AN: And now we get to see what else the Uzumaki elders have been hard at work messing with! But seriously, I'd like to thank all of you who've expressed great support for both this story and the characterization of the Uzumaki Clan - despite being expies of their Fairy Tail selves. Though, I have to say this now: if you're only now realizing the Uzumaki Clan has its membership drawn from Fairy Tail (or haven't yet), you're obviously not reading far enough for the explanations.
Also, please let this be the last time I have to explaint this: the Uzumaki Clansmen are indeed imports of the Fairy Tail guild from the manga/anime Fairy Tail by Hiro Mashima. However, they are not Edolas or Earthland's Fairy Tail guild, nor is there going to be magic or things like that. Symbolic techniques (such as the Fire Dragon's Roar) might or will likely show up as ninja techniques. To put it more simply (I guess): these are the parallel reality versions of the Fairy Tail guild, much like the Edolas and Earthland Fairy Tail guilds had only their likeness in common, but little else.
Hope that clears things up.
PS: Still no pairings.
PPS: Regarding the way the kids reacted to the test as they dropped out (aka, last chapter), it's actually something I drew from real life. I dunno how many of my readers know about it, but the IB Exams have a well-deserved reputation for being tough. In my graduating class, at least three people had utter breakdowns mid-exam, and the year before me had like...5, that I recall. An amusing bit of Real Life meeting Fiction, if you will.
It wasn't often that the Hokage could get a rise out of his Jonin — hell, they were sort of trained to resist that sort of thing — but every time he did, he relished it thoroughly.
This was one such time.
The new exam, devised between himself and Iruka, with occasional input from the Uzumaki elders, had been a smashing success — to the point where it really practically eliminated the need for the teamwork test for this year's graduates (except for one particular prodigy, but then it was too much to ask for a perfect score on that end on the first try), though in the end he'd decided to let that requirement stand for now.
Nonetheless, with exactly nine students graduating after a gruelling two-day survival mission, they'd weeded out the unskilled right off the bat. Considering the only other village able to boast that was Kirigakure, and more due to the fact that whoever graduated during the Bloody Mist years did so as a result of having the largest body count, it was no small feat.
The issue now was the teams, and thus the current situation whereby the three Jonin instructors he'd picked for this year's graduates were in an uproar. His advisors had wisely warned him that this would be their reaction, though like them he'd agreed it was their problem, not his. The Hokage led, and the Jonin followed — whatever their own feelings were on the matter.
The source of this discontent was quite simple: there would be no teams this year.
Well, that wasn't quite accurate. There would be teams, just not in the classical sense of the word. The idea had blossomed out of a conversation between himself and the two Uzumaki elders, who'd recounted the olden days with him over sake — which, in hindsight, was becoming a regular thing between the three old timers. In the process, they'd revealed that Uzushiogakure had shunned Konoha's four-man (team leader included) cell structure early on — something Hiruzen admittedly hadn't known.
The problem with it, they'd found, was that it hyper-specialized teams to such a degree where they became useless if certain missions came up, or if, say, a recon team's mission suddenly turned into an all-out fight where retreat was either inadvisable or intolerable. In that situation, the team was screwed, and so Uzushiogakure, not exactly having the sheer power of numbers that Konoha did, had instituted what they called the Genin Pool.
In effect, it was no different from the Chunin or Jonin Pools, which were the standard for Konoha, too. However, Uzushio had extended this structure to the Genin in order to more easily allocate the proper shinobi to the proper team for the proper mission. Moreover, such ease of switching things up allowed for the Genin to become accustomed to working with a variety of partners, and bond with their fellow shinobi.
This, in turn, meant for a much more tightly-knit shinobi community than even that of Konoha, and strongly encouraged their shinobi to look out for each other, regardless of team affiliations.
Besides Uzushio's possession of powerful seal masters, this had been one of the village's secrets to success, allowing it to earn enough fame as to warrant the concern and later fear of three major shinobi villages and their allies.
In Konoha, however, the idea had not taken root due, in part, to opposition from Danzo and the former Hokages, and the lack of necessity thanks to their huge numbers.
