Disclaimer: Don't own Naruto.

"Stupid clone jutsu." Naruto grumbled. "It's a stupid jutsu anyway, why's anybody gotta use it? Okay, I guess being able to make copies of myself is kinda cool, but if not being able to do the clone jutsu means I fail the graduation exam again then who needs it?" Naruto's failed graduation exam had been several almost a year ago, but luckily the ninja academy believed in second chances so his plans to become the next Hokage hadn't been badly derailed. However, it still irked the boy that he hadn't graduated because of a single failed jutsu; it just wasn't fair, and if he didn't get it down before the next exam he would be failed again. If he could just figure out how he was supposed to do the damned clone jutsu he could finally get out of the academy and move on to the next step of his master plan to become Hokage.

Or rather, he could do that if he actually had a master plan. The boy had some half-formed ideas about kicking ass with his awesome ninja skills (ignoring for the moment that he had yet to develop any awesome ninja skills) and prompting the Hokage to give up his position gracefully, but that wasn't really the important part of the plan anyway. Becoming Hokage was just a stepping stone on Naruto's path to his real goal.


Naruto didn't understand why almost everyone in the village looked down upon him, but he definitely understood that they did. At first he'd been hurt by the way everyone ignored and disdained him, but he'd still been a young boy when he learned that crying wouldn't change anything. If the people of Konoha didn't want to acknowledge him of their own accord then he would make them acknowledge him. Nobody ignored the Hokage. Nobody disrespected the Hokage.

Unfortunately for Naruto, while he was determined to become the youngest Hokage in Konoha's history, he had been forced to admit that it would probably be a while before he was in position to claim the office. Since he wasn't going to be named Hokage in the immediate future, he needed a way to get some respect and acknowledgement right now. Working hard in class hadn't gotten him any results; the senseis never praised him when he did well, so after a while Naruto had just stopped trying. Then, one day during a lesson on setting up basic traps, Naruto had a moment of inspiration.

Several of traps the senseis were describing could be modified easily enough to produce harmless, yet humiliating, results. In other words, the same principles applied to making lethal traps could be adapted to create highly effective harmless pranks. A sensei might be able to ignore Naruto's progress with his transformation jutsu, but nobody could ignore an eraser falling on their head or superglue on their chair. Not only that, people would also start respecting Naruto when it became clear that disrespect would bring down the prankster's wrath.

Thus, Naruto had decided to send a message to some of the more annoying students in his new class. Several of the less skilled ninjas-in-training had made a habit of mocking Naruto over the fact that he had even worse grades than they did, and it was past time they learned that Naruto was not a dead last loser.

The plan itself was devilish in its simplicity and sublime in its genius. Naruto's targets almost always showed up late to class, so it had been simple to wait until class started, then leave the door ajar with a bucket of water perched precariously on the edge, set to tumble down on the next person to open the door. However, the true genius of Naruto's plan was not the bucket. The problem Naruto had discovered with water-based pranks was that most people, upon being drenched, had promptly fled the scene and gone elsewhere to dry off, thus denying Naruto the chance to properly laugh at them for falling for his pranks. A coating of water-activated fast-acting adhesive on the floor under the door would fix that problem, once the water fell down Naruto's victim would be rooted in place so that Naruto could take his time laughing at them.

Luckily, the class's sensei didn't interfere with Naruto's preparations; Mizuki's sole response to all of Naruto's preparations had been to comment that ninjas who couldn't avoid pranks deserved to be humiliated in front of the entire class. The rest of the class wasn't inclined to interfere after the sensei had refused to get involved, and many of them were secretly looking forward to the results of the prank almost as much as Naruto was. Everyone enjoys a chance to laugh at someone else's misfortunes.

The entire class fell silent when they heard the first footsteps in the hallway, waiting with bated breath for the results of Naruto's prank. Perhaps Naruto's career as a prankster would carry bigger dividends than he had originally expected; amusing his classmates might gain him a new measure of acceptance amongst them. Naruto leaned forward in his seat, watching the door intently as he heard the footsteps continue to approach the door, and then there was a soft, tentative knock.

