Chapter Four: Prime

Early Morning

They say that traditionally, to balance the teams, the best and the worst of the graduates are put together on the same team. That is how the Boy, manipulated by the old man into being the 'dead last' of the class, ends up on the same team as the black-haired boy and the pink-haired girl, who both scored among the top in their class. Their teacher is a masked jōnin.

The Boy knows that the old man must have put him on this team on purpose. He passed the old man's previous test with the scroll, but he senses that his placement on this specific team must also be a test. So when the masked jōnin asks them to tell him about themselves, the Boy decides to go with the most laughable answer he can think of.

"My dream is to become the Hokage," he says poker-faced. The pink-haired girl scoffs, but the masked jōnin looks at him appraisingly. The Boy is amused to see just the barest trace of relief flicker in his eyes.

"Let's see how the old man reacts to that," he whispers to the Voice, who chuckles in response.

The jōnin tells them that their graduating from the Academy does not automatically make them genin, and that they must pass his test to truly graduate to the next level. At first the Boy wonders if this is the old man's true test for him, but the jōnin's 'test' is half-hearted, and they easily pass it within the hour. Thus, the Boy reasons that the specific team he was placed on is relevant to the old man's plans for him. He does not know much about either of his new teammates despite having been in the same class, so he begins to watch them closely.

The black-haired boy does not talk much. There are always a flock of girls surrounding him and trying to get his attention, but he does not pay them much mind. His facial expressions do not change much either; he always seems to be looking at something far off in the distance. The Boy vaguely remembers that several years ago, the entire village was in an uproar because most of the members of the black-haired boy's clan were killed.

"What's that you're reading?" the Boy asks. In a flash, the black-haired boy immediately puts the book away, but not before the Boy sees the title – 'Vengeance: The Ultimate Path to Power and Retribution.'

"Mind your own business," the other boy says coldly and slinks away.

The pink-haired girl is much easier to read. The Boy noticed her a long time ago when he saw her getting bullied by some of the other children, but she has changed since then. She is more self-concerned now, and is a part of the flock that is constantly pestering the black-haired boy.

"What's that you're reading?" the Boy asks. The pink-haired girl jumps in surprise and turns red. The Boy has just enough time to read the book's title – 'The Roots of Love: Herbs to Change His Heart' – before she slaps him with it. In disbelief, the Boy raises a hand to his stinging cheek.

"You creep, stop sneaking up on people!" she says shrilly before scurrying away.

That night, the Boy has to shackle himself to his bed so that he doesn't go out and ruin years of scheming by murdering her in her sleep.

And then there is the masked jōnin. At first, he does not seem to care about the team much, but the Boy can sense the man's eyes on him whenever his back is turned. The jōnin's primary expression is bored but when the man thinks nobody is watching, his face defaults into a quiet, contemplative expression.

"What's that you're reading?" the Boy asks.

"The answer to the meaning of life." The masked jōnin's fish-eyes do not even leave the page he is reading, and the Boy has to crane his head to read the title – 'Icha Icha Paradise.'

After mulling over his observations, the Boy concludes that for the most part, they seem to be a ragtag group with no ulterior purpose for being put together. But the Voice's reaction to the masked jōnin in particular unnerves the Boy.

"Don't talk to him any more than necessary," the Voice snarls when they are back in their apartment.

"I know," the Boy says. "You don't like it when I talk to other people."

"This man in particular," the Voice insists gutturally. The Boy pauses, surprised by the note of urgency in the Voice's tone. "He's dangerous."

"Even more than the old man?" The Boy is naturally intrigued.

"Yes. Stay away from him."

Despite the Boy's further prodding, the Voice refuses to elaborate anymore, so that is that.

Now that they are officially of 'genin' rank, the Boy and his team start doing missions. At first, they are given menial missions that irritate the Boy. Some require them to spend hours chasing down a domestic animal in the forest. Others require them out under the searing sun to watch over fields of crops and chase away crows. But the Boy suspects that the old man may be testing his patience and is just waiting for him to lose control, so he forces himself to endure. To his aggravation, his new teammates push the limits of his patience as the black-haired boy occasionally messes up a mission by doing things his own way while the pink-haired girl ignores both the masked jōnin and the Boy in favor of following the black-haired boy.

His wrists start showing signs of bruising as shackling himself to his bed becomes a daily occurrence.

But after a few months of grueling endurance, it pays off – they receive their first C-rank mission, which takes them on a low-key bodyguard mission outside of the village walls. Their client is a merchant who is visiting a minor harbor city along the borders of an island country.

After a long week of civilian-pace travel, they arrive at the city. Since they have to accompany the merchant back to their village, they are invited to spend a week at an inn at the merchant's expense. In their free time, the masked jōnin begins to teach them how to control their chakra flow by practicing tree-climbing in the surrounding forest.

To the Boy's annoyance, the exercise is harder than it looked. And even worse, the pink-haired girl is the best among them at it.

"This is pretty easy!" she gloats, looking down at the Boy from a high branch. The Boy rubs the bruise on his head and doesn't say anything.

"It looks like the best at controlling chakra right now is Sakura," the masked jōnin says in a bored voice as he hangs upside down from a branch. "Unlike you two, her control and stamina are quite good. As of now...Sakura is the closest to becoming Hokage, unlike a certain someone..." His eyes rest on the Boy's, before shifting over to the black-haired boy's panting figure. "I guess the Uchiha clan isn't worth much either."

The black-haired boy scowls, and the girl visibly grows agitated at the sight of her crush's dismay.

"Shut up sensei!" She stabs a finger furiously at the jōnin, who ignores her.

After just a day, the girl manages to master tree-climbing so she is allowed to accompany the masked jōnin as he carries out several other minor missions in the city.

