I do not own Naruto or any of its characters.

Chapter 1 - I'm A Ninja: Enter Team 8!

Konoha was known worldwide for its moderately warm temperature, the climate producing bountiful harvests that villages on the side of cool, crisp days and poverty would give a limb or two for. The Hidden Leaf Village was highly recognised for its display of talented and skilled ninja. It had upheld a position of high achievement and accumulative numbers in the shinobi ranks over the years, at the same time maintaining a steady treaty with several other Hidden Villages.

In addition to those features, the fiery village seemed to attract a fair amount of tourists and guests all year round. Families that just happened to have a spare amount of fortune often chose to take to the village where no shadow remained a patch of darkness for long. As it was, there were several sites worthy of classification as tourist attractions, one being the infamous Hokage Tower, and the other the Hokage Monument, a large, intricately carved slab of stone that depicted the previous and current Hokages.

And, as today's family of tourists would soon discover, it appeared to be traditional to slather paint over the preserved stone faces, inscribing various scribbles and uncouthly remarks. All in broad daylight, too.

A businessman from mainland, a father of two young children, cleared his throat and tapped the shoulder of the chuunin shinobi that had been assigned to produce a tour of the village for the family. "Excuse me, good sir," he said, a slight tone of disapproval apparent in his deep voice.

The chuunin turned to face the man. He did well to disguise the expression of utter boredom and chagrin. If there was one thing Hatane Kiyoshi happened to label near the top of his 'List Of Idiotic Doings I Refuse To Subject Myself But Am Forced To' list, it would be leading such sightseers around the village. He had been chuunin for eight years, had been denied the opportunity to rise in rank to jounin, and, quite honestly, he was pissed off. As he laid his dulled gaze on the businessman referring he, a toughened shinobi, as a 'good sir', he had the sudden urge to teach the man exactly what a good sir such as Kiyoshi was capable of.

However, although forcing two senbon up the man's nostrils would certainly qualify him as the latest addition to the many attractions the village had to offer, he had the vague idea that the Hokage would not be amused. So, for the sake of his career, Kiyoshi guided the creative half of his mind back onto sensible territory.

He pasted a forcibly upturned smile on his face and beamed at the tourist, trying not to be disgusted by the older man's smooth, obviously manicured hands. These were hands that knew only how to deal with dead piles of paperwork, and not the roughened edges of kunai. "Yes, Hatane Kiyoshi at your service. How may I help you?"

The businessman seemed not to notice the sarcasm dripping from his host's honeyed tone. Instead, he frowned toward the monument and tried to find the words. "Please correct me if I am wrong, but it did not so much as hint in the brochure that such…outrageously inappropriate…acts would…" The man's face flushed to a peculiar shade of violet as his eyes slanted into slits.

Kiyoshi rolled his eyes. Trust the high and mighty to make such a big deal out of the simplest matters. "Yes?" he prompted, unable to prevent his toe from tapping on the pavement, dangerously close to the man's polished shoes. Dust lingered in the thin morning air.

The man's wife returned and she glanced at her husband with an inquiring look in her eyes, her hands suspiciously guiding her children's curious gazes away from the 'big rock thingy'. The businessman slipped his arm around his wife's slender shoulders and they shuffled backward, away from their guide.

It was about time for Kiyoshi to snap, and he did. "What?" he growled, irritated. "I doubt Hokage-sama would appreciate your disrespect toward his predecessors."

The man's lips twitched. "I suggest you see for yourself," he grumbled, turning his small family away. "Up there."

Kiyoshi glanced up at the Hokage Stone. "Nothing is out of place," he called after the tourists. "Hey, come back and-" His voice broke off as he snapped his head around to stare at the monument again. Three seconds passed, and then his eyes narrowed. He groaned and slapped a hand to his forehead.

"Oh no…not again! NARUTO!"

As if on cue, an obnoxiously loud "WAHOO!" filled the air, and Kiyoshi whipped around to see a blonde, blue-eyed boy breaking away from the Hokage Monument and diving down to the earth, cackling as fluorescent paint spilled in his wake.

Furiously, the chuunin whipped out his short distance communicator, but raising the alarm was unnecessary. The patrols, fortunately, were not blind. They materialised within seconds, as if they had done this many times before. And they had.

Kiyoshi dashed forward to intercept the troublemaker. "Get back here, Uzumaki!" he snarled, arms outstretched. "You aren't going anywhere but the Hokage's office."

"Oh shut up! Just because you don't have the guts!" The boy laughed, and bounded upward. Kiyoshi growled and leapt after him, grappling for the blonde in midair. He succeeded in relieving him of the buckets of paint, and as they both watched in fascination, the colourful fluid spilled over the street, splattering over the family of tourists that Kiyoshi had been leading.

Kiyoshi fell away from Naruto, hissing curses and bidding farewell to his chances of getting taken off tourist duty. Strangely, despite the torturous scrubbing down he would receive from his superiors later, he had to admit that the businessman's angry sputters were music to his ears.

Naruto laughed once more at the colour-coated family before leaping off a roof into the next street. He glanced back to see a handful of uniformed chuunin pursuing him. He even recognised some of the threatening faces. Grinning, the boy turned his head to stick his tongue out at them. He should not have gloated, he realised, when they pushed in another trickle of speed and started closing the distance between the two groups.

He skidded on the dirt road into a smaller alleyway. He dashed into an empty side street, eyes flickering from side to side as his devious mind started to put together an escape plan. It had been a pleasure earning his own fan club, but it would not suffice if his great achievement ended with him in another staring match with Old Man Hokage.

Naruto was absorbed deeply in his thoughts and focusing on the sound of his pursuers' footsteps. He jumped, literally, when a hand dropped lightly onto his shoulder. He yelped as if shocked and his feet left the ground a good three inches. He turned and stumbled back a few steps.

He found himself facing a tall woman with long, flowing dark hair and eyes that glinted crimson in the midday sunlight. Naruto found himself blinking at the woman's choice of clothing; a set of wraps that strangely resembled bandages wrapped around her upper body, a single red sleeve protruding to cover her right arm. Swallowing became somewhat difficult as his gaze flickered upward to the Konoha hitai-ate that adorned her forehead. Judging from her questionable uniform, she was not a chuunin.


"Uh... hi..." Uzumaki Naruto was very rarely lost for words. More often than not, he was the one who forced words into the mouths of others. Yet, staring at this woman, a sense of superiority somehow radiating off her being, he found himself struggling to put together a sentence. He realised that this was anxiety, which just happened to be a foreign emotion to the blonde. Naruto had faced and dealt with chuunin multiple times, but he had yet to experience the wrath of a jounin. Iruka, in hopes of averting his troublesome student away from public defacement, regularly dropped hints that he would rather be hunted down by ten chuunin than a single jounin.

