Might Guy always woke up before dawn. He had always been full of energy, but recently had achieved a level of enthusiasm that baffled him. Guy knew that his joy was caused by Team Nine's exceptional growth in such a short time. Lee, Hinata, and Naruto were practically the living embodiment of his philosophy of "Genius of Hard Work". The Genin's dedication to the Will of Fire was equally as rewarding.
The Green Beast smiled as he quickly finished his morning rituals and prepared for his solo training. His hand was on his apartment's door when a knock split the morning's stillness. Guy quirked an eyebrow as he called upon the memory of each knock. It wasn't Kakashi's knock, nor Ebisu's. Shinobi tended to develop a unique knock for each of their comrades' homes. It was a way to subtly identify themselves. Guy smiled as he recognized Genma, his old Genin Team comrade, was visiting him.
Guy opened the door slightly. "Good morning, my friend."
"Morning Guy. Surprised you slept in so late today," Genma returned the greeting in his traditional flippant and casual tone.
"I'm surprised you are still awake. When will you be going to bed?" Guy countered.
"Later," Genma said with a smirk. The two teammates laughed for a moment before Guy invited Genma in. "So, how's the sensei-thing working for you, Guy?"
Might Guy smiled broadly. "It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. My students are fantastic and I think Team Nine has the potential to be splendid shinobi!"
"Yeah..." Genma said and Might Guy noticed that the Hokage Guard had a far away look. "That's part of why I am here."
"I hope my students have not been acting unyouthfully," Might responded to his old friend.
"Nothing like that," Genma laughed. "I actually haven't run into Naruto since the Hyūga filed the complaint against him a while back."
"When Hinata was banished..." Guy nearly growled. The entire situation with Hinata was highly unusual and, frankly, wrong. Hinata had lost her position as heiress. That much was obvious to almost anyone with cursory information. However, she was still Hiashi's first-born daughter and a member of the Main Branch of the Hyūga Clan. Hinata should not have been expelled from the Main Branch, much less from the entire clan. Might Guy knew there was something else at play. He could not get any information from the Hokage and the Hyūga were as insular as ever.
"That caused quite the stir among the Jonin," Genma agreed. "The Hyūga didn't help their position in Konoha with that one. I was on a mission with a Hyūga. Hoheto, I think, and he was being subtle. Everyone knows you and I were on the best damn Genin team in Konoha together."
"The Hyūga were seeking information on Hinata," Guy stated.
Genma nodded. "Like I said, this Hyūga was trying to be subtle. I didn't tell him anything, because I really don't know a thing about Hinata. Something about this situation is really fishy."
"That is an understatement if I have ever heard one, my friend. I've tried making my own inquiries, but the Hyūga are too secretive and Hokage-sama has not provided much information." Guy crossed his arms.
"I can tell you've taken a shine to your team," Genma responded with a nod. "I'll see what I can dig up. The Hokage Guard Platoon has a bunch of connections."
"I would be in your debt," Guy said with a sincere bow.
Genma laughed. "Guy, you and Ebisu still owe me from our third C-rank when I saved you from that stampede of cattle."
"We were not in any danger from the stampede," Guy grumbled.
"No, you weren't," Genma agreed. "You were in danger from the owner though. Don't forget that I know Ebisu and you started the stampede when training."
The two old teammates continued to speak for a few minutes. Eventually, Genma left to get some sleep after his mission. Guy decided that his Flames of Youth wouldn't dim if he cut his normal workout a bit short. He needed to speak with the Hokage.
Naruto knew he wasn't the smartest shinobi in the Leaf. He didn't have book smarts like Sakura and Ino. Hinata-chan definitely had him beat when it came to how to act in public and in little tidbits on history and shinobi protocol. He did, however, have confidence in his ability to notice details relating to training, other people's training, or people teaching him something.
'Guy-sensei looks like something is up,' Naruto thought to himself as he put a can into the recycling bin strapped to his back. 'I need to talk with him...'
"Yes, Naruto?" Guy asked with his normal enthusiasm and, surprisingly, patience.
"I kinda need to run to the bathroom. We're near the creek and all that running water..." Naruto lied.
"Hurry back! Your teammates will need your help to complete the mission," Guy answered with a smile. Naruto nodded and dashed off. He went through the motions and hurried back. The young man noticed that Hinata and Lee were further down from Guy and Naruto's position.
"Guy-sensei, I've noticed that you've been focusing on something all day. It isn't anything Team Nine has done is it? I mean, we've worked hard and..." Naruto started to quietly and nervously ramble.