Ignoring each other, the two boys continue to direct chakra to their feet and race up the tree, marking their progress with kunai.

"Why is this so hard?" the Boy grumbles, after falling down for the thirty-first time that afternoon.

"Don't get so riled up," the Voice instructs him. "Relax and focus on the feeling of contact between the tree and your feet."

Though the Boy makes progress – matching the other boy's progress – he eventually decides to take a break and relieve his pent-up frustration. Distancing himself from the clearing, he walks briskly through the thick forest. Keeping a keen eye out, he eventually spots clumps of pale fur littered across a pile of flattened grass.

With a smile, he stops. Kneeling down, the Boy reaches out and brushes away the fur and grass to reveal a nest with several small curled up furry bodies. They must have just been born, as their eyes are still tightly shut. Their mother hops around in agitation at his discovery, but he pounces on it, grabbing it by the ears. He then uses his kunai to slit its throat.

Without touching the babies, the Boy carefully dismantles the nest. Then, shoving his kunai deeper against its throat, he slathers some of the mother's blood around them in a circle. Taking a step back to admire his handiwork, the Boy hides behind a bush and lies in wait.

Soon, drawn by the scent of blood, a hungry-looking fox slinks into view. Catching sight of the litter, it perks up and bounds over to the nest.

"Here we go," the Boy whispers to the Voice in anticipation.

But just as the fox clamps its sharp teeth around one of the rabbits, a girl with long black hair suddenly bursts through a patch of bushes. With a yelp of surprise, the fox flees, its prize still dangling from its maw.

For a second, the girl looks in dismay down at the destroyed nest and the dead mother's body beside it.

"Why would you do something like this?" she says quietly, turning her head to look at exactly where the Boy is hiding. After a pause, the Boy shrugs and walks out of the bushes.

"What're you going to do about it?" the Boy says, cocking his head sideways. He is genuinely curious; the fact that the girl was able to approach without his hearing her implies that she has had at least some training. But the girl just gives him an appraising look, and then shakes her head.

"I'm going to take them, and take care of them," she says shortly. Kneeling besides the nest, she scoops the balls of fur into a woven basket. Before she leaves, she gives him a hard look, and he feels his fingers twitch. "If you try to come after me, I'll kill you." Silently, she disappears into the forest.

The Boy returns to the inn that day, rather put out at the loss of his source of entertainment.

During dinner, as the pink-haired girl alternates as usual between gushing about her experiences in the city and complimenting the black-haired boy, the Boy consults the Voice.

"Why do girls talk so much about pointless things?"

"It's in their nature," the Voice growls.

"How do you get them to stop without killing them?" The Boy stabs his fish with his fork.

"You ask the impossible."

The Boy sighs and is about to shovel another spoonful of rice into his mouth when the Voice speaks up again.

"But...there is one way to break a woman's spirit," says the Voice.

"What is it?" the Boy asks.

So the Voice tells him.

"I thought you said that that was fun?" the Boy says after a pause.

"Only when it's voluntary," the Voice informs him.

Three days later, it is still early in the morning and the Boy is practicing tree-climbing with the black-haired boy, when the masked jōnin suddenly returns. He has a grim look on his face and is holding the pink-haired girl in his arms. She is conscious, but unresponsive; even when the black-haired boy approaches them to ask what is going on, she looks at him with dead eyes.

The masked jōnin only tells them that she was assaulted, before he disappears inside the house with her. The two boys look at each other, and follow him inside.

The girl is laid down in a futon and the masked jōnin makes tea in a kettle. Putting a cup of it beside the girl, he then tells the two boys to watch over her, and leaves with a dark look on his face. Settling down on mats, they silently keep vigil beside the girl, who mutely turns her back on them and faces the wall.

A short time later, the Boy's eyes fly open as an influx of memories suddenly rush into his mind, and he has to hold himself back from letting a gleeful grin contort his features.

In his memory's eye, he watches as several of his clones, transformed to look like nondescript scruffy young men, stalk the pink-haired girl. She is alone; they watch as she leisurely picks petals off of a flower in a small forest clearing. As soon as the last petal falls, she sighs and is about to get up, when she hears a twig snap. She freezes – and then they converge on her.

One of his clones holds the struggling girl down, while another stuffs a gag into her mouth, cutting off her screams. They kick and beat her for a while before a third clone suddenly leans over her and lowers his pants. Then, watching the wide-eyed girl as tears stream down her face, he takes her roughly. The sound of flesh slapping on flesh rings through the clearing and after several thrusts, the girl stops fighting. The tears dry on her face and she listlessly looks up at the overhanging branches.

When the clone is on the verge of finishing, he pulls out. The other clones tie her limp body against a tree while another throws a bucket of water at her, washing away some of the fluids that glisten on her skin. Leaving her drenched, they flee the scene.

"That scroll really paid off," says the Boy as the final memory flashes through his mind. "Who'd have thought the Kage Bunshin could come in so handy?"

"Flawless clones. You covered your tracks well, mastered tree-climbing, and taught that vermin human a lesson," the Voice praises him. "Well done."

The Boy flushes in pride.

Some time later, the masked jōnin returns with an unreadable look on his face and the next day, they quickly return to Konoha. The jōnin holds the girl the whole way.

Soon afterwards, while taking his turn to sit by the girl's bedside in the hospital, the bored Boy overhears the nurses talking about a bridge that was being constructed in the island nation that has been destroyed by gangsters.

For dinner that day, the Boy enjoys a bowl of ramen in his apartment and laughs at a comic he picked up at the hospital's gift shop.

A/N: I suppose if Naruto were to read a book, he'd be reading 'Villainy 101.'

Sorry if anything offended anyone. I did warn you he was going to be pretty morally reprehensible.

And I haven't responded to most of your reviews yet because I wanted to see reactions for this chapter first, so please have patience.