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Momochi Zabuza hadn't expected himself to think deeply about teamwork again. He'd pretty much pissed off everyone back home and the life of a missing nin rarely allowed for someone to build up enough trust with someone to have anything resembling proper teamwork. Yet here he was, watching a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears gennin train and having to contemplate the best way to structure them for the upcoming exams.
"The brats giving you that much trouble?" A voice called behind him and he resisted the immediate impulse to react with danger. He had recognized the voice and knew he was most likely not in danger. Instead he kept his eyes steady on Suigetsu swinging around a sword that didn't suit him.

"Guren. Don't you have your own brats to be worried about?" Zabuza shot back.

The woman simply strode up to the rail next to him, looking down on the training area too. The woman was cool, calculated, fanatically loyal to Orochitama, and had a kindness in her heart that she hid with crystal razors.

She honestly reminded him of Haku in many ways.

"I've been given mandatory time off recently. Having an undying nanny that can't ever sleep helping out seems to have greatly reduced my work load." Guren stated lightly while staring down at the assembled gennin. "I'm supposed to be using the time to get to know these pains-in-the-ass for the upcoming mission."

Zabuza grunted in reply. He might pick a room of toddlers over the disasters that were meant to beat the best and brightest gennin of the all the major villages. Outside of Haku, they were taking a lot to pass anything resembling champion material.

"So, which ones are gonna be mine?" Guren asked mildly.

"Still deciding on that." He took a moment to consider if he should discuss this with her before continuing. Having someone to bounce his thoughts off of would help him. She'd need to know the personalities and tactics of the group for the upcoming exam anyways. "I can't go with initial plan of the team arrangements. Not if we want to be sure they'll win."

Guren placed her chin in one hand and watched the gennin preforming their assigned exercises. "Personalty reasons or power reasons?" She asked.

"Both." Came the blunt response. "Kin doesn't have much power to her. She's worked on some new fancy tricks, but she doesn't have anything to really make her stick out. Meanwhile Zaku. Well-"

Zabuza trailed off as said gennin once again tried to follow Orochitama's suggestion of what to do to better control his powers and once again he failed as he shot air directly down. Rather than slowly lift himself, he instead went flying backwards in an uncontrolled tumble before smacking into the ground.

"He's an idiot." Guren concluded.

"A mean spirited one." Zabuza stated. "He has power, but little talent, and he knows it. He goes around bullying anyone he thinks he can get away with bullying. Which is why he can't be on a team with Jugo." Zabuza stated before nodding to where the orange haired boy was timidly pulling back a fist to punch a rock before chickening out at the last moment and lowering his fist.

"Wow. What a wimp." Guren stated snidely.

"He's possibly the strongest one down there." Zabuza shot back coldly. "His power has him take in a mind-altering energy that puts him on a level similar to a jinchuriki, but he can't control himself in his altered state. The eggheads gave him a seal to siphon some of that energy off, but they're still calibrating. He's not afraid for himself. He's afraid for others."

"Alright, alright!" Guren raised her hands in surrender. "Back off Papa Bear. I'm sure he's very scary."

The words brought Zabuza up short. He had snapped at her. Fuck. He was getting attached to shit-heads.

"Jugo and Zaku can't be on the same team. If they are, Jugo will probably kill him if he loses it. Zaku likes to pick on Jugo because he takes his timid nature as a sign to attack."

"Any others that can't be together then?" Guren asked, glancing down and watching as Kin stood in the corner conjuring a thick fog of mist around herself. "Oh, isn't that one of your tricks?"

Zabuza glanced over at the mist and gave a snort. "Not really. Most Mist ninja know it and a lot of other villages have picked it up too. But it compliments her. It's also useless around Zaku, cause he blow the mist away every time he fires."

"So Jugo and Kin are in one team. Seems straight forward. Just figure out their third and you'll be gold." Guren said with a snort. "This isn't that hard."