The woman paused, and then walked toward him. As she passed the boy, she tapped his shoulder. "I believe the art of disguising one's self would be suitable for a situation such as this one," she murmured, and continued on her way.

Naruto ignored the bead of sweat that had trickle down the side of his face when the woman had brushed past him. He turned, and opened his mouth to thank her for her advice, but the chuunins' steps were pounding closer. Hurriedly, he tore his curious gaze away and dived toward the fence.

"Get back here, you little devil!"

"Damn it – where'd he go?"

"Split up. I'll go this way."

"Right. Man, I can't wait to get my hands on that kid!"

Yuuhi Kurenai quietly stepped back as a pair of flustered chuunins darted by her. They had not thought at all to question her, this courtesy of the low-level genjutsu she had concealed herself with. A game of cat and mouse in which the number of felines greatly outnumbered the rodent barely seemed righteous in Kurenai's eyes.

She paused to glance back at the boy she had passed. For a moment, she wondered if she had unconsciously cast her genjutsu on a wider basis. The street was absolutely deserted, deprived of any presence she could sense. It wasn't until half a minute later, when the cause of the commotion materialised from the fence, that Kurenai realised that he had been there the entire time, skilfully concealed. An eyebrow arced up. The boy would have done well without her advice; he had the look of one who had attempted such escape tactics a great number of times.

And had been caught on a collection of occasions, from the look of it. Kurenai watched with a slightly bemused smile as an Academy instructor appeared behind the blonde boy, hands on hips and an expression torn between amusement and strictness on his face.

"NARUTO!" the man screamed in the boy's ear.

Kurenai's lips twitched as the short blonde was led away by his teacher, cupping his ear against the pain. So…this is Uzumaki Naruto, she mused.

Umino Iruka did not know what to do with the blonde boy bound on the floor before him. Naruto… he was a handful. A bright ball of energy that refused to exhaust. The chuunin sighed and leaned over, forcing a hard glare into his eyes. "What were you doing out of class, Naruto?" he demanded, ignoring the giggles of the other students in his class, apparently amused by their classmate's behaviour.

"Painting that big rock up there," Naruto replied in a loud, boisterous voice. He struggled into a sitting position, his olive goggles slipping over one eye as he did so. "I'll be up there soon enough – just you watch! I'm gonna be the Hokage!"

"Idiot!" Iruka scolded. He raised a threatening fist. "You have your graduation exam tomorrow, and here you are playing around and stuffing up like a drunken monkey. How are you going to become the greatest ninja of the Leaf Village if you can't make it past Academy rank?"

Naruto recoiled slightly, but quickly bounced back with a retort on his tongue. "So? If I can't be a genin or a jounin or whatever, what does it matter? I'll find a way! There's no rule that says you have to be on the top of the ladder to be Hokage. See? I know my stuff!"

The boy's determination struck Iruka, as it had so many times before. Attention seeker he may be, Naruto had a hell of a lot of confidence when it came to his ambition to surpass those who looked down on him. His endless pranks were understandable; the blonde sought to be the centre of attention, to be recognised. Iruka understood that Naruto had been shunned by the majority of the village since birth, and the isolation reminded the chuunin painfully of himself. Am I…doing this the wrong way? he questioned himself.

"It would make your job a lot easier," Iruka said in a much softer tone.

Naruto jammed his tongue out and struggled some more against his bindings. "Doesn't mean I can't do it the hard way, does it?" he challenged. "I'm going to be Hokage no matter what – you got me? Believe it!"

The discussion was started to fade. Iruka sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Fine, fine. But this still doesn't excuse you from skipping class. Thirty laps around the courtyard, and then you're going to scrub off whatever you did to the Hokage Stone." The chuunin knelt down to undo the rope that bound Naruto's hands to his back. As he worked with the knots, Iruka could not resist but murmur in the boy's ear, "Being Hokage is hard, Naruto. Don't you have any backup ambitions?" Later, he kicked himself for not foreseeing what came next.

"Sure I do!" Naruto boasted. He grinned and turned his head to his classmates, focusing on one in particular. "Hey, Sakura-chan! Will you go out with me? Pretty please?"

A breath of silence was all the peace Iruka received before a pink-haired girl wordlessly pushed her chair back and stormed down the steps. The chuunin could practically hear the death threats stirring in her mind. Given Haruno Sakura's ingenuity, he did not doubt that every single one of them promised much pain.

"Sakura, get back to your seat," Iruka said, his order falling on deaf ears as the enraged girl advanced. The chuunin winced at the amount of murderous intent that his student exuded. Despite the trouble he had caused, not even Naruto deserved to be castrated at such a young age.

Moving swiftly, he tucked a protesting Naruto under one arm, stalked to the window and tossed the boy out onto the courtyard.

"Wooaaah! Iruka-senseeeiiiii - ow!"

"Practice your Rope Escape technique," Iruka called distractedly, before snapping the window shut. "See? He's gone now, Sakura. Come on, back to your seat please."

"But Iruka-sensei!" she protested. She pointed an accusing finger at Naruto, just visible over the window sill. "He… he…" She could not even express her indignity.

Yamanaka Ino propped her elbow up on her desk, smirking. "Made fun of your big forehead? That's normal, Sakura."

Iruka's face caught the bristling attack of Sakura's hair as she whipped around to glare at her rival. "Shut up, Ino-pig!"

"Excuse me?! Giant forehead!"

Two seats away from Ino, Nara Shikamaru grumbled and shifted his head on the pillow he had made of his arms. "How troublesome," he muttered.

Iruka could not agree more with his lazy student.

The Academy bought back fond memories of childhood and the rise to a shinobi. Especially childhood and the friendship that had accompanied such. Yuuhi Kurenai would know. Her path and achievements had stemmed from this very place, the slightly rundown clutter of buildings in the centre of the village.

She was standing on a branch of the taller trees that fringed the Academy's boundaries. It was lunchtime, and the children had spilled onto the courtyard. A couple of instructors left the main building for their own quarters, relieved that they had finally escaped the hellhole of their respective classrooms. It was the day of the graduation exam and it seemed that the students were particularly uptight about the event. And, as all Academy instructors had discovered today, excess energy – anxiety included – was usually vented out as quickly as possible in the most creative forms.

