Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto and I have no intention of profiting from this story.

Chapter 10 – Actions/Reactions

Things were not going well for Sakura.

Not that that was particularly surprising. The plan that she and Naruto had quickly hammered together had put her at a natural disadvantage. Well, all three of them were at a marked disadvantage in this exercise, considering they were fighting more senior ninja. But both Sasuke and Naruto had far greater physical ability than she did. Unfortunately for her, that was what their plan called for. Itami-sensei had been working her to the bone to improve those abilities, but that kind of training took time to complete. She wasn't going to become a muscle head in two or three weeks, for goodness sake! Her greatest strength had always been her intelligence. That certainly wasn't on #&#&ing display today.

And speaking of Itami-sensei, the #&#ing woman was right behind her. From experience, she knew that was the last place she wanted her teacher to be. She had only seriously sparred with her once or twice, but that had been more than enough to learn that her teacher was a vicious knife fighter with absolutely no scruples when it came to causing pain. If Sakura let her get into range… well, Ibiki-sensei had said there were rules against violence, but there was no guarantee Itami had paid attention. Or cared, for that matter. After all, Itami-sensei could simply heal her up afterwards. It wouldn't be the first time something like that had happened.

Dodging another thrown kunai, she desperately clambered up and over a small wall into another small field. Itami and her partner had driven her well away from the West Gate and into the agricultural districts of the village. It was a place of sparse cover and wide (for a ninja village) open spaces. The only thing that had kept her alive so far was that some of the fields were mature enough to create hiding spaces. She'd spent ten minutes skulking around a corn field, and another fifteen in a grain field. The farmers wouldn't thank her, but the fields had provided her brief moments to catch her breath and to attempt to plot an escape. Any idea of retaliation had been discarded a long time ago.

She wasn't as lucky this time. There were no convenient fields to hide in here. She'd stumbled into a livestock farm by the looks of it. She could smell the manure from the rather rickety barn and could see a small herd of cattle huddling together in a corner of the field. No help here. And she was pretty sure livestock was including in the 'no casualties' rule. She might get away with stomping across a field or two, but an animal was a valuable piece of property in a ninja village.

She did her best to sprint across the small farmstead as quickly as possible. Perhaps the next one would offer a better opportunity, but she couldn't keep running forever. Itami and her partner had already almost driven her to the wall. There were maybe two or three more farmsteads and then she would hit No Man's Land. And No Man's Land would lack even the small bits of cover the livestock farm had provided. If they cornered her there she'd be #&#&ing screwed.

She desperately needed to change directions and gain maneuvering room. If either of her opponents cornered her, she would simply have no chance of escaping. And without a doubt, she knew they could corner her at any time. She hadn't seen Itami's partner for several minutes, but she knew he was definitely watching. He only popped up when she tried to escape or maneuver. With him as an unknown in the equation, her options were very limited. While on the move and without adequate preparation before hand, she simply didn't have enough to work with!

She leapt over the hedgerow that separated the livestock farm from the next farm over and continued running. She cursed quietly to herself. This farm was nearly the same as the last. The only difference was that were pigs instead of cattle. Nothing usable here, either, and there were only one or two more farmsteads left. She considered attempting to break left or right again, but reluctantly discarded the idea and continued to run. There was nothing here that she could use to her advantage, and she'd be easily boxed in, yet again.

She glanced back and was just in time to dodge another kunai thrown by her teacher. Itami-sensei seemed to be smirking, which made Sakura's stomach churn with uneasiness. It was more than possible that she and her partner had a plan. Itami-sensei knew the area just as well or better than Sakura did (Not that Sakura was any great expert. She had a few distant memories of visiting a farm out here as a field trip in the early years of the academy). Itami-sensei also had to know that this chase was entering its final stages. Unless Sakura could come up with some way to turn the tables.

She clambered over a fence into another farmstead. This one appeared to be mostly deserted and uncared for. There was wheat growing in its small field, but it was scraggly and water-starved. Rusted farm implements were simply scattered about and the wall on the far side was falling over. With a stab of fear, Sakura realized that she could see a vast clearing through a large hole in the fence. Most likely, it was No Man's Land. She had reached the end of the line as far as running and hiding went.

She cast about blindly for anything she could use, and spotted the dilapidated farm house. Without a second thought, she sped towards it. It wasn't much, but she had to do something. It was one of Itami's cardinal rules: if there is nothing better available, use anything and everything around you to achieve your objectives. Just as she reached the door, she turned and saw Itami leaping the fence behind her. Sakura threw open the door, noted the fact that the door made a terrible creaking noise, and scrambled inside the house.

