Chapter 7

Shizune had left, and things at the tea house had returned

to normal. In her usual seat, Yuuhi Kurenai listened to Sakura as she

related the events of the forest to her. It was supposed to

be a simple mission, locate a certain man and deliver a

message. Kurenai was familiar with such missions. She had

embarked on quite a number of them as a chunnin, as well as

some as a jounin. It was one of the more common tasks that

ninja's were ordered to do. Kurenai had expected Sakura and company to run into trouble,

just not the kind of trouble that they found. Their

particular mission was, after all, not a first. Kurenai

herself had once been sent to locate a particular sennin and

deliver a message, it had been a long and frustrating

mission. She had later learned that, the particular sennin

and his traveling companion were hard to find. Other ninja's

who had been sent on identical missions had confirmed that,

even to those with skills specialized in tracking. It wasn't

that they were hiding from anyone, it was their annoying

habit of drifting around without a particular destination

that made the task of finding them rather difficult. That

was 3 years ago. Kurenai glanced discreetly at the table that Naruto and Anko

occupied. Anko had her business face on, which meant that

whatever it was that they were discussing, it was shinobi

business. Definitely not a social call. Kurenai, if asked,

would readily admit that she was more than a little curious.

Naruto, Kurenai knew, just recently returned to the village

with Jaraiya. What sort of business could Naruto have that

involved Anko? It should be fairly important if Naruto

needed to speak to Anko so urgently that he had to seek her

out when Anko was off duty. Anko wasn't really known for

tolerance when it came to someone infringing on her personal

time. Naruto was a enigma. He entered the academy earlier than

most, failed the final exam 3 times before finally being

allowed to graduate. The exact details of which are unknown,

only the fact that earlier in the day Naruto had taken the

scroll of seals from the Hokage and had defeated the academy

teacher Mizuki sometime later. Naruto then managed to become

a gennin under Kakashi— as a part of the first group he ever

allowed to pass, and finally go to the chunnin exams—after

only several months. At that point, Kurenai honestly thought

that Naruto would drop out during the preliminary round for

the final test. The preliminaries for the third round of the

exams were individual contests and Naruto would have to fend

for himself and try to go on without the rest of his team.

His opponent had been Inuzaka Kiba, one of Kurenai's

students, a young ninja whose growth Kurenai had personally

watched over. At that time Kiba excelled in Taijutsu and

tracking, Kiba's beast effect ninpo was a jutsu that

complimented his form of taijutsu and Kurenai honestly

thought that it would be more than enough to defeat Naruto. She was wrong. Naruto's strange luck had played a part in

Kiba's defeat that day, but it was clear that it was

something more than that. Naruto had grown, his fighting

style was awkward and it was clear that he jumped into the

fight without a plan, but despite all that, his adaptability

under pressure and ability to formulate plans on the fly

was above anybody else that fought on the arena that day.

It was a bitter conclusion. Naruto's luck had played a

pivotal role in the battle, sealing Kiba's fate. Kurenai

acknowledged Naruto then, luck was after all part of the

ninja's arsenal. As a ninja, she recognized his victory. As

Kiba's teacher, recognition was harder. The manner of Kiba's

defeat and her own preconceptions tainter her view of

Naruto. And for a while, it was the teacher in her that

dictated her opinion on the upcoming finals match. To be fair, nobody really expected Naruto to win his match

against Neji. Neji was a genius with a bloodline limit that

was arguably the best in the leaf. He was also a student

trained in the ways of the Hyuuga brand of gentle fist, one

of the most deadly forms of taijutsu in the village. His

opponent graduated last after failing 3 times and had no

bloodline limit to speak of. Naruto's chances of winning

were very slim, Kurenai doubted that Naruto would a much of

a challenge to Neji's talent. When the day of the match came, it seemed like the match

predictions would indeed come true. The match was going

Neji's way, Naruto hadn't landed a single effective hit

while Naruto had felt two of the Hyuga clans moves; the

kaiten and their most debilitating taijutsu maneuver, the 64

hands of hakke. It seemed like Neji had won the match after

that, Naruto's opening points were closed. Without charka

and with the beating he had endured earlier, no one had

expected Naruto to turn the tables on Neji—but he did.

