AN: Yay! New chapter! Woo!
Before we begin, however, let me reiterate a few salient things:
1. Prior to the Shippuden time frame, there will be no romance amongst the Genin (or what passes for romance in this website, anyway). Crushes may exist and so forth, but something like serious dating, thoughts of marriage, etc... will not happen until MUCH LATER.
2. PAIRINGS ARE NOT DECIDED. That's something I tend to decide on the fly.
3. This is not a bash fic. I will not use this fic to justify wanton cruel and unusual punishment of any character (not even Madara) for what they did in the manga, nor will I depict them in a way that shows any character as irretrievably evil, unless already portrayed that way in the manga (so basically...Hidan and Kakuzu, I guess).
4. This arc is coming to an end, and Wave approacheth, so expect more action and less face time from those not present (a few interlude chapters will pop up to explore the others' experiences, however).
5. Finally, as asked by a concerned reader, I will try to remember to include "summary paragraphs" at the beginning of every chapter, beginning here.
Previously, on Legacy of Uzushiogakure...
Following the surprise reveal of the Uzumaki Clan's survival following their near-extinction during the Fall of Uzushiogakure, Naruto has been declared the future Clan Head by two of the four cells that comprise the totality of the Uzumaki Clan's survivors. Until he has reached the age of 18, however, he is unable to wield his title fully, and his power over the Clan rests precariously on his ability to rally the clansmen to his side - a feat he has yet to do, despite the goodwill of his clansmen. To that end, and following a new Genin Exam as a result of Uzumaki interference, Naruto has been assigned to the newly christened Genin Pool of Konoha, where he and eight others of his classmates are now training to become professional shinobi at the hands of elite Jonin Hatake Kakashi, Yuuhi Kurenai, and Sarutobi Asuma. Despite this, his training regimen has been criticized by those in the Clan who feel the Jonin are wasting Naruto's time and holding him back, chief amongst these detractors being Uzumaki Kimiko, the fourth most powerful Uzumaki clansman and the psychologically traumatized disciplinarian of the clan. With nearly a month of training under their belts, how will the Genin, and especially Naruto, measure up to Kimiko's standards?
One week and a half later...
If Naruto thought breaking through to Kimiko would be easy, he was in for an unpleasant surprise.
The redheaded disciplinarian was about as approachable as arctic ice, and the fact that she saw him as weak made it even harder to get her to even acknowledge him as anything other than the "future Clan Head." It seemed, in his opinion, that he didn't even rank as a human being in her eyes, which was sort of hurtful, considering they were all supposed to be family.
At least it wasn't about the fox, though.
But then, perhaps it had been his own preconceptions about all families being happy that were at fault. He'd already seen that his clansmen had suffered quite a bit, yet assumed they were all fine with that suffering?
Regardless, Kimiko's rejection of him did manage something positive — it drove Naruto to become stronger. After all, if it was his strength that would gain her respect, then he needed to prove to her that he could become the Clan Head she expected of him.
Naruto exhaled as he brought down a palm and parried Sasuke's attack, the two boys training as per Kakashi's direction.
While Kimiko was still quite against the Jonin's teaching methods, Naruto wasn't as willing to forego all credit. Sure, his clansmen were cramming more and more information with each day, but Kakashi was no slouch either.
After the (pointless, in his opinion) endurance test, the Jonin had really gotten into gear, having apparently finally come up with a decent training regimen for all nine rookies. To that end, Kakashi, who was unofficially heading the Jonin trainers, had put all nine rookies to practicing their Taijutsu in spars during the morning, followed by basics in chakra control in the afternoon, and finally genjutsu recognition and basic countermeasures in the early evening.
Shino, the most level-headed of the group, had naturally inquired about training in blood limits and clan techniques, to which Kakashi had bluntly pointed out that as none of the Jonin were party to such clan secrets and kekkei genkai, there was no point in them teaching them anything about those — with the exception of Sasuke, to whom Kakashi could teach him some of what the Sharingan could do (being an artificial implant and holding only one Sharingan, there was also a limit to what Kakashi knew and could use).
Frankly, Naruto was glad for it, because Keisuke, Takeshi, and Heiyako had utterly forbidden him from sharing what clan secrets and techniques he knew with the others. It didn't seem that reasonable to him, but then Takeshi had threatened him with a hellish training course the likes of which he would not survive if he ever spilled the beans on his techniques.
Then he put Naruto through a milder version of said course just for kicks.
Naruto quickly crouched down as Sasuke's fist flew overhead, the Uchiha genius not one for letting an opening, however small, go by unused. Naruto quickly countered with a sweeping kick to his legs, which Sasuke quickly jumped over, his hands immediately going for his stomach when he realized Naruto's follow-up was a kick to the stomach. The raven-haired boy was just able to beat Naruto to the punch, catching the blond's foot and pushing himself backwards, back on his feet.
Both boys slid back into their ready stance.
"Alright, alright, hotheads, that's good enough," Kakashi called out lazily, his attention apparently caught by the orange book he always carried and which the females in the group knew only as a crime towards women everywhere. "Tie match between Naruto and Sasuke. Anyone want to tell me why neither won?" he asked the watching Genin — an aspect Kurenai had suggested to teach the Genin how each other fought.
Sakura raised her hand. "They're too evenly matched!" she called out just as Kakashi pointed to her.
"Alright, half-point," Kakashi acknowledged lazily, never taking his eye off his favorite book. Without looking, he pointed next to Ino, who frowned as he kept reading. "What about you?"
"They're too eager to fight each other to properly pay attention to vital openings," the Yamanaka heir reasonably deduced.
"Correct," Kakashi agreed as he closed the book with a soft thump and looked at the two panting Genin. "You two agree?" he asked.
Naruto was breathing heavily, wiping the sweat off his brow with one arm as he remained in a ready stance, his whole body moving in rhythm with his breathing. "...yeah," he admitted. "I guess I kinda lost track there; fighting the jerk was too much fun."
Kakashi raised an eyebrow as Naruto openly admitted his fault. The boy was certainly making progress in that area, even if he and Sasuke kept insulting each other. Now, would the Uchiha do the same...?
