Chapter 9

Naruto took a deep breath as he looked up at the walls of the Hidden Leaf Village. He and Hinata hadn't seen their old home in three years, and they were still rather nervous about returning to it. Turning to Jiraiya, who was walking behind them, Naruto voiced the concern both of them had. "Are you sure Hinata's family won't cause us any trouble?" he asked.

Jiraiya smiled at his godson. "It'll be fine, Naruto, I promise," he said back. "The Hyuga have officially removed Hinata as a member of their clan, so they can't do anything to her, no matter how much some of them might want to. And Hinata, if you're wondering, it was your father's doing. He told the Hokage he was doing it to protect you from the clan."

Hinata nodded. "I figured as much," she said. Jiraiya had long since told her the truth about why Hiashi made her leave that fateful night, three years ago now. It didn't make a lot of sense to her, but she understood that, underneath his rocky façade, her father actually loved her. Sighing, she said, "It's still scary to think of being in the same place as them. I would much rather not be sealed, especially after all this."

Jiraiya laughed. "Don't worry. Your father has made sure that can't happen. If they try it now, they'll be defying the Hokage, and they know better than to do that."

Naruto gave a rare smile to Hinata. Reaching out, he took her hand in his softly. "Come on, it'll be fine. We can trust the Pervy Sage," he said. Jiraiya fumed at the nickname, but he had to admit, it worked. Hinata smiled, and the three walked through the gates of the village, Naruto still holding Hinata's hand.

"So, you said the Academy is having their final exams today, right?" Naruto asked as they walked down the main street.

Jiraiya chuckled. That kid had a one-track mind sometimes. "Yes, they are. I'm going to take you two there right now, actually, so you can get in there. The instructors should know you're coming. The Hokage said you could take the exam. As long as you pass, you won't have to worry about dealing with classes," he told the blond. Naruto and Hinata both got determined looks on their faces at this pronouncement. "While you two are doing that, I'm going to go report to the Hokage."

Naruto turned back. "We'll see you after the exams, right?" he asked.

Jiraiya nodded. "I'll meet you outside the Academy once you're done. If for some reason I can't get there, you two should head to the Hokage's office. I'll meet up with you along the way somewhere."

Naruto sighed again. "It makes me really nervous to not have you backing us up," he said after a moment. "I guess we'll be okay, though. It's not like anything will happen in the Academy."

Hinata thought for a moment that something could happen; her cousin would likely be there, after all, but she kept this thought to herself for the moment. Jiraiya wasn't sure of Naruto's assessment, either, but he kept this quiet as well. There was no point in upsetting the blond unnecessarily.

While they were talking, the three travelers had arrived at the entrance gate to the Academy. "Well, go on, you two," Jiraiya said. "I'll see you soon." That said, he walked off toward the Hokage Tower.

Naruto took a deep breath, gave Hinata a small smile to comfort her a bit – he knew her nerves were as shot as his – and, giving her hand a small squeeze, made his way toward the Academy building, Hinata slowly following.

Once the two arrived in the classroom where Jiraiya had told them to go, they found a group of prospective Genin waiting for their own exams. Among the crowd were three who stood out. There was Neji, whom Hinata recognized instantly, a boy with a preposterous bowl cut, and a girl with two buns in her hair.

Naruto and Hinata blinked, then made their way to two empty seats to wait their turns. Before they could reach the seats, however, Neji intercepted them. "What are you two doing here?" he asked in an annoyed monotone. "Failures like you shouldn't be here, especially not today." His comment was mostly directed at Hinata, but, since he knew Naruto had taken Hinata out of the village, he lumped Naruto in with her; in his mind, they were both failures.

Naruto squeezed Hinata's hand lightly, then vanished. In less than a second, he had closed the gap between him and Neji, and Neji found himself, to his shock, with a kunai against his throat before he could even think. It took Neji a full second to process what had just happened. Naruto ground out between clenched teeth, "You really shouldn't underestimate us."