Naruto didn't have a bloodline, compared to the others he

was grossly under trained in jutsu usage, his taijutsu was

unrefined and constantly evolving. He was tired and his

opponent was still fresh, but somehow he managed to tap into

that source of power that lay deep inside of him. It was a unexpected move on his part, a move that froze the

heart of everyone who remembered. Kurenai was sure that

everyone who knew what was behind Naruto's miraculous second

wind was on the verge of jumping into the arena and into

battle. For a brief moment, they thought that their

nightmares had returned. It hadn't, but when the fear had

receded they were faced with the reality that the demon was

still there, and somehow Naruto had control ever it. It was

a terrifying prospect, and in hindsight, it was probably the

event that nudged people into rethinking their image of the

blond gennin. Kurenai may not have a demon sealed within her, she may not

have felt the burden of always controlling yourself, but she

knew enough. Anko, one of her closest friends, lived under

the shadow of a curse seal—a "gift" from her former mentor.

She saw what it did to Anko. Naruto had something in him

that was more than a hundred times worse than Anko's curse

seal. In addition to pressure from inside of him, he had to

deal with the pressures from the outside. Then again Kurenai

realized, she wasn't any better than the rest of the

villagers. She may not have openly expressed her unease at

the demon sealed within Naruto's navel, but then again,

apathy was no better. Despite all that though, Naruto grew

up in a interesting way—a common remark, especially coming

from most of the older generation ninja's. Kurenai had seen

glimpses of Naruto when growing up. From lonely child, to

angry child, then finally to troublesome child. After being gone for 4 years, he was a child no longer.

Kurenai wondered was this older version of Naruto was like

and what he was capable of. She was intrigued, and this

time, she would be watching him more closely to find out. Naruto looked at the remaining group of ninja's around the

room a bit warily. For one of the few times in his life, he

was glad that he decided to deliberately ignore sound

advice. Not too many people took the time to try and help

him through with something, and he learned to appreciate

things like that very much. Growing up the way that he did,

it should probably not come as too much of a surprise that

Naruto often takes any advice given to him very seriously.

While it was true that he often gave the villagers the

perception of being someone who does not take advice to

heart. It was also a fact that prior to being a gennin,

there wasn't really anyone to give him any advice either.

Early on Naruto had unconsciously decided that anyone who he

didn't respect didn't deserve to be listened to. And to him,

respect was earned. There wasn't a lot of people in that list, most especially

adults. The number adults that Naruto genuinely respected

was quite few, growing up as isolated and shunned as he was.

Three days ago, that number had increased by one.

Three days ago he had met Mitarashi Anko for the second

time. Anko had been assigned as Naruto's guide in becoming a

hunter-nin, Jiraiya had thought Naruto a lot of things, but

the fine points in being a hunter-nin wasn't part of it.

Nevertheless, Naruto wasn't really expecting that long of a

association with the bloodthirsty special jounin, Naruto

learned practical things pretty fast and Tsunade had

mentioned that he wasn't required to go through the entire

training process. Just learn some things that he hasn't

learned yet and brush up on others. Naruto thought that it would be wise to introduce himself to

his sensei to be. There were some things that they needed to

discuss after all… like training times and other essential

things. So with Shizune's help Naruto had managed to track

Anko down for what was supposed to be a quick chat. When

Naruto found her, he was a bit embarrassed to find that he

seemed to have stumbled upon what seemed to be Anko's

private time. Hoping to get things over with quickly he had

asked for Anko, introduced himself, and asked for the most

convenient possible time for them to meet again. Anko

though, had other idea's. Anko it seemed, wasn't quite that put out by having her

private time used for work. She had outlined the different

courses a hunter-nin trainee had to learn and asked Naruto

which parts he already had knowledge on. At first Naruto was

quite conscious of the fact that he was keeping Anko from

her other companions, but as time went on found he found

himself forgetting about them and concentrating on his

conversation with he soon to be sensei—for a little while

anyway. When Kurenai joined them, they had strayed from the matter

of training and found themselves talking about other topics.

It was also then that he became aware of just how long he

and Anko had been talking. It was already dark outside, and

dinner was calling. Kurenai asked Naruto to join her and

Anko for dinner, the two younger females had already left

earlier—to Naruto's silent relief. It wasn't that he

disliked their company, it was just that Naruto found

himself unsure on how to deal with the two. He was still

acclimatizing himself with to the village after his four

year absence, and wasn't quite yet sure on how to fit his

old acquaintances in. Naruto found dinner to be enjoyable, he found that Kurenai

and Anko were pleasant company and that there were a lot of

things to talk about. Having been dragged by Jiraiya around

for four years had placed Naruto in a somewhat unique

position compared to the many other ninja's in the village.

