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Team 7's Secret Motto

Chapter Text


Important Shinobi Lessons


It begins...

 

Team 7 had just finished their second exam with Kakashi. He still wasn't really impressed with any of them. He could see their potential, yes, but at the moment they were looking to be terrible shinobi. The idea of them reaching chunin, let alone jounin was laughable, not until they got their crap together.

That meant he had to do things differently. It meant he had to do this opposite of what he'd hoped. If he tried it the original way, he'd probably end up with a dead genin or a potential missing nin. Hell, it might end up being both.

Damn him and his pride. His pride wouldn't let him sit this one out. So, with an internal resigned sigh, he sat down in front of his bickering genin.

"Alright, listen up." He didn't speak loudly, but the bit of KI lacing his words got the trio to shut up rather impressively. He really hoped he didn't have to rely on that too often. "Congratulations. You passed." They beamed, and he quite happily burst their bubble. "But you still suck." His eye roved over them flatly. "Majorly."

Their reactions were predictable, and he let them stew a moment before interrupting them before they could build up any steam. "Shut up." KI was liberally used this time as well. It still worked wonders. Kami-sama, when he needed blissful silence, he would abuse this. He already knew he would. "I know what all of your flaws are. They're plain as day. And sadly, you won't be able to advance in skill or rank unless you know and overcome them." He looked at all of them pointedly. "Did you not learn a single thing during this test? Did you really fail to grasp all I was trying to teach you?" His frown went unseen beneath his mask, but his lone eye was sharp with disapproval. "I am disappointed. I was really hoping better from you."

There were two subtle winces and one large one. He had to bite back another sigh. "Naruto, what did I teach you within the first few minutes of our test?"

Narrow squinted at him, scowl firmly in place. "T' look underneath?"

"Underneath the underneath," corrected Kakashi. "As a ninja, it should be part of your daily mantra to expect everything to have multiple layers of deception. You should never take anything at face value or for granted." He looked meaningfully at his students. "Everything."

Sasuke looked furious, Naruto instantly became guarded even though his expression and body didn't move, and Sakura looked uneasy.

He gave them a small eye smile. "That also leads nicely to my second point. Because everything is deceptive, when you take measures to approach and handle them, every action you should take should be overkill."

The trio blinked.

"What?" Naruto was the only one who dared speak, but all of them were clearly befuddled.

"If you have a mission to sneak into an enemy stronghold to steal intel, you should be invisible. Period. Invisible by sight, sound, scent, and chakra. I don't care if it looks so easy that a new Academy student could do it, you treat it like it is something so dangerously out of your league it's ridiculous. If you meet an opponent, always treat them as if they are S rank criminals who would do anything and can do anything to kill you in less than a heartbeat. If you down an opponent, you will once again, treat them like an S rank criminal and do everything even remotely feasible to ensure they are completely incapacitated, be that either by death or binding them for interrogation." He looked at them sharply. "Am I clear?"

When none of them immediately spoke up, his barked it out loudly again. "IS THAT CLEAR?!"

"Yes Sensei!" Chorused the three genin, startled and a bit alarmed.

"Good." He eye smiled. "Now, since we've addressed two of my main issues with your misconceptions about being a shinobi, let's focus on the other main one. Deception is the core aspect of shinobi life, period. Understanding this, it means you should all be incorporating it into your daily lives as well." He clapped his hands, making them flinch. "So! Here's what we're going to do. This," he waved a hand between them, "is your only safe zone. When we are safely training and are in a secure area, I will allow you to drop all pretense and be yourselves."

"Wha-" began Naruto, only for Kakashi to cut him off.

"Everywhere else, you will be putting up a front." He pinned them with a sharp stare. "Everywhere."

Sakura and Naruto swallowed thickly while Sasuke shifted slightly uneasily.

Kakashi eye smiled again. "An example? Look at me. Your first impression of me was rather low, wasn't it? I seemed lazy and inept. Pulling out my book also makes me look like a distracted pervert."

The genin looked like they got caught stealing a cookie from the cookie jar. Internally, Kakashi cackled.

"However, I am a highly skilled and deadly shinobi. I have an impressive mission list and have a nice reward in the bingo book. Misdirection and deception are everything. Even with my bingo book listing, a lot of foes don't take me seriously once they meet me in person. Why? Because of the persona I present." He held out his hands.

"So, before we do anything further as a team, we're going to break some of your bad habits and start forming new ones. First one, we're a team. We're going to sit here and each one of us is going to reintroduce ourselves. This time, however, we're going to tell our proper histories, including the deep dark secrets no one wants to share."

When they looked like protesting, Kakashi blasted them with intense KI. "This isn't up for debate."

If Kakashi was being honest, he hated this idea as much as his students. It hurt to revisit the past. But he would be damned if they were going to keep playing this game of avoidance and dig themselves into deeper holes than they already were. So, despite his misgivings and the guilt that speared him ruthlessly, Kakashi shared his past. All the nitty gritty, other than Naruto's parentage, was shared. His father, his team, Obito, everything. He even showed them his Sharingan.

He made Sakura go next. He forced her to talk about her being a target for bullies, her reasons for bullying Naruto, and her obsession over Sasuke. He even got a shock to find out she had a weird version of split personality. When she finished, looking quite subdued and embarrassed, Kakashi turned to Sasuke.

Sasuke had to be threatened ruthlessly, and only through nearly a literal pulling of teeth, Sasuke began spitting out his past with absolute venom. Kakashi just sat on a hog tied Sasuke and smiled the entire time, still holding the pair of pliers he had threatened Sasuke with. The other two looked suitably horrified by Sasuke's tragic past, and as expected, threw their lot in with Sasuke when he went after Itachi. Kakashi nipped that in the bud when he asked if they were all that stupid. He pointed out again that deception was everything, and that the whole Massacre seemed too staged. He told them the first thing they had to do, if they were serious about their quest, was to find out as much of the proper truth as they could and present it to him before he okayed their crusade.

Naruto looked ill. Once the pause of budding camaraderie evaporated, he realized that it was his turn. Kakashi felt bone weary looking at the anger and fear that warred in the boys eyes, despite the boy trying to squint to hide it. But, Kakashi had no mercy. He gave the boy a pointed look, and slowly, Naruto spoke in the softest voice any had ever heard him use. As he lay out his past while staring at his hands ripping up the grass before him viciously, Kakashi watched Sasuke and Sakura truly begin to realize how messed up and challenging Naruto's life had been. Naruto still choked up over the Kyuubi. It took him several false starts, but by the end of it, the stunned silence was broken by a shamefaced Sakura and a subtle compassionate looking Sasuke.

In the end, Kakashi had to console his tearful genin and hope that his weird therapy session actually did some good. He did decide that it probably wasn't a good idea to let them go home tonight. Sitting in the silence would get to them. So, he made the night into an impromptu camping lesson. He instructed his team to grab their survival gear and meet him back here in two hours.

Naruto was the first to question it. "Your version or ours of two hours?"

Sakura snickered and Sasuke snorted. Kakashi eye smiled.

"Well done. As a reward, it will be your version today."

All three looked relieved as they each departed. As he watched their backs, he was gratified to see that they left together, unconsciously sticking close. He would fix that tomorrow, and remind them they couldn't do that once they left the training field. But for today…

Well, today, it felt like a flicker of hope. And, with a genuine hidden smile, Kakashi shunshined to the Hokage's office, so late that he was sure that everyone had already left hours ago, if he was to judge the fact the sun was starting to set.

Meh, it was the fault of a broken mirror and having to circumvent all the bad luck he would've had if he didn't take proper preventative measures.


 

Training started bright and early the next day.

"Sasuke, you're currently the most advanced skill wise. You will be teaching the other two everything you know."

Sasuke looked peeved. "Why? How is that going to help me?"

"One, as they grow, you grow. Two, if all three of you don't learn the lesson I set you to, none of you advance to the next. We're a team. We train like it, we live like it." Kakashi smiled. "Besides, by teaching them, you will come to understand what you know even better." He chuckled when Sasuke looked ready to protest again. "If you don't believe me, prove it. In one month, if you haven't gotten any better in your techniques by teaching them, I will let you stop. However, if you're wrong, you fulfill your new role dutifully, without complaint, and you will also go out of your way to learn new things to bring back and teach them."

Kakashi ignored Sasuke's irritable scowl and turned to Sakura. "You, Sakura, are going to learn and teach the boys about the body." He almost laughed at her look of horror. "You are going to study medical scrolls and learn how the body works inside and out. You will bring that knowledge and share it with the team. I want everyone to understand what each muscle group is, the major tendons, main arteries, and pressure points. I want all of you to be able to target any of these at any time. Sasuke will be teaching you how to wield sebon, shuriken, and kunai. Also Sakura, you will teach both your teammates basic first aid. I want you all able to set bones, apply proper splints and bandages, etcetera. It can save your lives."

Kakashi turned to Naruto. The boy looked both excited and nervous, and Kakashi had to resist ruffling his hair. "Naruto, you have a unique insight on people. There are a few things you've misunderstood, but overall, you're quite intuitive about people and their emotions. So, I want you to train Sasuke and Sakura about reading people. To better do this, I want you to make a handful of Kage-bunshin and have them hide in different locations around the village. Their job is to observe people as they go about their business. If someone looks suspicious or interesting, or has an expression you can't identify, have the clone follow them until they can identify it. This is to be a daily occurrence. Every day you wake up, make about five to ten clones and have them hide in the village. You will start with civilians. Your goal is to learn these things while not being caught. As you improve, I will up the challenge to genin, and then to chunin, and so on."

Naruto frowned. "But, how will I know what they do? What if they get caught before they can come tell me what they've learned?"

Kakashi blinked. "You missed the part about memory transfer, didn't you?"

"Memory what?"

Kakashi sighed. "Naruto, one of the second major reasons kage-bunshin is a forbidden jutsu is because of the fact what a clone learns throughout their existence is transferred back to the creator when the clone is dismissed or destroyed. Meaning, you have a highly useful ability to scout and steal information without ever putting yourself in danger."

Naruto's eyes were huge before a determinedly wicked gleam lit in them. Kakashi could swear the boy was silently cackling to himself. It made the older man shudder.

"Right!" He clapped his hands. "One last thing. As a team, you're all going to be practicing stealth. In order to do this, I have purchased three appropriate uniforms in order to help you improve. Stealth is going to be our biggest area of focus. If the enemy doesn't know you're there, you've pretty much either already won or gotten a huge advantage against them. We'll start with stealth training for now, and after that, Sasuke will take over to train you in the three main weapons I mentioned before." He pulled out a scroll and unsealed the uniforms he had spoken about.

"No way in hell!" Naruto burst, looking horrified.

Sasuke fully agreed with him, while Sakura simply sneered.

Kakashi preened under their reactions. "Here you are! One for each of you!" He handed them to each of his students and internally cackled as they all acted like he was handing them venomous snakes. "Now, hurry up and put them on! We only have so much time before we move on to the next bit of training!" He cheerfully clapped his hands in encouragement.

"It's bright fluorescent pink!" Wailed Naruto. "No way in hell! Not on your life!"

"Naruto's orange jacket is less of an eyesore!" Agreed Sakura.

"Hey!" Protested Naruto.

Sasuke merely grunted in agreement, hand twitching with the intent to incinerate the terrible uniform with a Great Fireball.

Kakashi eye smiled, gleefully dosing them with KI. "Put them on. If you can get the item on this map without getting caught, you pass this lesson. If you get caught, you start from the training ground and do it again until you either get it right or time runs out." He chuckled menacingly as he tossed a scroll at their feet. "Oh, and just so you know, you will repeat this lesson until you've reached the proficiency I expect out of you."

Sakura looked ill, Sasuke looked murderous, and Naruto looked like someone just stole his freshly prepared ramen.

'Ah', thought Kakashi, 'today is looking to be a pretty awesome day too.'


 

Ino shrieked. "Sasuke! What are you wearing?!"

"Tch!" Sasuke pivoted sharply and headed back towards training ground 7. Naruto and Sakura didn't dare breath, lest Ino see them as well. Neither wanted the blond gossip to have such juicy info. They valiantly ignored the fact half the village had probably seen them already and Ino's gossip would be old news at this rate.

When Ino's horrified ranting voice was long since out of range, only then did Naruto and Sakura break their cover and hightail it back to the training grounds. Sasuke would be pissed they hadn't followed immediately, but he wouldn't say anything. He'd done the exact same thing when Sakura had hit Naruto and gotten the two of them spotted by a rather beautiful tomato vendor.

Damn Kakashi!


 

"Well, that was a delightful morning of training!" Kakashi eye smiled at his genin, who glared at him murderously. He didn't care. He happily took pictures of them all day, especially the more comedic times they'd gotten caught. 'Priceless!' "Sasuke, you're up!" He tossed the raven haired youth three scrolls. "This should have all you need!"

Sasuke huffed but unsealed the kunai first. "Grab ten each." He moved over to the training logs and the straw dummy that Kakashi had set up when they'd been attempting stealth.

When Sakura and Naruto stood about twenty paces away, Sasuke pointed to the straw dummies torso. "I remember your counts for throwing kunai from the Academy. We'll start there. Aim for the torso. It's the biggest area to hit."

'Hey! Why'd you say it like that?!" Interrupted Naruto.

Sasuke barely suppressed a sneer. "Because neither of you are good enough yet for more precise throws. Once your aim improves, the target area will change." He moved to stand beside them and gestured Sakura forward. "You go first."

She took a determined stance, shifted, and threw.

She completely missed.

Sasuke grit his teeth, counted to ten, and exhaled slowly. "You're not flicking your wrist correctly. Do it again."

The next two hours were a steady grind on Sasuke's patience. Twice he nearly "accidentally" stabbed his teammates.

… Maybe make that three.


 

Day three, Naruto had a peculiar expression on his face.

"Kakashi-sensei?"

"Yes Naruto?"

"I'm confused about somethin'."

"Oh?" Kakashi gave him a small head tilt to continue.

"Well," Naruto scratched his head. "I was watching, and well," he grimaced, "how come they don't get rejected?"

Blank stares from the rest of the team.

"Can you…explain further?"

Naruto frowned. "Why aren't they getting hit or turned down when they ask someone else on a date? They just say yes…the first time."

Kakashi was a little horrified that Naruto truly seemed serious about his question. For a moment he could only stare at the blond, and both Sakura and Sasuke were doing the same.

"Naruto…" Kakashi grasped for words. "Do you know what the difference between a crush and love is?"

Naruto just tilted his head in confusion. "Difference? Aren't they the same?"

Kakashi really wished Kushina or Minato were here to do this. He really, really….REALLY didn't want to have this talk. "There's a big difference. A crush is when you admire someone for a few of their traits. You don't really know that person, and you are attracted to the idea of them. It is usually superficial. Follow me so far?"

Naruto frowned. "Sorta?"

"Um yes, well love is...love is more profound." Kakashi internally winced at the pathetic attempt, and Naruto's confused expression only deepened. "Love is stronger than a crush, more meaningful. Love is when you deeply care about a person, faults and all. When you love someone, you know they aren't perfect. You know all their hopes, dreams, and biggest fears. But, despite all their shortcomings, you still love them completely, for being exactly who they are, flaws and all. Love is best when it is reciprocated," a quick glance at Naruto's expression and he clarified, "when love is returned equally."

Naruto frowned at the grass, visibly turning things over in his head. "So...when you have a crush, it's...more...shallow?" He grimaced at the wording, but he really couldn't find anything else that fit. "And when you love someone, it's...deeper?"

"In essence, yes." Kakashi scratched his cheek through his mask, feeling incredibly awkward about this whole topic.

"So, when you have a crush on someone, it's normal to get rejected?"

"Well, not all the time." Kakashi hummed. "Sometimes a crush can develop into love."

"So it's okay to keep asking so it can turn into love?"

Kakashi blinked. "No, no it's not. That only serves to irritate the person being asked and insults them."

Naruto looked startled. "Insult them?!"

"Naruto, if a person rejects you after you ask them on a date, it's very rude to keep pestering them. Not only that, you're insulting them because you're clearly not respecting their feelings. By ignoring their rejection you are being demeaning by implying that your feelings are more important than theirs."

Naruto looked like someone just punched him the gut. Kakashi was surprised that Sakura seemed to catch on to the lesson by turning a very unhealthy green color.

Sasuke looked like he was trying not to hope too much that Sakura was taking the conversation to heart and wouldn't be pestering him for dates anymore. The raven haired boy was also looking at him with something akin to hero worship.

Such a look did not fit the emo boys face. It was disturbing and Kakashi wished someone like Kurenai had given Sakura this talk, not him.

Kakashi cleared his throat to knock everyone out of their weird funk. "Naruto, if you ask someone on a date, only ask once. If they reject you, move on. If they end up changing their mind later down the road, they already know you're interested and can come find you to ask you instead. Understand?"

Naruto nodded vigorously. "Thanks Kakashi-Sensei!"


 

Sakura sneezed, startling the poor woman she'd been discreetly following. A rather impressive feat considering Sakura's bright pink attire. Twin groans from either side of her sent the poor civilian screaming down the road about ninja stalking her.

Sakura looked sheepishly at Sasuke and Naruto as they shambled out of their respective hiding spots. "Sorry."

Naruto sighed. "We were so close…"

Sasuke just grunted and started heading back towards the training grounds.


 

"Sakura?" Naruto shifted uneasily, hands hidden behind his back. She blinked. Both of Naruto's teammates were still a bit surprised that Naruto's natural state of loudness was actually quite soft. His more boisterous personality had, to Kakashi's glee, been a complete and utter front. All of them, Kakashi included, were very happy the blond was more subdued now when they were training out of sight. It made for a more pleasant atmosphere to focus. "I wanted to… apologize. I didn't realize I was being rude when I kept asking you out. I'm sorry." He winced. "You're amazing and I really wanted a chance to see more of that." He gave her a faint smile. "But I got lucky. We're on a team. That's awesome. So…as an apology, here." He thrust a potted plant into her startled hands. "It's supposed to be good for medicinal purposes." He scratched behind his head. "It wasn't quite big enough to give to you last week after I realized how big of an idiot I'd been."

The way he said that made her pause. "You...grew this?"

He nodded, beaming at her. "Yeah! I've had this little guy for a while." He gave it a wistful look. "Before the orphanage kicked me out, one of the caretakers made me work in the garden a lot. I really liked it, even though I had to pretend to hate it or he wouldn't have let me do it anymore."

Sakura's eyes were suspiciously moist. "Thanks Naruto." Her voice was a little choked up too. She cleared her throat. "Maybe... maybe instead of ya' know." She winced, still unable to actually say 'date' to the very boy she'd loathed asking her for the past couple years. "Maybe we could be friends instead?"

His blue eyes widened comically, and for the first time, his exuberance wasn't met with a wince as he jumped and fist pumped. Instead, Sakura laughed. Kakashi, standing unobtrusively to the side with Sasuke, smiled beneath his mask. Sasuke felt a weird wiggle in his gut. He wasn't sure what it meant, but it bothered him until Kakashi stole their attention.

"Well, why don't you put your new gift somewhere safe Sakura, and we'll get back to the tree climbing we were doing yesterday."

She nodded sharply, dashing to their gathered pile of gear by the Memorial Stone, using that moment to discreetly wipe at her eyes. Having a friend like Naruto... that would be nice. She smiled softly to herself as she gently fingered one of the leaves of the plant.


 

"Kakashi-Sensei." Sasuke's eyes were sharp. "How feasible is it to find a doppelganger for a cat?" His face was covered in quite an impressive display of red angry slashes. The cat carrier chained to the ground was filled with hissing that was randomly interrupted by short yowls.

Kakashi winced internally. "To be honest, it wouldn't do any good."

"...Why?"

Sakura and Naruto were hovering a safe distance away from their teammate. The raven haired boy's KI was actually a little impressive, and Kakashi preened a bit.

"The Daimyo's wife is...not gentle when handling the target." Kakashi's eyes flick to the glowing eyes in the cat carrier. "You aren't the first to try that trick. The Third's genin team did it after their first run in with the beast. However, because of the way the woman, and her predecessor, handles them, all of the cats end up gaining this vicious notoriety." He shrugged. "Unless you find a way to change her habits, genin will continue to be subjected to returning it to its owner."

The boy silently pondered that a moment before he looked up at Kakashi solemnly. "I need my Sharingan."

Kakashi blinked. "Pardon?"

"If I can set a permanent layered genjutsu, I can change her behavior," the boy said flatly.

Kakashi felt his jaw drop open a bit in shock. That was actually...a rather brutal but ingenious solution. "Maybe we can accomplish both." Kakashi eye smiled. "We'll have to find Kurenai. She's the village's leading genjutsu mistress." Kakashi grinned. "Also, speaking of illusions, I want each of you to start practicing it by using henge around town until someone dispels it or you run out of chakra."

Kakashi performed the technique, turning into a chibi version of himself. "It's a very useful skill, and you should all be more than proficient with it by the time we take any serious missions out of the village."

Naruto frowned, squinting at Kakashi a good ten seconds before something clicked. He gasped sharply and points an accusing finger up where Kakashi's face normally sits. "You are a pervert! This just proves it!"

Kakashi and his teammates blink at him. "What?"

"If it's just an illusion, when you turn into a kid, you're getting everyone to stare at your crotch!" accused Naruto.

A full beat of silence followed before a puff of smoke reveals the proper sized Kakashi. "Right, new rule. All transformations will be height appropriate."

Sasuke smothered a snicker while Sakura looked indecisive whether she wanted to rage at everyone for the oversight or thank Kakashi for the new rule.


 

"My WHAT goes WHERE?!" squealed Naruto, making a large flock of birds take off from the surrounding area.

Kakashi chuckled to himself and turns another page, glad he'd done the underhanded thing and let Sakura ensure that all of his genin knew the "birds and the bees" bit. He'd have to be extra alert, however. He was pretty sure she was going to try and murder him for it afterwards.

Thirty minutes later, his predictions proved correct. His genin were all beat red as they shambled into the clearing he'd been waiting for them. Sasuke and Naruto both appear traumatized. However, as soon as Sakura laid eyes on him, KI bursts from her in an almost terrifying fashion. He actually got nervous.

"Taijutsu practice!" he said a little too swiftly. He clapped and then points at Sasuke. "You and Sakura are going to spar first! I'll walk Naruto through his stances again to make sure he's not slipping out of his new style." He eye smiled as he quickly guides Naruto away from his other two genin. Sasuke gaped at him in utter betrayal as Sakura let out a threatening snarl seconds before she launched herself at the only available target.

'He'll be fine', Kakashi mentally insisted. 'Sasuke is the most talented of the three at Taijutsu. Sakura will just give him a better challenge today.'

He ignored the sound of Sasuke's rather terrified yelp when Sakura audibly breaks something with an impressive snap behind them.

Kakashi quickened his pace, almost bodily shoving Naruto to move faster.

'They'll be fine', Kakashi mentally repeated.


 

Sakura shyly handed Sasuke a container. "Tomato salad," she blurted quickly at his wary look. She grimaced. "As an apology, for yesterday." She ducked her head. "And...and for pestering you for dates." She glanced around them. "I know the food here sucks." She wrinkled her nose at the sterile smell of the hospital. Not only had she spent her fair share of time here after Kakashi's more grueling sessions, but he also had her sign up to volunteer sixteen hours a week.

Sakura was mortified, and a bit prideful if she were honest, about managing to send Sasuke to the hospital from a taijutsu spar. Kakashi had explained that she'd used her chakra unconsciously to enhance her strength when she'd gotten angry. He also explained that she was going to start new training to improve it, mentioning offhandedly that it was something Tsunade was famous for.

Sasuke opened the container and felt an odd warmth when he realized it was indeed a tomato salad, with all the ingredients he prefered too. He looked up to find Sakura fidgeting nervously, clearly expecting him to say something nasty. He winced slightly. He was getting better, but he still said mean things without thinking. He was tired of seeing his teammates waiting for his more horrid remarks. It made him feel like he was kicking puppies.

He was a little surprised she managed to wiggle the date comment in. He hadn't really expected her to really let go of her infatuation with him. If she stopped pestering him, it would be a massive improvement, but he had valiantly kept the hope of it truly happening from growing too big. He couldn't handle it if said hope was ruthlessly dashed.

This was a pleasant change. He knew she wouldn't put any further effort into the apology. The honest regret and self loathing in her eyes spoke volumes. He also knew she didn't want it to seem like a cop out, an insincere replication of Naruto's example. She was barely holding herself together, hoping he was as observant as usual and could pick up on the truth and full emotion behind her simple, almost belated, apology. Really, there was a lot she was not saying, but the way she was saying it spoke the loudest.

He felt the small smile pull at his lips, and he couldn't quite force himself to suppress it. He smiled a little more when she met his gaze and saw his response there and her shoulders visibly relaxed and her smile less forced. "Thanks," he said. He grabbed the supplied chopsticks. "The food here does suck." Sasuke was thankful that Naruto had taught them so much about the subtleties of expressions. He didn't like talking, and he felt better he could express himself just fine this way. It was nice when he didn't have to say anything at all and his teammates still understood him.

He...he was really glad he got put on Team 7. He'd never say it aloud, but he was trying hard to show them without having to.


 

"Hello my cute little genin!" cheered Kakashi.

As was the norm, his genin stopped whatever personal training they were engaged in while waiting for him. They'd, thankfully, been quick on the uptake. The two to three hours he was late were to be used for personal training, things he knew they wanted to focus on that they could do on their own.

"Kakashi-sensei," greeted the trio.

"Good news! We're going to be working on traps today and the various kinds there are!" He grinned wickedly. "To start, you're going to, in essence, prank people." Kakashi wasn't at all surprised that Sakura and Sasuke immediately looked to Naruto. "The trick," Kakashi continued, "is to of course, have maximum efficiency and effect. It takes subtly, creativity, and clever application to hit the target you want to and not accidentally catch someone else. This is where we are going to start focusing your talents on your fellow comrades and why we are doing so in the form of pranking. Pranking is basically the safe version of lethal traps." He grinned. "And if you get caught, that means your stealth and evasion skills still need work."

His genin grimaced, clearly recalling the bright pink monstrosities they still had to wear.

"Also," he said, drawing their attention again, "I have a test for you. If you accomplish it, I'll ask the hokage for a C-rank mission." Kakashi almost cooed at their adorable looks of eager excitement. "The challenge is, to trick one of my fellow jounin."

They blinked.

"How so?" Naruto asked cautiously.

Kakashi shrugged. "If you can pull a fast one on a jounin, with me as witness, and the jounin doesn't catch on, you pass."

The three exchanged pensive looks.

Sasuke's eyes narrowed in determination. "Deal."

Kakashi clapped. "Perfect! Now, lets begin today's lesson!"


 

Iruka spluttered as an entire gallon of paint dropped on his head. As he was trying to wipe it from his eyes, a faint hissing noise drew his attention. He froze, turning just in time to see a timed paper tag finish burning and the air was suddenly full of feathers and glitter.

Iruka whirled, righteous anger filling him as he stepped forward to find the culprit.

Only to hear the very unfortunate sound of a trip wire going off and an unhealthy amount of eggs bombarded him from behind.

Iruka was cursing too loudly to hear the faint clicking sound nearby.

Sasuke, Sakura, and Naruto were trembling with barely contained mirth. Sakura pocketed the camera that they used as proof to show Kakashi their success. All three of them were well aware that the silver haired jounin would use it gleefully as blackmail when the need arose. He'd already conned someone called Anko into teaching them all about the various types of poisons and how to tell the differences in how they affected the body. It was even more amusing that she clearly wasn't sure if Kakashi had pranked her or if some other jounin did.

Naruto was still proud of that one. Kakashi had deemed it too challenging for them yet to target her, and Naruto was bound and determined to prove him wrong. In payment of succeeding, Kakashi had to teach them a new jutsu.

Naruto, being as devious as he was with pranks and frightening insightful considering the difficulty of the odd mission, had chosen to prank Anko's favorite food. He'd noticed the pattern when his clones were out and about hidden through the village. Anko always made repeated stops at the dango shop. It was on par with his visits to Ichiraku's. Hence, she would let her guard down because she never took the time to check her food. She'd been going there for too long. It was a prime way to target her.

