Story Title: True Shinobi

Chapter Title: Progress (Not yet Beta-ed!)

Author: Syfes

Co-Author and Beta Reader: Ryuu no Taiyo

Website: www. ffsanctuary. co. nr

First of all, I'd like to say sorry for the huge delays. Life hasn't been kind to me lately, and it doesn't seem to get better anytime soon. I really hope that this extra-long chapter can make up for it somehow. I will promise you now that the next chapter will be posted faster then this one. Mind you, that only means I have to post it somewhere before september. sweatdrops

Also, this chapter hasn't been beta-ed since Ryuu mysteriously dropped out of contact for almost a whole week now (or she's too lazy to get up and reply). She did write the last part of this story though. Don't worry, you'll love the piece just as much as I did. Anways, I decided not to keep you guys waiting any longer!

Only seconds after Genma left, Naruto dug into the pile of notes and scrolls. Barely minutes later, he had already discarded more than half of them, declaring them useless since they didn't hold any jutsu. They were picked up by Shino who looked trough them just like Naruto had, only to find it's contents a lot more interesting. The quiet Aburame decided that the best course of action right now was to make Naruto understand what these scrolls contained and impress their importance upon him, instead of learning some fancy jutsu. As team leader he would take his responsibility and make sure every member of his team advanced in their training as far as possible.

Naruto was caught up in his reading as he suddenly noticed a large group of bugs appearing from below the ground, and surrounded the books he had left besides him on the ground. He looked around questioning, looking for his bug-using team mate.

"Hey Shino, what are you …. Oh no you won't!" Naruto yelled.

Shino watched somewhat amused as Naruto tried to make a grab for the notes as his bugs dragged them underground.

"Hey bug-boy! What do you think you're doing?!" Naruto cried, as he tried to dig after Shino's bugs.

"You won't need those for now as you will be studying these." The bug user said as he held up the notes Naruto had left behind earlier.

"But those are boring!" Naruto yelled angrily as he tried to dig deeper into the soil.

"They may be, but right now, these will be more useful to you then those." Shino said calmly as he crouched down, picked up the notes that had resurfaced in front of him and put them somewhere inside his large coat. "First you can learn what's in that scroll you're holding right now. After that you will be studying these."

"And who gives you the right to make decisions for me!?" Naruto exclaimed.

"I'm this team's leader." Shino stated simply. "Genma sensei trusted me with the task of making sure this team progresses as well as possible."

Hinata sat nearby, quietly minding her own business.

'Naruto-kun looks even cuter when he's pouting like that.' She thought to herself, smiling and slightly blushing. 'I wonder where he's going to take me on our date…' The shy Hyuuga girl still couldn't believe he had actually asked her. Just thinking about it, made her tingle inside with excitement. But at the same time, she also felt a familiar touch of insecurity. What if she didn't live up to his expectations?

Naruto, while still in a sour mood, had already immersed himself into the scroll he held. In it he found descriptions of many jutsu the fourth had apparently seen during training and several of his missions. Naruto was amazed at the wealth of information as he found all the hand seals for each jutsu and written below it were ways to counter them. Naruto figured that this probably came from practical experience or information he gathered from others.

Katon: Goukakyuu no Jutsu (Snake, Ram, Monkey, Boar, Horse, Tiger)

Because of the nature of this jutsu, it's possible to block if you know how to. The jutsu works on the basics of creating a core of chakra and then make it burn, creating a great fireball. However, Sensei told me that if you destabilize the core you can easily block this technique. Because the fireball always has a round shape, the core is in the middle and easy to locate. A simple kunai with exploding tag does the trick. Do keep your guard up because once the core is destabilized, the fireball explodes.

It went on like this for a while, further explaining how to counter the jutsu effectively. Further down he noticed something else was scribbled below the rest that made him laugh out loud.

Keep your eye on the kunai. It CAN blow back in your face.

About an hour later, Naruto was disappointed when he reached the end of the scroll. It had only contained information on fire jutsu. No matter how dense Naruto could be, he knew that fire jutsu were the most practised ones around Konoha so he figured it made some sense. As he rolled up the scroll, he noticed that Shino and Hinata had also immersed themselves in the scrolls. Looking up towards the sky, he figured it was about 2 PM if the sun wasn't running late.

"Hey guys!" Naruto called out to his team mates. "Shouldn't we go get some lunch? It's already past lunchtime."

"I believe Hinata prepared a lunch for us." Shino replied, to which Hinata gave a small nod of her head.

Naruto sighed as he accepted the already opened bento box and grabbed one of the rice balls. Naruto was looking forward to their new sensei already, hoping Shino would ease up a bit then.

The first stars were appearing in the slowly darkening sky, when Naruto finished his last scroll on chakra-triggered traps. By now Shino and Hinata had already finished about three scrolls and notebooks each, so they had kept themselves busy with training while Naruto finished his last one of the day. While Naruto still found these scrolls boring, he couldn't deny the usefulness of it's information. One of them had a lot of information on hand seals. It showed the uses of certain hand seals. Further into the scroll he found more information on determining what jutsu an opponent was about to use, by watching the hand seals used for the technique. For example: a tiger seal used in combination with the bird seal, almost always meant a water based jutsu. As he rolled up the scroll he watched how Hinata was slashing at a tree, making shallow cuts into it's bark with her chakra scalpel technique.

"Who wants to join me for some ramen?" He asked his friends smiling as he walked over to them.

As usual, Hinata responded politely with a "Sure, Naruto-kun" and Shino declined, looking even more distant then he usually does.

The team headed for the Wind Country had also stopped for the night and set up camp only a few miles from the Fire Country's border.

"Hey Jiraiya-sama" Genma called to the old sannin. "I understand why I'm sent on this mission, but what I can't really understand is … well … why are we sent on this mission at all."

Jiraiya looked up from the small notebook he was writing in, obviously not understanding what Genma was trying to explain.

"I mean," Genma continued, "Why would the Sand request Konoha's assistance for this. They are one of the more powerful villages themselves."

Jiraiya answered while continuing to write.

