Chapter 1: Genin Again

Umino Iruka frowned as he studied the small slip of paper that fluttered out of his team selection file early this morning. Evidently, someone very skilled had sneaked into his room in the middle of the night, placed the small piece of paper in his file surreptitiously, and left without a trace. It was the handwriting of the Sandaime Hokage, and there was his official Hokage seal stamped across it, so it couldn’t be fake. The thing was, why was there such a need for secrecy? The Hokage could have just informed him promptly.

Or he wanted to feel important, and made an ANBU do this, Iruka’s mind wandered, as he studied the note carefully. A new Genin, huh? I wonder who he is.

Iruka was curious, and as with all curious ninjas, they did their absolute best to sate that curiosity. Hence, we see the Chūnin Academy instructor seated at his table early in the morning, watching the door for his new Genin to appear. But as the morning droned past, and more student streamed into the classroom, excited about team assignments, Iruka saw neither hide nor hair of the new Genin that the Hokage said would arrive, and early at that. Iruka’s frown deepened. Hokage-sama wouldn’t lie to me, but I still don’t see this new Genin! It’s already ten minutes past the time slated for team assignments!

Pushing his exasperation aside, Iruka focused on giving his speech to the class, about the duties and responsibilities of a ninja, and what the job entailed. He cut out the gory details, as he didn’t want to scare his students, but he found it increasingly frustrating for all but two or three students to ignore him. Wait, who’s that behind Shino? I didn’t see him earlier!

Iruka abruptly cut his boring spiel short, which stunned quite a few students. Iruka never stopped his speeches for anything except emergencies. Heck, even when there was that fire in the Academy, Iruka still had the patience and calm to deliver a speech about extenuating circumstances ninjas face in their line of work, using the fire as a real life example. Kiba even fell off his seat in shock, which no one noticed in fear of the Armageddon. Some even looked out of the window, clearly expecting to see something big crash into the Academy and kill everyone. Iruka’s temple ticked, but taking deep breaths, he managed to calm himself down.

“Sit down,” Iruka barked at the growing crowd of teens at the window. He turned his gaze to the blond teen behind the stoic Shino. “I assume you are the new Genin? Uzumaki Naruto?”

“Hai, Iruka-san,” the blond said pleasantly. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Hokage-sama spoke highly of your teaching ability. A pity I never studied under you.”

Iruka blushed under the praise, scratching the back of his head sheepishly. “I’m flattered, but I’m not really that good a teacher.”

The conversation attracted the attention of everyone in the classroom. Shino was highly surprised that his kikaichū did not inform him about the presence of the ninja. As he questioned his insect partners, they conveyed a simple message to him. We still can’t sense his presence. It’s as if he isn’t there.

Shino’s eyebrow rose. Naruto smiled at the Aburame. “Kikaichū cannot sense me, Aburame-san. It’s one of my abilities.”

“Who are you?” Kiba interrupted anything Shino was about to say. “Why the heck are you here?”

“I’m Uzumaki Naruto as Iruka-san has said. I am a Genin, re-assigned from my team, which had been disbanded due to some problems. There are apparently no openings in any Genin teams at the moment,” Naruto smiled softly. “I’m pleased to meet all of you.”

Kiba nodded, satisfied with the answer. Other Genins also accepted the answer, shuffling back to their seats in accordance to Iruka’s orders. Uchiha Sasuke cast a cursory glance at the new Genin, snorting in derision. Weak, he thought in disdain. His chakra levels are lower than Shikamaru’s, and he doesn’t hold himself like a true ninja.

Shikamaru was unlike the rest of his classmates though. This guy is unreal. He can even avoid Shino’s detection, even when so close to him, and Iruka-sensei didn’t know of his presence until now. He looks relaxed, but on closer examination of his muscles, it’s possible to see them tensed, ready to leap into action even in the relative safety of a classroom. He’s definitely not a green ninja who hasn’t seen the world. His chakra levels are lower than mine, but if studied carefully, it fluctuates slightly every few minutes, which means that he’s actively suppressing his true chakra levels. He’s already making everyone underestimate him. Deception is the greatest tool of ninjas, and he’s applying it to such a degree…he can’t possibly be just a Genin. There’s something afoot here, and I can’t figure it out for the life of me.

