Well, it's Official. I was dead for awhile there. Had to escape from hell to post another chapter in this series, but I'm finally back to do it. Now we'll see if what I wrote was worth the wait...

Disclaimer: Don't Own It, Don't Wanna Own It, Don't Wanna Pay The Taxes For Owning It...

"Blah" - Normal Speech

'Blah' - Thoughts

"Blah!" - Kyuubi/Inner Sakura speech

"Blah no Jutsu!!!" - Jutsus being used

"Keep Going!"

It had been three weeks of non-stop training. Kakashi had pushed them as best as he could, physical training for Sakura, mental training for Sasuke, and control training for Naruto. Sakura still wasn't ready for the Chuunin exams, but at least she wouldn't drop dead at the first sign of trouble.

Sasuke's had been, strangely enough, more about not using the Sharingan than it had been about using it. Kakashi had explained over and over again about the draw to copy everything in 'literal' sight and how the body just wasn't able to perform some of those jutsus that his eyes could decipher. It didn't seem to make a difference in the way that Sasuke treated anyone, with barely constrained contempt.

"Pump your legs! Don't just use your momentum to move!"

Naruto's training had been two fold. Helping Sakura to fight, which raised his avoidance from attacks, and having his clones burn themselves out on tree climbing. Sakura's attitude toward him had mellowed some since coming back from Wave Country, but she still had a short fuse with him when it came to Sasuke, and he exploited that by taunting her when she began to tire.

His training with chakra control, unfortunately, wasn't working like Kakashi said it would. More to the point, he had way too much chakra to do it the easy way Kakashi had given him.

"Focus! Slipping from this height will simply slow down your training!"

Which is why Kyuubi had taken control of his chakra training and had him using the tree climbing exercise on the Hokage monument in the middle of the night, where no one who cared about him could watch him fall repeatedly from a killable height.

"Why did I listen to you again when I agreed to do this?" Naruto mentally griped as he started running along the underside on the Third Hokage's chin, the effigy being the hardest to run across as he ran upward.

Kyuubi grinned viciously. "Even I could tell you barely felt anything while your clones ran circuits up and down those trees. The stamina they had is comparable to your own stamina, and their bodies gave out first before their chakra reserves did, which did nothing for your training." They still ran four hours in circuits all the way up, backflipped off the trees, then repeated, not mentioning the few that simply couldn't focus on what they were doing. "Your stamina sucks, so we're going to get that up at the same time as your control!"

"You do realize that no one runs up Hokage Mountain like this for a reason, right?" He'd never heard of anyone doing training like this. This was the kind of work that Fuzzy Brows and mini Fuzzy Brows would consider hard work. If they saw this...

He shuddered at the image it caused.

"Those two weirdos scare me..." Kyuubi shuddered, wrapping her arms around herself as she tried to get rid of the image Naruto had of the two. "How can my kareshi consider that green wearing weirdo his eternal rival? It's stupid! There's no comparison!"

Naruto shivered for a wholly different reason.

"You've got a week to get ready for the Chuunin Exams. Dying is not an option, because I won't let you." Kyuubi giggled darkly as Naruto shivered uncontrollably again.

Unfortunately, it was to be his downfall, literally. His foot caught a piece of rock wrong and felt it shift, making him instinctually call on more chakra to keep his foot in place as he attempted to keep running upwards. It was too much as the stone underfoot pulverized, blasting him off the face of the Hokage monument and into a long freefall earthward.

"Well, I guess this is the most you can do." Kyuubi sighed in his head even as Naruto looked up at the ground racing to catch him. "If you black out, I promise to make sure that you feel the pain in it's entirety when you wake."

Naruto didn't bother to answer. He didn't have the time.

"You have been gathered here for one simple reason." Sarutobi began, glancing around at the various Jounin in the room. "The Chuunin exams will be beginning within the next week. I want your honest opinion of your team and your nomination." He eyed Kakashi, wondering if the Jounin was going to back out at the last moment, and hoping he'd try. That Wave mission hadn't been forgotten in the three weeks since they'd been back.

"YOSH!" Gai shouted as he stepped forward, fist raised in the air dramatically. "My team's youthful fire is prepared for their most challenging mission yet! I nominate Team Gai for the Chuunin exams!"

Sarutobi nodded, marking down on his sheet Team 9's registration. He missed the silent conversation between Asuma and Kurenai as Asuma smirked before stepping forward.

"Team Ten is as prepared as I can make them. They have the necessary teamwork and skills to pass the Chuunin exams. I nominate them." Asuma smiled, watching as his old man nodded before filling out Team 10's registration.

Kurenai glared at the back of Asuma's head. It seemed he was serious after all. "My team is still new and could use the time to the next exam to learn a few more things I wish to impart to them, however, I believe that placing them now into this exam will do them a world of good. I nominate Team 8."

Sarutobi looked up at Kurenai who nodded to him before he tilted his head down and filled in Team 8's registration.

Kakashi didn't like what he was about to do. "I nominate Team 7." The death glare Kurenai pinned him with was nearly as bad as when they returned from Wave.

