All That's Old Is New Again
Moving Up In the World
It turned out that Team Hiruzen's first C-rank mission was fairly normal for its rank. When Naruto and Sasuke heard they were going on another escort mission, they were fully prepared to be attacked by high-level missing-nin like they had been on the way to Wave.
They weren't. Apparently clients that lied to ninja villages about the rank of their missions were pretty rare. Probably because the number of shinobi that would choose to continue a mission that threatened their lives while being underpaid was probably equally low.
Maybe Team Kakashi wasn't the best example of an average genin team.
Still, for a team that was supposed to become some of the most famous ninja in the world, their beginnings were a bit dull. The only exciting thing that happened on the trip to the edge of Fire Country was a small attack from bandits that was easily scattered. It was kind of funny really, seeing them realized how hopelessly outclassed they were. Naruto and Sasuke had a quick game a Janken to see who'd get to do it, which was interrupted by their teacher's arrival.
One of the bandits had recognized the Hokage and that had been that.
In all honesty, Naruto and Sasuke were getting stir-crazy. This was just so…frustrating. They couldn't do anything and they had nothing to do. They knew they had no choice but to live things out at this point, so that was what they would do, but…
They were both quickly getting to the point where if something interesting didn't happen soon, they'd probably do something stupid just to stave off boredom.
"Oi, teme!" Naruto said excitedly, sitting on top of a training stump.
Sasuke sighed tiredly, not even bothering to sit up from the grass. They were still in their training area. The trees and grass nearby were still recovering from a few experiments that had gone awry and the training posts had been through hell since they didn't have anything better to do, but it was still theirs.
"What is it?"
"We have a visitor!" The former Jinchuuriki said, sounding strangely pleased.
Sasuke sighed again, but rolled over to look. A sarcastic remark almost left his lips, but he went silent when he saw who it was.
For a moment, he thought he was looking at a young Kakashi, but he immediately reminded himself that was impossible. They were much too far back for Kakashi to have been born yet. Even so, the resemblance was obvious and Sasuke immediately began to think of him as a relative of Kakashi's. Probably his father. Or…were they far back enough for this to be a grandfather?
Either way, his interest had been garnered.
The boy, who Sasuke guessed to be ten-ish, stopped a bit away from them, careful to avoid the patches of grass that had been burnt by an attempt at fire jutsu that had failed. He looked attentive, which surprised both of Kakashi's former students; Kakashi always paid attention to what was around him, but it was rare that he was so obvious about it.
But then, this wasn't Kakashi.
"Can we help you?" He asked after a moment of silence.
"You are…Jiraiya-kun and Orochimaru-kun, right?" The man said. Sasuke wasn't sure how to feel about that suffix, but he was still getting used to the name itself, so he didn't comment.
"That's us!" Naruto said, loudly. It seems that he was getting back to his usual self. One of the benefits of not having to fight for his life constantly, Sasuke supposed. "Who're you?"
The boy tilted his head, looking at Jiraiya. Suddenly, he seemed unsure of what to say.
"I…heard that Hokage-sama had taken on a few students that were proving themselves very impressive. But…well, I'd heard you were young, but…" The boy suddenly shook his head, apparently only now realizing that he'd ignored Naruto's question. "I'm Hatake Sakumo. I'm sorry."
Sakumo apologized and then tried to excuse himself. His words hurt Sasuke's pride, mainly because a lot of things had been reminding him of how weak he was lately. Naruto just looked confused.
Sasuke glanced at him in disgusted and smacked him upside the head.
"Ow! What hell was that for, asshole!" Naruto immediately complained.
"He wanted a fight, dobe." Sasuke said. "He just hadn't heard how pathetic we look."
"What! Don't let him get away! This could be the best thing that's happened since the Bell Test!" He suddenly lifted his voice as he pushed himself off the stump and started after the retreating Sakumo. "Hey, you! Come back here!"
Sasuke rolled his eyes, but didn't stop his friend.
He couldn't say he disagreed or that he couldn't use a fight right now.
A quick Shunshin placed him in front of Sakumo.
"Hold up for a minute." He said. "You came here to see what we could do…or am I wrong?"
The 'older' boy blinked once before suddenly being tackled from behind by Naruto.
