Hidden Village Ninja Academy

By Far Away for Today

Summary: [AU] Naruto had been forced to enroll in the Ninja Academy. He wanted eat ramen and sleep. Instead he got hounded by weirdoes, ditched by his team and tortured by perverts. Not the best first impression.

Disclaimer: "I do not own Naruto, otherwise I'd be rich." - Old Chinese Proverb

Author's Note: Thank you very much for the commentary you've sent.

I'd like the first address the ridiculously long delay for this chapter. The simple reason for delay being that my sister got married, something I hope you can understand and respect. Preparing for relatives from India, Africa, London, Canada, and across the USA took time, as did preparing for the 3-day wedding ceremony itself. However, since she doesn't plan on having another wedding again, ever, I don't feel that there will be repeat of such a long delay. Any delays that do occur from now on would be due to other projects I'll be starting.

Next, some of you have asked questions about this story. I don't believe that commenting on reviews belongs here, therefore I've answered many of your comments and questions in my livejournal. I will also be posting there some technical information about the HVNA world that some of you curious types enjoy as much as myself. The address is in my author profile now. Weather Marmalade, you may especially want to read those responses once you've finished this chapter. Please feel free to continue questioning, commenting, and/or contacting me about my writing.

Finally, I'd like to thank Nick, my editor. Slow and steady wins the race dude.

Chapter 3: Self-Imposed Fieldtrips

Morning began early in the Hidden Village Ninja Academy, heralded by the sweet sounds of birds singing, dogs playing and people working. To these sounds, Naruto awoke, wanting to skewer each and every squeaking, barking and screaming thing he could hear. The noise had started at 3am and had only gotten louder since. His small blonde head was throbbing in pain. He groaned into his pillow as the loud atrocious idiot yelled yet again.

Before he could get up and yell obscene things out his window, an annoying buzz came from his pillow as it started vibrating. Throwing the pillow across the dorm room, the half-awake boy found an alarm under his pillow. He pulled himself up and forced the sleepiness from his brain. After a few moments he finally focused on the shaking and flashing plastic thing. The thing was a little smaller than his fist. It didn't have an 'off' button, though it did have plenty of other buttons. Naruto's fuzzy mind realized that the 'alarm' was a cellular phone, and after several sleepy attempts to answer it, remembered that cellular phones didn't work on the academy's grounds.

Rubbing the sleep from his eyes he read the yellow note attached to the gadget.

It turns off when you find me. - Itachi

The boy scoffed and broke the little thing in half. That stopped the noise just as well. He pulled himself from his bedding and crawled into his bathroom. It didn't take long for him to wake up once he got cold water on himself. Feeling refreshed and awake, he greeted his reflection. His jaw had healed up nicely, leaving only a light flush on his skin. He hoped nobody would notice his quick improvement, but then, he wasn't entirely healthy yet. The back of his head still ached.

Naruto dressed quickly and checked his clock. He'd have time for a breakfast this morning before getting to class - something he hadn't had time for yesterday. After checking his uniform, he left his room and ran into a girl - literally.

"Ah, sorry," Naruto apologized. He recognized her as the quiet dark haired girl who had poorly defended him in class the day before. He didn't remember her name but he did appreciate her small effort. The blonde didn't get a chance to thank her though, as she squeaked and ran back into her room.

The blonde walked back into his room to check himself over again. He hadn't grown a second head or fangs since he'd left his room. With a shrug, he reaffirmed his personal slogan: People here were just weird.

Naruto headed to the commons. The common room wasn't very big, but it was filled with many cushy chairs and study tables. The focus of the room was the fireplace built into the center stairwell that spiraled to the upper levels. It felt warm and cozy. He liked it; it reminded him of his tutor's home.

At this hour, only a few students were in the room. Sitting in front of the fireplace, crouched over a Go board, were Shino and Shikamaru. The hyper blonde bounded over to them and studied the board.

The game seemed to be over and they were only reviewing their moves now. Shikamaru looked very serious as he studied the Go board. The normally apathetic boy seemed genuinely interested in the board.

"Ah, I forgot!" Naruto smacked his head and groaned. Shino looked up from the board and stared at the guilty looking blonde.

"Yeah, you did," Shikamaru replied, turning to greet the young blonde with a yawn. Even though Shikamaru didn't take the game lazily, he was still shamelessly dressed in his pajamas. Naruto was actually a little jealous of how cool the lazy first year looked, comfortable but ready to kill in his black satin button shirt and matching drawstring bottoms.

Shino, like Naruto, was in uniform already. Unlike the messy blonde, Shino's uniform was pressed crisply, with creases running with razor precision down the front of his pants. The white collar was spotless against his deep navy suit jacket. The standardized black boots and forehead protector shone in the firelight. There was not a hint of lint or loose threads on his person. The only untamed part of the quiet, methodical boy was his hair. The frizzy mass seemed to rebel against the boy's orderly nature. In contrast, Naruto rebelled against the conformity with his whole being. His uniform was loose and off-centered. The folds in his pants were barely visible. His forehead protector was tied with a messy knot and his boots were already scuffed.

Shino began clearing the stones as Shikamaru stretched out. The two dark haired boys stood up from their finished game and bowed.

"Thank you for the game," they stated to each other. Naruto watched with a blank expression on his face. He didn't understand what the hell they were doing, but it seemed important.

"Let's get some breakfast," Shikamaru stated tiredly. Shino and Naruto let the longhaired boy lead the way to the cafeteria. Naruto grinned and wondered how much work Shikamaru did to keep himself lazy all the time. The blonde could never suppress his excitement, which even now expressed itself in his huge grin.

He was really happy to have friends, and even happier that they were so cool. Shino was quiet, but not at all dumb, and Shikamaru was interesting, in a not-crazy or weird way… which reminded the blonde.

"Sorry, about the game Shikamaru. Something came up last night," the blonde apologized and rubbed his head sheepishly. He winced in pain as his hand brushed against the tender spot on the back of his head.

"Don't worry, we can play later. What did the guy in the big coat want last night anyway?" Shikamaru asked lazily. Naruto stared in confusion and the other boy sighed noisily. "I saw that you ate dinner with Shino. When you weren't in the commons afterwards, I went to ask him where you'd gone. He told me about that guy meeting you. So, what did the mystery man want?" Naruto slowly processed Shikamaru's statements and nodded as Shikamaru rolled his eyes.

"Oh, Itachi just wanted to size my coat," the blonde shrugged, "It's too big for me though."

"Are you going to join the Akatsuki then?" Shino asked with a raised brow.

"I don't really know what they are. All I know is that I don't get a choice in the matter," the blonde sighed. The other two boys looked at him in slight confusion. "The Akatsuki don't allow people to refuse their membership, I don't know why."

"Their members are also some of the world best ninja," Shino said.

"So, the Akatsuki are great ninja, that doesn't say that all the great ninja are Akatsuki," Shikamaru pointed out, "Anyway, what do you know about this Itachi guy?"

"Itachi? He's Sasuke's older brother, they hate each other and he's a sixth year," Naruto shrugged, "That's all I know." He scrunched his face and thought of what the older boy could want from him. The ideas that ran through his mind were all bad. Itachi had been polite last night, but that didn't seem like his true character. The dark teen couldn't be trusted, especially since he claimed to know Naruto's past.

The three spent the rest of the walk in silence, picking up a breakfast tray each as they entered the cafeteria. All the trays were alike, carrying well-balanced breakfasts for the students. Naruto grimaced at the disgusting food. He cursed his stupid glue-chewing guardian for sending him here. He still wasn't enjoying his stay, even if he had made some friends.

"Why can't I have ramen for breakfast?" Naruto whined, "This is gross."

"It's a well-balanced meal," Shino stated, "Breakfast is uniform and military, to remind the students of what ninja really are."

Shikamaru headed towards the group of first year Leaf students until Naruto took the lead. Without a word the two followed. He led them to the second-level table by the waterfall, which he was starting to consider his own.

"I guess I understand why you'd want to sit here," Shikamaru said and gave his nod of approval to the surroundings. Naruto flashed a smile before digging into his breakfast: grainy cardboard. The tasted lingered in his mouth; he'd have to brush that out before class.

"So, we're military?" Naruto asked, after he'd shoveled some of the cardboard down his throat.

"Ninja were military but that was a long time ago," Shino explained, calmly ingesting the food, "In the last century all the ninja villages organized and formed a united federation."