Most ninja's of Konaha rarely spent time away from the

village, and while many of them would eventually get to

visit one of the many foreign villages sometime in their

lives, those visits were usually work related and only

rarely would they find the time to relax and mingle. The

women were quite eager to hear about the foreign villages

that Naruto had been to, and Naruto found himself happily

talking about it. The two women were eager listeners, and

Naruto eventually managed to lower his walls around a bit

for them. Naruto was surprised on how easy he seemed to get

along with these older women. It appeared that the two women

felt that way as well, and it wasn't that much later when

Naruto found himself as a somewhat reluctant listener to

Kurenai's rambling about his traveling companion. As Jiraiya

had predicted his latest book had indeed made an impact on

the residents of Konoha, only not all of them were quite as

appreciative on the latest installment as Kakashi was. It

was also sometime during that dinner that Naruto found

himself asking for Anko's advice on how to conduct the

second exam for the chunnin selection trials. Anko had suggested, among a lot of other things, a flashy

entrance, similar to her own entrance at the time when it

was Naruto who had taken the trials. Antics like these were

more than agreeable with Naruto, after all during his

younger days he had done things in a manner very similar to

Anko's own, a manner that can be described through one

word—flashy. For this case though, something had compelled

Naruto to ignore that suggestion and wait it out. He had

reasoned at first that he was just feeling uneasy with such

a garish entrance, him feeling a bit like a foreigner in his

own village and all. Later on he decided that that wasn't

they case, he never really was a person who cared on how

those people viewed his all that time, why should he care

now? He reasoned that it was just something that his

instinct was telling him not to do. A good ninja trusts his

instincts, so he decided to 'introduce' himself in another

way. Something that he was finding very glad for doing.

It wasn't that Anko's plan didn't have any merit. It did.

Naruto always had a flair for the dramatic similar to Anko's

and a loud and flashy entrance can be used to impress the

gennin examinees and ultimately show a portion of the skill

that the examiner possesses. Naruto's instinct though, had proven to be right.

It had something to do with timing, most examiners follow

the exam schedule very religiously. While the first exam

wasn't always a written test, all examiners usually designed

a test to follow the timetable laid out. Apparently this was

not the case for this examiner, although after seeing who

the examiner was, Naruto found that he wasn't really

surprised. Kakashi was a well known ninja. Outside the village, his

ability to copy jutsu from a opponent has made him famous to

amongst a lot of foreign ninja as the copy-ninja Kakashi.

Inside the village though, it is his peculiar habit of

tardiness that made him infamous to the residents of Konaha

with whom he had dealings with. Prior to Kakashi's arrival, things inside the waiting room

were getting a bit out of hand. The chunnin candidates,

totally ignorant of their examiners bad habit, were

beginning to be a bit testy. Some scuffles had broken out

between some of the gennins, but fortunately they had

managed to settle it by themselves. Kakashi was no Morino Ibiki. His version of the first exam

wasn't the mental torture under the façade of a written exam

that Ibiki had devised, but it was just as effective in

weeding out ill pre-prepared teams—if not more so. Kakashi

performed a genjutsu on all the examines without letting

them know. The teams which managed to break the jutsu in

the time allowed passed, the teams that were fortunate

enough to have members who managed recognize the genjutsu

and avoid it passed as well. The rest failed. Total number of gennins who passed… 27. Naruto couldn't help but admire Kakashi's tactic. The

genjutsu had been activated a few seconds after Kakashi's

rather loud entrance, a entrance which just made people look

at his direction. Someone who suddenly appeared in a puff of

smoke heralded by a rather loud pop in a room for of

anxiously waiting gennins would bound to have that effect.

Especially on a group of unprepared and impatient examinees.

Mass genjutsu work very well, but are very easy to shrug off

if you recognize the signs of its use. One such jutsu

performed on a stadium full of people had incapacitated the

majority of the people watching one of the finals matches.

Most of the gennins fell to its effects, even some of the

chunnin. Kakashi's genjutsu, Naruto realized, was about willpower.

Unlike Ibiki, Kakashi didn't have the patience and ability

to back the examinees into a mental corner and make them

confront their shortcomings and lack of confidence.

Naruto watched as Kakashi was winding down and smiled,

knowing what would happen next. The examinees were mentally

congratulating themselves for making it though the first

test when Kakashi disappeared in a gust of wind, a exit as

unexpected as his entrance. This was Naruto's cue. It was show time. When the first examiner vanished after administering the

first exam, Moegi sighed in relief. She was glad that her

team had managed to pull through, she was even more glad

that it was over.

She looked across the room and found Konahamaru smiling at

her. She waved back.

