This time I'm serious, this is the last new fic I'm posting until I finish one of the ones I'm already working on! Sorry to anyone who wants me to update one of my other fics, but I just couldn't get this plot bunny out of my head and it was causing me setbacks. Also, the reason behind the title will become apparent later. Just trust me. Anyway, enjoy!

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or anything in this fic. Any original jutsu I come up with that aren't inspired by something else belong to either me or someone else, though.

Spiral X

Chapter 1: Cross My Heart

It was a warm, sunny, overall perfect day. The kind of day where you were happy to be alive. It was also a dark day, if you were Uzumaki Naruto, who sat at his designated swing with a dejected look on his face and overall dark cloud over his head.

You could tell just by on the look on his normally happy-go-lucky face that something really had him down. 'Why'd she say that...? I mean, I know I can get on people's nerves sometimes, but I like to think that I'm a good person...'

As if to prove him wrong, two civilians were walking by, minding their own business, yet they saw him.

"Look, it's him."

"Looks like he's in a bad mood. Wonder why?"

"Yeah, right! He has to have feelings to have moods."

Naruto winced at the not-so-subtle insult before they left. He tried to hold back tears, desperate to not let anyone see him cry. When people saw him cry, it only made them want to make him cry more, until he was at risk of dehydrating from it. And, even if no one was around to see it, years from conditioning made it natural for him to want to hide it. However, one person was there to see it.

Hyuuga Hinata, heiress apparent of the Hyuuga clan, had been walking back from her first team meeting, seeming more confident than usual and having a slight spring in her step. She and her teammates, Aburame Shino and Inuzuka Kiba with his ninken Akamaru, had just passed their final genin test. She was in a good mood today.

'I want to see Naruto-kun, he should be happy too, since I just know he passed the test too.' She thought as she had head to him, having spotted him earlier with her Byakugan.

When she saw him in person though, she saw he was less than happy, if not as far from it as she had ever seen him before. Hinata frowned lightly at this. To her, it wasn't right to see Naruto so sad. Normally, she would have been to shy to even think about approaching him. But, thanks to her slight increase in confidence from passing her final genin test and her desire to see Naruto happy, she was able to do more than just think about doing it.

"Naruto-kun?" She said to get his attention, walking up to him.

It worked, he turned to her. "Hinata? What brings you here?"

Hinata smiled shyly, but proudly. "M-my team and I passed our final genin test earlier a-and I was passing by hoping t-to run into you."

"You were hoping to see me?" Naruto repeated, baffled by that since his experience no one ever wanted to see him for reasons that turned out good on his end. "Why?"

Hinata blushed a little and poked her fingers together. "W-well, I-I was sure that y-you passed your final genin test too, s-so I w-was hoping w-we could c-celebrate..."

"We haven't even started it yet." He told her.

Hinata was surprised to hear this. "Y-you haven't? Wh-why?"

The blonde boy shrugged. "No idea. I think my sensei's just lazy. It took him three hours just to show up today."

Hinata blinked at this. Three hours? Who takes three hours just to show up?

Naruto looked down. "With the way things are going, I might never get a chance to be a ninja."

Hinata frowned at this. Something happened between when his sensei showed up and now that upset her blond crush deeply, she just knew it. "Naruto-kun... what happened?"

"What makes you think something happened?"

"No one's in a bad mood for no reason, what happened that hurt you? I doubt it was your sensei being late."

Naruto sighed By his body language, it was obvious that he didn't want to talk about it. This made Hinata frown more deeply. "N-Naruto-kun... please tell me. I just want to help in any way I can."

"I don't think anyone can help." He said. "Nothing will change what she said."

'Someone must have told him something terrible, and I'm thinking it was Sakura-san.' The Hyuuga heiress thought. "What did she say?"

Naruto sighed. He didn't want to recount it, but he knew Hinata probably wouldn't give up. 'And who knows, maybe talking about it will make me feel better.'

"It happened during the team introductions."

Flashback

"Let's start by telling each other about ourselves, such as our likes, dislikes, hobbies, goals. That sort of thing." The three hours late sensei Kakashi said to his irritated students.

"Why don't you go first, sensei?" Haruno Sakura, a pink-haired girl with green eyes, asked.

"I'm Hatake Kakashi, and I don't really feel like telling you any of that stuff." He said in an intentionally teasing way.

Sakura and Naruto's eyes twitched in slight annoyance while Sasuke merely frowned.

"Alright, how about you go first, Blondie?" Kakasi asked Naruto.

Naruto's eye twitched faster in annoyance, but he soon calmed himself down. "Alright, I'm Uzumaki Naruto. I like ramen, training, and the old man. I dislike waiting for ramen to finish cooking and people with no sense of humor. My hobby is pranking others and gardening, and my goal is to become hokage, that way everyone will respect me."

Sasuke didn't react at all, as if Naruto hadn't even breathed. To him, this was mostly common knowledge about Naruto. However, that gardening part was certainly unexpected. Sakura, however, just rolled her eyes.

Kakashi seemed to smile a bit at Naruto and, somehow, his one visible eye turned upwards into a u shape, kind of like his eye itself was smiling. Weird. "Alright, your turn, Sunshine." He said, speaking to Sasuke.

"My name is Sasuke Uchiha, don't ever call me anything else." The dark-haired boy warned. "I have no likes, too many dislikes to list, no real hobbies, and no goal, just an ambition, to kill a certain man for what he did to me."

Kakashi visibly frowned at the last bit while Naruto looked a bit freaked out and scooted a little further away from Sasuke. Sakura, on the other hand, was looking at Sasuke with a slight blush on her face.

"And you, Pinkie?" Kakashi added.

Sakura frowned at the nickname and glared at Kakashi, but then calmed herself down and got ready to take her turn. "I'm Haruno Sakura. I like, well..." She glanced at Sasuke briefly. "My hobbies are, um..." She glanced again. "My goal..." Same reaction.

'She's like one step below stalker.' Kakashi rued. "And you dislike...?"

"Naruto!" She yelled, causing Naruto to flinch in both surprise and disappointment. Naruto also looked down, feeling upset.

Kakashi frowned. "You finally give a straight answer, and it's an insult to your teammate? Say something nice about him."

Sakura frowned. "What's there to say about him that's nice? He's annoying, he's an idiot, and he can't do anything right! I'll bet he only passed because he went to Iruka-sensei when he was alone and begged him to not fail him!"

Naruto clenched his fist tightly at that last part, biting back a retort.

"Sakura, say something nice." Kakashi repeated.

"There is nothing nice to say about him. His own parents didn't care about him, why should I? Why should anyone?" Sakura insisted, glowering at the hurt blonde as if to rub it in more.

Kakashi frowned more. "So, you assume that because he's an orphan he was abandoned? The idea that maybe his parents were killed like Sasuke's were has never once crossed your mind?"

Sakura flinched at this while Sasuke glared at her. Naruto was also clenching his fist so tightly that he drew blood, doing his best to fight off the urge to hit his pink haired teammate and now former crush.

"Right now, I'd say this team has virtually no chance of passing. You have tomorrow morning to prove me wrong. Be at Training Ground Seven at 7 AM for a little test to see if this team isn't a waste of my time. Anyone who shows up late will be permanently banned from becoming a shinobi. And unless you enjoy vomiting, you won't eat breakfast. Remember what I said." Kakashi warned before disappearing.

Naruto left the rooftop without so much as a glance at the other two. They didn't try to stop him.

End flashback

Hinata was glaring at the ground after hearing the things that Sakura had said about Naruto. Yes, shy, kind-hearted, and seemingly innocent Hinata was glaring. And it wasn't an ordinary glare. It was one where, if looks could kill, whatever she was glaring at would have been lit ablaze and incinerated.

"That bitch." She said, not realizing she actually said it out loud.

Naruto looked up, surprised to hear that kind of language coming from a girl like Hinata. "You really think so?"

