Chapter Four: Graduation

Twelve years after the Day of the Kyuubi

October fourteenth dawn bright and cheery. For once, Anko woke Naruto in a normal fashion, gently shaking his shoulder. Half an hour and eight bowls of cereal later Naruto was ready for school. He was dressed in the same style clothes that he had gotten six years ago upon entering the Academy. He had heard somewhere that the reason that ninjas usually wore the same outfit every day was because it was kinda like a security blanket. With how everything could change between one day and the next, some measure of sameness helped ninja cope. It rather similar to the observation that the reason why the most powerful ninjas in the village gained their eccentricities as a coping mechanism.

A light blue shirt was on his torso, loose and billowing, sleeves extending to his wrists. Under the shirt he had a sleeveless ninja mesh undershirt, wrist-to-elbow bracers, and a pair of bracelets. There was a brown leather belt cinching the shirt tight across his waist, as well as holding up the loose white cargo pants he was wearing. A pair of octagonal greaves were worn over the pants, which were taped down, covering the entire shin with three or four inches of fabric extending past the bottom, covering the anklets he wore. On the back of his shirt he wore a personalized version of the Uzumaki swirl crest. The swirl itself was unchanged, but there were nine black tail silhouettes that were wrapped around the circle. Over it all he wore a smaller version of the trench coat his mother wore, personalized crest sewn large on the back. Naruto snatched a black cloth on his dresser and tied it over his hair. He attached two weapon pouches to his belt and a kunai holster to the greaves under his shirt and was out the door.

Several hours later, Naruto was in the classroom waiting to be called down for the final examination. His day had not been going that great. First up was a paper test, his worst enemy. Then was a taijutsu practical, which soured his mood further. Normally he had no problem in his act as the dead last of the class, but when it came around to test time, he always had to struggle not to let loose and show them his real skill. Fortunately, the last exam was a simple dust clone. He had struggled with the damn ninjutsu for years until his mother had come up with a solution. His problem was that he had an absolutely obscene about of chakra, and because his coils were so overdeveloped, he could not muster the control required for the clone. Anko had equated to trying to attach a squirt gun to a fire hose. She had gone to the Hokage and learned the Shadow Clone Technique, and had taught it to him. Whereas he had failed to create a dust clone because no matter what he did, he overpowered the thing, the more chakra he pumped into the Shadow Clone Technique the better it worked.

He waited anxiously as one by one the students were called into the next room. He wished Hinata, Shikamaru and Shino luck as they were called until he was the last one left. Finally when he was called he went into the next room. Iruka-sensei and Mizuki-sensei were sitting behind a table with several rows of folded hitai-aites on it.

"Alright Naruto-kun. Perform the Clone Technique, making at least three clones to pass."

"Sure thing Iruka-sensei." But instead of performing the four hand seals for the Clone Technique, Naruto made an unfamiliar one, looking like a modified ox seal and grunting in concentration. There was an eruption of smoke behind him and Iruka opened a window to clear it out, all three hacking and coughing the while. Behind Naruto were thirty copies, each one seated at one of the desks. As one all thirty one Naruto's spoke. "So do I pass Iruka-sensei?" When Iruka and Mizuki realized that the clones were not dust clones, but fully corporeal shadow clones their jaws dropped anime-fashion. Iruka sputtered incoherently for a moment before pausing to compose himself. "How is the world do you know the Shadow Clone Technique Naruto-kun?"

"Uh, well, you know how I have such trouble with dust clones? My mom figured out why. She says that I have so much chakra that I can't focus it enough to make a dust clone. So she went to the Hokage and got permission to teach me the shadow clone."

Iruka and Mizuki exchanged a look. "Well, while you didn't perform the requested technique, I think that your obvious mastery of a much more advanced version could pass you." Iruka picked up one of the steel and cloth bands on the table. "Congratulations Naruto-kun. You pass." Naruto reached out and took the hitai-aite from Iruka's hand. He grinned widely, trembling slightly.

Leaping up into the air he thrust the hand clutching his new hitai-aite in the air and screamed "YATTA!" at the top of his lungs. Bowing once to his senseis he raced outside, wanting to show off the badge of his graduation to his mother. He hurriedly tied the forehead protector around his forehead, over his head cloth, looking around when he got outside. He ignored the snorts of disgust that the adults made when they saw he had passed and mutters.

All of a sudden he was thrust from his feet, something having collided with his torso, throwing him to the dirt. Seconds later, Anko had her son in a scissor hold on her back as he struggled to escape. "Arg, get off Mom."

"You want me off you, get me off maggot," she growled. Grimacing, he twisted in a certain way, closing his eyes as he slipped down out of her grip between her legs. Grinning in victory, his smiled faded to a sickly remnant as Anko drew a kunai, an unpleasant smile on her face. He could count the number of times he had seen that smile on one hand, and every time, it had ended poorly for him, thrice landing him in the hospital, despite his unusual healing factor. Slamming his hands together in the ram seal, he rapidly fled using the Body Flicker Technique.

The ANBU sitting on the roof of the Hokage Tower rose to the balls of his feet when he saw two figures flitting across the roofs of Konoha. Squinting he was able to make out their identities and he relaxed. One did not get involved when Mitarashi Anko was celebrating with her son after all.

The morning of October fifteenth dawned and Naruto arrived at the Academy with barely restrained glee. He had finally graduated, and was officially a genin. He sat down in his usual seat in the back of the class, bouncing up and down in it trying to burn off some of the excess energy. He frowned slightly as Sakura and a girl named Ami crashing into the room, arguing who had made it in first, and then brawling over the right to sit next to the Uchiha, which rapidly involved most of the rest of the kunoichi, with two notable exceptions. Hyuuga Hinata who quietly took her seat next to him, and the Higurashi girl, who reached up into her hair as if to pull something out to thrash the other girls with. Several minutes later the brawl continued unabated, at least until Umino Iruka entered. He shouted at the girls to calm down and take their seats, but he was completely ignored. Scowling he made a trio of hand seals, and performed what Naruto had termed the "demon head" jutsu, enlarging his head to several times its normal size, and magnifying his voice to the same degree.

