In law an infant and in years a boy,

In mind a slave to every vicious joy;

From every sense of shame and virtue wean'd;

In lies an adept, in deceit a fiend;

Versed in hypocrisy while yet a child;

Fickle as wind, of inclinations wild;

Woman his dupe, his heedless friend a tool;

Old in the world, though scarcely broke from school;

Damaetas ran through all the maze of sin,

And found the goal when others just begin.

Even still conflicting passions shake his soul,

And bid him drain the dregs of pleasure's bowl;

But, pall'd with vice, he breaks his former chain,

And what was once his bliss appears his bane.

--Damaetas, Lord Byron

The Yondaime Hokage had a small shrine in the woods north of Konoha. Jiraiya took Naruto there and sat with him for a long time, both of them silent as they stared up at his picture overlaid on a hanging tapestry woven into the Konoha leaf symbol. The shrine was in a natural grove, with a burbling stream running nearby; it smelled of sweet spring water and the sandalwood incense that visitors lit and left behind.

Engraved on a small rock, in front of the tapestry, were the hand seals that had quieted the kyuubi and killed the Yondaime.

"Orochimaru and I used to come here," Jiraiya said suddenly, "before this was ever a shrine."

He didn't say what they came for. Naruto didn't ask.

He came a few times with Jiraiya, and ran his fingers down the Yondaime's picture. His mirror image smiled back at him from the past.

He sat in front of the rock and memorized the seals.


It was springtime in Konoha, and that meant a new batch of genins had just graduated from the Academy.

And that meant that Tsunade, the fifth Hokage, had to go through every single genin file and decide which jounin teacher would be best suited to which genin.

"I don't even like children," Tsunade said, bending over one file and running her eyes through the statistics: date of birth, height, personal notes, clan allegiance. She sighed, dug her fingers into the spot in her temple that was threatening to throb its way into the next village. "Tell me, why can't I get someone else to do this for me?"

Shizune, not even looking up from cleaning Miss Tonton's hooves, said, "Tsunade-sama, we go over this every year and every year the answer is the same: no one else wants to do it, either."

"But I have assistants!" Tsunade hit the desk for emphasis. "Actually, Shizune, why don't you...."

"I don't want to," said Shizune, "and Naruto's not really suited to this. He always manages to get sent away on missions right around academy graduation, anyway."

"He's gotten smarter," Tsunade sighed. She massaged the ache, using her other hand to spread out the files so she could see all the genin at once. There was a minor Aburame, a Hyuga from the Branch House, an Inuzuka and many more from smaller clans.

"By the way, Tsunade-sama, were you going to give him some genin students this year?"

"Eh?" Tsunade paused, one file in hand. "A genin team? For Naruto?"

"He's twenty," said Shizune, lifting up Miss Tonton and perking her ears. "He's been old enough for a team for two years now."

Tsunade turned back to the files and frowned. "I've never considered him ready." But maybe, she admitted, that was unfair; Uzumaki Naruto was one of Konoha's elite, and he'd come a long way from his bumbling twelve-year-old antics. "I'll consider it, certainly. If he could manage to keep himself interested, he has some valuable insights and moves to pass down."

Shizune laughed, Miss Tonton snorting right along with her. "What, like the Sexy no Jutsu? Ahhh, that one gets Jiraiya-sama every time!"

"Yes, well." Tsunade marked six files: For Consideration. "It's not hard to get that man's attention."



The young man leaning over the Hokage's desk didn't look remarkable. He showed no obvious clan affiliation, and his coloring was wrong as well: most of the major clans in Konoha produced dark-haired, pale-skinned children, and this man sported a dark tan and sun-bleached yellow hair. His chuunin uniform was unkept, scratched and spotted with different stains. His most noticeable trait was that he couldn't seem to keep still: he kept moving around, tapping his feet, running his hands across the desk or folding them, then dropping them to his sides.

"Listen, old hag," and that was another mark of distinction: gone was any lack of reverence towards the number one ninja in the country, the physical and spiritual leader of his village. "You can't stick me with a group of little kids! I told you when I got old enough, I didn't want one! Do you know how much this is going to cut back on my mission eligibility?"

