Sunlight For Leaves
Chapter I: The Senbon Test
Kakashi was cold and distant, more uncommunicative than his genin had ever seen him before. They crowded around him, words pouring from Naruto's mouth as Sakura gazed at Sasuke and Sasuke gazed at him.
"Enough," he said quietly.
"But Kakashi-sensei, we—"
"If there is something pressing that must be brought to my attention immediately, such as the release of the upcoming Icha Icha Triage, I plan to spend the next month in training ground thirty-seven. Inform me there," he said dispassionately. "Sasuke will be there as well, but the postal service in Fire Country doesn't reach that high in the mountains. Sending love letters will be ineffectual."
"How are you going to eat? Where will you sleep?" Sakura blustered, genuinely worried for Sasuke's health and safety. Sasuke made a growling noise in the back of his throat.
"I'm sure we'll get along fine," Kakashi said easily. It's astonishing that they could read their sensei so well, because Naruto and Sakura instantly translated that into 'We're ninja, we can take care of ourselves.' Sasuke didn't add to the conversation, but his agreement was clear.
"Both of you are to report to Ebisu-san for training every weekday for the next three weeks. He's made time in his schedule to bring your taijutsu up to par," Kakashi ordered.
He dismissed the two of them, and they trudged out into the streets of Konoha. Sakura pulled out a few ryo and bought a newspaper for later, which she stuffed into a pocket of her jacket, while Naruto stopped across the road and got a box of pastries.
"What plans do you have, Sakura-chan?" Naruto asked, stuffing the first of the generic deep-fried things into his mouth.
"I want to go see Ino-chan in the hospital and make sure she's okay," Sakura replied. "I wonder if she'll forgive me."
"You're both kunoichi, this kind of stuff happens," Naruto argued. "It's a shame she still made you forfeit, 'cause that last thing you did with the shuriken was pretty cool."
Sakura shrugged. "Yeah, I guess. Not that Sasuke-kun cared, but at least I would have won if it were a real fight. Anyways, she'll never get past the first round."
"How do you figure?" asked Naruto.
"Well, she only barely beat me, and that was because she got me to forfeit," said Sakura matter-of-factly. "Neji-san will kick her ass easily, then Sasuke-kun will kick his ass, and then, well..."
Her sentence trailed off, but obviously she didn't consider Naruto a possible contender for the final round. He didn't hold it against her, because he didn't either. Considering who his opponent was, it would be a miracle if he didn't lose in the first five minutes.
"Okay, but are you gonna train?" he asked. Training was the essence of a ninja, the line that separated the likes of Kakashi and Gai from the so-called elite chuunin, like the ones who monitored the first exam with Ibiki.
"Maybe," Sakura said noncommittally. "I used to train with Tenten, which is why Ino didn't see that last attack, but she's still in the hospital after that fight with Temari-san."
Naruto's first reaction was to offer to train with her. Already he could envision the gaps in her technique, and the way to correct them. Her elbows were too low on the blocks, her hand seals were too sloppy.
"Here; this is how you do it," says Naruto, the robes of the Yondaime Hokage flowing around his body. Sakura listens and corrects her posture, transforming from adequate and slightly awkward to a creature of feline grace and lethal power.
"Oh Naruto-kun," she sighs, reaching out and tracing his jawline with a finger, running it over the beard that he now has.
"Sakura-chan," he says, staring deep into her jade eyes framed by hair an ironic shade of pink. The sun is setting over the waters of the Naka River, and she has never looked more beautiful than in this moment, as she leans in and—
Naruto rubbed his cheek, reddening under Sakura's furious expression even as her small handprint appeared on his face.
"What was that for?" he asked reproachfully.
"You were giggling like Kakashi-sensei," she explained. Naruto remembered all too well the sparring sessions with their perverted sensei, bobbing and weaving around all three of them with contemptuous ease, chuckling luridly at Jiraiya's graphic descriptions of tits. Naruto shivered.
"I think I might buy a tutor," Sakura mused, her anger draining away. "I have the money for it, and Kakashi-sensei's always saying I could have the talent for genjutsu. Kurenai-sensei might be available, or I could look into the Kurama family."
"Wait, you can hire someone to teach you?"
Sakura looked sheepish. "The practice is sort of frowned on for genin. The village assigns a jonin-sensei to genin cells, and jonin are supposed to have skill with taijutsu, genjutsu and ninjutsu. Of course, Gai-sensei can't really teach ninjutsu, and genjutsu isn't in Asuma-sensei's repertoire, so nobody follows or enforces that rule. Tenten learned fuuinjutsu from a tutor."
