair amount of time, then she could fake losing her energy and resign from the match. Orochimaru wouldn't be pleased if she revealed her true strength here. Not that she cared what he thought, but the more he trusted her, the easier her goals would become.

"How troublesome..." Shikamaru grumbled with complain as he looked Akari over as she stopped a far distance from him. "On top of that, it's going to be tough dealing with a girl."

Akari laughed slightly and smirked, crossing her arms with sharp eyes, her seriousness a little unnerving to the young teen. "Just 'cause I'm a woman, doesn't mean I'm not superior t'you in strength..." She sneered, narrowing her eyes at him, not too pleased with his view on women. "This ain't my first Chuunin exam, after all..."

The examiner saw an opportunity then to begin the match. "Sixth match...Shikamaru VS Akari..." He stopped to cough, before swiping out his arm. "Begin!"

Akari didn't move from the place she stood, her brown eyes watching Shikamaru's movements as he stood there, assessing her abilities from their last fight. When it became apparent he wasn't going to make the first move, she huffed with a grin and began to form her beloved fire seals.

"Crap!" Shikamaru gasped, quickly kicking off into a run as the Jounin in disguise inhaled deeply and shot out several fireballs to follow his path, he dodged most of them easily, and actually had to bend himself back at a painful angle just to avert the last one. "Man, that was close..."

"If you're not going to take this seriously, then quit." The redhaired Ninjutsu Expert said, jumping into the air as she formed more signs, this time spitting out several wind bullets.

Shikamaru rolled away from the bullets as Akari landed and quickly he got to his feet, moving his hands with rushed tension as he prepared to use his shadow jutsu. Suddenly the dark silhouette attached to his feet began to stretch out towards her and she jumped back again and again to avoid it.

With a gasp, her back hit the wall and her eyes widened, she didn't hesitate to form some fast signs, too fast for Shikamaru to see clearly. He narrowed his gaze and just as he attached his shadow to her's the figure vanished from sight. "Wh-what?! Bunshin no Jutsu?!"

"Up here!"

Pineapple snapped his head up so he was looking right above, at the ceiling, where Akari stood with her feet attached to the stone structure above their heads. "Peekaboo!" She called out with a sneering grin. Without waiting another second, she forced more Chakra into the soles of her feet and was sent hurtling towards Shikamaru, yanking a kunai from her sleeve in preparation to attack.

Unable to do much else but dodge, he quickly dove back and Akari flipped in mid air, landing carefully on the ground before she rushed at the young Genin with her weapon in hand. However just as she was about to land a blow, which he couldn't do anything against, she vanished from sight.

"Again?!" He gasped, looking around, where was she now?!

Someone cleared their throat behind him and he spun just in time for her to spit out a giant fireball. Unable to get away from it, he let out a pained cry as the flames engulfed him and Akari hopped back to avoid them herself.

"Shikamaru!" Chouji and Ino cried out from the railings and the Oto 'Genin' relaxed her posture, crossing her arms as she awaited him to come back out. She hadn't used enough Chakra to fatally harm him, he would have a few burns, but should still have enough energy to fight.

The flames flickered and faded, leaving a slightly charred Shikamaru still standing, his hands together in the form of his shadow jutsu. Akari gasped and suddenly she felt her entire body seize up and go numb. 'Crap! I underestimated him!'

"Heh..." The burnt Pineapple sneered, raising his eyes to meet her's, pain clouding them. "I stretched my shadow into the shadows caused by the light of the fireball, and followed them until it connected with your's..." He straightened up and dusted himself off, the redhead following suit. "Now I can make you give up."

"I won't allow that!" She lied, this'd be perfect, now she just had to pretend she was low on Chakra and not fight the weaker strength of the jutsu being used on her, then she'd be able to complete her mission at long last.

Shikamaru lifted her hand into the air and glanced at Hayate. "I think she's giving up, Sensei." He told him with a bored tone, and Akari cursed as she faked being breathless and made it look like she was fighting the power of his shadows.

Hayate hummed and looked her over, from where he was standing, it looked like she was struggling, with her current posing level as a Genin, it'd make sense that she'd be unable to fight from this moment on. With a sigh, he raised his hand and gestured to Shikamaru. "Shikamaru wins the match, Akari is forced to retire due to an inability to escape his jutsu..."

"She was doing so well, is she really out of Chakra already?" Sakura asked, looking up at Kakashi, who's eyes narrowed suspiciously. Akari was released from the jutsu and she faked a tsk, before storming off, back up the steps towards Dosu, who watched her every move.

"You could have taken him..." He said, and Akari shrugged, leaning against the railings once again.

"Yeah, I could've...But that ain't the plan, is it?" She looked at him with eyes overflowing with serious determination. "Win your match, the more people we have by the end of it, the better our chances of winning."

"So you acknowledge that you need us?"

"Hah!" Akari's lips curled back in a sharp, cruel grin. "Not a chance, Orochimaru needs you, not me! I ain't no weakling who needs backup like you!"

Dosu huffed at her burning insults but didn't have time to make a comeback as the next names were called, Uzumaki Naruto VS. Inuzuka Kiba.

Well, well, looks like the dropout kid with the loud mouth was up. She wondered how he'd do.

In a matter of moments, the fight was underway, Naruto faced both Kiba and his dog Akamaru with gusto, more than once being knocked down before standing up again. Throughout this, he surprised almost everyone when he showed how much he'd improved, but Akari only smirked in amusement.

Being the dropout in her class during the Chuunin exams, she knew Shinobi like Naruto tended to end up on top in the end. He'd win this in his own way and it would be memorable.

Of course, she didn't think that his memorable victory would be caused by a stray fart and almost collapsed in laughter as the fight drew to a close and Naruto claimed victory with his own take on Sasuke's Shishi Rendan.

The next fight was Hyuuga Vs. Hyuuga as Hinata and Neji took center stage and showed off the power of their Doujutsu, the Byakugan and Negi ended up defeating Hinata who worked hard to change herself and became bold if just for a moment in an attempt to claim victory. Honestly, for a moment, the Redheaded Avenger actually started rooting for her and was disappointed with her loss.

However, it was Lee's fight that had her gripping the railings and forcing back shouts of anguish and irritation as Gaara pummelled him viciously and actually rendered the boy, who had fought on par with the Jinchuuriki and almost won with his Taijutsu skills alone, unable to complete his dreams of becoming a world-class shinobi. If it wouldn't have given her away, she'd have gone down there and shown Gaara a thing or two, even if he was unstable and powerful.

Finally after hours of non-stop fighting, Dosu beating Chouji by a landslide, with very little else to do other than watch, the matches were over and Akari stretched out her arms with a heavy groan. Now she could sit down and relax at long lost.

"With this, the preliminaries for the Third Exam are complete!" Hayate called out, raising his arm in the air to get the attention of the more relaxed Genin. When everyone became alert and prepared for the next explanation, they all made their way down to the rather damaged battlefield and stood before the three examiners and the Hokage who now stood center stage. "To everyone who has advanced to the final round of the third test of the Chuunin Exams, there's one person missing, but congratulations."

Akari had heard enough, knowing full well what would happen next, and not caring either way, she turned and walked from the room with her arms hidden in her comfortable sleeves. For the first time since arriving here, she could relax and have a couple hours without a certain Snake-Eyed Sannin breathing down her neck.

It'd give her time to plan her own affairs more as well. Entertained by the thought, a smirk curled her lips and she stepped out into the hot sunlight and began her endless plotting.

~BHBL~

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Konohagakure, under the hiding shadows of a calm, empty building, a man whom needed no introduction stood against a pillar, looking out at the nearby pond with his white haired subordinate kneeling at his side. "The preliminaries have ended without incident..." Kabuto explained as the light bounced off his glasses, hiding his eyes from view. "It seems they're now entering the Final Round."

Orochimaru listened to his words without response, still staring out at the view, two birds sat on the railings at his side, going about their daily activities without fear of the Snake Summoner. "This land has become peaceful, hasn't it?" He asked with a smirk. "This peaceful time has put this country in slumber...While all the other lands are busy racing to build their military."

The Medic Ninja stood from his spot by Orochimaru's side, his lips also curled back in a similarly twisted way. "Would it be possible for us to take it now?"

The Sannin, staring at his subordinate, huffed with amusement and looked away. "I suppose. Though I don't know how much fun it would be to take out that old man."

"Is that so?"

The tone of Kabuto's voice caused Orochimaru's serpent-like eyes to snap back onto his form suspiciously. "To me, it looks as though you're still hesitating about it. From now on, the power of each village will clash with one another in a long and violent manner. Otogakure is one of them...You intend to be the trigger for all of that..." The frown on his lord's face showed his displeasure in the younger Shinobi's analysis, but he didn't care as he adjusted his glasses and stared at his lord. "And use him for a bullet. Our Sasuke-kun...Right?"

Orochimaru's expression slowly warped back to its usual sinister self as he closed his eyes and turned his head away with a chuckle. "You're as perceptive as usual...It's a bit creepy."

"Not in the slightest. I still had no idea about Dosu, Zaku, or even Kaede...In gathering information about Sasuke, I desired to learn their skills...Well, Dosu and Zaku's, at the very least, and carried out tactless things like deliberately subjecting myself to an attack." His smile fell. "You overestimate me. It seems that...You don't trust me completely...Yet."

"Was it necessary to tell you, my right-hand man, about the likes of those three? You see, there lies the proof of my trust."

He accepted those words but altered the topic slightly. "Perhaps not the youngest two, no..." Kabuto stated, then met Orochimaru's eyes with suspicion. "However Kaede, at the very least, should be mentioned..."

"Oh? Why is that?" His amusement was evident.

With a sigh, the young Medic shifted his glasses as he thought up how to speak about their newest member. "She is a rash, unpredictable individual who shows no loyalty towards you, yet you brought her on such a dangerous, vital mission of your own choosing...My question is why?"

The chuckle he let out would shake even the Hokage himself to the core if he'd heard it. "She may be difficult, however, her Katon Jutsu rival even the Uchiha...She will be a good asset in the final battle against an enemy such as Sarutobi-sensei."

"If you can keep her controlled, that is."

"Do you doubt me?"

"No, I doubt her."

Another huff was heard. "Very well. Getting back to our original topic of conversation..." He watched the birds fly away at the sinister tone his voice took. "Because I trust you, I would like to leave Sasuke-kun in your hands. The Curse Mark that was given to him...Appears to have been sealed by Kakashi. Though that won't matter much. While there is still some darkness in his heart...I want you to abduct him."

Kabuto smirked, the light on his glasses hiding a single eye as he met Orochimaru's gaze. "That's an uncharacteristically hasty request, is it not?"

"There's a little something troubling me..."

"Is it Uzumaki Naruto?"

The Sannin's eyes narrowed as his grin widened. 'You're quite a sharp one, aren't you?' He thought, before shaking off the sense of being read, and continued out loud. "Sasuke-kun has lived for revenge against his older brother Itachi, and will not rest until he has achieved that aim." He remembered the fight he and Sasuke shared. "Nevertheless, in battle with me, he was aware there were things beyond his power and faced death without fear. I didn't think he'd be the type of person who would be in a hurry to die. According to your information, contact with that Kyuubi child has altered Sasuke-kun's heart and mind."

Orochimaru's eyes took on a sharp gleam as he pulled out an information card and lifted it near his face. "So much so, that he possesses some influence over Sasuke-kun. The best thing to do is to get Sasuke-kun away from him immediately..." He looked away and lowered his head as his voice took on a gleeful tone. "And stain him in my colors..."

Kabuto shuddered with discomfort as he watched his master lick his lips with anticipation over his brand-new vessel. "Well, then..." The Medic started, trailing off as he went to walk away, to do his duty.

"Kabuto...You..."

This stopped the young man.

"If you wish to stop me...You have no choice but to kill young Sasuke-kun, now." His eyes, though staring at the weaker man's back, burned holes into them, freezing his insides from the tone of his voice alone and the fear of what expression waited behind him. Unable to stop his human instinct and curiosity, he turned and visibly shook as those slitted pupils narrowed in width. "You can't possibly kill me...Though you are strong, you're only in the same league as Kakashi."

Silence passed between the two, along with a gust of wind, before Orochimaru's expression relaxed and he chuckled. "Just kidding..." He said, though his voice turned light, it was still creepy. "Now, run along I trust you."

Kabuto smiled in response, but his black eyes remained wide and fearful before he jumped up and dashed from roof to roof towards the medical unit in search of their prize.

'That face...I wonder what could possibly be going on in his head?"

Whatever it was, he knew Kabuto would never betray him, he was the only one within his village he could put his full trust into.

Speaking of which, he had other matters to attend to, and with that, disguised himself once more and left to find his 'Genin' and Suna comrades.

Chapter Text

It was only an hour after Orochimaru had dismissed Kabuto that he'd found each and every one of his subordinates and ordered them to gather within the hotel rooms assigned to them for a meeting. Akari was the only one who groaned in response and had a snide remark. "Can't I have five minutes t'myself?!"

But there was no refusing the Sannin's orders, no matter how much she wanted to.

Now she, Dosu, Zak, and Kabuto were all stood in their shared hotel room. Well, Kabuto had his own to avoid suspicion, but for the sake of the meeting, and the healing of their cell, he was here. Orochimaru himself was stood at the window, still wearing his disguise as he leaned against the sill and looked at each and every one of them with a sickening twist of the lips.

"Now that everyone is here..." He started, glancing to Akari who rolled her eyes and looked away, arms crossed as she leaned against the wall. "We can finally begin...I must say, you performed as a good underling should during the first three parts to this exam..."

"Is that your way of praising us?" The unpredictable redhead asked with a sneer, to which the response was a knowing chuckle.

"I don't praise those who work for me often, Kaede...You'd do well to accept it when it is given."

"Please, I'd rather swallow ice water and watch myself die!"

"Then, by all means, we won't stop you..."

A growl left Akari and she gripped her arm with her desire to kill him but held back. He knew she wouldn't end her own life, knew he had her in the palm of his hand during their little arguments, and she hated it. Until she could end him, she had no power over his words.

Once he was certain she wouldn't interrupt again, he continued. "The first part of our plan is now over, and until the climax next month, I want you to train and prepare yourselves for the battle ahead."

Zaku tsked with disappointment as he looked between the other three in the room, he had failed, so unlike Akari, who had a special part in the final battle, he was now useless. "Hm, hm, don't worry, Zaku..." Orochimaru said, getting the young teen's attention. His eyes were sinister, yet honest. "I have a special mission for you on the day of Konoha's destruction...Do not disappoint me."

The Genin's face lit up with hope, a hope to mend the bad reputation he'd been given with his losses and be of use to his lord. "Yeah!" He accepted, with a strong nod and determined tone.

"Hm, hm, hm...I'll conclude our little meeting there." The Sannin stood up and crossed his arms. "Kabuto will tend to your injuries, and you'll be free to travel Konoha as you please...Do not break your disguise or discuss our plans to anyone outside this room. Any attempts at doing so will be..." His eyes narrowed and a shiver of fear passed up almost everyone in the room, Akari just looked elsewhere, not truly caring about his warnings, she'd heard these words time and time again already. "...Severely punished."

And with that, he left and Kabuto began to heal each of their wounds, one at a time.

~BHBL~

The week passed fairly quickly after that meeting, Akari had spent two days wandering Konoha with what little money she had and tried the local curry, done some sightseeing and even window-shopped for a new Icha-Icha volume. Sadly she was just short on Ryo for that one. The rest of the week she spent training, upping her physical strength and failing Taijutsu skills for the upcoming battle if Sarutobi cornered her, she needed some way to defend herself without causing herself harm in the process, since Katon had a tendency to backlash on the person using it.

After nearly a full day of kicking and punching a log until her skin blistered and she was sweating more water than she even held in her body, she made her way back to the shared hotel room, tugging a bandage around her left hand with her teeth. "Any injury gained is a step forward..." She mumbled as she looked around the city.

There were kids playing Ninja in the streets, and her slightly serious features warped into a soft smile, she remembered all the times she, Takeshi and Shinako would play in the desert heat. Takeshi would try and best Kaede at everything, Shinako would need constant praise or her confidence would wane, and she herself would go overboard almost all the time.

It was a much simpler, happier time.

With a heavy sigh of loss and resentment, she stopped at the door of the hotel and gripped the handle a little tighter with her bandaged fist. The memories of her precious friends chasing her in an attempt to apprehend her came to mind, and she tsked, grinding her teeth together as her skin took on a soft glow.

Now she was trapped in Hell, and the only way out was to kill the Devil himself.

Taking a deep breath to calm her anger enough, her skin fading to an almost unnoticeable gleam, she went inside and up to the hotel room for a nap. However as she reached the door, she heard voices inside and hummed, peeking through the slight gap in the wooden barrier to see Orochimaru and the Suna Jounin that had accompanied Gaara, Temari, and Kankuro, sharing a conversation of a sinister nature.

"Our plans were overhead by the proctor of the last exam..." The Jounin said with a deep, serious voice as he stood before the all-powerful Sannin, who was staring at the view out the window as he listened. "However I dealt with the situation quickly, ANBU will find his body, but I left no trace, so right now, we're safe."

"Hmmm, it was bound to happen at some point." The Snake-Eyed Shinobi said idly, glancing at the Jounin from the corner of his eye. "Any rat, no matter how small, must be exterminated if it poses a threat..." His lips curled back in a grin. "Now, is there another reason you approached me? I have matters to tend to."

"Yes...Gaara lost control of his Bijuu the other night, and killed one of your Oto Shinobi..." Akari gasped and her chocolate brown eyes widened as she overheard this. However, she ducked behind the wooden barrier so she wasn't visible when Orochimaru's head tilted further back, possibly aware of her presence already, however, the Jounin was oblivious as he feared the Lord's reaction.

"Hm, hm, hm...No matter." The deathly pale man said with a grin, fangs gleaming in the sunlight. "He was a mere guinea pig...He served his purpose long ago and had become useless...You did me a favor."

She couldn't believe what she was hearing, bile rose in her throat and she grimaced sickeningly at the man she had to make nice with. He would just scrap his subordinates who worshipped his every word as if they were old dolls he'd gotten bored of.

Slowly, due to her still lingering irritation and disgust, her skin took on a gentle orange glow once again and she let out a small growl.

"Then we'll continue as planned?" The Jounin asked while Orochimaru peeked behind him, able to see her glow from here. "The Kazekage desires war...He wants to show the Daimyo what Shinobi are really for, not peace and protection, but battle and bloodshed!"

The passion in his words, the strength he held, despite his off reasoning forced Akari into a state of growing anger, her teeth ground together and her skin crackled with the threat of flames. 'So the Kazekage is the reason this Oto-Suna alliance is a thing! He turns on his allies just like he turns on his own soldiers, the two-faced bastard!'

Orochimaru's eyes narrowed, he'd noticed since before they arrived, her anger levels had been slowly increasing, he could feel heat resonating from her even this far inside the room. If she continued, not only would she injure herself and put a wrench in his plans, but she'd set fire to the building, putting him in danger as well.

He had to find a way to calm her down.

"That'll be all." The Sannin told the Jounin, who looked confused. However, when the white-skinned man's snake-like eyes narrowed dangerously, he got the message and bid Orochimaru farewell before leaving.

Now alone, he walked over to the door and opened it, staring down at Akari, who was stood there, leering at his feet as her shoulders rose and fell with the sound of harsh breathing and scraping teeth. By the looks of her orange, sparking skin and wide, bloodthirsty eyes, he had little time to calm her before she'd lose herself and burst into flames.

"Come with me." He said simply, walking down the corridor, expecting her to follow, even with her stubborn nature. However, he turned when he heard her make an angry noise and punch the wall behind him. She was shaking, her eyes shining with unshed tears as she thought of everything she'd been through, everything she was going to go through, and how deceitful her former village actually was.

Orochimaru's breath in her ear broke her from her thoughts. "Calm down." He said seriously, not even a hint of his usual smile on his stoic, pale features. "If you lose your temper here, you'll put yourself in danger and you'll be revealed to the Suna Shinobi...Do you want that?"

She snarled and gripped the wall with her hand, her knuckles bleeding through the bandage as her fingers turned white against the wooden paneling. "Come with me." He repeated, and finally she caved, following the man she hated the most from the building, towards the Training Grounds were many Genin had been tested during their Academy years.

Once they arrived, Orochimaru stood a fair distance from her, his arms crossed, looking down his nose at her. "We're sparring." He told her, his tone telling her there was no backing out.

Akari sneered, her crackling had calmed just enough for her to focus on asking questions. "Why?"

"Your anger has been boiling since we arrived, you'll vent it through this spar."

With a huff of anger and amusement, she got into a fighting stance. "Y'don't have t'tell me twice!" She then let out a roar and ran at Orochimaru, if she was going to vent, she was going to punch him, that was the desire she held right now.

She swung her bandaged fist at him, but he dodged it easily, allowing her a few more attempted blows before he began to participate. He flipped back from a kick and ran at her, thrusting out his own fist, which she caught, however, he wasn't easily beaten as he twisted his body around and slammed his foot into the top of her head.

She slipped on the grass and her head bounced off the ground as she let out a pained gasp. "Get up." He told her, and she growled, getting to her knees before she swung her foot out and he jumped back once again to avoid being tripped. "Has the anger ruined your ability to fight? You're nowhere near as concentrated as before."

"Shut up!" Akari snapped, rushing forward, letting out a stream of punches, each one blocked and dodged as Orochimaru moved around in a circle, to avoid being pinned. He watched as her expression warped, and her anger mixed with a look of pure turmoil and aggravation.

There it was.

The Sannin bent back, almost having to place his hands on the ground behind him to stop his back snapping, jus to avoid one particularly hard blow. He then shot his foot up, slamming it against her chin, sending her hurtling into the air. "Damn it, damn it, damn it!" She cried out in a curse as tears pricked her eyes and she formed signs, spitting a large stream of fire towards him.

She couldn't focus, think of anything even remotely strategy based during this fight, what the hell was going on? Was he right, was her anger affecting her performance?!

Distracted by her concerns, she didn't see Orochimaru dodge her fire, and jump into the air, until the moment he was right in front of her face. With a reel and a noise of panic, she barely had time to register anything before his pale knuckles slammed into her cheek and she was sent hurtling back, bouncing off the ground several times before she rolled to a stop by one of the log posts in the ground.

The Snake-Eyes Shinobi landed a small distance from her dirty, battered form and crossed his arms seriously. "Stand up, we're not finished."

Akari forced herself to her knees, but fell again, choking back a sob. As she raised a second time, the dam broke and the tears she'd been holding on to finally spilled down her disguised, pale cheeks. She curled into a small ball as she tried to force them back, but ended up letting out an angry noise, slamming her fist into the ground repeatedly in anger as curse after curse left her hoarse throat.

Orochimaru watched with no change to his expression as she hit the dirt so hard her bandages ripped and her knuckles bled sluggishly. Closing his eyes with a huff of breath, he turned and left, knowing when a Ninja, no matter how powerful, needed a moment to compose themselves, they'd prefer to do it alone.

With a puff of smoke, he vanished from the training ground and Akari slowly vented the pain and suffering she'd held back for so long already. The grass ripped away from the ground as did the skin of her knuckles and by the time she'd finished, the dirt was visible and soaked in her blood.

She sat there, calming from her fit, her skin dimming until it took on the fake pale tone she adorned during her mission. Her eyes were bloodshot and squinting with the burn of the saltwater tears that no longer ran down her cheeks.

With a deep breath, she sat back on her calves and looked up at the stars in the sky, the sun had set during her rage, and now she was alone in the cold, damp training grounds. Closing her eyes, she couldn't deny how much better she felt now like a weight had been lifted from her chest that had gotten heavier and heavier as each day passed.

Slowly the Ninjutsu Expert got to her feet and ran her fingers through her spikey red hair as she let the last of her emotions drain away with her exhaustion. She would never accept or admit to the small part of her mind that was grateful that Orochimaru forced her to do this.

No, if she did, it would ruin her entire reason to live.

~BHBL~

Within an hour of finally relaxing after the emotional breakdown, Akari made her way back to the hotel room, and paused as she stepped inside when she saw Orochimaru sat at the window, where he usually remained, staring at her with those cold snake-like eyes which almost glowed in the moonlight. She made no expression of gratitude, and not even one of hate as she closed her eyes and continued until she entered her room.

However he didn't leave her in peace, he was at the door by the time she went to lay down and she groaned at his presence. "What d'you want now?" She asked, irritation in her fairly deep voice.

"This is only the beginning of your training..." He told her with a hiss in his voice. "For the next month, you will vent your emotions through spars and focus your mind for the fight ahead...Fail me, because of your weakness, and you will be killed, is that understood?"

Akari glared at him, her lips tightening together with a desire to refuse, but she knew that'd just set her back a fair distance. Huffing tiredly and in no mood to counter his complaints, she rolled onto her side and closed her eyes. "Fine, don't forget t'slam the door in your face as y'leave."

A chuckle left him and the door closed carefully, almost too carefully. Oh, he was an ass, she couldn't wait to cause some serious harm during their next sparring session.

With a smirk at the mental image, she rolled onto her back once again and placed both hands on her flat, toned stomach, allowing herself to drift into a dreamless sleep.

~BHBL~

It was a hot, sunny, dry day in Sunagakure as Kaede sat within one of her favorite cafes, wearing her Suna flak jacket and forehead protector. What confused her the most, was that she still remembered the Chuunin Exams and that she was on a break for the month, so when and how did she end up back in her hometown.

The bell hanging above the wooden door rang cheerfully as someone walked in and the older woman's eyes widened when a man with spikey blonde hair and fuscia eyes walked in with a warm, loving smile on his thin lips. "K-Kiyoshi?!" She gasped, standing up as he walked over and wrapped his arms around her in a strong hug. "I thought y'were dead!"

"Shhh, nevermind that..." He said, not outwardly denying it, confusing his ex-wife further as the two sat down and Kiyoshi ordered himself a coffee. "Do you want anything?" He asked, noting her lack of beverage.

"...No, no I'm fine..." She waved her hand dismissively, too dumbstruck to really think about drinking anything.

"Fair enough...So..." It was then that his smile twisted into something far more sinister, far closer to another smirk she knew all too well, the pupils of his once kind eyes turning into slits. "How is it, working for Orochimaru-sama?"

In an instant, she raised her defenses and glared at him, unsure what to make of this entire situation. "Why...?"

"Hm, hm, hm...Because you're starting to look so much alike~"

"What d'you-" She went to touch her face, and gasped, lifting her hand out in front of her as she noticed her tanned flesh had bleached near white within an instant. "Wh-what?!" Without hesitation, she stood and ran into the bathroom, skidding to a halt by the mirror.

Horrified, she stared at what she hoped wasn't her reflection. Her eyes were snake-like and tinted yellow, the same yellow as the Sannin's own irises. Both her canines were now fangs and she had purple accents over her eyelids. The only thing that remained its natural color was her hair, and even that was growing in length and turning black around the roots.

"Th-this can't be happening!" She cried out, however when she heard someone enter she turned, expecting Kiyoshi to explain what was going on, but instead was met with several people in different outfits, all transforming into the man she despised.

As they moved closer and closer, she panicked and pulled out a kunai, looking to each of them in fear. "Keep away from me!" She screamed but had no time to defend herself as the floor opened beneath her and she fell into the maw of a giant snake.

...However she wasn't dead, instead, she slowly opened her, now brown eyes, finding herself not in the pit of the snake's stomach, but in a familiar black abyss, and gasped, lifting her hands to inspect them. They were tanned and scarred like they usually were. What was going on? Her attention didn't remain on her hands for very long when she spotted deep red liquid on the ground around her and focused her attention there.

Terror and disbelief shook her body as she inspected the many bodies surrounding her now blood-soaked form, all of them she knew, all of them her family and friends, now dead, their blank eyes staring up or away lifelessly. "N-no..." The Ninjutsu Expert tried to back away, however, her spine made contact with something solid, yet not solid enough to be a wall.

Going rigid, she carefully looked over her shoulder and anger swarmed through her within a second when she saw Orochimaru stood behind her, his glowing yellow eyes and leering grin the only things she could see in her tunnel vision.

"Well done, Kaede..." He said, confusing her, snapping her out of her anger. Slowly it clicked what he meant and she looked down at her hands, opening her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. Blood caked her palms, it was even buried in her nails like she'd clawed at her victims, ripping off their flesh, despite not remembering a thing.

"Now I can truly trust you as my subordinate..."

With a sharp scream, Akari shot up, gripping the sheets of her bed, her pale skin soaked in sweat and her usually alive, brown eyes were now filled with horror and confusion. "Th-the hotel room?" She breathed, looking around at the familiar surroundings. Slowly relaxing ever so slightly as she leaned back against the headboard, running her fingers through her, thankfully, short hair. "Just a nightmare...Another nightmare..."

Closing her eyes, she let out a deep sigh and replayed the dream in her head, again and again, analyzing every single meaning it could have had. Would she end up going that far, just to end his life? Would she kill all her loved ones for a single scrap of revenge?

Just the thought made her stomach sink and reawakened some emotions she wished she could push back but knew was not humanly possible. Even a monster felt remorse for its victims once in a while.

However her morality had been waning recently as she had planned, but the weight of fear that fell onto her chest made it harder to breathe, harder to trust herself and her motives. 'I...Need some air...'

The rational, to a point, Kunoichi stood silently and slipped on her sandals, listening to the heavy clack as she left her room to wander the silent streets of Konoha below. It must have been late, barely any lights were on outside her window, and only the sound of the wind could be heard.

With a heavy sigh, she passed Orochimaru's room before pausing, a dark, irrational thought slipping into her mind for a second, sticking like glue. 'What if y'kill him now, save yourself the trouble and return to Sunagakure a hero...'

Though she doubted the hero part, there was a growing desire in the pit of her stomach, replacing the fear that had settled there and she shifted slightly so she was facing his door. Even though the clever, calculating part of her mind screamed for her to stop and back away before she was caught, she reached out and grasped the handle with her scarred hand, reminding her why she wanted him dead in the first place.

With a deep breath, and little to no hesitation, she opened the wooden barrier silently and peeked inside enough to gauge the situation. The fear that shot through her when she found his bed empty was enough to bring her back to reality and she backed away from the room with wide eyes.

However that wasn't the end of it, only two steps back, and she collided with a hard chest, reminding far too much of her nightmare, and stiffened up in terror and dread. Why else would she be by his room unless she planned to murder him? She had to think of something to say, some sort of excuse for the question she knew was coming.

"What are you doing here?" His sinister voice drawled with confusion, glaring at her with slightly glowing, snake-like eyes and a soft hiss to his voice. He had heard her scream, knew she had, had a nightmare, but the last thing he'd expect was for her to come to him about it.

No, she had to have another reason for opening his door, and he had a feeling he knew what it was.

Quickly turning, she met his gaze and could almost taste the suspicion in those slitted pupils she hated the most. "I..." She snapped out of it and straightened up, crossing her arms with a glare of her own. "I was going t'ask if y'could train me, since the mission is tomorrow, and I'm still not sure my Taijutsu is at a level that it can save me if I get into a situation where my Ninjutsu is useless..."

She could tell immediately that he didn't truly believe her lies when his eyes narrowed slightly. However, he closed them with a devious smirk and chuckled. "Hm, so you admit you need my guidance? I never thought I'd live to see the day~"

'Neither did I.' Akari thought nastily, trying not to grimace at his words. "Don't get too cocky, Snake Eyes!" She retorted as she went to leave the apartment. "For all y'know, I'll end up kicking your ass in our next spar!"

"That'll be a first." He taunted cruelly as she scoffed and left. Staring after her, the devilish Sannin's smirk fell and he looked back at the door she'd opened. He was right to leave a black snake in the shadows to watch his room for intruders.

What was she planning? Though he had his suspicions and knew they were most likely correct, he would allow her to roam free for a little longer, her actions and reactions were interesting, especially with the strange split in her personality he had seen more recently than he had during her time in captivity.

He licked his lips slowly. He would continue to watch her interactions, and if she showed any more signs of traitorous behavior or murderous intent, he would kill her without question.

He was not so forgiving when it came to his own life.

Chapter Text

It had been a full month since the Preliminary Matches leading up to the Finals, and Akari had done nothing but train for the past twelve hours in preparation. Right now, she was lying in her comfortable bed, the sun's rays shining down over her face as she sprawled out with her arm covering her eyes, trying to nap for at least an hour so she'd be able to focus when she was actually needed.

Of course, sleep did not come easily to her, as she imagined what would happen when the final battle took place, the moment she and Orochimaru would kill Sarutobi Hiruzen, the Third Hokage, in cold blood. Her life would be over, she wouldn't be able to ever clear her name...Was it really worth revenge?

Her mind returned to her family, her friends, all chasing her out of the village without giving her a chance to explain herself and she clenched the fist of the arm draped over her nose. 'I don't have time t'be worrying about this now...' She thought as she finally peeked out from under the limb, squinting away the harsh light as her eyes adjusted. 'If I lose my cool and chicken out, I'll never kill that son of a bitch...'

The Ninjutsu Expert sat up, slightly hunched as her hair darkened her eyes, not shielding them though, her bangs weren't long enough for that. 'My life, the Hokage's life, means nothing t'me anymore...All I care about is killing Orochimaru...'

Little did she know, if that had been said out loud, she would have heard how much she sounded like the Sannin in question. Her morality had finally became the scrap she'd forced it to be, her fears last night forgotten. She knew if she thought more of them, let herself give into her terror, then she'd never lift the weight of her torment from her shoulders, the weight of all those experiments, those years she would never get back.

The family she could have had if she had just been there long enough to meet someone else.

A growl of aggravation left her and she clenched her fist against the sheets until her knuckles were white and her skin was glowing. Without hesitation, she stood and prepared for the fight, slipping, reluctantly, into the Jounin level Otogakure uniform Orochimaru had prepared for her final battle.

The redhead with attitude stared in the mirror when she was done, looking over her scarred cheeks and sharp fang once more, before she tied the Oto Forehead Protector around her skull, glaring at herself with disgust before she turned and left without another word. Orochimaru was stood by the window, as he usually was, and turned his head slightly to see her from the corner of his eye.

She felt bile rise in her throat as he looked her up and down and smirked, like he was relishing in the thought of her being forced to accept her role in this mission. "Hm, hm, you seem rather tense, Kaede-chan~" He said, moving so he was fully facing her, his arms crossed as he leaned against the wooden frame of the window. "Is the uniform too tight?"

"Kiss my ass." She snapped back, walking towards the door.

"And where do you think you're going? If you're trying to run, my forces around the wall of the village will alert me of your betrayal, and I will kill you myself."

The former Suna Jounin had to bark out a laugh as she looked at him over her shoulder with her usual cocky grin. "Its not like you t'assume, Orochimaru. I'm just going t'watch the daimyo and other special guests enter the town, is that a crime?"

"Perhaps, depends on what you do to them." He chuckled darkly and Akari just rolled her eyes and opened the door. "I want you at the stadium at least ten minutes before the matches start...Or I'll personally come looking for you..."

"Hm, funny that..." Akari turned and leaned against the open wooden barrier, a hand on her hip while she rested the other above her head in an arrogant manner. "You've threatened to kill me multiple times, but I don't see y'going through with it...Might want t'put your money where your mouth is if y'want me to take y'seriously."

With that, she turned and sauntered off, leaving Orochimaru to glare at her, both amused and irritated by her response to his threats. She was right, he had been rather lenient in going through with them ever since he found out about her overwhelming power with Katon. However it wasn't just that, her reactions were far more amusing than even Kabuto's to his usual jokes and taunts.

No matter, he knew if she betrayed him in this mission, her life would be forfeit, her use mattered more than his own entertainment, once that little mouse stopped squeaking, he'd dispose of it and find a more lively prey.

~BHBL~

Akari soon found herself at the entrance to the village, acknowledging the many glares and suspicious glances she got from Konohagakure Shinobi. They probably knew about her mission, Orochimaru wasn't exactly keeping it a secret, and if he was, he wasn't doing a good job of it. Hell, that little stunt of Sasuke was probably what tipped them off, and it still pissed her off to this second.

Letting out a grunt of irritation, she watched with slightly harder eyes as the daimyo and other esteemed guests flooded through the gates with fanfare. She could already see a familiar cart from here, one with the Wind Symbol on it, Sunagakure's Kazekage was here. Her eyes widened and she ground her teeth together in frustration.

He was the one to exile her, to make her a villain in her own town without any evidence that she committed the murder of Hamada Kiyoshi. Clenching her fist, she took deep breaths, implementing the anger management techniques she'd learned throughout the month as she watched the cart pass her. 'Calm down...Not now, if y'lose your temper, its all over...'

With one final breath, her glow faded and she looked at the 'parade' of sorts once more before she stuffed her hands into the pockets of her new uniform and turned, leaving the area without a word. She spent the next hour or so wandering the town, and taking in the sights properly before she finally made her way to the arena, with fifteen minutes to spare before the tournament began.

The reckless Redhead hadn't taken Orochimaru's warning into account, she wanted to get there early to watch the fights unfold like everyone else. Hell, she wanted to see that Naruto kid make it through more than anyone else, since he reminded her of herself when she was that age.

When she arrived, she was shown to her seat, and she took note of the ANBU stationed everywhere, it seemed they'd upped the security since Sasuke's mark had been shown off during his preliminary match against Yoroi. Not that it mattered, she knew that paranoid asshole had planned ahead and probably had something in place for such a situation.

Her attention was regained when she saw movement in the spectator area above her's, where two thrones sat, one harbouring the Hokage, while the Kazekage walked towards the other with two guards at his sides.

She wasn't aware that both she and Gaara had murderous looks on their faces as they both stared at the same man who took a seat on the second throne. For once, if she had been aware, she may have seen why Gaara had gone insane, after all, the Sand Leader was a cruel tyrant who wanted nothing more than to show the rest of the nations what he was made of.

And she hated it.

The Third Hokage soon stood, breaking her thoughts, and walked up to the railing, taking a deep breath before he called out for everyone to hear. "Everyone, thank you very much for coming to the Konohagakure Chuunin Exam! We will now begin the 'Final Round' matches for the eight who made it through the preliminaries!" Everyone's voices lowered then just a fraction more than they had already, and only a buzz of excitement could be heard from all directions. "Please watch until the end!"

Cheers filled the arena and Akari actually had to cover one of her ears for a moment as the man at her side screamed so loud, she thought she may have gone deaf. She continued to stare at the grounds below though as he did this, and something in her mind clicked. 'Wait...True there were eight at first, but I only see seven...Sasuke's missing.'

Her chocolate brown, ringed eyes scanned the area for any signs of Orochimaru, and she wondered if he and Kabuto had anything to do with the dissapearance. She sighed and leaned back a little more in her chair, gripping her arm tightly as she thought of what could have happened, and what that kid would go through if her suspicions were correct.

Her thoughts however, were interrupted when Genma, she was sure that was his name, spoke up, the senbon in his mouth clicking against his teeth as he did so, just audible over the dying cries of the crowd. "I have something to tell you before the match." He reached into his flak jacket and retrieved a sheet of paper, pulling it out and unfolding it for the competitors to see. From this angle, Akari couldn't read what was on it, but going by their shock, she assumed it had something to do with Dosu's death. "There was a slight change to the tournament. Check who you'll be facing one more time."

Yep, she was right, now if only she got a prize.

"Say...Say!" Naruo started, raising his hand to get Genma's attention, which worked as the man looked right at the Genin while stuffing the sheet of parchment back into his jacket. "Ummm, Sasuke still hasn't come." He looked at the door as he rubbed the back of his head, then turned back to the one he was speaking to. "What'll happen?"

"In that case, if a competitor doesn't arrive by the start time of his match..." The proctor snapped his jaw shut, forcing the senbon to snap up too, pointing towards the sky. "He or she will lose by default!"

'Oh I always hated that rule...' Akari thought to herself, as she remembered one of her exams where she'd slept in after training most of the night, and almost got disqualified because she ran the full length of Sunagakure to reach the arena.

"Listen up, everyone." Genma started, placing his hands on his hips. "The terrain is different, but the rule is that there are no rules, the same as the preliminaries. The matches will continue until one or the other dies, of acknowledges defeat. However if I judge that it has been settled, I'll stop the match there. Arguments will not be allowed. Understood?"

They all had determined expressions and the proctor didn't need a response to know they got it. "So the first match is...Uzumaki Naruto and Hyuga Neji. Just those two remain and the rest of you go the observation balcony."

With a nod from each of them, the others left the arena and both Neji and Naruto were left glaring at one another, disagreement obvious between them, even without words.

Once the audience was filled with people who had arrived slightly late, including Hinata and Kiba, the fighting finally began.

At first there was little action, only some bickering between Neji and Naruto about how fate can't be avoided and that fate is in the hands of the person who chooses to go against it, etc etc. Akari wasn't really paying attention to any of that, she did agree that someone's fate was their own choosing, but honestly she just wanted to see Naruto overcome the odds of the battle and show that Neji what he was made of.

However during the fight something surprised her, a figure in ANBU clothing stepped up behind her and tapped on the back of her chair in a precise series of patterns, using the cheering and mumblings around him to ensure she was the only one to hear. Morse code.

THIS IS KABUTO, ACT NATURAL...I AM DISGUISED AS ONE OF THE ANBU. I WILL GIVE A SIGNAL WHEN THE PLAN IS PUT INTO MOTION, YOU CAN'T MISS IT. DON'T ACT UNTIL THEN.

With a cough hiding a nod, the ANBU who she knew to be Orochimaru's right hand man, retook his place right behind her, since she'd been given a seat at the back of the massive stands, aimed high above the battle ground below.

Akari would be lying if she said she didn't feel sick to her stomach over the whole thing, but she kept her goals in mind, and sat there, arms crossed as she kept her eyes on the match below, forcing back the nausia so she could focus.

But it seemed luck wasn't on her side, while Naruto struggled to fight through Neji's ultimate defense and his Hakke Rokujuyon Sho, Hinata, the girl Neji fought before, collapsed from her previous injuries and the ANBU she knew to be Kabuto took her away to be healed. Whatever he was planning, she knew she had to stay out of it, and with a little concern for the blue-haired girl, she forced her eyes back to the match.

Naruto had started off slow in the fight, almost losing as he could hardly stand. However he eventually won when he managed to summon the Kyuubi's chakra, even after Orochimaru had sealed it away. He then fought on par with Neji for quite some time before feining a loss, by letting his Shadow Clone act as his defeated form, as he burrowed underground before bursting out to hit Neji in the chin hard enough to immobalize him.

The standing ovation he got from the audience was enough to pull a grin on her once serious lips as she clapped alongside them. The kid deserved the praise. "Heh, well done, kiddo." Akari thought to herself as she relaxed in her chair, having leaned forward to see how it ended. "Fate can be changed, if y'believe in y'self enough to take hold and mould it into whatever shape y'want."

