Disclaimer: I own...well...I have to really think. Do we really own anything at all? What does it mean to own something? Do we really own anything or are we being owned by the things we possess?...I'm just going to say I don't own Naruto before I continue trying (and failing) to be philosophical XD

Author's Note: I have a love-hate relationship with college. I love it because it is awesome and a great experience! I hate it because it's difficult as hell and is eating up so much of my time :( I'm really sorry it took me this long to get this up!

I won't make you all wait any longer. Here's chapter twenty! Enjoy :)

Following the preliminary exam, Anko decided to take her students out to dinner to celebrate: her treat. The four members of Team Three headed off to Ichiraku's.

"Congrats you three on making it into the third exam." Teuchi said proudly as he placed their orders on the table. "Consider this a reward for all your hard work."

"Thank you very much!" Hinata and Shikamaru thanked him as they took their bowls.

"Yeah, thanks old man!" Naruto gave his thanks and immediately started to eat his ramen. "Oh yeah…thanks for taking us out to eat Anko-sensei!"

Naruto managed to spit out some of his food when he thanked his sensei, causing Shikamaru to sigh.

"Naruto, don't talk with your mouth full." The Nara informed him.

"He has worse habits. Don't get on to him for that." Anko chuckled. "But don't thank me. You all earned it. You all are the only full team to make it to the third exam. That says a lot about you guys."

Hinata's eyes glowed with pride. "Thank you Anko-sensei!"

"Did you make it past the preliminaries when you took the exam?" Naruto asked in between bites.

"My year we didn't have a preliminary exam." Anko answered with a shrug. "I just went into the third exam and kicked ass as usual. Naturally, I got promoted right after."

"On your first try?" Shikamaru asked.

"Yup. So, you three have a lot to live up to." The snake summoner grinned at them.

"We'll do our best!" Naruto declared as he finished his first bowl of ramen. He then pushed it to the side. "I'm pretty pumped up for the exam. I can't wait to kick Risho's ass!"

"Yeah, you have fun with that." Shikamaru said with a sigh. "I'd like to put off this exam as long as possible. Shino's going to be a giant pain in the ass to fight."

"…" Hinata didn't say anything as she started to think about who she was going to fight. A frown crept on to her face as she imagined her fight with Neji.

Anko cleared her throat before speaking. "Well, since you all are so eager about the third exam, I might as well let you all know what our plans are for training."

The three genin turned their attention to their sensei and stared at her intently.

"Yeah, how is this going to work out? Are we just going to train for the exams the same we always train?" Shikamaru asked.

"Yeah…not really. Actually, I'm not going to be really training you guys." Anko said with a sigh. Her genins' eyes all widened. "You see, all three of you made it to the exam. And that's great and all, but there's a chance that you may fight each other at some point in the exam. I don't want to risk favoritism in any way, so I'm not going to be directly training you guys during the month." She answered. "Besides, it would be unfair to divide your training time amongst the three of you. You all need to focus on your own training, not each other's."

"…so then what are we going to do?" Hinata asked quietly.

"Well, I have a few things in mind. For starters, you and Shikamaru should get most of your training done with your clan. Let them know about the matches coming up. I'll fill your parents in about what I've been working with you guys, and then they can work on what they feel you all need for the exams." Her sensei responded.

Shikamaru nodded in understanding and agreement. Hinata nodded as well, although hers was more hesitant.

Naruto frowned. 'I wish I had clan that could help out with my training…does this mean I have no one to help me out?'

Anko, as if reading Naruto's mind, turned her attention towards the blonde. "Hey, Whiskers, don't get all sad and shit. I made some personal arrangements for you. I've got two of my real good friends to supervise your training. And believe me when I say this: they will get you training hard."

Naruto's frown turned into an excited grin. "Who are they? What kind of ninja are they?"

"You'll find out tomorrow! And believe me: they kick ass." Anko explained simply with a smirk.

"So Naruto trains with your friends and we train with our clan. Is that all the plans you have made?" Shikamaru asked.

"Well, not exactly. I'm still your sensei, so I'm going to pop in once a week or so on each of you. And when I come in, I'd like to give my own advice and maybe a scroll or two that could be helpful. Maybe a jutsu or some general strategy that can help you all." Anko answered as she rubbed the back of her head. "So yeah, you all are kind of doing your own thing with your trainers, but I'd still like to help out a little. Just not too much, because this is your own training and I feel it isn't in my place to get involved that much. Sorry again about that."

"We understand." Hinata told her.

"Yeah, yeah. No big deal Sensei!" Naruto told her with a smirk.

Anko smiled in response. Conversation ended as the group continued to eat their ramen as Naruto started to receive another bowl. Around thirty minutes passed before the group finished eating.

"Alright, so you all should enjoy the night. Shikamaru, Hinata, break the news to your family. I'll come by tomorrow and let them in on what I've trained you guys on. Naruto, I'll be over at your apartment tomorrow at 6:00 A.M and I'll take you over to your trainers."

"Gotcha!" Naruto exclaimed. "See you tomorrow Anko-sensei!"

"Bye!" Hinata and Shikamaru shouted.

