Disclaimer: Any opinions expressed are my own and generally unpopular with others.

Chapter 6 - "Pre-Exam"

This Chapter Follows: Chapters 36, 38-39 of the manga.

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Naruto, Sasuke, and Hinata stood outside the tall building where we were instructed to turn in our Chuunin exam applications. It wasn't an especially large building, aside from its height, and it didn't look exceptionally intimidating architecturally; but regardless, the sight of it set Hinata's nerves on edge.

She clutched her application tightly to her chest, and she was sure that by the time she actually handed it in it would have more wrinkles that even Naruto's. She tried taking a deep breathe and letting it out slowly. She really needed to calm myself, so instead of thinking about what exactly she was about to do, she focused on regulating her chakra throughout all of her muscles to loosen them.

The sudden opportunity to take this exam had been thrusted on her entire team only yesterday, and she was worried that their decision on the matter would be too rash, especially Naruto's. She knew that in order to take the test, all three of them would have to complete the application process, because the initial tests would end up being taken as a team. Living with as many Chuunin as she did had taught her at least that.

Kakashi had conveniently left out that fact when explaining the process to the rest of team. Hinata assumed this was with a purpose, so she didn't mention it. If one of them didn't want to take the exam, then she simply wouldn't either.

"This is sudden," Kakashi had announced. "But I've nominated you guys for the chuunin selection exams."

There was a moment of silence as they all took in his words.

"Here are your applications." He held out three slips of paper, ignoring their shocked expressions.

"KAKASHI! I LOVE YOU!" Naruto suddenly jumped the older man, landing in his back before being unceremoniously dumped to the ground.

Naruto was quick to jump back up to his feet and snatch his application from Kakashi. He stared at it excitedly with the fox like-grin that only he seemed to have the ability to make.

And now here they all were, applications in hand and as close to ready as they could possibly be. They were told to take their filled-out papers to room 301 for the first part of the test. Naruto was the first to make a move, grinning from ear to ear and strutting into the building like he owned the place. Sasuke and Hinata silently followed, warily eyeing the older ninja who were glaring at the blonde's audacity. Hinata wrung her hands together as she counted the number of other, much stronger looking Genin loitering outside and filling the corridors of the building.

While she was excited to be given the opportunity to -in a way- compete, she also realized that they were only rookies -children among children- and didn't have nearly the same amount of experience or influence as any of the others here. They had only climbed one flight of stairs when they spotted a commotion among the crowded Genin on the second floor. Shinobi were gathered in a semi circle. Two ninja not much older than any of the team 7 members were at the heart of it all. They were confronting two other, angry-looking Genin at the door.

The sign adjacent them indicated the room to be 301, and at first, this didn't make sense because Hinata was sure that we were on a second floor.

Then again, maybe the building had a basement? No, that doesn't seem likely…

One of two confronting Genin was roughly shoved to the ground and Hinata's heart clenched as she recognized his bright green jumpsuit. Lee rubbed the back of his wrapped wrist over his split bottom lip, wiping away the blood that had seeped out.

This was wrong. He was apart of one of the strongest Genin teams Hinata had ever met. They would not ever let themselves be pushed around like that.

"Hah!" One of the Genin blocking the door barked. He had hard, wild hair that mimicked the spikes of Naruto's. A small, white bandage covered each of his cheeks as well as his chin and if Hinata had to take a guess, they looked to be merely for decoration. "You plan to take the Chuunin exam with that?!"

The other nodded in agreement, piping up with a "You should quit now." He looked similar to the first Genin, though his hair was much shorter and laid flat on his head. He also lacked the bandages on his face, instead opting for a simple, black chin guard.

The first one continued with a sigh, taunting Lee and Tenten, who stepped in front of the awkward boy protectively.

"You're just a little kid." He smirked, and slapped Lee's female teammate out of his way as she inched forward.

Hinata choked back a gasp at the sight of her thrown to the floor. She didn't realize she had moved forward in an unconscious effort to offer her help until Sasuke held out a palm in front of her in a silent warning. This wasn't their fight, is what he seemed to be implying, but that that wasn't a good enough reason to Hinata for her not to offer my help. She bit her lower lip in worry.