Wait … that's not right! Those jerks never knock when they show up late! Naruto's concerns were affirmed when he heard a familiar female voice call out. "Mizuki-sensei? Iruka-sensei said that you wanted to see me right away." Crap! Not her! Anybody but her! Before Naruto could think to call out a warning Mizuki shot a smirk to the rest of the class, then said carelessly. "Come in then."

Naruto finally had the presence of mind to try and warn the girl away, but before the words left his mouth the door opened and his bucket of water went cascading down onto one of the last people Naruto had ever wanted to prank. The boy gave an involuntary flinch as he saw the soaked form of the rather cute pink-haired girl from the year below his. Sakura Haruno stood in the doorway, shocked by the sudden deluge, and when she attempted to flee and salvage her dignity she found her shoes firmly attached to the floor, causing the girl to overbalance and fall to the ground.

The class burst into laughter at the girl's misfortunes, even Mizuki joined in, while Naruto wilted miserably in his seat. He hadn't ever properly met the girl, but he had already begun to develop the beginnings of a crush on her and he'd been hoping to find a good reason to introduce himself. Whatever first impression he'd been hoping for, pranking her and making her the laughingstock of an entire classroom was not the way to do it.

Once the laughter died down Mizuki went to the unfortunate Haruno girl and helped her free her shoes from the floor. As the girl was about to flee the scene with the few tattered shreds of her remaining dignity, Mizuki grasped her arm and said. "Just a minute, Sakura." The sensei gave a cold smile. "You haven't told us what you learned from this lesson."

"W-what?" The girl asked, trembling with a mixture of coldness from her unexpected bath and humiliation from everything that had followed. "What lesson?"

"This was a lesson." Mizuki explained calmly. "I need to be sure you understand what you were supposed to have learned. Think of it as a pop quiz."

The girl remained silent for a long moment, then hesitantly offered one of the many basic rules all shinobi had been expected to learn. "A ninja is always prepared for the enemy's attack, even when they believe themselves to be safe."

"Very good." Mizuki said, condescension heavy in his voice. "Maybe next time you won't fall for such a simple trap that any idiot should have been able to see it." Turning his gaze to Naruto, Mizuki asked. "And what have you learned from how your prank went, Naruto?"

Naruto flinched as Sakura turned a hate-filled glare in his direction. Crap, I was hoping she wouldn't find out it was my fault she got soaked. Naruto shrunk down in his seat, wishing he could just disappear entirely. When it became clear that Mizuki would not move on until the boy said something, Naruto hesitantly offered. "That … um … well … the prank wasn't supposed to get Sakura, it was meant for someone else."

Mizuke gave a grin lacking any trace of genuine worth. "And the dead last gets one right; the rest of you had better be careful or he might catch up with you." Mizuki's gaze swept over the rest of the class before returning to Naruto. "This little exercise has given us a practical demonstration of an important thing for every ninja to keep in mind; traps do not distinguish between friend and foe, between your intended targets and innocent bystanders. That's why I had Sakura come here to give us a … practical demonstration of this principle." Mizuki turned back to Sakura and said. "You can go now; take a minute to dry off before going back to Iruka's class." Without a moment's hesitation the girl fled, and Naruto was horrified to note the girl seemed to have been on the verge of tears. I gotta apologize to her later. Naruto wasn't able to focus on the rest of Mizuki's lesson, or any of his other classes that day.

Naruto grimaced as another shuriken flew wide of the target, and threw the next one twice as hard, only to become even more frustrated when that one also missed the mark. His plans to apologize to Sakura had been badly derailed when a blond girl named Ino who was apparently one of Sakura's friends tracked him down and very publicly chewed him out for his prank. He'd tried to explain that it had been a terrible accident, but he hadn't been able to get a word in edgewise until the girl's rant had been winding down and he didn't think she'd believed him when he finally got a chance to defend himself. After that, the idea of tracking Sakura down for a further apology seemed pointless; she wouldn't believe him either, and he'd probably end up making her hate him even more and run into Ino and get yelled at even more.

