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"Hmm… not bad," said Ibiki as he inspected the poison Sakura had crafted. He dipped a finger into the green liquid and sniffed it before wiping it on the grass. "It's a little strong, given that this won't inhibit your target from screaming for help. You don't want the person you use this on to pick up on it too early."
Sakura nodded understandingly. "What can I use to weaken it? Should I just reduce the concentration of the purple wildflower roots I used or dilute it with something else?"
"Who knows?" asked Ibiki with an amused look in his eyes. "The fun with poisons is that you can experiment with them almost as much as you'd like. What kind of teacher would I be if I took that freedom away from you?"
Sakura noted that the man didn't seem half as intimidating as he had during the Chunin exams. "I guess that makes sense," said the girl with a bit of a shrug. She didn't really care much for experimenting, she wanted something with results.
"You'll come around," he said dismissively. "Now I want you to keep next Wednesday free. Tell Kakashi I said so if he asks."
"I reckon it'd be worthwhile for you to see some of the practical… applications of poisons," said the veteran torturer with a gleam in his eye. "You're not too squeamish, right?"
"Just a little," said Sakura, though she had become less so since becoming a Genin. After all she had helped Naruto burn several people alive in Suna.
"Even better," said Ibiki all too happily. "Anyway, if that's all, I reckon I'll be on my way."
Sakura nodded, turning to pack up her equipment before hesitating. "Actually there is this one thing I've been meaning to ask you."
"Oh?" Ibiki asked.
"Yeah it's about the Chunin Exams," said Sakura as she took a deep breath. Even though the event seemed like it had taken place years ago, after having spent so much time trying to come up with an answer, she needed a resolution to her questions. "I don't know if you remember but my team participated in the first part. There was me, Naruto - a really loud blond kid - and Sasuke… who's well, Sasuke Uchiha."
"I remember," said Ibiki firmly. "What of it?"
"Y-Yeah, well, Naruto got us kicked out of the exams because he was cheating but, well the thing is, h-he never cheated on the exam," said Sakura as she became more and more unsure of her words in front of the intimidating man.
"I can't do much about it now. It's in the past."
"I-I know, we just wanted to know why we were kicked out," said Sakura as she fiddled with her thumbs hopefully.
"All I know is that you three were kicked out because the blond brat was 'cheating'," said Ibiki with a shake of his head. "I wasn't the one who made the decision so I can't help you."
"Can't you give me the name of the Chunin who kicked Naruto out?" asked Sakura, crossing her fingers. If this was an example of the discrimination that Naruto suffered as the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki, then she would do her damndest to get to the bottom of it. "I can describe him for you if you want."
"No, I remember," said Ibiki as he looked the girl calmly in the eyes. "He's dead. Died during the invasion."
"So the fox's chakra... Can you draw on it through will?" asked Jiraiya as he threw his hands behind his head.
"Yeah, I can use it if I ask the fox to give me some, if that's what you mean," said Naruto. "I'm pretty worried that I'll mess things up and lose control of myself again, though."
"Tch, don't worry about that, you brat, that was a one time thing," said Jiraiya as he ruffled his godson's hair. "Anyway no, I meant more like being able to use it whenever you want. Kind of like how you can use your own chakra whenever you want."
"I dont think so," Naruto frowned, slightly confused by Jiraiya's words. Whenever the sealmaster got into the technical aspects of the seal on Naruto's stomach, the blond always found himself unable to keep up with the man's words. It was almost as if they were in another language. "When I ask for his chakra that kind of replaces my normal one, like it doesn't feel like I'm going anywhere special to access the chakra."
"Hmm… that's interesting," said Jiraiya as he scratched a bit of stubble on the bottom of his chin. "I want to make sure that you can take the fox's chakra without having to ask him for it, though. If he's as stubborn as you make it sound, there's a high chance you could end up in a life or death situation where he is not willing to comply and let you use his chakra."
