This chapter is brought to you by Razamataz22 and Kakarot Son.
Disclaimer: Team Dragon Star does not own Naruto.
Naruto screwed up his face as he stared at the questions in front of him; he might as well have been reading text from a different language. These questions were nothing like the ones he had had to answer in the academy, and even a majority of those he had gotten incorrect. As the rules had been explained earlier, getting a zero on this test would result in his entire team failing. If he cheated and got caught that would be a deduction of two points. That, alongside the fact that he didn't even know where to begin with the questions in front of him, had him feeling rather nervous.
All around him he could hear the gentle scratching of pencils on paper, their constant rhythm infuriating him because of his inability to answer even a single question. Hinata had offered Naruto the opportunity to look off of her paper, but Naruto had nearly had his head skewered as a result when a kunai had shot past and stabbed the test that another one of the Genin behind him had been writing on - something that quickly dissuaded him. He had managed to give Hinata a bullshit excuse saying that he was too awesome to need to cheat, but he soon found himself regretting it as he realised just how difficult the questions were. When she'd offered again, he'd managed to put on a bit of bravado for the girl by saying that he didn't want Hinata to get in trouble for allowing him to cheat off her. If anything came out of this test, it was that he now knew he was too stubborn for his own good.
"Number 32, fail," shouted one of the examiners, making Naruto's eyes go wide. Thirty-two... that had been the number he'd been given. He was about to shout out in rage and say that he hadn't cheated at all when he remembered how several other Genin had been dealt with when they had done something similar.
"Naruto-kun," said Hinata softly, never once having seen her crush cheat. Looking around, she tried to spot the Chunin that had been the one to call Naruto out, but it was difficult to pick which of the several higher ranking shinobi had been the one to do it.
The proctor of the exam, Morino Ibiki, had been watching all of the Genin in front of him like a hawk. He had not seen the orange-clad Genin cheat once but even though he doubted it, it was possible he missed something. There was an occasional glance to the side but that looked like a thinking pose, much how like some people chewed on their pen when they were brainstorming. However, the rules were his rules and he would not show weakness by overriding one of his subordinate's decision. While it would show that he was the dominant force in the room, he could not give leniency especially because they were a Konoha team and it could be viewed as a form of favouritism.
"You heard him," said Ibiki, not letting any emotions form upon his face. "Teammates of his are disqualified as well." Slowly, Sasuke and Sakura got up from their seats as Naruto got up from his, his usual loud demeanour having all but vanished.
"Hey Hinata, you better become a Chūnin, for both of us," said Naruto with a weak smile as he walked past, causing the Hyuga heiress to blush as she found herself filled with newfound confidence. The blond could feel the eyes of his teammates drilling into his back but couldn't muster up the courage to turn around and look them in the eye.
Sakura, who had been too busy doing the test without having to cheat at all, was fuming at her teammate. That being said, she didn't voice it out at the moment, dejectedly thinking how it had just been unfortunate that their first test would be a written exam and in the end it was unavoidable that Naruto would need to resort to cheating. As the door closed behind them, all of the Genin returned to the work at hand while a few of those from Konoha's spirits rose at the prospect of potentially being promoted before the best in their class.
Once they had reached outside, Naruto ran his fingers through his hair as his eyes adjusted to the sunshine. Looking around he could see that there were several other groups of ninja who were fuming at one of their teammates for having screwed up. One team seemed to have automatically patched things up and were laughing as if it was a running gag between the three of them. While he hoped something like that would be similar for Team Seven, when he turned around to see the fury in Sakura's eyes he knew it was but a fleeting hope.
"Naruto!" shouted Sakura as she raised her fist up to strike the blond, but before she could follow through her wrist was grabbed by Sasuke.
"Calm down Sakura," he said sternly, the pink-haired girl quickly obeying his words. While he was irritated by the fact that he would have to wait until the next lot of exams to get promoted, he couldn't help but shake the feeling that there was something else going on here.
"Thanks Sasuke," said Naruto, thankful that he wasn't nursing a swollen head right about now.
