Disclaimer: I don't own crap. Not Naruto, not any anime, nothing.
The Way Things Were
Naruto fell out of the bed and hit the floor with a grunt.
The last couple of days had been hell on him. Screw that, the last couple weeks had been worse than hell in every possible way.
First, Ryuu made Naruto take up his weights again. Then, he changed up the routine and lessened then weight on his arms and further increased the weight on his legs. He was down to 20 kilos on his arms and and up to 50 on his legs. Then, after a week, he increased the weight on his legs, yet again, to 60 kilos.
On top of all of that, Naruto had to continue with the tree climbing exercise. After doing it for the first day, he'd almost had the hang of it. But with the addition to his now even heavier weights, it was like backtracking.
He'd had to fight even harder to control his chakra and maintain the right amount with the increased weight.
After he'd finally managed to get the exercise down, his team was immediately thrown into the grinder, so to speak. They were drilled in everything the knew and pushed to their limits numerous times.
Genjutsu had been the first area they tackled. And although Naruto still could not use the illusionary skills, he at least got to the point where he could recognize and dispel mid to lower level genjutsu.
Next had been taijutsu and endurance training. It was almost like double punishment for the blonde. His body would take an incredible amount of strain before it would finally give out. Even then, he would far outlast both of his teammates. After the first day, Kurenai would have them spar two on one to judge their skills and abilities when the odds were stacked against them.
It was at this point that it was Hinata's turn to shine. She continued her training with her father once she had returned and it seemed that he was pushing the girl even harder. After a while, her progress seemed to abate his temper and he began to be social with her again. The extra training with her father had increased her capability with her doujutsu and increased her speed.
Naruto and Shino were forced to improve or be left behind.
Lastly, they covered ninjutsu. Although Kurenai refused to delve too deeply in any one category, she did teach them a few stealth ninjutsu and how to mask their presence.
While they trained together, they always had supervision. It was one of the few things that reassured all of them, especially Hinata, that nothing too serious would happen.
When their team training was done, Hinata would sometimes ask to watch Naruto continue his night time training with Ryuu.
The girl was amazed at the amount of abuse he took. Ryuu's version of taijutsu and endurance training seemed like little more than an excuse to pound Naruto into the ground. She was amazed that Naruto seemed to take it in stride and improve even more. His stamina was already high to begin with, but with his special 'training'...
Other times, they would work on chakra control. They would do the basic control technique that they were taught in the academy; spinning a leaf on their forehead with just chakra. Tree climbing was also included, but there were variants that Ryuu liked to use. Performing sprints up and down the tree, walking around the trunk in a spiral pattern from the base to the top and even walking on all fours.
Lastly, they would meditate. Hinata could tell that meditation days were Naruto's least favorite. He would get in position and sit still for all of about three minutes before he began to twitch and squirm. She couldn't help but smile at that. He still had problems sitting still. Even though things seemed to change drastically over the last few months, it was good to see that some things stayed the same.
On very rare occasions Hinata would ask to join in on the training. Ryuu would look at her for a few moments before slowly nodding. Despite her protests, he would always tone down the workouts for Hinata. She tried to convince Naruto's mentor that she was strong enough. Yet the few times she actually kept pace with Naruto's workouts, she was exhausted within an hour of starting.
Hinata knew the boy was strong, but actually taking part of his normal regiment took too much out of her. After her first few experiences, she allowed Ryuu to take it slightly easier on her as to not hurt her or push her past the brink of exhaustion too soon.
Ryuu had told her that working hard was fine. Being tired was good after a strenuous workout. But being exhausted past the point that you couldn't even walk was bad and if she continued to push herself too far too fast that she would burn herself out. That was not how to improve.
Things continued as per norm for a few weeks. Training, a slight down period, more training with Naruto or her father and then she would retire for the night. Even though she would be extremely tired when she would go to sleep, Hinata couldn't help but feel satisfied.
And after each and every day, Hinata would vow to do it all again. For the sake of getting stronger.
Team 8 was waiting in their usual training area for their sensei when a screech gained their attention.