The boy had decided to take out his frustrations by training, and had found an unoccupied training ground that seemed like a good place to practice his ninja skills. After half an hour of failing to produce a remotely passable clone Naruto had given up on that ongoing exercise in futility, and had shifted to practicing with his shuriken instead. When he'd gone up to the targets he had been surprised to see that one of the girls from his class was already practicing there; he couldn't recall her name off the top his head, but the double-bun hairstyle was definitely familiar. Naruto normally would have gone to another practice ground to work by himself, but in his current mood he couldn't be bothered to go to all the trouble of finding another unoccupied training area, and there were more than enough targets for both of them to practice at the same time without getting in each other's way; training fields were meant for use by four person teams after all..

Naruto growled in frustration as he switched from shuriken to kunai, and found that his results were no better. He normally did reasonably well with thrown weapons, but he seemed to be unable to hit a single target today, and the fact that the girl was hitting every target almost perfectly only increased his frustration. The girl turned to regard her accidental training companion and quickly looked over his lackluster results, then shot him a quick satisfied smirk.

With a muttered curse Naruto redoubled his efforts, throwing his next several weapons as hard as he could, and slamming a fist into the ground in helpless rage when they went even further of the mark than his previous attempts. "I'm throwing these things as hard as I can." The boy groaned. "Why can't I hit a single freaking target?"

The girl scoffed, then casually commented. "That's the entire problem, stupid." Seeing the boy's blank look of incomprehension, she explained. "You're throwing too hard and it's messing up your control."

"Huh?" Naruto asked. "What're you talking about?"

The girl rolled her eyes, then elaborated. "You're throwing so hard that it's making your motions rough and jerky." The girl demonstrated, giving a fair imitation of how Naruto had been throwing his weapons and getting a similar result to what Naruto had been accomplishing.. "You have to throw smoothly, like this." The girl once more demonstrated, throwing a kunai in a single graceful motion that placed her weapon dead center on the target.

"What makes you think you know more about how to throw a kunai than I do?" Naruto asked folding his arms across his chest and fixing the girl with an offended glare.

The girl glanced at her own targets, peppered with perfectly thrown weapons, then looked to Naruto's training area, littered with weapons that hit everywhere but where they were supposed to, then raised a single eyebrow. Naruto rubbed the back of his head and gave a sheepish grin as he grasped the girl's point, then admitted. "Okay, so maybe you know a little bit more than me about this."

The girl smirked and said, sounding quite pleased with herself. "I do have the best marks on throwing weapons out of anyone in our class for a reason."

That comment made something click in Naruto's brain, and he suddenly remembered the girl's name. Tenten. The boy hesitated a moment, then asked. "Um … could you show me how I'm supposed to be throwing again? I wasn't really paying attention the first time."

The girl rolled her eyes in annoyance, but then gave the boy another demonstration. "You try it now." She said.

Naruto's attempt to imitate Tenten's throw was far from perfect, but this time he actually hit the wooden target instead of going wild. "Hey, that works way better than the way I was throwing them before!" Naruto exclaimed. "Thanks Tenten!"

The girl regarded Naruto for a moment, then gave a careless shrug. "No problem." Tenten paused for a moment, then added. "I heard Iruka-sensei's going to be testing us on throwing weapons tomorrow, so you might want to practice until you've got that down. That's why I'm practicing; have to make sure I stay the best in the class."

Naruto took the girl's advice and practiced his throwing for a little longer, and continued to be pleased with his improved results. Tenten noted Naruto's much improved results and gave a satisfied nod, happy to see that a simple tip from her had turned the worst student in the class into a decent ninja where throwing weapons are concerned. It was a testament to Tenten's skill as a kunoichi that she could help a student most of the senseis had already given up on as a hopeless case. Now there's an interesting thought. If I could turn Naruto from the dead last to even a passable ninja that would be quite the accomplishment. I'm good, but know I won't get the top rank in our class; however if I could train Naruto … that would be something no amount of grades could compare to.

"Um .. Hey, Tenten?" Naruto asked, snapping the girl out of her musing.. "Say … you any good with the clone jutsu? I … kinda suck at it; it's why I failed the graduation exam last year."

