Yes I know this took forever and I'm sorry, life gets in the way and personal stuff has made writing rather low on my list of things to do but I still hate disappointing you guys. Anyway, this chapter isn't going to be filled with too much but it serves as the leaping off point for what I want to do going forward, it also serves under the premiss it won't take me like half a year to update again hehe…

We'll see about that, either way, thank you for your patience, and please enjoy what's to come! I'll see you all at the bottom where I'll hopefully be answering your questions!

He was really getting too old for this job…

Hiruzen took a drag from his pipe, the stiff yet comforting aroma of ash and tobacco offering a measure of solace as he sat silently within the confines of his office. His gaze stretched out across the village in contemplation, on the outside one might say he appeared to be the picture definition of tranquility… but in reality, his mind was a raging storm of worry and indecision sorting through the influx of information that had come to light in the past few days, none of it being particularly welcome news either. The knowledge that his wayward student had returned once more and was currently skulking about the shadows of their home on its own was enough to rattle his aged bones, Orochimaru had come with a purpose and he very much doubted that snake's machinations stopped at just marking the last loyal Uchiha as his latest subject of interest.

That in itself was extremely problematic as without a practical way to remove the seal, there was little they could do to hinder the snake's grip on the last loyal Uchiha. According to Kakashi's report, the containment seal had been applied successfully which did afford them a bit of leeway but they were both very well aware that should the growing avenger give in to her inner darkness their wards would serve as little more than a temporary annoyance. The only point in their favor was that the heiress had been informed of the dangers of the seal and appeared perfectly content to spurn his ex-student's "gift".

Anything that kept the sharingan out of Orochimaru's hands was a blessing as far as he was concerned.

Having done all that they presently could to halt Orocimaru's acquisition of the last loyal Uchiha he turned his thoughts away from his ex-student for a moment and instead took time to think upon the finals looming only a month away. It had been a great deal of time since Konoha had hosted the Chunin Exams, with all of the major nations currently enjoying a somewhat uneasy peace, the war games were a much-preferred alternative to open conflict. It also brought him a great deal of pride to see so many of his own shinobi, many of whom would no doubt prove vital to the village's future prosperity, advancing into the finals. They may not all walk away with a promotion but the experience would serve them well going into the future.

He barely twitched as a slight disturbance in his office made itself known to him.

"Jiraiya must you always try and sneak up on me? I'm not a young man anymore you know?" He spoke aloud, turning his gaze away from the window and towards the darkest corner of his office. Just in time to watch the image of his most loyal student seemingly phase into existence, his hulking frame stepping out of the shadows with hands held up in surrender and a familiar cheeky grin upon his aged but still youthful face.

"Don't sell yourself short Sensei, I'm pretty sure you've still got quite a few more years kicking around in there somewhere." Jiraya barked with laughter as he sided to his old mentor's desk. "Besides, if you kick the bucket too soon you'll miss out on my future work, and what is an artist without fans to admire his creations?" Jiraiya chuckled, his attempt at humor earning a bemused glance from the aged kage.

"You make a compelling point," The Third admitted jovially allowing a soft, if slightly perverse smile to grace his features, his gaze darting down towards his personal drawer wherein he kept his most valued personal items… among which may have included a collection of books that were rather popular with the male population of the village and infamous among the female. "Speaking of… any word on when the next installment might be coming out?" He asked feigning disinterest but Jiraiya knew the truth.

The sage crossed his arms and allowed a prideful snort to pass, "Ohohoh! Don't you worry sensei you'll be getting an early copy when it's ready but a writer must keep some secrets after all." He smirked and tapped his nose. "The wait will be well worth it, I promise you that."

"I'll hold you to your word then." Hiruzen nodded eagerly before falling silent, the master and student pair taking a moment to enjoy the pleasant atmosphere that had once been so commonplace between them many years ago… before everything seemed to fall apart around them. However, their business could only be put off for so long and both men knew that this wasn't a social visit.

"I assume you've heard the news?" The Third questioned softly, his kind smile melting into a deep frown as he glanced towards his student once more.