This also had the added benefit of creating a paranoia about eating food that they themselves didn't make. Team 7 now consistently, and discreetly, checked their food for toxins and poisons whenever they ate out. Naruto ended up having to do it a lot more than the other two for obvious reasons.

Sasuke tapped his teammates on the shoulder and gestured at his watch.

It was time to meet Kakashi. The trio left without Iruka even realizing they'd been there.


 

"Ah, perfect! Kurenai!" Kakashi called, waving her over.

Said woman paused, turning to look at the silver haired jounin. Her team turned with her. "Kakashi?"

Said man smiled. "This is perfect timing. One of my students had a wonderful suggestion for a genjutsu, and I was hoping that you would be willing to assist."

Kurenai couldn't help but lift a single eyebrow as Kakashi and his genin joined her and her team. Kakashi was a weird mystery she still wasn't quite sure how to deal with. This just added to his oddness, for he'd never come to her for anything at all in the past. He was a notorious prodigy, and him asking for help was like expecting hell to freeze over.

"What did they have in mind?" she asked, partially wary.

"Sasuke?" Kakashi nudged the boy.

Sasuke grunted, shooting the man a glare before stepping forward. "I wanted to know about layering genjutsu and if you can make a genjutsu permanent."

Kurenai blinked. That was certainly a loaded request. It took her a second before she started breaking down the concept of genjutsu and explaining the theories of how it worked and the various ways they could be triggered.

The pink haired one looked like she was absorbing everything with a faint glimmer of awe, eyes darting with mortifying consistency to the raven haired boy she was speaking to. The blond looked dazed and a bit bored.

When Kurenai finally wound down, even though she'd barely scratched the surface of her knowledge, both teams looked equally restless.

"Um...if genjutsu is all an illusion," began the blond one, sounding completely confused. "Does that make henge a genjutsu too?"

Kurenai couldn't help smiling a bit, missing the curious flicker of Kakashi's subtle glance at the blond. "No. They are completely different. Genjutsu target peoples perceptions, while henge just puts a bubble of chakra around your body to change your image. They only share one way of disrupting them, and that is to cause a fluctuation in your chakra." At his still confused look, she smiled a bit more. "Look, this is a genjutsu."

She put her hands together and cast a very simple genjutsu, one that made it look like it was getting dark out already. His teammates broke out of it fairly quickly, but she had to assist him. When he was free of it, he blinked at the bright sky in shock and a bit of awe. She felt her shoulders square a bit in pride.

"And, if you pay attention, you can see how different the henge is." She turned into an exact replica of the blond.

Instead of getting the spark of understanding she was expecting, the blond genin gasped and pointed an accusing finger at where her head actually was supposed to be.

"You're a pervert!" he screamed. "Don't come near me!" he wailed, scrambling away from her like she was going to suddenly attack him, his antics drawing quite the attention from passersby.

She was absolutely flabbergasted when Sasuke looked equally terrified and backpedaled with the blond.

The pink haired girl looked absolutely scandalized. "And I looked up to you," she spat in disgust. "You shouldn't do that to Sasuke!"

Kakashi looked downright furious. "I'm incredibly disappointed in you, Kurenai. Your reputation about hating perverts is well known. It shocks me that it appears it was just a front. Stay away from my genin until you can control yourself."

Kurenai and her team gaped at them in absolute stunned disbelief. "Wh-wh-what are you talking about?!" she gasped at last as she watched him gather his team and begin walking away quickly.

He shot her a disgusted look over his shoulder. "Henge is an Illusion." His eye glanced meaningfully where her head was supposed to be before making a very clearly point to look at her illusions lower abdomen. "Come on team, I'll buy everyone lunch to...forget what just happened."

As they walked away, the genin trembling in horror, Kurenai felt the mortification of dawning understanding filter through her shock. Her henge dropped instantly. She felt positively ill.

Kiba grunted. "I don't get it! What are they going on about?!"

Hinata spluttered, beat red, and ducked into her jacket, inching slightly away from Kurenai. Shino's expression was hidden, but he too took a subtle step away from his mentor.

Kurenai just stared at the Inuzuka. She couldn't even form a coherent thought, let alone a verbal sentence.

Unbeknownst to her, Team 7 was shaking with barely concealed laughter as they walked out of sight. Kakashi squeezed Naruto's shoulder and shot him a proud smile.

"That was brilliant, Naruto. I'm very proud of you." His eye roved over his other two genin. "And you two were right on que. Well done." He steered them towards the mission office. "It seems like I owe you three a C-rank."

Sasuke and Sakura both gave the blond a discreet fistbump.

That had to be the best unplanned prank they'd ever pull.

Team 7 rocked.

Chapter Text


And Everybody Wave!


Team 7's meeting of their new client, Tazuna, had gone about as Kakashi expected. Team 7's fake personas had worked like a charm, and even the Hokage gave Kakashi an almost imperceptible glance. Kakashi returned the look with a confident eye smile. This only earned him a slightly longer glance.

Kakashi could be a royal pain in the ass (which he was totally proud of), but even he didn't mess with Hiruzen...too much. It would be bad for his health, really.

Hiruzen knew exactly what Team 7 was capable of. Kakashi had given covert reports directly to the aged Hokage, hidden behind heavy silencing seals and shuttered windows. Not even the old man's guard detail were in the room. No one knew what Team 7 was worth but Kakashi and Hiruzen. And Kakashi revelled in it.

Shortly after departing from Tazuna, the team met up at their training ground. Kakashi leaned up against a tree. "Thoughts?"

"He's lying," Naruto said flatly, crossing his arms.

"Oh? Sakura?" pushed Kakashi.

Sakura rolled her eyes at him. "Nervous behavior, eyes avoiding ours and darting down and to the left when we talked about bandits. He was also sweating more profusely than he should be for the mild weather and the lack of exertion, despite the fact he's been drinking for likely most of the day. He pushed too much about our ability to protect him, even if he did buy into our act. The mission is probably higher than a C-rank because it probably involves other ninja."

Kakashi eye smiled. "Well done. Now, why can't we go back to the Hokage and get it properly ranked and a suitable C-rank instead?"

Naruto huffed. "Because the old man already knows there's something going on. Plus, it would look bad if we accused a client of lying without proper proof to back it up. It also wouldn't help our business to turn him down for a supposed C-rank. Not to mention we can't afford to send extra ninja on every mission we're suspicious of, both due to finances and manpower."

"Meaning?" The silver haired jounin turned to Sasuke.

Sasuke's eyes widened slightly. "This is a test. It's to see if one, we notice what's wrong, and two, if we can handle the unexpected.

"Bingo." Kakashi grinned. "Knowing all that, what are you going to do?"

"Pack accordingly," muttered Naruto, squinting towards town as if already mentally running through a supply list.

"Be more alert," added Sasuke. "We're potentially dealing with other ninja, ninja that might go up in rank as we progress."

"Medical supplies, body storage scrolls, proper prisoner bindings, and set up a few plans of attack and defense," finished Sakura.

Naruto paused in his mental list. "Sensei?"

"Hmm?"

"If you can summon animals through seals and then hand signs, can you summon people?" Naruto scratched his cheek. "I mean, if we can, why aren't we just sending prisoners directly to T&I? It would save us a lot of trouble if-"

Kakashi interrupted him with a rather maniacal sounding cackle. "Naruto, have I told you how much I love how your brain works?" He eye smiled at his genin. "I have somewhere to be. Meet me here thirty minutes before we're supposed to be at the gate. We'll go through some last minute checks. It never hurts to have your teammates double check your supplies."

And then he was gone.

All three genin stared at the dissipating smoke in a long drawn out silence.

"I can't decide if I'm excited or terrified by what I just did," Naruto finally confessed.

Sasuke grunted. "Look at the bright side. We'll have proof who we beat up. Maybe there will be some bounties."

Sakura gave them both a devilish grin. "Plus, imagine how baffled everyone will be cause we still look completely incompetent. Even if we only send one or two genin in, we're going to confuse the hell out of everyone."

The boys shared her grin.


 

"Y're late!" slurred Tazuna as he pointed an accusing finger at them.

Naruto squinted at him, looking affronted. "No we're not! We totally said ten thirty! The drinks goin' to your head, old man!"

Tazuna paused, turning a doubtful gaze to the rest of the team. Sakura groaned at Naruto's antics but nodded apologetically. Sasuke grunted in irritation. Kakashi just kept eye smiling at him. Tazuna shuddered under the jounin's unflappable stare.

Tazuna huffed, pivoting to head out the gates. "Fine! Whatever! Let's just get moving!"

Kakashi discreetly ruffled Naruto's blond locks while Sasuke and Sakura once again exchanged discreet fistbumps behind the drunk's back.

'Best team ever,' Kakashi thought as he trailed behind his 'bickering' genin.


 

Tazuna came to an unexpected halt in the middle of the trail. Team 7 immediately paused to look at him.

"Is something wrong?" asked Sakura, having played the role of kind mediater to her 'insufferable teammates' antics and the client.

Tazuna pointed dumbly at the chaotic mess of the trail around them. When he'd last passed this way, it hadn't looked like this at all. Currently, it looked like a rather messy battle had taken place on the rather innocent looking road. "Wh-what happened?!"

Team 7 blinked, exchanged looks, and then turned to Kakashi as one. The silver haired jounin simply shrugged.

"Mah, I have no idea what you're talking about. It's been this way for a while."

"No it wasn't!" roared Tazuna.

Kakashi waved a hand airily. "Sure it was. We haven't had time to send a team to clean it up yet is all."

"I came through here three days ago! It wasn't like this!" Tazuna insisted.

Kakashi shook his head. "No, I'm pretty sure it was. The Hokage was muttering up a storm about having to put up the money to send a team of genin to fix it."

"You're wrong!" Tazuna, forgetting he was dealing with well trained killers, stomped right up to Kakashi and started shouting in his face. "It was all nice and pretty! Plus, this looks like it just happened this morning!"

Kakashi gave him a lazy look. "Why would you becoming this way? The only way this road goes is to Wave."

"Exactly!" burst Tazuna. "I came from Wave and it wasn't like this!"

Kakashi's lazy expression snapped into a fierce one instantly. "Funny you should say that. Aren't you hiring us to get you safely back to Wave? Why would you come directly from Wave only to hire us to take you right back? That seems rather wasteful, doesn't it?"

Tazuna's bluster failed him as he gaped under Kakashi's sharp glare. He fidgeted and let out a shaky chuckle. "Ah, well, I mean, when I came through here a few weeks ago-"

"Yeah, see, I'm not buying that. Explain." Kakashi stared him down, causing Tazuna to swallow thickly.

Tazuna burst like a soap bubble, making a large scene about Gato, his aims to build a bridge to freedom, and how his family would be all alone if he died.

Kakashi almost rolled his eye at the man's poor attempts at manipulation. His team was already stuck with the mission. They weren't going to be turning back, nor would they be getting help.

But, they all had their parts to play. He turned to his genin, making a show of being against continuing. Naruto did his job perfectly, ranting about it being their duty and the right thing to do. Sakura played the unsure card well, and Sasuke's monosyllabic response was icing on the cake.

As the team cheerfully continued on their way, Tazuna mingled in with obvious relief, Kakashi glance back at the crater pocked road, charred trees, and broken tree limbs.

Naruto was terrifying, Kakashi concluded. He'd had the short blond send out a team of henged clones hours before they were to leave. Naruto had somehow managed to hide explosive notes on each of them. The tricky bastard even made extra clones henge into random objects for his people henged clones to carry; a nifty trick they'd discovered, that as chakra constructs it meant the clones could quite literally bend their shape to the form they wished, so were a properly transformed object and not an illusion. An unassuming group of five had walked this trail, and quite literally an entire army ended up beating the crap out of two unsuspecting chunin. The two missing nin were lucky they survived, if barely.

Sadly, Kakashi was pretty sure that the two chunin had a friend or two nearby. The two chunin Naruto described, and Ibiki confirmed, were ones suspected of working with Zabuza.

Ah well, his little genin would learn some valuable stuff on this mission. It would be quite the show.


 

Kakashi sweatdropped. He really hadn't expected Naruto's little trick to work twice. The fact he'd managed to actually injure Zabuza was quite an accomplishment.

Bad thing? Zabuza was furious. The singed and clearly battered man came charging down the path in an absolute rage, frothing at the mouth about orange clad punks pretending to be ninja.

Naruto did not help matters by cackling like a hyena, taunting the 'eyebrowless bastard' for being so pathetic. Kakashi kinda couldn't blame him, but Zabuza's enraged swings of his massive sword were getting a bit harder to dodge or deflect.

Tazuna hadn't helped either when he'd shouted "I knew it! You made that mess, didn't you?!" And then pointed accusingly at his team.

His team did a good job ignoring the civilian. Bad thing? They started taunting the missing nin too. Sasuke even went so far as to tell the man to his face that he wasn't worth the effort if the 'dobe' could hit him. The boy crossed his arms and smirked at the older nin.

Zabuza became apoplectic, forced into incoherent sputtering as his KI flooded the area.

Kakashi was just about to panic that his idiot little genin was about to become a smear on the ground, when suddenly, Zabuza wasn't standing there anymore.

Kakashi blinked.

Tazuna blinked.

Zabuza's head, sticking out of the dirt in a very familiar fashion, began spouting some very creative and very foul curses.

...right until a rather fearsome looking Sakura came barreling forward with a warcry and smashed a fist in the man's head so hard only his hair was now visible above ground.

Naruto appeared from underground, clapping his hands together to remove the dirt from them. "Scroll ready?"

Sasuke walked forward, unfurled a scroll, and bit his thumb. Naruto squawked when he realized Sasuke was already in motion. He performed a swift hand seal before grabbing Zabuza's hair and yanking the man out of his earthly prison. With very little fanfare, Sasuke ran his thumb along the contents of the scroll, which started to glow, before dropping it unceremoniously on top of Zabuza.

The unconscious Mist missing nin disappeared in a poof, scroll and all.

Just as Kakashi opened his mouth to speak, a despairing cry filled the air as a second ninja came barreling out of the treetops.

Feeling a bit put out by being outdone by his own genin, Kakashi reacted swiftly. In a flurry of movement and a subtle lightning jutsu, a masked Mist ninja lay on the ground where Zabuza's head used to be.

Kakashi recognized the Hunter mask, and was just about to identify it, when Sasuke dropped a second summoning scroll on the unconscious boy and made him disappear too.

Kakashi wanted to groan at the political nightmare the boy had probably just incited. Instead, he turned to a flabbergasted bridge builder and cheerfully waved at the path ahead. "It looks like our path is clear. Ready to see your family again?"

The silver haired jounin would let Hiruzen deal with whatever mess his genin just created back home. Kakashi was happily not present in Leaf to deal with it, after all.

That thought put a bounce in his step as he began whistling a jaunty tune, making Naruto complain loudly, Sasuke to glare, and Sakura to wince and try and engage Tazuna in conversation again.


 

None of his team were impressed with Inari. Kakashi willfully let Naruto berate the brat loudly before the blond happily informed the kid that they'd already gotten rid of four big tough ninja already, so no pathetic greedy little worm was going to touch them.

"In fact," Naruto's mischievous grin should have been ample warning, "you could say it's all because he 'lost his head'."

Kakashi snorted tea through his mask.

Sasuke guffawed before trying to smother his laughter. It made it sound like he was a host of dying animals.

Sakura giggle 'snrked'. A lot.

Tazuna loudly groaned before taking a rather impressive pull from his drink. "I'm never hiring ninja again."

"Pft! We did our job! Even when you lied about it!" Naruto jabbed an accusatory finger at the old man. "You're here, ain't ya'?"

Tazuna scowled back. "Gato's still out there, ain't he?"

Sasuke scoffed, having recovered from his 'death throes'. "Not for long."

A long pause followed.

Kakashi hummed. "Well, accidents do happen," he remarked blithely.


 

Kakashi tilted his head to the side. He stared a moment before flopping his head to the other side. "Hmm." He scratched his masked jaw. "What...exactly, did you do?"

His genin grinned at the chaos before them.

"Nothing much," started Naruto.

"Really, we hardly did anything," added Sasuke.

"Oh?" asked Kakashi, moving his head aside as a pitchfork flew past.

"Yup!" Sakura popped the 'p' as she rocked back and forth on her toes. She giggled. "We only started a riot." All three genin snickered. "Ya' know, for their own good."

Indeed, Kakashi watched in fascination as the civilians of Wave tore into Gato and his minions with a bloodthirsty roar.

"Ah, so we can honestly tell the Hokage that we didn't lift a finger, yes?" asked Kakashi.

Sakura was impressively fiendish as she grinned down at their combined results. "Exactly."

Kakashi merely hummed with a lazy nod. He paused. "Who's idea?"

"Sasuke's," was Sakura's immediate reply. "I helped refine it, so we couldn't get into trouble for 'interfering' with another country's issues. Henge is the best, by the way. " Her gaze flickered to him with a cheeky grin before she looked back at the mess they'd created. Her eyes gleamed a bit. "Naruto was... brilliant." She looked like she might swoon. "His vitriol, his verve, his charisma… They were eating out of his palm." She shook herself. "Really, Sasuke and I barely had to do anything to help psych them up."

His gennin were becoming monsters.

Kakashi beamed at them, ruffling each of their heads with affection.

They were perfect!


 

Kakashi yelped and barely dodged an entire brace of shuriken. When the onslaught ended, he cautiously poked his head around the doorframe to spot a huffing and puffing Hiruzen glaring at him murderously.

"You-are-despicable," panted the Hokage. "Do you have any idea how much damned paperwork you've given me?! Just you?" He growled dangerously, clearly debating about finding out exactly what Team 7 had been up to or if he might continue to try and flay the silver haired jounin alive.

"Mah, mah, it can be that-"

Hiruzen snarled and pointed to the left.

Kakashi staggered, eyes nearly popping from his skull.

There, sitting demurely on the floor, were five, FIVE, floor to ceiling stacks of papers. Kakashi couldn't help but let out a weak chuckle and look as non guilty as possible.

It really wasn't working. Kakashi wasn't as good at it as his cute little genin. He'd watched them flat out steal from someone, get caught doing it, lie through their teeth about it, and then look so pathetic and innocent that the man totally let them go and gave them more!

And they'd done it 'just because'.

Kakashi decided he wouldn't admit to the Hokage (which he was ready to do prior to nearly becoming a walking pincushion courtesy of Hiruzen) that the whole mission had seemed anticlimactic, considering how his genin had pretty much owned the whole damned thing start to finish.

Instead, all the jounin managed to get out was "My genin are adorable?"

Kakashi wisely fled as Hiruzen roared and a hail of kunai followed him out the door.

Hiruzen's secretary was pale and shaking, hidden beneath her happily solid metal desk. "I'm quitting. I'm totally quitting. Bir-chan is a total liar. This place is a Kami forsaken nightmare!"

Chapter Text


Remidial Lessons: Ouch


Kakashi strolled casually into the training field. It instantly put his cute little genin on high alert.

"Who's invading?" Sasuke demanded swiftly. "Are you injured?"

Kakashi blinked. Right, he really needed to rely less on Shunshin… He cleared his throat. "Ah, no one. Or at least, no one today. I have heard rumors though."

Sasuke put on his 'focus' face. Really, it just made the kid look broody. Naruto loved to pick at him for it if he did it too long.

Kakashi waved him off. "Not now. We'll get to that when it becomes more pertinent." He rolled his shoulders. "I took my time getting here today because I didn't want anyone thinking I had anything to know about why the anbu headquarters are suddenly a bright fluorescent pink." He paused. "So…?" He gave them all an eye smile.

Naruto shrugged. "The Minions did it."

Kakashi's blink was slow. "Pardon?"

"The Minions," Sakura repeated. "They're very handy you know." She gave him a very respectful nod. "I understand now why jounin enjoy having genin to train. Wonderful use of delegation when you want something done."

Sasuke, of all people, was nodding along seriously. "I'm really glad that Naruto decided to share them. We get twice as much done and we have perfect volunteers when we're trying out new rope tricks."

Kakashi stared. He counted to ten. He blinked. "Right. Minions." He sighed. "What are you talking about?"

Naruto pointed to the side. "Since Iruka-Sensei took a B-rank mission to escape all the pranks being pulled on him, the new teach is pretty crappy. We've been keeping these four busy."

Kakashi felt his jaw drop a little in surprise. There, wriggling on the ground, completely hogtied in a very impressive fashion, were four young academy students. He almost guffawed when he saw both the 'Esteemed Grandson' and the second Hyuga Princess.

He still sniggered. "How long have they been like that?"

Sakura hummed. "About fifteen minutes. If they don't get out in thirty, we'll untie them and they fail the 'test' for the day." She shrugged. "We don't want to injure them by keeping them tied too long." She winced and rubbed her wrists. "I still remember how long it took me to get feeling back in my fingers when Sasuke and Naruto got in an argument and forgot I was tied up." She shuddered. "Hence, guinea pigs." She shot her two sheepish looking teammates a dirty look. "And I play supervisor."

Naruto chuckled and gave her an apologetic look before turning back to their Sensei. "We convinced the Minions to help us on our assigned project." He gave Kakashi a dirty look. "Because you intentionally put that darn necklace right next to the anbu headquarters for our stealth training, I knew we'd never make it unless we got a distraction going."

Kakashi felt a tingle run down his spine. "You...pranked the entire anbu headquarters… as a distraction?" He felt a little light headed.

Sasuke was positively glowing with pride. "The Minions did well. Had them henge to hide their identities and then set them loose. They passed the test with flying colors."

Sakura cackled. "Do you have any idea how amazing it is to give primed paint filled explosive notes to academy students?" She grinned up at him viciously. "And how much anbu ignore people with civilian sized chakra? More so with children?"

Naruto rolled his eyes. "Yeah, we almost got caught because you were practically squealing about 'adorable lil minions'."

Sasuke grunted. "No kidding. I had to forcibly drag you away or you would still be there cooing over the mess."

Sakura huffed and crossed her arms. "It was glorious! I wanted good pictures to show Sensei!"

"I think fifty pics is overkill," deadpanned Naruto. He shook his head. "Anyway," he tossed the 'item' Kakashi had marked on the map at said jounin, "here. No one saw us." He snickered. "We kind'a blended in with the headquarter's new paint job."

Kakashi stared dumbly at the necklace in his hands. This wasn't supposed to happen for another six months. Six! And they did it in nine weeks! And they broke his rules to do it!

Kakashi's eyes burned a little bit, and he inhaled sharply through his nose. "Well done." He beamed at them. "Well done indeed."

Sakura simply plopped the photos in his hand in response.

Kakashi's forgotten guffaw exploded out of him, making his genin jump and a passing jounin to nearly miss the tree branch he was leaping to.

Gai blinked, looking over his shoulder in stunned shock, having barely fixed his footing in order to not make a close facial encounter with bark. Gai's eyes got misty as his genin came to a stop alongside him.

"What is it Gai-Sensei?" Lee's head whipped around to see what had brought their boisterous teacher to a halt.

An oddly subdued but tender smile flitted across the eccentric man's visage. Tenten and Neji exchanged wary looks. Lee was still squinting into the foliage.

"It's a bountiful day!" boomed Gai, fist rocketing up into the air and straight through the thick branch above him. He ignored it as it fell loudly to the ground and instead turned a (normal for him) tearful gaze on his genin. "It's a wonderful day indeed! We must express our own Youth just as vigorously!"

And then he took off through the trees at a maddening pace.

Tenten groaned, Neji grit his teeth, and Lee's eyes sparkled as they all chased after their 'roaring about Youth' Sensei.


 

"We are trash!" wailed Team 7 as they grovelled at Kakashi's feet.

Kakashi stood, arms crossed, scowling at them. "What lesson did we learn today?"

The three genin were covered in soot. Naruto's nose was still bleeding a bit, but thankfully Sakura had set it straight again. Sakura herself was sporting a ragged hack job of an impromptu haircut, as well as missing half of her left eyebrow. Sasuke was still smoking a bit, and his right arm was resting in a sling.

Sakura sniffled, looking up at the silver haired jounin with wet eyes. "N-never leave a teammate behind."

"And that we are so below your level that it is laughable to a ridiculous degree," added Sasuke, wincing as he bowed low again and pain lanced through his arm.

Kakashi's eye turned to the blond trembling on the left. "And you?"

"We didn't know!" Burst Naruto, honest to Kami tears falling down his whiskered cheeks.

Kakashi sighed, slouching as his angry visage faded away. "What have I been teaching you? You didn't even think before you attacked. Do you have any idea how lucky you are that the Hokage hasn't written us all up for insubordination and dishonorable conduct?"

His poor genin were so morose that Kakashi didn't have the heart to be too mean. He'd already put them through the wringer anyway. "Honestly, we should be super grateful that all he's making you do is perform extra D-rank missions and insists that I ensure you learn proper protocol for entering the Hokage's office."

All three genin wince.

"We're sorry," murmured Sakura. Sasuke and Naruto nodded beside her as they all stared glumly at his feet.

He sighed again, moving to sit down before them. He ruffled their hair, Sakura being last as she was in the middle. "Normally I would be super proud of your excellent reaction time. However, you didn't properly assess the situation before you went ballistic." He cracked a grin. "It was however, quite amusing that Ibiki, of all people, handed me a card applauding you for your 'amusing and out of the box' methods. I swear I heard him snort as he was walking away." Kakashi gazed thoughtfully up at the sky and scratched at his jaw. "I don't think anyone else has gotten him to crack like that."

His genin gave him small hesitant smiles. He eye smiled at them. "Really, other than the Hokage threatening to skewer me and hang my entrails from the Hokage Monument, it was quite a performance."


 

(4 hours earlier)

Team 7's genin were excited. They'd just finished another two D-ranks for the day and were impatiently waiting for Kakashi to return from wherever he went. He'd promised them some new sort of training, and though they knew to be wary, they were also pumped about it. Kakashi's methods were...unorthodox, but they were impressively effective.

Kakashi proofed into the training ground and held up a hand in greeting. "Change of plans. The Hokage summoned us."

The genin groaned but followed obediently as Kakashi turned to head towards the Tower.

"Any idea what to expect?" asked Sasuke, hands in his pockets as his thoughtful gaze turned closed off and irritable as soon as they crossed over the invisible threshold of their private training ground.

Naruto's relaxed gait immediately became bouncy as the blond practically vibrated in place. "Are we getting another C-rank?!" he asked loudly, the over enthusiasm making Sakura wince.

Kakashi chuckled. "We'll see when we get there."

Naruto groaned theatrically as Sakura berated him.

The walk always seemed to take forever when they had to pretend like this. It was so much easier when they were all disguised and moved through town with ease. They only had to do this when Kakashi was with them. The rest of the time they pretty much treated like extra training and went almost everywhere under a henge. Their favorite disguise was of three civilian kids who 'had lower working class families' and were often left unsupervised. Sasuke had been against it at first. Somehow Sakura had convinced him and Naruto to pretend to be brothers. In a weird twist of fate, Sasuke had to pretend to be the older brother (mostly because he was taller than Naruto and Kakashi's Henge Height Rule was strictly obeyed).

The first two weeks of the disguise had been very hard to hold up. Sasuke had so many mixed feelings about Itachi, he wasn't quite sure what to do with himself as an older sibling. It didn't help that Naruto played the younger brother with perfection, always coming to 'Nii-San' for everything. Naruto's 'Toro-kun' act was brilliant. Toro-kun was all gentle sweet smiles and naive wonder. His dark brown hair was adorably mussed, and his big brown eyes positively soulful. Sasuke, after much twitching and hidden horror, eventually decided to act like he'd always wished Itachi had.

It had, not that Sasuke would ever, EVER admit it aloud, but it had been kinda carthitic. It was kind of nice to feel the weight of responsibility over a younger sibling. Sasuke found himself standing straighter, feeling more protective, and far more open than he'd been for years. Sakura's Chi-chan was just icing on the cake. She played Toro-kun and Taku-kun's favorite cousin. She was everything that Sakura never got the chance to be. Chi-chan was a loud, almost to the point of obnoxious, tomboy who goaded her cousins into anything and everything she could think of. She was their ringleader and mischief maker. Taku-kun found himself having to be the voice of reason and play mediator when they inevitably got themselves into trouble (which was rather often, really).

