AN: It's been a long time. I've been busy, busy, busy. And no signs of anything changing, anytime soon, not that anyone would really know. Anyway, to forestall complaints, no, a pairing has not been decided, but I did do something for development. Development, I'd like to reiterate. If you must flame me, keep it to the reviews and the PM's. Thank you. I don't own Naruto, and I hope you all enjoy.

Chapter Two: "Underneath The Underneath"

Naruto knocked on the door again, vaguely wondering if the Hokage had somehow given him the wrong address. Or maybe the guy was purposefully ignoring him; hoping that he'd get discouraged and go away. Or maybe he was just out; that guy had to have a life, after all. Finally, Naruto knocked once more, and was about to turn and walk away, when the door opened, and out stepped the glasses wearing special jounin he'd run into over the last couple of days.

"Uzumaki-san? What can I do for you today?" Ebisu asked politely, surprised to see him at his door mere hours after they'd talked.

"Hello Ebisu-sensei. I was wondering if I could have a moment of your time. I am in need of some advice," Naruto stated cordially. Iruka-sensei may not have been an option, but perhaps this guy was. After all, he was supposed to be training the Hokage's grandson, and that certainly seemed like a chore. If he had the ability and energy for that, then why not ask him?

"Certainly. Come in," Ebisu welcomed, hiding his confusion at the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki's visit. "Please, take a seat. How can I help you?" He welcomed into the living room where two armchairs were laid out across from one another close to a warm, crackling fire. The rest of the living room was decorated in calm, tasteful, but mostly darkish colors.

Naruto took the offered seat; the armchair was plush and comfy. "Well, I have been placed on a Genin team under Kakashi." Ebisu did a slight double-take. Hatake Kakashi? This did not bode well… "Tomorrow, we are supposed to have some sort of survival exercise to determine if we stay Genin or go back to the Academy. I was wondering if you perhaps had any advice for this upcoming trail."

Ebisu stroked his chin. "Hmm, Kakashi. I am unfortunately bound by my position to say little, Uzumaki-san. I can say that Kakashi has never passed a Genin team before," Naruto's eyes rose at that, "And that his test for Genin generally involves combat against him, but nothing else," He finished apologetically.

Naruto stared at him thoughtfully. So they had to fight? How could that result in innumerable teams failing? Unless he had ridiculously high standards. No, that didn't make sense, the Academy produced some ninja with a lot of potential, and if he was such a big name-legendary ninja and all that-, shouldn't he have first pick or something? Unless he really didn't want a team. But that didn't make sense; if he had first pick, and he didn't want a team, then why select the guy who had taken home Rookie of the Year? "Combat you say? I've heard he's a legendary ninja, but perhaps you could give me some insight into what makes him so powerful?" Naruto muttered inquisitively.

"Again, I apologize, but there is very little I can say. All I can tell you is that he is renowned as Copy-Cat Kakashi," Naruto nodded slightly- Iruka-sensei had told him that much, though he had no real idea what that meant- "And he supposedly knows over a thousand jutsu." Naruto's eyes widened at that piece of information. Well, now he knew what that meant. A Thousand Jutsu!

"And this test involves combat? What am I supposed to do against a ninja like that; raise a white flag?" Naruto scoffed sarcastically. He was assuming that the test of combat was against the man himself, because he couldn't really envision any other scenarios that made sense. It's not like they could fight each other… or could they? No, that wouldn't work. Probably. "I'm just a Genin for crying out loud!" He calmed himself down; what he was describing was an impossible test. Fighting an experienced Jounin. So if that was the impossible test he was faced with… "Do you have any tips for me?"

Ebisu shrugged. "I do not believe there is anything else I can or should tell you, Uzumaki-san," He said finally. "I know how the task seems, but I am certain you can find a way to succeed."

Naruto smiled slightly. "Thanks, Ebisu-sensei." He didn't believe that at all; not the way the deck was stacked against him. But he didn't have to say that. The man had been nothing but polite, so he should return the courtesy. "By the way, Iruka-sensei told me you were the village's expert on obtaining better chakra control, and mine is… well, pretty bad, to be frank," He confessed sadly. Though he still had that tree-walking exercise to work on, but it probably wouldn't be enough, if his sensei was correct. But as long he was here, what was the harm in learning something potentially valuable?

"I imagine it would be," Ebisu remarked easily. He didn't even need to mention the nine-tailed fox in the room. Instead, he got up from his seat and walked over to the bookshelf to retrieve a couple of scrolls. "If you would like, you can borrow these. They contain a dozen or so exercises ninja such as yourself use to obtain better chakra control. If you practice them persistently, you will find your control improving by leaps and bounds." He smirked. "And once that happens, with your reserves, you have the potential to be a Ninjutsu expert." 'And if by some miracle you pass your test tomorrow, you shall be studying under the man with more jutsu than he knows what to do with.'

Naruto took the offered scrolls and tucked them into his jacket pocket. "Thanks, Ebisu-sensei. Well, thank you for your time. You were most helpful. But I should be going; I still have to figure out how to pass my sensei's test." Ebisu walked him to the door with a slight smile on his face, as he once again tried to reassure him that he would do well tomorrow. Even if he himself didn't believe any such thing. And as Naruto left, he could say with certainty that he still didn't believe the man's assurances.

Knock! Knock! Knock!


"Good evening, Iruka."

"Oh, evening Kakashi. What can I do for you?" He glanced around nervously, having no idea what this was about.

"Can I have a moment of your time?"

Another nervous twitch. "Uhh, sure I guess. Come in."