Senju Tobirama, founder of the 4-man cell arrangement, had been particularly against the Uzushio structure due to the fact that he esteemed such an arrangement to be unwieldy in terms of individual education — a great concern in villages as large as Konoha. After all, how could a limited amount of Jonin sensei deal with more than three times their number in students? Who would they focus on? How would they divide their time?
Danzo, for his part, merely echoed these sentiments, while in reality opposing the idea (which had been brought up before by the Yondaime) on grounds that extensive exposure to fellow shinobi would quickly erode the emotion-suppressing training regimen his Root ANBU had to undergo. As old as he was, the old warhawk was no one's fool, and he was well aware that the more a person had to interact with others, the greater the chance their conditioning would fall through.
It was for that reason that he almost never sent more than one Root agent out on a mission at a time, unless extenuating circumstances called for...greater manpower.
Hiruzen, however, believed he had a solution for the Nidaime's professed issues with the Uzushio system. In short, he decided to mix Konoha and Uzushio's Genin structure. More specifically, a baseline of three Jonin instructors, each masters in a particular field of study, would remain as Jonin instructors for the pool. However, for every three Genin over nine that graduated, an additional instructor would be added in as a consultant, full time teacher, and/or substitute teacher as needed, allowing for a team rotational scheme in C-rank missions and above. However, in order to prevent mass shortages of competent Jonin for missions, this new structure would only come into effect for the newest batch of Genin onwards. In effect, this generation would be the test-drive generation; if the system worked, it would stay — if not, then it would be reverted to the old system.
His three designated Jonin sensei, however, were perplexed and a little reluctant to commit to such a new, untested system.
"This is for the best," Hiruzen assured the trio as Homura and Koharu, who'd come around to his way of thinking, nodded along at his flanks. "Discussions with our newest allies have shown us that our system of Genin sorting is highly defective, and in fact bears no relevance to the reality they will face upon becoming Chunin, where it is highly likely their teams will be broken apart to suit mission needs," he pointed out.
Koharu nodded, the elderly woman giving the three Jonin a stern stare. "Hokage-sama is correct," she agreed. "With this new system implemented, we have determined that our shinobi will be much more effectively trained, as none of you are experts in all areas of shinobi training."
Homura nodded gravely. "Hatake-san, you are a world-class shinobi, but where your strengths rely on Ninjutsu and Taijutsu, your Genjutsu and Fuin are below those of Yuhi-san. Likewise, Sarutobi-san has a greater mastery over elemental chakra than either of you, and is much more proficient with weapons and stands above most in battlefield tactics...except perhaps for you, Hatake-san, and the Nara," he conceded, knowing Kakashi wasn't just a war machine, but also an excellent tactician. "With this new arrangement, you will be able to cover each other's weaknesses and thus give your students a better chance at survival, and in so doing make this village stronger," he stated, though by the way he had spoken, it was crystal clear that the last point, more than the others, were what mattered to Homura. By the looks of her firm nod, Koharu agreed on that point.
No one could accuse Homura and Koharu of disloyalty towards Konoha; they just happened to be more...collectivist about it.
"Couldn't we just...I dunno...set up joint training sessions, then?" asked Asuma while scratching the back of his head irritably, a lit cigarette limp between his lips. "I mean...I know Inoichi, Shikaku, and Chouza were all looking forward to a new Ino-Shika-Cho combo..."
"They will have to swallow their expectations," Koharu snapped, making the Jonin flinch. "The Genin system is not here to satisfy their dreams, but to train and bring up the newest generation of defenders of Konohagakure!"
"Koharu," Hiruzen spoke up, giving his former teammate a stern stare. The old woman clicked her tongue irritably but conceded to the Hokage and remained quiet. Hiruzen sighed as he returned his attention to the three Jonin. "While perhaps not delivered in the most diplomatic manner, my Advisor is correct," he told them, dashing their hopes that the Hokage might be convinced otherwise. "The Ino-Shika-Cho combo of tradition is an extremely useful team combination...if the mission involves capture and interrogation of targets. But what of escort missions? Assault missions? What about missions where the Nara shadow techniques or the Shintenshin is worthless, but the Akimichi enlargement techniques would be invaluable?" he posed.