Kurenai silently gazed down at the students. There was a curious amount of talent in this generation of potential shinobi. Some of the well known clans in Konoha had chipped in their next generation; Kurenai noticed a Nara, Yamanaka and Akimichi among the students, knowing that, if they made genin, they would most likely be placed on the same team. There were few students that had not come from such clans, but even then they displayed promise. Earlier that day Kurenai had stopped by to observe one of the classes, and she had seen a pink-haired girl produce an impressive description of the Summoning Jutsu, a technique that was well being an Academy student's knowledge.

Yes, Kurenai decided, quite a lot of genin would be produced with this year's 'harvest', and she knew that the chances of her being dismissed from the duty of heading a team was minimal.

The Third Hokage had already asked her the previous day to take a genin team under her wing. Kurenai did not appreciate such, preferring to work on her own, but it was rather difficult to refuse. After the genin exam, she would attend a meeting with the other selected jounin and the Academy instructors to discuss the composition of the teams. A person who did not particularly take to waiting, Kurenai had decided to make use of her time. It was profoundly difficult to work with a team that was foreign to you, and to compensate for that, she had taken it upon herself to grasp the personalities of the future genin before it came to the team selections.

The students seemed to each portray their own lifestyle and interests in their movements, even the slightest upturn of a word betraying their emotions. The only one Kurenai could recognise was the Hyuuga girl, Hinata. The girl was painfully shy, just as she had been the first time Kurenai had met her. Hyuuga Hiashi had given up on his eldest daughter and had arranged for her training to be overseen by the Academy, himself focusing his time on Hinata's younger sister, who, admittedly, displayed more promise than the older of the siblings.

Kurenai pondered on the possibility of nominating Hinata to be on her team, but then realised that it would take some convincing, the girl being a Hyuuga and therefore a great asset to whichever team she was assigned, regardless of whether or not she happened to be the failure her father accused her to be. The jounin deduced that an approximate of three teams would be dispatched from the Academy this year, and if her observations were correct, one team would be comprised of the Nara, Yamanaka and Akimichi kids, their fathers having proved the combination of their clan techniques deadly effective. That left Kurenai and the remaining jounin to decide their teams, and the former found herself growing worried. It was not good odds. Being, undoubtedly, the least experienced jounin, she would receive last preference, and another's word would rule out hers. It seemed there was not much Kurenai could do for Hinata.

It took a moment for the jounin to register that a faint scent of noodles happened to be wafting toward her. The rope by her feet, bound to the branch, creaked slightly as a weight transferred onto the swing it suspended. Kurenai, absorbed in her own thoughts, was momentarily taken off guard. Instincts sorely tempted her to leap away from her perch, but she knew doing so would send a shower of leaves to announce her leave.

Kurenai subtly edged around the branch to transfer to another, gaining a better view of the boy that had effectively startled her. It was Uzumaki Naruto, the boy she had run into just the day before. He sat alone on the swings, feasting on a cup of instant ramen. He swung lightly as he ate, slurping, and Kurenai watched him.

He was a live depiction of dejection. He sat facing his classmates, yet the distance that stretched between them was wide. No one glanced twice in his direction except for the Hyuuga heir, and even then she made no apparent interest in openly approaching him. Kurenai's brow furrowed. So it was true; the container of the demon fox had no companions to speak of.

Kurenai had been a genin when the Nine-Tailed Fox had attacked her village. She had been at the site of destruction, but only to watch by the sidelines. Her sensei and a teammate had been slaughtered in the first minutes of the struggle against mankind and the demon counterpart of humanity. And all the red-eyed genin had been able to do was scream and clutch at her remaining teammate as they retreated away from the mangled bodies of their broken team.

Kurenai did not know if it was resentment or fascination that drew her toward the blonde kid on the swings. She ruled out resentment, deciding that even if it was such emotion responsible for her interest in the boy, he did not deserve such mistreatment. It was not like he'd had a say in the killings, or the fact that he was the oblivious host of Konoha's most hated demon. He was not murderous by nature or a terrible demon. He was, in comparison, friendly, attention-seeking and open to warm emotions.

It intrigued Kurenai that Naruto could still smile through the pains of his childhood. She did not know him well, but she often caught the whispers of conversation as she walked the streets of the village. As it was, the jounin had yet to hear a friendly comment regarding the boy exchanged among the villagers. Naruto was forever pranking and it seemed to have produced the results he yearned for – he drew attention, lots of it. His defacing of the Hokage Monument the day before had earned more shake of heads than Kurenai could remember.

However, the fact that the frozen faces of the revered Hokages displayed no hints of the abuse they had endured the day before when Kurenai had glanced toward it earlier that morning told her that the boy was willing to accept responsibility. It would not be the work of others; no one would assist the 'demon child'. Naruto must have stayed up in the night to scrub off his handiwork. Whether it was the order of his teacher or not, it did not matter. As far as Kurenai was concerned, the boy did not disregard his responsibility, and that was a treasured characteristic of a successful shinobi.

A drill that happened to be the Academy's bell pierced the air. Kurenai glanced around the courtyard as the students unwillingly returned to their classrooms. Naruto followed them, confidently striding toward class as if he had no care in the world, as if no genin exam was going to hold him back. She took him for his assurance and wished him good luck as he slipped into the building.

It came as a surprise to discover that Uzumaki Naruto's name was not amongst the list of graduates that the Third Hokage announced at the jounin meeting.

There were only eight graduates, one short of forming three full teams. One team would have to make do with two genin, and Kakashi had volunteered to lead that team. His only specification had been the Uchiha, an understandable development with credit to the Sharingan the renowned Copy Ninja happened to possess. The Hokage gave him his preference without question.

Kurenai happened to be adept at reading body language, a skill honed from many hours of sitting by the lake and occupying herself by analysing those that passed her. The extent at which those of her gender expressed their open generosity often appalled her, the same way such a matter had while observing the Academy students; Uchiha Sasuke appeared to have gathered his own fan club, one he reluctantly accepted but refused to acknowledge in existence. The jounin deduced by the low tone in the Third Hokage's voice and the lessened frequency at which he inhaled from his pipe that he was disturbed by an unknown factor.

However, Kurenai happened to know that the Hokage and Naruto maintained a friendly relationship. She wagered most of her confidence on the likelihood that Naruto's failure to pass the graduation exam had disappointed the old man.

Sarutobi cleared his throat to address Kakashi. "You require one more genin to complete your team, Kakashi. Which of the remaining seven do you have in mind?"

The one-eyed jounin turned the page of the little orange book he had been reading. "The Hyuuga heir."

Kurenai sighed. Predicting the outcome, she raised her objection regardless. "Excuse me, Hokage-sama, but I happen to have interest in Hyuuga Hinata as well."

