Waa~! I got this out in time for the 1-year anniversary! ... Wow, this is crazy. I've had this fic for 1 whole year? Amazing. 60000+ words, too. I'm stunned. I honestly never thought that I'd be able to write this much before.

This one took so long because of the Forest of Death. It was horrendous to write... I told you I don't do action scenes well. Anyway, this chapter finishes up the Forest of Death (finally!) and starts on the preliminary exam.

OH! And as a BONUS (for waiting so long and the 1-year anniversary), I have added 2 omakes (extras). I had so much fun writing it. Hope you like them.

By the way, I am revising the first chapters. Now that I look back at them, they are good, but not up to my current high standards. So I am revising them. I already posted the first three chapters... so if you have time--after reading this chapter and reviewing, of course--please go back and read the first three chapters, and tell me how I'm doing! The plot is different from the original... I'd love to hear how the new chapters are. I truly think that they totally rock, in comparison to the old ones... but since I wrote them, I guess I can't say anything. Tell me how it is! (Warning: there may be some inconsistencies with the new chapters and the old chapters... but please be patient! They'll be fixed when I do the new chapters.)

I will try to update sooner next time--not months for a time. Really. :)

Hope you enjoy it more than me when I was stuck on the first part. :)

Team 7 raced against the clock as they dashed through the forest. It was the fifth day now; after the Sound fight they had taken two extra days to rest. It had definitely been cutting it close, but it was necessary. Naruto, having used the cursed seal, had been exhausted and unable to move, much to his chagrin. The others had said nothing, because it wouldn't have been good to show anything that seemed the slightest like pity; but instead, they dragged him off under their temporary shelter and forced him to rest.

And two days later, like Sasuke and Sakura had expected, Naruto was back to normal.

"How long does it take to get to the tower?" Sakura asked her blond-haired teammate. Regardless of her change, she still held a crush—smaller, but nevertheless a crush—on Naruto.

Naruto didn't answer for a couple of seconds. "I'm not sure," he answered finally. "But it shouldn't take longer than a day. We'll make the deadline if we're careful and we don't get into any meaningless fights."

Adding onto the conversation, Sasuke said, "Although, the other teams who haven't reached the tower yet will also be heading towards there right now. We have to be extra careful to not run into them."

Nodding slightly, Naruto added yet another thing. "And it won't be just the teams that already have both scrolls. There will also be teams that will have only one or neither of the scrolls, and they'll also be heading towards the tower to try to run into a team with both or more scrolls to get theirs."

Silent, Sakura frowned. They made it sound so hard when they said it like that, but their tone betrayed nothing. Utterly blank. She doubted that she could do that, and, sighing mentally, she told herself yet once again that she had a lot of catching up to do.

It was a silent journey as Team 7 traveled. Occasionally, Sakura, the chatterbox of the group, would try to strike up a conversation; but more often than not it ended in silence. It was almost depressing, really. Mentally wishing that someone friendly—even that Ino-pig—was here with her, Sakura followed her teammates towards the towering spire in the distance.

"I told you," Naruto muttered sourly.

"But," Sakura's voice faltered, "I'm sure this was the way to the tower. Could we have taken a wrong turn?"

Their third teammate, Sasuke, said nothing, instead staring at the tower in the distance that hadn't gotten any closer the last three hours of traveling. It was a genjutsu, no doubt about it, not traveling directions; but the question was the caster.

Genjutsu was only limited to the imagination of the user, but the time and span of the genjutsu were what taxed the user. If they had used this constantly for the last three hours or more, either they had a massive amount of stamina or crazy. Although it was possible for a genjutsu to be continued by another person, in a Genin exam, he very much doubted that would happen.

He needed to take down this person quickly. After all, time was of the essence.

But he could always use his Sharingan, too and just lead them to the tower…

Ah, no. That wouldn't work. They wouldn't believe or follow him, for one, and two, genjutsu affected not only sight but also the other four senses. Even if he led them, they'd feel like they were walking through trees and bushes and etcetera.

Sasuke stopped suddenly and stretched, yawning. His other two teammates stopped as well, glancing back at him incredulously.