Hinata looked up at Naruto, a serious look on her face. "Naruto-kun, she assumed you were an orphan because your own parents didn't want you and assumed that that meant tat neither she nor anyone else should. If that's not a bitch, then I'm a pretty princess."

Naruto took a good, long look at Hinata. a contemplative look on his face. "Well, you've got the pretty part down."

Hinata blushed at this. "Wh-wh-what?"

"Well. you are pretty. Does anyone tell you that you aren't?"

Hinata blushed deeply at this and shook her head. "W-well no, b-but nobody e-ever really says I am e-either."

"Well, you are. You might not stand out as much as Sakura, but you have a gentle look to you that's really... calming." He told her, trying to find the right words.

Hinata smiled, blush still on her face, but then shook it off and refocused on the topic at hand. "Thank you Naruto-kun, and I'm sorry she thinks of you like that, but she's wrong. You're the opposite of what she says you are."

Naruto was surprised by this. "What do you mean, Hinata?"

"You're a nice person, you're not annoying, you're not an idiot, and you can do things right. But most important of all, people can and do care about you. Just because she doesn't, doesn't mean no one can or should." She said with a lot of firmness, knowing he needed his spirits lifted up. Besides, it's not like she was lying.

"Like who?" Naruto asked, feeling a bit better, but not one hundred percent sure that she was telling the truth. From the way she said it and the look on her face, it didn't seem like she was lying. But there was always a chance she could be.

Suddenly Hinata was feeling shy again, and tapped her fingers together. "Well..."

Naruto looked dejected. "You can't name someone, can you?" He sighed. "I knew it, no one likes me. Thanks anyway for trying."

Hinata shook her head. "N-no, that's not true. I-I... I l-like you...!"

"You're just saying that, aren't you?" He whispered, trying not to get hopeful.

Hinata shook her head again. "N-no, I-I mean it. I-I like you. Y-you're a wonderful person. Y-your also caring, funny, d-determined, and have a w-way of making me feel better about myself."

Naruto arched an eyebrow. "Then why didn't you ever say this before?"

Hinata's blush resurfaced itself, although not nearly as bad as it was before. "I-I was always t-too shy to before. B-besides, I was afraid y-you'd think I was just being weird."

"Well, I did kind of think you were weird with all the times you were quiet and hiding, but I wouldn't have told you to leave me alone."

Hinata blushed deeper. "Y-y-you knew...?!"

"Knew what?" He asked, confused.

Hinata shook her head. "N-n-never mind, i-it's nothing." Hinata gained a contemplated look. "S-say, Naruto-kun. I-if you're up for it,w-w-would y-you maybe want to g-get some ramen?"

Naruto thought that there was a chance she was trying to change the subject, but he just shrugged it off. He was never one to pass up ramen. Besides, he was enjoying Hinata's company and she'd made him feel better about what happened.

"Sure." He said with a grin. "I gotta say I always wanted to see what you'd be like if you opened up more instead of hid in the shadows."

Hinata smiled lightly at this and the two of them began making their way to Ichiraku's, Naruto leading the way. He seemed to be happier than before, but still not his normal self, and Hinata was well aware of that. But, until they got to their destination, she wasn't sure what else to say.

"Hey, old man!" Naruto called when he entered his favorite place, followed by the white-eyed girl. He sat down before he got a response, and Hinata did the same, sitting next to him. He had no complaints.

Teuchi came out from the kitchen area of the stand, a smile on his face. "Naruto! I was wondering when I'd see you today!" He then noticed the new girl. "And who's this with you? You finally got a date with that girl you keep talking about?"

Naruto looked down a bit at that. "Nah, this is Hinata. Sakura said she hates me. Not that she hates how I act, that she hates me."

Teuchi lost his smile. "Well, I did tell you Naruto that maybe that girl just wasn't interested in you. Sorry you had to learn it the hard way though, but a lot of lessons need to be learned that way."

Hinata frowned as well. "From what she said, not interested in him is putting what she thinks of him nicely."

"How so?" Teuchi asked. He looked at Naruto, but he didn't want to answer.

"From how Naruto-kun put it, this girl seems to believe that just because she dislikes him, everyone should and does. She even accused his parents of hating him." Hinata said for him.

Teuchi clenched his fist at this. "Remind me to introduce that girl to the business end of my ladle if I ever hear her say something like that."

"It's not worth it." Naruto quietly said.

Teuchi sighed. "Naruto, to me, it is. You're a nice boy who doesn't deserve to be treated like that."

"Still, it won't change her mind. That's what I really want."

Teuchi shook his head. "Forget about her, Naruto. If she doesn't see how good of a person you are and what she's missing out on, then that's her problem, not yours."

Hinata nodded in agreement. "He's right, Naruto-kun. She's the one missing out, not you."

"How is she the one missing out?" Naruto asked.

Hinata smiled, blushing lightly. "Because she's choosing to keep chasing after someone who just sees her as a pest instead of you, a funny, caring person who treats her like a person and not an annoyance."

Naruto didn't look convinced. "Well if I'm so great, then why doesn't she think so?"

Teuchi shook his head. "Because, if she's like most girls her age, she's shallow and goes for popular or lonely, brooder, bad-boy types."

"Then... why doesn't Hinata swoon over Sasuke-teme?" Naruto asked.

"Because I'm not interested." She told him.

"Naruto, I said most girls, not all girls. You can't judge a group solely by the actions of an individual." Teuchi corrected.

Naruto nodded. "Good point. And the fact that Hinata doesn't swoon over Sasuke-teme like all those other girls is a big plus for her in my book."

Teuchi nodded. "And, if you really need to know why this other girl wants nothing to do with you, why not simply ask her?"

Naruto shook his head. "No, even I can tell that won't get me the real answer. Heck, she'll just say how much she can't stand me as soon as she hears my voice." An idea formed in his head and he turned to Hinata. "However..."

Scene change – With Sakura

Despite the fact that only three hours ago she had already done it, Sakura once again made an attempt to get a date with Sasuke. And once again he said no and she was annoying. He left for home in case she didn't have the patience to wait another three hours. And, on his personal property, he could charge the pinkette with harassment if she pestered him.

This left Sakura with virtually nothing to do. Sure, she could have trained a bit, but that required getting sweaty and therefore was not an option. Bored, she was currently just sitting in one of Konoha's parks that allowed the native environment to bloom within the walls of the village without it having to be a training ground.

Looking around, Sakura decided to take in the scenery while she tried to think of something to do. 'Ino's busy, I'm not hungry, I'm broke, Mom's not home... damn, what is there even for me to do?' She asked herself with an annoyed inner voice and expression.

For a second, Sakura thought she heard someone call her name. But she brushed it off, thinking that she'd imagined it.

"Sakura?"

That time she definitely didn't imagine it. She looked around and saw Hinata coming up to her. "Yeah, what do you want?" she asked, sounding harsher than she intended to but her boredom hadn't left her.

To Hinata's credit, she didn't flinch. Just the opposite, in fact. She held back the urge to glare at the pink-haired girl. "I have something I need to talk to you about."

"Let me guess... Naruto-baka?"

Hinata frowned at this, but nodded. "Yes, I wish to talk to you about Naruto-kun."

"Geez, didn't think he would go crying to you like that. And he calls himself a guy." Sakura complained while rolling her eyes.

Hinata clenched her fist tightly. "Actually, Naruto-kun was alone sitting on his old swing at the academy, holding back tears and trying to be left alone. I was passing by, in a good mood, and was saddened to see him that way. I went over to him and did my best to get him to tell me what happened, but he didn't want to tell me."

Sakura looked at the Hyuuga heiress. "So here you are fighting his fight for him? He's only proving me right that he is pathetic."

Hinata seriously held back the urge to punch the pink-haired girl, whom she was seriously considering just thinking of as a bitch, in the face and knocking her teeth out. "I just want to know what your problem with Naruto-kun is? He's been nothing but nice to you and you treat him like dirt! What the hell is your problem?!"