Being inside the house meant that she was practically cornered, which certainly wasn't to her advantage. However, it opened up a few possibilities for at least resisting. The problem was choosing the one that would buy her the most time. Barricading herself inside was out of the question. The house was simply too large and unfamiliar for that to be effective. Itami and her partner could likely find a way in (or simply make their own way in) and catch her. Simply hiding would likely cost her pursuers more time, but would still end in them catching her. Property damage was forbidden so something like luring them in and then setting the place ablaze or something similar were out. Sneaking out a different entrance to try to get a head start heading a different direction was both an attractive and an entirely feasible course of action, and if Itami-sensei's partner wasn't such an #&#&ing unknown, it would probably be the best course of action.

That left some sort of ambush as the only fairly viable plan. If she could injure or (heaven help her if she managed it) somehow take out Itami-sensei, she would be in a far better position. The problem with that, of course, was that it was #&#&ing impossible. The bloody woman was far better than she was by probably a factor of 40 or 50. She would need a fair amount of surprise to even have the chance of hurting her. Considering that Itami would have to be a moron to not expect an ambush, she would have to be obscenely lucky.

However, it was also the only real option she had. She didn't exactly have all day to sit around and think about it either. Itami-sensei might have paused outside to assess the situation or confer with her partner, but she clearly had the advantage. Every moment that Itami-sensei waited gave Sakura a better chance of doing something that would improve her own position. Itami-sensei was not stupid. Far, far from it, in fact. She'd be inside and ready to tear this place apart as soon as possible. Sakura had to think of a plan fast.

The inside of the house was unremarkable except for the fact that it was slowly falling apart. She was standing in a small entranceway that led to a small living room and a kitchen. A door that might lead to a bathroom and a set of stairs that lead to the second floor ran along the left side of the house. On the right were the dusty kitchen and a few chairs. She moved toward the stairs on the left almost instinctively. If nothing else, being on the second floor would give her a few more precious moments to think of a plan when Itami did come through the door. Unless she chose to come through an upstairs window or something similar. She was a ninja after all. Sakura needed to think out of the box if she wanted to…well, winning was probably completely impossible, but she could at least make a good final showing of herself.

She ascended the stairs as quickly and quietly as she could, and cautiously examined the upstairs. There were no signs that Itami had managed to find a way into the upstairs rooms and the windows were all too small to be used as entrances (for a normal person, anyway, and she hadn't seen her teacher use any familiars, either), which was good. The windows were probably a safety measure, considering the house was essentially directly beside the wall. So there was no means other that massive property damage to get in from this level. She also hadn't heard the door open yet. That was a bit troubling. She was grateful for the additional time to come up with something, but that meant that Itami was also likely planning something.

The upstairs contained a large bedroom, a small bedroom, and what Sakura assumed had been a workroom. Inside the workroom, she was more than delighted to find a number small sharp tools, wire, oil of some sort, and other odds and ends. It wasn't a lot, but she was strapped for time, and she needed ever advantage she could get. With her brain in high gear, she quickly began assembling what she needed.

Using the wire and some of the cord that she carried on her, she quickly strung up the sharp tools across the stairwell as an impromptu barrier/obstacle. Not that it would do much if anything at all, even against a civilian, but that, of course, wasn't the point. The point was to get Itami to be thinking about possible traps on the stairwell, and hopefully about ones above the stairwell. Sakura wanted her to be looking up not down. At the top of the stairs, Sakura spread the oil on the top three stairs. Thankfully the windows were small and the house was dark, so the oil wasn't as noticeable as it could have been. Well, she hoped it wasn't, at least. For a final touch, she prepared one of the small genjutsu she knew. It wasn't much, just an attention attractor. She hoped she'd be able to activate it without Itami noticing.

The plan was to have Itami concentrate on the tools as she walked up the stairs, and then have her slip on the oil. Hopefully that would cause her to fall down the stairs. Sakura would then jump down onto her and hopefully force her to surrender. It would be even better if Itami managed to injure herself somehow during the fall. Some bruised ribs, a broken ankle, or maybe even some sort of stabbing wound from falling through the sharp objects would be a nice bonus as well. It was a weak plan, Sakura knew, and one that required Itami to act exactly how she wanted her to. Any plan was better than no plan, though.

