Hatake Kakashi stood in the middle of the clearing and moved his head a little to determine where the children were hiding. They were still hiding a bit further in the undergrowth discussing the finer points of Shikamaru's battle strategy.
Kakashi had been keeping tabs on them ever since the test had started. He had noticed that Sakura and Shikamaru had watched him intently when Naruto attacked him, but he had expected that. What had surprised him was that they met up the moment Naruto had escaped his trap, and when Kakashi had eavesdropped on them he began to suspect that he would actually have to pass them. The plan they had in place was certainly interesting and Kakashi was curious if they were able to pull it off.
He didn't look up when he noticed the three starting to make their move. He turned a page in his orange book and let his thought wander again, wondering if he had time to finish the chapter before they reached him.
Despite what Kakashi had told his genin, there was no failure rate. It was possible for everyone from a graduating class to pass, or no one at all. It would be a waste of talent if you had thirty geniuses and could only incorporate ten into the ninja ranks. That meant that it was up to the individual teams to pass, which made team assignments a decisive factor.
Kakashi felt that whoever did the team assignments this year, however, should get their head examined. The Chunin responsible for the mess must have been either stupid, mad, or dead drunk. That was the only possible explanation Kakashi could think of to explain the messy team formations. He felt it would be a wonder if any of these teams had passed at all. The only teams in his eyes that had a chance of passing were Team 7, 8 and 10.
Team 8 was intended to be a scouting or frontline taijutsu team consisting of Akimichi Choji, Hyuga Hinata and Inuzuka Kiba. They had some "heavy hitter" taijutsu techniques to defend themselves behind enemy lines. But from what he had observed the day before, none of them were fit to become a team leader. Choji and Hinata lacked the confidence needed, and Kiba lacked the brains. They might grow into the necessary skills eventually, but for now the team dynamic would most likely be a walking disaster. Kurenai would probably pass them because of her connection with Hinata, but getting them into shape would be hard work.
Kakashi wasn't entirely sure what kind of group Team 10 was supposed to be. He guessed the justification for putting Yamanaka Ino, Aburame Shino and Uchiha Sasuke in one group was that they could, under very special circumstances, form a viable hunting and interrogation team. But with Ino's volatile temper, Sasuke's murderous tendencies, and Shino's absolute lack of communication skills, they were a ticking time bomb in terms of teamwork. Kakashi was almost certain that Asuma wouldn't pass them if it would be his choice. With the last Uchiha involved, however, the council would probably blackmail him in some way.
And then there was his team, Team 7, the main reason he questioned the sanity of the Chunin responsible for the team assignments. Kakashi suspected someone had wanted to sabotage Naruto's career, and possibly Sakura's as well. Both were known trouble makers, and most Jonin wouldn't even consider taking them on, if not for the trouble, than for the Kyuubi. If one added the laziest student in the academy to their team, failure became even more probable. And to make sure that they would fail, the Chunin assigned them to Hatake Kakashi, who had never passed a team before.
Kakashi felt the joke was on them, because in reality, they had handed him a fledgling Infiltration and Assassination Team that might just be worth the time.
If he had been assigned a frontline team or something like that he wouldn't have known what to do with them. He had spent far too much time in the ANBU, running covert operations and assassinations, to train a team that would need heavy combat techniques on the battlefield. Sneaking around was more his style, and since Kakashi had been responsible for training new ANBU recruits, he knew how to teach others to match his own subtle nature.
Shikamaru made only average marks in the Academy, which was astounding considering he put no effort at all into his classwork. According to the boy's teachers, most of the time he couldn't even be bothered to pick up a pencil to answer the test questions. He had the markings of a lazy genius, just like his father, Nara Shikaku, the Jonin Commander for Konohagakure. Kakashi knew Naruto was reckless and he always dragged Sakura into his schemes, but considering that they were children, and only just Genin, their schemes were well planned and executed. There was one time the two of them had broken into the Ninja archives, for example. Kakashi remembered that particular instance very well, and how could he not, it didn't happen everyday that academy students made the ANBU run around like headless chicken.
He still wasn't sure if he should admire or curse their audacity to break into the T&I building while still in the academy, but those two had great potential as infiltrators. If his information was true, and Shikamaru was as level headed and intelligent as he appeared, he would balance the other two out. They might form a well rounded team.
Kakashi smiled when he sensed that his students were ready to execute Shikamaru's plans. Shikamaru crouched in the shadows with the sun behind him. It gave him the advantage of a slightly longer shadow. A flash of pink signaled Kakashi that Sakura perched on a tree. She would have a better vantage point that way. Naruto hid in the bushes waiting for the signal to start their plan.
Now he just had to see if they could actually pass his test.
Having finished his chapter he snapped his book shut the same moment that Naruto's shadow clones broke out of the undergrowth.
Naruto, obviously the distraction, was swarming the clearing with his clones. They attacked randomly from all sides keeping Kakashi's attention focused on him. Naruto spawned them as fast as Kakashi destroyed them. Soon the immediate area around them was filled with raised dust and the clouds from the dispersed clones. Kakashi had to admit that the distraction worked well as he only noticed the approaching shadow when it connected with his own.
The hold it had on him was strong for a genin. Shikamaru knew that they had only one chance at this so he put every ounce of strength in this opportunity. It wasn't enough to hold a jonin in place but the moment it took Kakashi to break free was enough. It presented an opportunity for Sakura to make her move.
