1) The Characters and Stories of Naruto and Ranma ½ are Copyright © Masashi Kishimoto and Rumiko Takahashi respectively, and are used here without permission or license.

2) No claims to the above copyrights are made by the author of this work.

3) This is a work written for non-commercial use ONLY, and is written for the purpose of the enjoyment of fans.

4) This work is the expression of the author, and the depictions of the characters and stories of Naruto and Ranma ½ herein are in no way represented to be a part of Naruto or Ranma ½ as depicted by the original authors and copyright holders.

Beginning Notes: Well, here's Chapter one. Hope you enjoy it. If not then you're entitled to your own opinion, but please keep it to yourself unless you have something constructive to say.

Thanks go out to CaedesPlerique for pre-reading and plot advice, as well as to everyone who left a review. I loved reading them, even though I ask everyone who asked questions to please wait for the story to progress for the answers. As Caedes' review said, most of the points raised by the reviewers have already been or will be discussed to some degree or another by us as we work out the details. This means that more than likely any questions about character interactions, motivations and/or future abilities will eventually be answered by the story itself.

Thank you for your time. Now on with the Show!

Amongst the Leaves

By: Almech Alfarion (Child of Fire)

Chapter I: Teamwork...

-o-o-o-o-o-

It was a typical morning in Konoha. The sun was shining from just over the horizon, birds were singing their joy for the new day and the early risers were already well into their morning routines.

"Gai Sensei!"

"Lee!"

Ranma just ignored the distant calls as she danced over her home's roof, going through her katas. The morning dew made her footing a little tricky and she needed to be careful not to slip and fall as she went through the familiar motions. The redhead's thoughts drifted as the sun continued to rise, her long, tightly braided hair flailing wildly as she dueled with an opponent that existed only in her mind's eye.

She had had a dream about Pandas last night.

She hadn't dreamed about her past life in several years, but she just knew that this one had been about her birth father. The white and black bear had been dancing around in a way that was decidedly non-bear-like with a tall, mustachioed man wearing a brown Gi whom she couldn't quite remember the name of. The idea that his name rhymed with 'noon' briefly flickered across her consciousness before being dismissed. The cause of their apparently drunken celebration was lost to her as soon as she woke up.

Ten years of growing up again and forming new memories was a long time to dull the details of some of the less important, or more unpleasant, aspects of her previous life. Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew that the mustachioed man and his involvement with her birth father had been related to both categories, from her point of view anyway. It wasn't that she couldn't remember the details if she tried, it was that she didn't really feel like expending the effort to remember something she had decided years ago that she might be better off forgetting unless she needed to. They were always there though, ready to be dredged up if she needed them however unlikely that might be.

Instead there were more important things to remember. Like the day she had met her best friend in the whole world, her first real birthday party that she could remember in her entire life or... the day when she realized her adoptive parents actually thought of her as their own daughter...

Ranma stopped when she began to hear movement coming from the apartment below, freezing in mid punch with her leg already drawn back in preparation for a backwards roundhouse. Letting go of her stance the redhead turned in the direction of the rising sun and breathed slowly, letting in the fresh air as she concentrated on her chakra and how it flowed while placing a leaf on her forehead. She stood there for several minutes, more in a state of meditation than actually practicing her control, with the freshly picked foliage simply sticking to her brow before releasing her chakra's grip on the leaf. Ranma opened her eyes and watched it slowly drift to the ground.

Giving herself a satisfied nod, the redhead turned and hopped off of her apartment's roof and onto the small balcony below. Sliding the door open she paid careful attention to not disturbing the room's still sleeping occupant as she slipped out of her sweaty Gi and headed to the bathroom for a hot shower.

-o-o-o-o-o-

"Ranma-honey, would you please go get Sakura? If she takes much longer she will either need to skip breakfast or be late."

"Yes mom." Ranma sighed, sitting in her bathrobe and looking longingly at her half finished breakfast which was still twice the size of the other members of her family. She briefly contemplated using the Saotome eating techniques to finish it off, but squashed that idea almost as soon as it came. The Harunos had made it quite clear shortly after adopting her that if she wanted to "eat like an animal" then she wouldn't eat at all.

Standing up from her chair Ranma made her way over to the bedroom she shared with Sakura, her still damp and currently unbound hair cascading past her waist in a red waterfall. "Oi! Sis!" the redhead said just loud enough where she knew it would annoy the other girl. She grinned when she heard the humming from the other side stop abruptly, "Stop preening in front of the mirror or we'll be late!" Grinning wider at the angry thumps of Sakura walking over to the door she braced herself for the retort.

"I Know Ranma! We're not kids anymore, so you can just..." The door opened revealing a pink haired girl wearing a red and white outfit with a Leaf printed Hitai-ite tied on her head like a hair band. The girl that was her sister in all but blood saw her standing there, grinning triumphantly with her unbraided hair and bathrobe. Ranma just started giggling when she saw the tick form above the other girl's temple.

Working quickly to avert further argument the redhead slipped around her, lightly shoving her out the door and closing it behind her while simultaneously engaging the lock. She began laughing manically at the enraged scream of "RANMA!" from the other side.

Five minutes later she emerged, dressed and with her hair bound so that it fanned out loosely until just below her shoulders before becoming a tight braid that reached the small of her back. She wore a red thigh length sleeveless cheongsam with its skirt slit high on both sides to allow for freedom of movement. A gold embroidered oriental dragon wound its way around her, circling around and up from front to back before coming over her left shoulder to rest its head just below her collarbone. Tied around her waist was a long black sash knotted on the left side, the trailing ends dropping to just above her knees while a curved metal plate etched with the same image as the one on her sister's Hitai-ite turned hair-band was attached to it over her right hip. Covering her forearms up to a few centimeters short of her elbows and held in place by a series of buckles were a pair of vambraces; thick padding layered underneath plain metal plates to help absorb greater impacts when blocking. A matching pair of shin guards covered her lower legs and knees. Tight black pants reaching just past her knees and a pair of black sandals completed the ensemble.

Looking down at herself for a moment, there was only one thing she was really uncomfortable with. Much to her annoyance, and consequently the envy of many of her female classmates, her figure had begun developing early. She could only think of one other girl in their class who could give her a run for her money in the looks department so far, but given the girl's withdrawn nature her fellow early bloomer had taken to wearing oversized clothes before she even developed. She never suffered what Ranma had gone through on an almost daily basis for the first three months after puberty hit her like a freight train hauling estrogen, and still went through from time to time whenever another boy began to 'take notice'. She had tried to let them down easily, but being one of the few girls who weren't members of the "Uchiha Fan-club", and consequently the first among them to begin developing, more than a few of them had been... Persistent.

Luckily most of them had gotten the hint before she resorted to breaking bones.

Shaking herself out of her thoughts Ranma rushed back to the kitchen and ate as quickly as she dared while pointedly ignoring the annoyed looks her sister was giving her. The redhead finished her breakfast with plenty of time to spare before they needed to leave and Sakura caught up to her, grinning as she stood at their apartment's door, a few minutes later.

"Oh sure, rub it in will you..." was all the pinkette grumbled before they both went out and walked down the four flights of stairs to reach the ground. The two walked through the streets of Konoha, chatting amicably. Well, mostly it was just Ranma pretending to listen to her sister rant about Uchiha Sasuke and how great he was. To be honest, she never really understood what the other girls in their class saw in the prick...