She twitched as she heard a quiet creaking noise from the downstairs. She strained to hear what was producing it. After a moment, she smiled. It was the door opening. Itami was finally coming into the farmhouse. Sakura scurried into a little nook she had found between the wall and the top of the stairwell. It wasn't much cover, but it had a clear view of the top of the stairs and hid at least part of her from view if she crouched. If (well, more like when) Itami made it past her simple trap, she'd be clearly visible and in a lot of trouble. However, that was really no different from when she'd been running for her life outside. This way, she'd at least kept them distracted for a few more minutes. Which, she supposed with a small sigh, was the entire point of her running all the way out here to begin with.

She heard the faintest sounds of footsteps from the first floor as Itami (well, Sakura assumed it was Itami) searched for her. After a few moments, Sakura thought she heard a sigh, and then she began to hear the footsteps begin to get closer. She tensed up a bit, and withdrew one of her kunai from its holster on her leg. She would have to strike quickly if Itami slipped. If she wasn't hurt badly, her teacher would quickly recover, and then Sakura would back to square one.

Just as she heard Itami take her first step up the stairwell, she realized with an odd and painful drop in her stomach that someone was crouched next to her. He had been there for several moments, though for how long she wasn't entirely sure. Her head mechanically turned to face the Blue-Man. He was studying her trap with an expressionless look on his blue face, though one of his blue hands was holding a small knife to her throat. She supposed the game was up.

"How'd you manage to get in? Were you in here before me, or did you find some other way in?" she whispered after a few quiet moments.

"Attic. Part of the roof is missing on the far side of the house, so I was able to slip in through there. You missed that as a possible entrance. Not too bad a mistake, however. Even experienced ninja sometimes forget to look up. Humans don't automatically consider danger to come from that direction." he replied calmly.

She nodded careful, mindful of the knife. "I suppose, I fail, then?"

He shrugged, "I'll have to talk it over with Itami. I can't say you did particularly well, but this exercise wasn't really in your favor, was it?" She shrugged; battles seldom were in anyone's favor, really. Iruka-sensei had always been fond of that expression at the Academy, "So we'll probably take that into account. You managed not to panic, and at least seemed to be trying to think, which is better than some genin can manage when being pursued by superior forces. And your impromptu trap isn't terrible. Basic, yes. Easy to see through, yes. But a decent use of the short amount of time and limited resources. You wouldn't have caught Itami. An unwary genin or unskilled chunin might have made the mistake though. If you had the chakra capacity, you might have considered using some sort of field-type genjutsu to create some sort of passive effect."

"I had something like that ready to go," she admitted, and he nodded in appreciation.

Sakura heard a noise and turned her head just in time to see Itami hoist herself up over the railing of the staircase. "The real question to ask for the grade, however, is whether or not you accomplished your objective. So, did you?"

Sakura shrugged and laughed quietly. "I hope so. You're #&#&ing here aren't you?"

"So, let me get this straight," yelled Kiba, in between dodging stray kunai and shuriken, "Your teacher is crazy enough to stage a training exercise in the middle of bloody downtown Konoha? With live steel and techniques that could possibly kill you?"

"Pretty much?" Naruto managed a grin, despite the sinking feeling in his stomach. He really needed to learn to think things through. Grabbing Kiba and running had been an instinctive action. And, of course, his two teammates had tagged along as well. And now 'his' pursuers had decided that they were now 'their' pursuers. Hinata now sported a long scratch down her left arm where a shuriken had grazed her, and Shino hadn't even bothered to take the knife out of his hair.

"Have I mentioned that your teacher is crazy as hell, yet?" Kiba shouted and, to Naruto's mild confusion, laughed, "Kurenai-sensei would never do something like this! It's like she thinks we're made of glass! Wanna switch?"

"You're the one who's bloody crazy!" Naruto shouted back, laughing despite his confusion. Of all the students in the academy, he had gotten along with Kiba the best. Not that that was saying anything, really. The other boy was just as rude, confrontational, and independent as he was. They'd spent half their time at the academy trying to one up each other and the other half brawling. Despite that, Naruto knew that Kiba was honest and would watch his back if asked. They didn't particularly like each other, but Naruto liked to think there was at least some respect. After all, he'd beaten Kiba nearly as much as Kiba had beaten him.

The smaller of their two pursuers appeared abruptly in front of them, and Naruto wasted no time in going on the offensive. The man with the oversized fist had shown no restraint with his display a few blocks back, so Naruto had no problem returning the favor. Those who were ready to hurt people should be ready to be hurt. Mindful of his recent chakra control lessons with Ryoushi-sensei, he carefully channeled just the right amount of chakra into his favorite technique.

