Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, nor any associated ideas or characters.

Life is very busy. I am trying to write more often, but it has to take second place to other things. Nevertheless, I thought I would share this story, and slowly it will progress towards an end.

This story diverges from canon. I was interested in writing a different interpretation of Sakura. Point of change:

"My mother died when I was four. To say my father took it hard is like saying the Kyuubi put a hitch in Yondaime's plans. I went to stay with my aunt and uncle, and perhaps that was the turning point in my life." -Haruno Sakura


The girl turned, and her face brightened. "Ino."

The blond girl looped her arms around her friend's shoulders and twirled around. "You didn't show up last night."

Sakura hunched her shoulders apologetically and gently removed Ino's arms from around her. "Sorry. Aunt came home, and we were kind of busy."

"Is she okay?" Ino asked, concerned, but at Sakura's nod she skipped backwards a few steps, heading down the street. "Now come on, you don't want to be late for the test!"

Sakura grinned, and followed her dancing purple friend. "You better pass, Ino, 'cause I don't want to have to give you remedial lessons!"

Ino swirled around and stuck out her tongue. "Me? Fail? Hah, Billboard Brow, you better watch it or I'll blow you right out of the water."

Sakura's answer was two senbon whistling past Ino's ear. The other girl laughed and dodged, letting the needles clatter harmlessly onto the ground. Sakura strode past her and picked them up, tucking them carefully into the case strapped to her thigh. "Close call, Pig. I don't think I have to worry."

The classroom was almost full when they arrived, stepping together through the door. "Hey, Sakura," Ino whispered. "Sasuke's here."

She nodded distractedly, eyes searching the room. Ino disappeared from her side, to try and get the seat next to the class prodigy. There, in back, like always, was Shikamaru's spiky ponytail. Sakura dropped into the chair beside him, and poked him. "You owe me six packs of explosive tags," she hissed.

He lifted his head from the desk and blinked. "Wha'?"

"I said the price was six packs. So where are they?"

His eyes shifted guiltily. "Uh. I'll have them tomorrow?"

Sakura's hand closed on his forearm. "Shikamaru," she crooned. "Shikamaru. I get you into the tournament, and you don't have my explosive tags? Do you know how long it took to get the papers?"

Shikamaru tried to pry her fingers off. "Uh, Sakura, you're hurting my arm."

She glanced down, as if surprised, and let go. "Tomorrow."

"Yeah." He sighed in relief as she stood up and bounced off to another empty seat. His father would never have let him participate in an event where shogi shared space with poker and fistfights and everything was open to betting, so he really was indebted to Sakura. But six packs of explosive tags were more than he could easily get his hands on. Though that was certainly why Sakura had asked for them in return. It was illegal for stores to sell them to anyone but a ninja with valid ID, and Sakura couldn't afford to get caught faking again.

Though that wouldn't be a problem after today. Shikamaru was sure Sakura was going to pass, and he was pretty sure he would too. Sakura might not be a genius, or a prodigy, but she'd been training harder than anyone. She also had a violent streak that gave her just that little edge.

His thoughts turned again to the tournament. A lot of money had changed hands during the course of that night, a lot of alcohol as well. He hadn't touched the latter, but he'd left with a lot more of the former than he'd entered with.

He yawned. He'd talk with Narita-san this afternoon. If he passed the exam, he could just purchase the notes. If not, he'd figure something out. He was good at that.

He left his eyes slit open long enough to determine that though the empty seat Sakura had chosen was next to Chouji; she had no further interest in him today. Then he resumed his nap.

Sakura waved hello to the Akimichi as she slipped into the seat beside him. He mumbled a greeting back. Sakura smiled at him, then leaned back in her seat. Now that she had dealt with Shikamaru—and he had better have the payment by tomorrow—she was free to worry about the exam.

She'd studied hard through all of Academy. Top of her class in scholastic grades, even above Uchiha Sasuke, but it was ninjutsu and taijutsu where she faltered. Despite intensive coaching whenever her aunt was around, and occasionally by her aunt's friends, she was still one of the weakest members of the class. Chouji could pin her with one hand in weaponless combat. Sasuke destroyed her in every ninjutsu spar. Shikamaru could outthink her at every turn. Even Ino, though Sakura would never admit this out loud, was in many ways her superior.