So focused on his thoughts, he barely noticed his own name called. He groaned when Yamanaka Ino screeched in anger at not being on the ‘hot new guy’ and Sasuke’s team, and was saddled with Choji and him. Not to mention ‘forehead girl’ was with Sasuke. So he’s with Sasuke and Sakura. Maybe there’s some conspiracy surrounding those two, and Naruto is a part of it…although I can’t see Sakura as part of a conspiracy. She’s too naïve and single-minded…although it could be a reason to take advantage of her, and use her for some other purpose.

“…and that’s it for the teams. I wish all of you good luck with your future ninja career,” Iruka finished, and smiled. “Although I got quite a few headaches, it’s been a pleasure teaching all of you. Your Jōnin instructors will be arriving in an hour’s time, so have a good lunch, and come back here on time. Once again, good luck!”

Iruka then left the classroom, and as students filtered out of the classroom, Ino blinked, staring at the spot where Naruto was a moment ago. “Where did Naruto-kun go?”

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Naruto sat on the rooftop of the Academy, eating his self-prepared bento slowly. The corner of his lips twitched, curling into a slight smile as he acknowledged the presence behind him. “Taichō. What brings you here?”

“I still haven’t forgotten your transgression yesterday,” the soft voice sounded from behind the blond.

A pair of warm, slender arms slipped around Naruto’s neck, and a chin rested on the crown of his head. “I don’t like your new assignment, Leopard. It’s different without you.”

“I am hardly the most inconspicuous ANBU around, taichō,” Naruto replied. “I thought stealth missions would be much simpler for the team now with me gone.”

“Pssh. Don’t believe any of that claptrap. Your abilities make you even better than I am at stealth,” the captain stated. “We all miss you, you know?”

“I’ll like to believe that is true, taichō,” Naruto smiled. “But I have no means of checking, now that I am a Genin. My security clearance would be too low to know anything about ANBU.”

“You really know how to add levity to a situation, huh?” the ANBU said sarcastically.

“I try my best, taichō,” Naruto retorted smoothly.

The ninja released Naruto, and sat down beside him. She, as it was evident from her generous curves that she was a kunoichi, had purple hair that reached the middle of her back in length. She was dressed in typical ANBU garb, covered head to toe in black cloth and dull grey armour. She removed her mask, decorated with the muzzle of a cat, and placed it beside her on the concrete roof of the Academy. She sighed, her ruby red lips curling into a frown. “I still don’t understand why Hokage-sama approved of you taking this mission. It’s a complete waste of time for you, and it took away my strongest member from the team.”

“It’s not for our benefit, taichō. I’m also not the strongest member of the team. You are,” Naruto murmured, taking his time with his food. “Besides, Hokage-sama cannot possibly ignore the daimyo’s request.”

“When will you finally realise you are stronger than me? Honestly, you’ve surpassed me long ago,” the kunoichi huffed.

“You have experience which I lack, taichō,” Naruto retorted. “Experience counts for quite a bit in the battlefield.”

“You’re impossible,” the purple-haired woman threw her hands up in frustration.

“There does not exist such a word in our vocabularies, taichō,” Naruto smiled pleasantly. “You of all people should know, with superhuman ninja abilities and all.”

“I give up. You have Kakashi-sempai as your sensei, do you?” the captain asked, receiving a nod in return.

“Since you got Kakashi-sempai, remember to visit the team before he arrives at team meetings, okay?” the kunoichi ordered. “And how many times must I tell you, to call me Yugao when we’re not on duty?”

“Well, you are on duty,” Naruto pointed out.

“I took off my mask,” Yugao retorted. “Besides, I know you already put up a barrier. Why do you think I took off my mask in the first place?”