"That was before or after the five countries united?" Shikamaru asked around a mouthful of the gruel.

"Before, it's what prompted the Five-Point Alliance."

"Wow," Naruto awed, "You really know a lot about ninja."

"It was in the primer," Shino shrugged. Naruto's face went blank.

"Naruto, you memorized the whole primer but you don't really know what it means, do you?" Shikamaru sighed when Naruto shook his head. The blonde just glared at the lazy ninja.

"Good morning Naruto-kun," Haku smiled as he arrived at the table with Zabuza. The feminine boy set his breakfast down and gave Naruto a hug before taking a seat.

The two other Leaf ninjas stared at the display of affection. Shino resumed eating after a moment, understanding that this was normal behavior, but Shikamaru quirked his brow as he puzzled over the kind of relationship Naruto shared with the Mist ninja. The puzzling stopped when an angry bandaged Mist jounin came to the table and laid a deadly glare on him.

The fourth-year teen opened his neatly made lunch box and began digging into it as Zabuza grumpily pulled himself an extra chair. The Mist jounin did not take mornings well - not that he took the rest of life well, either.

"Hey, hey, why do you get a special breakfast?" Naruto whined as he noticed the stark difference between Haku's breakfast and his own. Haku's navy lunch box was filled with colorful slices of meats and sushi. Cherry tomatoes and a plum sat next to bottle of milk. A small ornate box held a cup of steaming rice and a fresh baked wheat roll sat wrapped in an embroidered blue napkin.

"I'm a fourth-year ninja. The teachers map out the specific dietary needs of each student in their first year. Mine are unique enough that I require a different menu from the standard one," Haku stated like a book - a perky and smiling book. The blonde stared blankly at the other boy. Haku giggled at the slow blonde. "I need specific foods that have to be specially ordered and prepared for me." The younger boy's face was still blank. The group simply waited, quickly becoming accustomed to the delay responses, until the blonde nodded in understanding.

"Are they going to test us or simply observe, Momochi-san?" Shino asked in his detached manner. Naruto liked the boy's simple attitude; he was relieved to have found a normal, if emotionally blank, person to talk to.

"They mostly observe you and plan the menus based off of your strengths and weaknesses, I think. You're Shino-kun correct?" Haku asked and Shino nodded in response. "Ah, call me Haku-sempai since you're friends with Naruto-kun. And you are?" He turned to Shikamaru.

"Nara Shikamaru," he replied with a slightly wary look. Naruto figured that Haku had to be used to the treatment; the older teen ignored the look. Cross-dressing, it appeared, was rare among ninjas.

"We're going to need a bigger table I think," Haku stated thoughtfully looking at the faces around the table, "I'll go request one after lunch."

"Ah. How do you get a bigger table?" Naruto asked. Zabuza rolled his eyes.

"I just have to send a request to the cafeteria staff. They'll get it set up," Haku smiled, "I think a six-chair table should be enough for now."

"They do that here?" Shikamaru questioned. Haku smiled as he shook his head.

"The top students get privileges," Haku stated. He was ever calm and friendly, not the powerful looking type. It was hard to imagine the kimono-garbed teen even punching someone - slapping seemed like a more fitting image.

"What do you mean by privileges?" Shino asked. Haku smiled pleasantly in return.

"Like being out of uniform, sleeping or cutting class, getting special items you want… Stuff like that," Haku shrugged. Shikamaru nodded and chewed his breakfast thoughtfully. The Mist ninja clapped his hands together and squealed happily. "Why don't I show you? You're all in Naruto-kun's class right?" Haku smiled mischievously.

"Don't let Naruto skip class," the jounin stated in a grim tone. "Iruka called after dinner. You hung up on him yesterday and he wasn't happy." Naruto grimaced; he still hadn't reconnected his phone. He would be getting an earful from Iruka. The jounin was watching and laughed at the blonde. "I mentioned that you'd been chosen as an Akatsuki and he sounded worried. Your guardian however was not pleased and insisted you decline the position." Naruto rolled his eyes.

"He does mean well," Haku pointed out.

"Except he's not well in the head!" the blonde growled.

"Iruka requested Haku and I help guide your training," Zabuza announced, changing the subject, "I assume he just wants us to keep an eye on you."

"It's not like I'm going to do anything illegal," the blonde groaned. The two Mist ninja stared quietly not answering. "Oh, I only did that once! And it was Haku-nii-san's idea!" Haku bubbled with laughter.

"I didn't tell you to actually paint spirals all over the monument," the feminine boy replied between fits of laughter, "Mizuki-sensei was so mad!"

"He was mad to begin with," the blonde retorted angrily, "I was red for the whole day for that!" Naruto groaned as Haku laughed harder.

"You are one weird guy, Naruto," Shikamaru stated with a smirk. He seemed to approve of Naruto's strangeness though. The blonde grinned back. Shino watched the exchange impassively.

"Me. Weird? I thought I was the normal one around here," the blonde laughed, "Everyone is so disturbed!" He threw his hands up exaggerating and everyone laughed, except Zabuza. He didn't seem to get the joke.

"You are more than weird," Zabuza stated. The man grinned beneath his bandages as the group laughed. Naruto threw a piece of carrot at the jounin in retaliation. It missed.

"I may be weird, but at least I've never gotten white-washed by toddlers," Naruto laugh as Haku smiled behind his hand. Zabuza almost pouted, but growled instead. Having finished his breakfast, the Mist jounin took the excuse to stand up.

"I'll miss lunch today, so don't wait," the man said to Haku and ruffled Naruto's hair before leaving. The blonde flailed theatrically, as his friends started to laugh again.

"White-washed…" Shino repeated after the laughter quieted. The stoic boy rolled the word out of his mouth, testing the sound. It wasn't a familiar term for him. He looked at Shikamaru, who shrugged lazily.

"Hey, hey, what's wrong?" the blonde asked after watching his friends' exchange.

"What is white-washed?" Shino asked.

"Oh, that's Wave country slang for when you cover somebody in snow," Naruto smiled happily, "What do you call it here?"

"It doesn't snow in the Fire country Naruto-kun," Haku reminded the blonde boy. Naruto didn't seem to comprehend Haku's statement.

"So?" he asked, tilting his head in a curious manner. Haku sighed.

"They don't have a name for it in the Fire country because it doesn't snow here," the older teen smiled. Naruto nodded puzzling over the concept.

"I have never traveled outside the Fire country," Shino stated.

"Never?" Haku stared at the other boy in awe.

"Neither have I," Shikamaru added lazily. Haku found it fascinating, while Naruto was still confused.

"Do either of you travel much?" Shino asked, trying to keep the blonde from going into mute shock, which seemed to happen frequently. So frequently in fact, that he was beginning to ignore it.

"I travel as my missions require," Haku stated.

"Most of the time I stay in the Wave country," Naruto beamed, "otherwise I travel all over."

"You travel, in your guardian's jet?" Shikamaru asked. The lethargic boy caught the shocked expression on Haku's face and the glared from the blonde.

"I said I don't own a jet," Naruto pouted.

"But you didn't say if your guardian owned one," the lazy boy sighed noisily to emphasize his boredom with the blonde's poor evasive tactics. Naruto growled in response. This guy was eerily correct about everything…

Shikamaru was definitely something. The guy was lazy, but he was quick at catching every detail. However, Shikamaru wasn't quick at everything, since he didn't grab the flying breakfast plate before it splattered across his face. He grumbled and leveled an annoyed glare at the offending fist that had catapulted the gruel, and its owner.

"You tried to hurt Sasuke!" Sakura's flaming eyes stared level with Naruto's and tried to burn a hole through his skull. But she was neither the first nor the most skilled to try that attack, so it failed to evoke even a look of annoyance from the blonde genin. Naruto simply handed Shikamaru a napkin and ignored the obnoxious girl.

"How dare you say those things about Sasuke, even if he told you to say them," Ino shrieked from the other side of the blonde. He took this moment to stare at girls in confusion. His head volleyed between the two fan-girls flanking him before he shot up from his seat angrily. Naruto shook with anger and growled. Sakura and Ino stepped back in fright at the sudden change.

"That's right! I need to kick the pretty-boy's ass for stealing credit for my plan!" the enraged blonde declared. He rounded on Sakura. "Where is that bastard?"