"...she's right," Sasuke agreed after a moment with an irritated click of his tongue, agreeing with Ino rather than Naruto, as his pride would never allow him to do so. "I lost focus fighting the idiot."
Kakashi nodded, pleased that both were willing to admit as much, though he really wished it didn't always end up with glaring contests between the two. "Good. Any vital openings anyone noticed during the fight?" he asked his audience.
Kiba raised his hand. "Yes, Kiba," Kakashi called on him.
"Naruto's opening strike is always a left palm, but he leaves his right guard too low," the Inuzuka heir pointed out. "And Sasuke's dodges keep him always in the middle of the fight, so he gets tired more easily."
"Both true," Kakashi agreed. "Anyone else?"
He wasn't too surprised when no one raised their hand. While he could identify many other weaknesses in the boys' styles, these kids were still Genin, so it was natural that they couldn't identify the more glaring errors the boys had displayed.
"Alright then; Naruto, Sasuke, take a seat. Ino, Sakura, you're up."
And so the pattern repeated itself as the fights played out, this latest match getting much more critical feedback after it was done. No surprise there, as neither girl was particularly trained for combat. Oh, sure, the Yamanaka's were no slouches in Taijutsu, but neither were they particularly good — and since Ino favoured her clan techniques more than physical fighting, it was no surprise that even with her clan advantage that she and Sakura weren't at the top of their class in this field.
Surprisingly, however, it was Hinata who pointed out the two girls' faults in their stances and movements. Kakashi guessed it had to do with the way the Hyūga normally trained, but it was still pleasant to see a Genin with a sharp eye for this sort of thing. At the very least, it nicely deducted from his own workload.
Another hour passed, breaks included naturally, before Kakashi decided to mix things up.
"Alright, kiddies, time for something a little different," he informed them. Those magical words seemed to grab all of the kids' attention, making him smile to himself as he thought of how easy it was to manipulate these children to listen to him. "You're all somewhat familiar with seeing each other fight; but how about fighting alongside each other?" he pointed out.
As he spoke, Kakashi lazily eyed the new generation of the Ino-Shika-Cho; no doubt their parents had already begun informing them how to best use their abilities in conjunction with each other, but he doubted even Shikaku had properly expounded to Shikamaru how to use his skills alongside other combinations.
Then again, Kakashi couldn't blame anyone but the Hokage for that — up until recently, everyone had been working with the idea of Genin teams in mind. This whole Genin Pool thing had knocked everyone off their rhythm.
"Ino and Naruto, you're team one," he picked at random, prompting a look of confusion from the girl and a shrug from Naruto. Interesting. "Sakura and Choji — team two; Hinata and Kiba — three; Sasuke and Shino, team four. Shikamaru, you're on observation for now," he informed the spiky-haired kid, who shrugged in disinterest and lay down on the grass. "Matches are: Team One versus Team Three; Team Two versus Team Four."
Talk about uneven team matches. Kakashi knew for a fact that Hinata and Kiba on a team could, for example and if trained right, be downright unstoppable. Hinata's Jūken and Kiba's clan's overwhelming attack techniques could provide not just powerful attacks, but also a powerful defense. Facing those two would be a real challenge for Ino and Naruto.
Shino and Sasuke was another interesting combination. The Aburame heir might not be flashy, but the boy had a decent head on his shoulders, and Sasuke was Rookie of the Year for a good reason. Between the two, Kakashi had no doubts that they'd make Sakura and Choji sweat, and expected them to come out victorious.
"Matches are ten minutes," he further expounded. "No chakra — just Taijutsu."
Groans answered his ruling. Kakashi shrugged in disinterest at their protests. "Deal with it, kiddies," he said with an ocular smile. "The good ninja isn't the one who can throw around the most chakra; it's the one who can beat his opponent using as little as possible."
An interesting philosophy to have, considering he was the reputed master of a thousands techniques. Hell, just saying those words — forced onto him by Asuma — made him feel a little like Gai, minus the whole ridiculous leotard and shouts regarding YOUTH.
Speaking of which, where the hell was that guy? Ever since he'd gotten a team, Gai had been surprisingly absent from Kakashi's general vicinity, for which the cyclopean Jonin was grateful, since it meant an end to those pointless challenges.
...Okay, so maybe he missed them a little. If nothing else, they were a great way to keep himself busy on otherwise dull days.
Watching as the little munchkins drew together into their teams, Kakashi wondered how this training session would've gone if he'd just had the three Genin instead of nine to supervise. Surely, they'd be much further ahead by now, right?
"Start," he called out as they squared off into their assigned brackets.
Oh my, a nice start from Team Four — Sasuke burst forward and spear tackled Choji while Shino distracted Sakura. Odd, though; he hadn't noticed the two conferring. Perhaps it was just good group synergy?
Moving his attention towards a more even match, Kakashi watched as Ino and Naruto jumped back and back again as Kiba went at them like a dog chasing away challengers in his territory. Those clawed hands of his, in particular, were crazy dangerous, particularly since the Inuzuka promoted sharpening their nails and strengthening their durability until they more accurately resemble claws.
Kiba did make one mistake, however.
"Team three's going to lose," Shikamaru noted lazily as he continued laying on the ground, looking up at the clouds beside him.
Kakashi agreed, but didn't know why the alleged genius thought so too. "Oh?" Kakashi asked, curious about the boy's assessment. Perhaps this was one way of figuring out if Asuma was bluffing or not regarding the boy's intellect.
"He left Hinata behind," the Nara heir pointed out before closing his eyes.
Indeed, as Shikamaru had noted, Kiba had gone on the offensive from the get go, but Hinata had been slower to react, being both unsure about attacking her crush, as well as emotionally disturbed at the thought of attacking her friends. The result was that Kiba was a good four meters ahead of her, while she was only just now starting to move.
"Good eye," Kakashi mumbled to himself as he flipped a page of his orange book, now open again. He blushed as a particularly racy passage came up. "Oh my, Akemi-chan, how naughty!"
Shikamaru sighed and shook his head. Troublesome teachers.
"HAHA! Come on, Naruto, what's the matter?!" Kiba was laughing like a maniac as he clawed at his opponents. "You weren't this afraid of fighting when we sparred last time!"