She glanced up at the Kazekage, who looked utterly shocked by Naruto's victory and smirked. 'Just 'cause we're dropouts, doesn't mean we can't change the world...I'll show you that firsthand when I take down Orochimaru...Kazekage-sama..."

Meanwhile, unaware of her words, the Kazekage sat there, chuckling to himself as his shock turned to amusement, a grin spreading over his lips under the cloth covering his lower face from view. "The crowd is noisy." He pointed out as the cheers continued at a roaring level.

"That was a nice battle." Sarutobi commented in response, rather pleased with the 'failure's' win.

"Yes. That too, but..." The Sunagakure Leader glanced over at his ally. "But the next match is something the head ninja, and the daimyo are highly antiscipating." After all, it was against Suna's own Jinchuuriki and Konaha's only surviving member of the Uchiha Clan. "By the way, I did not see him at the opening ceremony, but he is already here, correct?"

"Yes..." The hesitation he could hear in Hiruzen's voice was enough to confirm that his words didn't ring true, and it was confirmed further when his guard stepped over and whispered some vital information in his ear pertaining to their conversation.

Sadly he didn't catch every word, just 'Sasuke,' 'Orochimaru' and 'uproar.' This was enough for him to know they had no idea where Sasuke was, and if he was even showing up at all.

Pretty soon after this little relevation, said uproar began and people complained that the next match should have already started, and that they needed to hurry up. Time was running short, and if they didn't move on soon, they'd lose sponsors and jobs for their precious village.

Akari's eyes narrowed as she thought over the possible scenarios for Sasuke's absense and carefully tapped the wooden chair hard enough for Kabuto to hear over the complaints.

WHAT DID YOU DO WITH SASUKE?

She didn't catch his chuckle over the noise but he did respond.

I DON'T KNOW WHAT GAVE YOU THAT IDEA, KAEDE-SAN, BUT EVEN OUR EYES AND EARS CANNOT LOCATE SASUKE-KUN AT THE MOMENT.

Akari's eyebrows knit together with confusion and she looked back at the empty arena, where the proctor alone stood. Orochimaru didn't have him, so where the hell was he?

The Hokage let out a heavy sigh. "I have no choice..." He finally said, getting both the Kazekage and his attendant's attentions. "Sasuke is disqualified."

"Sir!" His guard responded acceptingly but the Kazekage wouldn't allow it.

"Uchiha Sasuke, disqualified?"

"I must..." His friend replied with a solemn tone.

"Hokage-dono, can you hold on before disqualifying Uchiha Sasuke?"

The Hokage was confused by his words, his attentant butting in. "Pardon the interruption, but those who think lightly of time as a shinobi...Have no right to become Chuunin, no matter how elite they are. Unless there is a clear explanation that will convince the head ninja and the daimyo here...There is no reason to wait for him."

The Kazekage listened intently before he sighed and closed his eyes, turning his head away. "I see." His fingers twitched, moving to avoid cramp. "Then there is a good reason."

This shocked the attendant.

"Including me, I can say that most of the head ninja and daimyo here came to watch the next match."

"But..."

"He is a survivor of the Uchiha, after all. The Kaze no Kuni wishes for him to fight our Gaara."

The Third sighed and lowered his head, eyes closed as he thought this over, even with his attendant whispering words of warning in his ear. He then raised his head with resolve in his small eyes. "Very well. We will put his match on hold and wait for him."

The Kazekage nodded with approval. "Hokage-sama, are you sure...?" The guard at his side asked.

"Tell the examiner." With that, the conversation ended, the attendant accepted his lord's words and dissappeared into a cloud of smoke using the Shunshin no Jutsu, the Hokage now alone with the Kazekage and his two guards. "But..." Sarutobi continued looking over to his ally. "It was rare for you to say that much, Kazekage..."

"I can think of no other opponent besides an Uchiha to show our village's ninja's quality to the daimyo." He closed his eyes. "It is a chance for us."

Finally, the attendant finished explaining to Genma what was happening and used Shunshin once again to take his place by the Hokage's side. "Ladies and Gentlemen!" The examiner called over the roars of anger. "An examinee for the next match hasn't arrived yet. Therefore this match will be delayed and we will begin the next match first."

This only worsened the complaints, and Akari sighed, looking at the many dissapointed faces in the crowd. Honestly, despite intentionally numbing herself to death and causing it, she was glad Sasuke wasn't here yet. She hadn't been around for the worst of Gaara's outbreaks, but she knew how dangerous he was. Sasuke would most likely have died in that battle.

"Next match up..." Genma called out, calming the uproars once again. "Kankuro and Aburame Shino. Come down." His tone made it sound as if he just wanted these matches to end so he could go home. Akari had to agree with that tone, honestly. She wanted to sit at home and read, that's all she'd wanted for ten years.

It was almost as if Kankuro heard their innermost desires, when he next spoke. "Examiner. I'm giving up!" When Genma didn't react, but everyone else did, he repeated himself just to be on the safe side. "I'm giving up! Go to the next match."

Now the screams returned and Akari just groaned with irritation, putting a finger in one of her ears as she was at the end of the row and the person next to her let out a loud yell in anger. 'I used t'love tournaments and spars, guess it's just ain't the same when you're stuck in the crowd.' She then narrowed her eyes as she thought over Kankuo's response to his turn. Honestly with how he acted in the preliminaries, defeat seemed out of character for him, she could only assume that this was part of their overall mission to destroy Konoha.

"Kankuro has given up, therefore Aburame Shino wins by default." The Examiner announced with a sigh.

Temari, who was getting very sick of the whining, yanked her fan from her back and swished it through the air, sending a massive gust of wind into the stands, silencing the uproar as she rode it down to the arena ground below.

"And you are?" Genma asked.

"It's my turn, right?" Temari asked in response, reflecting his question.

"Looks like you want to do this." He said, as a dig towards Kankuro's cowardise. "Okay, we're going to start the next match. Hey!" He called out, looking directly at Shikamaru. "The other one! Get down here." When Pineapple didn't move, he emphasised his meaning. "Nara Shikamaru, it's you."

He contemplated giving up, but Naruto, with his boundless energy, wouldn't let that happen. He actually hit Shikamaru that hard in the back, he fell from the observation area, and landed hard in the arena. Akari actually laughed at that. 'Nice one, Naruto!'

The fight between Temari and Shikamaru was a slow starter, like Naruto's fight. Pineapple spent a lot of the time hiding away, thinking through strategies and gauging his opponent's skills, before he actually began to engage as well. He tried to catch her by waiting for the surface area of the shadows to enlarge as the sun went down before using his jacket to create a larger shadow in the middle of his stretched one when it just wouldn't reach. However she was too quick and managed to avoid capture.

"Temari..." Akari said out loud, her arms crossed as she too analysed the fight as it was happening. 'She's pretty good...From what I've experienced, this Shikamaru is a genius with strategies, but she can come up with them just as easily...She's really grown up since I left."

The wind-user from Sunagakure underestimated him however and was eventually caught thanks to the shadows that remained in the hole Naruto had dug for himself to gain victory in his last match. He moved her to the centre and raised his hand to finish the battle, only to give up.

Akari nearly fell out of her chair in shock. "What?!" She called out, surprised at herself for getting so engaged in the matches. 'He had the win right in his hands, why did he...?' The uproar from Sasuke's delayed match returned with a vengence with this latest development, nearly deafening the poor woman.

Genma however smirked. "Winner, Temari."

'You definitely ain't a Genin, kid...' The Redhead thought to herself as she watched him massage the side of his neck with a pout. 'Even at Chuunin level, I could only come up with half the strategies you've come up with...Hell, I only just surpassed you at Jounin level, and that's only 'cause I've got more life experience! Guess natural born genius' outgrow their elders...'

She smirked and uncrossed her arms, placing it over the back of the bench she sat on, while the other rested against her thigh. 'I'm getting old~' As the older woman thought this, her younger reincarnation of sorts jumped out and began lecturing Shikamaru for giving up. 'The world's leaving me behind...'

The complains faded to curious questions and conversations as they realized that Sasuke's match was next, Akari couldn't help the twist in her gut at the knawing sense she knew was incoming danger. Whenever Gaara was mentioned, she felt it. She knew from before her kidnapping that he was Suna's Jinchuuriki, but other than that and the few catastrophies he'd caused in Suna before her departure that he was not a force to be reckoned with.

It was annoying how quickly the mood in the audience changed as they began to complain again and Akari wished she could shut them up. While she was contemplating standing and screaming for them to wait patiently, the Hokage's attendant whispered to his lord, once again the Kazekage could only make out some of the words.

'Sasuke' and 'hasn't arrived.'

The Konohagakure leader sighed and closed his eyes. "I have no choice then...I cannot let the guests wait like this."

"Ten more minutes." Came the Kazekage's sudden reply, catching both their attentions as he stared ahead at the arena, barely showing any emotion. "Can we try and wait for ten more minutes?"

"But-!" The attendant started.

"The guests have been waiting for this match. It would be cruel to cancel it. We have waited a long time already. Waiting an additional ten minutes is nothing..."

The Hokage thought to himself as his guard waited for a response, he could hear the cries of irritation and confusion from the audience and came to a conclusion. "Kazekage-dono, you have a point." He looked over to his ally. "Then may I extend the waiting period an additional ten minutes?"

The Kazekage's lower eyelids curled up with glee, the only indication he was smiling beneath the mask. Something was off with him, and the Hokage knew it. The older Konoha leader looked ahead as he spoke once more. "Go tell Genma about this."

His right-hand agreed and stepped back, using the Shunshin no Jutsu to appear behind the examiner, tell him the order, and get back to the Hokage in little to no time at all. The proctor sighed and pulled out a pocketwatch, checking the time before he cleared his throat and shouted to get the audience's attention. "Ladies and gentlemen, Uchiha Sasuke hasn't appeared for his match as of yet, therefore we will grant him an extra ten minutes to arrive, before we are forced to cancel. Please wait patiently in your seats, snacks and drinks will be distributed shortly."

The crowd didn't like this, and some trash was thrown into the arena as a rebuttal, but Akari didn't care, she sat there, letting out a heavy breath, as she thought to herself once again. 'If he's a clever kid, he'll keep his distance, one match ain't worth y'life.' How hypocritical, she actually let her lips quirk up in response to her own words.

One match wasn't worth a life, yet one chance at revenge was? Sometimes she didn't understand her own words, but honestly, she didn't care anymore. The sooner she got it over with, the sooner she could die happy.

Some matches are worth a life, if it's for the good of others.

The time flew by in mere seconds to some, but in long lifetimes for others, however in the end, ten minutes slipped by and Sasuke's time was up. Genma hesitated since he had a pile of trash ready and waiting to be thrown his way with his next words. "About the final match...Time's up, so..."

However right before he could finish that sentense, everyone went silent as a torrent of wind swirled around beside Genma, fast enough to create a small tornado, and leaves whisked around it from the trees hidden in the shadows of the large arena walls. When the torrent died down, it revealed two very familiar figures, one with white spiked hair and a concealed Sharingan, and the other with black hair and an odd new outfit that seemed like a black pair of shorts and a shirt that had been fused together.

Kakashi and Sasuke had arrived, and only Akari seemed dissapointed.

"Sorry we're late~" The white-haired sensei said with his single eye closed, smiling behind the fabric of his mask.

Genma didn't respond to Kakashi though, instead he met Sasuke's eyes and asked a simple question in the most arrogant of ways. "Name?"

Sasuke's expression steeled. "Uchiha Sasuke..."

It took a second for his appearance to truly sink in, but the moment it did, nearly the entire audience, save one person, errupted into cheers. Naruto himself was truly elated by the sight of his best friend. "You were awefully late!" He said with a snide smirk. "I thought you weren't going to come because you were afraid to fight me."

"You won the first round?" Sasuke asked, not letting his jeers get to him.

"Of course!"

"Heh, don't get so excited over it, idiot."

Kakashi interrupted by rubbing his head with a nervous noise emitting from the back of his throat. "Well, um...It's hard to ask this after we've entered the stage with a flashy performance...But did Sasuke get...Disqualified?"

Silence passed for a moment as everyone in the arena turned to Genma, who smirked and closed his eyes. "He must've caught your habit of being late."

"So, is he...?"

"He's fine." The Examiner finally responded. "Sasuke's match was put on hold...And he arrived just in time, so he didn't get disqualified."

Sasuke's childish sensei let out an awkward, yet relieved laugh. "I'm glad to hear that." He looked at the boy, in an attempt to share the relief with some cheerful, silly words, but stopped when he saw that hevwasn't truly paying attention. Following his gaze, Kakashi's own eyes met Gaara's which were fixed on his student.

"You better not lose to that guy." Naruto commented, staring at the Suna Jinchuuriki with determination and hatred.

"I know." The blue/black haired Genin agreed.

His rival looked over and smirked. "Sasuke!" He shouted, getting his friend's attention. "I want to fight you as well..."

Sasuke was silent for a moment as he processed this, not once did his expression change from a blank seriousness, but his tone portrayed what his face did not. "I know."

The two Kage looked down at the arena, at Sasuke, and finally the Kazekage's gleeful grin spread beneath his cloth, curling his eyes once again, more twisted and unsettling than before. 'It's about to begin.'

"Gaara, come down!" Genma called up to the boy who seemed ready to burst with insanity, as Shikamaru and Naruto headed back inside so they didn't disrupt the match. The eyebrow-less Genin from Suna didn't directly respond, instead he turned and walked out of the observation area. It took him almost five minutes to make it down, but when he did he smirked as the sun touched his face, far enough down to show it was already late afternoon.

"So it finally begins" The Chuunin in charge said as Gaara stepped over to them. "The rules are the same as in the preliminaries...The match will go on until one of you dies or gives up. If I determine that there is a clear winner, I may stop the match...But I will make that decision." Both competitors didn't respond to his words, they just glared at one another, anyone watching could feel the bloodlust between them. The redheaded Genin's murderous grin didn't help things either.

Genma could see this and narrowed his eyes, prepared to step in if things got out of hand, and raised both arms to gesture them closer. "Fighters, to the centre."

Both of them stepped closer until they were a full person apart. The proctor raised his hand and gave them both a moment to prepare their stances, before he swiped it down. "Begin!"

He jumped out of the way and the battle took place.

To start the match off, Gaara produced his sand, which swirled above his head. However before he could attack, he grasped his skull in pain and started talking to himself. It took a moment of one-sided conversing before another wave of pain took over and the sand fell to the ground. The redhead looked down as he calmed and slowly snapped his eyes onto Sasuke, now serious and collected, as he had been during the earlier tests.

Akari felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise as he talked to himself and grimaces with discomfort. The Ichibi really had a bad effect on his mental health, and now more than ever, she felt sorry for Sasuke. 'Y'have no idea what you're up against, kid.'

But Akari didn't account for the kind of training Sasuke had done, the parrying of attacks between the the boy genius and the Jinchuuriki's newly made Sand Clone was rather run-of-the-mill until Sasuke got his hand stuck and managed to escape by punching the clone in the head, turning it back into the particles it was made from. Then when he went to attack once more, which would have been blocked by the sand shield like all his other attacks, he dissapeared.

The older Suna kunoichi gasped with surprise and leaned forward, eyes wide as she recalled the moves he used from Gaara's earlier battle with Rock Lee. He too remembered the same thing and barely had time to register that the Uchiha child was attacking when a fist connected with his cheek, cracking the sand armor he adorned and sending him flying back, his impact just cushioned by the dust that protected him.

Meanwhile Kabuto was stood in the crowd above, a small distance from Akari, watching the match as he awaited the moment he was to make the signal. Kiba stepped up behind him with a warm smile, Hinata nowhere in sight. "Thank you, Mr. ANBU person!" He said, having no idea who he was talking to. "They told me that Hinata will be fine as long as she stays quiet."

"Really?" Kabuto asked as he turned slightly, his aura almost changing completely as a devious smirk curled his hidden lips. Akamaru sensed this change and growled, on alert for any of the Otogakure spy's movements.

Kiba however, wasn't so observant. "You know him? What are you talking about? He's an ANBU person."

The puppy whined and barked.

"'Not that, we met him during the exam'...? What do you mean?"

Kabuto turned fully, on the verge of being found out. He raised his hand and pushed some chakra into it, enough to be visible to the young Genin, who was shocked at the sight. "This is what it means."

And then he shoved the hand against Kiba's chest, knocking the poor boy to the ground, using enough force for the current to pass through the owner into the dog, immobalising him as well.

Akari glanced over at the noise, her ears open at all times for the signal, while everyone else focused on the match below. If Kabuto was openly knocking out Kiba, her time would soon arrive. Hopefully she could enjoy a few more moments of sitting and watching the potential in the arena before she was forced to do a duty she hated.

While this went on, the battle below continued, Sasuke causing more injuries to Gaara's sand armor the longer the fight went on. He moved at the same speed as Lee and Akari could tell his Taijutsu had improved far more in one month than she'd ever be able to pull off in her remaining lifetime. 'Heh, guess y'gotta suck at something t'be good at something else.'

Only ten minutes into the fight and Gaara had, had enough. He stood and formed a seal with his hands, the sand that he held enveloping his form like a bubble. Sasuke saw this and rushed forward to halt the process, as hardened sand can be difficult to break through, but he was too late. As his fist collided with the orb, Gaara's body now completely consumed, spikes shot out and cut both the Uchiha boy's knuckles and cheek. He jumped back and blood leaked down his leg, a delayed reaction to the assault.

No one could hear the mumblings inside the orb of sand as the Suna Jinchuuriki closed his eyes and almost chanted, as if summoning a monster forth. Instead an eye appeared outside the bubble, watching Sasuke's every move, a familiar jutsu he performed during the First Exam.

The boy-genius attacked the orb several times with kunai, his fists, his foot, everything, but nothing made a dent. However he didn't stop smirking, instead he took up a more flashy pose and pulled one of the clips loose on the band around his bandaged arm. He flipped backwards and jumped onto the wall of the arena, using Chakra in his feet to hold on as he skidded back until he neared the barrier at the top. He then formed a few seals and pointed his hand down, lowering his head as if charging an attack.

"What...The hell?!" Akari gasped as she leaned forward further, standing and grasping the railing as she watched sparks of electricity shoot from the boy's palm, gouging a hole in the wall as he moved the arm behind him and pushed off into a sprint rivalling Lee's speed once again. 'I ain't ever seen a Jutsu like that...Or with that much power!'

The lightning emitted a strange sound akin to a thousand birds chirping and Akari's eyes were transfixed as Sasuke approached the orb of sand, trailing dust and debris behind him. When said hand connected with the hardened particles, it almost moved like water, being pushed aside by the force of the Jutsu alone.

Everyone went silent as a moment passed, almost all their jaws dropping at the sight alone, while the Kazekage's expression twisted into disturbing glee over the power the Uchiha boy displayed. Akari was both amazed, and terrified of how powerful this Genin was, after only a month of training, it was downright unnatural.

'Most people have to work for years to get that good, myself included! The new generations are really putting their all into their training!'

Her thoughts were interrupted by a blood curdling scream from within the ord. "Blood! My Blood!" Gaara cried and Akari actually shivered by the pure terror in his voice. Sasuke gasped as he tried to pull his arm out, but found it stuck, feeling a claw wrap around his flesh. To free himself, he sent another lightning Jutsu his opponent's way, releasing another scream from the boy before he managed to pull back.

A shudder ran down the former Suna kunoichi's spine as a claw made of pure sand followed him out, before slipping back into the shield. It was Shukaku, the Ichibi that had been sealed into Gaara at the time of his birth. The sight alone reminded her of the many times Shukaku had escaped and reaked havoc, even before Gaara's birth, some she even witnessed for herself.

It was not something she tried to remember often.

Once the arm retreated into the orb, leaving a hole in it's surface, Sasuke went silent for a moment, as if looking at something inside, before he froze in place, his expression not visible from the stands, but it didn't take a genius to realize he was frozen in fear. The 'absolute defence' cracked from the force that had been put on it before it disintegrated around Gaara's feet, the boy looking exactly the same as he did before, apart from the blood coating his hand and right shoulder.

It was at that moment that Kabuto began the attack, he slowly placed his hand on a man's shoulder, who found himself exhausted within seconds, trying to keep his eyes open for a moment before his head dropped, now out cold. Once that worked, the Medic made a special sign with his hands and Akari blinked as she saw feathers enter her vision.

Where did they come from?

Slowly her energy began to drain and she looked around as she forced back the sensation of sleep. Her eyes widened when she saw Kabuto and it clicked, this was the signal! With no time to lose, she too formed a special sign of her own. 'Kai!' Witht that simple phrase, and a surge of Chakra, the exhaustion left her and she straightened up, now completely alert and ready to move.

She looked around to guage how many Konoha shinobi managed to stave off the Genjutsu, and smirked when she could see less than ten within her vision. 'With this many, I can only assume the other stands will have a similar number, that ain't too bad, Orochimaru's soldiers can deal with them easily.'

She carefully, and without alerting others, pulled a kunai from the holster on her right leg, awaiting her moment to move. 'The sooner we get this over with, the sooner I gain his trust...Don't think about what y'have to do now, think about the end result!"

The Hokage and the Kazekage both shared a look, and Sarutobi knew then that his ally had been plotting something. "Let's begin." The traitor said, and without a second's notice, his two attendants shot forward and released a smoke bomb, enveloping the area in a grey smog.

'Now!'

Akari ground her teeth and jumped onto the balcony, rushing towards the two kages' location, when the balcony ran out, she hopped onto the outward facing pillar using chakra in her feet to keep her grip and hopped between them.

She had to do it, and she had to do it right. There was no space for error.

The battle had begun.

Chapter Text

'This is it, no matter what I have to do...I can't hesitate!' Akari thought to herself as she hopped from one pillar face to the next with her kunai in hand while the other buried in her pockets searching for a few more, just in case. The sound of Might Guy yelling the Hokage's name drew back her attention and she hissed when she saw seven ANBU members chasing after her.

"Stop right there!" The one in the yellow coat called, obviously the platoon leader.

Not one to back down, she grinned and turned, running backward with expertise as she moved her hands to form seals. "Katon: Gokakyu no Jutsu!" She inhaled deeply, infusing the oxygen with chakra before she blew out a large fireball which she sent their way. Three were unable to avoid the blast and let out pained cries as their ignited bodies fell into the arena below, likely killing them on impact.

Letting out a tsk at the casualties, she turned and increased her speed, if she didn't make it in time, it would have all been for naught.

Inside the smoke, the Hokage looked at the Kazekage with shock and caution. "Kazekage-dono, what is the meaning of this...?"

The look in the Suna leader's eyes was not one he remembered, it was malicious, like a predator that had caught its prey and planned to devour it mercilessly.

"Hokage-sama!" The attendant called out, grabbing the chair the Hokage sat on in an attempt to locate the man, the smog leaving little visibility. Meanwhile Akari made it onto the shingled roof and sprinted towards the fog, the ANBU still hot on her tail.

"You guys're a pain in my ass!" She called back with a sneer before she jumped into the smog, forcing the masked shinobi to stop at the base of the roof by another squad that awaited their arrival. They could not enter the fray until they understood the situation, otherwise they'd be at a disadvantage.

Instead, the leader of the ANBU directed orders towards his comrades. "2nd Squad, take the top, 6th Squad, take the bottom. Protect the daimyo!" Without a response, the 6th squad rushed off to do their duties, while the 2nd had their attention taken by movement within the threshold.

The two guards that had arrived with the Kazekage rushed out towards them sporting kunai, but they were no match for the ANBU squad leader, who sliced them both in half with a flick of his daggers. When the others jumped up to enter the fog, they heard a cry and landed close to their leader.

The smoke faded slightly and revealed the attendant staggering slightly with a kunai embedded in the right side of his abdomen, before him, stood Akari, holding three more between the fingers of one hand. She tossed them and hit her target point-blank, who stumbled back and collapsed against the wall, blood leaking from his mouth.

"Hokage-sama..." The faithful guard rasped as he fought to stay conscious. "Please...Run away..." But his attempts were in vain as his vision went dark and his head fell forward.

His words were meaningly in the end, as the Kazekage dashed behind Hiruzen with ninja speed and wrapped an arm around his neck while Akari walked over to the collapsed form of his protector and tore her kunai out of his torso.

The look on her face was tense, and her eyes rang with guilt for a mere moment, before she closed them and took a deep breath. When she opened them again, nothing remained but a mirth even she wasn't aware of.

She had little control over how she acted as it was, if she continued to change without any knowledge of it, she would be forever lost in darkness. Right now though, the only desire she had was to kill the Kazekage, but since he was working with Otogakure, she'd have to wait, otherwise, she'd be the next to die.

With that thought, her unknown smirk fell and she glared at the Kazekage as he pointed a kunai blade at the Third's throat before jumping into the air with his hostage, landing on the higher roof behind the observation area. Akari followed behind, pocketing the kunai.

The two corpses of the guards moved when the ANBU were distracted and shadows burst out from the separate parts, revealing four people who had been cleverly disguised as two. Said four landed on each corner of the tiled roof and moved around a little to loosen their stiff joints.

One had dark skin and six arms. "It's finally our turn."

The other was a man with white hair and lipstick, a strange second head poking out of his neck and facing the opposite direction his usually would. "I've got a lot of stress to vent because we had to maintain formation all that time."

The third was a petite woman, smaller than Akari, with more attitude, if that were possible. "You all smell real sweaty."

And finally, the fourth person was a larger man with patchy copper hair. "Cut it out, we're teammates."

Hiruzen looked at the five ninja before him, Akari, and the four strangers all adorned outfits akin to Otogakure. Akari herself wearing the Chuunin/Jounin standard flak jacket that all villages required be worn. 'Oto ninja...'

The smog finally cleared and one of the ANBU members ground his teeth in frustration at the sight of their fallen comrade against the wall. "Raidou..."

The yellow hooded leader turned his head to address his squad. "We're going to go protect Hokage-sama. Be careful of any traps!"

The four rushed forward to engage the enemy and the Kazekage narrowed his eyes. "Do it."

The four Oto ninja put their hands together and simultaneously cried the name of a jutsu. "Ninpou: Shishi Enjin!" Within a split second, four beams of light shot into the air and purple, flame-like Chakra fields filled them, creating a box with the Hokage, Kazekage, Akari and the casters inside.

Sadly one of the ANBU, who had rushed in a little too soon, made contact with the barrier, and burst into flames, tumbling down the shingled roof and off the edge as his comrades landed far too close to the purple wall for comfort. "An impenetrable field?" The leader questioned.

The Kazekage laughed with malicious glee at the frustration he could hear from their voices, and the Hokage grit his teeth. "Kazekage. I didn't expect Suna to betray Konoha."

"A treaty is merely a camouflage to relax an opponent." The villainous traitor replied, and Akari stopped dead in her tracks, that wasn't the Kazekage's voice...No, it was too...gleeful, too sinister.

An imposter?!

"The petty mock battles end here." He moved the kunai closer to Sarutobi's throat. "Starting now, history will be made."

"Are you trying to start a war?"

Akari clicked her tongue with distaste, honestly, she hated the idea of being part of another war, especially after the Second Great Shinobi War, but if they did indeed destroy Konoha, then a war would surely follow for the unused land. She had dug herself in too deep, there was no turning back.

No matter how much it sickened her.

"Yes." The Kazekage replied without hesitation.

"You should avoid conflicts, and seek a resolution through negotiation." The peace-loving Third Hokage countered. "There is still time to stop this, Kazekage."

But his words were deflected by a sinister laugh. "Perhaps when you grow old, you become used to peace..." The imposter who had closed his eyes with amusement snapped them open and trained his murderous gaze on the older gentleman. "Sarutobi-sensei."

"Sensei?" Akari mumbled as the Hokage's expression warped with shock. This definitely wasn't the Kazekage...Hold on, sinister, malicious, taunting...Oh, God. It was Orochimaru in disguise.

She would have slapped herself for missing that if she weren't in the middle one of the most intense situation she'd ever come across in her entire forty-eight years of living.

As if coming to the same conclusion at the same time, the Hokage's voice lowered with horror, his eyes wide and body trembling ever so slightly. "You're..."

But Orochimaru hummed, cutting him off as he watched Gaara, along with Temari and Kankuro leave the arena and escape, followed by Sasuke who was ordered to follow and defeat them. "My, my..." The Sannin sighed. "When Gaara did his thing, I was planning on stealing Sasuke-kun...But it seems I cannot have everything go my way."

Hiruzen gritted his teeth. "I see...So that's how it is." He glanced at the man holding him hostage. "You're after Konoha and Sasuke."

"You believe that Konoha is that important?" Orochimaru sneered with a fake voice. "More importantly, once our Gaara awakens completely...You could've seen something much more interesting. But anyway...Your ignorance has driven Konoha to its end. I win."

The Hokage huffed. "We do not know the result until the very end. I believe I taught you that..." With a smirk hidden behind fabric, Orochimaru took that as a cue to grab the skin mask he adorned and tore it off, revealing the deathly white villain beneath. "Orochimaru."

Akari tore her own off with a deep sigh of relief. "Y'won't believe how stuffy it is in there!"

Sarutobi's eyes widened as he recognized her tanned features and bold grin, she had helped Konoha in some of the more complex missions during her time as a Suna Jounin, to see her here, working for Orochimaru, it was more than a little shocking. "Mari Kaede?!"

"Hey, y'remember my name!" Her expression softened with nostalgia and slight guilt. "I thought everyone'd forgotten me!"

"You were with Orochimaru for the past ten years?" The Third frowned with grief. "I had platoons out searching for you on the order of the Kazekage...Why would you, an ally of Konohagakure, pledge allegiance with Otogakure?"

"First, I ain't 'pledged allegiance' with anyone, the thought of being on his-" She pointed to the Snake Sannin. "-side in all this is sickening! Plus..." The coldness in those usually fiery brown eyes would freeze water if she stood next to the sea. "I ain't no ally to the Five Nations...Not anymore."

"You had such potential..."

"Yeah well...Times change."

He sighed and closed his eyes for a moment, before turning his attention to Orochimaru, who found her response amusing considering her cooperation in this final battle. "I expected that a day like this would come. But..." His expression hardened with resolve. "You cannot take my head so easily!"

The madman with snake-like eyes chuckled under his breath and lifted his head with a sickening smirk. "I told you...You should have picked a Fifth Hokage sooner...Third. Since you're going to die here." With those words, he lifted his hand gleefully and licked the length of the kunai blade, savoring the metallic taste.

Kaede arched a brow and grimaced a little. Well, that wasn't pleasant in the slightest. Did he not think about who he may have killed with that?!

He placed the knife back at the Hokage's throat and sounds of battle were heard from the stands below. Kaede looked over to see Kakashi and Guy fighting their forces and groaned. "Those two'll wipe them all out...We should've put more disguised soldiers in the crowd!"

Her thoughts, however, were interrupted when she heard a chuckle that sounded a little...strained. Turning her attention to Orochimaru, as the Hokage did, both were surprised to see tears reflecting in the Sannin's eyes and his hand trembled. 'Is he...Crying? Orochimaru, the psychopath who captured me...Is crying?!'

At this revelation, the Hokage smirked. "Are you that happy to let tears come out?" There was a laugh in the undertone of his voice. "Or...Do you have the heart to feel sadness for killing me, your teacher?"

Orochimaru's smirk widened, but his tone was soft like if he raised it any more, his voice would break. "No." Suddenly he thrust the knife forward but didn't slit Hiruzen's throat, instead he stabbed it into his hand, splattering blood everywhere.

Kaede's jaw dropped as she stared at the madman, dumbfounded by his actions. He yawned and wiped the tears from his eyes. "I was drowsy. I'm finally awake, now."

His hostage huffed. "That's what I thought..."

Neither of them believed a word he said, the Suna redhead had spent long enough in captivity and training with Orochimaru to know how he acted when he was tired or bored. At most, he was more hostile, but he never let tears reveal themselves. No...She dare not believe he had the heart to feel sorrow, as Sarutobi put it.

A monster like him had no heart to feel with.

Said monster finally let go of the Hokage, and walked away a few steps, the kunai still sticking out of his bleeding palm. "I know you do not move for revenge..." His teacher said. "You have no goals or motives."

'Revenge? For exiling him?'

The Sannin hummed softly, still facing away. "Well...I sort of have a goal. If I were to state it in words..." He grasped the Hokage cap he adorned during his disguise and leered ahead, grinning maliciously. "I like to see moving things. They're boring when they don't move." He pulled it off and tossed it to the side, it no longer served any use. "A windmill that is not moving...Can be nice from time to time...But most of the time, it's not even worth looking at."

He turned his head and shot that evil look at Sarutobi. "Now, I want to move the windmill with the wind called the Destruction of Konoha!"

'I swear I've spent too long around him, that made sense.' Kaede thought with a sigh of frustration, placing a hand on her hip. 'I don't agree with it, but I understood it. Ugh.'

The Hokage chuckled and moved to face him, grasping his own cap with a smirk on his lips. "You haven't changed, I see."

There was a loud crash and the Suna kunoichi spun and looked over to see Gai had sent one of their troops flying through a wall. "Jesus Christ!" She then watched as three kids and a dog dove through the hole and headed in the direction Sasuke had gone in. "Looks like Konoha's sending a bunch of Genin to fight Gaara."

"That won't work out too well for them..." Orochimaru said as he walked past the Hokage and stood on the other side of him with an air of arrogance. "Gaara is a monster that no mere Genin can deal with."

"You underestimate the quality of our shinobi," Hiruzen said with confidence.

Orochimaru, however, didn't much care for his comments, so ignored them all together, instead, he chuckled and turned back to the Third. "To think that I can fight with you again..."

Kaede heard mumbles from the ANBU about the Hokage killing one of them from the inside to lower the field, and she smirked. "Y'sure your shinobi are good?" She asked as the four making the forcefield smirked in response. "They don't seem too sharp t'me."

The one with six arms grinned in agreement. "Hey, they're going to start soon." He said to his three comrades.

"Be sure to expand a field inside, too!" The one with the second head added on, with agreement from the one with patchy hair.

The four of them made noises of effort and channeled their chakra into the field, creating an extra wall behind them, blocking them into the corners of a pyramid-shaped prison. The Hokage grunted in response. "Looks like I can't leave so easily."

"You must be kidding!" The Sannin responded with a sharp bite to his tone. "To you, it'll be harder to fight if other people interfered."

The two shared a similar look, before Orochimaru, Kaede and Hiruzen kicked off with the Hokage making the first move. "Ninpou: Kawara Shuriken!"

Tiles pulled from the roof surrounding them and were sent flying their way, but Orochimaru and Kaede weren't so easily foiled. The Sannin jumped into the air and Kaede formed seals at an impossible speed. "Futon: Daitoppa!" She exhaled a strong gust of wind their way and deflected them back at the old man, who quickly dove to the side, landing carefully a little too close to the barrier as the tiles hit another side of it and burst into flames.

But that wasn't it, while in the air, Orochimaru made a sign himself and opened his mouth, letting his tongue, enhanced by jutsu, stretch out. "Seneijashu!" Said tongue then turned into a snake and shot down towards the Hokage, biting him hard on the neck before he could react.

"Having trouble with this kind of attack?" Orochimaru asked as started to fall back down. "It shows how much age can affect you...Sarutobi-sensei." However, that wasn't the case, his smile fell as he watched Sarutobi create a mud clone, which melted into a thick puddle within minutes. "A replacement?"

The Sannin landed and the snake transformed into a tongue once again, which he flicked as he retracted it. Both stood side by side as he listened for any movement, and quickly looked over their shoulders to see the Hokage standing there, having already formed the seals he needed.

"Doton: Doryuu Taiga!"

The ground beneath their feet turned into a muddy river and Kaede quickly leaped out of the way as Orochimaru lost his footing and slid down a fair bit before centering himself. "Is that all you've got?" Orochimaru asked as he formed his own seals.

"I won't let you!" Hiruzen called out, as he did the same. "Doton: Doryuudan!" The snake-eyed man's jaw fell open as a dragon's head made of mud appeared. "Karyuudan!" Along with that jutsu, the old man inhaled deeply and spat out a stream of flames, akin to Kaede's, only his were stronger. The two jutsu melded, creating bullets as hard as stone and as dangerous as a blade.

Kaede quickly countered the attack with air bullets, which hit some, but not all and weakened the bombardment as it hit Orochimaru dead-centre, who cried out as the water then enveloped him. She cursed her timing but also smirked at the sight of the one man she hated getting what was coming to him.

"Cut the stupid acting, Orochimaru," Hiruzen stated, and Kaede tsked as she heard Orochimaru chuckle before he rose from the ground where the water had once been.

"Very nice." He said, looking back with his usual smirk, not a scratch on him as he tilted his head to the side inquisitively. "But you must have underestimated me. Did you think that you could kill me with those petty attacks?"

The older gentleman grunted with a displeased curl of the lips. "You're as disagreeable as ever."

"Don't say that...Don't they say that the troublemaking students are more agreeable...Sarutobi-sensei?" His tongue flicked out as he licked his lips, acting even more disagreeable on purpose.

Then the fighting began once again, Hiruzen moved his hands to do the usual ninjutsu, but Kaede didn't let him finish as she shot some air bullets at him, which he ducked away from. Even then, he didn't get time to mold Chakra as another snake was shot towards him, forcing him to jump back to avoid its attack. Skidding to a halt on the other side of the roof, the two rogue ninjas jumped over the raised center to join him, standing side-by-side, with some distance between them thanks to the redhead's displeasure of working alongside him.

"Perhaps we should stop fooling around," Orochimaru commented, neither side feeling breathless in the slightest over their warm-up. "This isn't an Academy class..."

The Hokage smirked and let out a laugh as he grasped the lip of his hat once again. "You're right." Then he tossed it in the air, along with the robe that went with it. Underneath he was wearing a battle-class baggy black outfit with a helmet akin to those a samurai would wear.

"So you were expecting your death?"

Orochimaru grabbed his disguise robe and tossed it off, wearing his usual outfit beneath with the beige shirt with two pieces of fabric hanging down to the lower calves on the front and back. His grey sweatpants, a black undershirt and the large purple rope around his waist that Kaede would never be able to tie in her life.

Luckily for the spark-happy, rogue kunoichi, Orochimaru had fashioned her a full body flame-retardent battle-suit to wear beneath the Otogakure uniform, so she didn't have to strip down to her bare minimum just to fight. With the underclothes she adorned, the damage done by clothes melting into her flesh would be kept to a minimum.

The two criminals locked eyes with the Hokage, the redhead's cold and detached, the Snake Sannin's filled with mirth and arrogance, and the determined, hard eyes of Hiruzen battling it out without words. Around them, the tiles cracked with their overwhelming Chakras, which they were allowed to surge through them like a silent warning to the other.

The intensity in the air was enough to stop anyone breathing in fear of their first inhale being their last.

"I'm not going to go easy on you, just because you're old." Orochimaru sneered.

"I was not expecting a handicap." The Third snapped back. "I may make you redo your training in the Academy, depending on your performance."

"Please don't disappoint me."

"I don't think he will, he ain't the Hokage for nothing." Kaede chimed in, arms crossed, all of them ready to attack at any moment.

And then it began, the three of them kicked off and Hiruzen began by throwing a shuriken, forming signs as he did so, while Orochimaru countered with his own and Kaede threw a few shurikens of her own to counter it, in case the first two missed.

"Shuriken Kagebunshin no Jutsu!" The shuriken the Third threw suddenly multiplied ten-fold and Kaede cursed as her three were deflected with ease, leaving several of her opponents still spiraling towards them. However, the Sannin wasn't going to get hit by the pathetic projectiles that easily, he halted and slapped his hands together. "Kuchiyose: Edo Tensei!"

Sarutobi stopped in shock and watched as a hole appeared in the ceiling and a coffin slowly ascended from its endless depths. "He's using summons as a shield? And those summons are..."

"First!" The rogue shouted as the first coffin settled, and another started to appear, joining its twin. "Second!" And finally a third poked its head out of the ground.

"I have to stop the third, no matter what!" Hirzuen hissed to himself, raising his hand to form signs, but with no luck.

"You forget me, old man?!" Kaede's voice called from above, he looked up just in time for a fireball to enter his line of sight. He managed to substitute himself with a mud close and appeared a small distance behind it, so the flames wouldn't lick his skin.

Despite his attempt to stop the coffin failing, for some strange reason, it halted it's ascent half-way up and slowly descended back into the hole, before disappearing.

The former Suna kunoichi landed on the ridge at the center of the roof, near Orochimaru with a hand on her hip, but no smile on her face. While The malicious Otokage was smirking behind the wall of wooden boxes. 'It looks like the third one failed. But all is well.'

The coffin doors rattled and fell open, revealing two familiar bodies lying inside. The First Hokage, with his straight black hair, and the Second, with his spiked white hair and red lines across his cheeks. Even Kaede was shocked at the sight.

"Now, what will you do, Sarutobi-sensei?" He sneered tauntingly, his trump card against his former sensei now revealed. "No...Oh, great Third Hokage."

The two bodies stepped out of their prisons, their bones and skin crackling with age and disuse. "It's been a long time, Saru..." The First, Hashirama, commented, his expression lifeless, like his body.

"Oh?" The Second, Tobirama, mused, looking over Hiruzen with similarly dead eyes. "It's you? You've aged, Sarutobi."

The current Hokage kept a serious frown on his lips, trying to keep his head in the game. "I didn't expect to see you in a form like this...I am mortified." He narrowed his eyes. "Please prepare yourselves...First...Second..."

The Second looked behind him at Orochimaru. "Edo Tensei, eh? So this kid summoned us with Kinjutsu? Quite a guy." The Sannin, not as amused at being called as a kid as Kaede was, pushed the coffins out of his way, so nothing could halt the next step.

"If that's the case..." The first started. "Sarutobi, we must fight you."

Kaede watched as the leader behind this whole operation stepped up behind the two Kage. "Let's stop the chitchat, old men...And let's get this started."

"I see that in all periods, there is war."

Orochimaru chuckled. "But you like war, don't you?"

Sarutobi snapped then. "Mocking the dead like that...Nothing good comes out of trifling with time!"

His words were ignored. "Then let's begin." The Sannin raised two kunai with red tags attached as if proudly showing them off. The clouds above swirling together, dark and relentless, a storm was brewing.

'If that storm hits, I'm dead.' Kaede thought to herself with displeasure, concerned for her inability to touch water, especially if she burst into flames.

Orochimaru's taunting tone got her attention. "But before that, I need those two to become nothing but hollow shells without emotion. Please get ready, Sarutobi-sensei." He walked forward and pushed the kunai into the backs of the two former Kages' skulls, their colored irises which swam in a pool of black, melded to an empty white, and their expressions faded away completely.