It went on like this for a few minutes before they entered a side market and Ranma saw Sakura stiffen slightly out of the corner of her eye. 'Oh here we go again...' she thought, looking further down the road to see the sign of a familiar flower shop. Rolling her eyes as her sister started to speed up her pace Ranma watched in amusement as a blond girl in a purple outfit with her own Hitai-ite around her waist like a belt walked out of the shop and paused at the sight of the pink haired girl.

"Good morning, Sakura." she said with some hostility.

"Good morning, Ino." was her sister's equally hostile reply.

For a moment both just stood there, looking at each other as Ranma hung back and tried not to laugh before they continued walking side by side in the same direction. Despite still being several meters behind them Ranma's ears picked up the entire exchange clearly and noted that if anyone that didn't know them had been listening in, they would never guess that the two girls were the best of friends.

"Hey now, none of that." she said, catching up and draping her arms over each of their shoulders. Both looked at her a little sheepishly but she just grinned. "We're all ninja now. No need to be so hostile to each-other."

Ino just snorted at the joke while Sakura rolled her eyes. "Yes, yes, Ranma, we know." The blond said before dislodging herself from under the redhead's arm and flashing them both her own grin while pointing at Ranma, "I don't know about Sakura, but I for one won't let you beat me anymore!"

"Is that a challenge?" Ranma removed her remaining arm from her sister's shoulder, standing upright in one of her deceptively casual ready stances. She felt a satisfied thrill when she saw the other girl tense at the sudden change and had to hold back a feral grin, favoring her usual one instead. They had been paired off enough during class for the Yamanaka to know that her guard was anything but down. The grin widened when she saw Ino's own posture shift slightly, a tell the redhead knew meant the blond was getting herself ready.

"Right! Last one to the academy buys lunch!" Ino yelled before turning and running towards their destination with hardly any warning. Ranma and Sakura both let out indignant squawks before chasing after her.

-o-o-o-o-o-

"GOAL!"

Ranma slid into the classroom door a full three seconds before the other two girls. Not even breathing hard from the 'jog' she watched in amusement as Ino and Sakura fought over who would be through the door next. As usual, both made it at the same time before slumping over and beginning to make an impressive attempt at hacking up their lungs after trying to catch up to Ranma.

"I... win..." Ino managed to pant out after a while.

"What... are you... talking... about... Ino...? My... toe... clearly... entered... the class... before yours... by... a centimeter..." Ranma just shook her head at her sister's response before walking up to them and holding her hand out, palm up.

Ino looked at the hand dumbly for a moment before groaning in defeat. "Fine..." was all she said before standing back and holding out her own hand in a fist, Sakura mirroring her actions.

"JAN-KEN-PO!"

-o-o-o-o-o-

"Alright everyone, settle down..."

Ranma listened to Iruka-sensei with mild interest as he said how proud he was of all of them for passing their exams and went on to explain their new duties now that they were gennin. It was all fairly interesting, if someone had the patience to watch paint dry that is. The only reason she was even paying any amount of attention to the scared instructor was because today was the day they were supposed to be assigned to teams.

Instead, she occupied the majority of her mental energies working on the puzzle that had presented itself after her, her sister and her sister's best friend's arrival. Somehow, despite having failed the exam a week before, Uzumaki Naruto had shown up for the meeting with a Konoha Hitai-ite, inadvertently caused a somewhat humorous incident involving himself and the Uchiha Duck-butt, resulting in a beating at the hands of the majority of the class' female members. Well, it was humorous in her opinion anyway...

The latter wasn't an uncommon response to one of his many pranks on said water-foul haired youth gone horribly wrong, but the fact that Iruka-sensei had yet to call him on the former was noteworthy. It could only mean that the blond boy was somehow supposed to be here.

For the life of her she couldn't figure out how he had become a Ninja after failing the test but in the end the redhead decided that it didn't really matter all that much as Iruka began calling out teams.

"Team one will consist of..."

Ranma listened with slightly more interest as the first teams were called out, thinking about who she would want to be on her team, weighing what she knew of her classmates' personalities and their abilities. 'Definitely not the duck ass...' she thought as Iruka called out Team Five, which the only member she caught the name of was her Sister's. While he may have been skilled, the Uchiha's attitude would probably drive her to violence against his person eventually. 'Or the Midget... The guy's got heart and I only give him crap when he really screws up, but...' She didn't really feel like discrediting Naruto's capabilities outright despite history being against him. It was sort of her fault he was as good as he was with seals after all, despite his almost nonexistent grounding in the basics of everything else.

On the other hand she suspected that he had a small crush on her despite the more obvious one he had for Sakura. She really didn't want to deal with what might happen if he shifted that over to her. The redhead knew that his crush on her sister was mostly a bid for attention, and her sister's popularity and... unusual, hair color lended greatly to that. Ranma, on the other hand, was difficult to approach because of her fixation on training and martial arts, added to the fact that the last boy to be 'persistent' in trying to hit on her had remained in the fetal position for nearly fifteen minutes...

He hadn't bothered her in that way yet, 'thank god,' despite being on more or less friendly terms with each-other, but Ranma suspected that if they were put on the same team then it was only a matter of time. They were barely teenagers for goodness sake, which also constituted her main argument against the, in her words "dumb, moronic and just plain stupid", idiocy she saw as Ino and her Sister's competition to see which of them the Uchiha prick would choose first.

"Team Seven will consist of Uzumaki Naruto..."

'Please don't have me on that team.' Ranma thought, crossing her fingers under the desk.

"... Haruno Ranma..." the redhead groaned and laid her head on the desk in front of her.

'Just great. The only thing that could make this worse is if...'

"... and Uchiha Sasuke."

Several Indignant shrieks were heard throughout the room while Ranma simply settled for groaning again as she banged her head against the desk repeatedly. The somewhat feral looking boy sitting next to her started chuckling quietly as the puppy sitting on his head whined and covered his face with a paw.

"Sure, laugh it up biscuit breath." The redhead growled out while her face was still firmly planted into the wooden surface in front of her.

"Sorry Ranma, I wouldn't want to be on the same team as them either." He said, though he didn't sound apologetic in the slightest.

"Team Eight will consist of Hyuuga Hinata, Inuzuka Kiba and Aburame Shino." Iruka called out. She saw Kiba smirk at his team placement out of the corner of her eye and couldn't help but be a little annoyed.

"Sure you are..." was all she said before deciding to ignore him for the rest of the meeting.

"Team Nine is still in circulation, so Team Ten will consist of Yamanaka Ino, Nara Shikamaru and Akimichi Chouji. That's it for teams-"

"Iruka-Sensei!" Ranma more or less zoned out after recognizing Naruto's voice as he complained about being placed on the same team as the Uchiha. The instructor went on to explain to the blond that teams were divided up to represent a more or less balanced strength and with Naruto graduating with the lowest scores while the Uchiha had the highest they were placed on the same team.

"You will be introduced to your Jounin instructors this afternoon. Meeting adjoined until then."

-o-o-o-o-o-

"Raanma-chan!"

Ranma could only sigh even as her eyebrow twitched at the "Chan" suffix. She recognized the voice to be one Uzumaki Naruto even before she turned around and visually confirmed that the person calling to her was her orange wearing... teammate. 'This is going to be harder than I thought.' She reflected as her eyebrow twitched again at the eyesore approaching her.

"Ne, ne! Since we're teammates now we should eat together!"