Neji was about to ask why Naruto said us instead of me, but then he realized Hinata was gone too. She was behind Neji, and she had a finger mere centimeters from Neji's spine. Neji realized, if the two hadn't stopped, he would either have a slashed throat or a severed spine, possibly both. Hinata said from behind him, "I know I was a failure when you last saw me, Brother, but I'm not one now." Her voice was sweet, as Neji remembered it, but it was now filled with steel as well.

Neji blinked. When he reopened his eyes, he found himself released of the two. They were back in front of him, hands clasped again. It took him a moment to reassure himself he hadn't just experienced a bizarre genjutsu. "I suppose I'll have to rethink some things," he thought to himself. Aloud, to the two, he said, "I see. I won't bother you further."

Naruto and Hinata chuckled at Neji's reaction, then sat down in the seats they had been going toward when Neji intercepted them. Within a few minutes, the two were yawning in boredom as they watched as one student after another went to take their exams. Eventually, Hinata's name was called. Standing up, Hinata said, "See you in a minute." She made her way to the exam room.

While Hinata was gone, the bun-haired girl and the boy with the bowl cut approached Naruto. "We saw what you did to Neji," the girl said.

Naruto was immediately on his guard. "Yeah?" he said.

The boy responded. "Indeed! It was quite the youthful performance!" he said enthusiastically.

Naruto had no idea what that meant, and the look on his face clearly showed it. The girl spoke up. "What Lee here means is, we were both quite impressed with how you made Neji look like a fool," she said with a smile. "I'm Tenten, by the way."

Naruto gave a hesitant smile. "I'm Naruto," he said back.

Lee, as the bowl-haired boy was apparently called, said, "I am Rock Lee! And as you have so easily bested my old rival, Neji, you are hereby dubbed my new eternal rival!" As he spoke, he smiled widely, and Naruto would have sworn he saw the light ping off the boy's teeth. He blinked and shook his head, convinced that had to have been an illusion of some sort.

Tenten gave Naruto a look of sympathy. "It was nice meeting you, Naruto," she said simply. "I hope we'll see you again in the future."

Naruto nodded to her. Then Lee spoke up. "Yes, it was very nice to meet you, Naruto! And I will see you again, my rival!" he said with another grin.

Naruto chuckled a bit at the boy's antics. "All right, but don't think you'll beat me," he said. "I can't let Hinata see me fail."

Tenten and Lee left after this. Naruto chuckled. "It's nice to see the village hasn't changed much," he thought to himself. After another few minutes, Naruto watched as Lee and Tenten left for their own exams. Then, eventually, Naruto's own turn came up. Making his way to the exam room, Naruto was surprised to find Iruka Umino waiting for him.

"Iruka? What are you doing here?" he asked. He hadn't known the instructor well enough prior to leaving to call him sensei, but he was aware of the man at least.

Iruka smiled at Naruto. "I heard you and Hinata were coming back today," he said. "I wanted to be here to give you your test personally."

Naruto shrugged. That made almost no sense to him, but he decided not to think too much about it. "So, what do you need me to do?" he asked.

Iruka smiled. "If you can perform a substitution, transform, and create three clones, you pass," he said.

Naruto rolled his eyes. Those were such low standards, it was frankly ridiculous. He created three Shadow Clones, substituted with one of them, then, after dispelling them, transformed into Iruka. "Good enough?" he asked.

Iruka chuckled at hearing his own voice. "Yep, that's perfectly fine, Naruto," he said back. Handing Naruto a headband, he added, "Be here tomorrow morning at eight for team assignments."

Naruto took the headband and put it on immediately. "I'll be there," he said back, then turned and left the room. He didn't see Iruka disappear in a cloud of smoke to reveal Mizuki.

Mizuki was snarling. "That freaking demon wasn't supposed to pass!" he thought to himself. "I suppose I'll just have to find some other way to get the scroll for Lord Orochimaru."

Naruto, oblivious to the threat he had just walked out on, made his way out of the Academy building. Finding Hinata waiting for him, he walked up to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. Hinata was wearing her new headband like a necklace. "Well, that's over with," Naruto said.

