The Worlds Greatest Chunin Exam Team
A/N This story started as an idea that was mostly a crackfic, but one I've attempted to play straight. There's plenty of stories that deal with Naruto retaking the Chunin exams, however most of them (for tension I suppose) make him struggle, typically against Genin with Jonin or higher skill level.
Having him struggle in the Chunin exams against other Genin seems ridiculous, so I wanted to experiment with a story that would highlight that. Then at the same time I thought, who should his team be? Hanabi and/or Konohamau are obvious and overused choices... I thought I'd have a little more fun than that.
You can expect minor spoilers for the Manga up to Chapter 628. Story is set after the war.
Other than that, enjoy!
It was a beautiful day. The sun was bright, the birds were singing, the peace after the Shinobi Alliance War had all signs of continuing, she had a fresh jug of sake hidden from Shizune, there wasn't even much paperwork stacked up on her desk... At least not enough that she couldn't sneak away for a few hours and enjoy a drink in the warm midday sun.
So, by all respects she should be in a good mood, unfortunately, the one problem she'd been persistently putting off addressing, was now staring her right in the face.
"C'mon Baa-chan! What the hell!?"
She winced slightly at the volume, and yelling at her, of course.
The problem keeping her from a blissful afternoon of drinking, one year after the Shinobi Alliance War, the eternal Genin, Naruto Uzumaki was standing in front of her demanding the answers she owed him. Part of her wanted to smack some sense into the brat and be done with it, unfortunately the guilt she had at delivering the bad news and for her own part in it stayed her hand.
He'd been so happy when she'd called him in too... So happy to hear that Konoha was finally hosting the first Chunin Exams since the war. So happy... Right until she'd informed him that he wouldn't be participating.
The exams themselves were enough of a headache. With the major villages spending so much time getting things back in order after the catastrophic losses from the war it had taken this long to even get started, not to mention that with the new alliances in place all the major villages and most of the minor villages would be attending.
"Don't tell me you need me on another diplomatic mission or something? I just got back a few days ago!"
Naruto had been busy as well she mused; he had somehow become a large factor in sustaining the current peace between the villages. Not only had he made a quite the name for himself, leading the forces towards their final push for victory but thanks to his uncanny knack for making fast friends with anyone he met he'd somehow managed to forge friendships with almost all the major players from any given village.
Beyond simply being famous throughout the Elemental Lands, everyone wanted to speak to Uzumaki Naruto now, anytime new terms of agreements or trade deals were discussed negotiations went much better when he was there escorting the diplomat.
Apparently it was that much harder to try screw Konoha on terms with him standing there grinning that stupid "We're all good people, we should be friends, lets hang out together!" smile of his around the room. Although, the fact that said smile also entailed "By the way I know all the strongest ninja in your village and hold close ties with your leader" didn't hurt.
It seemed these days everyone wanted Naruto as an ally, if for no other reason than everyone else considered him one, to be anything else could be very dangerous.
She sighed again, tuning him out he continued ranting leaving her unable to get a word in edgewise. She took another moment to examine the man before her; it really was hard to believe the little brat had grown so big. He wasn't "that Naruto" anymore, now he was Naruto Uzumaki, the Hero of Konoha, the Orange Flash, the prophesised Saviour...
...The man who, if her reports were to be believed, had apparently told the advisors of the Tsuchikage "Hey, you guys should go easy on Suna! They're having a hard time right now, but they're all good people! You'd all get along well!" completely oblivious to more than 80 years of previous bad blood, ambushes, betrayals and war between those two villages. The fact that he'd then managed to both keep his head and report in "Mission Successful" two days ago fit right into his "surprising" profile.
Deciding the less she thought about that the better she shook herself from her thoughts, it was time to stop stalling. "Naruto" she interrupted, "it's nothing like that. You've got time off for the next few weeks. Actually I'm pulling most of our important ninja back to the village during the exams, you included." it never hurt to stroke his ego a little, she smiled as he puffed himself up slightly, years on and the boy still treated praise as a rare luxury.
"It's simply a matter of logistics" she continued "full teams of three are required to compete and there aren't any eligible teams down a man. We don't have any spots for you."
"Just let me take it alone! I can handle it!" he argued with his usual confidence, although, not unwarranted in this circumstance she admitted "I can use Kage Bunshin for anything that needs multiple people!"
"I considered that as well, but ultimately a Chunin is a leader of a team of ninja. He's a ninja who works with a team, taking the exam alone, ordering Bunshin around, none of that will show off the skills required to lead a team." Her heart ached looking at his disappointment right now "I know this is hard on you, I'm sorry Naruto, I really am." She hated moments like this, for someone who was meant to be the impartial leader of the village she loved that damn brat far too much. Standing in the way of his progress like this pained her.
He pouted and her guilt multiplied watching the last of his exuberance drain away. Grappling with the knowledge that he was being left behind... Again. He opened his mouth to voice another question but closed it without saying a word, suddenly looking as vulnerable as she'd ever seen him, clearly struggling to build up the courage to ask the question weighing on him. For a ninja who spent most of his life blurting out the first thing that came to mind, speaking from the heart more than the head, it was a very rare look... Any other time and she would have found it funny, right now she could barely stand it.
He tried again, his voice barely a whisper this time, "I just don't get why I'm still a Genin y'know... Why everyone else got promoted after the war..." he trailed off, not quite asking the question he'd struggled with every time he'd seen her for the last six months.
She sighed, there it was at last, the elephant in the room, the reason she'd been making an effort to go easy on him lately... The fact that he'd had to watch everyone else be promoted while he was passed over once again. Something he would have never expected from her.
Quite frankly she found the idea that Naruto, an S-Class ninja and unquestionable village asset, was considered a Genin ridiculous. Especially considering his vast (if insubordinate) contribution in the last war, without question, his presence had far outweighed that of any of his peers. Yet in the following months she'd promoted most of the ninja in his year group to either special or full Jonin while he, the only Genin on the frontlines had been ignored.
It was nonsense, he knew it, she knew it and the fact that he'd taken until now to question her about it honestly surprised her. Tsunade wondered whether that from was his trust in her, knowing that she'd never seek to screw him over or if he was simply hurt that he'd been ignored yet again. Thinking for a moment she decided it was probably best not to know.
"I understand your frustrations with this Naruto, I do. To be honest there are a few reasons we haven't moved you up." His eyes were boring into her now, she could see the hope in them, the hope that there was an explanation for this "Quite simply, the most important reason is that you're too valuable to the village for us to give you a standard rank increase."
He looked confused, so she explained "Think about it, you know how the Chunin exams work, the reasoning behind them, drawing in the best clients and the best missions. If we just hand you a promotion then it's done with. On the other hand, if you're able to compete in front of an audience, well, Konoha as a whole looks much stronger. Everyone will be able to see your strength!"
She was playing it up slightly; he was already incredibly famous even if only among ninja, but pandering his ego couldn't hurt. The fact he was rubbing his head and trying not to grin instead of glaring at her was a good sign. "Most ninja saw your strength in the last war, there's already stories and legends being made about you. However for the civilian world, they can't truly understand how much stronger you are from that alone. A civilian hears "S-Class" and just thinks "a very strong ninja", doing this lets them see your strength is incomparable... So, we put you on a stage, you crush anyone that comes at you, pass easily and the village prospers"
Her words had an immediate effect, even with the acknowledgement he got now he still was terribly weak to having his ego pandered to.
"So... You're saying I'm too important for a field promotion then?"
That idea seemed to appease him at least, she decided to drop another hook "Exactly! Not to mention how much it'll add to your credibility as a Hokage candidate!" the effect of that bait was immediate and obvious.