'Thank god that's all he wants.' she thought with no small amount of relief. It hadn't gone unnoticed to her that their brooding 'teammate' had made himself scarce right after they were dismissed so it stood to reason that she was simply the easier to find. But then...

"Sorry Midget, but Ino owes me and Sis lunch today." She genuinely apologized before heading off his expected complaint, "You're free to join us if you don't mind listening to 'girl talk' but you're buying your own food, got it?"

He visibly winced at the implications, and she deftly ignored the slightly annoyed twitch at his nickname. "Ehehehehe... Sorry, Ranma-san. I think I'll head over to Ichiraku's instead." He said, obviously not wanting to listen to three girls supposedly prattle on about makeup and boys for the next hour, before waving goodbye and walking away. Ranma just sadly shook her head at his back before turning around again and heading towards the restaurant they had decided on earlier.

-o-o-o-o-o-

"They're late!"

"Shut up Midget! We know." Ranma was as irritated as her teammate about the lateness of their Sensei, but was otherwise passing the time constructively as she went through a few katas. The exercise usually gave her mind free reign to wander and the topic it had picked this time was lunch. Not that the "Korean" BBQ was anything special. It was that Ino had apparently extended the same offer she gave Naruto to her own teammates with the difference of them actually taking her up on it. Sakura's teammates had likewise declined for their own reasons.

The look of disbelief on Chouji's face, mirrored by the one of despair on Ino's when she ordered as much food as him had been priceless. The conversation they had been having ceased momentarily as the male contingent of Team Ten wondered how the hell she could eat like she did and not be a balloon. Her sister and her sister's friend simply rolled their eyes as Ranma answered that she burned a lot of calories training as the other two girls ordered their own rather large portions, but still not matching Ranma or the Akimichi.

After that, aside from Ino and Sakura lamenting every five minutes or so that she was on the same team as Sasuke instead of one of them, lunch had been relatively uneventful before it came time for them to all head back to the classroom to be picked up by their Jounin Sensei. That had been three hours ago and every other team had already been picked up while Iruka-sensei had gone home shortly after. While she didn't mind the time practicing, she was a little unnerved by the curious glances her Uchiha teammate was giving her from time to time while trying to not appear to be doing so.

Movement from Naruto caught her attention as she executed a spinning combination that left her hovering in the air for several moments longer than physics should have normally allowed for. She watched her blond teammate curiously as she transitioned seamlessly, in a seemingly impossible manner, from one form to another as the blond chuckled somewhat menacingly as he pulled out a... deck of cards?

"Are those what I think they are?" she asked somewhat warily while modifying her kata to take her further away from the Uzumaki without overtly appearing to be doing so. His own response was to chuckle again as he stood on a chair, attaching one of the cards to a chalk eraser and wedging it between the door and its frame. Looking at what she could see of the card from a distance she noticed that it was a "joker" that looked like it was playing a horn of some kind. Her eyes widened, understanding the significance of the illustration mere moments before a gloved hand appeared in the opening, knowing what would happen even if it missed. Disregarding her kata altogether the redhead clamped her hands over her ears as the door slid open and was spared having her eardrums ruptured from the air-horn blast the card gave off when the eraser dropped and bounced off the person's head.

The silver haired man who had been at ground zero wasn't so lucky, as he got the full report point blank. His apparently gravity defying hair was somehow only ruffled somewhat in the sound-borne shockwave produced by the card even as the unexpectedness of the noise caused him to stumble slightly. Ranma lowered her hands while taking in the aftermath. Naruto was rolling on the floor clutching his sides, laughing, while their Uchiha teammate was rubbing at his ears.

"How should I..." the elder ninja still standing in the door paused for a moment, as though thinking while rubbing at his ears before continuing in a slightly louder tone, his single visible eye regarding them with annoyance, "How Should I Say This... My First Impressions Of You Guys Are..."

"I Hate You... Very, Very Much..."

-o-o-o-o-o-

Ten minutes later they were all seated on the rooftop. Their Sensei was still rubbing his ears every now and then as he sat, leaning on the railing across from them. The eye that wasn't covered by his Hitai-ite was still glaring at them slightly but other than that no other emotion was visible courtesy of the mask that covered his nose and everything below it.

"Let's see, why don't you introduce yourselves." He said.

"And how should we do that, Sensei." It crossed Ranma's mind for a moment that she probably shouldn't antagonize him, but those thoughts were ruthlessly squashed under her own desire to get even for being made to wait. Naruto had already had his fun, and now it was her turn as she gave the one eyed man what she knew was her most annoying smirk.

Her efforts apparently struck a nerve as his eye narrowed ever so slightly. "Oh, I don't know. What you like, hate, your dreams and hobbies. Something like that."

"Hey, Why don't you introduce yourself first Sensei?" her ever-orange teammate asked. The silver haired man's single eye swiveled from its inspection of her to lock onto the blond, making said boy shift somewhat uncomfortably under the attention, but otherwise held his ground as he pasted what Ranma knew as his own trademark grin on his face.

"Me?" the Jounin asked, his eye now swiveling to look at all of them, "Well, I'm Hatake Kakashi. I have no intention of telling you my likes and dislikes. As for my dream..." his eye turned upwards to watch a bird for a few moments before finishing, "... I have few hobbies."

Ranma just deadpanned as she turned to her teammates, "So all we found out was his name..." agreement came from her blond teammate while the third member maintained his stoic exterior before they turned back to their Sensei. The eye looked a tad smug to Ranma now...

"Now it's your turn." He said before directing the eye to look at Naruto, "You first."

"My name is Uzumaki Naruto!" He began while fiddling with his Hitai-ite, "I like pranks and Cup Ramen, but I like the Raman at Ichiraku's even more! I hate the three minute wait for Cup Ramen after you put in the hot water. My hobbies are making new seals and eating and comparing cup ramen! And my dream is to become greater than all the Hokages! I'm going to make all the villagers recognize my existence."

The Hatake's only response to Naruto's enthusiasm was a slight raising of his only visible eyebrow. "Ok, next."

Ranma sighed as the eye focused on her again, taking a moment to think about her answer a little. "I'm Haruno Ranma." She resisted the urge to add "Sorry about this" for old time's sake before continuing, "I like martial arts, food, learning new techniques, my Best Friend, my adoptive parents and my Sister." She took a moment to think about what she disliked, half forgotten memories of her former life flickering across her consciousness, "I dislike perverts, people who jump to conclusions or judge before getting to know someone, idiots who blame everyone but themselves for their problems, and greedy cons that manipulate others to make life easier for themselves."

Their Sensei almost audibly blinked at her before she continued, "My hobbies are cooking, training and hanging out with my sister and friends. And my dream..." This was the hard one. She hadn't really given it all that much thought, but now that it was in front of her...

It used to be to be the best martial artist in the world, but that had changed as much as she had. Her skill in martial arts became a means to an end instead of the end itself and the goal had been lost somewhere along her road of life. Thinking back over everything that had happened in the last ten years along with everything that happened to her before that, half forgotten memories coming into sharper focus under the scrutiny, one thing stood out. It wasn't related to her career choice in any sense, and so far as she knew there was no way to really fulfill her wish, but...

There was one person from her past that Ranma now realized she hadn't really known nearly as well as she now knew she should have, given her relationship with her adoptive parents. The relationship they had had been strained due to circumstance, and she rarely saw more than one or two facets of their personality before being 'banished' all those years ago...