Naruto's hand twitched as he jumped back again, Ino following soon after, glaring at him. Ordinarily, Naruto would've been just as happy as his opponent to fight, but Takeshi had warned him that he was being watched as he trained by his clansmen, and if any of them told him that he'd mindlessly charged in again, pain would be had. Pain the likes of which would make Uchiha Madara himself (the equivalent of the Devil to the Uzumaki) wet himself.
Then Takeshi had laughed like a crazy person.
Honestly, Naruto wondered about his clan's sanity at times.
"Oi, moron, when the hell are we going to fight him?!" Ino shouted at him, irritated by all the fleeing. She might have had more respect for him for his substantial growth since the Uzumaki first shook things up, but that didn't exempt him from contempt if he acted like an idiot either.
Naruto didn't deign her with a reply. Honestly, why couldn't Ino be a little quieter about her opinions? Like Sakura, for instance!
...Ignoring the fact that Naruto's perception of Sakura was about as realistic as a drunkard's hallucination.
Eyeing Kiba's partner behind the feral boy, Naruto mentally judged the distance between the two. He'd seen Hinata fight before (albeit only in spars), and he knew how fast she could travel distances when she fought. A few more meters and then...
Landing from a final jump backwards, Naruto leaned back just as Kiba's swipe would've left a nasty gash across his face. Sliding into the Hakkeshoken stance, Naruto grinned. "Sorry to keep you waiting, mutt," he taunted before twisting his body and throwing his entire weight into the palm strike to the boy's stomach. "Rasensho!"
Kiba, however, had the dubious advantage of having fought Naruto before, and thus knew a little bit about the blond's style. Quickly bringing his arms down to protect his stomach, he managed to block most of the blow, but was still launched back from the sheer force of impact.
Ino, meanwhile, landed in a crouched position slightly behind Naruto, looking stunned by the sudden turn of events. "What the hell was that?"
"Tactics," Naruto said with a confident smirk as he motioned for the recuperating Kiba to come at him. "Hard to forget them when your trainer beats it into your skull every second of the day."
'He must mean Uzumaki Takeshi,' Kakashi thought, having made the connection between the pierced Uzumaki boy and the Hakkeshoken since the Forbidden Scroll incident. Narrowing his eye just a bit over the edge of his book, he did have to give it to Naruto's trainer that the boy had improved leaps and bounds over what his pre-retake exam profile had suggested.
The cyclopean Jonin watched as both matches continued, with the Team 2 vs. Team 4 being the most one-sided affair he'd ever seen. While Choji was able to take a lot of punishment from Sasuke, who was under strict instructions to avoid doing too much harm to his fellow Genin, Sakura was easily being outmanoeuvred by Shino, who looked positively bored with the whole thing as he continued to land light precision strikes to what would otherwise be vital areas.
Unsurprising, really; though it did make him question her motivation for becoming shinobi. Was she really just as shallow as she'd made herself out to be during the initial self-presentations? If so, she was already on the bad track, as he doubted Sasuke would even turn to look at a girl he considered weak.
Though, really, perhaps it was his own fault too. Kakashi knew exactly what he was putting the two through when he pitted them against Shino and Sasuke, and he hoped the lesson they garnered from the fight would stick — namely, that they had to shape up or be left in the dust. Sasuke himself represented the upper tier of the Genin, while Shino was a decent middle/upper-low. The fact that they could so easily toy with the two meant that the gap of skill wasn't a matter of the members of team four being too strong, but that the members of team two were too weak.
Hopefully, this would fuel their desire to improve. He knew Asuma had a soft spot for Choji, and really wanted the kid to excel, while Kurenai just wanted Sakura to either shape up as a proper kunoichi, or get out of the program. Kakashi himself had no real attachment to either, really, though he supposed he did see a little of Rin in the pink-haired girl.
Just a little, though.
The sound of someone coming up behind him caught his attention then.
"How're they coming along?" That was Asuma — he'd recognize that stink of tobacco anywhere.
"And how come Mr. Nara here isn't practicing?" ...and there's Kurenai. From hearing her, you'd swear Kakashi was neglectful or something!
"Uneven teams," Kakashi answered simply, flipping another page. "And they're doing just fine. Have a look."
As they did, Kakashi realized that the time must've been approaching noon. That meant a lunch break for the kiddies, then training with Asuma. It also meant he'd have a two hour break before Asuma brought him in to help with overseeing the different chakra control exercises, as they'd noticed everyone seemed to be at their own level.
Then, of course, he had to play dummy as Kurenai used him to showcase the different effects of genjutsu. That was always fun.
Kakashi sighed. Man, maybe he should've just stuck with ANBU work.
Training Field 40, one week later...
"Oh man, did you guys see that fight?! It was totally awesome!"
Ino sighed as she listened to Naruto rave about their recent fight against Hinata and Kiba again. Having finished their morning training, the group had once again decided to spend lunch together, but since Naruto had obstinately decided they should have ramen, and Ichiraku's was far too small for all nine to comfortably eat, they'd bought their food and come to their next training field for an impromptu picnic.
During which, of course, Naruto started gloating about beating Kiba. Again.
Well, to be fair, their score was like...25 wins, 25 losses each. Not one to be outdone, Kiba had taken to asking his clansmen for tips and training during his off hours, all to just compete with Naruto. Sasuke, too, seemed somewhat interested in the small competition, and so often trounced them both to remind them he was still on top.
"For the third time, Naruto, we get it!" Sakura snapped at him as she broke apart her chopsticks. Unlike the others, she and Choji were in the worst shape of all, having undergone a completely one-sided fight in which it became abundantly clear how low she ranked. Choji, at least, had held his own enough for Asuma to compliment him. Even so, both had numerous scratches and small bandages on them to prove their ordeal.
"Yeah, it was a good fight!" Kiba agreed with a competitive grin. "But next time's going to be my win, Naruto! Just wait and see!"
"Bring it, mutt!" Naruto shot back with the same grin.
"Keep barking, you're both without bite," Sasuke commented neutrally as he ate. While Kiba and Naruto both glared at him and challenged him to another fight — without malice, of course — the others couldn't help but see this whole thing as a king telling his dogs to settle down.
