Chapter 1

A/N: It has come to my attention that some incredibly brave people arereading this without familiarity with the Naruto canon. Fairly warned be yethat this story assumes some basic knowledge of the Narutoverse. Nevertheless,I am happy to include a quick run-down of the Japanese terms used so far. Forfurther information on any unfamiliar terms used in this story, look to theNarutopedia.

ANBU: ANsatsu senjutsu tokushu BUtai, lit. “assassination (military) tacticsspecial squad”. A ninja village’s elite special forces, responsible forvillage security (including interrogation and torture) and particularly high-level missions. They report directly to the village leader, and wear maskswith stylised patterns unique to each village to disguise their identitieswhile working.

Chakra: A term borrowed from Hindu metaphysics. In the Narutoverse, refers toto the combination of vital energy (gained from physical training) andspiritual energy (gained from experience) which serves as life-force for allliving things, and also powers ninja supernatural abilities.

Chūnin: lit. “middle nin(ja)”. An advanced rank of ninja. Chūnin are eligibleto lead their own squads.

Fūma Shuriken: lit. “wind demon shuriken”. Enormous shuriken a metre or soacross, originally developed by the Fūma Clan. Some are collapsible for easycarrying.

Genin: lit. “lower nin(ja)”. The lowest rank of ninja.

Genjutsu: lit. “illusion techniques”. Spell-like techniques that alter atarget’s perception using chakra. More like mind control than ordinarymisdirection. Can be dispelled by using a strong enough blast of your ownchakra, if you know how.

Hokage: lit. “fire shadow”. The title of the leader of the Hidden Village ofLeaf, where the story begins. Each of the five major ninja villages has itsown type of Kage - typically, though not always, the strongest ninja in thevillage.

Jōnin: lit. “upper nin(ja)”. The top rank of ninja. Jōnin are, withoutexception, extremely powerful. There are also “special Jōnin”, who haveattained Jōnin-level proficiency in one area but are otherwise Chūnin-level.

Kunai: lit. “no suffering” (apparently; only just found this out). In theNarutoverse, the default ninja melee weapon. Like shuriken, carried inimprobably large quantities. From an anonymous reviewer: “Kunai are farmingtools that were sharpened and used as weapons by shinobi. They were generallyused as melee weapons, but could be thrown when the situation called for it.The kunai was favored amongst shinobi because it was cheap (simple farmingtool), easily made into a weapon and could serve other purposes as well. Foran example, a rope could be tied to the ring at the end, after which the kunaicould be stabbed into something and one could climb the rope.”

Kunoichi: lit. “one of nine” (don’t ask why). Female ninja.

Manga: lit. “loose drawings”. The Japanese equivalent of comic books.

Ninja: lit. “hiding person”. In medieval Japan, special clans of mercenarieshired for intelligence gathering and assassination. Their extraordinary levelsof training and unique equipment and know-how caused common people to believethat ninja had supernatural powers. The Narutoverse ninja are different fromreal ones in many ways.

Ninjutsu: lit. “ninja techniques”. Effectively magic which costs chakra tocast. Many techniques belong to an element (Fire/Water/Wind/Earth/Lightning),and are stronger against one other element and weaker against another. Atypical ninja will start out with an affinity for one element (which isrequired to successfully use it for techniques), and will have developed moreby the time they reach Jōnin rank.

Ramen: Noodle-based dish of great deliciousness.

Ryō: Unit of currency, based on a Japanese currency used in the days of realninja.

Sensei: lit. “further ahead in life”. Term of respect for a teacher. I’vetried hard to avoid using Japanese suffixes in an English-language work, but Ihaven’t found an acceptable alternative for this one which doesn’t soundawkward.

Shinobi: Common contraction for “shinobi no mono”, an alternative reading ofthe characters for “ninja”. Means exactly the same thing.

Shuriken: lit. “hand palm blade” (sort of). Aka “ninja stars” or “throwingstars”. In the Narutoverse, most ninja have improbably large supplies on themat all times, typically in leg pouches. Unlike real shuriken, Narutoverseshuriken are typically not poisoned.

Taijutsu: lit. “body techniques”. Basically martial arts, both armed andunarmed. Aside from certain advanced techniques, these typically do notrequire chakra use.