"Say that after having to look after them the entire time you're away." Zabuza said dismissively. "Plus you'll have to put up with the other Jounin teachers."

"It can't possibly be worse than dealing with toddlers all day. Who even is the other team-"

"Hello, Brutish Man and Supreme Babysitter. I understand I am meant to work with you today." A voice so far up it's own ass that he could almost hear the echo sounded towards them.

Zabuza turned to see one of the most loathsome people he had ever had the displeasure of meeting walk up to them. The man shamelessly alternated between staring at Guren's legs and chest.

"Tatewaki." Guren growled and manifested a crystal dagger. "I'm meant to work with you on this assignment?"

Shock crossed Tatewaki's face and he held a hand to his chest. "Why so angry? I don't think I've done anything to elicit that sort of response form you. I've never been anything but complimentary to you."

Zabuza stared at the man in concentration. Tatewaki's breathing, eye-movement, and stance all spoke of someone who wasn't lying and was actually a little hurt about the accusation leveled against him. The man either genuinely thought everything he did wasn't insulting or he was a damn good liar. Zabuza kept hoping that it was that he was liar, if only it meant that Tatewaki as he knew him wouldn't exist then.

"You grabbed my ass while I was on my way to the medic and then commented that I had started slacking on my squats!" Guren growled looked moments from throwing sharp crystal things at the man.

Zabuza was contemplating letting her.

"And you stabbed me in the arm for it. Which I don't hold against you. Besides, I was just pointing out what I saw. Keeping up on your exercises is important for front line fighters like yourself." The man said simply, as if that explained everything.

Zabuza decided he had enough being near these two. At least as close as he was. This was the sort of interaction one enjoyed from a distance.

"Guren. You're team is Jugo, Kin, and Dosu. Tatewaki, your team is Suigetsu, Zaku, and Haku." He stated finally and for once sure of his decision. Maybe Haku being on the team would make sure they didn't get killed.

Plus now he could probably get a betting pool going on how long it would take Tatewaki before he realized that Haku was, in fact, male. Though he hadn't seen the man seriously try to flirt with Haku, despite them interacting. The closest that came was the man mentioning that Haku would be a beauty once older.

Plus Zaku and Suigetsu would absolutely hate the man and might actually form a bond over mutual hatred. It worked in Mist, it might work here. And if it goes wrong then the one to die would probably be Tatewaki. A win all around in Zabuza's book really.

"Ah. So it is set. Well would you care to join me in my room for some close planning for-" Tatewaki began.

"Sweet fuck, would you give up!?" Guren yelled and stomped off.

Zabuza found he wasn't sure if he was happy or sad to miss how this was going to turn out in Konoha. In just a few days they'd be gone. Much of Sound already was, leaving to go set things up. The exams were only a few days away after all.

xxxxxx

Sasuke stared. The ball of fuzz stared back with wide dark eyes. What did it want? Was this a staring contest? Well he wouldn't be the first to look away, especially not to his own summons. The sound of a tail rapidly hitting ground began to pick up. A sign of weakness or-

"Sasuke. It's a puppy." His teacher said leadingly.

He didn't respond and stayed staring.

"You're staring at basically a baby Sasuke. Stop it." Kakashi spoke again.

Sasuke blinked and looked away suddenly embarrassed. Acting challenging against a young version of his summons was a tad silly wasn't it. It's not like-

The dog gave a chuffing sound. Did that thing just shoot him an arrogant smirk? That little-

"So! This is your personal summon. As you show being able to raise him the Ninken will allow you to summon more of them. He's smarter than your average dog and can already basically understand everything you say, but he's probably not going to be able to talk." Kakashi listed off.

"But it's a puppy. It can't do anything." Sasuke snapped back. Getting a summons was supposed to be something more impressive than this.

"It knows some tracking already, but yeah, it can't do much now because it's young. But he'll grow. He'll get stronger. As you work with him and invest in him, he'll invest back into you and be stronger for it. That's how it works Sasuke, things grow."