Flying high above the forest, in large circles, was a hawk. Each of the genin paused for a moment, looking at the bird in the sky, before they focused their attention back on each other. Naruto looked at Shino for a moment before the boy nodded and pushed away from the tree he was leaning on.
They all knew Kurenai-sensei would be late.
Konohagakure used several birds of prey as signals. Each raptor meant something entirely different. Hawks were for used for high priority meetings for those who held the rank of chuunin or higher. Attendance was always mandatory within five minutes of the signal going out. Kites were used for lower priority meetings for those who held the rank of chuunin or jounin. Things were fine as long as a shinobi of chuunin or jounin rank reported in within the hour of seeing the signal. There was a small bit of leeway when a signal of lower priority was used, but tardiness was generally looked down upon. The last signal was the most dire. The use of an eagle was something only used in times of conflict or war. When an eagle was used, it meant that either an attack force was going to be launched or the forces stationed within the village during an invasion would start the counterattack immediately upon seeing the signal.
Even then, the raptors were only used for mass meetings. If the Hokage wished to speak with a select few individuals, he would have them summoned via chuunin messengers.
Naruto slowly made his way out to the center of the training area and looked over at Hinata. The girl was watching as the hawk disappeared beyond her normal line of sight. She sighed before turning her attention to her two male teammates.
"W-what should w-we do?"
Naruto looked over to Shino and then back at Hinata, "Well...Kurenai-sensei will be a while, so we should continue our training."
Shino merely nodded before stepping next to Naruto.
"It's your turn this time, right Hinata-chan?"
The small Hyuuga girl nodded slightly, but still seemed to hesitate.
"Y-yes...but, I don't know if we should-"
"Nah, don't worry about it Hinata-chan! We'll be fine, right Shino?"
"Yes. We would be wasting time if we did not take this opportunity to improve ourselves even when our instructor is absent."
"See Hinata-chan? Shino agrees too! We'll be careful. We know you can do it."
Hinata sighed again as she slowly got up and walked out onto the training field. She was still really hesitant to continue their training without adult supervision. Flashes of what happened several months ago after their D-rank mission to clean the hot springs were a constant reminder that she could hurt her friends and teammates. She didn't want to hurt either of them...especially Naruto-kun.
Hinata paused and looked at the two boys in front of her. Naruto was grinning at her while Shino merely nodded. She hesitantly nodded back before running through a few hand signs and activating her Byakugan. She slowly eased into her stance and tried to put her mind at ease.
After a few moments of nothing happening, Hinata quickly dodged to the left as a small mass of kikaichu flew out of the shadows of a nearby tree. She was further pressed to defend herself when Naruto sped in front of her and began to go through the motions of trying to hit her. Hinata, despite his best efforts, was able to nimbly dodge and counter all of his strikes before he was forced back by her opening attack.
Hinata took his withdrawal as a sign to press forward. She continued her attack for a few moments before side stepping and rotating away from another swarm of Shino's companions. In mid-spin, she was able to locate Shino and immediately start toward him once her maneuver was complete. However, she was only able to take a few steps before she was, once again, forced back by Naruto.
Naruto followed through with various different combo attacks that were designed to keep the target off balance. And though he was trying his best, Hinata was able to counter everything he threw at her with ease. Hinata had the advantage in knowing his fighting style and his various attacks. Naruto, however, had no such advantage over her. The training she went through under her father's guidance was considered private. Although they still spar on a regular basis, Naruto was never able to see Hinata when she was first learning a different technique that dealt with her taijutsu.
Hinata easily deflected Naruto's last attack and used his momentum against him. Naruto was sent stumbling forward as Hinata turned her sights on Shino. She charged her silent teammate, but shifted to her left when she saw him raise his right hand. She once again had to dodge when he raised his left hand and specifically pointed at her. The Hyuuga girl realized the first time he moved his hand was merely a setup. Shino's kikaichu quickly followed after the girl and seemingly had her surrounded before they struck.