"The Sand never asked for our assistance. It was an offer made by Sarutobi himself, to please the Sand. You see, the Sand is the only great Hidden Village Konoha has a true alliance with. The other alliance treaties the Leaf has are with smaller villages and the Hidden Mist. The last doesn't mean much though since it was basically forced upon them during their great civil wars. Now the problem is that all these treaties expire someday, and the alliance agreement the Leaf has with the Sand is about to end. Normally a new alliance treaty would have been agreed upon by now, but for some reason they haven't signed the new treaty the Leaf sent them. Sarutobi has reasons to be concerned.

"So we are sucking up to the Sand?" Genma asked bluntly.

Jiraiya nodded.

"That's basically what it means."

Naruto and Hinata meanwhile enjoyed their meals at Ichiraku's ramen stand. The atmosphere was a bit tense as neither of them had said much yet. This was largely due to the old man Ichiraku's daughter Ayame, who had teasingly declared them as "such a cute couple!". Every single time Naruto or Hinata tried to strike up the conversation, they would lock eyes and simply look away from the other blushing. In the end Teuchi (Old man Ichiraku's real name) took pity on them and tried to steer their attention elsewhere.

"Where's your other team mate anyways? Doesn't he usually come with you guys?" He asked.

"No idea." Naruto replied carelessly. "I guess he just went home already."

Hinata nodded along half-heartedly. When they left the training grounds, Shino had been walking in the opposite direction of the village. But then again, he might just have left something behind, and returned already.

Naruto was quite a while from their usual training grounds, but still inside the designated area for combat training. He was almost certain that Shino didn't go home. So after his meal with Hinata, he came back to try and figure out what was wrong.

"Shino? What are you doing out here so late?" Naruto called out annoyed as he spotted the lone figure of his team mate trough the darkness.

It took a few seconds before the Aburame made a move, but still he responded quietly.

"Thinking." He said.

"About what?" Naruto asked as he approached his team mate.

"Why should there be anything out of the ordinary?"

"Because," Naruto responded. "People don't just hang around outside on a cold night, in the middle of nowhere and past midnight, just to think about 'stuff'."

Shino remained quiet and for the next few minutes. Naruto felt somewhat uneasy. With that long coat and cold attitude, Shino was definitely a lot scarier in the dark...

"What's that?" He asked after a while, pointing at some weirdly cut stone structure.

"It's a memorial..." Shino replied. "For the deceased shinobi of Konoha."

As his eyes started to adjust to the starlight, he could make out writing on one of the stone's surfaces. He went closer to try and read some of them. It was only then that Naruto realized why Shino must be here.

"So you're here for one of these people?" Naruto asked.

"Hai..." Shino responded as he traced one of the names. Naruto could barely read it: "Aburame Daiki"

"Who was he?" Naruto asked quietly.

Another short silence fell over the pair once more.

"He was my brother. Killed in action, 6 years ago..." Shino sighed.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Naruto asked carefully. Shino held back for a few seconds, before he nodded slightly.

"Six years ago, my brother was sent on a simple escort mission for a merchant. At that time the supply routes to the water country were relatively unprotected and so he had to hire shinobi to protect himself against thieves and the like. As would be expected, it was C-ranked mission and it had been assigned to my brothers team. They, like us, were only genin at that time..."

"As expected they did run into some small troublemakers, but nothing any genin shouldn't be able to handle. My brother was careless and foolishly overconfident... A lucky arrow from one of the thieves got him. It went trough his spine and into his heart. He died in a matter of minutes..."

Naruto had no idea what to say, startled as he thought he saw small tears glistening below his friend's dark sunglasses.

"I guess it's true what they say: Most shinobi don't die in big battles. They get killed in the most simple and surprising ways..." Shino's voice didn't reveal any of the weakness expected from a would be silently crying 13 year old. Instead it sounded hard and emotionless.

"You were angry with me earlier for interfering with your training, weren't you?" Shino went on, not waiting for an answer. "You have to realize that I can not allow you to continue with this happy-go-lucky attitude of yours, when I have the chance of changing that. Hinata as well will have to step up her training."

"Now hold on a minute, were not yet..." Naruto tried to interrupt.

"It doesn't matter if were still genin. We are now Shinobi of the Hidden Leaf. We swore to protect it with everything we could, so we do just that: train as hard as we can, and defend the village as it's soldiers. If you don't give it everything you got, you'll fail the village and lose your life in the process."

"But..." Words failed the blonde genin, as Shino stood up.

"Naruto," Shino looked him straight in the eye. "I don't want to lose another person that important to me. Do you understand that?"

Naruto didn't know what to say, as Shino quickly turned around and disappeared into the dark woods.

Naruto's brain was one big whirlwind of thoughts and emotions as he walked back to his apartment with his eyes open, but not seeing at all. Perhaps inevitably he ran into someone.

"Oomph!" The voices sounded as they both fell to the ground.

"Iruka sensei!" Naruto exclaimed. "Sorry, I wasn't really watching."

"I guess that makes two of us." Iruka replied sheepishly.

"Yeah, I guess it does." Naruto replied with a silly grin as he scratched the top of his head.

"I'm surprised you're still awake at this hour, Naruto. Didn't you have training today?"

"Yeah we did, but all we did was read a whole day so I'm not really tired... well anyway I'm headed home now." Naruto smiled, but Iruka noticed it didn't reach his ears like it usually did.

"So what's bothering you?" Iruka asked.

"Nothing, really." Naruto replied a bit too quickly.

"Don't even try kid. I know you better then that." Iruka smirked.

Naruto sighed as his fake smile faded from his face, instead coming to rest in a frustrated expression.

"I don't know... first I was angry with Shino because he's acting so high and mighty, and now he goes and say things about not wanting to lose me like he lost his brother. I mean... I can't be pissed after that, can I?"

"It's often easier to just stay angry with someone and not really having to think about it, isn't it?"

"Maybe..." Naruto answered quietly.

"So tell me what happened, because I'm not really following here." Iruka smiled slightly.

"Earlier we got these notes to study from Genma sensei, so I picked out the ones I wanted to see first. But then Shino goes and tell me I need to read the other ones first, because he thinks I need those more. So well... I was a bit pissed, right? I mean he wouldn't even let us go have something good for lunch. Thank god Hinata brought some good food, because he would've starved us to death!"

Iruka snorted into his hand as he heard Naruto talk. He would never admit it, but he missed the antics of the blonde in his classroom.