Out of the corner of his eye Kakashi saw a kunai flying in his direction. It was aimed at his hip more specifically at the bells at his hip. He turned slightly and let the weapon cut through the string. With a clear jingle they fell to the ground.
Naruto's clones doubled their efforts and swamped him. Meanwhile Sakura send a volley of senbon down at the clearing destroying the clones. The original used the resulting clouds as cover to grab the bells and substitute with a clone that had been hiding in the bushes until needed.
Within seconds the genin retreated further into the undergrowth.
The whole attack hadn't taken more than sixty seconds. The plan had come from Shikamaru's brain but the execution had been a team effort. They had struck swiftly and decisively. For genin it had been an impressive and exceptional performance. Those three might really be worth his time.
Then the clock began to ring, and Kakashi smiled before sauntering over to turn it off. He took a seat on one of the logs and watched his genin coming out of the bushes. Naruto and Sakura looked dejected, and Shikamaru was frowning.
"So now that you have the bells," he asked, "what are you going to do with them? Who is going to keep one? Who goes back to the academy?"
The three looked at each other in silence. Neither Sakura nor Shikamaru had a good answer to the question. Naruto cooked his head in thought as he stared at the bell he still held in his hand, then exclaimed, "I know. We cut them into pieces!" His two teammates stared at him, their jaws dropping in surprise, and Kakashi's visible eye showed surprise for a millisecond.
"You said the one without a bell would be sent back," said Naruto. "So if we all had more than zero bells, you'd have to pass us all because no one is without a bell." Naruto crossed his arms behind his head and grinned like a maniac.
Kakashi smiled, but internally he was trying to figure out how to end the test in the way he had planned. Previous teams he had dealt with had failed to get a bell, so he hadn't known what to expect. Naruto's idea caught him completely off guard. He had just found a loophole in the rules and exploited it. The boy had the right mindset as a ninja. He kept to the rules but bended them to meet his own needs and the needs of his team. He jumped down from the log. "Yes," he said with a smile, "all of you pass the test."
Naruto pumped his fist in the air and Sakura threw her arms around him, both beaming with happiness. Even Shikamaru was grinning, until a thought crossed his mind and wiped it off his face. "But getting the bell wasn't the true objective, was it? You let us get the bell on purpose. You wanted to see what we are going to do now that we have it."
Naruto and Sakura stopped cheering and turned their heads so fast Kakashi could hear the bones cracking. "What?" they both shouted in unison.
Kakashi smiled and motioned for Shikamaru to continue. It would seem that someone actually bothered to look beneath the underneath.
"You only let us glimpse at your true strength three times. The first was when you intercepted Sakura in the beginning, the second when you sent Naruto flying with a simple asspoke, and the third when you were still able to move despite the fact that my shadow was connected to yours. You saw Sakura's kunai coming but let it cut the bells loose anyway. You haven't been fighting seriously the entire duration of that test. If you had done so we all would be dead now. So why have us fighting against you at all?"
"Then there are the rules that we had to get a bell to pass, and yet there were only two bells for three students. The rules were designed to turn us against each other, right?" Shikamaru shoved his hands deeper into his pockets.
Sakura and Naruto stared at the Nara heir. They hadn't bothered to try and figure out the purpose of the test but had gone along with the rules, without questioning them as Shikamaru had. Shikamaru's analysis was correct and well founded. Kakashi nodded. "You are right. All three of you displayed the ability to ignore your selfish desires to achieve a common goal. You decided to worry about the distribution after you got your hands on the bell and then you came up with a solution that would allow everyone to pass. You are the first team I had that was able to work together under the designed circumstances."
Kakashi walked towards the memorial. "You won't always be able to come out of difficult situations unscathed like you did today. You will be faced with tough decisions in the field, decisions between life and death." He laid a hand on the cold stone almost caressing it. "The names carved on this stone, those ninja are considered heroes of the village." The three children followed him staring at the long list of names. "They all died in the line of duty, in service for their village."
"Rules and codes are important and give us a structure to live by and ninja who break them are considered trash. But" Kakashi turned around and fixed his students with a stern gaze. "those who don't care for their comrades are lower than trash."
All three of them remained silent as the words sank in. Deep in thought Naruto took a step forward placing two fingers on one of the names carved into the black basalt. "So mum's here as well."
Sakura laid an arm around her friend's shoulder and squeezed reassuringly. Shikamaru stood behind them in silent support.
Kakashi could see a great team dynamic developing. In time and with the right training they would become unstoppable. He had been handed a raw diamond and now Kakashi had to make them shine. In his mind he was already thinking of a training schedule.
Breaking the solemn moment Kakashi smiled at them and ruffled Naruto's hair. "Report for duty at the Hokage tower tomorrow at six in the morning." Without another word he disappeared in a swirl of leaves.
There was a moment of silence before Naruto exclaimed: "I gonna learn how to do that."
Sakura grinned. "We passed the test. We are now officially Genin. I think that calls for a celebration."
"At Ichiraku's" Naruto decided.
"I'm just going to-" Shikamaru started but his teammates never gave him the chance to complete his protests. They both laid their arms around Shikamaru's shoulders and dragged him along.
AN: I have no real excuse for not writing but I finally got back. I hope you enjoyed the chapter and as always have a nice day.