After a few moments, Hinata was replaced by a small log. Shino shifted to his left and ducked as his female teammate came from his right shoulder. He seemed to nod slightly to her before stepping back once more. Hinata was quickly closing the gap when she was again interrupted by Naruto. Although, this time, he didn't look all too pleased.
Hinata frowned slightly as she realized that he was feeling left out. If there was one thing Naruto disliked more than anything, it was being ignored. And she had ignored him for a small while while she focused on trying to get to Shino. She quickly stepped back and assumed her stance again.
She looked over both of her teammates before shifting her position slightly...getting ready to launch onto the offensive once again.
"You can't be serious! What are you thinking nominating a rookie team, barely out of the academy, for the chuunin exams! It is nothing short of suicide for those kids!"
"Clearly you haven't seen the amount of hard work they've put in the last few months. Nor have you seen the potential each of them have when on the field. A restricted and enclosed environment, like the academy, will only hinder their progress."
"I have known each of these kids for four years! I would think that I know-"
The scarred academy teach froze mid rant as he turned to look who called out it him.
Kakashi did not seem very pleased at the prospect of being called out on one of his decisions.
"You know better than anyone the amount of talent that this last graduating class possessed. Why do you doubt your students now? They have been working together...working hard with each other to earn the right to be recognized."
"But...they're still children! There are some chuunin exam applicants that are several years older than they are!"
"And yet, those older examinees hold nowhere near the amount of skill or potential that these kids do. The only thing they will have over them is experience. Would you deny our younger shinobi a chance to gain that experience? A chance to see what it is truly like in the shinobi world?"
"Couldn't you at least wait one more year? Gai-san waited until he believed that his students were ready before he allowed them to participate."
"I'm not Gai, but I do believe that my students are ready now. Do you really have that little faith?"
Iruka paused and sighed before shaking his head. The jounin instructor for Team 7 had a point, no matter how badly he disagreed with it. He did know what his students were capable of in a sheltered environment, true, but he felt that they stood little chance against rigors and trials of the chuunin exam. He, himself, had taken the exam twice before he had managed to pass. The first time in the exams was an eye opening experience.
"You're using this exam as an excuse to knock them off whatever high horse you believe they are riding on, aren't you?"
Kakashi scratched the side of his masked face slightly as he contemplated his answer. He knew that he couldn't say no without looking like a liar, but he really did have faith in his team.
"Yes, I will admit that this will serve as a drastic eye opener for two of my students. It will be a learning experience to be sure. But I want them to have a challenge as well. Sasuke and Kiba performed very well on their first C-Rank mission. They did exactly as they were trained to do and were able to execute a perfect strategy to take out the bandits terrorizing the cities just inside the border. I have faith that they will do just as well in the chuunin exams."
Iruka took in what the silver haired elite had said before looking back at him, "And what of Sakura? So far, you have only mentioned two of your students."
Kakashi sighed, "She is doing...poorly. She feels herself a burden to both her teammates, which in itself is a problem. Sakura was able to perform well on her first C-Rank, as well as Sasuke and Kiba had. But she was helping individuals on the back line and helping to get any civilians out of harms way. She sees herself as nothing but a supporting character to both Sasuke and Kiba, who are the main force of the team."
"And you aren't worried at all that she might cause a problem for her two teammates?"
With the way Kakashi's eyes rose, you could tell he was smiling.
"Actually, I believe that Kiba and Sasuke will both come to understand just how much supportive roles can mean in combat. Sakura gives herself too little credit and Sasuke too much credit. However, when push comes to shove, I believe that both boys will come to see what benefits she can bring to the table."
Iruka sighed again and nodded. Kakashi had calmly and methodically picked apart every single reason he had thrown at him. He truly did believe in his team and what they could accomplish.
"Now, if that is all, are there any more nominations that wish to be made?"
Naruto and Shino stood off to the side as they watched Hinata trying to catch her breath. They had been sparring for a while now and the girl was winded. Of course, anyone would be winded after fighting a two front battle for a little more than an hour.