Three shadow clones materialized around him as he charged forward. He heard Hinata shout something, but he ignored it. He could always apologize later. Getting this man out of their way was more important. He was the more dangerous of the two, Naruto was sure. The masked ninja was quick, nimble, and highly skilled. He hadn't shown them any fancy or dangerous moves, unlike his partner, but Naruto was sure he had a few. The man was patiently waiting for the opportunity to use them. Patience was a dangerous virtue when the enemy had more of it than you did.

The first of his clones leapt into the air, and without hesitating, Naruto and another clone each grabbed a foot and boosted the first clone even higher. It soared into the air, but to Naruto's surprise, his opponent didn't even seem to blink. Most Leaf ninja who saw that he knew the Shadow Clone Technique were shocked or at least mildly surprised. This one merely quickly tossed a kunai at the falling clone and dispelled it.

In the end, it didn't really matter, as Naruto had planned on taking advantage of the ninja being distracted from the beginning. The second clone threw itself at the opponent, and managed to get in a few punches before a chop to the throat dispelled it. That still was fine, as Naruto was there to grab the outstretched arm. The ninja's eyes went wide for a moment, before Naruto threw him into a nearby lamp pole. There was a resounding clang, and it was Naruto's turn to stare in mild shock at the trash can he had just thrown into the pole.

He gathered his wits together just in time to block a kick from above. He grabbed for the ninja's foot, in the hopes of trying to throwing him once again, but missed. Instead, the ninja landed a little off balance, but already swinging a fist for a punch. Naruto almost smiled. They were finally fighting at close quarters; he could now defend himself properly.

Naruto would never be an expert at The Flowing River. He knew that. Ryoushi knew that. But as his teachers (well, the two that mattered to him at least) frequently pointed out, Naruto was skilled at adapting things to suit his own goals. And lucky for him, his opponent had closed the distance. The first move of the kata wasn't quite a quick block to stop a fist heading for his face, but it was close enough that he could improvise. He easily redirected the force of the blow away from himself. The ninja's eyes went wide, but Naruto was already moving into the next stance. His opponent was already severely off balance; the man had no choice but to get swept along as Naruto methodically worked his way through the kata.

Of course, considering he hadn't quite learned the entire kata, he was left without a real clear finisher. That was fine, he'd prepared for that, too. The ninja desperately threw another punch in hopes of breaking Naruto's momentum. However, Naruto once again simply redirected the attack to the side. This time, however, he added a little extra oomph to his push, which caused his enemy to severely overbalance. Unable to do anything to regain his balance, the ninja stumbled directly into the third clone's right hook. The man grunted, and fell the ground, obviously a bit dizzy.

That was good enough for Naruto. The man wasn't down or out, but he'd have to take a few seconds to clear his head. That would give them a few precious moments to escape. He turned to yell at Kiba's team to run, just in time to see a person-shaped blur streaking towards him. Without thinking, he braced himself and caught the blur, though the force of the person hitting him nearly knocked him off his feet. He managed to keep his balance, but he slid a few feet backwards. That hit must have had a lot of power behind it.

He looked down at the person in his arms, and realized it was the Hyuga girl. She looked a little worse for wear with a rather large bruise covering half her face, but was thankfully conscious. After a moment, she began to struggle a bit, so he let her go, and dashed back in the direction that she had come flying from. She could take care of herself now that she wasn't flying through the air. She was a Hyuga after all. He felt a bit uneasy, though. If her opponent had knocked her flying that easily, Kiba and Shino would need help.

He didn't have to go far. He found them just down the street face-to-face with their other pursuer. Luckily, the man was too busy dealing with both Kiba and Shino to do anything other than blink at him. That didn't mean things were going well for the two. Like Hinata, they both were covered in bruises and were breathing heavily. Whoever this man was, he was very good. This fight couldn't have been going on for more than two or three minutes. If all of Team Nine couldn't deal with the man, he certainly wouldn't be much of a help.

So he did the first thing that came to mind. With an explosion of white smoke, he filled the street with shadow clones, grabbed Shino and Kiba, and ran. It wasted a lot of chakra, but breaking free of the crazy good ninja more than justified it. The ninja would take the clones out left and right with barely any effort, but sometimes quantity had a quality all of its own. Ryoushi would forgive the waste this once. If it worked.

"He's an Akimichi," Shino said, when he managed to get his breath back enough to speak. "Close combat specialist. Very skilled."

"Ya think?" Kiba muttered. "He's way out of our league, Naruto. I think Hinata managed to close a couple of chakra points in one of his legs, though. That should slow him down. We should be able to outrun him, now. What about the other one?"