Tsunade smiled, this was going far better than she'd dared hope for, she was feeling less guilty already! She mentally kicked herself, they should have had this discussion months ago. Really, she thought, she should have known he'd take it well enough, this was Naruto she was dealing with! The brat was practically incapable of bearing anyone ill will! If she played it right maybe she'd still be able to sneak out and enjoy some sunshine before Shizune came to see her...
"I'm actually surprised you'd even want a field promotion. I would have thought you'd prefer it this way. You're not the kind of person who wants things gifted to you! I'd expected you to want to grasp this with your own hands!" she tactfully ignored the fact that by now a Chunin qualification was well below him, that he'd earned it in the field, and thus grasped it with his own hands, many times over by now.
"Anyway, it's not like we treat you like a Genin. You haven't done a mission below B rank in months! How many other Genin do you see me giving S-Rank missions too? Hell, how many other Chunin do you see? You get more S and A rank missions than most Jonin!" she softened for a moment "No-one doubts you brat, all a promotion would do is give you more responsibility. I would have thought me training you to be Hokage was enough for you? Do you want to start taking in Genin or something?"
He was all smiles now "Ah, no, well you know Baa-chan! I was just curious! I didn't blame you or anything" he wasn't quite meeting her eyes when he said that she noticed sadly "I just thought, y'know, maybe it was because... With the Kyubei and... Ah, anyway! So I'm too important to be promoted outside the exams? That's fine! I'll just take them and kick everyone's ass! Yeah!"
She winced, so much for wrapping this up and getting a drink... Now they were back at square one. He was mostly mollified but she really didn't want to go through the whole song and dance with him again, she cut right to the chase, "Exactly! Just not these Chunin exams unfortunately, but as soon as we have a team with a spot we'll put you straight in"
"Sure thing! Yeah! And hey, I mean, if something happens or I find a team that'd be fine right?"
This time it was her turn to glare at him "Naruto. If a spot opens or you're able to form a team then that's fine... But I do NOT want to hear about you going around badgering teams to get someone to drop out so you can take a spot!" he balked, she decided that probably wasn't his style regardless and relented slightly "Well, neither Kakashi nor Yamato have any missions right now, so yes Naruto, if you can find 2 other Genin squad mates then either of them can be your Jonin-Sensei and I'd be happy to have you compete."
That would probably be fine she thought and hey, it was Naruto, the brat who made miracles happen. Maybe she would be seeing him in the exams after all, she was fairly sure all the eligible Genin were accounted for, but she'd worry about that later. For now, she'd finally had the conversation she'd been dreading, that deserved a celebration! "Good, so get out of here. I've got important business to take care of before Shizune gets here!" she was already pulling her drawer open.
He didn't believe her for a second but he did leave so she pretended not to hear him laughing at her or calling her an old drunk.
Unfortunately when he was just down the hall she couldn't pretend not to hear him cry out "Ahhh! Hey! Shizune-nee-chan!" Tsunade froze, hand already clenched around the neck of the bottle. Damn. So close. She felt like crying, it could have become such a perfect afternoon.
"Uhhh... Hey, I've been having some trouble with my arm since the last mission, could you come take a look at it for me?"
Grinning as she heard Shizune's confused cries of "What... Now? Huh? Naruto-kun!" as she was dragged away Tsunade remembered why she loved that damn brat.
A few hours later, after receiving a thorough examination from a confused Shizune, Naruto found himself aimlessly wandering around the village. He was still in a bit of a funk from hearing he wouldn't be able to compete in the upcoming exams and beyond that didn't really have anything to do.
It was a little past midday though so the best course of action he decided would be to grab something to eat and then figure out a plan for the afternoon. Unfortunately even choosing lunch wasn't as easy as it used to be
'I really feel like Ramen, but Sakura-chan'll be mad if she hears I was at Ichiraku's three meals in a row after she made me promise to cut down... Hmmm, maybe some donburi? Or, hey is that?-'
"Oi! Hinata-chan!" he called out dashing over to her. Hinata wasn't necessarily the best lunch company, since she didn't talk much and tended to spend most of the meal going bright red. Still, she was a nice girl, he hadn't regretted making an effort to get to know her after the war for even a moment, plus she was a good listener, perfect for venting his frustrations about those damn exams!
"Hey! What're you up to? You free? I'm getting some lunch, come with!"
Instantly breaking out into the most un-flattering blush and stiffening ramrod straight, Hinata bravely fought down the urge to hide behind the nearest telephone pole.
"N-Naruto-kun?" wincing slightly at that damn stutter she pressed on "Sure, I'm not doing anything important, I'd love to." Truthfully, she'd eaten about a half hour ago and her father was probably expecting her back soon... That was fine though, she'd just get something small! Lunch with Naruto? Her whole body warmed at the prospect.
Hinata was actually very happy with her life recently. Things had settled down after the war which had given her and Naruto time to talk without any daunting threats over their heads. While she knew they weren't necessarily "dating", strictly speaking, per-se... They did spend a lot of time together whenever they were free. He had wanted to get to know her better and she was getting much less shy around him. She barely even stuttered anymore!
The only downside she could think of was with him being so busy these days, always heading off for weeks at a time on one diplomatic mission or another, the times they got to spend together were few and far between. Still, even that wasn't so bad, that was just because people had finally realised what she'd always known about him! Anyway, she knew the Chunin exams were coming up, things would slow down after that.
Her body warmed again at that thought, Naruto must have leave coming up afterwards, and she'd been putting off taking leave of her own. Hopefully she'd be able to take hers at the same time! A few weeks or maybe even a month to just relax in the village with Naruto! No missions, no S-Class threats, no war... Just her and him... Hinata was very proud of herself for not blushing as her thoughts trailed off for a moment there, she truly had grown!
And so, just like she'd promised, Hinata walked side by side with the man she loved making small talk while they ended up deciding on okonomiyaki.
"Ehh, no way! You're gonna be proctoring the exams?" For someone in the process of shovelling as much okonomyaki in his mouth as possible, Naruto was surprisingly coherent. He knew it probably wasn't the most polite way to eat, Sakura-chan would get mad at him but Hinata-chan never complained and she always seemed happy whenever she ate with him so he enjoyed getting away with it.
"Well... I don't know if I'll actually get to... I'd like to, Hanabi-chan's going to be entering, it'll be her first time... I want to look out for her!"
He whistled, "wow, so mini-Hina's gonna be a Chunin! That's hard to believe, she's so tiny!"
"...She doesn't like it when you call her that Naruto-kun..." Hinata huffed, defending her sister. He just laughed and shovelled more food down. Hinata scolding him! Who would'a thought? "...But yes, she's going to be attempting it..."
"Well she's a nice girl anyway, I like her! And! If she's anywhere near as strong as you were at that age she'll pass first time for sure!" his finger (and chopsticks) were raised to the ceiling to emphasise that last point. "I'll have to watch her matches with you, lets cheer her together!"
Showing just how much she'd improved, Hinata spent less than ten seconds going bright red at the thought of sitting beside Naruto in the stands watching the matches... That would definitely, probably, most likely, count as a date!
That didn't stop her from noticing the slight flaw in his plan though "... But, ano, won't you... Be participating in those matches Naruto-kun?" Hinata thought it was completely silly that Naruto was still considered a Genin, especially after the war. Surely he would be competing this time to finally be advanced?
When she saw his face instantly darken she immediately regretted the question, while it wasn't unusual to see Naruto sulk about something, to see a smile fall off his face that quickly... It was obviously a very sore subject.
"Yeah. I should be, it's stupid... " he twirled his chopsticks searching for words "apparently there's no Genin teams with a spot open and they won't let me enter by myself." He stabbed his chopsticks into the remainder of the food and twisted them around "... Gonna be a Genin for another 6 months at least" he said with a resigned sigh. Baa-chan had made good points (mostly about him being too awesome to get freebie titles), but still, it was hard to accept.