"Man...can't you guys tone it down? How's a guy supposed to nap?" Shikamaru complained as he, as usual, lay on the grass, eyes closed and hands behind his head as a pillow. "So troublesome."
Ino glared at him and just leaned in with an evil smirk. "Second exam," she whispered, causing Shikamaru to twitch violently. Next to her, Choji chuckled as he ate his second bowl.
The Nara heir glared at her and sat up. "Damnit woman, now I can't rest!"
"Serves you right!" Ino shot back as she poked him in the chest with a chopstick. "You didn't even fight this time around either!"
"That's just an excuse!"
Shino and Hinata, the two quiet ones of the group, merely watched as the spontaneous picnic showcased the various quirks of the group in companionable silence; Shino's ramen somehow disappearing without him having even touched the bowl (everyone suspected his bugs had done the feeding there), and Hinata eating with the proper manners expected of a clan heiress.
Lunch continued much in this fashion as the group continued ribbing each other and swapping stories — though Sasuke, naturally, remained somewhat aloof in this by contributing only via grunts or sarcastic comments that were purposely made to incite Kiba and Naruto to challenge him to another fight (which everyone knew would result in a win in Sasuke's favor at this point).
"I'm not kidding, either!" Naruto said as he acted out the dance Keisuke and Hiroki had done during his welcoming party. His fellow Genin were, of course, laughing quite hard at the scene. "They were both totally hammered, and then cousin Akemi joins in just for kicks! It was hilarious!"
Even Sasuke had cracked a small smile as Naruto recounted the crazy antics of his clan. While he'd been initially wary of the sudden appearance of these foreigners in Konoha, and then dismissed them for being way too crazy to be any strong, he'd had to revisit his opinion of them several times after having fought Naruto.
Naruto, who was the class idiot. Naruto, who came close to beating him numerous times with that new fighting style of his. Naruto, who despite having been alone for most of his life, now had a clan to fall back onto.
Sasuke couldn't deny being jealous; he still had to go back to an empty apartment every day, knowing that his family was either dead or the greatest traitor in recent Konoha history. It was lonely, soul-crushing, and a situation that easily worked towards increasing his anger.
But recently it had lessened...a little.
And loathe as he was to admit it, Sasuke had to give credit for that to the other Genin for including him, starting with that innocent celebratory luncheon Shikamaru had invited him to following the bell test. While he'd been initially apprehensive of joining them in their escapades, the easy-going camaraderie of the other Genin had done wonders in getting him to relax.
Oh sure, he still thought they were mostly weaklings — Shikamaru excepted, having seen the boy genius at work — but at least they were...okay to hang around with.
Even Sakura and Ino seemed to stop hanging off him as they had at the Academy. Oh, sure, they still competed with each other for his attention (regardless of the fact that he'd made it abundantly clear he wasn't interested), but at least they weren't asking "what do you think, Sasuke-kun?" every five seconds.
...Now it tended to be every ten minutes or so.
"Hey, when do you guys think we'll get our first real mission?" Kiba asked then, referring to the fact that they'd recently begun doing D-ranks in the morning, thereby cutting into their Taijutsu training — which was okay, in a sense, since Kakashi had decreed that they ought to now focus on chakra control, since they were still sub-par, with the exception of Sakura, Ino, and Hinata, who outshone the boys massively in that department.
While at first they'd all been super excited about starting to perform shinobi missions, the romance of it had quickly dwindled to frustration as they realized they were little more than glorified go-fers. Chasing after a stray cat (whom the Genin were unanimously convinced was the reincarnation of some unholy entity), shopping for some old person's groceries, helping with construction (Naruto's clones really came in handy there), or pulling weeds...no task was too demeaning apparently, and their Jonin trainers loved every moment of it, from the evil grins on their faces (or evil eye smile from Kakashi).
"Not soon," Shino opined as he quietly enjoyed the companionship, his gaze focused on one of his bugs on his index finger scurrying around. The other Genin had to get used to the Aburame heir's tenants quite fast, so the sight wasn't quite as nauseous as it once had been. That said, Naruto still threatened Shino regularly to disembowel him with a spoon if he ever saw Shino's kikkai in his ramen.
That comment prompted an hour-long debate regarding whether it was even possible or not to disembowel a person with a spoon.
"Why? Because the Jonin are reluctant to commit us to any dangerous situations," Shino explained unnecessarily. "Why? Because they do not believe us to be ready for them."
"Really wish you'd stop nitpicking like that," Kiba sighed as he tossed a piece of specially prepared meat to Akamaru, who yipped in thanks.
Shino said nothing, but the others could swear a knowing smirk had formed behind that high collar of his.
"Anyway, he's right," Sakura agreed as she clapped her hands once in thanks for the food. "I heard most teams don't get C-ranks until like...their fourth, fifth month."
"What?! That's totally crap, though! I mean, look at us: we rock!" Naruto complained. "Didn't Asuma say he was impressed with how much we were growing?"
"Asuma-sensei," Ino corrected him with a frustrated sigh. Trust Naruto to forget to include the proper honorifics. Heck, he never used them with the other Genin, except maybe for the girls, to whom he all added -chan.
"Who cares? It's not like he's here," Naruto said with a shrug. "And you know I'm right! We could totally do a C-rank!"
"Moron," Shikamaru shot him down. "C-Ranks are the first types of missions we get where we leave the village. It's dangerous to send rookies like us out in the field this early on. I think the Jonin are right; let's leave the C-ranks to later."
Sakura snorted. "You just want don't want to work harder."
Shikamaru neither denied nor confirmed that. Instead, he just rolled on his side. "Troublesome."
"I don't think we're ready either..." Choji spoke up then as he finished another gulp of ramen. "I mean, what if the people we fight in the C-ranks are really scary and strong? We're not really there yet..."
Kiba laughed as he slung an arm around the heavy boy's shoulders. "Man, don't worry about it! I'm with Naruto on this one!" Yet another mindless boy who forgot honorifics. "We've been practicing our asses off in team combat for a week now! We should be fine!"