"What are you doing?" hissed Naruto, irritated already from the genjutsu.

"We can't stop now," urged Sakura.

"But Sakura-chan," Sasuke whined, "I'm so tired."

Staring at him, both Naruto and Sakura could hardly believe their eyes. A minute before, he'd been forcing them to go as hard as they could—not a hint of this lethargic attitude before.

Naruto's carefully guarded eyes bored into him, and Sasuke met the gaze silently. Play along for now, his eyes read.

Then it hit him. Sasuke had already found the genjutsu caster's position.

Although bitterness stung at him for not catching the caster before the dobe, Naruto nodded once and turned to Sakura. "Let's stop for a little bit," he said.

"Right," Sakura agreed. She knew when she had to obey orders, and currently Naruto's tone screamed for obedience.

Then turning to Sasuke, Naruto said, "How long will this take?" but in his eyes, he said something completely different: Fine, I'll let you find those enemy nin. Hurry up so that we can fight them and get to the tower.

"Saa, I don't know," Sasuke replied easily. I have a plan already. "I'm really tired!"

"Why don't we rest in the trees?" Sakura suddenly asked, and the two boys turned to her, surprised. Turning defensive, she frowned. "What? We can see any enemies that might approach!"

I thought that she'd found their hiding places, Sasuke thought, relieved. They're hiding in three trees—three different enemies. One's casting, but the other two are watching closely, waiting for a chance to pounce down on us. "Good thought, Sakura-chan!" And with ease, he jumped into a tree behind him—the one "coincidentally" adjacent to the genjutsu caster's. They're startled at this, he thought. They don't know what to do. Move, and risk being heard, or stay and risk being seen? Perfect.

"Why don't you come up here with me, Sakura-chan?" Sasuke begged.

"Of course not, you baka!" Sakura shot back before she even realized what she was saying. "Or…" she stuttered, but was silenced at the unspoken approval at her words.

Keep it normal, Sasuke's gaze read. A smug expression came to his face. I'll easily defeat them. But it left his face as another thought came to his mind. These nins are waiting for us to become weak from traveling—then they'll attack. If I knew kage bunshin, then I could trick them with it—He frowned, and then after a moment's thought, a plan came to mind.

He could always just attack now and catch them off-guard, too.

I'll do that, he decided. I don't really care if Naruto or Sakura fight, but I'm sick of this forest. Getting to the tower as quickly as possible is the best option right now. Furthermore, he thought as his mood lightened considerably, In the trees I can unleash my full potential.

He supposed that he'd never been so reckless before, but at this moment, he couldn't have cared less.

Naruto jerked his head up as he heard the sounds of fighting suddenly break out, and swore lightly. The dobe had better not done anything stupid! He thought as he jumped swiftly into the trees and prepared to fight as well.

But it seemed that Sasuke had not noticed him approaching, and what beheld his eyes utterly stupefied him.

Sasuke—Sasuke, that dead last!—was fighting with more power than he'd ever seen him have before. His taijutsu—for that was the only thing he was doing at the moment—was… flawless.

Naruto had never seen this type of taijutsu before. It was a new type of taijutsu, or barely even taijutsu at all. It was in a whole category by itself. Sasuke was dodging in and out of the enemies' reach and their defense was easily twisted and slipped inside of.

Sasuke was dancing with the enemies.

But why did that make him see green?

Not wanting to be left out of the fighting, Naruto jumped in and caught one of the three nin off-guard. Flicking his wrist to catch the enemy's forearm, he twisted the arm around until a satisfying 'pop' was heard. The enemy gasped out in pain and surprise, but the blonde did not stop there.

Kicking a leg out and swiftly catching the enemy's legs, he tripped him—and the enemy fell backwards, having lost his balance. And with a thrust, Naruto threw him into the truck of a nearby tree, which their head bashed against and they lost consciousness.

He felt a tap on his shoulder and jumped, swirling around but coming face-to-face with not an enemy but instead Sasuke himself.

"Took you long enough," Sasuke smirked, bouncing a slightly bloodied but otherwise clean Heaven scroll in the air.

