Naruto yawned and rubbed at his eyes as he slouched at the village gates. The sun had barely risen and he would much rather be in bed, sleeping for at least another hour. But it was time to go.

He shifted his pack on his shoulders and frowned a bit. Even though he loved it, it felt so very weird wearing the dull green flak vest of a chuunin. Maybe it was because he was so small that even the smallest size vest that they made was a bit big on him.

I'll grow into it, Naruto knew. Dad said that he was on the small side until he got to be about fourteen. Hopefully I'll hit a growth spurt soon; I'm tired of always being the shortest.

Earning his vest had been tough, but well worth it.

It had been really weird to visit another "hidden village." Kumogakure no Sato was buried deep in the mountains, halfway up one of the taller peaks. It was shrouded in clouds a lot, and chilly, and the deep valley below suffered terrible storms. Naruto might've enjoyed it more, though, if it wasn't full of ninja that had tried to kidnap Hinata twice (he didn't care if the second time wasn't "Raikage-approved").

Thankfully the three tests of the exam hadn't been too much different from Konoha's exam, so Naruto hadn't had to worry about being hit with something completely new. The written exam still required cheating, and the last question was a trick (although a different one). The survival exam depended on collecting three different kinds of artifacts instead of acquiring two kinds of scrolls. And the final round (and the preliminaries for it) had been an individual tournament—no surprise there.

Naruto sighed. Too bad Sasuke couldn't come…

Sasuke's replacement hadn't been too terrible, all things considered. But Naruto just didn't like him. He bore a striking, but superficial resemblance to Sasuke…and he was so freaky and weird! He didn't smile, there was never any emotion in his voice, and the only socializing he did was hang out with his "brother" (who was clearly not related to him)—who happened to fill Shikamaru's empty space on Team 10. And then he—no-name Sai—had randomly asked Naruto a lot of strange questions about friends a few days before the finals were supposed to start.

He also asked after Naruto's penis.

If the guy hadn't been as competent and useful as he was, Naruto would've absolutely hated him.

I'm so glad that I'm never going to see him again…

He was also very glad that he wasn't likely to see any of the Iwa-genin who had taken part in the exam anytime soon, if ever again. There had barely been any genin from Iwagakure in Konoha's exam because of all the bad blood between their villages, but Kumo was not Konoha so there had been plenty of participants from the Stone Village. They'd been a mean bunch and tried to bully any Leaf-nin they came across.

Naruto, above all others, had been singled out. They threatened him, tried to intimidate him, tried to pick fights with him in Kumo's streets (regardless of the fact that they'd be disqualified from the exams, too), and they went after his team relentlessly in the second exam. His second opponent in the finals had been an Iwa-nin, and he hadn't tried to beat Naruto, he'd tried to flat out kill him. Even when the proctor called the match in Naruto's favored and ordered the Iwa-genin to stop, the boy hadn't stopped. He took some kind of pill that made him impervious to pain and drove him berserk. The Iwa-genin actually broke the proctor's leg before falling on Naruto like a wild beast. Only by tapping into some of the fox's power and fatally wounding the other boy had Naruto survived.

"You bastard!" the boy had snarled wildly, even as he'd lain broken and bleeding to death on the ground and restrained by medics who were fighting in vain to save him. "Iwa will g-grind you…into crow food! We'll crush you! …You…hear…!"

Naruto shivered and pushed the memory away.

Why feel regret? That wretch demanded his own death by trying to kill you—and therefore me! He is no longer a problem.

Shut up!

"Hey, brat! Ready to go?"

"Yeah, Ero-Sennin; sure," Naruto huffed.

It didn't matter that no one was around to see him off. They had other stuff to do, and he'd said his good-byes already. His little promotion celebration (which had also celebrated Neji's and Shino's promotions to chuunin as well), had doubled as a going-away party for him.

Sasuke had even shown up for a while, although he'd been a complete mope-y sourpuss about everything.

"Quit calling me that!" the Sannin fumed, shaking his large fist. "I'm your sensei, damn it! Show some respect!"

"Okay, Ero-sensei."

"Gah!" the white-haired man wailed. "Let's just go! We've got a lot of ground to cover today."

Naruto sighed and nodded. As he followed his new teacher's lead out of the village gates, he paused and looked back. Even with most of the village in his way, he could still see the great Hokage Tower looming over everything.

He raised his fist to it and grinned.

When I come back, I'll be ten times as awesome, Dad! Just you wait and see! I'll make you proud of me…

I promise.


NOTE: Firstly…please don't kill me.

And now:

1) Why have I skipped over Kumo's exams?

Simply, I don't want to write them. To cover the Chuunin Exams, I'd have to go through all the tests, write lots of different fights (I hate writing fights, they're so hard to pace and make clear and interesting!), and invent a whole stable of OCs (which is also hard—the more characters you have to invent, the worse it is). So I've skipped over them and let you know the results.

2) Will I go back and write about Kumo's exams some time in the future?

…Maybe. And when I say "maybe", I mean a HUGE "maybe". It's a possibility, but no promises on "if" or "when".

3) Will I write a sequel with SHIPPUUDEN events?

…Another huge maybe. And probably only after Shippuuden ends, so I know ALL of what happens, and what I want and don't want to use. So not anytime soon, if ever.

I do have in mind a possible one-shot set far in the future (post-Shippuuden)…but we'll see.


Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it!

…And if you didn't enjoy it, why the heck did you read it all the way to the end?