Ino was beautiful. Ino was popular. Ino was graceful. Ino was perfect. And she, Sakura, was Billboard Brow. She had split nails, scarred palms, and dirt behind her ears because her aunt had pinned her in the mud this morning while they sparred. She was Haruno Sakura, that girl who knew how to get you into adult gambling tournaments with no questions asked, that girl who knew every bartender in the village, that girl who would stick a senbon in your arm if you pissed her off.

Ino could charm herself into anyone's good graces. Ino could wrap boys around her finger, make them all think they loved her. Sakura told herself she didn't want love. Sure, Sasuke was handsome, Sasuke was dreamy, Sasuke was the best ninja this school had to offer, but Sasuke would never look at her in that way, no matter how long her petal-hued hair grew.

And she didn't want him to. She didn't want to end up like her father, hunched over a grimy bar in the mid-afternoon, telling the same stories, over and over, to anyone who came within his bleary sight. She didn't want her child paying her tabs in shady dives across the village, didn't want her child opening the door to the village police holding her by the scruff of her neck because she thought she'd seen someone across the street and assaulted a stranger.

And she was getting distracted from the test again. She shifted nervously, and yanked her eyes away from Sasuke's shiny black hair. Actually—and her eyes snapped back—something was going on around him. Not uncommon, but still...

The gaggle of girls at the side of Sasuke's desk had been pushing and shoving as usual, but now they were suddenly still. Naruto, that class clown, had climbed on the desk in front of Sasuke, and as Sakura watched in horrified amusement, was bumped from behind.

She wished she could see Ino's face as the boys' smashed together. She laughed under her breath, the test wiped completely from her mind. Sasuke and Naruto were kissing.

Sasuke and Naruto were the two people in the class she'd had absolutely no success in manipulating in all their years together. Sasuke, because he didn't take her seriously or even notice her, unless he was crushing her in a spar, and Naruto, because he was so infatuated with her that manipulating him was unnecessary, and felt somehow wrong.

Iruka arrived before the girls could bruise much more than Naruto's pride. Sakura knew that Naruto, if he had felt endangered, could have easily run away from them or fended them off—most of the girls were going to fail the upcoming exam, Sakura predicted—but Naruto's strange code of honor seemed to prevent him from hitting girls. Sakura dearly hoped that whenever the klutz graduated, he'd get over his naiveté.

The class settled down quickly, the exam a damper on even the most carefree of spirits. It would take all of the day: first the taijutsu, then the written, then the ninjutsu. A teacher would spar with each student; starting slow, they would go over every basic move, increasing the pace as proficiency was demonstrated, until each and every student was beaten. For some, it only took two minutes—the basic moves at slow speeds were all they could handle. For Sasuke and Kiba, it took six minutes to take them down. Many of the girls jeered that Kiba lasted that long because he had Mizuki-sensei, the more lenient of the two teachers, as his examiner. But Sakura had seen the tightening of Mizuki's expression, as he tried to react with ever increasing but still gradual effectiveness, and she had seen his occasional slips and how Kiba's lips pulled off his teeth as he absorbed the blows or rolled with the takedowns.

Sakura lasted four and a half minutes against Iruka-sensei. It threw her off-balance, how after every successful sequence he smiled encouragement, and after every hit she failed to block or avoid he grimaced in apology. When he knocked her to the dirt the last time, her arm twisted up behind her back, he helped her to her feet and praised her efforts. "Good job, Sakura-chan! That was excellent!" She bowed and smiled back politely, but she felt uncertain about her performance. Aunt knocked her down and shouted at her to pick herself back up; Aunt broke through her defense and snarled to watch her guard. So when Aunt sniffed and said "good," she meant it. Iruka-sensei praised everything, so how was she to tell if she had scored high enough to pass?

She resolved to ace the written portion, in case the taijutsu came back low.

And she actually had a shot at that. The written portion was math, history, rules. Lots of rules. Proper mission report form, levels of command, as well as basic shinobi conduct. Loyalty to village is paramount. The good of the many always surpasses the good of the self. Emotion does not benefit a shinobi. She finished early, and rechecked her answers.

Mizuki-sensei nodded to her as she handed her papers in, and gestured her out of the classroom, so as not to disturb the remaining test takers. She spent the break outside, under the trees. When the time came for the final test, the most important test, she took a deep breath, stilled her anxious fidgeting, and went back inside.

