/~/

Hot damn! Naruto screamed mentally as he dodged yet another hail of thrown shuriken. Back flipping toward nearby tree, the eleven year old chunin was forced to Kawarimi with a nearby log to avoid death by impaling. Four kunai embedded themselves in the wood as Naruto made it to safety.

Deftly regaining his feet after his impromptu substitution, Naruto phased into a soundless, smokeless Shunshin. He reappeared, engaging his attacker with a flurry of deft taijutsu strikes all aimed at nerve clusters specifically targeted to cause pain and numb extremities.

Unfortunately for the young blond, his assailant proved to be just as dexterous as he, as all the debilitating strokes were blocked. Moving quickly to take the advantage in the close range fight, Naruto felt the cold metal of a kunai slip into his hand in a practiced movement.

The assailant dodged a sweeping slash at the throat with almost casual ease, moving quickly to place distance between himself and Naruto. A Suiton: Suijinheki quickly sprung up from nowhere to combat Naruto's retaliatory Gokakyuu no jutsu, an impressive feat considering there was no readily available water source nearby.

Across the clearing, Naruto flipped through a series of seals as he cursed his low Katon affinity. It was a situation that irked him constantly, and came back to bite him in the most annoying ways. I would have inherited the Uzumaki Suiton nature from mom while living in Fire country. True to its host nation's name, Konoha was the world's leading village in terms of Katon natured techniques.

It was Naruto's luck that he was affiliated to the elemental opposite of fire.

His reverie was broken as a thick mist covered the area, and the blond boy scolded himself for getting lost in though. He smirked slightly, however, as he felt his chakra laden mist settle itself over the clearing and surrounding area, his jutsu had worked perfectly. Using the enhanced mist to seek the chakra signature of his attacker, Naruto moved his position discreetly for minimum acoustic amplification.

This was exactly contrary to what most practitioners of the Silent Killing technique would do. The technique required that the user be able to detect any and all presences within the mist, and acoustic amplification was one of the most popular ways of going about that.

Unfortunately for many practitioners, the technique became well documented after Kirigakure had used it to deadly effect in the Second Secret Shinobi War, and many had devised ways to combat it. Many a Kiri-nin had been killed after having their eardrums burst due to loud noises made to deliberately debilitate the would-be silent killer.

Recognizing this fatal flaw in a technique that had many uses for a ninja with Naruto's skill set, the child shinobi had worked to devise a way around it. After executing the Kirigakure no Jutsu, Naruto would then spread chakra from his body in an outward wave. Chakra, as a combination of both physical and spiritual energies, could be, and would be, absorbed by any organic matter unless otherwise acted upon. The sole exception was the human body, an entity that had so much chakra in it by nature, and one that automatically combated foreign substances attempting to enter it.

The result was that Naruto could almost immediately perceive any and all humans in range of his "wave", without the use of acoustic amplification. Ninja especially, as they're bodies had so much stored chakra they were like beacons to his senses. He was still working on a version of his mist that would automatically help him detect chakra signatures, and was unnoticeable.

Sensing his chakra rebound off of what appeared to be a human shape, Naruto burst into motion. Palming twin kunai from his holsters, Naruto silently charged through the mist before slicing the throat of his attacker with a dual bladed cross slash.

The effect was immediate, and the body of his assailant dropped lifelessly to the ground before crumbling into earth. While normally a cause for concern in a fight, Naruto was exactly the opposite as he let his mist dissipate into nothingness. Why should one be concerned after destroying one's own clone?

It was a training technique that Naruto had been using more and more lately. There truly was no better way to hone one's skills than by fighting an equal; and who was more equal than a clone? While the Tsuchi Bunshin was mostly restricted to favorable terrain – i.e. earth – there was hardly a short supply of the needed material, especially in the training grounds surrounding Konoha.

Stopping in numerous places around the slightly larger Training Ground Nine—it had been forcefully expanded due to collateral damage inflicted by Naruto himself over the years—Naruto collected his strewn weapons before disappearing in a swirl of leaves. While he could use the technique without the need of smoke, it required an intense level of focus that Naruto didn't feel the need to expend for something as mundane as speedy travel.