The Hokage nodded in acknowledgment. "Kakashi?" he questioned.

"Please explain," the silver-haired man said in response, glancing up briefly from his book. The gaze he held with Kurenai was friendly yet chillingly demanding. She returned it coolly.

"Hinata seems to have issues with her self-esteem," she said, choosing her words carefully and drawing them out at a painfully considered pace. "To place her in a paired teamwork with one such as Uchiha Sasuke would… intimidate her."

"That doesn't really answer my question," Kakashi said lightly.

Kurenai realised now how weak her argument had come out. She silently apologised to Hinata, knowing that she could do no more for the girl.

Before she could voice her withdrawal regarding Hinata Hyuuga's team placing, a chuunin entered the room without knocking, flustered and puffing. Kurenai raised an eyebrow at the man's lack of etiquette - until the news was delivered.

"Lord Hokage! Uzumaki Naruto has stolen the Scroll of Sealing!"

Umino Iruka paled and excused himself from the meeting, rushing off to join the search. Kurenai recognised him as Naruto's Academy teacher, and deduced that the man held Naruto's existence to be of significance. She was pleased to discover that Naruto had someone who seemed to care about him, one who showed the opposite emotion to what one would display upon hearing that the boy had violated rules. From her observations, Naruto was gentle by nature. The pranks he pulled were not designed to offend or hurt in any way. It concerned Kurenai to ponder on what had provoked him to change in such a short matter of time.

She noticed that Asuma had taken advantage of the distraction to light a cigarette. "Sure we shouldn't join the search?" he said, though Kurenai suspected that his offer was half-hearted and introduced more to suggest his responsibility as a Jounin and Sandaime's son rather than display it. Sarutobi Asuma did not bother himself with matters that unnecessarily crossed the boundaries to his job description.

The meeting continued as if there had been no interruption. Kakashi, his team decided, tuned out of the conversation and retreated to a corner with his annoyingly perverted books that Kurenai swore to relieve from his possession one day. Asuma had, predictably, offered to take the Ino-Shika-Cho generation. That left Kurenai with the pink-haired Haruno girl, the Inuzuka and the Aburame, to which she reluctantly agreed to.

It was well into nightfall by the time they finished off the meeting. Just as Kurenai was leaning back in her chair to stretch her stiff frame, there was another interruption, this one coming in the form of one battered Umino Iruka. He did not appear to be in the best of conditions, with several gashes across his limbs and a particularly large wound in his back. For someone as injured as he, Iruka seemed to be strangely optimistic. The Hokage got up with a faint smile and took the chuunin to one side, and the two conversed in a low voice.

Asuma groaned and reached for a new cigarette. "Can't we just get this over and done with already?"

Kurenai gave him a pointed look. "Only women need beauty sleep."

"You're talking," he retorted with an irritatingly convincing grin on his face.

The Third nodded and dismissed Iruka from the room. He turned back to the jounin and gave a small shrug of his shoulders, which Kurenai now noted to be a cheerful gesture. "It appears that the three of you must remain in an old man's company a while longer. We now have enough genin to compensate for three complete teams; Uzumaki Naruto has joined the ranks of the graduates."

"You said he failed," Asuma pointed out.

"Mizuki betrayed us; he convinced Naruto to steal the scroll with the lie that he would be able to graduate if he learned the techniques contained within. Naruto has indeed managed to master one of the jutsu, and he utilized it effectively to come to Iruka's aid. For this reason, Iruka graduated him."

For the first time in hours, Kakashi appeared to be interested. He did not look up from his book, but added in his voice. "Which technique would this be?" he inquired, though he had a good inkling of the response he might be receiving.

Sarutobi smiled a genuine smile that Kurenai had not seen for a long time. "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu. According to Iruka, Naruto produced scores of clones, filling the forest with them." The Hokage's tone dropped. "However, it appears that all forms of joy come at a price… Naruto now knows about his prisoner."

Kurenai heard a sharp intake of breath that she failed to identify. It took her a moment to realise that it had come from herself.

"Is it wise to allow him to become a ninja now that he knows?" Kakashi questioned. He was unusually solemn.

"I don't see why not," Kurenai cut in, before the Hokage could answer. She stared unblinkingly at her fellow jounin. "The boy has proven himself to be an asset to the village – why should we stunt his progress?"

Pleased to hear that someone was standing up for Naruto, the Third Hokage smiled at Kurenai and nodded in agreement. "Naruto will continue on his path to become a shinobi. Now, the matter settled, I believe Naruto should be placed under Kakashi's tutelage, given the fact that he has a vacant position available."

Kurenai found that she was not particularly satisfied with the turnout. "Hokage-sama," she said quietly. "It is in my interests to transfer Uzumaki Naruto to my own team." She whispered a silent apology to Kakashi, having clashed with him on two occasions over the team compositions. She was relieved to note that the Copy Ninja held only a bemused expression on his face; Hatake Kakashi was not one you would want to cross rocky paths with.

"Is it truly in your interests to do so?" Sarutobi asked her.

"Yes. I believe I can guide Naruto correctly." Kurenai immediately berated herself for her choice of words.

"Meaning I can't?" Kakashi asked with a slight chuckle. "Don't be mistaken," he added when Kurenai appeared to be on the verge of voicing another apology. "I don't mean that I object to your request."

Kurenai smiled to show her appreciation and said nothing else.

"Hmm," Sarutobi grumbled. He blew out a perfect ring of smoke and pensively watched it drift toward the ceiling. "Kakashi, Asuma, I am going to ask you to wait outside for a moment."

The two jounin got up and left without a word.

Kurenai found herself alone with the Third Hokage. This was a man that had been personally handpicked by his predecessors, a man that, in his prime, had shaken shinobi with the mere mention of his name. It was impossible not to feel uptight in his sole presence.

Sarutobi considered himself a rational man. Throughout his sixty years, he had made only precise decisions, ones carefully calculated and thought over sleepless nights before initiated. On the day that he had been deciding his successor, he had stayed up all night to ponder the candidates, paining himself by eliminating his own lusted student from the list and nominating another man, one who loved the village as much as Sarutobi himself did. Again, on the night Yondaime lost his life to defend the village, the old man did not receive much sleep. And now, with the Fourth's son, the container of a widely feared and powerful demon, Sarutobi had to carefully consider his options as he did each and every day.

He moved to sit down behind his desk, clasping his hands before him. Leaning forward, he regarded the young woman before him. Sarutobi believed he remembered Yuuhi Kurenai from her childhood. It must have been many years ago, and had his memory been faultier he would not have recognised this woman as the weeping child he had encountered just hours after the Kyuubi had launched its first attack on the village.