"Why would we tell you?" she glared defiantly back. Her bravado fell flat as she leaned away from Naruto warily. Knowing that girls were stupid creatures, Naruto knew just how to get what he wanted.

"Oh, afraid he can't handle me. I'm glad you realized I'm the better Sakura-chan," the blonde beamed.

"What?! She didn't say that!" Ino spat back, "We just don't want you bothering our precious Sasuke while he meditates."

"Oh, so the jerk fell asleep somewhere," Naruto rolled his eyes and nodded contemptuously.

"No!" they screamed in unison.

"Prove it," he dared with his fox grin shining. Ino grabbed the offending boy and dragged him behind her. Shikamaru burst into laughter as they left.

Ino pulled Naruto to the sky-bridge leading to the Leaf dormitory's sixth floor. He noticed Itachi staying at the far end, before Ino stopped and roughly turned Naruto around. The blonde felt a rush of dizziness from the change in momentum and his head throbbed again.

"There," Ino pointed to a stone lion jutting out of the rock, "Does it look like he's sleeping to you?" Naruto squinted and made out the dark form of his new teammate.

"I can't tell. I guess I'll go get a closer look," Naruto grinned. The boy leapfrogged his way to the lion's head and a chorus of profane threats followed him. It was no surprise the anti-social boy was expecting him when he reached the giant roaring head.

Sasuke make no indication that he felt Naruto's presence, but they both knew.

"I don't like you," Naruto stated with a growl. It was the truth, he didn't like him, but he had to work for a very long time with this jerk.

"Do you think I care?" Sasuke carelessly replied.

"Yeah, you care," Naruto grinned as Sasuke turned to see him, "You cared that I made you look bad in front of everyone."

"Hah. You're nothing but a loser," Sasuke smirked, "A charity case."

It took all of Naruto's self-control not to hit the smug Uchiha. He could still hit below the belt, though, even if he couldn't use his fists.

"I'm an Akatsuki and you're not. I'd say there's no charity in that," Naruto gloated. Sasuke growled and glared at the blonde. Naruto wanted nothing more than to rub it in Sasuke's face, but he needed friends. Iruka had always told him, friends are easily lost and hard to win back. The blonde shrugged. "I don't want to be one though." He huffed and sat down.

"How can you say that?" Sasuke glared angrily, "Akatsuki are the strongest ninjas in the world."

"So, I don't want to be somebody's lap-dog, especially your brother's! He's a creepy stalker!" Naruto ranted and Sasuke edged back, "He keeps finding me and leaving me notes… It's just disturbing. The red eyes are cool, but those creepy wrinkles on his face… Eww! And he's all bossing me around and putting me in body binds! Who does he think he is? Do you know he told me I have to keep my room clean? I'm never clean!" Naruto yelled and flopped on his back in exhaustion. It felt surprisingly good though. "I don't need someone telling me how to live."

"So he bothers you. You're Akatsuki. He chose you over me. I hate him and you," the other boy growled.

"Yeah, he mentioned that," Naruto replied tiredly, "Look I don't care about either of you at the moment. I'm pissed off with you both."

"You don't deserve to be an Akatsuki. You're an orphan." Sasuke stood up and stared down at the blonde.

"Shut up! I didn't ask for it, don't want it, and can't get rid of it. I don't get any choice in the matter because I can't get rid of your brother," Naruto growled, "And never mention the word orphan again or I'll kill you." The two boys glared at each other for sometime, but they'd said what needed to be said. They both felt easier after yelling, but they didn't really understand why.

"They probably want the money from your adopted family," Sasuke stated sourly. Naruto scrunched his face in confusion. The dark haired boy scoffed. "The Akatsuki. They like money and power. I'm not some stupid fan-girl, I know you're rich. My brother doesn't tolerate poor charity cases anymore than Ebisu-sensei."

"Pricks," the blonde grumbled.

"My brother hates me."

"How can you tell?" Naruto asked in genuine amazement, "He only speaks in monotone or undertone." Sasuke burst out laughing.

"You're the only person stupid enough to insult my brother," Sasuke smirked.

"You're stupid," Naruto pouted.

"We need to get to class," Sasuke stated. They'd reached a truce, or at least stalemate. It was enough to function as a team together. They had something in common now: Itachi.

"Oh joy."

The two jumped from sculpture to sculpture to reach the bottom. Naruto begrudgingly admitted that Sasuke was good, but not the best. The blonde shrugged it off, he liked challenges anyway.

"You didn't apologize for stealing my credit," Naruto casually stated while Sasuke grabbed his school bag from his room.

"Does if look like I'm going to?" Sasuke blandly remarked back.

"You're a jackass."

"You're slow."

"Glad we got that settled, bastard," the blonde smiled and Sasuke smirked in return. The two entered the classroom in silence. Sasuke's two fan-girls burst into gleeful shouts for their idol and threw glares at Naruto.

"Shut up," was all the brooding Uchiha had to say and they quieted somewhat. Naruto had the feeling they only quieted down so that they could hear if Sasuke said anything else in his low and creepy voice. That creepy and annoying attitude had to be an Uchiha trait.

"Aww, you hurt your fan-girls' feelings," the blonde grinned. Sasuke just glared to make Naruto stop grinning, which failed. Shikamaru threw a lazy wave at Naruto from his seat just behind the blonde. From the expression on the crafty Nara boy's face, there would be questions soon. Sakura failed to acknowledge the blonde and failed to get the brooder to talk. She groaned in the end and let her head fall into her arms as Sasuke ignored her. Ebisu-sensei leered and glared. Things were going relatively normal this morning.

"Class 1-A, today you will start your full class schedule," Ebisu stated blandly. "I am your homeroom and Leaf Village History instructor. You'll notice only nine students are present in class today."

Naruto looked around and true enough the class was mostly empty. Those present began mumbling to each other.

"Quiet. You nine are the only teams from Class 1-A to pass your jounin instructors' tests." The disappointed expression on his face wasn't aimed at those still in the room. "Congratulations."

"Yeah!" Kiba yelled as the small class burst into cheers.

"Attention!" Ebisu shouted, it quieted the genin down, "As first years, you are required to take the following additional courses. They are: Basic Leaf Chakra Training, Basic Leaf Taijutsu Training, Basic Leaf Genjutsu and Ninjutsu, Level 1 Ninja Survival Training, Level 1 Contemporary World History, and Level 1 World Market and Economics. All Village courses are taken with your fellow village ninjas. Other courses are taken with other hidden village ninja classes." Naruto yawned and drowned out the rest of the man's speech, he'd learned it all in the primary or from Iruka anyway.

Sakura poked him and he quickly focused back on his surroundings. Sakura was staring off to the side while the teacher was still droning about something. Naruto looked behind and found Shikamaru staring that way as well. The blonde followed their line of sight.

Standing in the doorway was Itachi. The blonde looked back at the droning teacher and realized the leering prick was purposely ignoring the sixth-year. Itachi looked very annoyed. To be fair, the creepy stalker wasn't making any noise but Ebisu was a natural jackass anyway.

Naruto turned and looked over Sakura to see Sasuke glaring. The younger Uchiha looked ready to gouge out those blood red eyes with his thumbs. It bothered Naruto and he couldn't explain way.

"Naruto!" Ebisu called, drawing the blonde face ahead, "Pay attention!" The blonde growled and was ready to shout back a response, until Itachi spoke up.

"That's correct," Itachi stated in his low eerie tone, "You shouldn't be distracted like that Naruto." The older boy walked into the classroom and stood before the blonde. Naruto sat in shock. He didn't understand what this guy was up to or whose side he was on.

"Itachi-sama," Ebisu smiled, "What can I help you with?"

"You should be trying to learn," the teen stated, completely ignoring the instructor, "even if the material is poorly conveyed." Behind Itachi, Naruto could see his instructor cracking at the insult.

"Um… Okay," Naruto replied. The older boy nodded and then placed a small black velvet box on the table. The young genin stared at it in confusion. Itachi didn't offer any answer, so Naruto opened the box.

Inside the small box was a gold ring with a blood red ruby. Itachi pulled it out and placed it on the boy's finger without ceremony.

"This is the insignia of the Akatsuki. It does not come off."

"What?!" Naruto shouted and started pulled at it. He growled, "Fucking seal…" A chuckle erupted from the towering sixth-year. It was a frightening noise that froze every genin's blood. He finished with a smirk and turned away.