"Naruto," said Tsunade, folding her hands on her desk, "every jounin must train at least one genin team, you know that. What makes you think you're exempt?"

"Your promise," Naruto shot back, folding his arms, tapping his foot and then dropping his hands to the desk. "You said I didn't have to train a team if I didn't want to."

"I said that when you were eighteen. You're twenty now and more than ready to take on the responsibility."

"I don't want it! I ain't a good teacher anyway." Naruto tossed his head, the thin braid spouting from his hair hitting his back with the movement. "I'd probably just get them killed."

"Well, being a genin is dangerous business." Tsunade pursed her lips, obviously unwilling to give in. She opened a drawer and pulled out three thin files, handing them to Naruto with little fanfare. "Tomorrow is the jounin teachers' meeting–nine in the morning, sharp, Naruto. You get your assignments, I tell you the protocol, you study them for the rest of the day and make preparations and do what I tell you. And then, they're all yours." She sat back in her seat and raised her eyebrows. "Any questions?"

"Yeah. When can I get rid of them?"

"Goodbye, Naruto," said Tsunade, giving him a push towards the door.


A genin team. Naruto checked his watch: it was already well into the evening, which meant he'd gotten back later than he'd thought he would. It had been a run-of-the-mill, mediocre B mission, but at the last moment the client had fussed about the fees and they'd spent nearly an hour wrangling prices with him. He sighed and turned, resting his back against the railing of the bridge. The sun was setting– Jeez. The Ichiraku be closing soon.

Sticking his hands in his pockets, Naruto pushed himself off the bridge and started jogging in the direction of the ramen shop. A genin team, he thought, and twisted his nose at the idea. Three snotty-nosed little brats to take care of. He knew he'd been that age once, but he'd gotten over it; he'd kind of had to, what with everything that had been going on when he was still a genin.

A lot of responsibility had been entrusted to him. Naruto ducked his head down and laughed at himself. Lighten up, Uzumaki; not like you ever took it seriously. He still tried not to. Take things too seriously, and you go fucking crazy, end up in some white-walled madhouse somewhere.

"Ah, Naruto-kun!" said the Ichikaru's owner, beaming at him as he slid into his normal seat. "Let me guess–miso ramen, right?"

Naruto flashed him two thumbs up, and grinned. "You've got me pegged, boss."

His food was ready in minutes, and Ayame, the ramen girl, leaned over the counter as he dug in, clicking his chopsticks noisily. "So how was your mission, Naruto? Did you beat up any bad guys? Save the village from evildoers?"

"Oh, yeah," he said around a mouthful. "I did some really important stuff. The world will never know how dangerous and hectic it was."

She clapped her hands together and smiled at him. "Boss! I think Naruto here deserves another bowl of ramen, just for keeping us safe in our beds at night." She winked at him.

"Huh!" the boss snorted, turning his back on them and, very surreptitiously, sliding another bowl over to Ayame. She set it in front of him and grinned broadly.

"There you go. Now I can sleep comfortably. It's an important job we do, keeping Naruto fed, right?"

"I'd die without Ichiraku ramen," Naruto agreed, digging in with a warm feeling of bliss in his stomach. Either that or he was full.

"Ah ha! Let me clue you in on a little secret, Naruto." Ayame leaned in close, dark eyes sparkling in the light and teeth shining in a good-humored smile. "Truth is, I think this shop would die without your patronage!"

"Ayame!" the owner owned, tossing something in her direction; she dodged and twirled around, laughing, to throw her arm over his wide shoulders. "Get back to work, you. Naruto-kun, don't listen to this girl, she'll be the death of me."

After two more bowls and a drink warm in his stomach - the boss had started slipping him some sake when he was still sixteen, winking and saying something about the true way of the ninja - Naruto slid his backpack back on, waved goodbye to Ayame and the owner, and started walking through the streets back to his apartment. The sun had set while he'd been cleaning his teeth with his chopsticks, and the light from the torches waved and danced on the ground; every now and then morphing into people who stretched out their arms, or twisted and turned away, and Naruto started stepping carefully around them to keep the shadows whole. It was a game he'd started playing when he was a kid, dodging the shadows; came from one too many sparring matches with Shikamaru, and turned into a healthy respect for the shadows, which were longer and taller than he could ever be. Tricky things they were; if you stepped the wrong way, even to avoid them, they could end up stretching out their long fingers and snatching you.