"But then now, I found him at some memorial stone. He told me how his brother died and that because of that he had to make us study harder because he didn't want us to die like his brother. I mean... I'm just so confused!"

"I remember Shino when he just entered the academy." Iruka said, turning a bit more serious. "He was a nice kid, a bit quiet, but then again all the Aburame clan members are. That's until his brother died. Shino completely locked himself away from everyone. I guess he was afraid of getting so close to someone else, out of fear of losing that person as well."

"But I don't get it. He's saying that we don't take our job seriously, but I know I do! So does Hinata! So why does he go and say stuff like that?"

"I know that Naruto, but Shino is just scared right now. I think that for the first time he has allowed someone to get close to him, like his brother. You and Hinata are very important to him, and he probably wants to make sure that what happened to Daiki never happens to you guys."

Naruto went silent as he needed some time to think this stuff over. His sensei was right: now that he couldn't be angry, he was forced to think about this stuff.

"So what do I do now?" Naruto asked a while later as the two approached his appartement.

"You show Shino that you're not a little kid anymore and take this stuff seriously. So basically..."

"...grow up?" Naruto finished for him.

"Yeah, maybe..." Iruka replied.

After visiting the Hokage tower the next morning, team 8 was walking towards their new sensei's meeting place. It wasn't far from the Hokage tower, so even at a comfortable walking speed they reached it within 10 minutes.

"Is this the place?" Naruto asked as they arrived at a small traditional bridge. "I don't see him."

"It's still a few minutes until we're supposed to meet him." Hinata answered.

"Yeah, I guess." Naruto said as he plopped down against a nearby tree and opened one of the notebooks from the day before.

"Ano... Naruto-kun, our new teacher could be here any moment. Why start reading now?" Hinata timidly asked her blonde team mate.

"Huh? I just want to finish these ones so I can get to the good stuff." Naruto said, only looking up from his notebook for a quick glance at his female team mate.

"Oh, okay." She said and followed his example by settling herself next to him and opening one of the others from the pile Naruto had dropped on the ground.

Apparently it seemed like the right thing to do, as they saw hide nor hair from their replacement teacher for more than two hours. By now, Hinata and Naruto had finished their lecture and joined Shino who silently stood on top of the bridge, leaning against the banister.

"Someone's coming." Shino suddenly said.

"Is it our teacher?" Hinata asked.

"No, there's three of them and they're about our age." He replied.

"And a dog too." Naruto said as he heard barking coming from the same direction. It didn't take him long to figure out who they must be. "It's Sasuke's team."

Shino confirmed that with a nod of his head.

It didn't take long for Kiba and Akamaru to smell their presence on the bridge.

"Hey Sasuke," Kiba called, loud enough for team 8 to hear him, "It's the dobe's team!"

Naruto knew that the Inuzuka was just trying to tease him like he always did, but then again Naruto wouldn't take an insult like that lying down. Though suddenly he remembered what he had talked about with his old teacher. Shino looked questioningly at his blond team mate, as Naruto calmly reached down to retrieve another scroll from his bag.

When team 5 came into view, the first thing they saw was a grinning Kiba running ahead of the others. Sasuke looked slightly interested and Sakura was trailing behind the Uchiha like some puppy as usual.

Naruto tried to play his new role as well as possible, so with the exception of a small flicker of his eyes in their direction, he didn't exactly acknowledge them and kept reading.

"Hey, what are you guys doing here?" Sakura asked.

"We are waiting for our replacement teacher. He's running a bit late." Hinata answered the pink haired Kunoichi.

"You're waiting for Kakashi-sensei? Where's your normal teacher?" Sakura asked interestedly.

"He's on a mission assignment for an extended period to the Wind Country."

"Heh, that's pretty cool. You guys must have a great teacher then." Sakura said, somewhat disappointed. "Kakashi sensei is always late and he reads these weird red books all the time."

Hinata just smiled. Meanwhile Kiba was trying to get a look at Naruto's scroll.

"Hey, anything interesting in there?" He asked Naruto. The blonde nodded, but moved the scroll so that Kiba couldn't read the scroll from his position besides Naruto, forcing him to move to Naruto's other side.

"Aww, come on blondie! I just wanna know what your reading." Kiba whined as Naruto repeated this process several times.

"It's pretty simple stuff. The first part of the scroll just explains the universal sealing methods for fire." Naruto spoke almost lazily in a kind of all knowing manner. "The rest is just about how you can make the seals more effective by first determining the air conditions, the fuel used, ignition source, etcetera, etcetera,… Kinda boring actually."

Kiba scrunched up his nose an replied with an unintelligent "Huh?". Naruto didn't fare much better to be honest, he just read the whole thing straight from the scroll but he figured the Inuzuka didn't need to know that.

"If you want, I can lend it to you for a while. I'm just re-reading the whole thing to kill time." Naruto offered in his most sincerest voice, already knowing Kiba would not accept it.

"No thanks." Kiba just grumbled and went to stand with Sasuke. Naruto was smiling broadly behind his mask.

'If I wasn't a Shinobi already, maybe I should have thought about becoming an actor.' He thought to himself, enjoying the satisfaction he got out of his newly found persona.

Out of the corners of his eyes he noticed Shino looking at him with some kind of mild respect… Or that's what Naruto thought it was anyways. Stealing a glance over at the other team nearby, he now saw how Kiba and Sasuke were talking in somewhat hushed tones. They almost looked like they were best friends. This surprised Naruto, as he clearly remembered how Kiba had talked about the Uchiha less than two weeks before. When Sasuke noticed him looking he just scowled like he always did, but Naruto did notice the apparent lack of anger he had expected. He did beat the guy up pretty badly, as the patch on his face still showed.

Suddenly, Naruto's team was startled by the sudden appearance of a person behind them and who now stood lazily on top of the banister. The guy was reading from a small red book and had his left eye covered by his forehead protector.

"Yo!" The weird guy greeted them.

"YOUR LATE!" Kiba and Sakura yelled.

"Well, there was this blind guy walking down the shopping street without walking stick. So I went to a shop to buy him one, but the owner didn't…" He was able to get out this much before being interrupted.

"LIAR!" The two yelled again.