Naruto decided that Itachi was just plain confusing.

"Akatsuki?" Ebisu stared at the blonde genin in shock.

"Yes?" Itachi responded, but the dumbstruck teacher shook his head. The creepy teen nodded and left the room. Ebisu stood looking afterwards for a time, then turned back to face his class' curious stares.

"The syllabus," Ebisu stated and turned around to write on the chalkboard.

Naruto continued to pull at the ring, but it simply wouldn't come off. However, the blonde was supremely stubborn. Sakura finally had to smack the boy's head to stop him from fidgeting and he doubled over in pain. His head was still very tender.

"Dismissed," the lecherous man ordered, an hour later, "You are all to report to room 132." Naruto stood with Shino's help as Class 1-A filed out of their homeroom. He vaguely felt the sensation of being herded. Other teams soon joined the three surviving Leaf teams of Class 1-A. Sakura led the group with the platinum blonde girl. Naruto knew the other fan-girl's name, but he couldn't recall it at the moment.

Naruto moaned when Shino shifted the weight of the blonde on his shoulder. Sasuke trailed behind his teammate carelessly.

"She hits too hard," Naruto stated depressingly. Sasuke shook his head and smirked. Shikamaru came up along Naruto's other side and smirked as well when he heard what the blonde had said.

"Ebisu was strange today," Shino stated.

"Ah, he doesn't bother anyone who has money or a name. So now he's got a problem. Naruto's an annoyance but an Akatsuki too," the lazy boy shrugged. Naruto scrunched his face in disgust as they enter room 132.

Thirty odd students occupied the small lecture hall. A dark spiky-haired man stood smoking a cigarette at the front of the class, catching everyone's attention with the strong stench of tobacco. He seemed about to speak until Sasuke's platinum blonde fan-girl interrupted.

"Asuma-sensei," the snobby preteen huffed, "what are you doing here?" He took a long drag from his cigarette and grinned at the genin.

"Welcome first-years. I'm Sarutobi Asuma," he smiled, ignoring Ino, "Your instructor for Basic Leaf Chakra Training."

Naruto sat bored out of his skull for the rest of the session. Class was dismissed and the nine 1-A Leaf ninjas trudged toward Training Ground No. 77. They stood at the gate to the fenced off training area, staring at the thick forest barely contained behind the tall chain-link fence.

"How much you want to bet they're going to throw us in there and leave us to fend for ourselves for a week?" Shikamaru drawled out lazily at Naruto's side. The blonde nodded in agreement but eyed the forest in eager anticipation.

Standing away from the Leaf ninjas were genin from other villages.

"What is wrong with that guy's face?" Kiba scoffed at a red haired ninja. The small boy stared blankly at the dog-boy, he hadn't been paying much attention to the outside world. "It's so dumb looking." The dog snorted in the other genin's direction.

Standing alone was a small boy with short vibrant red locks. On his back he carried a large sand gourd. A Sand insignia was tied to the leather strap that held the gourd. The Sand ninja focused his black ringed eyes and sent a deadly glare at the dog and boy. Naruto rolled his eyes and wondered if Kiba had a death wish. Then he remembered something.

"That's right!" the blonde scrunched his face and turned to Kiba, "Hey, hey, what is with those red marks?" Kiba shrugged looked warily at the angry sand ninja.

"Naruto, shut up," the dog-boy growled, having realized belatedly that he'd messed with the wrong ninja as his dog began to shiver up the ice blue stare.

"Do they mean something?" Naruto stared up at the sky in thought, "Is it for concentration?" He turned back to Kiba. "The marks are too ugly to be fashionable."

"How am I supposed to know? Ask that guy!" Kiba shouted and stumbled in panic as his dog began hiding in his coat. The blonde turned to the sand ninja.

"Oh," he grinned, "So you painted the dumb triangles on the dog-boy's face. That's pretty mean, but funny. Is it permanent?" Naruto snickered.

The redhead simply blinked blankly at the blonde. The Sand genin looked confused for a moment before ignoring the world again.

"WHAT?! My tattoos are cool you loser!" Kiba yelled, finally realizing he was being mocked. He jumped up from the ground and charged the blonde. At the last moment Naruto sidestepped the attack and watched the boy and dog fall into the dirt, confusion written all over the blonde's face. Naruto didn't understand how anyone could think those triangles were cool.

"Naruto does have a point," Shino stated in monotone, "Your marks are ridiculous looking." Kiba yelled a loud battle cry as a bell sounded.

A gigantic sword whizzed past Naruto and lodged into the ground between Kiba's legs. The boy fell back in a panic. Ino and Sakura shrieked and jumped for Sasuke, who dodged. As most of the students stood ready for battle, Naruto yawned.

"Zabuza-san, can't you be more original?" the blonde furrowed his brow and turned toward the Mist ninja, standing in a tree wrapped in his bandages instead of the proper jounin uniform.

"My other techniques are deadly. Not everyone would survive to enjoy the masterpiece," Zabuza said. The Mist ninja suddenly appeared behind Naruto and smacked him on the head.

"Ah! What was that for?" the blonde howled.

"This is your fault."

"What and how is this my fault?" Naruto asked, cradling his head. He couldn't follow what the Mist ninja was implying, but he was seriously annoyed with how many people were hitting his head. Was it some sick fetish for ninjas to smack people in the head repeatedly?

"Haku used his privileges and now I'm stuck teaching a bunch of wet-nursed cry-baby genin." The group of genin leveled heavy glares at the Mist jounin. He ignored them.

"Shall we begin class then?" another voice asked.

Zabuza turned and glared at the interrupting ninja. The blonde followed the jounin's line of sight to find a ninja of the Sand leaning against the fence. A towel wrapped around the jounin's head, covering half of his ugly face.

"Our third instructor isn't here," Zabuza replied dully.

"He'll catch up," the Sand ninja stated, "I am Baki of the Hidden Sand Village." Zabuza walked over to retrieve his sword as Baki introduced himself.

"I am Momochi Zabuza of the Hidden Mist Village," the devil said and eyed the young ninjas with a steady glare. "The third instructor hasn't arrived yet. You'll be lucky if he turns up at all."

"You mean Kakashi-sensei isn't the only chronically late ninja?" Naruto asked jokingly.

"Actually, it is Hatake Kakashi who will be your third instructor," Baki grimaced, "You three must his team. Congratulations on being the first."

Naruto stared in awe, shocked that he'd guessed right. Sakura groaned. The blonde turned to the girl; she groaned an awful lot, and it was getting annoying.

"No wonder he's so bad," she reasoned in a pout, "he's never been a team leader before." The blonde shut his mouth, knowing better than to argue with girls. The dark brooding Uchiha just rolled his eyes in disgust towards his pathetic team.

"Well, since he failed the other eleven teams, I suppose that's true," Zabuza realized looking to the Sand jounin for agreement.

"A failure team for a failure instructor," Kiba sneered. Team 7 all glared the smelly dog-boy.

"Ah!" the blonde exclaimed, "Kakashi-sensei is really strong and could kick all your asses! He's just always late and a giant p-" Naruto never finished his statement as his head collided with the ground with the help of a not so friendly hand. Kakashi squatted next to the fallen boy. He patted the blonde head with his eye glued to the sultry pages of his orange book.

"Silence is golden," Kakashi quoted with reverence, "but knowing when to shut up is priceless." There was a mumbled response which none of the gaping Leaf genin could understand. Kakashi allowed Naruto to raise his head enough to speak.

"Ah! You're stalking me!" Naruto accused the man, who shrugged in response.

"Or a simple coincidence of scheduling," the white-hair jounin replied blandly, his eye not leaving the page.

"Kakashi-sensei," Sakura asked politely, "we already have you as our jounin instructor…"

"Are you implying that I can't be multitalented?" Kakashi asked.

"Stalking p-" Kakashi shoved Naruto's head back to the dirt.

"Speaking of stalkers. You know, I received a very nasty call yesterday evening." The boy mumbled into the ground again until the jounin lifted his head.

"I said, we don't need to know about your horny phone s-" Naruto's head smacked against the earth again. Sakura jumped and winced visibly at the dull thud.

"You really are a bully Kakashi," Baki sighed, "Just take their points away like everyone else."