Sometimes he thought about getting a new apartment, but he'd had this one - dank and dirty as it was becoming - for years, and it was kind of habit now to jiggle his key extra hard in the lock and jam his foot under the door so it would open; habit to wait until the mold in his bathroom was taking over the floor before he started attacking it with some strong-smelling shit Sakura gave him every Christmas. Naruto didn't like change. He didn't want to switch apartments, he didn't want all the extra responsibility that came with being jounin, and he most definitely did not want genin to train and trip over.

Flipping on the lights, he slid off his backpack and toed off his shoes, inhaling deeply - the whole place smelled like lemon-scented cleaning solvent, a smell he'd gotten used to over the years. A bit further into the place, towards the bedroom, and he tripped on a pile of clothes and nearly fell into another. It was delicate business, walking through his apartment; trip on the wrong pile and you could send everything crashing down. Tonight, though, he was lucky; the two piles only wavered a little, looked like they were thinking about falling and then stayed where they were. Naruto let out a breath, and walked more carefully into his bedroom.

He stopped in front of the mirror, leaned so he could see his reflection by the moonlight and grimaced at himself, showing his teeth in a wide-mouthed 'ahhhhh.' Thoughtfully, he ran a finger over his canines and lifted it up to look at the little cut: it opened, bled a little and then, before the blood began to run down his knuckle, the slit in his skin closed and disappeared as if it'd never been there.

"You, Naruto," he said to his reflection, "are a dirty, dirty guy." He frowned at himself, sniffed under his armpits. Not too bad. Probably couldn't pass in polite company, but enough to make it through the night without grossing himself out. He peeled off the padded chuunin-issue jacket, noting the wears and tears he'd have to fix soon, and hooked his fingers on the hem of the black shirt underneath, mussing his hair and throwing it into the pile of dirty clothes in the corner. He'd been cut, stabbed, and burned on this mission - mostly by an angry kid with a kitchen knife, long story he didn't want anyone hearing - but his skin was smooth, unmarked. He was getting tanner with the summer heat.

Chest bared to the cool breeze from the window, Naruto rolled up his pants until his shins were bare, slid off his socks and, snagging a bag of instant ramen, walked back into the entry way, throwing himself down onto the threadbare couch. The TV was in front of him, looking black and listless and like it wanted to be turned on, but he was out of bad movies and the news wasn't interesting, so he closed his eyes instead.

God damn, it'd been a long day. Suffering through that damn mission, with that stupid rich bitch and her stupid spoiled spawn, and then coming home and having the hag everyone called the Hokage tell him he had to spend the rest of his summer babysitting three kids who probably couldn't tell their asses from their toes. Naruto lifted his hand and started chewing on his nails, tearing off a week's worth of growth as he thought the situation through in his mind.

Okay, Naruto. Focus. It can't be that bad, right? You teach the kids how to throw a knife, how to kill a man, maybe turn them on each other and start some rivalries while you're at it; house train them, make sure they wiped off their dingleberries and unleash them on the world. Hey, it might even be fun! Not for the kids, that was for damn sure, because Naruto himself had gone through all that - A Thousand Years of Pain, a kunai up his ass and a really fuckin' insufferable teammate - and he was damned if he didn't pass on the torture he'd been subjected to. It was kinda like a circle jerk, if you think about it; the old pervert hermit had passed his dirty secrets onto the Yondaime, and the Yondaime had taught Kakashi, and Kakashi had unleashed it all on his unsuspecting genin; and now it was Naruto's turn, and maybe when he was through with them the kids would know a little more about life as a ninja, and someday they'd even surpass him, little doubt. Kids were monsters these days, they really were.

He started on the other hand, a grin lifting up the corners of his mouth. There ya go, Naruto. You're a fun guy, and you can make any bad situation funny. Hey, is that a knife stuck in your thigh or are you just happy to see me? Man, look how many parts that guy exploded into! It's a little like confetti, except pretty much one color instead of, you know, green and purple and blue and orange.