"I have." Jiraiya's own grin fell marginally although he still maintained his usual easy-going expression. "The snake is finally making moves and I hear he's looking to claim a fancy pair of eyes for himself, part of me is surprised he didn't just pluck them for the poor girls head but I guess he still hasn't figured out a way to get around the side-effects of implanting foreign bloodlines." The Sannin surmised, his hand idly coming up to stroke at his chin.

"You've always been one for silver-linings," The Third shook his head. "Nonetheless, I pray you are correct though I have my doubts that this isn't some drawn-out plan to cripple the village further. As it stands the strength of the village is perhaps at the lowest it has been since it's founding and I fear that if we were to slip any further…" He did not need to finish the thought allowed, both of them knew full well that weakness only attracted wolves and Konoha wasn't prepared to deal with that right now, something Orochimaru no doubt knew as well and would happily take advantage of.

"Taking the sharigan would be a small step towards an avalanche of problems" Jiraiya admitted.

It is in our favor then that he can't afford to make any mistakes here, the only other intact set of eyes are beyond him and Kakashi is no easy prey either, I have no doubt he'd destroy the eye before he would allow Orochimaru to take it from him." The Third admitted and the sage nodded.

"How is that brat by the way?" Jiraiya asked and Hiruzen frowned sadly as he thought of the copy-nin.

"He still mourns them regularly, not that I can blame him given his history… but he has shown some signs of improvement in recent months. I believe finally taking on a team has slowly begun to reignite a spark that he no doubt believed was extinguished long ago, a few more years at this pace and I'd say he may be the most likely candidate to succeed me… assuming you do not take up the mantle that is." The Third let out a small laugh at the thought of the tardy jounin taking control of his forces.

Jiraiya didn't say anything for a moment but he let out a bemused snort and nodded. "I understand he's got the last Uchiha and their boy under his wing… how is he holding up with that pressure."

"He seems to be doing well enough, there is room for improvement as in all things but he's on the right path." The Third smiled before shooting his student a look. "And If we are done dancing around the topic I think the more pressing question is, are you finally ready to step into young Naruto's life?" He questioned pointedly not at all missing the way his student's fingers clenched subtly at his side, his face briefly overtaken with shame before settling on resignation.

"Kakashi has already agreed to let me take over the boy's training for the next month… if all goes well I will take him as my apprentice." Jiraiya admitted though he knew his sensei was very much already aware of his plans, that was partly why he was here after all.

"So you informed me… let me be clear with you Jiraiya, I expect you to take this seriously. The boy has worked hard to get where he is and he's had more than his fair share of disappointments, I don't want you adding to them." The Third shot his student a hard look that spoke volumes of how serious the matter was and the Toad Sage held up his hands in a placating manner.

"I won't, I owe them both far too much to muck this up any more than I have." Jiraiya's answer was firm and so for the moment, he would trust in his student to act accordingly. "I would however like to know a bit more about him if there is anything you can tell me." He admitted sheepishly causing the elderly man to roll his eyes at the request.

"I'm afraid I am not as close to the boy as I would like to be, but I do know enough to give you something to work with." The aging kage sat back in his chair and focused his thoughts on the young jinchuriki. "I will admit that he is surprisingly well adjusted, all things considered. Despite the less than flattering opinions of the older generation, he has managed to establish solid ties with a majority of his peers all of whom will possess quite a bit of political sway once they take over their future roles. The few unbiased sources I have access to describe him as a personable, hardworking, and easy-going individual."

"So he's inherited their charisma huh… who does he take after more?" The Sage asked curiously.

"He is a solid mix of both but I would say his mother edges out just a bit more, though Kakashi has mentioned that on the battlefield he's much more like his father."

"He doesn't have her catchphrase does he?" Jiraiya laughed remembering the verbal tic of his late student's wife, Minato loved that little quirk of hers but Kushina despised it with a passion and had spoken at length how she hoped her child didn't inherit it.

"I've never heard him say it but I wager if you can get him sufficiently riled up it may slip out." The Third noted equally as amused by the memory of the fiery kunoichi. "He is not as quick to anger as Kushina but he can be equally as stubborn."

"I'll keep that in mind, anything else I should know?" He inquired, he wanted to go into this meeting with as much information as possible.