Reappearing in Konoha proper, Naruto immediately took to the rooftops, knowing all too well the dangers of using Shunshin in the streets. He had nearly killed himself running headlong into a merchant's stand shortly after he had learned the technique. They really should mention that in the scroll, he mused thoughtfully, a tinge of leftover embarrassment coloring his cheeks. He had caused quite the scene that day; so much so that the ANBU had had to be called to sort out the commotion.

Upon reflection, the ANBU were being called to police the village more and more, what with the absence of the former Military Police Force. Made exclusively Uchiha Clan shinobi, the Military Police Force had been a casualty of the Uchiha massacre, as well as the entire clan save one.

Naruto merely hoped that Uchiha Sasuke would prove to be an asset to the village, like he himself was. Konoha was always in need of new blood and talent, and Uchiha Sasuke was said to be promising, at least according to Mizuki, who had ended up as one of the boy's academy instructors.

Although, maybe not exceptional, Naruto mused. The boy was one year younger than Naruto himself was, and was still in training at the Konoha Ninja Academy. Naruto had already graduated by that age. Having been a member of the Konoha ninja corps for over a year, Naruto had had time to see how truly exceptional he was, at least for his age.

But, some people matured and gained strength differently and at different paces. That fact was more apparent to Naruto now more than ever.

Ever since graduating from the Reserve Program, Naruto's once large leaps of strength and prowess had regressed to baby steps. It was endlessly frustrating to the now eleven year old chunin. He had goals that he wanted, needed, to accomplish, and he couldn't do that while he was taking baby steps toward prowess and skill.

Maybe I'm just getting stronger in different directions, the flaxen haired boy reflected. While his learning of ninjutsu had tapered off recently, mostly due to his limited chakra reserves—strong for his age he may have been, but he was still only eleven—there were many different and diverse sectors of shinobi skills. And Naruto was nothing if not curious and thirsty for more knowledge that might help him.

That very thirst for knowledge is what led him to where he was now, Konoha's Grand Archive.

Three stories tall and with its girth taking up an entire street block, the Grand Archive was the second largest building in Konoha proper – second only to the Administrative Building which served as the general shinobi headquarters and housed the Hokage. The Archive was a perfect circle and had a large engraving of the leaf symbol on the side facing outward toward the walls.

Naruto shook his head fondly. He would never tire of seeing the grand building, and that was saying something, as he spent much of his free time perusing the thousands of scrolls it housed; even more so now, as he had no other way to occupy his time in between the various C-ranked missions he ran with makeshift squads, and training.

Moving forward briskly, the eleven year old chunin entered the towering oak doors that were always open, flashing his shinobi ID card to the two chunin guards stationed outside. The card was very simple, and issued to all shinobi of Konoha. It held his name, date of birth, shinobi ID number, and rank. The latter was the most important, as it gave him his clearance level.

While the Grand Archive didn't hold any ninjutsu over the rank of B, one could find a whole host of subjects covered within the great dome, ranging from standard shinobi skills to history on the very Elemental Nations. With his B-ranked chunin clearance, Naruto was allowed to peruse nearly the entirety of the library, save the A-ranked sections.

While nearly all of the sensitive information regarding some of Konoha's more covert operations, most all of them in times of war, were held either in the Administration Building or in ANBU headquarters, the Grand Archive held a small amount of declassified records. These records were reserved for those with A-rank security clearance – i.e. the jonins – and were mostly historical in nature.

Naruto didn't care so much about the semi-sensitive information that the Archive held. No, he thought as he swiftly made his way over to a section of the Archive that held detailed scrolls on human anatomy, my interest lies within shinobi skills. At least for now. The archive held everything he needed to know about being a shinobi, security clearance or no.

For that was what the Archive was, really; a grand library containing all of Konoha's amassed knowledge about the shinobi arts.

Finding his needed section, Naruto pulled out a scroll detailing medium range hand to hand combative techniques and information.