-o-

Naruto was in a good mood - the official photographer had told him he’d nevertaken such an outrageous ninja registration photo in his forty years of work.Naruto had taken his inspiration from a picture he’d seen on the back of abook of some guy called Jiraiya, and then liberally added details from all hisfavourite manga, until the final product could be guaranteed to instilnightmares, bed-wetting and permanent psychological trauma in anyone under theage of seven. Judging by the reactions he’d got on his way home (after theHokage had caught him and told him to go wash it off, but failed to specifywhere or when), it was also capable of paralysing full-grown men for up tofive seconds. His face was now practically a ninja weapon all by itself.

Nevertheless, he knew from long experience exactly how far the old man’spatience could be stretched, so he did wash the face paint off before going tomeet his new squad leader. He met up with Sasuke and Sakura on the way.

“Hey, Sakura. Feel like going for a date to celebrate our graduation?”

“Get bent, Naruto.”

Sasuke ignored both of them and studied the clouds overhead. In other words,it was business as usual on all sides.

“I still can’t believe I have to be in the same squad as you,” Sakuramuttered. “For one thing, didn’t you get disqualified for cheating? How couldyou graduate when you got disqualified from the exam?”

“Oh, I stole the Hokage’s secret scroll of forbidden techniques, and then beatup Mizuki-sensei. They couldn’t not let me graduate after that,” Narutoreplied nonchalantly.

Sasuke turned around at this. “Couldn’t you make up something better,imbecile?”

“Like it or not, it’s the truth, greaseball,” Naruto boasted, shortly beforefeeling Sakura’s wrathful fist descend right on top of his head.

“Ow! What was that for?!”

“For making up stupid lies,” Sakura announced in the voice of a judgedelivering a final sentence with no right of appeal. “Now come on, our newleader might get mad if we’re late.”

This concern turned out to be unfounded, as the rooftop that had beendesignated as their meeting place was completely empty.

Naruto sighed. “Figures. Knew I should have bought some manga on the way. I’djust finished saving up for the next issue of Ikazuchi Saga, too.”

Sasuke pointedly rolled his eyes. “Another of your loser comics?”

“You got a problem with that?” Naruto glared.

“What if I do? What are you going to do about it?”

“How about this!” Naruto swung a punch at Sasuke’s nose. Sasuke dodgedeffortlessly, then aimed a counter at Naruto’s stomach. Before Sakura could somuch as react, the two were busy fighting like they were on opposite sides ofthe Fourth Great Ninja War.

“Naruto! Sasuke! Will you two stop it?! Stop! I said stop!”

But the boys clearly weren’t listening, and there was no way she wasphysically getting in the middle of that. Sakura sighed, found a nearbyrailing to sit on, pulled out a hand mirror and started adjusting her hair.

“Typical… just my luck to be in a squad where even the captain is some lazybugger who can’t even be bothered to show up to his own… gaah!”

A tall shinobi appeared out of nowhere in front of her. He was wearing a Leafninja vest over blue clothes, had spiky grey-white hair, and wore his headbandover his left eye. Together with the half-mask covering his mouth and chin,this left little of his face clearly visible.

The man (probably) smiled. “I’m sorry, were you saying something?”

“Uhh… no. Definitely not. You must have misheard. Sir.”

Sakura risked a glance behind the man, where the commotion had finally ceased.Sasuke had Naruto in a solid headlock, though the latter was doing his best totry to wriggle out of it. Both seemed considerably worse for wear, withSasuke’s hair messed up and his headband lying on the floor, and Naruto’sjacket hanging open with a busted zip.

“So,” the man continued, entirely unfazed, “let’s start the self-introductions. My name is Hatake Kakashi, and I am a Leaf Jōnin. I have nointention of telling you my hobbies, my dreams or anything else about myself.”

This was met with silence, but Naruto and Sasuke did separate and sort outtheir clothes.

“You with the atrocious orange outfit, you can go next.”

“My name is Uzumaki Naruto!” Naruto proudly exclaimed. “I like ramen, Sakuraand manga with cool fights. I hate Sasuke, high prices, spoilers and Sasuke.My hobbies are reading manga, playing pranks and thinking of new ways to playpranks. And my dream… is to become the world’s greatest ramen chef!”

Kakashi found himself actually lost for words for several seconds.

“Ramen chef?”

“Sure! I’m going to develop my own secret style of ramen, travel the world,and challenge and defeat all the great ramen chefs in no-holds barred cookingshowdowns. Then I’ll open a ramen dojo and grow a long white beard and beknown as Grandmaster Naruto. Oh, and I’ll get cool tattoos, ‘cause what’s thepoint of the grandmaster gig if you can’t have cool tattoos?”