"Ninjutsu and genjutsu aren't my best areas, but I've got the basics down." The girl answered "Give the clone jutsu a try and I'll see if I can tell where you're having problems." Let's hope whatever he's doing wrong is something I can figure out and fix; if I'm tutoring him then my reputation will be affected by his performance, so if he doesn't get better I'll look bad too.

Naruto closed his eyes and gathered his chakra, concentrating and building up as much as he could before finally performing the jutsu. When the puff of white smoke cleared and Naruto saw one of his usual half-dead looking clones instead of the healthy-looking duplicate he should have produced the boy groaned in frustration, then gestured to the pathetic clone and said. "That's what happens every time I try to make a clone. It's really starting to piss me off."

Tenten frowned at the sorry looking clone walking around it a few times while she tried to come up with some idea of what was going wrong. "Have you tried asking any of the senseis for help?" The girl inquired. I'm nor quite sure what he's doing wrong here, but if one of the senseis told him what he needs to improve to get the jutsu right I can help with that.

The boy grimaced and seemed to acquire a sudden interest in studying his clone. "Tried once or twice, but they never have time to give me a couple tips when I ask."

Tenten frowned when she heard the boy's response. That's odd; Naruto obviously needs the help, so why didn't anyone give it to him when he asked? Tenten dismissed the matter from her mind for the moment, and told Naruto. "Try it again."

Naruto dismissed his clone, then once more frantically gathered as much chakra as he could before releasing it into the jutsu, trying as hard as he could to pull it off. This clone looked even worse than the previous one. "Dammit, I'm never gonna get this stupid jutsu right!" Naruto groaned in despair.

Tenten considered Naruto's results suddenly recalling a piece of advice her father had given her once when she was having trouble with the replacement jutsu. "Naruto, you're trying really hard to do this jutsu, right?"

"Of course!" Naruto exclaimed. "I've been trying as hard as I can for a year to get this stupid jutsu right and I can never pull it off!" Turning a hopeful gaze on his new tutor, the boy asked. "So, have you figured out what I'm doing wrong?"

Tenten approached the clone and casually flicked a finger against it's arm, blinking in surprise when her finger encountered a gelatinous sort of resistance while passing through the clone. This clone actually has substance? Looks like I was right… "Yeah, I think I know what you need to do to get things right." Tenten declared.

"What is it?" Naruto asked eagerly, almost bouncing on his feet as he faced the prospect of finally defeating the dreaded clone jutsu.

"You need to calm down." Tenten told him.

Naruto went still, then folded his arms across his chest and adopted a very serious expression. "Right, I got a little excited there. I'm ready now, tell me what to do."

Tenten sighed in exasperation, then clarified. "No, that's what you need to do to get the jutsu right. You know you have trouble with making clones, so whenever you try to do the clone jutsu you get worked up and panicked, and that's why you make a total mess of it. Don't build up lots of chakra, don't get really determined or worried, treat it like any other jutsu and just do it instead of making such a big deal out it every time you try it."

"Alright, I'll give it a shot." Naruto said, not entirely convinced that the girl knew what she was talking about but willing to give it a try. Okay … calm down. I'm calm. The clone jutsu's just another jutsu, it's no different than replacements or the transformation jutsu, and I've done those plenty of times with no trouble at all. I can do this… Naruto's hands flashed through the hand signs as he performed the clone jutsu, and a puff of white smoke engulfed the boy, then cleared to reveal a pair of perfect illusionary clones.

"YES!" Naruto shouted with glee. "I did it! Take that, stupid clone jutsu!" Turning to his tutor, Naruto gushed. "Thanks! You're so awesome Tenten-sensei!"

"Just Tenten." The girl said, smiling at the boy's obvious glee, "and you're welcome." Maybe Naruto's not so bad after all…

After a month of helping out Naruto, Tenten continued to be amazed by how quickly the boy had grown in ability. When it came to pure academic work the boy was as hopeless as ever, and after a week of trying to improve the boy's study skills Tenten had been forced to concede that even she would never be able to turn the boy into a scholar. However, when it came to practical ninja skills the boy had massively improved, and Naruto had been delighted when the new class rankings revealed that he had surrendered the dubious honor of being the class's dead last to Rock Lee, though Naruto's poor academics (and the fact that several senseis graded him a bit more harshly than other students) still kept him in the bottom ranks of the class.