In medium-range combatives, two opponents are already within touching distance. The arsenal of possible body weapons includes short punches and strikes with elbows, knees, and hands, though bladed weapons are not excluded. Head butts are also effective; do not forget them during medium-range combat. A shinobi uses his peripheral vision to evaluate the targets presented by the opponent and choose his target. The shinobi should be aggressive and concentrate his attack on the opponent's vital points to end the fight as soon as possible. A shinobi must be cautious, however, and be mindful of his surroundings at all times…

Moving downward quickly, Naruto skimmed the introduction, as he had already read it, and moved to the section detailing the various kill points in the human body. He already knew the eight vital spots: the heart, lungs, liver, jugular vein, sub-clavicle vein, the brain, the kidneys, and the spine. They were basic facts that were necessary to know in the Reserve Academy. While the regular academy trained boys and girls to be genin, beginners in the field of the shinobi world, the reserves trained genin to be chunin level shinobi. To be killers. The difference was a significant one.

He was more interested in points that could be used to directly incapacitate an assailant, whether through the use of weapons or otherwise. It was an essential skill that all the most heavily trained, heavy combat oriented ANBU had. Given that Naruto strived to be a squad captain in the elite shinobi corps, even if only to one day secure the coveted rank of jonin, it as a skill that he thought necessary to have. When he submitted his application to join the most elite shinobi unit in Fire Country, he intended to be well ahead of the curve.

His musings and dreams of future ANBU success were abruptly cut short as he felt a soft hand ruffle his blond hair none to gently.

"Well hello there, Na-ru-to-kun!" a familiar voice spoke in a sing-song tone.

"Ugh…geroff, Mai! Will ya?" Despite his less than favorable response, a grin could easily be seen on the face to the eleven year old. "I'm trying to study here you know!"

"Ah but that makes you no fun, Naruto-kun," the girl, now identified as Mai, said in a sing-song like voice as she plopped down in a chair across from Naruto. "All you do is study, study, study! Honestly, you needa make time for other things." The voice took on a more serious, solemn note as the girl lectured.

His head now free of its momentary turmoil, Naruto raised his eyes to meet those of Mai's, and he couldn't stop a small blush from forming as he observed the older girl's form. With her auburn hair tied into a full, elegant knot at the top of her head and two long strips falling into her face, Koemi Mai looked the picture perfect teenage librarian. The effect was only accentuated by the flowing, sun colored dress she wore. Form fitting and skillfully crafted, the dress hugged the teenager's near perfect figure so as to leave little to the imagination.

In moments of reflection, Naruto would readily admit to having a crush on the sixteen year old girl. He was an orphan with unknown heritage, unwanted, unspoken to by most of the village, and, for the most part, unacknowledged for his skill. Mai had been his first real friend, not to mention the first female to ever talk to him outside shinobi training. The fact that she was undeniably beautiful only helped the matter along.

"Ne, you know that's not all I do, Mai," Naruto replied with a pout that Mai found adorable on his boyish face. "I eat, sleep, train…" he finished rather lamely, realizing that he indeed did spend the majority of his time training in one way or another. Whether it be in the Archive, on a mission, or in the training grounds, Naruto's life almost constantly revolved around his shinobi career.

Mai raised a well manicured eyebrow in question, before sighing quietly. Naruto immediately felt bad, he hated to see her unhappy, especially with him.

"That's what I mean, Naruto-kun. You need to make time for other things besides being a shinobi." She raised a hand to stall his protest. "I know all about your dreams. You've told me before, kiddo." Here she favored the young chunin with a small smile to which he smiled sheepishly and rubbed the back of his head. He had told Mai of his life goals on more than one occasion, and with great relish.

The smile faded quickly as the auburn haired beauty returned to her lecture, "Being a ninja shouldn't be the only thing you care about, goals or no goals. I was the same way once you know, before…well…you know."

Indeed Naruto did know. Mai had been a kunoichi until two years ago; a very talented one at that. She had made genin at eleven and had remained so for three years. Her mission record was sterling, containing 47 completed D-ranked missions and 24 C-ranked. She was on the fast track to success as a kunoichi and would have been if not for a debacle in her final chunin exam.