Kakashi walked in and took a seat in Iruka's living room without prompting. Iruka shuffled off to the kitchen to make a pot of tea. Kakashi calmly looked around the rather sparsely decorated room as the minutes ticked by and the water finally boiled.

"What can I do for you?" Iruka asked once again as he returned with a tray holding the tea kettle and two cups. He quickly filled both cups and took a sip from his own while waiting for an answer. Even with a little time to think, he still had no idea why Kakashi was paying him a visit. And generally, from the stories he'd heard, visits like this from high-ranking ninja were never a good thing. It meant he had probably screwed up in spectacular fashion.

"I was curious about you and one of my prospective students," Kakashi answered finally, after several moments of letting him twitch. "From his record, Naruto seemed to be much different from the potential Genin I met today," He told him neutrally. "Completely different from his file, you see. And he seemed to hold you in high regard. It didn't take much to see that there was probably a connection"

Iruka flushed slightly at the praise. And calmed down quite a bit. "Well, I spent the last week working with him, remedial stuff," He answered carefully. It was technically irregular, his week of training with Naruto, but the Hokage had signed off on it, so it was definitely legal. Just a kind of interference some Jounin sensei's might have frowned upon in different circumstances. "And, well… he's never really had anyone sit down and spend that amount of time and effort on him, I guess. So, he was quite willing to listen, and I had a lot to teach him. And I guess," He shrugged slightly, as if unsure, "It had a very positive effect on your prospective student."

"Ah, I see," Kakashi remarked calmly as he took a sip from his own cup. Iruka was amazed that he couldn't see past the mask despite the huge opportunity. But it was typical Kakashi. "I was rather curious because the Genin I met today could actually one day be quite the ninja," 'Just like his Father', "whereas the Genin described in the reports, was well…"

"Hopeless?" Iruka suggested helpfully. "A week ago, that would probably be very close to accurate. But after a week, I think he's improved quite a bit. Given a chance and a little special attention, he really is a good student. Despite what his records might indicate," He concluded sourly. Kakashi could read between the lines there. It was the worst kept secret in the world that Naruto had been sabotaged in the Academy, but there were also several ways Naruto had shot himself in the foot. Not that Iruka needed to know that. Because it was all water under the bridge, as far as the Hokage was concerned, seeing as the proper punishments had been doled out.

"What exactly did you two work on?" Kakashi asked swiftly, moving past a rather large conversational diversion. "I need to know what he is capable of doing, since I might be his jounin-sensei." Probably wouldn't happen, but anything that might, possibly, maybe put his Precious Icha Icha at risk was something to be safeguarded against. Espcially if Iruka had taught him some of his more lethal earth techniques; though that was quite unlikely due to lack of time.

Iruka shrugged. "Taijutsu was the biggest thing. His own stances were quite awful from his time in the Academy. And he really couldn't block or dodge at all. Probably because Mizuki was assigned to teach him," He mentioned casually. He had partially laid that ghost to rest. So he liked to think. "We also worked on accuracy, and remedial knowledge. You know, like naming Hidden Villages, and knowing some of their history and customs. Oh, and some of the basic justu, hand seals, and chakra control. And… well, there is one other thing I should mention," He glanced at Kakashi shiftily, debating whether to continue, "He got in contact with the Fox."

Kakashi went still. Okay, this could be very bad. Granted the Yondaime was great with fūinjutsu, but still, any contact with gigantic nine-tailed demon foxes capable of mass destruction and ruin was something to be wary of. "Did he now? Why? And how did that happen?" His eyes hardened slightly. "And does the Hokage know?"

"He was curious about it, so I suggested he try contacting it. I subtly signaled an Anbu to alert the Hokage before I did so, but it was done under our supervision, not that he knew of the latter's presence. He did meditate and contact it after he arrived, and they apparently struck a deal of some kind," Iruka remarked. "It has some benefits, like I remember him saying something about huge chakra reserves and fast healing. And I think that is responsible for his newfound interest in fūinjutsu."

"I see," Said Kakashi slowly. While it was a rather big development, the proper precautions had been taken, and apparently the village hadn't been destroyed. So it must have worked out. "Anything else?"

"Just this," Iruka got up and walked over to his desk. "After our week of training, I made him retake the Academy exam. I think the score speaks for itself." He handed the test to Kakashi who gave it a once over before nodding and handing it back to him.

"Impressive," Kakashi remarked idly. Definitely noteworthy. He was still going to fail tomorrow, but it was nice to see a student with such potential finally start taking things seriously. Poor timing, but still…"Well, thanks for your time, Iruka." He drained the last drop from his cup, "I have to get going," He said as he stood up to leave.

"Good luck with your new team, Kakashi," Iruka called out as he left. 'Hopefully you won't fail this one too.' But still, as he turned away to clean up, he knew what the likely outcome tomorrow would be. Even if he wanted to hope otherwise.

Naruto stared peacefully up at the pitch-black night sky. So many stars, and there was the light of the full moon. It was beautiful. Perfect, even. Content, he adjusted the pillow leaning on the tree and moved his blanket slightly. A slight breeze came and ruffled the leaves around him, but the blanket stayed in place with barely a ruffle. It was a nice temperate night; not too hot, not too cold. Perfect.

After he'd eaten dinner, he had turned his attention back to the problem of his upcoming Genin exam. He still had no idea whether to show up three hours late or not; this might be the one time Kakashi was punctual, and if he wasn't there… On the other hand, three extra hours of rest would probably improve his chances of passing the impossible test. Couldn't make them any worse, come to think of it. And the same could be said of breakfast; if he ate, he would probably do better, unless Kakashi found out over the course of the exercise they were doing. Found out, and had actually meant what he said. But if he didn't, he was once again at a huge disadvantage. What to do? What to do?