"Team Nine has been exceptionally youthful. You, Lee, and Hinata have been everything a teacher could want," Guy explained and was pleased to see Naruto's face light up with pride. He leaned closer and talked in an even voice. "You are one of the few people who know any specifics about Hinata's...situation. I am giving you a direct order as your superior that you cannot tell anyone, Hinata included, what I'm about to reveal."
Naruto nodded. "I promise, Guy-sensei. I don't like keeping things from Hinata-chan though. She's my best friend and my partner."
"It is good that you have such a positive relationship with Hinata!" Guy said with enthusiasm. "That being said, I don't want her to have any undue stress because of this information. My old teammate, Shiranui Genma, informed me this morning that the Hyūga Clan is making inquiries into Hinata's progress as a shinobi and her living conditions."
"Those jackasses tossed her out into the night and put that...thing on her. They don't have the right to ask about her. If I had my way, they'd only be allowed to talk to her when we become Co-kage and they'd be telling Hinata-chan how sorry and stupid they are," Naruto hissed. Guy was worried for a moment that he would become angry enough to start channeling the Kyūbi's chakra. Fortunately, the moment passed and Naruto's features brightened. "Genma's a cool guy. We talked once about the Fourth Hokage."
"Genma is one of my oldest friends," Guy said to distract Naruto away from his anger. He could tell it was bubbling just below the surface.
"Awesome," Naruto beamed. "So, have you heard anything else about the Hyūga?"
Guy shook his head. "No. I think they were mostly concerned with her Byakugan."
"Well, screw them. Hinata's a lot more than her awesome eyes," Naruto declared. "Thanks for trusting me Guy-sensei."
"You are welcome, my student!" Guy shouted. "I would get back to the mission. You will have plenty of time to practice the jutsu when we begin tomorrow!"
Lee and Hinata looked up from their job as Naruto ran up to rejoin his team. "You are very excited about our first jutsu, Naruto!" Lee shouted.
"Don't you know it, Lee! We are going to shock people with how awesome we are!" Naruto responded with equal vigor.
"I wonder what my jutsu will be?" Hinata asked as she finished filling her bin.
"Guy-sensei will probably teach you something that takes advantage of your totally awesome chakra control, Hinata-chan," Naruto theorized. "I can't wait to see it!"
"Naruto is correct! Your jutsu will likely mesh with your youthful talents," Lee agreed.
Team Nine conversed casually as they finished off the D-rank. The talk shifted towards days off.
"So, what do you do on your days off, Lee?" Naruto asked.
Lee beamed. "I go fishing! It is very relaxing and allows me to enjoy the peacefulness of nature!"
"I've never been fishing," Naruto admitted.
Lee stared at Naruto for a moment with his mouth agape. "You will enjoy it! I know you share my zest for action, but it is nice to relax. Not to mention, you can keep the fish for dinner."
"Sounds like fun," Naruto admitted.
"On our next day off, I will take you fishing!" Lee declared. Naruto smiled warmly and nodded in agreement. It was an exciting thought to hang out with a friend. Outside of Hinata-chan, Naruto didn't really have many close friends. He counted Lee, Ino, and Sakura as friends. Kiba, Shikamaru, and Chouji were friendly, but Naruto hadn't seen them in a while and wasn't sure he could count them as friends.
"You've got a deal," Naruto beamed. "Looks like we'll be having fish, Hinata-chan."
Hinata smiled at Naruto. She was very happy that Naruto was forming bonds with their teammate. Hinata cared deeply for Naruto, but was worried that he wasn't forming enough friendships. "As long as you remember your promise from Sayuri's."
"Don't worry, I swore to protect you from the horrors of things just torched and thrown on the plate," Naruto laughed. "I plan on keeping that promise."
The D-rank mission was welcomed by Team Nine, but the anticipation of learning their first jutsu was overwhelming. Naruto's jutsu was easy to guess. Guy-sensei would likely help Naruto perfect Katon: Endan. The jutsu would allow Naruto to support Lee and Hinata from a distance.
As for Lee's and Hinata's jutsu, Naruto didn't have a clue.
He mulled over the possibilities as he brushed his teeth. The young man hummed as he thought of several ideas. Hinata who was standing next to him, doing some girl-stuff that Naruto had come to accept, turned towards him.
"What is it, Naruto-kun?" Hinata asked as she put down the pad she had been using.
"Just thinking," Naruto admitted. "Tomorrow Guy-sensei will let us know what jutsu we're learning. I was just trying to figure out what we'll be learning."
Hinata tapped her lip with her index finger. "Guy-sensei did tell us we will all have specific roles in Team Nine. Lee-kun and I will focus on taijutsu. Our jutsu will likely help with our skills."