"There is not much more than I can give you I'm afraid, if you want to know more you'll have to learn it from the boy himself. He should be arriving momentarily if I have my time set correctly." Hiruzen hummed and as if Kami herself wished to confirm his speculations a soft knock interrupted the two and a faint female voice spoke up from behind the oak door.

"Excuse me, Hokage-sama? Uzumaki-san is here for his meeting, shall I send him up now?"

"Please do, thank you." Hiruzen answered, receiving a soft "Hai" before the clack of heels could be heard disappearing down the stairs.

"Well then, I guess it's showtime," Jiraiya smirked, stretching himself out in preparation. "Can't make a bad first impression after all!"

"It's good to see you haven't lost your flair for dramatics." The Third shot his student a deadpan look and could only silently pray for the poor boy who was about to be thrust into a world of nonsense and perversion that he was almost certainly unprepared for.


Naruto bowed his head in respect as he entered the office, the familiar smell of tobacco that often permeated the office air swiftly wafting into his nose as he passed the threshold, closing the door behind him with an almost inaudible click. At the end of the room, he instantly spotted the Third sitting comfortably in his usual seat, the elderly man gracing him with a grandfatherly smile that he was quick to return before his gaze wandered over to the second figure standing off to the side.

He was a tall man, taller than even Kakashi-sensei was with long, shaggy white hair that covered his head and stretched all the way down his back to around his waist tied up in a single ponytail. Two deep red lines ran down from the corners of his eyes, down to his chin, and on his forehead, he wore a unique horned headband with the kanji for "oil" etched into its surface.

He made for a strange sight yet something about him seemed familiar… like he should have recognized him from somewhere?

"Good morning Naruto-kun thank you for coming, I hope you've managed to get a decent rest over the last two days." The Third greeted kindly earning a sheepish smile and a nod from him.

I did thank you, I didn't realize how much I missed sleeping in my own bed after a week in the forest." He admitted drawing a short chuckle from the elderly man across from him.

"I know exactly what you mean, never take for granted the smallest comforts since you never know when they will no longer be available to you." He said imparting a bit of hard-earned wisdom onto the boy before continuing on. "However, I'm well aware you are not here for idle conversation but rather that you are here to meet your new instructor who will be helping prepare you for the finals."

"Yes sir, Kakashi-sensei told me someone else would be overseeing me for the month since he needs to keep an eye on Satsuki." He confirmed taking another sidelong glance at the man standing off in the corner of the room. "I take it that he's the one who will be training me?"

"Indeed," The Third nodded. "I'd like to introduce you to-"

However before he could finish the previously silent figure stepped forward suddenly and struck a pose, his arms raised high and hands thrust forward dramatically, a wide smirk stretched across his face as all eyes fell to him.

"Ha! I am the man who has no enemies in the North, South, East, and West…" The man swung his mane of hair around like a whip and behind him, a large furled up scroll flew into the air. "Not even in the heavens. I am one of the sannin…" A large burst of smoke suddenly filled the office blinding both himself and the Third who if one was looking closely could see the aged man biting back a deep sigh of embarrassment.

As the smoke cleared Naruto found himself blinking in surprise to see the man not standing on the back of a rather large... frog? Or was it a toad?

"White-haired frog tamer, even a crying baby would stare in awe… the great Jiraiya!" He finished his introduction with a dramatic smirk and looked up expectantly, waiting for his grand round of applause.

"Are all of the sannin this… weird?" Naruto asked dully causing the Third to fall into a sudden coughing fit unable to entirely hold back his laughter while Jiraiya face planted hard at the cruel dismissal of his "amazing" introduction. Even his own summon couldn't help but croak bemusedly at the complete disregard afforded to his summoner and with a short wave, it vanished in another thankfully smaller cloud of smoke, leaving the remaining three occupants of the room to compose themselves.

"You brat didn't you just hear what I said?! I am a member of the sannin, a legendary shinobi! You should be honored to have me as your instructor." The man complained and Naruto merely leveled a dry stare his way before turning back to the Third with an unimpressed expression causing Jiraiya to once more hit the dirt in shame.

"It would be remiss of me to speak ill of my students so I will say this, despite his eccentricities Jiraiya is a capable teacher worthy of... " He paused as if having to fight with himself to finish. "Something approximating respect." He concluded finally earning a snicker out of the blond and a look of utter betrayal by the sannin in question.