It was so different to their usual roles, it was like a breath of fresh air. All three of them had grown quite a lot because of it, and Sasuke knew he would forever have a soft spot for their little 'civi trio' as they called it.

Sasuke blinked, realizing they were at the base of the Tower. When his eyes darted to his team, Kakashi gave him a subtle but knowing smile. Sasuke hunched a little more in on himself to hide the faint upwards lift of his lips.

As per Naruto's 'normal' style, as soon as they reached the doors to Hiruzen's office, the blond barged right in with a boisterous greeting that left Sasuke's ears ringing.

"Hey old man! Wha-"

And that is exactly the moment that Team 7 saw two very familiar figures standing to the left of Hiruzen's desk.

Kakashi hardly shifted, his lazy exterior completely belying the fact he was poised to throw kunai at the two figures' jugulars.

Before Kakashi could open his mouth to greet the Hokage and indirectly ask what the hell was going on, his cute little genin...moved.

"Mole!" Shouted Naruto.

Zabuza barely had time to yell a profanity before two Naruto's (Kakashi had no idea where the second one even came from. He assumed it was another henged clone that Naruto apparently carried around on principal now.) dove forward straight through the floor.

Before Kakashi could tell the blond to stand down, Zabuza was in a familiar predicament, where his torso was quite solidly stuck in the floor. Unbeknownst to Kakashi, Zabuza's feet were flailing around quite comically from the ceiling below. Both Ibiki and Shikaku were staring up at Zabuza's and Haku's kicking limbs with bemusement while two Naruto's high fived upside down before barreling out of the conveniently nearby open window.

It lasted all of a breath before Sakura and Sasuke charged forward and landed impressive haymakers on the two Mist ninja's heads and their struggling came to a stop. Both unfurled a scroll, bit their thumbs, and ran them across the seals written within. As soon as the scrolls started to glow, both genin dropped them on the Missing Nin and Fake Hunter Nin before bailing out the window behind Hiruzen's desk.

Hiruzen blinked.

Kakashi blinked.

Ibiki and Shikaku blinked up at them through the holes where the two ninja had been.

The Anbu hidden in the room 'snrked' as they tried to suppress their laughter as the dreaded "Demon of the Mist" got thumped by a couple genin.

Kakashi hesitantly cleared his throat. "Yo."

Hiruzen's wooden desk creaked ominously as the room was flooded with a terrifying amount of KI. "Kakashi," Hiruzen said smoothly.

Kakashi started sweating bullets. His cute little genin had left him! Had left-HIM! They were totally getting a remedial lesson if he survived this!


 

(Present Time)

Kakashi clapped, ignoring his rather tattered looking uniform (courtesy of Hiruzen). "So, that brings up something I wanted to ask. Naruto, the floor."

Naruto blinked. "Oh, well it's made of clay, right? It's just like using the Head Hunter jutsu with rock." He shrugged blithely. "You just gotta wiggle between any wooden beams if they're there."

Naruto could walk through walls. Kakashi had just been given this gift too. Kakashi felt a bit like doing the insane and challenging Gai to a contest. Cause...Kakashi-can-walk-through-walls!

None of his genin reacted as Kakashi started cackling madly and the area around him lit up with flashes of lightning and boomed ominously.

They were getting used to this kind of reaction when Naruto broke some 'unwritten ninja rule'.

"Second," Kakashi continued, as if he hadn't just acted like a mad scientist, "what was the whole mole thing?"

All three genin looked at him like he was clearly missing something obvious.

"It's our attack formation, Whack a Mole," Sakura said carefully. "You know, where the mole pops it's head up from underground and then you smack it on the head?"

Sasuke shrugged. "It's faster to say Mole, though. Conveniently confuses the enemy too, because they think we're talking about a spy."

"Really Sensei, you use it all the time! It's very useful," Naruto finished, nodding sagely.

'Well, when put that way…' thought Kakashi.

"Oh!" Naruto thumped a fist into his palm. He then rooted around in his pocket before tossing something to Kakashi. "One of my clones decided to take a picture, cause he thought it was prank worthy."

Kakashi was given the awesome blessing of a forever imprinted image of Zabuza's and Haku's legs dangling from the ceiling in the Tower. Kakashi's collection was starting to look quite impressive!


 

"Yo." Kakashi held up a hand blandly.

Team 7 fell into formation before him immediately.

"Hey Sensei, um…" Sakura shifted uncomfortably. "Are...are we out of the running for the Chunin exams?" She blushed a bit when his lone eye turned to her. "I mean, after what we did in the Hokage's office, I wasn't sure if we were barred this go round." She was sporting a rather cute pixie cut. It made her look even younger than usual, especially with her headband still tied up on top her head. She was literally going to get away with murder, and it wouldn't have anything to do with the awesome skills he'd been training them in.

"What makes you think you were in it to begin with?" Kakashi asked, sounding faintly amused.

"Oh." remarked Naruto, looking a bit ill and a flash of hurt in his eyes that he buried quickly.

Sasuke looked like he was stuck between a pout and bitter resignation.

Sakura's entire face simply went blank. It was a bit unnerving actually.

Kakashi chuckled. "Mah, mah, I'm just kidding. I had been thinking about entering you." He eye smiled. "How did you find out they were happening?"

Sakura and Sasuke immediately pointed to the blond.

"He has eyes and ears pretty much everywhere," remarked Sakura. "He was so excited about how much he was learning, he makes two dozen clones to hide around the village now." She rolled her eyes. "Five of them even have jobs."

Kakashi's head tilted a bit as he turned Naruto's oddly bashful expression. "Oh?"

Naruto scuffed the ground with his toe. "When they don't know it's me, they...people talk." He looked up at Kakashi through his bangs. "It's…" there was a tinge of suppressed excitement in his bright blue eyes. "There's so much I never knew about."

Kakashi was never a hugger, but his cute little genin almost… made him want to become one. They were too darned adorable!

"That's great, Naruto. I'm glad you're learning a lot." He paused. "Jobs?"

Naruto's teeth flashed. "Yup! It's so cool! One of the jobs, I get to help at a weapons shop. There're some really awesome weapons out there! And learning about the different quality is awesome too!" Naruto danced a bit in place, too excited to fully contain his bubbling energy. "There's another that I get to work with a glass blower! It's super neat!" His grin was megawatt. "The other three aren't that fun, but honestly it helps me pay for rent."

Kakashi winced internally. He'd forgotten that Naruto didn't get the orphan allowance anymore. He'd also forgotten that the complex tended to charge Naruto more than other tenants. The Hokage couldn't step in because, despite his irritation about it, the owner was correct; Naruto's presence had driven a lot of potential tenants away. Charging him extra to cover the difference was something the Hokage couldn't rightfully fight without causing problems, the best he could do was make the extra cost reasonable. That did, however, mean that an orphan in his pre-teens was fighting an uphill battle just to remain financially stable.

"Did you…" started Kakashi, hesitant because he wasn't quite sure how to offer to help.

Naruto, miraculously, knew exactly what he was thinking (those daily observations of people were getting down right scary accurate). "Don't worry, Kakashi-sensei. I've been managing my money better. The old lady at the baths helped me, er," he scratched his head, "or rather helped one of my clones. She explained how I should be spending and saving. And, well, because I can use a henged clone to get supplies, costs have been less." He shrugged. "I'm doing okay."

Kakashi let out a relieved breath. It still bothered him Naruto had to work thrice as hard as his peers to get by, but he was glad the plucky blond was making it work. "Back to your comment on the Chunin exams, the Hokage has been generous enough to still allow me to decide." He smiled at their radiant expressions. "However," he warned, "That means you're going to have to prove to me you deserve it." He winced. "Your escapades with the Inuzuka Clan are not helping your case."

Sasuke huffed. "That's not fair. That's training."

Kakashi waved a bored hand. "Training generally means you have a goal you're working towards improving. All I've heard is a barrage of complaints about you three breaking and entering without permission." He internally snickered. He'd also heard how effectively that Tsume roughed his genin up before booting them out of the compound.

"But Sensei! We're working on a new seal! We don't have anywhere else to test it!" Sakura looked both imploring and frustrated.

"A...new seal?" That could be rather dangerous, more so knowing his genin. "What are you trying to accomplish?"

"Scent," Sasuke said flatly. "When we've been doing our stealth missions, we've noticed the 'scent away' soap isn't reliable. We were trying to find a way to either mask our scent or rid ourselves of it entirely. We got the idea off the chakra suppression seals that you tattooed onto our shoulders." He shrugged. "Sakura and Naruto tried to find anything similar by camping out in the library for several weeks while I discreetly asked around. We couldn't find anything. Our next best solution was to try and create a seal of our own." He shuddered. "It has proven ineffective so far."

"Hmm...well what do you have?"

Sakura touched the seal on the new bracers she started wearing a month ago. Out popped a notebook that looked to be decently full of notes. She flipped through several pages before handing it to the silver haired jounin. "This is where we started."

He lifted a questioning eyebrow.

Sakura waved him off. "We only move on when we finish a previous seal. The ones in there before that were ones you taught us and we tinkered with a bit to see if we could change or improve them." She shuddered. "Naruto's clones test them for us." She gave him a sheepish look. "Sometimes the results are...hazardous."

"Hmm… the new swamp in training ground 10?" he asked, moving his headband to scan their notes with his sharingan.

"And the fire in training ground 43," added Sasuke.

Naruto sighed. "The new cave in the mountain by training ground 12."

"The mess of training ground 33." Sakura shuddered. "That one... we can't even begin to explain that one."

Kakashi let his eyes move from the book to stare at them. "Really?"

Naruto held up his hands hastily. "We submitted a portion of our pay to help with repairs!" He winced. "Discreetly, of course. The old man would be furious if he knew it was us."

"We made sure no one could connect it with Team 7. Naruto's clones always go in henged, and when things go...badly, the clones leave no trace behind." Sakura shuddered.

Sasuke shifted uneasily. "It's rather terrifying how frequently they go badly."

Kakashi barely refrained from a facepalm. "There is a reason there aren't many Seal Masters. There's also a reason there is usually an experienced mentor on hand. They help keep the 'bad' things from happening." Kakashi audibly sighed. "I'm glad you had the foresight to have a clone do the dangerous part." He gave them a 'look'. "However, please refrain from testing things until you either run things by me or a proper Seal Master."

Naruto huffed. "Where are we going to find one of those?"

"Jiraiya of the Sannin is one," remarked Kakashi.

Sakura sighed. "And he's our spymaster as well. He'll never be around long enough to supervise half the things we come up with."

Kakashi decided he didn't want to know how they knew Jiraiya was a spymaster. He closed the book with a soft 'thump'. "Tell you what, if your more dangerous stuff looks credible, and that means laying out your concept more thoroughly, I will see if I can get Jiraiya to take a look when he's in the village." He held up the book. "For now, please refrain from testing these ideas until I or Jiraiya approve them. I'm not sure our training grounds will survive too much more of this, and I really don't want the Hokage to catch on to where the new additions came from." He eye smiled. "I will, however, try and help with the scent seal. As I've said before, I'm not a master, but I'm no slouch either. We'll see if we can come up with something workable, okay?"

"Before the exams?" queried Sasuke, looking hopeful.

Kakashi chuckled. "We'll see." He handed the book back to Sakura, who put it back into the seal on her bracer. "For now, back to the training I originally wanted to discuss."

Team 7 felt a shiver run down their spine at Kakashi's ominous smile.

"And that is?" dared Naruto.

"Seduction," Kakashi said cheerfully.

All three genin face faulted.


 

It took Kakashi a good fifteen minutes to calm his genin down. They were still quite twitchy, but their mumbled growls and threats were subdued enough that Kakashi could continue what he was saying.

"Now, I know you think I'm out of my mind, but this is rather important. You need to be able to interact positively with a target or a passerby in enemy territory. If you can woo someone, it puts them in a false sense of security. They trust you and are willing to defend you. They are also willing to share more information with someone they are romantically interested in." He gave them a hard look. "This isn't a joke." He internally sighed at their disbelieving looks. "This is a very traditional and well used trick as a shinobi. I know we don't talk about it a lot, and that is mostly because you are still quite young, but it is actually still a very useful skill to have. Many of our chunin and jounin use this to their advantage." He paused. "Some more than others."

"If we're to take this seriously," growled Sakura, "and you already made a point about our age, why are you bringing it up now?" She waved a hand at her two male team members. "And isn't it traditionally the kunoichi that do this sort of stuff?"

Kakashi shook his head. "That is a horrible misconception. Male shinobi participate in this art just as frequently as women do. Admittedly, it is a poor gender stereotype that causes issues with both sides, but both are equally adequate and well used." He gives Sakura an apologetic look. "The biggest sore spot for most kunoichi is that male shinobi tend to brag a bit louder and openly about such conquests. Kunoichi tend to discuss it only with close friends. Sadly, old traditions and biases color these things as well, and it makes for a muddy topic outside of the shinobi ranks. Civilians just don't understand and don't respect those who do it. The shinobi side understand its usefulness as a tool and use it accordingly" He shrugged. "It makes for a sensitive topic, but it isn't one to be dismissed."

He ran a hand through his hair. "The reason I bring this up now is because of a few reasons. First off, now is a good time to start and begin practicing these things. That way, when it becomes necessary for a mission you have the proper experience and ease to handle it. Secondly, just because you are young, it doesn't mean other shinobi won't try these tricks on you. If you are exposed to this now, you are less susceptible to it from an enemy. Thirdly, shinobi generally tend to live short lives. It is rare for shinobi to reach the Hokage's age. This means you are all going to get exposed to this very soon anyway, more so for Sasuke due to his Clan legacy." Kakashi gave them all a flat stare. "That is the harsh truth. Squeamish as you may feel about it, this is something all of you need to get used to."

They still didn't look happy, but they weren't biting at the bit to stick him with kunai.

Sakura's bottom lip was jutting out and she was looking crossly to the side to avoid looking at the rest of her team. "I hate that your argument is logically sound."

He gave her a faint smile. "Trust me, I was in your shoes at one point. I didn't like the idea any better than you do."

Naruto's face was all squished up between horror and intrigue.

Sasuke looked like he wanted to puke.

"There is, however, a bit of a twist," remarked Kakashi, drawing their attention. He eye smiled. "You're going to be henged into the opposite gender and convince someone of your proper gender, to date you."

"WHAT?! Came three equal screeches of horror.

Kakashi loved being a sensei.


 

Aku gazed intensely at the petite brunette in front of him. He reached out and took her hand, feeling the breeze ruffle his spiky raven locks. "Umi-chan, would you do me the honor of going on a date?"

Umi-chan yanked her hand out of his and proceeded to swing it sharply towards his face.

Aku yelped and barely managed to jerk back enough to miss being smacked, losing his balance and falling on his rear in the middle of the quiet path they were on. He stared up at the fuming young teen in stunned disbelief.

"Don't touch me, you creep!" she shivered in disgust, wiping her hand on her skirt vigorously. "Tch! Stay away from me!" She pivoted sharply and stalked away.

Aku watched her leave, gaping and frozen where he'd fallen.

A giggle drew his attention, and he turned to find a lithe redhead grinning mischievously at him from beside a tree she'd been hidden behind. Her hair was a wild shoulder length mane that framed her pale face beautifully, and her scuffed yellow shorts and tight yellow t-shirt enhanced her untamable look. "You know, that was kind'a fun to watch."

Aku growled, rising to his feet and dusting off the seat of his trousers. "This is ridiculous! Why did she get so angry?!"

A quiet chuckle drew their attention to a smaller raven haired youth with long silky black hair that brushed the back of her knees. The pale kimono she was wearing made her look both regal and mysterious. Her dark eyes were deep and knowing, and her porcelain skin looked delicate and soft. "You are too forceful, Aku-kun. You scared the poor girl." She gave him a small tight lipped smile before turning to head the opposite direction down the path. "You treat the flower too roughly, and it will wilt."

Aku gaped at her a breath before he huffed and hurried to fall in step beside her. He stuffed his hands into his pockets with a growl. "This whole thing is stupid."

The redhead trotted up to the other side of the raven haired girl with a laugh. "I dunno, that was pretty entertaining. You'd think you'd know what a girl would want, ya know?" She gave him an impish grin.

"Stuff it, Rei," muttered Aku, a faint blush coloring his cheeks.

"Come, we shall discuss this in a more...comfortable location." The raven haired girl didn't grace them with a look, merely kept up a steady and graceful gait that made the other two feel like bumbling fools.

It was a long wandering path. None of them spoke until they reached a hidden alcove not far from training ground seven. As soon as they were hidden in the shadows of the alcove, the small raven haired girl in the lead was surrounded by a small puff of smoke to reveal a golden blond head and an easy grin.

Aku huffed and disappeared to reveal Sakura's pouting visage. She crossed her arms and gave a dark look at the redhead next to her. Rei gave a cheeky grin and a victory sign before a puff of smoke and Sasuke was revealed wearing a cocky smirk.

Sakura growled, rubbing her temples with irritation. "Alright...What the hell went wrong?!"

"Tut-tut," chided Sasuke. He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "Not here."

Sakura shot him a nasty glare before stomping towards their training grounds while muttering a long list of things that sounded rather painful.

Sasuke sniffed but followed, hands moving to his pockets.

Naruto openly laughed as he dashed ahead. "Come on, Teme! Race ya'!"

Sasuke blinked. "Hey! That's cheating, Dobe!" He gave chase immediately.

Sakura glanced at them with a scoff. "Boys."

When they were finally all at the training grounds, huddled in a comfortable little circle, Sasuke pulled out a scroll and unsealed three bentos. All three gave a cheer before digging in.

It wasn't until they were about halfway through their food that Naruto nudged Sakura. "What was that back there? You do realize that being that intense scares girls, right?"

Sakura grumbled something under her breath before looking at him. "It's what I always wanted Sasuke to do," she winced, "you know, before…" She gave Sasuke an apologetic look.

He looked a bit disturbed that her behavior had been in accordance to what she wanted him to do.

Naruto shook his head. "That only works if a girl is already head over heels for you. It totally freaks them out if you start that way." He gave her a second nudge. "Too fast, too soon. You have to move slower."

Sakura groaned. "Why?! I don't get it! I wanted Sasuke to move that quickly!"

Sasuke looked more green, glancing at his half eaten bento before putting it aside.

Naruto sighed. "No, no you didn't. You wanted him to notice you right off the bat, yes. But," Naruto gave her a pointed look, "the more he ignored you, the more you wanted him. Had he actually immediately advanced on you, you would've frozen up and probably freaked out like that girl did." He shook his head. "It's not romantic until you have an established relationship."

Sakura exhaled loudly, slumping with a despondent expression. "Then how does this work?" She winced. "I mean, I know how I approached Sasuke was wrong, but how am I doing things wrong now?"

"Sakura," spoke Sasuke, shifting uneasily under her watery gaze. "You er, want to come across as confident, but not overbearing." Sasuke scratched his head. "I mean…" He shot a pleading look at Naruto.

Naruto chuckled softly. "Sakura, you can't beat someone into submission. Remember what Kakashi said? Move slower. This isn't a race." He gave her a soft smile. "Look, you're approaching this wrong. Instead of being too forward, allow your more shy persona to come forward."

She blinked at him. "What?"

Naruto grinned. "I know you've got it in you. You want to be confident about you, but when you approach a girl, be a bit shy about it. They like to feel like they make you nervous. It means you find them a little intimidating and attractive."

The pink haired girl opened her mouth…paused, and then let it click closed.

Sasuke was nodding to her left. "A girl feels pretty when a guy stumbles over himself a bit when he's around her. Boosts her confidence and makes the guy look endearing."

Sakura openly gaped at her teammates. "H-how do you even know that?!"

Both boys blinked, exchanged a look, and then shrugged.

"Well, besides paying attention to it now, being a girl...kinda changes your perspective." Sasuke shuddered. "Plus, watching a guy stumble all over himself makes you feel kinda powerful, you know?" He rolled his eyes. "They get worse when you giggle and give them an amused but intrigued response. I had three guys start fighting each other just to be the one that got to buy me dango." Sasuke made a face at the sweet treat; tomatoes were always better. He glanced at Naruto. "By the way, what took you so long? I thought you were going to meet us an hour ago."

Naruto grimaced. "Playing mysterious and aloof, for some reason, drew in more guys than I expected. It took forever to ditch them. 'Oh Himiko-sama! Let me escort you!' 'Himiko-sama, would you like to get something sweet to eat?'" Naruto groaned and threw his hands up. "Himiko, Himiko, Himiko!" He groused. "I swear, I was mobbed!"

His teammates stared.

"You're joking. How many?" Sasuke had been rather proud of his three.

Naruto pouted, picking at the grass viciously. "Dunno, lost count after I tried escaping the first five. Their numbers just kept growing!" He shuddered. "I didn't even know we had that many single guys in the village!" He sighed. "If some pale eyed dude hadn't stepped in and helped me sneak away, I woulda pry been trapped at the market for another two hours."

Sasuke's and Sakura's jaws dropped. "A Hyuga helped you?!"

Naruto leaned away from them and answered cautiously. "Yeees?"

Sasuke spit out a curse. Sakura just kept gaping at him.

"You can't be serious," hissed Sasuke. "Those stuck up pricks wouldn't give a civilian the time of day!"

Naruto shrugged. "Hey, I dunno why he helped. He was way polite though. When I thanked him for escorting me away from the rabble, he bid me a soft 'your welcome' and disappeared."

"Prove it!" demanded Sasuke.

"What?! Why?!"

Sakura grabbed the blond's arm. "I'm with Sasuke on this. Prove it."

"B-Wh-... How?!" He jerked out of her grasp. "I'm not going to go lookin' for girly lookin' pale eyed dude! Can you imagine how quickly the Hyuga would kick my ass?! One glance with their freaky eyes and they'd be beatin' me into the ground!"

Sasuke huffed and rolled his eyes. "That's exactly why we don't believe you."

"It's true!"

"So prove it!" growled Sasuke.

"Do you have any idea how bad of an idea that is?!" Naruto waved his arms dramatically. "Seriously! He probably didn't activate his freaky eyes 'cause I didn't seem threatening! If we run into each other again, it's only a matter of time before he figures it out! I'd be a walking dead man!"

A sly smirk slid onto Sakura's face. "Maybe he already knows."

Both boys blinked. "What?"

Sakura buffed her nails. "What if he already knows and wants you because he knows?" She gave him a devious smirk. "I mean, if he's a 'girly dude', maybe he likes other guys."

Naruto paled a bit. "I'm not interested!" He squeaked out shrilly.

Sasuke broke into loud guffaws.

"No?" Sakura said lightly.

"No!" Naruto said vehemently. "It's cool if he's into that, but I ain't!"

Sakura giggled. "Relax 'Ruto. I'm just teasing."

Naruto's cheeks were scarlet as he blew a raspberry at her before looking away in a huff.

"I still want proof," Sasuke interjected.

Naruto shot him a dirty look. "What do you expect me to do? Wander around town until he finds me?"

Sasuke and Sakura exchanged looks.

"Sure."

Naruto groaned.

"Yo." Kakashi greeted, smiling at his genin.

"Save me Kakashi-Sensei!" wailed Naruto as he lunged at the silver haired jounin and wrapped his legs in a tight hug.

Kakashi glanced at the blond before turning to his grinning teammates. "Do I want to know?"

Sasuke's grin grew. "You're the one who assigned the training."

Kakashi tilted his head to the side.

Sakura waved an airy hand. "We're just getting him to prove he met his goal."

"LIES!" shouted the blond at Kakashi's feet. "If you want proof, you have to have it too!"

"Done," Sakura said cheerfully.

Naruto blinked, stared…and then scowled petulantly. "You all suck."

Sakura flashed a victory sign. Sasuke grinned.

Kakashi was pretty sure he needed to be there for this… with a camera. "Tomorrow?" he posed.

"Tomorrow!" cheered Sakura and Sasuke.

Naruto grumbled and pouted.

Chapter Text


Chunin Exams: A Can of Worms


Kakashi breathed in deep and smiled beneath his mask. He glanced at three innocent looking slips of paper in his hand.

At first, when he'd been told he was taking on these three potential genin, he was certain it was doomed to failure. If it was any reflection of his team, or heck, even Hiruzen's genin team, it was inevitable that things went badly. All but Kakashi was dead from his team. The three Sannin had all bailed Leaf in some fashion or another, one becoming one of Leaf's number one traitor (Kakashi still wasn't sure if he counted Itachi, hence Orochimaru still held the title). Really, as soon as he started shadowing his possible genin team, he'd been horrified. They were all prepped and primed to become the next great disaster.

Kakashi had gone to the Memorial Stone the day before the genin were to be picked up. He'd stared at it long and hard, eyes automatically picking out familiar names. His team, of course, always stood out the most.

It was there that day he took in those names with determination. The guilt was still there, but it was thrust under a wash of anger, said anger directed at how horrible and tragic the shinobi lifestyle really was. He had known the rules backwards and forwards. And, those same rules, had failed him most spectacularly.

His genin wouldn't fall fate to the same terrible ends. He knew that they would somehow pass. Yes, he'd had promising genin in the past, but they weren't like these three. Kakashi had watched all three potentials just long enough to realize that they weren't to be underestimated. Naruto's upbeat chipper attitude reminded him of Obito, but there was something in the boy's eyes that Obito's never held. Obito was definitely discriminated against by his clan, but Naruto had suffered the discrimination of the whole village entirely by himself. Sakura was not as dedicated as Rin, but Sakura came from a civilian family. She had yet to fully grasp what being a ninja was all about. That she'd passed the genins' first test showed promise. Sasuke...was simply a ticking time bomb. He had the potential. He had the drive. He didn't, however, have the heart. He was so eerily like Kakashi at that age, it made the silver haired jounin a little sick to the stomach.

Kakashi had originally thought that maybe taking things slow, pushing teamwork in more roundabout ways would work. He was hoping that the three would be quick and mature enough to realize what he was trying to imply. He hoped they would grow closer like he and his team...right up until Kakashi realized that his team hadn't really gotten as close knit as Kakashi had started imagining they'd been. It was easy to pretend that his team had been closer than they were after they were already gone. Survivors guilt did weird things to a person. If Kakashi was being honest, and he had to be brutally honest for the sake of his potential genin and their lives, Kakashi had been attached to his teammates but it hadn't been until tragedy struck that Kakashi pulled his head out of his ass and really noticed his teammates. And, of course, by then it was too late.

Watching his potential genin the week before the first test, heck even during said test, re-enforced how poorly his original plan would go. There were too many ingrained habits, too many hurt feelings. His genin would fall right back into old habits the moment they weren't under the grind. He was even sure, with this trio, it would take many tragedies, not just one, for the lesson to really sink in.

Kakashi couldn't afford for it to go that way. He refused to let it. He might agree that hard lessons tend to stick a bit better, but it wasn't his preference, not when it came to a lesson where lives were to be taken for said lesson to be learned.

For a moment, Kakashi's shoulders sagged.

Staring at their proud faces after they'd passed his bell test...it was the last stone in the bucket. He watched as that pride started to twist and the sense of comradery started to fade from their expressions. They were coming undone right before his eyes.

He wasn't foolish. He knew you don't fix old habits and long standing problems in one afternoon. But, the fact it hadn't even lasted long enough for them to agree to grab a bite to eat afterwards was telling. Sakura was immediately ready to concuss Naruto and swoon over a closed off arrogant Sasuke. Naruto simply didn't understand enough to help things along. He knew the boy understood the lesson best, but the poor blond just didn't have enough exposure to good socialization to really make any sort of positive influence on his teammates.

So Kakashi went with plan B.

Kakashi had never been more relieved, or happy, that plan B was so effective.

His adorable genin were a force to be reckoned with. Even better, only a handful of people knew that his genin were little monsters. Everyone else was gloriously oblivious.