"And to an even more basic level, under the old organizational system, you would each be saddled with at least one kunoichi," he reminded them before eyeing Kakashi and Asuma with some amusement. "What would you two be able to teach them about using their feminine abilities that Kurenai couldn't do better, and with much less embarrassment for all involved?"
He then eyed the red-eyed Genjutsu mistress and gave her an amused gaze as well. "And you, Kurenai, what would you be able to teach the boys about their own physical prowess and needs that Kakashi and Asuma wouldn't be able to do better, and with much less mortification?"
All three Jonin had the decency to look somewhat abashed, though it was hard to tell with Kakashi due to that damned mask of his. Chuckling, the Hokage put his hand on a tiny stack of papers before him and slid it sideways so that three sheets stood independent of each other. "In any case, it's been made official. These are your assignments," he told them.
"You may, as every year before, administer the basic teamwork exam," he assured them, giving them at least one familiar piece of the old system to grab on to. "However, the teams to do so will be randomized in the spirit of fairness and to provide realistic tension. After all, we don't always have the luxury of knowing who we will be teamed up with."
The three Jonin approached to receive their orders and took them from the Hokage's hands, eyeing the paper like it was some sort of explosive tag.
"You have your orders. Dismissed."
At the Academy, a similar scene was transpiring.
"What do you mean, no teams?!" Ino all but shrieked. She'd waited for so long for this moment, only to have it ruined by Iruka's announcement.
"Yeah, what gives?" yelled Kiba in protest. "We passed, didn't we?"
"Indeed, this is most unusual," Shino, usually not one to speak up...ever, vocalized, a buzzing of irritation surrounding him. "Why? Because it is the system of Konohagakure to establish four-man cells to carry out missions at the Genin level."
"Dude, stop nitpicking."
"Does this mean we all failed the test?" Sakura asked, wide-eyed as she held onto her forehead protector protectively.
Iruka sighed, at least glad that Naruto seemed to remain in too much a state of shock to vocalize his outrage. "No, it doesn't," Iruka assured Sakura. "Listen, guys, it's very simple: the Hokage has decreed reforms to the actual shinobi structure of Konohagakure, and your generation is just the first one to benefit from them."
"Benefit...how?" Shikamaru asked cautiously, for once genuinely interested. After his little (alright, somewhat substantial) breakdown over the graduation exam, he'd managed to mellow out again over the next day, quickly turning once more into an easy-going slacker. Still, the idea of having no teams was intriguing, as he'd never heard of Konoha ever doing such a thing before on a Genin level.
Iruka eyed the boy genius, having assumed he'd already put some, if not most of the pieces together. "The reason there will be no teams is because, simply put, you are now all one team."
As he'd expected, Shikamaru had nodded along in the manner only someone who was in on the plan could. The rest, however, seemed surprised to varying degrees. This ranged from silent shock to outright squeals, followed by Kiba's roared insistence that Ino stop doing that.
Iruka sighed as he checked the Hokage's letter clipped to his clipboard. "Hokage-sama has decided that, upon advice duly given and considered, our old Genin team system was obsolete, much like the exam was," he explained. He eyed Naruto, expecting the boy to cry out that he didn't understand. To his surprise, the boy was actually following. He'd have to look into that later. "And so, in the interest of giving you all the best shot possible to becoming elite shinobi of Konohagakure, he has decided to establish, from your generation on, the Genin Pool."
"What's a pool got to do with this?" Naruto asked confusedly. Iruka sighed, a little surprised it'd taken this long for Naruto to lose track of the lecture.
"Not that kind of pool, Naruto," the scarred chunin lectured. "A drawing pool, in this case. In essence, you are all, as of right now, Genin. However, as missions come up you will be divided into teams based on the mission's requirements, not on predetermined selections."