"Then fight us!" The louder of the pair said. "Come on; it'll be fun!"
To say that Sakumo accepted could be seen as an exaggeration, perhaps. Rather, it could be said that while Naruto clung to the older boys back and demanded amusement, Sasuke began to get annoyed. And an annoyed Sasuke was an aggressive Sasuke.
It had quickly degenerated from there.
Sakumo used Kawarimi to replace himself with a log, avoiding Naruto's punch, but Sasuke managed to track the direction he went in by the disturbances he left on the grass. A quick Shunshin took him to a tree in Sakumo's blind spot, where Sasuke landed on a branch and broke it with a swift, chakra-enhanced kick.
The resulting noise could be heard across the training grounds.
Sakumo immediately turned around, but Sasuke used Shunshin again before he could come into his opponent's field of vision, landing on the trunk of Sakumo's tree. With his head now turned, Sakumo couldn't see this spot, a fact that Sasuke immediately took advantage of to attack with a kick to Sakumo's head.
Sakumo managed to duck beneath the attack and Sasuke dispassionately noted that he was pretty fast for a Genin.
It didn't matter.
Naruto, who'd been signaled to their position by the broken branch, kicked the ducking Sakumo in the face the moment he turned towards Sasuke, knocking him off the branch.
Sakumo recovered from the fall well enough, contorting in mid-air to try to catch a tree with his feet. Partially to stick to, but mostly because he realized why they'd kicked him off the branch.
As a result, he also realized why he wasn't going to be able to.
Shunshin is an extremely useful technique. Despite being a D-Rank jutsu that most ninja learn just shortly after becoming Genin, it's also a jutsu that most keep with them for life. Its concept is simple; charge your body with chakra and move at high speeds.
However, there was a problem with it; it was still constrained by the limits of movement.
And when falling, with nothing to stand on or jump from, Shunshin simply doesn't work.
One of the things that makes the Tree Climbing exercise useful is the way it expands one's ability to move, and that applies to the Shunshin as well, of course. However, until the moment your feet hit something, you're left wide open.
Naruto and Sasuke had no intention of letting that chance pass them by. With a solid branch beneath their feet, the duo used Shunshin to meet Sakumo in midair before he could hit the ground.
Of course, while the weakness of the Shunshin was important, it was also well know, and a number of methods had been developed to deal with it.
The simplest was the Kawarimi.
Sasuke reached him first, but Sakumo had been making seals since the moment his feet left the branch. As Sasuke punched at his face, Sakumo blocked it with one hand, twisting both Sasuke and himself in midair, switching their positions. Sakumo promptly used Sasuke's body to jump away, heading for a nearby tree.
Sasuke was both annoyed and amused; annoyed at having his own strategy used against them, as now they were the ones unable to change direction, but amused, because this was pretty good.
For a Genin.
Naruto collided with him a moment later, but Sasuke grabbed his friend and threw him towards the ground. Naruto landed on his feet and, knowing better then to worry about Sasuke over something like this, promptly activated Shunshin again, trying to make it to that tree before Sakumo did.
Sasuke landed on his feet and noticed absently how hard he was panting. God he hated having so little chakra, but he was having too much fun to care about that overmuch.
He confirmed where Naruto and Sakumo were and noticed that they were already going at it with Taijutsu. He immediately Shunshin'd.
In a completely different direction.
He ran until he felt he was out of sight, before curving around. This path should take him to behind Sakumo, unless they moved, in which case Naruto would give him a signal.
But they hadn't moved and Sasuke assumed they were both as tired as he was. He came up behind Sakumo, landing silently behind him, but the Genin struck behind him without even looking.
Naruto used a Kawarimi to switch places with him and caught the blow with both arms.
"Behind you~" He said, his smile more than a little smug. Sasuke was struck with a flash of melancholy over how different that grin looked without whisker marks.
He didn't let it slow him down, though, quickly going for a punch to Sakumo's face.
Sakumo swung his head around as fast as he could, along with his free hand, attempting to counter the blow-
Naruto switched with him again, putting them both back in their original positions. The boy's smile widened.
"Here I am~"
Sasuke punched Sakumo in the face.
The fight ended in a victory for Naruto and Sasuke and left Sakumo impressed.