Her sensei, one Rukushou Aoi, had nominated her team for the chunin exams once before, in Konoha, and they had failed the secondary part of the exam. While Aoi wasn't a man generally known for his prudence or intelligence, he had held the team back for two solid years of training and missions before nominating them for another chunin exam, this time in Sunagakure no Sato.

The team had made it all the way to the finals, a three on three team battle between squads, when Mai ended up squaring off with a kunoichi from Kumogakure no Sato. They had ended up as the final members of their respective cells, both other members had been previously eliminated, one Konoha nin dead, and fought each other for the promotion to chunin.

Mai had been soundly outmatched by her older opponent, and had been caught been caught in a chakra conductive net that was a favorite of raiton users. Not giving Mai a chance to surrender, the Kumo kunoichi had channeled her raiton chakra through the net and managed to fry the all of Mai's nerve endings almost beyond repair.

It was only thanks to the timely intervention of one of Suna's medics, an elderly woman named Chiyo, which had allowed Mai to regain some semblance of her former motor skills. The medic had managed to ensure that she would be able to lead a relatively normal civilian life, though Mai never had the option of being a ninja again.

It was a sad fact of shinobi life. Shinobi and kunoichi alike were often injured severely or cut down before their time. It was because of this that Mai often tried to get Naruto to think about life outside of being a ninja. She felt that at his age he should be more focused on having fun with his life, rather than training to be a killer. One never knew when one might be killed, after all.

Naruto eyes were cast downwards and his face set in a grimace as he recalled Mai's past. He knew why she always encouraged him to study less, and her reasoning was sound. He was intimately familiar with the perils of shinobi life, having his mother taken from him by the Kyuubi since almost before he could remember her had instilled that piece of knowledge into him at a young age. It was also because of that fact that he knew he could never, would never, give up being a shinobi; not until he was satisfied that he had made her proud or he was dead.

"Anyway," the auburn haired girl continued with a bright smile that Naruto couldn't tell was fake or not, "I think that's enough depressing shit for one day, don't you Naruto-kun?" At his nod and bright smile, her own widened, "So, what's new, kiddo?"

Naruto couldn't keep a small blush from his face as he watched the older girl smile at him. She really is pretty. The blush deepened as she raised an eyebrow at him in question and a sly smirk crossed her angular face.

"Um…" Naruto floundered, raking his brain for what she had just asked him. He had been paying too much attention to her face and not her words.

Taking pity on him while chuckling at his reaction to her, she repeated herself, "I asked, what's new, kiddo?"

"Oh right!" Naruto chuckled nervously while rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment. Mai had the singular ability to make him flustered. It was vexing to the nth degree for the eleven year old. He didn't quail under the harshest of glares from bandits, allied jonin, or Academy Teachers, yet a sixteen year old girl could fluster him no matter what.

Naruto blamed his emerging hormones.

"Oh, nothing much. I'm meeting with my new team today."

A well manicured raised eyebrow met his response. "Really? I thought you had a team already."

Naruto shook his head in the negative. "I did, but it was just a rotational squad. We only did a few C-ranks and patrol duty runs around the border. This one should be a more permanent squad."

The rotational squad system was a system designed to allow rookie chunins to "get their feet wet", and learn to adapt to the chunin lifestyle. Most squads didn't stay together for more than a few months, and only ran simple missions; this was a part of rookie chunins "probation period". At the end of a chunin's "probation period" they would be shuffled into an existing squad in order to take higher level missions.

Mai nodded her head in acknowledgement. "So, what are you studying? Something to help with your new team?"

Naruto shook his head again. "Not quite. Just a taijutsu manual."

Mai looked surprised. "Oh? I thought you were plenty good at taijutsu? Why aren't you looking up ninjutsu, I know that's all I did when I was your age."

Naruto smiled at the compliment towards his skill, hidden though it was. "There's no real need. I won't be able to use most of them yet. I just don't have the chakra to throw around ninjutsu all the time."

It was true. Though Naruto was gifted with a slew of natural talent, he wasn't gifted with an abnormally large chakra capacity. While it was large for his age – and that was only because of the amount of intense training he put himself through, at least in comparison to other eleven year olds – it was still too small for him to throw jutsu around like party favors.