Ino rolled her eyes. Trust the two fighting junkies to agree on this. Turning to her left, she smiled at Hinata, who'd remained quiet all this time. "What do you think, Hinata-chan?"
The shy girl blushed as the spotlight was cast on her, prompting her to poke her index fingers together. "Err...I..." she stumbled over the words. "I...think the Jonin-sensei w-will t-tell us when we're r-ready..."
"Aw, man! You too, Hinata-chan?" Naruto complained.
The shy girl blushed even harder, suddenly stammering out apologies no one heard as Naruto got to his feet, turned to Kiba, and melodramatically wailed, "Kiba! We're being outnumbered! What shall we do?!"
Understanding where the blonde was going with this, Kiba jumped to his feet (causing Akamaru to yip in protest as he was suddenly launched out of his master's lap) and melodramatically put a hand to his forehead in a sign of faint-headedness. "I feel faint amongst all this negativity! Naruto! Hold me!"
The two boys then proceeded to give each other a wailing, commiserating hug for all of two seconds before bursting out laughing, the other Genin chuckling at their antics or just rolling their eyes (or blushing, in the case of Hinata).
"Morons," Sasuke commented idly as he finished up his ramen.
That reminded Naruto. "Oh yeah, what do you think about this, jerk?" he asked Sasuke.
"Oh come on, I'm sure Sasuke agrees it's far too dangerous to..." Sakura had begun defending Sasuke, only to see the Uchiha slowly turn his head to avoid eye contact. "...Sasuke?"
There was a moment of silence as Sasuke refused to make eye contact, after which Kiba and Naruto burst out laughing. "He's one of us!" they chanted as they made an impromptu dance around the surly boy.
"Knock it off, you idiots," Sasuke grouched.
The Genin stopped as they heard someone calling out to them. Looking towards the field's entrance, they saw Asuma and Kakashi waving at them as they approached.
"Good to see you're all excitable, but lunch is over," Asuma told them with an easygoing smile. "Ready for afternoon practice?"
Naruto returned home exhausted that evening. So much so that one look at him had Takeshi giving him the night off, saying he'd be worthless if he still tried to train.
Of course, the pierced teen had then promised him twice the tortur—I mean, training for the next day, something Naruto was having trouble in deciding whether he was looking forward to it or dreading it.
Regardless, Naruto trudged back to his house (the fourth structure built), waving to relatives as he was greeted down the earthen road. It wasn't a particularly big house — certainly nothing like what the Hyuuga were alleged to have — but it was still bigger than the homes of the other shinobi of the Uzumaki clan, on account of his status as Clan Head-in-training.
At first, he hadn't wanted it, both because his humility rejected such an obvious show of superiority, and because living alone again would feel too much like he was back at the apartment on his own. After a few nights, however, he'd realized that the second part wasn't quite true, as he got to wake up in an area full of positive-minded clansmen who greeted him and, in the case of a certain pink-haired wonder and his cousins, crashed at his place often.
The humble part of him still disliked the fact that he owned a larger house than the rest of his family, but he'd grown to deal with those feelings after Keisuke informed him that such superficial differentiations were mainly for the benefit of outsiders; no one within the clan felt slighted by it.
Speaking of the venerable Elder, he'd begun hinting that the time was soon coming wherein he'd have to begin his Fūinjutsu lessons. At first, the very idea repelled Naruto, seeing as how he imagined it to be mainly sitting about and studying (and he was partly right), but after having Keisuke point out that both he and Maki had shown him the practical uses of sealing, Naruto had agreed, figuring it'd be, at the very least, an awesome way of catching Kiba and Sasuke off guard in one of their spars.
That wasn't going to happen until later, of course. Keisuke had made it abundantly clear that Fūinjutsu require discipline and restraint, and so it wouldn't be until Naruto showed either that his tutoring would begin.
Waving hello to one last clansman as he entered his house, he yelped in surprise as he saw someone waiting for him inside, clad in a kimono that hugged at all the right places.
"Kimiko-nee!" Naruto greeted in surprise. "What gives? You nearly gave me a heart attack!"
Kimiko frowned. "I've been observing you and your friends, Naruto-sama," she informed him with a disappointed look. "You have made little progress over these past few weeks."
Naruto goggled at her. Little progress? Kakashi, Asuma, and Kurenai were all quite congratulatory towards the Genin's efforts!
"What?" he asked, certain he'd misheard.
With a flash, however, he was soon on the ground, a blade placed to his neck. Looking up, he saw Kimiko's face inches away from his own, a fierce glare boring into him. "You're still weak," she informed him, her free arm pressing down onto his chest and the glare in her eyes fierce, obviously struggling to keep her anger in check. "You should be stronger than your comrades, Naruto-sama, not their equal! And to let that Uchiha best you...!"
Naruto glared right back, despite the imminent danger he was in. "Hey! He's got a name, Kimiko!" he protested, disliking the fact that Kimiko had referred to Sasuke with such bitterness. "And we're doing just fine!"
Her glare, if anything, intensified. "How could you become Clan Head, when you can't even protect yourself from an intruder?" she demanded. "In your own home?"
Okay, so she had a point there, but what was he supposed to do — outperform her by age 13? That was laughable in itself! She was perhaps the fourth most powerful person in the Clan. How the hell was he supposed to match that as he was?!
"That's why I've got you guys," Naruto said with a smirk, raising a hand to poke her just beneath her collarbone, surprising her. "I know I'm weak. You think I like that?" he asked her rhetorically. "But I can't become strong in one day. Takeshi taught me that. Hikari-nee taught me that. Ojii-chan taught me that. Kakashi, Asuma, and Kurenai taught me that. I'm going to be weak for a while, Kimiko," he told her, his smirk turning into a friendly smile. "So how about you guard my back till I'm strong enough?"
Kimiko blinked at him for his proposal before glaring again. "If that is your wish, Naruto-sama," she agreed curtly, drawing back her blade and, in a flash of light, it was gone from her hand. Slowly, she got back to her feet — for which Naruto was thankful for, as the way she'd held him down had given him an ample look at her considerable bust (and really didn't want to even accidentally ogle his own cousin) — and reluctantly offered him a hand.