Naruto grimaced. "I knocked him down, but he definitely wasn't out. When Hinata came flying out of nowhere, I got a bit distracted. I didn't expect the big one to be so close on our tail."

Kiba and Shino exchanged a worried look, and then they raced ahead. Naruto, a tad bit confused, chased after them. When he reached where he had left Hinata and the smaller of their two opponents, he noticed that Kiba and Shino had rushed over to a body on the ground. He felt his stomach drop, and he hurriedly joined them.

It was Hinata. Thankfully, they quickly determined that she was only unconscious, but just by looking at her left arm, Naruto could tell it was probably broken. He'd glimpsed enough of Sakura's notes to guess that much. Not that he needed her notes with it lying under her at such an unnatural angle. Her breathing was deep and steady, as well, which suggested that she'd been taken out quickly and with relatively little exertion. He'd caught the smaller man by surprise once. He had apparently not taken a chance with Hinata.

"Hurry, pick her up, we need to get out of here!" Naruto hissed, trying to do his best to look all directions at once. The Akimichi was slowly but steadily making his way towards them. And who knew where the smaller one had gone after disabling Hinata? Not far, Naruto was willing to bet.

Kiba sent him an angry glare, "We need to get her arm patched up first, moron, else we could make it worse!"

"I think you've got your priorities mixed up, idiot! The guy who took her out has to still be around here. Plus, the big guy isn't that far behind. We need to move!" Naruto said through clenched teeth. Things had escalated way more than he had expected. He didn't mind getting hurt. He didn't like seeing others get hurt because he'd gotten them involved, though. This was supposed to be a practice exercise, for goodness sake!

"Shino!" Kiba barked.

Naruto saw Shino nod, then a cloud of… something poured out of his sleeves and buzzed off towards their larger pursuer. He thought about asking about it, but ultimately decided against it. If Kiba thought it would be useful, he would simply go the flow. Shino had been a strange enough kid during school, and had spent his time doing odd science projects with insects. He didn't want to think what kind of techniques the boy had managed to come up with using that knowledge. Or where he was keeping them, for that matter.

"How long will it take you to set her arm?" Naruto asked, resuming his watch.

He ignored the glare Kiba shot him. "A couple minutes. Kurenai-sensei made sure we knew basic first-aid skills. Unless you think you could do it faster?"

"Sakura's job, not mine. She's training with a medic-nin. You should see the textbooks she goes through. Turns my stomach worse than expired milk," he answered distractedly, watching their larger pursuer who seemed to be having some issues. Whatever Shino had done had done was apparently working. He missed the confused look that Kiba and Shino shared.

"The Akimichi is having more trouble moving than I expected. Seems as if Hinata took out more chakra points than we expected," Shino suddenly reported.

"And the quick one?" Naruto asked.

Shino shook his head. "No information. I did not have a chance to plant a female on him."

Naruto again resolved not to ask any further questions on Shino's abilities. If it involved planting females of any species on anything, it firmly found its way onto his list entitled 'Things He Did Not Want to Know.' The list was now far, far longer than it had been before he'd been attached to T&I. Ninjas were creepy bastards. Especially Sakura's teacher. He didn't even want to think about what that woman did at night.

They waited a few tense moments as Kiba finished up his work. Naruto didn't particularly know a lot about field medicine, but even to his eyes, it looked a bit sloppy. However, if it got them moving, it was fine in his book. They were in a much worse position standing here, than if they were on the move. The civilians had picked up on the fact that something was going on, and had wisely stayed out of the street. That made it that much easier for the enemy to attack them. He didn't particularly want to endanger civilians, but if they were in a crowd, he would almost guarantee the Akimichi wouldn't be swinging around his giant fist of death.

Of course, he hadn't expected the giant fist of death even on a relatively deserted street, either, so maybe his guesses were a bit off. Ibiki-sensei seemed to be a pretty harsh guy, so it was possible that he really would throw them to the wolves like that. Though, to be honest, Naruto hadn't really spent that much time with him. Maybe he was a bad judge of character. He'd have to compare notes with Sakura or even… bleh… Sasuke when they got back together. Maybe it was just him. The Akimichi wouldn't be the first ninja to have a grudge against the kid possessed by the Kyu-

His thoughts were interrupted by a shadow that abruptly ceased to be a shadow and instead became a ninja trying to kill him.

"Hatake Kakashi!" Sasuke muttered quietly, cursing the team's bad luck while simultaneously rejoicing at his own almost unimaginable good luck.

