Been a while... Thanks to HaremLover for beta-reading.

CHAPTER 18 – IN THE FOREST

Ino considered herself a sensible and understanding person. Sure, she may have a fiery temper, and it may occasionally happen that she went ballistic if someone pulled her leg, but she prided herself on being a tolerant girl.

Her teammates, however, seemed to exist for the sole purpose of annoying her. One was a lazy good-for-nothing misogynist who had repeated the word 'troublesome' at least seventeen times in the last ten minutes, while the other alternated between being even lazier than the first or a hyperactive goofball. He also must have some serious mental problem that she would have been interested in studying if she hadn't had to spend every day with him.

The goggle-wearing idiot's last quirk, however, aside from raising her suspicions about his having some physical problems, was slowing them down considerably.

"I gotta pee."

The blond Yamanaka turned to her teammate and glared at him.

"Naruto, that's the thirty-second time since we entered this damn forest; what the fuck are you doing, marking your territory? I thought I dodged that ball when Kiba was assigned to a different team!"

Naruto tilted his head, and Ino could tell he was eying her curiously even if his dark goggles covered his slitted red eyes, which were seriously freaky in her opinion, although less than what other ninja had. Like Shino and his insects… Ino shuddered at the mere thought. Curse her decision to research the most famous bloodlines known to Konoha before the exam.

"Why are you so cranky? It's not like we don't have time, and this place isn't too bad, on the contrary it's quite nice…"

The young kunoichi took a deep breath, repeating to herself that she needed her mentally challenged teammate in good health in order to pass this exam.

"… smells soooo good, and they have this calming and relaxing effects almost like, I dunno, a lullaby."

Ino turned towards her annoying but sane teammate.

"What smells like a lullaby?" the blond asked, feeling stupid just by repeating that.

"The trees, apparently." Shikamaru answered eying his surroundings, "And it isn't a genjutsu either, I checked. It's just another of Naruto's quirks."

They just looked on as the adopted Senju hugged and nuzzled a tree.

"I can't believe it, if a foreign team were to see this then they'd have all the reason in the world to call us all tree-huggers."

The blond kunoichi was getting depressed; her team was struck in the damn forest for the next five days, and she doubted there were any other teams weaker than them.

'Just look at our supposed best fighter, feeling up a tree! We're doomed, as soon as someone finds us...Wait, someone's coming!'

Ino exchanged a quick look with Shikamaru, then dove behind a nearby bush. The dark haired Nara swiftly grabbed their final teammate by his jacket and dragged him there too.

Not even three seconds later, a lone genin landed in the clearing. He had long dark hair, creepy white eyes, a white jacket, a pair of dark shorts and a Konoha headband. Despite being alone, he was pretty intimidating, especially when Ino realized she knew who he was. Neji Hyuga, the one she had heard was labelled as the stronger genin in the village.

"You can come out, I know you're here."

His words made her panic. Ino turned to Shikamaru and whispered to him, "Plan number one: hide and avoid trouble, failed. It's time to pass to plan number two."

"We have a plan number two?" Naruto's own question went ignored as Shikamaru's comment, "Troublesome." didn't count as an answer.

Team Eight jumped out of their hiding spot and proceeded to utterly humiliate themselves. Well, Ino did, as her attempt to work her charms on the young Hyuga prodigy had the same success as Jiraiya's with Tsunade. At least Neji didn't have the legendary kunoichi's temper, or her propensity to violence. He did have, however, a gift with words.

"What a disgrace, academy standards must have really dropped in the last year."

He looked at all of them with what would have been contempt if he had summed up the energy to actually mold his face into such a fierce expression. As it was, his face was blank until he turned away and started to walk away.

"Such weaklings, if I were to take your scroll I'd be the laughing stock of the village. Just be grateful and run away."

"Not. A. Word. I'm serious, don't you two dare to say anything."

Shikamaru and Naruto complied with her request and kept their mouths shut.

XxxxxxxxxxX

Another Naruto was walking in the forest. Knowing Shadow Clones was great for multitasking, and being able to actually improve the jutsu a bit thanks to his own differences, just added to it. This left him free to explore the Forest of Death.

He rubbed a tree with his hand and smiled. He could feel it, it was feeble but it was there. Residual chakra flowed under the bark of every plant, the reason they grew so unnaturally big. He could feel that these woods had been created and raised by the first Hokage.

Naruto leaned against the tree with a sigh. He missed Hashish-kun, the feeling of his chakra had been like a drug -hence the nickname- and Tsunade's, while similar, wasn't as potent. Normal humans had such short life spans, and they died so easily. Such fragile creatures.