"I guess... I'd like to see my birth mother. Find out what sort of person she's like..." Ranma mumbled out just loud enough for everyone to hear. Naruto was staring at her with wide eyes now as Sasuke actually gave her a glance before going back to his inspection of the horizon over the top of his knuckles, pretending that nothing had happened. The Hatake's only reaction was raising his visible eyebrow again.

"Ooookaay...?" the Jounin said after a moment of silence, "Last guy."

"My name is Uchiha Sasuke. There are many things I hate, and there aren't a lot of things that I like." said the boy with hair that reminded Ranma of a duck's ass, "Also, I have an ambition that I have no intention of leaving as just a dream. The revival of my clan, and to... kill a certain man."

All Ranma could do was send the boy a deadpan look at his response, an action that she noticed was mirrored in the Hatake's eye. It had been only slightly more informative than their Sensei's, and the hints of revenge she caught in his tone rather forcefully reminded her of a certain pig from her former life.

Silence hung in the air again for a moment before their Sensei broke it. "Alright, you three all have unique personalities. I like that. We're going to begin a mission starting tomorrow."

"What kind of mission is that, Sir?" Naruto asked in a somewhat overenthusiastic way while doing a salute.

"First, we're going to do something that we four can do." continued their Sensei, almost as though the blond hadn't said anything.

"What what what, What is it?" Naruto asked again. Ranma sent the boy a sidelong glance which went unnoticed. While she didn't particularly dislike him, his... enthusiasm, could become a bit much at times.

"Survival Training."

The words hung in the air as Naruto looked confused and the Uchiha continued to maintain his stoic exterior. For Ranma's part, all she could do was look at their sensei, deadpanning as she wondered if he was a moron.

"Survival Training?" Naruto asked as though he were confused by the prospect.

"And what's so special about this training if it's a mission?" Ranma took up the torch, only with a little more comprehension when compared to her teammate. Her eyebrow began to twitch as she folded her arms across her chest. She could perfectly understand the concept of training during a mission. After all, one of the philosophies that her birth father instilled in her that she decided to keep was the concept that 'Anything and everything is training, or could be turned into such'. What she was having difficulty wrapping her mind around was why they would have a mission where all it was was training. Especially right out of the Academy.

"I'm glad you asked." Said the Cyclops as he began to chuckle.

"And...?" Ranma asked, her eyebrow beginning to twitch a bit more violently now as her annoyance mounted.

"Well," The Hatake began, waving his hand in a somewhat dismissive manner, "If I say this, I'm sure you three are going to freak out." he said before becoming serious again, if somewhat overly so, and resting the side of his face in the hand he had been waving around, "Of the twenty seven graduates, only nine are going to become Gennin. The other eighteen will be sent back to the Academy. In other words, this training is going to be a very hard test with a dropout rate of sixty-six percent."

Ranma simply deadpanned at the Jounin again even as she saw the look of abject shock coming from her orange teammate while the Uchiha's only reaction was a slight narrowing of his eyes. If this test was a measure of their skills all she could think was 'bring it on...' Her own skills were unquestioned in her mind, and it was only the niggling feeling in the back of her head that told her that somehow it wouldn't be that simple that kept her from dismissing it outright. It also didn't help that the overly dramatic way he said it made it hard for her to take the Jounin seriously in the first place.

"See? You three are freaking out!" the Hatake said, once again in his 'amused' persona. How he could come to that conclusion considering that only one of them had openly displayed their shock was beyond Ranma.

"No Way! Then what the hell was the final exam for?" The Uzumaki crowed.

"That?" the Cyclops said, his single eye regarding them with boredom now, "All that does is weed out those who aren't qualified to become Gennin." Ranma was finding it hard to get a good read on the man to decide how competent he really was, a task made all the harder by the fact that the only thing she really had to go off of was the single eye. The way he switched between moods was more than a little unnerving and flowed together too naturally to be an act, other than the little drama he put on when telling them they had a one in three chance of actually becoming Gennin that is.

"Anyway, I'm going to determine if you pass or not tomorrow at the training grounds. Bring your shinobi equipment and meet at five A.M.!" All Ranma could do for a few moments was stare blankly at him as she considered what he had said. He was being too casual about the whole thing and the fact that she had failed to get a good read on him unnerved her. Senses left unused for ten years in the absence of the insanity that had plagued her life in Nerima began stirring, telling her that she should expect anything during the next forty-eight hours and especially during the test itself...

Scanning over her teammates quick she noticed that both of them were having a hard time concealing their emotions. Both were shaking in either determination or anger, Ranma had a hard time deciding if it was just one or both.

Movement caught her eye and the redhead once again found her attention drawn to the masked Jounin as he stood up and turned to walk away, "Now then, meeting's over." He said with a wave of his hand before seemingly remembering something and turning to face them with his only visible eye again, "Oh yeah, don't eat breakfast. You're going to throw up if you do." turning once more and beginning to walk away for real this time. All Ranma could do as the Hatake left was raise an eyebrow to his parting suggestion. If he thought a little exercise would make her throw up then he was sorely mistaken. Now the others on the other hand...

"Well," she said as she stood up and stretched in a way she knew from experience would cause a few nosebleeds in years to come, "I don't know about you guys but I'm hungry." As if to confirm this her stomach choose that moment to growl its ascent even as she watched the Uchiha rapidly divert his attention away from her assets out of the corner of her eye. Naruto wasn't so careful as he openly stared at her chest for a few moments before she coughed tersely, her eyebrow twitching again. "Eyes up Midget. My face is up here."

"Er, yeah." The blond said, shaking his head for a moment as though to clear it. "How about Ichiraku's?"

"Hmm... Ramen sounds good. What say you Uchiha-san?" she turned to address their quiet teammate and only got a grunt for an answer before he stood up and began walking away.

"Well that was rather rude..." she said, deadpanning at the duck-ass' retreating form, "Come on Midget, I want to go break my old record."

Naruto followed her in relative silence for the short walk from the academy roof to the ramen stand, if bouncing around and humming to himself could be counted as silence anyway. Entering the currently empty establishment and hopping on a stool Ranma made her presence known.

"Oi! Ramen-guy, paying customer here!"

"Ah! Ranma, how have you been?" said the ageing owner as he came out of the back, followed closely by his daughter. "And Naruto! The usual?"

The blond just rapidly shook his head up and down as Ranma ordered her first bowl of shrimp ramen.

'I don't care what they would say back in Nerima. The Neko Hanten has nothing on Ichiraku's...'

-o-o-o-o-o-

Ranma twisted and spun as she went through one of the more advanced katas in her personal 'library' of techniques. The only differences between what she wore now and the day before were that her cheongsam was white with a flowing sakura blossom pattern and the holster for kunai and shuriken bound to her right thigh. Five A.M. had come and gone with them all showing up at the training grounds and once again their potential Sensei was late. Ranma hadn't had a problem with the early hour being an early riser from long years of habit, while her Uchiha teammate seemed to be similarly predisposed as he stood looking into the distance. Naruto on the other hand was all but dead to the world as he dozed lightly from his seated position. It was just after eleven A.M. now and the silver haired man had yet to make his appearance.

"Hi fellows, good morning." Said a bored voice from somewhere behind her. Spinning rapidly around and ducking into a defensive stance it took Ranma a moment to realize that their Sensei had finally shown up as her blond teammate somehow went from all but unconscious to fully awake and screeched at the Jounin about being late.