She had been so small, so fragile back then. A child who stood sobbing in the rain, drenched in blood that seeped through her clothing to her bare skin, and an unconscious teammate on her back. Sarutobi remembered relieving the young girl of her burden and enveloping her in his own arms, her face buried against his arm, crying until she exhausted both her tears and herself.

It was difficult to picture Kurenai as she currently was as her younger, seventeen year old self. Back then she had been a fresh chuunin, and now she had become a grown woman, a jounin handling her own team.

"I was under the assumption that you were intending to lead a tracking team," the ageing Hokage said. "I don't understand why you would consider Naruto an asset to a team that focuses on something he does not - and frankly, might not be able to - specialise in."

Kurenai smiled ruefully as if she knew exactly what her superior was talking about. "I would rather my team be one that is capable of handling all the fields."


"You may not be aware of this, Lord Hokage," Kurenai began in a soft voice that was barely a whisper, "but my chuunin team specialised in tracking. We tracked well – and those same skills led Kouta-sensei and my teammate Masuru to their deaths. We were the team that led the first wave of Konoha's forces to the demon fox. It was our team that fell first." She clenched and loosened her fist, shifting her gaze elsewhere. "I don't want my team to go through what I had to. I want to provide them with choices and opportunities."

Sarutobi's conscience did not fare off very well at the realisation that he had dug up the young woman's painful memories. "Then what do you propose?" he asked gently, offering her a kind smile.

"A team bound by no specifications, comprised of Inuzuka Kiba, Haruno Sakura and Uzumaki Naruto." Kurenai just knew that this was not going to fly well, and she braced herself for it.

A bemused smile crinkled the Third's aged skin. "As I understand, Sakura does not seem to be very fond of Naruto."

Kurenai took care not to think of Hinata, who had displayed hidden affections toward Naruto, knowing that she was confining the girl to a powerful and unusually stoic team. "It is just a childish misunderstanding of boundaries between friendship and emotions beyond such. Kiba appears to be friendly by nature, as does his dog Akamaru; they should be able to accept Naruto. I think I can stabilize the differences between Naruto and Sakura and produce a recognisable team from these three genin." Her lips twitched. "From what I've heard, I think placing Naruto and Uchiha Sasuke together would be an even more unwise decision."

The Third was forced to put forth the final hurdle. "Yet it is tradition that the graduates with the lowest and highest marks be placed together on the same team. What do you put forward to that?"

"With all due respect, Hokage-sama," Kurenai said, picking up the rebuttal with ease, "I'm beginning to doubt the Academy's standards if a student capable of producing scores of shadow clones is still labelled the last of his graduate class. I have also witnessed his commendable skill at disguising himself. The boy may not be a prodigy, or particularly talented at that, but he does not deserve to be ranked as the lowest."

Sarutobi was beginning to wonder if Kurenai had already rehearsed her arguments beforehand. Shaking his head, he brought his withered hands together and clapped amusedly.

"Well said. Very well said." The Professor smiled. "Then I shall entrust the local prank-master to you. Consider yourself warned."

Kurenai's confidence faltered a little.

Each morning at the fifth hour, Konoha's resident cock took it upon itself to raise the village's inhabitants with a shrill cry that was commonly choked off halfway by whatever unfortunate farmer happened to discover it on its land. Still, the damage was usually done by then, and the village started to rise.

To Kiba's credit, he failed to notice the piercing note that hovered in the air. And, with a nose like his, he somehow failed to catch the scent of breakfast.

"Get off," Kiba whined, pushing his sister away and curling in a tight ball under the folds of his warm blanket. "Give me another second…"

"Kiba. Now." Inuzuka Hana admired her mother for her strength and her ferocity, including her effective formulas that always had Kiba scuttling out of bed in seconds. Tsume possessed a canine wildness in the way she could unremorsefully snatch her son's blankets and drag him halfway to the kitchen. It was bad luck for Hana that her mother happened to have left the premises early for a mission briefing.

"Another minute, Nee-chan," Kiba grumbled, and slapped his pillow over his head.


"You suck."

"You suck more. I thought you were officially a genin today."

He finally succumbed into opening a bleary eye. "I am," he croaked, suddenly boastful. Then he blinked. "So?"

"So?" his sister repeated. She crossed the room to the cupboard that she had just days ago cleaned out and was now resembling a garbage tip. She occupied herself with picking out Kiba's cleaner clothes. "You have less than fifteen minutes to get to the Academy for your team assignments. I doubt your team would appreciate it if you were late. Now get up!"

Four minutes later, when Kiba was racing down the street with his morning vegetables having trouble going down his throat, he would regret not asking his sister to borrow one of her Haimaru Sankyodai. The large dogs were fast and fun to ride; they would have spared Kiba a good five minutes of running. If only Akamaru was that much bigger, the boy found himself wishing. He shot a baleful glare at his dog, yipping at next door's cat as they shot past. Kiba had stumbled into the kitchen, his clothing barely addressed in a presentable manner, to discover that his dog had made off with his breakfast.

"I'm still mad at you, you know that?" he grumbled.

Akamaru yipped happily.

Kiba soon forgot about Akamaru's traitorous acts when he landed by the Academy's entrance. Judging by the instructors still lazily making their way to class, the bell had not rung yet. Grinning, Kiba flung himself through the window of his own classroom, not digging deep enough to truly bother taking the long way around.

He almost – almost – trod on Naruto upon landing. The other boy was lying in a crumpled heap on the ground, fresh bruises flowering on his face. He also had what looked suspiciously like footprints on his clothing. Akamaru sniffed the air and scoffed out: "Smells like someone was out to kill." Kiba had to agreed. Judging by the lioness expressions on the female portion of the class, it must have concerned Sasuke.

"Hey man," Kiba said, leaning over to offer Naruto his hand. "What happened to you?"

Groaning, the blonde grasped the hand and let himself be hauled to his feet. He winced and nursed a black eye. "I… kissed the stuck up bum over there," he muttered, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.

Kiba blinked. "Wow, Naruto. I never knew you were gay."

Unfortunately for Naruto, he happened to have said that in a voice that carried over the excited chatter around them. The class burst into immediate laughter. Sasuke's eyes narrowed and he turned away to resume cleansing his mouth.

Sakura seemed to take offense from the remark. "So what – you're saying that I must be a guy if Naruto's always asking me out?" she scowled, daring Kiba to agree.

"Oh Sakura," Ino said with suspicious sympathy. "You must have been a pretty disturbed guy if you chose to be reborn with pink hair!"