Finally, he'd decided to hedge his bets. He'd packed up his stuff and headed over to Training Ground Seven. He'd simply spend the night here, and he'd be fine for whenever his sensei arrived. Plus, he had some instant ramen cups with him, so if he needed it, he could have breakfast tomorrow morning. And if he woke up and was fine, then no harm was done. Hey, it was the best he could come up with. Of course, this plan might not have come to be had his neighbor next door not picked tonight to throw a rather loud and obnoxious party. So, in truth, he would probably get a better night of sleep here than he would back at his apartment. Damn, his neighbor could be loud. And all the screaming and shrieking… With how nice a night it seemed to be, he'd definitely get a better night sleep out here. Unless it started to rai- no, no, no; no jinxing it!

Content, Naruto turned slightly once more. Even the fact that he had an impossible test coming up in a few short hours just couldn't faze him at this moment. Granted, it should have, but he'd done everything he could to find out more about their sensei and the unpassable test. It was out of his hands at this point. All he could do was show up, do his best, and hope his team eked out a miracle. Besides, he had some stuff he could use. And so did his team.

The teme was, of course, class genius. He had to have something under to his cap for situations like this. Geniuses always did, from what he'd heard. And Sakura-chan was so awesome and so smart that she would know exactly what to do. Besides, he knew stuff too now. Maybe it wasn't enough to put him over the top, but he had his Shadow Clones, and he had those awesome jutsu Iruka-sensei had shown him. Maybe that would end up being enough to achieve the impossible? But what if it wasn't? And it probably wasn't, come to think it. After all, he'd failed the Genin exams thrice and had only passed due to Iruka-sensei's kindness. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that chances were pretty good that he'd meet failure tomorrow. So what did that mean for him?

Well, the answer to that question was simple: He'd just have to go back to the Academy. The boring Academy. With boring lectures. And no more cool jutsu to be learned. But Iruka-sensei was there. And maybe he could throw him a bone with a few more cool jutsus. And he could work on his Taijutsu some more. It wasn't fun, working like that, but now that he knew the basics, he could actually find himself a fighting style and start training. But even though failure could just be another avenue of success for him, Naruto was not ready to just lie down and die in the face of such a challenge. Even if his back was up against the wall, he was still going to do his best. He had come too far, worked to hard, to just give up once the going started to get tough. And really… -what was that noise?

"Hello! Is someone there?" Naruto called out, working hard to modulate his voice. Nothing. No response. But he'd heard- "You know I can hear you, right? Reveal yourself, please?" Hmm, he could swear that he had heard-

"F-fine!" Squeaked a timid sounding voice belonging to a figure that appeared from the brush in response to Naruto's shouts. Hmm, purple hair, white eyes… Hyūga? Yes, that was it! Hyūga! Uhh, what was her name? Damn it! She was in his class! How could he not know this! Maybe it was… Hira- no, wait, Hiana- no, no, sounded like… oh, Hinata! That was it!

"You're out late, Hinata," Naruto remarked idly, and the girl gave another squeak at his knowing her name. Why? Naruto had no idea. To him, she was… odd. She had- well, during his time at the Academy, the girl had always been unwilling to talk to him, and really fidgety around him. At the time, he thought it was because he made her uncomfortable, though he didn't know why. Then. He'd assumed in retrospect it was because she somehow knew or sensed that he held the Kyuubi. After all, her bloodline let her see everything, and for all he knew, she could have seen it. But here she was now. So… what did she want? Well, no reason to be rude. "Something I can do for you?"

"U-um no. So-sorry f-for distu-urb-urbing y-you," She replied shakily. She began slowly retreating, a step back at a time.

"No, wait! If you're here, you must have wanted something," Naruto deduced quietly. And maybe he could alleviate her fears. It would be nice to have one less enemy in the village. "So what can I do for you?" She looked ready to run. "Sit. Relax." Another tiny step backwards. "Please?" There was a hint of desperation in his tone. He had absolutely no idea why, on the one hand, he made this poor girl so nervous, and on the other hand, she journeyed here to see him. And he wanted to find out.

Hinata, looking like she'd rather do anything else but stay, finally, set herself gently onto the ground. She really didn't want to stay, but Naruto… well… she just couldn't refuse. Not when he asked liked that. He'd been so different lately. He wasn't loud, he was apparently absorbed in some project, and he was just… "I do-don't want an-anything," She muttered embarrassedly.

"You're still here though," He pointed out calmly. "You still sought me out. So what can I do for you? Are you nervous about the Genin exam or something and want my help?" 'As if anyone would ask the dobe for advice.' "Did I do something to anger or offend you? What's on your mind?" He rambled nervously.

"N-no!" She squeaked. "I… I a-am ner-nervous ab-bout the e-exam," She admitted after a moment of thought. She stared at him. "A-are you? Ner-nervous, I mean." He knew what she meant. Why was she acting so strangely, though?

Naruto stared at her, not sure what to make of the question or how to answer her. "Hinata, I've failed the Genin exam three times, was the class dobe, and by all expert accounts, my sensei's test is an impossible one." He paused for a moment, staring off into the woods where the test would be in a few short hours. "Failure certainly seems to be a possibility."

Hianta blanched. Again, Naruto had no idea what was up. "Y-you wo-won't fa-fail, Na-Naruto-kun," She blushed and clamped her mouth shut once she realized what she had said. Naruto swiftly turned his head back towards the girl. She looked like she was ready to stand up and run for it. But somehow, she willed herself to stay. Somehow. How exactly, Naruto had no idea.