"Hey, Snake Eyes." The redhead said as she watched the transformation take place. "What kind of jutsu is this? I ain't seen a Kuchiyose no Jutsu that allows y'to bring back dead people."

"Hm, hm, hm, It's no surprise to me that you don't know." The Sannin stated, irritating his subordinate, who took his words as an insult. "This is a Kinjutsu created by the Second Hokage, a Kuchiyose no Jutsu that places the soul of another into a sacrifice to revive the dead, the dust and dirt of the surrounding area forms over the sacrifice to give it the appearance of the soul bound to it."

"Hold on..." Kaede's brows knitted and she pinched the bridge of her nose for a second before looking right at the Second. "The Second Hokage created this? The people who raved about peace, created this...thing, this jutsu?!"

"Makes you think, doesn't it, Firecracker?" His taunts were pissing her off, but she brushed them away to gain more information. If he could perform this, her attempts at killing him without this knowledge would have lead to her own death. "Even the peace-loving Konohagakure has a dark, destructive past~"

Kaede huffed. 'Y'didn't need to tell me that...I've seen enough darkness from my own village...'

Orochimaru stepped forward, putting his hands on the backs of his puppets. "Complete."

Meanwhile, Hiruzen covered his eyes as he pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to hold back a sob before he looked up at the two of them with wet eyes. "You two...No one should have to go through this, dead or alive..."

"Do you know the sense of satisfaction and happiness I get from hurting the one I used to call teacher? I constructed this scenario to let you suffer that sort of happiness." The villainous former student raised his hands, fingers touching as he formed a sign. "So please enjoy."

The walking corpses jerked when the jutsu was complete and they stumbled forward, the First stepping onto the lid of his coffin and walking along the edge of it before he stepped down, both stood before Sarutobi with a menacing presence surrounding them. Then they suddenly shifted into a sprint, Hashirama running down the other side of the roof, while Tobirama rushed up the ridge to the tip of the tiled platform.

"Well?" Orochimaru said, getting Kaede's attention, and he smirked with mirth. "Aren't you going to join them?"

"Why'd y'bring me if y'had these guys t'do the fighting?" Kaede snapped, but she obeyed, with reluctance, and rushed out into the fight, tossing kunai after kunai at Hirzuen, who remained distracted by the sight of his dead-eyed friends.

"Hokage-sama!" The leader of the ANBU squad outside the barrier called. "They may look like them...But they are not the true First and Second!"

His eyes regained focus and he spotted the kunai coming into his vision, ducking away from them, and avoiding a kick from the First at the same time. He then proceeded to block the next two and tried to sweep his feet out from under him, but to no avail, the skilled ninja jumped back and Sarutobi had to turn as the Second rushed in and jumped over, landing behind him.

He once again managed to block and dodge a few attacks, punches this time, before grasping the Second by the leg and swinging him around, tossing him as far away as possible. But the assault didn't stop as Kaede skidded to a halt and formed the needed signs to perform Futon: Renkudan, spitting massive bullets made of condensed air his way, before doing the same with Katon: Hosenka no Jutsu, which enveloped the air bullets and increased the fatality of the attack.

The Hokage managed to dodge a few with a well-timed duck and jump, but one or two hit their mark, sending him hurtling back with burns on his torso and leg. He skidded to a halt on one knee and winced at the pain he felt. While Tobirama landed beside Kaede and Hashirama, still in a fighting stance.

Knowing he needed to up his game, Hiruzen smacked his hands together and took a deep breath. "I'm attacking now!" He called, and the former Suna kunoichi huffed with a smirk on her face at his foolish declaration. The three of them crouched further, ready to counter or dodge, depending on the jutsu.

The Hokage quickly moved his hand and called out his jutsu. "Katon: Karyuu Endan!" He inhaled a deep lungful of chakra infused air and exhaled a heavy torrent of flames, which rocketed towards them.

"Nice try, old man!" Kaede shouted, her hands moving as well. "Katon: Kasai Suīpu!" She did the same thing he did but exhaled a smaller, weaker torrent of flames, but she wasn't done. "Futon: Daitoppa!" And then she breathed a current of strong wind, which caught her flames and increased their size and power.

The two attacks melded and combined, pushing against one another. However his strength was not to be sneezed at, against the high-speed power of his flames, her own struggled to keep up, and the attacks didn't budge towards either party. The Second's cold, cunning mind found an opportunity and he formed a familiar seal to Kaede, who gasped and broke the jutsu.

'Crap!'

"Suiton: Suijinheki!"

The Ninjutsu Expert dove back with wide eyes to avoid the jutsu as the fire torrent sent by Sarutobi rushed forward. Suddenly water burst forth from nowhere and doused the fires like it was nothing. The liquid swirled around the two Kage until the embers fizzled out, then it dispersed into steam.

Kaede crouched there, breathing heavily as she recuperated from the fear that came with her near demise. "Damn Suiton user!" She hissed. Orochimaru's smirk widened with the amusing fight going on in front of him. "How the hell did he summon water from nowhere?!"

The Sannin chuckled. "It is to be expected from a previous Hokage."

Then the Suiton Expert formed more seals and Kaede froze, far too close to the jutsu for her own comfort. "Suiton: Suishouha!" Water formed in the air and formed around the Second, while the Firecracker covered her face with her arms and tsked, stepping back as droplets threatened to touch her skin.

'This is bad! This is really bad!'

With a roar from the jutsu conjurer, the water shot up and pooled out, towering over Kaede in it's decent. She knew she couldn't outrun it this time and let out a cry of fear as it approached her. However, something unexpected happened, a long, purple-hued tongue coiled around her waist, catching her attention for a second before she was yanked back and collided with a solid human form. As this happened, Hiruzen used Doton: Doryuuheki to create a wall, blocking off the attack so he wasn't swept away.

The lake formed around them and Kaede watched as it all but halted around her, a circle of dry land as if a barrier blocked them as well, but no such thing could be seen. She remembered then that she had landed on something solid and looked up to see Orochimaru watching the fight with a grin, his hand on her shoulder, keeping her close.

Orochimaru...Had saved her life?

The closeness clicked and she made a noise of disgust and pushed him away, glaring as the amount of space without water widened to accommodate the pair of them. "Don't touch me, y'snake-eyed bastard!"

"Hm, hm, hm, now is that how you speak to someone who just saved your life?" Orochimaru asked, aggravated and amused by her reaction all at once. He dusted himself off and crossed his arms, returning his attention to the subjects of his command. "You're useless to me dead, therefore you can stand down for the time being."

"What, you're openly letting me take a break?"

His shoulders shook with a sinister laugh echoing deep in his throat. "Only until they're of no use to me, if that happens, I'm right to believe you can form Chakra through the soles of your feet, like most Genin, correct~?"

"Tch, don't underestimate me, Snake-Eyes, I ain't some Academy student!"

While they had their little dispute, the Third who leaped up to the top of the mud wall he'd created to avoid the water, had jumped down to confront the First who was rushing towards him over the surface of the pooled liquid, using the technique Orochimaru had just mocked his subordinate with.

Hiruzen inhaled quickly and shot out bullets made of pure flames, in an attempt to slow down Hashirama's approach, to no avail. The former Kage hopped into the air and directed a kick to his former student's head, which was blocked by both his arms. But the puppet wasn't playing fair, he used his foot to splash water into the visibly older man's eyes and kicked him when he couldn't see, before assaulting him with many more blows and landing a final kick in his gut, sending him barrelling back until he laid on his front on the water's surface. He was just able to push his chakra throughout his body to keep himself above the waves.

While the Third was unable to move, his opponent shifted back into a fighting stance, and Hiruzen finally found the strength to try and get back to his feet. "Your power has not waned one bit..." As he regained his footing, bubbled formed in the water behind him and he barely had time to look before usually lifeless liquid formed tendrils and grabbed his torso, pulling him under the surface.

He tried to struggle but an arm grasped his neck and kept him in a headlock as he went deeper and deeper into the oddly low depths. The Second being the one to immobilize him. He regained his bearings and elbowed the lifeless corpse hard enough for the grip around his windpipe to be loosened, then kicked to break away completely.

While the shell of the Second regained his own composure, the Third burst forth from the water and climbed the mud wall with little time to rest, as the tendrils burst out once again and shot through the mud of the wall like it was paper. Hirzuen thought he'd gotten away from the blasts, when the hardened structure crumbled around his feet, a tactical assault to halt his movements as he fell and the water finally drained away.

"Look at that." Orochimaru jeered as the Third landed on his hands and knees, catching his breath. "It seems you won't have to stay out of the fray, after all, Firecracker~"

"Tch, I told you t'stop calling me that!" She snapped, cracking her knuckles and neck as she stepped out to join the battle. 'Honestly, you're lucky I don't take over this fight for the Third and kill y'myself...'

She stopped by the First as he got into a stance and formed unique seals. Suddenly the tiles cracked and both her attention and the Hokage's were taken when tree sprouts began to poke out from the ceramic they were buried under. "What...The hell...?"

"This isn't good..." Sarutobi mumbled as Kaede realized these roots were a good way to get out of water's reach and hopped on one of them as they grew. "This is the secret technique that only the First can use...!"

The redhead hummed as she held onto the branch and smirked, realizing what this was. "I get it, he's the guy from Konoha that could use Mokuton! I didn't really pay enough attention in history t'get his name, but hey, it ain't too late t'get a refresher lesson from the man himself." She said as Hiruzen bit his thumb, preparing a summon. "No chance I'm lettin' y'do that!" She formed the signs needed and inhaled deeply before she shot air bullets at Hiruzen who was forced to dodge them as the First finally finished his jutsu.

"Mokuton: Hijutsu Jukai Koutan!"

And with that final phrase, the tree that had been growing steadily as he pulled his chakra together, burst forth and grew to an impossible size, so big that Hiruzen had to hop onto one of the branches and hold on tight, as the ground where he once stood became nothing. Without giving him time to prepare an attack, the branches then latched onto him and tied him up tight as they hardened, solid wooden structures at long last.

Kaede whistled with praise as she stood up and looked down at the faraway ground from one of the tallest arms of the plant. "Damn, I ain't seen a tree this big in years..."

Orochimaru and the Second joined the First near the roots of the tree and the defiant redhead remained where she was, she wasn't too keen on being near them, after all. "You've finally been caught, Sensei..." The Sannin taunted.

But Sarutobi wasn't beaten yet, he pushed forward, forcing his arm almost out of its socket to reach a nearby branch, and the moment his hand made contact, he yelled. "Ninpou: Kuchiyose no Jutsu! Come forth, Monkey God-King Enma!"

The snake-eyed shinobi's eyes narrowed as a large bellow of smoke burst forth from where his hand touched and when the cloud cleared, a monkey with long white hair, dark fur with tiger stripes, and a Konoha forehead protector stood there, an aura of strength exuding from his stance alone.

"Hm...A troublesome thing has appeared...The elder monkey, Enma."

Said monkey jumped down onto a lower branch and walked to the end of it, his eyes locking with the villain below. "Orochimaru...I knew this would happen." He looked back at the Third. "You must feel pathetic, Sarutobi. You should've killed him back then."

"I'm going to do that now!" Sarutobi snapped.

"It's too late."

'Back then...?' Kaede thought as her brows knitted together with confusion, Hiruzen tried and failed to kill Orochimaru before?

The old man struggled against the branches, his strength little compared to the natural wooden beams holding him in place. "Please, Enma...Turn into the Kongou Nyoi!"

Orochimaru gasped and his eyes widened, before he thrust out his hand, speaking to the three subordinates he commanded. "Kill them! Don't let it transform!" With those words, the First and Second sprung into action as Kaede sighed and formed seals with little enthusiasm.

"Katon: Hosenka no Jutsu!" Kaede took a deep breath and spat multiple medium sized fireballs at Enma, which he dodged with ease before hitting the Second on the top of the head hard enough to knock him through the branch and hit the one below hard, while parrying one of the First's attacks before sending him flying back with a punch, only just able to regain his footing and land on a higher platform.

"Dammit, this chimp's tough!" The former Suna kunoichi hissed out, jumping down and skating down the wooden branch as she formed more signs. "Fuuton: Daitoppa!" She exhaled a torrent of wind which swirled into the air, cutting into Enma as he covered his face to protect himself. "Katon: Kasai Suīpu!" And with a simple motion, she spat flames into the wind and jumped up as high as she could to escape the sudden explosion of fire and pain.

As she landed, the searing source of the heat was disrupted in the middle and she gasped as the monkey jumped out, burnt in areas and in obvious pain, as he landed on a higher platform too.

"Really tough..." She mumbled as it took this time to transform into a large black and yellow rod. 'I can only use Kasai Suīpu two more times with other jutsu...and I know I ain't good enough at Taijutsu to get in close...My chakra's only diminished to 'bout half, so I can keep going, but I need a plan.'

The fires spread across the wood and Enma took the weakened state of the branches as his indication to assist Hirzuen, swinging his own body into the trapping wooden vines and breaking them, releasing the Third's body.

"Right!" Sarutobi snarled as he jumped up and caught Enma's weapon form, before landing on a branch, which had yet to be ignited. The Second, First and Kaede all jumping down to join him.

The Sannin below was disappointed that he managed to get free, but chuckled, none-the-less. "I will let that go." He raised his arms as a gesture towards the spectacle before him. "Things are finally starting to get interesting!" But his actions and words didn't end there, he pressed both hands to his stomach and opened his mouth, a snake poking out of his throat and opening its own jaws, revealing a sword in the depths of its own gullet.

"Is this fight just going t'be me asking what things are?" Kaede mumbled to herself as the sword dangled at the tip before falling down, caught by Orochimaru before it could hit the ground as the snake slithered back in his mouth and was swallowed.

The Third grabbed the Diamond Pole with a heavy hand and it shrank in thickness to accommodate his grip. "Let's begin, Enma!"

"Even if I'm as hard as a diamond..." Enma stated. "The sword of Kusanagi will still hurt me."

And then the fight began once again, the old man rushing to the end of the branch before jumping off and stretching the pole out to stab into the ground where Orochimaru once stood, the Sannin having the sense to duck away to avoid damage, before jumping back several times to be safe.

Hiruzen jumped down using the pole as a vault and landed a small distance from Orochimaru, twirling his weapon several times while the Sannin positioned the sword to block attacks. Which, turned out, was the right thing to do as the rod was swung towards him and he used the blade to reflect the attack, before ducking away from the second one.

The Third jumped closer and the two parried attacks for a moment, moving around the tiled roof as they made sure neither went too close to the barrier that would ignite their skin on contact. Orochimaru jumped into the air after several blows were blocked and rushed towards his former mentor, but the man wasn't a fool, he stretched out the rod in an attempt to strike him in the jaw, but his student was too fast and did a backflip to avoid it, before the parries began once again.

The younger, yet intelligent shinobi dodged side to side as the pole stretched out twice more, before holding both sides of his blade to push back a blow as the rod slammed against the metal of his weapon and pushed him back, Enma sick of this back and forth battle.

They remained stood like that for a moment, with Sarutobi slowly gaining control over the power, but he had forgotten about the three other fighters, who didn't just idly watch. The First rushed forward and swept the older man's feet out from under him, unaware of the tag that was attached to his leg as he did so. Then, to make matters worse, the Second kicked the pole from his grip and another tag was attached.

"They ain't your only worry, old man!" Kaede called out as she jumped down from the trees and formed some seals. "Katon: Gokakyu no Jutsu!" She shot a giant fireball at her opponent, and while he dodged it, she shot out another.

While his vision of her was impaired by the flames he avoided with ease, the redhead created clones of herself which landed in front of Hiruzen, who didn't know which was which. The three versions of herself grinned and formed seals, but as he prepared to fight the one who would fire a jutsu, they all disappeared, which shocked him into lowering his guard. "Gotcha!" Came a voice from behind and he turned in time see a rather victorious grin before a fist collided with his face.

He was sent flying back and Orochimaru stabbed his sword into the ground and he ran towards the startled old man. "Now's my chance!" He skidded to a halt as Hiruzen managed to land on his feet, skating back, and his former student hit him twice with his fists, before kicking him down onto his back.

Kaede relaxed then, rolling her shoulder and cracking her knuckles which had split from the impact and were bleeding sluggishly. "My hits're stronger, but the force is still too much for my hands, guess I need to train more."

The Sannin chuckled and looked back at her. "Despite that, your efforts will be rewarded." He said, finding glee in her shock and confusion. "Even I will congratulate those who risk their own lives to protect my own, Taijutsu is not your strong suit, after all..."

The former Suna kunoichi tsked and gave him a cynical grin, one hand on her hip while she kept flexing the other which she'd dropped to her side. "Heh, I don't want your stupid rewards. I ain't doin' this for you!"

"Hm, hm, then just who...Or what, are you doing this for?"

She knew his words were a tease, but at the thought of him figuring out her plan, she had to force herself not to choke up on her words and glare at him, instead she just laughed. "I'm doin' this to show my village if they treat me like a rogue, I'll become a rogue!"

"Of course you are~"

The stretched out his leg then, having forced the muscles too far to kick Hiruzen in the face. "Foolish." He sneered at the Third Hokage, placing his foot back down before he sauntered towards him. "You didn't even create Kagebunshin when you charged at me."

Orochimaru stepped over his torso and leaned down, taking him by the collar. "Are you alright, Sensei?" He taunted. "Please get up. You were called the Professor for knowing and using all the jutsu that exist in Konoha, right? Don't let me down."

His sickening laugh echoed through the air.

"Hokage-sama!" One of the ANBU members called out from the other side of the forcefield. "Please stand up, and save the village of Konoha! Hokage-sama!"

The cries silenced the Sannin's laughter and he gave them a sinister, cruel glare. "Fools...It's too late." And with that, the laughter began once again.

Slowly an eye appeared in the rod that had been forgotten by the roots of the tree. "Sarutobi, what's wrong?" Enma asked. "You're not acting like yourself. Your performance is just miserable. Why are you hesitating? You have to put an end to it!"

Tears pooled in Hiruzen's eyes as he looked at his former student, once an innocent boy, now a monster. "Orochimaru..." His expression warped to anger. "You fool!" He grabbed Orochimaru's arms and tugged them into loosening, before kicking his leg out from under him, then while he was falling, Enma shot out an arm from the pole and grabbed the former Konoha shinobi by the throat.

"What?!" Kaede gasped as she stepped forward, grinding her teeth as Enma's grip tightened.

"Orochimaru, this is it for you." The Monkey King jeered. "I'll break your neck!"

The Sannin choked softly as the Monkey King's grip tightened, until his body, which would have been limp and lifeless at this point, turned to mud and sprayed over Enma's hand, as he let go in shock. The sludge pooled and reformed into the real Orochimaru, who was quickly kicked away by Sarutobi.

As he rolled a fair distance back, the First and Second stepped forward to attack, only for the current Hokage to form a sign, causing the tags he placed upon them to explode, removing one of their limbs each. Now the only one who was capable of making a counter-attack was the Redhead with the fiery spirit.

The two stared each other down for a moment before Kaede pulled some Shuriken from her holster and tossed them his way, while he dodged those, she used Shunshin to appear behind him, shocking him as she kicked him in the back. The impact forcing him to gasp for air as he slammed into the ground.

The woman landed behind him, but his form changed into a log, and she hissed out, looking around with alert suspense for his real self. He suddenly appeared before her and punched her hard, which caused her to stumble back before she used her arms to block another blow from him.

She couldn't fight well with Taijutsu, so after the sneak-attack, she was in jeopardy at close-range. Hiruzen swung his foot into her stomach and she coughed up blood, before he kicked her again, sending her flying back into the trunk of the tree, where she lay limp, pain wracking her form, rendering her useless for the time being.

Orochimaru used this time to sit up, smirking deviously as the Hokage's attention returned to Hashirama and Tobirama, who's decimated limbs were being repaired by the dust and debris in the surrounding air, and in moments, the two corpses moved once again, standing to fight. "So it seems that I must do something about the soul that is bound with the Edo Tensei..." He said softly, so only Enma could hear. "If that's the case, I'll have to use the Fourth's Jutsu." He put his hands together determinedly.

The Snake-Eyed Sannin stood up and dusted himself off leisurely, before he walked over to the Kusanagi Blade and stood behind it, staring at the Hokage with his hands resting on the sword like it was a fancy walking stick. "Sensei." He started. "You seem to be out of breath. You have aged, I've never seen you in pain like that before." His dark chuckle echoed through the barrier.

Sarutobi's hands lowered slightly from their position. "What's so funny?"

"It's pitiful." The cold murderer reached up and grasped the skin of his face, pulling at it like the Kazekage mask he adorned earlier. "Even you, the one who has been praised as the God of all ninja...Cannot beat old age."

Kaede managed to raise her head and both she, and the current Hokage shared a look of horror as Orochimaru removed his own face to show a young person beneath with red lips. "What...The hell...Did y'do?!" She gasped out as the madman moved his hair from his face so they could get a better look. "You...You weren't like that before! What are you?!"

Even Sarutobi was asking the same question atop her shocked ramblings. "Looks like you cannot comprehend it due to how abrupt it was..." The Sannin sneered at the both of them, mainly his former mentor. "It's me. Orochimaru."

His eyes widened in shock. "Did you...Complete that jutsu?!"

The psycho grinned in response. "It has been ten and a few years since I left the village. I went through a lot of trouble."

"You're a terrible and inhuman existence!"

Those words caused the new Orochimaru to burst into a fit of laughter, proving to Kaede now more than ever, that he was truly insane, truly evil, and truly worth killing. Any remorse she would have had for killing Hiruzen faded away because she knew, the sooner she gained his trust now, the sooner she would rid the world of this infection, this disease of a person that was poisoning the world he stood on.

"I could not appoint you to be the Fourth Hokage because of your twisted ideas!" Sarutobi hissed out, eyes wide with the revelation.

"Can someone tell me what the hell's going on?!" Kaede snapped, looking between the two people before her,

Orochimaru chuckled and looked over at her, speaking in that strange, feminine voice he'd never had before. "This face that you see now, isn't my true face."

"Yeah, I kinda guessed that!"

"This Fushi Tensei keeps one's mind in this world forever. In other words, it is a jutsu where after I find a new body...I transfer my mind into that body and take over."

Kaede and Hiruzen shared looks of disgust, which didn't phase the lunatic, he knew Kaede was still morally sensitive, despite trying her best to push it aside, so he knew she'd react this way, and Sarutobi was just that kind of man. None of them would understand his vision, and he didn't care. "I disguised myself as my old self...So that you could feel delighted at seeing me again, Sensei~"

The way the Sannin looked down on Hiruzen, who was trying to hold his anger together so he could concentrate, was downright cruel and cold, even the former Suna Fireball shivered at the glare in those emotionally dead eyes. "Aging is pointless..." Orochimaru continued. "That is what I feel when I look at you. You will die here and I will gain a younger, stronger, and more beautiful body."

He snickered deviously. "Konoha entertains me greatly~"

The Hokage gasped with realization and steeled himself as Orochimaru smirked arrogantly as if he'd already won. "I see..." The Third commented, glaring at his former student, his hands still held together to form a seal in front of him. "You're after Uchiha Sasuke."

And it all clicked together for Kaede, why Orochimaru gave him power instead of killing him, why he had Gaara face him, and why he refused to explain the entirety of the mission. From the start, he wanted to take out Konoha and collect himself a new vessel in the process.

What a sick bastard...

The Otokage grinned as he licked his painted lips. "Yes, you're correct. I'm after Uchiha Sasuke-kun."

"So you use Fushi Tensei to steal someone's body and make your mind immortal?" His tone took a sharp edge with disgust. "That face and body...how many bodies have you gone through?!"

"This is my second."

"That explains why y'came in t'check on me once and I could've sworn you'd gotten shorter." The Ninjutsu Expert pointed out, looking him over. "Let me guess, the first was your original body, and the second was technically the first body you'd ever stolen?"

"Hm, hm, hm, you're just full of surprises, aren't you, Firecracker?"

"Ugh, it's bad enough that you call me that with your normal face, don't even think about using it with that-" She swirled her finger in a circle, gesturing to his changed appearance. "-face."

"Fear not, Kaede, this face can be hidden behind a mask of my former appearance." Orochimaru looked back at Hiruzen. "Now, where was I...? Ah yes, Sasuke. I plan to take his body after he grows up to my liking." He laughed maliciously. "But for you to regret your own life...and curse your fate as you die..." His voice warped as he put his hand over his new face, and when he removed it, the original Orochimaru was revealed as, what Kaede now knew, a mask worn over the body of the person he killed. "You would prefer this face better, right?"

"Y'never cease t'freak me out, d'you?" Kaede said with a grimace, looking over his appearance, it was odd to see him like that now. "D'you ever try t'act normal?"

"Hmmm, but what is normal dear Firecracker?" Orochimaru said with a mirth in his voice as his words stumped her. "Every being on this planet is different, the only alteration between them and myself is that I aim for far greater heights than the average human shuffling around on this Earth."

"Tch, y'wish."

The Sannin merely chuckled in response to her weak reply and it was then that he nodded slightly, the First Hokage slapping his hands together into a seal, sending branches bursting out from the rooftop, swirling around to create a forest within the barrier, attempting to pierce Hiruzen's skin as the vines did so.

"Hokage-sama!" The ANBU captain outside the barrier cried in fear of his leader's life while inside the barrier, blood dripped onto one of the thick branches.

"Don't let your guard down, Sensei~" Orochimaru taunted. "You leave yourself open at times." His smirk widened at the sight of his teacher hidden behind a cage made from Enma's Kongou Nyoi, breathing heavily from exertion.

Kaede hopped up onto one of the branches, as a precaution against any more of Tobirama's Suiton Jutsu. As she landed, she formed the seals needed for her Kasai Suīpu, she'd burn down this forest and the Third with it. Maybe if she was lucky, she'd cause her nemesis some damage as well.

"Katon: Kasai-"

"I couldn't kill him..." Sarutobi interrupted, and Kaede's hands detached slightly in confusion. Of course, when she saw his eyes snap to Orochimaru, she knew he was talking about the time Orochimaru escaped the village. It made sense that the Hokage would be in charge of disposing of such a dangerous criminal and cursed herself for not making that connection earlier. "But I will kill you now, and correct my past mistake!"

Orochimaru's only response to that was to arch his brow and stretch his smirk a little wider.

Hiruzen took hold of the transformed Enma, and with a puff of smoke, the cage vanished, leaving the Kongou Nyoi behind, in its true form. "It's too late!" The Sannin called up. With a nod, the two former Hokage vanished into thin air and Kaede formed the seals for her Jutsu once more.

But the current leader wasn't having it, he put his hands together, fingers pointed up and out like a plus-sign. "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" With that, three solid clones of himself appeared, ready to do battle, despite their weakened state caused by the even split of Chakra between them.

His opponent huffed, watching from a safe distance. "You've shortened your lifespan because of your impatience."

Tobirama and Hashirama stopped on the branch beneath Sarutobi as the older-looking man moved his hands to conjure more signs, each one leading to a jutsu neither Orochimaru nor Kaede would ever forget.

As Hiruzen glanced behind him as if looking at something unseen, Kaede exhaled the heavy breath of fire, and her leader chuckled with a sinister sense of mirth. "It's too late to do anything now." He sneered. "I win. Konoha will perish!"

The old man glared vengefully at Orochimaru as he jumped into the air along with his three clones to avoid the jutsu, but Kaede wasn't going down that easily, she went to form more seals, but Hirzuen was faster due to his experience, and sent a large jet of water towards her.

Panicking at the stream of deadly liquid coming her way, she sent Chakra to her feet and swung so she was hanging upside down on the branch, breathing a sigh of relief as the stream hurtled past where she once was.

"Konoha is my home!" The Professor argued, landing on the highest branch his could in the boxed area while Kaede climbed back onto the top of her standing platform. "The Hokage is the supporter of that home, and shall protect it! He is also the inheritor of Konoha's will and passes that will to another. So, you cannot defeat me so easily!"

The Second Hokage formed seals with his hands and called out in a strong, but emotionless voice. "Genjutsu: Kokuangyou no Jutsu!" And only to Hiruzen's eyes, did the world turn black and void of life.

"What you said is a joke." Orochimaru's voice broke the silence, echoed, making it impossible to pinpoint its location. "You are merely the temporary head of an organization called Konoha."

Kaede watched as Tobirama and Hashirama moved in and attacked the old man, forcing him to do nothing but defend, as he couldn't face his assailants head on. Her mind was absorbing the conversation, listening to every word, as if it was directed at her and her alone.

"Even the carved stones will eventually weather away and decay." The Snake-Eyed shinobi continued.

"The village of Konoha is not just an organization to me! Many Ninjas are born in Konoha every year, and they grow...Live, die and fight as they protect the village." Memories of all the faces he'd seen growing throughout his lifetime flashed before his eyes. "Even if the people in the village are not blood-related...They are all an important...An important family!"

Anger boiled slowly within Kaede's form at his words, envisioning her own family, friends, and comrades as he said those words, and their actions against her without proof, without qualm. What he said wasn't true, a village wasn't a family, it wasn't something to be proud of...

It was a curse, a prison as bad as the one she'd spent ten years trapped within, but her torment was not physical...No, her torment was betrayal.

Orochimaru chuckled. "Then I will break you, it's support, and destroy the house you call Konoha."

The passionate Hokage huffed and wiped the blood from his lip from a blow that had made it through his defenses. "Even if you kill me, the support will not be broken." He stepped forward, snarling with anger and determination. "I am the man who inherited the will of the First and the Second...Konoha's will...The Third Hokage! No matter how much you go after Konohagakure...A new Hokage who has inherited my will shall be the support of this village, and protect Konoha! Isn't that right, Fourth?"

The way he spoke to the Fourth Hokage as if he were alive unnerved Kaede, and both she and her nemesis knew he had something hidden up his sleeve.

Silence passed for a moment. "Orochimaru. I will show you a Jutsu that even you do not know." Sarutobi slapped his hands together, his two fingers, both the index and middle, pointing up as the rest interlocked. "Behold! Fuuinjutsu, Shiki Fuujin!"

The immortal man obsessed with Jutsu narrowed his eyes as he mulled over his words. "I jutsu I don't know...I'll have you show it to me." He raised his hand and Tobirama attacked his former student with a series of strong punches, knocking him back with a jab to the stomach as Hashirama tossed a kunai, which would have hit him dead on if Tobirama hadn't knocked him down, instead it tore his sleeve and slashed his skin open.

"What's the matter?" Orochimaru sneered his tone nothing more than a sly taunt. "Are you planning to die slowly by the hands of your predecessors?"

Hiruzen got to his knees, breathing heavily as he held the wound, which bled profusely, a deep slash that could be terrible if left untreated.

"Please perform that jutsu, quick."

As he said that, the unseen force hiding behind the Hokage mumbled an incantation, something none of his opponents could hear before it raised it's hand and symbols shifted down his skin. Once that was done, it thrust it's hand into Hiruzen's back, forcing him to arch his back and cough up blood due to the pain. "It looks like..." He ground out, slumping forward a little, trying to keep his footing as his body weakened. "I was just in time."

"What's the matter?" The Sannin continued, slapping his hands together, ready to fight. Kaede stood in her battle stance waiting for the moment she could join the fray, the First and Second pretty much had him covered right now. "You're already stumbling..."

Hirzuen nodded and two of the three clones moved quickly, this made everyone in the area tense up, ready to strike. The two on the ground found their targets and held on with all their might. Confusion shot between Orochimaru and Kaede, the only two who weren't affected as the two clones' shirts tore and the jutsu Tobirama cast faded away for no known reason, the Sannin's puppets now immobile.

"What the hell's going on?!" Kaede shouted down as the Otokage watched without a word, no longer smirking, he too had no answer. Was this the Jutsu he'd never seen?

'The darkness has disappeared...' He thought with narrowed eyes. 'What's this jutsu?'

It was then that the third clone jumped into the air towards Kaede, a look in his eyes that frightened even her, he was willing to die to catch her. "Crap!" She ground her teeth and jumped off the branch, keeping some distance between them, but the clone kept coming.

She swiped her hand down, a kunai she kept in her sleeve falling into her hand, she then tossed it at the clone, who took it to the chest, and still kept coming. The redhead landed on the ground and dove back as Sarutobi's copy dropped before her and lunged to grab her.

"Orochimaru! An explanation would be nice!" She called out at the confused Sannin as she formed seals and shot a fireball at her opponent, who used Shunshin to avoid it, appearing behind her. She spun around with a gasp, just in time for him to take both of her shoulders, and she was frozen in place only a second after she jerked her torso, trying to escape.

"Sorry...Sarutobi..." Hashirama forced out, startling Orochimaru, they shouldn't be able to have intelligent conversations with the kunai he implanted into their brains.

"We caused you trouble..." Tobirama continued.

The two turned brown, before disintegrating into dust, leaving the corpses of Kin and Zaku behind, almost fully buried in the debris. "Your own subordinates...!" The original Hiruzen started, tears streaming down his cheeks as he glared at Orochimaru. "Even going so far as to toy with the lives of your own subordinates...!"

"Subordinates lives?" The Sannin sneered. "Stop this endless nonsense!"

"Didn't these kids believe in you?" The two shadow clones who had taken the souls of Hashirama and Tobirama vanished from their weakened state, and the original held out his hand. "Come, Enma!" The speed in which the Diamond Pole shot over was incredible, and Hiruzen took it with a look of undying determination.

He planned to perish for this village, and that shook Orochimaru to his core. "Kaede!" He hissed out, looking in her direction. "Stop dawdling and do what you're commanded to!"

Kaede was only half-listening at this point, unable to see the Shinigami behind the Hokage, since her back was to the original, however she could feel it's presence, she knew something was there, something malicious, and what frightened her the most was the sight of her own soul, infused with her chakra, slowly appearing from within her chest. "What the hell?!" She ground her teeth and tried to move, but her body was frozen in place, all she could do was pull with her Chakra to keep her spirit from being torn from her body.

"Kaede!"

"I'm busy, y'asshole! I can't move!"

Sarutobi jumped down, aiming the pole above his head, a downward strike powered by his fall. Orochimaru quickly tore the sword from the ground and blocked the blow with it, doing the same when the older man landed and the two exchanged blows until the Professor jumped back to avoid a slash of the Kusanagi blade. The pale student spun to add force to his next attack, but his teacher foresaw it, slamming the Kongou Nyoi into the metal of the sword, sending it flying into the air.

As Orochimaru recovers from the sudden attack, his sensei jumped into the air and landed behind him, stretching his weapon towards him, ready to slam it into the back of his head with bone-breaking force. "You're mine!" Enma, knowing it was their chance, pushed his arm out of the weapon, to grab the pale, snake-eyed, criminal's neck, but he wasn't bested so easily and shot out his own hand.

"Seneijashu!" Several large snakes shot out of the Sannin's sleeve and wrapped around the diamond pole, halting its approach.

"Damn it!" Enma snarled. "You little...!"

But that moment was when Orochimaru's plans crumbled, as Sarutobi took this opportunity to appear before his former student, grabbing him in a way that would make it difficult to escape. "It's over!" He hissed out, face inches from the Otokage's own, eyes locked, one set shocked, while the other was flooded with emotion and conviction.

Something pushed its way into the villain's abdomen, and he froze in place, trapped, just as Kaede was. 'What is this sensation?!' He thought as a shudder went through his trembling form. 'This is bad!'

"Kaede!" He snapped, looking over at her without moving his head. "Attack Sarutobi-sensei! Do your duty!"

"Would y'shut up?!" Kaede shouted back, squeezing her eyes shut as her soul moved out a little more, only to be pulled back again. "What you're feeling now is what I'm feeling! I can't move at all!"

"Tch! Useless fool! I should have disposed of you the moment you failed as an experiment!"

"Oh, sorry for being trapped you ungrateful bastard!"

Orochimaru knew he had no choice but to fight this battle alone, and turned his hand so his palm was facing up, pulling it back with two fingers open, which in turn, forced the Kusanagi sword to shift, before it lifted into the air.

"Die!" Both of them cried out as the sword shot towards Hiruzen as Orochimaru's soul began to appear from his body. Enma saw the weapon move and transformed back into himself, struggling to crawl forward to stop the blade with the snakes wrapped around his waist and legs.

Blood sprayed through the air as the sword was grasped by Enma, his skin cut open from the sharp steel, but that wasn't it, though he had got there in time and directed it's assault to a less lethal area, the sword still stabbed into Hiruzen, now poking through his chest, in view of the old man himself.

Orochimaru's tremors intensified. "Why...Didn't you dodge?" He asked, expression warped with discomfort, confusion, and irritation.

The spiritual hand grasping Orochimaru's soul started pulling again as Enma cursed from his slow reaction, but the Hokage was smiling, triumphant in capturing his former student, at least. "Fuuinjutsu, Shiki Fuujin...This jutsu, in exchange for its effectiveness...One's own soul is handed over to the Shinigami. It's a jutsu that costs you your life..."

"What?!" Kaede interrupted, hissing as the sheer cold surrounding her intensified as her energy lowered and the soul was pulled further. Her Chakra would run out at this rate, and she would die. "So y'gave up your life t'kill him?!"

Orochimaru raised his hands to form a seal, but nothing happened. 'My jutsu won't activate...'

Sarutobi's smile widened. "There's no need to dodge...I will die anyway. At the time the Fuuinjutsu ends, my soul will also be devoured. It's the jutsu of the hero who once saved this village." His eyes narrowed. "You will also die by this jutsu!"

"So this is the jutsu that sealed away the Kyuubi, hm?!" Sweat slid down Orochimaru's brow as he spoke.

"And now your soul will be dragged out...and sealed!"

The Sannin tried to move, but only achieved in jerking forward slightly. 'My body...Won't listen to what I say!'

The blue silhouette that made up his spirit was pulled out further and Hirzuen gasped as he did his best to stay conscious and finish this fight. "You'll probably be able to see it soon. Since your soul is already halfway out of your body. Those who have their souls sealed by this jutsu will suffer inside the belly of the Shinigami for all eternity and will never attain peace..."

The intense anger in Orochimaru's eyes moved to his expression, which warped and crinkled with a desire to end his teacher's life more now than ever.

"Those who do the sealing and are sealed have their souls intertwined, and will hate each other and continue to battle for eternity!"

The being behind the sacrificed man moved, alerting the Sannin of his presence. "What...?" It pulled out the knife between its teeth and licked its thin lips with its slimy tongue as the souls within its stomach emerged for a moment, wailing with a desire to be free.

Just the sound alone sent Kaede into a fit of hysteric rasps and drenched her forehead in sweat. "I ain't dying here! I ain't going out like this after everything I've been through!" She ground her teeth and managed to move her hands, grabbing the clone's shoulders, glaring him in the eyes as she succeeded in pulling a majority of her soul back into her body, even if it was only temporary.

'I won't go out without a fight, I fought t'get to a Jounin Rank...I fought t'escape that hellhole Snake Eyes damned me to and I'll fight t'get out of this! Until that asshole dies by my hands, I ain't going t'die!'

The reaper poised his blade and slashed at the two souls, releasing them, only to consume them once again, sending a chilling fear down Orochimaru's spine. 'This is...The Shinigami?!"

Something in him snapped, and he roared in Hiruzen's ear, not caring that there was no distance between them. "Knock it off! You senile, old fool! I won't let you do as you like!" He crooked his fingers and the blade Enma had tight hold of began to move, burying deeper into the Professor's chest. With every motion of his fingers, his soul moved back into his body, inch by inch.

Both sides breathed heavily, their energies weakened at the constant back and forth, as were the energies of the two others caught in the same predicament. "Hurry up and...Die!" Orochimaru hissed out.

The four kept up this strenuous act without speaking for a few moments, and it was apparent the real Hiruzen didn't have the strength to take Orochimaru's soul, nor did his clone. However until the jutsu was forced to end, she was trapped within his grasp.

'Isn't there something I can do t'get out of this?!' She thought as she coughed from the exertion, her soul no longer moving, but still not far enough in for her to regain her strength. 'If Ninjutsu doesn't work, what else can I do?!'

Then it clicked and her eyes widened. Anger! If she got angry, her body would ignite against her will, it would burn the clone and cancel out its solid form. But if she was aware of this fact, getting angry would be a difficult task. 'Crap! Think of something that'll piss y'off!'

While she did that, Orochimaru smirked at the sight of Sarutobi's struggle. 'You probably could've killed me if you were ten years younger.' He moved his fingers again and the blade dug into him so far that the poor man had to cough up blood to breathe.

"Sarutobi!" Enma hissed out, exhausted and weak from the blood loss. "If you don't kill him now, the village is doomed! Do you understand?!"

"I...Understand!" The Professor managed to say as he let out a roar, both him and his clone gaining a burst of strength, both souls moving further away from their bodies.

Kaede made a noise of pain, grasping the clone's shoulders tighter to fight the agonizing sensation, as Orochimaru made the same noise. 'Useless...Old man..." He ground out, looking up at the Shinigami which had its hair wrapped around the silhouette of Chakra shaped like his teacher. "Hurry up and die and rest in peace. You old geezer!"

"I already told you..." The 'old geezer' countered. "That you will die, too!"

"You...!" The Sannin used his Chakra to move the sword once again, which made Enma wince, as his hand slipped slightly and his skin tore further against the extremely sharp weapon. "Get your hands off me, you fool!"

"No! I will never let go...Until I extract your soul!"

The snake-eyed shinobi looked up again and watched the demonic creature slip it's blade back into its mouth. Unsettled by the sight, he grits his teeth. 'At this rate...'

The former Suna Kunoichi panted hard as she felt her vision blurring from exhaustion, her soul moving further away, it was still pretty even, but moving more towards Sarutobi now. 'I can't...Keep doing this!' For some annoying reason she was sure most humans shared, when she tried to make herself angry intentionally, she couldn't. It was a huge pain in the ass, and if she got out of here, she'd figure out some way to control it.

Orochimaru looked down at the soul that was being pulled from his body and he trembled hard as his mouth opened in silent fear, before he let out a blood-curdling scream. This woke Kaede up a little, as she looked at him from the corner of her eye, both orbs widened at the sound. She'd never seen him fear anything, and though she didn't want to admit it, his terror made her own skyrocket.

But the man himself shook off that fear after mere moments, masking it behind mocking and arrogance. "You sure are persistent...Sarutobi-sensei." He crooked his fingers, but the sword didn't budge any further, was he out of Chakra? 'It's not moving...' His lip curled into a snarl. "You half-dead duo!"

"You still don't understand, Orochimaru?" The half-dead Hokage asked. "The village of Konoha is my home."

Kaede's ears pricked.

"And I am its foundation!"

Orochimaru huffed mockingly. "That's why I said that I will destroy that foundation!"