The three genin hurried off in their own direction. Anko smiled as she watched her students walk off.

"They're good kids." Teuchi commented from the ramen stand.

"Damn right they are." Anko nodded in agreement. "Great shinobi too. Those three are going places in the future."

"I bet they are." The ramen chef chuckled as he pulled out a piece of paper. "Anyway, here's the bill for tonight Anko-san."

Anko took the bill and looked at the price. Her eyes widened and she dropped the piece of paper.

"…what the hell?" She gasped, her eyes focused on the price.

"This is the first you've treated Naruto to ramen, isn't it? Iruka-san and Hokage-sama reacted similarly their first time." Teuchi chuckled.

"…this…this is…" Anko's hands instinctively went to her head as she started to groan loudly.

'Naruto, what the FUCK? How do you eat this much ramen!?' Anko's mind was cursing her blonde student and crying for the money she was about to lose.

By the time Team Three finished their meal and discussion, the sun had long already set. It was late in the evening.

Hinata arrived at the Hyūga compound and walked in as quietly as possible to not disturb anyone. Not too many members of her clan would be walking around in the night, so she was surprised to see her father was out by the entrance to the compound. Hiashi was sitting right by the entrance in a chair, drinking a cup of tea.

"Hinata, it looks like you are finally back." Hiashi noted to her as he took a sip of his tea.

"Uh…father…" Hinata mumbled in embarrassment, looking down to the ground. "What…what are you doing up this late? You…you usually are in bed by now."

"I was waiting for you. I figured we should talk." He answered, placing his tea cup to the side on a nearby desk. "Neji informed us about the chūnin exams."

Hinata frowned, still looking down. "Y-Yes." The Hyūga heiress blushed in embarrassment at the return of her stutter. "We are scheduled to fight each other…"

"That is what he said." Hiashi nodded his head.

"…d-did he say anything else?" She asked.

A slight trace of a frown appeared on Hiashi's face, but it disappeared as quickly as it appeared as he started to speak. "Nothing of worth. Anyway, I felt like the two us should discuss your training for the chūnin exams."

"Anko-sensei instructed m-me to spend the month training with our clan." She informed him.

"I figured." Hiashi nodded in understanding. "Tomorrow, we will begin your training early in the morning when you wake up. You haven't gotten the chance to train in your gentle fist much recently, so it's about time we rectify that. I will personally be overseeing your training."

That comment caused Hinata's head to look upwards towards her father in surprise. In the past few years, before becoming a genin, Hinata had been instructed to train with other members of the main branch while Hiashi spent most of his time training her sister Hanabi. It had been years since he personally oversaw her training.

"We will continue where you left off. We have plenty of work to catch up on with you. You are going to be representing the Hyūga main branch in a month, and I'm going to do my part to make sure you represent us well." Hiashi stated firmly.

Hinata's embarrassment disappeared. A smile slowly developed on her face. 'Maybe…maybe I can get his approval finally. Maybe he won't see me as a failure anymore.'

"Understood!" She informed him.

"Head to my personal training room after you've woken up and are prepared. We have a busy day tomorrow, so we should both go and get some sleep." Hiashi stated.

"Right." Hinata said as she started to walk off.

Hiashi watched his daughter bow to him before walking down the hallways of the compound towards her room. A few seconds passed before he spoke up again.

"Hinata?" He said her name. Hinata stopped immediately. "It is an honor to make it the third exam so early in your career. You've done a good job."

Hinata continued to walk down the corridors of her compound. A wide smile had covered her face.

"YOU MADE IT TO THE FINAL EXAMS?" Yoshino nearly shouted.

Shikamaru didn't really know what he was expecting when he went home to tell his parents he made it the third exam in the chūnin exams. What he was not expecting, however, was his mother's screaming.

"Geez, Mom, you're louder than when you're upset with me." The genin said as he rubbed his ears.

"OF COURSE I'M LOUD! Do you know how big of a deal this is?" The Nara matriarch exclaimed, clapping her hands together. "Most people don't make it to the third exam on their first time! Not even your father and I!"

"…really?" Shikamaru's eyebrow rose in curiosity. His eyes turned from his mother to his father. "Neither of you?"

"Hmph." Shikaku grumbled as he fiddled around with an empty sake bottle in his hands. "In my defense, Inoichi got pretty injured during our second exam and we couldn't go further."

"Don't try and save face! I also remember you needed medical attention after that exam as well." Yoshino rolled her eyes at her husband's comments before continuing to speak. "No, but it IS amazing Shikamaru. I am so proud of you! I knew you could do great things when you finally got around to doing them."

"Thanks…" Shikamaru rubbed his head sheepishly. He was not used to receiving so much praise from his mother, so he didn't really know how to react.

"Your mom is right, Shikamaru. It is a big deal. Therefore, as much of a pain in the ass as it will be, we're going to be taking your training much more seriously." Shikaku informed him, placing his empty bottle down. "What did your sensei tell you to do during the training month?"

"She wanted me to focus on training with the clan." His son answered.

"Figured." The jōnin commander responded. "That means your mom and I are going to oversee your training again."