"You can't be serious!" Iruka shouted from the side of the room, making a public copy of the Hokage's decision for the records. "They barely survived their mission in Wave and your throwing them back into something so dangerous as the Chuunin exams?!"

"Iruka!" Hokage Sarutobi snapped at Iruka, who ignored the rebuke.

"What the hell kind of sensei are you to place your Genin in danger like this?!" Iruka was nearly around the table when the Hokage finally unleashed his Killer Intent.

"He is the sensei of Team 7 and has the final say about whether his team is ready or not!" The Hokage bit off harshly in the silent room.

Iruka looked as if he had more to say, but with the Hokage glaring at him, he acquiesced. The Hokage knew what was best, afterall. He would just have to realize that the Hokage must have had something in mind for Team 7 if this was not being contested as it should be.

"Three rookie teams in the Chuunin Exams." the whispers had already begun.

"This is going to be an Exam to watch this year."

"So, this is Konoha." Her hair was matted to her skin, the condition of her clothes was close to rags. It had taken her nearly a month to walk to Konoha, unable to use her skills taught to her by the only man who had ever mattered, she kept under the radar as a street urchin that had lost her village due to a raid by bandits.

Hungry, tired, near to exhaustion, she would have collapsed and died long ago, except for the need she had left in her. She didn't feel vengeance anymore, she didn't feel malice, she didn't even feel rage anymore. All she felt was cold.

"Naruto-kun." Haku muttered as she stared upwards at the gates before her, the ninja guards standing by the entranceway.

It wouldn't be long now. She'd sneak into town somehow, and when she found him, she would take him with her into death, her last gift to Zabuza-sama.

"Ok, we're done for the day." Kakashi called to his students. Sakura looked like she was about to drop from her constant fighting with Naruto whereas Naruto looked to be completely bored with training Sakura. Sasuke was still going over handsigns for a new jutsu he had been working on since coming to training today, but had not used it just yet. "I've some good news for all of you." Kakashi watched as they gathered around him and he gave them his patented eye smile. "You'll be needing these."

Sakura looked over the sheet of paper Kakashi was handing out to all of them. Her eyes glanced over the sheet in her hand until they passed over something that made her freeze.

"By Sakura's reaction, she's realized what she's holding." Kakashi observed, hinting at the importance of the sheet. "Congratulations. You've all been signed up for the Chuunin exams."

Sasuke smirked slightly, already planning on what this would mean. If he could complete the Chuunin exams, he'd be one step closer to catching his brother.

"You have a week to decide if your going to join in the Chuunin exams, but there is one requirement that you have to take into consideration." Kakashi said seriously, looking back and forth at his students. "All of you have to decide if your going to be a part of the exam, or not. I can sign you up for it, but it's ultimately your choice to go."

"I'm not." Naruto answered immediately. He glared at Kakashi for handing these sheets out to his team, daring Kakashi to say something about his decision.

"Oy, Dobe." Sasuke spoke, glancing over at his blond teammate. "Don't tell me your scared?"

"Naruto." Kakashi spoke softly, staring at the defiant face. "This is a chance for advancement."

"Not for me, it's not." Naruto answered immediately. "The council would never allow me to be promoted."

Sakura blinked, confused. "The council? What do they have to do with the Chuunin exams?"

Naruto shrugged and turned his head away from Sakura. "I don't wanna talk about it."

Kakashi stared at his blond teammate before sighing. "Well, in any case, those of you who are going to take it should show up at the directions on the sheet at the time specified. Make sure your not late, as you will not be allowed in after the time has expired. Team 7, Dismissed." Kakashi shunshined away, several leaves in the area being picked up by the wind that was created by the jutsu.

Sakura bit her lower lip as she glanced down at her sheet. The Chuunin exams was a big step in a ninja's career, ultimately opening them up to harder jobs and more dangerous missions. It also meant breaking up their Genin team, as a Chuunin was forced to work with whoever to meet the needs of the mission assigned to them. It meant not being with Sasuke-kun...

"Sasuke-kun, do you wanna go out for lunch?" Sakura asked tentatively to the raven haired boy, hoping that this time, he would accept.

"I'm busy." Sasuke shot her down without even looking back as he headed over to a training log. There wasn't time for dating the pink haired girl, she wasn't strong, and she couldn't help him get strong either. He needed strength now. It was going to be unfortunate that Naruto wasn't going to fight in the Chuunin exams. He never assumed that Naruto was that strong.

"Oh." It hurt, every time he dismissed her like that. Something inside of her curled up a little tighter and withered away with every frank comment from him.

"Hey Naru..." She hadn't even realized that Naruto had started walking back into town. His back gave him an imposing cast, as if he was walking into a war zone willingly, knowing that he might not come back.

"He's changed." She thought to herself, walking after Naruto back into town. "Ever since Wave, he's been more driven. It's as if he blames himself for killing all those people."

"Can you blame him?" Inner Sakura asked. "He did kill all those people on the bridge by himself. He's not the little boy from the academy anymore, and what's worse, I'm scared that he might turn and kill us as well."