Which he didn't take, as he flipped himself back onto his feet, grinning at her. "It's not my wish as Clan Head, Kimiko," he told her as he passed by her. "It's my wish from one clansman to another. We're family, y'know?" he told her as he lightly bopped her on the shoulder, giving her a wave as he went for his room. "G'night, Kimiko-nee!"
Kimiko stood there in the hallway, the expression on her face quite incredible as she fought an internal battle due to Naruto's words. To her, it was inconceivable that the future Clan Head would act so nonchalantly regarding his own weakness, or that he would rely on others for his protection. Where was his pride as an Uzumaki? Where was his pride as a warrior?!
But...the way he'd smiled at her, and told her he wanted her protection, not as Clan Head, but as family, had made her feel a small warmth in her chest. It was not unfamiliar as much as it was...nostalgic. Like an old, loved friend had come back to pay a visit.
Just as quickly as those feelings came to the front, however, she quickly crushed them as a glare fixed itself back onto her face. Naruto was wrong. He had to get stronger quickly so as to become a proper Clan Head for the Uzumaki. The other cells in hiding would never allow for a weakling as Clan Head, and she would not have him shame the Uzumaki by being one.
Regardless, he'd given her an order — and she always followed orders. She would guard him until such a time where he could defend himself properly.
Kimiko looked around, realizing for the first time that she knew very little about the Clan Head's house, given that she'd merely waited for him in the entrance hall. From the sound of things, Naruto's room was near the back, meaning that a good protector would be nearby. Maybe the roof?
Well, might as well find a good place to crash.
Training Field 40, Three days later...
True to her word, Kimiko became something of a shadow for Naruto. A rather conspicuous one, too, given the fact that between her looks and her intimidating yoroi armor, she was nearly impossible to hide.
Not that she couldn't — Naruto knew first-hand that however garrish the Uzumaki might appear, they could hide as well as Jonin if they put their minds to it.
Still, it made for an interesting sight when the group found Kiba staring at her for prolonged periods of time with a blush — not that the older girl paid him any attention. The teasing that followed usually had the dog user blushing like mad for quite some time.
To everyone's surprise, even Asuma and Kurenai, Kakashi didn't object to her presence. While everyone generally assumed this was so he, too, could ogle the very pretty Uzumaki girl, the reality was that Kakashi was interested in at least seeing the reputed fourth most powerful member of the Uzumaki Clan.
Meanwhile, Asuma resumed his teaching after settling the Genin, who had taken the opportunity to poke fun at Kiba after having caught him peeking at Kimiko once again.
"Where were we?" Asuma mused aloud. "Oh, right. We've gone over chakra theory and a bit of practice now, so let's go to tactics. What are the three most vital points to remember when developing battle tactics?"
As usual, Sakura's hand was first in the air. Then again, everyone in the group knew this by heart now, seeing as how it was a question he repeated every lesson.
"If possible, remain out of sight. If not, avoid damage to yourself. If you can't, always have a way to retreat," she recited his version of it by heart.
Asuma nodded. "That's right," he confirmed. "Gold star, Haruno," he told her with a smile — eliciting a pleased blush — before motioning to Shikamaru. "Shikamaru; why are these three points vital to any strategy?"
"A live shinobi is more useful than a dead one," Shikamaru answered lazily, still staring up at the sky.
"That's right," Asuma confirmed again. "Always remember that, kids. It's all nice and heroic when you hear about shinobi sacrificing themselves, but in reality the people you work with will want you alive more than dead, so always keep that in mind when making up strategy," he told them.
"What if casualties are impossible to prevent?" Sasuke asked calmly with a frown.
Asuma pondered that one for a moment as he took a drag from his cigarette, enjoying the pleasant breeze in the wooded area of the field. "Then you plan to bring that number down as much as possible," he told the Uchiha survivor. "Not gonna lie to you kids; this isn't an easy job to have, and odds are you'll see plenty of people die if you live long enough."
Sasuke excepted, of course, since he'd already seen enough people die for a lifetime.
"And of course, you'll all remember the mantra we taught you, right?" he asked.
"Treat all enemy shinobi as though they were S-Rank," the group recited dutifully. Honestly, sometimes these sessions seemed more like a kid's class at Pre-Academy than Genin training.
"Exactly," Asuma confirmed with a nod. "The reason for that, as I've already explained, is quite simple — never underestimate your opponent. If he looks weak, he might be faking it. If he looks strong, he might really be a coward. This is not, however, a license for cowardice in the face of the unknown, but rather a piece of advice to be cautious and wise at all given moments."
"You may know you're arbitrarily stronger than your opponent; you can even know his weaknesses, but a good shinobi will still defeat the enemy quickly because it is his duty, not to prove a point," he instructed them.
Then, with a tiger seal, he said, "Kai!" and instantly several poofs resounded as small, scaled models of different scenarios appeared around him. "Split up into teams of three; the initial make-up will be up to you," he informed them. "And take a model scenario for your team. You will find a note underneath detailing the enemy you would face in such a scenario, and are to create an appropriate strategy to fulfill the victory conditions detailed within the note, or simply avoid the defeat conditions. Every ten minutes, or earlier if everyone's done, we'll review what you've come up with and then split up in different teams for another round, this one random."
It was another usual exercise, and so there was little hesitation as the groups formed up.
Naruto quickly went for Shikamaru, who avoided him like the plague and instead latched onto Choji, who got picked by Sakura (the two having formed a rapport following their initial team beatdown by Shino and Sasuke). Faced with the lack of the brilliant strategist (Shikamaru's teams nearly always got top marks), Naruto picked Ino, who seemed a little miffed at being second-choice and at having missed her opportunity to team up with Sasuke, who picked Shino and Kiba. Faced with being the last picked, Hinata shyly approached Ino and Naruto, who welcomed her with a smile.
"Let's do our best, guys!" Naruto whooped confidently.
A little saddened at being left last, Hinata nonetheless nodded shyly, while Ino grinned. "Yeah!"
Kimiko was not pleased with what she saw.
While she conceded that Naruto was being affable towards his comrades, she still couldn't understand why he associated with the weaker members of his group. Certainly the blonde girl had some skill, but the dark-haired one was critically lacking in self-confidence and impetus. More importantly, why wasn't Naruto protesting these arrangements?