"Hey don't say that…." The jounin said, not really putting any effort into making his team believe him. "Anyway team 5, you have a mission today. You're to retrieve Tora-chan, the cat of Lady Shijimi... better known as the daimyou's wife."

"Again?" Sakura whined. Kiba didn't say anything, but looked anything but happy. Actually he looked like there was nothing he'd rather do then violently murder this poor feline.

"Here is the scroll containing mission details." Kakashi said as he handed Sasuke a scroll with a big 'D' written on it. "I won't be joining you today, since I have other things to take care of. You can take the rest of the day of when you have completed your mission."

After reading the scroll, team 5 slouched off towards the last known location of the little creature.

"So you guys are team 8 right?" The Jounin asked the remaining 3 genin. They nodded as he continued. "I'm Hatake Kakashi who will be taking care of you guys for a while, so today I'm going to test your capabilities. Meet me at training ground 7 with all your equipment in 1 hour."

It apparently took Kakashi more then 2 hours to reach the training ground, much to the annoyance of the team. Meanwhile Naruto had almost finished his second scroll of that day.

'Interesting…' Kakashi thought as he recognized the scroll Naruto was reading. 'I wonder how they got a hold of those notes. If they have been reading those, I might actually have some fun today.'

"Okay, listen up kids. You're to take these from me within 1 hour." The jounin said as he held up two small bells and set a timer. "Whoever gets one, wins. Those who lose wont receive any further training from me."

Here he waited for a few second to let the information sink in before continuing. " I suggest you come at me with the intention to kill if you ever want to get a chance at one of these bells."

The team nodded as Naruto took out a single shuriken.

"You may begin." Kakashi declared as he pushed the button on the timer starting it.

Naruto threw his shuriken at the jounin and multiplied it by using the Shuriken Kage-Bunshin no Jutsu. While Kakashi dealt with the rain of shuriken, Naruto threw a small smoke bomb right on front of him and his team. When the smoke cleared seconds later, the three genin were gone.

Kakashi could clearly sense the three genin though, as the team moved as one through the forest surrounding him. 'Their retreat was perfect, but they lack stealth.' Kakashi thought to himself. He swiftly followed them from a distance with practised ease. A minute later he noticed that they had stopped for a moment and after sensing a large flare of chakra, the three apparently split up.

Actually the three genin hadn't split up, but had decided to first evaluate the situation properly and let Kakashi chase three of Naruto's Shadow clones.

"So Shino," Naruto whispered. "how are we going to do this?"

"I've heard from this guy before from senior clan members. He's known as the Copy Ninja Kakashi and is one of Konoha's top Jounin." Shino said as his two team mates audibly gulped.

"He has to have a weakness though." Naruto said unsure. "No-one is perfect."

"He only has one eye," Hinata added, "so he would have a harder time judging distances."

"Perhaps." Shino said. "You have to remember though that he's come a long way. He will have covered that particular weakness, since it's so obvious."

"How would he do that?" Naruto asked.

"Most likely by training the other senses. This means we will have to be careful to move without letting him hear or smell us." The bug users said.

"...?" Naruto apparently didn't know how to handle the situation.

"By making sure the wind doesn't carry our sounds and smell towards him when." Shino sighed.

"And when we are close enough…" Naruto exclaimed, finally understanding. "I can use the Hidden Mist technique. He'll be at a serious disadvantage then."

Shino nodded.

"We'll be able to beat him easily then, right Hinata?" Naruto said happily, mostly trying to convince himself.

"Don't be stupid Naruto!" Shino chastised. "His skills are far above ours. Even if we take away those advantages, he'll still be a very strong opponent."

"Then how are we going to do this?" Naruto asked frustrated. "You two can't see or hear properly in the mist either. If what you say is true then what's the point, because I'm not going to be able to do this one my own."

"You'll have to guide us trough it then. We'll be attacking him simultaneously in the mist."

Naruto wasn't convinced this would work but didn't argue. Suddenly he was startled by a feeling. One he recognized as the disappearing of one of his bunshin.

"He's over there. He defeated one of my bunshin." Naruto said, pointing behind Shino.

"How far?" Shino whispered urgently.

"About a mile, maybe a bit more." The blonde answered.

"Then we need to move now. Follow me and stay as quiet as possible." Shino ordered as he swiftly disappeared into the thick foliage of the trees. 'So he's northeast of here and the wind is coming from the northwest.' Shino thought as he quickly analyzed the situation. 'So we need to move around him and approach him from the southeast.'

"Naruto." He whispered. "Where are your other two shadow clones?"

"No idea." The blonde responded, only slightly louder then Shino. "My bunshin have a will of their own remember? They think for themselves."

"Then how were you able to know where Kakashi beat your shadow clone?" Shino asked him.

"I guess it always happens when they disappear… I never thought about it before. When they are dispelled, I know what they know."

"I see. Then dispel them since they aren't useful anymore." Shino responded.

"Sure." Naruto responded, using a quick one handed seal to do as he was asked.

They never noticed someone high above them in the treetops, watching them leave.

"So the shadow clone technique must be the one he learned from the forbidden scroll and used it to defeat Mizuki. But they actually thought I wouldn't notice such a large chakra consuming jutsu?" Kakashi mused as he started following their trail. Occasionally he could heard the sounds of voices and branches being swept aside.

"And they call this moving with stealth?" Kakashi sweat dropped.

"So it was around here that your clone was defeated?" Shino asked and Naruto nodded. "Then we'll spread out, using our current position as reference. Make sure not to move more than 75 meters from this position. Once one of us sees him, that person can alert the others. None of us can handle him alone."

"Hai!" Hinata responded and with that they moved in different directions.

From a distance, Kakashi still observed the three genin.

"Not a bad tactic, but let's see what happens if I do this." Kakashi said as he formed a single hand seal.

Only seconds later, the tree genin saw Kakashi jumping down from a tree and moving into a small clearing. It didn't take them long to act as they all rushed in, Naruto in the lead.

"Kirigakure no Jutsu!" Naruto yelled as a cloud of mist covered the area. Shino and Hinata swiftly moved inside the cloud.

"Hinata: 8 meters 7o'clock , Shino: 11 meters 3o'clock!" Naruto yelled and his two team mates responded quickly.