"I SAID TO SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP!" The mob of girls froze at that, everyone staring at the normally placid chunin. "Now that I have your attention, will you please take your seats?" He paused until they had done so. "Alright. Today is your first day as official genin of Konoha. However, you are still green rookies and have the whole of your careers as shinobi ahead of you. But the hardest part is just around the corners, so don't think you can slack off now." Picking up a clipboard, he continued. "Now we have assembled the teams, trying to balance them so that there is no one team that is too much stronger than the rest." Iruka paused again, this time when a memory of the previous night had struck him.

Flashback no jutsu

There were eight jounin, one tokubetsu jounin and one chunin crammed in the Hokage's office, including Mitarashi Anko. Iruka noticed this, along with several of the other jounin. "Mitarashi-san, this is a meeting for jounin only. We are deciding the genin cell arrangements for this year's graduating class."

"Yeah I know. I'm here as a jounin-sensei."

"No disrespect, Mitarashi-san, but you are only a tokubetsu jounin."

"Your point?" Anko said, leering unpleasantly. One of the other jounin took mercy on the chunin instructor and whispered something in his ear. Iruka's usual smile melted into a sickly remnant.

"Uh, nothing at all Mitarashi-san. If the Hokage doesn't have a problem with it, neither do I."

"Good. Glad you feel that way."

"Ahem," the Hokage coughed, clearing his throat and garnering the attention of the room at large. "As you know, you are gathered here to be assigned your genin cells for this year's graduating class. "Does anyone here wish to petition to receive a particular genin cell or student.

"I do," Kakashi spoke up from somewhere in the middle of the crowd. "I think seeing as I have the last remaining Sharingan eye in the village, I should receive Uchiha Sasuke as one of my genin." The Hokage nodded.

Sarutobi Asuma raised his hand. "I would like to receive Nara Shikamaru and Akamichi Choji this year." Again the Hokage nodded.

"I don't care who else I get, as long as I get Uzumaki Naruto." Several of the jounin muttered at this, drawing a sharp glare from the purple haired woman. One man went a little too far and muttered something about traitor's whore teaching the demon brat. Anko disappeared in a flash, wrapping herself around the man, a kunai at his throat and groin. "I would watch what you say, sir. That is my son you are talking about."

"Anko-san, if you please?"

Leering dangerously, she released the man, nicking his cheek on the way and lapping the blood off her kunai.

"Now, as you were saying, you want your son on your genin cell. Anko-san, you know that there are rules against parents instructing their children as genin."

"I don't really care. I have been training him for the last eight years, and I don't care to see his training fucked up because he has a jounin-sensei who sees him as his prisoner, rather than the prison." The Hokage leaned back and took a contemplative drag on his pipe.

"Alright then Anko-san. He is yours."

Flashback no jutsu kai

"Alright I am going to read off the teams now. Team Seven, Haruno Sakura, Inuzuka Kiba, and Uchiha Sasuke." Naruto heard Sakura crowing, how she was destined to be with her Sasuke-kun.

"Team Nine, Higurashi Tenten, Hyuuga Hinata, and Uzumaki Naruto." This Naruto barely heard Shikamaru, Choji and Shino be teamed together as Team Ten. Naruto lowered his head into his arms in contemplation. Hyuuga Hinata wasn't so bad he thought, but he really didn't know, as she was kinda weird. He had tried to befriend her when they had entered the Academy together, but whenever he had tried to talk to her, or hang out, she had claimed prior engagements. She sat next to him in class, but almost never spoke to him, in favor of blushing and playing with her fingers. He didn't know much about the panda-haired girl, other than she was a weapons mistress already. She had never really interacted with him, and on the few times she had, it was with none of the venom and acerbity that many of the other children displayed, so she was already better than ninety nine percent of the other children in the village in his book.

"Alright. You have a one hour break for lunch, so be back here on time to meet your senseis."

Getting back an hour later, Naruto took his seat. "Hey, sit down everyone," Iruka called from his position at the chalkboard. "Now, allow me to introduce you to your senseis." The door to the classroom opened and eight jounin filed in. Three by three, the students were lead away by the adults, until it came time for Team Nine to receive their jounin-sensei. Naruto could detect a faint whistling that came from outside the windows, and the blood drained from his face. Hinata and Tenten, who had chosen to sit up by their new teammate noticed this and wondered what was wrong. Naruto was muttering under his breath, something to the effect of "please not her," over and over. The two kunoichi exchanged a concerned look behind his head. Did Naruto know their sensei already?

That question was answered a moment later as Iruka was interrupted by one of the floor-to-ceiling windows exploded in a shower of glass. She popped up and struck a pose after nailing a pennant that said "Mitarashi Anko, Arrived" to the ceiling. Naruto's head smacked into the desk.

"Hey Naruto-chan, what are you doing sleeping in class. Get your mangy ass up here on the double. That goes for Higurashi Tenten and Hyuuga Hinata too." Naruto sat up and answered, "Hai, Mom," before descending the steps to the front of the class. Tenten and Hinata exchanged another glance, this one saying, "this crazy woman is his mother?"

"Alright you three. I want ya to meet me at training ground nineteen in ten minutes. Don't be late." With that, she formed the seal for the Body Flicker Technique and disappeared.

Naruto turned to his two teammates. "Okay, we gotta hurry. Training ground nineteen is on the other side of the village. Trust me when I say you don't want Mom mad at you. It gets hazardous to one's health when she is. Follow me." Hinata had been blushing furiously ever since the team assignments had been announced, and personally was glad for a little more time to think of what she was going to say to Naruto when the time came.

When the three of them reached the designated training ground, they found their sensei sitting in a log, swinging her legs, and munching on a stick of dango. The training ground was rather cookie cutter, similar to most of Konoha's training areas. It consisted of a large clearing, maybe a hundred yards in diameter, with a medium thick patch of forest surrounding it. There were a dozen or so stumps, varying in height from knee to shoulder height at one end with targets attached. There was also a small stream, a dozen paces across, and maybe two or three deep to the other end. Finally, there was a small rock outcropping in between the targets and the stream.

"Well, I bet you three had a whole shitload of questions, but those can wait for the moment. I want us to get to know each other a bit first. I'll start off. My name is Mitarashi Anko. You will refer to me as just plain Anko, and I will do the same. That applies to you too Naruto. You aren't here to learn to be nice, so there is no use in pretending at all. I'm thirty years old and I specialize in assassination and interrogation. My favorite food is dango and green bean tea. This is the first time I accepted to teach so it's going to be new to all of us. Okay your turn," she said, pointing to Tenten.