"Naruto…kun?" He asked curiously. Where had that come from? And more importantly… "I thought you disliked me?" He remarked curiously. She vigorously shook her head, almost as if she were offended by the notion. "What was I suppose to think when you wouldn't talk to me, always tried to get away from me, and always threw me weird looks?" He asked calmly. But if she said she didn't dislike him, and had just called him Naruto-kun …

Kun? He'd never been a Kun to any girl. Especially anyone from the Academy. He'd wished more than anything that Sakura saw him that way, but it seemed never to be. Even with his sensei's advice, he somehow knew it wouldn't be enough. She would never give him a chance. Especially after the way she acted today. But Hinata… Here she was. He had no idea what to make of this strange situation.

"I'm precious to you?" He asked, not quite sure he was ready to believe it. This had to be a joke or something. A cruel trick. She didn't say anything. Which was answer enough for him. "Why?" He questioned, mostly in disbelief. No answer. Should he have expected one? "Look at me, Hinata," He said in a whisper. Reluctantly, she did. "I'm… the dobe, the guy who failed the Academy three times, and you're well…" She bowed her head, as if waiting for the hammer to drop, "A clan heiress, a strong Kunoichi a-," Her head shot up as Naruto began complimenting her. He really thought of her that way? Hope fluttered slightly in her heart. "And yet you… like me?" He whispered the last part, almost as if saying it would unravel the illusion.

Slowly, reluctantly, she nodded, afraid of his reaction. "I- I do," She admitted timidly, her eyes downcast. She was waiting for Naruto to begin laughing, or to run away, or to start mocking her, or anything except-

"Then I care for you too," He said emotionally as he slowly hugged her. Hinata seemed shocked at first, but then her arms encircled his waist, even though she felt rather faint. "I never thought that… well," He broke the hug, "That anyone could accept me knowing what I hold."

What? What did that mean? "Wait! What do you hold?" Hinata asked in a rush, buoyed by her crush's hug. She'd never understood why she'd been told to stay away from him, why the other children at the Academy had, why the young orphan was so alone. But now… she needed to know.

He stared her in the eye. Did he have to say it? She already knew, right? "The Kyuubi." Hinata froze. Had he just said…? "The Fourth couldn't destroy it, but he… he sealed it in me," Naruto explained finally. She deserved to know the full story. He saw her shocked expression. Wait, didn't she know? But from the look on her face… he was apparently wrong. And he'd just admitted his darkest secret to her. How would she react? Had he just blown this? "I thought you knew," He admitted gently.

"You… you hold the Kyuubi?" Hinata asked breathlessly, completely stunned. She could hardly imagine a gigantic nine-tailed fox of myth inside the boy she loved so much. How was it possible? And, come to think of it, why did that matter at all?

"Uh, yes. It's, well…," He patted his stomach, "I've seen the seal. I've even talked with it, once. It's sealed inside me," He repeated nervously. She had no idea how to reply to that. "From what I've seen, it's- well, it's massive," He finished lamely, failing to convey how terrifying it looked. And he would never wish that sight on her. Especially if… no, he couldn't afford to get his hopes up. This was over before it even began. Right?

"Oh," Hinata exclaimed distractedly, thinking fast. She stared at him as realization dawned on her. "Th-that's wh-why th-they don't l-like you," She whispered in shock and understanding. She looked Naruto up and down again. The sweet boy, who never gave up, who was never anything but kind or gentle, and yet he held the mightiest of demons. She'd heard the tales. Of its power. And yet… he was just Naruto. But everyone else apparently thought otherwise. It was so… so… "I d-don't care," She muttered finally. Naruto looked up at her. "I d-don't c-care that y-you hol-old Ky-kyuubi." Another look. She couldn't… he wasn't something to be feared. He wasn't a monster. Despite, she realized with a chill, the fact that everyone else in the village apparently believed him to be so.

"You don't?" Naruto asked. Before Iruka, he would never have believed it to be possible, but now… He shook his head. Sakura-chan… Sakura, she was caught up in Sasuke. She'd never given him the time of day. He wished it wasn't so but… but the girl in front of him… "Look Hinata, you seem to be a really nice girl, and you like me, for some reason," He muttered the last part, "But we haven't even talked for five minutes or anything. How about we hang around a bit, and get know each other, before we think about anything else?" He suggested nervously, having no idea what to do or what was expected in a situation like this. He had no idea what to think about her right now, but she apparently really liked him. And that counted for a lot, despite how confused he was.

Hinata blinked confusedly. "F-fine," She muttered after she'd processed what he'd rambled. "I-" She cleared her throat nervously, "I'd l-like that," She admitted, happiness seeping into her voice. Naruto's doubts faded away at her tone. She really… she really liked him. A week and change, and it would have been a pipe-dream for him to even think that there was going to be a time when he was a Genin, had a girl who liked him, and had friends he could count on. What a switch.

"Well… okay then," Naruto awkwardly replied. "How about we meet up at Ichiraku's after the Genin Test tomorrow? Maybe at one or so? Just the two of us?" He offered nervously. Hinata blushed, and nodded eagerly.

"I'd love to," She replied after a moment of thought. "I'll b-be there, Naruto-kun," She looked embarrassed once again when she said that. She was worried about how her Genin test would go, and how her father would react if he noticed her absence. But on the other hand… Naruto. This was her chance! "I- I have to g-go now," She concluded awkwardly.