The three moved in simultaneously. Naruto sent a punch towards Kakashi's face, Hinata prepared for a Jyuuken strike to his shoulder and Shino tried to tackle his legs.

Thing didn't go exactly as planned though as Naruto's strike went right through the jounin's head, hitting Hinata's face. Hinata's Jyuuken strike went trough their opponent as well and hit Shino's chest, while Shino's foot collided hard with Naruto's knee.

Outside the cloud, Kakashi heard them cry out in pain from the damage they inflicted on each other. He slowly massaged his temples.

'They can't even recognize a low level bunshin?' He sighed as angry voices made their way through the mist.

"Naruto-kun, that hurt!" Hinata yelled holding a hand to her bleeding nose.

"Shino you bastard! You almost broke my leg!" Naruto cried out.

"Quiet! You two are giving our position away!" The bugs user chastised.

Kakashi sighed as ha took out a few kunai and threw them lazily at the bickering genin.

"Scatter!" Naruto yelled moments before several kunai planted themselves at their feet. The three moved away swiftly in different directions.

Kakashi still sat in the same position overlooking the whole mess.

"So that's the technique he used to defeat Sasuke." Kakashi mused. "Can't blame the boy for freaking out after what happened in the Wave Country. If he had thought clearly he should've known that Naruto could never produce a cloud as big as Zabuza and that he could have easily moved outside of the jutsu… ah well. I suppose he's figured that out now with the help of Kiba, who saw the whole thing."

Kakashi now also noticed the three genin moving further away from each other. "Although they know they can't defeat me without working together, they don't seem to have settled on a meeting spot. Well, no time like the present to find out what Genma has been teaching these kids, because in all those months he has to have taught them something usefull."

A few minutes after being separated from his team mates, Naruto leaned against a tree panting.

'This sucks. I'll never be able to find the others on my own… wait a second!' "Tajuu Kage-Bunshin no Jutsu!" Naruto yelled as he created dozens of clones. "Spread out and find the others! Dispel yourself when you find them Kakashi or anything else significant, so I know where they all are."

"Right!" They all yelled before dispersing.

"And now I just have to sit and wait." Naruto smiled broadly, congratulating himself with his great idea. It apparently only took a few seconds for one of his clones to dispel itself.

"One of the bells!? He dropped one! Yatta!" Naruto cried out loud as he rushed towards the spot. Right there in the middle of the clearing was one of the bells, reflecting what little sunlight it caught in the shade of a nearby tree. Naruto didn't think as he confidently walked towards it.

As he reached out to grab it, his feet were suddenly jerked upwards and logically the rest of his body followed. This left him hanging upside down from one of the tree's branches, his fingertips just inches out of reach to grab the bells.

"You should know to only use your techniques after thinking the situation trough carefully." Kakashi spoke. "With even the slightest bit of experience, you should've been able to recognize that bunshin for what it was immediately. Because you didn't, it immediately became your disadvantage!"

The jounin lazily bent down to pick up the bell. "And one other thing…" Kakashi said as he juggled the bell around in his hand. "Don't fall for such an obvious trap, baka. As a ninja, you need to learn to see underneath the underneath."

"I know that." Naruto responded calmly.

"No you don't. That's exactly why I'm telling you this." Kakashi responded.

Only seconds after the one-eyed jounin spoke these words, he was apparently caught of guard by several kunai and shuriken. Naruto smirked as bent his body upwards to cut loose the rope around his feet and moments later landed gracefully on both feet smirking. Only then he noticed a log where Kakashi should have been.

'Kawarimi no Jutsu? Then where is….' Naruto's thought where cut short as he was once again swung into the air by means of another rope around his ankles.

"Stupid, (enter censored words here), double layered traps…" Naruto muttered as he heard laughing and a small 'poof' coming from his right side, where Kakashi sat on a tree branch mocking him before turning his back on the genin.

"Even when I'm in a position like this," Naruto whispered to himself smirking and quickly grabbing a few shuriken from his pouch, "You shouldn't let your guard down."

"Shuriken Kage-Bunshin no Jutsu! Shuriken Hinome Sorasu no Jutsu!" The blonde yelled as he threw the shuriken and quickly went trough a set of seals. Not waiting to watch if his weapons hit their intended target, he cut himself loose again and pushed his feet against the trunk of the tree to jump away from it. He wouldn't allow himself to be caught like that a third time.

While Naruto did that, Kakashi dodged the incoming projectiles easily and landed in the open clearing, facing and challenging the newly freed Naruto.

'Damn' Naruto thought to himself, no longer smirking. 'This isn't good. I'm no match for this guy on my own. How am I going to…' Just then Naruto received more information from one of his bunshin. He now knew Hinata was heading in his direction, since his Shadow clone had been smart enough to inform the girl of his position. 'If I can hold him off long enough for Hinata to get here, maybe we can stand a chance.'

Kakashi watched his new student interestedly. The kid was apparently going to try and take him out on his own. He'd let Naruto make the first move.

Meanwhile, Naruto was thinking over his options. He could either charge the guy and try to keep his opponent on defence. Or he could wait for the jounin to make the first move and try to fend him of as long as possible. He decided on the first.

'If I try to defend myself against him, I wont last long so instead I should try to control the situation instead.' And with those thoughts Naruto charged the jounin.

"Suiton: Teppoudama!" Naruto yelled as he spit several water bullets at his opponent and at the same time moved towards him. Kakashi was easily able to dodge Naruto's jutsu and prepared for the blonde's first strike.

Following his rain of water bullets, Naruto tried to hit his new teacher with a low kick. The key word being 'tried' since the jounin easily blocked his kick with what looked like a simple move.

'Damn!' Naruto yelled inside his head. 'Even when dodging all those bullets, he is still able to keep his guard up!' Naruto continued to engage him, using shuriken to distract his opponent. It didn't seem to help the now frustrated genin one bit, as his clearly superior opponent always managed to dodge and block his moves at the same time. This went on for some time as the two traded kicks and punches and eventually Naruto realized he had to back off.

'This isn't going to work.' Naruto thought to himself, as he felt the increasingly painful throbbing in his knee. Out of frustration Naruto rashly sped forwards and kicked out once more. Only this time, Naruto instinctively knew there was more power behind in than he would've normally been able to muster. It felt... weird...and yet it felt right all the same. Naruto couldn't understand.