"And we can finally actually teach you some of the more intricate techniques of the Nara clan." Yoshino smirked. "Oh, this month is going to be fun!"

Yoshino giggled in a maniacal tone, which caused Shikamaru to gulp in fear.

"So…how do you want to do this?" He asked his parents.

"Bright and early in the morning. Every morning." Yoshino smirked. "And then we will train you into the dirt that it hurts to move!"

"…" Shikamaru blinked in response.

"No son of mine is going to be a lazy chūnin! You should've known what you're getting yourself into when you signed up to take the exam!" Yoshino stated sharply before pointing toward a corridor. "I'd advise you get as much as sleep as you can right now, because tomorrow, you're going to need it."

"…troublesome." Shikamaru grumbled his trademark expression as he bid farewell to his parents and walked towards his bedroom. 'I should've just stayed out of the exams. Been a genin forever…'

The two Nara parents waited for Shikamaru to leave the room before they turned to each other.

"We already discussed some of our training plans. You know it's not going to be that bad." Shikaku told her.

"Oh I know. But I just wanted to mess with him a little. Easy opportunities like this don't come often!" Yoshino giggled to herself.

"…scary woman." Shikaku chuckled as he stood up, taking his sake bottle to the trash.

"Oh shut up! You know you love me." Yoshino giggled as she lightly punched Shikaku on the arm.

The next morning came quickly for the members of Team Seven. At 6:00 A.M, as the sun was rising, a loud knock was heard throughout Naruto's apartment. The blonde jinchūriki was woken up immediately. He got dressed as quickly as he could before rushing over to the door, revealing his jōnin sensei.

"Morning Anko-sensei…" Naruto mumbled with a yawn to her.

"…" Anko glared at her student. "Let's get going brat."

Naruto nodded and the two were on their way. Anko was leading the way while her blonde student followed closely behind. Neither of the two were talking.

"…Anko-sensei, what are your friends like? Like personality wise?" Naruto asked after getting a little disturbed by the lack of conversation.

"That's a stupid question. You'll see in a little bit." She grumbled.

"…are you mad at me?" The Uzumaki asked in confusion. "You seem more annoyed than usual…"

"What do you think?" She rolled her eyes. "Of course dipshit!"

"Why? What'd I do?" He asked frantically.

"Do you really have to ask?" She shouted back. "I decided to be a nice sensei and take my brats out to dinner for once in celebration of their good work, and what do you do? YOU BOUGHT SO MUCH DAMN FOOD THAT I LOST A WEEK'S WORTH OF PAY!"

"…" Naruto's eyes blinked in surprise. "…really?"


"…but I was actually trying to not eat as much as I usually do to save you some money…" The blonde mumbled in confusion.

Anko immediately choked in response. Her anger had turned to surprise and fear. 'Not…eat as much? But...HOW MUCH DOES HE NORMALLY EAT? HOW MUCH DOES HE NORMALLY PAY?'

"Uh…Anko-sensei…are you okay?" Naruto asked, blinking again.

"…fine. I'm fine." Anko shook her head, removing her thoughts about the potential money lost. "Anyway, we're almost there. Let's pick up the pace!"

Anko started to hurry her pace through Konoha, causing Naruto to sweat drop in response.

'She's pissed off one second, and then not right after…' Naruto shook his head as he hurried behind his sensei. 'Anko-sensei has way too many mood swings…'

At their hastened pace, Naruto and Anko reached their destination soon after. They arrived at training ground twenty-nine. The training ground was located close to the gates of Konoha and was filled with training posts and stumps for shinobi to practice their jutsus and weapon throwing on. There were absolutely no trees in the area: it was simply an open field where shinobi could practice.

Standing in the middle of this training ground were two shinobi Naruto recognized. They were the proctors of the first and second chūnin exams, Morino Ibiki and Yūhi Kurenai.

"Anko, punctual as always." Ibiki noted when Anko and Naruto arrived. "I expected you'd be late considering you had to get your student."

"I'm almost never late." Anko informed him with a smirk. "Never!"

"Except when you were late for that meeting to discuss the chūnin exams." Kurenai pointed out with a smirk of her own.

"In my defense, no one told me about it! Besides, I technically wasn't even supposed to be there, cause someone had to go and replace me as the second exam proctor." Anko rolled her eyes in response, which only caused Kurenai to chuckle.

"Uh…" Naruto mumbled, his eyes wide as he stared at the two proctors. He hadn't expected them to be his sensei's friends.

"Oh yeah: introductions and shit." Anko realized as she pointed to the two proctors. "Whiskers, I know you met them in the exam, but let me properly introduce you. This is Morino Ibiki and Yūhi Kurenai. They are two of my friends and they have agreed to oversee your training during the month."

"Friend's a loose word, Anko." Ibiki pointed out quickly.

"Oh be quiet you! You know you love me, don't you Biki-kun?" The purple-haired kunoichi replied with an innocent tone of voice.

Ibiki responded with a glare, which caused both Anko and Kurenai to burst into laughter. Naruto blinked in confusion as he watched the three. After a few seconds, he finally interrupted the laughter and spoke up.