The girl needed a few moments to recover before they went on to their team cool down exercises. Shino's breathing was slightly labored as well, but no where near Hinata. Naruto, on the other hand, stood there and watched both of his teammates while he was breathing easily.
At first, during their team spars when Shino first noticed Naruto's lack of exhaustion, he had become intrigued. The Aburame boy had then asked Hinata if she had any idea of what Naruto did in his spare training time since the Hyuuga girl had known Naruto for the longest.
He was shocked to hear what kind of training Naruto was undertaking outside their own team exercises. He had then asked Hinata for how long this had been going on, and was once again surprised when she told him that Naruto's side regiment had been going on for close to six years. Shino knew that the blonde was good, that much was obvious from his bouts against Uchiha Sasuke in the academy. But the effort Naruto put forth in the actual classroom setting was dismal at best compared to when the class had to step outside for particular exercises. Naruto was still a slight mystery to Shino, but the black haired boy was beginning to understand where exactly Naruto was coming from.
Naruto had seemed to start out slowly during most of the exercises they did together, but after a few days he began to get the hang of them. He was now quite proficient at doing any of the exercises their teacher had given them. Naruto learned by experience and seeing, not by someone telling him what to do.
While other shinobi might consider that a flaw, Shino had seen what Naruto could do after only showing him something one or two times. He could come up with counters and various other strategies after seeing a move or technique only a few times. Not to mention, if one or more of his Kage Bunshin were able to see something the same time as Naruto, he could come up with ideas and counters even quicker.
Shino was brought out of his musings by a slight sound above him. He looked up from the tree he was resting against as was able to see their sensei sitting on the branch lowest to the ground.
"I'm sorry that the meeting I was in took so long, but I have some important news."
Kurenai seemed to disappear and reappeared in the middle of the clearing in front of all her students. She paused for a moment before withdrawing a few pieces of parchment that were stashed away on her person. She motioned for each of her students to come and take what she held out to them before smiling at them.
"Those forms that you now hold are your applications for the chuunin exams that are coming up in a few days. There were a few debates about whether or not you three were ready or not, but they were settled rather quickly."
Shino nodded, Naruto grinned and Hinata shyly looked up at the rest of her team. Naruto seemed to notice her slight hesitation and clasped one of his hands over hers before smiling kindly at her.
"You'll be just fine Hinata-chan. After all, you were able to give me and Shino a really hard time today! You'll do great in the exams!"
Hinata blushed at the slight contact and the smile he had given her before looking back down at the paper clutched between her hands and nodding. She had done really well today, at least in her opinion. She had managed to catch Shino off his guard a few times and was able to completely shut down Naruto. And Naruto was now openly showing his faith and support for her. If Naruto thought she could do it, then she believed that she could as well.
"Now that that is settled, the exams will take place in three days. You will have to meet up as a team in front of the academy with all your forms signed and ready to go before you will be admitted." Kurenai paused and looked at the three young adults in front of her before smiling softly, "I have faith in all of you. You have done very well these past few months. You have also far surpassed any expectations that I had for you. You are all more than ready for this. But please, be careful. This will not be as easy as you think Naruto."
Naruto paused in inner rejoice and looked at his sensei with confusion.
"Many people older than you will be in this exam. Many of them have seen things far worse than any of you. Always be on your guard, always stay together, always work together and always believe in each other. If you approach this as a tight knit team, you will pass with flying colors. Those gennin who do not work together as a team will most certainly fail...and if the odds are against them, they will die."
All three gennin seemed to pause for a moment and looked at one another before nodding.
Shino was the first to stick his hand out, "We will watch out for each other. Why? Because that is what teammates do."
Naruto grinned before putting his hand on top of Shino's hand, "We'll make sure to beat this thing together! No one will tear us apart!"
Hinata looked at her two teammates hands for a moment before shyly reaching her hand out and clasping it on top of Naruto's hand, "A-and we'll make sure t-to never question each o-other. We will always s-support and have f-faith in one another."