It was sort of ironic that, as he thought this, the man who more than any other chased after immortality landed on a branch of the very same tree he was leaning against, followed shortly by Mitarashi Anko.

If he noticed the genin looking up at them, Orochimaru didn't give a rat's ass about him. For the moment he was busy toying around with his one-time apprentice, who incidentally was giving quite the show to Naruto who had free reign to look up her skirt from where he was.

The goggle-wearing boy didn't move from his spot until it became clear that the pale sannin was hurting and humiliating Anko, who was grasping her neck as if it hurt a lot. It was strange because Naruto was sure she hadn't been injured there.

In any case, he saw the perfect opportunity to save her like the knight in shining armor and took it. He jumped on the branch landing between the two. Orochimaru's lack of reaction, besides being amused, showed him he was right in assuming the sannin had noticed him earlier and simply decided to ignore him. Not like a little genin could do anything when facing him after all, right?

Anko, on the other hand, was gob-smacked.

'What. The. Fuck?'

One second she was going to get screwed over by her traitorous ex-sensei, then the next a fucking genin decided to jump out of nowhere right in between them. A Leaf genin at that. She had to stop him before he did something stupid like attacking Orochimaru and got himself killed. Fighting against that pain her curse seal was causing her, she shouted at him.

"Wh-what the hell are you doing here? Forget it, this isn't part of the exam! You're no match for him, you must get out of here! Are you listening? You have to run!"

"Aww…" Naruto's head fell down as he heard that. "You don't have to say it like that! You make me sound like I'm a weak loser who can't do anything."

"Yes Anko-chan, that was rude." Orochimaru seemed more amused than anything. "Just because I have the hobby of brutally abusing and maiming young children you go and tell him to flee like that."

Naruto looked the freak up and down, then turned back to the exam proctor "If I beat him up and defend your honor will you give me a wild night of unrestrained passion?"

Anko gritted her teeth.

"This is serious, you idiot! He's Orochimaru of the sannin!" She shouted trying to stand up.

"I guess that's a no. Oh well, couldn't blame me for trying." The genin looked back at the sannin who was studying him with interest.

"You're awfully calm child."

"My mom told me that as long as I kept my pants on I should be safe around you."

Orochimaru made a disgusted face at the comment. Contrarily to what some of his quirks may have pointed to, he wasn't a pedophile. He admired young and strong bodies, yes, but he had no desire to have sex with them; he just wanted to be like that. To feel youthful.

Somewhere Gai felt the need to stab himself repeatedly with a blunt kunai.

"Your mother?" The pale faced man inquired. The boy had just alluded to her specifically referring to himself after all.

"Yeah. Blond, short-tempered, biggest rack on this side of the world, best medic too, could punch a boss summon from here to Kumo and lose money like… mh… I don't think there's a good comparison to explain just how much she sucks at gambling."

Orochimaru's interest just doubled. So this was the stray Tsunade had taken in. Maybe if he took him out she'd leave the village again in grief?

He paused his musing for a second to redo the one-handed seal that activated Anko's curse seal sending her back on her knees.

"Come on man, quit it, that was just mean."

There was something unsettling about this child, though. Tsunade couldn't have forgotten to tell her precious son just what kind of fights he should avoid, he remembered her always arguing with Nawaki about that. So why was this brat so relaxed and careless when facing him?

"Oh well, it was great meeting you and all, but I'll go now. I'll tell mom you passed to say hi."

The Konoha missing-nin raised an eyebrow. "And just what makes you think I'll let you go?"

The boy grinned widely, his dark goggles reflecting the feeble moonlight. "Well, since you've been trapped in my illusion talking with yourself for some minutes now, it's kind of late for that."

Orochimaru startled at that. Him trapped in genjutsu by a little genin without being the wiser. Who was this, the second coming of Uchiha Itachi?

"Oh, one thing snakey." The self-proclaimed illusionary boy said. "I'm not really sure what you're doing here, and frankly I don't care."

That didn't sound very patriotic considering he was talking with a traitor who infiltrated his village.

"But I'll tell you this. I want to keep Tsunade happy, and if she asks me to chop you into pieces, I'll do so. If you try to hurt her, you'll regret it. And finally, this forest and the one east of the village are mine. Your overgrown snake-snack already destroyed two trees earlier. I won't tolerate more."