"I remember," Naruto confirmed. "He said I'll be a ninjutsu and fuinjutsu specialist, so that I can back you and Lee up on missions. I already started learning Katon: Endan."
"I think Guy-sensei will help you master that technique," Hinata agreed cautiously. She was still uneasy whenever Naruto brought up that technique.
Naruto smiled reassuringly. "I can't wait. What about you? What do you want to learn?"
"W-Well, I'd love to learn medical ninjutsu. I'm not sure Guy-sensei knows any of those jutsus, but I know he'll teach me something wonderful!" Hinata started shyly, but quickly finished loudly. She didn't want to seem as if she wasn't grateful for Guy-sensei's teachings!
Naruto chuckled. "Hinata-chan, I'm sure you'll be as awesome at learning new jutsus as you are in everything else."
"T-Thank you, Naruto-kun," Hinata replied with a blush. She had finally gotten used to Naruto's unconditional support and instantaneous compliments. The latest 'Talks' with Ayame-oneechan had made Hinata realize that there was a new aspect of her relationship with Naruto.
Hinata had never been so thankful that Ino and Sakura could not read minds. The consequences would be so embarrassing! How would Naruto react? How would that change things? Hinata was as happy and comfortable as she had ever been! In a word, she was scared.
"You're welcome, Hinata-chan. Hey, I'm going to grab something to snack on. Do you want anything?" Naruto asked with a giant grin.
"No, thank you. I believe I'm going to bed. Good night, Naruto-kun," Hinata finished with a bit of a blush.
Naruto nodded and his smile seemingly grew larger. "Good night, Hinata-chan." He watched Hinata leave the shared bathroom, which was mostly taken up by Hinata's girl stuff, and sighed. He quietly headed to the kitchen and grabbed a simple sandwich and plopped down at the table.
As he chewed, he thought back to the last minute in the bathroom. Naruto had hoped that his declaration a few days ago had ended any awkward moments between Naruto and his best friend. The declaration had headed off most weird situations, but it had the unintended side-effect of giving Naruto a lot of time to think about the situation.
First, he had really started to notice just how pretty Hinata really was. Naruto had always known Hinata was pretty. It was just one of the fundamental facts of life. Water was wet. Hinata was pretty. Rain came from clouds. Hinata was pretty. It was that obvious and natural. Now, though...now he was noticing details that were sticking with him and bringing a blush to his cheeks. A few of the details that really stood out to Naruto was how elegantly Hinata carried herself. Every move she made seemed to be designed to put others at ease or make them feel welcome.
Then, there were two of Naruto's favorite details. Hinata's grace only seemed to slip in two occasions. The first way for it to slip was when she became curious about something. Hinata would lean her head to one side and hum. Her long hair would slide to one side. Naruto found it really cute. The second time Hinata's grace slipped was when she suddenly became determined or incredibly focused on something. Sometimes, Naruto had heard older guys say a girl looked 'hot' when they were even better looking than usual. Naruto certainly believed the steely look Hinata got in his eyes made her a different kind of attractive. That look also brought a heat to his cheeks sometimes.
'So, I guess that counts as hot,' Naruto thought to himself. He could think about that later. The young man grabbed the scroll he had checked out from the library and started reading. 'The Five-Seal Barrier is a fuinjutsu of incredible defensive potential...'
"Yosh! My adorable students, it is time to learn your first jutsu!" Might Guy greeted Team Nine as they completed their warmups.
Team Nine rushed across the Dojo to Guy and stared at him with complete awe. The Jonin responded to his student's excitement with a broad grin.
"Hold tightly to that enthusiasm, energy, and optimism!" Guy began. "That positive energy will eventually become a core of perseverance! With perseverance and effort, even the humblest shinobi can achieve great things! My own father never advanced beyond the rank of Genin, but he never gave up! My...my father gave his all to Konoha and even when he gave his life, he smiled! Might Dai is my example and my hero!"
Team Nine's awed looks softened a bit. They could hear a softness in their naturally exuberant sensei's voice that they were unfamiliar with. The revelation was also some of the first scraps of personal information Might Guy had let slip.
Guy quickly redoubled his grin. "I will tell you more of my father later. However, I'm sure you are very eager to start your training with your new jutsu!"
"Heck yeah, Guy-sensei!" Naruto shouted.
"First, I will reveal what I will be teaching each of you! Naruto, I will help you master Katon: Endan so that you may use it without endangering yourself!"
"Thank you, Guy-sensei," the hyperactive Genin said respectfully.