"Listen," the Genin explained, exasperated. "The Chuunin exam isn't easy. Even we have failed it 3 straight times. Those that take this exam and end up quitting as Shinobi; those that die during the exam; we've seen them all. Even after passing, Chuunin often become captains of military teams. The failure of a mission… the death of a comrade… that is all the captain's responsibility, and yet stupid kids like you think that you can pass?" He turned his head down, cradling it in his palm. "We are just thinning out those that will fail, anyway. What's wrong with that?"

It was silent as everyone in the hall took in his seemingly sensible words.

"I completely agree," Sasuke spoke up from Hinata's side and every eye turned toward him, and to her and Naruto in direct relation. Hinata shrunk back behind her teammates not wanting to be noticed by Lee or the other members of his team. "But if you would, I'd like to pass through and get up to the third floor."

All of the other Genin, including Naruto, looked confused, but Hinata knew exactly what he was talking about. A low hum of murmurs surged from the group.

"Huh?"

"What's that guy talking about?"

"I don't know."

"Third floor?"

"So you noticed," the short-haired Genin affirmed, smirking and shushing the crowd.

Sasuke's returning smirk emanated smugness. "Not really, it was another member of my team that caught on first." huh? He couldn't have meant me, could he? "Hinata here has the best analytical ability and her Genjutsu know-how is the best of our team." He said by way of explanation, and she flushed in embarrassment at the compliment, momentarily forgetting her fear of being noticed. "I only deduced it because I noticed that she was already suspicious."

He gave her a look, urging her to speak up on the matter and confirm his remarks.

"O-of course. I noticed it as soon as we came up the stairs, because th-this is only the second floor, the room next to i-it says '202', and..." She wasn't about to admit that she had considered a basement especially after reading the other signs in the corridor. She looked up from the floor, making a point to lock her gaze on to the sign that read '301' before finishing her explanation. "and I c-can see through your genjutsu."

The lettering of the sign immediately dispersed and was replaced with the accurate '201'.

"Hmmm, not bad," the bandaged genin praised. "But all you did was see through a simple mind trick." He moved at the last two words and she took defensive stance because the next thing she knew he was in front of her, preparing for an attack. Hinata flinched, expecting to feel a hit, but before one was delivered she felt a hand tug at her arm and cause her to stumble back.

Naruto gripped Hinata's elbow, pulling her out of the way while Sasuke replaced the spot. Naruto's grin had turned into a snarl as he stepped in front of her protectively.

The other Genin adjusted his attack to match that of Sasuke's rebuttal.

Both were in mid kick when a flash of green stopped them.

Sasuke grunted, and Hinata heard the other Genin hiss as well. Rock Lee stood in between the two, stopping them mid-attack with a hold on each of their ankle's.

Hinata released a held breath. There is that Team Guy strength I'm familiar with. They must have been toning it down so as not to draw unwanted attention to themselves.

Sasuke remained balance while the other Genin landed on the floor, his foot still stuck in Lee's hold. The green-suited ninja had a stern expression painted onto his face, contrasting the happy one she had become accustomed to in his presence.

He let go of the two and the Genin, along with his second in command, scrambled off. They seemed to be discussing something among themselves and gave back heated glances in the direction of both teams. Hinata shivered.

Tenten approached Lee to give him a pat on the head. It seemed a normal enough reaction to Lee's intervention, for their team dynamics anyway, but Hinata's heart dropped into her stomach when the third member of their team finally made himself known with a much different response to the green-clad ninja's actions.

"What happened to the plan?" Neji chided Lee, appearing from nowhere. "You're the one who said we shouldn't draw attention to ourselves." Hinata couldn't have imagined the glare he shot at her as he finished his sentence. He thought it was her fault, and he was probably right.

"Well…" Lee began before glancing over at her. "Hey Hinata!" He bound over, reaching out and tugging at her sleeves.

Oh, yes. Neji was definitely right.

"H-hi, Lee…"

"You okay?" He asked, grinning as he gave her his standard encouraging thumbs-up sign.

"Y-yeah…"

"Good!" He pulled her into a quick hug and she squeaked at his ever-present affection. Lee was a nice guy, if not a bit weird at time. But maybe her was unfit to judge on that issue. She was called the 'weird Hyuuga girl' for most of her academy days. Even now she would still occasionally get similar comments from Naruto.