"Uh, not that I'm complaining or anything about them, but are they even allowed to train me? I mean, they are the proctors of the previous exams. Couldn't that be considered unfair?" Naruto asked.

"Reasonable question." Ibiki responded with a nod. "Some people could consider it unfair, but they would be people with no knowledge about how these exams are organized. Kurenai-san nor I have no say in the decision-making process of the third exam. We don't get to decide who will get promoted in the third exam nor do we have any say in how it is run."

"Therefore, we are allowed to train anyone we want to for the third and final exam." Kurenai stated. "And it just so happens that we are going to help with your training."

"Works for me!" Naruto exclaimed. His confusion about seeing the two proctors had now seemingly disappeared and was now replaced with his trademark excitement. "So what are we going to focus on? What are we going to train in today?"

"We haven't fully decided yet. We would kinda like to see what you are capable of before we design something specific for you." Kurenai stated. "We saw what you can do to an extent during the exams and we know what Anko has told us, but we would like to see exactly what you can really do."

"Works for me." Naruto shrugged.

"And with that, I'm out." Anko shrugged before she started to walk off. "I've got a couple more arrangements to take care of with Shikamaru and Hinata and a few other things. You all have fun! Check in on you some time later this week whiskers!"

The tokubetsu jōnin disappeared in a poof of smoke, using the shunshin. A scowl developed on Naruto's face as he pointed to where his sensei had previously been.

"Okay, that! She does that all the time and its really annoying! Can you guys teach me that?" He asked.

"…" Ibiki rubbed his hand against his head. "You act juts like Anko…in all the wrong ways."

"Uh…" Naruto looked down in embarrassment. "Sorry about that. I kinda just get excited a lot, y'know? I'll try and keep it down."

"No need to keep your attitude in check Naruto-kun. We work with Anko all the time. Trust me, it's not a bad thing to act like her at all. It keeps things interesting." Kurenai said with a chuckle before her face turned serious. "But yeah, let's get straight to business. Can you give us a demonstration of your techniques and discuss them with us?"

Naruto lifted his head and nodded before making a hand sign. "Of course I can dattebayo! Let's get started!"

"Eight Trigrams…two palms! Four palms! Eight palms! Sixteen…" Hinata's voice started to fade as she focused more on landing her palms.

Hiashi sighed as he watched his eldest daughter attack a training dummy he set up. The two of them had been practicing for around two hours now and he had been watching his daughter very carefully. He had noticed her stamina and strength had, indeed, improved since her time at the academy and began immediately in trying to immerse her in the forms and jutsu of the Hyūga Main Branch. Hinata, however, was having difficulty executing them…

Hinata finished her attempt at the Eight Trigrams: Thirty-two Palms when she turned to her father, breathing hard and sweating. "How…how was that?"

The Hyūga clan head shook his head. "Your palms hit the targets, but they do not have the necessary force."

"…oh." Hinata sighed in frustration.

"Also, your stance is still not satisfactory. It's too loose." Hiashi added.

Hinata frowned in response. Her father, as well as the rest of her clan, has always had an issue with her stance. She was always too loose and not stern enough. She has always tried to rectify this complaint, but her attempts never work. She is always still 'too loose'.

"Why is that Hinata? Your skill with the gentle fist would improve greatly if we get your stance more firm." Hiashi told her.

"I…I don't know." His daughter replied quietly. "I…It just never comes naturally to me. The stance just feels unnatural."

"Your natural element affinity is water, correct? I believe that's what your sensei told me when we talked." Hiashi asked. Hinata nodded in response. "That would explain it. Water is considered more flexible and free. The gentle fist style is better suited towards somebody who is grounded and firm. That is why most Hyūga clan members have earth as their element."

"…so it's impossible for someone with my affinity to properly use the gentle fist?" Hinata asked quietly, downtrodden.

Hiashi shook his head. "No, it's still possible. There are a few Hyūga, including your mother, who are born with a fire affinity. They struggle learning the gentle fist, but they pick it up over time. It's very possible. We just have to focus on working on the aspects of your stance that your affinity holds you back in."

Hinata frowned in response. 'Hold back?' She had always thought that the water affinity was a strong, unique element in Konoha that would be able to help her. Up to this point, it has: it has supplied her with ninjutsu and has added more variety to her offensive capabilities. The idea that the water affinity was a hindrance to her seemed off and uncomfortable to her. If anything, in Hinata's opinion, the gentle fist taijutsu style was being the hindrance to her and it should be the one redesigned…

'…wait a second!' The Hyūga heiress's eyes widened at the train of thought. '….redesign…the gentle fist?'

"F-Father?" Hinata spoke up.

Hiashi mentally sighed at hearing his daughter's stutter. He knew whatever she was going to say was uncomfortable to her, meaning it would probably frustrate him. "Yes?

"…w-would it b-be possible to redesign the gentle fist…to well…suit my affinity?" Hinata asked quietly.

'…hmm?' Hiashi's eyes widened at the idea. '…redesign?'