Often, the problems Naruto encountered were relatively simple things that, once identified and addressed, were easily corrected. A few tweaks to his stance had massively improved the boy's taijutsu, and his ninjutsu had a lot fewer problems once she realized that Naruto put his right pinky just a bit out of position when making a horse seal. A little bit of one-on-one attention had been exactly what the boy needed to hammer out the problems with his basics, and once he had a solid foundation to work off of Naruto had improved rapidly. Tenten herself had learned a few things from reviewing the material to help Naruto; she'd been surprised when Naruto had pointed out that she kept putting too much weight on her rear leg when attacking in close combat, and on a few occasions Naruto had offered a unique perspective that helped her with difficult jutsus or gave her interesting ideas on how to use her own ninja skills.

As Tenten had gotten to know Naruto, she'd realized that it was far too simplistic to just dismiss the boy as an idiot. While she was often forced to explain things to him in laboriously painful detail, sometimes the boy would stun her by not only immediately grasping her point, but carrying it to conclusions she had never even considered. The fact that he seemed to have become slightly less of a hyperactive knucklehead helped as well, though Tenten often despaired at just how slight the change had really been.

With the graduation exams rapidly approaching, Iruka had decided to put his students through a bit of light sparring for their final lesson. Iruka took care to keep the matches reasonably even, though in some that was an exercise in futility; nobody in the class had the skill to take on Neji Hyuuga in close combat. Iruka had ended up having Neji fight against the number two and number three students at the same time; that was enough to give the Hyuuga genius a challenge, but Neji still won in the end.

"Well done Neji." Iruka congratulated the boy; who gave his instructor a brief nod in acknowledgement of the praise. "Masaru Mori, Naruto Uzumaki, you two are next."

"What?" Masaru, one of the largest boys in the class, called out. "Iruka-sensei, I'm the fifth-ranked student! Why are you putting me up against the guy who's just a couple places away from being dead last? Tenten's number four, she'd be a better match." The boy sighed and ran a hand through his short brown hair. "We ought to keep the fights fair."

"Iruka-sensei picked me 'Cause he knows I'm good enough kick your ass!" Naruto supplied, moving to his end of the training ground that was hosting Iruka's set of sparring matches..

Masaru didn't deign to dignify Naruto's outburst with a response, instead keeping his focus on their sensei. "I deserve a better opponent so I'll have a chance to show my skill, and Naruto shouldn't be forced to fight someone who's so far above his level. He's gotten better lately; give him a fair match so he has a chance to demonstrate that instead of forcing him to fight an opponent he has no chance of beating."

"Don't underestimate me! I'm not gonna lose!" Naruto insisted, only to be ignored once more.

"I've made my decision Masaru." Iruka said, a hint of steel entering his normally kind voice. "Get in position."

"Fine." Masaru said, reluctantly taking his position. Addressing his opponent for the first time, he said. "I won't drag this out; I'll make it quick and clean."

"Funny, I was gonna say the same thing to you." Naruto declared with a confident smile on his face.

Masaru smirked and gave a soft chuckle. "Your self-confidence really is unshakable, isn't it?" He asked rhetorically. "Alright then, show me what you've got, Naruto!"

Naruto charged directly at his opponent, letting out a loud battlecry as he unleashed a small hail of blunted practice shuriken and kunai. Masaru dodged through the rain of thrown weapons fluidly, moving with an easy grace that belied his large size. When Naruto finally made it into close range he tossed a punch at Masaru, who once more elegantly dodged away from the attack, then slammed a fist into Naruto's face. The boy immediately dropped to the ground, knocked out by a single blow.

While the rest of the class discussed this unsurprising outcome Tenten watched with a slight smile, and her suspicions were proven accurate when after a few seconds the boy's body disappeared in a puff of smoke, replaced by a large log.

"Not bad." Masaru muttered. "A replacement … so now Naruto must be … behind me!" The boy quickly drew out several of his own kunai and turned around, confirming that his orange-clad opponent was coming up behind him. Masaru waited until Naruto was too close to dodge easily, then tossed them out in a spread out pattern that would be almost impossible to dodge from that close range.