"Yeah… I should be angry at his insinuation," Kakashi stated blandly, before he looked up at his fellow teachers and smiled, "but I can't help feeling proud of the fact that he almost got me with that one." The sandman rolled his eyes and shook his head.

"He's playing favorites with his team," Ino growled, "that's not fair."

"No it isn't," the sandman drawled out, "What's your point? This isn't nursery school."

"He's not playing favorites anyway," Naruto growled, pulling away from the man's loosened grip. He rubbed the soil from his face, "He's just THAT sick and twisted." Kakashi knocked him on the head and the blonde howled. The boy scrunched his face and glared with squinty eyes at his team leader.

"You are!"

"Yeah," the man shrugged with his eye in his book.

"So why are you denying it?!" the boy yelled.

"I'm not."

"Then why did you hit me?!" the boy fumed.

"Because I can," Kakashi's single eye peered down at the young boy with a sinister promise. "Tell your old teacher to never call me at 1am again."

Naruto suddenly understood why his jounin instructor was so angry.

"Umm… Iruka-sensei called you?" the boy asked wearily.

"Yes," Kakashi stated blandly. Zabuza bubbled with corrupt, menacing glee. The students were thoroughly freaked out.

"Well, I could ask him for you but then he'd probably just call you at 2am instead," Naruto looked up helplessly. "He's done it to me before."

A single silver brow rose as if challenging, but the expression quickly passed with a dismissive shrug. The silver-haired ninja stood up and gave the first-years a bored look. Then his black eye returned to the pages of the orange book and he yanked his young student off the ground.

Strong arms wrapped around Kakashi's shoulders from behind. The Leaf jounin ignored the possessive grip, still engrossed in his perverse book. Zabuza smirked as he pressed his bandaged cheek against Kakashi's mask and sighed.

"Really Zabuza, not in front of the children," Kakashi said in a monotone. Naruto's eye grew wide with fear, his young mind racing to understand what his teachers were doing. He began clawing at Kakashi's hand, still holding him.

"Oh, didn't you enjoy last night?" the Mist jounin pouted.

"Not really," Kakashi replied as he causally flipped a page in his novel.

"Well, it was only your first time," Zabuza state nonchalantly. Naruto paled and searched for any assistance. Sakura had fainted into Ino's arms. Kiba sat watching the two men, wide-eyed - with fascination or horror, Naruto couldn't tell. The four other Leaf ninjas stared in plain confusion, stone still and mouths gaping slightly. Kakashi's single eye turned to regard the deranged killer draped over his shoulders.

"It will never happen again," he said, his tone carrying a deadly edge.

"Oh, I have a feeling you won't being saying that tonight," said the mist ninja as he burst into laughter. Naruto screamed. The boy's arms flailed in hopes of escaping from the perverted instructors. Tearful eyes turned to Shikamaru for support.

"Get a brain Naruto," the lazy boy sighed noisily and shook his own shock away, "They're probably talking about that phone call from your teacher." The others students began relaxing with the new understanding. Naruto sniffed and blinked, before he burst into uncontrollable laughter.

The students and teachers stared in confusion. The students were not impressed by the strange Leaf ninja. They were beginning to feel the same way about their survival-training instructors.

"Iruka-sensei will call again," Naruto snickered, "and again. You may want to buy an answering machine to screen your calls from now on." The boy burst into laughter again. Zabuza patted the glaring Leaf jounin on the back.

"If you're quite finished now?" Baki growled. His grating voice brought the group back to the situation at hand.

"I'm Hatake Kakashi of the Hidden Leaf Village," the Leaf jounin stated with a bored sigh. He pulled away from his reading and focused a lazy eye on the Sand jounin.

"This is Basic Ninja Survival Training. You will be subjected to three common environments in Basic Ninja Survival Training: forests, swamps and deserts," Baki stated, "Three environments and three instructors. Today we'll have you all fill out paperwork and introduce yourselves." The students lined up to get their papers.

Kakashi pushed Naruto past the group of students toward the padlocked gate. The jounin pocketed his orange book and pulled out a key. Naruto watched with confusion written in large bold letters on his forehead.

"Where are you taking Naruto?" Zabuza asked, glaring at the other jounin's back.

"Naruto has all his paperwork filled out already," Kakashi stated and opened the gate. Naruto grinned with excitement.

"Aww, that loser gets everything," Kiba whined, "He doesn't deserve it." The blonde opened his mouth to retort but Shino spoke.

"He prepared ahead of time," Shino stated, "that qualifies him to enter. Therefore he does in fact deserve it." Kiba growled in response.

"Try not to get him too scratched up or you'll get another earful from Iruka," Zabuza called after the pair. The two quickly lost sight of the others as they traveled into the forest. Naruto leapt through the trees, barely keeping pace with his instructor. He knew that his teacher was being slow to accommodate him. It made the blonde wonder just how much this weird perverted man could do.

Kakashi suddenly stopped on a particularly large branch. Naruto wasn't prepared for the sudden halt and slammed face-first into the moss-coated bark. He groaned into the wood.

The jounin sighed and pulled the boy upright.

"You'll mess your uniform if you're not careful," Kakashi stated blandly. The jounin didn't care about the uniform and somehow Naruto understood that. He stared up at his unorthodox instructor waiting for an explanation. It didn't come.

"Hey, hey, are you going to tell me why you wanted me out here alone or not?" Naruto asked. He stood brushing the dirt from his uniform.

"Two reasons," Kakashi stated, "First I want to know what is wrong with that old teacher of yours."

"Iruka-sensei," the boy puzzled, "I guess he's having trouble letting me leave. He's really nice. He takes me out for ramen all the time."

"Calling me a pervert and then denying he's being a hypocrite is nice?" the man stated blandly and leaned up against the massive tree trunk. The tree was huge and the large branch allowed for enough space to relax comfortably.

"Hypocrite?" Naruto cocked his head to the side in question.

"He accused me of being a lazy pervert for reading 'Come Come Paradise' all the time," Kakashi answered, "but knowing what the book's about means he's read them as well."

"Huh? Iruka-sensei refuses to read the stuff. He doesn't mind other people reading, except in front of children," Naruto shrugged and scratched his head guiltily, "I sort of told him you read it a lot. Sorry."

"Oh, no," Kakashi assured the boy, "It seems that the Mist Devil and his hell spawn explained my behavior to your old teacher in detail."

"Hey! Haku-nii-san isn't hell spawn!" the blonde shouted. Kakashi's single white eyebrow rose in response.

"He is the Devil's helper and enjoys all his work with sadistic pleasure. Doesn't he always hug you in public?" the jounin asked. Naruto pouted, "I'm sure he genuinely cares for you but don't tell me you haven't thought that he might make you into his personal dress-up doll given the opportunity."

The genin winced at that. Certainly the thought had crossed his mind and Haku did have a twisted sense of humor, but he wouldn't call his best friend hell spawn. If anything, Naruto felt himself better suited for that title. However, Kakashi was right, Haku was disturbingly sadistic, but that didn't mean he'd admitted that to anyone.

"Naruto, I also wanted to know what you think of the Akatsuki." The blonde growled in frustration.

"That asshole Itachi shoved this ring on my finger this morning and I can't get it off. I don't like Itachi and if he's what Akatsuki is, I hate them!" the blonde fumed as his whiskered cheeks puffed.

"I'm not one of them so I can't say what they are exactly," Kakashi answered with a sigh, "The Akatsuki are a brotherhood of the most lethal shinobi, many of them from the ruling-class."

"Yeah, that's what everyone says. What do they do? What do they want with me?"

"You know what they want," Kakashi stated in a low voice. The sudden influx of emotion in the normally dull voice made Naruto nervous. The jounin's eye traveled down to Naruto's stomach as the boy inhaled harshly. Kakashi's single eye focused sharply back on Naruto's pair of blue eyes.

So you do know what's inside you. Who told you? That teacher?" Kakashi questioned, his tone edged with anger.

"No," Naruto swallowed hard, "I don't want to talk about it. How do you know and who else knows?"

"People who were there, the Leaf ninjas that survived, they know what you are. The other villages have heard rumors."

"Itachi knows, he said so," Naruto felt the panic and pain rose in him. He felt bile rising up in his throat.

"Yeah, he knows. He probably knows everything about you."

"Ah! How do I get into these messes?!" Naruto punched the branch, denting it.

"You can't walk away from them," the older ninja warned, letting the words roll from his mouth and cut through the air.