The gentle fist had been passed down generations through generations in the Hyūga clan with little to no changes. Most Hyūga had been born with the proper affinity to practice the taijutsu style properly and the ones who had not were forced to accommodate their physical limits in order to learn it. No Hyūga has ever tried to actually change the style to fit their own physical capabilities. The idea sounded foreign to Hiashi.

Almost on instinct, the Hyūga clan head dismissed the idea. Before he spoke his dismissal to Hinata, he started to think more about it.

'Hinata's natural flexibility is going to make it hard to stiffen her stance. Water is free. The gentle fist needs to be grounded and constricted. She may one day be able to get the gentle fist down satisfactorily speaking, but she will never be a master in the style.' He realized. 'So, if that is the case…maybe she can become a master in her own variant of the style…'

"…something like this has never been done before." Hiashi started after a long period of silent thought. Hinata's head dropped in response. "…however, I will look into this. Perhaps the two of us can design a 'flexible' gentle fist variant that is more suited to you."

"…really?" Hinata's head rose again and she looked at her father with wide eyes.

"Yes. However, this is going to take a lot of time and effort on both of our parts to get this created. Do your part and I will try my best to help create this new gentle fist."

"Of course!" Hinata exclaimed happily.

Hiashi let a smile grace his lips for a second before it disappeared behind his usual, stoic demeanor. "Now, show me a stance that feels natural to you."

Shikamaru and his parents stood facing each other in his clan's garden. The genin was looking at the older, experienced shinobi intently.

"So, what's the plan? How's this training going to work?" He asked with a yawn.

Yoshino frowned. "Are you honestly still tired? I even let you sleep in an extra two hours than I intended!"

"I'm always tired." Shikamaru responded. Immediately, his mother tossed a kunai knife at him. His eyes widened as he dodged just in time before it hit him. "What the-"

"Well, now that you are more awake, how about we get started, eh Shikaku?" The Nara matriarch chuckled to herself as she elbowed her husband.

Shikaku sighed and mumbled something about 'bothersome wives' before he pulled out a scroll from his jacket's pocket. He then tossed it over to Shikamaru, who looked over it immediately.

"Shadow Neck Binding Jutsu?" Shikamaru repeated the name of the jutsu.

His father nodded. "It's a jutsu derived from the shadow paralysis. A more combat-oriented variation of it. Yoshino, would you like to demonstrate it?" Yoshino opened her mouth to respond, but Shikaku then shook his head and started to speak again. "Never mind, that was a stupid question. Of course you do. I'll be your target."

"Damn right you will!" She exclaimed cheerfully as she made a hand sign.

Shikamaru paid close attention as Yoshino's shadow came into contact with Shikaku's. After it made contact, the shadow went further up Shikaku's body. The younger Nara's eyes widened as he watched his father's body tense up. The shadow moved all the way up to Shikaku's neck and looked as if it was about to surround it before Yoshino released the jutsu, removing her shadow and freeing her husband.

"So you're able to utilize the Shadow Possession Jutsu and then use the connected shadow to strangle the caught shinobi?" Shikamaru asked.

"Pretty much. Although the jutsu can be used in a variety of different ways. It's just that strangulation is the most common and effective." Shikaku shrugged.

"I see…" Shikamaru nodded as he studied the jutsu.

"It requires more chakra, concentration, and overall strength to pull the shadow onto someone caught in it. That's why the clan doesn't teach it to anyone until they are at least a decent genin." Yoshino explained. "Still, it's probably the most basic variant of our shadow ninjutsu. Therefore, you need to learn this first before we can start getting into the fun stuff!"

Shikamaru nodded again. He continued to study the scroll in detail. A few minutes passed before he finally put the scroll way and spoke up.

"Alright, I think I can try this." He said.

"You can use me as the target for the jutsu." Shikaku answered. "We'll keep practicing it until you get exhausted from the practice. Realistically speaking, you shouldn't get it one day." The Nara clan head shrugged. "You ready?"

Shikamaru nodded as he made the hand sign and began to practice the jutsu.

"So what do you two think?" Naruto asked after showing off his jutsus.

Ibiki and Kurenai did not immediately respond. The two exam proctors had watched as Naruto showed them the jutsus he could use and to the extent he could use them. They also listened to him as he gave a verbal explanation of his skills and abilities. After absorbing the information, the two stared at each other as they both tried to think of a training regime. After a minute of silent thought, they both nodded. Ibiki was the one who spoke up.

"Naruto, are you aware of the memory transfer involved in your shadow clones?" Ibiki asked.

The blonde nodded. "Yeah, I realized about it in the second exam actually."

"Good." The tokubetsu jōnin responded. "Then I assume you know that anything your clones learn, you learn as well."

Naruto's eyes widened for a few second before a wide smirk developed on his face. "Heh, that makes sense now that I think about. So are my shadow clones basically the ultimate way to train?"

Ibiki nodded in affirmation. "They are a great tool for training, and we will be taking advantage of that. During all of our training sessions, you will create a clone. You will train under one of us while the clone will train under the other so we can optimize the time effectively." He then turned to face his partner. "Kurenai-san, if memory recalls, you are rather close to a wind-style user in Konoha. Perhaps you can teach Naruto something you've learned from your acquaintance."