Icing on top? Kakashi was so involved with his current genin team, he didn't wile away hours at the Memorial Stone for ones long dead. He still religiously visited, but he didn't waste hours there. He had too many things to do, plans to prepare, training to supervise.

All in all, things were definitely looking up.

Kakashi felt his shoulders square and his chin lift. He placed a hand on the cold Memorial Stone. "You'd love them. You really would." A faint depreciating smirk crossed his lips. "I'm not quite so hopeless anymore." His eye was a little watery as he sighed and looked up at the blue sky. "They…they are going to do big things, and most people won't even realize it."

"Kakashi-sensei~!" called a voice in the distance behind him.

Kakashi inhaled sharply, closing his eye and collecting himself before slowly turning to see his genin trotting up to him with open warm smiles.

Damn, he really did do something good.


"-and then this boy with a gourd made of sand on his back showed up, and-"

"Sakura, wait," Naruto interrupted.

She paused, glanced at him, and then her mouth clicked closed. She gave him a questioning look.

"Sorry, it's just, I realized why I felt so odd around him. I'm pretty sure he's like me."

Sasuke's eyes widened immediately. "He's jinchuriki?"

Kakashi's lone eye immediately sharpened. "How sure are you?"

"Pretty sure. All the signs are there. Weird nasty feeling chakra, feared by his teammates, and his eyes…" Naruto sighed softly. "His eyes are like mine. There's pain there, loneliness. He's totally had to deal with the same crap I had to growing up, maybe even worse." Naruto shrugged. "I can't say with certainty, but I would suggest looking into it. More so because it looks like the kid hasn't slept in ages. He's probably a bit unstable, and should have his seal checked."

Kakashi sighed. "Well, it seems like those rumors are pertinent now."

All three genin perked up.

"Invasion?" prodded Sasuke. "Really?"

Kakashi waved his genin to take a seat. "This isn't something we're supposed to be discussing with our genin. Only select chunin know, and there are even some jounin who don't know. It's been pretty closely guarded because we can't afford to lose our advantage by letting information leak." He gave them all a sharp look to quell any rising questions. "Suna has been more aggressive of late. Jiraiya has sent word that their Daimyo has been assigning missions to other villages. That means Suna is hurting financially right now. They would benefit from being involved in new alliances."

He shook his head. "There is a new ninja village called Sound. There is a lot of suspicion about the place, and a lot of nasty rumors. Some of those rumors include Orochimaru being linked to the new village, even if there is no credible information on exactly how involved he is." He gave Sasuke a pointed look. "Jiraiya also said the Snake Sannin has an unhealthy obsession with the Uchiha. Considering the man wants to gather any and all knowledge for his own gain, it wouldn't surprise me if he was after your eyes. He has a well established record of trying to transfer kekkei genkai to new hosts outside said bloodline. It means you three need to be especially wary. If you ever come across him, run." He gave them all a hard look. "I'm not joking about this. He is a Sannin for a reason. If you encounter him, don't stand around to gather information. It isn't worth it. Just run."

His genin obediently nodded.

"Good." He ran a hand through his silver hair. "Now, good news. The Third doesn't think anyone is foolish enough to attack during the first two stages of the Chunin Exams. There isn't enough public eye on those two events. It isn't until the third event that every eye in the Elemental Nations is focused on potential chunin and their talents. If anything is going to happen, it will be during the third event. That means we have time to set up some safeguards and put together some good strategies to deal with the fallout."

"Don't we want to prevent it from happening at all?" asked Sakura. "Why would we let them just attack?"

Kakashi shook his head. "We can't retaliate against forces that large without a good understanding of numbers and location. The only feasible answer would be assassination." He held up a warning finger. "However, because of the timing, it would be too suspicious that their leaders were killed within a month of an invasion. They'd assume it was us, even if it wasn't. They would retaliate and it would still end up in an all out assault. With all nations and shinobi villages, it's best if it's a very public event. An attacking village needs to be seen absolutely destroying an enemy village or nation. It ups their standing politically and makes them more of a threat physically. Right now, the Leaf looks like a reasonably easy target. We seem complacent and weak despite our renown saying otherwise, more so with our more tight knit team oriented practices. That we work so closely with our civilian council doesn't look good to other shinobi nations either, even if it is the very reason we are doing so well financially without any wars going on."

"Soooo…" began Sakura. "Are we to keep an eye out for suspicious behavior? If we see anything, how do you want us reporting it?"

"You are to be on high alert at all times," he said bluntly. "I know I tell you to keep on your toes all the time, but this is a step up from that. It is an unhappy truth that we are harboring spies for other nations. No security plan or system is perfect. Good news, the ones we have identified are being watched closely. The ones we don't are the real threat. Your Masks are your most important tool right now. You cannot, I repeat, cannot let anyone realize that they're fake. It is the only way you'll be able to gather any reasonable intel and it will also be the only reason you might survive a bad encounter. If an enemy underestimates you, it means you have one chance to either kill them or get the hell away from them."

He stared at them for a solid minute, impressing upon them how serious about this he was.

Naruto cleared his throat. "Do you want us to use the T&I scrolls?"

Kakashi paused. "Only if you're over fifty percent certain you have a spy or enemy on your hands. Any less certainty could crowd our prison and leave us no room to add actual threats. If you do use the scroll, try writing a note for Ibiki." He hummed. "Also, try to be discreet when using them. We don't need to alert anyone, nor do we want anyone knowing our new little trick."

"And the jinchuriki?" asked Sasuke.

"I will talk with the Hokage. He may have a suppression sealing solution from previous encounters with unstable jinchuriki." He gave them an eye smile when he saw their disbelieving looks. "Don't forget, jinchuriki have been around for a while. This generation is not the first to suffer that curse, and most likely it won't be the last."

The three young genin exchanged uneasy looks at that.

"Ah!" The silver haired jounin clapped his hands together. "That reminds me. Very big note here, so pay attention." He gave them a long stern look. "Zabuza and his apprentice are to be left untouched."

"WHAT?!" blurted the genin.

Kakashi suppressed a chuckle at their looks of horror. "Despite the fact Zabuza is a missing nin, he is on probation. Hiruzen has managed to convince him to ally with us. If Leaf proves as strong as rumor has it, he and his apprentice will be worked into the program." Kakashi shrugged. "Honestly, I'm just as uneasy about this as you. However, because you guys did so well trouncing him...twice, might I add, he's bound and determined to see, and I quote, 'what the hell you tree huggers are feeding your kami damned genin!'." Kakashi snickered. "You three left quite an impression."

His genin grinned.

The jounin stood, dusting off his pants. "Now, last on the agenda." He pulled out the three slips of paper. "These are-"

A LOUD squeal tore through the air and Kakashi's hand was oddly bereft of any paper. He blinked at his hand before looking up to find Sakura standing next to her teammates with said paper in hand.

'I didn't realize she could move that fast', Kakashi mused, dazed that his female student seemed to have miraculously teleported twice just to grab the acceptance slips to coo over. "It seems you are quite aware that I am giving you permission to enter the exams," he remarked blandly, giving her a flat look.

She gave him a sheepish glance, but proceeded to tumble right into an intense discussion with her teammates on plans for the exams, throwing out a rather impressive number of facts and information from previous exams.

Kakashi shook his head and chuckled. They were just too adorable!


 

"Remember," whispered Sakura as they moved down the hall towards the first exam, "avoid Gai-sensei's team. Lee seems like the kind of person to challenge Sasuke to a fight, and an outright challenge like that can't be turned down or our Masks are threatened."

Sasuke grunted in acknowledgement. They really couldn't afford to be distracted. Lee's challenge would usually pose a wonderful cover for their Masks if someone started doubting his arrogance and Naruto's irritation that he wasn't being taken just as seriously. Sakura could use the window to coo and squeal over Sasuke.

But the exams weren't they only thing they had to worry about.

Unfortunately, they ran into their first obstacle in the form of a very crowded room where Lee and his teammates were trying to get past two other genin blocking some doors. Sasuke rolled his eyes with a huff.

They could try and skirt around, but if anyone saw them, they would wonder why Sasuke wasn't being cocky. More so if any of the gathered genin realized it was the first little test to the exams.

Naruto grinned and murmured to them. "Break the illusion or distraction?"

"Breaking it means more idiots we have to deal with," hissed Sasuke. His scowl deepened. "Distraction."

A nearby genin was shouting with the rest to let them pass. A discreet henge later, Naruto sidled up behind him, unnoticed. Sakura and Sasuke watched with hidden amusement as one of Naruto's hidden clones dropped to the floor as a piece of orange ribbon before unfurling into some bland looking girl with a Suna headband. She moved behind the teammate of the genin Naruto was hovering by.

"Come on! Let us through! We're going to be late!" the unknown genin shouted. He shook his fist at the genin in front of the door.

"Yeah! Let us through!" bellowed a henged Naruto, his Sound headband flashing as he shifted closer to the genin in front of him.

"Shut up you brats! You have no idea what you're in for!" roared one of the door guards.

"Oh yeah?!" challenged the genin in front of Naruto, along with several others. "Say that to my face!"

Naruto's henged face twisted into a wide and wicked grin before it morphed into a furious scowl. "Let's get 'em!" he boomed, and proceeded to pick up the genin before him and toss him straight towards the genin at the doors.

His clone followed a breath later by tossing the poor airborne genin's teammate. "Get 'em!"

Mistaking it as an actual attack, the entire room took one split second pause before the entire place broke out into pandemonium.

Sakura and Sasuke dove right in behind Naruto, fists swinging while discreetly weaving through the mad brawl and to the staircase to continue up to the third floor.

It was barely any time at all before they were exiting the stairs and standing by the actual entrance to the first exams, happily having avoided Gai's genin team in the process. Sakura swore she'd gotten a glimpse of Tenten furiously berating Lee for the pile of unconscious genin on the floor behind him as he sheepishly ducked his head.

Kakashi poofed into existence before them with a wide cheerful grin. "You know, the fighting usually starts in the second part of the exam."

Sasuke smirked. "Then they're not doing it right."

Naruto and Sakura snickered.

Kakashi beamed at them. "I'd wish you luck, but…" He shrugged blithely. "Bye." He raised a hand and gave them an eye smile before shunshinning away.

Naruto glanced at his teammates before grinning widely and barging right in to the exam room with a loud bang.


 

Inoichi was sitting in T&I sipping tea. With Ibiki running the first exam, they'd called the blond in to run things until Ibiki was able to return. Inoichi really didn't mind. While he knew there was the threat of an invasion going on, he figured it wouldn't really get interesting for another week or so. It meant he had a pretty relaxed day to enjoy while getting paid to do it.

Hence, he wasn't expecting the alarm seal to flare that a new resident was in their Special Seal Cell (he had given Ibiki a flat look when the man had thusly named it that). Inoichi sighed, pushing his chair back and summoning a couple nearby anbu in training (it was a rather useful way to see which potential anbu could handle T&I in the field and also taught them how to properly handle captured nin needed alive for info).

When they arrived, inside was an impressively bound, gagged, and unconscious Leaf genin. Inoichi was a little startled to see the large lump on the silver haired genin's head already shrinking and the genin starting to stir. Inoichi moved without thinking, striking the genin precisely in the back of the neck with a sebon needle. The genin went limp.

Inoichi was about to give orders to the anbu in training, when he noticed a folded slip of paper and an odd stack of blank cards tied to the outside back of the genin's belt. Inoichi cautiously opened the cell to peer better at the kanji on the paper.

He blanched, whipping around to the black clothed figures behind him. "Get the Third!" When the anbu hesitated, obviously doubting the threat of a downed genin, Inoichi growled at him. "NOW!"

The anbu flinched before disappearing in a shunshin.

Anko strolled in whistling a jaunty tune. "Hey Inoichi!" She grinned widely at him. "I saw the alarm! Do we have a new toy to play with?"

He gave her a flat look. "You are supposed to be preparing for the second exam."

"I had that prepped ages ago," she said, waving a hand airily. "And I have other grunts setting up the scroll booth and readying the waivers." She grinned wickedly. "So? What do we have?"

Inoichi glanced at the genin, grabbed the deck of cards and the note, and exiting the cell. He locked it, double checking it to ensure it was locked, before waving her to follow him to a secure room lined with privacy seals.

She followed with a frown, more subdued due to his displeased scowl. He sat down and waved the anbu in training to stand guard outside the door.

"What's this about? You look like someone took a piss on your flowers in your shop." Anko pulled up a seat next to him.

He sighed, setting the cards down before handing her the slip of paper.

She glanced at it before she did a double take. "What-the…" she hissed.

The paper had only a name written on it and a small little drawn marking. The name… was Mizuki, and the mark was the swirl that Naruto notoriously wore on his clothing.

Anko swore impressively as Hiruzen appeared in the doorway.


 

Ibiki already knew to keep an eye on Team 7. Kakashi's subtle hints early on had been laughable at first, but when the Demon Brothers had popped into one of their newly designed holding cells, Ibiki made a mental note to inquire more later.

The next morning he'd finished informing Kakashi and Hiruzen of his findings when he paused and gave both men a long look. He didn't have to say anything aloud, but he made it very clear in the silence that followed that he was keeping an eye on the new Team 7. Kakashi had the gall to eye smile at him. Or maybe it was a wink. Sometimes, Ibiki wasn't sure with his fellow jounin. Kakashi would wink, even if he was the only one who knew it, just to get some twisted entertainment out of it.

Ibiki had suffered a very irritable four hour session on Kakashi's asinine reasons he was hours late to everything (this was on top of the two and a half hours late the man had taken to show up to give said explanation). Ibiki held a grudge against Hiruzen for dooming him to that torture (which he totally took like a man), and was downright giddy with the idea of sticking it to Kakashi at the opportune moment. He also knew never to question Hiruzen about Kakashi's peculiar habits ever again. All he needed to know was that Kakashi was a damn fine shinobi and that the silver haired jounin's records were humblingly impressive.

'Bastard,' thought Ibiki, eyes roving to the back where a head of familiar pink hair sat. He almost sighed, having hoped that Kakashi would never have the chance to corrupt the next generation with his off brand habits. Ibiki had been silently relieved that the silver haired jounin had failed so many potential genin teams in the past. Clearly, it had saved the village YEARS of mental and physical turmoil.

And then Team 7 was born. Kakashi's insanity had clearly born fruit, as the brats had done the unthinkable. They'd sent Zabuza, Demon of the Mist to T&I. Ibiki and Inoichi had been gobsmacked. The brats looked like incompetent, selfish, whiny little ingrates! But clearly, they weren't.

It could be argued that Kakashi did all the work, but Ibiki was an expert at reading people. Damned bastard was too smug for it to be his own work. Kakashi was completely cool and lazy about his own accomplishments, but it would be a fool that missed the pride the man had for his genins'.

Ibiki was about to look away from the pink haired banshee when he found his neck muscles bulging as he had to force himself not to whip his head back around in her direction. Slowly, so as not to reveal his growing ire, Ibiki's eyes once more landed on the lone female of Team 7.

She was folding his kami-damned test into a paper crane!

She was making honest-to-kami chirping noises as she made it 'fly'!

Ibiki felt his pulse leap in anger, barely keeping from cutting into the little demoness with biting fervor. Instead, he inhaled slowly, forcing his gaze away from the brat and over to…

Smoke?

Ibiki blinked.

Sasuke was scowling at his test... His half burnt to a crisp test. He was pinching the bottom corner and holding the bottom half aloft, the rest a pile of ash on the table. From what Ibiki could make out, it looked like the little shit had been attempting some warped elemental chakra control exercise to write his damned answers! There were marks burnt into the tabletop!

Ibiki barely felt his eye twitch. His muscles were straining so much that he looked twice as intimidating as he did when the test started. He was also subtly leaking KI, adding to the foreboding atmosphere. Genin in the front row were about to piss themselves as they cowered from his fierce visage.

All...but a mop of blond unruly locks.

Ibiki found his gaze automatically turning to the last genin member of Team 7 with dread.

Naruto was humming...humming! It was some cheerful upbeat ditty of a normally slow and depressing song. And he was...drawing on the test, doodling all over the-

Wait.

That wasn't doodling. Those were...were seals.

Ibiki's anger left in one fell swoop as sudden unadulterated fear coursed through him.

Before Ibiki could do any more than part his lips, Naruto winked at the Hyuga girl sitting next to him, and activated the seals.

The harmless looking test disappeared in a blinding flash of light and an intimidating wash of chakra. The room lit up with pained alarmed screams.

As everyone was blinking the spots out of their eyes, Naruto calmly stood, grabbed some dude's paper that looked full, and sat back down, before continuing to hum happily. No one actually witnessed him do it either.

Other than Ibiki (and that little Hyuga) knew it was the little bastard to begin with. Ibiki knew the blond had a test, it had gone up in a ball of light, and now a completely filled out test replaced it.

Ibiki honestly didn't know if he wanted to throttle Team 7 or promote them on the spot.

He promptly decided it would be prudent to let the other villages' genin suffer Team 7's special brand of insanity. If anyone had the hair brained idea to invade Leaf, Team 7 would give them second thoughts.

Hell, they gave Ibiki second thoughts.

The bald jounin barely refrained from groaning and rubbing his temple to ease his growing migraine. Don't get him wrong, their work was fun to observe...right up until you had to deal with the clean up.

As if to further goad the poor jounin, Naruto started ripping up the edges of his test to use as ammo as he started firing spit wads at random genin. Impressively, not any of the genin but the two Hyuga in the group saw him doing it.

Ibiki decided then and there that he would retire before these three monsters made it to jounin. Period. He refused to deal with them when they reached that level. He would rather sit back and laugh as his replacement had to deal with their chaotic messes.

A couple of Chunin in the room seemed to be harboring similar thoughts...if the dawning horror crossing their faces was any indication.

Ibiki was ninety nine percent sure it was.

Chapter Text


Ibiki's Bane


Ibiki was less than impressed. His scowl was rather fierce and several of the genin in the room were shooting him nervous looks.

They had passed. Ibiki wasn't really surprised, not with the trio of horrors in their midst. The damned blond idiot had somehow dumped liquid courage down their spines right when Ibiki had them about to scatter like cockroaches. And the little bastard was proud of himself for it!

It was clear Naruto had mostly done it for the shy Hyuga next to him that looked ready to raise her hand. The rest of his reasons had to be some convoluted BS that Kakashi had some heavy influence in.

Ibiki was good at his job. He took the unexpected smack to his pride rather well. No one was the wiser that he wanted to punt the little punk and his team out the window.

Right up until Anko was late.

Really, he'd expected her to be early and cause a scene upon entering.

Instead, there was nothing but awkward silence and the random sound of someone clearing their throat and subtle shifting of cloth. The genin were staring up at him uncertainly, and he had no actual reasons why they were all still sitting there.

He wasn't about to offer fake explanations or foolish platitudes. They were ninja, damnit! They could handle a few minutes of waiting.

Other than it had been more than a few minutes. It was more like an hour.

It was Kakashi's fault. Some how, some way, it was Kakashi and his little monsters! Ibiki was sure of it. He flashed the three a discreet dirty look on principal. Two looked up at him innocently while the third looked like he was mentally trying to perform lobotomy with a dull kunai on Ibiki's already heavily scarred head.

Sad thing was, the genin were all still wound up from his test, even after an hour of waiting. With Team 7 still present, the Third would kill him if he left them all unsupervised. There was no telling what kind of chaos would result from his absence. The chunin were also still present, and Ibiki refused to let them leave either. If he had to suffer, they did too.

Besides, he, in no way shape or form, would ever admit he had no idea what was going on. It was his DAMN JOB to know what was going on. And...he didn't.

This had to be the worst day of his career.

Kotetsu poofed into the room. "The second part of the exam with take place tomorrow." He set a stack of papers on the desk in front of him. "Take one as you leave. They have the location and times you are expected to be present for the second exam. After you have a sheet, you are free for the day. Please be aware that any violent behavior towards other ninja or civilians during this period will be an automatic failure and you and your team will be sent home."

Kotetsu stood next to Ibiki as a member of each genin team shuffled forward to grab a paper. Naruto leapt right over his desk and was the first to grab one before rocketing out of the room while calling for his teammates in a loud boisterous voice. Team 7 was the first out of the room.

None of the higher ranked ninja reacted, but a few genin grumbled or rolled their eyes at the blond's wild behavior.

It felt like ages before the last of the genin left the room. The chunin started filing out as well. Ibiki merely gave Kotetsu a look, pinning the poor man to the floor until they were finally left alone in the room.

"Anko?"

Kotetsu shifted uneasily. "Something came up. I wasn't told the details. She's been held up at T&I." Kotetsu shrugged. "I was told to get these forms ready," he gestured to what was left of the stack of papers he'd brought, "and inform everyone the next part of the exams would start tomorrow."

Ibiki scowled. This was a very unexpected delay. That meant something big had occurred.

Ibiki bit back a groan. One day, he's gone one day and everything hits the fan! This was why he never requested time off! All the important stuff happened when he wasn't around to deal with it!

Ibiki gave the chunin a sharp nod before striding solemnly from the room.

After all, Ibiki didn't hurry for trifle reasons. Invasion or not, Ibiki had an image to uphold.


 

Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke were hidden in the little bunker they'd created a little back from and beneath the Memorial Stone. It was fifteen feet under ground, with a hidden air pipe that the open end remained tucked behind the Stone unseen. There was no actual door. Instead, they had created four walls and a ceiling from stone, and left the floor as clay. It worked perfectly as a substitute door for their Head Hunter jutsu. As the clay was easier to move through than stone, it worked wonderfully so that even Sakura didn't have a hard time accessing the small eight by eight room. All three of them rather loved that jutsu. It was ridiculously handy.

They were deep enough underground that any noise they made wouldn't really be heard, even if they were yelling. The pipe also had a very complicated paper seal wrapped securely around the end inside of the bunker, thanks to bugging Kakashi. It was to prevent any sound from exiting the pipe but allowed sound from outside to get in. They'd left it that way as a precaution in case someone was wandering around outside they would quiet down to ensure that no one overheard them or feel any off vibrations if they were an Earth elementalist.

They'd decided this was their best solution to their concerns about being caught without their Masks. Kakashi's warning about the invasion and what it could entail was not something that they took lightly. Without Kakashi always present to check their training field was secure, they came up with an alternate option that still kept Kakashi's rules in place.

"Ibiki didn't look happy that we didn't immediately start the next exam," remarked Sakura, the small lantern creating heavy shadows on her visage. "Usually the second exam begins directly after the first."

Sasuke nodded. "It's probably because we sent Kabuto to T&I. Wasn't it Anko that was in charge of the second exam?"

Naruto chuckled. "Yes. She was bragging about it at the Broken Kunai."

Sakura gave him a blank look. "The what?"

"Ninja only bar and lounge," muttered Sasuke. "My...my mother got mad at my father once for going there and coming home drunk."

His teammates gave him warm looks to ease his discomfort about mentioning his family.

"Anko must have been at T&I when Kabuto arrived." Naruto huffed. "Not sure if that's good luck or bad. If Kakashi's right and Orochimaru is involved, she's going to lose it."

"Why?" asked Sasuke, voicing what he and Sakura both were thinking.

Naruto grunted. "There are nearly as many nasty whispers about her as there are about me." He grimaced. "She used to be his apprentice before he apparently turned on her and became a traitor. Some even say she's cursed and that he left her here as a sleeper agent." Naruto shrugged. "I doubt she's a sleeper. Old Man wouldn't trust her in T&I if there was cause for concern." He sighed. "However, if she holds as much anger towards him as it sounds like she does, she'll probably jump right into the thick of things without thinking it through."

Sasuke sighed. "Naruto, have I ever told you how terrifying your CN is?"

"My what?" Naruto blinked at him.

"Your Clone Network," Sakura supplied. "You probably have enough dirt to completely ruin the village if you wanted to."

Naruto scoffed. "Why would I do that?"

Sakura gave him a soft smile. "We're just saying, 'Ruto. Your info is that good."

He blushed and ducked his head under the praise. "Thanks," he mumbled.

"Moving on, what's our plan?" Sasuke shifted to rest his back against the cool stone. "You said the second exams are more survival and mission oriented." He looked at Sakura.

The pinkette nodded. "From what Naruto's clones could tell when they were scouting around, there was a booth being set up. There was also an interesting amount of scrolls off to the side at the missions office yesterday. They had Earth and Heaven labels."

Naruto snorted. "Wanna bet that we need to get one of each for the next test?"

"No bet!" crowed Sakura. She and Sasuke both learned not to bet against Naruto. The plucky blond had an obscenely large amount of luck when it came to bets and gambling.

Sasuke shuddered. "And it has something to do with the Forest of Death."

Naruto and Sakura tilted their heads at him. "Forest of Death?" they echoed.

"Officially it's called Training Ground Forty Four. It's nickname is Forest of Death because it's so dangerous that usually only the elite ninja enter it for training." Sasuke scowled. "I-Itachi brought it up to father a few times. Itachi was curious about its potential, and father spoke about the dangerous creatures and plants lurking in it. It's supposed to be very effective for training in hazardous environments. I heard there were even sections of it that were barred from anyone not a jounin."

Naruto whistled lowly. "That sounds like a pain."

Sasuke shrugged, not inclined to speak any more after voicing anything to do with Itachi.

Sakura suddenly snapped her fingers. "That's it!" She beamed at them. "There's an old tower located in there! I read up on the different training grounds when we were in the academy. Forty four is supposed to have an old guard tower or something in the middle of it. I bet we're supposed to get to the tower."

"Right, so, plans?" Naruto's blue eyes darted between them.

Sasuke shrugged again, still not ready to speak anything aloud.

Sakura bit her lip in thought. "Honestly, there are too many variables. We could narrow some down, but it would take all night, and we can't afford to miss sleep. If it's actually in the Forest of Death, we will be lacking in undisturbed sleep for quite some time."

Sasuke grunted in agreement.

Naruto grimaced. "Plus, it opens opportunities for people like Snake Face."

Sakura groaned. "I'd forgotten about that. It would be the perfect time for him to slip in." She rubbed her forehead in irritation. "And even if Kabuto had any useful information, he probably wouldn't share it in time for it to make a difference tomorrow."

Naruto nodded sagely. Sasuke glared at him for it. Naruto stuck out his tongue.

"Boys," Sakura said lowly, a hint of warning in her voice. She smiled charmingly when both boys perked up like obedient children. "Honestly, Snake Face poses the biggest threat." Her expression became solemn. "If he's indeed after Sasuke, the Forest gives him plenty of free opportunities for an attack or kidnapping. Considering they can't monitor the entire place, we'd be like sitting ducks."

"They won't bend the rules for us either," remarked Naruto. "It could be considered a form of cheating and could cause a huge amount of problems for the Old Man if someone found out about it. We'll be on our own."

Sakura groaned. "This is not fair."

"When are they?" remarked Naruto, a faint trace of bitterness and melancholy lacing his words.

Sakura sighed and leaned into the shorter boy as a silent show of comfort. Sasuke looked away but shifted forward enough that one knee was touching Naruto's and the other Sakura's.

They sat like that for a few minutes, allowing camaraderie and comfort to soothe some of their clamoring fears. If nothing else, Team 7 had each other.

"Needle in a Haystack?" remarked Sasuke, voice subdued.

Sakura and Naruto exchanged looks.

"It's our best bet," remarked Sakura.

Chapter Text


Janken Pon!


Sasuke scowled at Naruto, who was looking equally fierce. Sakura was standing off to the side looking put out. Anko was standing between the two boys, a hand over their fists pushed up together.

Anko smirked, completely ignoring the crowd of genin trickling into the clearing and staring at the group with bemusement. "Jan-ken pon!" cried Anko, jerking her hand up into the air.

"Tch!" Sasuke's frown deepened as Naruto whooped loudly and danced around in wild circles.

"Oh yeah! I'm awesome!" Naruto crowed.

Sakura groaned. "Why? Why did I get stuck on a team with an idiot?"

Anko laughed loudly. "Aww, come on pinky! At least it doesn't get boring!" She slung an arm around the young teen's shoulders.

Sakura glanced at Naruto doing a weird butt wiggle shimmy thing and gave Anko a bland look.

Anko simply snickered. "Still not boring."