Naruto rolled his eyes. "I wasn't going all out, you know," he pointed out. "If I were, I'd have finished that guy off in no time at all."

"Sure," the other remarked sarcastically. "Let's get down before Sakura wonders what we're doing."

The black-haired boy turned to jump down, but Naruto grabbed onto his shoulder. Sasuke gave him a look of annoyance. "What?" he asked. "Are you scared of Sakura?"

It seemed the blond boy was undeterred by this caustic remark. "You never used to call her Sakura," he stated. "Why don't you call her 'Sakura-chan'?"

"What, want me to get her off your back?" Sasuke sneered.

"You've changed completely since we graduated—no, since the day of the exam. Why?" Naruto scrutinized the Uchiha's face for any sign of—well, anything—but it was in vain. Sasuke had the facial expression of a rock.

The only indication of emotion was the short pause from Sasuke, but he soon said, "Why not? Graduating is the day we all become adults, after all. Might as well start acting like it."

"It's not just that," Naruto argued. "You've changed in skill, too. You used to not be able to get the bunshin at all—but now, it's effortless for you. And at the Country of the Wave—and just now, too. What was that taijutsu stance you used?"

Sasuke averted his eyes. "It's nothing important. Something my otou-san taught me a long time ago."

"No," contradicted Naruto. "I've seen Uchihas fight, and I've never seen that stance before—"

"Don't you think they could have just hidden it from you?" Sasuke cut in a bit too quickly.

Giving him a strange look, Naruto continued. "But if you were taught it a long time ago, you wouldn't be able to reach the places you are supposed to reach. The hands are supposed to be able to stay at the height of the opponent's shoulder—and if you were younger, you wouldn't be able to reach those spots."

Sasuke was slightly impressed. "Apparently your otou-san taught you some observation skills," he said. "I was beginning to think that you didn't have any—you know, after all of those fangirls pining after you?"

Naruto scowled, but then launched another question as Sasuke was about to escape from the trees. "How do you know so much?" he demanded.

The other stared at him lazily. "What do you think?" he asked. "Don't you think that it's possible that I've been secretly training and hiding everything from the world? Isn't deception one of the most important lessons for shinobi?"

Naruto stared at Sasuke's back as the black-haired boy jumped down from the tree and began to talk hurriedly with Sakura—supposedly apologizing for ditching her. Deception? It was possible, wasn't it? This made sense, he thought. If Sasuke was really deceiving everyone… that was a frightening thought. But then he frowned. How could his teammate fool the ANBU that were for some reason or another constantly following him? He wasn't blind, after all; he'd seen the shinobi tracking his teammate. But that sprung another question into his mind: Now, why were there ANBU following him, anyway?

Too many questions, too few answers.

"I told you, we should have just swum across the river!" Naruto argued as he ran towards the tower with his other two teammates.

"I know, I know!" Sasuke snapped. "But there was a trap there, baka! Didn't you see that underwater trap?"

"I did, dobe, but we could have—"

"Don't even try to explain a way to get across that without taking more time that going around!" Sasuke interrupted.

Sakura wisely remained silent.

Unfortunately for her, the two other teammates—regardless of the somewhat quiet talk they'd had after they had defeated those enemies—had become more outspoken against each other. It could have been the heat that made them this way, but it was most likely just their differences. Sasuke was the furthest thing from Naruto she could think of; and yet, ironically, they complimented each other at the same time.

Well, she thought optimistically, we're almost at the tower.

She relished the thought of having another shower.

They landed at the front of the door and Sasuke pushed the door open. Thankfully, the thought of finally ending this five-day survival test silenced the two boys, and they all glanced inside cautiously. There was no telling what could be next.

It was large, spacious room with clean, tiled floors and a high ceiling. There was a large banner strung on the far wall, and on it were many kanji and characters. Kanji, she thought in disgust. It wasn't as if she couldn't read kanji, but it was sometimes a bit annoying to remember. "Let's see," she said aloud, assuming that Sasuke couldn't read kanji. "It says—"

"I know what it says," Sasuke cut in, as if he'd read her mind.

