xxx-Starting small-xxx

Many Thanks to my beta Blue Heart Burning for her help. She made this chapter readable, before...it wasn't. Simple as that.

xxx-Sasuke-xxx

His father looked down at him, his dark brown eyes and jet black hair gleaming in the glow of the candle light. He read over the form, cast a look at Sasuke and then read the form once more. Sasuke stood firmly, unmoving as he waited for his father's judgment. He seemed pleased, though it was hard to tell with his father. The man's face seemed to be a stone monument; an unmoving, hardened structure that remained unchanged no matter the circumstance.

"Sasuke….you've done rather well."

So he was pleased. That was good, Sasuke decided. He'd heard his parents' arguments over his friends. His father at first had seemed opposed to Sasuke spending time with Uzumaki Naruto, but as the months wore on, and it became obvious Naruto was another class of genius, his father's complaints had stopped. When it became even more obvious Naruto was taking those around him, that being Sasuke himself, and Sakura-chan he'd even heard the occasional praise.

"I think this would be good for you. I assume your…friends…will also be attempting this as well?"

"Hai, Tou-san."

His father was quiet once more. His face unchanging.

"I would like to meet your friend, Naruto. Let him know he is invited to dinner."

And that was that. Sasuke was allowed to go to his room. The oppressive fear he'd held in his chest lifted and he sighed. As he walked to his room, he spotted his mother in the hallway. She cast a small smile towards him, and he knew she had some involvement in this…whatever it was.

"Kaa-san."

"Sasuke-kun." Her voice was kind. He looked at her and smiled. She smiled in return and that was enough. She meant no ill will and so he continued on to his room. When he entered he sighed in frustration. Naruto seemed to be good at that. Bringing frustration and needless complication to things. Now he had to worry about how to idiotic genius would act in a formal event. He doubted Naruto would know the subtle nuances of a proper dinner. This meant he'd have to teach him, lest it reflect badly on him for not at least attempting to teach the orphan boy.

He sat down and pulled a scroll off of his desk. It was orange, an obnoxious potent color that appalled him, and the scroll was covered in the neat, flowing script that was Naruto's hand writing. Hand copied scrolls of chakra exercises. He smirked.

Naruto was good at getting his hands on pieces of information he shouldn't have had. Water walking…Sasuke was glad he'd listened to his mother and tried to befriend the blond. It had paid off, and already Sasuke could tell he'd benefited from it. They'd all benefited from their strange friendship. His father's willingness to want to meet Naruto just proved that.

He read through the scroll for the last time, reassured himself that he had memorized it, then set it away to be burned later.

There was a knock on his door.

"Enter."

As his mother walked in, she had a small smile on her face. She moved forward until she came to sit on his bed. She seemed sad, and happy, a mixture of emotions. In her hands she held the early graduation form he'd shown his father.

"Sasuke…" Her voice seemed to hitch in her throat. "Are you sure about this?"

"Naruto thinks we're ready."

She laughed at that and nodded. The trio had become known around Konoha. They ranked the three highest in their class, out shining everyone else by miles. Most people acknowledged it was due to the influence of the blond haired boy, though not all did so happily, or as a compliment. Sasuke didn't know this though.

"Does he?" She looked at him and sighed. She grabbed him in a hug suddenly, gripped him tight, and sighed. She shuddered again and he felt a wet droplet fall on his head.

"Sasuke…be strong, be smart, be careful. I don't want to bury any of my children."

"Kaa-san."

She placed the form in his hand and got up. "Rest up Sasuke-kun. Tomorrow's going to be a hard day for you." She leaned down and kissed him on the head, then left the room. He looked at his door, waiting for something…anything, maybe her return? But his mother didn't come back and he turned around.

A realization dawned on him. He'd have to teach Naruto proper etiquette. Naruto was an orphan, so knowing proper etiquette wouldn't be expected of him. But he wasn't and so Naruto's lack of proper etiquette would reflect on him. He sighed as he jumped onto his bed. He looked up at the ceiling, then without even realizing it, fell into a deep, long sleep.

The next day came easy. He got up, got ready, and went to Naruto's house to meet the blond haired boy. When he told him about to invitation to dinner Naruto laughed, with that knowing smile of his. He'd scowled in anger, then sighed.

"You knew this was going to happen."

"Eventually." He looked at Naruto, raised an eyebrow and nodded. "Do you have proper etiquette? Do you know the rituals?"

Naruto laughed again. Then nodded. "Come on, Sasuke," he was smirking like a fool. "Of course I do."