"Who do those people think they are?!" Naruto shouted in frustration, "It's my life! I want to live the way I want. My ninja way!"

"So are you going to fight them?" Kakashi asked, his brow rising, "You really don't want to be an Akatsuki?" Kakashi watched the boy boil and then simmer with confusion.

"I don't know," Naruto pouted, "I don't know anything." Kakashi nodded in understanding. It was a difficult situation for the boy.

"I'll say this: Be wary of Itachi."

"Duh," Naruto rolled his eyes, "He's too fake for even me not to notice."

"Yeah, well…" the jounin let the sentence hang, "Almost lunch, shall we?" Kakashi led the way out of the forest and they reached the cafeteria before the crowds. Kakashi walked off toward the sushi bar while Naruto headed straight to the ramen shop.

"Ah, Blondie you're early. I don't even have your order ready yet," the ramen chef said with his jolly belly rumbling with laughter.

"You know I have a name," Naruto pouted.

"All right, so what is it Blondie?" the chef asked with mirth in his eyes.

"I'm Uzumaki Naruto," he beamed with delight and pride.

"I'm Teuchi and the pretty lady you may see working here sometimes is Ayome." Naruto grinned happily and watched Teuchi prepare his five bowls. Once they were finished he happily went to his table.

He found Haku waiting for him at their table - their new, larger table. The fourth-year was very quick.

"You know Zabuza hates kids."

"Yeah, he fails all his genin groups," Haku smiled angelically, "but as a school instructor he can't go away on long missions anymore." Naruto rolled his eyes; the brunette always had ulterior motives.

"But you're subjecting innocent children to his rage, including me," the blonde whined.

"They'll survive, and you're not that innocent," Haku smiled.

"Naruto," Shikamaru greeted as Shino and he reached the table, "Haku-san, nice table."

"Hi!" the teenager chirped, "And it's Haku-sempai." Shikamaru nodded, sweating a little at the smile on the fourth-year's face.

"Naruto, you should have stayed behind with the class," Shino stated.

"Yeah," the lazy genin snickered, "you missed that dog-boy shooting his mouth off at Chouji."

"Ah, what happened?" Naruto asked, leaning out of his seat with anticipation.

"Kiba called Chouji a fat-ass," Shikamaru grinned, "so Chouji flattened him into the ground, literally." Naruto gawked.

"Ah… Akimichi Chouji? He used the meat-tank technique?" Haku inquired modestly. Shikamaru nodded.

"How did you know?" Shino asked, interest filling his dull tone.

"I read Zabuza-san's class roster," Haku shrugged.

"But the technique?" Shikamaru inquired.

"Oh, I faced an Akimichi during the sports festival my first year," Haku smiled. Naruto grinned, since he knew his friend had won from the calm smile on his face.

They spent the lunch hour asking Haku about the general ninja courses. The Mist ninja was very helpful in explaining and giving the boys tips on dealing with some of Zabuza's quirks.

When lunch ended, Shino led the way to their next class. It was in room 197. The class was filled with round metal tables, each with four chairs. In one corner sat the Sand genin from survival training.

At the front of the class stood a young man with long white hair and large glasses. His forehead protector held the Hidden Sound Village insignia. His smile made the hair on Naruto's neck bristle.

"Welcome, please seat yourselves as you wish."

"Eh? What about teams?" Sakura asked.

"No need, I am well aware of who you are Haruno Sakura, as well as everyone else in the classroom."

"All of us?" Kiba asked in awe.

"Yes," the young man nodded and pulled out a set of cards, "I have information on every ninja on these cards. I've got all of them categorized and cross categorized for easy reference, Inuzuka Kiba."

The class awed. Naruto and Shino made their way to sit with the Sand genin. Shikamaru shrugged depressingly and followed after the blonde and frizz-head. The redheaded genin didn't make any acknowledgement of their existence.

"I'm Yakushi Kabuto, the Contemporary World History instructor. Welcome," Kabuto announced, "four students per table please." The genin busied around grouping themselves.

Sasuke sat with Hinata and two boys from the Cloud village, much to Ino and Sakura's disappointment. Kiba and Chouji were still angry with each other but both were forced to sit with the two fan-girls.

"What a unique and unexpected arrangement," Kabuto stated and smiled in a way that unnerved Naruto. "Table 4's all-Leaf grouping is quite strange." The instructor stated, eyeing the table.

"What's wrong with our table?" Ino asked, feeling insulted.

"Well, is simple not going to be very productive," the white-haired man sighed and shook his head, "You and Haruno Sakura are rivals, so both of you will be vying for the leadership of the group. Inuzuka Kiba and Akimichi Chouji are still angry with each other from their brawl earlier, so they won't cooperate together. Two rivaling leaders and two uncooperative workers make a very unstable and dysfunctional group. Table 4 will make for an interesting year.

"Let's begin with the syllabus," Kabuto smiled and turned around to write on the shiny whiteboard. Sakura groaned. The class pulled out scrolls and began copying.

Naruto didn't like the class and it had very little to do with the fact that it was history.

When Naruto finally reached his room at 1:30, he changed and joined Shikamaru at the Go board. They played a timed game, which Shikamaru won. Shino sat nearby reading a book with an insect on the cover. He seemed very interested in it.

"Ah. 3:30," Shino announced. Shikamaru taught Naruto the proper etiquette for playing Go, then they bowed and parted.

When Naruto reached room 130, he found his teammates waiting. Kakashi arrived an hour later.

"Today we have our first mission assignment."

"Yes!" excaimed the genin.

Moments later, Naruto found himself mopping the fourth-year Leaf corridor with Shino. He could hear Kiba whining over the garbage from down the hall. The blonde growled at his team leader, reclining in a chair with his orange book.

The tired blonde reached his room afterwards to find Itachi leaning on his door. The Leaf first-years stared out of their conveniently open doors at the sixth-year, especially Ino and Sakura. The teenager ignored them all. He stood straight when Naruto approached.

"Stalker," Naruto stated blandly as Itachi followed the blonde into the room. He waited for the door to close before speaking.

"Do the seals sound-proof the room?"

"They're supposed to allow sound in, not out. Supposed to." Itachi nodded. "Can you take the ring off me now?"

"You're the first reluctant Akatsuki."

"I guess that's a no," Naruto sighed.

"I've arranged for us to go to a tailor in Hinomi on Sunday. While we're in the city your clothes will be dry-cleaned. Afterwards, we may shop for more presentable outfits for you," Itachi stated blandly, while studying the photos on the tack board.

"Okay," Naruto replied with annoyance. He changed into his pajamas and put his uniform in an empty box to be washed.

"Have money to purchase clothes with you by then," Itachi stated. Naruto nodded. "You'll have to get those uniforms washed. I'll show you who to take your uniforms to and how to clean the rest of your clothes tomorrow night."

"Eh? I know how to do my laundry," Naruto answered. Itachi gave him an impressed look - a raised brow.

"Interesting…" Itachi replied and the blonde shrugged, "but the uniforms are best left to professional care." Naruto didn't understand what the teenager meant but agreed anyway.

"Is this going to happen every night, these visits?"



"You wouldn't come to me willingly." The blonde groaned; he never got a straight answer.

"I don't think I like you very much," Naruto said. Itachi smirked and pulled out a book from his coat.

"I know. This is for tomorrow," he said, handing the book to Naruto. "Have chapters one and two read for tomorrow." The book was titled, Genjutsu and Ninjutsu: A Study of Basic Ninja Techniques.

"Hey, hey, what's it for?"

"Your Basic Leaf Genjutsu and Ninjutsu class tomorrow. You'll be tested on the first two chapters."

"Test?" Naruto gawked.


"How do you know?"

"I'm giving it to you," Itachi replied, and the blonde's face twisted in confusion. "I'm your Ninjutsu instructor for LGN."

"But you're a student."

"I'm allowed to instruct B-level courses for experience and a minimal salary. When you're a sixth-year it will be expected of you to teach a Basic instructional course." Naruto paled. Itachi took off his coat and hung it in the closet. He walked over to the young genin's desk and sat down. The teen pulled out some papers and looked over them.

"What are you doing?" Naruto asked.

"Studying," Itachi replied, "Its one hour till lights out, don't waste it." Obediently, Naruto sat on his futon and began reading the assigned homework.