"I hate you both." Jiraiya folded his arms and shot the pair a dirty look which was promptly ignored.

"If you say so…" Naruto seemed unconvinced but nodded before adopting a curious look towards his temporary mentor. "But I have a question, why exactly does one of the sannin want to train me specifically?" The legendary trio were clearly not a group that took an interest in just anyone. Orochimaru had made it abundantly clear that he desired Satsuki for her eyes and really only bothered dealing with him and Sakura because they were in his way. Now another member of the sannin had so happened to take a sudden interest in training him, a privilege that anyone with even a drop of common sense would give up an arm for.

That was kinda suspicious if you asked him.

"I'm glad you asked!" Jiraiya smirked and crossed his arms. "Truth is, I heard about what you did in the forest and it piqued my interest. Not many can claim to have tussled with my old teammate and live to talk about it and those that do tend to walk away missing a few limbs if they're lucky. As far as I'm concerned the fact that you're standing here in one piece makes you worth keeping an eye on and what better way to do that than taking you under my wing for a bit." He explained jovially. "Since Kakashi's watching over that Uchiha brat for the month, it all works out in the end. You get trained, she doesn't go missing in the night, and it'll probably piss the snake off. I'd say that's a win for everyone involved."

Naruto felt like there was more to it than that but the reasoning was fair enough, plus he couldn't deny that this wasn't an opportunity he could pass up. He doubted there was anyone more qualified to train him out there who didn't already have obligations to their own students.

"Fair enough, I'll try not to disappoint then Jiraiya-sensei." He answered, bowing his head slightly in respect. Even if the guy was a total weirdo, he was a powerful weirdo and he could acknowledge that if nothing else.

"See, that's more like it!" Jiraiya nodded and stepped forward, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Now, I think we've burned enough daylight and you've had more than enough time to prepare yourself so let's get to work." The Toad Sage turned and gave his sensei a wave before the pair suddenly vanished in a swirl of smoke and leaves, leaving the Third to sigh and scowl at the mess that now littered his once-pristine floor.

"You couldn't just use the door like a normal person, could you?" He grumbled.

He needed to find a successor fast...

"Before we begin I do want to say congrats on making it to the finals, not many genin get so far on their first attempt so props to you." Jiraiya praised him as they settled into their new training ground for the foreseeable future. "That said, you've got some stiff competition ahead of you so don't think you're out of the woods yet. I've seen the line-up and you are in for a rough time if you don't take this seriously."

"I know that." Naruto huffed and nodded. "Everyone has gotten so much stronger since graduation but I haven't been sitting around doing nothing either, I won't go down so easily." He promised and Jiraiya let out a small smirk at his confidence. A positive attitude was the first step to overcoming adversity and it looked like the kid had it in spades, just like his mother.

"That's a good attitude to have but before we can begin your training I need to get a rough idea of where you stand right now. I don't need an essay though just a brief rundown of your abilities and what areas you think you need the most help with before the month is over." Jiraiya instructed expectantly. He'd taken the liberty of 'borrowing' the kid's file which had given him a decent overview of his skills but the thing was well out of date and so it was best to hear it from the boy himself.

Naruto nodded and quickly summarized his current playbook."According to sensei, I'm pretty well rounded in all three major shinobi disciplines but my strongest areas are definitely ninjutsu and taijutsu for sure, I can't really cast genjutsu since my control isn't good enough but I am capable of dispelling low-level illusion and I'm getting better with mid-level ones." He explained earning an approving hum from the Sage who was happy to hear that his student had a solid foundation to work off of. No number of techniques could cover a shaky foundation forever so at least they wouldn't need to waste any time with the basics.

"My main list of techniques includes the standard Academy three, the Shadow Clone Jutsu, the Body Flicker technique, Water Bullet jutsu, Wind Style: Great Breakthrough, and some situational variants I've cobbled together using my clones as well a few utility E and D-rank techniques that I don't really use often." He finished, listing off his most utilized techniques and Jiraiya took a moment to consider everything he'd been told.