This time, Naruto nodded along with the rest of his classmates. "So for one missions Sasuke, Shikamaru, and, say...Ino might be paired up. However, for the next, it could be Shikamaru, Hinata, and Naruto," he missed the look of utter horror on Shikamaru's face at that prospect, though Hinata didn't and giggled softly at her friend's expense while Naruto gave Shikamaru the sweetest, most innocent smile he could muster.
"Or possibly Sasuke being teamed up with Ino and Sakura...really, it all depends," Iruka continued, oblivious to the interactions happening amongst his students. In fact, he was so in his "lecture mode" that he failed to notice the hearts that appeared in said two girls' eyes at his suggestion, or the look of undisguised horror on the Uchiha's face.
It was, in all honesty, the most emotional thing any of his classmates had ever seen him do since he'd been...what, seven years old?
In any case, Iruka soon noted the giggles around the room and frowned, having missed the victims' expressions. Instead, he cleared his throat to regain their attention and continued.
"However, due to the fact that even without teams you will all require training, three Jonin have been assigned to the Genin Pool, making it one per mission-ready team," he continued. "During off-time, these Jonin sensei will collaborate in educating you all further in the arts of the shinobi, so I expect you nine to be on your best behaviour around them, understood?"
A chorus of "Hai, Iruka-sensei!" answered him, though even so he remained dubious at their sincerity. Regardless, they were now Genin, and thus technically out of his hands. "Very well, then. Your sensei ought to arrive in...fifteen minutes or so," he estimated as he glanced at the wall clock. "I suggest, in the meantime, that you find a productive use for your time."
With that said, Iruka went to his desk and sat down, bringing out the application forms for the next semester's incoming students. Even after graduation, teachers still had a lot of work to do!
That was how long the Genin in the graduating class had to wait. Not fifteen minutes, as Iruka had said, but One. Full. Hour.
Honestly, if they hadn't been assured by Shikamaru that there was no way all the Jonin sensei had planned to stand them up, the newly-minted Genin might've just walked out and gone home. As it was, however, they had been forced to endure each other's company, which quickly became more of a chore than a pleasurable activity due to rising levels of boredom and the inability to cope with said boredom. To such a point, in fact, that several of the rookies could've sworn they'd heard Shikamaru mutter something about the log again when Naruto began firing off random questions at him.
When the Jonin sensei did arrive, then, they found themselves staring at a class full of disgruntled rookies glaring holes into them. All three had the decency to look a bit sheepish at their lateness, but it was the one with the slanted headband who really took the cake, as when he asked,
"Umm...we're not late are we?" he asked sheepishly.
It was all the students could do not to slaughter the man where he stood.
Kakashi chuckled nervously as he watched nine rookies glare holes into him.
Having arrived late (yet earlier than he was used to, paradoxically), Kurenai and Asuma had eyed each other for a split second before deciding to throw him under the bus for their sake, so to speak. The result of that particularly nefarious plan had been that the students now all blamed him for the one-hour tardiness, even if all three had been complicit, to an extent.
Simply put, they'd opted for drinks at the local bar after the Hokage's little briefing, and had lost track of time.
Of course, that didn't prevent the other two Jonin from using him as their scapegoat, being that they really had no intention of working with kids that hated them from day one. Kakashi, on the other hand, they knew to be laid back enough that if he was really pissed off at them, would get back at them. If not, and this was infinitely more plausible, then they'd get off scott-free.
It was a gamble with good odds.
Either way, having passed the initial homicidal anger stage, the students had followed the three Jonin instructors to the rooftop, where the students, in a show of unanimous disapproval over their sensei's (thus-far) proven work habits, gathered up in a group along three rows, bunched together, while the three Jonin stood awkwardly in front of them.
There was no mistaking the pissed off looks the students were shooting them.
"Right, um..." Kakashi started, at least having the decency not to bring out his porn to read, considering the tense atmosphere. "I guess Iruka already told you this, but we're your three instructors."
He could've sworn he'd heard a 'duh' amongst the Genin, though most of them just stared at him as though asking, 'Really, moron?'