Kurenai's eyes narrowed at Ibiki. "Are you implying something Ibiki-san?"

"I was just noting that you may know a wind jutsu to teach Naruto. Nothing more." The scarred shinobi responded, seemingly indifferent to Kurenai's glare.

The jōnin dropped her glare and turned to face Naruto. "Ibiki-san's right. I do know a wind jutsu or two I could teach you. Maybe for the first week or so, I can work on improving your jutsu inventory." She noted.

"Awesome!" Naruto shouted in excitement as he made a hand sign. "Shadow Clone Jutsu!"

A shadow clone appeared in a poof of smoke right next to Naruto.

"You're eager to learn Naruto-kun. I like that!" Kurenai grinned as she walked off. "Your clone can work with me today. Let's get to work!"

The clone jumped up in excitement before it hurried behind Kurenai as she walked off to a place more secluded to practice jutsu. The original Naruto was left alone now with Ibiki.

"Okay, so while my clone is with Kurenai-sensei, what am I going to learn from you, Ibiki-sensei? Any cool jutsu from you?" Naruto asked excitedly.

Ibiki's eyebrow rose at the 'sensei' honorific, but he paid it no mind. "Perhaps I'll teach you some jutsu down the road. For now, though, we'll be working on developing your strategic mind."

"…huh?" Naruto's excitement started to fade.

"You are a talented kid, there's no point in denying that. You have a strong arsenal of jutsu and you even have some control of the Kyūbi. You're talented, but you're weak without a developed mind." Ibiki said bluntly. Naruto resisted the urge to glare at the exam proctor as he waited for him to continue. "If you understand proper strategy, you can plan your attacks better and execute them at the right moments. You have potential, Naruto, and I'm going to do make sure you develop it."

"…understood." Naruto responded. "So, how are going to develop strategy then?"

"I have a few books you can read in your spare time. Shogi and other similar games can also help. But for now, I'm just going to present you with scenarios and see how you handle them." Ibiki explained.

"…scenarios?" The blonde blinked, repeating the phrase.

"I'll give you a verbal situation and you are going to tell me how you would respond. I'll let you know the result of your decisions. After a few of them, I'll make things a little more intricate." The exam proctor explained.

"…eh, okay. Let's start this!" Naruto declared. "How bad can these be?"

'Bad. Very bad. Very, very bad.' Naruto mumbled to himself as he left the training ground.

The Uzumaki had a massive headache. Ibiki's 'scenarios' were always battles between two shinobi with a different environment, different available jutsus, different amount of weapons, and other variables. Naruto's responses often resulted in one phrase from Ibiki: "With that response, in this scenario, you would be dead."

Naruto had to learn exactly how his responses were incorrect. Ibiki spent a long time explaining the important of monitoring the environment and exploiting it, paying attention to his opponent and understanding their psychology, and always planning ahead for anything. The head of the torture and investigation department spent most of his time teaching Naruto important strategic lessons. Once training had ended, Naruto had left with more knowledge, but also with a massive headache.

'Kurenai-sensei also didn't help with her training…ugh…' Naruto rubbed his head in pain.

Kurenai had started to teach Naruto the Wind Style: Wind Release Stream jutsu. The jutsu had many practical uses: releasing a stream of wind from a person's mouth that can be used as an attack, blow up a dust cloud to conceal the user's movements, as well as help the user change directions and move faster while in the air. Naruto agreed with its practical use and his clone was excited to learn the jutsu, but the strain it put on his lungs during the practice session caused him a lot of pain. Furthermore, he had not managed to perform the jutsu correctly, meaning he would need more practice on the jutsu and, therefore, would be creating the same straining feeling on his lungs.

Naruto was not one to whine. He was, however, not the kind of person to not acknowledge that he is exhausted in pain.

'I just wanna sleep…' Naruto groaned as he walked back to his apartment.

As Naruto neared his apartment, he noticed that he had company. A shinobi medic from the hospital was standing outside of his door. Naruto's eyebrows lifted in curiosity as he walked towards his apartment door.

"Are you looking for me? Can I help you?" He asked the medic, ignoring the pain from his headache and his lungs.

The medic turned around and faced Naruto. He sighed.

"I was wondering where you were. Guess you were out." The medic commented. "You really should've left a note on your door that you weren't going to be home!"

"Sorry! I just don't get a lot of company often." Naruto said sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head. "What can I do for you though?'

"One of our patients asked for us to fetch you. He wanted to talk to you." The medic responded.

Naruto gave the medic a confused look. "A patient of yours? Wants to talk to me?"

"Yes." The medic responded before he started to walk off. "Just follow me to the hospital. He seemed adamant about wanting to talk to you as soon as possible."

Naruto followed the medic. His pain from earlier was still there and the blonde was still exhausted, but these feelings were overpowers by his curiosity.

'Who actually wants to talk to me?' He wondered as he followed the medic to the hospital.

"Dosu-san, here is Uzumaki Naruto." The medic informed the patient as he left the hospital room.