The man's only visible eyebrow rose in controlled surprise, before he turned back to his book. "Well, I suppose that saves time on introductions, then. Because you clearly are Uchiha Sasuke. Charmed, I'm sure."

Sasuke blinked in confusion, but didn't lower his kunai. This man had a fierce and unpredictable reputation. Moreover, Sasuke had no clue if Kakashi was even involved in the exercise or if meeting him was simply coincidence. Well, it probably wasn't coincidence. Just about any ninja would be curious about why a genin was dodging spears coming from nowhere. Kakashi could simply be here to satisfy his curiosity.

"There are better ways of practicing dodging, you know. I mean, Ejiki's a top class archer and all, but in the end it's a little bit dangerous. Those arrows of his will leave awfully large holes in you if you mess up. I prefer simply sparing myself. Safer, really," Kakashi commented in the same dry tone. He could have been talking about the weather, or what he had for lunch by the tone of his voice.

Sasuke ignored the barb, and asked the question he really wanted to ask, "… Are you a part of this exercise?" He waited for the answer with equal amounts of eagerness and dread. Sure, the man could screw over the entire plan, but this was Kakashi of the Sharingan. He was the only ninja left in the village that could use his family's techniques. And he wasn't even an Uchiha! He had been hoping for years for a chance to fight the man who had somehow stolen one of his relative's eyes, and gotten away with it. To beat him would be a wonderful start to his revenge, even if he couldn't kill him.

"Exercise?" The man seemed to ponder the idea for a moment. "Ah. You mean Ibiki's excuse to humiliate his genin team. Yeah, I suppose I'm involved. Well, he asked me to participate, so I don't really know if that means I'm involved or not unless I do something. And I was a bit late getting here since I stopped to help this old lady cross the street, so I'm not really sure what the plan is. Do you know?"

Sasuke wasn't sure if he was supposed to laugh or simply be put off balance by the man's odd babble. It didn't particularly matter. The man had said he was part of the exercise, which meant he could be fought. For their plan to succeed, Kakashi of the Sharingan could not be allowed anywhere near the projected path of the plan. He had to get the man's attention and keep it. More importantly, he needed a chance to redeem a bit of the Uchiha's honor, no matter how small. It was like a dream come true. A perfectly valid excuse to attack Hatake Kakashi.

"I'm afraid, I don't know what Ibiki's plan is, Hatake Kakashi, but I do know what my plan is." Sasuke brazenly said.

"Oh, you're going to be wise and surrender? How very decent of you. Saves me a lot of trouble," Kakashi answered casually without looking up from his book.

Sasuke ground his teeth, and responded by throwing his kunai at the man. In a perfect world, it would have buried itself right between the man's eyes, instantly killing him, and providing Sasuke with a great deal of personal satisfaction. What did happen, however, occurred so quickly that Sasuke wasn't really sure what had happened. He hadn't really expected the knife to hit, merely to make the man flinch or dodge. One moment the blade was arcing through the air towards the man; and in the next, Kakashi was squatting on his knees back-to-back with him, twirling said knife in between his fingers.

"Kind of a weak opener, to be honest. Always follow through, you know. Never stop moving. Keep the opponent on their toes. It'll prevent you from getting stabbed in the back. You do get some points for taking the initiative, though." Kakashi commented, still in that dry tone of voice that Sasuke was already beginning to hate.

He struck out with a backward-aimed leg sweep that Kakashi lazily dodged. However, that was fine, since it allowed him to get some room between him and his opponent. Hatake Kakashi was supposedly deadly at any range, but was especially deadly in close combat. Of course, that was where Sasuke was strongest as well, but even he wasn't confident enough to believe he could match a powerful ninja in the area they specialized in.

However, when he tried to move away and gain some space, he found his progress blocked by the man in question. Sasuke hadn't even seen the man move. One moment the man was dodging, the next he was simply somewhere else. The man's speed made him completely impossible for Sasuke to follow.

"You keep stopping whenever I do something that you haven't planned for. Why? I could have killed you about thirty times between the sweep and when you realized where I was. Why make yourself even more vulnerable? Think on your feet, already."

Sasuke eyed the man warily, and came to the conclusion that he needed to put a little more thought into engaging this opponent. Going into the fight, he had known the man probably outclassed him, but he hadn't expected it to this degree. The man hadn't even thrown a punch yet. Nor had he needed to, Sasuke realized with chagrin. Only two or three moves into the fight, and it was terribly obvious that he had been far too overconfident.

"By the way, you should probably think about dodging right…now." Kakashi informed him.