Oh, yeah. Uzumaki Naruto was a resourceful man, and resourceful men thrived in the ninja world. These kids didn't even know what was gonna hit them.

Crossing his ankles and hiking them up on the couch arm, Naruto closed his eyes and grinned to himself. Maybe someday, he'd even thank the old hag for this opportunity.


It was nine o'clock on the dot. Some of the most elite jounin in Konoha - hell, in the whole country - were gathered in Tsunade's office, exchanging gossip about the new genin like a ladies' sewing circle. And one Uzumaki Naruto, chuunin at thirteen, jounin at fifteen, ANBU member for three years, was nowhere to be found.

Tsunade's nails were click-clacking across her table, face smooth, lips pressed together as she presented her best show of patience. Naruto wasn't the only one late; two other jounin were absent, and that was just too many - out of ten teachers - to begin without them.

Sometimes she wondered if the occasional lapse of respect was because she was a woman, or because she was a very attractive woman. And sometimes she just wanted to stick her hand through someone's face or shove their spine to meet their knees. Click, clack; she began drumming harder.

"Suzumu," she said, tone clipped, to a jounin who was taking in breath for another round of gossip. "Would you happen to know why three of your colleagues are missing?"

Suzumu didn't even take time to think. "Well," she said, "Hayashi's alarm never goes off when he sets it to, Rikimaru likes to eat a long breakfast and Naruto is a bit of a dunce?"

Now Tsunade scraped her nails, digging them into the table. She gave Suzumu a tight-lipped smile. "Thank you, Amano-san."

She was beginning to leave gouges in the table when the door banged, and three jounin trooped into the room, the tall, dark Hayashi in front and Naruto heading up from the rear. Only Rikimaru looked remotely remorseful, and none of them looked worried. They merged into the group like they'd done nothing wrong, Naruto's braid swinging merrily as he began to talk to his jounin friend, Jinirou.

Tsunade cleared her throat loudly, and all noise in the room stopped in a single silent. Even the steady hum of thought in the air ceased; the jounin all looked at her, some with raised eyebrows and others with 'What?' written on their faces instead of coming out of their mouths. The three late jounin just stared at her with stone faces.

"Next time," said Tsunade, smiling with her lips closed, "when I say 'sharp,' I mean it in terms of punctuality. I could fry all your balls if I wanted to, and I just might. Now.

"I have given it some time and consideration - it has been three days since the genin graduated - and I have matched each jounin up with three genin. Whether or not you go on to complete their training is mostly up to you, although I would suggest that you train your team if the only reason you wouldn't is because you would rather not." She focused on Naruto for a bare second. "The files are on my desk. Please, come and get them. If you have any questions, ask - I've spent several days with these genin while they were still in the academy, and I feel I know them fairly well."

The low murmur of voices resumed as the jounin grouped around her desk, searching through the files for their names. Sliding her nails across one, Tsunade handed one folder to Naruto. "Naruto-kun," she said as Naruto slid it under his arm. He turned back to her, head tilted, and she smiled and finished, "Good luck."


"I don't even like kids," Naruto said as they walked out of the building. The sunlight pierced right into the headache he'd sported since this morning, and he rubbed his eye with a grumble. The files were tucked securely under his arm, and the suspense was killing him but damned if he'd open it right now. The cool thing to do was act completely casual.

"Me, either," said Jinirou, who was thumbing through his folder. "Let's see... ah, I got the Hyuga. The one from the Branch House? I'm flattered, honestly."

"Heh!" Naruto snorted and elbowed his ribs. "I hear he's a lost case. Completely suited for the Branch House."

"You heard that from Neji," his friend said mildly. "And that cold bastard thinks if you can't pull off a Kaiten when you're five, you're no good."

"Pshaw. Neji's not really like that anymore. He's mellowed waaaaay the hell out. Turning twenty'll do that to ya."

Junirou, who was thirty, just shook his head. "Hey, look, I'm gonna head over to my place to sort through training regimes, maybe stop by my team's parents' houses. You want to stop over?"