"Why should I treat him anyway else? There's nothing wrong with the way I act."

Hinata glared at her. "So think that there's nothing wrong with mistreating someone who's never done anything to you?"

"He annoys me, that is doing something to me." Sakura claimed, sounding like that was reason enough to start the fourth shinobi war.

Hinata clenched her fist tightly. "I'll bet that, if Sasuke-san were doing it instead of Naruto-kun, you wouldn't feel that way."

Sakura got frigid and looked at the white-eyed girl like she just said something personal. "Sasuke-kun is never annoying!"

Hinata glared at Sakura. "He treats you like dirt and thinks of you as annoying for the same reasons why you see Naruto as annoying! Why do you still chase after him?!"

Sakura clenched her fist. "He does not treat me like dirt! He loves me!"

Hinata's glare held. "Who are you trying to convince, Pinkie? Me, or you?"

Sakura glared at Hinata as Hinata glared back. "Name one nice thing that Sasuke-san has ever said to or done for you, Sakura-san! One!"

"He loves me." Sakura repeated.

"Has he ever said it?" Hinata pressed.

"I know he loves me."

"Has? He? Ever? Said? It?"

Sakura froze at this. She just realized that he'd never said it. And, looking back, he'd never said anything nice to her.

Her momentum up, Hinata continued. "You fixate so much on a boy that can't stand the sight of you, telling yourself he loves you because it's what you WANT to believe is true. While a boy who would do anything for you is just asking to be given the chance, and you actually have the nerve to say his own parents wish he had never been born? If anyone else acted that way Sakura, what would you call them?"

Sakura was clenching her fists and had started shaking. "Stop it...!"

"Answer me, Sakura. If it was me or Ino or any other girl in our class who did what you did, what would you call them? Answer me!"

Sakura covered her ears. "Just shut up!"

Hinata crossed her arms, allowing herself to feel a bit victorious here. "What's the matter? Can't accept the truth?"

Sakura glared at her and uncovered her ears. "Well, what about you, huh? Why do you still have a crush on Naruto-baka when the idiot only has eyes for me?!"

Hinata glared at Sakura. "That's different and you know it! The main reason Naruto-kun doesn't notice me is because of how hard I try to avoid standing out due to my crippling shyness. And whenever Naruto-kun and I do interact, he's nothing but nice to me, just like he is to you. However, unlike you, I accept Naruto-kun for his faults and see how good of a person he is."

"Oh yeah? And what the hell's so great about that clown?!" Sakura challenged.

Hinata glared at Sakura, but then her expression soften. "For starters, he's never said a purposely hurtful thing to anyone unless he felt they truly deserved it, he's funny, determined, and he cares about others. I'll admit that, sometimes, he's not the brightest person out there, but that's mainly because he's never had anyone there to truly teach him anything or how to behave around others. And all of that is more than I can say about Uchiha-san."

Sakura rolled her eyes. "All I'm hearing is he's a dumb wimp who no one wants around except you. I'm not the one with the problem here Hinata, you are. Everyone agrees with me, Naruto's got no right to be a ninja. For you to be the one person who thinks otherwise, I swear you weren't dropped on your head as a baby, you were thrown on your head."

Hinata clenched her fist. She was sick and tired of hearing Sakura talk about Naruto like that. So, faster than Sakura could react, Hinata pulled her hand back while charging chakra into it and gave Sakura a Juuken-style slap across her face. The sound of the slap hitting Sakura echoed across the area as Sakura hit the ground before she knew what happened, the side of her face numbing. Casting one last glare at Sakura, who was still too shocked about what had happened to react, Hinata left.

Sakura had been so focused on her conversation with Hinata that she'd never noticed a pair of cerulean blue eyes watching from behind a tree, said eyes tearing up as she said more and more hurtful things. She also never noticed said pair of eye's widening in surprise at her mentioning of Hinata's crush on the subject of most of their conversation or at Hinata's final reaction.

And of course, Sakura never saw said eyes leave, but Hinata did.

Scene change – With Hinata and Naruto

Hinata ran to catch up to Naruto. Naruto had asked her to confront Sakura so that he could get the truth. Hinata was hesitant at first, especially when Naruto said that he'd be hiding and watching nearby so that he could hear the truth for himself, but agreed when Naruto offered to do any single favor she asked of him in exchange. She would have done it anyway, but calling in said favor would mean she could spend more time with Naruto and help him move past this, so she agreed. Luckily, it didn't seem like Naruto was running from her, but just trying to get away from where Sakura was.

"Naruto-kun?" She asked when she caught up to him.

The blonde boy was wiping his eyes, not wanting her to see the tears forming. "It's not enough she hates me, she has to hate anyone who doesn't?"

Hinata frowned and rubbed Naruto's back. "Just forget about her, Naruto-kun. If she's so cold that she could hate someone just for not hating you, then she's not worth crying over."

"It still hurts, though."

Hinata nodded. "It's natural that it does, but pain can't kill you Naruto-kun. If it could, no one would be alive."

Naruto sighed and nodded. "Good point. Hey, Hinata-chan...?"

"Yes?" She asked.

"I'm sorry for not noticing you more. I didn't realize it was hurting you."

Hinata shook her head. "I-it's fine, Naruto-kun. It was as much my fault as it was yours."

"How? You didn't do anything." He replied.

"That's exactly it, I didn't do anything." She said back. "And I should have, but I withheld myself. If I had just been as sure of myself back then as I was today, maybe this never would have happened."

Naruto shrugged and sighed. "What's done is done, Hinata. We can't changed the past. All we can do is live in the present and try to use the past to learn from our mistakes and make a better future."

Hinata blinked, then smiled. "How profound of you, Naruto-kun."

Naruto looked at her. "Huh? But I didn't say a single bad word."

She giggled. "I said profound, not profane."

Naruto still looked confused. "What's the difference?"

"Profound means it sounds like something a wise older person would say. Profane just means it sounds rude and vulgar, which means bad language before you ask what vulgar means."

Naruto nodded, getting it. "Ohhhhh... well, thanks, Hinata. I may not look like it, but I can be deep when I want to be."

"You should be more often, it's nice." She told him.

Naruto smiled a bit. "Thanks, I'll keep that in mind. By the way, about what Sakura said about you having a crush on me..."

Hinata blushed. "Umm..." She was unsure what to say. She refused to deny it, but was she ready to confess?

Naruto looked a bit awkward about it. "From the way she said it, I'm pretty sure she wasn't lying. Or, at the very least, she felt that what she said was the truth."

'He wants to know if it's true or not.' Hinata thought, detecting the real question he was indirectly asking.

"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to or don't feel like you're ready to. It'd just make me feel better to know that at least one girl my age feels that way about me. Hell, one girl my age not seeing me as a pest is enough for me." Naruto told her, trying to not pressure her.

Hinata smiled. "Thank you, Naruto-kun. And, no matter what, I will always be your friend."

Naruto smiled and gave her a one-armed hug, trying to not make her feel uncomfortable. "Thanks, Hinata. That makes me feel a lot better."

The good mood was back, this time shared between the two. And they were in no hurry to end it and spent some time just enjoying each other's company and learning more about the other. However, all good things must eventually end and both went home. For the first time in... possibly ever, Hinata went home with a smile.

Naruto walked her part of the way there, since he felt that he owed Hinata at least that much. Once Hinata got home and reached her room, it hit her that she'd technically had a date with Naruto and that he now more or less knew how she felt about him. Did he love her? No, he barely knew her.

Did he like her? Yes, what he did know he liked and wanted to be friends with her. Were they a couple? Not yet, but the possibility was very real. And, as far as Hinata was concerned, that was enough for now.

Hinata had dinner, got ready for bed, then went to sleep, her smile never once leaving her face. Back at his apartment, Naruto did the same, much happier than he was after he'd basically gotten his heart broken by Sakura.