That was a pretty diverse catalog for a genin to have at this stage of their career. The fact that he had already had enough sense to incorporate his clones into his fighting style was also positive, If he just filled out his arsenal with a few more complementary techniques, maybe a fire jutsu or two he would be a monster on the battlefield for sure. Still, he couldn't get ahead of himself too much since power without the proper wisdom and restraint to use it effectively was a recipe for disaster.

"Seems to me like Kakashi was pretty spot on with his assessment, while I haven't seen your taijutsu first hand you definitely have a respectable arsenal of techniques at hand, though I do think we'll need to get you a bit more variety but that can come later." He noted aloud then continued. "Now that we've gone over your strengths let's move on to weaknesses. Where would you say you are struggling the most? Or rather what do you think you're most glaring vacancy is?" He inquired and Naruto had to pause and consider the question for a few moments before coming up with an answer.

"I'd say my biggest weakness is that I don't really have a lot of stopping power." He began thoughtfully. "My usual style is to wear my opponents down over with heavy hits or pushing them around with my elemental jutsu… I don't have anything in my pocket that can really drill through a solid defense and if they have the endurance to outlast me I'd probably be overwhelmed eventually." He admitted. His previous helplessness against Haku's ice mirrors and Lee's futile attempts to break through Risa's sand barriers even with his overwhelming strength really hit home for him that despite his versatile arsenal, he was still lacking a go-to powerhouse attack.

"I see what you mean, there are going to be times where your fists just aren't enough to get the job done and you'll need something with a bit more kick to it." Jiraiya analyzed the problem with ease given that it wasn't an uncommon issue for genin. They lacked access to higher-level techniques and generally didn't possess the knowledge to create their own, not to mention lacking the chakra required for such an endeavor. Of course, he had the perfect technique in mind but he still wasn't sure if the kid was ready for it, let alone if he could even learn it in time for the finals. There were still plenty of other techniques he could learn in the meantime though so he'd put that jutsu on hold for the moment.

"Overall it sounds to me like you are in pretty good shape with just a few glaring holes that we can easily patch up over the course of the month. I'll have to sit down and create a proper schedule for you later but I do have a basic idea of what we'll be working on over the next few weeks." He began. "Firstly, you and I will be sparring regularly to really make sure your taijutsu is airtight, naturally I won't be going all out but I won't be pulling back too much either. Since your first opponent leans heavily towards hand to hand combat, sparring against a much faster and more experienced opponent will help further develop your muscle memory and increase your reaction time."

Naruto grinned eagerly at that and nodded. He had spent a lot of time working with Kakashi and Haku so he already knew the benefits of getting kicked around by a stronger opponent for long enough. He didn't doubt it would be a new level of grueling under the sannin but the results would surely speak for themselves.

"Second, we're going to see about fixing that lack of stopping power you mentioned. I take it that you didn't pick up wind and water techniques for nothing so would I be wrong to assume you already happen to know you're elemental affinities?" The Sage asked.

"Yeah, I have a really strong affinity for wind and decent water affinity as well." Naruto confirmed.

"Not bad at all, I lean more towards fire and earth techniques myself but I do know a few powerful water jutsu that you might be able to learn. Unfortunately, wind techniques were more Orochimaru's thing so I don't have much for you there but I'll see if I can dig anything up." He promised, earning a grateful smile from the blond who appreciated the effort.

"Thank you."

"Don't worry about it," Jiraiya waved off the thanks, it was the least he could do really. "The last part of your training is a bit… sensitive." The Toad Sages smile fell and he became quite serious. "I told you I heard about what happened in the forest, that includes your little incident with a certain fox." He said and Naruto's eyes widened slightly before falling towards his feet, shame running through him at the remembrance of his lapse in control.

"Don't look so down, you were dealing with an S-Class rogue who is capable enough to battle most of the current Kages on equal footing. You used what you had but you took on more than you could handle, learn from the experience but don't let it haunt you." The Sage advised, placing a reassuring hand on the boy's shoulder.

"I guess… I still don't feel much better about the whole thing though." Naruto sighed, he wasn't just upset that he'd lost control… he was mad that he'd lost control and still hadn't even managed to do anything to stop the snake sannin. The entire ordeal had been a waste and only served to bring up something he'd been trying desperately to keep hidden away under lock and key.