"I– Maybe I should get a private teacher?" Naruto said, almost asked. Sakura nodded absently.
"I need to get going," she said. "Visiting hours are over in a few minutes. Still gotta get victory rubbed in my face by Ino-pig."
They both laughed good-naturedly, and then Sakura walked off, whipping the newspaper out of her pocket. She read it as she went, having somehow perfected the skill of reading and walking at the same time. Such was her chakra control and stamina that sometimes she walked up walls and across ceilings without noticing, startling any civilians who might've been watching. Naruto thought that it was hilarious.
He went home, munching on his dango.
After a few hours spent procrastinating, Naruto walked down to the Hokage Tower with the ryo earned from Wave Country jingling in his pockets. After the death of Gato and the liberation of an entire coastal economy, the pay and mission level was upgraded to A-rank, mostly for their involvement in a fight that should have only been between Zabuza and Kakashi. Haku had the potential to be 'appropriated', whatever that meant, but the Ice Release wielder was beyond Konoha's reach, thanks to Kakashi.
Naruto sometimes thought of the money as dirty, because it came at the expense of the most loyal ninja he'd ever met and a desperate man trying to liberate his country. Kakashi hadn't said as much when Naruto voiced these concerns, but his impression was that shinobi made a lot of money this way.
Well, if he had the money for it, he was going to use it. Naruto wouldn't say he was hated or feared by the villagers, and certainly none of them crossed the street when they passed him, there was always...revulsion. They almost never voluntarily spent time with him, and when they did it was never with children in the vicinity. The only adults with any great influence in his life were the Hokage and the instructors at the Academy. Naruto never paid much attention to the latter, possibly a contributing factor to his continued mediocrity.
The fact was, like it or not, you couldn't improve on your own. You needed another person to serve as teacher, sparring partner or apprentice. Even teaching others occasionally gave you insight, but only masters could gain skill by observing themselves.
Naruto was familiar with the mission system's workings on the shinobi side. A bulletin board hosted the sheets of D-ranks, next to a filing system for C and B-ranks for chuunin and genin cells. A and above needed to be assigned or approved by the Hokage himself, and S-rank was only approved for the most suicidal, large-scale operations imaginable. Naruto was only tangentially aware of what clients did.
In the ninja world, 'client' was a word offered various degrees of respect. Professionals like Kakashi treated them with courtesy and did as they asked on a mission, while slightly laxer ninja occasionally told them off and were generally less polite. Either way, as the client was the one paying, they held ultimate authority over the ninja. What they could order was dictated by the classification of a mission and the amount of money paid.
What Naruto didn't know was that there was a metric shit-ton of paperwork to fill out in order to hire from Konoha.
"How old are ya, honey?" asked an elderly lady behind the desk.
"Thirteen," Naruto answered.
"Any guardians, or are you emancipated?"
She sighed. "Do ya live with any grownups?"
From underneath the desk, she produced thirty sheets of paper bound by a paperclip. Naruto ogled at it, especially when she threw a pen on top of it.
"Ya gotta fill this out, 'kay?" the secretary said. "Then just throw it in the pile and wait for someone to come get it."
Morosely, Naruto took his first-ever taste of the job of Hokage to a nearby table, where he sat down and looked at the first page. Name, age, citizenship and country of birth were easy. Moving down, past the relatively short list of qualifications for civilians, Naruto groaned at the box marked 'Ninja?'.
He filled out his rank, loyalties, ninja registration number, reaffirmed he was from Konoha, put down his mission history, teammates and all past and present teachers, listed contact information, and signed a waiver stating that, as his employer, Konoha had the right to seriously curtail his freedom or execute him for breaking the law. It was a bit redundant, but he signed anyways.
Three pages in, Naruto looked up at some of the signs on the wall. One warned that attempting to lie to or cheat with ninja was tantamount to suicide. It sarcastically suggested seppuku as a less bloody and painful alternative. Naruto though of Tazuna's loquacious and ultimately successful attempt to scam them.
There was another that suggested tutors were best if selected from the range of jonin and tokubetsu jonin. Any such mission was automatically a B-rank, though the price was subject to the whims of the tutor and the client. He wrote the suggested rank of the mission as B, under which he scrawled 'private instructor' as the description.
Near the top of page twenty-eight, which was a copy of page six for a different filing system, the Hokage himself came to see him. Sarutobi Hiruzen appeared in a puff of smoke behind Naruto, who went on filling out the application.