Iruka announced his presence in time to catch the beginning of what would have been a dispute bordering the limits of feline ferocity. He prompted proceeded to separate the combatants and placed them in separate corners of the room, away from their beloved Sasuke-kun. The seating arrangement did little to resolve the glaring match the girls appeared to be having, the unfortunate people sitting between them began to feel a strange heat in the side of their face after a while.

Naruto seemed not to mind. His bruises had started to heal and he slammed his hand against the table without wincing. "Hurry up, Iruka-sensei!" he said eagerly. "Let's get started already!"

For the first time that morning, Kiba seemed to notice exactly who he was sitting next to. "Hey!" he shouted. Akamaru barked to compliment the surprised tone in his voice. "Naruto?! What are you doing here? You failed!"

The blonde grinned. "Did not! See?" He proudly stood and pointed at his hitai-ate so that the class could 'see'. "I stayed behind and did some extra work – I'm a ninja just like the rest of you!"

Iruka skilfully hid the smile that had started to grow on his face. "Alright, Naruto – we get it. Now sit down so I can begin."

At this, Naruto dropped into his seat and leaned forward to listen. A dreamy grin spread on his whiskered face. Let's see…I definitely want Sakura-chan on my team… and I don't care who else I get as long as it's not Sasuke-teme.

"Before I announce the teams – and yes, Naruto, it is absolutely necessary that you understand the basis of becoming a ninja," Iruka cut in when the blonde opened his mouth in protest. "The sooner you stop interrupting the sooner I'll get this under way." He cleared his throat.

"Firstly, congratulations, all of you. You have now become ninja. Your forehead protectors mark you as a Leaf Village shinobi, and I hope that you will rise to become the best."

Naruto and Kiba gave simultaneous impatient grunts, only to be ignored by the scarred man.

"You are no longer Academy students. The kunai you use will no longer be blunt and thrown at straw dummies. You will be entitled to missions, dangerous tasks that may take your life to complete. You have volunteered your services to the village, and simply by doing so, each of you is a hero to this land." He gave them a smile, the unvoiced sadness thickening his throat.

"Your team," he continued, "will be as fundamental as the air you inhale. They will become your family. You will spend many years working with them, and there will be times when your life will depend on the actions and decisions of your teammates. You must respect, accept and protect your friends. They are your precious people."

The practiced speech continued for another few minutes, and then Iruka began to announce the teams. He changed track from the traditional announcement to team components in a matter of seconds, and the genin barely had time to get excited before the first team was pronounced. He proceeded down the list at a steady pace.

"Team Seven – Aburame Shino, Hyuuga Hinata and Uchiha Sasuke."

The devastated cries of "NO!" from Sakura and Ino echoed over the silence of the said team. They both proceeded to bang their heads on the desk. Hinata felt strangely apologetic to them. She glanced meekly toward Sasuke, wondering why she did not feel very privileged.

Iruka's lips twitched into a smile. "Team Eight – Inuzuka Kiba, Haruno Sakura and Uzumaki Naruto."

Sakura pounded her head that much harder.

"You got the dead-last!" Ino cackled. Naruto was much too caught up in his joy to realise that he had been insulted.

Iruka's final announcement wiped the smugness off her face: "Team Ten – Nara Shikamaru, Akimichi Chouji and Yamanaka Ino."

"... What?! No! Who chose these teams?!" Ino looked toward Shikamaru in dismay.

Iruka sighed. He was going to miss all the ruckus. "You will have a lunch break before you meet your jounin leaders. I advise you use this time to get to know your team better. Good luck, all of you."

Luck? Naruto thought as his jaw started to hurt from the amount of grinning he had been doing. Who needs luck? The fact that Sakura-chan had been assigned to his team, Sasuke-free, was more of a miracle than a simple case of good fortune.

By the time he emerged from his fit of joy, he realised that he was the last one left in the classroom. His teammates had left him without a word. Naruto's chest tingled with a brief, unwanted emotion. So maybe he and his teammates hadn't gotten off to the best start – so? Iruka-sensei did not seriously expect them to bond like peas immediately, did he? After they met their sensei, he would make ends meet. It was a promise to himself.

Naruto's stomach grumbled in protest. He realised now that he had only gotten away from his apartment with a carton of milk in his system. And with all the excitement of team assignments, he had forgotten to bring his usual cup of instant ramen. He groaned and slumped his way outside to the canteen. After digging out Gama-chan and discovering that he had forgotten to refill his purse with his savings, he left for one of the stone benches that lined the garden. He dropped onto the seat and moaned.

A white four legged animal trotted up to him and scratched on the leg of his pants with its front paws. Naruto blinked open an eye. "Oh. Hey, Akamaru. What're you doing here? Where's Kiba?"

The puppy waggled its tail and dropped a can of soda onto his lap.

"Eh? For me?" Naruto grinned and popped open the can. "Gee, thanks!"

"Don't gulp it all down in one go, you idiot."


He looked up to see Kiba standing over him, Akamaru perched on his head. The Inuzuka boy sat down next to his new teammate and extended a hand, revealing two small tablets on his palm. "I smelt some overdue milk on you earlier. Take this if you don't want to spend the rest of lunch in the toilet."

Naruto blinked. The statement did more than inform him of the fact that he had profusely tainted his stomach with tardy fluid. It filled his being with warmth, with gratitude, which happened to be an emotion the blonde experienced only when Iruka-sensei offered to treat him to lunch or when the Old Man sneaked out of his office to play with him.

It was the gratitude of knowing that someone cared.

Kiba stared. "Hey… are you, like, crying, Naruto?"

The shorter boy wiped furiously at his eyes. "No. Just got something in my eye, that's all." He took the offered pills and popped them in his mouth, flushing it down with the fizzling soft drink. "Thanks, Kiba."

Kiba raised an eyebrow at the emotion he detected in Naruto's voice. "Hmm…I guess he is gay after all, Akamaru."

"Am not!" the blonde protested.

Akamaru barked: "Usually when they don't admit something, it means it's true."

Kiba laughed. "Yeah – I'd say you're right there, boy!" He turned and raised a hand in farewell. "I'll see you in class later, Naruto."

"Yeah…hey, who d'you think our sensei will be?"

But Kiba was already gone, leaving Naruto alone on the bench. The blonde stared as his teammate turned a corner and disappeared from his line of vision. Then he gave the can in his hand the same amount of attention.

He downed the drink in one go.

Sakura stared down at the yakitori her mother had packed for her earlier that morning. The chopsticks were held loosely in her hand, clinking together but succeeding only in stirring her meal and lessening the pink-haired girl's appetite.

It was all Ino's fault.