He blinked in confusion for a moment, and then threw himself violently forward. Another of the spears…well, arrows, if Kakashi had told the truth, slammed into the ground only a few inches from where he had been standing. In his rush to attack Kakashi, he'd forgotten about his other opponent and had wandered out of cover. He tried to dash back towards the safety of the chimney, only to be blocked by Kakashi. The man looked up from his book and had the gall to smile at him. Well, it was probably a smile, considering that he couldn't see anything but the man's eyes.

"Well, what are you planning to do now, hmm? Pinned down in the open with an unbeatable enemy blocking the only cover? Not a lot of choices here. You should probably think fast. Ejiki can get four or five shafts in the air at the same time when he's at the top of his game. Better come up with something imaginative!" Kakashi said, and Sasuke swore he saw the ninja's eye twinkle.

"No one is unbeatable!" Sasuke growled, angry at the man's mirth. His eyes scanned the surroundings for any advantage. He needed something, anything that would let him get out Ejiki's line of fire.

"Yeah. And that starts with you, pretty boy. The way you're acting right now, I don't even have to put down my book. Good thing, too. It's getting to the good part, and I'd hate to put it down. Yuki and Tomoe are about to… Well, you're probably too young to enjoy it." Kakashi answered, excitement for once rising in his dry voice.

Sasuke knew he had two broad paths of action. One was to run. That wasn't a terribly attractive choice. Kakashi, if the rumors about his mastery of the Sharingan were true, was one of the few people who could bust their plan wide open. The last thing they needed was Kakashi running all over town. And more importantly, running would be highly embarrassing. Uchiha didn't run from their opponents. And he certainly wouldn't run from a man who was pretending to be one of his own lofty clan.

The other choice was to attack. Sasuke wasn't quite convinced that that would be tantamount to suicide, but he still would undoubtedly lose. Even if Ejiki wasn't lobbing arrows at him, Kakashi… might… beat… him. He simply didn't have enough room to maneuver and time to plan. This fight just wasn't fair. And while that would be less embarrassing than running, he really didn't consider the two to be all that much different. Shame was still shame.

Of course, there was a third option, but it was so Naruto-like that he almost immediately rejected it. That was to do something so incredibly out there, so bizarre, that it would let him take out either Kakashi or Ejiki, or somehow give him an overpowering advantage over one of them. Or preferably both. Or maybe just dumbfound them long enough to come up with something much more solid. There was tremendous power in occasionally doing something unexpected and likely stupid, but it would require a great deal of luck to pull off. Sasuke wasn't quite sure if he was willing to debase himself in that fashion or to risk his chance at better training on luck alone, but the other two choices weren't exactly ideal either. If he was going to be embarrassed, it might as well accomplish something.

So he did the most embarrassing thing that he could think of.

Naruto was in the middle of a slight existential crisis. It wasn't the first one of these that he had experienced during his childhood. Generally, he spent his time asking himself why he existed at all. This time he was wondering if he himself existed at all. Either way, it was awkward. It was extremely hard to concentrate on the mission when one was trying to contemplate Life, the Universe, and Everything. Or at least as close as he could get to it.

In this case, some things were remarkable simple and clear-cut. Up until several hours ago, he'd been a fairly abnormal, yet still normal boy ninja. After that, however, he had become a clone. Well, 'become' was obviously not what had actually occurred. He had molded chakra and willed himself into existence… Or something. That was probably the most awkward part. He could distinctly remember measuring out just the right amount of chakra to create a clone that would last for several hours… and then the next moment he was receiving orders from himself? about what to do. Which was kind of silly. Of course he knew what he was planning to do and didn't need himself to tell him how to do it…?

It was enough to give him a headache, and it occupied him almost all the way from his drop-off point to near his goal. He at least had the presence of mind to keep up both his Henge, a young girl, and his secret weapon, the aptly named the It's-Not-Your-Business Technique.

It was a really didn't deserve a name of its own, considering it was really just a variation of the Emotion Projection Technique, but Ryoushi-sensei had been strangely insistent on it have a name for some reason. The technique harnessed people's ability to ignore things that didn't concern them. It wasn't like invisibility jutsu that could completely hide a ninja from view, even in complete daylight. Those kinds of techniques required obscene amounts of chakra and incredible control over it. The It's-Not-Your-Business Technique simply encouraged people to not pay attention, and required only small amounts of chakra and basic control.

However, the whole idea behind the technique had been a surprisingly difficult thing for Naruto to grasp, due to the fact that he took pride in being interested in everything that happened in the village. He wasn't particularly good at channeling apathy. The idea that people might want to be completely oblivious to anything around them seemed incredibly wrong to him. So many interesting things were always happening, why take a chance and miss them?