Kurenai smiled before putting her hand in with the pile, "And I will look forward to seeing all of you do the best that you can. Remember, that as long as you do your best, and stick together, that anything is possible."
"Yea!" Naruto suddenly broke the small huddle by throwing his hands up in the air, causing Shino to snort slightly and Hinata to giggle.
"We won't have any missions as a team for the next few days, but I would like for us to meet up here and continue on our team building exercises. Nothing too strenuous will take place because you will need to be in top shape for the exams. I want all of you to rest and prepare. Until then, you three are dismissed."
Naruto nodded once before seeming to disappear into the forest. Shino calmly walked away as well, headed back home to explain the situation to his parents. Hinata paused for a moment before waving at Kurenai and also taking her leave.
Kurenai had a smile on her face until her three students were out of sight. As soon as they were, the smile dropped and she sighed. She brought a hand to her forehead and slowly began to rub it.
"Was this the right thing to do? I believe they are ready...but what if one of them gets hurt?" Kurenai pause for a moment before shaking her head, "It will do no good to question everything now. I can only make sure that they are as best prepared for this as they can be."
Three days had come and gone for the eager gennin. Naruto was more than ready to deal with whatever was thrown at him. Including Konohamaru. The boy had managed to snag Naruto a few times and begged Naruto to teach him something or play ninja tag. Naruto reluctantly agreed just to get some kind of action seeing as how the team meetings the last three days had been torture for him, as they had involved little to no actual training. Kurenai debriefed them on what the exams were like, but had warned them that every exam was different due to different proctors being in charge.
Shino and Hinata seemed to pay rapt attention to anything their sensei would say, while Naruto would half pay attention and half daydream about what the exams would be like. A few times, Naruto would be snapped out of his musings and daydreams by a slight pinch to his arm or a small rock hitting anywhere on his body. He would rub the back of his head in embarrassment, but no more than five minutes later, go back to his previous thoughts.
After three days of this routine, Naruto was bursting with energy and excitement. He had already met up with Hinata and the two of them were on their way to meet Shino out in front of the academy. Naruto was asking Hinata questions at a mile a minute, leaving the poor girl flustered and somewhat confused since he seemed to jump to completely random topics.
Soon, the academy building and Shino came into view. The boys nodded at each other and Hinata gave Shino a shy smile before the team went into the building and turned in their application forms.
They slowly made their way upstairs before being forced to stop by a large crowd. Several people had stopped at the door labeled 301 and were arguing with two boys that looked younger than most of them. The funny part was the two boys were holding anyone back and acting like no one had a shot at successfully completing the Chuunin Exams.
Naruto scratched his head for a moment before he felt a slight tap on his shoulder. He looked over to see Hinata pointing to a second set of stairs. He looked to Shino to see the boy nod slightly and shrugged before all three teammates simply bypassed and the crowd and continued to walk upstairs.
One of the two kids blocking the way noticed and seemed to smirk slightly. This was before he was forced to focus his attention on a certain loud Inuzuka and smirking Uchiha.
Naruto, Hinata and Shino seemed to pause for a moment at a set of double doors that lead to the upstairs auditorium in the academy. There was a dull roar on the other side that they could each make out. Numerous people were talking and shuffling about in the next room.
All three paused for a moment before looking at each other. Shino was the first to slowly withdraw his hand and place it on the middle of the double doors. Naruto was next as he pumped his fist before setting his other hand on Shino's. Hinata shyly put her hand on both of her teammates and they all pushed for a moment.
The door quickly opened revealing a huge space behind. Almost the entire area was covered was various teams that had come to Konoha to participate in the exams. Every nation had at least one team participating. Hinata noticed a team that were wearing Kumo hitai-ate and shuggle behind Naruto quietly to put some kind of boundary between then team and herself.
Naruto looked at her slightly confused for a moment before getting rudely shoved out of the way by Ino. Almost immediately he could hear twin shrieks coming from behind them and moved away from the door with Hinata and Shino in tow. He really didn't want to listen to Sakura and Ino bicker back and forth over Sasuke. In face, he really didn't want to see Sasuke either.