It led him to his exploration of the other areas of ninja life, mostly genjutsu and taijutsu, and – he hoped – would help him develop into a well rounded ninja, rather than the ninjutsu oriented shinobi that were the norm.

Sneaking a peak at the scroll that Naruto had been immersed in, Mai grimaced when she caught sight of the title. "Mid-range Combatives?" Her grimace was warranted, the scroll was basically a detailed list of the quickest ways to kill someone hand to hand.

Naruto's hand found its way to the back of his head yet again. "Yeah…I figure that if I'm pretty deadly up close, it'll help me compensate for my lack of chakra, and open up space for ninjutsu when I get a little older."

The auburn haired beauty conceded the point, it made sense, as Naruto's points almost always did – ramen being the greatest food in the world aside. The feelings of bemusement remained, however, it was simply too surreal to see an eleven year old both reading and passionately expounding on the various merits of being able to kill a man sixteen different ways from within five feet.

It didn't curb her interest, however.

"Yeah, I guess it makes sense." An eyebrow was raised as she thought of something. "You can't really practice this stuff on your own, can you?"

It was true. While taijutsu katas could be practiced solo for hours on end, true proficiency couldn't be achieved unless those same katas were drilled through combat; be it sparring or actual life and death struggles.

Naruto nodded, "Yeah, but I've got a pretty good training partner. That and I get some free practice when I get to round up bandits on some of my missions."

"Oh? Who do you practice with?"

Aside from myself, "I practice with a guy named Mizuki. Touji Mizuki," Naruto elaborated when the name had no effect on his friend. "He's an instructor at the Academy."

Mai nodded in acceptance, though not in recognition of the name. "Ah, that makes sense. You get to practice with an older, more experienced shinobi, while he gets to keep his skills sharp."

Naruto smiled, that about covered it. "A mutually beneficial partnership," he proclaimed proudly.

Mai blinked, twice, before bursting into a fit of giggles. When it became abundantly clear that Naruto had no idea why, as evidenced by perplexed look and growing blush, she spoke, "Sorry, it's just that me and Gendo had a conversation where that phrase came up." She burst into another round of giggles before finally managing to compose herself. "It sounds like an official title for a gay relationship."

At the proclamation, Naruto's blush deepened. While young to be familiar with the concept of sexuality, Naruto was both observant and curious. It helped that he spent most of his time around people twice his age.

"Ah…" Naruto searched for a way to restart the conversation, preferably around different topics. "You and Gendo-san talk about that stuff often?" He winced at his failed attempt.

"And what stuff could you possibly mean, little man?" a voice questioned from behind Mai, as a pair of lean arms wrapped around her neck and torso.

Speak of the devil and he shall appear.

"Gendo-kun!" Mai squealed in delight, turning to plant a kiss on her boyfriend's cheek.

Naruto grimaced in disgust, whether because he found the action distasteful or because he found Kawasaki Gendo distasteful as a whole was unclear.

Kawasaki Gendo was the civilian son of a well-to-do merchant. Not overly wealthy, but well off, Gendo spent his days in relative luxury, going to Konoha's top civilian academic school, learning to run his father's business, and spending time with his girlfriend Mai.

Handsome, relatively wealthy, and Mai's boyfriend to boot, Naruto had plenty of valid reasons to hate the sixteen year old. He would have loved to as well, were it not for the fact that Gendo was a genuinely likeable person, if not the sharpest kunai in the holster.

"Mai-chan," the teen responded, while turning his girlfriend's face to plant a firm kiss on her lips. Naruto looked away at that. Likeable or not, he took no pleasure in seeing the older boy kissing his crush.

Lightly slapping her boyfriend on his shoulder, though not truly protesting his actions, Mai pulled away. "Gendo-kun, do you have to do that here?" she chided lightly, gesturing to the library itself but meaning the immediate area, in front of Naruto.

If Gendo caught her meaning, he didn't show it. "Aw, you know you like it Mai-chan, and did you forget that we had a date planned for," he paused, taking note of the time for dramatic effect. "Right now?"

