A wise man had once said that "Life is a long road that is easy to get lost on". At the moment, Naruto was feeling somewhat lost on that road. Looking back, he realized that he must've taken a wrong turn somewhere since, the road had gone in what in his opinion was a rather disturbing direction without him realizing it until it was too late.

"...And before I could go up to her, Ino got her hands on her and turned her into Rabid Sasuke Fangirl # 2." Naruto said miserably to his companion that evening.

He knew that he should be at home resting or preparing himself for whatever farce Kakashi decided to spring on him and his new team tomorrow but, he had needed someone to commiserate with about his sucky new assignment, and Suzume had shown up like a gift from heaven. After he'd run into her after she'd been leaving the Administration Complex at the end of the mission she'd been on for the last couple of weeks, they had gone to the bar that Tetsuo-sensei had brought them to to celebrate Suzume and Satoshi's promotions to Chunin, since Ichiraku's was now reserved for high points during his life. The bar fit his mood quite nicely since it was both a place where shinobi tended to go to commiserate about their problems and the place where his team had pretty much split apart. It had been a while since the team had split apart, and a while since he and Suzume had seen each-other so, they had some catching up to do.

As he was still a Genin he had gotten cranberry juice but, that was okay since he didn't like alcohol all that much anyway. Suzume had ordered sake because they were "in a bar", but wasn't drinking very much of it. Based on the occasional winces, she seemed to share his views on the flavor of alcohol. Her cup had spent far more time on the table than it did in her hand, and the tokkuri was mostly full.

"Now, I'm expected to be on a team with both of them, and I'm certain that Kakashi will know if I try and throw tomorrow's test and report me, and I'm still considering doing it anyway." he continued unhappily. "I don't even know why Kakashi wants to be my sensei, I was perfectly happy with Tetsuo-sensei."

Suzume quietly gave him a pitying look. Apparently, if it was her, she wouldn't have wanted to be stuck in the same situation he was in either. Tetsuo-sensei was a good teacher whom none of them would have traded for the world, and it had been his impression that Suzume and Satoshi would have eventually returned to the team after they'd had their chance to fly on a few B-Ranked missions if this hadn't happened.

"And how was your mission?" he finally asked after having forced his teammate to listen to him for over an hour.

He'd been taught some manners over the years and knew that it wouldn't be polite to spend the entire evening trying to get some sympathy over his fate, and not offer a shoulder of his own should it be needed even if his mood was a completely crappy one at the moment. He knew that something was up with Suzume as well since she hadn't looked entirely happy when he'd run into her but, it was more of a my day was crappy unhappy rather than the "My life just got completely steamrolled." unhappy he was feeling.

"It absolutely sucked." Suzume replied. "The client would not stop hitting on me. I wouldn't have minded it so much if he were young and handsome but, he had to be like fifty, and he was missing half his teeth. On the way back, we decided to stop at an onsen. Unfortunately for us in this case, it was a mixed bath. What should have been a very relaxing evening was completely ruined when this white haired pervert stared at me and Eri the entire time, not even bothering to try and hide the fact that he was doing so..."

As Suzume shared her problems, he listened to his teammate as attentively as he could. Not only was it the polite thing to do but, you never knew what you could learn when you did so. Someone had once let a good bit of blackmail material slip without realizing it in his presence, and he would have missed it if he hadn't been paying attention. Since then, he'd never wasted an opportunity to needle the person in question with his knowledge he'd gained every time he encountered him. Right now however, he was providing a sympathetic ear for his teammate, and a shoulder to cry on since she had done the same for him.

Sasuke growled as he pummeled the training dummy with his fists. The idiot, the moron, the dead last had been a Genin for two years and he hadn't so much not noticed it as refused to believe it until he'd had his nose rubbed in undeniable proof of the fact. The person who had been held up as being the most likely to fail since day one at the Academy had surpassed him and left him in the dust long before he'd even realized that he'd flown by, and instead of trying to catch up and surpass him like he should have been doing, he'd spent two years ignoring the now very obvious dust cloud that had been left in his wake.

As he pummeled the dummy he was training with, he reviewed his and the Uzumaki's time at the Academy together, trying to see if there were signs of when and how this had happened. As he thought back on it, there had been one phrase that constantly came out of the mouth of the boy who - now that he thought about it - managed to catch a Chunin in a trap that only utilized a chalkboard eraser and a bit of grease, and that was "I was joking."

Shuriken go flying everywhere except the target and nearly take out the sensei:

"I was joking."

Kunai hits a bird passing overhead rather than the stationary target five feet below it:

"I was joking."

The Assistant Instructor's kneecap nearly gets broken due to a wild and unpredictable move:

You get the picture.

Every single time after every single failure, he'd hear "I was joking". Back then, he had thought that it had been the idiot's way of trying to cover for his obvious inadequacies, especially considering the fact that the boy couldn't even do a proper Bunshin. He was wrong however. Apparently, the Uzumaki really had just been joking around. The little bastard had played him. He'd played all of them, and when he'd gotten bored with his little game, he went and blew through the graduation exam like it was nothing.