"My name is Higurashi Tenten, I am twelve years old, a freshly graduated genin, I specialize in long range combat, my favorite food is sesame dumplings. I help run my father's weapon shop and blacksmithy in my spare time."

"My name is Hyuuga Hinata," Hinata whispered, poking her fingers together. "I am twelve years old. I am the heiress to the Hyuuga clan, and my favorite food is zenzai and cinnamon rolls. I like to make medicinal salves and press flowers as hobbies."

Naruto was torn. He wanted to shout his name and his stuff, but his mom was sitting right in front of him. So he decided to keep most of his speech the same, just tone it down. "My name is Uzumaki Naruto, future Hokage of Konoha! My favorite food is ramen from Ichiraku's. My hobbies used to be playing pranks and causing trouble but since I graduated I made the promise to become the greatest shinobi in all the lands so now I'm training to reach that goal. My likes are my precious people and my mom and my dislikes are the people who treat me bad. Oh, and I am twelve years old also."

Anko noticed the very different looks the two girls were giving him. Tenten glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, giving him a weary look. Hinata on the other hand peeked at him from the corners of her eyes, poking her fingers and blushing faintly. Who would have guessed that her son had a fan girl?

"Well, I am not very good at this teaching thing, so why don't you just ask me any questions that you have?"

"Uh, Mo- I mean Anko, what kind of jutsu will you teach us?" Naruto blurted out.

"That depends very much on you. We will focus on what you need to learn before what you want to learn. What I mean, is there are things you have to learn before you can learn other things. But when you do get to the point when I start teaching you ninjutsu and genjutsu, you won't be learning any big flashy jutsus. I was trained as an assassin as you know, so everything I know is pointed to doing the maximum amount of damage with the least amount of energy. Also, much of your training will be focused towards stealth and speed. I'm not saying you won't learn how to fight, like the rest of your former classmates, but that combat will be a secondary concern for you. Most of the time, if you haven't taken out your target with the first strike, you will retreat to try again."

"You said you specialize in assassination. Are we going to be an assassination squad?" Tenten inquired.

"Yes, I am going to be training you as an assassin/reconnaissance squad, that means that you will learn to kill a lot earlier than most of your classmates." Tenten looked slightly green at that announcement. Naruto looked queasy. Surprisingly, Hinata was the most collected about it.

"When will we be doing out first mission?"

"When I think that you three are ready for it, not a second sooner." Naruto's face fell slightly at this. He was looking forward to being able to leave the village for a little bit soon.

"Well, enough questions for now." Anko hopped up to her feet. "Okay, so before we start training, I have a test for you three. One of the things you are going to be told to do is to sneak into a enemy base and steal something. What you three are going to do is break into Sarutobi Asuma's residence in the Shinobi District and steal all his cigarettes without tripping any alarms or traps. You have two hours to complete your assignment. If for any reason you fail to get his smokes or trip something, you all go back to the Academy."

"Even me?" Naruto asked.

"Especially you brat. There is no way that you should fail this if you have been listening with even half a ear for the last four years to what I have been teaching you. Anyways, daylight is burning. Remember, back here in two hours or back to the Academy you go." And before anyone had the time to open their mouths to even protest, she was gone.

"How the hell are we supposed to break into a jounin's apartment and steal his cigarettes in two hours?" Tenten asked rhetorically.

"Well, at least we know that he won't be home."

"True," she answered Naruto. "But that still leaves us with the fact that it is a jounin's apartment that we are supposed to break into. And she didn't tell us where Asuma-sensei lives either."

"Oh, I know where he lives. I help the Hokage with his paperwork sometimes and I have seen his address before. What?"

"You help the Hokage with his paperwork sometimes?" Tenten's tone implied more than mild disbelief.

"Uh, yeah. I have been helping him out for years now."

Before Tenten could reply again, Hinata broke in. "Ah, Na...naruto-kun, Tenten-san, An...anko-sensei said that we only ha...had two hours to st...steal A..asuma-sensei's cigarettes. Sh...shouldn't we get go...going?"

"Hinata-chan is right," Naruto said. "It is going to take a while to break in, and we don't have a lot of time, so we should go now."

"Alright then Naruto-san. Lead on." Tenten bowed, extending one hand in a slightly condescending manner. It was clear that she did not take Naruto at his word about him being the Hokage's assistant or about him knowing where Asuma lived. Hinata glared at the other girl for a moment as Naruto lead the way. Naruto was a bit of a braggart, but he was not a liar, at least when it counted. Denying he had pulled a prank didn't count.

The three new genin didn't speak as they transversed Konoha via rooftops. When they got within two blocks of where Naruto said where Asuma lived, Naruto called a halt. Pointing down and across the street, Naruto gestured to a wholly unremarkable apartment on the third floor of a red tiled, whitewashed building that could be swapped with a hundred others in Konoha.

Staring at the building, Naruto asked "Hinata-chan, can you scan the area for anyone who shouldn't be here?"

Activating her bloodline, Hinata responded with a question of her own. "Wh...who should I be lo...looking for?"

"Asuma-sensei or his team, the Hokage, any other jounin in the building, anyone who might run us off really."

"There are five people in the building. Two on the first floor in what looks like an office. Someone in a bedroom on the second floor, and two people in a hallway on the third. Wait, never mind, they left. Went roof hopping."

"Great. Okay, I kinda know the guy, and if he has his apartment trapped, and it is possible that it isn't, lemme go first. I know the Shadow Clone Technique, so I will let them go first just to be safe. Any questions?"

Eying Naruto in mild disbelief, Tenten shook her head. Naruto looked at Hinata, and when she didn't have anything further to add, he made the prodigious leap across the street and stalked toward Asuma's apartment. Once the trio were on the roof of the target building, Naruto created a trio of clones and let them take point. Slipping down off the roof into the complex, they navigated the hallways until they came to apartment number 384, residence of one Sarutobi Asuma. Putting a hand on Hinata's shoulder, he leaned close to whisper in her ear.

"See any residual chakra?"

"No, Naruto-kun. The doorway looks clean." Nodding, he gestured for Hinata to take the lead and everyone waited for her to clear the entrance.

Reaching into a pouch on her belt, she withdrew her set of thieves tool. Going through three picks before she found the one that fit, she jiggled the pick and then abruptly snapped the torque wrench a quarter turn and the lock clicked open.