He stared back down at the ninken, the black and brown ball of fluff started wagging his tail in response. An investment. He could understand that. Training was never mastered in a day. It took a while to learn, then a bit more to incorporate it into the rest of your style. This would be the same.

"Heh. Sasuke has to spend time training a puppy. Ha!" Naruto piped up and gave into some truly obnoxious laughter. The blond had taken up his usual place at their meeting location. Sitting on the railing of the the bridge over the narrow river. "That little thing won't be able to hurt a fly!"

The ninken locked eyes with the blond and began to run towards him, shooting past Sakura, who looked to be bouncing in place and staring at the dog with one hand grasping the wrist of the other, like she was restraining herself from something. It was shocking actually. Usually she'd have yelled at Naruto by now.

"See! He likes me better too!" Naruto said before leaning back and hanging upside down from the railings, his legs keeping him in place so he could reach out to the approaching dog.

"Naruto, I wouldn't do that." Kakashi stated, nose buried in his book.

"Huh?" Naruto asked.

Then the dog made contact with the hand.

"Ah! Ow! Stop it! That hurts ya mutt!" Naruto began to yell as the thirty centimeter animal began to tear apart the fully trained gennin.

"It is still a ninja dog." Kakashi stated simply, not looking up.

Maybe the dog did have it's merits.

"Now you just need to name it." Kakashi.

"Me?" Sasuke asked in surprise.

"Yeah. It's your summon that you're training. You name it. It's tradition. Plus otherwise they just get names like Fang or Woof."

Oh. Names were a big deal. Living up to a name was significant. Sasuke himself was named after one of the most feared ninja to ever live. Names had a certain amount of power to them. He found himself drawing a blank though. Nothing coming to his mind seemed right.

What would his father name him? The dog would probably have been trained for police work and...Sasuke too would be using it to obtain justice.

"Masayoshi." Sasuke stated confidently, and the puppy turned to look at him, letting go of the Moron's hand, which caused the blond to fall onto his head. Sasuke scoffed and rolled his eyes before again turning to his summons. "Your name is Masayoshi."

The puppy stared at him for a moment before giving a yip and a nod of his head before puffing away into smoke, chakra briefly going through the seal on his arm.

When the ninken disappeared he heard Sakura let out a disappointed sound. He wasn't sure what was up with that, but couldn't really bring himself to care much.

"Now that's out of the way, no other training today. Oh, and fill out these forms and show up at the Academy at the listed time to join the chunin exams." Kakashi said, holding out the papers.

Naruto was up in a flash and snatching one of the papers. "Chumin exams?"

"Chunin exams!" Sasuke corrected with exasperation as he took his own.

"Oh. Like the vest guys. Yeah, I'm gonna totally ace this!"

Sakura came up and began to hesitantly take a slip herself.

"You can all enter individually, so no pressure Sakura. You should all think deeply about this before you go. You absolutely can die in this exam." Kakashi stated seriously. He even put his book down for a moment.

It really was dangerous, and Sakura caught on. Reaching back and clutching at her shoulder. He was certain there was a scar there, but in the hospital the girl had staunchly refused to let him see the wound. The first time she'd said no to anything he'd asked. She had acted fast and got a blade wound rather than the more debilitating burn wound, he could imagine she'd be hesitant to jump into something like that again so soon after recovery.

"On that note, be careful walking around too. You could run into ninja from other villages here to participate in the exams, so watch what you say and try not to be too flashy with your abilities." Kakashi warned, "Also make sure to-"

Whatever Kakashi was going to say was cut off by a loud gong. It wasn't a warning system in Konoha, and the sound was loud and echoed around.

"What was that?" Naruto asked cocking his head to the side.

The gonging sound came again, though this time he could hear the edges of something else with it. Was that...music?