"Anyway, as our first exercise, I propose we introduce ourselves, to get to know each other better! How about it?" he tried making himself sound excited in a vain attempt at getting the kids pumped up.
After an awkward pause, Kakashi coughed into a fist and sweatdropped. "Alright...I'll go first, I guess."
And so began a long litany of pseudo-introductions from the Jonin sensei, which only served to heighten the Genin's glares, followed by more informative introductions from said graduates, although these seemed more directed at their fellow classmates than the Jonin.
Apparently, Shino's grudge-bearing habit had rubbed off on them.
Kakashi eyed his colleagues for a moment, the three silently conferring how best to deal with the situation. To be fair, the Genin had good reason to be angry at them, but if they were going to pass the next hurdle on their way to full-privilege Genin status, they'd need to get past that anger and focus on the mission.
A couple of stares later, Kakashi sighed as he straightened up and stretched his neck to get the kinks out. Once he did, he eyed the waiting Genin for a second before unleashing the full power of his killing intent.
It was, without a doubt, the single most horrifying experience the newly minted Genin had ever felt.
All at once, it seemed to them that their lungs had refused to continue working, and an unbearable amount of invisible pressure was being forced down upon their shoulders, making quite a few of them buckled over, even as they sat, from the sheer force of it. A couple, namely Ino and Sakura (but, much to Kakashi's surprise, not Hinata) even passed out. Even the Uchiha survivor and the Uzumaki boy were sweating bullets and doing all they could not to pass out, and from the profiles the Jonin had received, these two were by far the most likely not to buckle under such circumstances due to their rough lives.
And all this happened within the span of exactly five seconds.
The moment Kakashi relented on his ki flare, the three Jonin heard collective breath intakes as the Genin suddenly found themselves able to breath much easier. Sakura and Ino, who were both passed out, were slowly resuscitated by their fellow classmates before they all nervously looked at Kakashi.
"That was your first lesson," the masked Jonin stated with utter disinterest as his sole visible eye drooped. "Killing intent, shortened to ki in our profession," he added. "Consider that also your first and only warning."
Kurenai, while not having enjoyed the effects that Kakashi's killing intent had on the Genin, nodded grimly. "Kakashi-senpai is correct," she concurred as she stepped forward and crossed her arms under her bust. "You are all Genin now; learn to master your emotions. This isn't a matter of acting out against a teacher; acting out is insubordination now, and that is a military offense."
Even as the Genin swallowed, suddenly realizing the dangerous game they'd been playing, Asuma weighed in with his two cents, even as he managed to keep his overall attitude of casualness. "You are all soldiers, whether you like it or not, from the moment you passed the Academy exam," the smoking Jonin idly stated before taking out his cigarette and blowing some smoke into the air. He spared the (still) trembling Genin a glance. "You're all pretty lucky we're pretty laid-back. Any other teacher would've had you all stripped of your rank and thrown back to the Academy for that sort of attitude."
"S-So we're just supposed to accept bad habits from y-you?" Naruto demanded, never one to be intimidated into silence.
"Yes," Kakashi stated with the same disinterest he'd shown previously. "And no."
The Genin blinked in confusion.
"If Kakashi arrives late," Asuma took over the explanation, knowing Kakashi's fondness for riling up rookies with his cryptic explanations. "Then you deal with it. Maybe he's got something better to do, or maybe he's performing some task for the Hokage — ever thought of that?" he posed the question to the Genin, who slowly shook their heads.
"We are your teachers, yes, but we are also Jonin," Kurenai reminded them. "We teach you at the discretion of Hokage-sama. If his orders somehow impede our commitments to you, then you must learn to deal with it in a constructive manner, and not in ways that qualify as insubordination."
"However, that's outside of missions," Kakashi added in, suddenly losing the mask of disinterest and becoming serious, instantly gaining the Genin's attention. "If a team leader acts with bad habits on missions, then it is no longer a matter of contradicting orders or extenuating circumstances; it's dereliction of duty and endangerment," he informed them, idly noting that the Hyūga girl seemed to be whispering something to the Kyūbi Jinchūriki, who looked confused by the explanation. "In that case, feel free to react. Understood?" he asked, knowing from the looks of them that he'd gotten through.