Naruto grabbed his wrist and started to run, and reluctantly he had to follow. As he was dragged from Naruto's apartment he grunted out.

"Slow down."

"No."

"Dammit, Naruto! Slow the hell down!"

The blond turned back and instead pulled him harder and picked up his pace. The village started to turn into a blur, it flitted past him as they sped up.

"Where are we going?"

"To Sakura-chan's."

"Is something wrong? Why are we in such a rush?"

"To see if her parents signed, of course." Of course. Sakura's parents were civilians. To graduate early you needed your guardians to sign your release forms. An easy task for Sasuke and Naruto. Naruto was a genius, and the Hokage seemingly personally took interest in the orphan boy's wellbeing. Sasuke parents had signed…because they were ninja, and Itachi had graduated early. Civilians though…

He freed his hand and then did what he remembered from one of Naruto's chakra exercises, pushed chakra into his feet. The blur turned into a tunnel of streaking colors. He felt Naruto's hand grasp around his own again, leading him to where they should go. After a few minutes they suddenly stopped.

Sakura's home was a large thing. Yet it was also humble. Painted a simple eggshell white, red rose bushes waited on either side of its walls. The two of them took a few seconds to get themselves presentable. They knocked and waited. The silence was tense…Sakura came to the door a few seconds later. With a smile on her face.

"Did you say what I told you to say?"

"Yes…" She said. Idly he wondered what Naruto told Sakura to tell her parents.

"And?"

"They said yes!"

He smiled and Naruto yelped in excitement. He watched as his blond haired friend wrapped Sakura, and then him, in a wide and tight hug. Then, like an ass, he started to gloat.

"See? What'd I'd tell you, Sasuke?"

"Naruto…" Sakura tried to stand up for him, but it was a weak defense at best and Naruto kept at it.

"Who was right? That's right, me. I was right."

"Ass."

"But this ass was right, Sasuke." Then the blond laughed, and Sasuke frowned in response. "But…we're not done. We still have to pass the exams. I think we should be prepared…but still…"

"Are you sure they'll put us on the same team?"

Sasuke looked at the blond again and waited for a response from Naruto.

"We will be. The politics of the whole situation insures we will be."

"What?"

"Sasuke-kun's right. What?"

"Think about it. Three geniuses graduating early at the same time like the three Sannin. One of them is the daughter of the head of the civilian council. The other is the second son of the largest and most powerful clan in Konoha. The last is an obvious genius, and can clearly be seen leading the other two. And best of all, we work together, we're friends, and they see us together all the time. They'd be stupid to not put us on a team. And the political pressure to put us on a team will be too strong."

"You seem confident about this." He looked at Naruto a second time. He did this all the time, went from buffoon to analyst, to buffoon like a swing.

He smiled at him. "I've never been wrong before Sasuke. Im not going to start being wrong anytime soon."

xxx-The Sandaime-xxx

His brown eyes stared into the wooden walls. He took a puff of his pipe, leaned back into the rich, padded leather of his chair, and smiled. Moments like these were rare. It was moments like these, with no paperwork, and no imminent business to deal with that he lived for in this office…

It's in moments like these, with the Konoha sun setting in the window, and a cool breeze wafting in as the day started to end, that he liked to sit and just….think…to let his mind wander and just ponder on the various things it wished. Recently…it wished to think of a young blond with eyes like the sky, and a mind as sharp as his parents…perhaps a mind to sharp for his own good. Naruto was smart. That much had been obvious.

A genius really. Much like many children the Sandaime had known, Konoha seemed adept at making them, though keeping them….he sighed.

A genius, who had in the past six months since the academy started, managed to make a name for himself with his skill and prowess. A genius who had made it clear that he was the best, a genius who had found two other such prodigies and then brought them up high with him… all at the tender age of six. In six months Naruto had skyrocketed, his skills had climbed…and the boy seemed nowhere near stopping anytime soon. Not only that, but he'd managed to drag two other children along with him. Sasuke, Fugaku's youngest child, and Sakura, daughter of Imiku, the head of the civilian council.