Patting Hinata on the shoulder, he motioned for her to move aside. Complying, one of the three Naruto clones held the door barely ajar while Clones Two and Three ran their palms over the frame of the door before Clone one slowly eased it open. Before One had opened it more than three or four millimeters, Three grabbed his shoulder, signaling for him to stop. Seeing a nearly invisible thread attached to the other side of the door, Clone Two reached up and snipped the thread while Two kept tension on the long end.

Easing the door open again, they froze once more when the door bumped into something on the inside. By now the door was open enough for one of the clones to poke his head inside. He breathed a sigh of relief when all he saw was a coat rack in the corner of the doorway. Clone One and Three entered the apartment as Two kept pulling on the thread that was attached to the door. Once the thread was slipped off the hook that was attached to a complicated lever and pulley system that would have flung a number of shuriken and kunai at them.

Naruto, Tenten and Hinata waited outside until a clone came back and gave them the all-clear. Closing the door behind them, Tenten gave Naruto a look. "What was that about Asuma-sensei's apartment probably not being trapped?"

"Well, I was wrong. So sue me. The bastard is almost as lazy as Shikamaru sometimes."

"Ho...how did your clo...clones disable so many tr...traps so qu...quickly Na...naruto-kun?"

Naruto grinned. "Lots and lots of practice."

"This seems too easy though. Your clones disabled all these traps too quickly." Tenten had risen to the balls of her feet and her gaze was darting around, expecting something to happen.

"Hey, give me some credit here."

"Why don't we ju...just find A...asuma-sensei's cig...cigarettes and leave qu...quickly then?" Hinata suggested.

"Alright, my clones have cleared the entire apartment, but keep an eye out in any case. We made it in, now let us not screw this up now." Eying Naruto again in surprise, Tenten went down a hallway to what appeared to be a bedroom. There were no cigarettes on the wardrobe or nightstand, nor on the counter in the bathroom, so she was preparing herself to start digging through his drawers when a hushed shout from the entryway drew her attention.

Unsheathing a kunai in preparation to have to fight, Tenten carefully walked back down the hallway. Her caution was unnecessary in any case. Naruto had been searching through the kitchenette attached to the living room when he had found a drawer with a half dozen partially smoked packs. Pocketing the slightly crumpled boxes, Naruto motioned for them to move to the doorway. But when Naruto opened the door, there was someone that was not supposed to be there. He tried to give a warning, but Shikamaru had already caught him in his Shadow Imitation Technique.

Once Shikamaru had successfully captured all three members of Team Nine, Asuma came slouching around the corner, a cigarette wobbling from the corner of his mouth. "Well well well, what do we have here?" he drawled.

"Nice call Asuma-sensei," Choji continued.

Practically snarling, Naruto strained against Shikamaru's technique. "You are never going to break my technique Naruto-kun. You should know by now that the Shadow Imitation amplifies my strength five times over."

Naruto didn't get the chance to reply because he died before he got the chance. "Uh, what just happened?" Shino asked in uncharacteristic confusion.

Shikamaru just hung his head and let 'Tenten' and 'Hinata' go. "You just tried to knock out a shadow clone with your bugs Shino-kun."

"What? A shadow clone?"

"Yep," 'Tenten' and 'Hinata' replied in unison, simultaneously dropping the transformations they had on.

"How did you know we were here though," Clone One asked.

"Because I agreed to participate in your graduation test. Why do you think it was so easy to get in?"

"I thought something was off about this whole thing," Clone Two replied.

Meanwhile Choji just looked confused. "So do we fail Asuma-sensei?"

"Nah, when I said for you guys to catch any intruders for your test I never actually expected you you be able to catch them.

"Oh. Well I think this is cause for celebration! Yakitori it is then!"

OoOoO

Three miles away, Naruto and team dropped out of the trees in front of Anko. "Mission: success," Naruto proudly proclaimed, tossing the loot to Anko.

"Surprise surprise, you three actually passed. Well, congratulations then on officially becoming active-duty shinobi of Konoha. Now get out of here you three. We are done for the day. Be back here at ten o'clock tomorrow. We are going to go shopping." She departed with a rather gruesome grin, vanishing in a puff of smoke.

"Well, she is interesting to say the least," Tenten said. "How did you learn the Shadow Clone Technique Naruto? It is a kinjutsu, not something you can just pick up anywhere." Tenten had rounded on the dobe, curious as to how the dead last had gained such a powerful ability. Hinata perked up almost immediately. She considered herself to be a Naruto expert, and she was intensely eager to learn anything about him.

Naruto lowered his head, and told the tale of how his mother had figured out that he had too much chakra to do a dust clone, but a higher level clone would be easier for him to do. This boy was a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a mystery. And Tenten loved riddles.

Hinata was smiling to herself. This was exactly why she idolized the blond boy. He couldn't do an Academy technique, but then turned around and whipped out a Kage-level one. His resolve and determination were his best attributes to her, and his kindness and cheerfulness were only icing on the cake.

It was just then that Naruto's stomach made itself known. Grinning sheepishly he said, "you guys want to come get lunch with me? I'm gonna go to Ichiraku's."

Hinata was ecstatic. Naruto-kun asking her out for lunch. He was asking Tenten along too, but this was more than she had ever gotten from him before. She felt the blood in her cheeks rising, and nodded her assent. Naruto looked at her with a strange expression, but then looked to Tenten. "I guess. We should try to get to know each other better since we are on the same genin squad." Ramen wasn't Tenten's favorite food, but she could eat it with her teammates.

"Alright, follow me," Naruto said grinning what Tenten would later dub his 'happy-go-stupid' smile. Naruto led his two new friends across town to the ramen bar. Naruto greeted the owner with a wave.

"How's business been Teuchi-ossan?"

"Pretty good Naruto-kun." Naruto seated himself at the bar, Tenten to his left and Hinata to his right.

"Are you going to introduce us to these two beautiful girls you have with you?" This took both girls by surprise. Tenten had never had anyone call her beautiful, tomboy being the more usual adjective. Hinata blushed again, murmuring something unintelligible under her breath.

"Oh, yeah. This is Tenten-chan and Hinata-chan. They are on my genin team."