Sakura shivered. Naruto's eyes, whenever she looked into them, weren't the clear blue she thought she remembered anymore. They were still the bright blue on a bright summer, but there was a shadow in them, worse now that they had come back from their mission. Naruto walked around a corner, disappearing momentarily from sight. She picked up her own pace as she walked around the corner, almost trippng over a mobile box painted to look like a rock, if rocks were square and had eye holes in them.

She stopped and watched incredulously as the box camouflaged to look like a rock shuffled a few feet, stopped, then shuffled a few more feet, following after her blond teammate.

She followed behind the box, watching as it shuffled from hiding place to hiding place as it followed Naruto down the street, if you considered hiding behind a street pole and a garbage can hiding places.

Naruto turned another corner ahead of her, and the box quickly raced up to the corner to follow after the blond ninja only to jump backwards as Naruto stepped back around the corner, staring down at the box in annoyance.

"Konohamaru, a rock doesn't have sharp corners like a box." Naruto sighed sadly, guessing as to the box's contents. That the Hokage's grandson tried so hard was endearing, that he seemed to forget simple things like logic wasn't.

The box shuddered momentarily before bursting apart in a mighty cloud of smoke, the sound of three people coughing from within the cloud self evident.

"Too much smoke, Konohamaru..." The nasally voice of another boy muttered, coughing as the smoke began to clear from ground zero.

"There's no such thing..." Konohamaru coughed and hacked, a fist in front of his face as he came into sight. Once he could get his coughing under control, Konohamaru jumped to his feet, pointing dramatically at Naruto once again. "I'd expect nothing less from my rival to notice us as quicly as you did!"

Jumping back, the two kids that were in the box joined him as they began a sentai pose. "Konohamaru!"

A second boy dressed in blue with circular rimmed glasses turn and adjusted his glasses on his face as he did his pose, going for the brainian look. "Udon!" He shouted half heartedly, his voice nasally as a drop of snot hung from his nose.

The third, a girl with ginger hair that stuck up in a gravity defying V over her head, did her own pose as she turned in spot, exuding overly cute and innocent. "Moegi!" She called out loudly and happily.

"Together we are..." Konohamaru announced as the two joined him in the end. "The Konohamaru Corps!"

Naruto still stood in front of them, clearly not impressed.

"So, uh.... How ya doin, boss?" Konohamaru asked, smiling as he stood up normally, a hand reaching to the back of his head and scratching lightly as he waited for some kind of response from Naruto.

"This really isn't a good time, Konohamaru." Naruto sighed slightly, his disappointed stance fading slightly as he relaxed. "What are you doing out here anyways, and who are your friends?"

"Oh yeah, I met then at school, this is Udon, and Moegi." Konohamaru waved to his two friends, who were waving hello to Naruto. "We're gonna be on our own ninja squad when we graduate! Isn't that cool?"

Sakura watched as Naruto's eyes lit up slightly, even though he was still clearly annoyed with the boy in front of him and his little group. Feeling better just from watching Naruto come back to himself, even just a little bit, Sakura approached from behind the kids. She wanted to laugh when they suddenly realized she was behind them as they jumped in the air and spun to look at her, the ginger haired girl running over behind Naruto and peeking out from behind him.

"Hey, Lady, whatcha trying to do? Give a buncha kids a heart attack?!" Konohamaru was gripping his chest as he gulped large breaths down.

"And you guys are attending the ninja academy?" Sakura needled at them, grinning slightly. She remembered when she was as young as them. Nothing to worry about except homework and coming home all dirty. "Naruto, do you know these guys?"

"Hey boss, you know this chick?" Konohamaru had turned around and pointed over his shoulder, so he missed the look Sakura gave him for calling her a 'chick'. Sakura watched his eyes flicker toward her and that gleam he had dim a little. "Wait, I know, she's your..." Konohamaru held his pinky up in front of him, grinning mischeiviously.

Naruto winced as a vein stuck up on Sakura's head. "You really shouldn't talk about her like that while she's standing behind you, Konohamaru..."

Turning around, Konohamaru swallowed slowly as he carefully began to inch away from Sakura. The opressive feeling coming from the girl made his skin crawl with pinpricks and he had one last thing he wanted to say before running for his life. "Heh, guess your right boss." Sakura calmed down and Konohamaru smirked. "She's too ugly to be your girlfriend." He said happily before turning and running as fast as he could, his friends seeing Konohamaru flee did as well in their own directions, lest the pink haired girl come after them.

Sakura froze for a brief moment as the words echoed in her head before she snapped, her eyes shrinking down to pinpricks. "Come back here and die, you little brat!" Sakura shouted as she gave chase, both of her hands clenched tightly into fists.

Naruto watched them run off momentarily before sighing. Watching how exuberant Konohamaru could be made him feel old and remember when he was that young before Konoha had worn away his youth. Shaking his head side to side, Naruto jumped up to the nearest roof and chased after Sakura, who had turned a corner giving chase to Konohamaru.

He caught himself short when he heard Konohamaru's surprise and a third voice complaining in the side street they had turned down. Coming up to the edge of the roof, he looked down at the kid who was holding onto Konohamaru by his shirt and part of his scarf as Sakura stared helplessly at the man in black clothes with a strange bundle of something wrapped in a long strip of bandage with brown hair coming from the top.