"A black cat crossed my path, so..." It was an obvious lie, but Ranma had to wonder how the man made his single visible eye "smile" like that. It just wasn't natural. Coughing into his hand at the annoyed looks the three of them were giving him the Jounin became serious again, "Let's move on..."

Moving over to a nearby group of training posts he pulled a clock out of his pack and set it on top of the middle one. "Alarm set to twelve P.M." the Cyclops said, pressing down on the button on top before pulling out a pair of bells, "Today's goal for you three is to get one of these bells from me. Whoever can't will have no lunch."

Ranma narrowed her eyes as he pointed over to the three training posts before continuing, "I'm going to tie you there, and eat lunch in front of you."

An audible gurgle was heard sounding from both Naruto and Sasuke's stomachs while Ranma just smiled as she locked her fingers behind her head. Everyone was looking at her now with either annoyance in the case of her teammates or curiosity from the Hatake. Turning to her teammates she decided to answer the silent inquiry. "All he said was that we would throw up if we ate breakfast. He didn't tell us that we weren't allowed to."

"And the reason why you didn't follow that advice?" the one eyed man asked, eye-smiling at her.

Ranma just flashed him a grin. "If a little exercise was going to make me throw up I either haven't been working hard enough on my conditioning, or I somehow got the crazy idea to go on an all day extreme training bender with bushy brows and Maito-san." She said, watching the Jounin almost imperceptibly shiver.

"Anyway," she said to try and divert attention from herself, thinking she would ask the man about how he knew the green freaks of nature later, "If there are three of us then why are there only two bells?"

"Since there are only two bells and three of you, at least one of you will be tied to the post." The Hatake said, giving them that eye-smile again, "So when the timer goes off the person who doesn't get the bell will fail since they failed to complete the mission. That person will go back to the academy." Ranma's eyes narrowed at the man as he became serious again, his eye regarding them with a hint of boredom. "It might be just one, or all three of you. You are allowed to use whatever means to try and take a bell from me, including your kunai and shuriken. You won't succeed unless you come at me with the intent to kill."

"What!" The Uzumaki screeched, "But, you could get hurt! You couldn't even avoid an eraser."

"In society, those who don't have many abilities tend to complain more." The one eyed man said as though he was talking to himself, but the message was clearly meant to be heard. "Just ignore the guy with the lowest score."

Ranma noticed Naruto's attention suddenly focus out of the corner of her eye. 'Uh-oh... If there's one thing the Midget hates more than being called a failure, it's being willfully ignored.' She thought as she turned her attention back to the Jounin, 'He's obviously provoking him, but why?'

"We're going to start after I say 'Go'." He said, apparently ignoring how the blond boy was silently seething. Suddenly there was movement and Naruto was charging at the grey haired man with a kunai drawn. Ranma had a feeling that of the three of them she was the only one who actually saw what happened next as the elder ninja Moved. Charging at the boy before he had even taken three steps in his direction, the man was little more than a blur to even her trained eyes. She could still track his movements easily enough, and the motion didn't hold a candle to her old top speed, but it was still a bit disconcerting.

Tracking and analyzing his movements almost instinctively, Ranma watched as the green and grey blur reached out and grabbed the hand that held the kunai by the wrist, twisting it in such a way so that the point of the knife was aimed at the back of the blond's head. "Don't be so hasty." said the Jounin in a low tone, all but abandoning his previously bored demeanor, "I didn't say 'Go', yet."

Ranma backed up slightly to open more ground between the Cyclops and herself in case he decided to focus on her. Sasuke did the same almost at the same time and Naruto was released from the hold he was in. 'This just got interesting...'

"But, it looks like you have the will to kill me now." the... opponent, said, back in his bored manner while chuckling a little, "I think I can finally start liking you three. We're going to start."

"Ready, Go!"

-o-o-o-o-o-

Ranma watched the ensuing "fight" with some degree of amusement as her blond teammate tried attacking the Jounin, even as the tactical portion of her mind dissimilated the elder's movements in an attempt to analyze his fighting style. The man wasn't really even trying as he dodged around while reading from that orange book he had pulled out at the beginning. All in all, it sort of reminded her of the fights she had had with a certain tomboy in her previous life and it was more than obvious that the Jounin was holding back considerably.

Suddenly the man was behind Naruto, holding his hands in the position of the Tiger seal. Her hiding spot close to the top of a tree was too far away to hear what was being said as more than a low murmur. Regardless of the danger of having a fire jutsu shoved up his ass at point-blank range, she didn't want to give her position away prematurely even if it was to save the boy.

"Konohagakure Hiden Taijutsu Oji: Sennen Goroshi!" The cry was heard clearly regardless of the distance and suddenly Naruto was flying through the air, screaming and clutching his backside while the Hatake stood in his finishing stance. Ranma couldn't help but regard the dueling pair below with slight exasperation as the blond landed in the river. 'So it was just a really powerful ass-poke...' she thought sarcastically.

A few moments passed as the masked man went back to reading his book before a pair of shuriken came flying out of the river. She watched as he almost negligently caught both throwing stars on his fingers. A moment later she saw Naruto crawling out of the river. Words were exchanged and the elder man turned his back to the boy and began walking away.

Movement from the stream caught her attention and suddenly there wasn't just one Naruto, but eight. It only took a moment for the redhead to realize that they weren't the insubstantial afterimages of the regular Bunshin, but that each one had a real body. 'Clever little Midget.' She thought as the silver haired man just stood there for the time it took the group of seven blonds to charge him, 'Can't do a normal Bunshin to save your life, but you somehow get your hands on a solid clone technique. Is that how you passed?' She almost hadn't caught the last one sneaking around behind, even as it grabbed onto the Jounin to hold his arms out. It was fairly obvious that the older man somehow had missed this one, but the surprise only lasted for a moment as six of the clones grabbed onto his legs before all of a sudden they were all holding onto another Naruto.

'Silent Snap Kawarimi...' Ranma thought, noting the lack of hand-seals or calling out the technique even as the group of Narutos proceeded to beat the crap out of each other in the ensuing confusion before getting the bright idea to dispel and leaving a very battered, albeit singular, blond behind. The glint of something small on the ground next to a tree caught her eye. Naruto had apparently seen whatever it was as well as the boy charged and reached for it, only to be caught in an ankle rope trap set under the tree. 'Probably one of the bells then. Poor guy is shit out of luck today it seems...' the redhead thought as she watched the Jounin drop down from the other side of the tree and pick it up. She had been analyzing the two combatants the entire time and not once had she seen the elder man drop his guard despite the almost lazy way he had been going about it. It almost reminded her of her own style, but the foundation was obviously different than that of the Musabetsu Kakouto Ryu.

The Hatake was saying something to Naruto again, presenting a front of dropping his guard, but Ranma knew from her own experience with such tactics that he was anything but. The ploy had apparently fooled her third teammate as a grouping of kunai and shuriken erupted from another tree to her left, giving his position away. Ranma only shook her head as the surprise tactic failed utterly and revealed that the man had pulled another silent Kawarimi, this time replacing himself with a log.

Ranma was on the move in an instant, using Chakra to enhance her movements to jump from branch to branch in much the same way as she used to use Ki. So long as she had altitude she had an advantage that almost no-one in Konoha knew about. The attack from Sasuke probably shifted the Jounin's attention from Naruto to himself, and she wanted to continue observing her potential Sensei's style as much as possible before engaging him herself.