Tenten frowned briefly at Naruto. They were teammates for less than two hours and already she was Tenten-chan? She could understand Anko applying the suffix to her as her sensei, but the boy really didn't have any sense of propriety. Hinata giggled slightly. Naruto had called her Hinata-chan from almost day one, but it always gave her a bit of a boost when she heard it again from his lips.

After Teuchi and Ayame had introduced themselves and taken the trios orders Ayame leaned on the counter to talk to Tenten.

"Don't let it bother you Tenten-san, it's just the way he is."

"Let what bother me?"

"He called you Tenten-chan. It's just a part of his personality. It doesn't mean anything." Tenten accepted this, as it really did seem to fit with the blond's personality. When the food finally arrived, Tenten was impressed. Ramen wasn't her favorite food, but she could see why Naruto loved the stuff so much. Tenten sat there in amazement after she finished her second bowl of chicken ramen as Naruto finished his eighth bowl of miso ramen. Excusing herself after lunch was done, she went home. She had some questions for her father about her teammate.

Higurashi Kouseki greeted her from behind the register as Tenten walked into the ground floor of her family's residence. It was a large, two story structure, the smithy and shop occupying the ground floor, with the residence above that.

"How are you doing Tenten?"

"I'm okay Father. I got assigned my genin cell today."

"Oh, really. Who are you with?"

"Mitarashi Anko, Uzumaki Naruto, and Hyuuga Hinata." Her father's face darkened at the first two names.

"So you have the snake... woman and the brat on your team?"

"…Yes, Father. What wrong?" Her father didn't seem to be best pleased by her sensei and teammate.

"How that... woman ever got to be a jounin-sensei is beyond me. And with him too? How the Hokage could have let him graduate the Academy is beyond me," Kouseki growled under her breath.

"Err... Father, what is wrong with Anko-sensei and Naruto-san. I agree that Anko-sensei is a little intimidating, and Naruto-san is a moron, but they don't seem to be bad people."

"I can't say it straight out, but you need to be careful around your sensei and the boy. They are both incredibly dangerous people. The brat especially is someone to be wary of. He may seem nice enough, but you don't know him like I do. For that matter, same goes for your sensei. She is a good enough shinobi I guess, but she has a dark past."

Anko she could believe that about, but Naruto? He was all cheer and fluff. She couldn't imagine anything remotely dangerous about the thick skulled blond. "What could possibly be dangerous about Naruto-san? I mean, he already knows the Shadow Clone Technique, but other than that, his skills are surprisingly bad."

"Just be careful Tenten. Just be careful. They both have some pretty dark secrets, some that would turn your hair white." Kouseki interrupted his daughter's question. "Leave it at that daughter. Believe me, I would like to tell you, but I am restricted by the Sandaime's law. Any more I cannot say." And with that, her father excused himself, telling Tenten to man the register until he got back. Not that she minded much. It would give her time to think.

OoOoO

Hyuuga Hiashi didn't react much better to the news of Hinata's teammate than Tenten's father did. Hinata had gone to her rooms immediately after entering the house, intending to work on the family ledger, as she had not attended to it since the day before yesterday. She vaguely recalled that one of the branch members told her that the pantries in one of the branch house buildings were running low. But almost before she had gotten started, a knock sounded at her door.

"Enter," she replied. Hinata had expected one of the branch house servants, come to tell her of some detail that required the approval of the mistress of the house, but instead she found Neji, her father's brother's son. Neji had been touted as a genius among a clan of geniuses, so she knew that it was most likely her father summoning her. After all, you did not send the head servant to sweep stairs.

"Hello Neji-kun."

"Hello Hinata-sama. Your father requests your presence in his study at your earliest convenience." Hinata sighed. Whatever her father wished to talk about would probably not be pleasant. Her father was a master of innuendo, an only used such polite language when something had gone catastrophically wrong, or he was extremely angry. His anger was almost always cold, as befitting his position as the head of the First Clan. After all, it would be unseemly for the shinobi second only to the Hokage to lose control of himself when angry. Either way, at her earliest convenience meant ten minutes ago. Marking the column she was working on, she put the ledger away and stood up, gesturing for Neji to lead the way. She knew the way to her father's study all too well, but the heiress to the clan went nowhere unaccompanied, even when she was a failure and an embarrassment to the name.

When they arrived Neji knelt and announced her presence to Hiashi. He bid her enter and she did, folding her legs under her on the mat before his desk. Hiashi ignored her in favor of the letter he was working on until he finished it, rolling it up and handing the scroll to one of the omnipresent branch house members at hand. He dismissed the attendants with a wave of his hand. Once the room had emptied he addressed his daughter.

"Tell me daughter, who was assigned to your genin cell today?"

"Mitarashi Anko, Uzumaki Naruto and Higurashi Tenten."

Hiashi scowled. "So you have been put under Orochimaru's former apprentice and put on the same genin cell as the demon brat. You are a disgrace to the clan, but even you deserve better. I shall have to speak with the Hokage tomorrow about rearranging the genin cells."

Hinata lowered her gaze to the ground, letting her bangs hang to obscure her blush. "A-actually Father, I-i am s-satisfied with m-my genin cell. Anko-sensei seems t-to be a capable kunoichi, and Tenten-san and Naruto-san are nice p-people." Hinata may be shy, but she was not stupid. Who knew what her father might do were he to learn that she believed herself to be in love with her blond teammate. Hiashi remained silent for several seconds, examining his unfortunate daughter. There was something more here, something other than mere approval of her sensei and teammates. But he was damned if he could figure it out. It was times like this that he missed his dead wife the most. She would probably know exactly what was going on with his firstborn, and how to solve it. Well, if she was truly content with her team, he might as well leave her there.

"Well, if that is what you want. But let me warn you. Be wary of your sensei, Hinata-chan. Her first master was Orochimaru, so who knows where her loyalties truly lie. But be warier of your teammate, the Uzumaki brat. He is even more dangerous than Mitarashi-san. Do not get too attached to either one, for it will only end badly." He then dismissed her, returning to his paperwork.

Hinata left her father's study deep in thought. She knew that her sensei was not well liked among the civilian population. She wasn't so sure about the shinobi half, as most were more than a little scared of the purple-haired jounin, as she was known to be more than a little bloodthirsty. In fact, most people thought she would become the next head of ANBU's Torture and Interrogation Section.