Only 9 teams had made it through, less than 15% of the

original number of examinees. It was a sobering statistic

that made her earlier relief pass. Moegi had been a chunnin

for 2 years, but this was her first try at the chuunin

exams. In her team, Konohamaru had already taken the exam

once, having been nominated 6 months prior. He had been

placed in a team of older genins for that duration. He

hadn't made it past the first test. She was happy that she had made it past the first exam, she

just hoped that the next exam wasn't anything like the

first. As a gennin she didn't have too much of experience in

genjutsu. She hadn't been aware that it was being cast, and

it had only been after a long struggle with her self had she

realized that she was under it. Totally. It wasn't easy confronting your own fears, and it seemed

that the genjutsu used on them as the first exam amplified

your own thoughts against your. For her, it had been letting

her team down. They were her friends, and she would do

almost anything to make them succeed, and if it was her that

was holding them down, she would let go. They were old

friends, they had been together even since she joined that

academy. It was the ideal team for her, they were

comfortable with each other and worked well together. They

weren't quite equals when it came to talent—Konohamaru was

definitely the most talented in the group, but their

familiarity with each other allowed them to function well

and reinforce any weakness they had as individuals.

One such weakness was Moegi's susceptibility to the

genjutsu. She had almost succumbed to the illusion, but it

was her teammates that carried her through. She knew how

important making chuunin was to Konohamaru. It was her

refusal to be the reason for the postponement of

Konohamaru's dreams that gave her the strength to defeat the

illusion and make it through. Moegi just hoped that the next examiner—who wasn't anywhere

to be found, wasn't as sadistic as the previous examiner.

The remaining examinees were beginning to get restless but

the chunnin examiners didn't seem to be too concerned. She

spotted one examinee from Konoha stand up, presumably to

inquire what happens next when the screens up front opened. The second examiner had arrived. Naruto recognized the examinees confusion when Kakashi made

his silent exit. Kakashi had that effect on people. Confused

incredulity, sort of like the feeling you get when someone

turns away without warning in the middle of a conversation.

Naruto was half tempted to let the genins stew for a little

while longer but that wasn't really his thing. No fun in

playing mind games on a room full of strangers. He opened the door and stepped into the room.

"Congratulations on passing the first exam. My name is

Uzumaki Naruto, the examiner for the second test." Naruto searched for familiar faces among the examinees.

Konohamaru was there, as was Moegi and their friend… the

third member of their trio. He was secretly pleased to see

them. The remaining examinees were studying Naruto intently,

hoping to read something about the examiner. He moved his

gaze over the room one more time before announcing. "Follow me." It wasn't a long walk towards the site for the second exam.

Like his exam, Naruto had opted for a closed area where

access in and out was limited. The 22nd practice area. Like

the 44th practice area, the 22nd practice area was a

circular fenced area 10km from the fence to the center.

Unlike the 44th though, the denizens of the 22nd wasn't

primarily composed of oversized predators. The usual

predators were there, only they were normal. Normal wolves,

normal crocodiles, normal snakes. Also, the interior 22nd

practice area was primarily swampland. Naruto stopped at a rocky area in sight of the fence, he

looked back at the examinees to make sure they were all

there. "The 22nd practice area." He announced when everyone's

attention was focused on him. "The objective of this test is simple, Survive." He paused

for a moment to let that sink in, before continuing on.

"The test duration is 7 days. Within that time period,

anyone can back out without consequence to the rest of the

team. All they have to go is go back to the gate. The rest

of the team may continue on. At the center of the training

area is a tower, its doors will be opened at the end of the

seventh day. All you need is to go inside." "There are only 3 conditions that you need to take note of.

Number one, no killing. Number two, no team may join up with

another team. If a team member decides to leave, the rest

will have to continue on by themselves. Number three,

everyone will receive a scroll. Open that if you need to

exit the test area but cant make it back to the gate. Take

note though, using the scroll means the rest of the team.

Use it wisely." He concluded. "At that stall over there you will be assigned a gate number

and given the scrolls. The test begins in an hour. Good

luck." In the tower in the middle of the 22nd practice area, 18

chuunin examiners lay in wait for the head examiner for the

second test. The second exam should have begun 2 hours ago,

and it was almost time for the other examiners to begin

their work. Or as the other older chuunins would say, it was

time for some fun. Sakura had to admit the Naruto's plan for the second exam

sounded like a lot of fun. It wasn't the bloody battles that

Anko had designed for her test, but it was still hard. The

22nd practice area was like one huge swamp. Looking for a

place to sleep was hard, holding that location was even

harder. Animals roamed around the practice area, a lot of

them could do serious injury if treated lightly. The

examiners job, was to harass the examinees, push them beyond

their limit. Deny them rest, make them nervous, bring them

close to the breaking point. Do this for seven days. For a plan thought of by Naruto, it surprisingly made a lot

of sense. A lot of class B missions were like that. A lot of

fatigue and not enough sleep, with occasional pursuers. Only

this time, it would be them that would be doing the

pursuing. With a nice tower to retire to for rest and food.