He wandered more or less freely across the business district that led to the West Gate. The plan didn't require much speed. He simply had to make it across town unnoticed. So he played the part of an (highly) absent-minded shopper. He's spend half-an-hour or so in one shop, then ten minutes in the next, then maybe a bit longer in the next, and slowly made his way towards the goal. He somehow instinctively could tell how much chakra he had left in his short existence, so he could guess pretty well how to pace himself. That in itself bugged him, as he found it highly unpleasant to be constantly reminded that his life was slowly and surely coming to an end.

Thoughts of his own mortality aside, he had no problems moving across town. Sakura and Sasuke seemed to be providing decent distractions for possible pursuers, as well as his… original… he supposed it was, though he loathed to call him that. As far as he was concerned, he was just as much of the original as the… original… was…

Within about three hours, he had made it to near the plaza before the West Gate. The road leading to the gate itself was relatively long and narrow, but opened out to a much larger plaza. In one Iruka-ni-san's more boring lectures, he had taught them all about the layout of the village. The two major gates were both designed the same: to funnel enemies into a killing field should the gates ever be breached. It was largely a coincidence that the same plaza that was meant to serve as a killing field also made an excellent space for Konoha's biggest outdoor market. And by the time Naruto entered, business was in full swing.

The plaza was filled with both ninjas and civilians, all hurrying from merchant to merchant looking for the best deals or the better product. Exotic food and clothing vendors, weapon smiths, furniture dealers, perfume sellers, snake oil salesmen all were hawking their products to anyone who would listen, and to those who would not, just for good measure. Naruto had often visited the market on his days off. The blend of excited activity and the exotic drew him and every other child in the city like flies to honey. If there was any place that he could move around relatively unhindered, it would be here. Any opposing ninja would have to be insane to attack him surrounded by such a crowd.

He moved with a little bit more urgency, doing his best to wind his way through the crowd. He could sense that his chakra reserves were becoming low. Unfortunately, other than near the West Gate he didn't really have an idea of where Ibiki-sensei was. The entire area was technically part of the gate. He needed to find his teacher and give him the scroll before he ran out of chakra and di-… ceased to be. The gate itself was the most likely place where he would be waiting. Maybe even outside the Couriers' office. In fact that made a lot of sense. Most messages that passed in and out of the village went through there anyway.

With that thought in mind, he headed for the office. It was located right inside the gate next to the customs office. And within moment, to his great relief, he could see Ibiki-sensei, standing right outside the office. He was tempted to just drop the Henge and run, but common sense prevailed. This was also the perfect spot for a trap. That didn't stop him from quickening his pace just a little. A young girl could send and receive messages like anyone else, after all.

Ibiki-sensei seemed to recognize him by sight, despite his Henge and genjutsu, which was a bit worrying. However, Naruto realized with a giggle that this Henge was almost exactly the same as the one he had used when he had pranked his teacher's office. Just for fun, he added a little roll to his step, and slowly winked. He almost burst out laughing when he saw Ibiki-sensei began to blush.

He didn't laugh when the man dispelled him with a kunai to the stomach.

"That was a bit mean," Ibiki commented when he exited the office after using the bathroom, "If you hadn't have done that, they would have won. However that clone got here, it took some skill. Though I suppose, it would lose points for not verifying the identity of the client," He bent over and picked up the scroll the now dispelled clone had dropped.

"Or for not expecting treachery," said the man, dropping his own Henge.

Ibiki nodded, consenting the man's point. "Either way, it still was mean."

"Consider it a bit of a revenge prank," said the Third Hokage, with a serene smile

Greetings once again, I suppose. I'm really bad at this regularly updating thing, aren't I? This chapter has largely sat about 4/5ths unfinished on my hard drive for about 5 or 6 months to be honest. I've spent a great deal of time just pulling it out and looking at it, then putting it away and looking at it again a few weeks later.

This chapter suffers mostly from unepicness. I spent a lot of time trying to think of ways to make what they do cool or awesome. In the end I couldn't justify it. This exercise just shows that they really aren't that great at what they do, and a few weeks of training isn't going to magically cause them to be honest. Because in real life, things take time and hard work. And our Moron trio haven't put enough of either in yet. Not that I'm trying to be super realistic about whats going on here. Gah, realistic and Naruto don't even deserve to be in the same universe together.

I guess I'm complaining that I wanted to write something EPIC, and then didn't. Oh well. Anyway, See ya next time! (Hopefully more recent than you know…a year or so in the future.)