"Nah." Naruto flashed him a smile and held up his hands. "It's off to make me some instant ramen. And then it's time for my afternoon nap."

"Man," Junirou said with a laugh, turning to leave, "I feel sorry for the poor genin on your team. Later."

Naruto looked up at the sky briefly - it was probably eleven or so by now - and thought, for a second, about going to see Sakura, who had had two genin teams in the last two years. She'd bowed out this year to focus more on her studies. Sakura was a good teacher, no doubt about that; she got just the right amount of softness when the kids were down, and knew just when to start the hardass speech. All her genin were very good, on their way to becoming chuunin; 'a little mediocre,' according to Kakashi, but they'd be decent ninja all the same.

He sighed, pulling on his bangs. Eh, nothin' could be done just standing out here and thinking about it. He might as well just go home and think of something to start their training with a bang.

Maybe literally, he thought with a gleeful smile.


It was early morning - very early morning - and Yamanaka Kaiki was not pleased. First of all, he was cold. Second of all, he was wet. Third, he was naked.

"Hey!" he hollered, wading through the lake with what felt like legs of mush in a futile chase after his faster and smaller opponent. "You asshole, get back here with my clothes! Bastard!"

"Come and get them," his opponent sang back, and Kaiki decided right then and there that he hated everyone in the world and wanted them to die. Brutally.

So, just because he was wet, naked, and feeling really frustrated, he tossed a kunai. He didn't know it would hit, he hadn't even been looking. He thought the stupid bastard would dodge. But the stupid bastard was, after all, well - stupid - and he hadn't dodged anything Kaiki had thrown at him since they were in kindergarten together. Kaiki should have kept that in mind.

"OW!" Anshirou Nagi hollered. "Son of a bitch, you stuck a kunai in my ass!"

Kaiki finally waded his way out of the lake and stood on the bank, pressing his hands over his privates so the girl standing a few feet away wouldn't be able to see - well, dammit, it was cold and he was wet and now was not the best time his manly accoutrements had ever seen. Hunching down, he craned his neck around so he could see: yup. He really had stuck a kunai in Nagi's ass.

And he was still naked, dammit. "Give me my clothes," Kaiki demanded, holding out a hand.

"Get this out of my ass first, dimwit!" Nagi said through gritted teeth. He looked like a cornered porcupine, all flashing teeth and prickly hair.

"You get it out yourself, I ain't touchin' it. Now give me my fuckin' clothes!"

Nagi threw them in his face, and Kaiki pulled his shorts and shirt on with shivering fingers. Tying his forehead protector tight, he said, "You dummy, you deserved this, you really did."

"What the hell is this?"

Kaiki didn't really want to turn and look, but he prided himself on being marginally intelligent at times - intelligent enough to know to cheat off tests in academy, for one. The voice was male. Okay. Bad timing. The voice wasn't the deepest he'd heard - his cousin Ino's father had a deeper voice - but it had a ring of authority to it, like the man was expecting an answer, like he hadn't even fathomed they wouldn't want to answer. It was also familiar. That was probably because a lot of jounin hung out at his dad's coffee shop after missions, all bleeding still and sweaty and grumbly.

So. He was a male jounin. Not an old one, from the sound of it; mid-twenties, perhaps, still a little growing up to do but pretty much on his way. Kaiki figured it was probably their instructor. And this was not the impression he'd been planning to make, if indeed he'd been planning to make one at all.

"Who are you?" Nagi sniped right back. He was feeling around his backside for the kunai, and Kaiki had to wince at his expression when he touched it. With a sure grip and the most godawful look on his face, he pulled it out and threw it at Kaiki, who caught it by its handle. A trickle of blood ran down his pants.

"That's none of your business," said the jounin (Kaiki was still trying not to turn around and look). "It looks to me, kid, like you just got a kunai stuck in your ass, am I wrong?"

He was laughing, Kaiki realized. Well. Scratch the mid-twenties thing, he might even still be a teenager. Jounins could, theoretically, begin instruction at eighteen.

"Shut up!" Nagi's voice cracked on the upward spiral. "This bastard stuck me with it, it's not like I sat on it or anything!"