Scene change – Training Ground Seven

Hoping that Kakashi wouldn't be late again, Naruto headed to the assigned training ground after eating a light breakfast. Yesterday, Hinata had pointed out that Kakashi had only suggested they not eat, he didn't actually order them not to. And even if he did throw up, as long as he ate soon enough to actually digest some of it, he'd still have the energy to take whatever test Kakashi had planned for them. With a bit of a hop in his step, Naruto soon arrived at the training ground, a large, happy, and genuine smile on his face.

However, that smile was soon replaced with a frown when he caught sight of Sakura. The pinkette caught sight of him too and looked about as pleased to see him as he did her. And, while it looked like she was tempted to make a cutting remark, she chose not to. Naruto was relieved at that, since the last thing he wanted at the moment was to get into a fight with his pink-haired teammate-to-be. Sitting under a shady tree, far away from Sakura, Naruto decided to relax until Kakashi and Sasuke showed up.

He and Sakura didn't have to wait long for the latter, seeing as said Uchiha showed up not long after Naruto did. What Naruto noticed, however, was that the young Uchiha directed a quick glare at Sakura before ignoring her. Either he was as or almost as upset about that comment that Sakura made yesterday about Naruto's parents as the blond himself was or Sakura had said or done something else to get on his bad side. Whatever it was, Naruto knew saying anything on it would only open the proverbial Pandora's Box on issues the team had with itself, and that was not how he wanted this day to go. So, keeping this in mind, Naruto decided to put it at the back of his mind and wait for their sensei to show up.

"Yo, guys." Kakashi greeted, appearing atop a training post, right on time. Anyone who knew him would immediately have believed him to be an imposter. However, Kakashi had a reason for being on time for once.

And that reason was to show the kunoichi genin-hopeful of his team that he was serious about what he'd said. Sakura's attitude had pretty much hit a nerve with him. While she didn't have to be Naruto's best friend, she was expected to get along with him for the job if nothing else. For the pinkette to regard the blonde like he was supposed to be 'never in sight, never in mind', it spelled disaster for this team, which he had enough of already.

Plus, after the Hokage had assigned him this team, Kakashi had taken a little time to carefully watch each of them, mostly paying attention to Naruto to get a good feel of why the Hokage was so determined to have him teach Naruto. He saw that, in many ways, they were a lot like his team under Minato-sensei had been. Sasuke reminded Kakashi of how himself had and Sakura, in some ways, reminded him of Rin. Only a lot more shameless in her personal preferences.

But Naruto was the one who caught his attention the most. This was due to the fact that, in many ways, the boy reminded him of his teammate and friend Uchiha Obito. Well , okay, they weren't very good friends at first, but they managed to change that just before Obito's death. Kakashi saw this team as his way of making up for mistakes he made as a member of Team Minato and as a way to make sure that none of them made the same mistakes that he himself and his teammates had made.

And Kakashi was hoping to start with two things. 'First, I need to get Naruto to stop focusing only on Sakura as a potential romantic interest and look elsewhere. After that I need to get this girl to focus on something other than Sasuke. Fangirl Syndrome destroys teamwork in ways little else can.'

"Don't sneak up on us like that!" Sakura told him.

Kakashi narrowed his one visible eye briefly as he remembered the horrible things the pinkette had said about Naruto. Both during the team introductions and when he had observed both her and Naruto when the girl had had her confrontation with the Hyuuga heiress the previous day with Naruto watching from behind a nearby tree.

"Enemies sneak up all the time, be aware of your surroundings. Lesson one, the enemy will almost never fight on your terms." He spoke, in an attempt to show he was not some mere babysitter. If these guys wanted to learn from him, they needed to see that they didn't call the shots, he did.

Naruto nodded, seeming to make a mental note of Kakashi's words. And Sasuke, from the look on his face, seemed to make a mental note of it as well. Sakura, on the other hand, seemed to disregard it at first.

"You guys think you're ready to be real ninja?" Kakashi asked, and got three nods. He then pulled out two small bells dangling from red threads. "Here's how you're going to prove it.

"I have two bells, and it is your job to get them from me within one hour." He pulled out an egg timer. "We'll use this to be sure of the time, and it's set to ensure no one tampers with it. You three have one hour, once I start the test, to get these bells from me. Anyone who fails to do so will be sent back to the academy."

Naruto and Sakura let out outraged yells at this while Sasuke frowned and glared at Kakashi. Kakashi simply ignored them all. "Also, the two that succeed will get breakfast, but the one that does has to want them eat. If you don't like it, you can quit right now."

Naruto sighed in relief. "It's a good thing I listened to Hinata when she told me that I should eat breakfast..."

"You what?" Sakura asked, then frowned. "So she says you should disobey your sensei and you just agree?"

Naruto looked at her as if he were bored of seeing her. "Cyclops here only suggested we not eat, he never actually ordered it. Besides, what ninja starves themselves?"

Kakashi eye-smiled at this and nodded. "Good, Naruto. Did you figure that out on your own or did Hinata-san tell you?"

Naruto rubbed the back of his head. "To be honest, if she hadn't pointed it out, I might have just blindly listened to your suggestion too. Won't make that mistake again."

'Hmm... while it's good that he's learning not to be thoughtless, now he's going to look for holes in my orders now. This could be... annoying later on.' Kakashi noted. But, even as he thought this, a slight smile crossed Kakashi's face underneath his mask. 'Still, at least I know that, if they pass, things won't be dull with him on the team.'

"Well then, looks like Naruto's got an advantage over the two of you."

Sakura frowned and tightened her fist. "He does not." Right then, her stomach growled.

"You're hungry, which is going to affect your stamina and focus, while he's not, meaning he's got energy to spare. And from what I can see, he actually remembered to bring weapons. Which is good, because you're going to need them to come at me with full force and get these bells." Kakashi told her.

Sakura looked down in slight shame while Naruto grinned and Sasuke smirked.

"So remember, come at me with full force to get these two bells, but expect me to fight back. You may begin..." He then tapped the button on the egg timer. "Now!"

Naruto made almost a dozen Kage Bunshin. Five of the Naruto's, along with Sakura and Sasuke, disappeared in a burst of speed while the remainder rushed at Kakashi.

Sasuke and Sakura just watched while hiding, surprised that Naruto actually could use multiple clones when just days ago he couldn't even make one without it looking like a dying albino. The fact that these were solid clones instead of illusions had yet to register with them.

Kakashi blocked and held the Naruto that came at him. "So tell me, why did you rush at me when the others left?"

"I think the real question is why did they leave when you said to come at you."

"Weren't you the one to say there's a difference between a suggestion and an order?" Kakashi asked.

Naruto grinned. "Yeah, which means I'm allowed to do things my way."

Kakashi chuckled at that and knocked the Naruto away, which disappeared in a puff of smoke. "True."

Right away four Naruto's darted out from different directions at once, almost like they were trying a four-way pincer move against the jounin. Kakashi raised his one visible eyebrow at this, wondering what the duplicates had in mind. The four Naruto's jumped as one in a lunging fashion, aiming two punches and two kicks in a highly unorthodox fighting style.

This wasn't even close to the academy style taijutsu or any other taijutsu style. This was pure and simple brawling, something that might have worked against Kakashi if Naruto actually was the Kyuubi in human form. But he wasn't. He was just a genin, and such obvious moves were almost too easy for Kakashi to counter.

Kakashi caught the kicks with ease and spun the two Naruto's into the other two, using them as weapons to hit the other two duplicates with. The four Naruto's all dispelled in puffs of smoke on contact, revealing themselves to all be kage bunshin. Kakashi smirked a bit. "Well, I've got to give him points for at least thinking ahead..."

"Now let's see if the other two can do the same." He thought out loud before disappearing in a leafy shunshin.

Naruto was focusing on Kakashi, but soon noticed something. Mental images of the battle from the perspectives of each of his kage bunshin flashed before his mind. 'What the...?'