Leaning against a nearby tree, she watched patiently as Naruto and his team worked at their model, confounding her. Why were they studying using models? Why not simulate the battle itself with higher ranking shinobi? How would Naruto get stronger from playing with toys?!
"You seem frustrated," to her credit, Kimiko didn't flinch as the one called Kakashi appeared on a branch above her. "Wanna talk about it?" he asked half-assed.
Kimiko glared up at him. "No," well that was a lie. To be honest, she would've loved to chew him out about his inadequacies as a teacher, but Keisuke had forbidden all Uzumaki from doing any such thing, urging them all to understand that Konoha had its own way of doing things.
"That's a lie," he noted lazily as he watched the Genin work on their models. "Your clan thinks I'm wasting the kids' time, don't they?" he asked perceptively. Whatever his faults may be, Kakashi was nothing if not sharp.
"Are you?" Kimiko asked acidly.
"Can't say I understand the way Uzushio did things, or how you do things, but Konoha's not about throwing kids to the wild and learning on instinct," Kakashi noted. "Your Clan may be stronger for it individually, but you still felt weak enough to hide from the world."
"We were hunted by three of the major villages," Kimiko pointed out through gritted teeth as her temper began to flare. How dare this man speak so diffidently of her Clan's suffering?!
"Yet you never joined any of the two remaining ones," Kakashi noted casually, stopping her dead in her tracks. "I'll be blunt; I don't like the fact that you've messed with some pretty deeply rooted traditions here. I grew up in the old system and I liked it, but I'm a shinobi of Konoha first and foremost, so if the Sandaime says jump, I jump."
"How obedient of you," Kimiko snarked. "Just like a good dog."
"A jumping dog reaches the throat of an unkind master much more easily," Kakashi said simply, again leaving her without a response. "Like I was saying, however, I'm a loyal man of Konoha, so if the Sandaime wants me to work with your Genin Pool and the new Academy exam, that's fine," he told her. "Just remember that this is Konoha, not Uzushio."
Kimiko refused to answer, and he promptly disappeared in a whirl of leaves.
Two days later...
Naruto was stretching out, yawning, as the Genin met up for Taijutsu practice once again. All nine had been woken up at nearly the crack of dawn to help out with construction at the Uzumaki estate, which had been a pleasant surprise for the budding Clan Head when it was announced the previous day.
Apparently, having noted that there was still so much work to do, the Sandaime had proposed using the Genin Pool's initiates as labor via D-Rank mission. A little abashed at the fact that they'd been caught lagging behind on their construction time-table (and including the protests of the Hyuuga, who wanted the noise to stop), Keisuke and Heiyako had agreed to the plan.
The result was that all eight of his comrades were finally able to see the vaunted grounds of the Uzumaki Clan, and their reactions were, to Naruto, quite priceless.
Kiba, for the most part, had goggled at the girls, while Ino and Sakura beat him to a pulp for being such an overt pervert. Choji had to be dragged back to work several times after catching the delicious smell coming from some of the small eateries in the compound, while Ino and Sakura found commiserating souls amongst the Uzumaki teenage girls, who all had to deal with roughhousing, battle-happy idiots. Even Shino and Shikamaru found the compound interesting in their own way.
The one exception was Sasuke.
Not because Sasuke didn't like the compound. Rather, it seemed the moment he'd stepped into the area, every Uzumaki was wary of him, save for Naruto. While Naruto himself knew exactly why, he was loathe to admit it, and preferred to just ignore the ill will he was feeling from his clansmen towards Sasuke.
Even after they were done, Naruto had refused to speak of it, though everyone was well aware that Sasuke had been treated like a pariah while in the compound.
Hopefully, however, Sasuke wouldn't dwell on it.
"Man, I hope Kakashi mixes it up today!" Kiba mused aloud as he stretched out. "It's getting boring just sparring in teams or singles!"
A series of tired grunts answered him as the others tiredly stretched for the upcoming training. Well, at least they could count on Kakashi being thirty minutes late, so there was some resting time available before the torture-fest began anew.
Little did they know that Kakashi would've really made them wait hours, but Kurenai had put her foot down and made him come relatively on time.
"Hey, Naruto, where's that hot cousin of yours? Ain't she gonna watch like always?" Kiba asked as he noted the distinct absence of Kimiko in the vicinity. He was summarily pummeled by Ino and Sakura, and discreetly frowned at by Hinata.
"Nah, she's got a meeting with the old guys," Naruto answered without much concern for Kiba's cries of help. "Must be a mission or something she has to go on," he guessed, given that he'd already seen Keisuke and Heiyako assign various missions to Hiroki and others under similar circumstances.
"Mission, huh..." Choji wondered aloud. "Wonder if we'll have to work again at your place tomorrow, Naruto."
Said blond shrugged. "Probably," he admitted. "The compound's nowhere near finished, and with Uncle Hiroki and a bunch of others on missions, it's going slow."
Any further talking was subsequently ended by the familiar poofing sound of Kakashi making his entrance. To everyone's surprise, he was actually on time.
And he wasn't alone.
"Good morning, kiddies!" Kakashi greeted them with a lazy wave and a disinterested stare that completely went against his cheerful greeting. To either side were Asuma and Kurenai, who smiled down at their charges.
"Asuma-sensei? Kurenai-sensei?" Ino questioned. "How come you're here so early?"
Kakashi ignored the fact that he was being ignored and gave an ocular smile. "We have great news!" he announced. "You're all getting the rest of the day off!"
There was a beat as the Genin processed this information in their tired brains before they broke out into spontaneous cheering (well, Kiba, Naruto, Choji, Ino, and Sakura did, anyway).
"And you're all getting a C-rank mission tomorrow," he then added, grinning internally as he watched the Genin freeze.
"C...rank?" Naruto parroted, looking at the three Jonin like they were about to announce they were just kidding.
"Well, three C-rank missions, but yes," Kakashi confirmed. "Low-level ones, of course, but it'll register as C-rank on your dossiers."
He was completely ignored, however, as the Genin broke out into hurried mumblings amongst themselves, excitement permeating the faces of those of their number who were more open about their emotional state.