"...Oh..." Now it was Hinata's turn to be depressed. She hated seeing him like this, especially since she knew he didn't deserve it. If she didn't know how close Naruto and the Hokage were, or that he was being groomed as her successor she would have been furious at the lady.
It had been awful after the war, when everyone had received notification of their promotions. She'd rushed to congratulate him, happily told him about her becoming a Special-Jonin and then heard he was still a Genin. He'd taken it much better than most people would, at the end of the day Naruto would always honestly be happy for anyone's achievements, but still, she knew it'd hurt him, she couldn't imagine how hard it would be now for him to just sit and watch the exams.
"I-I'm sorry... That must be, that's terrible." Their previous good mood gone Hinata floundered around desperately for a new topic... Now was probably not the best time to mention how she'd been hoping to team with him for the next Jonin exams after he became a Chunin, with Shino being made Jonin her team had a free spot.
Naruto for his part put just his head on the table and groaned "Urrgh... Yeah. It sucks, I can't believe it!" the full implications were sinking in now "Even mini-Hina's gonna be Chunin before me... Shit!"
It was bad enough he thought, when it was just everyone his age being Chunin and him left behind, even worse with them all Jonin now and him still Genin... Thinking of the kids below him now out-ranking him... No, wait, he definitely didn't want to think about that, he couldn't take it at the moment. Still, he felt bad lying there sulking in front of Hinata, looking up for a moment he could see she was clearly distressed.
"Ah, sorry Hinata-chan" he forced a smile "I only found out a few hours ago, guess I'm still kind'a wound up about it..." another sigh. He didn't want to sit around moping, that wasn't his style, but there didn't seem to be anything else he could do at this stage... Not wanting to vent more at his friend and with no other outlet for his frustrations Naruto's depression quickly turned into a more familiar desire for action.
Decision made, he stood up "Bleh... I'm gonna go train for a bit, let off some steam or something."
He fished out Gama-chan and slapped down a handful of bills "Good seeing you again! Thanks for lunch!"
"Ah... Bye Naruto-kun..." he was already gone, she hadn't thought of anything to talk about and he'd left... Her good mood evaporating quickly she attempted to cheer herself up, Naruto wasn't the type to get depressed over something like this, he'd be okay soon enough. It was a shame their lunch hadn't gone quite as she well as she'd hoped but she'd been having a great time... Right until she'd asked that damn question... "Stupid" she whispered to herself, hanging her head. Was that another chance blown?
A few minutes later, after picking at the remains of her food, she stood to go and suddenly saw how much money Naruto had put down 'oh, he... Paid for my lunch too?' and suddenly the warm feeling she'd missed was back at full strength 'That means it's a date right? A guy paying for a girl's meal...That's definitely a date! A date... With Naruto-kun!' feeling slightly lightheaded and fully aware that all her blood had gone to her head, Hinata left the restaurant in a happy daze.
Truly it's the little things that count.
It was an uncharacteristically subdued Naruto that was heading to the training grounds.
Typically he had no problem celebrating the achievements of others, he was honestly happy whenever someone took a step closer to their dreams; He wanted to be the kind of Hokage that lead a village where anyone could achieve their dream..
He even liked mini-Hina! She was a nice girl, she laughed at his jokes, she was polite and she seemed to have an easier time talking to him than Hinata did... To be fair, part of him noted, Hinata was a lot better at talking to him nowadays.
Still! "Damnit!" still, thinking of her in a Chunin jacket... He'd be happy for her of course, but still!
'Goddamn that old hag! Urgh...This sucks!' he wanted to scream. He couldn't get the thought out of his mind now, running his hands through his hair in frustration he continued on.
"Hey! It's boss!"
So caught up in his thoughts he didn't even hear the shout, 'Yeah, training is definitely the right idea, I need'a blow off some steam, I can try out that new Rasengan I've been thinking of, blow up some rocks!'
Thoughts of destruction easing his mind slightly he finally noticed yells coming behind him "Hey! Oi! Boss! Don't ignore me damnit! Bastard!"
Turning he found himself instinctively dodging a jumping kick from his sometimes-student, said students teammates trailing after "Huh? Oh, hey, sorry Konohamaru. Didn't see you guys there, what'cha up to? Finishing a mission?"
Konohamaru, like Naruto typically had sunny disposition and far too much energy, today however, he was practically glowing with excitement, something big was definitely up.
"Nope! We just got back from seeing Ebisu-sensei! We're finally entering the Chunin exams! It's gonna be great boss!" Suddenly pointing a finger directly at Naruto he proudly challenged "This is it! Me and you as rivals for Chunin! This is the start of our fight for the title of Hokage, don't think I'm gonna lose to you!"
And just like that Naruto's day managed to get even worse.
He'd been so wrapped up in thinking of Hinata's sister as a Chunin he'd completely forgotten the other younger team that would have been eagerly awaiting the exams... Konohamaru would be aiming for Chunin... Konohamaru would be a Chunin before him... He quickly cut that image off before it could form, he most definitely didn't want to let that train of thought go any further in his current mood.
"I-I'm... not going to be entering" he admitted the words tasting like ashes in his mouth "there aren't any teams with a spot I can join"
A dark part of his mind considered asking for one of Konohamaru's team to give him a spot but he quickly squished it. Besides the fact Baa-chan had specifically told him not to do that he didn't want to be the kind of person who'd sacrifice someone's progression for his own.
Konohamaru was a good person, a strong ninja, a dedicated leader and all around pretty upstanding boy. Unfortunately, a part of him that he refused to acknowledge had for weeks been dreading facing Naruto in the exams, having drawn the obvious conclusion that Naruto would crush him, there simply was no denying the strength difference.
Most of Konohamaru thought of Naruto like a big brother and was sympathetic towards his obvious frustrations with being held back from promotion once again. If there was no personal stake he would have been angry on Naruto's behalf... Unfortunately, for the part that feared facing his Boss the news was a very welcome relief.
"Oh wow! You're not gonna be entering!?" He cheered aloud "Woo! We're gonna pass easy then, I'm way stronger than you were when you first entered!"
Part of Naruto's mind regarded that as rather unfair; sure Konohamaru was more powerful than he had been if you discounted Kurama. However Kurama and the villager's corresponding treatment of him was a significant factor in why Naruto wasn't as strong as he could have been heading into the exams.
However most of his mind simply reacted with anger and hurt pride...
"Hey! What're you saying brat!? Who taught you your best techniques!?"
And Konohamaru, being in many ways similar to Naruto, reacted the same...
"So what!? Where I learned them doesn't matter, I'm going to surpass you!"
At this point, Udon and Moegi who'd been wisely trying to stay out of this exchange decided to back up. This was not good, this was going to escalate, Naruto and Konohamaru's personalities were too similar, their emotions would feed off each other and get out of control.
"I'm going to be Chunin for sure, then I'll be ranked above you! I'll be the boss!"
"No way! No way! No way can a brat like you make Chunin ahead of me!"
Konohamaru realised he'd struck a weak point and proceeded to start strutting around rubbing it in "I will! And then I'll be your Squad leader on missions. I'll give you whatever order I feel like!" he grinned evilly already envisioning possible ways to abuse his power.
"Wha!?" Naruto was obviously able to envision the same things
"Oh! And then I'll take the Jonin exams and you'll still be a Genin" he smirked going for the kill "Don't worry, I'll take you on as your Jonin-Sensei... Hey, you can start calling me Konohamaru-sensei already!"
"Whaaa!? You goddamn brat!" Unable to even formulate a real reply all he could think about was having to answer to Konohamaru, being bossed around or answering to him for missions. Naruto had worked hard for the respect he'd gained; the images dancing through his head hit his pride hard.
Being passed over, being screwed around with and now having it rubbed into his face, this was too much! This was way too much! He was quickly losing control of himself, his fists clenched so tight his palms were on the verge of bleeding. It would take a lot before Naruto would ever strike a comrade, however he was getting dangerously close to that point.