"Kankuro, stop it. What if Gaara sees this?" A girl with four blond pigtails sticking from the back of her head berrated the black clothed boy. Naruto took a better look over the side of the building as she was leaning up against the building under him. Making sure she wasn't going to join her friend any time soon, Naruto returned to focusing on the black clothed boy and Konohamaru.

"Kids need to respect their elders, sis." The boy chuckled at his wit as he looked over at the blond haired girl. "I'm just doing our neighbors a favor by teaching their kids some discipline."

Kankuro drew his fist back to take a punch at the kid in his grip when he felt the air displace in his hand and a blur happen around the kid. He let go and jumped back as the replacement technique finished, leaving Naruto standing where Konohamaru was being held at just a moment ago. Naruto glared at Kankuro, whose face was in its customary kabuki coloring of bright white with purple lines.

Temari's eyes narrowed at the blonde haired boy who basically stole the little kid out of her brother's hand, glancing up to the roof above her where she had felt the chakra spike a second before Naruto shifted places. The little kid was looking down from the roof, slightly scared from the height, but was none the less ok.

"A replacement technique that overwhelmed the kids chakra, I can understand, but to overwhelm Kankuro's as well? He doesn't look like he's old enough to be a Jounin, maybe a Chuunin?" Temari thought as she pushed up away from the wall and made to walk over towards Kankuro. The blond boy's eyes flickered over to her, marking her as she moved.

"Hey, I was in the middle of something with that kid." Kankuro spoke darkly, upset at having his fun removed from him.

"I don't care if your here for the Chuunin exams or not." Naruto growled as he spoke, a shimmer starting to ripple up around him. "You don't treat someone's kids like trash."

"And what are you going to do about it, blondie?" Kankuro slipped the strap over his shoulder from his arm and pulled the wrapped bundle down in front of him, slamming it to the ground.

"Kankuro!" Temari knew that her brother had been itching for a fight since arriving in Konoha, but she thought he wasn't this bad. "Gaara will be back any moment!"

"Naruto, it's ok, you really don't have to fight him..." Sakura called to Naruto, the shimmer beginning to take on a very distinguishable red tinge around the blond boy's body.

"That's right, kid." Kankuro smirked as he glared at Naruto. "You need to get your boy under control before he gets his ass handed to him."

"She was trying to make me stop before I hurt you." Naruto's nails began to grow and his canines started to enlarge in his mouth.

"Excuse me?" Kankuro's smirk dropped and he began to glare hotly at Naruto.

Naruto opened his mouth to talk when a stone came out from above and hit him in the back of the head, jerking his head from the impact. He glared up and over his shoulder at whoever threw the rock, the anger he was feeling jumping at the sight of Sasuke gently tossing a second stone up and down in his hand.

"Oy, Dobe." Sasuke called to him from where he reclined along the branch of a tree, staring down at the people in the side street. "You're not about to cause more trouble, are you? They look so weak..." Sasuke smirked as he caught the stone in his hand and began to crush it slowly in his grip, dust and dirt trickling out from his grip.

"You Konoha shinobi don't know who you're messing with." Kankuro reached to unravel the bundled wrap when a dry, raspy voice froze everyone where they stood.

"That's enough... Kankuro." Kankuro and Temari's widened as they looked toward the voice of their youngest sibling. All eyes were drawn to a red headed child with a red tattoo on his brow over his left eye, said boy standing upside down on a branch opposite from Sasuke on the opposite side of the tree. "Your a disgrace to our village to challenge our allies in their own home."

"He's going to kill me..." Kankuro thought to himself, even as he tried to defend himself. "It's not my fault, Gaara. This little kid ran into me and then..."

Gaara continued to glare at Kankuro, his eyes boring into the older brother until Kankuro realized that he was actually digging a deeper hole with his brother, and Gaara wasn't known for patience to begin with.

"I didn't even notice him standing that close to me. Who is he that he can get that close without giving himself away?" Sasuke thought as he jumped down from his tree to stand near Naruto, who was still emitting a slight red glow.

Making a half ram seal in front of his face, sand wrapped around Gaara in a quick whirlwind of grit before he disappeared, appearing in a shunshin of sand next to his brother. "We will discuss this once we have talked with their Hokage."

"Wait a moment." The three sand siblings stopped, glancing back toward Sasuke, who had called out to them. "What is your name? I'd like to know who to look for in the Chuunin exams."

"You must have a death wish." Temari smirked, hand on her hip as she turned to face Team 7. "You want to find out our names, do your job and be a ninja."

Gaara glanced at his sister, who shivered from the glare her brother gave her before she stepped back. "My name is Subaku no Gaara." He turned and began walking away, not deeming to listen as Sasuke tried to tell them his name. They weren't worth the time to be acknowledged, and his mother was beginning to stir.

Sasuke watched as they walked off, the glances from the black clothed guy and the blond haired girl telling him without saying how lucky he was just being able to be ignored by them. He wasn't sure he liked the fact that he was being ignored by the foreign ninjas, or the fact that they listened to the smaller of the three, but there was one thing for sure that did upset him.