Much to Masaru's surprise, the boy didn't even try to dodge the attack. However, instead of being stricken by several of the knives the weapons just passed right through him. "A clone?" Masaru asked. "Then where's the real…"

The rest of Masaru's question was cut off when the log at his feet suddenly transformed back into Naruto, who had a large budding bruise on his cheek. Not a replacement … a transformation! Naruto quickly snapped one of his feet straight up between Masaru's legs, slamming a powerful kick into the boy's groin. Masaru jumped up onto his toes with the impact, and then slumped down to the ground with a pained groan. "That's what you get for underestimating me." Naruto declared hotly after Iruka called the match and declared Naruto the winner.

"A mistake I will not be repeating in the future." Masaru groaned, slowly staggering to his feet. "You were a worthy opponent after all. Just one question, Naruto." The taller let out another groan of discomfort, and then asked in a pained voice. "Did you have to kick me in the balls?"

Naruto gave a sheepish chuckle, and answered. "Well, you're slippery and I didn't figure I'd have any other chances to land a solid hit on you, so I had to be sure to take you down with one shot. From where I was, that was the best way to do it."

"Quite." Masaru agreed. "I'll need to add a bit of padding to that region before I get into another fight; being kicked there is … unpleasant." With a pained grimace, Masaru added. "This pain is not experience I would care to repeat in the future." With a final nod of acknowledgement, Masaru limped off of the battlefield, and Naruto left as well, making his way to Tenten's side.

"Nice going Naruto." Tenten congratulated him as he returned from his match with a triumphant grin on his face.

"Looks like all your help paid off Tenten-chan!" Naruto said, before smirking and adding. "Of course, I was always pretty awesome deep down, I just needed a bit of help on figuring out the simple stuff so I could start kicking ass like I was supposed to. I am gonna be Hokage one day after all."

"Yeah, sure." Tenten replied, rolling her eyes.

"Yeah, I was mostly just letting you think you were helping me so you'd feel good about yourself." Naruto insisted.

"Thank you so much." Tenten answered, sarcasm thick in her voice.

"You're welcome Tenten-chan." Naruto said with an honest smile, taking the girl's words at face value as he failed to grasp the obvious sarcasm in her tone.

Tenten considered correcting Naruto, but finally just sighed and shook her head in weary resignation. She might have grown to like the boy pretty well, but she had to admit that sometimes he really could be a little dim.

"Your loser boyfriend just got lucky." A girl by the name of Maeko Kimura scoffed, glaring in Tenten's general direction. The petite girl flicked a hand through her short blue hair, and with a nasty smirk added. "You'll miss all the time you wasted trying to make him any better your match come up, you probably haven't had any time to train yourself if you've been so busy with a hopeless case like him."

"First off, Naruto's not a loser or my boyfriend." Tenten began. "And I can tell you right now, he's helped me too, so I'll have no problems beating whoever they match me up against."

"Uzumaki's loser aura has rubbed off on you, you won't even last a minute before your fight's over." Maeko said in a bored, superior tone.

"I wouldn't need an entire minute to kick your ass." Tenten countered. Maybe Naruto has rubbed off on me a little bit, that sounds exactly like the sort of thing he would say. Tenten's suspicion was reinforced when she heard Naruto quietly mutter under his breath, just loud enough for her to hear "Nice one Tenten-chan." Turning her attention back to Maeko, Tenten asked, "Didn't your parents ever teach you any manners?"

Maeko's fists clenched at her sides, and an enraged snarl made it's way onto her face. "I'll rip your fucking head off you – you…" Maeko struggled to find an appropriate insult, and finally was forced to settle on "Ugly bun-headed hag." Tenten was less than impressed by the girl's lackluster attempt at an insult, and would have been content to ignore the Maeko if she had left it at that. However, instead of continuing to target Tenten Maeko switched to one of her more common targets. "Don't let the win go to your head, Uzumaki. If you hadn't cheated and hit Masaru with a cheap shot you never would have won."

"Naruto didn't cheat." Tenten snapped, fixing the other girl with a glare; Tenten could tolerate Maeko's general nastiness when it was aimed at her, but going after Naruto was unacceptable.