To add to his moment of confusion, Kakashi didn't just block this time, but struck Naruto's already painful knee with a quick and hard palm strike. Naruto didn't utter a sound as something in his leg made a cracking noise, but quickly backed off again. Using his uninjured leg, he jumped away as far as he safely could to increase the distance.

As Naruto briefly considered his options, he noticed Kakashi staring at him intently.

"Pretty impressive for a rookie genin, but it seems you've reached your limit." Kakashi said, regaining his usual carefree attitude.

Naruto didn't answer the taunt with words, but instead opted for throwing a few shuriken and kunai towards his opponent. Unfortunately, Kakashi easily countered them with a few kunai of his own, who after deflecting Naruto's projectiles continued on their path straight towards the blonde.

'Damn, I can't dodge those right now. Got to focus my chakra!….' "Suiton: Suijinheki!" Naruto yelled as he desperately tried to condense what little water he could from the air surrounding him and used it to form a thin wall of water around him. It barely deflected the kunai, but it did it's job as not one made it through. 'Thank Kami-sama! Shino knows where I am. And Hinata should be arriving here right about….now!'

Hinata's arrival was announced by a set of almost a dozen small fireballs making their way towards Kakashi from the depths of the forest.

The one-eyed jounin never batted an eye as he easily dodged them. 'Katon Jutsu?'

"Katon: Goukakyuu no Jutsu!" Hinata yelled as she emerged from the woods and fired the largest ball of fire from her mouth that she could possibly manage. This time Kakashi didn't have time to watch his opponents as he dodged the Hyuuga's attack. When the momentarily surprised jounin regained his footing, he noticed that his two subjects had fled the scene. Like any sane ninja would, he left the open space and instead opted for the cover that the forest provided him. Not that it really mattered, as only seconds later, the loud bell of the alarm clock sounded in the distance.

The sound was accompanied by a loud voice.

"No way! Already!?" Kakashi heard Naruto yell.

As he lazily made his way back into the clearing, he was quickly joined by his two opponents who apparently never made it far. Naruto was leaning heavily on Hinata's shoulder, who looked exhausted as well. As she carefully helped Naruto get seated on the ground, they were soon joined by Shino.

Kakashi sighed as he surveyed the three disheveled genin.

"Well, I have to say... some of your jutsu were quite impressive." He said honestly. "But that's it basically... That's all you guys are good at. Right from when we started, I clearly saw that you guys had never been trained in stealth and you almost have no real life combat experience."

Here he paused for a second, while the three genin just sat there defeated. Hinata was now taking a look at the blonde's knee.

"I did see a clear effort in team work as well, but you three have to learn how to deal with that in real life situations. Right now, it was quite easy for me to split you three apart. Naruto, you used those Kage-Bunshin to look for your team mates?"

"Yeah..." The pained voice sounded. Now the adrenaline rush that accompanied the battle had disappeared, the pain in his knee seemed to have tripled. "I realized that when they disappear, I know what they know. So that way I could see where the others where and they could know where I was."

Kakashi smiled at his explanation. "Impressive tactic. I'm sure that if you had an hour more, your technique would've made a great difference." This did bring a smile to Naruto's face, albeit a pained one. "But you're time ran out and you failed your mission. That's a part of real life as well."

By now, Shino was the only one still brooding, since Naruto's spirits had been lifted somewhat and Hinata was too busy trying to fix the blonde's knee.

"Normally, I had hoped to start training today but it seems that with Mr. Loudmouth's injury that's become a bit difficult. Instead I want you all to think about what happened today and talk about it together..." Here the jounin was interrupted by the small and suppressed cry of pain coming from Naruto. "But first of all, let's get blondie here to the hospital." He finished.

Kakashi left soon after they had arrived at the hospital, saying he had some stuff to take care of. He now sat on some rooftop, overlooking the whole village.

'You overreacted there.' Kakashi thought angrily to himself. 'You were only supposed to fend him of, not strike back and injure them!... But that chakra I felt there for a moment, there's no doubt it was the Kyuubi's...'

Far away from all of this, in a small dimly lit room lay a young man covered in seals and connected to several obscure machines.

"Kabuto," A sinister voice called out from the shadows, "How much longer can you keep him alive?"

"It's hard to tell, Orochimaru-sama." The young man with round glasses responded respectfully, yet his voice sounded cold and hard. "The disease has spread significantly since he activated the second level of his curse seal. It drained whatever energy his body used for its immune system. From this point on it will keep deteriorating his body and all I can do is slow it down. If I keep him in partial stasis like this, he should last for … at least another year. Without it, it would be a matter of weeks, maybe even days." Kabuto never turned around to look his master in the eyes. Instead it seemed that he was more interested in his instruments and even the damp and muddy walls of the obscure chamber.

"His timing couldn't have been worse." The snake sannin spoke annoyed as he stepped into the light, his slitted eyes coldly observing the patient. "With Kimimaro besides us we might have been able to take down the Kazekage unnoticed."

"Perhaps, but with the added protection we encountered, it wouldn't have been easy. If only those cloud shinobi hadn't been messing around there, there wouldn't have been as much security and it would have been so much easier."

"Perhaps... perhaps not. Because of our disguises they'll write it off as yet another move from that rebellious clan from the cloud against them."

"I see." Kabuto replied, still diverting his eyes from the snake like man.

"Actually Kabuto, I think that in the end this may work in our favour." Orochimaru said in a sort of cold, yet calculating manner, while tenderly stroking Kimimaro's head. "If the sand decides to take actions against the cloud... Konoha, as sworn allies of the sand will have no choice but to send in their own forces and get involved as well."

"But even then Konoha will still remain a strong force to be reckoned with though. With only the sound under our command, it'll still be too much for only our own forces. Perhaps you should try to take the place of one of the other kage's?"

Orochimaru's eyes darkened as he finally looked his subordinate in the eye.

"No that won't work. Even I have to admit that the Raikage is too strong for us too be able to take him down silently. The Rock country still has loads of former Konoha-spies as a result from the last war and the Mizukage... well," Orochimaru smirked, "he is barely able to hold control over his own forces. No, instead we will start by allying our own sound village with some of the smaller and power-hungry shinobi countries."