Team 8 shuffled off to the side and watched what was happening between teams 7 and 10. Shikamaru and Chouji didn't seem to care much about what was going on. Kiba was nursing a slight red mark on his face, seeing as how he had probably insulted either Ino or Sakura. Sasuke had his head turned and his body language was very tense. And of course, Ino and Sakura were in each others face yelling.
After a few moments, an older teenager wearing a Konoha hitai-ate shuffled over and warned them to be quiet. At least, that was what Naruto had heard. He also heard that the other silver-haired gennin was named Kabuto. Kabuto motioned to the center of the room as if to make a point.
Everyone had stopped and was staring at the two teams fighting by the doors. Some of them looking amused and others looking very annoyed. Naruto saw Shino shake his head slightly from the corner of his eye and he could see that Hinata was somewhat embarrassed for the other two teams. She was looking down at the ground and awkwardly playing with her feet.
Kabuto had pulled a stack of cards out of nowhere, it seemed, and began to talk in a more quiet voice about what was happening. Naruto was having a hard time hearing things at this point and simply turned his attention back on the rest of the room. He smirked to himself as he saw many of the other teams also scoping out what kind of competition they would have.
He was trying to pick out what he thought would be a decent target to start with when there was a loud noise back by the door. Team 8 quickly looked over to what had happened and saw a heavily bandaged boy with his arm outstretched and Kabuto on the ground. The bandaged boys two teammates stood behind him smirking at the silver-haired gennin on the ground.
There was a short pause after some heated words were passed between the people at the door before the doors on the opposite side of the room slammed open. Several eruptions of smoke also occurred in time with the doors and soon the entire room was staring at what they could only assume was an interrogation squad. The leader was extremely scarred and had his headband covering the full crown of his head. Naruto made note to ask Ryu about this guy if he had the chance later.
"Alright you inscents, shut up! If I see any kind of physical contact with the intent to harm made in this room on the next room again, you're dead! I'm Morino Ibiki, proctor of the first exam!"
All the gennin seemed to freeze at the high amount of killing intent that suddenly flooded the room.
"Now all of you follow me and do as I say, or you'll be disqualified immediately! Now approach the door and pick a number!"
Each of the teams in the room seemed to flow towards the scarred man and slowly disappeared into the room behind him. After a while, Naruto was able to see what was going on. He could see another large chamber behind Ibiki. It looked like a larger version of the normal academy class rooms.
Soon he and his team were spread out around the room. Naruto was sitting in the dead middle of the room, Shino was two rows behind him and three seats to the left while Hinata was one row in front of him and two seats to the right.
"Alright maggots! Listen up! This is a written exam!" A series of groans could be heard from throughout the room, "Shut up! This exam consists of ten questions."
Ibiki turned his back and proceeded to write on the board the rules of the exam.
Naruto could feel his stomach drop as he slowly read the rules:
Rule #1: This is a team test. All teams will have to score above 20 to pass. Each team member had a possible total of 10 points.
Rule #2: 10 points are given at the start of the test. Each time you are caught cheating, two points will be deducted from your total of 10 points.
Rule #3: If any teammate is disqualified, the remaining two teammates will immediately fail.
Rule #4: The 10th question will be given after 50 minutes into the exam. The exam lasts for one hour.
Ibiki turned to look at his audience again for a moment after having verbally explaining the rules as he was writing them down.
"Are there any questions?" Several hands shot up and he looked around the room, "No? Then too bad!"
Several hands dropped and several more people seemed to deflate a little.
"The proctors that are sitting at the ends of your rows will be watching. If you get caught cheating five times, you will automatically fail!"
Ibiki pulled out a cloak and wrote the start time on the board as well.
A/N: Sorry for the long wait, I've been busy with a lot of other issues. A lot of what is discussed in the earlier part of the chapter is mere assumption.
I've really had issues getting to this point. I have a lot of ideas on what to do past the second part of the chuunin exams, but getting there is showing to be harder than I thought at first. But this is my rendition on what is going to happen. Enjoy!