“Oooh-kaaay… next.”

“My name is Haruno Sakura. I like… um… well… I like…” Sakura squirmed whileglancing meaningfully at the boy to her side. Kakashi found himself wondering,not for the first time, if the high pay and varied perks of being a Jōninsquad leader really made up for having to spend this much time around younggirls.

“I hate Naruto,” Sakura added in a burst of certainty. “As for my dream, I…um… it’s…” She went back to throwing furtive yet strikingly obvious glances atthe other boy.

There was only so much of this that Kakashi could put up with. “Next!”

“My name is Uchiha Sasuke,” the black-haired boy announced with a strangeintensity, as if this statement was in itself meant to be laden with profoundmeaning. “There are few things that I like, and a lot of things that I hate. Ihave no dreams, but there are two things I will do without fail. I will revivemy clan… and I will defeat a certain man.”

It should have just been nearly-teenage posturing, easy to brush off (or, inSakura’s case, mark down as further evidence of Sasuke’s coolness), but allthree listeners felt a chill go down their spines at the sheer intensehostility with which Sasuke imbued the last few words.

“OK…” Kakashi smiled a few seconds later, privately wondering whether thiswhole thing was a horrible nightmare brought on by overwork, or perhaps aparticularly cruel genjutsu prank played by one of the more tiresome of hisfellow Jōnin. “Now, there’s something you haven’t been told yet. There’s oneexam left before you can become Genin. At most, only nine people from yourwhole year can pass. It’s also possible that all of you will fail, and no-one will become Genin. I’m not going to beat about the bush here: this finalexam is hard.”

“What?!” Naruto exclaimed. “What do you mean, there’s another exam? Then whatdid I beat Mizuki-sensei up for?!”

“Good job on that, by the way. I never liked that little brown-noser,” Kakashireplied.

Sasuke and Sakura’s jaws dropped. “You mean you weren’t kidding?”

Kakashi went on as if he hadn’t been interrupted. “In answer to your question,the graduation exam proved that you had the basic skills and competencies tobecome Genin. The final exam tests whether you’re actually ready to be one.Genin go on difficult, dangerous missions, many with a risk of death. We’drather send someone back to the Academy - as many times as it takes - than letyou throw your life away, as you definitely will if you’re not prepared.”

Sasuke, Sakura and Naruto exchanged glances. Then, each in their own way, theyfought down the tendrils of fear Kakashi’s comment had sent snaking throughthem.

“Meet me at 5 am tomorrow at the Training Grounds. Bring whatever equipmentyou like, within reason, because you won’t be able to leave once we start.”

Naruto raised his hand. “Kakashi-sensei, Kakashi-sensei, what does ‘withinreason’ mean?”

Kakashi felt a sudden sense of impending doom. “It means you can only bringthings you’d expect to be able to bring on a normal mission. There’s a list offorbidden objects, like rare and hard-to-get chemicals or siege weaponry, plusthe examiner has final say over what you can use.”

Naruto nodded solemnly. Those were some solid if not flawless rules, and wouldrequire thought.

“And don’t eat any breakfast beforehand. You’ll regret it if you do,” Kakashiadded with what was probably an evil smile beneath his mask.

“Dismissed!”

-o-

“I see you all made it. Let’s get started!” Kakashi announced upon his arrivalat 6:23 am, cheerfully ignoring both the yawns and the death-promising glares.

“Now, the rules are simple. I have here two bells. To pass, you have to getone of these bells by noon. Anyone who doesn’t have a bell come noon will failand get sent back to the Academy. Any questions?”

Sakura raised her hand. “Why are there only two bells when there are three ofus?”

“Because one of you will fail and be sent to the Academy,” Kakashi explainedsimply. “Make sure it’s not you.

“Now, if there’s nothing else, I’m going to go over there and read my book.Come at me whenever you’re ready.”

After he wandered off, Naruto turned to the others. “Something’s not right.”

“What do you mean?” Sasuke narrowed his eyes.

Naruto recalled a conversation he’d had with Iruka-sensei the previous year.

-o-

“Iruka-sensei, how come there are always three people to a Genin team? Whyisn’t it two, or five, or nine? Yeah, nine would be great! You could getmissions done three times as fast!”

Iruka, gratified by the attention from Naruto of all people, especially afterclass when the boy normally ran off before the bell even finished ringing, wasmore than ready to explain.