He could see the fight from several different angles, even though none of them were the angles he himself actually saw it from. 'Wait, does that mean I get memories from my clones?' He smiled. 'That is going to come in handy.'

Meanwhile, Sakura and Sasuke were thinking about what they saw. Sasuke, even though he'd never admit it out loud, was actually a little impressed with the jutsu his blond former classmate and future teammate had learned

Sakura, on the other hand, was simply speechless. 'What the hell kind of clone was that? It looked like it could actually do something. How can he do that kind of clone? And why weren't the rest of us taught it too?'

While this thought ran through Sakura's mind, Naruto was trying to analyze the memories he'd gotten from his kage bunshin. As far as he could tell, Kakashi completely outclassed him in Taijutsu. Even using weapons and traps, he knew he that, as much as he hated to admit it, he had virtually NO chance of getting a bell alone. Especially if Kakashi took him more seriously.

'Wait, he never said we're supposed to attack him solo.' Naruto realized. 'And to be honest, what's the point of making us teams if one of us has to be removed anyway? Wouldn't it make more sense to test us individually first then put us in teams, not the other way around?'

Naruto put more thought into this. If he was right, then there was a lot more to this test then meets the eye. If he was right, then the purpose of the test was for them to work together. But it was kind of stupid, if you asked him, for Kakashi to give them a test about teamwork when the Academy never covered that.

Virtually every single exercise and lesson in the Academy had been a solo exercise. Despite how much the teachers like Iruka had stressed the importance of teamwork and loyalty, they had never actually done anything to encourage it or put them in anything where they'd be able to practice putting it to use. In retrospect, it was almost like they believed on the job the students would just know how to do that part. Like teamwork was so natural on the job that no student would ever have to be taught how to coordinate skills with another.

Apparently, the Academy had more problems than just keeping Naruto's attention. Nonetheless, he had to make an effort here and now. Naruto quickly and quietly made a clone that went off in secret, then it dispelled itself, thus giving his other hiding clones its memories from him. This way, they all immediately knew what the original had in mind.

They were to meet in one spot and split into teams of two. One pair would go to Sakura, the other to Sasuke, and report to them what the original had figured out for himself and ask for their assistance in hopes of getting at least one of them to work with him. Then, once they had their responses, if the one they were sent to agreed, one clone from the pair would dispel themselves to give the original time to process his teammates responses. If one of them came up with a plan of their own, the remainder of the other pair would relay it to the other.

However, if the one the pair of clones was sent to didn't agree, both clones would dispel to give the original and other clones that target's response.

Scene change – With Sasuke

Sasuke was waiting for the right moment, when it looked like Kakashi was preoccupied going for the other two, allowing him to strike at the cyclops' blind side. Considering one of his eyes was covered, his blind side was easier to exploit than others. To Sasuke's surprise, rather than look for any of them, Kakashi leaned against a tree and started to read a book.

'He's mocking us, saying even I'm not worth being afraid of.' Sasuke thought.

Sasuke clenched his fist in frustration, but, thankfully, was interrupted by the stealthy arrival of two Naruto's, most likely two of the blond's solid clones, before he could do anything foolish. "What do you want?"

"Many things, but right now we need your attention." One clone said.

Sasuke was silent for a moment. "Fine, but only because that guy's obviously not paying attention. What do you have to say?"

"We think we know what this is really about."

Sasuke lightly raised an eyebrow but showed no other reaction. "I'm listening."

"If this test was about individual strength, why test us at the same time? Wouldn't it be more productive to test us one by one then get rid of the weak member? Maybe this test isn't about if we get those bells, but how we get them."

Sasuke nodded. He could see the sense in that argument. He was surprised that Naruto of all people figured out, implying that he was smarter than most gave him credit for, but he could see the sense in it. "Are you implying that this test might be about teamwork? It's a little far-fetched, due to how the test is structured, but not impossible."

"True, but why put us on teams if we're not supposed to work together?" One of the clones asked. "I'm not asking you to like me, praise me, or even want to talk to me when this is over. But until this is over, can't we at least have a temporary alliance? Just to at least see if I'm right?"

Sasuke got into a thinking position. He knew he was strong, but even he would admit that he couldn't hope to stand against a jounin who actually deserved their rank without any back-up. If Naruto could at least provide a good enough distraction for him to get the bells himself, then he'd be willing to give the dobe credit where it was due and give him one. If Naruto could at least do that.

Sasuke got out of his thinking pose. "I'll consider it. So long as you make sure you don't get in my way."

"Why would I get in your way? I'd fail too." He replied. "But do you have an actual plan of attack?"

Scene change – With Sakura

Elsewhere, Sakura was hiding in a bush laying on the ground, uncomfortable but knowing it was great cover. 'I have to do something! I have no doubt Sasuke-kun will get one of those bells, but, unless I act quickly, Naruto might actually get the other one before me. He may be an idiot, but he's at least not afraid to get rowdy.'

Suddenly, she heard a familiar and, to her, annoying voice whisper her name.

"Sakura?"

"Go away! you'll blow my cover!" She snapped quietly.

"I believe an experienced jounin would know where to look."

She frowned. "You're saying he's letting me hide? Why?"

"Probably to test how well you can hide for a genin."

"I must be doing something wrong if you can find me." Sakura complained.

"No, I'm just more experienced at it then you are." The clone stated. "Look, I'm here because this test isn't about what he said it's about."

"And I'm supposed to just believe you?"

The clone nodded. "Think about it, what's the point of making teams of three if they're only going to become teams of two?"

Sakura scoffed. "If I don't know, why should I believe you would?"

The other clone frowned as well. "Do you really think so little of me that you think I could never figure something out that you couldn't?"

Sakura looked directly at him, her gaze about as comfortable as a cactus. Images of his constant attempts to spend time with her, Hinata slapping her yesterday, and Sasuke brushing her off without care of her feelings came to her and made her angrier than normal, and she wanted to make that perfectly clear. "I think so little of you that I think Hinata would be better off being killed by an enemy then being in a relationship with you!"

Both clones flinched, and saw Sakura grin at their pain, like she just had a victory of sorts. Her grin disappeared once she saw them glare at her with eyes as comfortable as sandpaper-covered cacti with salt on the needles.

"You think Hinata, a girl who's never done a thing to you, deserves to die just because she's nice to me?" They hissed.

Sakura glared at them, refusing to let herself be intimidated by someone she saw as an annoyance. "And if I do?"

"Then you can try to pass this test by yourself for all I care." The clones said before leaving, refusing to be around her for another second without being able to hit her as badly as she hit the original.

Sakura scoffed. "I don't need your help, anyway! Once I find Sasuke-kun, we'll easily pass this test without you!"

"Sakura..."

Her heart froze in her chest for a moment when she heard that. "Sasuke-kun?" Outside the bush from her limited angle, she saw nothing, but heard a thud behind her. Forgetting about Kakashi she got up and turned around, only to see what looked like Sasuke on the verge of death with various weapons sticking out of his cut-up and bleeding body.

"He's... too..." Sasuke winced, then collapsed.

With this, Sakura let out a loud, piercing, terrified scream and promptly fainted.

Thus she never saw Sasuke fade out of existence, replaced by a disappointed Kakashi.

"At this rate, even if they get the bells, this team's doomed. This is the best case against basing teams purely on grades I've ever seen." He then looked around the area. "I can only hope the other two can at least prove enough potential to have a chance at reassignment."

Kakashi disappeared just before Naruto's clones returned to check up on the pinkette, having heard her scream. As angry as they were, they couldn't ignore the instinct to ensure no trouble was going on.

"She's out cold. Practically foaming at the mouth." One clone said when they saw the state Sakura was in.

"Whoever did this, I don't know if I should be worried or thank them." The other clone said, then both dispelled themselves.