"Yosh! I want to partake in this youthful challenge!" boomed a loud voice. Lee popped up out of nowhere with a swoosh, posing 'stylishly' with a fist in the air and a wide gleaming grin. And then his eyes landed on Sakura and he gasped, snapping to a bow in front of her. "Beautiful maiden! I will protect you until I die! Will you go on a date with me?!"

Sakura facepalmed. 'It's your fault. I blame you,' was written all over her face as she shot Anko and Naruto dark looks.

"Psh! Bushy brows doesn't stand a chance!" Naruto waved a hand flippantly, drawing Lee's attention away from Sakura. Naruto sent Sakura a discrete look as he flashed a grin at Lee, and she gave him a coded hidden gesture of thanks.

"I protest! I shall win this challenge! If I can't win I'll-!"

"Carry me through the forest on your back!" commanded Naruto, pointing a finger dramatically.

The gathering of genin sweatdropped while Sasuke and Sakura shot the blond incredulous looks.

Lee hesitated, not used to someone actually giving him a challenge other than Gai-sensei. "Y-yosh! I shall endeavor to carry you through the forest on my back!"

Tenten spluttered. "What?! You can't promise something like that! This isn't a co-op mission!" She smacked him on the back of the head.

"Says who?" demanded the blond, crossing his arms defiantly. He shot Anko a look. "You said we just had to get two o' them scrolls, right?" He shrugged. "It ain't against the rules."

Anko blinked, tilted her head to the side...and laughed. "Well, the brat has a point! I didn't actually mention anything about that!" She sighed, looking put out. "However, if I let that go, the Hokage will have my head because you brats will start an all out war in there. So!" She clapped loudly. "Listen up! New rule! Ya' know, besides trying not to die!" She chuckled sinisterly. "No teaming up! This exam isn't about genin teams from the same village ganging up on other teams!"

Shikamaru shot the blond a faint dirty look. He hadn't exactly planned on teaming up with anyone, but being denied the useful opportunity didn't make him happy.

Naruto tsked. "Nah' it ain't like he's helping me get a scroll." He scowled at Anko. "He'd just be my ride. It should be fine, right?"

Anko sighed. "As much as I want to allow that to pass, I can't. Think of something else."

"Ugh, fine." Naruto squinted at the green clad genin. After a moment of staring, a slow devious smirk crawled across his face… "Got it!" He snapped his fingers. "If you fail, you have to go to Ino-chan for a complete makeover! And you have to keep it up for a full month!"

Lee blinked owlishly. "Makeover?"

Ino looked torn between being horrified and manically happy.

Naruto nodded sharply. "After the second exam, you have to talk to her about a complete makeover."

"Yosh! If I fail this challenge I shall do so!"

"What will you do?" remarked Ino, trying to get back at her fellow blond for throwing her to the wolves like that. "Does the same rule apply to you?" She gave him a daring look.

Naruto grimaced, clutching his orange jacket like it was a lifeline. "Y-yeah...s-sure, hehe." He gave her a weak grin.

She gave him a triumphant smirk. "Perfect!" She clapped her hands and strode over to the two boys. "Since I have to be part of this, that means I will referee." She held up her hand, palm down. "Ready?"

Both boys stepped forward looking ready for battle. "Ready!"

Their fists met under Ino's palm.

Ino's lips pursed into a thin line. "Jan-ken pon!" she shouted, throwing up her hand.

"Yosh!" Lee's whipped to Ino, tears streaming down his face. "It seems I am to be your student!" It was clear he was both determined to see his challenge through and was struggling with the idea that he could not mimic his idol for a month.

Naruto smugly grinned, hands behind his head.

Ino still looked like she wasn't sure whether she wanted to strangle Naruto or thank him for the fashion disaster before her. It had its pros and cons, and she still wasn't decided which one was tilted in her favor. Her eyebrow was twitching dangerously under Lee's continuous onslaught of heaping praises. She wasn't able to process how to handle his overbearing focus, as even Naruto's enthusiasm didn't reach such ridiculous heights.

"When are we starting the exam?" grumbled a Sound genin. Kin was scowling next to her teammates, arms crossed and unimpressed with the Leaf shinobis' antics.

Anko's hand whipped out and struck true. In her hand was a piece of paper that she'd used to nick the genin's cheek and draw blood. "Now, now, lil' cannon fodder, don't be in such a rush to die." Her grin was sadistic as she licked the blood from the frozen genin's cheek. "After all, you still haven't signed my little waiver. I can't have anyone blaming me for your deaths after all." She waved the paper tauntingly.

Kin shivered, she stared blankly at the piece of paper that cut her that Anko thrust into her hand.

"Everybody get your waivers! I want them signed before anyone can even think about entering the Forest!" Anko gestured to a chunin with a stack of said papers in hand. "And hurry it up! You're taking too long!"

There were some dirty looks shot at her, but no one dare say a word after what happened to Kin.


 

Iruka breathed in a deep sigh of relief. He'd been gone for several weeks on an important B-rank mission, and he was finally home. He had a nice easy mission now, one right at home. All he had to do was be ready for a summons for the second exam.

Better yet, no one had pranked him since his return either.

He was headed towards the lounge the Leaf jounin sensei were relaxing. Most of them had come to spend the first day there bragging about their students, even if most of them expected their genin to take a day or more to pass the second round. Iruka had missed the first exam, and was anxious to see who had been entered and who had passed the first round.

He glanced at a clock. If he was right, it had already been about an hour or so since the task had begun. The scarred chunin was pretty sure that meant most of the jounin were still loitering around BSing. There would probably be some betting pools started as well.

He knocked and poked his head into the room. "Hey, um, can anyone update me on who's still in the exams?"

Iruka was a little startled to find most of the jounin shifted as one to stare at one corner of the room. Three fresh genin jounin and a few veteran teams were huddled there. It seemed to be the 'special spot' for bragging rights. Iruka was baffled to find his rookie twelve, all of whom he taught within the last year, had been entered.

The poor academy teacher spluttered, hands gesticulating wildly. It was a ten second spectacle before he inhaled sharply and his special 'Big Head jutsu' roared inside the crowded room. "WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?! They JUST graduated!"

"Bet you a whole stack of explosive notes that my Team gets to the Tower before yours," Kakashi said stoically. "I mean, I did hear some interesting rumors about a bet one of your students lost to Naruto." He eyed Gai meaningfully.

Gai cried 'manly' tears. "Your student is quite youthful! I had not prepared Lee for such a crushing defeat! I shall have to promise him he is not dishonoring the Green by following through on his challenge!"

Asuma's cigarette almost fell out of his mouth. Kurenai's eye twitched.

Kakashi hummed. "Dishonoring the Green?"

Gai nodded solemnly. "It is a proud and honored tradition! The Green has been strong, true, and loyal! I will prepare the shrine! I will ensure that Lee is safe from retribution by honoring the Green before he begins his trial!"

Most of the room leaned away a bit, not entirely sure if Gai was being serious.

Kakashi barely suppressed a snicker.

"HEY!" shouted Iruka, having stomped across the room after being so obviously ignored. "I was talking to you! Why did you enter fresh graduates?!" He was, honestly, reasonably concerned. He had taught all twelve of those genin, and they were his (secretly favorite) students. He couldn't quite believe any of them had grown into competent genin in such a short timeframe. They were, for all intents and purposes, prepubescent kids. He knew it took time for them to break old habits, and this batch had plenty to break.

"Hmm?" Kakashi peeked over his shoulder at the irate teacher. "You say something?"

"Curse you and your hip and cool attitude!" boomed Gai, fist clenched, despite the fact it wasn't being directed at him.

Iruka's jaw dropped. Kurenai and Asuma watched in amusement as the poor chunin's face started to glow a deep angry red.

"I-!" began Iruka.

*POOF!*

A-nd... suddenly the chunin was gone, leaving the jounin staring at the pending storm in the corner that was now sunny and warm.

Gai turned to Kakashi with a horrified gaze. "WHAT DID YOU DO?!" He pointed an accusing finger that almost took Asuma's eye out. "What despicable corners of the earth did you send that poor soul?!"

Kakashi swirled his sake, staring into the small saucer with his other arm slung casually over the back of the couch he was sitting on. He relaxed further into the seat with a hum, left leg comfortably crossed over his right knee. He paused.

Out came the patented Eye Smile, beaming out with vicious intensity that made Kurenai and Asuma blink a few times to ensure their vision was clear. Gai jerked back clutching at his chest, as if Kakashi had somehow magically thrown a kunai with just a look.

There was a beat of absolute silence, Kakashi's invisible but beaming smile lighting up the whole room with it's brilliance.

Right up until Anko started cackling. "Kami-sama! You guys are suckers! Someone reached the tower!" She started cackling again.

Only to choke on her spit after realizing what she'd just said. She coughed roughly before recovering, head snapping up with disbelief as every eye on the room trained on her.

"You can't be serious," remarked Asuma. His cigarette was laying forgotten on the floor, having finally succumbed to gravity after toying with the idea of freedom the past ten minutes. "The tower is a full hour from the gates! They would have to run full bore as soon as the gates were opened!" He pointed to a clock on the wall for emphasis. "It's barely been an hour and a half! They wouldn't have had time to get a second scroll, let alone navigate unknown dangerous territory!"

Anko just stared at him a breath before she huffed irritably, leaning back and crossing her arms with something that could (but wouldn't, for fear of one's safety) be called a pout. "Don't ask me. 'Brats should have taken a full day to accomplish the task!" She started wondering if she'd made the test too easy. She grimaced. It was made worse by the fact she'd given Ibiki a bunch of crap about how lax his test was if she had to deal with that many genin.

Ibiki's payback was gonna be hell.


 

"-can't believe that-!" Iruka continued mid rant.

"Iruka-sensei!" cheered a very familiar voice.

Iruka froze, the brewing Clouds of Doom behind him fading instantly. A blond missile launched itself into his gut, nearly sending him sprawling. "N-Naruto?"

A very comforting whiskered smile greeted him, blue eyes squeezed shut as Naruto chuckled. "We totally rock!" boasted the blond.

Iruka's gaze darted up to find the blond's two teammates. Sakura looked exasperated while Sasuke gazed moodily at the door they'd entered moments ago.

Iruka felt faint. "You...passed?"

Naruto backed away, hands automatically going behind his head as he cheerfully grinned at his bemused sensei. "We're awesome like that!"

"H-how?" stammered Iruka, still floored that his worst arranged genin team had already reached the Tower. It had to be a new damned record!

Naruto's face morphed into cautious suspicion. "We pass? No take backs?"

Iruka could only nod dazedly. "You pass. No take backs." His gaze focused on familiar blue eyes. "How?"

Naruto's easy going smirk returned. "Well, duh! We got the sneakiest pair of eyes on our team!" He sent Sasuke a glare on reflex. "Bastard stole the other scroll while Sakura was dealing with the guy handing out ours." He snickered. "The guy had no idea!"

Sasuke grunted, but there was a faint twitch of his lips in pride at his handiwork.

Iruka stared. "How did you…" He waved distractedly at the Tower. "So fast?"

Naruto sent Sakura a winning smile. "Sakura-chan is awesome! She totally read this scroll or something back in the academy and remembered where it was! She even knew the fastest way to get here!" Naruto did not mention that the fastest way had been a tunnel they'd used the Head Hunter jutsu to reach. After all, only chunin and up were supposed to know that the tunnel even existed. It was once used as an evacuation precaution, but now only was used (very rarely) as a medic evacuation when a jounin went a little overboard training in the Forest of Death.

Naruto also (intentionally) failed to mention that the forest was still littered with hundreds of his kage-bunshin. A good number of them looked exactly like his team, while others were henged and wandering around. The henged clones were either causing mischief with other teams or mapping out the Forest out of pure curiosity. Iruka didn't noticed the subtle shiver of disgust run through Naruto when a squad of said henged clones got murdered by huge acidic slugs during their conversation. That had been unpleasant. Harder still to keep the horror off his face.

Iruka shifted, trying to come to terms with the fact the team he had (unhappily) expected to fail the hardest and the most until they grew up, was, miraculously, doing the best? Yes, he had faith in them. But...they were so much like oil being introduced to fire...he honestly had no idea how they hadn't combusted yet. He waved down the hall. "Um, let's uh, go get you set up with a room. This exam is supposed to take several days, so rooms have been prepared." (He had no idea the rooms were only prepared on time due to the fubar that happened with Kabuto's unexpected capture).

Naruto followed, eagerly making excited noises or comments at the right time as Iruka lead them further into the Tower.

Sasuke and Sakura exchanged worried looks. They'd been crazy lucky with that tunnel. Snake Face probably knew about it too. Luckily, if he was around, he would be too focused above ground to think any genin knew about the tunnel below. All three genin knew that they were playing a dangerous game, and they really hoped that Naruto's clones kept the creep busy so he didn't realize that they were already at the Tower and still stupid easy pickings. None of them wanted to deal with that debacle.

They already planned to become scarce once Iruka was gone. If none of the other genin realized they were the team that made it first, the safer they would be. That meant the room that Iruka just took them to was going to be home to three henged clones once they were alone.

Iruka smiled, having (somewhat) recovered from the unexpected shock to his system. "Right, here you go. You three are rooming here until the second exam ends. You're free to wander the Tower, but be warned, mischief and fighting are not permitted." He gave them all the obligatory 'look'. "Try to stay out of trouble." His stern expression dropped and he smiled gently at them. "Congratulations. I'm proud of you." He turned to exit the room, waving farewell. "I'll be sure to root for you in the third exams."

The door clicked shut behind the chunin, his footsteps fading away down the hall.

Team 7 stared blankly at the door several tense minutes. Finally certain the man was gone, they exhaled sharply, wobbly knees finally giving out as the three collapsed into a messy pile in the middle of the room. The henge they had been wearing collapsed, showing three dirt covered and disheveled preteens.

Sakura groaned softly, even knowing they were alone they wouldn't risk being overheard. "My arms are killing me. I didn't realize the tunnel was so far underground." She winced as her arms shifted and the muscles spasmed.

Sasuke grunted. "Or that it would be that far to the Tower." He hissed when Naruto pressed his weight into his thigh, the muscles screaming in agony.

"Sorry," murmured the blond, having been trying to shift so he wasn't sprawled across his teammates' laps. He grimaced. "We can't stay here too long. It's not safe."

Sasuke and Sakura both nodded but didn't move.

"Twenty minutes," mumbled the pinkette. She shifted so she and Sasuke were back to back, using each other as support.

Naruto grunted and moved so his head was resting on their shoulders. "Twenty," he agreed. He barely had the energy to lift his arms and summon another kage-bunshin. "Stand watch. Wake us in twenty."

And then all three promptly passed out.

The clone glared at them enviously, looking just as haggard as Naruto. "Bastards." It moodily shifted so it could watch the door, a kunai in hand.


 

Iruka swallowed thickly, head bowed and hands minutely trembling. He walked through the halls like a man headed to the gallows. His eyes were wide and unfocused, staring blankly at the floor as his feet lead him down the hall.

He reached his destination, the door looming before him. He slowly looked up at it, pale and shaking, as if a demon lay in wait on the other side to devour him.

His hand twitched, clenched, and then slowly rose to reach for the knob. He inhaled sharply, pausing. He grimaced, squeezing his eyes tightly closed. He grit his teeth and threw the door open with a bang. He stomped forward with all the resolution he could muster, head high, chest puffed out.

Iruka thrust a bottle of sake into Kakashi's hands. Iruka stayed in a semi bow, his pride screaming at him for his actions.

The rest of the room had become dead silent the moment the door had been thrown open. Everyone was watching with bated breath.

"I apologize for my earlier behavior," began Iruka, his voice tight with tension. "I was in error." Iruka snapped upright so sharply he almost nicked Kakashi's nose with his ponytail. Iruka didn't meet the taller jounin's gaze, simply turning about sharply and stomping back out of the room.

Dead silence followed in his wake.

Gai looked honestly mortified at this point (he had been admittedly taking the mickey out on everyone earlier about sending the poor chunin to some sort of hellish place). Now, Gai was eyeing is rival with budding distrust. Had his longtime rival gone too far? Had he broken the poor chunin? Had Anko been incorrect in her assessment? It made a shiver run down the green clad jounin's spine.

Kakashi stared at the door, bottle held lightly in his grasp.

Asuma blinked, dark gaze turning to his friend. "What the hell did you do?"

Kakashi had absolutely no idea.

The silver haired man cleared his throat and raised the bottle. "A toast?" He eye smiled. "For our genin still in the exams?"

Which only opened a floodgate for Gai's 'honorable ways of treating fellow shinobi' speech.

Kakashi moved around the impassioned Green Beast, calmly opening the sake bottle and generously pouring sake into the saucers of the jounin with genin still in the exams. Asuma decided he really didn't want to know, and Kurenai was still too flustered with her last encounter with Team 7 to question its jounin instructor (even if she really wanted to pick his brains. The man was a genius! But his behavior was so ridiculous, she had no idea what to take seriously and what to dismiss. It was a frustrating quandary that Asuma had already told her to leave alone...repeatedly).

"Cheers," Kakashi said with an off upbeat tone, his own filled saucer raised.

Yup, mentally concluded both Kurenai and Asuma as they also silently raised their saucers, not worth the effort.

Chapter Text


Boo!


Five days doesn't seem like a long time. In the grand scheme of things, it's almost laughably short.

However, when you have a megalomaniac out for your head but you have no idea when they're going to strike...five days feels like torture.

Really, the genin of Team 7 should be applauded for making it a full twenty four hours before they lost their cool and needed an outlet for their stress. They were only genin, and high stakes like an S-rank shinobi being out for your head usually didn't occur until you at least made chunin or an impressive name for yourself. Team 7 hadn't done either of those.

So, Team 7 was on high alert, stressed, and confined to a rather small space (one building really wasn't enough for their kind of energy). They were limited on where they could go and they weren't stupid enough to practice or train while other genin could potentially see what they were doing. They were also quite used to being pressed to the max both physically and mentally on a daily basis.

The sitting and waiting was going to end up getting ugly rather soon, and rather than end up accidentally blowing up the whole place, they came up with an alternative. As Kakashi would say, "Adapt!"

Besides, local ninja or foreign ninja, Team 7 had the perfect solution to do what they do best.

Temari, if she knew who the culprits were, would surely disagree. She shook out her uniform and slipped it on, distracted by the fact she and Kankuro had to be in close quarters with Gaara for four more days. Already Kankuro had almost gotten them turned into paste twice by yammering on foolishly about stupid things. Temari had barely been able to talk Gaara down, using the exam itself as her ace in the hole. Only her insistence about stronger foes in the near future if he was patient had kept him from smearing red on the walls.

Temari stepped out from behind the blind she'd set up to change behind, neatly folding it back down to size.

"Wh-what the-!" Kankuro pointed wildly at her. "What did you do to your uniform?!"

Temari paused, hands aloft to fix her hair into its signature look. "Huh?" She glanced down. "EEEEHHHH?!" Her arms immediately dropped to cover herself. The entire top front half of her outfit had been cut out, leaving only her mesh armor underneath. "Wh-what did you do?! You pig!" Her whole face was bright red as she glared murderously at Kankuro.

"Hey! I didn't do it!" He waved his hands emphatically in front of him.

"Who else would have done it?!" she hissed. She stalked towards him, one hand pulling out a kunai. "Gaara wouldn't dare let anyone else enter our room!"

"I didn't do it!" insisted Kankuro, grabbing Karasu and thrusting the puppet between them as Temari's hand slashed out.

*pff-riiiiiip!*

Temari blinked.

Kankuro howled in fury. "Where the hell is Karasu?!" In his hands was a dumpy stuffed doll with a henohenomoheji painted on the head under an old yellowed mop. Temari had gutted the large doll and stuffing was pooling all over the floor.

Temari eyed the ugly thing before stepping away as her brother ranted about the kinds of torture the culprit would be in for. She glanced down at her outfit with a scowl. If it wasn't Kankuro, who the hell was it? How on earth did they get past Gaara?!

Kankuro's loud voice could be heard echoing down the hall as another leaf chunin led a newly arrived team, the team that Kabuto's team would have decimated, to their room. Instead, the Ame genin followed obediently to a door that the chunin moved to open, wisely choosing not to investigate what all the ruckus down the hall was about.

"This is where you'll be staying for-" spoke the chunin, knob twisting and the door swinging open with a soft creak.

*SPLAT!*

The chunin and three genin stood in stunned silence.

"Is this a joke?" asked one of the male Ame genin, anger leaking into his voice.

All four were sopping wet, an arsenal of popped balloons littering the floor around them.

When the genin turned to the chunin, they were startled to find the man's face pale.

"Not here," murmured the chunin, eyes wild. "Anywhere but here." He whimpered. "I swear, I thought this was a safe job! It's the kami-damned chunin exams! How? How?!"

Aaaand then he shunshined out of there like the place had gone up in flames, leaving three confused and unhappy soaked genin behind.

"Konoha is wack," remarked the leader of the trio, shaking his head and moving towards their temporary residence.

*THAP!*

His teammates edged away under his KI, his body completely covered with flour.

"Where is Karasu?!" demanded Kankuro, grabbing the nearest Ame genin and shaking her furiously. They hadn't heard his thundering approach due to their shock.

"Let her go!" The other male of the group threw a shuriken at the enraged Suna nin, making him drop the Ame teen.

Their leader stepped out into the hall, his KI filling the space in a five foot radius. "Is this your fault?"

Kankuro gaped. "'The fu-ck happened to you?!"

"...Where are the baths?"

Kankuro pointed. "That way." He couldn't help the amused smirk that crossed his lips as he watched the trio moodily walk down the hall. He snickered when they were out of sight.

He blanched. "Wait! Karasu!" Kankuro barreled down the hall, screaming at the top of his lungs. "Kaa-rraaa-suuuu!"

A small mouse scurried away in a staggering fashion. It barely made it into a tiny hole before disappearing in a puff of smoke.

Gaara was a little disturbed that the walls unexpectedly started laughing. He was used to the voice in his head. That was normal. But when the walls themselves started snickering, he decided that maybe he should go sit with his siblings. Weird things like that didn't happen when they were around.

The redhead abruptly pivoted on his foot and walked right back the way he'd come rather than continue to explore in solitude, completely ignoring the nervous sweat breaking out across his brow.

When Kankuro shot past him, blathering on about that stupid puppet and some interesting forms of torture, Gaara hesitated. Kankuro disappeared around the corner he'd just come from.

Kankuro yelped, followed by a loud thud. A short bit later, Kankuro was squealing like a stuck pig.

The walls laughed again, only closer this time, like people were standing on either side of him.

Gaara froze, eyes glancing up and down the hall. Kankuro had turned the corner, and that left the redhead the sole occupant of that stretch of hallway.

Cold sweat trickled down Gaara's spine.

Gaara shunshined without thought, instantly transporting himself to his and his siblings room. He suppressed a shudder and quickly opened the door.

Temari pinned him with a glower. The usually meek blond looked like she was rooting around in his brain for answers, untold threats glittering in her dark eyes. She was crouched on her bed in one of Kankuro's black undershirts, a needle and thread in hand.

Usually Gaara would put her in her place. Such looks were laughable after dealing with the things their father had thrown at him.

But the laughter had left him a little on edge.

So, instead of him immediately threatening her, they just stared at each other for several tense moments before Temari 'tsked' and focused back on the garment in her hands.

Gaara paused once more. He had never been frightened or intimidated by his siblings, but someone had clearly pissed Temari off to a point she'd forgotten her fear of him enough to actually wordlessly threaten him. Him.

That meant she might be foolish enough to actually follow through with it too.

Gaara usually didn't care one way or another, but if he were being honest, of his two siblings, Temari had always been the most tolerable. If he killed her, he'd have to deal with Kankuro by himself, and Kankuro would probably be dead before the sun set (if that long). If he killed them, he'd have to deal with both Baki and his father.

Ugh.

He was just about to leave once more, only to hear a burst of giggling echo at the end of the hall.

Gaara was inside the room and the door slammed resoundingly shut behind him in less than a heartbeat. Temari was staring at him wide eyed from her bed as he glared cautiously at the door like it was going to bite him.

They remained that way another few minutes before Gaara finally turned from the wooden thing to face her. His gaze was completely expressionless, but his sand was still shifting around restlessly, revealing his unease.

"Talk," he demanded, arms crossing over his chest.

And for the life of her, Temari couldn't find words to speak beyond confused spluttering and wild gestures.

Chapter Text


Did Someone Say 'Duck Butt?'


Fate and Destiny are powerful metaphysical constructs that man has both praised and cursed since the beginning of time. They are concepts that can profoundly alter someone's course through life. Some will devote their entire lives to these invisible powers...while others do their very best to smash through anything that remotely tries to mimic them in order to deny their hold on them.

Either way, believe, don't believe… When great change comes, it begins in the most unassuming fashion. Such profound moments that can alter the course of history can, surprisingly, happen in a single muffled heartbeat.

Sasuke, of all people, was the perpetrator for such an instant.

Many would scoff, reasonably so, that such a young foolish boy could have such power.

But…it would be wise to remember his current circumstances.

The adorable genin of Team 7 had been trapped for an oncoming three days in a 'tiny' tower and suffering unbearable boredom mixed sourly with paranoid stress. Such settings were always ripe for the birth of chaos, mayhem, or even just little philosophical ponderings that can sway entire nations to stand and fight for just causes and conquer enemies thrice their numbers.

Sasuke, at that time, was sitting in a hidden closet like space six feet below the dirt basement floor of the Tower. Naruto had, quite irritatingly, chosen said depth so they could all be 'six feet under' and no one would be the wiser.

Sasuke would deny to his dying breath he had snorted painfully in amusement in an attempt to stifle his laughter. He also pretended that Sakura's hysterical giggling wasn't making that effort any easier.

Moving on, however, back to Neji's most obsessive topic.

They'd created this little nook for privacy. It had been working splendidly so far, even if it had only really been two days and counting.

Still, day three it is indeed, and these three genin were meeting for another secret powwow.

"Any sign?" Asked Sakura. She's hugging her knees to her chest, green eyes focused on the small little candle burning between them.

"Meh, not yet." Naruto picked at the dirt with a fingernail. "I've just about got a third of the forest mapped." He shuddered. "And I really dread the day Kaka-Sensei sends us here for training. We're lucky they decided to block some of the more dangerous areas to prevent the majority of the genin in here dying."

"Speaking of Kaka-Sensei," began Sakura. She would never know how those words would be the door in which Sasuke would unintentionally alter the future. "Do you think there's a way to convince him to stop reading his perverted book so often?"

Naruto rolled his eyes. "You know he does it as a cover."

"Well, yeah, but he also has to enjoy them, right? I mean, have you seen his collection? It's got it's own shrine! It's even sealed in a fancy glass decorative case so they can't get dusty!" The disgust and disbelief were heavy in her voice.

Naruto sighed, leaning back against the wall. "I don't understand why girls are always ragging on him for reading that stuff. I mean, girls are just as perverted."

Sasuke shivered as the temperature in the small space suddenly and inexplicably dropped.

"What?" Sakura's voice was deceptively calm.

Naruto waved a hand at her nonchalantly, apparently completely missing the glaring warning signs. Sasuke was discretely trying to sign him to back down, really not wanting to be stuck in a five foot by five foot room when Sakura goes berserk.

"Seriously, girls are just as bad. I mean, come on! Just look at the fangirls that stalk Sasuke!" Naruto huffed, completely missing Sasuke's imitation of a ghost and Sakura trying to become a darker shade of pink than her hair. "They're relentless! I know that some of them were even bold enough to steal some of his underwear!"

Sasuke did a whole body twinge as he gaped in horror at his blond teammate. Apparently, this was news to him.

"You're joking!" Hissed Sakura, looking a little green herself.

Naruto shook his head. "Nope. Totally found them outside the Uchiha compound squealing over a pair, passing them around to snuggle and-"

*SMACK!*

Sasuke was trembling in trauma, his hand slapped across Naruto's mouth in absolute terror. He shook his head silently side to side, unable to verbally command the blond to NEVER speak of such horrors ever-again!