“I have to return to the classroom now,” Naruto stated. Yugao pouted, before pulling Naruto into a headlock. “What? Ditching a woman in the middle of a date like that? I’ll teach you some manners, young man!”

Naruto rolled his eyes as Yugao gave him a noogie. “Taichō, you aren’t acting like the exemplary ANBU you are. And we are not currently in the midst of a date.”

“Does it matter?” Yugao growled, intensifying her efforts. “C’mon, say something in protest to your punishment! It takes the fun out of things if you don’t react to my noogie!”

“Having fun?” an amused voice sounded from behind them. Yugao sprang away from Naruto, fitting her mask back in place, unsheathed her katana and swung it in one swift motion, only to have her prized weapon parried by a mere kunai, albeit a well-crafted kunai. A Jōnin eye-smiled, raising the hand that was not holding the kunai. “Yo.”

“Kakashi-sempai,” Yugao greeted, sheathing her katana. “What brings you here?”

“Well, you are assaulting my new Genin…” Kakashi thought aloud, stroking his cloth-covered chin. “I should defend him. And the best defence is a good offence, as some people say.”

“And if you do, I should call my darling subordinate to play a few tunes,” Yugao replied coolly, sitting down once more. “You’ll learn to appreciate music much better afterwards, I assure you.”

“I concede,” Kakashi stored his kunai, raising both hands in the universal gesture of surrender. “So, how’s the team now?”

“Other than the lousy label of ‘Team Katana’ and the reassignment of my cute subordinate, everything is going fine,” Yugao said. “How’s life as a Jōnin?”

“Boring,” Kakashi yawned exaggeratedly. “It’s fun to rile up Gai though.”

“I really should be going,” Naruto interrupted. “And Kakashi-sempai, you should turn up soon. Both Sakura-san and Sasuke-san do not seem to be the most patient of ninjas.”

“And break my tradition? No way,” Kakashi crossed his arms in front of him. “But you should run along and join your cute Genin friends. I’ll meet you in about…two hours?”

Some things never change, Yugao thought amusedly.

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It was a good hour since everyone left, and Haruno Sakura was getting pissed. Their Jōnin instructor was nowhere to be seen, and the tardiness was just unacceptable. Inner Sakura screamed obscenities as the demure, normal Sakura fawned over an increasingly frustrated Sasuke, who had to deal with his precious training time being wasted, and an annoying fan girl gushing over his apparent coolness. Sasuke wished she would shut up and sit down quietly, but speaking to her would just increase her delusion that Sasuke was meant to be hers. Complete nonsense, but girls’ minds worked in strange ways.

Once Sakura finally got tired of examining her handsome Sasuke-kun, she took some time to study her other team-mate, Uzumaki Naruto. The name was not familiar, even for the well-read Sakura, and she made a mental note to check up on his background. He better not hold Sasuke-kun back! She thought vehemently. Uzumaki Naruto had a mop of unruly, golden locks that spiked in every direction, some hair falling over his forehead. He had brilliant, azure eyes, and three faint lines across each cheek, almost like whiskers. His face was lean and angular, and his skin was lightly tanned. He was dressed in a crimson shirt and black pants, with the ends taped down. Black, fingerless gloves covered his hands, and seemed to merge seamlessly with the sleeves of his shirt.

Well, he is rather good looking, Sakura blushed, but not as hot as Sasuke-kun!

Another half hour passed, and there was still no sign of their instructor. Sakura was tempted to rip her luscious, pink hair out in frustration. And she had spent a good hour grooming it earlier for her Sasuke-kun. Sasuke’s eyelid was twitching rapidly at this point, his patience reaching breaking point. Or what was left of his patience. Only Naruto seemed to be content waiting for the Jōnin to arrive. Sakura growled, pacing the front of the classroom with long, heated strides. Then, soft, calming music travelled to her ears.

Her head snapped upwards, and she spotted Naruto bent over a guqin, plucking the strings of the music instrument with delicate skill. She found herself calming down almost immediately, indulging in the music that emanated from the guqin. Sasuke found his frustration ebb away as well, but outwardly, he scoffed. What a useless skill to have for a ninja, he thought distastefully. Is he for real?