"Yeah, okay, sure." The jounin caught himself, cleared his throat. "Look, kid, you better bandage that up. Please tell me you got some in your pack?"

While Nagi cursed and grumbled and fished around in the pack on his leg, Kaiki turned around to see who their instructor was. He blinked: no one was on the ground, just him and Nagi and their teammate some distance away - then looked up and saw, hanging upside down from a tree with arms crossed and lips spread in a wide grin, the one instructor he hadn't wanted.

"Oh, shit," he sighed, sitting down in the sand. "My parents say you're no good."

Unwrapping a bandage roll with jerky, frustrated motions, Nagi said, "My parents, too. They said you're a dropout, Uzumaki Naruto."

Uzumaki Naruto scowled; quickly caught himself and turned the expression into a nonchalant grin. Kaiki tilted his head, studying him. Here was one jounin he hadn't seen much. He had worked with his cousin, Ino, and if you read between the lines (below all the bitching about how lazy and ugly he was), she had nothing but praise for him. But Uzumaki Naruto was not one to spend much ime in Kaiki's father's coffee shop. Kaiki'd only caught glimpses of him, walking the street or buying things in market, and his parents had always quickly caught his hand and led him away if he ever happened to turn their way.

"Deliquency," his father always said, "is contagious."

Kaiki himself was considered a bit of a delinquent, but he was nowhere near the level of the almost legendarily dimwitted Uzumaki Naruto. Failed the final test at academy seven times, or so the story went. Always endangered his teammates because he wanted to show off. Refused missions that were too boring, or too trivial, and talked back to the Hokage - which had to take some guts, in Kaiki's opinion. He was a pervert, a fickle, shiftless burden on the shoulders of every upright Konoha citizen. His parents could never talk enough about how worthless Uzumaki Naruto was.

"Impressed, Kaiki?" said Uzumaki Naruto, hanging upside down on his tree. He was still smiling. He probably knew everything that was going through Kaiki's head, and he was smiling anyway.

"My parents will flip the roof!" Nagi had finished bandaging his ass and was sitting gingerly on the sand, bottom lifted away from his wound. He rested back on his hands and looked up at Naruto. "What do you have to teach us, anyway? You're a dropout, aren't you?"

Naruto just shrugged. I admire that, Kaiki thought. You have to give a shit - no one can take this much abuse and not be mad about it, but you're still hanging there, trying to look cool. Point, Sensei. Point.

He wasn't too shabby-looking, anyway; his chuunin uniform was a bit worn, but clean, and his scratched forehead protector was polished proudly. He had six marks on his face, three on each cheek, sort of like an Inuzuka except they were obviously not painted on - looked like he'd been ripped a new one by a lion or something. His hair was like a big, bushy, blond forest fire, out of control and raging so wildly no one even bothered to mess with it anymore; the only attempt Uzumaki had made to control it was the single braid, thin and long, that hung down into the air with him. He was, if Kaiki judged correctly, small (horizontally and vertically) - smaller than most men and even some women, probably.

Their third teammate had wondered over, looking highly disinterested. Sunglasses did that, though; she could be wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, for all Kaiki knew.

Huffing slightly, a sound they heard even from here, their instructor walked down the tree and over to them, affording them their first glance of Uzumaki Naruto upright. Kaiki was right about the height, he was really pretty short. He had muscles, though, and his hands twitched restlessly, slim bones powerful. Kaiki kept an eye on them, wary.

"Well." Their instructor nodded, braid bouncing with his head. "Look. I didn't want to teach brats anyway. If you don't want me for your instructor, no one else's teaching, and I encourage you to go out and die any time you want. We cool?"

Nagi glanced at him, question clear: Are we? Kaiki shrugged, hesitant to say anything himself.

When no one said a word, Uzumaki just lifted his shoulders and said, "Then I guess, for today, we're cool. You are-" He pointed at Kaiki.

"Yamanaka Kaiki."

"Anshirou Nagi."

"Aburame Hikaru," said their teammate in cool tones.

Uzumaki nodded, clapped his hands. "All right. I'm Uzumaki Naruto. I only know you three through your files; I don't care about your family, your friends, or your dreams. They mean less to me than the shit I leave in the toilet, okay?" They stared at him. "And you don't care about me. I'm the dropout, dead last Uzumaki Naruto and if you ever want to know anything about me - you don't ask me. And I'm not even gonna ask if that's cool, because that's the way it is."