"See you tomorrow," Naruto said as she got up and brushed herself off. Hinata waved clumsily and slouched away while he watched. After she'd disappeared into the brush, Naruto adjusted his blanket and pillow and turned slightly, his thoughts racing. "What a weird night," He muttered finally, as his eyes clouded and sleep finally overcame him.

"WAKE UP!" Naruto bolted upright, throwing off the sheets that had kept him covered and comfortable most of the night, and grasping for a kunai to deal with whatever threat had presented itself. He franticly looked around before his eyes locked on a bored looking Sasuke and an impatient Sakura growling slightly and tapping her foot. But, as he continued looking around, he couldn't see Kakashi.

"Where's sensei?" Naruto asked worriedly. Had the man seen him sleeping and wandered away in disgust or something. But… if that was the case, why were his teammates standing around impatiently?

"Not here yet," Sasuke grumbled. He shook his head in disgust. "It's already been two hours." Naruto had gleamed that much from the already risen sun and the forest activity around him. So if there sensei wasn't here yet, and likely to be another hour, then why had they woke him up?

"And here you are, trying to sleep the day away," Sakura complained. "Baka," She sighed in disgust. Suddenly, Naruto was feeling a whole lot better at the prospect of a date with Hinata. At least she had never insulted him first thing in the morning… not that she'd actually had the opportunity to, come to think of it. Still, the point remained; she'd woken him from a nice, peaceful night of sleep. Really peaceful; maybe he'd have to see about camping out more often?

Naruto shook his head and tried to wipe the sleep from his eyes. He yawned and stretched and threw off the blankets while gingerly getting to his feet. Still yawning, he pulled out a storage scroll and sealed away his blanket and pillow, before replacing that in his pocket and thoughtfully fingering the other scroll that contained his instant ramen cups. Should he or shouldn't he? How hungry did he feel?

After a moment of thought, he decided to go for it. He pulled out his ramen scroll and unsealed himself an instant ramen cup before putting it back in his pocket. Sakura and Sasuke watched him out of sheer curiosity.

"BAKA! Sensei said not to eat!" Sakura shrieked angrily. Hey, if she and Sasuke-kun hadn't eaten, then why should the baka be allowed to ruin it for them all? Especially when her sensei was so infuriating with all his rules.

"Didn't he also say to meet him here at 5:30?" Naruto asked shrewdly, wolfing down his makeshift breakfast. That didn't stop Sakura from leaving it be, though Sasuke watched on, most out of sheer boredom. "Hey, the way I see it, I'm going to fight better if I'm not hungry, and that little advantage is worth the potential consequence of throwing up," He remarked idly as he disposed of his empty ramen cup. "And he didn't say don't eat. He just suggested something that might happen if we did." Considering how he hadn't been sick a day in his life, thanks to a certain Demon Fox, he really didn't fear that outcome.

Yawning, and still stretching, Naruto walked over to the nearby tree he'd leaned his head against in the night, and began experimentally raising and lowering his leg to rest on it. He really couldn't train or anything- who knew when their sensei would actually show up- but he did want to do a little work on chakra control, if only to do something productive during their long wait.

Sakura was still ranting, apparently completely incensed by his disregard for their sensei's orders. But Sasuke had something else on his mind. "Dobe? Why were you sleeping outside?" He asked finally.

Naruto didn't turn or stop what he was doing. "Because who knows when our sensei would have shown up, and it seemed like a better idea to get as much sleep as I could rather than be cranky and potentially make poor choices," He answered quickly. An idea popped into his head. "Oh, you just reminded me. I did some leg-work yesterday, and it seems pretty likely that our test today is going to involve combat," He mentioned casually. Hey they were his team, and they needed to know, especially if they were going to have a prayer of passing.

Sasuke and Sakura stared at him. "Combat?" Though, on second thought, Sasuke supposed that made a lot of sense. Actually, in hindsight, why hadn't he known that? The pieces were right there in front of his face, and if Naruto had put them together, and he hadn't then-

"Yeah, combat," He repeated. He channeled a little more chakra into his leg, and it didn't stick, but the bark didn't explode either, so he must be getting closer. "I will warn you that all the people I talked to regard our sensei's test as an impossible one. He's apparently never passed a Genin team before," He said morbidly.

Sasuke did a double-take. Who the hell was the dobe talking to that he knew all of these things? And… impossible test? "What make it impossible?" He asked impatiently.

"Hell if I know! I haven't taken it yet," Naruto replied indignantly. "I just wanted to make sure you were warned." Though he was debating telling them his suspicions about how the test would involve fighting Kakashi. But on the other hand, that was mostly supposition and reading between the lines; if he was wrong, he'd never hear the end of it. Especially if the team failed.

The silence that descended was interrupted a few moments later by a poof of smoke. Kakashi had arrived. "Good morning everyone," He remarked with an eye-smile. Ah, he loved the sound of Genin bitching in the morning. It smelled like… victo- Wait, why wasn't the blond exasperated and indignant?

"YOU'RE LATE!" Shrieked Sakura, pointing angrily at the man.

Naurto shook his head. Man she was loud in the morning. "I'm pretty sure he knows that Sakura," He said with a shake of his head. "On the other hand, if he's three hours late to Jounin meeting, why should we expect anything different?" He asked thoughtfully to all assembled.

"And how do you know about that?" Kakashi asked cheerfully. He suspected that he already knew the answer.

"You didn't hear it from me, but Jiji bitches about your lateness all. The. Damn. Time," Naruto growled. Even he had caught an earful of the Hokage's displeasure; but, as he remarked time and time again, there was little he could do in a situation like this. The Jounin was too legendary to be reigned in, and it would take too much effort to do so even if he were willing. So he just lived with it… and complained like the dickens. Kakashi chuckled appreciatively; he already knew about the kid's relationship with the Hokage. But it was nice to hear he achieved the desired effect.