Something started to feel off as she continued her search for longer than she thought she should have. Momentarily coming to a stop on a low branch Ranma looked around her surroundings and almost missed spotting the silver haired man standing with his book in a small clear area ahead and to her left. A soft wind blew through the trees with the man upwind of her location, and that's when she realized her mistake as the absence of something caught her nose. Spinning around to protect her unguarded flank she only had time to see the real Kakashi with his hands in the "Rat" seal before the world around her blurred out of focus as she lost her balance and fell off the branch, heading head first towards the ground.

-o-o-o-o-o-

"Uhhhhnnn... My head." It was hard to think. Thoughts came slowly and the ones that formed were muddled.

"Get Up Boy!"

Her head pounded at the harsh voice. Wait, Boy? 'I'm a girl aren't I?'

Things were steadily coming into focus. The smell of wood, the feel of tatami mats underneath her, incense burning nearby... Comforting smells... Familiar smells... 'But from where?'

"I said Up! Or are you a weak little girl?" The voice again. An older man. Somehow she should know this voice yet didn't remember from where. It was hard to remember much of anything at the moment.

"I'm anything but weak." She managed to growl out as she opened her eyes.

It was at that moment when she first took in her surroundings that a paradox made itself known to her. She was in the Tendos' dojo, the door was open to let in a stream of sunlight and fresh air and her birth father stood between the door and her present position on the floor. The scene had played itself out more than once during the early parts of her stay in Nerima, but there was one distinct difference.

She was still only thirteen years old.

That fact by itself was fairly easy to shrug off. After all, being someone with experience in insanity she had once had a misfortunate run-in with a certain type of magic mushroom that could change a person's age depending on how large they were when you ate them. What wasn't so easy to shrug off was that she was still wearing her white sleeveless cheongsam embroidered with pink sakura petals, black shin length pants, sandals, weapons holster, her arm and leg Guards and the sash with the metal plate with Konoha's insignia riveted to it. To top it all off was that her hair was still in the odd fanning braid style she had favored ever since finding herself in Konoha all those years ago. Overall it was much longer than Genma would ever have allowed her to have it and as a whole far too feminine as well.

All of this added together with the clarity of thought she was used to having rapidly returning, along with her memories in tow, led her tactically inclined thought process to one conclusion even as her "Mother" walked in through the open door and began a disappointed commentary on how "Unmanly" she was being if she let her "Father" continue to beat her so soundly in their spars.

'Genjutsu.'

From what she understood from the theory lessons about Genjutsu at the academy it was fairly easy to make someone believe their surroundings had changed so long as you had the Chakra control and mental faculty to pull it off. It wasn't so easy to alter how someone perceived their own body or the clothes they were wearing, and then there was the temporary memory loss to cover up the ten years between now and the last time something like this had been possible. The latter was tricky to pull off sometimes, even for the best. She didn't doubt that both weren't within the silver haired Jounin's abilities but... 'He's probably going easy on me because I'm only a Gennin.' She thought, smirking mentally as she analyzed her surroundings. It was all accurate to the time when she left Nerima, down to the signs of damage recently repaired from the failed wedding attempt's aftermath.

Only paying peripheral attention to the dialogue coming from her "mother" she was able to discern the technique's most likely purpose as the illusionary woman finished off by saying that she was disowned from the Saotome Clan for her failures. 'Probably meant to shock or demoralize the victim. I must say that if my mind had picked any other subject besides this one or the Cyclops was more "thorough" with the illusion then it probably would have worked too.' She was somewhat glad that she had won this game of proverbial Russian roulette.

It wasn't so much that her "Manliness" was a big issue for herself. She had more or less gotten over that particular mental hurdle years ago when she decided to live for herself. Therapy to take care of some of her other... issues, helped too, but that was beside the point. What the real issue here was, was that even after all these years she still didn't want to be a disappointment to her birth mother. Genma by himself was out of the equation. He wanted nothing less than perfection and then some; impossible standards to live up to even if she had been capable of pounding him into the ground every time they sparred on top of defeating Saffron and everyone else before him.

Nodoka, however, was her mother. Somehow when Akane had reprimanded her all those years ago for not wanting to get to know the woman, citing that she wasn't able to have the same opportunity with her own anymore, Ranma had taken those words to heart without even realizing it. Her mother was the person who had given her life and had been more or less her sole caregiver for the first few years before she was taken away on the training trip by Genma, even if she couldn't remember that, 'Damn Neko-Ken'. There was something about the woman that made her want to prove herself. Even if she was a girl now instead of the, *shudder*, "Manly Man" her mother had wanted her to be she still wanted to at least prove to her that she was strong even if Genma would never accept it.

As much as she wanted to reminisce though, there was still a bell to obtain and a test to pass. Reaching within herself, Ranma took control of the swirling chakra and began to make it rapidly spin and twist within her coils. Forming the "Ram" seal with her hands the redhead let the inner energy build.

"Kai!"

-o-o-o-o-o-

Reality local slid home to her perception with the release. Less than a fraction of an instant later Ranma was moving upwards in order to gain more of a height advantage among the trees even as her senses adjusted to the "change" in her location. Quartering and re-quartering her surroundings it only took her a moment to locate the silver haired man as he crouched on a branch several meters below her, reading that infernal orange book again. 'So he isn't going to take me seriously is he?' she thought with a growl.

"Ninja tactics know-how number two, Genjutsu. I see you broke out of that easily enough." He said as he stood without raising his gaze from his book.

"Unfair advantage." The redhead retorted as she moved among the upper boughs to get a better angle on him, "If you'd used a bit more power or my mind chose something else to try and torment me with you'd of had me."

"Ah, I see." He said, even though he obviously didn't, while turning in her direction, still without taking his attention away from the book. If he thought he was going to lure her into thinking he wasn't paying attention then he was in for a surprise. "Well then, I suppose it's your turn."

Her only response was to use the branch in front of her as a springboard to launch herself in his direction like a missile. The look of comic surprise from the eye was priceless as she sped towards him, arm raised to deliver a classic haymaker. The move was so telegraphed that it was any wonder that the man simply leaned his head to the side and moved to deflect the rest of her.

What he didn't expect was for her to open her hand at the last moment and grab onto his shoulder, allowing her to transfer all of the momentum she had built up into lashing out at his side with her foot instead. He blocked with a grunt, the impact of her heal with his palm no doubt causing it to go numb. Using her still considerable momentum along with the new pivot point allowed her to twist around almost impossibly to deliver another kick with the back of her other foot aimed at his head while simultaneously sending a knife-hand strike aimed for his kidney. Time seemed to slow after she released his shoulder from her inverted position, still twisting with her back to him. The flow of chakra through her body altered to her will and she felt her center of balance shift drastically in preparation for her next attack. Somehow he managed to block both strikes but wasn't prepared for normal physics to be so wantonly abandoned as she stayed air-born for longer than she had any right to. Her other foot came straight down, aimed for his head once more.

The limb impacted with all the power of Akane's mallet and the Jounin was forced to erect a hasty cross guard with both arms or be brained. The thick branch underneath him audibly protested to the abuse and she used the momentum of the strike to carry her higher.

Ranma could only smirk at what she saw below. She'd made him put that damn book away...