"Naruto," Sasuke turned around, staring into the angry eyes of his blond teammate, "we're going to be a part of the Chuunin exams."

Naruto turned around, pushing past Sakura. "Do it yourself." Naruto muttered back, his clawed fingers crammed back into his pockets.

Tsume sat at the table in the kitchen, going over what she had heard from her daughter and the copy of the after actions report filed by one Hatake Kakashi. It hadn't been easy to get the file, it had been worse puzzling through the holes in the paperwork that had to be omitted for secrecy sake, but what it was telling her wasn't very good.

"Was it worth it?" Kuromaru growled from his spot on the floor, glancing up at his 'master'.

Tsume sat back, working over her thoughts before answering. "Well, he's blooded now, just the way you wanted him to be."

Kuromaru snorted. "He was already blooded from his younger years. Civilians don't get the same reaction as a life or death struggle does."

"He was also too young to understand what he'd done at the time being." Tsume added as she picked the paperwork up and gave it a disgusted toss. "I don't think Hana even knows the half of what Naruto went through on that mission."

Kuromaru sat up from where he lay and looked at Tsume. "If he keeps going the way things are, then I'd be surprised if Hana didn't drag him into the clan kicking and screaming. Even if she did, I'd make him the head of the clan before even your son."

"Which we can't do as he wasn't an Inuzuka to begin with, and something that shouldn't have even been hinted at." Tsume glared down at Kuromaru. "Where's that loyalty that's the trademark of the Inuzuka clan?"

"There's loyalty, then there's facts." Kuromaru walked around the table, grabbing the back of the chair seat so he could pull out a spot to sit at before jumping into the seat to stare at Tsume. "If Hana brought him into the clan, I'd follow Naruto right after following you. He's lived the no nonsense life of a survivor, and won't put up with silliness from anyone."

Tsume frowned as she stared at her partner. "What happened to him being bad for Hana?"

Kuromaru snorted. "You asked what I thought if Hana brought him into the clan. You didn't ask my opinion about what I thought of him."

Tsume nodded, then asked the question that made a difference in her mind. "Would he be accepted in the Inuzuka clan if Hana were to marry him?"

"Never." Kuromaru snorted in derision. "He smells too much of his jailor, which makes no sense to me. On top of that, he's a wild dog. He'll turn and bite the hand that feeds him."

"I see..." Tsume murmured as she sat back in her chair, deep in thought. She sat that way for several minutes, Kuromaru staring a hole in her while she tapped a finger on the tabletop. Coming to a decision, she took the paperwork from Team 7's mission and placed it back in the file in front of her before picking it up as she stood. "We're going out." Tsume barked, heading for the door.

Kuromaru jumped from his seat to meet his partner at the door leading outside. "Where are we headed?"

Tsume smiled viciously down at Kuromaru. "My daughter's vet. As the next head of the Inuzuka, she's gotta make her own big decisions, and make them stick, no matter who tells her no, right?"

Hinata was a woman driven when it came to two seperate things. The first was trying to improve herself to be seen as worthy in her father's eyes, a hope she was beginning to imagine was never going to happen, and it broke her heart all the more with every day she accepted that truth.

The other, given the right circumstances, turned the young Hyuga heiress into one of the worst acts that a person could conduct on another.

A stalker.

There had been moments, very close moments, when the temptations of using her bloodline to watch her target at all times, in all circumstances, had gripped her in a chokehold that left her gasping for breath. It had only gotten worse when she had begun to start developing early, her hormones kickstarting her physical changes and sending her on an emotional roller coaster over the one person that she'd willingly die for.

She had waited for Kurenai to come back, that had been her reasoning. Standing at the gates of Konoha on the day of her return, she had chased the fine line of chakra exhaustion as she pushed the limit on her Byakugan to see as far as she could for her teacher. Although Kurenai sensei hadn't gone on the mission, that was the excuse, and no one seemed to bother to ask ninja about missions when there was retrieval mentioned in why they were gone.

The ache in her eye sockets was worth it when he came into the absolute limit of her range. Although her vision was washed out white, it was impossible to not see him even from that far away as his chakra raced furiously through his body, a contained firestorm of light blue racing through his pathways.

She felt the knots in her stomach release as he started to come closer, the details becoming more distinct the closer he raced to the gates of Konoha. She couldn't help but to smile at seeing him alive and unharmed, his body free of any scars or bandages, the usual indications if he had been wounded. She hiccuped once to herself as her emotions started to come undone, until she looked into his face and the knots turned into a cold stone in the base of her stomach.

She'd seen that look on his face many times through the five odd years of watching Naruto since his seventh birthday. She had heard that Naruto had begun school two years early, and it had made her sick to think that she'd never have the chance of being on his team with him. The look of determination on his young face scared her slightly, even more so when he tried to smile at her, and the smile never seemed to look right on him.

She had gone to see him at the Hospital one day, he had gotten laid up for at least a week, no one telling her why, only that he deserved what he got. The words made her angry, a rare emotion she never indulged in. She could take whatever anyone said about her, but she wanted to break their tenketsu pathways for every harsh comment that was cast in Naruto's name.