Mai gasped lightly, "Oh, I completely forgot! I'm sorry!" Turning to Naruto, she addressed the lightly irritated eleven year old, "I'm sorry, Naruto-kun, but I've gotta run. I'll talk to you later?"

Naruto forced a smile, none too happy about having his company taken away. "Sure thing Mai, I'll see you later."

Mai planted a quick kiss to his forehead, drawing a small blush that Naruto quickly worked to conceal. "Bye Naruto-kun!"

"See ya around, kiddo," Gendo added with a smile and a wave as he left with Mai in tow.

"Bye…" Naruto said weakly, alone once more. Turning back to his scroll on taijutsu, he sighed, before rolling it up and moving to place it back on its proper shelf. He had long since memorized it anyway, today had merely been a touch up.

Glancing around the Archive, the world seeming all the more dim without Mai's presence, he swiftly moved to the section devoted to genjutsu.

Passing a pretty, dark haired woman in a dress that appeared to be half fabric-half ninja wrap, Naruto felt a small smile worm its way onto his face. Genjutsu was a subject that he could immerse himself in for hours on end. And he had little doubt that his hours would be wasted.

/~/

The light breeze tussled blond hair gently as the sun beat down upon Naruto's back. Breaking into the open space of training ground 14, blue eyes took in the empty state of the large clearing. Checking, he noted that he was exactly on time.

Given the empty state of the large training ground, the blond immediately knew something was amiss.

His danger senses flaring, Naruto was already in motion before his sensitive ears caught the tell tale whistling of a fuuma shuriken tearing through the air toward his position. Acting on instinct, adrenaline already coursing through his body, Naruto let the laws of physics go to work as he caught the center of the bladed weapon with his outstretched hand.

Allowing the momentum of the fuuma shuriken to work with him, Naruto let his body be turned around before releasing the shuriken with the force of his own throw augmenting its initial velocity. Crouching low, blue eyes took in the form of his attacker, a surprised look on his face as his weapon raced back towards him.

A fast Kawarimi saved him, however, as the giant shuriken tore into the log that replaced him, indenting itself nearly halfway.

The residual chakra from the substitution alerted Naruto to the man's position, and he pumped chakra to his legs for a Shunshin, focusing hard not to use any smoke or emit sound. Reappearing in front of his adversary, Naruto had no time to react as a kunai slashed through his neck.

The man, dressed in standard chunin garb complete with flak vest and hitai-ate, started in shock as the body of the eleven year old disappeared in a haze. Genjutsu, the shinobi thought with a grimace, as his ears picked up the sound of a single footstep, much too close to his location for his liking.

To the chunin's credit, he managed to bring up his kunai to Naruto's neck as he felt the cold edge of a knife touch his jugular vein.

"Stalemate," Naruto said clamly, feeling the kunai of his attacker press into his neck.

The chunin, who Naruto could now see had a large scar across his left cheek, smirked slightly. "Not quite," he said, as two figures, both dressed in flak vests and with their hitai-ates acting as bandanas, dropped to the branch behind the threatened chunin.

Outnumbered three to one, Naruto slowly withdrew his kunai from his attacker's neck, though he didn't replace it in his pouch, unknowingly earning a few points with the three shinobi as he kept it held loosely in his right hand. The man opposite him withdrew his own blade, surveying Naruto with visible curiosity before he stowed the knife.

The man, seemingly done with his observation, nodded slightly and cocked his head towards the clearing that made up the majority of training ground 14. As if that were the signal they were waiting for, the two men behind Naruto's attacker vanished in puffs of smoke and swirls of leaves. The two remained for a moment, before using their own Shunshins to reappear in the clearing.

Facing the three chunin, Naruto felt himself relax slightly, knowing that whatever test had been designed for him was over, at least for the moment. He had expected something of the sort, to be honest, his age having made his –hopefully – future teammates wary of his skill. It was to be expected, he was only eleven after all, though it was certainly annoying having to prove himself.

He just hoped that he had passed his test with flying colors; he had never failed a test – save for the Bell Test – and didn't wish to start now.