Naruto, of course, she knew quite well, having been stalking the kid for years. Unfortunately, her father's warning towards the blond was all too typical of the adults of the village. She had gone to the Shinobi Archives last year in an attempt to ascertain exactly why he was so hated. But other than finding out his birthday, October 10, there was nothing about him in the Archive. Pulling out the ledger she had been working on earlier before she was interrupted by her cousin, she went back to work.

OoOoO

The next morning found all three genin at the designated training ground at ten o'clock on the dot. Anko was already there, opening a box of dango. "Good morning," grinning brilliantly. "Today we are going to go shopping for you," she said pointing at Tenten and Hinata. Tenten and Hinata looked at each other.

Why do we need to go shopping for Hinata-san and myself for?"

"Why for clothes of course." That confused the two kunoichi. Why did they need new clothes? Tenten thought her clothes were fine. She opened his mouth to ask, but though better of it when she saw her sensei smile. She swallowed the words and smiled hesitantly.

"Good then," Anko exclaimed. "Off we go." Tenten was starting to have serious doubts about the sanity of their jounin-sensei. She seemed to slip from a very Naruto-like happy-go-lucky to happy-go-die at the drop of a hat. At the very least, she was probably bipolar. Soon enough, Anko spotted the shop she was looking for, and lead them inside. Turning to the Tenten she said, "We are going to buy you some dark shirts here. That Chinese thing you got on is pretty, but rather impractical for two reasons. One, It doesn't blend into the background very well, and two, you seem to like to use sealed weapons, and It doesn't have many pockets."

Tenten thought about that for a minute. "I guess I can see your point. Just as long as I don't get anything like that," she said gesturing to Anko's top.

"Really? I find it very comfortable."

"Naruto sighed and rolled his eyes. "Yeah, we all know that Mom. But then again, most girls have something called shame. Frankly I am surprised that you have never been hauled off for public indecency."

"Oh really" she replied. In a flash she had Naruto in a submission hold, face pressed into her midriff, arms twisted into what appeared to be an uncomfortable tangle. Naruto tried to say something but it came out mostly as raspberries, which set Anko off into a giggling fit. Once Naruto was released, he crossed his arms over his chest and scowled at his mother. Looking to the teenage girls he sighed.

"Look, why don't you two go pick yourselves out some clothes. She is going to be out of it for a while. Mom really won't care what they look like as long as they are dark." Looking at Hinata he said, "go pick out a dark jacket or something and I am sure that will satisfy her."

While Tenten and Hinata were shopping and Anko was being herself, Naruto wandered around the store, looking at all the different clothes. He was in the footwear section when he spotted something unusual. It was a pair of wooden sandals, but with two pieces of wood attached to the underside, so that the wooden soles were two or three inches above the ground. Sitting down on a bench, Naruto removed his blue shinobi sandals and put the new ones on. Walking back towards his teammates, he noted that the wooden sandals made a soft clacking noise as he walked.

"Hey Mom, what are these things called?" Naruto asked as he got back to the dressing area, lifting one foot sideways and pointing at the sole. Anko, Tenten and Hinata turned to see what he was talking about.

"Those are called geta Naruto-kun."

"Cool. I was thinking of getting some. I thought that I could bolt some metal onto the bottom of them so that when I kick, it'll hurt a lot more than normal."

"And the fact that those geta don't make you the shortest person on the squad has nothing to do with it either."

Naruto's face flushed red and he started shouting at Anko that that wasn't the reason he wanted them. Hinata blushed at his denial, and Tenten giggled a bit. Typical Naruto. When Naruto turned away, Tenten showed Anko what she had chosen. She had four shirts, all in a dark red, with the front lined with pockets for scrolls. Hinata had found a bulky black jacket similar to the one she was already wearing.

As they exited the store after Anko paid for their purchases, Naruto turned to Anko. "Hey Mom, do you know of any place where I could get my geta modified?"

"I don't know. One of the blacksmiths around here might do it for you, I suppose."

"Naruto-san, my father runs a weapons shop and blacksmithy. We could go there and I am sure that he could do that for you."

"Alright. Hey Mom, lets go now!" Anko rolled her eyes and sighed, motioning for Tenten to lead the way. She did so, and ten minutes later they approached a modest, two story building in the shinobi district of Konoha. Neither of her parents were shinobi, Tenten explained, but her grandfather and great grandfather had been, so her father had inherited the house in the shinobi district, along with the business.

Tenten opened the door to the shop, and hoped that her father wasn't manning the register right now. Fortunately, her mother, Chichi, had arrived home the previous day after inspecting some of the iron mines that supplied their store with iron and coal. Chichi was an older version of Tenten it seemed. The elder Higurashi woman wore her hair in the same style as her daughter, and had on a similar Chinese-style shirt. When she saw who had entered the store, she smiled brightly and came to greet her daughter and her team. After introductions were out of the way, Chichi moved them to a back room and seated them all on couches.

"It is very nice to meet you all," Chichi said, and she really seemed to mean it, much to the surprise of Naruto and Anko. Seeing the looks on their faces, Chichi explained. "I am not a Konoha native, you see. I was raised in a small mining town to the north. I met my husband Kouseki when he was on inspection one time. We eventually fell in love, and I moved here. I am not one to hold the actions of a teacher, or a parent against someone, unlike most of the village it seems." Tenten and Hinata looked from Chichi to Naruto and Anko at this. Both knew that the other two members of their team were not well liked, but neither knew the reason.

"Well, you did not come here to hear about my life. What is it I can do for you today?"

"Uh, I was wondering if you could modify my geta here." He reached into his backpack and withdrew his three pairs of geta. "I want a thin sheet of metal attached to the bottom here, so that when I kick people, I can do more damage than normal," Naruto explained.

"I see. Well, I think that can be done." She took the proffered footwear and taped a note to them, then putting the wooden sandals on a shelf with other items to be customized. "I'll get my husband to modify them tonight for free, because you are a teammate of my daughter. She can bring them to you tomorrow."

"Ah, thanks Higurashi-san."

"No problem. Feel free to come by any time you need shinobi equipment."

"Sure thing Higurashi-san." Naruto was surprised by Tenten's mothers offer for him to come by her shop.