"I don't blame you but that's what the third part of this training is for," Jiraiya noted and Naruto turned towards him quizzically. "The last part of your training will be working on harnessing the beast's chakra without going berserk, it'll be your ace in the hole." He said confidently, even a single tail would be more than enough to-


Jiraiya blanched for a second at the abrupt answer. "Excuse me?"

"I'm not using its chakra again." Naruto crossed his arms and leveled the sannin with a hard look. "Both times I've used its power I came too close to putting people who are precious to me at risk, the first time I just barely managed to stop myself and the second time the Third had to knock me out." He clenched his fist at the memory and shook his head. "I'm not pushing my luck further, if I'm going to rely on anyone's power it's going to be my own." He said firmly not willing to back down from this point.

"Kid, I understand that you had some… less than stellar experiences with it, but you can't ignore the potential there. You have a nearly unlimited battery of chakra living in your gut with the power to level mountains, yeah there are going to be some bumps along the way but if you can control it then you'll be prepared to face almost anything." He argued but Naruto didn't appear to be budging.

"All the power in the world doesn't mean anything if I end up hurting or worse yet killing everyone trying to get in under control, the Kyuubi doesn't want me using its chakra and I don't want it either. I'll get strong enough to protect myself on my own with strength I can actually control and trust." He countered stubbornly and Jiraiya sighed in frustration at the outright refusal. It wasn't as if he didn't understand where Naruto was coming from but he didn't know the dangers waiting from him out there. There were clouds on the horizon and he needed the boy ready and able to handle the coming storm, he didn't have the luxury of growing at his own pace and the Kyuubi's power would be a guarantee that he wouldn't go down without a fight.

"Listen to me, this is in your best interest. You can't just pretend it's not there forever."

"I'm not pretending." Naruto scowled, annoyed that his refusal to rely on his tenant's power was being viewed as some kind of childish denial. "I'm making a choice, I don't want to use something that I can't control and more to the point doesn't want to be controlled. I won't rely on the fox and that's the end of it." He wasn't budging, not on this. If the Toad Sage wouldn't accept his answer then he'd find another trainer or train on his own as he had before.

Jiraiya was about to make another push when the words of his sensei echoed through his mind.

"The boy has worked hard to get where he is and he's had more than his fair share of disappointments, I don't want you adding to them."

He had long ago forfeited his right to push the boy towards anything, hadn't he? He was a stranger and he could see it in his eyes… if he kept at this the only thing he'd accomplish would be pushing the kid away from him. "Look too far into the future and you'll miss the opportunities of the present" that was something his sensei had worked hard to drill into them when they were genin, his attempt to make them slow down and not worry about what tomorrow would bring but rather what today had to offer. It seemed that he still struggled to follow that advice. Still, that didn't mean he still wouldn't try to nudge Naruto towards accepting his guidance on the matter but he would be a bit less direct with it for now. Hopefully, when the two were closer he might be more willing to hear him out.

"Alright alright, you've made your stance on this whole thing clear so I'm not going to force it any further." He held up his hands in surrender and bowed his head. "If you really are dead set against using chakra then we'll do something else." He conceded, earning a relieved sigh from the blond who had truthfully been expecting to argue the point further given how set on the idea the man seemed to be.

"Thanks." He answered appreciatively, he didn't like being difficult when people were doing him a favor but messing with the Kyuubi wasn't exactly a small ask. Least of all so soon after his mishandling of its power.

"I have some other ideas but we'll save those for later." The sannin grinned and fell into a relaxed taijutsu stance, arms at his side and eyes narrowed. "For now, I want you to come at me with everything you've got. Training begins now!"

"You might regret saying that later." Naruto smirked and quickly fell into his own stance, he had no illusions of coming out victorious but he was determined to get at least one clean hit in.

"Hmph, you're a few a decades too young to be saying that to me." Jiraiya scoffed playfully, cracking his knuckles and widening his stance. "We'll see how long you can keep that attitude up after a few rounds."

Naruto would very quickly come to learn that goading legendary ninja was probably not the best idea in hindsight.


"Naruto-sama please sit still, I know it hurts but this will help dull the pain." Haku giggled lightly into her hand as she attended to her master's bruises, his torso now covered in bandages dipped in a homemade salve that would aid healing his many welts. "I must admit that I did not expect you to return in such poor condition when you left this morning." She said softly her gaze trailing along his battered body with open concern. He looked like he'd been used as a living punching bag.