-o-o-o-o-o-

Ranma could only sigh from her position leaning against the training post as she nursed a few small cuts and a light bruising. Naruto was to her right, tied to the middle one for trying to eat lunch before getting a bell, and the Uchiha was at the next post beyond that looking as broody as ever, if not a bit worse for wear also.

Despite everything she still hadn't managed to get a bell. She and the Hatake standing in front of them had fought for several minutes before she spotted an opportunity to grab one of them. She had been pressing him too. The Jounin was also nursing his own assortment of bruises and she'd even managed to get one or two pressure point attacks in. The man was still holding his arm a bit stiffly from the pain strike to his shoulder, but he had somehow still been barely fast enough to avoid the worst of her offense and she suspected that he had still been holding out on her...

It was all for naught though, as the moment she reached for that "shiny" through the opening she'd made in his defense, intentional or not, he performed another silent Kawarimi and she was left grappling with a log. She hadn't seen him at all for the rest of the time it took for the bell to go off, but she surmised that he had gone after Sasuke next. She found the boy buried up to his head seconds before the timer sounded after all, and she highly doubted that it was voluntary.

"Your stomachs are growling, eh?" said the Jounin as he stood with his arms crossed. Ranma could only roll her eyes. Yes she was hungry. One, she was always hungry, and two, it had been several hours since she had last eaten. She wasn't nearly as bad off as her teammates who had foregone breakfast though, so she had to give them credit for their misery.

"By the way, about the results of this training..." the redhead's attention focused as the man continued, "None of you need to return to the Ninja Academy." Ranma's eyes narrowed on the silver haired man even as Naruto began excitedly asking if they'd passed. Her crazy sense was screaming at her that the other shoe was about to drop. It would be too easy. After all, none of them had gotten a bell and Naruto had broken the rules...

"Yeah, you three... Should quit being Ninja!"

Silence...

"Quit being Ninjas? What do you mean?" Naruto asked after a moment, flailing as best he could from his restrained position. "We couldn't get a bell, but why do you have to say we should quit?" For her part Ranma was silently seething. If this man thought that she would quit... No, she was in this too deep to back out now.

After all, she still never lost... in the end.

"It's because you three are just kids who don't even deserve to be Ninja." The Hatake casually said. Something in the way he said it must have set the Uchiha off as the next moment the duck ass was charging the man. The guy was admittedly fast, but Ranma knew it wouldn't be enough even before a parody of what happened to Naruto before the test played itself when the elder man's form blurred. Moments later the Uchiha was face down in the ground with one of the Jounin's feet on his head and his arm held behind him in a pain hold.

"See, you all are just kids." the Jounin said. Silence revisited the clearing for a moment before he looked up from the black haired youth. "Do you guys think being a ninja is easy?" he seemed to be radiating menace as he said this, and the redhead couldn't help but feel that he was speaking with a voice of experience, "Why do you think we're training by breaking up into groups?"

Ranma took a moment to seriously think about the answer to that question instead of blurting out her first response of "I don't know". Something about the way he was talking made the martial-artist-turned-ninja think that this might be another test. It didn't take her long to figure it out, it was just so obvious now that she actually took the time and the question was presented to her. Ten years ago she never would have thought of it, being more or less a solo act unless she was fighting Taro or one of her other strong opponents for the first time. After all, asking for help wasn't 'Manly'. In the end she had always been the last one standing though, and would need to finish the fight by herself. Now though, she had had time to learn and grow without Genma's influence tearing her away before she had time to make any friends to equally share her successes and failures with...

She started chuckling humorlessly at her own personal failure, leaning against the post a bit more and looking at the sky. The silver haired man was looking at her inquiringly and she decided to answer.

"Teamwork..."

"That's right. But it's too late even if you notice now." The Hatake said, still radiating menace, "If all three of you came at me at once, maybe you could have gotten a bell. But that's too bad."

"But, if we're supposed to use teamwork then why are there only two bells?" her florescent-orange teammate asked. "No matter what one of us would fail!"

"Of course." The clearly still angry man said, "This test tries to put you three against each-other. In this situation, we select those who can prioritize teamwork before themselves. That was the purpose, but all of you were pathetic."

His attention turned to focus on her, "Ranma, you were too concerned about maintaining your own advantage and observing me for a weakness to help out your teammate, even though Naruto was losing right in front of you." Ranma could only nod dejectedly at the reprimand. It was true after all. Turning his gaze to her orange teammate the Jounin continued, "Naruto! All you did was work on your own. To make it worse you let what I said before we began cloud your judgment and you forgot one of your biggest advantages." The blond swallowed as the Hatake's eye turned down and he finished with a great deal more menace, "And you... You assumed that those two would only get in your way, despite knowing that they both have skills you don't, and tried doing everything yourself."

"Missions are done in groups." He said, turning his head up again, "It's true that Ninjas need well-developed individual abilities, but it is teamwork that is much more important. An individual action that disrupts the teamwork will result in danger or even death for the teammates. For example..." Reaching into his pouch the silver haired man pulled out a kunai and held it to Sasuke's neck, "Ranma! Kill Naruto or Sasuke dies!"

Ranma hardly had time to register what he had said as the immobile Naruto began to freak out before the knife was pulled back. "That's what will happen." The man said as he began twirling the throwing knife around his finger by the ring on its end. "When someone gets taken hostage, you will be faced with a difficult decision, and someone will die."

Putting the kunai away the Jounin released Sasuke and stood up, turning to walk over to the stone a little ways away. "In every mission, you put your life on the line. Look at this... the many names carved onto this stone." Ranma felt a pit start developing in her stomach. There were only so many things that a stone with names carved on it could be, few of them good. "All these names are those praised as heroes in this village."

The redhead ignored her blond teammate as he said that he wanted to be a hero and have his name put on the stone. She had a feeling that she knew what types of "heroes" were put on it after all...

"But they're not just normal heroes." the silver haired man said over his shoulder, all but confirming her theory.

"So what kind of heroes were they." Naruto asked, still too excited for his own good. Silence was his only answer so the blond continued his prodding, "Come on, what were they?"

"Those who were K.I.A." The older man said, this time not turning around.

"K.I.A.?" The orange pre-teen asked, apparently having no idea what that meant.

"It means Killed In Action, Midget..." the redhead said with a sigh as she looked at the stone. If anything could take the wind out of the excited blond's sails faster Ranma had yet to see it.

"This is a cenotaph." The Hatake said, "The names of my friends are carved here as well."

A heavy silence fell for a few moments before the Jounin turned to look at them with his eye again before beginning to walk back in their direction, "I'll give you one more chance. However, the battle for the bell will be much harder after lunch. Eat only if you are up to the challenge. But! Don't let Naruto eat. That's his punishment for breaking the rules and trying to eat lunch early. The person who feeds him will fail immediately." The look in his eye told them that he was prepared to carry out that threat if he needed to. "I'm the rule here. Got it?"

All three of them nodded in understanding before setting about having lunch. Looking at her bento Ranma could only hold back a groan as some deity somewhere seemed intent on mocking her today. 'Why in the world did it have to be rice, a fish and two pickles?' She knew that Old Man Hokage had put everything she told him into a file on her before she even entered the academy, but the intimate details of her life before her arrival in Konoha were all classified. Only she or the Old Man had authorization to review the whole thing unedited and she trusted him enough not to give out that information without informing her first. The number of people that were in the know, including herself and the ageing Sarutobi, could be counted on one hand and she knew that that list didn't include the Cyclops.