Surprised and a bit affronted, Sakura stopped her reading as they all individually scanned the banner. This is kind of a weird paragraph, she thought. Do the others get it? She risked a glance at her teammates, but their faces betrayed nothing. As always, she thought with disgust. It wouldn't hurt them to smile or frown at least once, you know.

"Let's open the scrolls," Sasuke suddenly announced. Taking out the Heaven scroll, he was about to open it—and his actions were mirrored by Naruto, who had taken out the Earth scroll as well as dropped the extra on the ground by his feet—when Sakura suddenly cut in.

"We aren't supposed to open it!" Sakura panicked.

Rolling his eyes at her, Naruto said, "The crazy snake lady said we could at the end, right?"

Sasuke nodded once, and suddenly Sakura felt very stupid and embarrassed. "Right," she muttered as the memory came to her.

Sasuke stared at her for a minute trying to decide whether to say something to make her feel better, but then decided against it. "Let's open them," he told Naruto, who nodded.

As soon as the paper opened, a sudden whoosh of smoke erupted from the scrolls. "Get back!" Naruto cried. "It's a summon for a person!"

Jumping back with alarm, the three watched cautiously as a shadow slowly formed in the billowing smoke. A Chuunin stepped out, and as he began to explain the reasons for the Heaven and Earth scrolls, Team 7 conveniently tuned him out—an especially useful skill they'd acquired in the Academy.

Because seriously, who wanted to listen to a lecture when they could be truly resting for the first time in five days?

As they entered the large room, Team 7 joined the group of other Genin who'd gathered there. Sasuke felt his throat run dry as his eyes darted around the place for any sign of Itachi. Some part of him was desperately wishing that he wouldn't be there—so he wouldn't lose his concentration—but the other part of him wished that aniki would be there. Again, he was reminded of his mixed feelings about his brother—no, could he even deserve to be called that? Itachi was one of the very few people who Sasuke could never fully figure out, and that caused him uneasiness.

He saw Kakashi-sensei on the balcony, staring down at them with that all-too-familiar bland stare. He was another one of those people.

Finally, his eyes alighted on the all-too-familiar figure of his black-haired brother, who stood respectfully a few feet behind the Hokage in front. His eyes betrayed nothing for a moment, but as his eyes came upon Sasuke there was an unfamiliar emotion in them and a slight twitch of his lips.

And now, Sasuke thought dryly, the question is, was that the beginning of a smile or a grimace?

Either way, it couldn't have been good, he decided.

Trying to release his thoughts of the conundrum called Itachi, Sasuke turned to the other Genin that had passed the survival test and listened in.

"Naruto-kun, I knew you could make it!" Ino exclaimed happily, ignoring Shikamaru, who had turned to Chouji and immediately disproved her statement by whispering that she'd been extremely agitated for the few minutes before Team 7 had arrived.

Then he turned and surveyed the other teams. Apparently everyone who had passed last time also passed this time—and he wasn't sure if that was good or not. The Sound team was furthest from him on the right side, whispering to themselves and taking quick, occasional glances towards him and Naruto. They weren't much of a threat—Sasuke had already spent too much time in Sound to not know the techniques of the shinobi there.

Next to them was Kabuto's team, with those two nondescript teammates of his. They certainly looked calmer than others. Kabuto was probably the only who would actually be of any threat—the other two were irrelevant.

And then there was the Suna team.

Ah. Gaara was openly glaring at him, barely suppressing his killer intent.

Nice to know that he already had enemies.

Sasuke was unable to resist sending a smirk to him, and cocked his head slightly. When Gaara's glare increased threefold, he slowly turned away—not fast enough to seem like he was admitting defeat; slow enough to show he wasn't intimidated by the glare—and moved onto the next team, which was right next to him.

He mostly knew their abilities already. Temari was a wind-oriented shinobi, with that ridiculously enormous fan of hers, and Kankurou used puppets. Gaara was the only one he wasn't sure he could win against, but with luck, he wouldn't have to fight him…until the finals, or the Sand-Sound Invasion started.