"Thank you for speaking with us Higurashi-san," Anko said, "but we must be going. We are already behind on training as it is, so they will have to work twice as hard today to make it up." All three genin's faces drained of blood at that, fearing to think what Anko could think up. Chichi smiled and waved goodbye, wondering how hard her daughter's sensei would push them today. Anko-san certainly seemed like a hard taskmistress, if the reaction given by the three teens were anything to go by. Chichi went back to the counter and her magazine. She would just have to go all out on dinner to make it up to her daughter.

Back at training ground nineteen, Anko turned to Tenten. "Alright brat, you need some serious work. You are a long range weapons specialist; there is nothing wrong with that. However, just because you prefer to fight at a distance doesn't mean that you should neglect your close combat skills. So what we are going to be doing is working on you hand-to-hand combat. "Anko then turned to the other kunoichi.

"Hinata, your greatest weakness is your lack of self confidence. You seem to believe that you are a terrible shinobi, which is definitely something you are not. Compared to most of your family you probably are a bit sub par, but compared to the shinobi population at general, you are definitely above average. Just because you don't measure up to your fathers ridiculous standards doesn't mean you are totally worthless."

Stepping back and turning her students to face one another she continued. "I want you two to spar. Tenten, all your ranged scrolls are off limits. This is to work on your weaknesses, not your strengths. While your hand-to-hand skills are okay, okay is not enough. If you were ever to face off against a wind-element user, you would be in some dire straits. You cannot always count on your fights playing to your strengths, so it is important to work on your weaknesses even more than your strengths."

"Hinata, you are always afraid of harming your teammates with your Jyuuken. While it is understandable to a degree, not going full out on your sparring partner hurts them also. If you hold back on their part, how are they ever going to improve themselves? Truthfully, you really aren't shinobi material. You are too kind and gentle to really be a decent shinobi easily. That does not mean that you never will be a good shinobi just that you have to work harder to kill your heart. If you hesitate in battle, you will get yourself killed, and worse your teammates. Every time you fight, you have to imagine that your sparring partner is the enemy, because that is what they are." Pausing for a moment, Anko considered what to say next. She bent down and whispered in her ear "fight as if Tenten were trying to steal Naruto from you." Anko grinned as Hinata's took a tomato hue, expression hardening and activated her Byakugan, settling into a Jyuuken stance.

The pair of kunoichi were fairly predictable. It was plenty clear that Tenten was itching to jump back an unleash one of her manifold ranged scrolls on the other girl, but Anko's restriction was clear in her mind. From the get go, Tenten was forced onto the defensive, taken aback by the uncharacteristic fierceness of Hinata's attack. Tenten warded a palm strike away from her torso with a forearm and drew both her fists back and thrust them forward in a double hammer blow. The retaliatory strike caught Hinata off guard, causing her to break her attack routine and stumble back several steps, trying to gain the breath that the unexpected blow had forced from her lungs.

Tenten backpedaled rapidly, gaining some breathing space. She wondered what Anko had told the other girl to evoke such a response. Whatever it was, it was effective, having completely removed any trace of Hinata's usual hesitancy. Settling into an aggressive attack stance, Tenten leaped at Hinata raising one hand and dropping an elbow on Hinata's raised guard. She then launched a straight fist directly at Hinata's face, which Hinata evaded by bending backwards at an almost unbelievable angle.

Hinata immediately tapped her hand three times on Tenten's overextended arm, closing off the tenketsu there. Tenten immediately retracted her fist and scowled. Having her tenketsu sealed really wasn't much of an impediment, as this was a pure taijutsu match, but it did sting a bit. The two combatants separated and circled one another, searching for an opening. When it became obvious that Hinata wasn't going to offer an opening to her, Tenten decided to make her own. Tenten launched a high kick at Hinata's head, only to have it blocked by her forearm. Hinata rushed in as Tenten's leg rebounded and tapped a point on Tenten other leg. A moment later the traitorous appendage gave out on her. She collapsed in a heap and scowled at Hinata. Anko stepped in and ended the spar, granting Hinata the win.

Blushing Hinata bent down to offer the brunette girl a hand to help her up. Considering the hand a moment Tenten sighed and accepted her hand. Hinata bent and tapped another point on her leg, and then Tenten was able to regain use of it.

"Sorry Tenten-san."

"Huh, what do you mean sorry? You won fair and square. There is nothing for you to apologize about. This just means that I will have to work harder so that next time I can last a bit longer." The rosy hue in Hinata's cheeks increased and she ducked her head.

"Well done you two," Anko interrupted. "You both did pretty good. Tenten, now you see why you can't just rely on your ranged skills to attack with and Hinata, you aren't totally worthless after all. Alright you two, we are done for the day. Be at the training ground tomorrow at ten. Brat," she said, directing the last at Naruto, "we need to have a talk." Hinata and Tenten exchange a look but didn't dare question Anko right then.

Back at the training grounds, Anko spoke. "Alright. So we are going to be doing a review of the basics of the Snake Fist. It was developed by my former sensei, Orochimaru. Now that you are on a genin team, you will have to be more careful than ever when training outside of the house.

Climbing onto one of the stumps, Anko continued. "Okay, remember that the Snake Fist is all about misdirection and speed. With the Snake Fist, you strike with your whole body, using your legs and torso to power your strikes. The Snake Fist relies on precision strikes to the weak areas of the body, such as the heart, solar plexus, throat, temples, groin, and joints."

Naruto got up on another stump at the other end at Anko's instruction. "Alright brat, we are going to go through the katas starting with the basics first." Anko struck at Naruto with a wide looping attack, explaining the method behind it at the same time. "One, spread your legs wide, to provide a large base. Two, One, you attack the weakest parts of the body, such as the neck, stomach and groin, and go for major vein and arteries like the jugular vein and femoral artery. Second, you make large motions with your limbs, to build up a bit of momentum." Raising the arm with the kunai clutched in it, she continued. "Don't ever stop the motion of your arm when you are attacking until you hit your target." Anko proceeded to sling her arm about slowly, keeping the motion smooth, circular and flowing. "Generally speaking, you will be attacking high or low, avoiding the targets center of mass, so you want to keep your kunai in line with the direction your arm is moving. Even when attacking the heart or lungs, you don't try to strike straight in, but come in at an angle."