"He must have" Maeko insisted, sneering at the boy in question. "A loser like him could never have beaten Masaru in a fair fight."

"Naruto's not a loser, and Masaru himself said Naruto won because he was a better fighter who used better tactics." Tenten insisted. With a smirk of her own, Tenten added. "You know I would fight you for insulting my best friend, but my father always told me I'm not supposed to hit dogs."

Tenten's riposte took a second to sink in, and then Maeko let out an enraged shriek. Moving to control the situation, Iruka quickly called out. "Maeko, Tenten, you two are next." If the two girls were going to get into a fight it was better to have it under the auspices of a sanctioned and supervised match than as a mere brawl. It wasn't the fairest match-up; Tenten was the number two kunoichi and ranked fourth in the class overall while her opponent was barely keeping above Rock Lee for the class's dead last position, but Iruka had long believed Maeko could use a wake-up call about her poor skills. Rock Lee's poor marks were a result of his inability to use ninjutsu or genjutsu; Maeko had no such excuse, and had arrogantly blamed her poor marks on everyone but herself.

When the match began Tenten let a dozen shuriken fly in Maeko's direction, hitting several of the girl's vital points; if the weapons hadn't been blunted for use in sparring matched Maeko would have been thoroughly killed by the attack, and everyone watching the match knew it.

Everyone except Maeko, apparently. "That was pathetic Tenten! Even Naruto could have done better, and he's a loser who only won his fight by cheating!" The arrogant girl insisted, keeping up her barrage of insults.

Tenten entertained a brief fantasy of using some of her sharpened weapons, then looked to Iruka, waiting for him to call the match over. Instead, the sensei gave Tenten a quick nod, then jerked his head in Maeko's direction. Why isn't he ending the match? I've won, even if Maeko's too stupid to realize it. It doesn't make sense … oh well, I really wanted to hit Maeko some more anyway.

Maeko's next insult was cut off by a blunted shuriken to the throat, which left the girl gagging and gasping for air. With a smirk, Tenten asked. "Had enough?" Maeko managed to gag out something that Tenten thought might have been a surrender, but her words were difficult to make out. Tenten wasn't about to take any unneeded risk that the girl might be up to something, and quickly closed in and slammed a powerful kick right into Maeko's stomach. She didn't try to dodge, and she looked kind of surprised when I hit her. Maybe she was trying to give up. Tenten watched as Maeko fell to her knees and vomited up her half-digested lunch, then gave the mental equivalent of a shrug. Oh well, the bitch had it coming.

"That's enough." Iruka called out, "Tenten wins, just in case anyone wasn't sure."

Tenten made her way back to her position next to Naruto, and noticed with some concern that the boy wasn't jumping up and down shouting congratulations in her general direction as she had come to expect from him. "Naruto, you alright?" The girl asked, suddenly worried about her friend.

"Hey, Tenten-chan?" Naruto asked, sounding a bit subdued.

"What is it?" The girl inquired.

"You said you wanted to fight Maeko 'cause she said some nasty stuff about me, and then you said I was your best friend." Naruto continued. "So … you really beat her up just for saying that kinda stuff about me?"

"That's what friends are for." Tenten said, ruffling the short boy's hair and shooting him a smile. "You know, having fun, teaching each other cool jutsu, emotional support, beating the crap out of anyone who badmouths us, the usual sort of friendship stuff."

"Yeah…" Naruto said, trailing off before suddenly perking up and returning to his normal self. "So, has anyone been saying anything mean about you Tenten? "Cause … 'cause if they have I'll totally kick their sorry asses! Nobody insults my best friend! Just tell me who I've gotta beat up and I'll do it, even if it was Neji saying bad stuff! It was Neji, wasn't it? Wait here and I'll go kick his ass!" The hyperactive boy turned towards the Hyuuga genius and cracked his knuckles.

Tenten sighed and gave an amused chuckle while placing a restraining hand on Naruto's arm. "Nobody's been insulting me, Naruto. Thanks for the offer though."

"Hey, that's what friends are for, Tenten-chan. Hey … wanna go get some ramen?"