"As long as the villagers are fighting to protect their important comrades...The foundation of Konoha cannot be destroyed by you!"

"I don't know about that."

Hiruzen made a noise of irritation. "Do not underestimate a Hokage!"

With the constant tug of war between Orochimaru and his teacher, the hand had shifted its grip from the chest of the soul to the arms, and Orochimaru could see that, disturbed by the sight of his own spirit. "This can't be...How are you...? You shouldn't have any Chakra left."

"Chakra and Ninjutsu aren't the only things that determine strength." The old, half-dead man countered, smirking away as he did so.

The Sannin grunted with aggravation and looked down at the soul's arms. 'My arms are still being held. I cannot use any jutsu...' He glanced over at Kaede. "Kaede, can you use your jutsu?!"

"I can barely move t'look at you! What does that tell you?!"

"Tch!" He smirked as he looked calmly into his teacher's eyes. "Can you please let go now?" He moved his arm back and the blade dug deeper into his opponent's chest cavity.

However, Sarutobi wasn't going to let that stop him. "I won't let the village fall victim to your ambition!"

Kaede growled slightly, her soul moving closer to her as irritation set in and her skin glowed ever so slightly. 'Village this, village that...Does this guy ever talk 'bout anything else?!'

"No one can stop my ambition!" Orochimaru countered. "You're going to die here! Or are you saying that an old man like you, Third Hokage...Has the power to stop me?"

Hiruzen grunted from the pain.

"Do you really understand the situation right now?" The Sannin continued. "This village is being attacked by my men and ninja from Sunagakure." He smirked in triumph as pain delved deep into his former sensei's eyes. "Your people...The Konoha Ninja will die, along with the women and children! The destruction of Konoha will succeed!"

A malicious laugh filled the barricaded battle-ground and Sarutobi said nothing, he just glared at his old student as if he had become a vile lump of trash that needed to be destroyed.

"You still do not understand...Orochimaru?" The Professor asked, halting the man's laughter. "Do not underestimate the ninja of this village! The ninja of Konoha will fight with their lives to protect the village."

'Shut up.' Kaede thought, her skin sparking as she continued to see images of her time in her own village, of all the wonderful memories.

"You will not obtain true strength in this world, even if you master every jutsu...I have taught you before...That when you protect something important to you...A shinobi's true strength will manifest!"

'Shut up!' Those memories turned dark as she lost her beloved to his work addiction, then her place in the village upon her return ten years down the line. The pain and anguish melded together with the anger and she let out a sharp snarl. Her skin sparked brighter and brighter and finally, she burst into flames.

The clone holding onto her cried out and let go, the jutsu keeping her in place failing as the Shinigami's hand retracted and her soul slotted back into her body before said clone disappeared in a puff of smoke. But the redhead wasn't done, she spun with wide, rage-filled eyes and pulled a kunai from her sleeve, before she rushed at Orochimaru and Hiruzen, crying out, venting the emotions she felt.

Blood spilt from the old man's mouth as Kaede forced her way between them and buried her dagger deep into his heart, causing blood to completely fill his mouth, choking him from the inside as he spat it up so he could breathe. The two locked eyes, and the lack of emotion, the lack of empathy in them was frightening and so very familiar. "Sorry old man..." She said, lacking remorse. "But I think that's enough crap out of you..."

Hiruzen coughed up more blood, thicker than before with the amount and Kaede's flames died down, her anger fading away as the gravity of the situation set in. She tore the kunai from his chest, hearing his cries of pain as she stepped back and waited for him to die. Searing agony set in for the redhead and she swayed, dropping to her knees, her Oto uniform fused to her flesh in places her underclothes didn't protect as her skin cracked and bled, burnt and scarred from yet another battle.

With his last few breaths, he spoke. "It looks like I don't have the time, or power, to drag out all of your soul..." To prove his point, the soul he had been dragging was slowly inching back into the Sannin's body, thanks to Kaede's sudden attack. "However your ambition ends here!"

"It's not over yet!" Orochimaru snapped. "My ambition will not end yet!"

"I will hand down your punishment for drowning yourself in jutsu. I will take away all the jutsu you have!"

"What did you say?!" The snake-eyed shinobi glanced down at his subordinate. "Kaede, finish him! Now!"

With a grunt, the woman tried to get to her feet, her body trembling as she forced herself up. However it was no use, her vision blurred and she dropped down onto her stomach, gasping hard. 'Dammit, I used up all my Chakra trying t'keep that damn clone from killing me!'

With the last of his strength, Sarutobi let out a war cry and the spirit's arms were pulled out as far as he could get them before the Shinigami pulled its dagger from its mouth and rose it above its head. Orochimaru's face would have drained of any color if it wasn't almost pure white, to begin with. "Are you...?" Panic set in and he screamed. "Stop!"

But it was too late, the blade swung down and the arms were sliced off by the shoulders, separating the two shinobi from their death stance. "Fuuin!" The Third Hokage roared as the arms were sealed within his stomach using the same markings as the jutsu that kept the Kyuubi sealed within Naruto.

The weakened Sannin raised his arms, and watched in horror as the once pale, white skin, turned a rotting grey. "M-my hands..."

"Now you cannot use your arms anymore..." He swayed, eyes blurring as the loss of blood and the staggering, wounded heart took effect. "Since you cannot use your arms, you will not be able to form any more seals. You can no longer use any Ninjutsu!"

Orochimaru's arms dropped to his sides, all he could feel was a blinding pain with each twitch of his numb fingers.

"The destruction of Konoha has failed!"

The Shinigami absorbed the flickering soul that was offered in exchange for the sealing, and the Hokage smiled as his eyes slowly rolled back, his vision failing.

"You old geezer!" The Snake-Eyed Sannin snarled. "Give back my arms!"

"You are a fool, Orochimaru..." His words were soft, peaceful, he had accepted his death. "I regret that we cannot die together, idiot apprentice." The Shinigami finished eating his soul. "Let us meet in the other world."

"You near-dead geezer! How dare you...How dare you take my jutsu!"

The old man's eyes slipped shut, but not before the image of the raging Orochimaru before him warped into his young counterpart, an innocent child who had yet to acquire the malicious desires he held today. Kaede watched silently as he fell back and landed on his side, one last breath leaving his lungs before he died with a peaceful smile on his face.

While the surviving man stared down at his useless limbs, Enma crawled over to Hiruzen. "Sarutobi...At the very least, this sword..." He reached out and took it with his bloody hand, removing it from the corpse of his comrade. After a moment of silence in respect, Enma closed his eyes and vanished into thin air, like all summons do once the fight is over.

The Sannin remained silent for another moment while Kaede kept trying to get back up, eventually getting enough strength to stand up, but not straight, swaying back and forth as Orochimaru perspired from the pain. "It feels like my arms are burning..."

"Orochimaru-sama!" One of the Sound Four called out, the one with two heads.

"This is where we call off our plan...Release the barrier. We'll head back." The leader's lack of resolve, the anger, and defeat hidden behind his hair, deep in his eyes, would have upset anyone who respected him. It should have given the redheaded kunoichi a sense of satisfaction, but it didn't...Instead, she just felt a numb sensation, as if everything she'd done in the past hour had happened to someone else, and she was just watching it from their eyes.

"Yes, sir!" The four Fuuin experts called back. "Kai!" The barrier surrounding the roof dissipated, fading away like dust in the air and two of the Sound Four took Orochimaru by each of the arms, while the large one with patchy red hair supported Kaede against his shoulder. The group jumped into the sky and made their escape from the dark scene below, a blood-soaked battleground that had been decimated.

But it wasn't that easy, the ANBU who had been watching the fight made chase, but the Oto shinobi with six arms got in their way, tangling them in a sticky web. While the Konoha shinobi hit the tiled roof with a thump, they upped their speed and vanished without a trace.

As they made their way out of Konoha's territory and towards their own, Kaede remained silent, staring down at the ground whizzing past, no emotion registering on her face. She had just killed the Hokage in cold-blood, for a selfish goal that she may not ever achieve, but instead of feeling sorrow or remorse for her actions, her mind processed the good this did towards her ambitions.

She had openly assisted in killing Sarutobi Hiruzen, therefore she had made excellent progress towards gaining Orochimaru's trust, which in turn would make it easier for him to lower his guard around her, and grant her the perfect opportunity for her to strike.

She closed her eyes, her expression finally warping into a slight sense of regret as her heart became heavy. Despite the positives, she had killed a man who had shown her deep respect, who had told her she had potential. It was bound to hurt a little bit.

Kabuto soon appeared and took over the Sound's job of taking Orochimaru back. Three of them vanished while one remained to help the S-rank kunoichi move. Both raised their hands and used Shunshin to speed up the process, landing outside of their underground hideout.

"I'm fine now." The Ninjutsu Expert told her support with a dull tone. He nodded and let go, before disappearing himself to do his duties. Kaede took this opportunity to head inside before Orochimaru and Kabuto, using the wall for support as the pain and burnt flesh made it hard to stay conscious.

All she wanted to do right now was sleep, despite her injuries, despite her actions, she just wanted to forget the world for a little while. As she neared her room, she could hear Kabuto trying to calm Orochimaru, who was now openly venting his anger on anyone and anything in his path. Rolling her eyes, she went inside and closed the door, leaning against it, only to flinch away from the surface with a hiss when it made contact with her raw cloth-fused skin.

She stood in the middle of the room, looking down at her bloody, burnt feet, her expression empty once again, but her eyes filled to the brim with accusation and guilt. 'I killed a man who was just trying to protect his home...And for what...? An empty sense of peace? Revenge that won't bring back my standing in Suna?'

Those words reminded her of her village, she imagined everyone welcoming her with open arms, but she knew it was a hollow dream with no real future. This dark, depressing thought actually brought a sinister grin to her lips and she huffed, running her fingers through her fringe as her shoulders shook with an empty laugh.

'What's the point in thinking about that now?' She asked herself, tears pooling in those grief-stricken eyes. 'Once I kill him with my own two hands, I can think about what happens next...I live t'kill that bastard, no matter how many obstacles I have to topple t'get to that moment...'

The grief left her eyes and once her tears dried only bloodlust remained. Her mind returned to Sarutobi once more, but this time she didn't feel regret, only a cold sense of detachment.

'That old man was a hurdle...And I will win this race!'

And with that, she squashed any remaining thoughts of her actions and went into the bathroom to self-remedy her burns. As she left the room, so did her morality, all that remained was a dark sense of purpose, a selfish goal she had every intention of seeing through to the end.

No matter what.

Chapter Text

Deep underground within Otogakure territory, in a room fit for an evil lord, deep, ragged breaths echoed off the walls and many decorative jars filled with past experiments and shed snake-skin as Kabuto, weakened from the countless battles during the Chuunin exam, helped the pale shinobi onto the thone at the centre of the room. Orochimaru himself had sustained the most damage from the battles, as his arms were bandaged and useless, and he was beginning to show signs of a fever from the aggressive pain that ravaged his once useable limbs.

"Curse that Sarutobi..." The weakened Sannin hissed out as he glared down at his arms and managed to clench a fist, though the action shot agony up his arm, making him wince.

Kabuto stood before the feverish leader with a blank frown, only tiredness visible in his eyes. "The task was not that easy, after all." He commented, training his gaze on the inflicted arms also. "You fought the person praised as being the strongest of the Five Nations, the Hokage." He smiled, though it lacked energy. "You did very well and you killed two of the five Kage..."

"Don't." The sharp, sinister tone of Lord Orochimaru silenced the Medic as his snake-like eyes, though exhausted, lifted to meet the younger man's black ones, nothing but murderous intent deep in those vicious depths, sending a shiver of fear up his spine. "Don't try to patronize me...I'll kill you!"

Silence passed for a moment as Kabuto collected himself and kept Orochimaru's gaze. "I had no intention of doing so. We could not capture the village...But for this plan's other goal, Uchiha Sasuke..." The frown he had adorned from terror a moment ago warped into a small. twisted smile. "We were able to put a new collar on him."

The cynical, dark laughter that left his lord's throat as he slumped over and closed his eyes was chilling to anyone who knew of his ambitions and desires and respected him for the determination he usually showed towards them. "But I had to sacrifice these arms and all of my jutsu. If I could've gotten hold of Uchiha Itachi to begin with, there would not have been a problem." He opened his eyes, and the cold, silent rage within them turned the chilling air into a blizzard. "But that's an impossible dream now. He is stronger than me!"

He directed his gaze onto a mummified hand on a wooden table further away, where a simple ring with a simple kanji symbol on the back rested on the deceased pinky finger. "That's why...I left that organization."

~BHBL~

Meanwhile, in the large training area of the hideout, Kaede stood in her flame-retardant underclothes, bandaged in areas and burnt in others, but hard at work as she held a kunai between her teeth and dealt blows and kicks to the air before her in an attempt to speed up her attacks, while applying a good level of power. Despite her agony and bleeding injuries, she wouldn't be slowed in her actions and would train until her last breath, as she always had done. The one plus side to all this training was that her attacks seemed to flow with more ease, which would give her an excellent advantage in battle.

Deciding to raise the bar a little, she opened her jaw and dropped the blade between her teeth, before she spun and caught it, using the motion to slash at the air with extreme force and speed. She placed it in her mouth once again and did this several more times, getting it wrong once or twice after, until she finally felt fatigue kick in, then she took the kunai from her jaws and tossed it behind her until she heard the familiar clink of the metal striking the other weapons on the stand.

Since she had set her goal to completing that motion at least once, due to her weakened state, she decided she deserved a fairly relaxing break. Sadly without her book or any other forms of entertainment within the hideout, she knew this meant she'd go back to her room and take a long nap.

Since the battle between Sarutobi Hiruzen, and the first few days of Orochimaru roaring with anger through the halls, he had been fairly quiet and honestly, it disturbed her a little. Orochimaru was never this silent or reserved, he would taunt her, gratingly input his opinion during her private training sessions, and force her to go on supply runs, so not hearing from him for the past few days was really starting to freak her out.

It was still a welcome change though, it meant she had time to come up with a way to kill him during his exhausted state. At the thought of his injuries and agonising cries during the early days, a twisted grin curled her lips and her eyes danced with glee. It was nice to see that creep feel some suffering for a change, to understand what it was like for her when she couldn't change her own fate. It was the one thing that helped keep the guilt she had locked in a chest deep in her mind at bay because if she had assisted Hiruzen in the battle and killed Orochimaru then and there, he wouldn't be tormented now, and the joy she felt would have been taken away.

With a stretch of her arms over her head, she went to leave the room but faltered when the memories of the fight brought an event to mind. Orochimaru's swift attempt to save her life, pulling her out of the path of a tidal wave of deadly water and into the safe circle of air that had been created for him.

With a click of the tongue, she sneered at the thought of having her life saved by that sick bastard and shook her head, finally leaving the training hall to take a long nap, her expression soured by the sudden thought that made its way into her brain.

The man she was trying to kill, saved her own life. How humiliating...

As she strolled down the corridors towards her own room, she paused as Orochimaru trudged his way down towards her, well not her, the door beside her, his bedroom door. Without making eye contact, the furious Sannin shuffled to the door which had been left open due to his inability to use his arms at this moment, and stormed inside, slamming it hard with his foot, blocking her view of his fever-stricken form.

Honestly, that was the most she'd seen of him since the fight, and despite the odd silence, she was relieved, since the mere sight of him made her sick to her stomach, now more than ever. Shaking her head, she continued around a corner and into her own room, wishing she had more to do than train, nap and watch the moon at night.

While she prepared to sleep, Orochimaru leaned back against his large pillows separating his back from the headboard, the pain in his arms increasing as the medication he had been given finally started to wear off. However the proud Sannin wouldn't get another dose, he hated the vile, bitter taste it left in his mouth. Only when the pain became unbearable would he request that horrible concoction for relief.

His mind returned to the fight against Sarutobi, the sight of his arms being severed at the soul, and his flesh turning grey in response. How he'd not only failed to retrieve a new vessel but also failed to destroy the place he grew up in.

Anger flooded his system and he clenched his weak, trembling fists until blood leaked onto the bandages from both his palms and knuckles as the flesh split beneath the white strips. 'Curse you, Sarutobi!' He thought viciously as he glared down at the useless limbs. 'If I could kill you over again, I would, you senile old geezer!'

With a snarl of pure rage, he swung out one of his arms and shattered a large vial on the nightstand used to create his detested medication. The pain forced a hiss from his lips and he hunched forward with his arm curled inwards towards his chest. He took deep, heavy breaths as he waited for the waves of agony to pass, desperately hoping that no one would come into the room to investigate the noise. He wanted to be alone, he was not some weak, sick child who needed constant care!

To his relief, a moment passed and no footsteps moved towards his safe haven, there was no rapping on the door or concerned voices echoing through the wood to see if he was alright, he was by himself, and relishing in it.

With one last exhale of heavy air, he rested against his pillows once again and glared at the door, vowing to make them all pay, to make his ambitions a reality whether he had destroyed Konoha or not.

~BHBL~

A fair amount of time passed since that day and Orochimaru hadn't gotten any better, in fact, it had been two weeks and the pain he experienced had increased tenfold and he was taking out the anger caused by the agony he felt on anyone in his path. He'd already killed several of his followers who had suggested he rest, eat, or anything that made him feel weak.

Kabuto himself had been on the receiving end of his anger more than once, and praised his own healing abilities, as he would probably be dead otherwise. Kaede was the only one who hadn't succumb to his anger firsthand, as she'd avoided his very existence as much as she could, only going to see him when he had a mission for her, which she was reluctant to take on, but did anyway.

As a matter of fact, she had just returned from a weeklong stake-out of Konohagakure, which was now rebuilding and searching for a new Hokage, and the thought that the village hadn't fallen slightly irritated her as she sat outside the hideout, watching the moon in the sky, finding a wonderful sense of freedom at the sight.

With all the hard work she'd put into fighting Konohagakure to gain that irritating Sannin's trust, to find that it was easily rebuilt and that the 'foundation' hadn't toppled, reminded her of her own village and it's sturdy walls, and she hated it. 'Why do villages even exist? All they do is cause wars and alienate their own the moment they disappear for too long...'

She sighed and laid back on the dry grass, arms folded behind her head as a cloud covered the moon, strengthening her frown. Even the large celestial body wasn't completely free and was bound to be called away by the sun at some point.

Meanwhile, Orochimaru was sat on his throne, having demanded to be moved to that location so he wouldn't be seen as fragile any longer, though the length of time he could stay there was very limited now. His mind continued to wander back to the fight, but instead of dwelling on his failures, which had become stale long ago, he was focused on Kaede's performance during the battle.

Though she had been slow to join the fray in the end, due to the jutsu placed on the pair of them, and her irritating comebacks when he demanded she assist him, she had stepped up and landed the final blow on Hiruzen which lead to his death, and stopped the Otokage from being outright killed by his teacher.

He closed his eyes for a moment with a contemplating frown, he had offered to reward her, mid-fight, and despite telling many lies himself, there were some promises he found foolish to ignore or avoid. He opened his snake-like orbs and looked over at Kabuto, who was preparing his usual dose of disgusting pain-relief. "Kabuto..."

The medic hummed and turned his head slightly to look Orochimaru in the eyes. "Yes, Orochimaru-Sama? The medicine isn't ready yet, it'll be another hour before I can be of assistance."

"Tch." He sneered, easily irritated when in such a state. "I have no interest in that so-called 'medicine.' Kaede should have returned from her mission by now...Bring her to me, I want to hear her report."

Kabuto stared at Orochimaru for a moment before he closed his eyes and turned to face the Sannin, bowing his torso. "Yes, sir." Was his simple response before he left the room, the candlelight reflecting on his glasses, hiding his eyes and his expression from view.

He himself found that sending someone to Konoha would only rub salt in the wounds and that they should be solely focused on finding some kind of cure for Orochimaru's ailment.

It took the young medic a full twenty minutes to seek out and find Kaede, he searched her room, the kitchen and the training hall, but she hadn't been there. However, once he stepped outside, she was the one who made her presence known, lying in the grass at the top of the stairs. "What d'you want, Kabuto?" She called down, sitting up to glare at him over her shoulder.

"Orochimaru requests your presence in his study," Kabuto told her, placing a hand on his hip as he met her gaze with little hesitation. He didn't fear her glare as much as he feared Orochimaru's. "It'd do you well not to keep him waiting."

"Heh, tell your 'Lord' that I'll be there when I damn well please!"

The medic sighed and pushed his glasses up his nose, she was testing his patience. Honestly, he didn't understand why the Sannin didn't just dispose of her, she had no further uses. "Though the thought pleases me, he is not in the best of moods and will probably punish you for keeping him waiting. His health is waning and he is lacking patience."

Kaede bit her tongue as the thought 'serves him right' crossed her mind, but since she needed him to trust her, she knew saying such things would drop her about ten steps back, so she held it in. "Fine, tell Orochimaru I'll be there in a minute."

"Good, don't dawdle. His punishment for you will likely involve locking you back in a containment cell.'

And then the medic stepped inside and Kaede clicked her tongue, forcing back a shiver at the thought of being trapped in a glass box again. She glared up at the moon which was now shrouded in clouds, indicating a storm was on its way and exhaled slowly in thought. 'Die in the rain, or talk t'Orochimaru?'

She hummed.

'Tough call.'

~BHBL~

"Heh, you look like crap~"

The redhead stood within the study, before Orochimaru's hunched form sitting on his throne, a glare in his eyes as sweat slid down his even paler skin. "How does it feel t'have all your jutsu sealed away forever?" Though she wanted to gain his trust, she couldn't help the odd jeer, it felt so good to see this man suffering.

Orochimaru however, didn't bite into her taunts, and instead smirked with a twisted sense of amusement and pain. "I'm not too sure, Firecracker, tell me...How does it feel to have killed the Third Hokage?" He grinned arrogantly as her own fell with the comeback and she clicked her tongue, crossing her arms as she glared directly at him.

"Alright, what d'you want? There's a bed with my name on it, and you're taking up my free time."

"Hm, hm, hm, rather impatient, aren't we?" He teased, enjoying venting his frustrations out on her, as she did to him quite often. "Give me your report on Konoha...Have they found a new Hokage yet?"

"No...They still don't have a Hokage, but the village is rebuilding, they're remodeling the damaged houses and the gate we destroyed with your two-headed snake..." She looked away, surprising him as she too seemed irritated at the news. "That's a village for you, they don't care who dies, they've just got t'keep up their status..."

"Hmm, do I sense a little resentment~?"

Kaede clicked her tongue. "I ain't falling for your little digs, Snake-Eyes. I've delivered my report, I'm leaving." She turned to exit the room when his raspy voice stopped her in her tracks.

"I'm not finished."

She looked at him over her shoulder and he stared her dead in the eyes with a serious frown, all teases out the window, which was the only reason she was still listening. "Despite your slow reaction to Sarutobi-sensei's attack, you still managed to deal the final blow and stop him from killing me..." His lip curled up with distaste at the thought of being rescued. "Distasteful as it was, your actions cannot go without a reward."

Her eyes widened and she spun to face him, completely dumbstruck by his words. "I don't want your damn rewards." She told him sternly, her serious nature showing through once again as she got ahold of herself and glared at him. "I didn't do that for you, he just pissed me off with his 'Konoha is a family' speech! I don't need no damn reward!"

Orochimaru chuckled and closed his tired eyes with a wide smirk on his lips. "Oh, but you'll be rather happy with what I have planned." He looked at Kabuto. "Collect the item in my dresser...It'll look out of place among my things."

Kabuto nodded and turned, opening the drawers, his eyes wide with surprise as he spotted something that was indeed out of place. "Orochimaru-sama...Isn't this...?" He asked.

"It isn't mine, hand it to Kaede, she should recognize it..."

The younger medic closed the drawer and took the item over, holding it out to Kaede, whose brown eyes widened to impossible widths as she looked over the very important object she remembered and loved.

It was her copy of Icha-Icha Paradise, with its dog-eared pages and damaged cover caused by overuse. She was silent in shock as Orochimaru nodded to Kabuto, who nodded back and left them to speak in peace. Despite his sour mood and constant pain, he had moments where he wasn't a walking embodiment of anger and fury, and this was one of them.

"You're wondering how this book came into my possession, hm?" He asked, chuckling at the look she gave him, a gobsmacked expression of shock and confusion. "On the night that I took you from Sunagakure, you had this book in your possession, and I knew from the wear and tear inflicted upon its pages that it was a well-loved novel...Though why you'd enjoy that perverted fool's literature is far beyond my understanding." He grimaced in memory of his former teammate, the creator of Icha-Icha Paradise. "I realized that this book would be useful somewhere down the line and took it along with you back to my hideout...Now that you've proven yourself a worthy subordinate it has been returned to your possession."

But that wasn't the end of it, while Kaede processed his words, his eyes sharpened like a snake hunting a weak mouse. "However...If you continue to take your time in coming to my aid, your punishment will be...Severe." He narrowed those slitted eyes. "Is that understood?"

Her thoughts returned to the warning Kabuto gave her, and the images of her former containment cell came to mind, causing a shiver to run down her spine, chilling her from the inside out. With a glare, she met his eyes, less afraid of him than the thought of being trapped, and glared at him while her mind whirred.

Orochimaru wasn't kind, he wasn't decent or understanding...He was cruel, malicious, sadistic and sickening. So why did she feel a sliver of gratitude, a desire to thank him for returning her most precious belonging back to her, despite being the reason she didn't have it in the first place.

Disgust and discomfort filled her form and she huffed, turning to leave with one final sentence. "Whatever...It ain't like you've got enough strength to protect y'self. Just don't expect me to bow down at your feet."

And she left with those lies hanging in the air, she had no intention of protecting him from anything, no matter what gifts he'd given her.

Once she was out of earshot, Orochimaru chuckled with a dark smirk. Her words were irritating, but once again her reactions proved amusing. Her company never seemed to bore him. Though her actions at the Chuunin Exams the night before the final battle still troubled him to some extent. There was no way she would visit his room in the middle of the night just for training, knowing her, she'd rather sneak out and train alone than ask for his assistance, therefore, there was only one other thing she could have been planning.

However, he chose not to dwell on it, only to keep a wary eye on her as he continued towards his ambitions. He had no time or patience to focus on her foolish goals when he had other, more pressing matters to attend to, like healing his pain-stricken arms.

And for that, he needed to find Tsunade.

Chapter Text

As Kaede stepped out of the room, she kept her eyes trained on the cover of her beaten copy of Icha-Icha Paradise. She closed the door behind her so Orochimaru couldn't see her anymore, and let her frown curl into a snarl of frustration.

Not only had this madman given her a reward, which she doubted he would do, if anything, she'd expected a punishment for not intervening fast enough, he had given her the most precious reward he could have offered. No matter how much she glared down at the book and thought that Orochimaru had been the one to give it back to her, she couldn't hate it, couldn't hate the irreplaceable object that had been one of the highlights of her time with Kiyoshi.

There were too many memories among its pages, about her life in Sunagakure, her family, her friends, and her deceased ex-husband, who despite his problems, despite their harsh separation, she still held a soft-spot for.

The former Suna kunoichi quickly jerked her head up when she heard footsteps approach and met Kabuto's eyes, who immediately recognized struggle and contemplation in their usually difficult-to-perceive depths. Kaede clicked her tongue and averted her gaze, storming past the young medic towards her bedroom, she would have preferred to sit outside by the lake and catch up on her reading, but with the storm fast approaching, it wasn't worth the risk.

Kabuto stared after her until she rounded the corner and then entered Orochimaru's study with his usual dose of medicine. The man himself looked utterly pleased with causing the poor woman a sense of turmoil and chuckled sinisterly. "It seems she enjoyed her reward~" He started, eyeing the disgusting medicine as Kabuto placed it down on the table beside him. "Though I doubt her hatred of me will make it easy to accept."

"Pardon my curiosity, Orochimaru-sama..." The right-hand man started, his eyes hidden by the candlelight bouncing off his glasses once again, his emotions unreadable. "But why did you reward her, to begin with? If she had control over her ability to ignite her body and came to your aid at a much sooner speed, then you would still retain your ability to use jutsu."

The Sannin looked at the reflective frames with an analyzing gaze of his own. "Still as sharp as ever...Hm, Kabuto?" He looked at the door with a gleam against those snake-like irises caused by the flickering orange light illuminating the room dimly. "I despise showing kindness to another, it is a waste of time and resources...However, I am fully aware of her desire to end my life, and by giving her this book, I feel it may warp her perspective just enough to push those thoughts out completely."

"So it's a diversion tactic? Gain her trust through petty gifts?"

"Hm, hm, hm, your tongue is as sharp as your mind." He smirked. "But yes, in a manner of speaking, I want to divert her away from acts of treason, and towards showing gratitude and loyalty to myself and my village...However, if she chooses to continue stacking these useless dominos towards my demise..." His pupils turned into thin slits radiating pure evil. "Then I have no choice but to knock them down!"

"Why not just knock them down now?" Kabuto pressed.

"Despite her...difficult nature, she is a powerful pawn at my disposal...Her flames, though unpredictable, had the power to interrupt Sarutobi's jutsu. With those flames at my command, I will have yet another reason to be feared." The Sannin's lips curled into a devious grin. "Once she sees things my way, I will become unstoppable~"

Despite Orochimaru's words, the keen-minded Kabuto had a feeling that was not the only reason his lord kept Kaede around, however, chose not to say anything for fear of being decimated.

"Now, onto more pressing matters..." The Otokage started, only to wince and curl forward slightly as intense pain shot up his arms. "Nng...! I have an urgent mission for you...Seek out another of the Legendary Sannin the granddaughter of the First Hokage, Tsunade-hime and report back her location."

"I understand your reasoning towards wanting to find Tsunade-sama, sir..." Kabuto cut in, knowing who he was speaking of, his frown deepening as he stirred the medicine and held it out for the man to take. "However with your ailment, I don't recommend I leave your side in case you need an extra dose of your medication-"

Kabuto's entire body froze up with a sense of terror as Orochimaru shot him a dangerous, vicious glare that chilled his blood in his veins and sent visions of his death through his mind. The Otokage could be a truly terrifying creature if angered, and right then, even the medic didn't feel he was safe from death's cold hands.

Clearing his throat with little noise, the younger man pushed his glasses up his nose and bowed. "As you wish, Orochimaru-sama...I shall prepare some emergency medicine and leave immediately."

Orochimaru smirked and gripped his sheets as the pain washed through his system again. "Good...I eagerly await your return."

Kabuto nodded and left, a disturbed frown twisting on his lips the moment he closed the Sannin's door. Nothing was more frightening than a snake rearing back to bite, especially when that snake held a deadly poison in its fangs. Forcing back a shudder, similar to the one he showed during the Konohagakure mission when he was assigned to kidnap Sasuke, the medic walked down the corridor to do as he was told.

~BHBL~

A week later, Kaede was back to her usual training regimen, having read the book twice times over the course of the past seven days and in need of something else to do for a little while. She had thought a lot about the fight between her and Hiruzen and knew the amount of Jutsu she knew, though extensive with her limited Release types, was not enough against someone with such dangerous knowledge on Jutsu as Orochimaru.

So now she stood there, forming the seals for her Katon: Kasai Suīpu Jutsu, trying to extend the number of times she could use it in a day before she would run dangerously low on Chakra. However after every use of the jutsu, during that few seconds she took a breather to regain her focus, she felt odd.

It was too quiet.

Though she would never admit it to herself, Orochimaru was the only person in this facility worthy of sparring with, since she was stronger than all of his current underlings, and the motivation to kill him forced her to perform at her best to overpower him. So not having him as a training dummy made it difficult to improve at a steady pace.

Shaking the whispering thoughts she barely focused on from the back of her mind, she continued the training until her mouth blistered and she had heavy dark circles under her eyes from fatigue. 'That's enough for now...I need a nap.' She thought as she stretched her arms out over her head and walked from the room with a dull yawn.

As she passed Orochimaru's room, that tired frown stretched into a satisfied grin when she heard a cry of anguish from inside and yet another harsh complaint about his arms. But her moment of joy was ruined when she bumped into a thin, but strong torso, staggering back she looked up and was surprised to see Kabuto stood before her, a brow arched as he had seen her sly grin beforehand.

"Having a good day, Kaede?" He asked with a suspicion in his tone, knowing exactly what she was smiling about, just as another cry, from someone else, emanated from Orochimaru's room, and a thump was heard, possibly a body hitting the floor. "You seem rather cheerful, an odd occurrence for someone who spent every waking moment, from escaping the cell, despising her current role in Otogakure."

Kaede clicked her tongue and glared up at the taller teen, not amused by his attitude. "Haven't y'heard of 'respect y'elders,' kid?"

Kabuto chuckled. "I have, however you act like neither an elder nor someone worthy of my respect."

The woman snarled at him and went to respond, but he swerved around her and entered Orochimaru's room, pissing her off further. As a way of aggravating both the young medic in retaliation and the sadistic Sannin, Kaede decided to enter the room alongside Kabuto, giving them no privacy. If she was cursed to stay here for all eternity, then she'd make sure to piss them off in the process.

However, the moment she stepped past Kabuto and the room became visible to her, she stopped in her tracks with wide eyes. Before her lay the body of Orochimaru's subordinate, one of his more loyal ones, blood pooling around his form, as well as splattered across the carpet, walls and even Orochimaru's sheets.

To think the Sannin, even with his cursed arms and inability to use Ninjutsu, could so easily kill another from sheer anger alone...It was almost too terrifying to think about, and even Kaede, who stubbornly refused to accept fearing this man, struggled not to step back and out of the room.

And though she refused to accept being scared of him some part of her, a part she'd never acknowledge, felt a little bit of hesitation towards her goal of killing him.

Though she would openly admit she was glad she hadn't attempted to kill him yet, not until her new Jutsu had been completed at least, and she'd increased her chakra capacity to deal with his irritating sense of stamina and strength.

Kabuto's sigh interrupted her thoughts and she snapped her attention to him as Orochimaru looked up at the medic through his long fringe covering his exhausted eyes. "I just came back, and I need to clean the room already?!" The boy's own eyes narrowed with an air of seriousness around him, despite the small smile on his lips. "Please take your medicine."

"I don't need your useless medicine." The Sannin sneered as he glared down at his trembling, bandaged arms.

Kaede almost snorted with disagreement as she grinned and looked over his sweating, pain-ridden form. "Doesn't look that way t'me~!" She taunted, placing a hand on her hip, she was thoroughly enjoying his misery. "I'd say your arms are more useless than the medicine right now!"

A sharp angered snarl tore through the room and his dark, malicious gaze met her own gleeful one, and for a second, even she, the woman who did not fear him in the slightest, felt a cold shiver run up her spine at the murderous intent that lay in their depths.

"Get out!" He demanded, assuming his usual, threatening tones would work, even on her.

However it didn't, she crossed her arms stubbornly and grinned at him, though there was hesitation in her movements, even for a second. "Nah, I kinda like sitting here, watching your misery~"

"You have but a few seconds to leave this room before I do to you what I did to that man there..." His eyes moved to the corpse of his other subordinate. "Now leave!"

"No."

Kabuto would have intervened to stop Orochimaru doing something he'd regret, but the look in his eyes, the dark curl of his lips, and the clenching of his fists around the bloodied sheets on his bed make him think otherwise. Instead, he turned to Kaede and smiled at her, a creepy, kind-looking smile she knew was false to its core. "Kaede-chan, could you leave us be for a moment?"

"Heh, nice try, kid!" She said, leaning against the wall, making it pretty obvious she had no intentions of leaving. "If the snake couldn't get me t'leave, then you ain't either~!"

A hiss left the older, wiser shinobi cooped up in bed and he glared at her. "Curse you...!"

"Heh, I ain't the one who's been cursed, asshole!"

Of course, as she stood there, staring into those snake-like eyes, still fueled by murderous intent, which increased by the second, she felt the desire to back down resurface but forced it away from the forefront of her mind. She wouldn't now, nor would she ever, give in to his whims.

Though Orochimaru detested the thought of backing down himself and letting her have the victory, he had bigger things to worry about than her triumphant smirk. No, he had to focus on the rising agony he felt, and the desire to find Tsunade. "This burning pain in my arms..." He started, surprising them both as he changed the subject. Kaede clicked her tongue in disappointment, and the Sannin swam in his own sense of triumph.

At least, until another wave of tremendous agony took over. "I didn't think it would be this painful." He managed to rasp as he shook from the sensation.

"It is the last curse of Sarutobi, the Third Hokage, after all..." Kabuto added on, looking at the bloodied bandages, Orochimaru's own life elixir mixed with that of the dead man on the floor.

Orochimaru lifted his head and gave Kabuto a vicious glare. "Shut up with your explanations." He took a breath. "More importantly, have you found 'that person?'"

Kaede arched a brow as she processed their words in silence, wondering just who 'that person' was.

"Yes." The younger medic confirmed. "It seems 'that person' is in a place called Tanzaku City."

"Tanzaku City..." Orochimaru repeated, his expression of agony slowly twisted into a tormented grin. "I see..."

Kabuto pushed his glasses up his nose again. "But that person is one of the Legendary Sannin...It isn't going to be so easy..."

'Either Jiraiya or Tsunade then...' Kaede mused silently, having seen them in the flesh during the Second Great Shinobi war. 'What would he want with one of those two? It's not like they'd help him...'

The third and cruelest of the three Sannin chuckled darkly, his shoulders shaking with the motions as his grin widened further. Kaede's second nature, the serious side of her mind which had been peaking out during her time in the room, fully surfaced completely and her frown deepened. She knew that chuckle meant something was going to happen, something her former morally-drawn mind would disagree with.

"The best medicines are the bitter ones." He sneered, focusing his attention on his right-hand man. "Kabuto, prepare for departure immediately." Kabuto bowed and left with a simple affirmative, and the Sannin's eyes then moved to Kaede, who blinked curiously. "Despite your disobedience, you're to come with us..." He stated, and she arched a brow.

"And why would I do that?" She asked, letting it be known that she wasn't keen on helping him. "It ain't like I'm much use to you in your state."

He chuckled once again. "And that's where you're wrong, Firecracker~" His grin widened as his taunt made her sneer with irritation. "You showed excellent promise during the mission to destroy Konoha-"

"Which we failed at-"

"-Let me finish!"

It took a lot to silence Kaede, and that was it, she snapped her jaw shut, not out of fear, but out of curiosity for what he was going to say. Giving her a moment to follow his order, his angered frown turned back into a triumphant smirk and he continued. "Your Fire Release talents, despite their unpredictable nature, prove useful to me, therefore you will accompany me alongside Kabuto as my bodyguard. Is that understood?"

Kaede's expression warped with disdain and hatred and she clicked her tongue at the mere thought of protecting him, but a whispering thought in the back of her mind made her rethink her desire to refuse. A musing she refused to acknowledge, just like fear.

The redhead sighed and closed her eyes as she leaned her head back against the wall. "Alright, but only if y'can deal with my attitude!" She opened her eyes and flashed him a cocky grin. "Think y'can do that, ol' Snake Eyes~?"

His laughter echoed the room with a deep, sinister undertone and his irritation faded at long last. "I doubt that'll be a problem. Now leave and await further orders."

Kaede begrudgingly hummed in acceptance and stepped out of the room, leaning against the wall by the door when it clicked shut, her hand combing through her hair as she thought over the realization she didn't want to admit to while in his presence.

The reason she had subconsciously stopped herself from refusing, was because somewhere in the back of her mind, she felt like she owed him for saving her life during the battle with the Third Hokage. How could she, the one destined to rid the world of his evil, feel like she owed him anything?!

She hated him to her core, so why would she care?!

Disgusted and in need of a distraction, she pushed off the solid surface and headed back to her room in hopes of giving her precious book another read, while Orochimaru finally took Kabuto's advice and forced down the medicine he'd been given by the grunt he'd killed.

~BHBL~

It was barely an hour later that Kaede was interrupted during a nap by one of Orochimaru's lesser men, who just had to knock loudly on the door to alert her that it was time to head off. With a grumbling complaint, she packed up her book, which had been resting on her head during the nap, and some supplies in a rucksack she strapped to the back of the sash keeping her robe together and stepped out of her room. She opted to wear her usual maroon outfit, sleeveless short-legged heat-resistant suit and wooden sandals rather than the Otogakure outfit and the full body suit she wore during her last big mission. If she could avoid wearing the Otogakure forehead-protector at all costs, she would, the mere thought of representing the village sickened her.

As the sun began to set and the entire landscape was tinted orange in its dying light, the redhead emerged from the hideout and walked up the steps, surprised to see Orochimaru stood there in a purple yukata with snake-like patterns going from the mid-back to the sleeves. Over this yukata was a jacket-like layer of de-saturated pink fabric that could easily be removed if necessary. However, despite the ease of removal, it was obvious this wasn't his usual outfit fit for battle, which meant he was leaving the heavy duty fighting to her and Kabuto.

She pushed back a desire to smirk as she realized she was finally getting through to him, lowering his guard almost far enough for her to kick his ass to next week. A few more small sacrifices, like that of the Hokage, and she would achieve her sought-after desires.

Little did she know, the real reason Orochimaru had demanded her to come with them, was because he knew of her intentions, and would take every precaution he knew to stop her from completing her goals. She couldn't do any harm if he kept an eye on her, after all.

The day turned to night, and back into day again as the three headed towards the city where Tsunade currently laid her head to rest. Kaede had been informed of their mission at this point and knew the whole reason they were searching for this woman was because she was a famed medic and would be able to heal Orochimaru's arms. The thought of him regaining his strength put a damper on her plans, but she did her duty to protect Orochimaru anyway, knowing any attempt at stopping his plans would utterly destroy her's.

Though she did half-ass her duty most of the time to piss him off, in the end, she walked ahead through the forest, scouting the area with keen, brown eyes as she listened and looked for any kind of enemy or danger. Meanwhile, behind her, Kabuto tended to his lord whenever the pain became unbearable, and sometimes while he did this, Kaede would focus her attention on them for a moment before checking behind them for similar signs she searched for at the front of the cell.

After a few hours, she no longer looked back to check for enemies, instead, she would focus her gaze on Orochimaru, who kept his head held high despite his tormented state. The fierce, intense desire to recover what he once lost was clear in those snake-like eyes that never seemed to wane, even when he collapsed due to the agony.

The redhead with a vendetta never wanted to say it out loud, but even she had to admit that the presence of such a force of nature, a determined, goal-oriented soul was almost inspiring. Though the thought made her gut twist in discomfort, she couldn't ignore this musing like the others.

Was she starting to see some good in him?

~BHBL~

The night soon fell and Orochimaru dropped to his knees as the pain and exhaustion finally set in and he couldn't ignore it any longer. He turned his head to the bright moon in the sky and roared in anger. "Curse you Sarutobi!"