The next team was Team 8, the team he'd almost been on because of his utter stupidity—but it wasn't best to think about that at this time. Kiba was chatting energetically towards Hinata, who seemed to be politely listening but only half-heartedly. Shino was quiet as always, observing others as Sasuke was—smart for a Genin, but Shino had always been mature—and remaining silent.

Although Kiba had been the second-to-dead-last in the class, he was still strong in terms of brute strength. He tended to skip over thinking and planning in favor of attacking directly. Hinata, regardless of her clan, was timid and though she could probably use some very deadly attacks, would never have enough ferociousness to execute them to their full potential. The last teammate, Shino, was sort of a wild card—Sasuke had never really seen him fight. The last time he had was at the last Chuunin Exam—he hadn't seen the preliminaries, and in the finals, Shino hadn't even fought because Kankurou had resigned before the battle.

But he was an Uchiha—and the only student of Orochimaru, the strongest of the three legendary Sannin—and it would take more than all three of them attacking him at once to beat him.

He caught out of the corner of his eye Hinata glancing at him with an unidentifiable emotion in her eyes—awe, fear, admiration. Turning towards her, he smirked. "What?" he asked, and was promptly stupefied when another, foreign emotion lighted in her eyes—disappointment. "What is it?" he asked again, a bit affronted by her gaze.

"N-Nothing," Hinata stuttered as she turned away with a fading blush.

Staring at her for a few moments and ignoring the suspicious Kiba, Sasuke shook it off and turned to his left.

Team 10—Ino, Shikamaru, and Chouji—were hardly worth noting. Chouji and Ino would be pathetically easy to beat, but as ever team had their strongest, Shikamaru was the most threatening person. It wasn't that the Nara had talent to make him give up, but it was that they could use their minds to either trick him into messing up badly or stepping into the shadow, neither of which sounded appealing to him. However, Shikamaru was perpetually acting lazily, and that would act in Sasuke's advantage.

Behind them was Gai's team, who Sasuke didn't know much about. Tenten was a weapon-oriented person, and what he'd heard she had a large variety of weapons at her disposal, and could summon them from a scroll. Lee was a taijutsu expert—Sasuke's body seemed to groan in remembrance of that impromptu spar that they'd had right before the written exam last time—and undoubtedly very fast. However, if he had to gage himself now… he'd say that he would have no problem keeping up with Lee's current speed. The last member, Neji, was a Hyuuga Branch member, and bitter about it, too. He knew the Hakkesho Kaiten along with the Eight Trigrams Sixty-Four Palms, both of which were lethal. But he was also far too dependent on the Byakugan, and that was his weakness.

Sasuke shrugged. Who was he kidding? He was pretty dependent on the Sharingan, too…

Turning to the front of the room as the Yondaime cleared his throat, Sasuke leaned back slightly and listened closely.

The blond Hokage cleared his throat, and the room silenced; then, he suddenly broke into a large grin, and Sasuke could just feel half of the room sweatdrop. Not just the foreign nin, too. "Congrats, Genin! You passed the survival test!"

He paused, and then babbled on, as if talking more to himself than a roomful of people. "You know, I was trying to decide whether to cut out this part of the exam, because it took so long and some of the parents were complaining about it, but—"

Anko cleared her throat loudly.

"Ri-ight!" he laughed nervously. "Anyway, since there are so many of you—and no, that's not an insult, I'm glad that many of you got through—"

Anko cleared her throat again, this time louder and more forcefully.

"—I think we need to have a preliminary exam. You see—"

He was quickly drowned out by the protests of both Genin and sensei from below and above.

"What do you mean?" demanded the indignant Ino.

Kankurou frowned. "I don't want to fight right now…"

"We just got out of the forest, too!" Sakura wailed.

"Saa," the Yondaime tried to calm everyone down, "It's not that we think you aren't qualified to participate in the finals. It's just that there are too many of you! And—uh, the Chuunin Exam Finals can't really… be that long…" he trailed off.

"So you're just trying to cut us down to the more qualified ones?" shouted Kiba, enraged.

"No! We're just… Well, yeah, exactly." The Yondaime ended lamely.