Scene change – With the original Naruto

The real Naruto was hiding in a tree, not making much of an effort to hide, but he knew that Kakashi was likely already up to something. One of the clones he had sent to find Sasuke just dispelled, giving him the memories of Sasuke agreeing to a truce, thus proving that whatever his clones learned, he learned too. Then, before he could enjoy that minor success, the memories of the clones that spoke to Sakura came and his mood soured quicker than milk in summer.

Naruto clenched his fist as he remembered what Sakura had said before his clones left her, but relaxed. 'So much for getting Sakura's help. But at least Sasuke's willing to go along with it. And at least he likes my idea for a plan of attack and contributed his own ideas.'

He jumped out of the tree and just stood there. "Come out, come out, wherever you are!"

Kakashi chuckled as he came out from behind a tree. "You know, Naruto... compared to the other two, you're a little weird."

Naruto smirked. "That's not the worst thing I've been called."

Kakashi eye-smiled at this. "Well, at least you know how to think positively." Then, Kakashi's expression turned serious. "But, in all seriousness, how do you expect to take me on alone?"

"Wouldn't you like to know?" Naruto teased.

Kakashi nodded. "Yes, I believe I do."

"Well it starts like this..." Naruto said, then made at least a hundred clones surrounding the jounin.

"And then you lose!" They added, rushing to ambush him.

Kakashi got into a more prepared stance and began to attack the clones as they got close. However, he underestimated the ability Naruto's kage bunshin had when it came to working together. His fighting style was terrible, but there was one good thing to say about it. When a hundred people were using it at once, the raw power made up for the lack of form.

And that was exactly the problem Kakashi was facing. Even if Naruto lacked proper form and proper taijutsu training, something Kakashi would make sure was fixed if this team passed, his ability to make a hundred or so clones at a time made up for it. Due to this, Naruto's clones were pushing him back. And every time he dispelled one, Naruto or one of the other clones would make more to take it's place.

'I can't keep this up forever, but neither can he.' Kakashi told himself. 'I need an opening.'

Fortunately for Kakashi, that opening was unknowingly delivered to him by Naruto, who threw a kunai at him. Catching it before it could hit him, Kakashi used it to help him trim the clones' numbers. This worked until they started making more and drew kunai of their own.

"Little lesson, Naruto." Kakashi said while they gave him a chance to catch his breath. "A jounin with a kunai is deadlier than a genin with a sword."

Naruto seemed to smirk as his clones began their assault again. "Note taken, sensei!"

Confused, Kakashi suddenly registered a sizzling sound he hadn't noticed before. Due to this, he took a better look at the kunai as the clones approached. They jumped over him as he finally noticed that, attached to the metal ring at the end, was an exploding tag that was armed and about ready to go off.

"Shit!" Kakashi yelled, throwing the kunai away. However, the tag started to go off soon after he did, forcing him to leap away.

'How did they get an exploding tag?' He asked himself as he ran, certain that if they had gotten one they could have gotten two, or more.

However, before he could ponder this more, the tag went off and the force of the explosion hit him. Thankfully, he was far enough away to not be hit by the explosion itself. But the released force behind it still slammed into his back. In the corner of his eye, he saw Sasuke standing ready with a kunai himself. Without bothering to say anything, the Uchiha threw it at the jounin who, by a stroke of luck, was able to get back up and dodge it.

Kakashi smirked at Naruto and Sasuke. "Is that the best you two can do?"

At this, Naruto and Sasuke smirked as well, causing Kakashi to raise an eyebrow. Suddenly, Sasuke raised one finger and pointed behind him. "You may want to withhold your judgement before you underestimate us, Kakashi-sensei."

Kakashi was confused by this before he heard the sound of ninja wire being cut and the whistling of sharp, metal objects flying through the air at high speeds. Turning, Kakashi saw a barrage of kunai and shuriken coming at him at high speeds. 'A trap?!' Pulling out a kunai of his own, Kakashi deflected them, causing them to drop harmlessly to the ground.

A smirk once again on his face, Kakashi looked back towards the young Uchiha and Uzumaki. "Not bad. But you're going to have to do better than that!"

Suddenly, Naruto's smirk grew, causing Kakashi to feel a strange sense of foreboding. "Like Sasuke said, you shouldn't underestimate us!"

Kakashi was confused by this until he heard a loud sizzling and hissing. Looking down, he saw that, attached to each kunai and shuriken, was an exploding tag on a low timer. 'Oh, you have got to be kidding me! Where did they even get this many of those?!'

On the other hand, he had to admit he was proud they could be this creative. But he had to save that for later, and save himself now. He jumped away from the upcoming explosion, but this time his skills weren't enough. Some more of Naruto's clones appeared in front of him, and punched him to push him back into the oncoming kunai and shuriken.

One even slashed at him with a kunai. He managed to dodge the slash, but then the exploding tags went off. One even attempted to slash him with a kunai. He managed to dodge the slash, but was still hit by the explosion and sent crashing into the clones, dispelling them upon impact.

Fortunately for Kakashi, the worst he felt was disoriented. He got up on all fours, and saw the younger boys just stare at him with their arms crossed. "I wouldn't look so proud if I were you. You guys still haven't gotten the bells from me, you know."

"Haven't we?" They said together.

Kakashi wondered what they meant and looked down at his waist. He was surprised to see that the bells were gone. Upon closer inspection, it looked as though they'd snapped off. 'What the...?!'

It was then he remembered the kunai slash from the clone. He looked right at Naruto, who held up in one hand both the bells on severed threads. But even more than that, in his other hand he held Kakashi's favorite book.

"How did you get that?!" Kakashi yelled, checking his pocket in hopes Icha Icha was still there. He was wrong.

"Even if you are a jounin, it seems even you can't keep track of every one of my clones while fighting them." Naruto taunted.

Kakashi was impressed. Somehow, despite the reports he'd read about how these two couldn't get along, they'd managed to come to some kind of truce and come up with a plan that played to both of their strengths. Not only that, but that plan also allowed them to get both the bells and his book from him. Granted he hadn't been taking them seriously, but still.

Yet the test wasn't truly completed just yet.

"I see you two are good at working together. But what about including Sakura in that?" He asked to test them.

Naruto shrugged. "She was only focused on Sasuke and wouldn't work with me. So, when my kage bunshin heard her scream, ran back to check on her, and found her passed out and practically foaming at the mouth, they figured 'Why bother?'"

"So you'd abandon your teammate in distress?" Kakashi tested.

"Look me in the eyes and tell me if the situation was reversed she wouldn't have done the same. I dare you." Naruto challenged.

Kakashi shook his head. "I know how she treats you, Naruto. And, to be honest, I can't say I wouldn't have been tempted to do the same. I still wouldn't have done it, but I'd have been tempted to do so. But what I'm asking you is that, if her life had been in actual danger, would you have abandoned her?"

"Right now, I can't promise anything. No matter how much you may want me to."

Kakashi was a bit let down by this. But, on the one hand, he couldn't say he really blamed Naruto for it due to how he'd seen Sakura treat him. "Then clearly you are not ready to be a ninja."

"If that's true, then neither is Sakura." Which was surprisingly said by Sasuke.

"Sasuke-kun?"

Everyone turned, and behind Naruto and Sasuke was a slowly approaching Sakura, conscious again but wobbling a bit. Naruto frowned, and Sasuke looked like this was going to be annoying.

"Why did you say that? I'm the only one in class who was your equal." Sakura continued.

Sasuke frowned deeply. "You actually consider yourself to be my equal?" He stepped forward, and Sakura on reflex stepped back, her balance off making her fall on her behind. "You had terrible scores in taijutsu, you know no ninjutsu, you fixate on your appearance like it's what's keeping you alive, and you hurt others for fun. You are everything I'm not."

Sakura looked like she was about ready to cry.

"Sasuke, you're supposed to work with your teammates, not berate them." Kakashi warned.

Naruto rolled his eyes. "Maybe if you bother telling her that, we'd listen, too."