Now knowing that the Uzumaki could have graduated any time he'd wanted to, he tried to think it through to find a logical reason for why he would do such a thing. It didn't make sense. Why would the Uzumaki do something like that, something so absolutely pointless, when he could be well on his way in his ninja career?

After several moments of thought he finally remembered the most likely reason for why the Uzumaki behaved the way he had. After Ni...That Man had killed the clan, the laws had been changed, and the lowest age at which anyone could graduate the Academy had been raised to ten. Because of this, the Uzumaki had been forcibly held back for who knew how many years. Long and tedious years in which the Uzumaki had undoubtedly grown bored just as he had near the end of his stay at the Academy.

He'd heard stories about geniuses who were held back and destroyed their surroundings out of sheer boredom. One of the reasons Uchiha Madara had been sent out on the battlefield at such a young age had been because of the chaos he had been causing in the clan encampment. While Naruto hadn't been setting tents on fire and destroying cooking pots, he had caused enough chaos that the Academy had finally been willing to let him go and been glad of it.

Now knowing what the Uzumaki was, he knew that he would have to find a way to surpass him before he would be ready to kill That Man. If he could find a way to defeat one true genius, he would be able to find a way to defeat another...

Sakura checked her supplies again, feeling apprehensive about what the morning and the future following it would hold. She would be taking a test with her team, a test that would decide the team's future including even if they would still be a team following the test, and she feared how Sasuke would react if she caused them to fail. Sasuke would be extremely disappointed, and probably would reject her in favor of Ino. Naruto however, Naruto would...

On the day Naruto had pinned her and threatened her, she had complained to her mother about how Naruto had threatened to break her arm practically the instant she got home. Her mother had promptly dragged her down to the office of the civilian peacekeeping force that had risen up in the wake of the Uchiha massacre to deal with civilian on civilian crime to make a report. Once they got there, her mother had stormed straight up to the desk of the first officer she spotted, dragging her in her wake...

"I want that monster arrested!" Her mother yelled, as soon as she had gotten the attention of the officer she'd dragged her in front of.

"Who are you talking about ma'am?" the female officer asked, as she tried to calm her mother down.

"The Uzumaki boy, who else?" her mother replied.

After her mother's demand, the officer went over to a computer and started putting in information. Whatever result she received once the information had been processed had caused a frown to mar her rather plain features. She looked rather apologetic when she returned soon after.

"I'm sorry," the officer said when she reached her desk where she and her mother were standing. "Uzumaki Naruto is a registered shinobi, and therefore you'll have to file your complaint at the Administration Complex."

Snarling obscenities under her breath, her mother grabbed her, turned, angrily stormed out of the station ,and dragged her all the way to the Administration Complex where she then dragged her all the way over to the desks where people registered civilian complaints against shinobi.

"I would like to file a complaint against Uzumaki Naruto." her mother said to the bored looking ninja at the desk the instant she arrived.

"What is the nature of this complaint?" the ninja asked, grabbing a form and a pen.

"That filthy little monster threatened to break my daughter's arm!" her mother replied.

"At what time was this threat made, and where were you and what were you doing at the time?" the Chunin asked as he started filling out information on the form.

"I was outside the Academy. I had just gotten out of class for the day, and noticed him hanging around on that swing in the tree near the entrance. I...I tried to hit him." she replied, deciding to leave the "for pretending to be a ninja part" out considering the reason for her current location.

"Let me get this straight," the man said coldly as he crumpled the form that he'd started filling out. "You, an Academy student, decided to attack a full fledged shinobi who is only a Genin because he had a run of seriously bad luck, and isn't currently on his way to the Chunin exams because we don't want to give Iwa a chance to legally get their revenge on him for what he did to two of their Genin, and you want us to punish him because he decided to go easy on you and let you off with a warning?"

As they say, hindsight is 20/20. She should never have let her mother drag her to the Tower considering the fact that Naruto had already informed her of what would happen, and she should never have asked what Naruto had done to those Iwa Genin. The desk ninja who had apparently heard the story from a friend of his who was a Jounin who had been to the Chunin Exams in Kiri had gleefully told her in vivid and extremely gruesome detail.

Funny, Sasuke had never seemed to notice that she had kept silent about Naruto's ninja status or lack thereof after that...

If Naruto had been willing to do something like that to people who had just gotten in the way of his promotion, what would he do to her if she failed tomorrow's test?

That question haunted her for the rest of the evening as she prepared hoping that she didn't mess up and upset either Naruto or Sasuke-kun.

Kakashi polished one of the bells against his sleeve before checking it again for any spots or smudges. Everything had to be perfect for tomorrow, including the bells that had been in use since the Nidaime had first taken a team. Because omorrow, Minato-sensei's son would be his student.

Despite the fact that the kid seemed to resent the fact that he'd been taken from his other sensei, and the fact that he was Chunin in all but name, it would be worth it. He owed it to Minato-sensei to make sure that Naruto was at least half the man he had been. He had failed everyone else. Obito was gone, Rin was gone, Kushina-san was gone, and Minato-sensei was gone. Naruto was all he had left.

Edited 11-8-12