Kaede, who had stood back without really giving Orochimaru any thought, glanced over and her eyes widened in shock as the Sannin struggled to get to his feet, before letting out another angered noise and leveling a tree with a swift kick of his foot. For a second, her resolve towards her revenge waned. Even in his weakened form, the gap between their strength just kept widening.

Swallowing hard both she and Kabuto watched as the man dropped to his knees again and stared down at the ground, gasping for air, as if hoping to fight off the pain with sheer willpower alone. Kaede usually would have taken this opportunity to taunt the older man as he crouched there, but even she knew better.

One taunt and her flame would be snuffed out permanently.

The Sannin grunted as he forced himself to his feet without the use of his arms and started walking forward, past Kaede, without even glancing at her, his expression angered and fierce. "Keep moving. We're not stopping here."

With a sigh, the redhead placed her hands on her hips and gave him look that said otherwise. "Not like I care, Orochimaru, but I think we should rest for the night...I ain't exactly full of energy and I ain't going t'be much use t'you if I'm falling asleep during battle, am I?"

"I don't care." Orochimaru snarled, looking back at her with malicious snake-like eyes. "I will find Tsunade and rid myself of this tedious ailment!"

"Orochimaru-sama." Kabuto spoke up, pushing his glasses up his nose as he walked over to Kaede while the Sannin turned to face them. "Though I detest the thought of agreeing with Kaede...I must do so. You're in need of rest in case a fight ensues, and your last dose of medicine has long since left your system. If we stop for the night, I can prepare more and we can continue with haste towards our destination."

Orochimaru glared at the pair of them and snarled angrily, however his mind was made up for him when he felt a surge of dizziness flood his mind and staggered back, pressing his back against a tree to stop him doubling over and collapsing. Kabuto went to his bag to collect his medicine and the redheaded kunoichi leaned against a different tree and pulled out her Icha-Icha book.

"I told y'so."

If he had been in better shape, he'd have leveled her like the tree, but he was exhausted, and he knew Kabuto's words rung true, if a fight were to ensure, he'd need to be at his physical peak, despite his weakened arms, to stay alive.

Especially with Tsunade as their enemy.

The night passed by quickly as Kaede slept like log, on her back, with her arm across her stomach rather than over her eyes. Kabuto had woken only ten minutes prior and was assigned to wake her, and noticing this, he assumed the arm thing was just her way of telling her body how long she'd sleep for. An arm over her eyes for a nap, and on her stomach for a full night's rest.

It was a strange habit though, none-the-less.

Deciding that Orochimaru had waited long enough, as he stood a little distance from them, glaring at a tree, possibly deciding whether or not to take his anger out on it as he had the night before, Kabuto crouched down and forcefully shook Kaede's shoulder in an attempt to wake her. "Kaede, get up, we're heading out."

Kaede groaned and shrugged his hand off her, rolling over so her back was facing him. "Get lost..." She slurred, keeping her eyes tightly shut.

The medic sighed and dropped his head slightly before he pushed his glasses up his nose and glared at her. "We have to keep moving, Orochimaru-sama is growing impatient."

"Tell 'Orochimaru-sama' to take his arms and shove them up his ass! I ain't done sleeping!"

Orochimaru's dark, threatening voice overtook Kabuto's as he turned and stepped towards them. "You will follow my orders, Kaede...I am in no mood to entertain you."

The bold woman rolled over slightly to look at Orochimaru over her shoulder with a tired frown before that frown curled into a smirk and she opened her mouth to give him a snarky comeback. However. his gaze intensified and. once again, she shivered as she swore she saw her death flash before her very eyes.

Groaning at the forceful awakening, she stood up, stretching out her arms above her head with a yawn before she picked up her book and stuffed it into her rucksack. "Alright, alright...Damn, I never thought the former Konoha Shinobi praised as one of the 'Legendary Sannin' was such a spoiled little bra-"

Before she could finish her sentence, a long, snake-like tongue shot towards her, startling her enough that she jumped back, pinning herself to a tree by accident. The organ swung around the tree, as she watched with wide eyes, and snapped tightly against the trunk, pinning her to the wooden surface by her neck. The tight hold slowly choked the life out of her as she grabbed it and dug her nails into it in an attempt to stop it cutting off her airways.

"Don't antagonize me..." Orochimaru snarled as he narrowed his sharply slitted eyes. "I'll kill you." His mouth was wide open as tightened the tongue's grip further, forcing a choked gasp from her lips to prove just how much he meant it.

If he strengthened his grip any further, he risked breaking her neck.

It was then that Kabuto intervened. "Orochimaru-sama, though I wouldn't be opposed to you ending her life here and now, I feel it is my duty to remind you why she's here in the first place." He outstretched his arms as if pleading for his leader to see reason. "I may be a powerful medic, however, that is where my skills lie, with Kaede's assistance, this mission is assured to be a success, therefore I suggest you wait until after it's over to kill her."

Orochimaru clicked the end of his tongue to the roof of his mouth and slowly unwound it, letting the poor woman take a sharp breath as she dropped to her knees and held her throat, coughing hard as she tried to refill her starving lungs. The man didn't even attempt to speak to her, instead, he turned and walked away without a word, Kabuto following behind, smirking at her suffering.

She stayed there for a moment and glared at them before she winced in pain and held her neck. She stood to follow them, a purple bruise staining the skin of her neck for all to see. She stayed behind them for a small while as they moved forward, not one of them too keen on speaking at the moment as she watched their advance towards the city, which was slowly coming into view, but still very far away.

It was odd, but looking at the man now, and the noticeable lingering pain in her neck made her realize that she did fear this man a little, as the mere thought of how close he came to killing her popped into her mind. This small sense of terror brought on an overwhelming wave of anger and she ground her teeth, clenching her fists to focus her mind elsewhere. Why was she thinking so hard about this dangerous criminal?!

He was nothing more than a bastard worth killing.

Soon they stood over the hill leading to the city they'd been traveling towards for several days. "Tanzaku City..." Kabuto started. "One of the Legendary Sannin, Tsunade-sama, is staying there."

Orochimaru grinned maliciously. "I can finally do something about these arms."

"Although she may be good medicine, she's going to be more than bitter."

Kaede rolled her eyes at the metaphor, but Orochimaru just chuckled and started walking down the path towards the city. "Don't worry, Kabuto...I too am a Sannin, I will be fine."

"I also know a little something about Tsunade-sama." Kabuto started as he and Kaede followed the Sannin down the steps and onto the dirt path nearing the city. "I was part of the medical squad, after all. I know she was the first to come up with the proposal...To have a medical specialist in a four-man cell. That was a landmark in history." He glanced at Orochimaru. "What would happen to a cell if there was no one to administer emergency treatment on the battlefield? The result is quite obvious."

"They'd die, it ain't rocket science." Kaede sneered, but her taunts were ignored.

Orochimaru made a soft noise of agreement with the pair of them. "The countless wars...Brought about many advances. They were made possible by the many sacrifices. When a person loses something, he is able to realize it's importance...And what created one of the Legendary Sannin, who has been praised as a medical specialist, were the sacrifices."

Though the redhead could not recall what Tsunade looked like, she'd heard many rumors, that not only was she a medic, but her strength knew no bounds. If she truly was to fight someone of that caliber, then she knew her skills with Ninjutsu would be useful now more than ever. Plus, as her morality had all but vanished, the mere thought of doing something other than guarding this miserable old fool for the past few days ignited a sense of excitement within her and she itched for a fight.

As they got to the city gates, Orochimaru felt a sudden sense of dizziness and slumped against the large stone gate leading into the bustling marketplace. "Orochimaru-sama!" The young medic said with urgency as he stepped closer to inspect his lord, who just glared back, halting his advance.

"Let's finish this business quickly..." He rasped, sweat sliding down his cheek with his exertion. "Even if we have to get a little rough." His eyes narrowed with that same sense of malicious, evil intent.

~BHBL~

"Wow!" A woman with black hair and a pet pig wearing pearls called out excitedly as she stood with a blond woman in front of the giant castle that stood in the middle of the town. "Tanzaku Castle is impressive! I can see why it was classified as a cultural landmark."

"Don't be so carefree..." The blond woman said, her green jacket having the kanji for 'gamble' sewn into the back. She wasted no time turning and walking away from the amazing structure, as she couldn't douse this unsettling sense of dread she was feeling.

"Tsunade-sama!" The short-haired woman called back, running after her mentor. "Please take a closer look at it. It's free to look at!" Tsunade suddenly stopped and the woman behind her stopped too. "Tsunade-sama?"

The medical specialist raised her eyes to look at the castle, the unsettling sensation she felt deepening every second she spent in this town. As if her mind had been read, that sense of dread became reality when the castle suddenly exploded and crumbled to the ground, causing panic and uproar in the area as the tourists ran for their lives.

However Tsunade and her attendant didn't move, they stared up at the castle one shocked and slightly scared, while the other, wiser woman showed no signs of emotion. Slowly the smoke cleared and a giant brown snake stood in the castle's place with three forms standing on its head. Well, two were standing, Kaede was sat on its nose with a fanged grin curling her lips.

"That's-" The attendant gasped as her eyes locked onto a man with long hair covering his face.

"Orochimaru!" Tsunade hissed out, that was what the dread was, it was the disgust she felt for her former teammate resurfacing as he drew closer.

The white-skinned Sannin chuckled lowly as he lifted his head, flicking his hair from his face with the sudden motion as he shot the two below a devious, dark glare and a vicious grin. "I found you."

Let the negotiations begin.

Chapter Text

The sound of crumbling walls and falling debris filled the air of Tanzaku City as Orochimaru, Kaede and Kabuto were lowered to the same level as Tsunade and her attendant by the largest of the giant snakes they had appeared on. The two male ninja were the first to step off its large nose, and the moment the redhead followed, the snakes both disappeared in a puff of smoke, leaving the three staring at their target.

Kaede knew which one Tsunade was by the way she stood and how she glared at Orochimaru, no fear, just mild disgust, while the black-haired, younger woman at her side seemed to tremble slightly in fear of the dangerous, villainous Sannin.

The silence seemed to stretch through the small pathway they were confined to by two large cobblestone walls, the two Sannin stared at one another as if gauging the others reactions and movements. It was Tsunade who broke the strained quiet of the area. "It's been a very long time, Orochimaru."

The deathly pale man smirked at the sharp way she said that sentence. "I've looked for you everywhere."

"What do you want from me? Don't tell me you want to talk about old times."

A soft laugh left Kaede's lips and she grinned, placing her hand on her hip as she looked the blonde medic over. 'I like her, she ain't scared of pissing him off!'

"Well..." Orochimaru started, his hands beginning to twitch as he forced back a wince through the pain that flooded his arms. "I do have a small request for you."

Tsunade looked him over, and judging from how her eyes snapped to his bandaged arms more than once, Kaede assumed she was analyzing his condition. Hopefully, the medical specialist felt as much satisfaction as she did whenever she saw him suffer.

"Tsunade-sama." Kabuto stepped in. "You should have already guessed by now..."

"Ask someone else." The speed in which the older woman brushed off the younger medic had Kaede beaming with amusement and pure joy, she was liking this woman more and more by the second. "I quit medicine a long time ago."

"We can't do that." The white-haired shinobi responded. "You should be able to tell how serious the wound is. No one else can cure these arms. The legendary Sannin that won her fame as the medical specialist...Tsunade-hime, only you can cure this."

A silence stretched for another second and the specialist spoke up once again to dispell it. "The wound affecting your arms isn't an ordinary one, is it?"

Kaede chose to input her opinion then, humming as she looked down at the bandaged limbs. "I wouldn't call it a wound, per-say..." She stated, grimacing slightly when she realized she agreed with Kabuto's wording for the ailment. "I'd say it's more like a curse."

Tsunade nodded, agreeing with Kaede. "It seems like some sort of Juinjutsu..." She looked at Orochimaru, who was still smirking. "What did you do?"

"Nothing much." His expression turned from a smirk to a bored, tired frown. "I got wounded when I killed the Third."

Both women before them froze with shock and horror and the redhead at Orochimaru's right-hand side groaned and forced back the urge to slap herself in the face for his stupidity. 'Why tell her the truth?! That'll just make it harder t'get her t'do what y'want!'

Tsunade spoke with a venomous, angry tone after that, her eyes sharp and distrusting, which she didn't blame. "You...Did you really...?"

The black-haired Sannin huffed with amusement and lifted his head to look down at her over his nose with a cocky smirk. "You don't need to look that scary. All things with form eventually perish. That goes for people too."

"Says you." Kaede butted in, earning an irked glare from the unamused Sannin. "Don't y'give me that look, y'know it's true!"

"Ignoring my subordinate's unwanted words." Orochimaru hissed out, which just made her roll her eyes and look the other way. "You, Tsunade-hime, should know what I'm talking about..." The black-haired woman looked at Tsunade, who lowered her head, shadowing her eyes from view. "Since you let two of your loved ones die." As the medical specialist raised her head once again, the vicious anger in her eyes became apparent, and with what Kaede knew of her strength, that was not a comforting thought. Why was Orochimaru antagonizing her so much? Didn't he realize that was just going to get them killed?!

If any more silence filled the small space, they would suffocate in it. 'Two loved ones?' Kabuto mused without speaking a word. His eyes snapped to Orochimaru who just stood there, grinning. 'I see. He has conjured up a terrible plan.'

The villainous Otokage lowered his head and chuckled darkly, before looking Tsunade in the eyes with sharp, evil intent. "Yes...Their deaths were gruesome."

"Scum!" The black-haired woman finally snapped, stepping back and pulling up her sleeve to reveal a contraption strapped to her arm holding various needles in small tubes.

Kabuto and Kaede were quick to move, Kaede formed seals and shot air bullets at the needles, which the attendant fired at them by pulling a string on the contraption. Her jutsu knocked a few of them away, while Kabuto took care of the ones that made it through and were hurtling towards their leader. He used a special, hooked kunai he often carried with him. However, one stray projectile made it through his deflection and he had to grab it from the air with his bare hand. He stared down at the tip of the needle near his nose, which dripped a deadly purple fluid.

"Poison?" Kabuto ground out, dreading the thought of how close he came to being killed. "A hidden weapon, I see."

"Nearly got y'there Kabuto!" Kaede taunted, but she didn't get time to enjoy his irritated glare as the attendant dove forward to attack once again, moving from side to side with intense speed as she did so.

"Out of the way!" The woman roared as she pulled out a weapon.

"I won't let you!" Kabuto snapped back, both he and Kaede moving to stop her attack, the former Suna kunoichi pulling a kunai from her sleeve as Kabuto moved forward to halt the black-haired woman's fatal blow.

"Calm down, Shizune!" Tsunade shouted, forcing them all to stop, the woman, Shizune, only mere millimeters from stabbing Kabuto in the neck with the poison-tipped needle she held in her hand. She stood there for a moment, glaring at the young medic as Kaede stayed close by in case she was needed.

Once Shizune caught her breath and calmed her mind, she dove back and stood in front of her mentor in a protective stance. While Kabuto stayed in front of his leader in the same way, and the redhead who accompanied them, stepped back to Orochimaru's right side, not really caring enough to guard him.

Tsunade's emotionless frown warped into a soft smile. "Orochimaru..." She started, her tone sweet and far too kind to be genuine. "You've been like that since the old days. You know what my personality is like, right?" Her bright expression had to be fake too. "Stop joking around."

Kaede knew she'd guessed right when Tsunade's smile turned bitter and in a split second, she swung her fist into the cobblestone wall behind her, shocking both the redhead and Kabuto as the surface dented inwards and cracks formed on its already rocky surface. Another second later, and the damaged wall fell to the ground with the same destructive force they had used to level the castle that once stood behind them.

"Holy crap!" The Ninjutsu expert exclaimed, despite having gotten used to surprises, as of late. "I heard she was strong, but I wasn't expecting her t'be strong enough t'level a wall with one damn punch!"

'She's strong...' Kabuto thought silently as Tsunade shot them a dark, murderous glare. 'And scary...I bet she's single.' The young medic calmed his nervousness from the strong woman's temperament and finally spoke. "We did not come to fight. We came to negotiate."

Kaede looked at Kabuto with knitted brows. 'Negotiate? I knew we were going to talk t'her and make her heal ol' Snake Eyes arms, but what could we possibly have to negocia-' She stopped immediately as her serious, calculating mind took control and her expression softened with realization. '...So that's his plan? Huh, it might actually work.'

She hated to admit it, but it was a decent plan.

"Negotiate...?" Tsunade repeated, her eyes narrowing with suspicion.

"Yes," Kabuto confirmed.

"Don't make me laugh!" The blonde woman snarled. "I told you before, get out of my sight."

"We can't do that!" The young white-haired medic outstretched his arms as a plea for her to listen to their words.

"Get lost."

"Only you can cure Orochimaru-sama's arms."

"Get lost."

"We're not asking that you do it for free. We will make a trade." Kabuto stepped forward, pushing the matter further, while Kaede ran her fingers through her wild fringe, thinking over the many scenarios this conversation could lead to, while Orochimaru had done nothing but watch the commotion in silence.

"I'm going to count to five. Get lost before I'm done. Otherwise, I'll get rid of you." The female Sannin's snarl turned into an intense glare, she was serious, and with her strength, both subordinates knew they would be pulverized.

"Please calm down." Kabuto continued to plea. "This isn't a bad deal for you-"

"Five..."

Kabuto was silenced then, as he listened to her countdown slowly, each number causing intense discomfort between him and Kaede. At one point through the countdown, even she started to get nervous enough to speak up. "Hey, he's telling the truth! It ain't a bad deal!"

"Two..." When she reached that number, Shizune moved into a battle stance, ready to attack when she reached the final digit.

"One."

Both women dove forward then, and both Kaede and Kabuto prepared for the assault, ready to attack to protect their leader. Well, Kabuto was, Kaede was more interested in protecting herself.

It was then, in the midst of this intense, terrifying situation, that Orochimaru spoke up at long last. "I will revive your beloved little brother and man..." A chill shot through the air and both Tsunade and Shizune stopped in their tracks, while Orochimaru's right-hand man smirked and the redheaded kunoichi sighed in relief. "With the Kinjutsu I developed."

A gust of cold wind interrupted the silence that stretched between them and Orochimaru smirked as a few moments passed with no movement. "You haven't gotten rid of us yet, which means..." His small smirk warped into a devious grin. "You're thinking it over?"

Tsunade stood there, an expression of turmoil twisting the fair skin of her features as she trembled, his words playing over and over again in her head. "You don't want to see them, Tsunade?" Orochimaru jeered, which just intensified her struggle.

She remained quiet for a moment before her face softened back to seriousness. "What will you do if I cure your arms?"

'I bet he tells her the truth again and screws all this up...' Kaede mused. 'I don't blame her for wanting to hear more though...' Her eyes softened with a sorrow of her own. 'If I could revive Kiyoshi...I would.'

"I don't like to lie..." He started and Kaede all but screamed 'I knew it' in her head. "So I'll tell you honestly." His devious grin turned malicious and ambitious. "I'm going to take what I want, and...This time, I'm going to crush Konoha for sure."

Shizune's shock was short lived as she snarled. "Crush Konoha?!" She asked only to blink and turn to Tsunade who was staring intently at the dirt floor beneath her feet.

"What's your answer?" Kabuto asked, satisfied that they had at least made her think it over.

She closed her eyes as memories flooded through her mind.

The sheer lack of response frightened Shizune to no end. "Tsunade-sama!" She shouted, snapping the poor woman from her trip down memory lane. "You musn't trust them! Your little brother and my uncle do not wish for that!" She stepped closer to her mentor. "Their wish...More importantly, your wish...Did you forget them?!" She received no response, so she smiled softly to comfort the poor woman. "I know how you feel...You're like this now, but you still..." When even that didn't wake Tsunade up, she desperately cried out. "Please wake up!"

"Be quiet, Shizune!" The medical specialist finally snapped, silencing her attendant.

Another moment passed before Kabuto intervened. "You do not have to give us an answer now. But we would like one within a week." He smirked. "Also, this Kinjutsu requires sacrifices. Please, have two ready on your side."

The black-haired woman clicked her tongue and slammed a foot forward, reaching into her robe for a weapon. "Tsunade-sama, let's kill the three of them right here! It is a good chance, we can take them out in their current condition..."

"I uh, kinda doubt that." Kaede piped up, then pointed to the attendant's mentor, drawing her eyes to her. Tsunade was in no condition to fight, she barely had the motivation to look up.

Orochimaru decided to add fuel to the fire, slowly, shakingly lifting one of his hands to his face, before he bit his finger hard, drawing blood which then dripped down onto the ground below. The 'medical specialist' looked up quickly and began to shake in fear as he held out his finger for her to see. "It's true that I am weak right now, but..." He started, chuckling as both his subordinates shared a look of surprise and confusion. "We know your weakness. You still carry that fear...The fear of blood."

Kaede's eyes widened and she looked back at the blonde woman. "Hold on, a medic like her is afraid of blood?!"

"It's called Hemophobia." Kabuto clarified and Kaede clicked her tongue.

"I don't care what it's called, it's still weird for a medic to be scared of blood!"

"Now, now..." The devious Sannin chimed in, looking between them. "Let's save the debate for later...Let's get going now, the pair of you." He turned to walk away but shot the terrified female Sannin a dangerous leer. "Tsunade, I expect a nice answer from you."

And then, with amazing speed, Orochimaru and Kabuto disappeared from sight. However, Kaede remained behind for another moment, staring at the medic and her attendant. She felt a little sorry for her, she knew what kind of decision this must be for her...Closing her eyes and suppressing her sense of guilt, she too dove into the air and behind the wall to escape.

'Don't lose sight...If it comes to a fight, they're just sacrifices for my revenge...'

~BHBL~

A few hours passed and the three had sought out a cave near the city to spend the night, as Orochimaru's condition made it hard to travel far distances without a struggle. The two villains sat beside a campfire they had created while Kaede stood at the mouth of the chasm, staring out at the lights from Tanzaku City as the sun had set maybe an hour or two ago.

"Hey..." She started, not looking over at the Sannin as he gave her his attention. "I'm going for a drink...It ain't like we can move tonight, and it's been at least a decade since my last taste of liquor." She looked over and couldn't hide the hatred in her eyes. "Thanks t'you."

Orochimaru met her gaze with suspicion, staring at her for a moment before he begrudgingly accepted her decision. "Fine. Don't cause any trouble for us, or I'll pick up where I left off and snap your neck."

"Really?" She taunted, grinning at him in a way, Kabuto noticed, looked a bit like how Orochimaru would when he took a jab at her. "You say that you'll kill me a lot, but y'never do, d'you?" She chuckled and gave them a mock salute. "If y'don't see me by dawn, I've run off~"

And with that, she used Shunshin no Jutsu to vanish from sight, leaving the Sannin to fume over her words, while she appeared in front of the town gates, in desperate need of sake. She walked through the markets, watching as most of the stalls packed up for the day, scouting around for a decent bar when she slammed into a rather large man's chest.

Stumbling back she growled. "Watch where y'going asshole!" She snapped, glaring up at the tall man with spiked white hair tied in a long ponytail, a wart on the right side of his nose and red markings down both his cheeks, which vaguely reminded her of bloody tears.

He gave her a grin which resembled her own and rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "Ah sorry, sorry~" He kindly apologized. "I wasn't paying attention!"

She huffed out a laugh, his grin rather infectious as she shot one back. "Y'must be going blind in your old age~" He didn't look much older than her, but she wasn't going to tell him that, she was tiny in comparison though, so she probably didn't look her age.

His grin dropped into a pout and he placed both hands on his hips. "I can tell you for a fact I'm not old!" He heard her laugh and smirked, pointing his thumb at the bar to her left. "Want to grab a drink?"

"Heh, only if you're paying!" She said, making him chuckle as they walked into the establishment.

"You're a fireball, aren't ya?" He stated as they sat down and he ordered two bottles of sake. "I'm not usually this lucky~"

She hummed as the bottles arrived and she poured herself a drink, shooting him a confused look as she lifted the cup to her lips. "What d'you mean?" She asked as she took a sip.

"It's rare a beautiful woman actually agrees to have a drink with me!"

The poor redhead choked and spat the contents of her cup across the bar, earning a complaint from the bartender as she coughed and used her sleeve to wipe her chin. "Y-you're definitely blind!" Her cheeks were tinted a rose color and she dared to peek at him, surprised when she found him grinning brightly, no sense of teasing or joking in his honest expression.

He was blind, no way could she be beautiful, not only was she a ragged middle-aged woman, but she had scars littering the entirety of her form and a misshapen tooth that resembled a large fang. No one could find that attractive.

But his infectious grin gave her a sense of relief, despite her doubt and she beamed at him, lifting her cup. "Cheers!" She said brightly and the two tapped their ceramic dishes together before taking a swig of their sake.

Once she had finished, she put the cup down for a second and looked over as the man did the same. Though he was smiling on the outside, she could tell by his eyes, that those black irises carried a sorrow within them, an inner turmoil that he struggled to keep hidden. "What's up with you?" She asked, bothered by the all-too-familiar expression.

He hummed and glanced over in surprise, he knew how she carried herself that lying would just make her push further, so he sighed and poured more alcohol. "It's nothing." He said, taking a swig before he leaned forward and stared at the bottle on the top shelf behind the bar. "Just caught up with an old friend..."

Kaede stared at him for a moment before she smirked, a sad, empty curl of the lips and rested her cheek on a scarred hand, swirling the liquid in her cup. "You're lucky." She stated, as a means to cheer him up, but deep inside, she felt jealous...She once had friends, a family, a home...Now she was all alone.

"Huh?" He mumbled, shooting her a confused, blank look. "What do you mean?" However she didn't elaborate, instead, she chose to take another swig of her drink. She then stood and placed what little ryo she had saved onto the counter.

"The next drinks are on me!" She said brightly, flashing him a fake grin, which looked all too real and turned to leave. "Thanks for the bottle~"

"Wait!" The man called back, spinning on the barstool to face her as she stopped and refused to turn back. "What's your name?"

She blinked in surprise and smiled, a warm, relieved smile. It had been a long time since she'd felt...important enough to reveal her name. "Kaede." She said without hesitation, believing she'd never see him again.

With that, she left the bar and slowly walked down the path towards the gates, no wanting to just Shunshin back to the cave, as her emotions bubbled to the surface and she took a deep breath to hold back sorrow and joy all at once.

'Ten years and this is the first time someone wanted t'know my name, and it was a man at a bar who probably only wanted a date out of me...' She thought silently, tears pooling in her eyes. 'I guess I'm just that insignificant...'

Life was cruel and kind all at once, and such a small, sweet moment made her feel both important and useless...It was a painful cycle of self-hatred.

And it was all Orochimaru's fault.

~BHBL~

A day and a half passed since that moment and the three Otokagure ninjas returned to their hideout to await the moment Tsunade made her decision. After returning, Kaede had gone for a walk to clear her mind a little, reading her book as she did so, only for a sudden downpour to catch her off guard. She had barely made it back to the hideout before her hypothermia symptoms kicked in and Kabuto was forced to act so she didn't collapse.

Despite the fact that she hated the thought of getting assistance from her enemies, she was glad they had been quick to act, as she stood in Orochimaru's throne room, wearing her full-body flame-retardant suit until her usual clothes dried off, there was even a towel around her neck from the medic's rushed attempt at drying her. If she had been alone when that downpour caught her, she would have died, especially since, by the time she had gotten inside, she was too numb and shaking far too much to move.

Orochimaru himself was sat on his throne, both his arms on the rests as they trembled, the pain intensifying by the day, while Kabuto stood a small distance from him, preparing more medicine to ease his suffering. "Awaiting Tsunade's response will make this week feel longer than usual..." The Sannin pointed out, eager to start a conversation to distract his mind from the agony.

Kaede turned her head to look at the tormented man with a curious frown, crossing her arms as her serious side took over. "What happened...I mean, with Tsunade's 'loved ones?'" She asked.

He chuckled. "Curious, are we?"

"Yeah, I ain't ashamed, I like t'know what I'm dealing with!"

He lowered his head slightly, still smirking. "It was during the Second Great Shinobi War, Tsunade had a little brother...and the day after his birthday, he died in battle...That's when she decided to propose adding one medic to a four-man cell to reduce casualties." Luckily for Orochimaru, Kaede was too far away to see the solemn, dull emotion in his eyes before he managed to force it back behind his usual malicious mask. "And then, only a year later, her beloved man was killed in the same gruesome fashion. That's where she developed her fear of blood."

"Because she tried to heal him?"

"Exactly, and her hands were coated in it."

The redhead hummed slowly and looked out in the corridor at the candles flickering on the wall-mounts. One of them dimmed more than the others, and only a moment later, snuffed out, leaving a shadow against the patterned stone surface. She knew what it felt like to lose loved ones and though it wasn't in the same fashion, the pain was identical and unbearable.

Orochimaru smirked at her silent, blank expression. "Oh? Care to share your thoughts, Firecracker?"

Her empty eyes closed as she let out a bold laugh. "Curious, are we?" She said, mirroring his words in a taunting fashion.

The Sannin laughed at her tease and Kabuto looked between them with a calculating gleam in his empty, black eyes. This was the first time they had been in the same room and their banter had not reached violent levels. It was rather unsettling for the young medic.

Perhaps Orochimaru was trying to win over her trust, rather than intensify the desire for blood between them. After all, his attempt at taking her life must have put a damper on his plans. Though he couldn't be certain, with the current events unfolding before him.

He decided to change the subject and pushed his glasses up his nose. "Which will she choose?" He asked, referring to Tsunade. "If she agrees to our condition...Your arms will be cured, and we can immediately resume the destruction of Konoha. And Tsunade-sama can see those two again."

"So you were serious about bringing them back?" Kaede asked, arching a brow in mild surprise, Orochimaru would resurrect lives rather than destroy them? The mere idea was ridiculous.

"Of course," Orochimaru told her, smirking arrogantly when her surprise intensified. "I despise lies, after all, ~"

"Yeah, sure y'do." She rolled her eyes and looked back out at the candles, seeing another two flicker out.

Kabuto cleared his throat and continued the topic beforehand. "But, if she shakes her head the other way..." The redhead's eyes narrowed at the thought.

The villainous Sannin's eyes sharpened and he glared ahead with a dark smirk. "I will have to make her cure my arms by force."

The young medic stepped forward, concern in his tone. "Will it be easy, though?"

"I have you." He clarified before allowing his gaze to glide over to the woman who seemed very bored at that moment. "...And her."

The ninjutsu expert, who had only been half-listening at this point, blinked when she realized who they were talking about and swung her head round to meet his eyes. She was silent for a moment before she pointed at herself with disbelief. "Me?" She asked, doubtful in tone. He used her as a comforting thought in the possible fight with the strongest woman alive?!

Why did she get the feeling she was going to die? And why did it matter so much that Orochimaru found her useful? She should be sickened, not shocked.

"There's no need to look so surprised, Kaede..." He stated, chuckling at her reaction. "You have the power to assist the fight, you just lack the ability to follow orders..."

Kaede huffed out a forced laugh and grinned, her eyes sharp with disdain. "Careful, old man...I'm doing you a favour by even going on this mission in the first place!"

"Of course you are..." The snake-eyed shinobi turned his attention to Kabuto. "All that aside, there's no need to worry. I know her best." He grinned as if he had already triumphed over the second of the three Sannin. "I know her ultimate weakness, as well. She will definitely accept the conditions."

"Now we just have to wait." Kaede mused out loud, surprising the pair of them when they looked over at her to see a dark smirk on her lips, and a sense of mirth in her eyes. With her morality gone, she was itching to fight someone, even if that someone could level walls. She chuckled and watched as another flame flickered and fizzled out.

'Whatever it takes...'

Chapter Text

On the day of Tsunade's decision, Orochimaru, Kabuto and Kaede rushed through the trees with the silent finesse of a ninja. Unlike last time, the Sannin was wearing his usual battle-ready outfit, just in case, Tsunade's response wasn't a favorable one. Kaede, however, had a feeling her answer would be yes, after all, she understood her pain and if she was in that situation, she would accept his conditions.

But...In the very unlikely scenario, she refused, the redhead looked forward to a fight. Now that she had seen Tsunade's strength up close, she could easily figure out a strategy to counter it, so she no longer feared that destructive fist. A small smirk curled her lips as she thoroughly enjoyed the thought of releasing her frustrations in bloodshed. If she was completely aware of this change, she may have been disgusted with herself, but her mind had been warped slowly over the past ten years.

Her sanity continued to wane the longer she remained so hellbent on revenge.

"It would be troublesome if we are interrupted during the negotiations." Orochimaru started as he kept his eyes forward and moved at a rapid pace, while Kabuto looked over, giving his lord his full attention.

"What shall I do?" He asked, narrowing his eyes.

The villainous Sannin's serious frown twisted into a grin and he glanced over at his right-hand man. "You can kill Tsunade's attendant."

Kabuto silently pulled a kunai from his holster and glared ahead as his mind returned to the time he was assigned to kidnap Sasuke.

'It seems you do not trust me completely yet.'

'I trust you, so...I think I will ask you to take care of Sasuke-kun.'

'...Excuse me, then.'

'Kabuto...If you want to stop me, you will have to kill Sasuke-kun right now...Since you can't kill me.'

Kabuto stopped on a lower branch of the tree they landed on, before he dove off in the opposite direction, leaving Orochimaru and Kaede to continue towards their destination. "So I'm stuck playing bodyguard?" The redhead asked, her eyes serious, but a small, taunting smirk on her lips to make it harder to spot. "Are y'that weak~?"

"Your jutsu will prove useful if a battle were to break out." He told her simply, ignoring her jeers as he had other, more pressing matters to focus on.

Kaede rolled her eyes. "Only 'cause y'screwed up so badly y'can't use jutsu yourself! What makes y'think I'm going t'help you?" She taunted. However, the Sannin chuckled, completely brushing off her words, he knew biting the hook would only give her a sense of satisfaction, and this way, he enjoyed the irritated frown that curled her lips in triumph. While she herself felt undeniably aggravated, it was like he was doubting her words.

Though she knew she couldn't afford to stand back and watch him get pulverized. She wanted to be the one to enact her revenge, so breaking the trust she could see building slowly, would just destroy her slow-acting plans altogether.

With a soft click of the tongue in disdain, she landed at the town gates, followed by Orochimaru, before the two used Shunshin no Jutsu to quickly appear on the path where Tsunade stood waiting for them, back to them, eyes downcast.

The snake-eyed shinobi stepped forward. "Your answer?" He asked as Kaede walked over to the wall and leaned against its surface, a hand on her hip as she stayed out of the way.

Tsunade raised her head but didn't turn to face them. "I will cure your arms, but don't lay a finger on the village."

Kaede's eyes narrowed as something in her gut didn't sit right. She understood why she would accept the conditions, but at that moment, another thought popped into her head that nullified the former reasoning. If her former loved ones were true-blue Konoha shinobi, then they would never forgive her for doing this...Something wasn't right and her subconscious mind picked up on it as she crossed her arms and her body tensed, as if ready to move at a second's notice.

Orochimaru, however, was too transfixed by the thought of his arms being cured to notice, as he chuckled. "Very well." A sudden gust of wind blew through the narrow pathway, picking up leaves as it went, an odd sense of symbolism for that moment, considering the Sannin had no intentions of keeping his promise and leave Konoha in peace. "Now." He continued, eyes wide with glee.

Tsunade turned to face them and the two walked towards one another, in a way that resembled a duel of sorts. As they approached one another, Kaede's stomach sank further and her lungs felt heavy, making it hard to breathe. None of this sounded right, and Tsunade had a look of numb resolve on her face, instead of excitement towards seeing her loved ones again. It didn't sit right, it didn't feel right, and it definitely didn't make any sense.

Orochimaru wore a large grin, so focused on the current events that his instincts didn't pick up on the strange atmosphere. He raised his arms for her to heal, and Kaede ran her fingers through her fringe as she narrowed her eyes and watched with an intense sense of dread and distrust.

Tsunade raised her arms as well and produced a ball of chakra, and that's when it clicked, Kaede's eyes widened and she pushed off the wall, kicking off towards them. "Orochimaru, stop!" She quickly formed seals and inhaled deeply, shooting a large ball of fire towards them.

In a split second, a kunai dropped down from the air and landed at the center of their exchange as they dove back, putting some space between them. Tsunade was then forced to jump into the air to avoid the large fireball that had been hurtled towards her to distance her from the other Sannin.

Orochimaru looked up at the wall where the kunai had come from, as Tsunade landed, to see Kabuto crouched there, his eyes hidden by the reflection of the sun against his frames. The young medic quickly stood and did a few flips back, landing beside Kaede on the dirt path between the two cobblestone walls. "What is the meaning of this?" The Otokage asked, his tone venomous. "You've betrayed me at the very last minute...Tsunade!"

It was at that moment that the gravity of the situation hit Kaede and she staggered back a little with wide eyes and a horrified frown. 'What have I done?' She thought as a sick sense of realization settled in her gut. 'I just...I just saved Orochimaru's life!'

A silence stretched between the four of them, Tsunade and Kabuto both at the center of seriousness, while the young medic's lord smirked, but his eyes screamed anger, and the former Suna kunoichi forced back the urge to vomit.

"Tell me..." Orochimaru started. "How did you come up with your answer...Tsunade-hime?" His eyes widened dangerously. "You tried to kill me. Kabuto...I trust you deep down, inside. Your loyalty and the insight that saw through Tsunade's action impresses me." He glanced back at the young medic and his unpredictable, hate-consumed subordinate. "And Kaede...I'm surprised you saw through her facade and came to my assistance in time...Perhaps you're not so disobedient, after all."

Kaede barely had time to register what she had done, and couldn't hide the horrified expression that warped her features. She had moved so quickly, so suddenly, she couldn't stop herself. Though she tried to rationalize her actions with the phrase 'I want to be the one to kill him' she couldn't deny that the moment she moved, the image of Orochimaru saving her life only a few weeks prior flashed through her mind.

Kabuto walked up to Orochimaru's side while the frozen kunoichi remained in the background. "I come from the medical squad, like her, after all." He stated. "Her chakra was filled with the intent to kill."

"And Kaede...How did you see through her actions?" The Sannin asked without looking back.

Kaede took a moment to find her voice through the shock, and even then it trembled a little before she cleared her throat and spoke more clearly. "I was part of the Second Great Shinobi War, I saw medical jutsu all the time during my fight against Konoha...Medical chakra is green, not blue, that's how I knew."

Orochimaru sighed, his expression slightly softer with disappointment. "Tsunade, I really intended to revive those two." He smirked deviously. "And I even made a promise not to crush Konoha."

Tsunade looked away with sad eyes but a small smile. "Orochimaru..." She started. "I knew that you were lying when you said you wouldn't touch the village." She started to tremble and her voice cracked as Orochimaru's smirk curled into a grin, he had been found out. "I knew, yet I...Wanted to see them again...Just once more, I wanted to see them. Just once more, I wanted to touch them. Just once more I wanted to see their smiles."

She hugged herself as the sorrow deepened, and she felt lonely, now more than ever before. "But...When I felt that I could see Nawaki and Dan again...I realized something." The two males in the conversation raised their heads slightly, both intently listening to her words, while Kaede remained trapped in a swirling vortex of reliving her actions. "I realized that I was a fool!"

The medical specialist's expression twisted and tears spilled down her cheeks, dripping down onto the dirt floor below. "Just remembering their faces...Blinded my sight." She shook so much, the others could see it, despite being a small distance from her. "I loved them. I really loved them, so I wanted to see them and hug them!" She wrapped her arms around herself. "But I couldn't..." Slowly, the grieving woman relaxed and let go of her arms. "Because of that kid, I remembered what their dreams were. I tried to forget them, but...It is an important dream they both dedicated their lives to...All things with form eventually perish. That's what you said. But...This feeling won't perish."

Another gust of wind blew through the narrow pathway as Tsunade finally finished and Orochimaru stared at her, no emotion reflecting on his face. "The negotiations have broken down, then." His empty eyes sharpened and narrowed. "I have no choice...I will have to ask you by force now."

As the breeze died down, the medical specialist wiped her eyes with her arm and then shot them the most determined, dangerous look any of them had ever seen.

With that, a fight would break out, and Kaede, who had been excited by the thought prior, was now utterly distracted and beyond useless.

Would she get her act together in time?

Chapter Text

The sudden change in Tsunade's appearance from sorrowful and tearful to intense and dangerous was the only warning the Otogakure ninjas had before the blonde medic rushed forward to attack them, lifting her leg up to land a devastating blow, even without the use of chakra. Orochimaru and Kabuto prepared to dodge at the last second, but Kaede did not move, her eyes still wide and elsewhere.

"Kaede!" Kabuto shouted, grabbing the back of her robe as Tsunade's foot slammed down, the two shinobi diving back and on the top of the cobblestone wall while the numb kunoichi just allowed herself to be dragged, until she landed on her ass by Kabuto's feet.

She didn't even register the impact as she kept her eyes trained on their enemy, who glared menacingly at them from the crater she'd made in the ground. The redhead was shaking, still replaying the events that took place mere moments ago again and again in her head, tormenting herself with them.

"Bring it on, Orochimaru!" Tsunade roared at them, not an inkling of hesitation or regret evident on her features. She had made her decision and was standing by it with her life.

"Pull yourself together, Kaede!" The pale Sannin hissed at her, glaring down at her frozen form. "This is not the time for a mental breakdown!"

It was then that realization hit him like a brick wall and his irritation warped into amusement, chuckling as he returned his attention to his former teammate. "Come to think of it, I've never fought you before."

The wind caught them again and Tsunade used it as she removed her jacket, letting the gust carry the green fabric out of the way, so she could fight freely. "You're right." She said, kicking off towards them again.

"That's big talk." Kabuto butted in, hovering his hand by Kaede's collar once more, as he knew she would not react to the second attack. "With Kaede as she is, I'm the only one who's going to fight."

Tsunade neared the wall, her eyes alight with murderous intent. "I'm going to kill you bastards right here, right now!" She lunged forward and infused her fist with chakra, slamming it into the cobblestone wall they stood on, which fractured and crumbled immediately, giving the two villains barely any time to escape, and the youngest medic only a fraction of a second to grab Kaede and yank her out of the way once again.

"She still has that monsterous strength," Orochimaru commented as he and Kabuto landed on a thick branch a small distance away, crouched slightly. The right-hand man was forced to slam Kaede down on her ass onto the wooden surface since she didn't catch her footing in time. Now she just sat there, blank and useless. "If you take a hit, it'll be the end for you."

"I can tell."

"Use whatever means you can to wake Kaede up, I did not bring her along for her to be a burden!"