Again, no one said anything. Even Hikaru looked a bit rattled.

"And now," Uzumaki said with a bit too much teeth showing, "you're going to fight me."

They glanced at each other. Nagi shrugged. Kaiki said, "All of us, you mean? Against you?"

"Hey, wow. You're kinda smart, kid. Yeah, that's right. Bug girl-" Naruto pointed a long-fingered nail at Hikaru. "I got your number. I know all your tricks, little boys. I'm the dropout, so let's see how you do against me when I know all your tricks and hold all the cards." He raised a hand, third finger and thumb poised against each other. "When I snap, the battle begins. Just like that. I snap - you go for me. Ready?"

"I don't know why," Nagi muttered, "but I'm not so sure about this."

Uzumaki snapped.

The three teammates leaped.


Yamanaka Kaiki was a person who had not felt much pain in his life. His father had knocked him one or two times when he was being a smartass, his mother would smack the back of his head whenever he cursed in front of his younger siblings, he'd grown up tousling and sparring with Nagi - and that was it.

So when he leapt at Uzumaki, and Uzumaki just smiled, moved his head a little and caught Kaiki's wrist with two fingers - just two fingers, pinching down between his tendons and the bones in his arm - he wasn't even sure at all if the pain was real, or if he was just having a freakout moment.

But when he sidestepped Nagi's clumsy dive, tripped him and stood on his back, caught Hikaru's kunai and then caught her, too - when Kaiki heard his teammates whimpering - that was when he knew it was real, and boy, it really fucking hurt.

Just when his eyes were beginning to water and he thought he might even say something, Uzumaki let go of his wrist, stepped off Nagi and shoved Hikaru away. Kaiki hopped to a safer distance, holding his wrist gingerly with his other hand. Damn, that was going to bruise. Beside him, Nagi rubbed his back with a look of agony on his face; Hikaru, crouched a little ways away, had a single cut on her cheek, with two drops of blood running down her neck. Kaiki didn't even remember Uzumaki cutting her.

"Wow," said their instructor, running a hand through his hair. "Not bad, you guys!"

"Not too bad?" Kaiki blurted, incredulous. "Are you kidding? I-" he cut himself off, bit his tongue and glared at Uzumaki. Him standing there without a hair out of place....

"Yup. You underestimated me-" Uzumaki held up two fingers and pressed them together -"just a little bit."

"You're supposed to be a dropout!" Nagi rubbed his back one more time, then rubbed his ass and crossed his arms. "That was a freakin' dirty trick."

"And now you know," said Uzumaki, "what a really, really bad idea it is to underestimate your opponents in battle. Well!" He smiled suddenly, eyes slitting, whole face lighting up in a happy expression. "That was kind of fun! And you even learned a lesson now. Say goodbye, Naruto-sensei, and then I'll be leaving. Back here in the morning, eight o'clock sharp?"

"Goodbye, Naruto-sensei," said Hikaru, and Kaiki and Nagi reluctantly echoed her.

"Hell," Nagi said when he was gone. "If that's a dropout, maybe I shouldn't have worried so much about my grades."

His forehead protector had slipped a little; Kaiki adjusted it, tied it more tightly. "That's no dropout," he said. He touched his wrist again, wincing at even the slight pressure. "That's not even a jounin. Did you see how fast he moved? My eyes couldn't even follow."

"All jounin are like that," Nagi said, dismissive.

"No, they're not. Ino told me, a few times... what Naruto-sensei's like... guess I should have listened." Kaiki cradled his wrist against his chest. "Look, I'm going home, I'm going to get a hot shower and then I'm gonna ask around town about this Uzumaki Naruto guy. Anyone want to meet me for lunch?"

"Sure," said Nagi when Hikaru was silent. "Nothin' to find out, I'll bet, but hey, my afternoon's free."

"Maybe we'll find out more than you think." Kaiki shrugged one shoulder. "Or maybe not. Maybe he just likes being showy. Who knows?"