"Not gonna lie," the scarred chunin began, capturing Naruto's attention immediately. "When central command said that we were getting an eleven year old shifted in, I was skeptical. I see the reports about you weren't exaggerated, Uzumaki Naruto."

In spite of the professional tone they were spoken in, Naruto could detect the faint note of respect in the man's voice, and it brought a smile to his face. "Glad I don't disappoint, though you've got me at a disadvantage, chunin-san."

The man nodded with a small smile, "Namiashi Raidou, at your service."

The man to his left, who carried an ANBU grade ninjaken on his back, went next. "Gekko Hayate. A pleasure, Uzumaki-san," he said softly.

"Shiranui Genma," the last man grunted as leaned against a tree lazily. Naruto noticed that he was chewing on a large toothpick. As the sun glinted off it, he realized it was a senbon needle.

"Uzumaki Naruto, but you guys already knew that."

Raidou nodded. Naruto noted that he appeared to be the one in command of the squad, at least if this meeting was any indication. "For the most part, though your file only included your mission history and academy grades."

"You want an introduction then?" At the nods of both Raidou and Hayate – Genma didn't look to care much either way – he continued, "The name's Naruto. I like ramen, training, and hanging out with a few of my friends, I guess." Images of Mai and Mizuki came to mind. "Not too much I don't like, though I hate lazy bastards and idiot dead-lasts. My dream – my ambition – is to become a jonin, and I hope to have a small family one day."

Hayate nodded with a smile, seeming genuinely interested in what Naruto had to say, while Raidou shot an amused glance at Genma when Naruto mentioned his dislike for "lazy bastards". The senbon chewing man was trying to fall asleep while leaning against the tree.

"Well then!" Raidou began, clapping loudly, both to call attention to himself and wake Genma. "Welcome to Team Raidou. Before we start taking missions, we have to run through basic team training." At Naruto's obvious confusion, he elaborated: "General formations, battle tactics and strategy, stuff like that."

Hayate grimaced slightly, showing his displeasure at the idea, while Genma's senbon nearly dropped from his mouth as he groaned, "I hate newbs."

Naruto blushed slightly, more out of offence than any embarrassment. He wasn't too fond of being the focus of someone's distaste, especially for such a small reason. With the chunin teams being shuffled every six months to a year, unless the team showed outstanding cohesiveness and talent, basic training was a usual occurrence. It wasn't fun by any means, but Naruto felt that it shouldn't be counted as a chore, especially by an experienced shinobi like Genma. It showed a lack of professionalism.

"Quiet, Genma!" Raidou snapped, seemingly sharing Naruto's sentiments. Turning back to the team's newest member, he continued, "Don't mind him, he's just lazy. I'm going to need to see what you can do, so as to best place you in the squad and develop formations and maneuvers that suit you best."

Naruto nodded, eager to prove himself. "All right then. How do we do this?"

"Well, the best way to go about it would be to place you in a combat situation, to gauge how you react to certain things. I didn't get too much from our little tussle back there – other than the fact that you're actually competent – and I need to know what you can do best." The chunin's eyes lit up as a devilish smirk crossed his face. "Why don't you try your hand with Genma there?"

"Balls!" Genma only had time to widen his eyes as a blond blur sped toward him.

As he danced out of the way of Genma's retaliatory strike, the laughter of both Raidou and Hayate in the background, the blond chunin reflected that he would get along with Raidou just fine.

Maybe this team wouldn't be so bad.

/~/

As Naruto would later reflect, the team was far from bad. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Basic training, as it was known, lasted only a week and a half, a process that was sped up considerably by Naruto, whose growing proficiency and determination made the tedious drills fly by quickly.

Hayate and Raidou were impressed, Genma merely seemed thankful.

In the months following, Team Raidou took various C and B ranked missions, most without incident. Naruto also found, much to his pleasure, that the constant team training and sparring, not to mention the more dangerous missions, had kick started him from his plateau.

Having never been on an experienced team before, the second opinions from Hayate, Raidou, and even Genma on occasion, served to greatly increase his learning ability; it honestly surprised him. Training with the three experienced chunin also served to develop his hand to hand skills at a rate faster than he had even thought possible. Sparring with different opponents than he had been used to had forced him to develop faster reflexes, in order to counter the unpredictability, lest he get hit.