Sakura leaned away with a slow 'cornered cat' like exhale. "So that's what Ami was gloating about that one year! She never said, but she wouldn't shut up about it!"

Naruto carefully pealed Sasuke's hand from his face. "Yeah, well, point stands. Girls are just as perverted. They just get away with it 'cause they're girls."

Sakura shook her head vehemently. "No way! It's totally different! Girls don't go around reading trash like Icha Icha in public!"

"Psh, that's only because there isn't a book geared towards them. I bet, if Icha Icha had a female lead, the women would go nuts over it." Naruto smirked. "And you just admitted they would read it, just not in public."

Sakura gasped, affronted. "I did no such thing!"

"You totally did! Didn't she, Sasuke?"

Sasuke was still holding himself and shivering, ignoring the conversation completely.

That didn't stop Naruto and Sakura from carrying on. They argued for another five minutes about the topic before Sasuke finally snapped out of it.

"Seriously!" argued Naruto. "If there was a female version of Icha Icha, women all over would be reading it! I bet you would read it!"

The raven haired genin scoffed loudly, momentarily distracting the two. "If that's the case, why don't you just make one?"

Sakura and Naruto stared at him blankly for a couple moments before slow smiles started creeping across their faces. As he watched, Sasuke was mortified when said grins became almost manic and a disturbingly familiar glint entered their eyes.

It was exactly in that moment when both of his teammates exchange such predatory grins, Sasuke realized he 'effed up.

And if it wasn't already obvious, this was exactly when fate and destiny took a nosedive and shattered any sort of preconceived plans they were fostering.

So, unbeknownst to the happily ignorant shinobi nations, three genin six feet under, were about to decimate the world as they knew it.

As the day wore on and eventually faded into night, Sakura and Naruto were hatching the most inconceivable plan a genin had ever had the nerve or guts to try. Despite his misgivings, Sasuke was a member of Team 7. He sat there and helped plan right along with them. Hours passed, notes were made, ideas exchanged, and before sunrise the next day, the rough draft for society's doom was resting innocently in the hands of three prepubescent teens stuck in an exam they are scared of dying too young in.

Kakashi was completely flummoxed when he started crying in the middle of reading one of his favorite passages of Icha Icha. That he's surrounded by the majority of his fellow Jounin in their favorite watering hole wasn't helping matters either.

Mind you, it was amusing to watch everyone's faces contort in such bizarre ways because of his inexplicable crying fit.

Admittedly, his favorites were the other three rookie genin team leaders. Gai looked like he's having a seizure, limbs flying about spaztasticly all over the place. Best part? The green clad ninja was completely stunned mute! Asuma managed to drop his cigarette in his crotch and not notice for a good thirty seconds. By the time he does notice, his pants were quite literally on fire and he began 'beating' himself in public to put out the flames. Kurenai kept throwing her hands up and screaming "Kai!" over and over again.

Kakashi would be laughing himself sick over it later.

For now, Kakashi hammed it up and morphed his face into the perfect example of woe, allowing the falling tears to glisten 'just so' in the light.

Anko was chortling so hard behind him she almost peed herself.

...It also sounded like she's choking to death because she's having a hard time breathing. Kakashi briefly wondered if it's possible to die from laughter.

Across town, Hiruzen had just pulled out his favorite reading material. He'd gotten a pretty good dent in all the- ...he paused, glaring at the inbox on his desk to ensure it hadn't magically filled to the overflowing point when he'd almost used the forbidden word. When the stack demurely remained the same size, Hiruzen blessed his luck he'd caught himself in time and returned to the orange book in his hands.

A happy grin curled his lips as he began to crack open the book to where he'd left off.

*RIIIIIP*

The old, wizened Hokage stared blankly at the two separate halves of his lovely book divided equally in either hand.

One of the Anbu hidden in the room coughed. The small muffled sound was just enough to snap Hiruzen out of his horrified trance. And, to the shock of everyone in that section of town, a wail of absolute despair pierced the air and echoes through the buildings like the cry of a man who'd lost everything precious to him.

Everyone who heard it shivered.

Before the Anbu could quite conceive what to do with their squalling leader, his KI suddenly flooded the room and nearly brought them to their knees.

"Eagle," he growled, not even turning around when the Eagle Anbu dropped forward to a knee behind him. "Spread the word. We prepare for war. We are in red alert. No one goes on patrol alone, and all minor missions are being put on hold." The old man sneered at the destroyed book in his hands. "We have received a bad omen indeed." He pauseed, realizing Eagle was still behind him. "Go!" He snapped.

Eagle dipped his head and disappeared.

The other Anbu left behind silently curse their brethren's luck. He'd been sent on a bogus mission, as they'd already been preparing for war due to the suspected invasion that would occur soon. It meant he didn't have to sit and struggle to breathe through Hiruzen's roiling KI for the next three hours. Lucky bastard.

Sitting on a roof across the village, Zabuza felt a cold wind crawl down his spine. He paused mid bite, chopsticks hovering in the air inches from his shark like teeth.

"Zabuza?" queried Haku, confused by his Master's behavior.

"It's them," rumbled the bare chested man, twisting his head just enough to narrow his eyes in the direction he knew the Forest of Death rests.

Haku tilted his head to the side. "Team Seven?" he guessed. Zabuza only got weird when it's Team Seven. The older nin could give two sh-ts about the rest of the village so far, but if Team Seven was involved, Zabuza got twitchy.

Not that Haku blamed him. Haku had developed a tic that he had to force into submission every time he saw a hint of blond or pink hair, else he'd be filling random villagers and Konoha nin with sebon.

...He had accidentally killed a few ducks though. He felt a little guilty about that. Those poor ducks... Well, Master Zabuza had enjoyed the roasted duck, so maybe it wasn't all bad.

"They've done something," said Zabuza, interrupting Haku's thoughts.

"Don't they always?" asked Haku, a little put out that there usually wasn't a time Team 7 hadn't done something.

Zabuza's eyes snapped to teen across from him, internally startled at his minion's cheek. He grinned. Maybe those irritating brats were good for something.

Haku got weirded out when Zabuza started grinning at him widely, the older nin's teeth flashing menacingly in the dim lighting.


 

Far away in a quaint little town that was still bubbling with excitement even as the hour started to get late, Jiraiya was completely flabbergasted as he shunshined all across town in a mad panic.

He grew paler each time he stopped to look around at his new destination before popping away just as quickly.

At long last, there, in the distance…hope flickered before him like a dying man in a desert finding an oasis. Jiraiya cried tears of joy as he raced towards his goal, arms outstretched and hands splayed wide.

He threw open the doors to the public baths...and was completely crushed that his salvation had turned out to be a mirage.

Staring at Jiraiya in confusion was a whole bunch of buck naked men enjoying a good soak.

"NOOOOOOO!" Roared Jiraiya. He's completely unable to fathom, in a town full of nineteen different bathhouses, that ALL of them were completely empty of any women!

Chapter Text


Oro-Oro-oro-chichichi-maaaaaru!


Orochimaru was pretty proud of the fact he could keep his cool during chaotic situations. Plus, it was entertaining to torment your enemy by looking amused the whole time; it tended to piss your enemy off.

Chasing insignificant little genin was so laughably easy that taunting them was the only sort of enjoyment he got out of it.

So, it was a little unexpected that the blond one came barging out of nowhere to suckerpunch his summons away from the frozen Uchiha. First off, he hadn't expected the blond to have any sort of capability to accomplish something like that, let alone escape his first summons. Worse, after giving his teammate a verbal lashing that made Orochimaru want to snicker, the blond turned a scowl on the still disguised man.

"I don't see what you're so sacred of! It's not like this pasty ass chick is Oro-prick! I mean, come on!" The blond rolled his eyes before doing a very insulting flappy dance with his hands and hip wiggle while singsonging "Oro-oro-oro-chichichichi-maaaaaaaru! I play with little boooooys, and piss my pants when Sarutobi arriiiiiiives!"

Orochimaru's eyebrow twitched, but he resisted his initial response of gutting the kid while hurling back insults as well. He waited a couple seconds to see if the fool would stop, but the blond was belting out the song with oblivious pride. The Snake Sannin decided he would put an end to the degrading display. "Kukuku, funny you should mention that, a-"

"ORO-ORO-ORO-CHICHICHICHI-MAAAAARU!" continued the blond, practically screaming the stupid little made up lyrics. "I think I'm the second coming of Kami-sama! And I like to-"

"SHUT YOUR TRAP YOU LITTLE INGRATE!" roared Orochimaru, finally losing patience. He flickered across the gap separating them and shook the brat by his collar. "I'm the Orochimaru! Snake Sannin and-!"

"Faaaaake," droned the little airhead. "Orochimaru is supposed to be like, super badass and terrifying. You're some creepy lady with bad skin."

The pink haired one snickered, SNICKERED!

There was an odd roaring sound in Orochimaru's ears as he hurled the blond at his teammates. They cried out, falling in an undignified heap against the trunk of the tall tree.

"Badass? BADASS?! I'll show you badass!" KI crashed through the forest like a tidal wave, crushing the annoying brats to the branch they were on. Orochimaru sneered at them, grabbing his false face and slowly ripping it from his proper visage. "Do you have any idea who you're dealing with?" he hissed dangerously. "Who you're mocking so thoughtlessly?"

The blond one brightened, completely ignoring the suffocating KI to pop right back to his feet to bounce into his ridiculous little dance. "Yup! It's Oro-oro-oro-chichich-"

A hail of kunai shot at the blond, his two teammates crying out in horror as the deadly blades all impacted with heavy thuds. Orochimaru preened as the blond idiot gaped stupidly at him before he started to topple off the branch.

Then the blond bastard grinned. "Just kidding." And disintegrated into a pile of mud.

Orochimaru stared.

The Uchiha and the pink banshee were edging away. Orochimaru's gaze flicked to them, eyes wide with fury.

Without a thought, he sent a wall of mud at the two surviving brats, utterly crushing them beneath the swift and unexpected attack.

Orochimaru gloated over the pile of mud for all of five seconds...and then reality smacked him in the face when he realized he just crushed his prodigal host in a fit of fury the likes only pathetic chunin and below would fall fate to.

Orochimaru hopped over to the mess, muttering his frustration under his breath. "What is it with blonds? Why am I cursed to deal with such annoying pests? How is it that they have the stupid and inexplicable ability to piss me off at the drop of a hat? First it was Tsunade who could demolish trees with a single flick of her finger and had mood swings from hell, then there was that fool Minato that stole my rightful place as hokage, then I had to deal with that numbskull who calls explosions 'art', and now I have to deal with some prepubescent kid who's so idiotic he intentionally taunts S-Class criminals!"

Orochimaru toed the dirt with a frown. Such a vulgar mess. Stupid blond for making him have to deal with it (he totally ignored the fact he was the one to make said mess). He silently prayed that the Uchiha managed to survive, especially as Orochimaru wasn't entirely certain the raven haired boy's eyes would have been spared his fury if the Uchiha indeed perished.

The Snake Sannin rolled his eyes and huffed, deciding he would indeed waste chakra to use a water jutsu and see how bad he 'effed up. After all, it was deplorable if his clothes got dirty because some stupid blond-

Orochimaru mentally cut of the rant and focused on a low level water jutsu to clean away the mud.

Orochimaru was expecting broken bones, maybe some splashes of blood, and a couple crumpled bodies at his mercy.

He wasn't expecting to find nothing but the kami forsaken tree staring at him without a single genin in sight.

"You look pissed," remarked a blithe voice from the side. "I mean, I'm pretty sure that's what expression your ugly ass face is wearing, but I could be wrong."

Yellow eyes were wide as he slowly, oh so slowly, turned to find the orange wearing midget squatting on a branch two trees over. The brat's head was cocked to the side and he was squinting at Orochimaru and rubbing his chin.

"Yep," continued the blond, "I'm pretty sure that's anger." He snapped his fingers and grinned, like he'd just made some monumental connection.

Orochimaru hadn't been this pissed since Jiraiya copped a feel of his ass when the idiot Toad Sannin thought Orochimaru was a girl due to his long silky black hair and patterned kimono he was wearing for a festival.

"Where is he?" Orochimaru's voice was deceivingly calm.

The punk shrugged and cleaned an ear with his pinky. "Dunno. Teme is probably starting some fight with another genin team for a scroll. He told me to go 'be a distraction elsewhere'." The blond rolled his eyes. He propped a cheek on his fist. "So...hi. I'm a distraction."

Unadulterated rage coursed through Orochimaru, and he lashed out with vicious intensity. His kunai struck home, and he felt the beginnings of bliss-

*Poof!*

The trees in a twenty meter radius were obliterated, leaving a fuming Snake Sannin hissing in rage within the remaining crater.


 

"Whoa!" a brown haired youth staggered in line at the cafeteria inside Training Ground 44's Tower.

His raven haired teammate reached out to steady him with a concerned frown. "You okay?"

The brown haired youth gave a smile. "Yeah. I think that snake we had in the forest is just disagreeing with me." He made a woeful expression. "Revenge for eating him, I guess."

Their third teammate, a busty blond, rolled her vibrant green eyes. "Please, snakes don't go around getting revenge."

The brunette frowned and crossed his arms with an aloof air. "Shows what you know. This snake is totally pissed." He grabbed his gut. "Guy's fightin', even now!"

The raven haired teen sighed. "We ate that snake too. We're fine."

"Yeah, but I'm the one who killed him so we could eat him, so he's all vindictivey of me." The brunette nodded resolutely. He held his firm stance for a beat longer before groaning and curling in on himself. "No really, I'm not feeling so hot. I think I'm going to skip lunch and head back to the room."

The raven haired teen sighed again. "I'll walk back with you. Don't want you collapsing somewhere inconvenient." His gaze darted meaningfully around the room at all the high strung genin gathered there; half of them were sporting splashes of bright paint, new unwanted haircuts, or patched up clothes that had been whole previously to arriving at the tower.

The blond huffed and crossed her arms moodily. "Great. We're skipping meal time again. I swear Miki, when we get home, you're buying me six five star meals!" She glared at the brunette who was clutching his stomach and groaning lowly. "I'm getting sick of ration bars!"

The brunette gave her a weak smile. "Yeah, sure, whatever you say Sonya," he agreed distractedly.

The team left the cafeteria and made their way to their room. Once inside, the blond instantly put a silencing seal on the door after securing it.

"So, Snake Face?" she asked instantly, green eyes sharp.

The brunette straightened immediately, all signs of illness gone. "Contact was made. Confirmed the target." His eyes darted to their raven haired teammate. "Sensei was correct. Snake Face is dangerous." He smirked. "But Snake Face is pissed; won't be thinking straight for the next couple of days. I think our ploy will work."

His teammates shoulders sagged with relief.

"Good," responded the blond. She sighed. "Still, be careful. Snake Face is...clever. We can't afford to take chances."

The brunette grinned until his teeth were all exposed. "Trust me, I got this." His eyes subtly flicked to their raven haired teammate again. "No one messes with Team Kuebiko."

He looked decidedly dangerous as he said it, and his teammates were both startled and touched by the sheer emotion behind it.


 

Iruka yelped, barely dodging a wadded mixture of paper and glue. He had hoped that all the pranks on his person would cease after his extended B-rank. Sadly, it seemed he had underestimated whomever had been devising such nasty traps. It seemed that even something as pivotal as the Chunin Exams wouldn't hold back the arsehole causing all these shenanigans.

He wouldn't lie, however. It seemed that he wasn't the only poor sap getting caught in the mess, and he was rather smug about it. He'd already heard rumors that Training Ground 44 Tower was receiving annoying prank attacks, as well as the village itself. If Iruka was being honest, he was glad that all the jerks who thought Naruto (and some of his lesser known students) "wasn't that bad" and pranking was harmless, were getting tagged relentlessly; he could shove it in their faces that being pranked sucked...a lot. That didn't mean he enjoyed suffering anymore than his comrades did.

Iruka, however, was suitably impressed that someone was managing so much chaos. He had never managed to make such a large swath of victims. No one had ever been so paranoid when he was at the height of his pranking career. Kami help them, but everyone was paranoid. He'd heard many of his chunin buddies bemoaning their bad luck when they got hit. He'd even heard snippets of jounin getting caught up in it too, and it seemed like they were out for blood. Wanted posters for information about the fool(s) responsible were posted everywhere; there was even an impressive reward for anyone with credible info!

Iruka didn't know whether he wanted to congratulate the prankster or beat 'em senseless. After all, the Leaf had never been so alert unless it was wartime. And, if you looked at the twitchy ninja, the tense shoulders, the pinched expressions, and the paranoid eyes constantly on the lookout, you would think a war was still going. Iruka had no doubt that any visiting ninja for the third part of the Exams would be blown away by how high strung and on edge all of the Leaf shinobi were. It would probably make them just as paranoid, and hopefully instill some doubt that Leaf had gotten lackadaisical.

Several people had already come to Iruka about the whole mess. They'd demanded to know if Naruto was responsible. Iruka stared at them like they were idiots. Naruto was impressively clever with pranks, but there was no way the solitary blond could cover so much ground consistently. Iruka was also forced to point out that Naruto had been on an extended mission to Wave while the pranks were still occurring. So basically, there was no evidence that could put the blond in T&I for questioning. It had upset the crowd that had arrived at the academy demanding answers; they had really hoped it was the blond because he would (supposedly) be easy to deal with.

Iruka had watched them leave and rolled his eyes at their foolishness. Really, Iruka would never rule out Naruto. He wouldn't tell them that, but Naruto had proven he was a downright terror when it came to pranking. But Iruka had told them the truth, too. Naruto couldn't do all the recent stuff alone. Even with the Kage Bunshin, Naruto would be extremely hard pressed to keep up with missions and training, let alone trying to wedge in the sheer amount of well thought out pranks. But Iruka couldn't imagine Sasuke or Sakura helping out. That was beyond ridiculous.

Really, Iruka didn't rule out Naruto, but he sure as Kami-sama didn't know who else would have the time to team up with him to create such unparalleled messes. Nor did he have a clue who would want to. After all, the wanted posters were not flattering, and sooner or later someone would be caught and be made to suffer.

Iruka shuddered, tilting his head to absently dodge a balloon filled with paint. It should also say something that he thought a B-rank was a vacation.

"GAK!" shouted a voice in front of him.

Iruka paused to blink at Anko, whose face was covered in fluorescent pink paint. She wiped her face as her eyes shot in his direction.

Iruka barely had time to put a kunai between himself and the one aimed at his neck.

"What in Kami-sama's hell do you think you're doing?!" she hissed, a wild look in her dark eyes.

Iruka huffed. "It wasn't me! It was aimed at my head! I dodged it!" He blushed when he realized that, involuntarily, it was partially his fault. "Sorry." If he remembered right, she often went to the dango shop down the street. "Look, it wasn't me! But, um, since I was inadvertently responsible, I'll treat you to some dango."

Her eyes narrowed a beat, and Iruka had to suppress an uneasy swallow.

"Ugh!" Anko pulled her kunai away. "Fine!" She huffed and muttered some curses. "Let's go!" She grabbed his arm and started dragging him down the street. "I only have a little while before I have to go check on the fresh meat at forty four."

"Fresh meat?" he echoed, bemused by the whole situation. He'd never actually met Anko, but she was turning out to be rather similar to the descriptions he heard in passing.

Anko abruptly stopped, causing Iruka to bump into her. She whirled on him, and he cringed back, though that wasn't very far considering she still had hold of his wrist.

"You!" She snarled.

Iruka blinked. "Me?"

"You're that academy teacher!" she poked him harshly in the chest.

He was pretty sure he was going to get bruises from this whole encounter. "One of them, yes."

"How did you do it?!" she demanded.

He stared. "Do...what?"

"How did you get all those whiny ass kids to be so competent?!"

"Er, what?" He leaned away as she loomed closer over him.

"The Rookie Twelve!" she nearly bellowed. "How did you do it?! There's never been that many rookie teams in the Exams before! And they all got to the Tower already!"

Iruka shifted uneasily. "All of them?"

"All of them!" she hissed. "Worse, they still act like brats!" She huffed and threw her free arm in the air. "I don't get it! Ibiki is giving me hell because they all made it! You're the only thing that's different! It's your first gig! This is just...impossible!" She grabbed his collar and shook him. "What-did-you-do?!"

"Maa-maa, Anko, you shouldn't be roughing up your fellow Leaf ninja," said a bored voice.

Anko's head whipped around so fast Iruka was sure he heard a snap.

"Kakashi!" Anko promptly dumped Iruka on his ass. "Do I get to torture your team after the exams?!" She crooned at the silver haired man. "They are such an amusing bunch of brats!"

Kakashi eye-smiled. "We'll see. After all, they may just get promoted and be taken off my hands."

Anko snorted. "Yeah, right." She squinted at him. "Did Naruto give you anymore of those Explosive Notes he secretly hordes?"

Kakashi tilted his head. "Your prey is getting away." He pointed at something over her shoulder.

Iruka cursed, having almost been around the building when Kakashi ratted him out. Bastard.

"Hey!" Anko leapt towards him. "You owe me dango!"

Iruka sprinted like a madman, but he only made it three blocks before he was trussed up by several snakes. Anko cackled as she stood over him.

"Man, you're too easy! Naruto at least makes it across town before I catch him!" She grabbed him and threw him over her shoulder. "Let's go!" She pointed dramatically before walking jauntily back the way they'd come. "Dango, dango! Everybody's favorite yumm'o! Dango, dango! Have to have it every day'o!"

Iruka groaned as Anko kept up the weird singsong. He'd found an adult female version of Naruto. He didn't need two of them! One was plenty!

"Oooo! Sensei-kun! You have a firm butt!" cooed Anko, squeezing Iruka's rear.

He squealed and managed to struggle out of her grasp. He landed uncomfortably on his face before rolling around to glare at the woman leering down at him. "That was uncalled for!" he shouted. He totally wasn't blushing. ...He wasn't!

"Aww, does lil' Sensei-kun need a hand?" She reached for him.

He managed to pull a kunai and made a swipe at her hand, making her pull back. "Don't touch me!" He glared. "I'll cut you," he growled.

She blinked at him slowly...and then a wide smile split her face. "Oh reaaaally?"

Damnit!

Kami-sama hated him.

Chapter Text


Fracas!


"RAAAAAH!"

Orochimaru's howl of fury sent animals and birds alike scattering deeper into the forest. Orochimaru's roar died out, leaving the man huffing and puffing in the center of another destroyed portion of Training Ground 44.

"I hate blonds! I hate them! They're vile despicable creatures!" He sneered at his hands...hands frustratingly clean of any blood. He'd spent all-day looking for that stupid Uchiha. And he still hadn't found him!

Worse, Kabuto had yet to meet up with him. He had expected the silver haired youth ages ago. For all the ruckus he was causing, Kabuto should have shown up hours earlier! With the damn Uchiha in tow! And, more frustrating, the genin in this exam were decent enough to know to avoid the amount of noise he was making in his fit of anger.

The Snake Sannin had no victims. All of his targets had remained out of his grasp, and the fourth day was coming to a close. Orochimaru was ready to pull out his own lustrous hair!

"Oh! Hey! You look pissed, man!"

Oh Kami-sama...please, mentally bemoaned Orochimaru. Not him! ANYONE but him!

Orochimaru turned...and there, hanging upside down from a branch, was the orange menace. "You okay? You don't look okay. You look a little pale."

The pink haired monstrosity was sitting on the branch, kicking her feet back and forth with a concerned frown. "He is pale. Do you think we should call a medic?"

The Uchiha, leaning against the trunk of the tree next to her, snorted disdainfully. "No. We'd probably get booted from the exam for calling them."

"But it's Oro-prick! I'm sure they'd want to see him!" Insisted the blond.

The Raven haired youth smirked. "I bet they would."

All three genin dodged as a huge snake tried to swallow them whole.

"Dude, how many times do we have to dodge snakes?" Cried the blond, irritated. "I mean, like, we've gotten rid of what, six of them?"

"Thirteen," corrected the pink haired brat.

Uchiha snorted. "One trick pony."

The blond laughed uproariously. "Pot, kettle!"

The Uchiha glared at his teammate. "Shut up, Dobe."

Orochimaru promptly set the surrounding forest on fire. He counted to ten, waiting to hear the sound of screaming…

*Poof! Poof! Poof*

More clones! Seriously?! How?! HOW?!

"Yo!" Called a cheerful voice.

Orochimaru turned crazed yellow eyes on the silver haired jounin standing among the trees. "YOU!"

"Me!" Cheered Kakashi. He waved a tiny little red flag in the air and a small puff of confetti fell around him.

What kind of insanity was Hiruzen brewing?! His ninja were all insane! All of them! Orochimaru was doing everyone a favor by exterminating them!

"Your fault!" Roared the Snake Sannin. "YOUR FAULT!" Honestly, he was so pissed he couldn't properly articulate anymore.

Kakashi tilted his head to the side. "My fault?" He said in mock hurt tones. "Why, I have no idea what you're talking about."

"THEM!" Hissed Orochimaru. He hated them all! He started flying through hand seals.

"Oh!" Kakashi eye-smiled at him. "Just an F.Y.I., the Third is on his way." The silver haired man waved a hand airily.

Orochimaru finished the hand signs, sending a roaring ball of fire at Kakashi's hunched figure. He snarled and disappeared. He really didn't want to face Hiruzen yet, even if he was itching for a fight after all the lack of blood and screams in the past day of active hunting.

Kakashi substituted himself with a log, cheerfully smiling in the direction Orochimaru had disappeared. "Just kidding," mumbled Kakashi, before dispelling in a puff of smoke.


 

Kakashi blinked, assimilating his clone's memories swiftly. He smirked. Well, that academy teacher certainly had good timing. That could have gone a lot worse if Anko had been around to get the report of the three bodies that had been found.

He also wondered what mischief his wonderful genin had gotten up to in order to enrage the Snake Sannin so. It would probably be quite the story. He really wished they could have gotten pictures. Those would be priceless.


 

Naruto whistled lowly, looking up at the ceiling of their hidden little bunker. "Kakashi is my hero."

Sasuke and Sakura blinked owlishly.

"How do you do that so fast?" Grumbled Sasuke, rubbing his temple as he tried to gather his wits.

"Practice," remarked the blond with a light shrug. "Be glad you could create two Kage Bunshin for that last encounter." He smirked. "Would'a sucked had you missed the action."

Sakura snickered. "Yeah, that was awesome." She grinned. "I'm glad you convinced Kakashi to teach Sasuke and I."

Naruto shrugged. "Would've taught you myself, but the Old Man forbid me from doing so."

"Worth it," muttered Sasuke, dark eyes gleaming. "Oro-chan was livid."

Sakura muffled a guffaw. "Did you see Kakashi?! He totally stole one of your confetti bombs, 'Ruto!"

"And the flag!" Naruto sighed in bliss. "Kaka-Sensei is the best!"

"We owe him one," remarked Sasuke. He stared at the small candle between them.

Naruto and Sakura nodded.

"I would suggest one of his favorite books, but I'm pretty sure he already owns them all," muttered the blond.

Sakura huffed but didn't remark. Instead, she turned to look thoughtfully at the small flame. "We could try pranking his 'greatest rival'," she mused. She looked up to find both of her teammates looking at her with glowing eyes.

"Sakura…" Began Sasuke.

"Have we told you today how amazing you are?" Finished Naruto.

Sakura blinked a few times before a blush crawled up her neck. She cleared her throat and crossed her arms with a huff, attempting to look imperious. "Not today, no."

Both boys grinned ruthlessly. "You're amazing," they both said at the same time.

Sakura held her authoritative pose for two extra seconds before she turned and grinned ruthlessly with them. "So, what's the plan? I don't think Gai is as clueless as he pretends to be."

"Misdirection," declared Naruto. "With Gai, it's all about misdirection."


 

Gai sneezed so hard he knocked himself off balance from his handstand and crashed into Tsume.

"Oi! Watch it!" The feral woman booted green clad man off her.

Gai blinked as he was flung into a building across the street, staring at her upside down in bemusement as she stood and brushed herself off.

In all honesty, not many were able to bodily pick him up, let alone throw him. Because he wore his weights all the time, it made him rather heavy, and generally no one was able to move him.