The young medic nodded his head and turned the senior kunoichi's head to face him, which only slightly caught her attention until he slapped her cheek so hard, she hissed in anger and covered the red mark with her hand, cursing him to the sun and back. "Ah dammit!" She ground out, now fully awake as she grabbed the teen by the collar and pulled him close to her face, glaring deep into his eyes, a threatening gesture. "You bastard, I'm going t'kill you!"

"Silence!" Orochimaru snapped, shooting her an unimpressed snarl. "He did that on my order!" His dissapointment leaked into his tone. "I never expected you to waver over nothing, Kaede...I overestimated you."

Kaede's anger turned to shock and she blinked back the feeling, despite not wanting to agree with him, he was right...She had been through experimentation, the loss of her ex-husband, her family, her home, yet this is what it took to render her immobile and vulnerable?!

With a huff, she shoved Kabuto away, who straightened his collar, and rubbed her sore cheek with the back of her hand as she glared at the Sannin. "Keep your comments t'yourself!" She snapped. "I ain't so weak as t'break over nothing!"

Though the thought of saving his life made her sick to her stomach, she knew she had more pressing things to worry about, Tsunade wasn't going to wait for her to recover to attack. Instead, she pushed the memory to the back of her mind and chose to dwell on it later, when she was alone and could vent out her frustrations properly.

Orochimaru was pleased to hear her back to her old self, though her rude tone and attitude was not well recieved. The three focused their attention on Tsunade, who was cracking her knuckles due to the impact of that devastating punch, preparing to make another assault.

"This place is too compact to fight and keep enough distance between us," Kabuto commented.

"I hate t'say it, but he's right. I ain't useful in a Taijutsu battle, but with enough space, I can do some real damage with my Ninjutsu!" Kaede added on, untying her sash and unclipping the hook that kept the top of the robe closed.

"Are you going to change locations?" Their leader asked, glancing over at them as Kaede pulled the sash off, then took her robe and hooked it to a smaller branch above her head. She then kicked off her sandals and listened as they clattered on the ground below, possibly broken, but she didn't care at that moment. The only thing she could wear during a fight where she could potentially burst into flames was her flame-retardant battle suit. Well, the sleeveless, short-legged one, anyway, the other felt too restricting for her. As an extra precaution too, she had a belt around her waist with her holster attached, so she could grab a weapon if she needed to.

"That seems best for now." The young medic confirmed, staring down at Tsunade, who took a deep breath, calming herself a little so she would keep a level head in battle. "A troublesome person was talking with Tsunade-sama's attendant." And that's when the woman kicked off towards them, dust rising behind her with the speed. "They might come to reinforce her."

Just as he finished his sentense, the incredibly strong woman dove into the air and swung her foot at Orochimaru, who managed to dodge the attack only a second before it hit, which even made his expression tense with unease. However, she wasn't finished as she spun round and raised her foot. "Die!" She roared as she slammed it into the branch, forcing the three to jump back and dash away from the castle-less city to avoid another, possibly fatal, blow.

"This woman is insane!" Kaede exclaimed as she spun to face Tsunade who was rushing towards them, forming seals for Futon: Renkudan as she hopped backward so she was moving in time with the other two shinobi in front of her.

"And who is this troublesome person?" Orochimaru asked as Kaede shot the bullets, only for their opponent to dodge them with ease.

"A Sannin, just like you and Tsunade-sama." Kabuto told him and the Sannin made soft sound from the back of his throat, proved he wasn't expecting that. They paused on another wall for a moment and he smirked.

'Jiraiya.'

Tsunade pulled her fist back as Kaede pressed herself against the wall, cursing as she found herself trapped, she quickly formed seals and just as their enemy went to deal the blow, she vanished with Shunshin no Jutsu. This forced the blonde to shatter the cobblestone wall the other two had stood on mere seconds ago.

The medical Sannin watched without emotion as Orochimaru and Kabuto dove over the largest wall of the town, finally escaping its confines, and Kaede appeared beside them only a second later. "That was too close!" She said, sweat dripping from her chin in both fear and relief. "I thought I knew what she was capable of, this woman's a monster!" She directed her attention to the other two. "And that person y'mentioned, you're sure it was the other Sannin?"

"Yes. I recognize his appearance." Kabuto confirmed.

'I guess I'm the only one who doesn't remember him!'

It took them a good five minutes, but they eventually made it to a large field, spanning enough space for Kaede to keep a good distance between her and the monster of a woman chasing them down. However, the moment they had to scan the area and mark places of advantage was short-lived, as the unbelievable strong kunoichi soon arrived, making her presence known when she destroyed a rock behind them.

"I found you!" She snarled, ready to punch Orochimaru square in the face, but the man was quicker, he arched back to avoid her attack and kicked her hard in the arm, forcing her to stagger back so he could backflip until he stood safely behind his two surbordinates.

Kabuto became the focus of her assault when he pulled out a kunai and spent a majority of his time dodging each and every blow she aimed his way, while Kaede clicked her tongue and formed some seals, grinning as the adrenaline started to fuel her body, a twisted desire to fight finally settling within her, despite her dangerous opponent.

'Finally, I can fight someone again!' She thought as she inhaled deeply and Tsunade gasped, aiming an attack at the redhead, who exhaled a small burst of flames, unable to complete her jutsu as she dove backwards to avoid a kick, skidding to a halt, catching her breath for a second as Tsunade rushed towards her, destroying a rock she had used as cover.

Orochimaru had told them that Tsunade's strength made it so one blow would end their lives, luckily the former Suna kunoichi had the sense to hear that part even during her shocked state. She knew she had to keep enough distance between them, as her terrible Taijutsu skills meant she would almost immediately fall in a hand-to-hand confrontation.

Kaede leaped into the air as Tsunade went to punch her, landing on a dead tree as she formed the hand signs for her Katon: Kasai Suīpu. She exhaled a large torrent of flames which Tsunade lunged to the side to avoid, but the dangerous fire-breather wasn't easily bested as she swung her torso and head to the side. The blaze she was exhaling moving along with her and Tsunade gasped, diving backward to avoid it, but Kaede wasn't having it. She pushed more air from her lungs and the flames covered a wider area, finally making contact with Tsunade's arm and burning the skin.

The blonde woman flinched and skidded to a halt a small distance back, holding her arm as pain shot through it. While she was distracted, Kabuto took the opportunity to rush in with his kunai poised for battle but their opponent saw it coming and swung her fist at him, forcing him to dodge and Kaede to leap back as she put a massive crater into the ground below them and the tree the redhead once stood on, fell.

'We're never going t'win like this!' Kaede thought to herself as she and Kabuto straightened up, both breathing a little heavier. The redhead took a deep breath and formed seals for her Futon: Renkudan. However just as she did that Tsunade appeared behind her, fully aware of her weakness to Taijutsu, since she did everything in her power to avoid it.

Kaede made a shocked sound of surprise and went to turn, lifting her hand to her holster for protection, but she wasn't fast enough as Tsunade grabbed the arm she rose and lifted her by said arm over her head, preparing to slam the poor woman into the ground. The young medic lunged for the enemy at that moment, thrusting the kunai forward to cut her cheek, forcing her to let go of Kaede, who still slammed into the ground rather hard, forming a second crater as she coughed blood into the air.

Tsunade hopped back a few steps and dug her hand into the ground to halt her retreat, her breathing a little heavier now, as the victim of her last attack slowly got to her feet, blood dripping down her chin as she hugged her torso. One or two ribs had been broken, she could feel it, but she wouldn't let that stop her as she reared back and took a deep breath, forming the seals needed for her fireball, even through the pain.

The medical specialist lunged for her, and Kaede clicked her tongue, flipping backward to avoid the blow, while Kabuto went to attack from behind. The blond woman spun around, her foot outstretched to send the boy flying, but he ducked and prepared the kunai for a stab to the arm, a way to hinder her movements. She didn't falter in surprise however, instead she slammed her foot into the ground and thrust her fist downwards, hitting Kabuto straight in the head, only for his form to explode into smoke, revealing a log, which fragmented immediately and a new, third, crater was formed beneath her feet with the attack.

Kabuto reappeared on top of a rock and Kaede leaped back to stand at his side on lower ground, the three taking heavy, deep breaths as they analyzed each other's states. "Tsunade is running out of breath now." Orochimaru piped up, having not said a word the entire time, watching the fight unfold as if it amused him. "You've almost got her."

"Can y'keep the commentary t'yourself?" The Ninjutsu expert hissed back, grinding her teeth as she tried to come up with multiple strategies while focusing on the fight at the same time. This battle was already proving to be as difficult, if not moreso than the fight against the Third, and she wasn't sure she had done enough training to prepare for it. Despite the panic that set in, her lips curled back slightly with exhileration.

"I'm not very good at Taijutsu." Kabuto started, pulling something from the pouch on his lower back, tossing one of the small pellets at Kaede, who caught it with a noise of surprise. She looked at is as the boy slipped the second one between his lips and chewed on it for a moment. Her exhausted frown turned to a grin when she realized what it was, and did the same, though she did hesitate ever-so-slightly, as accepting such things from the medic made her uneasy.

"A food pill!" She stated when she swallowed it and straightened up, feeling a sudden rush of energy and adrenaline course through her veins. "Now you're talking!"

Both members of Otogakure took a deep breath, before forming seals of two completely different Jutsu, while Orochimaru smirked in the background, entertained by the idea that Kaede and Kabuto were working together.

Tsunade's eyes widened at the consecutive pattern of Kabuto's seals, while Kaede prepared her Renkudan once again. The moment blades of Chakra enveloped the boy's hands, he vanished from sight and Kaede held back her own attack for when he made their enemy vulnerable. The medical specialist heard sounds beneath her and barely managed to react in time, jumping up into the air as Orochimaru's right-hand man burst out of the ground beneath her. Kaede chose then to use her jutsu, hoping they hit their target, she wanted to cause some damage, at least.

The hazel eyes of their enemy widened and she let out a sound of pain as two of the bullets made contact with her, sending her flying to the side, where she flipped in mid air and slammed her hand into the ground to halt her body from skidding too far back. Blood leaked from the arm, both now injured in some form, and Kaede grinned with triumph.

Her grin didn't last long, however as Tsunade rushed at her and went to kick her in the face, only for the redhead to make a noise of surprise and duck, watching from the lower angle as her opponent dove back and landed on a rock. The poor Ninjutsu expert didn't get a chance to dodge this time as her enemy used the surface as leverage, pushing off and rocketing towards her with insane speed, eyeing her from her upside down position in the air.

"Crap!" Kaede hissed out, squeezing her eyes shut for the inevitable death she could see flashing before her very eyes. However a gasp caught her attention and she opened her eyes to see Tsunade spin in midair to attack Kabuto, who rushed up behind her at an insane speed and touched both her arm and leg with his Chakra-infused hand. She lost her balance, but landed a blow on the boy's abdomen, sending him flying back as she staggered and fell to one knee.

The otogakure spy skidded to a halt, digging his fingers into the ground to slow the motion and grinned deviously when the medical specialist he respected tried to move her arm, but instead winced and held onto it with the other. "I cut your bicep and rectus femoris." He told her as he got to his feet, hands still glowing. "You can't use your monsterous strength anymore now."

"A scalpel made of Chakra, eh?" Tsunade asked, looking at those dangerous hands. "Why did you not go for my artery?"

"It's true that with this scalpel..." The boy started. "I can cut blood vessels and muscles without injuring the surface. He raised his hand and head slightly, the reflection of the sun blocking his eyes from view as he showed off his jutsu. "But, during battle...Even I cannot create a scalpel that is long and fine enough to reach the artery and heart." He then kicked off towards the immobile woman, who just barely managed to stand. "Then again, there is no problem if I go for the vital organs!"

Kaede formed seals as Tsunade blocked each and every one of Kabuto's attacks, amazing the slightly younger kunoichi with her endurance. She went to inhale and infuse the air with her Chakra but paused the moment the young medic hit the female Sannin in the chest and she dropped to her knees, struggling to catch her breath.

"What the hell did y'do?" Kaede asked as the boy relaxed, smirking down at his victim.

"I cut a subcostal muscle so she couldn't breathe." He clarrified, then looked down at the blonde medic, his sadistic leer visible as the reflection shifted slightly. "We can't let you die yet. So I won't attack your vital organs."

The redhead arched a brow as the young otogakure shinobi released his jutsu, his hands no longer glowing and she hopped back, standing on a rock a small distance from the battle, where Orochimaru stood.

Kabuto closed his eyes and pushed his glasses up his nose. "But now, you can't move anymore..." But he was wrong, a shadow suddenly crossed his vision and he only had time to open his eyes before his neck was attacked hard with the side of his former victim's hand. She stumbled until she caught her footing while the boy fell to the floor and skidded back a little, unable to move for a second, lying in a small crevice he had created with his body.

Orochimaru smirked and glanced over at Kaede as she sighed and placed a hand on her hip in dissapointment. "Why didn't you assist him?" He asked.

"He's too cocky, y'can't afford t'underestimate the enemy, even if you're at a good level yourself," Kaede explained with a rather devious and satisfied grin.

The snake-eyed Sannin chuckled with mirth. He found her sadistic humor and honesty rather entertaining, each and every day she became more and more malicious. It wouldn't be long before she became a cruel, heartless creature that would do his bidding without complaint.

While they discussed this, Kabuto managed to lift his head slightly, his entire body trembling with shock. 'What a person...' He thought. 'Normally you wouldn't be able to move because you're having difficulty breathing.' The prodigy medic grunted and lifted himself up a little more. 'It looks like I have to hurt her a bit more.'

He finally managed to turn and face her as she coughed in a strange way and landed on her knees, holding her chest as she tried to catch her breath uselessly. 'But not enough that she will die.' However something was wrong, as he lifted his arm, he suddenly jolted and his leg moved instead. 'I'm trying to move my arm...But my leg is moving.' His eyes narrowed. 'Could this be...?'

At the moment he realized what had happened, Tsunade's blonde hair came into view, and as he looked up, her fist made contact with his jaw and cracks could be heard before she sent the boy flying. "Bastard!" Was her only word during this exchange.

The redhead watching from the sidelines laughed at the brief, but amusing dialogue, before she took a deep breath and hopped down from the rock, rolling her shoulders. "I better get back in there, before y'start being an ass." She said, glancing at Orochimaru from the corner of his eye as he huffed with amusement. "Just keep y'commentary to a minimum."

"Hm, hm, perform well and commentary will not be required, Firecracker~"

She clicked her tongue and her lip curled back angrilly. "Stop calling me that!" With that, she rushed off to join the frey.

Kabuto, who had long since halted in his decent, tried to stand, but his limbs jerked and made the task near impossible. "This is not a muscle problem." He ground out. "It's the nerves!"

Looks like you noticed." Tsunade said, through her heavy breaths. "Yes, I attacked your nerves. I changed my chakra into electricity, created an electrical field...And jacked it into your nervous system."

Orochimaru, who was nothing more than a spectator at this point, analyzed the verbal exchange. 'The brain and body communicate with eachother via electricity. Tsunade must've confused all the electrical signals that run through the body at three hundred and sixty kilomertres an hour.'

Kabuto eventually made it to his feet, standing with his back to his opponent, but not by choice, only because he had to focus to move. 'She can still fight like this, even though she stopped fighting for a long time.' He thought as Kaede finally stopped nearby and formed seals for a fireball, which Tsunade barely managed to dodge, scorching her skin further and burning away some of her shirt. 'So this is what a legendary Sannin is like?'

Tsunade used the opportunity between Kaede's first jutsu and the preparation for her second one, since she was still fairly agile on her feet for an injured woman, to rush up and punch the redhead hard in the nose, sending her hurtling back into a rock, which cracked on impact as she coughed up yet more blood. Once the blonde was certain she would need a moment to stand, she formed some hand signs and pressed a glowing green hand to her chest.

She was healing the muscle damage done to hinder her breathing.

"D-dammit...!" Kaede hissed out as she used her arms to lift herself up, certain some skin on her back had torn as she felt a warm wet sensation between her shoulderblades, soaking her battle suit. All the while, Kabuto was learning to move with the electrical interferrance in his nerves. "Even like that, she's too strong!"

Kabuto finally got the hang of what he was supposed to move and when and snarled out in anger. "Thought you got me with a jutsu of this level?" He asked before he spun round and took a kunai from his back pouch, spinning it on his finger before he caught it in his hand with dexterity. "Don't underestimate me!"

And with that, he rushed at the shocked Tsunade, while Kaede managed to get to her feet, wiped the blood from her nose, and took out her own kunai from her holster, knowing if they both attacked together, despite their weak Taijutsu skills, they would at least do some damage. So alongside the young medic, she kicked off towards the healing woman, weapon in hand.

"You're afraid of blood, right?!" Kabuto jeered, digging the kunai into the ground as he lost his footing for a moment, but quickly regained it. The two got closer and Kaede caught the medical Sannin's attention as she and her 'ally' raised their blades above Tsunade's head.

"We'll show y'lots of that right now!" She finished for him, and they thrust their weapons down.

But at that moment, their dual attack was interrupted when a smoke bomb landed between the three of them, errupting into a cloud of dark gas that would blind them temporarily if they were caught in it, so the three of them skidded back to make sure that didn't happen. "The hell's going on now?!" Kaede groaned as the smoke began to clear. "I thought the battle with the Third was a pain in my ass...This win's by a landslide!"

Her aggravated words were cut short however and she gasped in surprise when three figures appeared from the bellowing cloud, each as familiar as the last. One was a blonde boy with a personality much like her own when she was younger. Naruto.

One was the very familiar attendant who happened to be the niece of Tsunade's former lover. Shizune.

And finally...The last one was a man with long, spiked white hair tied in a ponytail, a wart on his nose and red marks down his cheeks resembling bloody tears. Her gentleman friend from the bar, who she thought she would never see again...Who happened to have Tsunade's pet pig on his shoulder.

If this weren't a serious situation, that image alone would make her laugh.

Orochimaru, who had been watching with a sneer, let his lips curl into a smirk. "It's been a long time, Jiraiya."

"WHAT?!" Kaede shouted, spinning round to look at the pale Sannin with wide eyes as she pointed at Jiraiya, who seemed both surprised and annoyed that she hadn't recognized him from somewhere. "That's Jiraiya?!"

"Oh?" Her 'leader' hummed. "I see you've been aquainted..." His eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Care to explain the details?"

The redhead opened her mouth to reply, but it was Jiraiya who spoke. He let out a sigh that sounded more like a whine and rubbed the back of his neck, eyes closed and pouting. "I finally meet a nice woman at the bar who gets my jokes, and she's working for Orochimaru..."

"Not that it's your business..." Kaede started, shooting Orochimaru a glare, before giving Jiraiya an irritated frown. Why did he have to be an enemy? The one person who made her feel important, and he was just another sacrifice towards her revenge. "...But I met him when I went out for drinks the night we arrived here." She looked back at Snake Eyes and pointed her thumb at the tallest, white-haired Sannin. "I only know him 'cause he offered t'buy me a drink, and I ain't 'bout t'say no t'free booze!" This made the villainous Sannin chuckle.

There was that honesty again.

"Hey, hey," Jiraiya complained softly, only to sigh again and drop his hand, shooting Orochimaru a cheeky grin, which vaguely looked like one Kaede wore often. "You have evil looking eyes, as usual." The snake-eyed shinobi didn't respond, instead, his smirk curled into a grin of amusement and dark murderous desire.

Naruto, who didn't recognize Kaede, turned his head and blinked, only to cry out in shock when he recognized Kabuto. "K-Kabuto-san?" He asked dumbly, pointing his finger at the older teen.

The medic was both surprised and amused to see him here and smirked. "Naruto-kun." He said in greeting. This was an odd thing to focus on in the middle of a dangerous battle.

Tsunade was confused, while Jiraiya's smirk deepened. "I see, you two know eachother."

"We took the Chuunin Exam together." The blonde boy clarified. "Why is Kabuto-san here?"

Kaede laughed and placed both hands on her hips, grinning down at the young boy before her. "I'm not surprised y'don't remember me, Naruto!" She said, confusing the young boy. "I wish I could've fought y'in the exams, y'really surprised everyone!"

"Uh...Do I know you?"

"Sort of. Y'know me as Akari though." She didn't want to say much more than that, she detested that identity.

The boy yelled obnoxiously once again and stepped back, pointing a finger at her rudely. "You're the girl that fought Shikamaru and lost!" He looked her over. "How did you get so old?!"

What a thing to focus on. Her grin faltered and she fought back the irritation she felt, was she this rude as a child?! With an angry grin, she crossed her arms. "I did more than fight that pineapple-haired brat, y'know, and don't call me old!"

"But still...Why are Kabuto-san and Akari-san here?"

"It's Kaede!"

Jiraiya cleared his throat, deciding now would be a good time to intervene before the boy pissed her off that much, she lost all respect for him and decided to resume their fight.

However, Tsunade, who had been hidden behind the large man, decided that was enough chit-chat for the day, and shoved Jiraiya to the ground. "Get out of the way!" She snapped, as the man tried to rise, only for the pig that was once on his shoulder to bounce off his head, immobalizing him in pain. Kaede was stood there, as Tsunade leaped into the air to attack Kabuto, one hand on her ribs, while the other covered her mouth and she shook, forcing back the laughter that made her chest hurt more. "I'll defeat them!"

Kabuto ducked as the medical specialist aimed a well-timed kick at his head, then used her other foot to deflect the kunai he aimed at her, which hit a rock with a 'thunk' now sticking out of the stone surface. Knowing the close-proximity would be an issue, he tried to put some distance between them by running, but Tsunade wasn't having it. "Just because you can control your body now..." She started, as they traded blows and evaded attacks. "Doesn't mean..." He did a backflip to avoid her foot, which swept out to knock him off balance. "You can move normally!"

With the intense need to dodge her every blow, as she had recovered enough to deal severe damage, Kabuto accidentally backed himself up against the rock his kunai was sticking out of. Kaede sighed at the sight and rushed in to assist her 'ally.' "You're not getting away now." The blonde Sannin said as she reared her fist back as youngest medic tore the blade from the rock to defend himself. "Too slow!"

Kaede skidded to a halt and froze in shock, alongside the others, as blood splattered up into the air, and Kabuto stood there, hand outstretched, a fair bit of his own life elixir spilling from his hand. He grinned down at the traumatized woman who staggered back, staring at her arms, which were stained with the red liquid. "My body's finally starting to move normally." He sneered. "Dealing with two legendary Sannin will be too much trouble."

Slowly walking towards her, he reared his fist back for a change. "I'll immobalize one for now!" He then slammed it into Tsunade's cheek and she numbly flew back and landed against Shizune, both women falling to the ground.

The black-haired attendant recovered first and checked her mentor over for injuries. "Tsunade-sama!"

The redhead working alongside Kabuto huffed slightly and smirked as she placed a hand on her hip again and walked up to the boy's side. She wouldn't openly admit it, but that was actually a good idea. Now Tsunade was useless, and they would have one less problem to worry about.

Naruto, however, was more confused than ever as he turned to face Jiraiya. "Hey, hey..." He started, shaking his head as the situation refused to process in his mind. "What's going on? Why are Kabuto-san and Akari-san fighting Old Lady Tsunade?"

Kaede let out a sigh, looking down at the blonde boy with a frown, it was sad to think this Genin, who she respected, would be another victim towards her ambitions, it was like looking at her inner child and killing it dead. If the situation had been any different, she would have loved to have been his mentor. "You've got guts and talent, kid...But no brains."

"That's why you can't compete with Sasuke-kun," Kabuto added in, which irritated Kaede to no end. Naruto may not have been some sort of prodigy, but he had guts and talent none-the-less. He reminded her of herself when she was his age, and children like him should never be underestimated unless the young medic wanted his ass kicked by the 'slow' ninja.

After all, she was the 'runt' growing up, but still had some of the best Katon and Futon skills of her generation.

Jiraiya finally got to his feet, oddly weak considering his status. "Look at his forehead protector closely." He instructed and the boy followed his gaze to the older teen's headband. "He's Orochimaru's subordinate."

"Yes," Kabuto confirmed. "I was a spy from Otogakure."

The Konoha Genin was silent for a moment as he lowered his head in disbelief. "What are you talking about?" He looked up again, smiling with a weak sense of hope. "Tell me you're lying, Kabuto-san." But he knew from the devious grin on the medic's face that he wasn't, and just couldn't accept it. "You told us a lot of things, and helped us out during the Chuunin Exam."

"I wanted to gather information about you guys, too." Kabuto's eyes were hidden when he lifted his head slightly and the sun reflected off the frames. "Naruto-kun, I found out something after I gathered some data on you...You have no talent as a ninja. You're different from Sasuke-kun."

Naruto's shocked, slightly horrified expression slowly warped into determined anger and he clenched his fists while Shizune tended to Tsunade in the background. Kaede, who had crossed her arms as her irritation for Kabuto grew, smirked slightly at the look in those blue orbs. 'Heh, it's going to take more than that t'mess with his head!'

However, Kabuto wasn't scared. "Even if you put that scary face on, you're just a cute Genin who's out of place." This only angered the boy further. "It's true we expected something from the monster inside you, but with the legendary Sannin around me, you are insignificant to me...Even Kaede is more of a threat."

"Watch it, Four-Eyes," Kaede warned with a growl.

The young white-haired shinobi ignored her and kept talking to Naruto. "You're like a small bug right now, and if you interfere..." He grinned darkly. "I'll kill you."

The redhead let out a sigh and placed a hand on her hip, letting the other drop to her side. "Ugh, this could've been over by now if we'd taken Tsunade and gotten out of here..." She complained, looking down at the male equivilant of her younger self. Even if he had the potential to be Hokage, even if his bold words reminded her of a simpler time, if she wanted to achieve her own ambitions, she knew she had to take him out as well. "Don't mess with us, kid...Or you're going t'die before y'can make your dreams come true..."

Jiraiya, who was spectating the conversation, stared at Kaede as she spoke. He was certain he had seen her true self during their drink at the bar, but looking at her now, he knew just what she was. There was no light or emotion in her eyes and no kindness or morality to her words.

She was Orochimaru's subordinate alright.

It was both their words combined that pushed Naruto over the edge, "Why you...!" Then, in anger, he kicked off towards them and Jiraiya was powerless to do anything as he stepped forward, only to collapse to his knees.

"Don't, Naruto!"

The two Orogakure ninja watched as the Genin formed the signs for Kage Bunshin no Jutsu and created seven other copies of himself. They all pulled out kunai and increased their speed, but Kabuto and Kaede, despite their weaker taijutsu skills, knew they could take him on.

While four took on Kaede, who still had her kunai poised for battle, the other four took on Kabuto, who despite his weakened right side, was able to keep up to par with them at least. The redhead ducked as one dove at her from behind, and fell over her head, only to be grabbed by the arm and tossed into another, before she tossed several shurikens in their direction, stabbing two of them in the chest and making them vanish. Then she spun and kicked another in the head, forcing that to dissapear, and while Kabuto managed to easily destroy two of the clones bothering him, one of them had grabbed into his arm and leg on the left side, rendering his attacks useless and the other dove at him with his own kunai, ready to cause some serious damage.

"No y'don't!" Kaede shouted, punching the other clone hard enough to send him hurtling back into the one poised to attack. She grinned with triumph when one of them vanished and the real Naruto was shot back into Shizune's arms and Kabuto was left to kill the final clone with his dagger.

However as Shizune caught the boy, she spat several needles at the pair of them. Kaede was able to react quickly, dodging the ones that headed for her, while Kabuto, who struggle to move, cleverly lowered his head so the needles that were coming towards his eyes bounced off the metal plate of his forehead protector.

Jiraiya looked over at his injured student, then back at Kabuto. "I'm surprised you did that so suddenly." He stated, and both Otogakure ninjas jumped back, the boy landed by Orochimaru, while Kaede stopped a small distance in front of them, holding up her kunai.

Orochimaru looked at the two and smirked, entertained and mildly surprised that the two were working so well together, despite hating one another with a passion.

The Sannin's right-hand man stood there, breathing heavily as dark circles formed under his eyes and blood continued to drip from his fingers. He pulled something out of his pouch and slipped it between his lips.

"A blood replenishment pill." Shizune ground out aggravated that he had such excellent tools at his disposal.

"Hey, thanks!" Kaede said, grinning as she joked around, her eyes reflecting a dark evil. "I can't see him from this angle, so I was wondering what he was chewing on! I appreciate the commentary!"

"Oh?" Orochimaru jeered. "Yet when I comment during battle, you hate the very thought?"

"There's a difference between her and you, I don't hate every breath that comes out of her mouth!"

The snake-eyed Sannin chuckled. "How cruel...I was beginning to think you'd come around..." He glanced over at Kabuto, hearing the blood leaking from his hands hit the floor while the others further away whispered to themselves. "You're bleeding well, Kabuto."

"Orochimaru-sama." The medic started, giving Orochimaru a knowing look. "Please take off the bandage on your left arm."

He huffed with a smirk, fully aware of what Kabuto had planned and awkwardly lifted his weak hand to his lips, grabbing the strips of fabric between his fangs and pulling as he ground his teeth together, cutting the bandages with ease. He dropped his arm and as he did so, they fell from around his greying flesh, fluttering to the ground.

Kaede looked back to see what was going on and her eyes narrowed at the sight of the curse inflicted upon her 'leader.' The skin was flaking and peeling away, not enough to bleed just yet, but any day now and that would be a possibility which would inflict more pain. She had to force back the grin at the idea of him feeling pain, and blinked with shock when the image of him saving her life flashed through her mind, then the image of her saving his life soon after.

'Dammit!' She thought silently as she exhaled sharply and shook her head, glaring at their enemies as if it was their fault. 'Why does that keep coming back t'me?! Focus on the fight, stop being an idiot!'

Naruto stood up and locked eyes with the Sannin that Kabuto worked for, speaking loud enough for them to hear. "He's Orochimaru?"

"So the boss is finally going to fight?" Jiraiya asked, then turned to look at Tsunade, who was in rough shape, still trembling and silent as the wind. "Shizune."

"Yes?" Shizune asked, looking over at the white-haired Sannin.

"You fight the guy with glasses, Shizune." He stated, then turned to Orochimaru and Kaede with a smile full of confidence. "I'll fight Kaede and Orochimaru."

The four shared the same look to their respective opponents, a glare of intense determination and some of anger, while Orochimaru stood, the only person with a grin on his lips at that time. A silence stretched between them. Naruto even joined in the glaring contest, even though he had no place in such a high-level battle.

"But before we do that." The white-haired Sannin continued, breaking said silence. "I want Tsunade to do something about my body."

Shizune closed her eyes and lowered her head as if apologizing for something she did not do. "The effects of that drug will most likely last for a while. Even I can't do anything about it."

The shocked look Jiraiya gave the attendant was comical, to say the least. "What?! Really?!" He sighed and closed his eyes for a moment before he directed his attention to Orochimaru and the redhead standing in front of him. "Fine...I'll fight like this." He turned to the blonde woman behind them. "Tsunade, use your medical jutsu and rest."

Kaede let out a long exhale of air and ran her fingers through her hair as she closed an eye and looked back at Jiraiya. "If we hadn't been enemies, I'd would've loved a second drink..." She said, grinning at him, as she rolled her shoulders and cracked her knuckles. "But I guess that ain't happening, is it?"

"I guess not." Jiraiya agreed his smirk widening. "I'd say this was a pretty interesting choice for a second date though!"

"Hah! Then show me what you've got, Jiraiya!"

However just as they were about to move into fighting stances, Naruto spoke up. "Then, what about me?" He asked, itching to be part of the action.

"You guard Tsunade and that pig there," Jiraiya told him simply.

The boy could hear Kaede laughing in the background and blushed with humiliation. "What? I'll fight too, I can-"

"No!" Jiraiya wasn't taking his usual complaints this time. "The glasses guy and Kaede both said it. You're at a lower level. The enemy is a Sannin, like me, and he's also the man that killed the Third. You need an eye for an eye! Only I can fight him now. Also, that kid is as strong as Kakashi." He directed his attention to Kabuto. "And Kaede...Uh." His expression turned blank and a little foolish for a second before he shook it off and returned to seriousness. "I don't know what she's done...But if she's working for Orochimaru, it wasn't good."

But this didn't deter the boy as he moved his hands to form seals for his favorite jutsu. "Okay, then! Kage Bunshin-"

"Wait! Don't use the Kage Bunshin. It's meaningless."

"What?!" The young Jinchuuriki spun to face his tutor.

"It won't even work as a nice decoy, either..." Jiraiya looked off to the side, glaring with narrowed eyes at his former teammate. "You'll simply be wasting Chakra." Kabuto pushed his glasses up his nose, Orochimaru continued to stand there with a devious smirk on his lips and Kaede gripped the kunai a little too tightly, ready for a fight. "Against them."

The third Sannin moved his attention away from Naruto and onto their enemies. "Now then, Let's get started!"

The white-haired medic ran his thumb over the deep cut in his right hand, and lifted Orochimaru's arm, wiping the blood down the tattoo he used to summon his snakes, while Jiraiya bit his thumb and wiped it against the palm of his other hand. They both formed the seals they needed and slammed their hands against the ground, shouting simultaniously.

"Kuchiyose no Jutsu!"

A heavy smoke billowed from the kanji that etched into the ground and stood there, before the good guys in the battle, were two giant snakes, one had Kaede sat on it's head, while the other had Orochimaru and Kabuto stood atop its skull, all eyes staring down at their opponents as the smoke surrounding them had not dissapated yet.

Of course, when the smog finally cleared, both Kaede, Naruto, and Jiraiya shared the same dumbfounded look, which further proved how similar the three were to one another. In the place, the white-haired Sannin had conjured the summoning circle, stood a tiny orange frog that was no use in battle against the two giant snakes Kabuto had summoned for Orochimaru.

"Are y'sure he's a Sannin?" Kaede called up to her 'leader,' pointing down at the sorry display as the snake she sat on flicked it's tongue and lifted it's head slightly, curious about the person sat between its eyes. "He kind of reminds me of Naruto a bit..."

The villainous Sannin chuckled darkly and his eyes widened, displaying red veins peaking at the very corners of his snake-like orbs. "Looks like you're still the idiot I remember. I know that you don't have talent, but that?" He peeled his gaze off his former teammate and down onto the small frog, before looking back. "Looks like Tsunade did something to you."

Kabuto slowly got to his feet. "Sacrifices were needed for that jutsu." He told the man beside him.

"So she must've drugged him at some point so he didn't struggle?" Kaede ran her fingers through her fringe at the surprising thought. "Damn..."

"Use Jiraiya as a sacrifice?" Orochimaru asked, his grin widening. "I guess that's very like Tsunade." He chuckled down at the aggravated toad summoner. "You're unsightly, as usual."

Irritated by the comments they made about his sensei, Naruto bit his thumb and he too tried to summon a giant frog. Orochimaru's eyes widened and he watched as smoke bellowed from the jutsu. 'The Kyuubi Jinchuuriki from the Chuunin Exams...' He glared maliciously at the child and spoke out loud. "Maybe I should've killed him when I had the chance...I let him go since the Akatsuki wanted him alive."

'Akatsuki?' Kaede silently mused. 'Ain't that the group he mentioned t'Kabuto a few years back?'

"But only a Sannin or the Third can undo the Gogyō Fuuin." He continued, and Kaede found herself even more confused. When did all this take place?

"So that means Jiraiya-sama did it?" Kabuto asked.

The devious Sannin's grin darkened considerably. "Most likely. If he is able to control the powers of the Kyuubi already..."

As he said that, the smoke finally cleared and stood next to the tiny orange frog, was a fatter, yellow frog of the same height, and Naruto, Jiraiya, and Kaede shared the same dumbfounded look once again.

Orochimaru, however, kept the same smirk on his lips. "It seems he can't."

"No kidding...I knew he had talent when it came t'surprising people, but this is just ridiculous." Kaede commented, arching a brow at the spectacle.

The medic chuckled and his lips curled with amusement. "He wasn't blessed with any talent as a shinobi, after all."

They watched the amusing gestures and motions of the frogs and humans below, unable to hear them from this distance until their leader finally got bored and got into a fighting stance. "Kaede, with me!" He ordered, and Kaede sighed, standing up and leaping onto the other snake's head, swapping places with Kabuto as the snakes lunged down towards their enemies. "Let's go!"

The two snakes moved side-by-side, getting closer and closer to their opponents at a devastating speed. "Kaede and myself with deal with Jiraiya!" He stated. "You deal with the rest."

Kabuto's amused smile turned into a malicious smirk that mirrored his lord's. "That's a shame." He started. "I wanted to fight a Sannin like Jiraiya-sama too!"

'Focus.' Kaede told herself as she felt a small inkling of her former morality whisper in the back of her mind, and pushed it away, killing it dead. 'Jiraiya isn't the only threat, but if y'do this, Jiraiya won't be the only Sannin you'll get the opportunity to take out! Focus, and win!'

The three braced themselves and the snakes slammed their heads into the ground, kicking up a cloud of dust and debris. Shizune managed to grab Tsunade in time and was freefalling after using Shunshin no Jutsu to avoid the collision. However they weren't safe as Kabuto appeared in front of her and punched her in the jaw so hard, the two were sent hurtling to the ground, while the young medic landed on a falling rock, safe and unharmed.

Naruto, who had ignored his mentor's words about staying out of the fight, rushed forth to battle Kabuto, jumping from rock to rock to face him. However, he wasn't the most alert of ninja and didn't see a snake slither up to attack him until it's large head bust out of the dust cloud, mouth agape and swallowed the young boy whole.

"Naruto!" Jiraiya called out, on a different rock some distance away, high in the sky.

"You're dealing with me!" Came the sinister response from the snake-eyed Sannin who rose up towards Jiraiya on the head of the other snake his eyes alight with the disturbing sense of glee he felt fighting his former friend. Kaede by his side, no longer the carefree person he'd met at a bar, as she stood there with a hand on her hip and a dark, fanged grin on her lips. The drastic change was enough for Jiraiya to question it for only a second before he sprung into action.

Realizing what the white-haired man was going to do, both he and Kaede formed seals at the same time, and the redhead inhaled deep lungfuls of chakra-infused air, but she wasn't fast enough. "Doton: Yomi Numa!" The Toad Sage called out, and the poor woman ended up swalling the burning Chakra as she and Orochimaru staggered, their summon being dragged down a small distance as a swamp appeared beneath their feet, submerging a fair deal of the snake's form.

Kaede slumped forward slightly, coughing hard as she grasped her stinging throat, a small trickle of blood leaking down her lips. Swallowing Chakra infused air was extremely dangerous to any ninja, as the Chakra is forced back into the body and collides with the Chakra leaving the body, which in turn, burns the inside of the throat as it's forced to seperate and dissapate, which she managed to exhale before her neck ended up like Zaku's arms during the Chuunin Exams.

Though it was a stupid idea to continue using Ninjutsu that involved exhaling Chakra, she had no choice. She couldn't let such a small sample of pain stop her from achieving her goals, no matter how dangerous the task was.

She clicked her tongue and glared at him until she blinked and her eyes widened, he was gone, nowhere to be seen. Unaware that he had silently landed behind them. "Dammit, I can't submerge them completely in such a small swamp!" He ground out angrilly. "But the snake can't move in that state."

While that fight was going on, Shizune was doing her best to overpower Kabuto, shooting needles tipped with poison from the device on her arm. However, the male medic was quick to step to the side and dodge them, before he used his favorite jutsu, enveloping his hands in chakra before he slammed one of them against her chest, sending her hurtling back. She was good though, and inhaled mid-flight, before she exhaled a large cloud of toxic mist, enveloping her opponent.

If he inhaled even a tiny amount, it would be fatal.

Despite her quick thinking, it was obvious that the white-haired subordinate was quick in both body and mind, as the smoke cleared, but he wasn't there. The attendant didn't get a chance to look around and seek him out when she gasped in pain as two chakra-infused hands grasped both her ankles. As he rose from the ground like some sort of zombie, she fell to her knees, unable to move her legs.

The snake Kabuto had left to eat Naruto didn't fair well against the boy as he managed to open its mouth with his hands and feet. "I won't let you eat me a second time!" He declared, gritting his teeth with effort and irritation. He hopped out of the snake's mouth, but as he landed, the snake lifted his head and slammed it into the blonde boy without mercy, sending him flying back until he made contact with a rock, landing on his stomach in front of the hard surface that harmed his back.

Kaede looked over and watched as the snake who quite liked her company fully sank into the swamp, and for the first time, she felt sorry for them. She had never liked snakes, but that one was pretty gentle around the people it was summoned to protect.

She was breathing heavily as her attention was taken by Orochimaru, who turned slowly to face Jiraiya as if knowing he was there the entire time. The redhead soon mimicked his movements and glared at Jiraiya as she inhaled and exhaled slowly, hand against her collarbone, where the burn was most profound.

"Let's go!" The snake-eyed Sannin said simply before he kicked off towards his former friend. Jiraiys was quick to form seals as Orochimaru stretched out his neck and opened his mouth so wide, it looked like he had dislocated it.

The white-haired man's jutsu took effect and said hair sharpened and pointed. "Ninpou: Hari Jizou!" The prickling spines wrapped around his body like a shield, and while Kaede formed seals to burn that shield down, Orochimaru kicked it, stabbing himself in the foot with the points, before using the limb to open the barrier just wide enough to lunge down and bite the man's exposed neck, hard. "Dammit...!" He ground out, pain shooting through his throat and lower jaw. "My jutsu isn't working either."

"Although we both have handicaps." Orochimaru spoke from the man's neck, which, if she wasn't concentrating, Kaede would have said was 'creepy.' "It looks like we can still see the difference between us. Just give up!"

"Katon: Gokakyu no Jutsu!" The former Suna kunoichi finally called out, wincing as she inhaled deeply and spat a giant fireball at the pair. Both men separated and dove in opposite directions to avoid the flames, but it just caught them, scorching their skin slightly, tearing the clothing attacked to their legs.

Her 'leader' skidded to a halt by her side as she gripped her throat and coughed as the pain increased, while both Sannin had to recover from the painful scorching of their legs. "Careful, Firecracker~" Orochimaru jeered with a pain-stricken grin. "You caught me a little with that last jutsu. One wrong move and you could cause me serious harm."

"Oh I'd never dream of hurting you, Snake-Eyes~" She taunted back, giving him a grin that said otherwise, the sarcasm resonating deep into her tone.

He chuckled as Kaede ducked down slightly, before she kicked off towards Jiraiya while forming seals for another devastating set of fireballs, only to duck when he tried to roundhouse kick her in the face. However, he noticed, just in time, when Orochimaru appeared to his right and went for the neck again, this time hoping to hit an artery.