"Can't you just teach me some cool Jutsu or something? So I don't have to rely on the furball's chakra?" whined Naruto. "I mean, everyone else in the world manages just fine without a demon in their gut, why do I have to rely on mine?"
"Not everyone else in the world. Imagine you find yourself up against a fellow Jinchuuriki, this one being the host to a demon that the Kyuubi is chummy with," hypothesised Jiraiya. "What do you do then when the fox doesn't want you to use his chakra? Fight another trained Jinchuuriki without your own demonic chakra? Kid, you've got potential, sure, but you're a long way away from getting to that point."
"Fine," sighed Naruto, "I'll try to get the stupid fox's chakra out without having to see his ugly face."
"That's the spirit," said Jiraiya with a grin before he gestured to a patch of grass a few metres away. "Now why don't you go see if you can get some red chakra happening while I go experiment with that new Jutsu you taught me… for research and stuff."
Naruto groaned but relented in the end and sat down to where Jiraiya had pointed. He tried to avoid the fact that the Sannin was shuddering with anticipation at the mere prospect of turning himself into a teenage girl, but he didn't have much luck. Closing his eyes, the blond attempted to focus on drawing out the fox's chakra.
He held out a palm and immediately a faint, dull blue glow of ethereal light coated it for a second before it flickered and dissipated into nothingness. As he had suspected, the only thing which he had managed to push out was his own chakra. Clenching his fists as he ignored the perverted giggle which escaped the 'experimenting' sealmaster's lips, Naruto tried to dive deeper into his own chakra. Even though his eyelids were firmly shut, his eyes felt like they were being assaulted by brilliant light, coloured in a bright blue shade. A slither of corrupted red chakra became visible through all the blue chakra, and the former prankster immediately narrowed in on it. It got larger and larger, almost tripling in size before it ceased to increase any further. With a grin atop his lips, the blond pushed the chakra out of his body and onto his hand.
Only to meet the exact same chakra as before. With a frustrated grunt, he repeated the process once more but to no avail. It just wasn't working.
He took a peek at Jiraiya, almost unsurprised to find that the man had transformed himself into a beautiful woman in her mid-twenties that was madly scribbling down words in a notebook, before resolving to never let the Jutsu fall into Kakashi's hands. Sakura would probably never forgive him. With a shake of his head, the Genin turned his attention back to the task at hand. For a moment he considered perhaps meditating until he managed to reach the Kyuubi where he would ask the fox for a quicker solution to draw upon its chakra before shuddering. Though his last meeting with the Kyuubi had been pleasant, unceasing insults put aside, he'd had just as many negative meetings with the tailed beast as he'd had somewhat positive ones; Naruto wasn't all that eager to find out how this one would turn out.
Growing more infuriated by the second, the blond pulled a few blades of grass from the ground in frustration as he attempted to make a breakthrough. Maybe Jiraiya would finally teach him another interesting thing - toad summoning was pretty kickass - if he manged to get this down.
Sasuke's Sharingan eyes span in place lazily as he tapped his pencil against his desk, at a loss for what he needed to put in his report. More out of habit now had he activated his Sharingan in an attempt to bolster his chakra reserves once more; the strain his bloodline placed on his eyes was minimal and it would remain that way until it advanced to the next level again again. After not only the battle they had faced in Suna but also the ambush they had run into when they thought they were home free, he knew that he had to continue growing in strength, even if it was just the smallest of bits at a time.
Especially with what he had lived through.
He'd covered the encounter they'd had with the Yondaime Kazekage - later revealed to be Orochimaru - and he'd gotten up to the bit where they engaged in combat with the Suna nin. Then he got stuck. He knew what happened next - Team Seven attempted to fight off the Suna nin and he got separated from the rest of the group - but he hadn't the slightest clue of how to pen his recollection.
The Uchiha considered giving up and looking for a spar like he'd been itching to do for quite a while, but he figured that he needed to get through the infernal report before it ate up anymore of his time. Sasuke was tempted to see what his fellow teammates had written. Kakashi would undoubtedly be of no help, regardless of whether or not he had actually filled out his report, since the masked Jounin would probably be too lazy to offer actual guidance. Naruto had probably found a way to use the paper he was meant to be writing his report on to make ramen, so that left Sakura.