"Anyway, sorry I'm late, but I got lost on the road of life," He muttered, returning to his normal, uncaring manner.

"Did you get lost because you met a black cat and had to take the long way around?" Naruto asked in mock curiousness. Kakashi couldn't help but chuckle again; if nothing else, the morning might prove very entertaining. Time to get the show on the road.

Kakashi reached into his pouch and pulled out a clock he set on the training post. He reached in again and pulled out two bento boxes. With one last return to his pouch, he pulled out the infamous bells that had caused Genin over the years so much pain and anguish.

"Now I'm sure you're all wondering about your test." He gave them an eye-smile. "The test is simple." He jingled the bells. "All you have to do is get these two bells from me." Pause. "And those who don't get a bell will be sent back to the Academy for remedial training." Carrot- set. Stick- set. Let the fun begin.

Sasuke and Sakura glanced at Naruto. Who'd eaten a full breakfast and gotten a full night of sleep. How had he known? Sasuke shook his head and narrowed his eyes, determined to get a bell, despite how supposedly impossible the test was. But Sakura flinched. Impossible test? Get the bell from her sensei? A trained ninja. That was… she gulped involuntarily, not good. And… wait a second-

"Sensei, there are only two bells!" She shouted.

"Then I guess that means at least one of you will fail. Oh- whoever doesn't get a bell will be tied to the post and forced to watch as the others eat their delicious lunches in front of you," He warned cheerfully. Two stomachs gurgled at that announcement. But not a third. "I thought I told you not to eat," He pointed out warily. There went a lot of his fun.

"You didn't actually. You said that if we did, we would throw up. No offense sensei, but I don't think you can…" He idly pat his stomach. Kakashi's eyes widened a fraction of an inch- right, the Hokage had told him it was damn near impossible to get him sick. He considered making his Genin throw up as a life lesson, but he decided against it. Hey, risk- reward. Naruto had taken a calculated risk. He disapproved of the manner he had done it, but this was potential good ninja behavior.

"Meh, whatever. Good to see one of you is actually thinking," He said idly. Well, if the blond had ruined his fun, then he was just going to make it that much harder by subtly turning his teammates against him. Risk-reward. Reward-risk-cost. All was fair. And sure enough, two of his cute little Genin were glaring at the third. Perfect.

"Now then, you can use shuriken and kunai- and anything you think you'll need, really," He remarked as an afterthought. "Oh, and remember to come at me with the intention to kill, or you won't get a bell."

"But- but sensei, what if you get hurt!" Sakura asked in complete shock.

It was too much for Naruto. He burst out laughing at Sakura's question. "Y-you think he's going to get hurt!" He asked through gales of laughter. "Sakura, do you have any idea who we're dealing with! That's Hatake Kakashi!"

"BAKA!" She shrieked angrily, ready to slug him. Sasuke on the other hand, registered his teammate's reaction. The dobe had been guessing right a lot lately, and if the mere thought of them actually hurting him sent him in to peals of laughter… Sasuke looked the man up and down. Maybe there was a reason this was considered an impossible test.

Kakashi couldn't help it; he chuckled too. "I think he said better than I could," He gestured at Naruto. "Trust me, I'm good enough to avoid getting hurt." The laughter receded as tension and suspense overtook the training ground. "Now then… get ready… set… GO!"

Two Genin shot off, and Naruto was about to, when a thought hit him. This wasn't… impossible. Downright difficult, certainly, but surely, in the history of this test, just by accident or mere chance, a Genin had to have snagged a bell. Three Genin, with their own varied abilities, at once- and the Jounin hadn't always been as good as he was supposed to be now. Difficult… not impossible. But Ebisu and Iruka… where was the caveat?

"You know, compared to the others, you're a bit weird," Kakashi remarked as he stared at the thoughtful Genin.

Naruto shook his head and took a leap of faith. "Okay. I talked to other people about this test." He glanced at the bells. "It's very difficult, but…" He shook his head. In for a penny… "There's something missing. Something you haven't told us," Naruto accused him.

Kakashi raised an eyebrow, and it looked like he was interested. "Oh?" He asked in mock curiousness. "Do tell."

Naruto folded his arms across his test. Another glance at the bells. "By mere happy accident someone, at some point, had to have a bell, if only for a few seconds," He remarked, giving air to his suspicions.

Kakashi shook his head. "Nope. You're overestimating all the cute Genin who've come before you," He remarked with an eye-smile. Said the man who'd wanted them starved and hungry for this test. That was something akin to confirmation that there was more to this test than met the eye. But what could it be?

"Right," Naruto remarked slowly. "I don't believe you. And…" He stared at him, realizing something. "I don't have any reason to!" But if he had no reason to believe his sensei about anything he'd said before, then… another glance at the innocent looking bells.

"All you have to do is get these two bells from me."

"I thought I told you not to eat."

"Good to see one of you is actually thinking."

It was too… innocent. All the fortune he'd encountered to this point was from doing the opposite of what his sensei told him to do. So… two bells? Two chances to pass? No. If he couldn't trust the man, and he the authority to pass or fail any of them… Maybe… the bells were the pass! A team! Maybe they were supposed to sink or swim as a team! "Oh," He muttered in realization. Now that sounded like an impossible test; figuring out that something entirely different was expected, and still having the skills to meet those new expectations, without anyone saying so. Plus, a team, with a seemingly divisive objective pulling together to achieve it. Yep. Impossible.