Her classmates, all reconvened in the classroom, were itching with nerves. They giggled and ran around, making the most of the present since their futures were in limbo. Iruka and Mizuki-sensei showed up a minute later. "Sit down," Mizuki yelled, his silky voice projecting command. They sat. "We have finished calibrating the first two tests. It is time for the final section. This will be the last chance to pass, or fail, the exam. To graduate, or not."

"We'll call one name at a time," Iruka announced. "The ninjutsu test will be held next door. The jutsu is bunshin."

"If we have to come back in here," Mizuki added, "Because any of you are being too rowdy, those students will fail immediately." He smiled at them, and called the first name. "Inuzuka Kiba."

Sakura flicked through the seals under her desk as she waited. Two ways of making the bunshin, her aunt had taught her. Every jutsu has multiple ways. Seal forms are just props to mold chakra; if you can get the same result with one seal as with two, use one. If you can do it without any, that's even better. She did the full form, the half form, the quarter form, molding and absorbing the chakra without ever releasing it into reality.

Some of the students were creating clones, inspecting them for flaws, popping them away into clouds of smoke. A few wailed about lame limbs or fuzzy borders. Sasuke sat immobile at his desk, glowering at a wall. Shikamaru napped. Ino chatted with, or at, Hinata, who mostly blushed and stared at her desk. Naruto sweated. Sakura kept seeing him, over next to Sasuke, wringing his hands and worrying.

She had just about decided to go over and tell him to stop muttering to himself when Iruka appeared in the doorway. "Haruno Sakura."

She chose the one-seal form, and molded her chakra with precision. Two perfect clones snapped into existence beside her. Mizuki clapped once. "Congratulations Sakura-chan." He lifted a neatly folded, shiny new headband from the table and held it out. "You graduated!"

She told herself she had expected it, that it was only a headband, but she couldn't stop the thrill of excitement down her spine as she took the symbol of her village from her teacher. She was a genin now. A true ninja. She beamed.

They all gathered outside in the sun once the test was over. Parents had begun to arrive, sweeping their children up in congratulatory hugs, or consoling ones. Ino's father was whirling her around through the air, their blond ponytails swinging.

Sakura walked through the crowd, searching for her aunt or uncle. "Sakura!" She turned, and there he was, salt-and-pepper hair moving at shoulder-height through the people towards her.


He hugged her and kissed her nose. "Congratulations." They pushed back, and he flicked the metal plate tied cross her forehead. "You did it!"

The smiling was going to split her face apart. She pulled him into a hug again. "I'm so happy!"

"You should be," he told her. "This is a huge accomplishment."

"Where's Aunt?" she asked, glancing behind him to scan his line of approach.

His expression grew serious. "Uncle Shoji is in the hospital." Sakua paled. Sato Shoji was one of her aunt's friends, not a blood relative, but family nevertheless. "He'll be okay," her uncle assured her, "but he's in a bad place right now."

"And Inoue-san is on a mission," Sakura realized. With his girlfriend out of the village, her aunt was the closest person Shoji had. "Can I visit him?"

Her uncle shook his head sadly. "Probably not the best idea, sweetheart. But I'm sure he'll drop by once he's discharged."

Sakura understood. But if that were so, "Will Aunt be home for dinner?" she asked plaintively.

Her uncle smiled at her. "Yes, sweetie. And what a dinner it will be!" She tried to twist the details out of him, but he just laughed at her. "You'll see. You'll see!"

She was subdued the next day. The evening had been perfect: her favorite foods, all the family that mattered gathered around her in celebration. But in the morning, Aunt had disappeared sometime before she woke, and her uncle said Shoji had crashed during the early hours of the morning. Shoji would pull through, he assured her, but she still felt sick as she entered the classroom. Ino caught her eye, and asked what was wrong. Sakura shrugged the concern off, and took a seat.

She was surprised to see that Naruto had graduated. He ended up sitting next to her, but he seemed distracted and left her mostly alone, for which she was grateful. Iruka began reading off the teams. Mizuki-sensei was surprisingly absent. As names were called and more and more of her classmates grouped off, the rising tension drove other thoughts out of her mind. "Team four...Team Six...Team Seven. Haruno Sakura," she jerked up straight in her chair, eyes glued to Iruka's face, trying to read his lips before he spoke. "Uzumaki Naruto. Uchiha Sasuke."