"You are welcome," Guy replied with sincerity. "Now, Lee! You will also learn a technique, but due to the nature of the technique and your unique situation requires highly individualized training."
Lee nodded. "I...understand Guy-sensei. Will I be able to share the techniques forged in the Flames of my Youth with my teammates?"
"The technique is...powerful." Guy chose his words carefully. "Lee, you are permitted to discuss the technique in general terms with Hinata and Naruto. However, you are not permitted to discuss any of the methods regarding how to use the jutsu. If the jutsu is not used responsibly, it is extremely dangerous."
Guy did not reveal any concrete details about the technique, but his warning about danger was not aimed at Lee. He knew that Lee would follow orders and accept necessities wonderfully. Guy was truthfully trying to head off Naruto's curiosity. Though, his concerns were lessened by Naruto's experience with the Katon: Endan and Hinata's presence.
"Finally, Hinata! I know you have your heart set on learning medical ninjutsu," Guy began. Hinata's face took on a series of emotions. First, she was excited. The combination of joy at her dream being acknowledged by her sensei and the hope that she would finally be learning medical ninjutsu. However, she noticed an unusually tentative glint in the corner of Guy-sensei's eyes. The conflict continued, but disappointment nearly outweighed her excitement. Hinata was thrilled to be learning a new jutsu, but was saddened that Guy-sensei wouldn't introduce her to medical ninjutsu.
"Yes, Guy-sensei," Hinata confirmed with polite neutrality.
"I am sorry, Hinata. This technique is not connected to medical ninjutsu," the Jonin admitted sympathetically. "It does, however, require incredible chakra control, which will provide a valuable foundation to your future studies!"
Hinata nodded. "I understand, Guy-sensei." A pang of disappointment still remained in the back of Hinata's mind, but her sensei had mollified her somewhat.
"Excuse me, Guy-sensei?" Naruto spoke up while raising his hand. Guy smiled and nodded at his student. "How are we going to get started?"
The Leaf's Noble Beast smiled. He reached into a pouch in his flak jacket and produced a simple scroll. "Naruto, I want you to study this scroll. It contains the proper hand-seals for your jutsu. Today, I simply want you to practice the hand-seals for Katon: Endan."
"Yes, Guy-sensei," Naruto agreed half-heartedly. He was expecting to simply be told the correct order and told to start launching fireballs. Truthfully, Naruto was a bit bummed out.
"Now, Lee...we will have to develop the specifics of your jutsu in secret on the Hokage's orders." A second scroll appeared in the Jonin's hand. "Today, you will be following the instructions contained in the scroll. Lee, you must know that the contents of the scroll are a C-rank secret. Unless the Hokage or myself give you permission, you may not show the contents to anyone."
Lee bowed deeply as he accepted the scroll from his mentor and idol. "Of course, Guy-sensei!"
Guy smiled and gave Lee his finest thumbs up. "Lee and Naruto! You may begin studying the scrolls! Remember, to not deviate from the instructions I have left you!" The two boys bowed and headed off to work on their assignments.
"Hinata, please follow me," Might Guy commanded as soon as the boys had headed off. Hinata dutifully followed her commanding officer. "Your jutsu is on the surface the simplest. However, I am teaching you this jutsu as a cover to help you refine and master the Hyuga's Vacuum Palm independently of the Clan."
The last pang of disappointment quietly died and Hinata's pale violet eyes took on an excited gleam. "I am ready to learn, Guy-sensei!"
Naruto sat on a cooler and watched Lee's behavior carefully. It was honestly hard to believe that Naruto's borderline-excessively enthusiastic teammate was calmly sitting in the dirt half dozing next to his fishing rod. Lee's trademark grin still adorned his face. That put Naruto at ease.
Still, he was having fun. "Oi, Lee." Naruto said (relatively) quietly. Lee's eyes opened and the trademark energy returned full force.
"Yes, Naruto? Are you still enjoying yourself?" Lee asked hopefully.
"Heck yeah," Naruto admitted with a nod. "I was just curious about a couple of things."
"I will endeavor to sate your curiosity!" Lee responded with a smile.
"Well, we've been working on our jutsus for almost a week now. I've managed to get Katon: Endan down pat and I've made some progress on a few new seals. Hinata-chan has nailed her Air Palm jutsu. It sounds like you've made a ton of progress on your jutsu too..."
"My jutsu is incredibly complex. I have only begun to scratch the surface, but Guy-sensei said that I have surpassed his expectations as a Genius of Hard Work," Lee explained. He noticed Naruto's mood falter. "Is something wrong, Naruto?"