Naruto spent the next two days taking notes and mopping. His conclusions by Sunday were: people here were just weird; Itachi was just plain confusing; the Hidden Village Ninja Academy was just no fun; and his guardian was to blame for everything. The blonde assumed life couldn't get worse. Then he remembered that Sunday was Itachi's self-imposed fieldtrip.

The sleepy blonde woke to the loud holler of the infamous loud wacko, who had already become despised in the hearts of the first-years. Luckily for him, no one knew where the noises came from, or who made them.

A quiet but firm knock sounded at his door. The blonde pulled himself out of bed and opened his door to find Itachi ready and waiting. The sluggish boy allowed the teen in and went to get ready in the bathroom.

Naruto emerged fifteen minutes later wearing a plain white T-shirt and dark green cargo pants. He placed his forehead protector on and was ready to go. Itachi had placed two boxes in the room while Naruto was in the bathroom. One held his clean uniforms, which Itachi had begun hanging in his closet. The other was still sealed.

The blonde ripped it open.

"Ah. The coffeemaker."

"You drink coffee?" Itachi asked.

"No, it's to boil water for making instant ramen." He placed it over his mini-refrigerator. They matched.

"Ready?" Itachi asked, throwing the dirty clothes in the box and placing the Akatsuki coat in a bag nicely. Naruto took the box and followed Itachi out.

No matter how annoying or fake Itachi's intentions were, he was persistent and constant. He wasn't letting up, but then Naruto wasn't giving in entirely yet.

"Do I have to wear the coat?" Naruto asked.

"How else would you use a coat?" Itachi countered. The blonde noticed Shikamaru awake and playing Go with Shino. They waved, but resumed play at the sight of the sixth-year. Those two first-years seemed to understand not to interfere with the Akatsuki. Kiba didn't.

"Hey! Today's Sunday but uniforms are still enforced," the dog-boy stated blocking the doorway. The guy was cocky. He was also in the way.

"Kiba, go find a bone," Naruto said tiredly.

"Nah. Teachers are playing favorites again, that's not fair," Kiba accused, "Well?" he dared. Itachi stared the boy down, his Sharingan eyes spinning, until Kiba's dog whimpered and hid.

"If life were fair then it'd be boring," Itachi stated calmly. Naruto rolled his eyes and followed the sixth-year out. They went through the first floor and exited the Academy. Itachi led the way down the rotted path to finally meet a waiting taxi. The trek seemed so much faster than it had before.

The taxi was clean, with the smell of fresh leather still on the seats. The driver was a young looking man with spiked hair and tape over his nose. He didn't wear a forehead protector, but Naruto still had the feeling the man was a ninja.

The blonde stared out the window and watched the forest disappear and large farm hills roll by. The city of Hinomi was two hours away, which gave Naruto time to bother Itachi.

"Can you help me with my World Marketing & Economics class?"

"In what way?"

"Well, Gatou-sensei is having us make businesses to sell products to other students."

"What does your partner think?"

"Shino doesn't know what to make. He thought we should analyze the student body, whatever that means."

"What are you capable of making in massive quantities?"

"Ah, I don't want to make stuff."

"Gatou has a shipping business in the Wave country and he doesn't make anything," Itachi pointed out, "Maybe you should look at what the academy doesn't provide compared to what the cities do and then supply it." Naruto nodded and thought about it.

Soon the farms disappeared and small villages and towns lined the road. The closer they got to Hinomi the larger the buildings became until they'd reached the city. The city of Hinomi was filled with towers of steel and red glass.

Naruto didn't like the red glass; it made the city appear menacing. However, red glass-paneled buildings were the predominant style of architecture in the Fire country. Naruto had to admit that the brilliant red windows did create an interesting contrast with the sapphire sky.

The blonde also liked that none of the buildings were square of rectangular. Every red wall curved and waved from their bases. The buildings were like flames blowing in the wind and dancing across the skyline.

The streets were paved with red clay and the sidewalks were charcoal black. Planted in the wide black sidewalks were birch trees with white bark and full green leaves. Signposts were white on green and traffic lights were tall arching black forks over the lanes. People crowded the sidewalks and cars clogged the streets.

The taxi stopped before a building with curved white stone and large red-tinted glass windows. Behind the windows stood regal mannequins dressed in golden kimono. Itachi escorted the young genin through the large glass doubles doors and into the store.

Immediately clerks swarmed the two boys. Actually, they swarmed Itachi, and ignored Naruto. It reminded Naruto of why he disliked shopping with Iruka.

"Can I have some breakfast?" Naruto asked the man he assumed was the manager, since the old man was elegantly dressed.

"There is no eating in the store," the old man replied with a cold look.

"Huh?" Naruto gawked.

"Is something the matter Naruto?" Itachi asked.

"They don't serve breakfast here," Naruto pouted.

"It is a clothing store."

"Yeah, but Iruka-sensei always ordered me food when we shopped before," Naruto grinned, "Gyoi Meiho orders these blueberry muffins that are so fluffy and some kind of donuts that melt in your mouth like cream." Naruto's mouth watered.

"Perhaps we should go there."

"Gyoi Meiho has only one store and that's in the Lightening country. Like the Fire country's Shibui."

"Have you ever been to Shibui?" Itachi asked raising a single well-manicured eyebrow.

"No, Iruka-sensei said that if we're in the Fire country already, it's a simple detour to the Lightening country. Gyoi Meiho is the best I guess," Naruto shrugged, "I just hate it when they take three hours for one outfit."

"Well, welcome to Shibui," the old manager stated icily.

Naruto shrugged and his stomach growled, "Can we eat first?"

"Uchiha-sama, you really shouldn't put up with such help," the manager stated coolly.

"He's Uzumaki Naruto. The newest Akatsuki."

"Eh?" the clerks gasped.

"We aren't shopping here, are we?" the blonde asked innocently.

"You said they are the best in Fire country."

"No I didn't," the boy corrected, "I said they only had one store. I bet Iruka-sensei knows somewhere else to go."

Itachi shrugged. Naruto pulled out his cellular phone and marveled at how it worked again. He quickly punched the orange buttons and waited.

"Umino Iruka," a calm voice answered.

"Hi Iruka-sensei! It's me!" the blonde bubbled.

"I know, why are you awake so early on a Sunday?"

"I'm shopping in Hinomi. What's a good store to get stuff tailored and dry-cleaned?"

"Ikou is best for both and you can shop there as well," Naruto nodded. Itachi looked uncaring.

"Ah, what about breakfast?"

"Hmmm…" Iruka paused, "The Asage no Sumai is my favorite place to eat in Hinomi, but Ikou will serve you breakfast. Just mention my name and the manager will take care of things for you."

"Okay! I got to go," Naruto answered.

"Call me again before you go back."

"I will," the boy exclaimed and closed the phone.

"So?" Itachi inquired.

"Where's Ikou?" Naruto asked turning to the manager. The old man glared.

"We'll ask the taxi driver," Itachi reasoned and stood. The blonde genin followed him out.

The Ikou building was constructed of charcoal stone bricks and black grout. The windows were red, and held various fabrics on display. Four grand birch trees in full spring foliage stood before the building, lining the sidewalk.

Standing before the wrought-iron doors, inlaid with glass, was a man in a black pinstriped suit. The mysterious man motioned for a bellboy to attend the taxi.

"Ah, you must be Uzumaki Naruto. Umino-sama called saying to expect you," the clean-cut man stated and bowed, "I'm Ueda Hirohito, head manager of this branch of Ikou. This way please."

The Suit led the two boys to a round platform, half encircled with mirrored full-length cabinets. The space was large, as big as any classroom at the academy. Four gray pinstripe-vested tailors and three assistants stood waiting, ready to attend to the young blonde.

"Uzumaki-sama, if you'll stand on the platform so we may begin," the manager gestured, "Umino-sama has already requested breakfast and it will be arriving shortly from Asage no Sumai." The man turned to Itachi and gestured to a nearby chair.

"Uzumaki-sama, are these the clothes to be dry-cleaned?" a smiling assistant asked, taking the box from the blonde.

"Yeah," Naruto nodded. The assistant bowed and disappeared with the box. The manager approached the dark teen with another assistant.

"There is a garment which requires proper fitting I believe?" the manager asked. Itachi handed them the bag and the assistant took it, bringing it over to the tailors. The assistant who had taken the box reappeared with a boy-size body form.