She slumped back, astonished. This was terrible. She had the only two people who neither respected her nor listened to her. The only two people she couldn't work easily with. And, by the glares from the other females in the room, one of her teammates was going to gain her enemies. She glanced back to find Ino, who looked as stunned as she felt. You? Ino mouthed. But then, a devious expression grew on her face. Sakura wilted even further. Ino was going to turn this to her advantage after all, and Sakura was going to be caught up once again in the Battle for Sasuke.

She listened to the rest of the assignments despondently, wishing she could have Ino's team instead. But I don't have the skills for that team, she realized sadly.

She tried to rebuff Naruto's suggestion to eat lunch together politely, but he still looked hurt. It couldn't be helped, though, she thought as she slipped out of the school's gates. Uncle had said that if Shoji was awake, she might be able to visit today.

Shoji was awake. He talked with Sakura, ruffled her hair and congratulated her on graduation. If he kept his right arm under the sheet the whole time, if he couldn't sit up without help, at least he was smiling.

She was late getting back to class. Most of the new genin had cleared out of the room already, but Sasuke and Naruto were still there, backs to each other and glowering. Iruka-sensei was just leaving. "Sakura-chan! I'm so glad you made it! Your jounin-sensei will be here soon. Good luck!"

She took a seat between the two boys, hoping to lighten the atmosphere a little. But as their sensei failed to appear, even Sakura began to glower. She had been worried about being late, but now... When Naruto hid an eraser in the door, she protested only half-heartedly.

When he slid open the door, and the eraser dropped onto his head in a puff of dust, Naruto broke out laughing. Sakura swallowed a grin, opening her mouth to chastise Naruto for his inappropriate behavior.

But something about the jounin stopped her. About the way he stood in the door, his hands carefully away from his sides. Something inside her twisted. He's got blood on his hands. But half-gloves covered his palms and his fingers were scrubbed clean. Perfectly clean.

She shivered, and shifted back in her seat. Through the settling chalk haze, his single, low-lidded eye raked across the three of them. "My first impression? I hate you."

The evening was strained. Shoji had had a seizure; her aunt had cashed in a week of vacation and was back at the hospital with him.

Her uncle was paying the bills. He held the pen like a poisoned needle in his thick fingers, scratching in numbers and dates with his lips pursed up under his nose.

Sakura threw senbon at the target pinned to their kitchen wall. Thunk. "He thinks we're all useless." Thunk. "I think he wants to fail us tomorrow." A third hit the target, and she stalked across the length of the room to pull them out of the padded board. Senbon bristling from between her fingers, she turned to her uncle. "What if he fails me?"

He grunted. "If you do your best, it'll be fine."

"No," she snapped, spinning around to face the target again. Six senbon disappeared up to their midpoints in the target. She didn't know how to say it, but it was eating her away inside. His hands had been bloody. She knew it.

"You know," her uncle said, "You still haven't told me who 'he' is. I might know him," he added with a touch of humor.

"Hatake Kakashi."

The incessant drag of pen on paper ended abruptly. "Ah."

She looked at him. "What?"

"Kakashi. Good man." He met her eyes, a slight grin on his lips. "He used to run with Shoji."

Sakura's mouth dropped open. "Him? Uncle Shoji was friends with a guy like him?"

"Your aunt, too," he added, obviously enjoying her astonishment. "Many years ago. Though friends might be a strong word. Comrades, more like."

"But he—" but the words caught again, in uncertainty and confusion. "What's he like?"

Her uncle shrugged. "Powerful ninja. He'll be able to teach you a lot, I think." He leaned back, tilting his head a little as he watched her. "Kinder than he likes to act."

She snorted. "He told us not to eat breakfast, or his test would make us vomit."

He arched one eyebrow, and Sakura frowned at him. She'd been practicing that move for months, and still couldn't manage it. "Don't let him scare you, Sakura. Fear is a powerful weapon, and it's something you want to ration carefully."

She gave him a twisted smile. "Yes, Uncle."

She woke up two hours before dawn, and warmed up in the strip of yard behind their house. The trunks of their two trees were scarred and battered from years of abuse, and they took the new blows as stolidly as they had for decades. The sweat was cooling on her skin when she showed up at the communal training field Hatake had designated for their exam this morning.

The other two genin showed up soon after, Naruto yawning widely. They waited as the sun peeked up, and waited as it rose high into the sky.

When Hatake finally arrived, Naruto was asleep on his backpack. Sasuke was still standing, not even having put his bag down. Sakura was throwing kunai at a tree, snapping them back before impact with reels of wire. "Yo."