When she walked in to his room, he had been heavily bandaged, the creepy snake lady that was Kurenai sensei's friend standing in the corner, eyeing her with barely contained malice as she spun a kunai fast enough to make a whizzing sound as it cut the air. Naruto didn't shift his head as she came closer to him, but he did physically clench his body the closer she moved toward him.

She placed a pot with a single flower in it, a white gardenia, wanting to express her thoughts to Naruto without having to say anything. He turned his head enough to look at the flower out of the corner of his eye, his eye following the stem to the pot and back up to the flower, a young plant in innocent bloom.

She smiled weakly to him as he looked at her, uncomprehending the simple act of a gift. The hollow, broken look in his blank gaze made her shiver and she wanted to hold Naruto to her to take away the emptiness that he had in him. Instead, she expressed her desire for him to get better and left soon after.

She stepped out of sight and waited as they came into Konoha, watching them from the safety of a corner, her eyes seeing through the wall to the people discussing with each other their desire to get cleaned up before heading off to inform the Hokage of their success, Team 7 heading to the Hokage Tower to report directly to the Hokage himself.

She needed answers. If she was going to find the reason why Naruto had that look on his face, she needed to find out what had happened on her sensei's retrieval mission, and that meant following Kurenai sensei instead of Naruto. It would be impossible to hide from the Jounin Genjutsu Mistress, maybe people had tried to follow her teacher only to be caught in a vicious illusion that taught them quickly to stop their bad habits.

A few ninja had been placed on administrative leave until specialists or Yamanaka could put their brains back together again. When they were put back together again, they were quickly demoted, usually when other, less reputable incidences were found out while rebuilding their psyche.

Hinata was walking with Kurenai to Kurenai's friends place. Apparently, once they had gotten back, something had happened with her friend that warranted a visit to this Anko's house. More than likely, it had to do with something the Snake Misstress of Konoha had been accused of again, as she hadn't been seen anywhere in town, or even at her job. Hinata didn't care which it was, as long as she got to find out about what happened to her future husband.

They came upon a secluded building away from the main thoroughfare of Konoha, a rebuilt apartment complex from the look of it. Several floors high, the place didn't look lived in except for one balcony that had silken under things hanging from a clothesline on a high balcony and a very familiar person carrying several packs of shingles in his arms as he marched up the side of the apartment building.

"Looks like your working hard, Naruto." Kurenai smiled as she stopped, allowing Hinata a moment to gather her wits at the sight of the young girl's crush. "Did Kakashi teach you the tree climbing exercise?"

Naruto stopped where he was on the wall, about the third story up, and looked over his shoulder at the voice. His unreadable mask was on, but he did at least open his eyes when he was it was Kurenai and Hinata. "Ohaiyo, Kurenai sensei. You didn't come to visit me, did you?"

Hinata seemed to wilt a little when Naruto didn't call out her name, and her nervousness started to work over into her finger pressing together in front of her as she tried to hide in on herself. Kurenai figured she'd give her student a chance to be alone her Naruto, it made her smile when her young student blushed outrageously. "No, but maybe Hinata did?"

Hinata would have died from embarrassment right then and there if she could have willed it. This wasn't what she was here for, she wasn't prepared to be alone with Naruto. She wanted information on him, not private time with him! Well, yeah, she wanted alone time with Naruto, but she was still too young for that.

"Sorry, Kurenai sensei. I'd like to, but I'm in the middle of training." Naruto finished walking up the side of the building, raising the shingles over his head and tossed them back down to the ground below. Then he picked up several more packs of shingles and tossed them down beside the first one. "If your looking for Anko-san, she's been in her room all day."

Naruto jumped down to the ground by the shingles he'd just got done moving to the top of his house, picked several up in his arms, and began walking up the side of the building again. It wasn't that he was trying to ignore guests, heck, Kurenai was one of the people he'd stop what he was in the middle of doing and entertain for as long as she wanted to stay. Hinata however had been fixated on him ever since he'd saved her when she had been young, and it was a bit creepy being around the girl for long periods of time, as she'd sit and watch him in a sort of fangirl worship whereas Naruto would wish he was anywhere else but there.

Sasuke had it worse, but he didn't have nearly as devoted a fanbase as Naruto did.

Kurenai wasn't sure Hinata was ready for a close encounter of Anko. She glanced at her ward, the young Hyuga still blushing as she watched Naruto headed back up the side of the building. "Maybe you want to stay and help Naruto with his training, Hinata?"

Hinata hesitated. She would be spending time alone with Naruto, just the two of them.

"I... would like to go with you, Sensei." Hinata murmured, poking her fingers in front of herself self consciously.

Kurenai smiled lightly to her ward, nodding to her. They took the stairs up to the third floor and down the way to the room with the underthings hanging from the back of the apartment. Kurenai knocked several times on the door, and it was several trips up and down the building for Naruto before Anko opened the door, her eyes bloodshot and her hair unkempt.

"Oh, it's you, Nai-chan." Anko muttered as she turned around and walked into her apartment, her trenchcoat her only clothing.