"A mission, Naruto-kun? What do you need to hire ninja for?"
"Stupid Kakashi-sensei," Naruto muttered. "Stupid chuunin exams, stupid Gaara, stupid paperwork."
The Hokage shook with silent laughter, correctly interpreting the source of Naruto's frustration. His untidy handwriting filled most of the pages required to buy ninja services, triplicate in some cases. Konoha liked to keep a tidy record of all missions, so that future generations could look back at the mission reports and determine what had gone wrong. It was almost never used, but the logs had been of such great use in recent years that Sarutobi was disinclined to discontinue the practice, as much as he wanted to.
"Having the job of Hokage means you have to do a lot of this," he informed Naruto.
"All missions above B-rank need to be approved by me, although those aren't as common as C and D-ranks," Sarutobi explained.
"You have to do this? Every day?" Naruto gasped. Ahead of him, the shining path from genin to Hokage had abruptly darkened. His brain felt numb from just ten minutes of reciting every financial transaction between him and the government (two dozen D-ranks and an A-rank, monthly stipend), but doing this all the time?
"Yes," the Sandaime said, his voice brimming with ennui.
"Hell," Naruto grumbled, resuming the torturous exercise. "When I'm Hokage, all of this bullshit will be my assistant's job."
"If you say so," Sarutobi said knowingly. He waited for Naruto to finish filing the mission, then signed his own name on the pages. The seventh page was the actual mission description, which was dropped directly into a basket. Sarutobi swept the rest away, intending to deal with it later.
"You're hiring a jonin or tokubetsu jonin," he told Naruto. "In all of Konoha, there are about eighty of those. Right now, I would say twenty are on missions, and a further fifteen have genin cells. You may need to wait a bit before someone picks your mission up."
"Yeah," Naruto muttered.
Sarutobi left, and Naruto sat there in the waiting room with a dozen other civilians for twenty minutes as shinobi came and went, handing in their assignments and taking new ones. He noticed that most of the clients had a wealthy, polished look to them. They had the airs of men and women with the money and power to afford Konoha's services. He felt dirty in comparison.
Just as he was wondering if he'd be there for hours and hours before some jonin he'd never heard of would come in and take the mission, Mitarashi Anko waltzed in. Naruto had a bad feeling that she was there for something in particular. The examiner started flitting through the B-rank missions, evidently in need of entertainment and revenue after the end of her involvement in the chuunin selection exams.
She grabbed Naruto's file and read it. Her jaw dropped.
"Alright, where's the brat offering eight hundred grand for a month of training?!"
She took Naruto to training ground sixteen, which consisted of a set of tall wooden poles pounded into the ground. They served as small platforms for practicing acrobatics and as targets, many of them peppered with shuriken and other thrown weapons from past training sessions.
Anko considered the grubby boy carefully. On the one hand, this kind of money meant food for months, not to mention paying the rent on her palatial apartment and all the booze she could drink. On the other, even she had a measure of distrust for the jinchuuriki of the nine-tailed fox. Hypocritical, maybe, considering the village's attitude towards her over much of her life. But that distrust was well earned, as was Naruto's.
"Where did you get this money?" she asked loudly. "A genin like you has no way of getting this much cash. Did Hokage-sama give it to you?"
Naruto waved her concern away. "Nah, I got it from Kakashi-sensei. It's part of the bounty we collected on Momochi Zabuza."
Anko squinted at him, remembering. "Yeah, they did say the Demon of the Mist died a while ago," she allowed. "Never thought it would be a genin team. I assume you killed him? Otherwise Kakashi would never share the bounty, stingy bastard."
"I, erm, I didn't kill him," Naruto said truthfully. "He died after fighting a bunch of guys with nothing but a kunai between his teeth."
Anko looked at him. It was so strange she decided he was probably telling the truth, but she would check with Kakashi later.
"Right...so, Zabuza Momochi, with a bounty of 40 million ryo on his head and a legendary weapon that requires special training to wield. And your sensei only gave you 800'000 ryo?"
"He actually gave me three million and a bit," said Naruto, "but I'm saving some. I think it was half for the village, ten million for himself, and then we split the rest."
"Don't you have any more for your brand new sensei?" Anko asked flirtatiously. Naruto pushed her out of his face, trying to ignore her provocative dress.
"So you'll do it?"
"We'll see about that," Anko said pompously. "This is a mission, but I haven't taken it yet. I won't touch your money if you aren't worthy of being my apprentice, and all of the jonin have their own little tests to see if they've got prodigies or dunces. Question is, are you a prodigy or a dunce?"