It was music, but he'd never heard the instruments being used before. Whatever it was loud, boisterous and coming from outside the gates of the village. He exchanged glances with Naruto before turning and darting away towards the wall. Sakura following a moment after. Sasuke ran up the side of the walls and in moments he crested the top and stared dumbfounded.

"Is that what I think it is?" Sakura asked, incredulous.

A caravan of wagons had pulled to the side of the road only a few hundred meters outside of the city's western gate. The construction of a massive red tent was going up and he could already spot a few stands with what looked like games and food coming together. A massive band of people using instruments of gleaming brass was the source of the noise.

Naruto meanwhile gasped in delight, "Is that a circus!? Lets go!"

"Hold on there kids." Kakashi spoke up, staring at a bird in the sky. "Why don't we plan to go some other time soon, after they're set up, hm? We can go together."

Sasuke nodded in understanding. A circus showing up right at the time of the exam? It was suspicious. Bold, but suspicious. Enemies didn't have to be subtle to do you harm, and this could be some sort of trap.

"Or! Or we could go now AND later!" Naruto said excitedly.

"Don't be dumb Naruto!" Sakura scolded. "This could be a trap or something. Even if it is a normal circus ninja could sneak in. We shouldn't be going in alone."

"Ninja setting up right in front of a village and playing a big band to announce being there?" Naruto asked, though Sasuke could see the wheels turning in his head. Big rusty and clunky wheels.

"Well-" Sakura said, backing off a bit.

"Oh, that makes sense. This sounds like something Orochi-lady would do to be sneaky." Naruto stated with a nod of his head.

Sasuke blinked as he saw Kakashi stiffen.

"I don't think this is Orochitama." Sakura said slowly. "Why would she even be here?"

"Oh, I didn't say she was here. Just this sounded like one of her plans. It'd be really cool if it was her though." Naruto said, putting his arms behind his head.

"Right. There wouldn't be much reason to be here. Most things that happen on missions won't involve someone from a previous mission."

That vaguely sounded like Kakashi was trying to tell himself that more than them. What did that woman do to their teacher?

Kakashi just kept staring at the tent for a bit, ignoring Naruto as he droned on about some plan to beat every single carnival game and being crowned Kage of the Carnival before Kakashi's gaze slowly started to turn towards the Chunin Exam pages he had just given them, then moved back to the tent, then back to the papers. Saskue slowly began to put the paper behind him then Kakashi very suddenly turned and walking away.

"Read the paperwork, fill it out. Don't pressure each other to participate. Gotta go bye!" And suddenly Kakashi was gone.

"Hey Sasuke, ya think your new Ninja Dog can help us cheat- uh no, I mean apply ninja tactics to carnival games?" Naruto asked.

"They're building a stage." Sakura commented curiously.

"Yeah, so?" Naruto asked.

"Oh, come on Naruto." Sakura stated with an eyeroll. Sasuke stared at her in confusion. Sakura looked confused back at him before seeming to realize something and growing sheepish. "Oh. Um a circus doesn't usually have a stage. That's more a thing for plays. They usually want it open and just build up for acrobatic stuff."

Sasuke frowned as well. A stage would be the prime place to hide something with constant watch too.

"A play? That would be cool. So long as it's not a boring one where everyone dies and is sad at the end." Naruto stated before nodding to himself. "I bet it's about super cool ninja heroes."

Sasuke rolled his eyes. Naruto thought everything should be about "super cool ninja heroes". Still...if this circus was something bad, it couldn't be too bad if all the ninja, including the Hokage, were watching it, right?

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A note from WhoaMama

Alright, almost caught up. I'm working currently on Chapter 29, so there is only a little longer before you are all caught up. In the meantime, if you want to join my Discord and chat about this or find out about my other fanfics not on this site we'd be happy to have you. 

https://discord.gg/nn3wtdexfh


About the author

WhoaMama

Bio: I'm just someone who writes and is quite surprised that people give a shit about what I write.

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