Hinata raised her hand timidly, and Minato, relieved to see that someone was polite about this, nodded at her. "Does that mean whoever doesn't pass this preliminary exam won't have a chance of being a Chuunin?"

The room quieted, and all eyes turned to the Yondaime, who frowned. "Unfortunately, yes." But as soon as he said that, a grin came onto his face again. "Well, good thing Chuunin Exams are held every six months—"

"I don't want to have to do that again!" Chouji complained.

Neji scowled, and even though he didn't say anything, he agreed whole-heartedly with the Akimichi.

"Settle down!" shouted Iruka, using the loud, commanding voice he'd acquired in the Academy. "It's Hokage-sama's decision, and you have no right to argue against it!"

The room silenced immediately.

Iruka bowed slightly to the Hokage, who stared at him with a gaping mouth. "How did you do that?" another Chuunin asked in awe as the sensei stepped back.

Iruka shrugged. "Try teaching the Academy for years and not getting something like that."

"Good point."

"Anyway," the Hokage cleared his throat, "No more questions? Good." He said without pausing long enough for anyone to respond. "We will now proceed with the preliminary matches. The electronic board behind me," he motioned to it grandly, "will choose the two Genin to fight randomly. Everyone else, please join your sensei on the balcony."

The board blinked for a moment, and the screen blanked. Everyone held their breaths, and suddenly, the board blinked again, and the two Genin names were up.


Itachi stepped forward as all of the Genin sans Ino and Kankurou cleared the floor and walked up to the balcony.

Ino, for once, was silent. She was happy to go first—and get the match over and done with—but she knew next to nothing about this 'Kankurou' guy… from the Suna team. He carried a puppet, she knew, and he was probably liable to switch between them at any random moment. But other than that, her information was blank.

"Go, Ino!" Chouji shouted from the balcony. Shikamaru lazily waved his hand—some sort of cheer?—but said nothing.

The Genin across from her was intimidating. He was clothed completely in black, with a large circle on his chest, which was half dull yellow and half dark red. A sort of black hat with ears sat on his head, matched with purple paint donning his face. On his back was a mummy-like object, not quite his height, completely wrapped with a tuft of hair peeking from the top of the bandages.

"Heh!" he said. "Looks like I've got it easy."

Immediately, Ino's spirit returned. "Don't get cocky!" she warned.

Itachi held out his hand. "Begin," he said.

Sasuke watched from above disinterestedly as Ino and Kankurou began to fight. She, of course, immediately tried the Shintenshin no Jutsu. As prissy as she was, Ino had shinobi's blood in her veins; and the analytical part of her realized that she had to take control of Kankurou before he could utilize his puppet. The sooner she got him, the better it would be.

But that was only if the Kankurou showing was the real Kankurou.

And as Sasuke had expected, Ino was promptly shocked when her mind hit something. And it was definitely not Kankurou.

"Hah!" crowed the Suna nin's voice, which was not coming from Kankurou's body. "Told you!"

Kankurou's body, which had been animated before, now dropped and the fabric tore, exposing a rather large and intimidating puppet.

With her mind suspended in space and her body rendered useless, Ino had no choice but to cancel the jutsu. "Kai!" The groggy Ino returned to her body. "What on earth…?" she muttered, but Kankurou simply grinned.

"Told you I got it easy," he smirked.

Ino couldn't say anything to that.

As she tried taijutsu, she found much to her horror that everything was blocked. Not only was Kankurou an experienced puppet-user, she realized, but he was also skilled in other areas as well. Even when she tried to reach him, the puppet blocked her attacks and view.

She backed up a few steps and then lunged in with a kunai, slashing the air between the puppet, trying to find the invisible strings tying his fingers to the puppet. Holding up her arm to block another swing from the puppet, she switched to her left hand—one hand to block and one hand to cut.

To her delight, she felt a small resistance that broke—and another, and another. Slowly, the puppet was becoming useless.

Kankurou gritted his teeth. "Man, I'll have so much to repair later," he muttered as he then lunged forward and punched her in the head.

Ino, completely taken off-guard from hit from the real Kankurou, stumbled back. Suddenly, the puppet slashed her and Ino immediately felt weak. "Poison…" she muttered while holding the gash on her arm, sinking to her knees.