She pulled out a packet of senbon and threw it at the nearest pole. Without even taking the packaging off, the metal needles tore it apart and embedded themselves in a perfect Leaf symbol, identical to the one on both of their forehead protectors. There was a light tinkling noise as the remainder of the needles fell to the ground amidst the shredded plastic of the wrapping.
"This is the Senbon Test," Anko declared. "It's a bit longer than the Bell test or the Ring Test, but it's also different from both. Rather than testing teamwork or information gathering, the Senbon Test can only be passed by naturally talented shinobi. You have two days to be able to throw at least twenty senbon at once and make a Leaf mark. I know that the Academy doesn't teach that, and neither does Kakashi. So, you'll either have to learn how to do it yourself... or get someone to teach you."
"What?" Naruto cried. "How am I supposed to get that good with senbon in just two days?"
Anko shrugged casually. "Get Hokage-sama to teach you, you're pretty close to him. Any of the jonin could teach you, but they're all training their genin for the finals. Get someone, I don't care. Charisma, intellect, ingenuity, you gotta have this if you're going to learn from the best."
It was when she called herself the best that Naruto resolved to beat the Senbon Test like his redheaded stepchild and make Anko teach him, because dammit, he was the best! And the best deserved to be trained by the best.
"I'll be back the day after tomorrow, Anko-sensei, and I'll pass this test if it's the last thing I do," he promised.
Naruto briefly toyed with the idea of begging lessons off of Sarutobi, but ultimately decided against it. He needed every second of the next forty-eight hours to bring up his skill, and the Hokage couldn't give him that much attention. Also, he didn't know that Sarutobi had any particular skill with senbon at all, though it was overwhelmingly likely.
Instead, he decided on a tried-and-true method of getting what he wanted: blackmail. Normally, Naruto was loathe to use incriminating photos and mementos against other people, but the pictures of Iruka wearing a pink kimono after a particularly clever prank were the beginning of a slippery slope. It just so happened that if learning how to throw multiple senbon with deadly accuracy in two days, there was only one man for the job.
It was about eight in the evening. Kakashi and Sasuke had already left to train for the tournament, and Sakura was probably at home reading or practicing her own taijutsu. Naruto knew who he was looking for, but it took a trip to the records office to find his home address.
His target lived in an actual house, sandwiched between another house in the suburbs and a corner store that Naruto bought milk from sometimes. He entered through a back window carelessly left open, disarming a few traps along the way, and waited for the man to get home.
Shiranui Genma came in a few minutes later, not drunk yet but obviously preparing to be. He dumped his flak jacket on his stairs, flipped his bandanna onto the kitchen table and mussed his brown hair a bit.
"Hello!" Naruto shouted jovially, perhaps forgetting that surprising even a relaxed tokubetsu jonin isn't the sanest idea. Fortunately, he had the foresight to replace himself with a shadow clone earlier, and now the five senbon thrown (two per hand and one spat) only hit the fabric of the couch.
"What the fuck?" Genma said eloquently.
"Your name is Genma, right?" Naruto asked. His new shadow clone, created from an upstairs vantage point, appeared in place of the old one. The senbon prickled against his back uncomfortably, but not so badly as to dispel him.
Genma's stance lightened somewhat as he realized who the boy in his house was. "Get the hell outta here kid, I got places to be."
"Not any more you don't," Naruto said ominously. "Remember this?"
He was holding a trio of photographs, all of them depicting Genma in one way or another. The first was him sitting on a bench next to a dark-haired woman, his arm wrapped around her neck. The second was the same, only in this one they were cleaning each other's tonsils. And the third one was the two of them in bed, Genma smoking a cigarette while the girl looked at him adoringly. The camera angle was bad for all three, but the other woman was clearly Inuzuka Hana.
With a hiss, Genma darted forward and shredded each of them with his bare hands. Naruto didn't even try to stop him.
"Come on, d'you really think I'd forget to make copies?" he said cheerfully. Genma groaned.
"Just think of what Tsume—"
"What do you want?" Genma muttered. Naruto's smile grew triumphant.
"Teach me how to throw senbon in two days, or Kiba's mom gets them!"
Genma abruptly rolled his eyes and turned away.
"Your sensei is the psycho-bitch?" he said. "No wonder you're trying to blackmail me. The Senbon Test is almost impossible to pass. In fact," he mused, "the only team to ever pass it was Mitarashi-san's. Still, her solution was pretty clever."