"Naruto," said Sakura, anger still present within her voice. "What did you do to get caught?"
"I didn't cheat," muttered Naruto, causing both Sakura and Sasuke to look at him with confusion.
"But you had to cheat five times in order to get evicted from the exam, don't lie to us Naruto," warned Sakura as she lifted her fist to eye level.
"Sasuke," said Naruto, knowing that he would get a better response from the last Uchiha than Sakura at the present moment. "If you cheated and in doing so got an answer, what would be the first thing you'd do?"
"Write it down?" asked Sasuke in response, unsure if this was the right answer to give. Instead of Naruto answering with words, he reached into his jacket and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper, handing it to his two teammates. As they took it they automatically recognised it as the exam they had just been taking, somehow Naruto must have been able to sneak the test out without anybody having noticed. Unlike the sheets they had been working on, however, this piece of paper was devoid of all writing except for where Naruto had written his name in the top right hand corner. "I see," muttered Sasuke as if deep in thought.
"What do you see Sasuke? All this means is that Naruto is a baka," accused Sakura with a shake of her head.
"I wouldn't think the dobe to be the baka here if you can't see what this means," said Sasuke, which caused Sakura to take a step back.
Sakura couldn't remember the last time anybody had called her a baka. Clearly, Sasuke had understood something from the paper which she had not, so she carefully studied the document in front of her once more. It took several seconds before her eyes went wide as she realised what Sasuke had meant. "You didn't cheat at all?" asked Sakura, although she was fairly sure of the answer. It seemed so simple now, like Sasuke said, as soon as a person had an answer they would write it down regardless of whether or not the answer had been gathered through cheating. Naruto needed to have been caught cheating at least five times to have been disqualified and it certainly didn't make sense for him to not write down the other four answers he would have found had he cheated.
"I had the option to once, but I chose not to because I didn't want to get us disqualified," admitted Naruto. "Somehow though I still manage to screw up."
"Maybe you had pranked one of those Chunin a long time ago and this was their way of getting revenge," offered Sakura trying to think of a solution. As she said it though, she realised just how ridiculous that sounded; even if a ninja had been pranked by Naruto, causing an entire team to fail seemed like overkill for such petty revenge. Plus for as long as she'd been on the team with the blond, she couldn't once recall him having done anything to truly anger anybody of higher rank so she doubted a Chunin would have waited so long to get back at Naruto.
"Maybe," said Naruto as he looked up towards the clouds before muttering a string of incoherent words. Sasuke said nothing but he had reacted to the tone in Naruto's voice. The Uchiha could tell that it had nothing to do with a prank that Naruto had pulled but it did have something to do with the Uzumaki, the blond's tone having given it away. He didn't want to pester Naruto on the subject; however, he had never seen his teammate in such a quiet mood before and while it was a welcome reprieve for his ears, it also was quite unnerving.
"So what now?" asked Sakura, praying in the back of her mind that Ino didn't get promoted before her.
"Find Kakashi-sensei, tell him we failed and then train to be able to kick ass in the next exams," said Naruto, his usual fire seeming to reignite.
"Sounds like a plan," said Sasuke with a smirk, somewhat relieved that Naruto was back to normal.
"Do you even know where Kakashi is?" asked Sakura.
"Nah, but last one to find him has to buy the rest of the team lunch!" said Naruto with a cheeky grin before dashing off, intent on making the others buy his food for today.
"Naruto, you cheater!" shouted an outraged Sakura, although she couldn't help but feel the irony of calling Naruto a cheater now of all times. Before she could leap off to give chase, Sasuke's hand landed on her shoulder, holding her firmly in place.
"Sakura, we need to talk," said Sasuke, the girl merely nodding in response. Her heart started to flutter, rarely had Sasuke wanted to talk to her let alone in a private setting; it was almost like a dream come true. "It's about Naruto." And just like that the dream shattered but as she snapped back to reality she realised that this was probably an important discussion to talk about.
"What about him?" asked Sakura.