After a while, however, Kakashi scratched his head while Kurenai giggled into her hand and Asuma coughed to cover up his chuckling. "Ma...don't you guys want to know the details?"
He instantly had their attention again.
Meanwhile, at the Legion of Do—I mean, Uzumaki Compound...
"Do you understand, Kimiko?" Keisuke asked gravely. "We were offered a great boon by being notified by the Hokage ahead of time, and you should consider yourself lucky that we decided to inform you," he noted as he watched Kimiko practically tremble before him as she knelt, having received her instructions.
"I...don't know what to say, Keisuke-choro," Kimiko finally managed to get out. "This is...incredible. And Naruto-sama is definitely going to be assigned to that missions?"
"Hiruzen believes so," Heiyako confirmed. "Whatever our feelings about the Jonin trainers, they seem to hold Naruto's development in high regard; thus, he will likely be assigned to the more potentially perilous of the missions."
"Does he...know?" Kimiko asked. "Does the rest of the Clan...know?"
"No, and they shall not until Naruto returns," Keisuke ordered her strictly. "There will be enough commotion from the mere fact that our last potential Clan Head is headed off on a mission that might be dangerous. We don't need to add this to the fire."
"But it's—!" Kimiko snapped up her head to protest, but was quickly silenced by Keisuke's ki flaring.
"Enough, Kimiko!" Keisuke reproached her. "I understand your opinion of the world and the way it works and I've respected it so far!" he reminded her. "But do not forget that until Naruto is Clan Head, we have final say. You will not let anyone else know what we just told you."
"Y-Yes...Keisuke-choro," she finally agreed, slumping in defeat. "I understand."
"And you promise?"
"I swear," she conceded. "I swear I will not divulge what you've told me to anyone, not even Naruto-sama or the rest of the Clan, before you do."
Heiyako took pity on the girl. "We're sorry to place such a heavy burden on you, Kimiko, but you are the one tasked with Naru-chan's safety, and we believed you would need to know all the details to protect him while he's away."
"The Jonin might object to my presence," Kimiko pointed out. "That man of the Hatake clan all but told me not to meddle," she recalled.
"Kakashi-san is merely cautious of the rapid changes we have wrought on Konoha, as all wise men would," Keisuke pointed out. "Do not make his caution into something personal, Kimiko."
"Furthermore," Heiyako continued, "we have already garnered the authorization of the Hokage to send you and one more along with whichever team Naru-chan is in. If his assigned Jonin has an objection, he must file it with the Hokage."
"Understood, Heiyako-choro," Kimiko said with a nod.
"Go, then." Keisuke dismissed her. "They won't be leaving until tomorrow two hours past daybreak; you have until then to get ready."
The next day...
"Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap, oh crap!" Naruto hissed to himself as he ran for the eastern gate. He'd totally overslept that morning after the kickass party the Clan had thrown him once it was announced he was going on a C-Rank mission for the first time.
Then again, the Uzumaki seemed to throw a kickass party for almost anything. He could still remember the party they threw because one clansman had recovered after spraining his ankle!
Anyway, at least the streets were relatively empty as people began waking up (active duty shinobi were up since daybreak, mostly), allowing him to sprint relatively obstruction-free towards the gate. Along the way, he noticed a few people glaring at him, but most seemed to regard him with indifference now. Was it because of the clan?
Well, he didn't exactly have time to ponder that, as he was still quite freaking late for the mission!
Breaking into a dead sprint as he saw the gate up ahead, he saw the others in his team waiting for him, alongside a towering old man in a straw hat and working clothes and waved at them, shouting "OI! I'm here!"
Smiling to himself, he saw Hinata and Kiba wave back, while Kakashi merely looked up at him, then back down at his book. When the team had been decided the previous day, Kakashi had explained that they'd been divided into the most effective teams they could. The reasoning behind his team had been that while Kiba and he were heavy hitters, Hinata's superior tactical sense — compared to Kiba and Naruto, anyway — her ability to use the Byakugan, and good-enough Taijutsu skills would allow her to scout out and coordinate a solid defense in the event of bandits. Considering the other jobs had been a simple capture and interrogation of a minor bandit and wildlife hunting, her bloodline was considered overkill and better suited to bodyguard duty. Sasuke had been considered for this mission, but given that Naruto was best suited for this mission with his ability to spawn nigh-unlimited reinforcements and the fact that another team needed a leader-like person in charge, he was placed in charge of the Capture and Interrogation mission.
The client, Tazuna, however, did not look very impressed with his escort.
As he got close, he tried to slow down, but found himself tripping. The result was he was about to get a face full of dirt before he was suddenly jerked back up onto his feet. Looking up, he saw that Kakashi was unpleasantly surprised, Hinata had brought up her hands to hide her shock, and Kiba and Tazuna were practically drooling.
That could mean one thing, especially given her actions at last night's party.
"Easy there, brat," Hikari told him with a grin as someone else put him down. "Too early in the mission to get injured like that."
"A Clan Head must be dignified, Naruto-sama," Kimiko concurred as she put him down. Both were wearing surprisingly casual clothing — and Hikari was even missing her giant scroll!
"Kimiko? Hikari-nee?" he squawked as he took a few steps back in surprise. "What the hell are you two doing here?" he asked.
Hikari bopped him on the head playfully. "You didn't think we'd just let our Clan Head out of our sight that easy, did ya?" she asked.
Kimiko merely bowed her head slightly in greeting to the others. "We are your escort, Naruto-sama."
Kakashi sighed. He'd had a feeling. And if they were here, that meant the Hokage probably knew.
So much for a peaceful trip.
Post-AN: So here we are. The end of the Lost Clan Arc. Next up, Wave! How will having the fourth most powerful Uzumaki clansman and one of the rising stars of the Uzumaki Clan's summoner division change things? Hell, how will having Kiba and Hinata around change things? Will Haku and Zabuza live or die? Are you all seriously expecting me to answer this right now? :D
I'll be trying to post the next chapter ASAP; shouldn't be much of a problem, since the Emperor time skip and working with different languages may stall me in that respect.
Note: This chapter has been revised as of December 16, 2013.