"Anko, your landlord is running laps up and down your building, put some clothes on!" Kurenai berrated her friend as her student followed her into Anko's apartment.

"I can't be worried about clothes rightn now." Anko muttered darkly as she took up a seat on her couch and began sorting through papers on the coffee table in front of her, ignoring the righteous anger of Kurenai and the paralyzing blush on Hinata's face. "Hokage-sama gave me this impossible task to finish in a few days, and I'm not even close to having anything planned out."

"Close your legs, you pervert!" Kurenai shouted as she took a chair to separate her student from Anko. Looking down at the papers in front of Anko, she picked one up and looked it over. "Aren't these the plans for the Chuunin exams?" A scary thought passed through her. "Wait, Hokage-sama put you in charge of part of the Chuunin Exams?!"

Anko nodded sadly, even while Hinata tried not to look at Anko, who crossed her legs under her in front of guests. "Hokage-sama thought it would be a good thing for me to learn how to do this, and if I do good at it, he'll promote me to actual Jounin." Anko sighed as she dropped her head in misery. "The problem, though, is that Hokage-sama is putting a huge risk on Konoha by having me as a proctor for the exams. If I can't think of something really nasty, then Konoha will be made a laughing stock."

Kurenai sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. Anko had it nearly as bad as Naruto did when it came to the council, though there was still a huge margin of hate aimed at the boy for being in their midst whereas Anko was the student of their greatest shame.

"If I promise to help you, will you at least put some underwear on? I think Hinata's about to overheat." Kurenai glanced worriedly over to Hinata, who looked as if her head was about to pop from embarrassment.

Anko glanced over at Hinata, shaking her head at the look on Hinata's face before collecting herself and stepping into her bedroom. Kurenai shook her head at her friend before picking up several of the sheets on the table and began going over them for ideas. Though Anko's writing was a bit sloppy, the general idea she had wasn't bad considering it was Anko. They all tended to be pretty brutal, cruel, and sometimes a bit ingenious when it came to what she was aiming toward, but she could see that the scale she was trying to use just wasn't going to work out.

Kurenai heard Hinata gurgle in a strangled voice and Kurenai glanced over at her student, who suddenly looked murderous and gut punched at the same time toward Anko's bedroom door. Turning to look up at the bedroom door, she could understand why her student would act that way.

Anko, finding a pair of panties to wear with a chibi fox print on the front of them, came walking back in sans coat, which would have left her breasts exposed had it not been for the strategically placed doll she was carrying in front of her with a depressed look on her face.

That the doll looked exactly like a full sized Naruto was not a coincidence.

"I swear, Anko, I'm taking you to the Yamanaka's for therapy for this..." Kurenai cursed under her breath as Anko sat down on the couch, snuggling against her life sized Naruto doll.

"Seen my notes?" Anko asked as Hinata began to seeth where she sat. "I know I'm doing the scale all wrong, and yeah, bringing in Genin from other villages into the Interrogation and Torture section of Konoha is a no no, so I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to do." Anko sighed as she slumped into her doll, it's face nearly against hers. Hinata's teeth grated against each other as Anko nuzzled the doll's cheek. "I just need to find a larger place to work with to weed out the little whiny brats, some place that will both challenge them and make them struggle for all their worth."

Kurenai didn't think it was that hard to figure out. "Wouldn't training ground 44 be perfect for what you want to do?"

"That was my first idea." Anko said as she rooted around on the desk with one arm while holding the doll to her bosom. The fact that she leaned down to show Hinata that the doll was pressed up against her teat caused the young Hyuga to twitch violently. Holding up a sheet, Anko handed it to Kurenai. "The problem being is how do I make it look like we're not actively trying to kill everyone off not a part of Konoha?"

Kurenai stared at the paper in her hand for a moment, reading the details. "Why do you need this many ninja? The Forest of Death is dangerous enough for Genin squads on their own, and you want to send in ANBU to pick them off one at a time?"

"The Forest of Death isn't that dangerous." Anko scoffed, sitting back, shifting back and forth as she opened her legs up. "I happen to find it homey and very calming." She grinned brightly as she laid back, her legs wrapped around the Naruto doll as she held him close. "I'm hoping to have my honeymoon there."

Kurenai would be hard pressed to explain later if she was asked what happened in the next few moments. An enraged feminine shriek came from the vicinity of Hinata, followed by the Hyuga girl launching herself bodily with a speed bordering a Tokubetsu Jounin as she lunged over the table between herself and Anko, who could only blink in confusion at the Genin.

There was a grab, a quick struggle, followed by the sound of fabric ripping and cotton flying into the air, followed by a deep lamenting yell of "NOOOOOOOO!!!!"

People in Konoha wondered at the weird relationship of Maito Gai and Hatake Kakashi. The men had an unspoken agreement between them about their relationship and how it wasn't anyone else's business but their own and maybe Kami's, yet the story of their one upmanship challenge they had officially gone through was the stuff of weirdness and whispers, usually done in their very own presence.

The reason Gai had tracked down Kakashi this time was not for that challenge.

"Kakashi." Gai wasn't smiling, which was a good indication that what Gai had to say was serious business. "You have to do something about your most youthful student."