"Naruto. Let's go." Luckily that was when Kurama weighed in, breaking Naruto off before he did something he'd regret. "This isn't worth it."
Getting control of himself again, Naruto stepped back, unclenching his hands, he let out a deep breath and turned away from Konohamaru. Sure, the kid was an annoying brat at times, but he was also a good friend, he'd feel terrible if he took this any farther.
'Yeah. Thanks...' for the millionth time he thanked the fact he'd been able to made peace with Kurama. For someone who treasured bonds as much as Naruto, having a best friend built right into your soul was very welcome. Plus the bastard fox did a pretty good job of keeping him in check at times like this.
Still, he was far more frustrated now than after talking to Hinata he knew the best plan was definitely to head to the training fields as soon as possible. He'd go wear himself out destroying things until he felt better, or at least was too tired to care.
Avoiding looking at Konohamaru he moved past him and started to walk away, managing to let go of his hurt pride enough to wish them farewell "Oi... Good luck with the exams you kids. I'll be cheering you on, so don't take it lightly."
While utterly failing at keeping the bitterness out of his tone the sincerity in his words was clearly there. He disappeared over the nearest roof with a quick leap leaving Konohamaru looking slightly abashed, avoiding Moegi and Udon's eyes as they glared at him.
An hour later Naruto was still tearing into a cliffside on one of the far training grounds, sweat pouring down his face as he created new forms of Rasengan on the fly, slamming them into the rocks.
He was currently experimenting with creating a Planetary Rasengan without using the 9-Tails chakra, mostly because it would require so much concentration he couldn't focus on anything but it... Unfortunately he was failing completely. Feeling it fall apart as he charged he quickly transitioned the remaining chakra into a standard Rasengan, dashing forward he slammed it into the rock, drilling a massive crater.
All he could think of was Hanabi and Konohamaru parading infront of him, Chunin vests on, being slapped on the back by all their friends, while he stood back, the Eternal Genin. An S-Rank Ninja stuck at the beginning rank.
"What a fucking joke!" he growled, losing control of his emotions.
Instinctively creating a pair of Kage Bunshin he dashed forward again, this time succeeding at crashing a partially stabilized Plantary Rasengan into the wall, blowing the crater far deeper. Barely a fraction of the damage he'd get in 9-tails mode but he wasn't trying to bring down the cliff.
'I know I'd have no problems if I could just enter the Exams, but I don't know any other Genin teams!'
Leaving the rocks alone for the moment he leapt back, this time creating 4 new clones and stabilizing a Rasenkyugan for almost 15 seconds. The resulting blast when he did lose control knocking him back and far across the clearing.
"Ow! Ow! Ow! Urgh" He winced skimming along the ground '...yeah I might have to leave that for 9-Tails mode...'
'Could work well with an Uzumaki Rendan though...' He filed that away for future practice
His stamina finally depleted and at least some of his frustrations worked out, Naruto was content to just lie on the ground for a moment, feeling his wounds heal. His thoughts inevitably drifting back to the all too familiar topic
'This'd be easier if I knew more Genin... But everyone has already been promoted already! There's no-one left like m-Wait...'
Inspiration struck him like a thunderbolt causing him to sit straight upright. Instantly his mind, so wasted on bookwork but so good at schemes, tactics or pranks, started working overdrive...
He thought hard, remembering a half forgotten conversation, spotting a discrepancy, putting together a theory. He was off the ground now pacing around as a plan started to come together, a grin slowly forming on his face, growing bigger by the second.
'No way... No way... It could work though... Oh man, Baa-chan would hate me though' that thought made his grin impossibly wide.
"Hrmph. You certainly never cease to come up with something unexpected."
"OOOOOH YEAH! I'M GONNA ENTER THE CHUNIN EXAMS!"
And with that, all his worries, his frustrations were washed away. Energy was coursing through him, his excitement unbound. He had a plan. An audacious, ridiculous and probably illogical plan, but Uzumaki Naruto had a plan and, as many great ninja had discovered to their peril... That was a very scary thing.
Despite the excitement raging within him, a half hour later Naruto was sitting calmly at the edge of Konoha territory, becoming completely still and focussing on letting the natural energy flow through him.
For anyone who knew him when he was young it may have seemed bizarre for such a hyperactive ninja to have managed to master Sage techniques at a level beyond even Jiraya the famed Toad Sage, whether it was natural skill or part of his lineage from his mothers' side, he never bothered to question. All he knew was that, even as excited as he was he still gained a great sense of peace and wonder at switching to Sage mode.
Feeling yourself become one with nature, feeling the chakra of all the living beings around you, drawing the energy of the natural world into yourself and feeling it strengthen your own. Sage meditation always filled him with deep contentment.
He spent a half hour just meditating, collecting his thoughts and enjoying the peace he'd gained. Probably more than he needed, but he would want plenty of natural energy for the task ahead.
Shifting out of the meditation his standard personality took over once more "Alright! Lets do this!" he yelled opening his biggest chakra reservoir. Shifting into his perfect 9-Tails Chakra form, his eyes gained a vertical foxlike slit through the horizontal bar of Sage mode and chakra burst forth from him like a supernova, the entire village suddenly aware that something must be going on, anyone even remotely chakra sensitive practically bathing in the warm positive energy let off from Naruto's conversion of 9-Tail's malevolent chakra into his own.
Pumping as much chakra as possible into it he quickly formed 3 Kage Bunshin, each mimicking his form, Sage and 9-Tailed modes combined. They stood in a semicircle around him, each wearing wide grins and radiating enough Chakra to level a mountain range twice over.
He appraised his clones briefly, "Okay, that should be more than enough! Go for it!" pointing off into the distance as he finished.
"You got it boss!" the first clone leaped away to the west at full speed, leaving little more than an orange flash as it zoomed into the distance.
"Damn straight!" the second clone's voice trailed off as it quickly vanished into the east.
"Let's get wild!" the final clone barely more than a blur heading north by the time the words left its mouth.
Conversely the real Naruto withdrew his energy, released Sage mode and calmly walked back the way he'd come.
It was of course against various regulations and rules to leave the village for any reason without explicit permission. To do so was to risk becoming a Missing Nin. Luckily he hadn't actually left the village, a Kage Bunshin ultimately was not him.
So, off he went, hands behind his head and a large smirk on his face, as if he was about to pull off the greatest prank of his life.
After that life continued like normal, if anyone was paying attention the only clue that something may be up was that he never seemed to create any Kage Bunshin. While normal for anyone else it was an odd sign for someone like Naruto who'd practically made that his calling card, however since he didn't have any missions it was hardly cause for concern, the only one who even seemed to notice was the ever watchful Kakashi.
The first real sign that there might be something going on happened a week later at Ichiraku's. Naruto was happily eating his third bowl while his pink haired team mate blushed at his praise after excitedly telling him about her latest achievement in the hospital.
"Wow, Sakura-chan! That's amazing! You totally saved that guy's li-Urk"
Slumping over, it suddenly seemed as if a great force had just slammed into him. All his energy was knocked out and for a moment he was almost deathly pale. Eyes glazed over he toppled backwards...
Coming to a few seconds later he shook his head and tried to get his bearings. Looking around he realised he'd fallen off the stool and that Sakura was looking over him clearly terrified at his sudden collapse, desperately running diagnostic chakra into him, "Naruto! Naruto! Are you okay? What happened!? What can I do?"
Feeling his strength slowly come back he waved the chakra off and let her help him back up, taking a second to spare a mournful glance at the now spilled ramen... "Ahh, heheh" he scratched the back of his head, not wanting to tell her the whole truth just yet but feeling guilty about worrying her like that "Ah, I'm fine Sakura-chan! Just got a report back from a little project I'm working on!"