Naruto walked into the hospital room nervously. Sitting in the bed was the Oto genin, Kinuta Dosu. The bandaged-wearing boy was covered in even more bandages, if that was even possible! His forehead protector, as well as the sound device on his arm, was placed to the side on a counter by the bed. The Oto genin was staring directly at Naruto the second he walked in.

"Naruto-san, thank you for coming by." Dosu said.

"Er, no problem. None at all." Naruto responded with an uneasy laugh. "Uh…how are you doing? You know, after the fight with Gaara…"

Dosu closes his visible eye as he spoke up. "Sabaku no Gaara did considerable damage to the bones in my body and according to the medics, it is going to take me a minimum of two weeks recovery before I am able to leave the hospital. However, physically speaking, I am mostly okay."

Naruto nodded in understanding before giving a smile. "At least you're okay. I honestly thought Gaara was going to try and kill you!"

"As far as I was aware, he did try." The Oto genin replied dryly.

Naruto's smile dropped and he frowned in response.

"When I was knocked unconscious, I honestly thought I was going to die. To my complete surprise, I woke up in this hospital. I had questioned one of the medics who brought me here immediately when I woke up about what happened." Dosu spoke with a quiet. His eye then shot open as he stared intently at Naruto. "I was told that you intervened and saved my life."

"Me?" Naruto blinked before shaking his head. "I didn't save your life. Anko-sensei and Han-nii did. They were the ones who were able to actually restrain Gaara."

"That may be true, but I was told you intervened first and the attack you prevented could have very well seriously injured me. Or worse…" Dosu's voice trailed off as he began to imagine what could have happened.

"Hmm…" Naruto mumbled in response.

An awkward silence passed between the two genin. Naruto said nothing as Dosu thought to himself about the situation. After five minutes, Dosu finally spoke up.

"Why?" He asked.

"Huh? Why what?" Naruto asked back.

"I am not a Konoha shinobi. Furthermore, I thought that my team angered you prior to the exams when we attacked the boy from your village with the cards. So, why did you intervene in the fight and save me?" He clarified.

Naruto's eyes narrowed a little as he spoke up. "Just because you aren't from my village doesn't mean I shouldn't help you. And even if you and your teammates were being jackasses, it doesn't mean you should die because of it."

"But you're not answering my question! WHY SAVE ME?" Dosu shouted the question, desperate.

Naruto blinked in surprise at Dosu's tone of voice, but then he shook his head to get over the surprise.

"Because no one deserves to die like that. I hate seeing people suffer and I don't want to watch anyone die when I can prevent it. I didn't want you to die." Naruto responded, a smile appearing on his face.

Dosu did not respond for a few seconds. He was contemplating Naruto's answer. He then shook his head in disagreement.

"This would be so much easier if you would simply be honest, Naruto-san." Dosu said quietly. "You want some form of payment for saving my life, correct?"

Naruto's mouth dropped in response to Dosu's accusation. His eyes then narrowed as the Oto genin continued.

"I don't have too much money, so we'll have to make arrangements of another form of pay. A jutsu perhaps. Or maybe-"

"Keep your money and your jutsus! Whatever! I don't want anything dammit!" Naruto shouted, interrupting the Oto genin. "God, can you not believe that or something? I just didn't want to see you die!"

"…I find that hard to believe, Naruto-san." Dosu shook his head again.

Naruto sighed in frustration. 'Does this guy have no faith in people or something? How many times am I going to have to say this dammit?'

An idea soon entered Naruto's head. He immediately spoke up. "Fine…you want to pay me back, Dosu?"

The Oto genin nodded. "I don't like owing debts. What do you want in return?"

"Then be my friend." The Uzumaki said with a smile.

"…excuse me?" Dosu blinked in confusion.

"I am being honest: I saved your life because I didn't want you to die. I don't think anyone's life should go to waste like that! So, if you really want to pay me back, then fine you can. And I choose that you have to be my friend." Naruto answered, his smile growing bigger.

Dosu was quiet as he closed his eyes in thought. He didn't say anything for a few minutes before he let out a light, small chuckle.

"You are interesting. I don't believe Oto has any shinobi like you." Dosu commented nonchalantly.

"Damn right they don't! I'm Uzumaki Naruto, and I'm an original dattebayo!" Naruto proclaimed with a laugh.

At that moment, Naruto let out a loud yawn. His exhaustion was returning to him again.

"Yeah, just saying, I'm kind of really tired. Long day training and stuff. I'm going to go back home and probably sleep." Naruto told the bandaged genin. "But you understand what I was saying, right? There was no ulterior reason to save your life. I just didn't want to see you die."

"…I understand." Dosu nodded.

"Heh, good." Naruto responded as he started to walk out of the room.

"…Naruto-san?" Dosu repeated the blonde's name, causing him to stop. "…if you really wish me to be your friend, does that imply that you will be visiting again sometime?"

Naruto's smile grew even larger at that comment. "I'll come by sometime in the week. You take care Dosu!"

With that, Naruto left the room. Kinuta Dosu was left alone to his thoughts.

'…he's different from Orochimaru-sama.' Dosu internally noted as he laid down on the hospital bed.