The three of them dominated their class, and soon the three of them would be ninja. In truth, it was really unavoidable. Considering who his parents were, Naruto was without a doubt, going to be powerful, even if he had somehow managed to not inherit any of Minato and Kushina's intellect. Yet he had, and now…

Now things would get…bothersome. People had already started taking notice, and already connections were being made. Whispers and rumors were spreading, and the faster Naruto grew, the more powerful he became…

It had occurred to him, to deny the early graduation request. No doubt the boy was ready for early graduation, he was skilled enough. Smart enough too. However, loose dots could be connected fast, and it wouldn't take any one too long to see the similarities between him and his father. Especially so if he showed incredible talent at a young age. But the boy, the cunning, amusing, annoyance that he was, had been prepared for this. He'd had his friends, they were friends yes, but he was obviously in control of the little group of prodigies.

They were his friends and teammates, as well as his lackeys. He'd had them sign and fill it out as well, word spreads fast within the council circle, and those around them. Three prodigies all friends, all attempting to graduate at the same time? No…he had to sign.

He let out a sigh. Naruto reminded him too much of another young prodigy he knew. One who he'd held pride in, and one who when it came to it, he had been too weak to kill. He took a deep breath of his pipe and leaned back, deep into his chair. In truth, the boy worried him.

He seemed as two-faced as the report on him implied. Going from joking youngster, to beyond his years in an instant. Able to switch between laughter and cold hearted calculation in a heartbeat. Was the boy a cold calculating individual beneath a façade of laughter? Much like Orochimaru. Or was he like his father, able to press that mental button, able to chill himself like ice and focus solely on what lay before him? For now, the Sandaime gave him the benefit of a doubt. But still, he would watch and be cautious of his blond ward.

Xxxx-Naruto-xxx

The three of them stood out in the examination center. The older children looked at them skeptically, brows raised and slight smirks on their faces. He smirked back, his eyes staring them down. He looked left, then right, and his smirk turned into a grin when he noticed both Sakura and Sasuke doing the same. He'd wondered if he was doing the right thing, pushing for early graduation…he'd pondered it for weeks, talked about it with Kurama…and still, he wasn't sure if this was right. But he had no other choice. He was above and beyond, and without a doubt in the following year they'd be placing him on course for early graduation.

He'd rather he do it on his own terms. So he colluded a bit. Why not graduate early with his team? So over the past six months he'd trained hard, and trained his friends harder. They were too small for proper physical training, but cardio and sparing were good starts. It would be enough for them to skate by. Chakra exercises both raised their reserves and honed their skills with their life essence. Already his reserves were chunnin levels, and Sasuke's were Genin. Sakura's was nowhere near that, but her control far surpassed the two of them and made up for it.

They were ready, they would pass, and they would blaze into the future. They'd grow strong, and make names for themselves, and when Obito finally came out of the shadows…he'd kill him. End it even if it cost him his life. But first…he looked left again.

"You ready?"

"Of course we are." Sakura's voice was confident.

"Are you nervous, Naruto?" Sasuke's smirk was mocking.

"I'd be stupid not to. Let's go take a seat. The exams start soon. Don't worry about the written portion, it's not weighed as heavily as the physical evaluations. A simple seventy five should be enough for us to pass."

"But you don't want us to get a simple seventy five. You want us to dominate this exam don't you? Just passing it isn't enough."

He laughed. Sakura knew him too well. "Let's show them that we're above and beyond. Let's go kick some ass and take some names."

"Oh, my god. You didn't just say that." She and Sasuke were laughing now.

He pouted. Sakura knew how to kill his mood so easily. "We're in testing room three. Let's go."

They followed and after a few minutes they found their testing room. The large number three adorned above its sliding doors. Quiet mutters could be heard from the other side. He slid it open, and the room fell silent as he walked in. He looked around and stared each and every single person in the room down. Mutters rose more as Sakura and Sasuke followed him inside. They sat together, ignored the stares of the older students around them, and talked quietly amongst themselves.

"You guys ready?"

"Stop asking us that. Of course we are." Sasuke said, voice filled with annoyance.

"I'm just making sure."

"Stop worrying, Naruto. You can pass no problem."

"It's not me I'm worried about." He grimaced when he realized how that sounded. He looked at Sakura and Sasuke, they seemed…annoyed, to say the least.

"Well, fuck you too." He gasped. Sasuke almost never cursed so blatantly. His insults were wittier, better timed and less blunt. He almost laughed, he'd apparently riled up the Uchiha.

"I meant no harm."

"We know Naruto, you're just a socially inept ass." Apparently, Sakura was mad too. She never cursed, never. He smiled and ignored it. Then the two of them blossomed into wide toothed smiles similar to his. A chunnin entered a few minutes later and they took their seats. They sat next to each other, Naruto and Sasuke on the periphery with Sakura in the center.