“I assure you, Sasuke-san, that playing music is not a useless skill at all,” Naruto spoke up, stunning the last loyal Uchiha. Did he read my mind?

Naruto continued, either ignoring or ignorant of Sasuke’s shock. “Music is a good way for ninjas to find release from the stress that the lifestyle puts them through. Also, music can be used as a conduit for genjutsus. Moreover, being a skilled musician will allow for ninjas to infiltrate various locales in the guise of a musician, just like how many ninjas pick up the culinary arts, which dovetail well with the poison arts. It is far from being a useless skill that you think it is.”

“How do you know I think it’s useless?” Sasuke demanded. Sakura nodded empathetically. “Yea! Tell Sasuke-kun!”

“I can see from your facial expressions the emotions of incredulity and disdain, which indicated that you most likely thought that playing the guqin is a useless skill, and that you cannot believe that as a ninja, I am playing the instrument,” Naruto explained softly. “It is elementary.”

Awkward silence permeated the room after that, broken soon after by the door sliding open. A mop of grey hair appeared first, before a masked face popped into the room. Three pairs of eyes focused on the man, and it was a tense few seconds before the man spoke. “My first impression of all of you is that…you’re all idiots. Meet me on the roof.”

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The Jōnin was seated on the railing, as three Genins trudged to the roof. They took seats on the steps in front of the older ninja, and awaited his instructions. The man eye-smiled. “Well, I guess we should introduce ourselves. Tell me your name, likes, dislikes, hobbies and dreams for the future.”

“Er…can you give us an example?” Sakura asked, meekly raising her hand in the air.

Kakashi sweat-dropped. Does she still think she’s in the Academy? “Well…my name is Hatake Kakashi. My likes and dislikes are none of your business, I have few hobbies, and my dreams for the future…you next, pinky.”

All we learnt was his name, Sakura sweat-dropped. “My name is Haruno Sakura. I like Sasuke-kun. I hate Ino-pig! My hobbies are…and my dreams for the future…”

At this point, she burst into a fit of giggles, eyes goggling at Sasuke in admiration. Kakashi sighed inwardly. “Alright. Duck-butt hair, you’re next.”

Sasuke growled at the insult of his hair, but didn’t comment. “My name is Uchiha Sasuke. I have few likes, and many dislikes. I have a dream…no, an ambition, to revive my clan and kill a certain man.”

Not unexpected… “Blondie, your turn.”

“My name is Uzumaki Naruto. I like my guqin, and my friends. I dislike prejudice. My hobbies are composing songs, and training. My dream for the future is to have…a family.”

Most normal of them all. Surprising, with all that he’s been through, but not very unexpected. Yugao’s a good captain, Kakashi pondered, before nodding. “Alright! Now that we all know each other, we can move on. Meet me tomorrow at training grounds 23 at 0500 hours. We’re going to do a bit of survival training!”

“Survival training! But we’ve already done those in the Academy!” Sakura protested.

“Oh, but this is different,” Kakashi said conspiratorially. “This is to determine if you become Genins.”

“WHAT!” Sakura screeched in indignation. Even Sasuke looked angered. “But we’re already Genin!”

“No you’re not, except for Naruto here,” Kakashi pointed at the blond. “The Academy test was to determine if you had the ability to become Genins. Oh, did I forget to tell you? This test has a 66.6% chance of failure.”

Astonishment was registered on the faces of two Genins, namely Sasuke and Sakura. Kakashi grinned, not that anyone could see. “Yep. It means out of the 26 graduates plus Naruto this year, only 9 will graduate.”

As he stood up, his lone exposed eye curved in mirth. “Oh, and don’t eat breakfast. You’ll puke.”

In a puff of smoke, he was gone.

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“I thought I said to meet at the training grounds earlier this morning,” Kakashi commented, as Naruto joined him in their leisurely stroll to the training grounds.