Kakashi couldn't dispute that. It only made sense. He'd intended to work on getting Sakura to see how she'd been acting, but maybe this was just the slap in the face she needed.

"Sakura, I heard what you said to Naruto. It was indeed uncalled for. I don't know what you expected this job to be like, but we are not here to make your love life get better. If you want to be a ninja, you need to learn how to act like one. You need to be willing to risk your lives for others, even complete strangers if you have to, and you have to learn to work with people you otherwise might not stand. This is a job, not a popularity contest."

Sakura looked down at this. Whether it was to think, to hide tears, or was just in shame, they didn't know.

Kakashi stood up. "Naruto was right, there is more to this test than just getting the bells for me. And while you have succeeded in that part, you have not completed the true test. I will give you another chance to try, but only because I'm hoping this has helped you three. If not, then this will be the fourth team I've failed."

Naruto tossed the bells back to Kakashi, who caught them. "You know, a lot of people tend to underestimate me and just think of me as a complete idiot. Sure, there're times when I'm really just not paying attention, but I'm a lot smarter than most people give me credit for."

"Your point being?" Kakashi asked, putting the bells on his vest.

Naruto then tossed Kakashi his book. "Because of that, they underestimate me. Like Sakura did when she just assumed that I was wrong about the test. I can see where being underestimated would come in handy in our line of work, but that only helps when it's your enemy doing the underestimating. When it's your own teammate, it's just insulting."

Kakashi nodded. "That's very true. I mean, I'm not one to talk, since I once did that to my own teammate. It's not really something I'm proud of."

"So same rules as before?" Sasuke asked.

"Yep, and this time, you'll have to find me." Kakashi said before vanishing.

Naruto looked at Sasuke and Sakura. "Alright, since I doubt that an experienced jounin will fall for the same trick twice, we'll have to come up with another plan. By the way, nice job on that trap, Sasuke."

Sasuke shrugged. "Hn... thanks. But your idea to add in the exploding tags was the clever part."

Sakura could barely believe what she was seeing. Sasuke and Naruto complimenting each other rather than at their throats like dogs fighting over meat.

'How can they act like friends? Am I so unlikeable that they'd rather cooperate with each other than with me?'

Naruto turned to the pinkette. "Well Sakura, if you're as smart as you like to say you are, any bright ideas on how to catch him by surprise?"

Sakura glared at Naruto for a second, but then took a deep breath to calm herself. Since it turned out Naruto was right and that they have to work together to pass, it wouldn't help things any for her to snap at him. No matter how much she wanted to. Once she'd calmed herself, Sakura started thinking.

"Did either of you see a weakness of his?" She asked, certain only Sasuke might have but she was careful to phrase it as if she was giving Naruto the benefit of the doubt.

Naruto thought about it for a moment. "The only one I can think of is that book of his. Speaking of which..."

He then pulled out the orange book from his pocket.

"Wait, I thought you gave that back to him." Sakura said.

"That's what I wanted him to think. Turns out my clones can disguise themselves. Like this too." He said then showed the real bells still in his possession.

"Alright, we can use this to our advantage." Sasuke noted. "By the way, what kind of clones are those?"

"Kage bunshin, solid ones instead of illusions and let me get memories too. But they require a lot of chakra to make, the one thing I have in spades." The blonde answered.

Sasuke nodded. "That would explain why you could never do a decent clone using the Bunshin no Jutsu. You have so much chakra that, no matter how hard you tried, you always overpowered the jutsu."

"How much chakra do you have?" Sakura asked.

"More than the Hokage. Ask him yourself, if you don't believe me."

Sakura's eyes widened at this. If Naruto had more chakra than the Hokage despite being the same age as her and Sasuke, that would more than explain why he had trouble with the Henge and Bunshin when they were younger. With that much chakra at such a young age, it was a miracle he could even use the Kawarimi at that time.

'Is it possible he's not a complete idiot, but instead just hasn't been taught the right way?'

Thinking about it, that would explain a lot of things. And since he didn't have any parents, much less ones with Shinobi experience, to teach him, it would also explain why he always lagged behind everyone else academically. It would also explain his ability to pay attention in class or lack thereof.

"Well, how can we use those? What exactly is this test really about?" She asked.

Naruto shook his head. "Sakura, Sakura, Sakura. Think about it: What kind of chance would a single genin, or even two genin, have of getting something off of an experienced jounin who was actually taking them semi-seriously? And have you ever heard of a team with only two members, three counting the sensei?"

"Well if we have no chance, why set us up to fight him? And why bother with the elimination factor if it's not supposed to happen?"

Naruto shrugged. "Setting us up to fight him is to get us to work together. The elimination factor, I'm not sure of. When you think about it, it destroys the fact we're supposed to work together. This test is flawed, but probably sentimental to Kakashi if he's using it. I'd even be willing to bet that the other three teams that he failed before us that he mentioned were ones who failed to pass this very same test."

"So either there's something we're not seeing, or he's using a faulty method that realistically is counterproductive, but for some reason sees it as special to him." Sasuke summarized.

Naruto nodded. "Exactly. But if we are missing something, what could it be...?"

Sakura thought about it for a second. "Maybe the test is supposed to get us to work together while also teaching us not to judge something based on appearances?"

Sasuke shook his head. "No, that would only work if we were supposed to figure out the part that's still unexplained. Unless the elimination factor is a mere lie straight and simple, that can't be it."

"Wait a minute, Sasuke... Sakura might be onto something!"

"Thanks, Naruto." Sakura said, taking it as a good sign that he was agreeing with her instead of disagreeing out of spite, like she was known to do.

Naruto thought about it more. "If he uses an outright lie to try and pit us against each other, it's probably meant to make us see our current limits as well as our strengths and weaknesses. That forces us to accept that we can't take him alone..."

Sasuke got where Naruto was going with this. "And makes us choose to either stay divided and fail, or stand together and pass."

Naruto nodded. "Nothing about this test was meant to be taken at face value. Which I do remember Iruka-sensei saying is something we're supposed to keep in mind as ninja. Don't believe something just because someone says it's true."

Sakura pounded a closed hand down onto her open palm. "So this test is supposed to remind us of that, as well as teach us to apply it and work as a team!"

"Right." Naruto said.

"But what about the elimination factor?"

Naruto shrugged. "Unless you've got a better idea, for now we'll just have to ignore that and hope it's like Sasuke said, a lie plain and simple."

Sasuke nodded. "Now that we've established the possible meaning of the test, let's come up with a plan, then see if we can find Kakashi. If we still have the bells and the book, we can use that as leverage."

Sakura's eyes widened for a minute. "Wait a second... Naruto, you mentioned that that book is the only weakness you can think of that Kakashi-sensei might have, right?"

"Yeah, you got an idea?"

"Yes, but it will require some careful timing on your part."

Naruto nodded. "Perfect timing, I can handle."

Scene change – With Kakashi

Kakashi went right back where the test had started, only now there were three bento boxes there set up to make his would-be students a bit more desperate. Sasuke and Sakura were bound to be hungry, and even if Naruto had eaten, he was known as a bottomless pit.

Kakashi smiled a bit as he thought back to the plan Sasuke and Naruto had come up with. 'I gotta hand it to them... for two kids who were supposedly always at each others throats, it was a good plan. I wouldn't have fallen for it if I'd taken them more seriously, but it was still a good plan...'

He was cut out of his thoughts by the site of the three genin-hopefuls walking right up to him at a casual pace, not even trying to hide themselves or catch him in a fight. At least they were moving together, but that only bothered the one-eyed jounin.

"You guys aren't even going to try and sneak up on me?" He asked.

"I believe this is one time the direct approach is much better." Sakura stated.

"Kakashi-sensei, pass us or we'll destroy your book!" Naruto threatened.

Kakashi smiled. "Nice try, but you won't be able to get it back again."

"Are you sure about that?" Sasuke asked. "Maybe we already have."