Towards the end, the orange haired genin's voice had become a menacing growl that made Orochimaru's skin crawl. He could swear the temperature had risen and he thought he had seen a red flash coming from behind his goggles just before he disappeared like smoke in a windy day.

Wait, a red flash from his eyes? And he had trapped him in an illusion so easily… Could it be… Could Tsunade have found an Uchiha survivor? But it didn't make sense, why hide it? And what did he mean saying these forests were his?

This child was weird; a mystery. He'd have to keep an eye on him, just to be safe.

XxxxxxxxxxX

It had taken some time, but after she was done sulking at how she had been dismissed, Ino had started to share her worries with her teammates.

"Let's face it, all the teams from our village are stronger than us, and the ones from other villages we know nothing about but are more likely than not still stronger. The only team we could have a chance against is Kiba's since he's paired with fatty and Hinata."

"You should know better than that Ino, our parents were teamed with Chouji's and his family's jutsu are nothing to laugh at."

Shikamaru was trying to reason with her, an exercise in futility he'd admit, but there wasn't much else he could do unless she calmed down.

Naruto, for his part, had climbed a tree and was looking at their surroundings, when he spotted something and decided to join the conversation.

"What about our other classmates?"

"Don't be stupid." Ino hissed, "I give you that Sakura's weak, but Shino is a good ninja and Sasuke-kun is simply undefeatable."

The orange haired genin turned towards her and smiled cheekily, "So, if I told you I've just spotted that Sasuke and Shino are passed out and Sakura's the only one awake you'd be alright with attacking them?"

"WHAT?"

Both the Yamanaka and Nara heirs jumped into the tree on either side of their teammate to see for themselves the scene he described.

"So," Naruto begun in a cheerful tone, "are we going?"

It didn't take them long, however, when they arrived in the clearing, someone was already beating the living daylights out of Ino's one-time best friend. There was also a green weirdo passed out who bore a Konoha hitai-ate.

The Sound genin were utterly owning the Leaf genin, and Ino was actually shivering from fear. The blond wanted to help Sakura, they had been best friends and she didn't want to see the other girl dying, but…

She watched as the pink haired girl bit on an Oto-genin's arm and he started punching her furiously.

"Ino?" Shikamaru shook her, he knew that if they wanted to do anything they'd have to do it NOW.

"I know. I know." She seemed to have made up her mind. "Let's go."

Naruto could fight, he knew how to. Ninjutsu wasn't that hard to grasp, and taijutsu while harder was still easy enough, if nothing else just because he could take a lot more punishment and hit harder that one thought possible.

However, Naruto was also lazy by nature, so his preferred tactic was genjutsu. Illusions could do pretty much anything, and required much less work than nin or taijutsu as well as being more fun. As a consequence, unless he got in the mood, illusions were the only thing he ever used.

The human mind had so much in it: dreams, fears, regrets, desires, sadness, hopes, all of those contrasting feelings that could be manipulated to make a human into an empty shell, trapped in a faux world.

Which explained why the spiky haired sound genin, Zaku, was dry humping a tree. Yeah, illusions were fun.

"This is it! If you don't want the girl to die, leave your scroll and get out of here!" the sound kunoichi yelled while holding a kunai to her own throat. Ino's jutsu was a success apparently.

That was when the last member of that team, a guy with his head covered in bandages and a weird looking device on his arm, used his own jutsu. On his possessed comrade.

The dark haired girl slammed against the boy Naruto had trapped with a genjutsu, who got freed from it when his face impacted with the tree he'd been having his way with.

Ino, much like the body she was controlling, coughed up some blood.

"You should have stayed out of this," The bandaged genin said. "you'd have lived longer. We're not interested in completing this stupid exam, and any sacrifice is tolerable for us as long as we complete our mission."

"Your mission?" Shikamaru asked. He was getting a bad feel from this.

"Yeah." Zaku, who was now aware of what was going on and where he was, spoke up spitting out some blood from a split lip. "We're here for Uchiha Sasuke."

"And now that your pathetic attempt to stop us is over, you'll die too." Dosu finished.

Their attempt at intimidation wasn't so bad and Naruto wondered how much they had practiced that speech. It would have worked better if a new arrival hadn't interrupted them. Literally looking down at everyone in the clearing, Hyuga Neji made his presence known. The green passed out weirdo was one of the members of his team and Neji didn't look happy about seeing him down.

Naruto sneaked a glance at his female teammate, who despite being hurt still twitched when she recognized, to quote her words, "the asshole who dared to snob my beauty".