"You leave me no choice," Kakashi remarked, as he reached into his pouch once more and pulled out… that Orange book. Icha Icha. It would have been infuriating if he'd actually planned to attack him right now. But-

"And you leave me no choice," Naruto remarked smugly before he turned and walked away. Even if he was completely wrong, even if he had read way too much into the test, was seeing things that weren't there, maybe, if they all pulled together, then two of them would have be able to pass. And if he wasn't one of them, he could contentedly head back to the Academy for another go around. There were much worse fates than having another two years to try and become a better ninja. Besides, this wasn't the time to show Kakashi what he had. He'd have another chance. He concentrated on sending out a pulse of chakra. One of his teammates was close by. He casually walked for a few minutes before he discovered Sasuke perched in a tree.

"What are you doing dobe?" He hissed angrily. The dobe had been outclassing him all day, and then he'd just engaged in a war of words with Kakashi. What the hell was the moron playing at?

"Listen Sasuke, don't you think there's something funny with this test?" He asked calmly.

No. Not this time. Not again. "No, I don't," he remarked shortly. "Why the hell did you waste our time bantering with our sensei?" He hissed angrily.

"To confirm something. Because I do think there's something funny with this test. And I'm pretty sure I now know what it is," His teammate told him.

Sasuke shook his head, "No. No! Whatever it is, I'm not going along with it. You're wasting time, dobe. My time," He snarled as he leapt to another tree to move away from his annoying teammate.

Naruto shook his head and decided to try his luck with Sakura. Maybe she would be more receptive. "KYYAA!" Naruto sighed as annoyance overrode concern. He doubted their sensei would do anything truly harmful, but it looked like Sakura had just met defeat of some kind. He perked up slightly- maybe she'd be more willing to work with him?

Five minutes later, he was standing next to her twitching body as she foamed at the mouth. Naruto grabbed her arms and started trying to shake her awake. It looked like… she fallen victim to a Genjutsu? Kind of. Hell if he knew. "Sakura. Sakura. Sakura!" That seemed to do the trick as she gave a groan and jolted awake. "Nice to see you're all right," He muttered.

"Sasuke-kun!" She looked around frantically. "Sasuke-kun!" She stood up and knocked Naruto off balance. "Don't worry, Sasuke-kun! I'm coming to save you!" She shrieked as she ran out of the clearing. Naruto shook his head disappointedly. 0 for 2.

He returned to the main clearing where he saw Sakura freaking out over Sasuke, who was buried up to his neck in dirt. Well he'd apparently tried and failed, so maybe now he'd be more receptive. And if he convinced Sasuke, Sakura was sure to join in. "Kage Bunshin!" They both turned curiously as a few clones materialized and began trying to dig him up. Sakura and her frantic worry about her crush was definitely not helping. "Look." They both grudgingly turned towards him. "We need to try something different. I'm definitely not good enough to get a bell on my own from a ninja like him, and to be honest, neither are the two of you." Sasuke scoffed. "But if we work together-"

"No," Sasuke growled immediate as Naruto's clones finally dug him free. "Not happening, dobe," He growled as he got up and stomped off to face Kakashi again. Sakura looked between them before scrambling off to follow Sasuke. 0 for 3, Naruto thought sadly. Well, it looked like there was nothing left but to try facing the man on his own. He was about to leave, when he accidently glanced at the whole Sasuke had been trapped in. Traps. Pranks.

"Out of curiosity, have you ever purposefully made the wrong move simply because it's all you can do?' Naruto asked as he entered the clearing. The Earth pulse couldn't detect Sasuke or Sakura close by. Maybe they'd join in half-way through. Hopefully. Kami wlling. Really the only way this could work.

Kakashi looked up curiously. "Not really. Why?"

Naruto sighed. "All of my instincts tell me that facing you is the wrong move. I need my teammates. But to rally my teammates, I need a bell, and to get a bell, I need to rally my teammates so… Catch-22." He shrugged his shoulders before charging towards his sensei with a kunai grasped firmly in his hand.

Kakashi neatly sidestepped him and grabbed his extended arm, before slamming him to the ground. 'Naruto' promptly disappeared in a puff of smoke. "Wha-?" Kakashi moved just in time to block a strike from another Naruto who'd leapt once the first had been dispelled. His eyes widened slightly. Solid. Shadow Clones. Right, he was supposed to know that. He quickly blocked the clone's subsequent strikes before he dispelled it too with a vicious punch to the mouth.

As the smoke dissipated, he was suddenly forced to dodge a fireball as the last Uchiha entered the fray. Another quick dodge as Sakura leapt from behind him. Hmm, they were all fighting him as something resembling a team. Or at least something that now required his attention. He looked up, and Naruto stood in front of him, before making the cross sign and creating a dozen clones. Sakura and Sasuke were momentarily stunned as a dozen new allies entered the battle. Kakashi shook his head and decided things had gotten a little too hectic. Before the clones reached him, he quickly Kawarimi'd, and headed for the original apparent- he didn't feel like getting swarmed by clones again. But… Naruto smirked as his strike hit him head on. Why would he-

The second the clone had disappeared, explosions rocked him from all sides, knocking him off balance. Sakura, Sasuke, and the Naruto army weren't willing to let the opportunity go to waste, as they leapt at him, trying for a bell, before-

DING! The alarm clock signaled the end of the test. Kakashi scrambled to his feet, the bells dangling safely out of reach from their last, desperate attack. Because Kakashi knew none of them could see it, he smirked. Now that was much better than any team before them. They still failed, but it definitely merited a second chance. Though he probably would have given this potential team one no matter what happened. But for now…

Kakashi stared at the Genin, with Sakura tied to the post and Naruto and Sasuke flanking her on either side. "Well, there's no need for you guys to head back to the Academy," Pause. Let them get there hopes up. Then… "Yes, you three should just quit as ninjas."