Her worries faded slightly as he took his seat again and ordered a replacement ramen. He seemed to be moving alright at least and she couldn't feel anything wrong with him from her cursory examination... Someone like Naruto suddenly keeling over was extremely odd, but he didn't seem concerned in the least. Not with that giant grin he was clearly trying to hide. She was worried for her friend's health but decided to let him play it off for now.
Naruto's thoughts of course weren't conflicted at all 'OH YEAH! ONE DOWN! ONE DOWN! This is gonna be so great!' it took considerable willpower on his behalf not to start dancing.
A similar scene replayed itself two days later while he was training new taijutsu forms with Kakashi. Leaping back to avoid a snap kick suddenly his guard was non-existent, and he was stumbling forward in a daze...Receiving a vicious cross for his efforts.
Shaking his head as the dizziness passed he found Kakashi looking down at him with an odd look. Having worked on the Rasenshuriken with Naruto it was pretty simple to deduce what had happened to knock the sails out of the typically energetic blonde.
The question from there of course was why it had happened, although, judging from the devious smirk that Naruto seemed unable to bring under control he wasn't sure he wanted to know... Still, you don't become a Jonin without being at least somewhat curious...
"You're planning something aren't you?... Something big" It was less a question than a statement
"Ahh, you know me too well Kakashi-sensei... It should be really surprising!"
Yeah... Kakashi decided he definitely didn't want to know. Just because he was probably paid enough to deal with it didn't mean he'd want to. Better to just stay out of whatever Naruto was planning than risk getting caught up in it.
"Well, I'll leave it at that then." Pulling out his book Kakashi hopped away, deciding it best to avoid Naruto until the other shoe dropped.
His departure left Naruto lying there basking in the wonder of a plan that was all coming together.
"So far, so good brat. I've got to admit, your plan is working out a lot smoother than even I expected."
'It's 'cause I'm a genius! No-one else would think of something like this!'
"Well, that last part is certainly true"
He had backup plans of course, other options in case things didn't work out quite as well, but still, he really had hoped and it looked like he wouldn't be disappointed. Now he just had to wait for the final piece of news.
As it turned out he didn't have to wait long, the final clone dispelling itself a few hours later. Unfortunately his timing continued to be poor, being in the middle of drinking with Shikimaru, Choji and Kiba at the time. The effects of the final clone's dispersal the most disorienting thus far;
"Hahaha! Damn Naruto! You lightweight! Didn't you say alcohol didn't affect you?"
"He's not passed out is he? Tch, troublesome"
"Naruto, Naruto, how many fingers am I holding up?"
Coming to on the floor of the bar he saw his three friends looking over him Choji worried, Shikimaru smirking and Kiba howling with laughter. That almost managed to wipe the massive grin off his face. Almost.
Pushing Chojis offered hand aside he shakily made it back onto the barstool, picked up his glass, slammed the rest of his beer back and turned to his friends. Time to spread the news...
"Yeah yeah, laugh it up boys. More importantly..." he paused for dramatic effect, hooking a thumb towards himself and fixing them with a triumphant glance "I'm entering the Chunin exams!"
Receiving three deadpan looks in return his smile didn't last long. Not quite the reaction he'd hoped for...
"That's... Uh, that's cool Naruto, congrats" Choji tried to be enthusiastic for his friend
"...Tch" Shikamaru rolled his eyes and went back to his drink. He was happy Naruto would finally leave his Genin title behind but seriously, the whole thing was way too troublesome. Taking an exam for a rank that far below you? What a waste of time.
" Dude..." Kiba pointed to himself, Choji and Shikamaru "we're all Jonin... It's about time, y'know?" Really, all teasing aside, no-one thought less of Naruto for his ridiculously inappropriate rank, still, it was hard to get excited about your friend's dramatic reveal that he was taking a test everyone else had passed years ago.
Naruto slumped back, clearly disappointed with the response.
Seeing this, Kiba continued "Seriously though, I'm glad. It was bullshit you not being able to enter." he paused for a moment to take a long pull from his own glass "Y'know, Mum was pissed when she heard you didn't get promoted after the war. She ended up yelling at a bunch of the council-men"
That perked Naruto up, he hadn't heard that, people had been fighting his case? He'd barely spoken a handful of words to Tsume and she'd fought for him? Suddenly he felt really warm inside.
"My Dad too!" Choji chimed in "The whole Akimichi clan really, he said 'It's shameful for us to ignore a friend who fought so bravely for all of us'"
"Mhmm" Shikimaru added while knocking back the remainder of his glass "...Nara too, most of the clans support you actually. Even the Hyuuga support you and they never openly support anyone."
At that Naruto's jaw was left hanging open, stunned. He knew he was better respected now in the village and being considered the "Hero of the Leaf", he supposed he should have known... But to hear outright that most of the clans supported him, everyone acknowledged him? The implications of that support for his path to Hokage were very clear.
Absolutely dumbfounded at that, he had no clue what to say. Working on autopilot he ended up just chuckling in embarrassment and scratching the back of his head.
Smirking at the typical Naruto response his friends turned back to their drinks. Kiba taking the initiative a few moments later asking "So, who's your team anyway? I thought you said there weren't any teams you could join?"
With that Naruto's triumphant smirk returned "Haha, that's a secret!" at the inquisitive glances from his friends he continued "All I'm gonna say is they're people no-one ever expected to see at a Chunin exam!"
Now that... That was an interesting statement. All three of them puzzled over the meaning,
'Does he mean a team of Genin washouts? Does he know anyone like that?' Choji was confused.
'He's not drafting Civilians into the ninja forces as Genin is he?' Kiba suddenly had to shake the image of Naruto fighting alongside Ayame the ramen lady. It was surprisingly easy to picture actually.
'Tch... A puzzle? Troublesome.' Shikamaru decided to figure it out later.
Seeing their confusion Naruto's smirk was positively evil. Kuarma's chuckling in the back of his head seemed to agree.
Oh there were fun times ahead for sure.
The weeks passed and before anyone knew it, it was the day before the Chunin exams, a certain air of excitement passing around the village. The foreign contestants would be allowed passage into the village today. For anyone interested it was a good time to head to the main gate and look at the various entrants.
Considering it was the first Chunin exam since the War and thanks to the "Global Peace Accord" the largest by far, the crowd at the gate normally little more than a few punters hoping to eye out some potential good bets was turning into quite an event by itself, stalls had been set up and a significant portion of the village had turned up even if just to browse.
The noise and chatter increased markedly as the first group came within sight of the village; it seemed the first group to be admitted in would be the Genin from the Hidden Cloud. As they drew within sight the gossip quickly turned from interest to surprise and shock... At the head of the contingent, leading the other Jonin-sensei was the famed "Lord Jinchuriki" Killer B! As much for his status as the other remaining Jinchuriki as his actions in the war and his wild personality Killer B was almost as famous as Naruto within the Elemental Countries these days.
It was incredibly surprising to see someone like him coming at the start of the Chunin exams, clearly he was here representing the Raikage himself! For him to make an appearance for the finals would be somewhat expected, but to come for the first day of the event was unprecedented. Most decided it further underlined just how important this "First United Chunin Exam" was.
Soon enough the Cloud shinobi were passed through the gates and dispersed, the teams following their Jonin-sensei to their assigned hotels throughout the village. B himself seemed to be left behind, taking in the sights, looking around.
No-one was sure what exactly he was looking for until a loud cry of "Yo! B!" broke above the crowds hubbub, most turned to see the village's Hero himself jumping down from a nearby building, beckoning B over with a giant smile on his face.
It was quite a spectacle by itself, it was difficult not to notice the loud blonde at the best of times but with Naruto's current popularity within the village everyone wanted to follow his actions. The stories you'd hear about him were almost unbelievable!