"Then I guess that our plan's in Konoha will not proceed for now, Orochimaru-sama?"

"Maybe not all of them, but I still want you to test the last Uchiha's skills. This pathetic new body of mine is wearing out already and will not last much more than two years."

"Very well, Orochimaru-sama." Kabuto replied.

Hinata found her fingers shaking nervously. Shifting uncomfortably, she placed her hands together in front of her mouth; if her eyes had been closed, a passerby might have thought she was praying.

She was wearing one of the nicer, casual outfits she'd bought when she and Naruto had gone clothes shopping with a boy. She smiled, looking down at her pale blue shirt with a small floral pattern on the hem. Naruto-kun had liked it.

She had a few minutes before she left to pick up Naruto. She smiled nervously. Normally, the boy would pick up the girl on a date. But this wasn't an ordinary date: this was Naruto-kun she was thinking about! And a Naruto-kun who was hurt, too.

She knew her father was in his office down the hall, and if she was quiet enough he would ignore her and let her leave unnoticed. Like any young girl, she just wasn't in the mood to talk with her father…Hinata bit her lip. Such actions were unbecoming for one daughter of the Head of the Clan…

She decided to leave her room and walked down the hall in the quietest manner she could.


She froze.

"Come in Hinata, for a moment."

So businesslike and cold, just like usual. Hinata found herself holding her hands so to not let her father see them shake.

Would he not let her go? She had little doubt in her mind that he knew something about her date. He was her father: he seemed to know everything!

She walked into her father's simple, traditionally furnished office and bowed respectfully.

"Yes, father?"

"I assume you are going to see the Uzumaki boy?"

Hinata's heart fell. He wasn't going to let her go. Not if he was using that tone of voice…

She nodded. She could never lie to her father.

"Hinata, please sit."

Was he going to lecture her? She was apprehensive, but rather curious at the way his voice softened. His eyes even seemed less cold. She sat in front of him, on the opposite side of his desk.

"While you have shown me your true strength in these last few weeks, daughter, you have the blessing of certain qualities that are unfitting with the traditional image of the Hyuuga clan."

Hinata raised her eyes suddenly, wondering what he could be talking about.

"Despite my best efforts, I have not been able to take away these qualities from you. And no one will ever be able to strip you of them: they are your gift, your character and your strength. Yet…no matter how valuable compassion and sincerity is to you, these are not the qualities befitting the Heir of this clan."

She blinked, feeling somewhat hurt and confused at the backhanded compliment.

"Father, what do you wish to tell me?" she asked in the softest voice.

Hiashi sighed.

"You will never be fit to lead this clan, Hinata. As such, I allow you to see this Uzumaki boy. You may leave."

Hinata let out a deep breathe. The fact that her sister was replacing her, oh, she knew that already, for a long time…She got up, her heart heavy, and bowed.

"Thank you." She said, her voice empty.

As she almost went through the door, Hinata heard her father call out again.

"Hinata, make sure he treats you well."

"Yes, father." She answers, turning around and bowing one last time before literally fleeing his office.

Hiashi sighed sadly, somewhat ashamed at his own clan and what he had to do to his own daughters…

"Hey Hinata! What's wrong? Why the long face?" called out Naruto as he opened the door of his small apartment.

"Hello. And nothing is wrong, Naruto-kun, thank you." She smiled slightly as she walked in. Despite how sad she'd felt on her way here, now that she saw his smile, she couldn't help but feel cheerful again. Naruto-kun's crazy grin was infectious.

"So, There-Is-Nothing-Wrong-With-Hinata-Hime, shall we be off tonight?" Naruto asked in the most gallant manner a clumsy kid could, but unfortunately he fell off-balance, his broken leg unable to support his silly movements.

Despite a very red face out of embarrassment, Hinata worriedly called out; "Naruto-kun, are you okay?"

"Eh, I'm fine. Really. Let's go."

She helped him up, and without letting go of her hand Naruto stood up and smiled at her. "Well, what are you waiting for?"

"You have to use the crutch they gave you at the hospital, or else you could get hurt, Naruto-kun!" the worry shone through her pale eyes and Naruto rolled his eyes.

"Do I have to? I feel great!"


"Arg." Naruto groaned, "…fine."

He walked towards the his couch, where the stupid wooden crutch was resting, and returned to the entrance. "Happy now?" he grumbled.

Hinata bit her lip. Was he angry with her?

"I…I'm sorry." She mumbled, looking down.

Suddenly, Naruto realized that something had to be wrong, no matter how fine she said she was. He realized that he really didn't know what to do to cheer her up.

"Don't be sorry…why are you sorry? I did something stupid today, and now I'm just a bit grumpy. It's really not your fault!"

She didn't answer.

Naruto bit his lip.

"Uh…" he realized how badly he'd messed this up. This was supposed to be a date! You know, really stomach-lurching cheesiness and bad teenage romance and all that weird lovey-dovey stuff…and was Hinata crying?

"I'm sorry Naruto. If you want…we could do this…another day…later?"

Naruto's eyes widened. "No, it's okay! Today is good! Hinata, I want to go out with you today. Now, like, yeah…Hinata? Don't cry…" he asked her softly.

"I'm really messing this up, Naruto-kun." She whispered.

He bit the inside of his cheek.

"Don't cry, Hinata-chan…"

She nodded, trying to smile. "I'm being so stupid."

"Nah. The only stupid one here is me, 'cuz I broke my stupid kneecap. Com'on, let's go have fun! We own this town!" To his incredible relief, she giggled, wiping the tears away. Naruto felt immensely better.

"Alright, let's go. And be careful, okay Naruto-kun?"

"I will be! Sheesh, you little worry bug!" he teased her, smiling gently. "Everything will be fine, I promise!"

Smiling, she answered him. "I believe you."

"Good." He smiled back. Opening the door, he sort of limped out of his apartment on his crutch, and Hinata followed, closing the door behind him. He locked it, and put the key back in his pocket.

"Off to the next adventure!" he said, grinning madly.

"Okay." She said, following him out onto the streets. They went down the road into the village and Hinata could see the sun in the sky and felt like could fly and touch the sky. She felt so amazing! She was finally on her date with Naruto-kun, despite that rather…theatrical start…She bit her lip, feeling sheepish.