The other examiners were surprised at the no killing rule

that Naruto had insisted on. They had argued that there were

times during the exam where it was the fear of sure death

that allowed a team to go beyond their normal limits. They

further argued that the no killing rule was a big handicap

to the examines and that death was something that a shinobi

should consider at all time. For his part, Naruto had

justified his no killing rule by citing the losses that

Konoha had suffered on the last several years. He conceded

on the argument on death being a essential part of being a

ninja, but had argued that with or without the rule, the

examines were bound to face the issue anyway in the future.

Konoha, he said, had yet to fully recover from its losses

during the war with the sound and the kyuubi. And while it

had managed to reestablish its place as one of the great

shinobi nations, manpower was still short. Sakura was of two minds when it came to the issue, she

acknowledged the reasoning for both sides, but kept silent.

It wasn't her decision to make. When it came to the exams,

the head examiner had absolute control on all aspects.

Sakura was looking forward to this assignment. At her second

try at the chuunin exams, the examiners at the village of

the hidden stone had been particularly sadistic. She had

passed that exam, but inner Sakura had been looking for some

payback ever since. The other she knew shared the same

sentiment, it was obvious by the gleam in their eyes. The

only thing about this mission that she was uncomfortable

about, was the chief examiner. Naruto still made her uneasy. The contrast between the

Naruto that she once knew and the Naruto that recently

returned to the village was vast. And that unsettled her.

She regretted the fact that she was unable to square things

with Naruto, but she was unsure on how to approach him about

it. Naruto had been cool to people at first, saying little and

displaying none of the hyper activeness that he was known

for as a boy. But over the last few days she had seen

glimpses of that old Naruto, only this time, it wasn't for

display to everyone. She was a bit envious. The ease at which he had gotten along with Anko and Kurenai

had been surprising. As far as Sakura knew this was the

first time that Naruto went back to the village in four

years. Sakura had known Anko for close to 3 years now, and

it had taken a lot of time before Sakura felt comfortable

around her presence. Despite Anko's happy go lucky

appearance, she wasn't too good at meeting new people.

Naruto had managed to befriend her in a few hours. Maybe it was the time they spent apart, but then again

Naruto didn't have any problems getting along with Sasuke,

or Shikamaru, or Kiba. She wondered if there was something that she was missing.

After all, wasn't she supposed to be the former teammate?

Had they not entrusted their lives to one another before? No that wasn't it. It wasn't any of those things that made

the things between them uneasy. Sakura may have buried

whatever memory of Naruto she had, but the essence of it was

still there. Naruto, Sakura knew, would undoubtedly feel the

same way. The reason for the uneasy state with them was that

Sakura had stumbled across something that she wasn't

supposed to. Her mother wished Naruto dead, and if she

thought about it, that sentiment was shared by a lot of

other people. What's more, judging by Naruto's reaction, he

had know. He had known for a long time. Naruto wasn't going to go to her, he wanted Sakura to make

her own conclusion, to choose her own side.

She was going to hit him in the head.

She was supposed to be his friend after all. She may not

know why, but the their past history together should speak

for itself. 'When I get my hands on you Naruto!'

A/N:

It was really hard to decide on how I should write the first

and second exams during the chunnin selection trials. It

took a lot of time to think of a exam that would embody the

essence of the chunnin exam that Naruto took part in without

having to repeat the same exam.

I decided long before I started writing this chapter that

the next time a chunnin selection exam took place I should

write things differently. Repeating the same type of first

and second exam, the first exam most especially, would go

against the purpose of the exam in the first place. Ninja's

who already took the exam would already know that to do and

then the real purpose of the exam—weeding out those that

were ready from those that weren't, would be lost.

I decided that for the first exam, the main thing being

tested is the examines willingness to face the unknown and

uncertain, even under what seems to be terrible odds. The

second exam would basically be a test of toughness.

Sorry about the formatting, FF.net insists on it no matter what changes I make. Ill have to refomat everything from scratch and re-upload it later on.

Story may have a lot of grammatical and spelling mistake, and I apologize in advance.