'What's this game?' Kakashi asked, then pulled a book out of his pocket. "Looks to me like you haven't."

All three younger ninja smirked. "Sensei, I expected better of you." Sakura admonished. "After all, if this test is about taking nothing at face value, then you should know that better than us."

Right on her words, Naruto did a sign, and the book in Kakashi's hand turned into a clone. Kakashi's balance was immediately thrown off and Naruto's clone could and did attack him at point-blank range.

Kakashi managed to evade the attack and destroy the clone, then backed up a bit. He then looked towards Naruto. "Giving me a henge'd kage bunshin in place of my book... clever, Naruto. Very clever..."

"Oh it's not over yet." Naruto warned, and Kakashi realized too late what he meant.

Suddenly, the two bells on his vest turned into two more clones of Naruto. 'The bells, too...?!'

The clones were able to push down Kakashi with their weight and Naruto and Sakura came up with kunais ready to attack if he moved. With them was Sasuke, but he had the Icha Icha book.

"Want to end the test or see me turn this into ashes?" Sasuke asked.

"How do I know that's the real one?"

Sasuke shrugged. "Then you won't care if I do this." He put the book on a post and started the hand signs for a katon jutsu.

"Wait! Let's not do anything hasty now!" Kakashi said, desperate to prevent what Sasuke was about to do.

"You know how to stop this." Sakura told him.

Kakashi sighed. "Fine, test over...!"

"And...?" Naruto asked.

"And you pass." Kakashi added.

"And...?" Naruto asked.

"And you can eat. Can I have my book back?"

Naruto looked at Sasuke and nodded. Sasuke them stopped the jutsu, picked the book up, and tossed it to the pinned down Kakashi.

The clones let Kakashi move and he immediately went for the book, this time being careful to ensure it was the real deal. Since it was unlikely Naruto knew the words, actually reading the book was the best way to do that. So, with this in mind, Kakashi opened it and started reading.

"Wanna eat while he's busy?" Naruto asked.

Sasuke shrugged. "Why not?"

Sakura nodded. "Sure. Besides... I'm famished...!" At this, her stomach rumbled loudly.

"Hold on, you three." Kakashi said, getting on his feet once he was sure the book was legit. "You may have passed, but that doesn't mean we're done here. What have you learned in all this?"

"Not to take anything at face value?" Naruto pipped up.

"That teammates don't slow you down unless you let them?" Sasuke asked.

"That assuming the worst about someone is bad for team dynamics?" Sakura asked.

Kakashi smiled. "While not the exact thing I had been hoping for, in principle it's essentially the same thing, so this has been a success."

Naruto looked confused. "Then sensei, could you explain exactly what this test was supposed to accomplish if not that? Because telling us we have to work alone is pretty much the exact opposite of what you wanted."

Sasuke nodded. "Yeah, I mean, if this was about cooperation, then you should have told us to cooperate."

Kakashi chuckled. "It was also about learning that, while following the rules and obeying orders is important, loyalty to your comrades and teammates is more important."

Sakura looked confused. "So you mean this test was one where we were supposed to disobey you? But Sensei, that goes against everything we've been taught in the academy."

"You'll find that lessons in the academy don't hold up so well on the battlefield." Kakashi said, then looked to his right. "I'm not sure if either of you saw it earlier, but that over there is a special monument in this village." The three younger ninja looked where he looked and saw a large black stone in a weird shape.

"It's a memorial to those that died in battle. Everyone in my old team, the team I had when I was your age, has their name on that stone now."

Naruto looked up. "Wait... I think I remember hearing somewhere that you were on the Yondaime's team...!"

"Where'd you hear that?" Kakashi asked.

"You only told us your name. I didn't like that, so I had to ask about you." Naruto answered.

Kakashi chuckled. "I see. I guess the things I've heard about your natural curiosity are at least true."

"Then it's a good thing I can use kage bunshin, since they'd make good scouts."

Kakashi smiled. "Now you're thinking like a shinobi, Naruto." He then looked at the pinkette. "And Sakura, think you can learn to put up with him long enough to do the job?"

Sakura nodded. "I can do that. I guess I've been a little harsh on him. Plus I've been taking out my own frustrations on him."

"Like what?" Naruto asked, hoping he might finally learn what the root of the friction between them was.

Sakura sighed. "Maybe I was being harsher than I was supposed to, but Naruto, when I look at you, I just see someone who's going to be pathetic forever and you'll be doing yourself and us a favor by not wasting our time trying to prove otherwise."

Whatever part of Naruto's heart she hadn't already broken, was now broken. Shattered.

She then looked away. "But then again, you still did more than I did, so maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm the one that really applies to." Her small attempt at an apology however fell on deaf ears, for Naruto had tuned her out.

"Sakura, first lesson. You can't tell where someone's going to end up just from where they started." Kakashi told her. "You can't predict the ending of a book purely by the first page.

"Naruto may not be what you consider to be exceptional, but he has just as much right as you to find out what he can be. You can't guarantee his future any better than you can guarantee your own. Keep that in mind, nothing is guaranteed except the fact someday we'll all die."

Sakura nodded, taking the words to heart. "I understand, Kakashi-sensei." She then looked towards Naruto. "And Naruto, for what it's worth, I'm sorry about how harsh I was to you."

But, again, her words fell on deaf ears when it came to Naruto.

Sasuke nudged the blonde. "Hey, you better pay attention, dobe."

Naruto glared at the Uchiha. "Don't call me that! You two seem determined to ensure my academy grades haunt me for the rest of my life. Well you know what? Screw them!

"I don't give a crap if you two were straight-A students! And the enemies on the battlefield won't care either, so you both better stop caring about my own grades, or I'll make you stop caring!"

Sasuke and Sakura were both surprised by Naruto's outburst. It appeared that the way that they and most of the rest of their classmates had always treated him had affected him more than they thought. And, judging by his outburst, he only heard part of what Sakura had said. Turning away from them, Naruto started to leave.

"Naruto, I didn't say you could leave." Kakashi called out.

Naruto stopped but didn't turn around. "You said we passed. So, unless you plan on teaching more, I see no reason to stick around."

Picking up the lunch meant for him, Naruto left without so much as waving goodbye.

'Well, this is certainly a rocky start.' Kakashi thought, then looked at the other two. "Be here tomorrow morning same time for the start of training. I think today might be best used getting tension out of one's systems without giving it to someone else. See you later."

He then waved and disappeared to tell the hokage he had finally passed a team, one he believe could either become legends in their own right. Or make him later on wish he had failed them instead right here. Only time would tell.

Omake: One Thing To Bind Them All

"You know how to stop this." Sakura told him.

Kakashi sighed. "Fine, test over...!"

"And...?" Naruto asked.

"And you pass." Kakashi added.

"And...?" Naruto asked.

"And you can eat. Can I have my book back?"

Naruto looked at Sasuke and nodded. Sasuke them stopped the jutsu, picked the book up, and tossed it to the pinned down Kakashi.

The clones let Kakashi move and he immediately went for the book, this time being careful to ensure it was the real deal. Since it was unlikely Naruto knew the words, actually reading the book was the best way to do that. So, with this in mind, Kakashi opened it and started reading.

"Wanna eat while he's busy?" Naruto asked.

Sasuke shrugged. "Why not?"

Sakura nodded. "Sure. Besides... I'm famished...!" At this, her stomach rumbled loudly.

"My precious!" Kakashi said as he closed his reacquired book, held it tightly, and even started to pet it. Or maybe he was trying to polish it. "No one takes my precious from me...!"

The three genin could only look at the grown man in disgust. Sasuke could only shake his head. "That is so wrong on so many levels...!"

Sakura and Naruto only nodded in agreement before all three sat down and started to eat their lunches.

To Be Continued...

Well, there you have it! Chapter one, done and done! Let me know what you guys think, okay? Shaka and peace out, readahs!