The adopted Senju blatantly ignored the new arrival exchanging taunts with the genin from Sound, and decided to sit down and watch. It had been a while now since he first felt something weird with the young Uchiha's chakra, and whatever it was seemed to have finally stabilized enough as Sasuke rose to his feet.

The others in the clearing noticed him too… once Neji pointed out to them he wouldn't need to fight. And he was right, as Sasuke thrashed the ones that were supposed to kill him with surprising easy.

'Now, this is just unfair. He gets those nice glowing tattoos and a power boost for free, while all the others were smacked around.'

A scream almost ruptured his eardrums as Zaku's arms snapped.

"Sasuke-kun, please stop!" Sakura cried as she hugged the newly awakened nin from behind.

Naruto blinked. He turned towards Ino.

"Why did she do that?"

He got a weird look from both his teammates, although Ino's resembled a horrified or disbelieving expression where as Shikamaru's seemed calculative.

In any case, the dark haired Uchiha's display scared the sound genin too, who decided to leave their scroll and make a run for it. Naruto thought they were idiots since Sasuke looked rather out of it after his pink-haired teammate stopped him, what with him staring at his shaking hands and all.

The goggle wearing boy decided to approach Shino, who was still unconscious and check up on him.

"Couple of cracked ribs, sprained ankle, right arm covered in burns from an acidic substance, and lots of insects crawling under the skin. You could be worse."

Shino, being unconscious, didn't answer. Sakura, who had noticed him examining the teammate she wasn't still hugging -something he was sure Ino would rant about for a while in the coming days- walked towards him with Sasuke, who looked to be lost in his own thoughts.

"Ah, Naruto… c-can you heal him?"

"Nope, no can do."

For a second no one said anything as they looked at him, and then Haruno's short temper showed itself.

"Why the hell not? You're a medic aren't you?"

Naruto turned to face her.

"I'm studying medicine, there's a difference. I can make a diagnosis, prepare antidotes for most poisons and give decent first aid, but I cannot treat wounds like a real medic-nin would." He explained."Did you really think I was that proficient in medical jutsu when I'm just a little genin who's studying other things as well? I mean, sealing theory is much more fascinating. Besides…" They couldn't see his eyes behind his dark goggles, but it was easy to imagine his condescending expression. "...we're in the middle of a test and our teams are enemies."

For a moment the genin in the clearing all tensed up. Well, Neji actually sent what was probably an approving glance at him for pointing out such an obvious thing, but the others looked worried at the prospective of starting another fight so soon.

Thankfully for everyone Ino decided to stop anything before it started. She slapped Naruto upside the head.

"Don't be an idiot, we've just got out of a fight and they're our classmates."

"Troublesome. They have the same scroll as us anyway." Shikamaru said with a shrug. He'd done way more than he wanted to for the day and wasn't eager to jump into a useless fight anytime soon.

"Oh. True." Naruto scratched his head as he noticed the Nara was right. "I wasn't serious anyway, if there's anyone I'd heal, being able to, it'd be Shino."

Sakura eyed him curiously at that declaration. "Why?"

He shrugged.

"I like him, we have similar interests." Seeing that she didn't understand what he meant, Naruto elaborated. "We both study society, behavior patterns and interactions of lower life forms."

The pink haired girl made a face thinking about all those insects. She liked Shino as a teammate, he was smart, quiet, and didn't get between herself and Sasuke-kun, but the thought of all those tiny multi-legged disgusting bugs… eww.

She didn't notice Naruto smiling at his inside joke.

XxxxxxxxxxxX

Anko groggily opened her eyes and sat up.

"Where…?"

She looked around and it took her a moment to recognize the place. She was on the roof of the tower in the center of the Forest of Death.

"Hello proctor, slept well? By the way, do you mind if I call you Anko-chan?"

The special jonin twirled around assuming a defensive stance. What, or rather, who was standing there wasn't the person she expected, just a short genin with gray pants, black t-shirt and red jacket. His eyes were hidden by dark goggles and his hair was spiky and bright dark orange. Weirdly enough her first thought was 'there's no way that is natural'.

The second thought was that she knew the little shit, Senju Naruto, a known troublemaker and heir, even if only on paper and not by blood, to one of the most important clans of the village.

"Where is he?" Anko asked.

She knew her former sensei wouldn't have let them go as if nothing happened .

"Not here. He said he had other, more important things to do and went on his merry way." The boy answered making Anko sweat-drop. She sometimes forgot how vain that man was."I thought to bring you here since it's probably where you were going to go anyway. And there are some nice rooms in case you changed your mind about having hot steamy sex with me."