"So…Sakura. How's life with that moron?"

"Shut up. You didn't get picked for Sasuke-kun's team either so I wouldn't be gloating if I were you."

"Hmph. Don't get cocky now, forehead girl. I hear Naruto did better than you in the taijutsu examination."

"S-So? It's only because he doesn't have parents who set curfews and yelling at you to stop training so much."

She hadn't noticed him standing there until he stepped out of the shadows cloaking him. One look at his smooth features swooned her, but a second examination of his emotionless expression caused her smile to slip. Ino left her there, uttering a hasty greeting before fleeing the scene.

"To be all alone… the feeling of a parent yelling at you is nowhere near what he feels."

"Sasuke-kun, I…it's just Naruto we're talking about. Why bother-"

"You're ignorant. And annoying."

Yes, it was Ino's fault. It must have been a devilish scheme. Now Sasuke was mad at her and Sakura did not know what to do. She didn't even know what she'd done. She understood that Sasuke's clan and family had been murdered when he had just started his Academy years… had he related himself to Naruto and taken offense in Sakura's scorn?

Am I really… ignorant?

Sakura was glad that the bell rang then, distracting her from her thoughts. She closed the lid on her untouched bento and headed back to the classroom. With each step, she felt a little lighter, and by the time she took her seat in the room, she had resolved to forget the encounter completely.

But when she looked around and saw Naruto sitting alone by the window, it was impossible to forget. He was leaning back in his seat, with his hands behind his head. A perpetual grin was fixed on his face. Sakura found herself watching him. He annoyed her so much – just like yesterday, when he'd asked her out in front of the whole class. The boy she craved was accusing her of being ignorant, and the one she wanted to get away from was expressing his love to her. Why was everything so screwed up?

Sakura supposed she should feel flattered by the attention. If it had been anyone but Naruto, she would be gloating to Ino endlessly each day. But that person just had to be Naruto – and as she watched him, Sakura wondered what it was about him that irritated her so much. So he had no parents; neither did Sasuke and he was still irresistibly desirable. Did he set her off simply by being Naruto?

She speculated in silence. Naruto often fooled around – perhaps if he matured and decided to learn the words 'grow up' he would be just like all the other males Sakura happened to fantasize about; tall, strong… normal. In that instant, the pink-haired girl realised that, all along, she had maintained the unconscious impression that there was something about Naruto that just did not fit under the usual 'ordinary'. She found herself peering curiously at him, trying to see under the laughing face.

Unfortunately, she couldn't look away fast enough when Naruto decided to turn toward her. "Sakura-chan!" He invited himself to the vacant seat next to hers, and Sakura groaned. "Isn't it cool that we're in a team together?" he asked with a wide grin.

Whatever curiosity she might have held toward him vanished on the spot. "No, it's not" she snapped, as Iruka poked his head into the room and called for Team Ten. "You're annoying and you're a complete idiot. I don't…" She sighed. "I don't understand how you made genin." And even though her conscience warned her against it, she added, "It might have been better if you failed; at least then I might have a chance to be on Sasuke-kun's team."

His face fell so quickly that she wondered if she truly had wounded him.

It seemed that she had. Naruto gave her a weak chuckle and sauntered down to where Kiba sat with Akamaru. Once there, he sank into a spare seat and ignored the prods Kiba gave him.

Sakura felt terrible and she didn't know why.

"Team Eight," Iruka called, entering the room once more. "Come with me to meet your sensei."

"Hey, come on," Sakura heard Kiba mutter to Naruto as she walked behind them. "What's wrong? Did the cramps kick in anyway?"

It took a moment for Naruto to respond. "What? Oh… yeah. Yeah, the milk sucked." And he laughed.

Sakura was almost too distracted to notice that their jounin instructor stood before them.

Iruka tried to salvage the awkward silence. "This is Yuuhi Kurenai. She will be your sensei."

Their sensei had startling red eyes that captured the attention of her students. Naruto, in particular.

"Hey! I know you!" he burst out, pointing. "You're that jounin from yesterday!"

This earned him a whack alongside the head. "It's rude to point!" Iruka hissed, and straightened to smile sheepishly. "Excuse him. He's... loud."

Kurenai smiled faintly. She led her team outside to the courtyard and sat them down on one of the benches. Their expectant expressions gazed up at her. She had to remind herself that they were now her students and that she should set the example.

"We'll begin with some basic introductions so we can get to know each other better. I'll go first. I am Yuuhi Kurenai, and I specialise in genjutsu. I became a jounin last year and this is my first team. I like learning new things, cooking – even though I don't get around to doing that as much as I would like – and I also like to treat my team to meals if they work hard enough."

Naruto whooped. "You rock, sensei!" he cheered, only to be hit by Sakura.

"Zip it!" the pink-haired girl hissed.

Kurenai smiled and went on. "I dislike people who are sexist against females and slackers who believe they can achieve their goals by depriving themselves of hard work. My ambition is to help you achieve yours."

"Me next!" Naruto said, grinning. "Let's see… my name's Uzumaki Naruto. I like ramen and anyone else who will treat me to ramen. I don't like the three minutes you have to wait for instant ramen to cook. And my dream is to become Hokage so everyone will finally recognise me and treat me like a great ninja!"

Naruto looked expectantly at Kiba even though the taller boy showed more than one indication that he would like to volunteer next. "Yo! I'm Inuzuka Kiba. I like my sister's cooking, my dog Akamaru and training with Akamaru. This is Akamaru, by the way." At his name, the white puppy in his arms barked. The boy continued with a grin. "I hate getting kicked awake and people who pick on animals. My ambition is to… I dunno - be a jounin?"

Immediately, all eyes turned to Sakura. She responded by clearing her throat and began speaking, her voice deprived of her teammates' confidence. Kurenai wondered if she was accustomed to having attention diverted onto her and not the Uchiha boy. "I-I'm Sakura Haruno. I like flowers, reading and… Sasu… um - and my parents." Her hands fidgeted in her lap. "I dislike Ino and people who make fun of my forehead. My ambition is to prove to my parents that I can be a strong ninja even though I'm the first of my family to take up the career."

Perhaps the girl had more than intelligence. Kurenai offered her a kind smile. "Your forehead is perfectly fine and you have a very beautiful face." The genin flushed and lowered her head.

"Thank you, sensei," she said quietly.

Naruto grinned. "See? I told you!" He turned to Kurenai. "She gets really strong when I try asking her out, too!"

Sakura was suddenly brandishing a threatening fist. "NARUTO!"

"Ow! What'd I say?" Naruto exclaimed, and dived for cover. Kiba and Akamaru barked with laughter.