Naruto made a fuss, and all three suffered through the jounin's long-winded excuses before he finally explained the test. Sakura felt the moment the three of them realized just what the test meant as a blow to the gut. Her muscles clenched. "One of us won't graduate."

And he smiled at them. That insidious whisper that had haunted her since yesterday curled up again in the back of her head. But Uncle said he wasn't that bad, she reminded herself, squashing it down. Whatever happened, even with the rules he had set out, they would all be okay. So one of them would have to repeat the last year of Academy. It would be bad, but any one of them would make it through.

She grit her teeth. Well, it wasn't going to be her.

They split into the trees when he set the timer, and Sakura hid herself quickly. She needed a plan. Despite what the jounin had said, it was obvious she wouldn't win by force. Or by outwitting him, she mused. She'd have to play on something he either wouldn't realize or couldn't ignore. Something he wouldn't have experience with.

Ideas surfaced and drowned as she watched the jounin casually taunt the third genin. She'd almost come up with something, when he disappeared. She frowned. Now what?

Abandoned after their scuffle, Naruto was wandering the field, shaking his fist at the trees. Then, his eye fastened on something. She realized what it was just as he began to reach. Idiot, she sighed in her head as he shot into the air, to dangle two meters above the ground.

She waited, wondering if Kakashi would show up. When he didn't, she slipped out of cover and ran low across the field. Glancing up at the tree, she hefted her kunai. Naruto, craning his head, suddenly realized what she was likely planning. "What! No! Sakura-chan!" he screeched.

"Sak-ur-a-chan," came a sing-song voice from behind her shoulder. She jumped, and let the kunai fly. Naruto tumbled down in a heap of flailing limbs just as Kakashi tapped her on the shoulder. And then a swarm of shuriken came curving out of the bushes.

She was facing them, and saw them before the jounin reacted. Half a step sideways and turn, and it was too late for Kakashi to do anything. She lurched forward, the pain surprising, as it always was. She saw, without really noticing, the widening of the jounin's single eye. He caught her as she fell, holding her against his chest as she sank to the ground.

She pressed a hand to her shoulder, looked blankly at the redness slipping down her fingers. Sasuke had thrown well; the wounds were deep. "Sakura." She let her hands drop down between them and didn't answer. Kakashi lowered her carefully to the ground, reaching around behind her with one gloved hand to the embedded weapons.

The other hand closed firmly around her fingers. "Not quite, Sakura-chan," he drawled.

"Damn." She made one last attempt towards the bells, but pushing against his grip was like fighting a concrete pillar. She had been touching them. She had been that close. The bells were smeared with blood, now, as she gazed sadly over at the lost chance.

Kakashi stood up and looked down at her. She tried to figure out what the look meant, but even without the mask, she doubted she'd have been able to. Then he disappeared.

"Damn," she said again. Naruto, hanging again in shocked silence from the tree branch, began thrashing.

"I thought I got you down," she muttered, slipping another kunai from her pouch and sitting up painfully.

He yelped as he fell, but Kakashi seemed to have only trapped it twice, and Naruto remained on the ground this time. "Are you okay?" he squealed, rushing over and hovering uselessly above her. "Who threw the kunai? Sasuke? Sasuke! You idiot!" he yelled. "You hurt Sakura-chan!"

"Naruto," she tried to interrupt. When he just continued railing, she shouted. "Naruto!" The breath jostled her back and she bent over, swallowing down a whimper.

He shut up. "Sakura-chan?"

"I stepped in the way, Naruto. It's not Sasuke's fault." He gaped. She sighed, and reached around to her back. Her fingers brushed against metal, but there was no way she was going to be able to put enough pressure on the holes from this angle. "Come be helpful, okay?"

"What do I do?" he asked nervously.

She braced her hands on the ground. "Pull the shuriken out and put pressure on the wounds. There're bandages in my hip pouch; we can tie them up once the bleeding stops."

He walked around to her back and hesitated. "I've only got two hands, and you've got six shuriken in your back."

She swore. "Goddamn it." Everything hurt back there; she'd had no idea that many had hit. Maybe stepping directly into the swarm hadn't been such a good idea.

"Wait," Naruto crowed loudly. Sakura flinched. He stepped away from her, and put his hands together. "Kage bunshin!"