The chunnin, a tall lanky man with auburn hair and eyes to match, yelled to quiet the room down. And then he flared his chakra and killing intent when only a few became silent.

"This-" He shouted. "For some of you this is the beginning of your ninja careers. All of you are here because you meet the minimum preliminary requirements for you're to take the graduation exam. That does not mean that you meet the requirements to graduate. Some of you are here for early graduation…" Naruto could practically feel the room full of eyes on the three of them. "Do take note that despite physical limits you must still meet the requirements of the exam. One portion of which is taijutsu based. You must show exemplary taijutsu skills. Not simply for your age or stature, but as a whole."

Naruto almost laughed at that. That wouldn't be a problem for them. Naruto's taijutsu form was quick and painful, his blows were vicious and left no room for the opponent to escape. Sasuke's was the darting precise style meant for use with the Uchiha clan's Sharingan. Sakura…she was the weakest link if you could call what she did weak. While not vicious like his, or precise like Sasuke's, she made up for it with chakra laced punches, and a perfect academy style. They would have no issues with the taijutsu portion of the exam.

As the exam papers were being passed around, he looked at Sakura, then Sasuke.

"We've got this."

xxx-Fugaku-xxx

He was not a blind man. He was a ninja, more importantly he was an Uchiha. He could see, quite clearly, the changes in people, and the changes in his son. Sasuke had always been a smart boy, not a genius like his brother, and Fugaku often admitted had Itachi been normal or not born at all, would have been seen as a herald of the Uchiha clan. He was very talented…just not prodigious like his brother. At least, that had been the assumption he had made. But assumptions could be wrong, and an Uchiha had no shame in admitting his wrongness as long as he learned and made up from this mistake.

Sasuke was a genius….he just needed another, different type, of genius to bring about his own natural inherent talent. The Uzumaki boy was that genius. It was obvious whose son he was. That blond hair, those blue eyes, that intellect...even if his wife had not known Uzumaki Kushina and Namikaze Minato he would have known. Who did the Hokage think he was kidding? Only out of willful ignorance and denial would you not be able to connect the rather obvious clues…or perhaps lack thereof.

The boy had brought out the best in Sasuke, and it had changed him. Once his son had looked up at him in awe and reserved hope, but that seemed so distant now. Now his son looked at him in…not contempt, not fear…respect. Yes, in respect, and sudden understanding of the power he held. And yet, another understanding that soon, in a few short years, and indeed how short were those years, he would surpass the power of his father. The same look Itachi had given him around that age.

The sun crawled lazily through the sky and, for a brief moment, a bell rang. Then the sounds of children running out of school grounds accompanied his thoughts. He watched the examination room empty in disinterest. Then, a short excited form, much smaller than the other children, exited. Followed by a mop of pink and finally the deep rich obsidian black that was his son's hair. On all of their foreheads were the shiny new forehead protectors that marked them as new ninja of Konoha. He smiled. As expected.

Sasuke spotted him, a look of surprise was marked on his face as he did so, but still he grabbed his friends and pulled them towards him. It took them only a minute to get to him. He smiled, and Sasuke again seemed surprised. He rarely smiled at all, such things should be held for truly rare occasion and this he deemed as one of them.

"Tou-san." His son seemed to be at a loss for words.

"I came to pick you up today. Your mother is busy with dinner preparations. I see you passed, as did your friends." He nodded at the pink haired girl, and turned his attention to the blond.

Blue eyes stared into his, and had he been anyone else, he would have gasped. For a brief moment, they analyzed each other, blue against deep, almost black, brown. The boy's face was solemn as he observed him, as if he was peering into his soul and judging him. Evaluating him, his entire life, his faults and failures and success. Then a frown was on the boy's face, followed by a smile. Then as if nothing had happened, his face returned to normal.

But those eyes…he'd seen those eyes on the face of someone else. Those eyes that said a decision had been made, that a train of momentum that started with just a thought had begun. He'd seen those same eyes in the face of Namikaze Minato. He looked away, he just couldn't peer into those eyes.

Then, both the girl and the blond bowed. "Hello Uchiha-san/sama." The boy had let the san trail. He wanted Fugaku to know that his station as head of the Uchiha clan meant nothing to him, but still he held respect for the man.

"Hello, Uzumaki-san," formal only formal. "Hello, Haruno-san."

He turned to Sasuke. "Uzumaki-kun, Sochi, we must not dally. Your mother has worked hard on this meal, Sasuke, and Itachi will be there as well."

"Nii-san's home?" The sound of surprise in his voice made him chuckle.