Hopes were dashed instantly. Three shocked and glum Genin stood before him. Shock quickly turned to anger as Sasuke charged him. Kakashi evaded his strike and slammed him to the ground. "Well, what else should I think when you never understood the meaning of this test?"

"Hey! I think I get it!" Naruto shouted angrily. "You wanted us to work as a team and retrieve those stupid bells." He glared at Sasuke and Sakura. "I tried to tell you two that but neither of you would listen!"

"Actually… he is correct," Kakashi announced dramatically. He shook his head. "When you all attacked me at once, you were actually close to snagging a bell." He shook his head. "If only you three had actually worked together, you might have gotten the bells."

"But even if we still got the bells, one of us would have failed!" Sakura challenged him from the post she was tied to. "There were only two bells!"

Kakashi shrugged. "This test is set up to steer you towards fighting amongst yourselves. The purpose is to see if you can forget about your own interests, and worked together fully to achieve the objective." He pointed at Sakura. "You were only thinking about Sasuke, and whether he was okay." He pointed at Sasuke, who he was still sitting on. "He was only thinking about himself and thinking that everyone else would just get in the way." He pointed at Naruto. "… Actually, blondie had the right idea. He spent his time trying to work with both of you, and when that didn't work, he left you an opening to attack and distract me. So maybe one of you shouldn't drop out of the program," He said, almost as an afterthought. He shook his head. "Even though individual ability is very important, what's more important is teamwork. Your own actions can put the team in danger and," He hesitated slightly, "Even get you killed. For example…" He quickly pulled out a kunai, "Naruto! Kill Sakura! Or Sasuke dies!"

Naruto blinked and quickly flashed through hand seals, before Sasuke took his spot, and he replaced Sasuke. Kakashi blinked and looked down at the Genin who'd just substituted himself under him. Wow, that looked uncomfortable.

"You see? If a hostage is taken, you have tough choices to make," He glanced down at Naruto. "Choices that could lead to your deaths. Make no mistake; you will be risking your lives in the line of duty." He glanced at the blonde again. "You better hope that you're as willing to make difficult decisions as blondie here. Because those who abandon the mission are trash, but those who abandon their comrades are worse than trash," He growled in warning. Another glance. 'And I wish I could have been like you when Rin was captured.' He thought sadly.

"See that stone there? All the names carved in it? Those are ninjas recognized as heroes of the village." Pause for dramatic effect. "Heroes who died in the line of duty. My best friend's name is also carved here." An uncomfortable silence ensued. "Because blondie seems to have the right idea, I'll give you another chance. But after lunch. And I'll make it even tougher to get the bells," He warned. "If you still want to challenge me, you can eat lunch. But don't give any to Sakura. Anyone gives her food, and they will fail. Got it?" Two nods. "Right, I'll be back soon. Remember…" He glanced at Sakura.

Naruto and Sasuke hesitantly took the bento boxes as their sensei walked away. Naruto gave it a look. He had lunch with Hinata to look forward too. And he didn't really need the food. And he'd gotten pretty far today by doing the exact opposite of whatever their sensei had said. "Here Sakura. Enjoy," Naruto said, handing over his lunch.

"What? But Naruto, Kakashi-sensei!" Sakura squeaked nervously.

"Hungry ninja aren't effective ninja. And I have another lunch to look forward to," Naruto said calmly. Though how he was going to make it there on time was beyond him. "Go on, take it."

Sasuke glanced at his own lunch as he ate a few bites. Once he had a small amount he turned to her. "Dobe's right. We're not going to pass this test without you. Here," He offered his own as well.

"WHAT?" Kakashi stormed through the brush, an intense thunderstorm seemingly surrounding him. "YOU GUYS…!" Three trembling Genin waited for the axe to drop. "Pass," He finished calmly.

"Pass!" Three voices asked in unison. Naruto could hardly believe it. Had that actually worked? Could they really have-

"Yup. Everyone else just did whatever I told them. They were just morons," He shook his head disparagingly. "You guys are the first. Because a ninja must see underneath the underneath. And like I said: those who break the rules of the ninja world are trash, but those who don't take care of their comrades are worse than trash." He paused and cleared his throat. "Anyway, Team Seven will begin its normal duties tomorrow. That ends the training exercise," he said walking away.

Sasuke began walking away as well, but Naruto grabbed a kunai and freed Sakura. Perhaps it was just something for old time's sake. "Later, Sakura," He said, walking away. It must be close to one. And he had a date. And… oh yeah, he was actually, really a Genin! Dattebayo! Oh, and he had a friggin' date to get too! With that, he began sprinting for Icharaku's; he was nearly late!

AN The 2nd: Yes, I know Naru/Hina is overdone. I'd like to reiterate; I'm not sold on it as the main pairing, so it may not stick. But I think it's something very important for character development, and I really wish Kishimoto had arranged something like this just so his protagonist could become a little more mature. To reiterate, this may not stay. Or it may, in which case I have alienated many among you. I don't know. All I know is that there will be a chapter three sometime in the future, and stuff will happen, and some amongst the peanut gallery will invariably be displeased with the direction of this story. At least I'm pretty sure this isn't going to me a mistake on the caliber of the later chapters of Harry Potter: An Education. Bad times; bad mistakes. I was so young and naive back then. I'm so much different now. I think. Maybe. Either way, later!