“Because our village survives by getting money from doing missions, we want asmany teams successfully doing missions as possible, so we want to have lots ofsmall teams rather than a few big ones. As for why it’s three… Well, you see,Naruto, people have known for a long time that three’s the minimum number ofpeople you need to make an effective ninja team when each person can only beguaranteed to have a maximum of one well-developed skill. And then-”

“Wait, I don’t get it.”

Iruka thought about how to explain.

“Well, you play those role-playing video games on your TV, right?”

“Um.” Naruto hesitated. “I don’t actually have a TV. But I’ve played a couplewith Kiba before.”

Iruka mentally kicked himself for his insensitivity. Yes, many of Naruto’sclassmates, some of them from Leaf’s wealthiest ninja clans, would have accessto such luxuries. But Naruto himself was living on the Hokage’s Orphans’ Fundallowance, which Iruka knew from his own experience to be pitiful indeedthanks to the number of orphans left behind by the Night of Tragedy.

“Sorry, I forgot. Anyway, look at it like one of those. Your warrior can onlyhit things with his sword, and your archer can only shoot things with his bow,and your wizard can only throw fireballs at people, so on their own they’repretty weak. But if you put them together right, they can fight very toughmonsters and eventually save the world.”

Naruto nodded.

“It’s the same for ninja. For example, one of the so-called ideal formationsis having a taijutsu user up front, a powerful but vulnerable mid-rangeninjutsu user in the middle, and a flexible long-range ninjutsu user at theback. The taijutsu user keeps enemies busy and stops them going after theothers. The mid-range ninjutsu user takes out tough enemies without gettingput in danger himself. And the long-range ninjutsu user keeps an eye on thebattlefield, using his abilities to stop anyone catching his allies bysurprise, and coming in to help whenever someone’s in trouble.”

Iruka had a sudden feeling that he was making things too complicated, but tohis surprise, Naruto was nodding along with a serious look on his face.

“Another example is having two taijutsu users with compatible specialisations- like one doing straight physical damage and the other disabling enemies withspecial techniques - up front, and someone with long-range and utilitytechniques at the back. The point is that you get a balanced team that cantake on any challenge, even if none of them might be able to do very much ontheir own. But you need three Genin. Two won’t cut it, and if you have manymore than that, it’s better to split them into separate teams forflexibility.”

“I get it! Thanks, Iruka-sensei! Hey, are we still on for ramen tonight?”

Iruka smiled. “Well, you did manage to scrape a pass on the test like youpromised, so I guess I’d better hold up my end of the bargain.”

Satisfied, Naruto ran off.

-o-

“Iruka-sensei told me once that you absolutely have to have three Genin on ateam, or it doesn’t work. So what’s going to happen if he fails one of us andgets left with two Genin?” Naruto asked with a sincere expression ofpuzzlement.

There was silence for a second.

“I see!” Sasuke exclaimed. “Only having two bells means we have to fight eachother for them instead of working as a team. He’s got to know that, so it mustbe what he wants. He’s not really trying to pick two out of three, he’s justtrying to set us against each other.”

Sakura raised her eyebrows. “Oh, that makes sense! You’re so smart, Sasuke!”

“So what do we do?” Naruto asked.

“We have to work as a team, because he won’t be expecting that,” Sasukeexplained. “I looked him up in the public records yesterday. Apparently he’sfailed every single team he’s tested since he started being a Genin teamleader. I bet he did something like this to them, and then failed all threefor lack of teamwork!”

“But we can’t just charge in headfirst,” Sakura added, keen to make acontribution. “I asked my parents about him. They say he’s the famous CopyNinja. He knows a thousand different techniques and he was a hero of the ThirdGreat Ninja War. If we try to fight him normally, he’ll wipe the floor withus.”

A heavy, pessimistic silence settled over the area.

After a while, Naruto spoke up. “Hey, I’ve just remembered, there was asituation just like this one in chapter twenty-seven of Ikazuchi Saga! Sagaand his two friends are facing the Dark Flame Master, and he’s immune toSaga’s Judgment Thunder. So what they do is this…”

Naruto talked quickly and excitedly. There was a lot of waving of arms. At onepoint, he started drawing diagrams on a piece of paper.

“That is the most ridiculously crazy plan I’ve heard in my entire life,”Sasuke commented when Naruto was done. “But I bet Kakashi-sensei won’t see itcoming, so maybe it’s worth a shot. There are a couple of big gaping flaws init, though.”