"He knows why that Chūnin failed him and to an extent failed us, I could tell by his voice," explained Sasuke. "Something doesn't seem right and I want to get to the bottom of this."
"Couldn't we just ask Naruto?" questioned Sakura curiously.
"If he wanted to tell us he would have," said Sasuke shaking his head. "I have a hunch that this is also connected to why Naruto gets off-looks whenever we walk through town as a team." Sakura nodded her head as she recalled the last instant such a thing had occurred when they had been walking down the street and a mother had guided her son into a nearby shop, away from them as if in fear. Yet when she had tossed a final glance over her shoulder, it hadn't been the fear in her eyes she was expecting, but hatred. She had been unable to come up with an answer for what said hatred was directed towards, however.
"So what do we start with first?" asked Sakura.
"When we find Kakashi, we'll tell him to have a quick session with Naruto this afternoon to give him some advice on how to be stealthy while obtaining information," said Sasuke. "While they're off doing their thing we'll go to Naruto's place and have a look around, maybe we can at least get a clue as to where we should start."
"Alright then, let's go find Kakashi," said Sakura as her teammate nodded before they both shot off to try and find the Jounin. While she would be spending the day researching the blond member of their team, she couldn't help but be happy that she would be spending the next few hours with Sasuke alone, something she had always dreamed of. Somehow though now she preferred the dreams to reality.
Naruto cowered slightly under the emotionless gaze Kakashi was sending his way. Knowing that the masked-man no doubt knew that he had been caught cheating, Naruto crossed his hands above his head in defence, pushing away his bowl of ramen for once. It also didn't help Naruto's appetite to know that his entire team was eating out of his wallet, the blond having been the last one to come across their sensei.
"I-I'm sorry Kakashi sensei, I got us kicked ou-"
"Nonsense," said Kakashi as he held a gloved hand in the air to silence the blond. "It's my fault, I hadn't prepared the three of you adequately for the exams. Especially you; your stealth and reconnaissance skills have never been all that strong."
Naruto opened his mouth to protest the unfairness of such an implication before promptly shutting it. There was a degree of truth to Kakashi's words, Naruto couldn't say that the team building exercises and chakra control exercises they had done had helped very much during the exam... it hadn't been anything he had expected it to be. It was more his fault, however, that he had expected the Chunin exams to involve more fighting-based tests than written ones.
Sakura prodded her fingers in a nervous fashion while Sasuke avoided the blond's eyes, both knowing that if they didn't get their teammate stuck with Kakashi they wouldn't be able to try and find any information.
Kakashi however, had an inkling of what was going on in the two's minds but he had been presented with a good opportunity to increase Naruto's general stealth and perception skills. Now was a better time than ever given that he was almost positive that if Naruto relived the day they fought Haku and Zabuza, he would still blindly charge into the ice prison that Haku had conjured around Sasuke.
"Okay," said Naruto, nodding his head in acceptance. "So how are we going to do that?"
"Meet me at our usual training ground tomorrow, nine in the morning," said Kakashi before turning to Sakura and Sasuke. "The two of you can take tomorrow off, maybe think about how you yourselves could've gone about the entire situation in the exam better."
"Actually sensei," Sakura bit her lip slightly. "Sasuke and I were just about to leave, you guys could probably get an early start now."
Kakashi raised an eyebrow inquisitively at the girl's words, due to his height he could see that Sasuke hadn't yet finished his ramen but the raven-haired boy still stood up nonetheless. "Yeah I need to practice by myself, after all this time around the dobe I'm already feeling stupider," he said coldly without missing a beat so as to not give anything about what they were actually going to do away. Promptly leaving the ramen stand as Sakura followed, Sasuke headed towards the Uchiha clan grounds where no-one would be able to overhear them.
Kakashi sighed as he pulled out an Icha-Icha book from his pocket before lowly muttering a few words to Naruto. "Finish your ramen so we can get started, the sun's going to be setting in about an hour or two."
Naruto simply nodded as he continued to eat his lunch, only looking up slightly whenever a slight giggle got past Kakashi's mask.