Kakashi continued to stare at the memorial for the fallen Konoha ninja that had died in the line of duty, all signs pointing to ignoring Gai in the hope that he'd go away.

"I respect the fact that you are trying to train him while trying to protect him at the same time, but his newest training gives me cause for concern." Gai crossed his arms before him as he took a pondering, yet powerful, look. "I've seen how he is throwing himself into his training when not with your team, Kakashi. His training methods border on the single mindedness of my own student, Lee."

Kakashi continued to stare at the monument, letting the past linger for just a little bit longer.

Those who knew Gai would honestly tell you that the man didn't know how to get mad, a perky person in green spandex that was full of hyperactivity. Kakashi was starting to push his buttons, though.

"Have you even noticed your other two students, Kakashi?" Gai asked, sending a glare into Kakashi's back.

"I'm doing my best, Gai." Kakashi spoke as he turned his head to look at Gai over his shoulder. "I have to make sure they can survive the Chuunin exam, and that means I have to push them to their limits and beyond those if necessary."

"Then why did you volunteer them for the Chuunin exams if your pushing them so hard?" Gai asked,

Kakashi sighed. He knew what it meant when Gai became as serious as he was. "I had my reasons, Gai."

Gai didn't reply immediately as he eyed Kakashi, who had yet to turn around and look at him. "I'll accept that, for now."

Sarutobi read over the paper in his hand as the sand siblings stood in front of his desk, Uzuki Yuugao and their Jounin, Baki waiting patiently as the Third Hokage read over the letter from the sand siblings father and his counterpart, The Fourth Kazekage.

"Well, I must say that this is a surprise." The Sandaime hummed to himself as he placed the letter down in front of himself on his desk. "It's unfortunate that the bloodline written here in this letter no longer exists." 'At least, until Naruto can come of age or become a Jounin.' Sarutobi thought to himself.

"I'm sorry for your loss, Hokage-sama." Baki, leader of the Suna Siblings bowed just far enough to convey the proper respect, and no further. That the bloodline no longer existed in Konoha meant that Suna was one step closer to taking its rightful place as the Strongest of the Elemental Nations.

Stroking his chin, Sarutobi thought briefly out loud. "The peace between Fire and Wind has been gaining in strength for several years now. Why would the Kazekage suddenly want to marry his daughter to the Yondaime's son?"

"I'm sorry, Hokage-sama. I wasn't informed on such details." Baki spoke carefully, keeping his voice neutral. Gaara looked to be getting antsy, which never boded well when it came to the blood hungry child.

"It's not important." Sarutobi nodded to Yuugao before taking the letter and placing it in his desk. "It will be our honor to have the children of the Kazekage here. You understand that I can't place you in any of major clan houses due to having our own secrets."

Baki nodded. "We understand that. We were actually thinking of something like a minor house or at least accomodations that would be away from the eyes of the people of your village. We have our own secrets we'd like to remain secret due in part to our training techniques."

"Yuugao will be able to show you to any training grounds you need so that you may train in private as necessary." Sarutobi nodded to the Yuugao, who turned and bowed lightly to Baki and his team. "If you have any questions, she will arrange anything you need for you while you stay here."

"We appreciate that." Baki spoke for them, all but Gaara bowing slightly to the Hokage before thy turned and left the old man's office. Once the doors weere closed behind the Suna guests, Sarutobi shivered. "I have a bad feeling about this exam..."

"This is the place?" A kid wearing camo pants and scarf over a brown shirt with kanji stared at the hidden village of the leaf. "Yeah, this place looks like it needs wiped out."

"Zaku, enough." The bandages around his head hid everything but his left eye, the gray dirty top and large furry object on his back giving him a hunchbacked look to him. "The last thing we need is to be arrested by the ANBU before the exams begin."

The raven haired girl stood back by their 'Teacher'. She watched as the boys of this little impromptu Genin squad argued between each other about the coming plans to the village before them. "So, all I have to do is last to the second part of the Chuunin exams with these jerks? We'll be recognized as Oto nin then?"

"It's a rare honor you've been given." The man hidden in a duster and tall collar, a hat over his head obscuring his identity even further. "Only the strongest women survive in Oto. There's even one with the Otokage as one of his personal guard."

"Hey, are we doing this or not?" Zaku asked impatiently, bordering a demand as bot he and Dosu stared back at Kin and their Sensei.

"You'll need these..." The hidden Jounin called out as he tossed two plates with cloth bound to the metal. Both of the boys caught the tossed object, looking down at the reflective plate and the note etched into the center. "Starting now, you are Genin of Otogakure. Hopefully you'll live to take your place among us." He handed Kin her plate and watched as the girl fiddled with the cloth before tying it around her forehead slowly. "Now come, we may be here early, but my job is not just to be your Sensei. I have my own duties to perform."

"Just as long as it doesn't interfere with our jobs." Zaku muttered snidely as they began walking toward the front gate, and toward their future.

For some reason, writing this drug out longer and longer the more I wrote in it. Not sure why... Maybe it was because this is more the set up for a lot of things that are about to happen... *shrugs*