“Both of us know of your reputation of being late, Kakashi-sempai,” Naruto replied. “And if Sasuke-san and Sakura-san have noticed as such, they would be making their way there only now. Also, taichō told me to visit the team, which I did. Hence I am, as you implied, late.”

Kakashi nodded, returning to his book of smut. The duo walked in relative silence, each dwelling in their own thoughts. When they reached the training grounds, they were greeted with a ear-piercing screech from none other than Sakura. Sasuke remained silent, but he was obviously disgruntled at having to waste so much of his time waiting for their tardy Jōnin sensei. Kakashi, being the thick-skinned individual he was, merely eye-smiled and waved cheerfully. “Ohayo! It’s a good morning isn’t it!”

“BOTH OF YOU ARE LATE!” Sakura bellowed, her petite frame belying her extremely loud voice and powerful lungs.

“Well, you see, I got lost on the road of life, and as I tried to find my way out, I found Naruto on the ground, unconscious. So I had to send him to the hospital,” Kakashi explained mirthfully, sounding completely insincere and taking absolutely no effort at making a convincing lie.

“LIAR!” Sakura yelled angrily, shaking her fist in frustration at the cyclopean Jōnin.

Unrepentant, Kakashi ignored the pink-haired girl. “Well, I guess all of you are pumped up to take the test, huh? I hope none of you ate your breakfast.”

On cue, two stomachs growled loudly. Sakura blushed in embarrassment, while Sasuke turned away huffily. Kakashi chuckled, retrieving two silver bells from his weapons pouch. He jingled them for attention, the tinkling noise drawing everyone’s eyes to them. “You’re goal for today is to get one of these bells from me. If you get one, you pass. It’s that simple. The time limit is until noon to get these bells.”

“But sensei, there are only two bells,” Sakura asked worriedly.

“Well done,” Kakashi beamed, his mask shifting slightly. “It means that one of you will definitely fail. But if none of you manage to get a bell, it also means that none of you pass. I advise you to come with me with the intent to kill.”

“But you’ll get hurt, sensei!” Sakura gasped.

The Academy reports don’t do her justice, Kakashi rolled his eyes surreptitiously. She thinks she can harm a Jōnin when her physical scores are so poor? Where did that vaunted braininess go? “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. Since all of you seem so pumped up, we’ll begin the test…immediately.”

Three blurs disappeared into the surrounding foliage. Kakashi smirked. Mission, start!

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Kakashi shook his head in disappointment. Thus far, Sakura had been taken down with a simple genjutsu that a kunoichi with her chakra control could dispel in an instant. Sasuke displayed some impressive skills, but he demonstrated that he had little skills beyond those that were meant to fight opponents head on. Ninjas fought from the shadows. But what made it worse was Sasuke’s arrogance, thinking he could retrieve the bells through brute force. From an elite Jōnin like Kakashi. The grey-haired ninja wondered if Itachi’s massacre had loosened more screws in Sasuke’s head than previously thought.

There was no sign of Naruto, which had Kakashi facing a medley of emotions. On one hand, he was sorely dismayed at the blond’s inaction over the past hour. He knew the blond understood the meaning of the test, but not even helping his future team-mates, no matter how temporary the arrangement would be, was just unacceptable. On the other hand, he knew Naruto must have been plotting heavily for the past hour, which didn’t bode well for the elite Jōnin. Yugao readily admitted Naruto was stronger than her, Kakashi pondered, and she’s already surpassed me greatly in her specialities. Does that mean Naruto is on my level already?

Kakashi shook his head, giving himself a mental slap. Oh, grow up Hatake. You yourself should know very well…there will always be someone younger than you, but stronger than you. I was like that, and then Itachi. Naruto may just be like that too. Jealousy is really unbecoming of you.

The man may have been distracted by his thoughts, but he wasn’t classified S-rank in three of the five major ninja villages for nothing. A barrage of shuriken whirled through the air, far too fast and accurate to be have been thrown by a mere Genin. Easily dodging the volley of weapons, he waited patiently for Naruto’s appearance. He wasn’t disappointed as he caught the blond’s presence beneath him. Kakashi took a giant leap into the air, just as two hands wielding kunai darted out of his shadows, ready to sever his Achilles tendons. Naruto didn’t stop, leaping out of the shrinking shadow to attack the airborne Kakashi.