As expected, the Genin slowly nodded their heads in acquiescence, and all three Jonin shared a smirk.
"Good, because now it's time for the final test," Kakashi said, suddenly full of good humor. Even Kurenai and Asuma seemed to brighten up, as though they, too, were party to the joke. Unfortunately for the Genin, they were.
"Final test?" parroted Kiba, beating out both Sakura and Naruto.
"To become Genin," Asuma explained succinctly.
"What the hell?" shouted Naruto as he shot to his feet, pointing at the trio of Jonin. "Aren't we Genin already?! What the hell was that speech for, then?!"
"You're Genin, alright," Kakashi said lazily as he eyed the blond. "But you're not yet fit for duty; not in the eyes of the Jonin, anyway. To be sure of that, the Hokage institutes a second, final exam after the Academy exams to test all Genin graduates out to the fullest, just in case some of you simply got lucky during the graduation exam or are all about theory, rather than practice."
None of the Jonin missed the short glance the Genin shot the pink-haired girl before returning their attention back to their three potential teachers.
"Though you're all Genin candidates right now, the final test will be done in teams of three, thus simulating the conditions of a real-live mission," Kurenai informed them sternly. "Please be aware that the teams have been chosen at random, and do not in any way reflect future assignments. Asuma?" she prompted her colleague, who nodded and pulled out a short, folded piece of paper from his jacket pocket and began to read off of it.
"Team A," he began, almost flinching at having had to dispense with the traditional numeration of the Genin teams. "Haruno Sakura, Aburame Shino, Akimichi Choji," he recited, noting the slightly uncomfortable demeanour of all three as they realized they knew very little about the other. Good, that'd serve the test well; if his father was right, anyway. "Team B: Yamanaka Ino, Inuzuka Kiba, Uchiha Sasuke."
A squeal and a roar of disapproval ripped through the air, and was just as quickly silenced by a sudden burst of killing intent from Kakashi, who bore a hole into the two girls with a stern glare. Thankful for the immediate solution to the auditory assault, Asuma nodded to Kakashi before finishing up. "Team C: Nara Shikamaru, Hyuuga Hinata, Uzumaki Naruto."
While Asuma had been too busy reading, Kakashi and Kurenai had been paying close attention to the Genin's reactions to the team assignment.
Sakura had slumped in defeat at her team posting, before roaring against Ino's appointment, though as was stated earlier, Kakashi put a stop to that immediately.
Shino seemed a little uncomfortable with the team assignments, probably due to the fact that he hadn't managed to deduce a coherent, logical reason for such a grouping.
Choji, for his part, seemed uncomfortable, period. He kept glancing at Shikamaru, who'd shot him an apologetic and reassuring glance, somehow settling the big boned boy for now.
Ino, as was mentioned earlier, went squealing fangirl mode, promptly assaulting everyone's ears with her cry of victory.
Kiba was wincing at the unnaturally high decibel squeal his new teammate had unleashed on his enhanced hearing, and Akamaru, too, seemed bothered by it. Both were making their disgruntlement at this undeserved assault on their hearing heard quite vociferously.
Sasuke merely widened his eyes comically and took on an expression of undisguised horror for a moment before reverting to his brooding pose.
The more interesting reactions, however, were from Team C.
Upon realizing what the team assignments would be once Asuma had finished with Team B, Shikamaru had fainted after correctly deducing who his two new teammates were. Upon seeing this, Hinata had burst into muffled giggles — much to Kurenai's surprise — before realizing the same thing as Shikamaru and then blushing like a tomato as she glanced at Naruto, who merely grinned mischievously as he, too, deduced the final team pairing.
Staring at this scene, all three Jonin couldn't help but figure this would perhaps be an interesting assignment after all.
December 16, 2013 Update: Chapter has been revised.