Still, although they were easily able to confirm the tales they'd heard of a strong friendship between the two Jinchuriki, the villagers near them had to confess they had absolutely no idea what they were up to. After what seemed like some kind of ceremonial fist bump, they started dancing around each other making wierd seals with their hands and talking in rhymes. That was odd, even for a ninja!
The crowd's attention was drawn to the gate again a short time later as the next group came within sight. This time there was a palpable tension in the air... Watching a contingent of Rock Shinobi drawing close to the village was not a comfortable feeling for a lot of people. For the elder members it brought back terrible memories from the previous War, where the idea of Rock Shinobi sieging on the Village was a constant fear. For the youngsters it was simply fear and tension passed down, everyone knew about the animosity between Konoha and Iwa.
Everyone except Naruto it seemed, for no sooner had the Rock Shinobi been granted entrance than he was yelling out "Hey! Kuro-chan!" and waving their leader over to him and B, the bright smile on his face fading only slightly at having to dodge a hurled stone in response to the nickname.
Now the rumour mill was going haywire! Cloud had sent Killer B on the first stage of the exams, and now Rock had sent in Kurotsuchi, the Tsuchikage's granddaughter! The person rumoured to be next in line to succeed the title... Not to mention Naruto apparently considered her a good friend, judging by the way he'd quickly introduced her to Killer B and was laughing between them pulling her into their conversation.
Clearly Naruto's reputation outside the village wasn't to be underestimated. They'd all heard the tales but still, you had to wonder just how many Kage level or highly influential ninja was he friends with? It was hard to believe this was the same no-name brat that had for been disdained by the village as nothing but a nuisance and a potential danger...
After that things died down, Naruto and his friends were talking more quietly by themselves. B still seemed to be dancing and judging by the wierd seals his hands kept making, was probably still rhyming. Kurotsuchi had picked up some of the street vendor food and seemed to be mostly just eating, interjecting the conversation every now and then.
It took another hour after the Rock's entrance for the next group to arrive. This time the feeling of the crowd was mixed, watching Sand Shinobi gain entrance to the village for some brought back all too recent memories of their failed invasion. Luckily, for most those feelings were fairly muted at this point, ultimately times had moved on. Since the war both villages had sent teams to each other's Chunin Exams many times. Added to that was the fifth Kazekage, who had proven himself a staunch ally of the Leaf. There were many tales circulating of joined missions with the Sand, both of lives saved and lives sacrificed.
Having seen two of the great villages send their strongest representatives to look over their teams the villages were less surprised to see the Kazekage at the head of the group. Still, it was an incredibly interesting development, the Kazekage himself! On the first day of the exams!
If it had been perhaps Baki "the Unstoppable Blade", or even Temari "the Wind's Scythe" that would have been understandable, but Gaara the Fifth Kazekage coming at the head of his Genin squad. It was beyond unprecedented!
No-one was quite sure what to think about the rumours that the alliance was due in large part due to Naruto, that the Kazekage considered him almost a brother... However a certain credence was given to them when as before Naruto called Gaara over to him, smiling madly and even shook his hand when he arrived (for all his bluster, Naruto was famously terrible at any form of physical contact, most likely due to his upbringing). Some even claimed to have seen the resolutely stoic Kazekage grinning on his way over. That rumour was quickly shut down as an exaggeration..
After that for the next few hours there was a steady stream of minor village applicants. The representatives from Grass, Rain, Waterfall and a handful of other smaller villages. Most of the interest in them was from the people looking to set up gambling odds, aside from a momentarily mournful look from Naruto at the Waterfall Ninja and a thoughtful one at the entrance of the Rain ninja nothing exciting happened.
It wasn't until the early afternoon that the final of the great villages made its entrance, by now Naruto and his group were all seated around a rock table (courtesy of Kurotsuchi), and by all appearances happily trading stories.
At seeing the Mist ninja gain entrance to the village the rumour mill fired into overdrive again, having expected to see perhaps one of the 7 Swordsman leading the group the surprise at seeing the Mizukage herself calmly walking into the village was palpable. Even moreso when once again, Naruto's cries rang out "Heeeey! Mei-chan! Over here!" and once again not only did a Kage listen to him but actually walk over to him and after being introduced, sit down on a newly created seat and join them. It was noted she did threaten to boil him alive for using that nickname though.
It was almost surreal, to imagine that one day "that Naruto", or any ninja would day sitting down, laughing with and entertaining 4 of the most powerful people in the world. Beyond that, the very idea of hosting teams from all the major villages. To be hosting Cloud Shinobi! Even stranger, to be hosting Rock Shinobi! It was almost unbelievable.
And yet, any civilians that were worried or tense at the thought, any retired ninja caught up in memories of a war long past needed only look to Konoha's current ninja forces.
There was no tension in them, there was no doubt, there was just the sure fire knowledge that the world had changed a little over a year ago. These were the forces that had removed their cherished village headband and instead adorned themselves with the title of "Shinobi"
They had bled beside a Rock Ninja, they had screamed for help as a Cloud Kunoichi passed away in their arms, they had risked life and limb to come to the aid of an overwhelmed Mist team.
This feeling, just as much as the sight of the son of the Yondaime making jokes at the expense of the granddaughter of the Tsuchikage was proof of a new age.
That night found Naruto meditating in his apartment. Having parted ways with his foreign friends to give them time to settle in and recover he had nothing else to do.
He'd already given up on trying to read or distract himself with attempting to make progress on his sealing, quite simply he was too excited to settle down. Tomorrow he'd finally get to unveil his great plan! He'd be finally taking the steps towards getting the title he should have gotten so long ago!
He'd been halfway tempted to head out to the training fields and just try exhaust himself a little, ultimately he'd decided that was probably not the best look on the eve of an exam though. Luckily Sage meditation was a great cure for excitement, he tried to do it anytime he was overly stressed or needed to calm down, it always amazed him just how much value there was in letting his body tune in with nature. Losing himself in the feeling of the energies washing over him, letting them wash away everything else...
Even with Sage mode it was rather difficult to pick out specific Chakra signals in somewhere as dense as Konoha, still, there were some he knew intimately, the signals of his closest friends. That was why he was puzzled as he noticed in the back of his mind a number of them were grouping together 'They're meeting up, is something going on?... Hmm, they're heading this way?'
And indeed, after noticing it was impossible to ignore, a group of his friends were clearly heading towards his home, seemingly picking up more as they went on. He had no idea what they wanted but that was fine, he always looked forward to spending time with friends, especially when he had no other plans!
Keeping Sage mode active he stood up, feeling them walking up the steps towards his apartment. Chucking slightly to himself as he quietly moved over to his door, feeling their presences draw closer 'One benefit of Sage mode...' waiting for just the right moment... Then suddenly yanking the door open with a loud 'Hey guys!" just as Sakura was been raising her hand to knock.
His sudden appearance and loud greeting sent her jumping back with a startled yelp... Right into Kiba and Lee, sending them flailing back into the rest of the group, which then dragged everyone else down until finally they all landed in a big heap on the ground. Naruto, ever the tactful gentleman, proceeded to stand over them bent in half with laughter as his friends disentangled themselves.
Extending a hand in apology to Sakura and helping her to her feet, wincing slightly as she gripped it harder than was strictly necessary, he decided to break the ice "So, what's up guys? What're you all doing here?"
"Well, what do you think we're doing here?" Sakura replied suddenly cheery "We're here to celebrate you finally entering the Chunin exam!" With that she pushed past him and walked right into his apartment, setting a plastic bag he hadn't noticed till now down on his kitchen table.
"Huh..." Naruto was caught off guard at that
"Yup! We're here to wish you good luck!" Choji grinned happily and followed her in
"Cause we know you'll need as much of it as you can get!" Kiba finished while he laughed and moved inside, his bags clearly containing alcohol.