His mind was rampant with differing thoughts…

The next day, Naruto was awoken by another knock on the door. The blonde sleepily dragged himself to the door and opened it. At the door, he saw Anko standing outside.

"Anko-sensei, why are you waking me up now? Do you know what time it is dattebayo? I'm not supposed to be at training for at least another two hours…" Naruto mumbled in his tiredness.

The Uzumaki rubbed his eyes before looking at his sensei again. Immediately his mind started to wake up as he noticed the condition of his sensei. She was dressed in all black, her purple hair was straight down and not in its usual ponytail, and she had a somber look on his face.

"Sorry about bothering you Naruto, but…" Anko took a deep breath before she spoke up. "A friend of mine has just passed away and I know you know him. The funeral is in an hour and a half. I just felt that maybe you and your teammates would want to go."

"…" Naruto looked downward after hearing the news.

"I'm going to have to let Hinata and Shikamaru know about this. If you want to go, it's going to be held at the memorial stone." Anko said. She then bowed and walked off away from his apartment.

Once his sensei left, Naruto returned upstairs and pulled out a pair of black clothes he had. As he prepared himself for the day and the funeral, only one thought remained in his head.

'Who died?'

Gekkō Hayate…

Naruto, Hinata, and Shikamaru were all dressed in black as they stared at Hayate's picture in front of the memorial stone. They were the only genin amongst a sea of shinobi that attended the funeral. Naruto recognized a few of the shinobi: Anko, Kurenai, Ibiki, Iruka, the senseis of Team Seven and Team Ten, and a few other people he had seen throughout the village.

Sarutobi Hiruzen stood to the side of Hayate's picture and discussed the deceased shinobi's life. He talked about how prone Hayate was to getting sick, how skilled he was with the sword, but more than anything, how Hayate was a textbook example of the will of fire.

'…we literally just saw him at the preliminary exams. It hasn't even been a week since. And now he's dead…' Shikamaru shook his head as he listened to the Sandaime.

'…' Hinata's eyes focused on a particular shinobi: a woman with purple hair similar to Anko. The woman had been crying since the beginning of the funeral. '…Hayate-san…it was not your time.'

'He had just complimented me during the preliminaries. And now…' Naruto felt himself near tears. '…I never even got to thank him for what he told me. And now I never will…'

The ceremony was around an hour and a half in length. Once the ceremony was over, the visitors left a flower on the memorial stone in honor of their deceased comrade.

While most of the shinobi left after leaving a flower to honor Hayate, a few people remained by the grave. Among them was Anko. The genin members of Team Three walked over to her.

"So you guys did come…" Anko noted quietly.

"…Hokage-sama never said…what happened to Hayate?" Shikamaru asked.

"We don't know exactly. All we know is that he was murdered. He had plenty of cuts throughout his body. By the shape of them, it's hypothesized that he was killed with a wind jutsu…we just don't know what bastard did this!" Anko's voice was slowly becoming angrier. She spat out the word 'bastard' as if it was venom.

"…how did you know Hayate-san?" Hinata questioned.

Anko's anger disappeared as she took a deep sigh in. "Well…Hayate and I met in our own chūnin exams. I actually fought his genin team during the second part of our exam and they actually kicked my ass. But we still managed to make it to the third part of the exam and we fought again. I got to go one-on-one with him and we actually managed a draw. We were both promoted and because of that, we ended up celebrating together."

Anko looked towards the memorial stone, tears threatening to leak from her eyes as she continued. "Hayate…he became one of my best friends. We would always go out drinking. He was Ibiki's genin teammate. You see that purple-haired woman over there?" Anko pointed towards the girl Hinata was watching during the funeral. "That's Yugao. That was his fiancée."

Anko stopped speaking as she rubbed her tears away with her shirt. When they were gone, she continued. "Hayate…he was a great guy and a great shinobi. And a lot of people are going to miss him."

The three genin did not respond as they looked downward. None of had nothing to say. They didn't know what could they say.

"…one reason I wanted you guys to come to this is to understand something: the shinobi lifestyle is very real. People do die. And when you do, you leave behind friends and family to mourn." Anko said. "…I've watched enough of my friends get buried already to last a lifetime. I want you guys to understand what a shinobi's death brings to the village. And you all will be careful in your future missions. I hope to never experience the day where I have to watch one of you three get buried here."

With those words, Anko finally decided to leave. She said farewell to her students and wandered off. Her students were left there at the memorial stone. All three were pondering the full meaning of her words…

Author's Note: Chapter twenty is done! :)

I realize it may not have been the most exciting chapter...but it's kinda necessary. A lot of things needed to be touched on here. I hope you were all interested enough during the chapter though :)

So, the training for the third exam should probably take two more chapters at most! Then we get to the exams and things will really start to go down. I'm excited! :)

Thank you all so much again for the great support! It all means so much to me to get a review or a favorite or an alert. It all means so much and I hope I continue to entertain you all as long as I keep writing this story!

The next chapter will be out faster! I promise! My semester is over in less than a month. I'll see if I can get a chapter out before it ends, but if I can't, you won't have to wait too much longer. :) I'll see you all at the next update! Until then :)