"I was just hoping we'd all have learned our jutsus by now," Naruto admitted. "Team Nine's done a dozen D-rank missions. We can Tree Walk in our sleep and our teamwork is probably the best in Konoha." Lee listened to Naruto's words carefully.
"You believe that we are ready for a higher rank mission," Lee pointed out. Naruto nodded and Lee thought for a moment. "I, too, believe that we are ready! Have you talked to Hinata-san about our readiness?"
"I was going to talk to her tonight about it over dinner," Naruto revealed.
"Naruto, you are going to cook for her?" Lee asked with clear amusement.
Naruto either missed or ignored his friend's humor. "Yeah, she's helped me out a lot since we met. Besides, I've always wanted to try cooking something other than instant ramen."
"Ah, I hope that Hinata feels we are all ready for a C-rank mission! I am eager to see how we have stoked the Flames of our Youth through Guy-sensei's training!"
"Heck yeah! That's enough talk about ninja-stuff! Today's our day off! Let's catch some more fish!" Naruto matched Lee's enthusiasm and eagerly reached for his borrowed fishing rod.
"Say, Lee..." Naruto asked after he cast his lure back into the water. "What's the biggest fish you've ever caught?"
Lee turned to his friend and smiled. "I caught it when I was nine and I was with my uncle..."
Hinata sat at the table studying her scroll as she let the smells of Naruto's cooking waft in from the kitchen. She was enjoying her best friend and partner's attempts to pamper her. The quiet moment was also giving her time to dive deeper into the simple jutsu Guy-sensei had taught her.
'Guy-sensei was right. It was an excellent cover to help me fine-tune my Hakke Kūshō, but I think even Guy-sensei missed the potential of the jutsu,' Hinata thought to herself.
"Ah come on!" Naruto grumbled from the kitchen. Hinata quickly activated her Byakugan. Naruto had everything perfectly under control, but was growing impatient at how slowly the cooking was proceeding. The former heiress was pleasantly surprised by Naruto's skills in the kitchen. She was completely confident in Naruto's ability to master anything he set out to learn. However, Hinata had not expected Naruto to show such talent so quickly.
Hinata 'eeped' as her stomach growled as her mind placed an image to the smells she had been experiencing for the past couple of minutes. Quickly, the young woman buried her attentions into the anatomy scroll to forget about her mortification.
"Hinata-chan!" Naruto cried out as he entered the commons area. "I've got dinner."
"Thank you, Naruto-kun," Hinata said graciously. "It smells amazing."
"You're welcome! I really hope you enjoy it," Naruto said hopefully.
"Naruto-kun, you put your heart into it," Hinata responded with a gentle smile. "That means the world to me."
Naruto blushed a tiny bit at Hinata's statement. His blush multiplied in intensity when he noticed that Hinata's cheeks had a dusting of a blush as well. Dinner started after the traditional giving of thanks. Naruto was on the edge of his seat as he waited for Hinata's opinion on his cooking. Hinata was silent as she ate.
"This is amazing," Hinata declared with wide eyes. "You are incredible, Naruto-kun!"
"Thanks, Hinata-chan," Naruto replied as he soaked in the simple praise. The conversation turned to Team Nine's day off. Naruto regaled Hinata with tales of how his fishing trip with Lee progressed. Hinata shared her relaxing day of indulging in her hobby of flower pressing. The conversation was light and the partners were enjoying the quiet moments.
"Naruto-kun." "Hinata-chan." The shinobi blushed as they realized that they had spoken at the same time.
"Go ahead, Hinata-chan," Naruto said by virtue of finding his voice much faster.
Hinata took a heartbeat to regain her composure. "T-Thank you, Naruto-kun. Did Lee-kun mention any progress on his jutsu?"
"Lee said his jutsu was incredibly complex. He hasn't mastered it yet, but Guy-sensei is impressed by how quick Lee is picking it up," Naruto revealed.
"That is good to hear. I was hoping that we had all mastered our jutsus," Hinata said quietly.
Naruto grinned. He was amazed at how alike he and Hinata were where it counted. "I was thinking the same thing."
"Naruto-kun..." Hinata weighed her next words carefully. "I-I think Team Nine is ready for a C-rank mission."
Author's Note: Well, I'm back. I actually have a legit reason for the delay. I've been teaching and the end of the year had standardized testing, projects, etc. Even though I was a long-term sub, I still had full-time responsibilities. Still, some good news. I finished this chapter and I'm getting close to finishing the next chapter of Hyuga's Hound. Dichotomy, Hanyou: The Musical!, and Unexpected are about to get some attention.