"Wow, are you two really new at this?" He had to ask.
No, they both thought, but the smiled at his words nonetheless.
"We're just really good." Naruto said proudly.
"I've never seen fresh genin work as well together as you two. You must be pretty close." Sakumo observed thoughtfully.
"We're teammates." He said, trying to seem indifferently.
But the fact remained that he was worried. He'd noticed, too; how they worked to well together for them to be new at this. But, at the same time, they had no reason not to work together and teamwork was important. Passing the Genin Exam…the Chunin Exam…and just surviving as ninja. There was no point in risking any of those things, just to avoid some suspicion.
Besides, he reassured himself, it's unlikely that anyone would be able to come to the correct conclusions when it came to them. 'Ninja from the future that threw themselves back in time but missed' was pretty outlandish even for shinobi.
Sakumo nodded as if that made sense.
"It's just that I heard you two didn't get along so well in the Academy. Most teams like that have trouble for a while." Sakumo said before smirking. "Speaking from experience."
"Sarutobi-sensei is a good teacher." Sasuke said, keeping his voice calm.
"Besides, you can't really keep fighting in front of the Hokage!" Naruto added, helping. "I mean, have you seen him in action? If we got in a fight, we'd both be tied to logs on opposite sides of the training field before we realized what was going on!"
Sakumo chuckled at that before looking at them both speculatively. Sasuke frowned at the look in his eyes; as if he was judging them.
"You two…" He said thoughtfully. "You two are really good. And I heard your other teammate was the granddaughter of the First. You're a bit young, but…then again, the war wasn't that long ago and it's still on everyone's minds…"
Sakumo seemed to be speaking to himself now. Sasuke shot a look at Naruto and frowned. His friend just frowned.
"And we don't really know when…if," Sakumo corrected himself. "Things will degenerate again. But even if it doesn't happen, more ninjas means more missions get done and higher level ninja bring in more cash…"
Sasuke's frown progressively deepened, but it was Naruto who spoke first.
"What are you talking about?" He asked, bewildered.
Sakumo looked at him thoughtfully for another minute before nodding to himself.
"The Chunin Exams are coming up soon. Are you going to participate?"
Sasuke could have said it was because he knew he was ready. He could have said it was to further their plan.
And those were both true.
But they were not the reason why he walked up to his sensei the next day once they had finished both training and missions.
"Sensei, do you think we're a good team?" He asked, bored to D-rank and C-rank missions, as well as being a Genin in general.
Sarutobi looked at him, confused by the sudden question but also able to tell that there was more to it then there seemed.
"What do you mean, Orochimaru?" He asked, carefully.
"Compared to the other Genin teams, are we a good team?" Sasuke repeated, and nearby, Naruto and Tsunade turned towards them in interest. "We're younger than the other teams, but…we've learnt Shunshin and Tree Climbing and Water Walking already. We do more missions then any of the other teams, too."
Sarutobi opened his mouth to say something before suddenly closing it as something occurred to him. He looked at his student differently, then; measuringly.
"Where are you going with this, Orochimaru?"
"The Chunin Exams are coming up." Sasuke replied immediately.
Their teacher sighed, expecting that. He turned his head, looking away from his students, but what Sasuke could see from the side of his face gave away nothing.
"I'm surprised you know about that." He said at last. The Exams weren't really a secret, but the official announcements hadn't been made yet.
"Yesterday, we," Sasuke jerked his head towards Naruto. "Sparred with Sakumo."
Sarutobi looked at them in interest, while Tsunade blinked at her two teammates before drawing back a little, something in her eyes that Sasuke didn't recognize. Naruto just nodded eagerly.
Sasuke was the only one those missions were getting to.
"Did you now?" Sarutobi asked. "And how did it go?"
He sounded like he already knew the answer.
"We won!" Naruto blurted out as Sasuke stared up at his teacher with a slight frown. "Even though we're younger, we're just as good as any of the other teams!"
"Probably." Sarutobi admitted. "But just because you could pass, doesn't mean you should. Why do you want to enter the Exam on your first year? Even though you'll only be fighting other Konoha Shinobi, all of them will have more experience than any of you. At least a year more, in fact, and quite a few of them are twice your age. You are as strong as any other Genin team, but while I know that, they don't. In their eyes, you'll be a team of small children and easy targets. While the Chunin Exam is hard for any Genin, you all would have it the hardest. Though the Chunin Exam is meant to be fair, in this case, all the odds will be against you."