"Hello, Hinata," Tenten greeted, ignoring Neji and approaching Lee who still had Hinata in his arms. He released her, but only to pat her on the shoulders. "I didn't realize you and your team were going to take the exams this year as well. Neji… Neji never mentioned anything."

That's because Neji didn't know.

"Y-yes," Hinata confirmed, bowing her head slightly so as to avoid eye contact with the other female. "I only just discussed it with F-father yesterday evening. It was… a v-very last minute decision." She didn't mention the fact that her father had in fact greatly disapproved, firmly believing that she was nowhere near ready enough to attempt the exam. Though she silently shared his belief, she didn't want to let her team down and persuaded him to at least let her gain some experience from it.

"I see." Tenten nodded, sensing that Hinata really didn't want to reveal anymore on the subject of her family life.

"Hey, Hinata!" Naruto interrupted the pleasant silence that she and Tenten were sharing. "Do you know that guy over there?!" Hinata flinched, partially due to due blond teammate's volume but primarily because she knew exactly to whom he was referring to. "He has the same weird eyes as you!"

Weird...

Hinata swallowed before answering, holding the muscles in her jaw taut so as to keep them from shaking. It didn't stop the tremor in her voice as she spoke, however. "Th-that is my cousin, N-neji. This is w-why I am familiar with Tenten and Rock Lee. They are all m-members of the same team."

"Why don't you go say hi, then?" Naruto cocked an eyebrow, seeming confused at the distance that was apparent between she and her cousin and.

It's not that I wouldn't love to, but Neji doesn't like me very much.

Hinata wasn't sure how she was going to respond as she opened my mouth, but before even a whisper could escape Sasuke cut in, saving her from embarrassing myself.

"She doesn't have to if she doesn't want to, you moron. Not everyone jumps people like a lapdog." He stepped closer to Hinata, ignoring Naruto's cry of outrage and instead spoke to Tenten, regarding the girl with apathy while she stared at him, slack-jawed and enamored. "I'm sure Hinata would love to catch up with you, but my team and I need to go turn in our applications now."

Hinata silently thanked Sasuke as he and Naruto pulled her away from the terribly awkward encounter. Naruto seemed to have caught on to the tension in the air, because he remained silent while they walked away from the group of Genin that had dispersed as soon as the issue with the door had been resolved.

"Hey you!" Hinata was sure her whimper was audible, because both Naruto and Sasuke glanced at her before turning to look at Neji, who had suddenly called out to them.

"Whaaaaat?" Naruto whined. He didn't like strained situation, and probably couldn't wait until they were away from the others and back to normal.

"You should be wary of how close you stand to Miss Hyuuga," Hinata heard him spit out. "She is no average villager."

Miss Hyuuga.

Sometimes, even with all his animosity, Hinata wished he would use her first name. Just once.

"We are well aware of her status," Sasuke retorted. "Regardless, she can take care of herself, Hyuuga."

There was a pause before Neji asked, "What's your name?"

"When you want to learn someone's name, you should give yours first."

"You're entire team is just a group of weak rookies." The insult went straight to Hinata's gut, and even though she was still not facing him she could see the sneer on his face. "How old are you, anyway?"

Hinata was surprised at the rather childish insult that slipped from her cousin's lips.

Sasuke growled at the older Genin. "I don't have to answer you." He finally turned back around, leading Hinata and Naruto away.

When they were out of range, he stopped, clenching his fist. Naruto and Hinata stood silently at his side until, finally, he looked up and stared forward, donning his usual smirk. "This thing is getting fun; this Chuunin exam."

Hinata stared at him like he was insane, but when she looked over at Naruto for confirmation of her assessment of Sasuke's mental state he was just grinning his usual grin. She glanced back and forth between the two, and before she knew it, even she had a small smile on her face, feeling ten pounds lighter than a couple minutes before.

"Are you two ready for this?" Sasuke asked.

Hinata nodded, and Naruto pumped his fist in the air, glad that the air had cleared a bit.

"HELL YEAH!"

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Alexei: Sorry about skipping the bridge-building arc. It was especially hard to focus on because it didn't really add much to the story that I wanted to focus on… I may or may not rewrite and add it in later though so…