Jiraiya spun from the kick and slammed his foot into the ground, turning his torso and grabbing Orochimaru by the cheeks, much to the Snake Sannin's surprise. He then reared his hand back and thrust downwards, aiming to break his former friend's skull by smashing it against the much larger skull of the snake they stood on.

Despite this rather advantageous moment, Jiraiya didn't manage to pull it off, as Kaede appeared in his line of sight and kicked him so hard in the cheek, he was forced to let go of her 'leader' who staggered back and used his shoulder to wipe the blood from his lip, from the self-inflicted bite he accidentally gave himself when his ex-teammate grasped his face.

The redhead jumped back to his side and Orochimaru chuckled. "I believe that's the second time you've saved my life, Kaede." He told her, and, to make sure he didn't notice her disgust, she grinned, hiding it behind a twisted smile.

"Don't get used to it." She started, looking back at Jiraiya who was getting to his feet, albeit slowly. "I was just saving my own skin, I ain't got a chance against a Sannin on my own!"

She was lying, obviously, otherwise, revenge would be a long-forgotten dream. She saved his life to keep building that trust she needed him to give her. Well, that's what she kept telling herself.

After the three caught their breath for a second, Orochimaru and Kaede rushed at Jiraiya once more, who quickly formed seals for a fire jutsu similar to her Katon: Kasai Suīpu but the redhead known for her fire jutsu quickly countered, forming seals for her Futon: Diatoppa. Both jutsu went off at the same time, and connected, the wind causing the flames to errupt into a swirling vortex of scorching heat. The snake-eyed Sannin was quick to jump out of the way as the flames covered the area, and both his former comrade and current subordinate were engulfed, unable to move in time with the sudden burst of power.

Orochimaru landed a small distance back as the blaze died out and there stood the two who instigated the assault, both staring at one another as Kaede held her burned arm, wishing she had gone with the full-body flame-retardant suit after all. Jiraiya, who stood a small distance away was holding his scortched shoulder, the jacket he wore had torn away while the kimono and mesh shirt beneath had melted into his flesh, leaving a grotesque injury that the former Suna kunoichi knew all too well.

'The way we're going...' Kaede thought to herself, removing her hand from her injured arm as she continued to wheeze, throat aching agonizingly from the overuse of jutsu. 'This fight's never going t'end!'

Meanwhile, Kabuto continued to kick the crap out of Shizune after overwhelming her in close combat, until he hit her that hard, she fell down next to Tsunade, her blood flying into the air and landing on the blonde woman's cheek, causing her to errupt into a fit of tremors. Her heart pounded so hard, she could hear it in her ears as she looked at the weak, gasping form of Shizune, then the unconscious Naruto from the corner of her eye.

The memories of Dan and Nawaki's death came to mind and she watched as Kabuto got closer and closer, and when he finally reached out to her, that fear erupted into pure terror and she screamed, slapping his hand away. The action irritated Kabuto and he glared down at his former role model with sharp, narrowed eyes. "This is unfortunate." He hissed out. "I had admired you as a medical ninja like me."

"Stop!" Tsunade cried out, crawling backward as the boy stepped closer. "Get away!"

"Please get ahold of yourself, Tsunade-sama. Otherwise, the reputation of the Sannin, of which Orochimaru-sama is a part, will be diminished." He then started kicking her relentlessly as a way to immobalize her so she could heal Orochimaru in a safer location.

Naruto, who could hear the viscious beating, lifted his head and glared at Kabuto with one eye open. "My body feels heavy..."

The two Sannin who were able to fight stood apart from one another after another series of blows and counters, the three of them covered in cuts, bruises, and burns, while they fought to catch their breaths. Kaede was crouched, her toes keeping her from landing on her ass as she wheezed and coughed up a little blood from her raw throat.

Orochimaru chuckled as he glared at Jiraiya. "You used to be called the insanity of the village, but now you're carrying around a child and working hard for the village. You've fallen. My ability to see through someone's talent is top notch." His eyes moved to the young boy struggling to move below. "In my eyes, that child is ordinary."

The Toad Hermit scoffed at his former teammate's words with a smile. "That's why." He started, getting the snake-eyed shinobi's attention once again. "I don't need an Uchiha kid. There's no fun in raising a genius kid who learns fast."

The Otokage's lips curled back and he let out another deep chuckle. "So you can't leave them alone since they remind you of your old self. That child cannot beat an Uchiha born with the Kekkei Genkai Sharingan...Since Naruto-kun does not possess the Sharingan. A ninja's talent is determined by whether he can possess and master all the jutsu in the world." His grin widened. "A ninja, as the name suggests, is someone who uses Ninjutsu."

Once again, the white-haired pervert only huffed in response and returned the grin tenfold. "That's not what determines a ninja's talent. You still don't understand?" That wiped the smirk off Orochimaru's face. "A ninja is one who stands and endures it."

Kaede grinned her eyes darkening as she processed those words, getting to her feet and crossing her arms. If a ninja was one who stood and endured, she was a better ninja than either of them. She had suffered, struggled and done everything to redeem and give meaning to the past ten years of her life. She would kill the Sannin responsible for her torment and rid the world of his evil.

"A difference of opinion." Orochimaru pointed out, unaware of his subordinate's thoughts.

"Let me tell you one thing." Jiraiya countered. "The most important talent for a ninja isn't his number of jutsu." As he said this, Kabuto reared back to punch the surrendering Tsunade in the face. "The most important thing is..."

The young medic thrust his fist forward, but instead of making contact with Tsunade's cheek, he hit something solid and metal, Naruto's forehead protector.

"The guts never to give up!"

Kabuto's eyes widened and he gasped in shock, as the blonde Genin glared at him with a snarl curling his lips. "Bastard, cut it out already!" He then positioned his hands where one was palm up and the other scratched at the air around it like a cat playing with a ball. Surprisingly, chakra began to form between the two hands, turning into a spiraling typhoon of energy.

"The guts never to give up..." Jiraiya repeated as Naruto roared and went to attack Kabuto, who's glasses lit up with the glow of the chakra. "He has that!"

Despite his cool entry and powerful jutsu, Kabuto smirked and ducked away from the attack just before it hit. As Naruto passed, the medic used his scalpel-like chakra to cut the muscles on one of the boy's legs and he fell to the floor while his opponent straightened up and shot him a malicious glare and a sinister smirk.

While the medic continued to intimidate Naruto with frightening words and jeers about his talents, Orochimaru and Kaede stood side by side, glaring at Jiraiya, who finally got to his feet, ready to fight again. In a split second, the kind Sannin rushed forward poised with a kunai ready for striking them down.

With a quick and agile motion, Orochimaru stepped forward into Jiraiya's attack, startling him and forcing him to hesitate before the snake-eyed shinobi kicked the kunai from his hand and into the air, where Kaede rushed in and caught it before she vanished and appeared behind Jiraiya, grinning triumphantly. She then thrust the stolen weapon towards him without even a scrap of hesitation, but he deflected it by spinning to kick her, which she avoided by jumping back.

"Have you forgotten about me, Jiraiya?" Orochimaru hissed from right behind him, and Jiraiya barely had time to turn before he was kicked in the stomach, landing hard on his back a few feet away.

Kaede took the time to glance down at what was going on below and stared as Kabuto proceeded to kick the crap out of Naruto like he had done with Shizune and Tsunade. 'He's a sadistic little bastard, ain't he?' She mused silently. 'No wonder Orochimaru likes him, they're disgustingly similar.' Huffing out a laugh, she directed her attention on their white-haired opponent and grinned, rushing forward with the kunai still in hand.

Suddenly, the Genin being beaten below caught Kabuto's foot as he went to break yet another rib, a glare in his eyes showing just how sick he was of being mocked. "Dammit...!" He ground out, pushing the older teen away, who stumbled to catch his balance. "I'm not going to take back my words." Everyone watching stared with wide eyes as Naruto forced himself to his feet, despite the muscles in one of his legs being cut, rendering movement. "That's my way of the ninja!"

Utterly frustrated with the kid's attitude, Kabuto let the chakra envelope his hand once again. "You should've just stayed out of this." He swung his hand round and hit Naruto in the cheek, sending him flying back, landing on his side in front of Tsunade's trembling form.

"Why...?" The shocked woman breathed as he struggled to lift himself, but never gave up. "Why...?" He managed to regain his balance and stood there, head low, breathing heavily.

"Old Lady Tsunade..." He rasped, weakened greatly as he put his hands together as a ninja forming a jutsu would. "I'm going to take that unlucky necklace that you promised in the bet..." And then, he made a familiar sign as Tsunade's eyes widened in shock. "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!"

A second Naruto appeared beside the first, both in a similar state, but both determined to fight. "Stop it already!" The medical Sannin cried out. "Don't protect me, Naruto. Stop!"

Kabuto used his one able hand to take a kunai from his holster. "I said when you become stubborn, you die!" He kicked off towards the brave boy with a snarl on his lips. "When you die, you lose everything, including your dream!"

"Just get out of the way! Run!" Tsunade begged, seeing this boy's death and knowing how much it would drive her and everyone who loved him, over the edge.

The Otogakure medic thrust the kunai forward towards Naruto as he smiled. "It's fine." He said and with excellent reflexes, he grabbed the hand Kabuto held the kunai in. The blade cut deep into the young blonde's skin, but that didn't stop him, but it did stop the attack. "I...Until I become Hokage." The clone then raised his hands to Naruto's upturned palm. "I won't die!"

Kabuto grunted as he tried to release his hand from Naruto's grip, but the boy was stubborn and refused to move. The Genin laughed with a cocky grin as the medic's expression warped with frustration. "Now you can't run. Eat this!" The clone then did as Naruto did before, scratching at the air like a cat playing with a ball, until Chakra formed into a ball-like typhoon, much faster than before with the use of two hands instead of one.

"The same chakra motion...!" The older teen gasped, trying harder to get away from his enemy, to no avail. 'No, it's...'

"I get it, now..." Tsunade breathed, continuing the stray though Kabuto had. "He used the Kage Bunshin to create a hand to hold in the Chakra."

"Compress the Chakra, and..." Naruto ground out as he pulled the hand and the jutsu back like a fist. "Retain it!" He thrust his hand forward and hit Kabuto square in the stomach with the ball of pure, spiraling power, who screamed out as agony washed over him. "Rasengan!"

The boy let out a roar and the power of the Rasengan doubled and enveloped the older teen, sending him flying into the wall. However just before he became airborn, he had grabbed Naruto's chest with his Chakra infused hand.

Kaede stopped mid fight, to see what the hell was going on. "What kind of jutsu is that?!" She called down, as the dust finally settled and the victim of the attack stood there, blood leaking from his wounded stomach, while Naruto caught his breath.

The two Sannin, who kept fighting during the amazing spectacle, came to a standstill on the bottom of the snake's chin, standing upside down as they halted their fight and looked down at the damage. 'That Kyuubi kid...' Orochimaru mused silently, his former teammate grinning obnoxiously. 'That kid can use a jutsu like that?!'

The redhead, standing on the top of the snake's head, let out a bold laugh and squatted down for a second, breathing heavily. "Nice work, kid~" She wheezed, touching her throat when it burned.

Tsunade sat there in utter shock, unable to process what happened until something terrible came to her attention, Naruto had frozen, even his breathing. With a gasp of realization, she watched as the boy vomited blood and fell to the floor, while Kabuto smirked, stood where half a rock remained. The blonde woman was quick to move, despite her phobia, and skidded to a halt by Naruto, crouching down to check his health.

Kabuto took a step forward and the medical specialist glanced at him. "You took that attack, yet..."

The older teen laughed as he took another weak step. "I defended my stomach with Chakra, and began healing myself before I was even hit with that jutsu." As he spoke, the burns and bloody wounds on his stomach began to fade, one by one. "The reason Orochimaru-sama likes me is not my superior abilities, nor is it my talent for jutsu. It's my overwhelming healing power..." At this point, all injuries he had taken completely vanished. "My ability to induce my cells to generate new ones." He closed his eyes for a second to catch his breath while thinking to himself.

'Though, in exchange, I use up most of my Chakra.'

The devious, terribly intelligent man stepped forward again when he opened his eyes. "It looks like this jutsu was Naruto-kun's last gamble, but..." Tsunade glared at him as he grinned and started moving faster, only to surprise them both when he too froze, coughed up blood, and fell onto his front. 'Th-this can't be...' He thought, staring at the ground, unable to move. 'Even with my powers of recovery, I am still this damaged?!' He tried and failed to lift himself. 'I don't have enough Chakra...!'

Tsunade's attention returned to Naruto when he made a choking sound and his left hand began to twitch. She quickly rested her head on his chest and listened as his heartbeat slowed until it was no longer audible. With a gasp, she took her jacket and tossed it to the side. "He's showing signs of arrhythmia!" She unzipped his jacket and placed two shaking hands on his chest. 'Dammit! His cardiac muscles are a total mess! But how?!"

It then dawned on her that Kabuto had touched Naruto's chest before he was sent flying. was that when he effectively destroyed his muscles? She placed two fingers on the collar of his undershirt and waited for her trembles to calm before she cut the fabric down the middle so she could reach the boy's bare chest, she then placed her hands on top of one another against his skin, as if performing CPR, but instead melded medical Chakra together and used it to heal Naruto's severe injuries.

While she did this, Kabuto found the strength to lift his head and watch what she was doing. "It's too late for Naruto-kun." He ground out with a taunting tone. "I've cut the keirakukei in his heart...That converts the Kyuubi's chakra into strength...With my full strength...To ensure that there is no chance of him healing himself." He took some deep breaths between his words. "There's no way he'll recover...Even by your hand-"

"Shut up!" Tsunade snapped, weakened from overuse of chakra, but even then, she refused to give up. "I'll kill you later." Her attitude was back, at least. But just after she said that Naruto stopped breathing. At that moment, she saw all her deceased loved ones, and it broke her heart. "Dammit...Dammit. Dammit!" Tears started falling and landed on the young Genin's skin as she kept feeding his wounds Chakra, kept chanting 'don't die' in her mind.

Then a miracle happened, the boy's injured hand rose up, and weakly grasped the necklace. He opened his tired eyes with a tired smile and met her hazel gaze. "I won...The bet." The poor child blacked out and Tsunade caught his hand as it fell.

"It can't be!" Kabuto gasped, eyes wide with shock and confusion as he watched Naruto breathe steadily, healing slowly from his terrible wounds. Even Kaede, who had been watching from above, let out a surprised whistle.

Tsunade's eyes filled with tears and she smiled warmly as she lifted Naruto's hand back up and healed the large gash caused by catching Kabuto's kunai. "'Because becoming Hokage is my dream,' eh?" She said softly, as she put his hand down at his side. "One last time..." She gently lifted his head and slipped the necklace around his neck. "I want to put my hopes in you..." Then she gently rested his head back down so he could rest. "Just one last time..."

Kaede watched and listened as much as she could from on top of the snake, and though she couldn't fully hear what the woman said, she smiled with an air of sadness at the sight before her. If they had not been enemies, if she had the courage to oppose Orochimaru right here, right now without fear of being locked up by a village...She would have loved to fight by their side...Just once.

She heard the clashing of blows below and broke herself out of her self-loathing daydream, and turned as Orochimaru and Jiraiya rejoined her on the top of the snake, standing a fair distance apart, covered in new injuries. "That boy doesn't seem to be too well..." The snake-eyed Sannin said as he glanced down at the others on the ground.

"Tsunade is a medical specialist." Jiraiya pointed out, his grin widening. "You don't have to worry, Naruto will be fine."

"That's not what I meant."

Kaede let out a loud and, in Orochimaru's opinion, obnoxious laugh. "Don't flatter him! He ain't got a compassionate bone in his body!"

Her 'leader' chuckled and glanced at her with a wide, devious smirk. "I believe you're the one flattering me, Firecracker~" And though he said those words with mirth, his eyes returned to the unconscious form of Naruto.

'I didn't expect him to be able to do this much...' Was the thought in the villainous shinobi's mind. 'If he falls into the Akatsuki's hands, it'll be troublesome. In other words, now's the time...' Glancing at Jiraiya for a second, then to Kaede, who had a feeling he was about to do something dangerous, he suddenly dove from the snake's head, falling down only a small distance away from its body. '...To kill him!'

Jiraiya barely had time to react and stepped forward to follow when Kaede skidded into his path, still holding the kunai she stole earlier, as her kunai before that was kicked away during their many scuffles. "Ah, ah~" She jeered with a fanged grin. "I'm your opponent now!"

"Tch!" The Toad Sage started, glaring at her, he didn't have much time to deal with her. "Why do you work for Orochimaru?" He couldn't understand it.

Kaede's grin fell and she glared at him. "I have my reasons."

He knew he wouldn't get much more than that, especially with the look she gave him and sighed. "You're nothing like I thought you were...When I looked at you before, I saw a woman with a bold, confident personality and a kind heart...When I look at you now, I see Orochimaru, cold, detached and merciless."

Something in the redhead bubbled beneath the surface, a mix of anger, denial, and disgust as she narrowed her eyes while her skin took on a soft glow and she ground her teeth. In a split second after that reaction, she kicked off towards him to strike.

However she ended up having flashbacks from ten years ago, of the day she was kidnapped, when Jiraiya suddenly moved behind her, and the side of his hand slammed into the back of her neck. Her vision blurred and a shock went through her system. She hit the scales of the snake, laying on her stomach as her expression softened with daze and confusion.

This man wasn't as precise as Orochimaru in his rush, but he did manage to immobalize her, buying him some time to dive down after his former friend.

The snake Sannin was not easily foiled, however, he spun mid-air and shot his tongue out of his mouth, wrapping it around Jiraiya's ankle.

"Shit!" The white-haired sage hissed out, before he was swung down, and slammed into the ground so hard, he was embedded in his own crater with the tongue still around his ankle incase he moved again. Using the impact to change course, Orochimaru then fell towards Tsunade and a snake appeared from his throat, opening it's mouth as the Kusanagi sword popped out, drawn and ready to be used as he came within a few meters of Naruto's unconscious body.

It only took a moment, a single blink of the eye for blood to be spilled into the air. However Naruto was not the one who took the attack, instead, Tsunade had dove in front of the boy, shielding him with her own body as the blade went through the center of her chest and stuck out of her back.

Kaede grunted as her mind slowly cleared and she managed to lift herself until she was on her hands and knees. Every time she tried to stand after that, she would stumble and land on her stomach again, her body still a little numb, but she wouldn't stop trying. No way would she be beaten by a man who insulted her more than any other.

And she was just starting to like Jiraiya too.

The blonde Sannin coughed up blood and Orochimaru's eyes widened as he pulled the sword from her chest and stepped back, the snake swallowing the blade before he swallowed the snake. "Tsunade, you were the only one I didn't intend to kill..." He started, giving the trembling, fatally wounded woman an intense stare. "If that boy lives, it'll be troublesome in many ways. Do not get in my way."

"That boy..." She started, coughing and grunting as pain wracked her entire body. "I will definitely protect him at all costs!" Her voice elevated and her stubborn, strong nature echoed in her tone.

This caused the snake-eyed Sannin to smirk with amusement at her words. "Covered in blood and trembling...Why would you, one of the Sannin, want to risk your life to protect a mere Genin?"

Tsnade tried to respond, but she couldn't quite get the air to do so, coughing up blood instead so she could clear her airways and breathe. Once that calmed down, she raised her head and gave Orochimaru the coldest glare she could muster in her state. "To protect Konoha...Konohagakure!"

The smile fell off Orochimaru's face as Kaede's eyes widened the sounds of battle no longer polluting the air, making it easier to hear their conversation below. "To protect Konoha?" The man asked, musing the meaning behind her words, considering her earlier lack of remorse during their negociations.

Tsunade, even with her intense agonizing pain, turned her head to look at the boy who laid unconscious behind her. "That's because..." She said, eyes softening as she remembered her loves ones. "That's because this kid is someone who will eventually become Hokage."

This made the evil villain laugh venomously. "Talking such nonsense..." His tone was harsh and his smirk wide. "Besides, the title of Hokage is nothing but a load of crap! Only an idiot would take on the job."

The medical specialist gasped as she remembered the night she met Naruto, how she had said the exact same line to him, and hearing it then, she realized just how cruel and foolish those words were.

However, Kaede, who finally managed to stand, even with the damage caused to her nerves, found herself agreeing with Orochimaru. 'The title is complete crap! Not just Hokage, but any Kage, they're all just self-important dictators who follow their own rules over justice! A village, a Kage, a family, they're all worthless and eventually, they'll just leave y'in the dirt t'die if y'let them!'

Tsunade closed her eyes as she thought over everything that had happened and slowly, carefully, got to her feet. "From here on, I, too, will risk my life!" She opened her eyes and glared into Orochimaru's, unwavering.

The Sannin let out a noise of shock and lowered his head slightly, giving her a malicious sneer. His anger boiled beneath the surface and in that moment, he no longer cared about his arms. "If your life is so worthless that you can throw it away for a stupid kid like him, then hurry up and die as you should!" His swung his head back and the blade re-emerged from his mouth before he threw his head forward and sliced diagonally into her chest cavity, deep enough to tear a hole through her lungs.

At that moment, Jiraiya and Shizune both awoke and looked towards the noise as Tsunade's fragile, injured body hit the ground, leaving Naruto defenseless. "Now all that's left is Naruto-kun..." The villain sneered as he walked forward towards his victim, his sword still sticking out of his throat.

"Tsunade-sama!" Shizune cried out.

Orochimaru lifted his head, and Jiraiya quickly put his hands together to form seals, but as his enemy swung down and went for the kill, Tsunade quickly moved to hover over the boy, protecting him from the injury. Surprised by the sudden movement, the snake shinobi stopped just before he hit his target and retracted the sword, swallowing it. 'She can still move after I cut her lungs...!'

Tsunade took a shaky breath as blood dripped from her chin onto Naruto's cheek.

Her former comrade huffed and looked down at her over his nose with disbelief and a mocking smirk on his lips. "Are you still going to protect a kid like him?"

"Like I said..." The blonde medic snarled, glaring at him from the corner of her eye. "'From here on, I, too, will risk my life!'"

Something in Orochimaru snapped and his eyes widened until veins emerged around the edges. He raised his foot as he grit his teeth in anger. "You're half dead!" He kicked her off the boy and she fell to his side, too weak to move.

Kaede built up as much strength as she could in her weak legs, and jumped down from the snake's head, landing on the ground below. However her knees buckled and she dropped to them, cursing softly as she struggled to get back to her feet. Jiraiya had really messed with her body, it felt numb and hard to control.

But right there and then, her mind was preoccupied as she stared at the scene that had just played out. Orochimaru rarely got worked up by words, otherwise, her taunts would have had more of an impact. Why was the idea of someone risking their life such a sore subject for him?

Just then, the memory of their fight with Hiruzen came to mind, how, despite not facing them, she could hear the fear in Orochimaru's voice when the Fuuinjutsu threatened to take his life. Did he fear death that badly?

Kaede shook any and all thoughts of Orochimaru from her head, her expression warped with anger as she got pissed off. She was sick of it now, couldn't she think of anything better than that asshole and the fact that he saved her life, and she saved his?

She hated him, he was a cruel, malicious tyrant that needed to be erased from the world once and for all so no one else would go through the same torment she did. If she had a choice, she would have preferred to fight with Naruto and the others, instead of at his side.

Honestly, she had it in her right mind to stand back and allow this fight to go on, but somewhere deep in her gut, she felt compelled to assist him in his fight. She kept telling herself it was because she needed him to trust her because she couldn't take his life when he had his guard up.

However even she was starting to waver, subconsciously or not, even she was starting to see her actions making less and less sense. Ever since she impulsively saved his life before this fight even began.

The Sannin himself approached until he was stood right in front of Naruto, glaring at Tsunade as she still struggled to move, her body shaking violently. "No matter how much you pretend, your trembling won't stop." He stated. "You can't free yourself from your paralyzing fear of blood. Why are you even going through all that, and willing to go this far for this kid? Why do you fight for the sake of a mere leaf?"

Tsunade was silent as the tremors slowed and finally stopped, Orochimaru only had a second to realize what was happening before the woman's foot slammed into his chin and sent him flying. 'Unbelievable!' He thought as he bounced violently off the ground a few feet away. 'Tsunade's trembling has stopped!'

The blonde kunoichi got to her feet, head low as she caught her breath and calmed her nerves. "That's because I'm..." She started as her opponent lifted himself and met her eyes when she looked up, the strange diamond shape on her forehead warping into marks that went all across her skin. "...Konohagakure's Fifth Hokage!"

"That seal is...!" The snake-eyed Sannin was quick to get to his feet. "What are you planning to do at a time like this?" He grinned arrogantly. "Even if you've overcome your fear of blood, you won't be able to fight properly with those injuries!"

Tsunade made a noise of amusement and put her hands together to form a seal, closing her eyes so she could concentrate.

"P-please wait!" Shizune cried out. "I'll heal your wounds! So please don't undo that seal!"

Kaede finally got to her feet as she stood there on shaking legs. She knew she needed to fight, otherwise, she would be punished or killed, so she quickly kicked off to assist the man she hated. However, she only managed two steps forward before her knees buckled again and she fell. "Dammit, Jiraiya!" She roared, shooting the white haired man stuck in a crater a murderous glare. "I'm going t'kill you!"

The Toad Sage met her gaze, slightly confused, but soon grinned triumphantly as she struggled to get out of her predicament. At least he had managed to stop her becoming Orochimaru's back up.

Tsunade's hair began to rise as chakra flowed around her body. "Fuuin Release!" She started. "Ninpou: Souzou Saisei!"

The pattern across her forehead and cheeks faded away, falling from her face like water, and her wounds began to steam as they slowly knitted back together, healing right before their eyes.

'What is this jutsu?!' Orochimaru thought silently as he watched in amazement before he chuckled. "It looks like I'm not the only one creating new jutsu. What kind of jutsu is that?"

"Oh," Tsunade said as the glow faded and she opened her eyes. "I have been collecting my chakra in my forehead for a long time. With that enormous amount of chakra, I stimulated various proteins, increasing the cell division rate by many times, and used that to restore all my organs and tissues." She wiped the blood from her lip with a smirk. "It's not a healing ability, but rather a regeneration ability. In other words, I can't die in battle."

She took the thumb she had used to wipe up her blood and ran it down her arm.

"Tsunade-sama!" Shizune called out.

Kabuto gasped and forced himself to rise using his arms. 'That move is...!' He ground his teeth. "Orochimaru-sama!"

As if on cue, Orochimaru launched into the air, jumping over Tsunade while Jiraiya bit his thumb, having escaped the crater, and ran it over the palm of his hand. The villainous Sannin landed beside his subordinate, who was on his knees and held out his arm. "Hurry it up!"

Kabuto ran a thumb covered in blood down Orochimaru's arm and the three of them formed seals, before slamming their palms off the ground and chorused. "Kuchiyose no Jutsu!"

Smoke clouded the area and Kaede hissed as she saw the mass of smog bellow towards her. Horror spread across her expression and she tried to stand, if it enveloped her, she would be crushed by the summon, given the size of the cloud. 'Oh, God! I can't get up!' She thought with panic as her legs refused to listen to her, and she kept falling to her knees.

When she saw the smoke started to engulf her, she snapped. "CRAP!" She cried out as fear washed over her. However before the summon could appear, a long, familiar tongue broke through the smoke and wrapped around her waist, yanking her out of the way just in time as the creatures appeared and she landed on the head of a massive purple snake.

Sitting there, she blinked as the severity and sudden action in the situation dawned on her. "You're beginning to become a burden." A harsh voice spoke from above her, and she looked up to see Orochimaru glaring down at her with disappointment. "Try and keep out of the way if you can't fight..."

Shock kept Kaede quiet as she kept staring at him, while he locked eyes with the other Sannin on top of their chosen summon. This was the second time he had saved her life! Why did this keep happening? Why did he keep saving her life?!

While she recovered from that knowledge, she looked out at the summons around her, one being a giant orange frog, the other a white and blue slug which was the same size as said frog, and the final one being the one she was sat on, which was a giant snake the size of both their enemies creatures combined. At that moment, she, Naruto, Shizune and Kabuto were nothing but insignificant insects in front of giant beasts.

The title of the Sannin was indeed a dangerous one to hold, and one to be feared.

Chapter Text

In this empty field, stood three towering summons, one blue and white slug, one large orange, and red toad, and a long, vicious looking purple and black snake. Ontop of said summons were the respective Sannins, Orochimaru, Jiraiya and Tsunade, and at their sides were Shizune, Naruto, Kabuto and Kaede. The latter was currently sat on the nose of the serpent, staring out at the impressive sight, gauging just how screwed they were against two large creatures like their own.

She wasn't aware that the small toads and the pig from earlier started running when the purple snake glanced down at them, nor did she care. As long as it wasn't trying to eat her, she didn't give a damn what it did.

"Manda and Orochimaru," The giant toad, Gamabunta, started, looking at them as he held the smoking pipe between his lips. "Katsui and Tsunade...These sure are nostalgic faces." He took a puff of the pipe and exhaled a deep cloud of toxic smog. "Are you holding a reunion or something after all this time, Jiraiya?"

The Toad Sannin smirked as the wind whipped his hair around. "I brought you out for the first time in a while, stop saying stupid things. I just thought it was about time we put an end to our prolonged friendship." His eyes narrowed. "We will defeat Orochimaru here, today."

Orochimaru didn't take that declaration well as he made a soft sound of anger and his own snake-like eyes narrowed just like Jiraiya's. However before he could respond, the summon which he stood on gave him his full attention. "Hey, Orochimaru, don't bring me out in such troublesome situations." The large serpent, Manda, boomed irritably, his mood only worsening when he refused to respond. "Damn you! I'll eat you!"

Kabuto, who was still crouched atop the giant serpent's brow, put his hand onto his massive scales and spoke with a tone of respect, one which he used with Orochimaru often. "Please don't say that, Manda-sama. I'll give you an offering to make up for this later, for sure."

'An offering?!' Kaede thought silently, eyes wide as she spun round to stare at the large head of the snake. 'This thing eats live people?! The hell's up with Orochimaru's summons, they're as twisted as he is!'

"Who asked you?" Manda snapped up at the young medic. "Don't talk to me so casually, kid!"

The redhead couldn't help the smirk that curled her lips, which slowly crept into an amused grin. "Heh, even Orochimaru can't handle you? Tell y'what, you've earned my respect Manda-san!"

The large beast hummed and his eyes crossed to stare at the woman sat atop his large nose. If he had eyebrows he would have arched them at the sight of the new face. "Keep your comments to yourself, girl!" Her brow twitched with the insult. "Listen to what I said to the kid there and shut your trap if you don't want to be eaten!"

'I take it back, this snake's an asshole like it's master...'

"Hey, Orochimaru," The vile serpent continued, glaring at their opponents since he couldn't see the Sannin from his angle. "Prepare at least a hundred sacrifices later..."

Kabuto stared down at the purple scales he was crouched on, and then glanced up at his leader. 'Even if he is here at Orochimaru-sama's call, if Manda finds out that Orochimaru-sama can't use his jutsu, I'm sure he will betray him.' The boy let out a soft breath, which could be mistaken for exhaustion rather than concern. 'Even though we have no other choice, summoning Manda in this situation was a very risky bet.'

Their attention was taken when they heard a disgusting squelching noise and all turned their gaze to Katsui and Tsunade as the giant slug created a small version of herself and carried the unconscious Naruto down to Shizune on the ground below. Since she had spoken rather softly, none of them could hear the other from this distance unless they spoke up, like Jiraiya had done.

Once the young attendant was entrusted with the boy, Gamabunta chuckled and took a huge puff of his pipe, before he exhaled the smoke in Manda's face. Sadly as Kaede was sat down on his nose, the smog shrouded her completely and she coughed hard as she inhaled lungfuls of toxic fumes.

"S-son of a-" She started, only to cut herself off with another cough, standing, with immense difficulty, to escape the cloud so she could breathe, stepping back so Orochimaru and Kabuto were in the front to fight. Right now, she was useless to them, her jutsu caused her pain, Jiraiya had numbed her body with his attack on her neck and she was running low on Chakra, any more and she wouldn't be able to use any jutsu in an emergency.

"You bastard," Manda sneered as the smoke began to dissipate. "You want to become a dried toad, eh?!"

"I just happened to want a snake-skin wallet, you know..." Gamabunta countered as he grasped the dagger he had strapped around his waist.

Jiraiya's gaze became sharp with determination, despite the smirk on his lips, and he spoke in a strained, dark tone. "Orochimaru, you've become too evil. We're no longer comrades."

"Comrades?" Orochimaru repeated with a leering grin on his lips and a deep chuckle in his throat as he raised his head and looked down his nose at the white-haired Sannin. "That gives me the shivers."

"The title of 'Sannin' will have one less holder after today!" Tsunade chimed in, full of energy and strength, despite her dwindling Chakra.

The redhead from Suna looked between the three as they squared off, waiting for the perfect moment to strike, and her eyes fell on the back of Orochimaru's head. "You're screwed now, Snake-Eyes." She pointed out, only receiving a slight turn of the head as a response. "How're y'going t'get out of this?"

Silence fell between them for a minute before he made another amused sound, a soft laugh, and his shoulders shook as he looked straight ahead once again. "It's rather simple, Firecracker, so even you will be able to understand this..." He clenched his flaking, purple fist. "I will fight and come out the victor!"

She couldn't fathom how much he believed in his own power, that utterly impossible sense of arrogance that meant even in the most dire of situations he would see himself winning despite there being a ninety-nine percent chance he would die.

It was going to get him killed!

She caught herself thinking that and her eyes widened suddenly, a sense of sickness washing over her as she did everything in her power not to cover her mouth and/or vomit. Why did those words cross her mind? Why did she care? Why did it sound like she was worried about him?!

As the wind ripped the last petal from a lone flower below, Kaede's thoughts were snatched from her by distraction as Katsui moved forward and spoke in such a soft tone, despite the situation. "Zesshinen San!" The slug's cheeks bulged and suddenly a vicious acid shot from her small mouth, which Manda avoided, turning Kasui's target into the rock behind him, which fizzed and melted where the strong fluid had struck.

Using his speed as an advantage, the giant serpent quickly changed course and lunged for Katsui, wrapping around her slimy body with ease, startling both her and Tsunade as he tightened around her. "Here's one!" Manda hissed, eyes set on the blonde as he opened his mouth to snatch up his first sacrifice.

However, Gamabunta didn't let him have his little snack, as the large toad used his strong legs to dive forward, thrusting out his dagger to stab the snake straight through the skull. Of course, Manda used his speed to avoid the blade and snapped his jaws around it, holding it still as the three stood there, trembling as each tried to escape the others' attacks.

The poor slug's shaking intensified as the purple reptile continued to tighten his hold. "Katsui!" Tsunade called down to her summon, concern in her hazel eyes.

"Tsunade-sama..." She started, trailing off as her master understood the request without vocalization, using Sunshin no Jutsu to quickly escape the situation while Katsui began to reach her limit as her body bulged in the areas that weren't being squeezed.

As soon as that limit was reached, her large form exploded into a million smaller versions of herself, forcing Manda to let her go. While the serpent and the toad struggled to gain control of the dagger, said slug reformed as her millions of tiny bodies came together and fused into the large creature she once was.

Manda swung his tail around to attack Gamabunta and put himself at an advantage and the frog summon was forced to let go and flip back to avoid the attack. But the purple snake wasn't done... "It's coming!" Jiraiya warned.

"I know!" Gamabunta snapped and Manda tossed the dagger at him, which the toad easily avoided, only to remember that Katsui had just reformed behind him a second ago. Luckily the blade wasn't flung far enough and it hit the ground, burying half it's silver-edge into the hard dirt, upright and out of use.

Tsunade, who had been waiting in the winds, used this dagger-turned-obstacle as an in-between as she jumped onto its side and used the force of her feet making contact to kick off and flip until she gracefully landed on the top of Katsui's head.

"Tsunade!" Jiraya called out. "Stand back!" The Toad Sage started forming seals with his hands. "Bunta, oil!"

"All right!" Gamabunta inhaled deeply and a gurgling in his stomach interrupted the short-lived silence as he put his hand against his belly which expanded and his cheeks filled with a disgusting fluid. Manda knew that the attack would be devastating if it continued and chose then to swiftly slither towards them, opening his mouth to take a chunk out of the pair of them.

Jiraiya inhaled deeply and spat fire just as Gamabunta spewed the oil, the two jutsu combined and created an inferno of lethal flames meant to take all of them out at once.

'Oh crap!' Kaede thought as she braced for the attack which engulfed the lot of them without mercy. The shadow of the snake inside the flames began to melt and showed no signs of movement.

Gamabunta hummed and his eyes narrowed triumphantly. "How's that?" He asked, mockingly of course.

Much to their dismay, however, the flames died down and revealed that it wasn't the snake that got scorched, but his skin, which he had shed mere seconds before the attack connected. "No, that's...!" The white-haired Sannin trailed off, gritting his teeth in frustration as said skin crumbled and fell to the floor, still burning in some places.

The silence that followed stretched for only a second before the ground shook beneath the two. "Bunta, he's underground!" Jiraiya alerted the giant toad.

"What?!" Gamabunta echoed out, averting his gaze down as the ground cracked and crumbled towards them like something was rushing at them from under the surface. The dirt erupted into the air and Bunta just managed to catch whatever shot out to attack him. However, by the time they realized it was the tail that he was holding and not the head, Jiraiya spun round as the giant serpent broke free of the earth behind them and opened his mouth wide to attack.

Sadly, the villains seemed to forget that Tsunade was still in the fight as she fell towards them from high in the sky, having jumped into the air with the giant toad's dagger in hand. She spun the blade to point downwards and pierced Manda's top jaw, forcing his mouth to snap shut, keeping him pinned to the ground, unable to move. His summoner and the two subordinates leaped back just in time and landed on his spine a few feet away from the dangerous blade.

"That's the second time we just dodged their attacks!" Kaede snapped, glaring at Orochimaru. "D'you still think we're going t'come out of this the winner?!" She wasn't scared, but she knew from their power and her own weakened state that she couldn't fend them off if they chose to attack her.

She wouldn't die while he was still alive!

"Stay down!" Tsunade snapped at the beast as her feet made contact against the flat bottom of the weapon's hilt and Gamabunta landed a small distance back, having dove away before the snake hit the ground to avoid behind harmed.

'As expected from Sannin.' Orochimaru thought to himself as he gritted his teeth, frustrated with the difficult situation he was met with. 'It's tough to take on both of them.' His cheeks bulged and he shot his tongue out, quickly coiling it around Tsunade's throat before she could do anything to stop it.

"Tsunade!" Jiraiya shouted as she made a soft choking noise.

Kaede stared up at the sight as the memory of Orochimaru strangling her with that tongue popped into her mind and she grimaced. 'I'm glad it ain't me, this time.' She thought. 'It's bad enough having t'see his jutsu, but I never want to feel it again!'

Orochimaru chuckled, breaking the woman from her musings as his tongue tightened around the blonde medic's throat, cutting off whatever air she was still getting. "I'll kill you by breaking your neck!" He sneered as the woman fought against his hold, grabbing the muscular organ as it got painfully close to crushing her windpipe. 'Even if you can't die in battle, if you lose your head you'll die,' The Snake Sannin taunted silently as his smirk warped into a disturbing grin. 'Right, Tsunade~?'

Tsunade tried to take in a breath, and when that failed, she forced her arm to tuck under Orochimaru's tongue, using the gap she created to loosen the grip enough to allow her to breathe. He made a noise of shock and his eyes widened as she spun around, holding the muscular organ in her vice-like grip. "Alright, let's settle this already!" She roared as the strong medical specialist yanked him up to her level with her monstrous strength.

'This can't be!' Orochimaru thought as Tsunade clenched her fist and punched him hard in the cheek sending him hurtling down towards the Earth below. However before he could hit the floor, she tugged him back up.

"Not yet!" She snarled throwing him high into the air, leaping up to join him. The two subordinates who were low on Chakra watched as the blonde Sannin began to punch the living daylights out of their leader in mid-air, only two of which he could avoid, before she kicked him back down, falling behind him until she landed on the top of the dagger, grabbed his tongue and yanked him back up towards her, yet again. "Take this!" She raised a heavy fist and thrust it forward, however having overused her muscles, she just missed his cheek, which startled the man so much his eyes widened further.

The villainous snake shinobi hung there, staring up at Tsunade as the two of them tried to catch their breath. His frustrated frown melded into a satisfied open-mouthed smirk as the poor woman flinched, her muscles contracting painfully. "In the end, this is all you've got." He sneered.

Of course, she didn't appreciate that and pulled him up to give him a beating. "Quit joking!" She landed a brutal blow on his stomach, letting him fall this time as she jumped down and started a flurry of precise beatings, however, they weren't as powerful as they once were.

Even Kaede could see she had reached her limits, especially after seeing her power at the beginning of the fight.

Tsunade gritted her teeth and punched him with all her might, watching as Orochimaru's eyes rolled back, and he blacked out slightly. "Orochimaru-sama!" Kabuto cried out as he watched his leader fall and Kaede smirked with a sick sense of satisfaction.

'Serves him right.'

The malicious Sannin's eyes snapped open, having regained his senses from the shout, and he retracted his tongue, attempting to run away, to escape her brutal assault with the blonde following close behind. "I won't let you get away!" She declared as she caught up to him. "Stick with me until the end!" She dove in front of him, forcing him to skid to a halt and dodge as she tried to punch him once, then landed the second blow before the flurry of attacks happened once again, with only a few being evaded.

She swung her foot round to kick him hard, sending him flying back, but Orochimaru wasn't done yet, he shot his tongue out and wrapped it tightly around her, rendering her immobile from the waist up. He then dove into the air and pulled his sword out, the way he did before, pointing it straight at her as he grew closer and closer.

But Tsunade was a little quicker and with her feet, she used both soles of her ninja sandals to stop the blade from making contact, like when a swordsman catches a sword's sharp edge with both hands. Her opponent only had time to make a soft noise of shock before she spun in the air and flung him away from her. He landed on the ground and staggered back as both the blade and his tongue retracted once again, only to lose his footing when the blonde medic punched him hard in the face.

The barrage of blows continued until she hit him hard in the chin, throwing him into the air with the force before she kicked him and watched as he hit the ground and skidded to a halt a small distance away, using his weak, flaking hands to slow his forced retreat, cutting the skin and starting the bleeding process as small trails of blood mixed into the gouges made by his nails.

The two stopped once again to catch their breath and Tsunade started walking towards Orochimaru as he got to his feet. She made some unknown signs and her hand began to glow with that dangerous Chakra that gave her punches insane strength.

"He's going t'die." Kaede said simply, hearing the shocked gasp Kabuto responded with as she watched the fight and remembered Orochimaru's warnings about her strength at the beginning of the fight. Since neither of them could really move well at the moment, they couldn't be his backup, and Kaede was glad because she didn't want a repeat of what happened during the negotiations.