She was patting off her hands and turned to continue her way down the street when Gai suddenly shifted and was standing right in front of her grinning. "Shii-!" She lashed out with a kick before she even registered moving.

Gai was sent flying into the opposite building.

"What the hell is wrong with you?!" Bellowed Tsume. She glared at him. "Don't go leaping in people's faces like that!"

Gai was instantly on his feet and once more standing in front of her (albeit this time he was just out of kicking distance). "Wonderful maiden! Your youthful spirit is most impressive! You have greatly moved me!"

Tsume suddenly remembered why she'd avoided meeting this man face to face. He was far too much to deal with without being completely smashed first. Ugh. Her hand was already clenching and unclenching for a sake bottle. Her partner huffed out a wolfish laugh, leering at her from his haunches. She shot him a glare before focusing on the green clad ninja that was still screaming something about youth.

"You're in the way. Move." Tsume gave the idiot a flat stare.

Gai's teeth glinted as he gave her a thumbs up. "You are most persuasive! Let me buy you a drink, my young maiden!"

Tsume really...desperately wished she wasn't single. "Look, I'm just headed back to the compound. I don't have time to deal with…" She looked him up and down with a frown. "You."

"Ah ha! But I have offered a wonderful reprieve on this hot night! To share a drink on this blessed evening would greatly inspire our youthfulness and set fire to a tiny ember that would lead to an inferno of a relationship!"

Dear Kami-sama, how was this man still a ninja? Forget that, how had no one killed him yet? Kuromaru was audibly chuckling at her plight. She would get him back for it later.

"Look, I'm not interested." She rolled her eyes. "Besides, you couldn't afford it anyway."

Tsume froze, unable to fathom why she'd just given him that opening. Did she or did she not give Kiba a hard time for speaking before thinking?! And here she was doing it herself! Shit!

The telltale glint in his eyes only served to horrify her further.

"Yosh! Let me prove my youthfulness! You will not be disappointed!"

And before she could protest, he literally swept her off her feet and raced away down the street, crowing about the most satisfying sake to be found in Leaf. She could hear Kuromaru's howls of laughter, even as Gai carried her further and further away to her doom.

She instantly made it her mission to drink so much she would forget that night, no, the entire day...ALL OF IT.


 

Temari's eyebrow was twitching spastically. She'd knocked Kankuro out about an hour ago. He'd almost gotten them killed sixteen times in the previous two hours alone, and she really was sick of it. Gaara sat on the bed across from her, pale green eyes staring at her unblinkingly.

She'd spent the last two days telling Gaara stories; she hadn't slept either of those days. She still couldn't quite fathom how the hell she'd gotten stuck in such an awkward position, but her very life depended on it, so… Yeah.

She'd already told all of the children's stories from Sand she could remember. She'd made sure to beef up the gore and confrontation in the stories to keep her redhead brother interested. She'd told him as many other children's stories from other nations as she could recall as well. Hell, she'd made up several tall tales, too! She'd gotten desperate and started talking about famous battles from history that she could reasonably repeat.

Even still, it was inevitable that she ran out of things to talk about. Kankuro had tried filling the silence, but that had nearly killed them both more than Temari felt comfortable admitting to.

So, Kankuro was unconscious, a nice sized lump on his head, and Gaara was looking at her expectantly with that expressionless face of his.

It was Karma. She had no way to prove it, but somehow, all of the bad Karma that her brothers' built up was coming back to bite her in the butt. It had to be her brothers. After all, Temari didn't think she'd been so obnoxious that she had earned all this bad luck. Compared to her brothers, she was a downright Saint!

"You have been too quiet," Gaara finally said, his monotone voice still full of unspoken threat.

If it didn't cause Shukaku to be unleashed, she would have knocked Gaara's ass out yesterday!

"I've told you all the stories I could remember," she grit out, clenching her fists to restrain herself from bludgeoning the redhead.

He tilted his head to the side. "You have not explained what these useless attacks that are plaguing everyone in the tower are."

Temari felt her temper flare to even greater heights. The pranks were an all out nightmare, icing on the already bad Karma infused cake she'd been force fed. "They're pranks," she growled. She'd already had to mourn the loss of her favorite outfit. It had suffered too many paint attacks, and there were so many patch jobs, it was a lost cause.

Gaara didn't even blink. "Pranks."

Temari knew he was clueless. Despite the fact he had no idea what she was talking about, Gaara never asked about anything. He told you what he expected without ever actually requesting. It was infuriating to deal with when he was in a mood and had a handful of questions he never actually asked. She had to do mental gymnastics to figure out what he wanted. She was mortified she was getting to be an expert at it at this rate.

"Pranks are harmless traps and gags that people play on each other to get a rise out of them. Usually the aim is to startle or embarrass the person being pranked."

Gaara stared. "They do not kill or harm."

"They aren't supposed to. They are meant to make the person pulling the prank, and observers, laugh." Temari's migraine was unrelenting. The pills she'd taken earlier had been useless.

"That is pointless."

Temari couldn't suppress her derisive snort. "Are they? Whoever has the balls to be pulling these pranks has all of us on our toes. We're all paranoid, and worse, we still haven't caught the punks pulling them!" She snarled, mentally listing the ways she would torture and maim her tormentors. "They're making it impossible to not notice them. They're playing us like puppets!"

Gaara blinked.

The motion was subtle, but it alarmed Temari immensely. Gaara never blinked, not unless something horrifying had occurred to him. Shit, shit, shit! What did she say?! What had she said that would get that kind of reaction?!

"Hmm." Gaara shifted his attention to the wall, clearly dismissing her.

She was doomed. She knew it. Something despicable had just happened, and she wouldn't be able to grasp the full vicious circle until it was too late! She just knew it!

Silent tears of horror streamed down her cheeks. Screw it. She would enjoy her last days of life for as long as possible. "I'm going to go take a shower," she murmured, deciding the luxury of a hot shower would be abused as much as possible while she had the chance. After all, even as a Kage's kid, she didn't get to bask in a shower longer than the five minutes it took to get clean. She would stand in the damn shower until her skin was as pruned as old lady Chiyo's!

Chapter Text


Attire Ire


Ino did a double take before pointing an accusing finger at Sakura, who had been standing nonchalantly beside her for the past three point forty two minutes. “When did you get here?!”

It was subtle, but Shikamaru twitched when he turned to find Team 7 standing next to them. Team 7 hadn’t been in the tower at all during their stay there. His gaze flicked down along the rest of the chunin hopefuls and found all the faces he’d seen just this morning at the chow hall. “Troublesome,” he muttered, irritated that Team 7 was forcing his thoughts to churn in order to figure out when the hell they’d gotten there.

Sakura rolled her eyes and gave Ino a flat look. “I’ve been here.”

“No you weren’t! You didn’t even show up at the tower today!”

Sakura sighed and rubbed her forehead, as if she couldn't believe her fellow genin was this dense. “We arrived just before the deadline. We didn’t have time to be shown to a room.” As if to prove this point, Team 7 was was covered in three days worth of grime and looked a bit roughed up. Sakura’s pixie cut had a couple cow licks and her eyes seemed to have dark circles under them.

Sasuke was a bit scratched up and one of his sleeves was torn off at the shoulder. He looked constipated every time his eyes darted to said sleeve and saw his bare arm staring back (Sasuke had already spent ten minutes in their hidden cubby in the basement whisper yelling at Naruto for ripping it off in order to “help their masks”. He’d also tried REALLY hard to see if there was a way to get the Sharingan to set things on fire with looks alone, because really, seeing that orange jumpsuit go up in flames was a large improvement, and frankly, Naruto deserved it! It was his favorite shirt! He blatantly ignored Naruto’s argument that he owned eight more of the exact same shirt).

Naruto looked like he’d fallen in a mud puddle and reveled in it.

Ino scoffed. “Jeeze, maybe you guys should’ve given up.” Her eyes dart up and down Sakura's rumpled figure. “I mean, seriously. You look like crap.”

Sakura’s eyebrow twitched. No one noticed, but Sasuke shuffled slightly closer to the pinkette, completely prepared to beat the living snot out of Ino and her teammates if Sakura decided to take action. He knew they needed to uphold their masks, but he was willing to sacrifice it a bit if it meant helping Sakura maintain her standing next to her old childhood friend. Sakura hadn’t yet admitted it aloud, but Sasuke and Naruto both knew that she regretted that she’d sacrificed her friendship for foolish reasons. It also meant that Sakura couldn’t afford having Ino look down on her for any other reasons than their rivalry over Sasuke.

Naruto’s blue gaze darted to Ino, as if comprehending for the first time that she was present. “Hey! You guys made it!” And he walked up to slap her on the shoulder with his slime covered hand, beaming at her the whole time as mud splattered all over her side and face. “Good job! I figured Shikamaru couldn’t be bothered! Hehe!”

Silence descended on the small group, and even several of the other chunin hopefuls had paused to witness the explosion about to occur.

Ino’s neck audibly cricked as she looked down at the mess he’d made of her outfit. It was the last whole outfit she’d had; the others had been sacrificed because of some jerk-wad that had been terrorizing the genin in the tower.

“You lived!” beamed an excited voice.

As heads turned, Anko flounced up and scooped the mud covered blond into her arms and spun him in several circles.

“Of course we did! We’re awesome!” boasted Naruto.

She laughed loudly and dumped him on his butt. “Whatever. It just means I still have chew toys for my lovelies!” A snake slithered out of her sleeve and tasted the air with its tongue. She seemed completely unbothered by all the mud now covering her.

“Listen up!” Boomed a voice. “We’re getting started, so line up!”

Several of the genin sighed as they all lined up, a bit sad they didn’t get to see a precursor beat down.

“You’re dead Naruto!” Hissed Ino, shooting him a menacing glare as she moved to Choji’s other side so she was as far from Naruto as she could get without leaving her teammates.

Naruto cocked his head to the side and squinted at her. “Huh?” His gaze darted to Sakura, but she just gave him a strained smile and shook her head.

Sasuke tripped him.

“Hey, you jerk! What was that for?!”

Sasuke sneered,eyes flicking away to pause at Sakura before moving to stare moodily into the distance. “You tripped over your own feet, Dobe.”

“Get in line!” Barked the chunin once more.

Naruto stuck his tongue out at Sasuke to refrain from smirking at him, shuffling to the other side of Sakura, effectively keeping her pinned between her two male teammates. She shifted, reaching down to “adjust” her hip holster to hide the fact she nudged the blond’s arm in thanks. He danced in place, his normal mischievous grin spreading across his face.

The older ninja rolled their eyes at his enthusiasm, figuring he wouldn’t make it to the final event.


 

“HEEEEELP MEEEEE!” Screamed Miki, his brown head weaving in a disjointed fashion as he ran like a bat out of hell.

Ino was snorting like a mad bull, her rage at Naruto transferred to her new victim courtesy of his sarcastic remark about not having time to clean up after her mud bath. She’d nearly made a pincushion out of him multiple times, and his outfit was looking a bit ratty as he desperately tried to outpace her as she roared a long litany of bodily harm.

Sakura looked torn between being smug and feeling pity for the poor boy as he squealed like a stuck pig when Ino finally managed to snag the back of his shirt to test his flexibility. Judging by his shrill screaming and the horrible sounding pops, he wasn’t all that limber.

Naruto looked a little green. He leaned a little closer to Shikamaru to whisper to him. “I-is she always that...violent?” He flinched when a resounding crack filled the air and Miki went limp due to passing out from the pain.

Shikamaru shifted slightly, the only sign of his unease. “Troublesome.”

“That’s not an answer!” Hissed Naruto, going pale when Ino marched back towards her teammates with a self satisfied look. When she saw Naruto gaping at her, she gave him a predatory grin. He swallowed shakily and pretended to be interested in what the ninja in charge was saying. He gave Sakura a vague nod when she flicked his hand, indicating that “Miki” had been replaced with one of the unconscious genin he’d found in the forest so that the medic nin wouldn’t flip when Miki turned out to be a mud clone.


 

“You’re gonna lose,” taunted Kiba, smirking at the blond standing across from him. “Me and Akamaru have learned some new tricks, and I bet you haven’t learned anything.”

Naruto scoffed, crossing his arms over his chest. “Please, I’m totally boss with animals!”

Kiba laughed. “Yeah right! Come on Akamaru, we’re gonna nail him to the wall!”

Naruto smirked and pulled out a scroll. With a quick release of chakra, the blond was now holding a very large platter of steaks in his hand. “What do ya’ say, Akamaru? Wanna sit this one out? I have some fresh, juicy, raw steak calling your name.”

It was a bit amusing to see both Akamaru and Kiba drooling. Kiba blinked, realizing what was on the line and quickly shook his head to snap himself out of it. “Man, that was sneaky, Naruto, but-”

“WOOF!”

Kiba gaped.

“Sit! Lay down! Roll over!” Naruto called out each command with a steak in hand, and the small white puppy dutifully performed each trick with a madly wagging tail.

“A-Akamaru!” Burst Kiba, betrayal making his voice crack.

Naruto happily set the plate of raw meat down, and the white pup dove into it like he had died and gone to heaven. Naruto grinned down at him before turning to look at Kiba when the other teen roared at him inarticulately. “Right! Almost forgot!” Naruto grinned ruthlessly. “Gotcha!” He pointed at Kiba with a feral grin.

Kiba crouched, ready to lunge at the blond, but the familiar nick of a blade at his throat made him freeze.

“Stay,” was the cold remark.

Kiba watched in stunned disbelief as the blond standing by Akamaru went up in a puff of smoke. He cried out in alarm when the white puppy flopped over mid bite. The blade at his neck dug a little deeper.

“Relax,” murmured Naruto. “It’s just laced with sleeping powder.” Kiba could hear the smirk in his voice when the blond leaned closer. “But, if you’re worried, be a good pup and stand still. You can check on him in just a sec.” Unseen, the blond gave the proctor a look, vaguely gesturing at the frozen Inuzuka at his mercy.

“Winner, Uzumaki Naruto,” intoned the proctor, internally stunned the blond’s ploy had worked so well.

Naruto removed his blade and shoved the Inuzuka towards his partner. “Boom, baby! Who rocks?! This guy!” Naruto bounced away like an idiot, shuffling around in an awkward dance hopping...thing.

Sakura groaned loudly. “Just when I thought maybe you were growing up,” complained the pinkette.

Sasuke didn’t look like he’d looked away from whatever invisible spot on the wall he’d been staring at.

Shikamaru’s expression was pained. He’d been hoping that Team 7 was the same as ever, but he couldn’t quite shake the fact that Naruto had so easily defeated Kiba. There were some well thought out pieces to that whole scene, and he was unsure if the blond really had the wit or nerve to pull it off as smoothly as he had. Plus, some of their body language was...weird, stiff in ways that didn’t make sense. All in all, they were forcing him to be inclined to looking into things more deeply, but he was trying to stubbornly raise all of his defenses to ignore the gnawing need to know hounding him into action.

“Troublesome.”


 

“Ya’ know,” remarked Sonya, “I know Suna is a bit...reclusive, but I would’ve thought even they would have a better sense of style.” She looked up and down the black baggy catsuit that Temari had been repulsed about borrowing from Kankuro or else be forced to fight in her underclothes.

“Begin!” Shouted the proctor, leaping away immediately when he felt the KI swamp the arena.

“DIE!” Roared Temari, a vicious glint lighting her eyes as she flung her fan open and mercilessly blasted off a train of wind attacks that decimated the arena and kicked up a ton of dust. “DIE, DIE, DIE, DIE!”

The other ninja watching all edged away from the deranged blond as she ripped up the arena like a madwoman, her cackling laughter filling the air. Gaara blinked at her wash of bloodlust, startled at the unfamiliar feeling of pride that swelled within him. Kankuro was faintly whimpering, knowing that he was going to be next, considering she would unjustly take it out on him that only his clothes were available to borrow.

Both of her siblings also secretly wondered if the rumors about “beauty sleep” were actually true.

Sakura shot Naruto an alarmed glance as he grimaced and sweat sprouted along his brow. He discreetly waved off her concern but didn’t dare look away from the fight. Already he’d had to recreate Sonya nine times in less than thirty seconds. Considering how much chakra and effort went into each clone to make them more sturdy than average, it was becoming rather straining to keep up with Temari’s ruthless slaughtering of the arena and her opponent. He needed to train his clones to quit mouthing off about women’s attire; clearly it was a trigger for murderous rage and a horrifying beat down.

His last clone, Daisuke, looked petrified.

Naruto really couldn’t blame him.


 

Hinata stared in mute shock as the raven haired teen across from her crumbled into a sobbing mess.

“I give up! I forfeit!” He shrieked, hiding his head under his arms as he curled up into a ball in the middle of the arena.

Hinata glanced at the proctor, at a complete loss on what to do. All she did was fall into her stance (while wracked with nervous trembling), and look up at her opponent. As soon as she’d made eye contact, Eru Daisuke had freaked out, face awash with terror.

“Winner, Hyuga Hinata.” The proctor sounded just as stunned as she felt.

“U-um, are y-you-”

“Don’t kill me!” Daisuke squealed, bolting from the arena like she was about to bring the full wrath of Kami-sama down on his head.

Hinata watched the trail of dust he left behind in his haste, baffled beyond words. No one had ever been afraid of her. EVER.

She wandered back to her teammates in a daze, activating her bloodline to ensure that she hadn’t been hit with an impressively strong genjutsu. She distantly noted that pretty much everyone that witnessed that fight was performing a muttered ‘kai’.

Nope. Not an illusion. The young man had literally run away from her in terror. Because she looked at him.

Huh.

Shino nudged her arm. “You brought your opponent to his knees.”

If you weren’t one of his very observant teammates, you wouldn’t hear the humor in his flat tone. Nor the pride, like that was supposed to be normal.

She missed the WTF look Sasuke shot Naruto, too busy staring at her own hands in disbelief.


 

“Listen fruitcake, be a good little boy and just forfeit. You Leaf nin are wackjobs, and I want to get out of here as soon as possible.” Kin was eyeing her surroundings warily. She’d had enough of this place. Between the pranks, the bizarre ninja and their insane behavior, she was oddly relieved that she came from Sound, and considering the crap she had to put up with there, that was saying something.

Neji’s lips thinned as he slid gracefully into his stance. “You shouldn’t speak so callously. You should be more aware how your Fate foretells your future, as your Fate is already sealed. You were Fated to lose as soon as you became my opponent. You should-”

“The hell is wrong with you people?!” Blurted Kin, pulling at her hair in sheer exasperation. “Fate?! Are you freakin’ serious?! You’re all crazy!” She pointed angrily at Neji and snarled at the proctor. “Give me a different one! This one’s defective!”

The proctor snorted trying to suppress his laughter.

Kin barely dodged Neji’s first enraged attack. “Hey! Watch it, fruitcake! Grown ups were talking!”

Neji’s world went red.

Kin...left the arena in a stretcher, still mumbling about Leaf, crazy ninja, and stupid ass fruitcakes obsessed with Fate.


 

“Saaaakura-chaaaaan!” whined Naruto, kicking his feet in petulant irritation. “I’m bored!”

Sakura’s expression became pinched as she seemed to internally count to ten. “Naruto, we’re waiting for everyone to fight. You should be paying attention to them so you know what you’re going to potentially be facing in the finals.”

Naruto huffed. “But it’s boring! I mean, it’s obvious that Sasuke is going to win his fight! And, I mean, that Rain guy, he won, but it was lame! He hardly did anything! And watching everyone else is boring too! I mean, we already kinda know what our guys can do, right?” He squinted up at her imploringly.

Sakura sighed. “No, we really don’t. The academy doesn’t count out here, but…” She glanced at his pouting visage. “Ugh, fine, here.” She pulled out chain and wire all looped oddly in a tangled mess. “Play with this. We still have a good number of fights to go.”

“Thanks Sakura-chan! I’ll make sure to cheer for you when it’s your turn!”

Shino was the only one that seemed to know what the odd tangled mess was, as he subtly tensed. Hinata glanced at him in confusion, but he stiffly shifted his head slightly to the side in dismissal.

Shikamaru saw the interaction and his frown deepened. Dang it! He really didn’t want to be anywhere near Team 7! Now he had to know what the stupid thing was too, just so he knew what the big deal was.


 

“HA! I have been given a strong opponent! I shall show Gai-Sensei that the power of Youth and hard work shall overcome-”

Lee’s rant was cut short when Gaara’s sand slapped him across the face and sent him flying. Gaara’s expression was flat, but his sand was shifting restlessly. Temari, having been trapped with the redhead long enough to read the signs, knew that Gaar was unsettled by Lee’s behavior.

“Kid’s gonna die,” she muttered, ignoring her youngest brother’s twitching form after the beat down she’d given him. The proctor had called her off when Kankuro was just on the edges of passing out. Kankuro had already forfeited his fight due to Karasu being missing, so she could care less that she’d left him in a such a state.

Lee, miraculously, bounced out of the crater he’d been smashed into. “YOSH! That was a strong blow! But the power of Youth shall guide me! And-”

BAM!

Lee met the wall across the arena, leaving a second crater in its surface.

The other genin all sweat dropped.

Lee popped out of the crater, spinning in a flip to land before Gaara. “YOSH! It seems I must get serious! Youth must-”

“Silence.” Gaara stared unblinkingly as sand engulfed Lee’s head. The raven haired youth gesticulated like he was speaking, but the sand muffled anything he was trying to say.

Everyone watched the spectacle for a couple seconds before Lee apparently decided (like normal) to solve his problems with his fists. He started raining blows down on the sand covering his head.

Gaara seemed a little startled that some of said sand was actually knocked away. Gaara had the sand engulf Lee’s hands the next time they landed a blow.

Lee looked quite the oddity as he ran around in small blind circles, a large round orb and two smaller ones engulfing his head and hands. He looked ridiculous, and Tenten groaned and covered her face with her hand in embarrassment.

Lee, deciding his options were limited, came up with the brilliant plan to use his head.

Unfortunately, that meant he dropped to his knees and smashed his head into the ground as hard as he could, creating quite a mortifying good sized crater with each resounding loud SMACK.

Naruto was laughing hysterically while the rest of the Leaf genin looked flabbergasted.

The silent show was amusing, dragging on for several more long awkward moments before Lee finally ran out of oxygen and woozily sank to the ground.

The proctor cleared his throat, “Winner-”

Lee lurched to his feet, cutting off the proctor. Everyone blinked when Lee suddenly jumped up a good ten feet into the air before careening down to the ground head first.

“What the hell is wrong with him?!” Bellowed Tenten. “Is he trying to kill himself?!”

Lee met the ground with a BAFOOM!

Dust and debris was sent scattering.

Everyone held their breath. Gaara watched impassively as the dust finally settled.

Lee was buried like a turnip, green clad legs sticking straight out of the ground and wriggling around spastically.

Naruto collapsed to the ground with wheezing guffaws, Ino and Kankuro not far behind him.

Lee’s legs stilled, then slumped to the ground.

“Winner-” began the proctor.

Lee mule kicked the ground and came bursting out of the ground like he’d been plucked by Kami-sama herself.

When he landed on his feet unsteadily, his head and hands were still coated in sand. He stood there a good ten seconds, motionless and waiting.

The proctor gave him the stink eye.

Lee burst into motion, charging across the arena to attempt shoulder tackling Gaara.

Sadly, he was running completely off course, heading instead off towards the right of Gaara and straight into a wall. He smacked into the wall. His sand covered head rebounded and he fell flat on his back.

Everyone stared, waiting.

Green legs started thrashing about a bit, causing a few cracks in the thick arena wall, before he fell still again.

The proctor glared at Lee’s prone form.

Lee writhed around, squirming in silence. Somehow, he managed to get to his feet again, charging once more across the arena. Miraculously, it was in the right direction. Gaara stood still, arms crossed, sand starting to swirl around his feet.

Lee was about halfway to Gaara, the redhead preparing for an aggressive defense.

Lee listlessly pitched forward face first. He landed with a light whompf.

The genin watching blinked.

The proctor scowled, clearly daring Lee to move one-more-inch.

Lee didn’t move.

The proctor edged closer and toed Lee’s leg.

Nothing.

Emboldened, the proctor lightly kicked Lee’s thigh.

Lee didn’t even twitch. The proctor turned a smug look to the other genin. “Winner, Gaara of Sand.” He started to walk away, but Tenten shot him a withering look. He paused, then turned to find Lee’s head was still encased in sand. “Right. Gaara, remove the sand.”

Gaara glared at him.

The proctor glared back. “Genin.”

Gaara looked like he might smother the proctor next, but instead, turned his back to the man and walked away, the sand holding Lee captive following like an eager puppy.

Tenten was the first to Lee’s side. “He’s not breathing!” She looked around frantically and locked eyes with Neji.

Neji sighed and grudgingly met her in the middle of the arena. He activated his byakugan and glanced over his fallen teammate. With an irritated grunt he lunged forward and struck Lee’s back with his palm.

Lee gasped, taking in several greedy gulps of air.

Tenten exhaled in relief and gave Lee a faint grin when the green clad youth blurrily blinked up at her in confusion.

Right before she smacked him soundly across the face and started shaking him like a rag doll, berating him for his foolishness during the fight and not taking it seriously.

“Completely wack,” muttered one of the Rain genin.

“I wish I’d forfeited,” muttered his teammate.

The first one blinked, then groaned. “Damnit! We’re stuck here for the finals!”

His teammate nodded. “Yup.”

The female member of the team perked up. “Can I-”

“No,” both males shot down immediately.

The first one sighed. “Since we’re already stuck here, we have to make a decent showing.” He gave her a heavy look. “Don’t hold back.”

“Damnit.” She scowled and crossed her arms moodily.

Chapter Text


Ning's


"Does this really count?" murmured Sasuke, his expression pinched as he watched Naruto's henged clone gracefully approach Neji.

Naruto gave him a flat look. "Are you trying to get me killed? You wanted proof, not an exploded lung or heart." His gaze flicked back to his Himiko clone. "This way, if he does turn on his freaky eyes, he won't know it's me under a henge. This is the safest way to do this." He gave Sasuke a meaningful look. "And we all know the rules."

Sakura sighed. "Yeah, yeah, we get it." She pouts. "It would just be more entertaining if you were doing it personally."

Naruto rolled his eyes. "Dude, I already did! Once my clone gets the stupid date you all are demanding, does it even matter? I already did the initial work!" He huffed, crossing his arms and puffing out his cheeks.

"Mah mah, if you get too loud people are going to start wondering what you're talking about." Kakashi was staring up at the sky with disinterest. He was amused that his students had convinced him to group henge for this outing. He thought they would watch from the roofs, but his team had made a solid argument about it not being in character for them. They pretty much "never hung out as a team". If they wanted to watch the show, they needed to do so incognito.

So, here they were, all henged under different aliases to watch Naruto prove that a Hyuga had assisted a "mere civilian". They had tried to do it before the exam, but they hadn't had luck running into the long haired youth. The charade was put on hold until they actually spotted the genin wandering around the village.

Low and behold, their plan to stalk him after they were dismissed from the second stage in the exams had born fruit. It was coincidence that Kakashi had been waiting on a nearby roof in order to congratulate them, and they had quickly drug him in on their quest before he could drag them away to their training ground for a proper celebration.

Sakura's and Sasuke's jaws hit the table at the tea shop they were seated at.

"No way!" hissed Sasuke, eyes wide.

Kakashi smothered a giggle, just managing to retain his nonchalant demeanor. This was made harder by the pure dumbfounded expression on Neji's poor bun haired teammate. Lee was completely clueless as Neji politely held out his arm to escort Himiko away down the street.

Naruto looked like the cat that caught the canary. "Told ya'."

"Where are they headed?!" Sakura grabbed Naruto's arm and yanked on it. "I wanna see this!"

Naruto groaned. "Seriously?" He wilted under her burning stare. "Fine, fine. My surveillance clone already sent me the signal that they're headed to Ning's."

Sakura blanched, causing both Sasuke and Kakashi to glance at her. "Ning's?!" she nearly squealed, only just managing to keep her voice to a hushed whisper.