"Believe me, neither did I." Naruto groaned trying to ignore the pain in his... everything honestly. "He makes Kakashi's training seem like a walk in the park by comparison." He grumbled, gingerly raising his arms so that Haku could continue her work on his injuries and wincing as her hand brushed over a particularly sensitive patch of skin.

"I suppose their reputation is well deserved, the Sannin are considered to be on par with Kages, Kakashi-san is quite powerful but even a talented jounin is no match for such overwhelming shinobi." Haku noted quietly thinking back to her time under Zabuza and how even he had been wary of the legendary trio, actively going out of his way to avoid areas where they had even been rumored to have been sighted.

"You wouldn't think it from first impressions…" Orochimaru at least had the presence of a man capable of bringing battalions of shinobi to their knees. Jiraiya, by contrast, seemed almost harmless with his jovial personality and slapstick sense of humor but the adage of not judging a book by its cover rang true in his case, the man was nothing short of a monster in combat and he hadn't even been trying.

"The best ninja are the ones who know the value of deception." Haku recited a point she'd learned under Zabuza's tutelage.

"Can't really argue with that, not when I look like this anyway." He sighed and ran a hand through his matted hair, the shower he'd taken just moments before having done him a bit of good. "Still, I can't say that I'm not looking forward to learning under him. By the end of the month, I should be way stronger than I was before the start of the exams."

"Your first opponent is the heiress of the Inuzuka clan correct?" Haku asked, having gone over some of the details during his two-day break. He had been a bit tight-lipped in regards to some of the information but he told her of his first opponent and the current match schedule.

"Yep, I can't say that it's not fitting thinking on it now." He let out a soft chuckle as he considered his future bout against the brash girl. "We've been fighting one another since we were kids and even years later we still always end up butting heads."

"That sounds as though it would grow tiresome." Haku commented with some amusement.

"Sometimes but she's pretty cool most of the time." He grinned and sat up straight. "She's also super strong and I don't doubt she's going to do her best to put me through the wringer."

"You don't seem worried about that."

"I'm already working on plans to get around her, our fighting styles are pretty similar in that we are pretty much all offense with no defense. I'm confident that I can outlast her but she's got her ninken backing her up so I'll have to take Akamaru out of the picture fast to put pressure on her. She's also a close-range fighter so keeping her at a distance is my primary plan." He explained earning a nod of understanding from the brunette.

"You sound confident, however, Inuzuka-san is not your only opponent." She reminded him. "Both Uchiha-san and Haruno-san will also be present as well as many of your old classmates."

"Yeah, I know… there are no easy fights no matter the outcome." He frowned and considered the line-up of matches, in particular, he was reminded that if he did win his match against Kira then he would be facing Risa as his next opponent. The petite Suna-nin was a demon on the battlefield, her control of sand granted her a versatile offensive arsenal and an unparalleled defense. Coupled with her bloodlust… it was safe to say that he wasn't looking forward to facing her until he was sure he could put her down.

Beyond her though were still plenty of tough customers waiting in line. Shikari may not have been as strong as he was but she had a mind sharp enough to compensate for it, with the right motivation and planning she could very well corner him into a lose-lose situation. Sakura was in the same boat although he at least had the benefit of having worked with her extensively, she might pick up a few new tricks during her training but her foundation was one they had built together.

Hinata and Neji were also not to be underestimated. No matter which of them won in the end he would still potentially have to contend against the Hyuga clan's Gentle Fist and his spars with Hinata had proven time and again that even his massive reserves meant nothing if he couldn't actually access them. Neji was a bigger wildcard between the two though, he knew Hinata and had a general understanding of her skill level but Neji's match hadn't lasted long enough for him to get a good read on his abilities and so he would have to be extra cautious if they were paired up.

In keeping with the theme he also couldn't say he knew too much of Temari's skills other than that she had a talent for wind jutsu, a point he held some envy over given that he still only knew one wind jutsu despite it being his primary element. Her fight against Choji did make it apparent that her taijutsu wasn't the strongest so he would have to keep that in mind but overall he doubted she was going to be a pushover. Given that she was on a team with Risa she had to be able to hold her own relatively well.