While it wasn't life or death experience, Naruto would take what he could get, especially as he wasn't particularly willing to put his life on the line simply for better reflexes.

He was ambitious, not suicidal.

The determined blond found that he was evenly matched with two thirds of his team, though Raidou remained both the strongest and most experienced of the lot. Apparently it was Team Raidou for a reason. He easily outclassed both Genma and Hayate in genjutsu, while his close range taijutsu was probably a little better than even Raidou's; at least in terms of pure effectiveness. With his constant training and sparring, Naruto was nothing if not ruthlessly efficient when it came to dispatching his opponents close range.

In turn, the three older chunin completely eclipsed his ninjutsu abilities; though Naruto was coming along quickly.

Genma, a mid-range specialist, was highly proficient with earth jutsu, and liked to use them to work his opponent into a corner where he could make an easy kill, preferably with his trademark senbon.

Raidou, having the largest reserves of the four, was a ninjutsu expert, and excelled with fire techniques and earth techniques both. Becoming proficient with two elements was a skill almost required to become jonin, and spoke well of Raidou as a shinobi. Naruto had the utmost respect for his commander, recognizing both the man's skills and his experience as a leader.

Hayate was a close range specialist with his kenjutsu, and used a creative combination of ninjutsu and taijutsu to supplement his deadly skills with a blade.

Naruto had taken an interest in kenjutsu, mostly because it was required to have some proficiency in ANBU, and had been receiving some lessons from Hayate on the side. In return, Naruto was helping the man create a new technique that involved both kenjutsu and genjutsu. It looked both promising and deadly.

With their differing skill sets and experience, Team Raidou was a reliable chunin squad. Their competency was recognized, and the four found themselves tasked with a B-ranked assassination mission.

While not uncommon for chunin squads to receive such missions, this one was special. It tasked Team Raidou with the destruction of a compound of bandits situated in the heart of River Country, the country that acted as a buffer zone between Fire Country and Wind Country. Killing bandits wasn't a difficult task, but the compound was apparently being run by B-ranked missing nin; a fairly well known jonin named Kurosuki Hideki.

The man hailed from Kumo, and had defected after a failed mission during the height of the Third Great War.

Their task was to kill him, whatever underlings he may have had, and destroy his compound that had been terrorizing the plains of River Country.

It was simple in theory, perfectly plausible on paper, and certainly doable in execution. A straightforward B-ranked assassination mission, as decreed by the Konoha missions office.

Unfortunately for Team Raidou, the powers that be never considered that someone else might have been after Kurosuki Hideki as well.

/~/

There were three signs that something was wrong when the Konoha squad reached Kurosuki's compound.

The first sign was that the wooden gates, similar but much smaller than the ones guarding Konoha, were torn completely off their hinges. The second sign was the bodies strewn throughout the small compound.

It was a bloodbath.

Kunai, shuriken, and more perforated the dozens of bodies strewn haphazardly through the streets, blood dripping from the still cooling corpses. The stench of death hung heavy in the air – Naruto had almost gagged – while the very air that Team Raidou breathed was laden with ambient chakra, an obvious sign of shinobi involvement.

The third sign was the silence.

"Am I going to be the asshole that says that it's quiet, too quiet?" Genma piped weakly, attempting to fight growing unease and nervousness with humor.

"Shut it, Genma!" Raidou hissed. He made the hand sign for immediate retreat. "Some other force is obviously at work here. We need to return to Konoha immediately and inform the ANBU, they'll be able to handle this."

"I'm afraid it's a bit too late for that."

At the sound of the voice, the Konoha squad spun abruptly, eyes taking in the forms of three shinobi, all wearing forehead protectors with the symbol for Iwagakure. The body of Kurosuki Hideki was draped roughly over the tallest man's shoulders.

A short man, with a tuft of red hair and carrying a zanbatou as large as he was tall, stepped forward. His eyes glittered malevolently as he raised his cleaver. "Well, now…I've not killed any Konoha trash in over a decade. What do you say, gents? Time for some fun?"

/~/