"Hey!" Naruto tried again, not quite sure if he was objecting to Kiba's comment or everyone just suddenly barging into his house.
"Maybe you should take Forehead with you, if she's gonna be knocking us all over like that..." Ino grumbled as she too ignored Naruto's protests and walked inside, receiving a glare and muttered insult about Pigs from Sakura.
"We're really happy for you" Tenten commented with a smile as she stepped around him
"Yosh! We look forward to seeing your youthful energy during the exams Naruto-kun!" Lee gave an even brighter smile complete with twinkle! All the more impressive when you consider that the sun had already set.
Shikamaru settled for a simple nod as he shuffled in, Shino appeared behind him with with a typically impassive look "We are all here to celebrate with you. Why? Because you are a friend and we know you deserve this rank more than anyone."
It was always a little hard to respond to Shino's way of speaking, so Naruto just nodded dumbly. This was much more than he had expected.
Hinata had been hanging at the back with no idea what to say (you can't exactly thank someone for inviting you inside when you're forcing your presence on them after all) and was otherwise simply excited at the idea of being inside Naruto's place for the first time.
Panicking slightly as she searched for a suitable greeting, Hinata suddenly had Naruto's full attention directed at her, which unfortunately put her on the spot and caused her to lose all vocabulary. She blushed and settled for simply giving him a bright smile and a small bow as she walked in and settled down with the rest of the group.
Normally Hinata would have been berating herself for her weakness; she hadn't been unable to talk to Naruto in months! But right now, she was inside Naruto's apartment, in his living room, on his couch... She'd kick herself later. Right now she was just too happy. So the smile stayed on, even as she attempted to bring the embarrassing blush under control before Kiba started teasing her again.
Naruto was unsure how to respond, they hadn't done anything like this for the last Chunin exam. Clearly his friends wanted to congratulate him and wish him luck, having them all here like this, it was an amazing feeling! So, unable to control the grin now plasted on his face he shut the door behind Hinata, set himself down into the living room with everyone else and started checking out what they'd brought with them.
Sakura it seemed had taken up the position of leader, opening the bags they'd brought and distributing snacks and drinks throughout the room, handing out beer, wine or sake to those that wanted it, juice to those that didn't (and Lee) and organising a loud toast.
As everyone started to get settled in Sakura pulled Naruto aside and quietly explained "Sai's out on a mission for the next few months or he'd be here too" he nodded, that made sense, having been wondering where that guy'd been.
Soon enough everyone was having a good time, Naruto was in an eating contest with Choji, Shino and Tenten were busy keeping anything alcoholic away from a protesting Lee, Kiba was flirting with Ino, Hinata was quietly joining in conversations every now and then and Sakura was trying to make sure Shikamaru didn't fall asleep on them.
Eventually the obvious topic came up and the conversations turned to the Chunin exams, with of course a round of friendly teasing directed Naruto's way.
"You must be worried Naruto, imagine being stuck at Genin for even longer!" even Choji had joined in.
"I'm not worried at all damnit! I'm already an incredible Ninja!" Naruto's patience was never long to begin with.
"Oi! Don't look down on Chunin! We all earned our rank!" Kiba was getting entirely too much pleasure from rubbing this in. "Hmm... Of course, we all got it years ago, so most of your competition will be little brats... You're gonna be playing with kids tomorrow!" he laughed loudly at that.
That comment had its intended effect, leaving Naruto grumbling and reaching for another dumpling. There was no denying it, part of him did feel ridiculous about that, age aside; he was far too powerful for a Chunin exam.
Sakura gave Naruto a loyal smile "Well, that aside, Tsunade-sama thinks we'll probably look to host the Jonin exams not long afterwards, and you've already completed multiple B and A rank missions, so you should be able to go straight through to them!"
"Really?" That bit of news brought his mood back up "That's awesome Sakura-chan! Hah, I'll be a full Jonin before the years out for sure!" Naruto was already imagining how cool he'd look with the Jonin flak jacket on, leading more super dangerous S-Rank missions. "Then we'll see who's laughing eh Kiba!?" Kiba, having been promoted to Special-Jonin was still ranked slightly below a full Jonin.
Naruto's ability to make friends was only second to his ability to annoy them and that comment of course caused tempers to flare (of the room only Shino, Shikamaru, Sakura and Lee were full Jonin)...
"Big talk! You gott'a pass these exams first! Hah, you'll probably funk out of the first test, I heard about your 'Blank Exam' from last time!" Kiba bit first
"That's true Naruto" Ino chimed in now "before you start talking about overtaking us you should make sure you don't end up embarrassing yourself... Losing to a bunch of kids" she was unable to resist that last dig.
"Hey!" Naruto never did well with a bruised ego, things looked about to escalate.
Hinata in the meantime had been struggling to get a word in edgewise as the conversations turned to teasing Naruto. She had improved a lot, able to talk comfortably with him one on one... However in a group it was much harder, the embarrassment multiplied and she ended up second guessing herself till she couldn't get a word out.
Tonight however, with the aid of a little alcohol running through her system she managed to gather up her courage, clench her hands into fists, screw her eyes closed and declare as loud as she could "Naruto-kun will pass for sure!" just as the man himself had been about to bite back a reply to Ino and Kiba.
That declaration stopped everyone in their tracks, all conversation stopping as everyone turned and stared at Hinata... Aside from how out of character it was for Hinata to yell anything, the words had been completely earnest and sincere and yet, completely missing the mood of the conversation. No-one in the room doubted for a second Nartuo would pass the exams, to hear her declare it as if it was a Gospel Truth; nobody knew how to react to that.
Opening her eyes and seeing the entire room staring at her with utter shocked deadpan looks did nothing for Hinata's confidence.
"OH Maaaaaaaan! Even Hinata's making fun of me!" luckily Naruto's emotionally stunted upbringing left him able to misunderstand even complete sincerity and the ice was broken again. This time with everyone laughing and poor Hinata wishing the floor would open up and swallow her... He thought she'd been making fun of him!
Sorrowfully refilling her sake cup she made a silent promise to herself 'I'll do better! I'll talk directly with him even with everyone here, I'll spend time with Naruto before the end of the night!' resolve strengthened she tuned back into the conversation.
"So, more importantly than that, how's your team?" Shikamaru had finally decided to contribute
"Ah! They're awesome! We're gonna blow through the first test tomorrow!" Naruto rarely lacked in confidence, only one member of the room having ever seeing him doubt himself.
For the next few minutes he was forced to fend off inquiries as to who his team members actually were. To the rising ire of most of his friends he proceeded to laugh off the question or claim it was a surprise.
"I suppose I'll see them for myself tomorrow, I'm stuck proctoring the first test... It's troublesome" Shikamaru had a pretty decent guess who Naruto had conscripted for his team by now, still, he'd decided to keep his peace and see if he was correct.
"Me too, I-" Hinata chimed in, before being cut off
"Oh right! Yeah, you're there to look out for your little sister right?" Naruto gave her a wide grin, having always wanted a family of his own, people who cared for theirs were at the top of his list of good people. Especially in her messed up clan 'There's probably all kinds of crazy Hyuuga stuff I don't know about going on too.'
"That's right" She happily agreed, bright red both at having his attention and at him remembering a conversation from so long ago, especially one that'd ended poorly. "She's really excited-"
"I'm looking after the second test" Choji interrupted with a grin, moving the conversation away from Hinata's sister (and wondering absently why he was getting a glare from Shino and Kiba for doing so) "I think most of us got involved in one way or another after we heard you'd be entering."
"Yup! I'm the Examiner for the second test!" Kiba announced, giving up glaring at Choji for interrupting Naruto and Hinata "I signed up as soon as I heard you were entering!"
"Yooosh! Me and Tenten have been selected to assist with the first test!"
"That's right" Tenten confirmed "You're nothing if not interesting to watch, I wanted front row seats!"