Finally came Satsuki… she was probably the second greatest threat he could face if he was being truthful. Talented in ninjutsu, taijutsu, and her budding development with genjutsu made her extremely well rounded and as such it made pushing her in any of those areas far more difficult. Her sharingan also granted her greater perception than normal so she was less inclined to fall for obvious tricks or hit and run tactics. If the two of them fought it was almost certainly going to be a battle of attrition.

No easy fights indeed.

"You will find victory Naruto-sama, I believe in you." Haku took his hands in hers and gave it a reassuring squeeze which succeeded in shaking him out of his thoughts. "You have a penchant for overcoming the odds, I do not doubt you will find a way to do so again." She had the utmost confidence in his ability both as a friend and as his servant.

"You give me way too much credit Haku-chan, but I'll do my best not to disappoint you." He cracked a smile and reciprocated the gesture happy to have her support and earning a proud nod from the brunette.

"You haven't yet so I will hold you to your record of excellence." She teased and released his hand. "For now your thoughts should center around your training, should you require any aid you need only ask." She would assist him in whatever ways she could as was her role.

"If that's the case then could I ask for some help getting into bed… my legs feel like mush." He admitted struggling and failing to stand up after the whooping he'd received and Haku couldn't help but giggle at his struggling.

"Of course Naruto-sama." She debated teasing him a bit but decided she would go easy on him just this once… however, he was open game starting tomorrow.

She was looking forward to the coming weeks.

AN. Chapter Complete

Not exactly the chapter I would have liked to come back with but it's a necessary chapter to bridge the gap between the prelims and the month break/finals. I do hope that the next chapter won't take nearly as long and will hopefully be content filled in regards to character interactions and storytelling but sometimes you just have to do a bit of set up. Anyway thank you all for your patience and once again I am sorry the update took so long, especially when it doesn't seem like much happened. I work a lot during summer to help pay for my schooling and with the pandemic hours have been really weird and all over the place, coupled with being unable to actually go anywhere and Ghost of Tsushima coming out (love it) and writing has just kinda been an ehhh thing.

Anyway I just want to quickly go over some main points because I don't want to make this AN massively long.

1. Jiraiya's introduction:

So I plan to keep Jiraiya mostly the same personality-wise, although he will be a better teacher this time around. I like him as a character but as a teacher, in regards to skills the show/manga didn't really do him much service and I plan to make him a bit better in that regard. Otherwise, he's still going to be his usual perverted self and lord knows he's going to enjoy watching Naruto balance his incoming love life but for a first chapter I think his intro was done well enough.

2. We didn't see Naruto's summon?!

I know that is probably what you all expected to see this chapter and my original plan had been to show that off since I have come to a decision on what summon Naruto will have, spoiler it's not the toads. However, I decided that I would prefer to reveal that as an in the moment thing where I can both reveal them and show off what they can do in a single chapter. That likely won't be until the Finals so for now you'll just have to wait, still, I want to thank everyone for their feedback. I am extremely grateful that I can bounce ideas off of you like this and get so many different answers.

3. Plans for the month gap between the Finals

Now I don't plan on skipping ahead, rather I'm debating a couple of ideas and you are all more than welcome to give your insight on them. I want to keep Naruto's training somewhat vague to allow him to surprise people during the finals and so I've been thinking about focusing mostly on character interactions over the month break. I wanted to have him interact specially with Harem characters who we haven't seen for a while such as Shikari, Hinata, and now Risa. I'm thinking of actually leaving Naruto's POV and jumping around between the girls as they train and maybe portraying the interactions between them and Naruto from their POV to allow some of their internal thoughts to be made more clear as well as maybe flesh out their relationships with one another.

That said, I could also just focus on Naruto himself and his training but I feel like that ruins a lot of the surprise and it neglects a few fun situations he could get up to during the break. I haven't made any concrete decisions yet but feel free to leave your thoughts. It's been a while since I've done the whole editing thing so if there are any glaring mistakes let me know.

Anyway, that's all from me for right now, I'm not a fan of these sort of intermediary chapters but what can you do. If you have questions feel free to PM me or leave them in a review and I'll try and answer them as best I can. I hope you all are staying safe!