The Uchiha had mixed feelings about the girl. She was still annoying but less so than she had been when they had first been assigned to Team Seven. Although she still probably doted over him in her spare time, Sakura seemed to slowly be becoming more understanding of the fact that he had no romantic intentions related to her. Not now and not ever. Just the other day, she had cut him off with a blow to his side after he had almost publicly talked about Naruto's Jinchuuriki status; hardly the action of a mindless little girl who thought he could do no wrong.
Her more annoying tendencies put to the side, she was also book-smart. That probably meant she had made decent headway with her report, likely the only one in the team who had done so except for the possible wildcard that was Kakashi. Sasuke figured that though she would probably be a bit too overeager to lend him a hand, it beat sitting here aimlessly as he attempted to come up with something to write down.
"Any luck, brat?" asked Jiraiya as he looked fixedly at the blond, the setting sun visible an inch or two above his shoulder.
"Nah," said Naruto with a frown as he looked around. He hadn't realised that so much time had passed. "I tried a bunch of different weird things, even ended up talking to the Kyuubi, but nothing worked."
"You mean you wasted all that valuable time? If I wasn't babysitting you, I could have taken my research to the next level!" exclaimed Jiraiya, bummed out that he had wasted a perfect opportunity to infiltrate the female hot springs. "So what did the Kyuubi say to you?"
"Eh, the old furball told me not to waste its time before ignoring me," said Naruto as he rubbed the back of his head, sheepishly recalling a few tactics he'd resorted to in order to try and get the beast's attention.
"Well, keep at it, I guess," said Jiraiya, although his words weren't all that encouraging. "This isn't something that many people are going to be able to help you with. Most of your fellow Jinchuuriki are probably insane like that Gaara kid or on the other side of the continent."
"Gaara wasn't crazy," said Naruto as he stuck up for the boy who he viewed as a friend. "Just a little misunderstood."
"It's definitely not his fault, I understand that, brat, but I've seen plenty ninja in my time," Jiraiya said as he ruffled Naruto's hair in a fatherly manner. "And I know when one has a screw or two loose."
"He seemed better after you kidnapped him, though."
"What did you just say, you stupid brat?" asked a visibly irate Jiraiya. Naruto couldn't tell if he was joking or not, but that's what he liked about the man. "I didn't kidnap anyone… and how do you know that?"
"I snuck in when you were off peeping on some old lady," said Naruto as he stuck out his tongue. "Then I talked to Gaara a little, and he didn't try to kill me or anything."
"He probably couldn't have. I sealed off Shukaku's chakra completely," answered Jiraiya, comparing the skill levels of the two jinchuuriki for a moment. "You'd need the Kyuubi to beat him the second he tapped into Shukaku's chakra, and probably to penetrate that annoying shield of his, but if you took both of those things away, I'm quite sure you could take him."
"Pfft, you're underestimating your future Hokage," said Naruto as he puffed out his chest. "But I didn't know you knew how to seal off a tailed beast's chakra. That's pretty cool."
"What kind of shoddy sealmaster do you take me for?"
"Well, it just seems that Jinchuuriki like me could easily be taken out of a war scenario if somebody was able to remove our connection to the Biju," said Naruto, taking Jiraiya back a bit, the sage realising that Naruto was actually catching on.
"True," said Jiraiya as he regained his composure quickly. "As with what happened with Gaara, it is possible to render a Jinchuuriki seemingly powerless without the power of their Biju. You have to remember, though, that these people are still trained ninja, perfectly capable of killing you with ease. The access to a Biju's chakra does make them more elite than most ninja, but without it the title of ninja still remains."
"So if I was to come up against another jinchuuriki," said Naruto trying to come up with a reasonable scenario in his head, "if I try and spend all my time trying to seal off their Biju's chakra, they could still kill me even without access to that chakra."