"Me and Shizune have been selected as the lead medics for the final exams" Sakura preened slightly, it was quite an honour, especially under the massive international crowd. "And Ino-pig somehow-"
"I was selected as Examiner for the final exams!" Ino finished, clearly very pleased with that selection "Well, after all, it's not like could put your giant forehead in front of such an important crowd!"
And with that the two girls started their typical friendly bickering, Shikamaru sighed and lay back down, Shino hastily removed a glass of sake Lee had somehow swiped and the night continued on with friendly teasing and good humour.
End Chapter 1
"Honestly Kiba..." Hinata chided as she rolled the man in question back onto his side, propping some cushions behind him and putting a blanket over him. Challenging Choji to a drinking contest was never going to end well and of course it had left her looking after him when he'd passed out. "You're sleeping here tonight" she scolded the unconscious youth, there was no way she was going to carry him home.
Still attempting to enjoy the remnants of her own slight buzz, she stepped back into the main room, unfortunately it seemed the party was practically over by now. Ino and Sakura had left an hour or so ago, Tenten leaving a short while later with Lee offering to walk her home.
While she'd been busy with Kiba it seemed fatigue or alcohol had caught up with Shikamaru and Shino, with Shikamaru snoring on the floor and Shino propped up against the wall. Choji was nowhere in sight but the front door had been left open so she surmised he must have stumbled off home. 'Huh...Kiba must have done better than I thought to send Choji home' she realised as she closed and locked the apartment.
'Looks like I'm the last one left. Just me and-' Hinata was suddenly hit with the realisation of just who she was the last one with and where she was... 'Me and Naruto... Alone in his house... Ah, Nononono' She cut that thought off before it could go any further, trying to maintain her composure 'Where is he anyway? Oh no, he's not passed out somewhere has he...?'
'Ah' moving silently through the small apartment, lest she wake someone unnecessarily she finally spotted the elusive blonde sitting in a corner nursing a glass of sake, the bottle open between his legs, apparently in the middle of a conversation with... Himself? 'He's talking to himself? Odd, but- Oh of course'
"Talking to the Kyubei?" she asked quietly as she sat as close to him as she dared. It was odd sometimes she thought, thinking that Naruto had this whole other being inside him. Still, she was glad he'd made friends with it... 'Only Naruto-kun could turn the dreaded Kyubei, the nightmare of Konoha, into a trusted comrade' she thought, suppressing a giggle.
"Hah, yeah." He paused for a second, looking slightly surprised "Huh, he said you should call him Kurama" he seemed amused by this "That's his name" he explained to her confused expression
"Oh? I... I thought you said his name was important to him, that he rarely told it to anyone? He wants me to... Call him... Kurama?" Glad the alcohol running through her system was numbing her response, she felt more like laughing than anything else... The 9 Tailed Demon Fox wanted her to be on a first name basis with it...
"Yup!" he was beaming at her now, clearly he considered this a great honour "He says he likes you!"
The 9 Tailed Demon Fox... Liked her... "Huh" she replied intelligently
He paused for a second again, then frowned, "Well, he says, it's 'cause you almost set him free"
Now that brought her back down to earth, she frowned, remembering that day. She'd fully intended to die then, to die without regret doing anything she could to save the man she loved. The Kyubei had nothing to do with it, she'd never intended at all to release it, she hadn't even known about it then!
Guessing her thoughts Naruto broke her out of her reverie "Ah just ignore him, that's just him being a jerk" he rolled his eyes at that. "No. Seriously, it's 'cause you're you." He was looking directly at her now, slight smile on his face but an otherwise utterly serious expression. It was making her rather lightheaded "For the same reason he's friends with me now. You're like me, you work hard, you're strong, he respects that. It's 'cause of your nindo!"
She couldn't help but be cheered up by that, her nindo. The one she'd taken from the boy she admired and followed with all her strength. The one that had then brought him back from the depths of despair during the last war. Her nindo, their nindo, she suddenly felt incredibly warm, smiling back.
"Okay then" she agreed, Naruto had already acknowledged her, if the Kyubei- if Kurama acknowledged her too, so much the better! "So, what were you talking to K-Kurama about then? Your plans for tomorrow?"
"Hah, nah, I'm not really worried about tomorrow at all!" he laughed at that "Well, its kind'a silly I guess... I was just asking him if he could slow down my healing factor slightly, just for tonight y'know?"
That was surprising, she had no idea why he'd want to do that. Seeing her puzzled look she continued
"Ah, it's just, I can't really get drunk" he indicated the now empty cup he'd been sipping on "I mean I can get a bit of a buzz but it all gets taken care of so fast. I mostly just drink because everyone else is. I've never been drunk, I was wondering what it was like."
That made sense she supposed, "I can understand that, I've never been drunk either, not really" tonight was probably the farthest she'd ever gone, being a little tipsy. Her reasons were different of course; she didn't have a Demon Fox inside her, simply the pride of her clan, the thought of someone seeing her stumbling around drunk. Worse. Her father seeing her stumbling around drunk... She shuddered.
Naruto laughed again, pouring some more sake and handing her the cup "I can't even imagine you drunk. I bet it'd be funny though!" he chuckled a bit more at that, clearly picturing what she'd be like.
Similarly envisioning many terrible scenarios, anything from drunkenly draping herself all over Naruto to passing out in the courtyard of her family estate, Hinata quickly decided she had no plans to get drunk just yet.
Still... She could feel the buzz slowly draining away and it had been so much easier talking to Naruto in front of everyone tonight. So, while telling herself she was far too old to think about things like indirect kisses she raised the cup he'd given her and took a sip.
"Anyway yeah, he was just called me an idiot for even asking. He thinks the whole idea is ridiculous so he doesn't want to talk about it" he snorted at that.
"Well..." she demurred slightly, she could see where he was coming from but still "It's not really good timing though is it? Getting drunk for the first time the night before the Chunin exam?"
"Huh... Yeah I guess that's true enough." He conceded, clearly not giving up the idea though "I'll do it after the exam then, to celebrate!"
She nodded, finishing the cup and handing it back, that seemed fair enough. Celebrations would be expected after the exams.
They stayed like that for the next few hours, trading stories or talking about trivial matters, slowly sipping on the remaining sake, her maintaining a slight buzz and him mostly just enjoying the flavour.
It was a comfortable feeling, they moved closer together, shoulder to shoulder, their conversations getting lower and more muted as drowsiness caught up with them. Hinata, smiling contentedly, her entire body warm and fuzzy with joy finally gave up and fell asleep, slumping sideways and passing out on Naruto's shoulder. Naruto followed suit not long after.
Of course, everyone shifts in their sleep...
Later the next day, after recovering from the shock, Hinata was unable to decide if waking up to find her head in Naruto's lap had been the most mortifying experience of her life... Or the most amazing.
Needless to say she'd spent the rest of the morning bright red and struggling to speak.
'Thank god I was the first to wake up...'
A/N: Finally done, editing this took far longer than I anticipated. It shouldn't take long for the finished story to be uploaded though. I've got it planned for three parts probably of similar length to this.
To anyone wondering where Sasuke is during all of this, well, at the time of writing it's not completely sure what his role in the whole enterprise will be. Since he tends to get treated with the biggest kiddie gloves in existence I imagine he'll be welcomed back to Konoha without consequence but we'll see. Regardless he would have had only a small role in the story so I opted to just leave him out entirely.
If you want an in universe reason, then uh, he cut his toe on a rusty nail while renovating his apartment and was unlucky enough to get a mild case of Tetanus. He's perfectly fine and will make a full recovery but he's in hospital for now.
I am assuming at the moment that most of the named characters (Naruto, Tsunade, Kakashi especially) survive the war, Tsunade especially seems rather dicey given the current storyline so if that ends up not happening then consider this AU.