Tsunade grew closer to the Snake Sannin as he stood there, his legs trembling with overexertion, making it impossible for him to evade her attack. Tsunade stopped in front of him with her glowing fist clenched and determination written across her face. "This is the end!" She snarled and with a vicious roar, she reared back and slammed her fist into his lower jaw, cracking and breaking bones were heard as he was sent rocketing into the air, what knocked him out though, wasn't the blow, but the moment his head made contact rather violently with the dagger stuck in Manda's mouth.

Kaede and Kabuto watched with wide eyes as he fell and landed on the head of the snake he had summoned, unconscious and battered to the point of blood and bruises littering his whole body. 'He took a direct hit from her monstrous strength!' The young Otogakure medic thought before he mustered what little strength he had left to crawl over and check for vital signs.

"Looks like this is the end," Jiraiya said, a little remorse in his tone.

"Yes," Gamabunta responded.

Kabuto stopped at his leader's side. "Orochimaru-sama?" He questioned, trying to get a response as he lifted the snake shinobi's head and torso, checking him over for injuries.

Kaede grunted as she fought the numb sensation she still felt over Jiraiya's attack on her neck earlier and stood up, shuffling over to Kabuto's side, breathing heavily from the strength needed to move. The sudden sound of Manda's voice made her jump, however. "Losing untidily. I feel like eating you, but I can't swallow when there's a hole in my mouth. If we meet again, be prepared!"

And with that, the snake vanished in a puff of heavy smoke, giving Tsunade the chance to release her jutsu, relaxing at long last.

Silence filled the field as the two standing Sannin watched the smoke, until Jiraiya made a sound of shock when it cleared and Orochimaru and Kabuto stood there, both exhausted and injured, while Kaede had to sit between them, unable to breathe properly with her painful throat, let alone manage to stand a second time.

"Tsunade..." Orochimaru managed to force out between his heavy breaths. "Even if you don't heal me, I still have another method left. A method to revive these arms of mine, that is." His grey fingers twitched, blood leaking from his injured flesh, dripping sluggishly into a little puddle the fluid had created by his feet.

Both the Sannin froze as their former comrade raised his head and revealed a single eye that belonged to the face of the body he inhabited. "I'll definitely take down Konoha." His lips curled up into a taunting smirk. "I hope we can meet again when that happens, comrades." He laughed venomously. "Tsunade, Jiraiya."

While they tried to process his new body, Orochimaru began to sink into the ground and Kaede sighed with relief, glad the fight she had been looking forward to was finally over. "I have eternal youth..." Her 'leader' said as his final words to them. "I am invincible!" And with that, he disappeared into the earth below.

"Let's meet again sometime," Kabuto said with mock politeness as he formed some seals and disappeared with Shunshin no Jutsu.

"Heh, thanks for the second date, Jiraiya." She teased jokingly as she glanced up at Jiraiya and formed the same signs. "I'll have t'repay you for that sneak-attack on my neck someday~"

Finally, she vanished, and the fight was officially over.

Chapter Text

Smoke erupted outside of the Otogakure hideout as Kabuto, Kaede and Orochimaru appeared from their most recent battle against the other members of the Sannin. Orochimaru was being held up by his right-hand man with his useless, bleeding arm slung over the teen's shoulder, while Kaede stayed crouched on the ground, catching her breath so she didn't black out the moment she stood up.

It took so much of her energy just to move thanks to that bastard Jiraiya.

With the Shunshin no Jutsu they just used and the distance it carried them, their combined Chakra had depleted to almost zero, leaving them weak and vulnerable for the most part. Kabuto had to assist Orochimaru down the steps into the hideout as the Sannin was drifting in and out of consciousness now that the adrenaline had worn off and Kaede managed to muster her energy to stand. But she only made it down a few steps before she had to lean against the wall and catch her breath again, her throat still burning painfully.

'Damn...' She thought as she continued down, her hand against the concrete surface for safety until she got through the door. Their leader and his subordinate vanished into the snake shinobi's room, and a few minutes later, Kaede passed said room to go to her own which was down this corridor and around the corner.

However the numbing sensation mixed with dwindling adrenaline made movement difficult and she accidentally tripped over her own foot, stumbling forward before she landed on her knees with a curse. The Ninjutsu Expert remained there, breathing hard as she stared down at the floor, where her sweat dripped down and made contact with the stone.

She had never fought so hard in her life, looking back at the event, she didn't even understand why she wanted to fight in the first place. Yes, it had been a while since her last serious battle, but no sane person would go looking for an all-out brawl to the death. She was starting to question her sanity, ten years of torment had to have taken it's toll on her mental health, after all.

With a click of the tongue, she slowly got back on her feet and staggered around the corner and into her room, where she closed the door and leaned against the back of it, running her fingers through her hair. 'Even if I hadn't wanted t'fight, I would've had t'anyway...It didn't matter what side I chose, I would've still come out the loser.' She thought as she closed her eyes and her breathing started to relax a little.

If she had fought on Orochimaru's side, he would have survived and she would only further increase her list of crimes, though, at this point, she didn't care what she had to do, as long as it would end with her revenge.

However, if she had fought on the other side with Jiraiya and Naruto, she may have finally killed him, but she would have been locked up in a cell and maybe even put to death. After all, she was likely an S-rank criminal by now, since the battle with Sarutobi Hiruzen.

Before the ten years she spent in this hell-hole, being locked up would not have bothered her, but because of those terrible events, the mere thought made her shiver and her breathing and heart rate elevate with fear. She opened her eyes slightly and clenched her fist in her hair, sending small inklings of pain through her scalp.

She clicked her tongue. Though she hated the mere thought of being on the Snake Sannin's side, she would have to bear with it for a little longer, until the opportunity arrived for her to end his life.

'But y'saved his life...'

Her eyes widened suddenly and her entire body stiffened up when those words hit her like a thousand shurikens. The moment she put herself at risk to stop Tsunade's sneak-attack came to mind and the reasoning behind her actions also came to light. In that split-second, just before she moved, she remembered that he had saved her life when the Second Hokage's Suiton would have swept her up and her body moved on its own, forming seals without her command.

She had betrayed her own ambitions with a moment of sudden emotion she was not sure she had a label for, nor did she want to give it a label.

With a soft curse, the redhead pushed off the door and stepped forward to enter the nearby bathroom to wash away the filth, grime and disgusting actions that plagued her. However her knees buckled after the first two steps and she fell, catching herself on the mattress of her bed so she didn't hurt herself too badly.

"Dammit! Look's like I ain't going anywhere..." She hissed out, looking up at the nightstand, staring at her precious Icha-Icha book which waited patiently in it's spot for her to return and read its pages. She didn't understand why the images of recent kindness and rescue bothered her so much, even a monster could act kind out of image alone.

Even then, Orochimaru didn't act kind for anything, he was a liar, but bluntly honest when he desired it, therefore any act of heroism or humanity was questionable and a complete surprise. He had given her back her precious book and had rescued her, twice, all because she was useful to him.

Why?! Why was she useful to him? Why did the thought not anger her as much as it did before? Why did his actions not make her sick to her stomach?!

She ground her teeth together as her anger began to rise and she got to her feet, sitting down on the end of her bed as she glared at the wall opposite her. She was sick of her confusing thoughts and actions, she was sick of thinking about him and she knew there was only one way to banish the inner turmoil for good.

She would finally kill him once and for all!

With little argument from the rational part of her brain, her eyes darkened and her lips curled into a twisted, cruel smirk. The next chance she came across to end him, she would grasp it with both hands and never let go. With his current condition, she couldn't lose, she would defeat him and take his life, ridding the world of his poison!

Suddenly her thoughts were interrupted and she jumped from shock when three soft knocks were heard on the other side of her door. "Kaede-chan?" Kabuto's voice echoed, muffled by the wood. Kaede rolled her eyes with irritation, she could hear that false sense of politeness in his words, and honestly, the suffix wasn't appreciated either. "May I enter?"

"Whatever, it ain't like I can stop y'right now." The Redhead croaked, coughing from the pain of raising her voice. Kabuto opened the door and stepped inside, visibly exhausted from the fight and the attempts made to heal Orochimaru back to full health.

"Orochimaru-sama is resting, so I saw it fit to tend to your injuries as well." The young medic said, and Kaede sighed, waving her hand dismissively.

"I ain't doing that badly, keep your Medical Ninjutsu t'yourself." However, she winced when her muscles contracted from overuse. 'Dammit, why now?!' Now that her adrenaline had worn off, the fatigue was kicking in as well.

"Hm, as true as that may be, Orochimaru-sama won't be pleased if you take too long to recover. He doesn't like to have too many of his pawns rendered useless, you see." Kabuto said, the first part of his sentence dripping with sarcasm, but the serious end is what made the older woman look at him again.

Kabuto didn't wait for permission and began to heal her more apparent injuries, the burns, cuts, and damage to her throat and the back of her neck being his main priorities. "If I remember correctly, you had a robe and sandals before the battle." He pointed out with a smirk of amusement. "Thanks to your sloppiness, I think new ones are in order."

Kaede blinked and glanced over at him before she laughed and gave him a bold, cheeky grin. "It ain't my fault I burst into flames!" She started, eyes gleaming with hatred, not matching up with her fake smile. "Blame your asshole for a leader! I wouldn't need to take off my robe and shoes if he hadn't screwed up my genes!" The Redhead looked down at the back of her hand, where a thick scar marred her once-smooth skin. "Just be happy I even came along! I only did it for the exercise..."

Kabuto chuckled, his own irises filled with suspicion as he finished healing her and stood up. "Is that so?" He asked mockingly, placing a hand on his hip as Kaede glanced over, seeing the limb shake with exertion. He had long past his limits. "Well, be that as it may, as Orochimaru-sama is in no fit state to speak with you directly, I must show gratitude on his behalf."

"Eh? What for?" The Ninjutsu Expert's expression melted into confusion, he was...Thanking her?

"You alerted Orochimaru-sama about Tsunade's attack before I got there to distance them, then even went as far as using your Katon to put even more distance between them." He pushed his glasses up his nose, hiding his eyes from view as the candlelight bounced off the lenses. "If you hadn't acted, I may have been too late."

Kaede's eyes widened slowly as his words processed in her tired mind, she then huffed and smirked, looking away to avoid showing the irritation that darkened her already dark eyes. "Don't mention it..." She then shot him a grin, and spoke with a light, teasing tone. "Just don't expect a replay~ I don't give out help for free!"

Kabuto smirked and moved his head slightly, revealing one of his eyes which were cold and calculating, seeing through her fake cheer and words with ease. "That attitude of your's will put you in some rather sticky situations if you aren't careful..." He warned before he turned and left the room, in need of rest.

The redhead watched him leave before she clicked her tongue and grimaced at the closed door. He was getting suspicious of her, she needed to act fast, she had little time to put her plans into action.

As soon has her Chakra had replenished, she would start training.

With that, she picked up her book with a shaking hand and opened it to the page she had last read, though the odd bookworm was only able to read to the end of the chapter, as her fatigue got the best of her and her eyes drooped shut once or twice. Knowing she needed to sleep, she placed the hardback Icha-Icha novel onto her chest and closed her eyes with a soft sigh.

She would relax while she had the chance, because soon...All hell would break loose.

~BHBL~

Late in the night, an agonizing wail of pain tore through the silence falling over Otogakure as the many ninjas inside slept, preparing for their next mission, or recovering from one they had just returned from. The source of the scream came from none other than the Otokage's room. He laid there, eyes squeezed shut as he gripped the blankets beneath his bandaged hands, pain wracking his entire body from both the curse inflicted on him and the throb in his semi-healed jaw.

He opened his eyes and glared up at the ceiling, Kabuto must have been asleep, otherwise, he would have barged in to check on him seconds after he yelled, so there was no chance of getting any pain medication to lessen the ache. Not that it mattered, he hated that vile concoction anyway.

"Curse you Jiraiya, Tsunade...Sarutobi!" He hissed venomously as he forced himself to sit up, staring down at his burning arms as they trembled. He would need a new body soon to save his sanity from the aftermath of Sarutobi's final Jutsu.

Orochimaru panted as he glared at the wooden door of his room, his yellow eyes glowing with determination and unwavering resolve. This would not end him, he was immortal, and his plans would come to fruition!

'Even if the tree hasn't fully matured, it is still able to grow leaves...' He thought as he smirked, licking his dry lips at the thought. 'I will grasp those leaves before my own decay and fall!'

Whatever the cost...

Chapter Text

Three days passed since the fight with the other two Sannin and Kaede's Chakra had replenished enough for her to continue her desired training. Despite her body still needing time to recover as bandages and bandaids covered parts of her arms and legs, wherever she had been injured. There was even a warm patch attached to her throat using medical tape to soothe her sore voice after accidentally swallowing her own jutsu during the quarrel with Jiraiya.

She still hated him for that.

Tossed in the corner was her brand new maroon robe, along with a new pair of her tall, wooden sandals. So she stood in the middle of the large training hall, wearing only her black flame-retardant one-piece battle suit, glaring at the wall opposite her as she used this time to practice her Katon: Kasai Suīpu and her Futon: Daitoppa until her Chakra almost ran dry. She then took an hour to rest up and replenish, before she did it again and again in hopes of increasing her overall Chakra capacity for a long winded fight.

The reason for her desired training was because she was developing a new jutsu that wasn't too hard to master but would probably take a little more Chakra to execute properly, so she needed to prepare first before she could start on the actual attack.

She fired off another one of her Katon moves before she stopped and stood there, breathing heavily as her glare at the wall intensified with distaste. Her mind ran at a mile a minute trying to come up with other ways to kill Orochimaru if this jutsu didn't finish him off. She would execute him before these odd 'emotions' became a nuisance and made her act out against her ambitions again.

Though she wanted to kill him now and just get it over with, in her current condition, she would be no match for him, even in his own state. She needed to think this through calmly and come up with a proper plan.

She clicked her tongue with impatience and formed the seals for Futon: Daitoppa, inhaling deeply, despite the pain, before she exhaled a large, vicious torrent of wind, putting as much Chakra into it as she could without losing control. She would continue this training for today and work on her Taijutsu tomorrow since Orochimaru's hand-to-hand skills severely outmatched her's.

'I know I ain't going t'be able to take him on with my Taijutsu, but just getting to a level where I can defend myself with it'll be good enough!' She thought as she watched the winds die down. She relaxed her tense form and straightened up, taking a calm breath before she started removing the heat patch on her neck.

It needed replacing, she was not feeling its effects anymore.

She did not know why she was obsessing so hard over the details at the moment anyway until she was fully healed and had completed this jutsu, she couldn't fight him, not unless she wanted to be at a disadvantage. Patience was key to her victory, and she had no plans to rush in and get herself killed before she could hear him take his last breath.

Kaede walked over to a med kit she had put to the side for when her training was done, and just as she collected some new bandages for her other injuries, she was interrupted by a familiar teen who cleared his throat. "I suggest you avoid disturbing Orochimaru-sama for the time being, he's in a rather violent mood and has already killed two of his subordinates."

'That explains why I heard screaming earlier.' Kaede mused silently before she scoffed and shot Kabuto a remorseless grin. "Like I care what ol' Snake Eyes will do t'me! If I feel like taking the piss out of him, I'm going to!"

Kabuto sighed with exasperation, she was ever the disobedient beast.

He watched her wrap her wounds slowly, carefully and noted the scorch marks covering the floor of the training hall. "A word of advice, don't overwork yourself with your training." He stated, as Kaede just sat there, facing away from him. "It would be an inconvenience if you were to fall ill when we need supplies or if a dangerous mission reared its head."

"I know, y'don't need t'keep telling me." She pointed out, standing and turning to face him at long last. "Y'said so yesterday, and the day before, I know what I need t'do." Of course, just because she knew, did not mean she was going to listen. She had her own agenda and sacrificing her duties for it was more than worth it in her mind.

"Keep it in mind, and I won't have to repeat myself." The white-haired medic pressed, before he pushed his glasses up his nose, and went to leave. The redhead turned her attention to her training as she collected some decent weapons to try and deflect with her jutsu, while Kabuto paused by the door and gave her a suspicious glance before he finally left her alone.

He would inform Orochimaru of her acts, her fire was spreading and he would do everything in his power to stop it burning down everything in its path.

~BHBL~

A week passed and the former Sunagakure kunoichi stood in the middle of the training hall, most of the bandages now gone as her wounds healed nicely, her throat clear of heat patches and her ability to use jutsu returned to its full potential. Kaede inhaled deeply and exhaled a torrent of flames, kicking her leg out so she spun in a full circle. Once a ring of embers surrounded her, she formed the seals for Futon: Daitoppa and spat a gust of dangerous winds onto the flames.

However, she didn't realize the fatal error of her method, as the ring of fire turned into a blazing typhoon surrounding her small body. "Ah crap!" She hissed as one of her arms were burned as the bottom of the swirling vortex, where she stood, shrank like a tornado would. She forced some Chakra into her feet and jumped high into the air, landing on one of the three stone snakes that decorated the hall just as the blazing vortex fizzled out and left her crouched there with slight burns to her skin.

'Guess I need t'practice a bit more...' The Sunagakure kunoichi thought as she jumped down off the snake's head and landed in the middle of the circular scorch mark she had left on the stone floor. 'I ain't giving up 'til I'm done!'

And she did not, she spent several hours working on her jutsu alone, to the point of physical exhaustion, before she finally called it quits for the day. She shuffled down the hall with bags under her eyes and sweat sticking to her brow, ready to take a quick shower, read and nap the night away when she came across Orochimaru's open bedroom door.

As she crossed the doorframe and peeked into the room, mid-step, she grinned at the sight of her former captor sat up in bed, hair covering most of his sweaty face as he tried to steady his breathing and ignore the pain in his bleeding arms. "I hope y'feel better soon, Orochimaru-sama~" She jeered as she passed the door and carried on walking, grinning triumphantly when she heard a vicious, angry yell and something shatter along with a heavy, wet thump against the back wall of his room.

The pale man listened as her footsteps echoed down the corridor until her bedroom door closed, then he curled his lips into a dark, dangerous snarl. Usually, he was quite amused by her dry humor, but with his arms getting worse by the day, he could barely focus on anything but anger and revenge. Hell, he did not even smile at the thought of his new container anymore!

Orochimaru removed his hand off the back wall near his head, where he left a splatter of blood and sticky patches of bloody skin. Kabuto, who stood at his side, didn't say a word, his eyes hidden behind the lenses of his frames as a broken cup lay in fragments at his feet. He did, however, shiver when his lord shot him a glare fitting a snake cornering its dinner. "Kabuto..." The Sannin rasped. "Start the necessary preparations...My new vessel awaits."

Kabuto bowed his head. "Yes, Orochimaru-sama." And with that, he left with his fists clenched, ready to take action.

When the door closed behind the young medic, that was when the snake shinobi finally grinned, at long last, he would be rid of his torment and gain the one thing he had wanted the most since meeting Uchiha Itachi. The precious Sharingan.

He was getting impatient.

~BHBL~

A new day dawned a week from the last, and Kaede was once again stood in the training hall, hunched over, breathing heavily as she stared at the damage she had done to the area. There were gashes in the stone statues and walls of the room, and scorch marks covering massive areas around her feet, her own arm had been burnt and her robe had a tiny burn on the bottom from when the typhoon of fire moved around the room against her will.

Her lips curled into a grin despite all the calamity, and she looked at the mess with a glimmer of pride in her eyes. Though she had harmed herself, her clothes and the room she worked hardest in, it was not all in vain. Her jutsu was complete, and she was ready to take Orochimaru's life.

It was finally time for her to seek out her revenge, all she had to do now was think about the method. The redhead with a vendetta straightened up and walked over to her robe, pulling it on and tying it tight with swift, determined actions, before she turned and left the room without looking back at the damage.

Since her jutsu required a lot of stamina and Chakra to pull off, she decided it would be best to use it as a last resort, rather than right from the beginning. If she could find a way to kill him without having to fight at all, it would be an even bigger bonus, because she would still have the strength to kill Kabuto if he chose to avenge his lord.

As she walked with a smirk on her lips, looking much like her usual wild self, her tactical mind worked hard to come up with plenty of plans and strategies that would ensure her success.

What if she poisoned him?

Kaede halted suddenly and ran her fingers through her hair as the idea stuck. This would add a few more days to Orochimaru's lifespan, but if done right, she would give him a slow and painful death. Her grin widened with a cruel sense of malice and her eyes darkened with hatred and determination. 'Heh, I ain't against making him suffer like I did~'

Of course, there was a major con to that idea, to poison him effectively, he could not be cured, which meant she had to find a way to take Kabuto out of the picture. Her smile dropped and her expression turned serious as her eyes narrowed and she started walking towards the lab where the young medic spent most of his time.

She would tail him, find his weakest moment, and knock him out before he noticed she was there.

~BHBL~

Kaede spent the next two days following Kabuto around the hideout without his knowledge, which was difficult as he almost caught her multiple times. She knew as a former spy he would be on constant alert so she always stayed where he could see, hear or even smell her. Now she was stood outside his lab, looking into the room from side of the doorframe, making a mental note about how many hours he spent alone in the confined space before he was visited by the other shinobi in the village for medicine or healing.

Roughly five to six hours, on a good day, three to four on a bad day.

Though it wasn't a massive gap, it was more than enough time for Orochimaru to die slowly from a painful poison Kabuto had cooked up, without anyone noticing that the medic was out of commission. Luckily she knew which of his many cabinets held the most potent elixirs, as she had watched him experiment on multiple people with said vials of death.

The former Suna kunoichi's lips curled back with a dark grin and she turned to leave. However, with the speed she moved, she didn't see who was stood behind her until she slammed face-first into a solid chest before she staggered back a little and hissed, holding her nose. "What are you doing here, Firecracker?"

Her blood ran cold at the sound of a familiar voice and she looked up to see Orochimaru stood there in his yukata, arms bandaged and eyes leering down at her with a heavy sense of suspicion.

'Crap!'

The redhead was quick to put on a false grin, similar to the one she just wore, only less...Threatening. "Not that it's your business, Snake Eyes, but I needed t'see if Kabuto could take a look at my arm!" She pointed to the burned skin that was starting to heal but still looked rather painful. "I burned it a couple days ago, and I ain't able t'draw as much Chakra out of my hand because of it!"

The Sannin stared down at her, his expression unwavering for just a moment before he closed his eyes and chuckled. "Of course." He opened them again and stepped out of the way, watching as the redhead he had stumbled into walked away from him and covered the burn with her sleeve, holding it down until she turned the corner and was out of sight.

Though he had accepted her blatant lie, he knew better than to trust her, he had caught her peeking into the lab quite some time ago and she hadn't budged for a couple of hours. She had not gone for a check-up, if anything, he suspected she may finally tip the balance and fall from the high ambition she had set for herself so long ago.

He knew she was plotting something, and he would be ready for the storm when it came.

Chapter Text

The time had come...

Kaede stood at the end of the corridor leading to Orochimaru's room, her back pressed against the wall as she peered towards the bedroom door, waiting for her target to make his move. Two days had passed since she had come up with her plan, and she made sure she was fully rested so she was ready for a possible fight in case this strategy didn't go quite like she hoped it would.

The woman ceased all sounds and movement when she saw a foot cross the threshold of the door, and her target, Kabuto, emerged from his lord's room. The hidden redhead watched as he walked in the opposite direction towards his lab and she took the longer route to get there, so she wouldn't be caught. The white-haired medic stepped into the room filled with experiments, and his many vials of poisons, medicine, and specimens, while Kaede stayed hidden out of sight behind the doorframe.

She stood there in silence, watching his every move as he wandered around the laboratory, mixing chemicals and going about his daily business. When she was one hundred percent sure he hadn't sensed her and he had his back facing her as he prepared Orochimaru's medicine, she dove forward and caught him by surprise as she wrapped her arm tightly around his neck and grabbed his other arm, keeping it pinned behind him.

The medic made a choking noise as Kaede shushed him and kept a tight hold as he tried to struggle free. Without both hands to form jutsu, he couldn't Shunshin his way out of her grip, and without any oxygen going to his lungs, his strength quickly faded away, making it impossible to pull her arm free from his windpipe. The woman waited until he lost consciousness, sagging in her grip before she dropped him, letting him hit the ground hard with a malicious smirk.

"That's what y'get for all the shit y'put me through~" She sneered venomously as she stepped over the unconscious shinobi and went into the cabinet she knew held the most potent poisons. 'I need a poison that hurts and take a long time t'kill someone off...' She read each of the vials with quick succession until she found the bottle she wanted, which held a deep green liquid, bordering on black, that looked just as bad as the label suggested.

She let out a devious laugh and held it tight in her hand, letting her long sleeves fall to cover her arms completely, hiding the bottle from sight. Never had she been gladder to love overly long sleeves. With a silent nod, she spun around and left the lab, swiftly traversing the corridors until she reached Orochimaru's room, where she stopped to peek inside and check on her victim's status.

Orochimaru was sat up in his bed, head hung forward as he felt pain radiate through him, causing him to cry out in agony and rage. The former Sunagakure kunoichi narrowed her eyes and continued on her way, making sure to move fast enough that any normal person wouldn't see her with their head down. However, the man she despised was not an ordinary person, he heard her footsteps, despite her purposely leaving her sandals in her room, as they made too much noise, and quickly jerked his head up to see a shock of red hair pass the doorframe and head towards the kitchen.

Something was off...

Kaede soon reached her destination, still silent as she watched one of Orochimaru's subordinates cook up some soup to restore the Sannin's strength. Just like with Kabuto, she dove forward and wrapped an arm tightly around the man's neck. When he went to yell, the woman mercilessly dragged him back before she let go and cut his throat wide open. She didn't even watch him fall to the ground, drowning in his own blood as she moved to the prepared meal, staring at the contents with unwavering resolve.

This was it, if she poured the contents of the vial into this soup, he would be killed, and she would finally achieve her revenge.

She tasted the soup before she even thought about opening the poison, she needed it to taste good so he would drink as much as he could so when the chemical kicked in, he would burn. Once she was certain it had been prepared correctly, she pulled up her sleeve and yanked the cork off the bottle with a pop. Her heart was actually pounding, a mix of fear and excitement settling in her gut as she stepped forward and held it out over the meal.

One twist of the wrist and it was all over.

However just as she started to tilt the bottle forward, a long pink organ shot out from the darkness and coiled around her wrist tight, keeping her arm in place as she made a sound of shock and spun her head around to see Orochimaru stood in the shadows, his yellow eyes glowing murderously in the dark. "What do you think you're doing?" He hissed venomously, easily able to speak around the tongue he controlled.

Though her expression started out as a glare with gritted teeth, her snarling lips curled into a dark grin as she met his gaze with very little fear in those brown orbs. "What does it look like I'm doing?" She snapped back, only to hiss in pain when her enemy tightened his grip, forcing her to drop the bottle, which rolled across the floor, staining the stone below with it's toxic contents.

"I had a feeling this would happen..." The Sannin continued, eyes narrowing with anger and disgust. "You've been acting strange for quite some time, so I took the liberty of observing you."

"How'd y'know what I was planning?" She asked, glaring at him, her back still turned towards him, as movement would lead to injury. "I ain't exactly been friendly with you 'til this point, what made y'suspect this?"

"Your behavior during the Chuunin Exams, one such as yourself wouldn't ask the person they hated most to train them. I have observed your actions for over a decade, you underestimated my knowledge." Kaede clicked her tongue when she remembered that day, just twenty-four hours before she killed Sarutobi. "Then there was the moment you observed Kabuto rather intently from behind the doorframe...I am not a fool, I asked Kabuto how your medical exam went, and he didn't recall giving you one since the fight with Tsunade-hime and Jiraiya."

Kaede's lips curled up into a hateful snarl, her eyes now showing all the vile emotions she held for the man, seeing no reason to hide it any longer. "I also saw you cross my room mere moments ago." Orochimaru continued, ignoring her expression, he didn't fear her in the slightest. "The way you moved, the speed you kept in order to avoid sight, that told me you were acting on your silly little idea and I quickly followed."

His smirk dropped then, his arrogance hidden away behind disappointment. "I had hoped your opinion of my village would change since the time of your release, so you would become an asset towards my goals...However, that doesn't seem to be the case." The vicious snake shinobi's eyes narrowed venomously. "I should kill you right now for your actions!"

Kaede was silent for a second before a dark, demented laugh left the depths of her throat, a rumble that didn't match the anger in her eyes as her lips warped into a grin, her teeth grinding together. Orochimaru's eyes widened with surprise as she turned in his grip, twisting her wrist the wrong way, ignoring the pain shooting up and down her arm.

"Go ahead." She growled, meeting his gaze with unwavering resolve and determination. "I ain't about t'preach forgiveness to a vile demon who ruined everything for me...I swore I would take your life, t'hear your last breath, even if it meant I would take mine! I was only playing nice t'get y'to trust me so I could get to this point...But play time's over." She stepped forward, her wrist bending at an angle that could not have been comfortable, but she merely winced and continued to stare right at him. "I was a promising Jounin who planned t'find a husband and have kids, live a normal, happy life for the sake of my village and my friends...But y'stupid experiments destroyed me! Y'made me into a monster, a freak of nature that ended up being labelled as a 'failure!'"

A pop was heard as she took another step, and her wrist dislocated, unable to strain further. She hissed in pain but refused to back down, nothing but seething rage and murderous desire reflecting in her cocoa brown eyes. Though he was furious with her actions, Orochimaru was amazed by how dangerous she could become when determined to see something through. He wanted to believe that her resolve could be used to aid his plans, but he knew that was no longer the case.

"I lost everything t'your greed!" Kaede hissed out, and with another motion, she got too close and Orochimaru's lips curled back into a snarl, fingers twitching with a desire to move, instinct demanding he put space between them, not out of fear, but to avoid injury. "Go on then, y'said y'were going t'kill me, right? Do it!" Though she said this, she faltered in her movements, a slight twinge of hesitation freezing her in place. A subconscious sense of knowing that she was no match for him, even as he was.

'No! I won't let this asshole control me anymore!' The redhead thought, getting in his face now. "Hurry up and try it, y'piece of shit!" She roared at him, spitting her words with uncensored emotion and a foolish sense of bravery.

That was the last straw for the Sannin, he hissed in anger and decided he would show her how much she underestimated his strength. Without giving her time to react, he slammed his forehead into her own, sending her stumbling back into the table while he retracted his tongue and took two steps back, his head throbbing with the attack.

Without the use of his arms, it was all he could do to put some space between them.

Kaede leaned against the table for a second, dazed from the sudden blow, she shook her head and regained her senses, before she shot her nemesis a slow grin. "That's more like it." She sneered, grabbing her wrist and pushing it back in place with a grunt of pain, before she straightened up and rolled her shoulders and neck, readying herself. "Now I can really let off some steam~!"

Orochimaru braced himself as she kicked off towards him and flexed her arm, a kunai falling down the sleeve into her formerly injured hand. She watched with satisfaction as he evaded a thrust of the sharp blade by a hair's breadth, but it was short lived as he flipped backward and kicked it out of her hand, forcing it into the air where it hit the ceiling with a 'thunk.' Her weapon was rendered useless as it stayed there, embedded in the stone.

She would have been annoyed, but she did not get much time to respond as she formed a cross with her arms and blocked as her opponent swung his foot down from the kick, using the momentum for power. Pain shot through her arms, but she didn't stop, instead, she pushed back and tried to hit him with a flurry of punches, her emotions amping up her reaction time and strength.

Once or twice she managed to land a hit, bruising his cheek and stomach. However she wasn't facing a Genin, Orochimaru avoided most of her attacks with ease. Using his feet as his fists, he kicked his way past her defenses and slammed his foot into her chin, sending her flying into the air. Even then she didn't stop, instead, she flipped mid-fall and landed on the table with an angry snarl and a bruised chin. "I ain't going t'let that stop me, y'Snake-Eyed Bastard!" She ground out, forming seals with quick succession, shooting a large fireball at the Sannin, who dove to the side to avoid it, the attack leaving a massive scorch mark in the wall where he once stood.

He didn't get much chance to counter as she appeared in his line of sight, grinning as she slammed her fist into his cheek and sent him hurtling back into the corner, where he sat, blood leaking from his lip. She went for another attack, but he snapped his head up to meet her gaze and she gasped, halting as a snake shot from his mouth to immobilize her. In the last second, she managed to replace herself with a large pot nearby, standing on the kitchen counter, holding the edge with irritation plastered across her features as she caught her breath and Orochimaru got to his feet.

He was surprised with her ability to keep up with him in a Taijutsu battle, even with his handicap. To think her determination had fueled her this much, had motivated her to the point where her training had increased her skills tremendously compared to their first sparring session. The thought alone had the Sannin's angered expression warping into a smirk of amusement.

He wasn't serious, of course, if he was, she would be struggling far more, but as far as he knew, she wasn't serious either. It was as if she was testing his limitations to find his weaknesses. 'How interesting...I wonder what other strengths she's hiding under those unpredictable personalities of her's~?"

"Are y'done already?" The former Suna kunoichi taunted as she used the ledge to kick off of, barrelling towards him with her fist pulled back. Orochimaru ducked to the side, just avoiding the sudden, fast blow, the two heading out into the hallway as their brawl continued. The limited space gave her little room to work with and she cursed as she tried to avoid his many attacks.

She dove up onto the ceiling and started forming seals for Katon: Hosenka no Jutsu, when she was forced to dive forward, landing behind the Sannin on the ground to avoid a kick to her cranium. Once she was on the same level, he turned to kick her, and she used that opening to lunge for him, slamming her shoulder hard into his stomach, sending him staggering back in pain.

With the opportunity, she spun around and ran down the corridors with Orochimaru chasing after her, keeping a decent distance from him using her Futon: Rendukan as a distraction. She finally escaped the hideout and they entered the wooded area around the underground network that served as their new battleground. Once in the open, she spun around and sent a fireball his way, which he ducked from as he ran, singeing his hair a little in the process, before he skidded to a halt in front of her and did a forward flip, using the momentum and her shock to slam the back of his foot into the top of her head. The impact pushed her down and she lost her footing, slipping and hitting her jaw off the ground without anything to cushion the blow.

She stayed frozen for a few seconds as her body processed the pain, but the moment she could, she swung her foot around to sweep his out from under him. It did work to an extent, he did slip. However, he used his long tongue to halt his fall as he wrapped it around the branch of a tall tree and swung himself around and onto said branch, hidden in the brush of leaves.

But Kaede wouldn't let that stop her as she formed some seals. "Futon: Daitoppa!" She inhaled deeply and spat a torrent of wind at the tree he was hidden in, cutting it apart from the outside, gashes engraving the once beautiful wood and leaves sliced in half from the Chakra inside the gust. Once they died down she watched as the Sannin dropped from the tree, landing on his feet with ease. He had a few cuts here and there, but was otherwise unharmed, straightening up and shooting her a murderous glare.

Then, without warning, he started sinking into the ground, and the redhead cursed, forming seals as quickly as she could, but he was too fast and melted away before she finished. 'Crap! Where'd he go?!' She thought as she looked around for him, keeping her senses keen.

Orochimaru used this to his advantage, and shot a snake out instead, which made little noise and caught her by surprise as it wrapped tightly around her neck from behind, choking her as she grabbed it's shiny body and attempted to remove it. While she did that, the Sannin dove from the tree and kicked her hard in the back, watching as she hit the ground hard and rolled into the same tree she had cut up trying to defeat him.

Unable to breathe, Kaede got to her knees and flexed her arm, grabbing another Kunai that fell from her sleeve, and used that to slice the snake's body open, freeing herself from its constriction. Orochimaru chuckled with amusement at the sight, she was starting to get serious, otherwise, she would not have brought such a dangerous blade so close to her neck in front of an enemy that could easily use it to his advantage.

Kaede stood up as she coughed hard, holding her bruised neck for a second before she spun around and lunged for him. The man merely ducked down and swept her feet out from under her, then used the speed of the fall to his advantage, thrusting his knee up and into her forehead.

She was flung backward and landed against the tree again, the back of her head slamming off the wooden surface. The continuous assault on her skull gave her a concussion, and despite feeling sick, dizzy and lacking balance, she still refused to stop. She clicked her tongue and struggled to get to her feet as her opponent gagged and lurched forward, a snake appearing from his throat, which then opened it's mouth and brought forth the Kusanagi blade.

"So y'want a sword fight, d'you?" She snapped, grabbing the kunai she had dropped after freeing herself. "Fine by me!" She and Orochimaru both ran at one another and traded blows with their blades, he was able to overpower her with ease and knock the kunai out of her hand, she had lost her edge with her newfound injuries.

The woman made a noise of aggravation and dove back to avoid the slicing attack he aimed at her stomach. He wasn't being serious, she could tell by the lack of fire in his eyes, his slow, deliberate actions that did not strike her as those of someone whose life was being threatened. He did not fight her the way he fought the other Sannin.

He was toying with her, she was nothing more than entertainment for him.

Anger rose within her and she ground her teeth, her skin taking on an orange glow as her emotions spiked and she felt her bitter hatred for him rise with intensity. She formed the seals for her fireball and shot it at him, watching as he dodged it like it was nothing and she sent another hurtling his way with quick succession.

He was caught by surprise and managed to avoid another two before she managed to hit him, burning through one of his legs as the flames caught him just before he completed his evasive maneuvers. The Sannin dropped to one knee with a sharp sound of pain and she felt a sickening satisfaction fill her, giving her the energy to keep fighting.

However, it was short lived as his agonizing sound turned to that of amusement, a dark chuckle as he lifted his head and looked at her with wide, manic eyes and a malicious grin on his lips. Even though he was serious in his attempt to evade her, even though she had managed to push him into a corner, he still laughed like she was nothing, like he could win in a heartbeat if he so desired.

He was alive and had only a few cuts and scrapes, and a scorched leg, while she had scuffs and scratches everywhere, blood leaking from her lip when she hit the ground, a severely bruised neck, an aching wrist and a severe concussion.

Not only that, but she was running low on Chakra from her excessive use of jutsu.

Her entire body tensed up with rage and she started breathing heavily through her gritted teeth, her skin cracking with sparks threatening to engulf her in the fire she hated so much. "Damn you..." She ground out as her shoulders shook, her hair covering her eyes from view. "DAMN YOU!"

She shot him a murderous look and ran at him, surprising him further when she began to circle him, forming the hand signs for her Katon: Kasai Suīpu. 'Hm, hm, what's this?' He mused silently, swallowing the sword with ease, intrigued by her actions. 'A new jutsu, perhaps?'

She blew fire behind her as she circled him a second time, and he just watched, wanting to see this new jutsu for himself. However when she skidded to a halt and grinned, moving her hands to create the signs for her Futon: Daitoppa, his eyes widened as he realized what she was going to do, and quickly attempted to escape.

However she moved faster than he did, exhaling her Futon onto the flames that flickered around him, the swirling winds caught the embers and the two combined, creating a vortex of scorching heat that shrank at the bottom like a tornado would. Kaede hopped back to avoid the large typhoon and then leaped into the air, landing on the roof of the hideout as she watched, listening to his anguished cries inside the blazing inferno with a gleeful smile.

"Katon: Taifū o Moyasu..." She said, breathless as she witnessed the flames die down along with the screams inside and Orochimaru's charred body hit the ground as the torrent released him. She dropped to a crouched position with her hands over her knees, trying to catch her breath as she looked up at the moon above, feeling free. "I win."

A sound below caught her attention.

She looked down and her blood ran cold as she watched Orochimaru's body twitch. Her eyes widened in horror as he lifted his head and another version of himself started squirming out of his mouth, he slowly got to his feet, covered in bile and slime as he finally shed his former casing, no longer injured apart from his cursed arms.

She shook as she got back to her feet, staring at him with her mouth agape. How could she forget that he could shed his skin and repair any damage he took using a fraction of his Chakra?!

She realized how little her attack had actually affected him and she snapped, clenching her fists so tight, she cut her skin with her nails and blood leaked down her thumb. Her sparking skin erupted into a ball of intense burning flames and she growled with each breath she took.

Orochimaru, who watched her spiral into manic rage, only just managed to get his sword out when she rushed him with a burning kunai in hand, the two pieces of metal clashed and fought to see which could break the other first. The Sannin caught her eyes, which were alight with insane anger and intense desire, she wanted him dead more than anything and the fact that he had taken her last blow, possibly her final blow, without injury had pushed her too far.

He chuckled, amused by her reaction and jumped back, only for her to follow. He ducked and dodged most of her crazed attacks with ease, but did get cut once or twice when her movements were so erratic they couldn't be read. He was also burned slightly when his body got too close to her's and he understood just how much more it affected others than it did her.

He felt blinding, white pain the moment the flames came near his skin, they didn't even have to touch him for the searing agony to connect with his nerves.

They traded blows several more times before Orochimaru gained the upper hand and slammed the sword upwards against the kunai, sending the short dagger flying into the air, getting wedged into a thick branch of the tree they had gotten close to. Flames surrounded them, Kaede's burning feet igniting the grass beneath it as her clothes and shoes melted into her flesh, forgetting them in the heat of the moment.

Despite losing her weapon, the woman refused to give up and tried to kick and punch her way to victory, but to no avail, the intense pain of the flames had already kicked in and her movements were losing their speed and strength. She had long passed her peak and was now just a burning ember waiting to fizzle out. When she tried to slam her fist into his nose, he dodged quickly and sliced her arm with his sword, cutting the nerves and rendering the limb useless as it flopped to her side.

He wasn't even trying anymore, and even she could see that as she looked over with blurring vision and saw nothing but disappointment and a slight sense of boredom in his snake-like eyes. This expression only fueled her rage and intensified the flames and she spun to slam her remaining fist into his face, but the world spun and she was forced to plant her feet down, her knuckles just shy of his face, his blade embedded deep into her arm, just so she could stay standing.

She was gasping for air, her lungs tight, every breath burning her from the inside, while her skin melted and peeled from the flames on the outside. "This...Can't be happening...!" She ground out, throat hoarse as her eyes lost focus and her expression started to soften from exhaustion and defeat.

She had very little Chakra left and no stamina, while he stood there with no visible injuries and still had enough energy to stand and fight, while she could barely keep conscious.

The difference in their abilities was too much, he was too powerful for her to defeat.

The Sannin watched with a serious frown as the fire in her eyes simmered and snuffed out, before they rolled back and she collapsed in front of him, her flames flickering out around her as she lost consciousness. He stared down at her as rushed footsteps approached, and Kabuto stopped amidst the flames, which were spreading across the greenery in the area.

"Orochimaru-sama!" The young medic started, looking around at everything that had taken place, and the injured form of their former