Anko sighed.

"Quit it, moron, you're way out of your league. And this isn't the time for joking."

"But it's fun." Naruto pouted. "And you're the first one who's responding in kind and not gone screaming pervert as soon as I make a dirty joke or an indecent offer."

Anko walked toward the door to get inside the tower before she turned to smirk at him.

"Well, I'm special like that. Just get back to your test now, the big guns will take care of that traitor." With that said, she went inside, leaving him alone on the rooftop.

"I wonder what she'd do if I turned serious about that." Naruto murmured with a mischievous grin.

His expression faltered as he saw a Kumo team with a blond girl enter the tower.

"And there went kitty. I lost my chance to get her it seems. Oh well, there's always a next time."

A puff of smoke later and he disappeared.

XxxxxxxxxxxxxxxX

After separating from Team Seven, things got boring for Asuma's students. It was the third day of the test and they hadn't run into anyone else. Something positive that came from that confrontation was that now that she had thrown herself (and her teammates) into a battle, Ino seemed more confident in their chances for passing the test.

"Fine, our best chance to find another team would be to head for the tower straight away and wait there. Of course, the probability of being ambushed will increase exponentially too." Shikamaru exposed his opinion.

Ino, for all her bossing attitude, knew that she wasn't the best at coming up with a plan and simply nodded her assent, while Naruto was basically following whatever his two teammates wanted to do without complain. It was as if he didn't really give a damn, and he probably didn't.

He stifled a yawn and lifted his goggles to rub his eyes, then positioned them back on and stretched. He really loved being in this particular forest, but it seemed their time here was coming to its end. He consoled himself with the thought of looking for Mitarashi in the tower, and maybe kitty and sandy too; although the latter was bat-shit crazy, but that was the fun part.

First thing, though, getting the scroll they needed.

Team Ten followed their unofficial leader, Shikamaru, as they sprinted in the direction of the tower. They weren't far from it and could probably reach it within an hour if they run all the way and weren't stopped. But they counted on being stopped, preferably by a team who possessed the scroll they needed. And stopped they were.

Naruto, who Shikamaru had in the front position, deliberately tripped on the ninja-wire in his path, causing the exploding tags it was linked to, to detonate. It was one of the most simple and effective traps taught to every genin in every village.

Before either Ino or Shikamaru could do anything to help their teammate, three genin with Waterfall headbands descended on them. Ino desperately blocked her assailant's kunai with her own while Shikamaru opted to jump out of the way of the two who were attacking him, trying to move closer to the surrounding trees for cover.

"Trying to run away? We won't let you!" The two who were tag teaming Shikamaru went to attack him. From how they moved it seemed their specialty was taijutsu, and their teamwork was absolutely perfect. Without even looking to one another they moved in tandem, covering each other's openings and attacking their opponent relentlessly.

When Shikamaru had his back to a tree, however, the two Waterfall genin suddenly froze. Their third teammate, who was holding Ino's face pressed to the ground with a kunai at her throat looked on curiously as the taller of the two of Shikamaru's attacker looked in his pouches and took out their scroll with an odd smirk.

"Hey, what are you…?" His question died in his throat as he saw him throw the scroll to a shadow perched on the branch of a tree. Whoever it was took the scroll, turned and run away.

"The hell did you do?" This time it was asked with more anger than confusion.

As his other teammate started moving again, he too turned toward him. The taller guy, then turned and blew a kiss at him.

"You fell in our trap. Thank you for the scroll and bye-bye." That said, he crumbled to the ground like a puppet with his strings cut.

Just then, the Leaf genin they had trapped with his back on a tree and the blond girl he was holding went up in a puff of smoke and disappeared.

At the same time Shikamaru, Ino and Naruto reached the tower with the required two scrolls and passed the second test.

XxxxxxxxxxX

XxxxxxxxxxX

AN: I know it took a long time to update, but I had to study, and then I have other stories too now.

I noticed that a lot of review still ask about Naruto's nature. I already dropped not-so-subtle hints in previous chapters and... Well, to quote one of QuillofMolliemon's stories "There's dropping a hint and then there's hitting someone over the head with one."

Also, in this chapter you should have noticed that little speech Naruto gave about his medical skills. He isn't very proficent as a medic-nin he basically has good theorical knowledge, but cannot do anythng beyond the most basic things. He cannot do medical jutsu, in short, and the things he can treat are limited.

For any questions, you know how to ask. I hope you enjoyed this chapter.