"What is the significance?" demanded Sasuke, glancing down the street to spot Neji and Himiko rounding a corner out of sight.

"Ning's is one of the most prominent places to eat! The prices boarder on the insane! Only well off people go there! Or people who save for months!"

Naruto groaned. "Now I wish I had been henged. That place has good food."

Sakura's head snapped around. "When?!" she demanded, grabbing his collar and shaking him.

Naruto squawked and wilted under her stare. "Couple months ago? An older gal who's travel chest broke open took me there after I helped clean up her stuff and carry it to her hotel."

"Discreetly?" queried Kakashi.

"Duh." Naruto rolled his eyes. "I only walk around town normal when we have to do seven stuff." He glanced down the street. "We better get moving if you wanna see the meal. They're about two blocks away from it."

The four of them casually rose, Kakashi tossing down payment for their tea. They wandered in the opposite direction in a meandering fashion, taking a backwards route to Ning's.

They paused a block away in a deserted alley.

"I...can't afford that place," admitted Kakashi. He chuckled lowly when Sakura shot him a dirty look. He wouldn't admit aloud that before they became his genin, he could have easily afforded it. He was a little surprised when that thought crossed his mind; he hadn't really comprehended how invested he'd become until...well, reflecting on how much he'd actually invested monetarily. Huh. He felt both a flash of pride and sheepishness, which was an odd combination for sure.

Sasuke grimaced. "Is it worth it?" He shot Sakura a questioning look.

Sakura's eyes pinged as she clasped her hands together and gave Sasuke a large begging grin. "Are you kidding?!"

Sasuke scowled and kicked at a rock. He made a couple subtle gestures to Naruto, who discreetly acknowledged the coded signals and let a small chunk of lint fall from his pocket that blew away out of sight via some 'convenient' wind.

They all hovered a moment longer before suddenly Kakashi felt something heavy drop into his pocket. His blinked slowly before craning his neck down at the two boys. "Seriously?" It was said flatly, but the underlying disbelief was plain as day to them. Sasuke smirked while Naruto scoffed.

"You underestimate us," complained Naruto, taking off down the street after replacing his henge with a new one. This version looked better dressed, and the now well groomed black haired youth was walking stiffly with airs.

"What if his 'freaky' eyes catch us?" Kakashi asked, simply trying to be belligerent since Naruto had managed to drop a HUGE wad of cash into his pocket. He had no idea how the blond had been able to do it without him noticing until the money was actually in his pocket. He was now sporting a bored looking well dressed black haired man with said hair slicked back.

"Training," parroted Sakura, not breaking stride. She was sporting a very crisp kimono and long blond hair done up in a very elegant twist. She automatically placed her arm along Sasuke's, who was also sporting a dark blue hakama and haori.

Kakashi sighed. He felt a little put out that he was having a harder time ruffling their feathers lately.

The hostess greeted them smoothly and lead them to a table easily within sight of Neji and Himiko.

Kakashi was internally impressed with his team's manners. Naruto had honestly surprised him (though he figured he probably shouldn't be, considering how elegant and proper his Himiko clone was acting). Naruto's poor eating habits were notorious. That they were all eating like properly raised nobles made him giggle on the inside. They were going to do some amazing things, and no one would ever know! Seriously! Perfect for spying and undercover work. He hadn't even gotten to that training yet either! They did it on their own!

Sasuke scoffed lightly. "I've been around Himiko for ages. It's still odd." He took a sip of his miso soup. "The Hyuga is quite ensnared." He sneered.

Sakura sighed. "Poor fool. He has no idea." She smirked faintly at Naruto, tossing her blond locks back over her shoulder. "I stand corrected. Truly, Himiko is a dangerous individual."

Naruto swirled his tea with a cool stare. "I already informed you how powerful she is. I'm surprised you would doubt me."

"Don't antagonize," Kakashi chided lightly. "It is an honest blunder, considering their reputation." He took a small drink of his sake. "As things stand, however, we have been corrected in our error. Well done."

"Are we commemorating?" queried Sakura. She had a mischievous glint in her eye.

Naruto sighed. "It's already being taken care of."

"You're as prepared as always," remarked Sasuke. Only his teammates could read the slight frustration and tinge of respect in his tone.

"Impressively so," agreed Sakura. "I assure you, others would be rather intimidated by your forethought."

Naruto gave a noncommittal noise in the back of his throat.

For a short time, they ate in comfortable silence.

Naruto softly cleared his throat. "Am I mistaken, or is he feeding Himiko dessert?" His tone bordered on frosty.

Kakashi hummed. "That does seem to be the case." There was a lilt of humor in his voice. "Himiko seems rather enthused by the action."

Naruto growled lowly, so that only his teammates could hear him. "If my second kiss is with another dude, I'm going to be pissed," he muttered darkly, expression still blank.

"Oh?" Kakashi looked up from his sake. There was a curious glint in his eye.

Sakura's cheeks turned an adorable pink. "I'd...forgotten about that."

Sasuke's left eye was twitching.

"This sounds like quite an entertaining story," remarked Kakashi, leaning forward faintly and intentionally trying to crowd Naruto's space.

Naruto shot him a dirty look. "Let me just say," he said flatly, "that my veritable vastness of luck only extends to games of chance. When it comes to human interaction, I fear the opposite is quite heavy handed."

Kakashi stared at him; Naruto simply returned the favor, with a nonplussed aplomb that secretly impressed the silver haired jounin.

Naruto frowned. "We all agree that there is enough proof?" his voice was tight.

Sakura sighed. "Sadly, it was adequate. Not as fulfilling as I'd hoped, but still adequate."

Naruto's shoulders slumped slightly in relief. "Good, because I'm about to cause a distraction."

Kakashi blinked slowly. "I beg your pardon? I don't believe anything has happened that warrants that kind of response. He is a Hyuga. He knows proper etiquette."

Naruto pinched his nose. "I fully understand that, but Himiko was only going to be in town temporarily. If things drag on, this is going to become far more complicated than a mere distraction."

"Ah, understood." Kakashi sighed and waved a hand dismissively. "Very well, but please, make it tasteful."

"Tsk, you spoil my fun." Naruto lifted his empty sake saucer and gave Kakashi a bland look. The silver haired jounin humored him by pouring a drink. Kakashi watched him in amusement as he took a faint sip. "Don't blink," remarked Naruto, seemingly unfazed by the alcoholic drink.

Sakura peered curiously at Neji and Himiko. Naruto chuckled.

"Not there." He gestured vaguely towards the door with his sake.

Three armored samurai, minus their helmets, walked briskly through the door. They paused just a breath, eyes scanning the room before landing on Himiko. They brushed past the flustered hostess and strode across the room. Neji was already eyeing them warily.

The whole room was holding their breath, expecting a large confrontation.

The lead samurai, with a large nasty scar down the left side of his face, moved his hand to rest on the hilt of his sword. His dark eyes were sharp, visage calm. Neji tensed subtly, and froze when all the samurai fell to one knee.

"Lady Himiko-sama," greeted the lead samurai. His voice was rough but commanding. "I fear we have been summoned. We must make haste at once."

Himiko didn't even turn to acknowledge them as she took another dainty sip of tea. After a long tense pause, she set her teacup down. "What is so urgent that we leave a full month and a half in advance?"

The samurai hesitated, clearly uncomfortable speaking such information publicly. "There was an assassination attempt, followed by numerous attacks along the south border. Your father has requested your immediate return, as he fears for your safety."

Himiko sighed softly to show her disapproval. She did, however, rise elegantly to her feet. "I beg your pardon, Hyuga-san. It seems our dinner is to be cut short." She smiled faintly when Neji rose to bow and brush a kiss across her knuckles. "Our meeting was short, but pleasant. I hope you fair well in your matches in the following month."

"Be well, Himiko-san."

The samurai rose and escorted Himiko out of the building.

Team 7 remained in their seats, casually enjoying the dessert that had just been served. Neji remained seated at his table a good ten more minutes before he finally sighed and paid, walking out the door more stiff than he had entered.

Sakura turned an amused glare on the disguised Naruto. "Well, that was dramatic enough for a cinema."

Naruto was grimacing as he subtly rubbed his knuckles across his pants in disgust. "I'm starting to wonder if I'm too good at this."

Sasuke snorted tea out of his nose and started coughing as he valiantly tried to cover his face with a silk napkin. Kakashi smirked openly, holding out a second napkin to Sasuke, whose face was beat red and eyes watering. Sakura let out a tittering laugh that faintly grated on the ears.

Chapter Text


Orange is NOT the New Black


“Head, shoulders, knees and toes!” sang Kakashi. He was eye smiling at Sakura from the shade of a large tree. “Knees and toes! Eyes and ears and mouth and nose!”

She snarled, green eyes fierce as sweat trickled down her face and made her eyes sting. Her clothes were clinging uncomfortably, and her hair was plastered to her head. Her hands were screaming in agony, and her body was trembling with effort as she struggled to keep up with Kakashi’s asinine sing-song ques. He’d been singing the same damn thing for the past hour and a half, and she was ready to use the last of her energy to chuck a kunai at him with every ounce of flagging chakra and strength she could muster.

Bastard would undoubtedly dodge safely, but just the act alone would give her some vindictive pleasure.

This-was-torture.

She’d been attacking the huge boulder for an hour and a half, striking at a semi crudely drawn silhouette of a person. Kakashi had sung a stupid children’s rhyme, informing her it was her job to hit each area he called with absolute precision while expertly thrusting needle thin chakra strikes from her hands. They’d had to move on to a boulder after her rage at her Sensei’s childish behavior caused her to splinter the tree trunk and bring it crashing down.

The silhouette was starting to crumble around the areas Kakashi was demanding she strike. She was exhausted, considering she had to dip down low to hit the knees and toes area accurately, on top of the endless attacks her arms were raining down on the impassive rock. It was a nightmare of a full body workout. She knew she needed it. Not only was her chakra control and chakra reserves improving, but she was also physically gaining ground as well. She knew that she was improving in leaps and bounds, and it only reinforced that Kakashi’s crazy methods were effective.

But damned if she didn’t want to strangle her Sensei.

“Alright!” he called, clapping once to gather her attention.

She dropped limply to the ground, gasping for air and body trembling with fatigue.

He wandered over to her and squatted next to her prone figure. “It’s lunch time. Let’s go meet up with the boys, hmm?”

Her only answer was a grunt. He simply eye smiled and slipped her onto his back before taking off towards a hidden cave in a forgotten training ground. The cave was the perfect campsite, keeping their gear safely tucked away out of sight as well as letting them sleep out of the weather without the need for a tent. It helped that the cave turned sharply to the side once you got inside, a hidden offshoot leading to a more roomy area with a soft dirt floor. The offshoot cavern also provided a perfect way to hide the glow of their fire, and the smoke was filtered out through various cracks in the cavern ceiling. She groaned at being jostled, but gratefully let him carry her, as she really didn’t think she could get back via her own efforts.

When they arrived, Sasuke was scowling at a small fire, watching their lunch cook on a spit. About three feet away from Sasuke, Naruto was sprawled out face down, moaning piteously. Kakashi gently set Sakura on a rock on the other side of Naruto before dashing off to find some more wild berries and nuts for lunch, knowing his cute little genin could use the extra nutrients other than just the wild boar his other clone had caught after dismissing Naruto for lunch.

Now that she was closer, Sakura could see that Sasuke had tremors running through his body as well, his clothes as damp as hers with sweat.

“My everything hurts…” bemoaned Naruto, his voice muffled. His usual jacket was missing, and his black t-shirt looked like it had been wrung out once already.

“Welcome to being normal,” muttered Sasuke bitterly.

“This is normal?!” Naruto asked shrilly, his head popping up for just a moment to stare at them incredulously before it flopped back down with a solid *thump!*.

Sakura chuckled weakly. “Yeah, this is what we regularly feel like trying to keep up with your ungodly stamina.”

“...point to Kyubi. That is handy.” He turned his head to the side so he could look at his teammates.

Kakashi came slouching into the clearing to perch on a rock opposite of Naruto. Though he pretended to be nonchalant, his clothes were also heavy with sweat and there was a sense of weariness clinging to his shoulders. “So,” he said in false cheer. “Everyone enjoying their morning?”

“I hate you,” intoned Naruto, still prone.

Kakashi just smiled at him, and after a long beat, Naruto groaned. “Okaaaay, fine. You’re awesome and we love you for being a kick-ass Sensei.” His expression morphed into a pout. “Still hate you,” he said mulishly. There was no heat behind the words, so Kakashi simply chuckled good naturedly.

“I’m with Naruto on this one,” mumbled Sakura, wincing as she barely remained upright when she shifted to get more comfortable. She looked at Kakashi cautiously. “Are we doing more of the same training after lunch?” There was obvious dread in her voice.

The silver haired man just smiled at her until she dropped her head with a groan.

He chuckled again.”Just kidding. Training your body to its fullest is important, but you don’t want it to be detrimental by overdoing it. After lunch we’ll do an hour meditation session followed by an hour dedicated to honing your other senses. Zabuza is an expert at silent killing, and I want you all to work hard enough you get better at finding a solution if you were to fight him.”

“But you told us not to fight him,” whined Naruto.

Kakashi hummed in agreement. “You’re not, but he isn’t the only one to have such skills. It would be wise if you all had a counter measure if you are ever in a situation where you cannot rely on your eyesight.” He gave Sasuke a meaningful look. “It would especially benefit someone with Dojutsu. Ninja with Dojutsu tend to rely too heavily on it. It would be wise to find other methods of fighting so that if an enemy manages to exploit the known issue of over reliance on Dojutsu, you will still be able to continue the fight without it.” Their Sensei shifted, holding out his hand as his clone dumped some berries in his cupped palm. He watched his genin do the same. “I’m not just saying this. Had we been forced to fight Zabuza and he used his silent killing technique, I would have used my heightened sense of smell to find him. If I couldn’t have done it, I would have summoned my hounds.”

“So you’re going to train us in olfactory?” Sakura looked torn between being interested and being disgusted.

“Depends.” He shrugs. “Olfactory is something my clan was good at. I inherited that skill as well. However, what works for me may not work for you. That is why we will be spending an hour trying to hone your other senses. Depending on which is the most potent, we will work on training it up to combat effectiveness.”

Sasuke grunted.

“You said it, ‘Ke,” mumbled Naruto. “That training is gonna be a nightmare.”

Sasuke smirked. “And here I thought you would have a harder time trying to sit still for meditation.”

Naruto flashed him a crude hand gesture.


 

Naruto shifted uncomfortably under the dumbfounded looks his team was giving him. “What?”

“Why do you wear the jumpsuit?” demanded Kakashi. “You’re literally crippling yourself as a ninja.”

Naruto winced, looking down as his toe dug into the grass and dirt. “It was easier. Without it…” he shifted again, gaze darting to the side. He swallowed thickly. “Do you have any idea how hard it was to walk around the village without it?”

Kakashi visibly winced. “Right. Okay.” He sighed heavily, his shoulders sagging with the weight of his student’s response. He rubbed his face tiredly. “Has it… gotten better?”

The blond did a weird twitchy thing with his shoulder, head, and hands in indecision. “Sort of?” He shrugged. “Because I’ve been using henged clones for everything, the villagers haven’t really seen much of me since I became a genin. They haven’t been quite so…” He gestured vaguely. “I dunno.”

Kakashi sighed. Naruto’s eloquence for words always seemed to fall short when he was trying to explain things that tested his emotional control. Kakashi wasn’t really surprised. The whole of Team 7 had that problem. But because they’d been training to read the subtler body language, they all understood what he was trying to express. Kakashi couldn’t help but drop a hand on the blond’s head and ruffle his hair. “Would you be able to handle it now?”

Naruto squirmed a bit, squinting up at his sensei in uncertainty. “Maybe?” he mumbled, looking away.

“You know I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important,” Kakashi pressed, feeling guilty when Naruto looked torn between making his sensei happy and fear that had most likely been beaten into him.

“But you said my other senses were pretty enhanced too,” murmured the blond, a lilt of hope in his voice.

Kakashi simply kept his hand on the blond’s head. “They are, and we will train in them too. But this…” He gestured vaguely at Naruto standing there dressed in just a pair of shorts. “This is a big deal. Your sensitivity with air vibrations is...phenomenal. Do you have any idea how incredibly useful that would be to you? Especially as a wind element?” Kakashi shook his head. “You have the potential to be nigh untouchable, if trained correctly.”

Naruto wilted. “Okay.”

Kakashi felt a huge weight of pride and guilt as he watched his young genin shuffle towards his teammates. He was proud when Sasuke lightly bumped into Naruto and Sakura outright slung an arm over the blond’s shoulders in order to comfort him. The jounin knew he would need to do something to silently apologize for pushing the issue and also to show support.

He cleared his throat and tried to throw in some levity. “Naruto, I heard this rumor about a bet against one of Gai’s students?”

Naruto blinked before a devious smile lit his face. “It has been almost a week.”

The jounin eye smiled. “And Gai always encourages follow through on challenges, be they won or lost.”

“Clones?” asked Sasuke. A grin was threatening to curl his lips.

“Cha!” cheered Sakura, thrusting her fist up in the air. “My chakra should be replenished enough now!” This was followed quickly by a groan of pain for moving so excitedly.

Kakashi chuckled. “Mah, mah, slow down. Did anyone remember to grab a camera?”

All three of his genin snorted. He blinked at them, bemused they’d managed to do so in sync.

“We all have one stored in our gear at all times,” began Sasuke.

Sakura nodded sagely. “After all, proof is everything.”

“Plus, there’s always a need for research,” remarked Nartuo, reminding the silver haired jounin eerily of a certain sannin.

Kakashi eyed the blond cautiously. “Research?”

“Of course!” stepped in Sakura. “It’s really handy for a disguise if we’re playing tourists in a new area and need to scout out a place discreetly.”

“We might even get lucky and lift some tricks off ninja from other villages.” Sasuke leaned against a tree calmly, arms crossed.

Kakashi hummed. “Sharingan?”

Sasuke shook his head. “Too obvious. A camera is much safer. We’ve even used a seal to mute any noise it makes, courtesy of that one you used for our bunker.”

“You could just get eyewear,” remarked Kakashi.

“Most people who wear eyewear are dojutsu users, so still too obvious,” remarked Sakura, shaking her head. “We’ve discussed the idea before. The best idea would be to wear a full facemask that encourages anonymity rather than possible dojutsu. Problem being, however, we’re actively trying to keep up Masks. We need people to see us. The only way we could get away with a disguise is one, we all were going anonymous, and two, the hokage allowed us to do secret missions that he personally assigns and keeps out of standard files. Anything else would be pointless.”

Kakashi beamed at them, impressed with their thoroughness. “You’d have to be chunin at least,” he remarked blithely.

Naruto frowned. “Actually, I wanted to ask about that. Are we taking this shot seriously, or are we trying to fail?”

Kakashi blinked. “What?”

Naruto shifted uneasily, glancing at his teammates for support. Both nodded subtly, so he continued. “You’ve been stressing the need for Masks, but in order to become chunin, we’d have to ditch them to even be taken seriously during the testing. If it isn’t obvious to everyone that we’re capable, the council could protest the advancement and cause us to either stagnate or get bumped back down.” He lifted a shoulder in a partial shrug. “This is going to be more of an issue for Sakura and I than it will be for Sasuke, but even he might get jilted by other ninja who think he only got the rank because of his clan status.” Naruto scratched his head nervously. “So… I guess, do you want us to take this seriously? Or did you want us to wait?”

Sakura took up their line of questioning. “We understand that you might have only entered us to show us a better example of what the life of a ninja was like, maybe even just to get a feel of what other villages techniques are like. We also weren’t sure if becoming chunin would separate our team. There have been cases that good teams stay together their whole careers, but we haven’t yet proven we’re better together than separate. If that was a concern, you might wish us to fail so that we could stick together longer.” She shrugged. “We aren’t sure what direction you want us to take. We would prefer to stay together. One, we’re learning a lot from you and we don’t want to give that up. Two, we’re the only ones who know how talented we each are and can take full advantage of those skills. Breaking up our team now would be hazardous for both our training and our missions. The fact we’ve been so effective with our Masks only proves that point further and adds the frustration of having to include other people in the loop. Three, we want to advance together, and advancing does open new options and possibilities for us, but we are willing to wait for advancement if it means we can’t stay together as a team. Four…” She shuffled, shooting embarrassed but endearing looks to her teammates, who gave her soft smiles in return. “We’re Team 7.”

Their following smiles now included him, and he felt his heart twist painfully. Kakashi had no idea how his crazy scheme had managed all of this, but damned if he wasn’t super proud of them and touched that all four of them (yes, he’s including himself in that) lived up to his expectations of teamwork…and excelled far past them too.

Hell...he didn’t want to give them up either. He was going to have to speak with Hiruzen again. This was getting more complex, but in the best way, in his opinion. He’d fight to death and beyond for these three.

“Hmm…” He scratched his jaw, pretending to think about it in order to hide the fact his eye was a little misty. “Give me a couple days to run some things by the Hokage.” He gave them an eye smile. “For now, treat it like you want to win.” He waved his fingers airily. “After all, there’s no better motivation for training than wanting to achieve a high goal such as winning the Chunin Exams.”

His cute little genin beamed at him.

“You bet Kakashi!” cheered Naruto, throwing in a fistpump for added emphasis.


 

“Hey Dotty!” called Naruto, waving wildly.

Tenten, usually one to lash out harshly at such a ridiculous nickname, hardly twitched. She was staring blankly past them, arms hanging limply at her sides.

Naruto shuffled over to stand next to her and follow her line of sight. He couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. “Why do you look like you’ve seen somethin’ freaky?” He squinted around again before looking back at her for a response.

She rose a shaky hand and pointed to Neji talking to someone across the street. Neji looked like someone had come up and outright slapped him out of the blue.

The blond tilted his head in confusion. “Dude, Prude always looks like someone stuffed a stick up his butt.”

Sakura sighed. “Naruto, you really need to quit calling people by such terrible names.”

Naruto huffed. “Hey! We’ve never been properly introduced! How would I know what their names are?!”

The pinkette groaned. “Naruto, their names were announced in the preliminary matches.” When he stared at her blankly, she groaned even longer. “This is why I told you to pay attention!” She bopped him on the head.

“Ow! Sakura-chaaaan! That hurt!” He rubbed his head and pouted while Sasuke hovered a small distance away looking peeved.

“Are you done yet?” grumbled the raven haired teen. “We have places to be.”

“Shut up, Bastard!” Naruto held up a threatening fist.

Sakura’s eye twitched. She lurched forward and held up her own threatening fist at the blond. “Focus! You said you needed to check on Lee!”

Naruto stared at her blankly. “Who?”

“Lee! The one in the second exams?” Sakura looked like she was ready to outright throttle Naruto and was contemplating where to bury the body as she hissed between her teeth, more so when his uncomprehending gaze didn’t change. “Bushy brows!” she blurted. Kami-sama! He’d gotten her to resort to using his stupid nickname for Lee! She wanted to bash her head into a wall.

“Oh! Why didn’t you say so?” Naruto perked up and started jerking his head this way and that. “Where’s Bushy Brows, Dotty?”

Tenten finally registered what he was calling her and threw an appropriate amount of sharp pointy’s in his direction. She internally smirked when she heard him yelp and dive to the ground to avoid getting turned into a pincushion. She also ripped her gaze away from Neji’s direction to acknowledge her sudden guests. “He’s over there.” She pointed again towards Neji.

The blond grumbled something under his breath as he climbed to his feet and squinted across the street once more. He narrowed his eyes further before he huffed. “Where? I don’t see him! Is he inside?” He eyed the tea shop warily. It was one of the places that really didn’t like him and he avoided unless he was pranking them.

Tenten shuddered. “No. He’s talking to Neji.” She seemed to be straining not to look over there herself, and her pallor was even more sickly.

Confused, Naruto examined the teen talking to Neji. His black hair was cut and styled in a tamed tousle look, talking animatedly to the very sullen Hyuga. He was wearing fitted black ninja pants taped at the calf to the ankles with a dark green sleeveless tunic and wide belt. His hands were taped up to the elbow, and ninja pouch hung from his belt.

And then he turned, as if feeling the group of four (Tenten had given up trying to avoid looking again, and five if you count a hidden Kakashi on the roofs) staring at him. He blinked and then he grinned widely, his teeth pinging in the afternoon light as he gave them a double thumbs up in greeting.

A shrill shriek of horror escaped Sakura’s lips, an automatic response after Lee’s initial boisterous greeting and follow up flirting. All she needed to see was the brilliant shine of teeth and she was literally climbing the wall behind Tenten (it had not helped that they had been stalking Lee and Gai since the idea of pranking Gai had blossomed. They had seen those blinging teeth far too often. Because it only helped their Masks, all three of her teammates had encouraged this reaction until it really had become ingrained as a habit).

“YOSH! Your flames of youth are bright as ever Sakura-san! You’re training with great enthusiasm is inspiring!” bellowed Lee, crossing the road in a flash to look up as Sakura disappeared over the top of the building and off across the rooftops.

She made it four blocks before she remembered why they’d made a point to search Lee out, and grudgingly, started making her way back to the group.

Naruto was plastered against the wall in shock, openly gaping at Lee as he cheerfully grinned at everyone. Sasuke was twitching in a nice spaztastic fashion, looking ready to bolt at any second.

Kakashi was twitching too, but that was from trying to suppress his laughter at his Genin’s reactions.

“WHERE ARE YOUR EYEBROWS?!” blurted Naruto, pointing an accusing finger at Lee’s face.

Lee frowned in confusion. “Why, right on my face, Naruto-san!” He ran a finger along the finely trimmed eyebrow that was still broad but looked normal vs what it had looked previously.

Tenten patted Naruto on the shoulder. “Trust me, I can’t get over it either.” She shuddered. “He looks...normal. And...I don’t know how to feel about it.” She rolled her eyes. “I threatened him when he was in our training ground because I thought he was a stranger intruding on our space.” She shrugged. “But his voice and actions haven’t changed, so I haven’t completely freaked out and dragged him to T and I.”

A slow smirk suddenly crawled across Sasuke’s face as he turned to Naruto. “Maybe you should talk to Ino too and do something about that hideous jumpsuit.”

“Hey! Bastard! My jumpsuit is awesome!”

“No it’s not,” remarked Sakura with a roll of her eyes, rejoining the group casually as if she hadn’t left screaming for the hills. "Orange is not the new black."

Tenten gave her a funny look but shook her head and also eyed the orange eyesore. “Why are you wearing something so bright? You realize that’s a deathtrap, right?”

“Psh! Tell that to the people who couldn’t find me after a prank!” Naruto boasted, crossing his arms with a defiant smirk.

Tenten blinked. “Oh. You’re that kid.”

Everyone gave her a look.

“What the hell does that mean?!” demanded Naruto, looking ready to grab her and shake her for such a comment.

She smirked at him. “When you’re ready to be a real ninja, let me know.” She held out a high grade kunai. “After all, for ninja, quality is everything.” She expertly spun it before it disappeared as quickly as she had produced it.

She sauntered away, grabbing Lee’s collar and dragging him behind her as she met up with Neji. They left down the street without a glance backwards, leaving Naruto shrieking a few profanities at them and how awesome a ninja he was.

Forgotten on the roof, Kakashi was about rolling, the whole exchange having gone far better than he expected.


 

In a hidden campground about fifteen minutes later, a group of four twitched and were all left muted mid conversation.

After an uncomfortably long pause for all of them to really take in what their clones had seen, Kakashi cleared his throat. “Your young friend’s talent in attire aside, now would be a good time for such a transition. Such a big change could easily be expected during an event like this.” He didn’t look at the blond across from him, but all of them knew the comment was targeted towards him.

Sakura blinked. “What about for all of us?”

Naruto perked up, honestly feeling a bit hopeful about the idea as it would make him feel less exposed.

Sasuke shifted and a faint groan escaped it. “You’re right. Now would be perfect.”

“Oh?” queried the jounin, poking the fire listlessly. He glanced up at his genin.

Sakura and Sasuke smirked, and both Naruto and Kakashi got a shiver down their spines.