"Exactly… wait, did you just say that you would try to seal off a Biju's chakra?" asked Jiraiya getting a small nod from the blond- haired boy. "Kid, that is some advanced stuff that would take years for you to learn, let alone master."
"Couldn't I just cheat a few years by using shadow clones to help me memorise stroke movements as well as work on the speed of writing?" asked Naruto recalling how he had been taught about his shadow clones being able to transfer their memories and what they'd learned back to him. While he wouldn't gain any muscle mass or any strength in his body, he would subconsciously learn muscle movement which in terms of writing would allow him to learn how to properly use seals much faster than anybody else could, considering the amount of clones he could create.
Jiraiya blinked a couple of times as his thoughts mirrored what Naruto had been thinking before a wry smile crossed his lips. Walking forward, he patted the kid on the shoulder. "I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship."
It turned out that a spar had been just what Sasuke had needed to clear his mind after spending hours staring at a piece of paper. The majority of the report was done, but he was fairly certain that particular subjects had to be handled with caution, and he would have to ask Kakashi what could be put down in writing and what could not.
Before then, however, he had to worry about the flurry of fists heading in his direction. Fists that he was only just able to dodge in time due to his Sharingan spinning wildly and helping him every step of the way. Seeing a foot heading towards his stomach didn't help, though, since it was coming at a rate much faster than he could react to.
The blow struck hard and true, causing Sasuke to skid across the ground as his feet created trenches through the dirt. Despite it all, however, the teen managed to keep upright, which was something he was actually quite proud about given the circumstances. This newly upgraded Chunin was clearly something more, something that would have put a majority of the enemies he had fought in Suna to shame.
"You are quite the youthful opponent," stated Lee in his version of a compliment. "It would seem it is truly fitting that you were given the title of Rookie of the Year."
Sasuke couldn't help but scoff at that, especially after having seen that the apparent bottom of the grade was leagues and bounds stronger than he was. It didn't truly make sense as to why Naruto had been looked so down on during the years at the academy. If anything, due to his status he should have been given better treatment on how to control his abilities, but it would seem that the grudge people had upon the Kyuubi clouded their judgement, and as such they could only look upon Naruto with malice and hate.
If only things had been different.
"You're not so bad yourself," said Sasuke as he took this opportunity to get his breath back, the last attack having knocked most of the wind out of his sails. "I can tell you're holding back, though."
"You have a keen eye, my most youthful opponent," said Lee, beaming brightly. "Your flames of youth surely burn brightest upon this day."
As much as Sasuke wanted to strangle the boy for using those kinds of words, he managed to keep calm and focused. Were his 'flames of youth' burning at their brightest, however? He doubted that. He imagined they had done so when they were outnumbered thirty to one in Suna, but he wouldn't bring that up as a point of conversation and never would he use the same wording as the spande clan shinobi. "Are they bright enough to take you down?"
"We shall see," said Lee as he charged forward, Sasuke mimicking his actions as their fists collided with one another with enough force to create the smallest of shockwaves, neither opponent feeling any pain from the attack as they pursued onwards in an attempt to get the upper hand on the other.
Anybody who would have been watching the match would have been astounded by the amount of pure power the two teenagers possessed, both of them worthy of the title of Chunin if not more. After nearly ten minutes, however, one of them had to give, and Sasuke soon found himself on his back, breathing heavily having taken too much damage over the course of the fight. While he had managed to break past Lee's guard on numerous occasions, the spandex-clad teenager had always been able to bounce back. Needless to say, however, the last Uchiha in Konoha had certainly learned a lot during the bout.
"Most impressive, Sasuke-kun," said Lee as he offered a hand to his opponent, Sasuke quickly taking it and allowing himself to be pulled to his feet. "For a minute there I feared that I would need to access the first of my Gates."
"Was your Jonin sensei not youthful enough to teach you about the Hachimon Gates?"
For Sasuke, having challenged the spandex-clad Chunin just became a whole lot more worthwhile.
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