The tailors buzzed around Naruto once he was standing on the platform. They called out heights and lengths to the waiting assistants. The assistants noted the measurements on computers and worked to modify the body form to the young blonde's sizes. Itachi watched quietly, the manager sitting next to him as a young girl served them tea.

"Oh my," one of the tailors remarked, as he gently removed the dark cloak from its bag and examined it. The other tailors crowded around it and placed it carefully on the dress form.

"What an excellent coat. May I ask what it means?" the manager asked with interest.

"What makes you think it means anything?" Itachi responded, as he began grading a stack of papers from that week's class.

"Such custom work is rarely duplicated," the manager commented, gesturing towards the teenager's identical raw silk coat, "and red clouds on black are not a common design either." Itachi turned to regard the man and nodded.

They are the uniform of the Akatsuki," Itachi stated. The manager nodded.

"I don't understand much about the ninja world, but judging by the uniform I'd say the Akatsuki have exceptional taste," the manager praised carefully. Itachi smirked at the comment.

"Naruto will required additional formal and semi-formal apparel," Itachi stated, returning to business. The manager motioned to the tea-girl and she hurriedly informed one of the tailors.

"Uzumaki-sama, do you like traditional formal wear or the more modern suit styles?" the tailor asked while measuring the boy's shoulders.

"I don't mind wearing a kimono, but they're always heavy," Naruto answered, as his stomach growled loudly. "Ah, sorry." The blonde sweated.

"The breakfast should be arriving soon, we apologize for the wait, Uzumaki-sama," the tea girl smiled.

"Ah, don't worry. It's probably traffic," the blonde smiled, "What did you order anyway?"

"Umino-sama requested strawberry crepes, blueberry muffins and plain glazed donuts," the manager replied.

"Ah, I miss having real food for breakfast," Naruto grinned and Itachi scoffed.

"A good ninja needs well-balanced meals to be strong."

"Yeah sure," Naruto rolled his eyes, "like you enjoy eating that cardboard junk."

"Uzumaki-sama, do you have a favorite color?"

"Orange," Naruto beamed.

"No," Itachi stated flatly. The blonde turned and glared, which would have had no effect whatsoever even if Itachi had bothered to look.

"Ah, what do you think of a rich green-blue to compliment your eyes, Uzumaki-sama," a tailor commented and brought out a deep ocean green colored silk for viewing.

"Red," Itachi requested. Three assistants came out with three different red-patterned fabrics. They waited in front of the teenager patiently.

The Uchiha lifted his Sharingan eyes from the paperwork and scanned the fabrics. All the fabrics were silks. To the left was raw silk, shimmering vibrant red in the light, burgundy where the folds blocked the light. In the center was a true-red finely woven silk with a golden print of dragons in clouds and tigers jumping from mountains. To the right was a blood-red silk fabric, embossed with a flowering lotuses design.

"The right."

As the assistants disappeared in a flurry of cloth, three men entered with breakfast trays. Naruto grinned and hopped off the platform. He inspected all the dishes while Itachi stood patiently waiting for the blonde's go-ahead.

"Ah! These are those donuts! Like the ones Iruka-sensei gets for me at Gyoi Meiho!" Naruto cheered pointing them out to Itachi. "I wish I could eat them more often."

"Do you?" Itachi asked in a bored manner.

The teen was impressed by the array of dishes. Naruto knew because Itachi had raised his eyebrows when the trays had entered. The small gesture spoke volumes. The hyper boy picked up the delicious crème donut and inhaled its beautiful scent. It was the next best thing to ramen.

"Ah!" Naruto exclaimed, making those attending him jump. "Do you deliver?"

"Naruto, you can't order donuts to the academy."

"Why not?" Naruto smiled, "You said it yourself. Provide something the school doesn't offer." The boy's face stretched into a foxy grin. Itachi thought about it and nodded.

"I did say that," the teen picked up one of the donuts. He smirked when he tasted it. "It might work."

"So, do you deliver?"

Naruto finished his breakfast and continued to talk and explain things to the company representative of Asage no Sumai while having himself fitted. The day ended with three new suits packed into the taxi with a dry-cleaned outfit and the fitted Akatsuki coat. Itachi held his graded tests and Naruto held a stack of information and unsigned contracts.

"They don't have a name," Naruto stated, scrunching his face. "What did you think of the donuts?"

"Creamy," Itachi stated, "Light as well."

"They were fresh too. Kind of a crisp, fresh and warm taste," The blonde added, thinking about the heavenly donuts. "A creamy crisp taste."

"Cream and Crisp," Itachi pointed out. Naruto grinned and nodded.

"Straight to the point. Shino will like it. I brought him and Shikamaru some to try," the boy smiled. He'd never had anyone to buy for, since Iruka bought everything for him.

The taxi drove the two ninja to the broken entrance. Kakashi was waiting with his little orange book. Naruto smacked himself when he belatedly realized he'd forgotten to call Iruka back. Iruka would not be happy.

"Ah, you're back before lunch," the white-haired Jounin stated. He watched the bandage-nosed driver unload the boxes of clothing. "How much did you buy, Naruto?" He helped with the bags.

"He did it," Naruto answered.

"There's only three new outfits," Itachi stated. "The other two will be mailed when they're ready."

Kakashi raised a brow at the strange behavior from the normally emotionless teen. It was a mystery. Naruto just affected people. The Leaf jounin wondered if he'd changed at all yet.

"Do I have to wear the coat?" Naruto asked while the traveled the broken trail.

"What else would you do with a coat?" Itachi replied. The blonde just rolled his eyes.

For the rest of the month, Naruto wondered how washing dishes and emptying trashcans could possibly be related to ninja training. The blonde also received his orange tracksuit, which Itachi promptly destroyed - entirely by accident. Most importantly, the Cream & Crisp Donuts sold like crazy, and Naruto never wore his properly fitted Akatsuki coat.

"Well done," the Hokage nodded from his seat behind a boring desk. Next to him Ebisu leered with false cheer at Team 7, who were presenting the newly polished trophy to the Hokage.

"Ah. Can't we have some good missions?!" Naruto whined. Sasuke and Naruto held the massive three-meter tall memento, eagerly waiting to be relieved of the monstrosity.

"Missions are not games boy. They are serious!" Ebisu sputtered and fumed.

"Yeah and I was joking about how stupid ours have been," Naruto drawled.

"Ah, well you've finished this one nicely," the old man stated and signaled two men. Two workers came forward and carried the trophy away. "Really now, your duties couldn't be that terrible."

"The most interesting duty we've been assigned so far is when we had to track down Teuchi-ojii-san's pet chicken. A pet CHICKEN!" Naruto exploded, spraying the bandana-wearing freak with saliva. "D-rank missions are beneath our abilities."

"Kakashi-sensei, get your subordinate under control!" Ebisu yelled, glaring at the blonde. The freakish dork had faithfully held onto his belief that Naruto was a pathetic charity case.

Kakashi responded with a shrug. The Hokage studied the group and smoked his pipe thoughtfully.

"Alright then," the old man agreed, "You may have a C-rank mission."

"What?!" the bandana-man shrieked.

"This one isn't much better than those D-rank missions," the Hokage sighed, "It's a simple request for a ninja escort. I'll send your team leader the full details by morning and you'll leave at 5:00pm tomorrow."

Naruto cheered.

"Kakashi-sensei, you will handle the arrangements with their classes," Ebisu growled, and the white-haired freak nodded, "then you're dismissed."

Naruto beamed proudly as he walked back to the dorms with his team.

"Good job Naruto-kun," Sakura congratulated with a pat on the back, "You got us a C-rank mission."

"Ah I know," the blonde responded becoming giddy with excitement, "Anything's better than mopping."

"Yeah," Sasuke agreed.

They reached their rooms. Itachi stood waiting for Naruto. He straightened when he noticed the boy. The two Uchiha brothers glared at each other before the hyper blonde jumped and hugged the teenager. The older boy stood motionless until the blonde let go.

""We got a C-rank mission!" he bounced and opened the door.

"A C-ranked mission is certainly more befitting for a member of the Akatsuki," Itachi stated as the door closed behind them. Nothing more could be heard after they disappeared into what had become known as the Sealed Fortress.

Gossip spread throughout the first floor of Leaf dormitory until it was finally suppressed, hours later, by the inevitability of lights out.