Kurenai had once been their age, and she could understand their enthusiasm and energy. She gathered that she was not wrong about her team. Naruto was, quite literally, a bouncing ball of energy. She would have to do something about his unhealthy lifestyle and attention span. Kiba was deeply focused on Akamaru and his loyalty to his family was apparent. Furthermore, he didn't seem to harbour any animosity towards Naruto. Sakura lacked the motivation her teammates had, yet it was understandable; she was the first ninja from her family line and she was doing very well considering. Indeed, she and Naruto were quite the pair but there was hope. Violence was the first step to friendship. Sometimes.

Kurenai rounded up her students again. "Good introductions, everyone," she said, nodding. "This place is not suitable for what we will be doing next. Follow me."

She led them down to training ground twenty-seven. The genins followed her without much conversation. Aware that Sakura was the only genin on her team who could be considered 'quiet', Kurenai wondered the boys' silence had something to do with her presence. Children were often like that, keeping their distance from adults they had only just met. She wondered how long it would take before they overcame that – probably not very long for Naruto.

Kurenai also noticed that her new students did not talk to each other, either. They walked separately as if the thought of sticking together had not even occurred to them. They obviously were not on very close terms. Kurenai was surprised to see that Naruto did not try to challenge the distance between himself and Sakura.

Arriving at the training ground, Kurenai set them to work on basic taijutsu sparring, their opponent being herself. She was certain that no amount of observation could be measured against firsthand experience. Kiba beat Naruto in volunteering. He told Akamaru to remain by the sidelines and lowered himself into a readying crouch. Kurenai could tell immediately that the boy followed a form of taijutsu different to the basic methods taught at the Academy.

She was proved correct. Kiba's speed was commendable, but his rhythm was unbalanced and wild. His blows came from all directions, and Kurenai momentarily found herself forced to parry each attack without the chance to retaliate. She understood that this was the Inuzuka way of fighting; it was very similar to the ferocious beasts they raised. It took careful observation, but Kurenai soon discovered that Kiba attacked on a frontal basis. He did not slip around his opponent to attack, only leaping forward with the occasional aerial assaults. She sidestepped a brutal kick and grabbed Kiba's wrist as his momentum carried him past her, sweeping him around until she had both his arms pinned against his back.

"Good. Take a rest." Knowing that, although Kiba's methods were undisciplined and relied completely on instinct, it was his clan's fighting style and that attempting to steer him toward steadier forms would most likely do him more harm than good, Kurenai called on Naruto.

It did not take her long to discover that Naruto's taijutsu… horribly sucked.

His form was terribly misplaced. His blows had potential strength behind them, but his stance prevented him from releasing it. He seemed to favour no particular arm when he attacked, and he often found himself caught in a scenario where he would strike with his right arm and discover that his left leg was leading the momentum. More often than not, he spun a kick in the air only to overbalance and leave his torso open to attack.

Kurenai decided at once that Naruto required much assistance in taijutsu. Not particularly adept at the art, the jounin resolved to find another tutor for the blonde.

"Sakura," she called, and waved the girl over.

Sakura quickly adapted a sound imitation of the Academy's lectured taijutsu. Kurenai used 'imitation' because that was all it really was. Sakura carried herself rigidly, as if she had memorized the technique and was trying to mimic it to perfection. She lacked instinct and her blows were weak and undeveloped - yet she had a strong knowledge of where to strike an opponent to induce the most damage. Although the girl appeared to have pieced out Kurenai's movements and committed them to memory, skilfully evading the harder blows, she could not produce a challenge worthy of the jounin's concentration. It appeared that Naruto would have a sparring partner.

"That gave me an insight on your individual skills," Kurenai said while her students rested and caught their breath. "There is room for improvement, as there is for everything. We will discuss this another day. I would now like to see your utilisation of your chakra and your favoured techniques." She was running through a basic assessment that jounins with half the common sense required would opt for.

Naruto had a grin on his face as he stepped forward and formed a handsign. "Tajuu Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" Chakra seeped from his body at a visible rate, and soon the training ground was misted with smoke.

Kurenai had… never seen so much orange in her life. Naruto's duplicates blurred into existence, filling up the majority of the area. Kiba and Sakura gawked. Naruto waited a moment longer before releasing the jutsu. The clones dispersed, leaving the original looking very pleased with himself.

Kiba whistled. "Wow. Can you teach me?"

"I would advise against that," Kurenai said smoothly. "The Shadow Clone Jutsu is incredibly hard to perform and it requires a large amount of chakra. Naruto has unnaturally large chakra reserves, so the technique is perfect for him. You on the other hand, Kiba, would sooner drop from chakra exhaustion before you managed two clones."

Disappointed but not altogether put down, Kiba displayed his own ninjutsu. He performed a jutsu that transformed Akamaru into a carbon copy of himself, and the two of them demolished a row of trees in a powerful frenzy.

The most intriguing performance was Sakura's genjutsu. It took Kurenai several moments to realise that the hundreds of Sakuras surrounding them were not Shadow Clones but an illusion formed by manipulation of her own chakra system. She was impressed with the girl's chakra control; she had barely sensed the genjutsu take over. Noting that genjutsu was not stressed as a vital subject at the Academy, Kurenai saw potential. If Sakura could manipulate genjutsu in such an effective manner, it would not be difficult for her to master other techniques.

"You all did very well," she said, and the genins absorbed the praise whole-heartedly. "Most jounins present their team with an assessment of some sort to gather if they are truly capable of becoming genin. If they aren't, they will be sent back to the Academy. I have-"

"WHAT?!" Kiba and Naruto yelled. The shorter of the pair jumped to his feet. "You're saying I worked so hard to get here and I have to go through another test? No fair!"

"Let me finish," Kurenai said, and waited until Sakura had forcibly pulled her teammates to the ground before continuing. "I personally handpicked this team and I have confidence that you will do well. I will not challenge your right as a genin." There were simultaneous sighs of relief that even Akamaru managed to echo.

"However, I will give you a small assignment."

They groaned and Kurenai found herself smiling faintly; they were so predictable.

"Don't fret it. It's simple; I will wait for you at an unnamed location and it is your task to locate me before eight o'clock. That leaves sufficient time for you to sleep in if that is a chronic habit any of you have developed. I would like to assess your ability to locate a given subject."

Sakura looked troubled, Kiba more than displeased, and Naruto unfazed. They came from varying levels of the demography, had completely different styles of fighting – and their personalities clashed. These three were exactly the sort of people who could make parallel lines meet.

So many things could go wrong with this team.

And surprisingly, Yuuhi Kurenai was excited.