Stepping closer, she demonstrated and further explained the concept. "If you attack straight on, first of all, you will most likely end up stopping the flowing motion we are aiming for, in favor of pulling your arm back to chamber the strike." She thrust her kunai forward, stopping it just as she touched the cloth of his shirt. "Now, while you could slip your kunai in between the ribs and successfully strike your target, you are just as likely to hit a rib. Now of you use those circular motions we were talking about you with either come down through the throat, or come up under the ribs. Either way, the wounds are going to be bigger, and harder to heal, assuming they aren't fatal." So the next two hours were spent with Naruto stabbing the same stump over and over again.

OoOoO

The next two months were absolutely brutal to Naruto. Every day Anko got him up at seven in the morning by chucking kunai at various tender parts of his body and dragged him down to training field nineteen to work on taijutsu for two hours after his warm up calisthenics, consisting mostly of laps around Konoha and his vertical push ups. Then, she would take him out to breakfast and be back to meet Tenten and Hinata at ten.

During their team meetings, they trained nonstop. Naruto she set to doing various chakra control exercises, while setting Hinata and Tenten to stamina-increasing exercises for two hours each.

Then they would break for lunch and go back for more training. Early on in their training Anko had gotten her hands on some special paper. She said that when someone channeled their chakra into it, the paper would show that persons elemental affinity. When she handed one slip to Naruto, the paper split in half. She frowned at that, and handed two other sheets to Tenten and Hinata. Tenten's dusted, and Hinata's crumpled.

"Okay Anko, wanna explain what is wrong?" Naruto was still holding the halved pieces of paper.

"Nothing is wrong; it's just that you have the rarest affinities in Konoha. The cut means you have wind affinity. You," she said looking at Tenten," have earth affinity, and Hinata has lightning." Naruto was grinning to kill upon learning he had a rare affinity.

After lunch they would go back to the training grounds and work on chakra control, and whatever random topic Anko had selected for that day.

Anko taught all three the tree walking and the water walking exercises a few days after graduation. After seeing that Tenten and Hinata easily grasped the skill, she set them to lying down on the water, which both increased the difficulty, and increased the speed at which they exhausted themselves which in turn gradually enlarged their chakra coils.

Naruto took several days longer to master it, and during that time, displayed just how incredibly huge his chakra pools were. Hinata examined him with her Byakugan once, on Anko's insistence. Normally, a person's chakra coils were finger thick strings weaving around the organs and bones. Naruto's coils were several times thicker than a normal person's. Hinata compared it to yarn versus rope.

Naruto spent every day for a week at the hot springs, all day long, hours after Tenten and Hinata and even Anko had dragged themselves away in exhaustion. In the two month training period, Anko never saw him suffer from chakra depletion in the slightest, something that irritated Tenten, and made Hinata blush all the brighter.

Nevertheless, when Naruto mastered water walking, Anko had him pluck leaves with his chakra, and float them over various body parts, increasing the number of leaves as he got better. They started off with a leaf on the forehead, and ended up with several on the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and ankles.

The exercises that Anko set the pair of girls to were far worse than the chakra control exercises that Naruto performed. Their exercises ranged from push ups, with Anko sitting on their backs, to sitting on the underside of a tree branch for a whole afternoon, channeling chakra to their arms and legs to prevent all the blood from rushing to their heads.

The three women just got used to the idea that no matter what they did, Naruto never seemed to run out of chakra, to the point that he was able to sit on the underside of the tree branch for over an hour longer then they had, until he got bored. In the afternoons in which Anko had them spar, Hinata and Tenten would switch off against Naruto, the other taking over when the first became too tired. Naruto wasn't a terribly great person to practice with, as his taijutsu still sucked, but he was perfect to practice on. Naruto could take an truly mind boggling amount of damage before requiring a breather, often able to go half a dozen rounds with each of his teammates, and back up ten or fifteen minutes before anyone else.

In the afternoons, Anko taught them many, many things, beginning with weapons. Anko had the three of them throw ten shuriken and ten kunai at a target stump. Predictably, Tenten nailed all twenty, Hinata got eighteen, and Naruto got eight. So Anko kept him behind and worked with him on his accuracy. Next, she tested them on their skill with hand-to-hand weapons combat. Basically, she taught them a modified kenjutsu style, changed to allow for the fact that the weapons being used were ten inches instead of three to four feet.

Most of what the Academy taught boiled down to how to block an attack, and how to either force an opponent to range, or set up for a taijutsu battle. Basically, there was virtually zero instruction on knife fighting, something Anko soon corrected.

Knife fighting was quite a bit different from any other armed fighting. With a sword or long melee weapon, there were a lot of long strokes, to take advantage of the long cutting edge of the weapon. But a knife had a cutting edge of only six or eight inches, so most of the strikes were short and brutal, designed to put an enemy down for the count as quickly as possible. Also, there were a lot of stabs and hooking cuts, something that was somewhat risky with a longer blade as it could get caught in the enemy's corpse by sticking in bone or something.

Much to Naruto's dismay, they didn't learn a single jutsu the entire two months they spent training. Instead, the time was spent on learning the assassin's weapons, mainly senbon, and poisons, something that Hinata had a little experience with, given her hobby.

Throwing a senbon, Naruto learned, was absolutely nothing like throwing a kunai or shuriken. With a kunai or shuriken, all the power came from the wrist. If you threw a senbon with a wrist, all it would do is go tumbling end over end, and you would never see it again. The trick to throwing a senbon was to draw the power from the elbow and shoulder, so that it did not spin at all. Finally, she introduced them to poisons.

Anko took the trio to her and Naruto's house. It was a medium sized building with a kitchenette attached to the dining room, a living room, foyer, two bedrooms and two baths. The house was decorated with bright and cheery colors, mostly pastel greens, yellows and blues. The wallpaper was flowery, and scented candles burned on the coffee table. There were half a dozen porcelain plates hung above the oven, depicting beautiful landscapes. However, the main attraction was behind the house, and a surprisingly large garden. Anko introduced them to their first three poisons.

The first poison was that of the yew shrub, the seed of which, she claimed to have enough poison to stop a horses heart. The second was strychnine, from the seed of the orange fruit of the strychnine, causing intense pain, instantaneous rigor mortise, convulsions and asphyxiation in the space of just a very few short minute, she said with a deaths head grin. Finally, was cyanide, traces of which were found in the almond nut.

Tenten and Hinata left Anko's house that day with a much better appreciation of the food that they ate. They also learned the antidotes for all three poisons, and carried a small vial of each in their emergency first aid packs, as Anko was absolute rubbish with medical jutsu.