Hinata giggled and wrapped an arm around Naruto's waist. "Yes, it is," she said back. "Let's go find Jiraiya-sensei." Naruto nodded, and the two left the Academy. While they made their way to the Hokage's office, Jiraiya was finishing up his report on the two.

"After three years of training with me, I'm fairly certain they'll pass the exams with no trouble whatsoever," Jiraiya finished.

The Hokage sighed. "I just hope you haven't been training them in your...research," he said. Jiraiya looked offended. "Oh come on, you know it's possible, don't even try to deny it."

Jiraiya shrugged. "Well, sure, I suppose it's possible. But no, I didn't train them in that. I think Hinata would have killed me if I had tried," he said seriously. "Mostly, I trained them up in their basic jutsu. I made sure Hinata could make clones, which she can just fine, and I taught Naruto Shadow Clones when it became apparent the basic clone would always be beyond him. Anyway, I imagine they're done with their exams by now. They'll probably be here soon."

The Hokage chuckled. "Yes, I imagine they are. When you see them, you can let them know they'll be placed on a team together. I don't think it would do anyone any good to separate them just now."

"No, it wouldn't," Jiraiya agreed. "One last thing before I go, where do you intend for them to live?"

Hiruzen sighed. "Well, Hinata is technically not a Hyuga anymore, so she can't go there. Naruto's old apartment got re-rented a long time ago, so that's out. I guess they can either get a new apartment, or you could let them stay at your old home, Jiraiya."

Jiraiya thought about that, then nodded. "I guess that would work. I assume I won't be in the village too much for the next year or so, so I could let them stay there while I'm gone," he said.

Hiruzen nodded. "That seems to be the best solution. Once they get some money from missions and such, they can get their own place if they want to," he said. Jiraiya nodded to this, then left the office.

Upon exiting the Hokage Tower, Jiraiya turned and immediately found himself looking at his two students. "Hey, you two!" he called. "Perfect timing!"

Naruto and Hinata casually walked up to their sensei. "How did the Hokage take it?" Naruto asked.

Jiraiya chuckled. "He's fine. He said you two will be on a team together, so you don't have to worry about that. He also said I should let you two stay at my home for the moment. If you want to get your own place after you get some money, you can, but my place is your best bet for now."

Naruto chuckled. He pulled out the box he had taken from his old apartment all those years ago. To Hinata, he said, "I told you I wasn't leaving without this. Now you'll see why." He opened the box. Sitting in the box was a huge stack of papers.

Jiraiya looked at the box in shock. "Is that what I think it is?" he asked.

Naruto chuckled at the older man's reaction. "It was left to me by my father," he said. "The Hokage wouldn't tell me who my dad was, but he said this was his legacy to me."

Digging through the box, Naruto eventually found what he wanted. Handing it to Jiraiya, he said, "I think we'll do just fine with this."

Jiraiya stared at the paper in his hand in shock. It was a deed. "This is...the deed to the old Uzumaki home!" he said. Naruto nodded. Jiraiya handed it back, his face betraying his utter shock. "Well, I guess it makes sense it would belong to you, Naruto. I'm just surprised they would tell you that."

Naruto chuckled. "The Hokage made me promise not to use anything in the box except in dire circumstances. I think this qualifies," he said.

Jiraiya smiled. He had to admit the kid had a point. "Yeah, this qualifies as dire, all right," he said. "All right, you two can go on over there and get yourselves settled. I have some things to get done tonight, but I'll catch up with you tomorrow. Good luck with your new teammate." He gave the two a wave and departed.

Hinata smiled at Naruto once they were alone. "Is that the only thing in there you didn't want to leave behind?" she asked. Naruto shook his head. "I figured. It's fine, you don't have to show me everything in there. I trust you."

Naruto chuckled. "Thanks, Hinata," he said. "Come on, let's go." Hinata nodded, and the two turned their feet toward Naruto's ancestral home. Neither one had any idea what they would find when they got there, but they knew the only important thing they would find there. It was the one thing they had been missing for the past three years, and they were ready to have it back.

It was home.

A/N: And there it is. Another chapter of this one. I hope you guys enjoyed this one. Next time, team assignments, and their lives as Genin truly begin. I hope you all come back for that one.