She resisted the urge to apologize to Naruto again, when she realize something important.

How could she have missed it?

He wasn't wearing a mask.

She stopped dead in her tracks.

"Hinata?" Naruto looked back to see her gaping.



"Your mask, did you forget it?"

He patted his naked cheek with his free hand. "Nah."


She vaguely remembered the last time she'd walked in town with Naruto not wearing his mask.

"So, what do you want to do?" he asked her, turning around and walking backwards in front of her, showing off and grinning.

"I'm sure you're hungry." Hinata said, biting back a smile unsuccessfully.

"Hinata-chan, those words are music to my ears!" he said theatrically, putting a hand over his heart and leering backwards.

"Choose your place and there we shall dine, Hinata-hime!" he said cheerfully, turning around and walking fairly normally again. The moment he did so Hinata saw something.

The villagers were glaring at them. They saw Naruto and nothing but hate and anger came from their eyes. She felt it, because she was walking behind him. This was…so unusual for her, but of course she knew why. It was somewhat surprising Naruto hadn't started acting differently. Tonight, he was just acting goofy, happy... It was the Naruto she knew well from the Academy…

She bit her lip, and did her best to ignore the stares. An old lady sweeping the ground in front of her shop, a few men discussing the price of an item, some women with children gossiping in a corner…it was like the entire street was unreal, a façade: because every so often the old lady would shake her head with a disapproving face, the men would stare at Naruto with hatred, the women would exchange a hateful word about him…

Hinata felt tears welling in her eyes and suddenly felt so angry. Angry at her village, her father, her stupid clan. Naruto-kun was the nicest person she knew! And she wasn't going to stand by like this!

She rushed forward, to walk next to him, and took his hand. He looked at their hands, then at her with ill-masked surprise in his eyes.

She smiled. "What about that place over there? The food smells really good."

He grinned back at her. "Genius, Hinata, pure genius!" She blushed, and they went towards the restaurant.

Right before entering the restaurant, she turned her head around and saw the people peering at them, pretending not to be.

She glared back at them and stuck out her tongue, something Hyuuga Hinata had never done before, something quite unbecoming of the daughter of the Head of the Clan. And Hinata found that, for Naruto-kun, she couldn't care less what image she gave off of herself, but she would show them that she would stand by him, no matter what.

They talked a little bit over the food and Hinata had the weird feeling that if she hadn't been there, the small restaurant would have thrown him out long ago, no questions asked. This level of animosity simply boggled her. But she did her best to seem unfazed. She wondered why they didn't act like this most of the time when she was with her teammate. But most of the time he wore his mask…Did that mean they didn't recognize him in full shinobi gear?

"Whatcha thinking about, Hinata?" Naruto asked cheerfully.

"Oh, uhh…nothing really. You are finished?"

"Yup!" he answered. "It was really good food, good choice, Hinata!"

She blushed, but didn't hesitate. "Thank you."

He paid the bill, which made Hinata blush when usually they each paid their own food. She helped him out of the small place, because with his crutch it wasn't that easy to maneuver.

"So, what's next?" he asked, excited.

"I…don't know."

She'd never been on a date before, so she hadn't the slightest idea of what to expect, really. Oh, she'd heard all about it whenever she listened to ether Sakura or Ino went they switched to 'fangirl' mode. But, now that it was happening to her, she wasn't so sure anymore.

"Alright! That means it's my turn to choose where to go! And I say we get out of this stuffy place!" he took her hand and marched away down the street, deciding not to use his crutch.

"Naru-Naruto-kun! Your crutch…you'll-"

Naruto rolled his eyes but stopped.

"Don't worry about me, okay Hinata? I've been through worse."

She nodded, even though she was still worried for him. They walked in silence towards the parks on the outskirts of town. It was a lot quieter here, people heading back into town and Hinata relaxed as she realized that she no longer felt the mean eyes on them. Discreetly, she checked the area surrounding them and saw that they were now alone.

She smiled happily.

They both sat down on a small hill overlooking the forest, and on the horizon the sun was settling down, sunset was maybe an hour away. By them stood a large tree, which Naruto used to lean against, relieving the pressure from his broken kneecap and without her Byakugan, Hinata doubted she would have caught the look of relief that crossed his face.

She sat in front of him, facing the sun, and decided to not say anything. She didn't want to annoy him any further.

"Hey, Hinata?"

Maybe she shouldn't had been so surprised when Konoha's number one hyperactive loudmouth broke the silence for her.

She turned her head around and looked at him, her gaze questioning.


"Huh?" Hinata wondered.

"Uhh…I'm sorry about tonight…I mean, I didn't want to wear the mask…you know, because… but…"

"Naruto-kun, what…?"

"Look, okay?" Naruto had never been good with words, and lost patience, "I'm sorry everybody was looking at you like that, okay! I just wanted you to have fun and stuff, and…well…let's just say tonight wasn't as great as you wanted it because I decided not to wear the stupid mask!"

Hinata's eyes widened.

She got up and sat beside him, and he watched her every move, looking rather confused. He watched her put her head on his shoulder, and gulped.

"Is that what you think?" She asked quietly, "I don't care about all that."

Naruto blinked. "Oh."

Hinata grinned, something he couldn't see, and said in a hushed yet knowing tone: "Oh."

"And for your information, I had lots of fun tonight." She said happily, getting up slightly. "But I better go home soon, before the sun sets."

They smiled at each other rather shyly, and got up, Hinata helping him up on his still-in-pain knee. He, to her surprise, didn't let go of her hand, and he walked her home. His crutch was carried, as it was awkward to hold hands while limping, and they stayed in comfortable silence.

They arrived at the gate the moment the sun was disappearing under the horizon and Hyuuga Hiashi was waiting on the other side of the half-open gate. Hinata lost her cheerful eyes as she got closer and closer to her home, and Naruto felt more and more uncomfortable. With one last squeeze of her hand, he let go, smiling slightly.

"See you tomorrow, Hinata-chan?"

She smiled a heartbreaking smile and Naruto felt rather odd as she walked through the gates of her home. The gates closed and the last thing he saw were her eyes, and Hiashi looking straight through him.

Sighing, he turned the other way and walked home.