The Jōnin found himself on the defensive, blocking and parrying powerful taijutsu blows reminiscent of his self-proclaimed eternal rival. Wincing as a punch crashed painfully against his arm, Kakashi quickly countered, grabbing the offending hand, and tossing Naruto. The blond allowed himself to be thrown through the air, careening into the foliage and presumably into hiding as well. Kakashi sighed. Heck, he hasn’t even drawn his blade. At this rate, I’m going to need my Sharingan! If he’s really just A-rank, I’ll eat my book.

Sighing, Kakashi called out. “Look Naruto. You and I both know our fight is going to attract too much unwanted attention from Sasuke and Sakura. So how about we settle this in a more peaceful manner?”

“Did you tell me to attack with the intent to kill?” the voice that echoed through the small clearing Kakashi was in sounded amused. The grey-haired shinobi cursed. Voice projection. Damn.

“Maybe. Why haven’t you tried getting Sasuke and Sakura to help out?”

“Sasuke rejected my help, as did Sakura. I have clones retrieving them as we speak, but I do not anticipate any positive results,” Naruto replied matter-of-factly. “This team is highly dysfunctional, and both of us understand the fact.”

“Maybe,” Kakashi sighed. “So, are you going to attack yet?”

“Maybe,” Naruto echoed Kakashi.

Shit! Kakashi thought, channelling chakra to his ears to listen out for potential ambushes. It was his first mistake, as hauntingly beautiful music blanketed the area. Kakashi cursed; with his hearing enhanced, he became more susceptible to the genjutsu that Naruto was casting on him. His world quickly became black, darkness filling every corner of his vision. The vulgarities increased in number and intensity as he could see nothing but darkness. He quickly tried dispelling the genjutsu, but it was too strong for him to destroy. From the stories he heard about this jutsu, not even the God of Shinobi, the Sandaime Hokage could dispel it.

A painful barrage of fists and feet crashed into his body, rendered partly unresponsive by the lack of sight. He had been relying on his Sharingan quite a bit, and his eyesight was one of the more important senses for him. Countering fast and powerful strikes to the body was tough without sight, but against a less-experienced foe, he managed to deflect quite a bit of damage. He smirked as he managed to catch a foot attempting to kick his gut, and twisting it violently, he hoped to break the ankle cleanly. It was his second mistake, believing that it was Naruto fighting him.

The clone exploded loudly, and with Kakashi in the blast radius, it was inevitable the man would take some damage. Tumbling away, Kakashi crashed into a tree painfully. Groaning, the man righted himself, his senses in a muddle. The genjutsu had not dispelled to his dismay, and in addition, his ears were detecting a high-pitched buzzing noise that was getting louder by the second. Cursing the world for its unfairness, Kakashi tried to lift the genjutsu once more, to no avail.

The buzzing was reaching a loud climax, and the sound-based genjutsu was making its effect known on Kakashi. Without his sight, and his sense of balance impaired, he hardly knew if he was swaying or not. He couldn’t even tell what was up and what was down at that point. His sense of touch was working perfectly though, and it was a simple (but somewhat disappointing) matter for him to reveal his Sharingan, instantly identifying and removing the genjutsu, unveiling reality as it was once more.

The Jōnin found himself still in the small clearing, but at the edges of it. Naruto was still nowhere to be seen, but that was expected. Kakashi was highly impressed at that moment; he was one of Konoha’s best trackers, second to none and even better than several Inuzuka and Aburame. To be unable to detect Naruto’s scent was remarkable on the blond’s part. It wasn’t doing much good for Kakashi’s pride though, being beaten by a fifteen-year-old.

But instincts and reflexes honed by years of war and ANBU training cum missions allowed Kakashi to evade the attempt to bisect him at the waist.

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