Sasuke blinked his snakelike eyes and nodded.
"True. I want to win, but I can't say if I will. I don't know if I will win or lose; I don't even know what the people I might have to face are capable of. I suppose it's quite possible that I'll fail. But I'm asking you if you'll let me try."
Sarutobi was silent at that.
"Come on, sensei!" Naruto pleaded. "They're older then us, sure, but that doesn't mean they're better."
Tsunade was still looking at them strangely, to the point that Sasuke was getting unsettled. But when she noticed him looking at her, her face became impassive and she looked away.
Had he just been given the cold shoulder?
"I'd also like to participate in the Chunin Exams, sensei." She asked, her tone calm to the point that Sasuke felt sure it was forced. Something in Sarutobi's eyes told him that his teacher saw it as well. He forced himself not to look at Naruto; he was smart enough to notice something this obvious, but he'd talk to him about it later.
For now, Sarutobi had his complete attention.
The older man sighed.
"I'll think about it." He promised.
"Tsunade was acting strange." Sasuke said, sitting besides his fellow time traveler in the yakitori stand. Naruto had been crushed to find that Ichiraku didn't exist yet.
He didn't say it aloud, but he found it amusing that one of the things that hit the former blonde the hardest was the absence of a Ramen Stand.
"Ah…" Naruto said, head on the counter; the despair of their situation had finally defeated the great ninja. "…Yeah. I noticed she was acting a bit strangely."
Well, they thought she was acting strangely. They wouldn't really know, having no memories of these lives prior to the Genin Exams. Maybe this was normal for her. Maybe she didn't like them back in the Academy. Maybe.
Sasuke didn't believe that for a second, but maybe.
Sasuke tried to remain impassive, but he couldn't suppress a sigh.
"…She's noticed we've been acting weirdly." He stated. He didn't have any proof to back that statement up with, but he was sure of it, nonetheless.
"Hm…" Naruto groaned, still not lifting his head. Sasuke's eyebrow twitched in irritation.
"…Naruto, I empathize with the loss of your favorite food." Sasuke lied. "Having said that, get the hell over it. This is important. Focus."
Naruto sighed tiredly, but sat up straight. Sasuke was happy to see that his face was completely serious. Well, as serious as it could be, coming from the face of a young Jiraiya.
"I think the issue here," Naruto began. "Is not so much how we have been acting, as how we've been acting to her."
Sasuke silently stared at him, not understanding.
Naruto sighed in disappointment.
"…I guess you wouldn't notice, since you're such an asshole to begin with, but people don't like to be ignored or left out." Naruto said, speaking from experience. "We've been avoiding Tsunade. We have our reasons for doing so, sure, but she has no way of knowing that."
Sasuke tilted his head to the side.
"We work fine together on missions." He stated, not see the problem.
"Yeah, we work fine together, for a team of heartless killing machines in training. Too bad human beings aren't that simple. Tsunade isn't that simple. Hell, we aren't that simple, even after everything. You actively tried to be like that and you failed; you were just a bigger dick than usual."
Sasuke frowned at him.
"What I'm trying to say is that Tsunade isn't just the token girl that was added to our team so there'd be three people. She's an actual person and we've been avoiding her, because of all the people we have contact with, she's the most likely to notice something's wrong. But from where she's sitting, we're ignoring her and going off on our own to get stronger and stronger and she's being left out for no reason."
Sasuke blinked at him slowly, wondering how he's observed that much, when realization struck and made him roll his eyes.
"Good God; are you still whining about that?" He complained. Needless to say, Sasuke had little sympathy for his friend when it came to the Chunin Exam.
Naruto looked offended.
"I didn't say anything about you." He protested.
"Whine, bitch, moan, repeat." Sasuke said, shaking his head as he ignored his friend.
"Do you want me to kick your ass, teme!"
"As fun as sparring with you would be," Sasuke's face went blank. "I have to go home. 'My parents' are waiting."
Naruto shut up. Even he knew this was a touchy subject.