Naruto looked surprised, while inwardly being relieved that Sasuke had spottedthem. He was pretty smart, Naruto’s daily assertions to the contrary aside,and even Sakura had her moments, but the plan needed flaws so it wouldn’t looksuspicious to have him propose it, and at the same time it would be a disasterif they ended up being overlooked.

Some discussion later…

“Oh, wait!” Naruto exclaimed. “I’m an idiot! This plan won’t work - we don’thave anything like Miki’s Gates of Void technique to let us swap places withnearby objects!”

Sakura sneered. “You really are an idiot, Naruto. We can use the SubstitutionTechnique for that. I’m actually pretty good at it.”

“Oh. Then I guess we’re good to go. Can I be Saga?”

Sasuke rolled his eyes. “Of course you’re Saga. It’s pretty obvious from theplan who gets what role. You’re Saga, the loudmouth hero, Sakura’s Miki, thekunoichi full of hidden tricks, and I’m Ogun, the mysterious sage who alwayssaves your ass.”

Naruto gave Sasuke a funny look. “I thought you didn’t read manga because itwas for losers.”

“I don’t. Shut up.”

-o-

“Your reign of terror is over, Kakashi-sensei! Feel the lightning fist ofjustice!”

Without looking up from his book, Kakashi blocked Naruto’s punch with his freeleft hand. Then the kick. Then the three-punch combo, followed by a low legsweep. Hmm, this was getting interesting. Osamu had just proposed to Izuna,not realising that Izuna was really Eri in disguise. What would Eri do,knowing that Kanagiri the butler was due to come home any minute?

There was a glint of light from the edge of Kakashi’s vision. In one smoothmovement, he noted the page, closed his book, put it down on the grass next tohim, drew a kunai and moved to block the shuriken coming at him.

However, the shuriken was a clone, and disappeared into smoke upon meeting hisdefence. At the same time as it did so, Naruto redoubled his attack,presumably trying to take advantage of Kakashi’s distraction. It still wasn’tenough to require more than one hand.

Kakashi glanced up. Sakura was running towards him, but as the only person hecould see who could have thrown the shuriken at that angle, she had to be aclone too. Kakashi reached out to pick his book back up…

“Substitution Technique!”

With a poof, Sakura - not a clone - replaced his beloved signed first editionvolume of Makeout Paradise. This, however, was not Kakashi’s main concern. Hismain concern was that his hand, instead of touching the book, was now restingsolidly on Sakura’s chest.

“Kyaaa! Kakashi-sensei, you pervert!” Sakura screamed.

Kakashi jerked his hand back. He had sudden visions of the headlines.

“Respected Jōnin caught molesting underage Genin girl during exam”.

“We always knew he liked reading porn in front of kids, but we never thoughthe’d go this far, say colleagues”.

“Works of pervert-inspiring writer Jiraiya banned from sale in the Five GreatNinja Countries after ‘Number One Fan’ Leaf ninja jailed for childmolestation”.

He was snapped out of his panic by the sudden sensation of hostile intent on ascale he hadn’t felt since the war. Looking to his left, he noticed thatNaruto had now transformed into several hundred shadow clones, all of themwith kunai in their hands and flames of the purest homicidal fury in theireyes.

“Don’t you dare touch Sakura, you bastard!”

The clones dove at him from every direction - left, front, back, even above.Their numbers blocked out the sunlight, and Kakashi started calculating hisoptions with lightning speed. Should he go full-on taijutsu and try to takeout the clones before they overwhelmed him with sheer mass, or should he dodgein the one direction remaining to him and pop them with shuriken once he’dmoved out of strike range? He’d decided at the start of the test that hewouldn’t let mere Academy graduates push him into using ninjutsu. However, atthat moment…

“Fire Element: Great Fireball Technique!”

Suddenly, the one direction that wasn’t filled with clones, Kakashi’s right,was instead filled with a rapidly approaching enormous ball of fire.

Kakashi gave an inward sigh of resignation, changed plans, and started to formseals almost faster than the eye could see.

That was when Sakura reached out and grabbed the bells off his waist.

“Earth Element: Subterranean Escape Technique!”

“Substitution Technique!”

When the smoke of three hundred clones simultaneously popping cleared away,all that was left in the clearing was the charred remnant of a log.

-o-

“Well, gentlemen, it was an impressive effort”, Kakashi commented, lookingacross the field at Naruto and Sasuke. Sakura, tied and gagged at his feet,had her right hand closed in a death grip.

“But Sakura has both bells, and I have Sakura. It seems that either way, youtwo lose.”