"Tell me!" Naruto said eagerly.
"Nope. You gotta figure it out yourself, like the Bell Test and the Ring Test."
Naruto help up the incriminating pictures. "I'm not giving you a choice!" he sang.
Genma sighed, mentally cancelling his plans for the next two days. "You two bastards are perfect for each other," he said.
Anko was waiting in training ground sixteen two days later, a rolled up scroll in one hand and a stick of her favourite food in the other. Naruto marched in, trailing smoke behind him at the gate as he passed. Anko wondered how he would fail. Some begged off, other tried and messed up royally. Even Genma couldn't pass the senbon test as a genin, despite the Shiranui family's penchant for teaching their use.
"Bad shunshin? Those suck," she said, "but you get used to it. Now, are you ready to show me how awesome you are?"
"I'm plenty awesome!" Naruto said indignantly.
"Put your money where your mouth is," Anko demanded, stuffing the last of the dango in her mouth.
Somewhat anticlimactically, Naruto pulled out twenty senbon and threw them at the nearest post, where they formed a perfect Konoha emblem. The stick fell out of Anko's mouth in shock.
"I told you I'd pass!" Naruto crowed.
Anko studied him carefully. Naruto seemed relaxed... almost too relaxed, and his hand didn't look nearly as raw from pinpricks as it should have. Naruto had definitely spent two straight days practicing his throw, but without enough sleep in between.
"How did you get here this morning?" she asked innocently.
"I wal– er, Genma teleported me here."
"So he had you smoking something, did he?" Anko said fiendishly. "Eucommia is more effective when eaten than smoked, but he wouldn't know that. Genma never needed that shit. So, can I assume that if I asked you to throw the senbon again, you could make a regular ol' circle? How 'bout a square? Hell, if you can hit a target right I'll be impressed."
Naruto was slowly turning white. He cast his mind back to the bark Genma had instructed him to smoke, which tasted awful but made his aim orders of magnitude more accurate...to a degree. His muscle memory had pretty much encoded the shape of the Leaf to the exclusion of all else. He drew a few more senbon and threw, but the result could only be generously called an oval with a hump on one side near the bottom of the pole.
Anko leaned back and crossed her arms, appearing extraordinarily pleased.
"I knew you were smart enough to figure it out," she said. "Yeah, the guy who gives you the Ring Test says it's about speed, and Kakashi probably said somethin' else along those lines, but they're really about information gathering and teamwork, respectively. So the Senbon Test is to figure out how well you can cheat. And, well, I used drugs too when I passed it. My asshole teammate Shisui used shunshin to plant the senbon directly in the target and my slightly less asshole teammate Sho used genjutsu. Of course, our sensei saw through us in an instant, but that's not the point."
"So, are you gonna help me win the chuunin exams or what?" Naruto asked, deciding to keep his pictures of Hana and Genma to himself.
Anko handed the scroll to Naruto. Inside, a contract detailed that their training sessions would last for thirty days, starting that day, and at the end Naruto would pay Anko the amount agreed to at the beginning: eight hundred thousand ryo. There wasn't much else, other than a disclaimer that said Naruto's potential death was in no way her fault.
"This doesn't say what you're going to teach me," Naruto complained.
"Well, if you're drugged enough you can make a cool shape with senbon," Anko joked. "Seriously, if I told you that at the beginning, it would take the surprise out of it! Any decent ninja could steal this from under your nose, and then they'd sell your secrets to that ginger runt you're gonna fight."
Naruto mentally conceeded that this was a fair point, and signed his own name under his new sensei's.
Anko took the contract back, making it vanish into a pocket of her enveloping overcoat. Then she pivoted and slammed her heel into Naruto's chest. The powerful kick launched the blond genin backwards, tumbling until he slammed into a tree and fell on his head.
"Lesson one is taijutsu!" Anko hollered, adopting a fighting stance Naruto had never seen before. He hopped to his feet, created two shadow clones as backup, and the first fight began.
The writer has not yet read Naruto past Part One. Elements of Part Two will only be present in bits as they read beyond the Kakashi Gaiden. Relevant information has been edited in, such as the prophecy given to Jiraiya. Other information has been disregarded entirely, so Part Two may as well not have happened in this universe.
This story is rated M for a good reason: no relationship between two people of such differing ages could possibly be fit for a younger audience. Also, there are mentions of some other mature subjects that you'd expect from an 'M' story. It also contains a lengthy, convoluted explanation. That said, if you can stomach the content, enjoy!