And then there were hands all over her back, and the sudden jump in pain as the shuriken were pulled from her flesh and pressure applied. Naruto's voice came uncertainly from behind her. "Sakura-chan? Didn't that medic who came to class say we were supposed to leave things in?"

"Bit late for that," she said, a smile fighting its way onto her pained face for a brief second. "But I can't fight with shuriken in me, and we still have to get those bells."

"Shouldn't you go to the hospital?" he asked.

"No." It came out hard, and her teeth ground against each other. "I'm not giving up."

There was a rustle in the bushes. Sakura's head snapped around. "What?" Naruto asked from behind her. She raised a hand, trying to hush him.

Sasuke appeared out of the leaves, glancing warily around. "Go to the hospital," he said abruptly.

Her head had begun to hurt. "Why?" she bit out. Then she had to put her head between her knees, hoping the world would stop spinning.

Sasuke picked up one of the shuriken Naruto had pulled from her back. "Because these are poisoned." Sakura groaned. "You're going to pass out in three or four minutes."

Black was already edging her vision. He must have dosed it for an adult Kakashi's size, she guessed. She might end up worse than unconscious if that were true. Kami be damned, she needed to think through her plans better. "Give me the antidote," she demanded.

He frowned. "Why?"

"Because I know you have it, because if I leave I'll never pass, and if I leave, there's no way you can either." He snorted. She lifted her head long enough to glare at him. "He's a jounin. You can't fight him, and he'll be on guard after I nearly got the bells."

The look on Sasuke's face was almost worth the pain. "You what?"

"I had my hand on them," she said bitterly. "Did you really think I got hit by accident?" Then she realized he had, and felt even angrier. "Anyway, the medicine'll take time to kick in, and you can go see if you can fight him for it. If you fail, get back here and the three of us can come up with something that might actually work." She was breathing heavily by the end of that speech, her words beginning to slur together. "But give me the damn antidote."

It tasted terrible, and did nothing for her pounding head. But she let Sasuke leave to go in search of the jounin, and waited for it to do its work.

After ten minutes, the spinning had stopped. She asked Naruto if the bleeding had stopped too, and told him to bandage up the wounds. He dismissed his bloody-handed clones as soon as she was taken care of.

"Where's Sasuke?"

Naruto, still angry after all the time elapsed, glowered. "Dunno. Off fighting that stupid teacher, I guess."

Sakura braced her hands on the ground and shoved herself to her feet. When she swayed, Naruto caught her arm. Then he promptly dropped it, a horrified look on his face. She raised an eyebrow. "What?"

"I didn't mean to touch you, I mean, I'm sorry that I—"

She grabbed for him as her knees shivered again. "Shut up." He shut up. They started walking, heading out in search for the third genin.

They found him, buried neck-deep in rocky dirt. Sakura, still leaning on Naruto's shoulder, snorted a laugh. "Need some help?"

Sasuke glared, but didn't protest when she drew a kunai and started digging him out. Naruto crossed his arms and scowled, but chivalry won out, and he bent to help Sakura dig.

"So?" Sakura asked as they worked. "What happened?"

"He's strong," Sasuke said, sneezing as dust rose around his face. "And on his guard."

"So we need a plan," Sakura reiterated.

Sasuke could move his shoulders, and he began twisting around, trying to free himself. "One of us has to fail." He got his arms free. Sakura grabbed a wrist, and Naruto, after a moment's hesitation, followed suit. They pulled him out of the dirt, and overbalanced. The three lay for a moment on the ground, breathing hard.

"Fail trying, or give up now," Sakura said philosophically. "I, for one, want to punch him in his stupid masked face."

"Yeah," Naruto growled.

Finally, Sasuke nodded. "Yes."

"Well." All three of them jumped, and scrambled to their feet. Hatake Kakashi was leaning against a tree at the edge of the clearing. A strange expression floated around his visible eye. "Hm."

Sakura drew a kunai; Naruto made to lunge forwards. Sasuke grabbed his collar and yanked him back. "Wait," he hissed.

A strange, harsh laugh dripped from the jounin's lips. "Test is over, kiddies." They all gasped. Sasuke dropped Naruto's jacket like it was acid-coated.

"The bell hasn't rung yet," Sakura said, knuckles white on her knife hilt.

There was a long, long pause, as Kakashi seemed to search for what to say to them. "I feel like going home." He smiled. Sakura choked. "Anyway," Kakashi continued, before Naruto's howl had quite left his throat. "You all passed. I'll see you tomorrow."