"This is disappointing," Kankurou said. "I'd thought that you'd be able to stand for a little bit… but I guess Konoha-nin aren't much, ne?" he laughed.

Itachi stared at Ino with an emotionless yet scrutinizing gaze—and said finally, "Yamanaka Ino is unable to continue. Kankurou is the winner."

"I can still—" Ino gritted out before collapsing onto the ground, quivering.

Medics rushed in to carry her away, and Sasuke frowned lightly. Kankurou was a deadly opponent in short-range with his puppet, but long-range he wouldn't be able to do much. I could have beaten him easily, he thought.

Glancing up to the board, Sasuke's eyes widened a fraction. Already…? He thought.



"Hey, Iruka!"

The Chuunin sensei turned around to see who was calling him and why many footsteps were thudding down the hallway. "Wha—?" he stuttered as he saw a small crowd of Chuunin approaching.

"What is it?" he asked roughly, though his eyes were twitching.

The Chuunin all grinned. "We want to know how you did that super duper loud shout of yours!"

"Yeah! I can't get my students to quiet down as fast as you did the room!"

"Oh, even the Hokage was surprised!"

"Mou, Iruka! Chuunin rock!"

Iruka felt a very large headache coming on.



Itachi strode down the stone steps. He'd just come from the mission office—now that he was finally off crutches, he could take missions again. He'd been sort of off the months he'd been on them from the simple lack of action.

But hey, he was a shinobi. And… shinobi needed action.

Like beer.

(Not that he drank beer, of course. It muddled his mind far too much once and that, unfortunately, had been a very misfortunate—not to mention embarrassing—situation… besides, okaa-san would never allow it, and if he ever violated the Things That Okaa-san Doesn't Allow list, he'd never see a bar in his life ever again.)

He stopped when he heard someone behind him, and turned around to see the Yondaime, much to his surprise. "Hokage-sama," he bowed slightly in respect.

"Aww, don't be like that!" the Yondaime, much to Itachi's surprise and discomfort, slung an arm over him. "I wanted to talk to you about something."

"What is it?" his interest was peaked.

"It's about your job at the Chuunin Exam, during the preliminaries."

"Did I not do a satisfactory job?" Itachi questioned. He was confused—he almost never did a less-than-satisfactory job before. (Another item on the Things That Okaa-san Does Not Allow list.)

"Uhh," the Yondaime pondered it. "Justa' little…" he held his second finger and thumb a millimeter apart.

"What did I not do?" the boy asked.

"You need to be cooler!" The Yondaime rushed out quickly. "Like me!"

Itachi's eye twitched. Badly.

"I mean, uh, no offense—" the blonde took a glance at his companion, whose eye was still twitching— "But you need to say 'Begin' with more—I don't know, oomph!"

"More… what?" Itachi would not allow himself to lower his dignity more.

"Oomph!" The Yondaime babbled excitedly. "You know, punch! It's like you're stating 'Begin'!" he said.

"But I am stating 'Begin'," Itachi said confusedly.

"No! You need to say it forcefully! Like, 'Begin!'" The Yondaime said grandly. "Come on, try it!"


"Waa! Itachi, you've got no expression! More!"


"More, Itachi!"


"Noo! Itachi, you're doing it all wroong!"

Deep breath. "Begin!"

"Yosh! You've got it! Okay, let's try it again!"

Itachi could already feel his dignity slipping.

Wah. Hard chapter to do in the beginning... that's why it took so long to get out. Anticlimatic Ino-Kankurou fight. Sorry 'bout that... but you got two omakes, right?

I loved writing the omakes, especially the second one. Itachi is fun to poke at... Maybe if I get a lot of reviews, I'll do another omake the next chapter. What do you think? ... Wait, you'll probably say 'yes'... Okay, then. Review a lot... say, 30 reviews? And you get an omake. (Maybe even two.)

Wow. I sound like Zessei, who does this in An Altenative Path. Great story, by the way. If you haven't already, go check it out. :)

Hope you liked the chapter. I'll try hard to post the next one more quickly. :)