She figured that the contents of their lunch was simply coincidence, as it could easily have been something else, but Ranma's apatite had been somewhat subdued by the revelations of the past few minutes and only picked at her food while her Uchiha teammate didn't seem to have any such reservations. Instead, the redhead tried to get her mind away from her previous failure by figuring out a plan for the three of them to take on the Jounin and get the bells.

Key-word being tried. Naruto's stomach growling every few seconds wasn't helping very much and was steadily reminding her of her own hunger...

"I'm okay even if I don't eat!" the blond said, trying to laugh it off, but the continued growling of his stomach told another story.

"Here" Sasuke said, holding out his lunch for Naruto to take. The absurdity of the offer with Naruto still being tied to the post caught Ranma's attention.

"Hey... Didn't he say not to do that?" she asked, raising an eyebrow and putting the oversight to the side for now in favor of figuring out the boy's motives.

"Don't worry. I don't sense him nearby." Was the boy's response, prompting Ranma to scan the area as well and come to the same conclusion. "We're going to get the bells together. It will only be trouble if he's hungry."

"Good point." Ranma thought about the situation for a moment and came to a decision, "But he should have my lunch. Unlike you I ate breakfast, and I know I can fight on an empty stomach." Sasuke seemed to consider her for a moment before nodding his head in agreement. With the confirmation Ranma jumped on top of the post Naruto was tied to and more thoroughly scanned their surroundings, even going so far as to take a few experimental sniffs at the wind. There was no sign of the silver haired man anywhere. Nodding to herself she jumped back down and picked up a clump of rice with her chopsticks, willing herself to ignore the puppy-dog look her orange teammate was giving her. The morsel had barely entered his mouth before there was an explosion of smoke in front of them.

"You Three...!" The clearly enraged Hatake appeared through the cloud causing Naruto to choke on the rice. The event was so unexpected that Ranma almost let out an undignified squawk, but held her impulses in check as she dropped into a low stance as the overpressure from whatever technique had been used made her hair whip about. Preparing herself to attack the redhead briefly registered that Sasuke seemed to have gotten into his own stance and Naruto was too preoccupied with swallowing and clearing his airway to do little more than flail ineffectively against the rope binding him.

"Pass."

Ranma ate dirt as the lunge she was about to execute converted into a spectacular facefault. Propping herself up with her hands the redhead spent a few moments to spit out a few clumps of grass before looking at the eye-smiling silver haired man in disbelief as her orange teammate gasped for air, finally managing to choke down the food. "Care to run that by us again?" she said, doubting that she could have heard correctly.

"You pass." The Hatake repeated, chuckling a little as he looked at the three of them. "You three are the first." he said with a hint of pride, "Everyone else before you were morons who would just do whatever I told them."

"A ninja must be able to look underneath the underneath. In the world of ninjas, those who break the rules are called trash. But you know what?" The silver haired man was looking at them seriously with his eye now, "Those who don't take care of their friends and comrades... are lower than trash."

'That's his creed, isn't it.' Ranma thought as she looked at... her Sensei in a new light. 'He lives by those words just as much as I live by my Martial Artist's Oath.' The reality of what just happened was finally setting in and she couldn't help but loose a bit of the pride that had once dominated her personality, only there was none of her old arrogance in the smirk she was directing towards the Jounin. Looking at her teammates the redhead saw that Naruto was having trouble holding back tears as the Uchiha smirked in his own way.

"The training ends here!" the announcement broke her thoughts and she turned her attention back to her sensei in time to see him giving them all a thumbs up, "You all Pass! Team seven will begin missions starting tomorrow!" Ranma's smirk only widened at this announcement as the Midget started cheering about becoming a ninja.

"Let's go" the Cyclops said before beginning to walk away. Sasuke immediately began to follow him out but the redhead held back, her sensei's words still fresh in her mind and remembering that Naruto was still quite expertly tied to a wooden post.

"Hold still Midget." She told him as she walked around to where the knots were. Giving them a once over Ranma realized that it would probably take too long to get through all of them. Instead of wasting time she opted to pull out a kunai and sliced through the coils easily, causing Naruto to fall to the ground in an undignified heap.

"Thanks, Ranma-san." The blond laughed as she gave him an arm up.

"Don't mention it Midget, now let's go catch up to the others!" She said before running after the other half of their team.

"Oi! Sensei! Uchiha-san! Why don't we all go get some barbeque to celebrate!"

-o-o-o-o-o-

End Chapter One

-o-o-o-o-o-

End Notes: Ok, Chapter one... I'm not really sure what to say about this one.

Well, to start with I think I'll say a few things about certain less than original ideas used here...

First off is Naruto using cards for seals. I have read two separate fics that use playing cards as a delivery system for seals. The first one is Reload by Case13, the second is Naruto Uzumaki: Seal Master by King of the Void. I liked the idea, and after giving it some though decided to go with it myself. It's not only extremely practical in that that a deck of fifty two cards probably costs less than ten Kunai, but also that I know for a fact that if you throw them right they can cut through fruit and vegetables (Look it up on Youtube if you don't believe me). That can do some serious damage to a person if you think about it... As for why Naruto is interested in seals in the first place when he wasn't in cannon, I'll leave the story to explain more of that but for now it's mostly just a hobby for him and he isn't all that good at it yet.

Now to Silent Snap Jutsu... The idea is extremely common throughout Naruto Fanfiction, but the terminology isn't. The general idea is that the person using the jutsu is skilled enough in its use where they don't need to use either hand-seals or verbally announce that they're using a jutsu in the first place. They just do it... The exact terminology "Silent Snap" is from the fic ANBU by God Amongst Mere Mortals...

To those of you who I know will wonder why I decided to jump ahead to the Academy graduation instead of covering the last ten years in more detail, it was actually a subject of much debate between me and my pre-reader, CaedesPlerique, for a while before we both settled on this point. In the end, it really boils down to that the prologue was just that, a prologue. It was meant to somewhat stand alone from the rest of the story and introduce and set up the general atmosphere for how Ranma and her overall mindset would begin developing through her second childhood.

This is actually the third version of this chapter (discounting less substantial edits to a full overhaul), the first one being scrapped after I finished cleaning up the Prologue for continuity reasons, and the second picking up right away with Ranma staying in the Orphanage, but was also scrapped before I finished it. The reason I tossed that version instead of using it is because I just couldn't figure out how to write it all out and keep it at least somewhat interesting to read without making Ranma way too overpowered compared to the other members of the Konoha 12 (Too smart, skilled, etc...) way too fast for the story progression (And writing a montage just didn't seem appropriate). I've read way too many Naruto fics that go into the Academy days in mind numbing detail, and they mostly follow a common formula with some variances depending on the author. In the end, unless there is some substantial event that occurs during the Academy which would change the story completely from that point forward, or the story is about the Academy days for some odd reason, it generally boils down to "[Character] goes to school, learns about being a ninja, deals with Naruto's latest prank gone wrong and goes home"... I figured that with Ranma being introduced so early on then any significant events that change things would just as easily be represented by the altered interactions of the characters and whatever introspective I deem necessary for providing context. Many of the ideas I used in the second draft have been recycled into the general history I have drawn up to guide her interactions with the other characters though, so you will see the effects of her influence both present and past as the story progresses.

Thanks for reading and please leave a review!