“Not so fast!” Sasuke said loudly. “We have information that you value a lotmore than the hostage.” He held up Kakashi’s book. “Give us Sakura and thebells, and you can have your book back. Otherwise…” he smiled, “I feel anotherFire Element technique coming on.”

Kakashi raised his eyebrows. “Well, now. A magnificently underhanded move. Youmight have ninja potential yet. But the battlefield isn’t a supermarket - youdon’t get two-for-one deals here. If you want Sakura in exchange for the book,you can have her - but I keep the bells. Maybe I’ll give you another chance toget them, but you won’t be able to catch me off guard again.”

“Or I could offer you a deal.” Kakashi looked them in the eye, one after theother. “You take the bells, and I keep Sakura. She’s a prisoner of war anyway,and since she’s the one who got herself caught, she’s not your responsibility.With those two bells, there’s enough for both of you to pass. Sakura will goback to the Academy, and everyone will live happily ever after. How about it?”

He looked down at Sakura. Her eyes glistened with tears. She looked at Sasukeand Naruto, seemed to come to a decision, and then slowly, very slowly, sheopened up her hand to let Kakashi take the bells.

“Hold it!” Naruto shouted. “You can keep your bells. Give us Sakura. No matterwhat he’s up against, Uzumaki Naruto doesn’t abandon his friends! That’s myway of the ninja!”

Kakashi looked from him to Sasuke. “Is that your final answer?”

Sasuke nodded. “The three of us got those bells off you before, and we’ll getthem off you again. We’re swapping the book for Sakura… and then you’re goingdown.”

Kakashi shook his head. “Well, that was your one chance to make the rightdecision. And I’m afraid to say that all three of you…”

“… pass!”

-o-

After untying Sakura and reuniting Kakashi with his book, the four of themwere walking back to the entrance of the Training Grounds.

“In the shinobi world, those who don’t obey the rules are trash,” Kakashi toldthem. “But those who abandon their teammates are even worse than trash. Youshowed impressive teamwork back there, and even more importantly, you showedloyalty. Starting tomorrow, you will be Team Seven under my leadership.”

“Yay!”

“All right!”

Even Sasuke was unsuccessfully trying to hide a smile.

“So clear up a couple of things for me,” Kakashi said. “Where did the cloneshuriken come from?”

“I hid a clone in the bushes,” Sakura explained, “and had her throw a shurikenpast me as I ran forwards so it looked like I was throwing it.”

Kakashi looked impressed. “And the log?”

“That was me,” Sasuke responded. “I brought it in range of Sakura while youwere busy freaking out about groping her.”

“Um.” Kakashi said. “I now realise that it was an ingenious stratagem on yourpart in order to throw me off balance, so would you mind never mentioning itagain? To anyone?”

The chorus of agreement was a little too quick for Kakashi’s comfort. He madea note to himself to get blackmail material on the three as quickly aspossible - for his own protection.

“And Naruto, three hundred shadow clones? What possessed you to spend so muchchakra? You could have died.”

“Don’t be silly, Kakashi-sensei!” Naruto laughed. “After the first couple ofrows, those were all normal clones. And even then I only summoned that manybecause they were only meant to last a few seconds.”

Kakashi shook his head. “You three are full of surprises.”

“Well, I have to go and fill out Genin team paperwork. I’ll be in touchtomorrow with your first mission.”

As soon as he was gone, Naruto turned to Sakura. “That was amazing acting backthere, Sakura. I can’t believe you actually managed to cry on command.”

Sasuke nodded in agreement.

Sakura blushed. “Thanks. You guys were good too. Well, Sasuke was, anyway.Naruto, you were totally overdoing it.”

“Aheh.” Naruto rubbed the back of his neck in embarrassment. “I was quotingIkazuchi Saga for most of that. It just seemed so appropriate, and besides,when else am I going to get the chance?”

“The important thing is that he bought it,” Sasuke observed. “We justoutplayed a Jōnin on our first day as Genin. Maybe this team has a futureafter all.”

“That reminds me,” Sakura commented in a deceptively sweet voice. “Naruto, whydidn’t you mention to me that getting groped by Kakashi-sensei was part of theplan?”

“What? But-”

The force of her uppercut was a wonder to behold.

“What did _I _dooooooooooo…” Naruto screamed as he vanished into thestratosphere.

“Hey, Sasuke, want to go on a date to celebrate our victory?”

But Sasuke didn’t answer. He was busy watching Naruto’s trajectory with athoughtful look on his face.


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