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Sakura thought that Sasuke was the greatest ninja since the Yondaime and thus his chances of passing were close to a hundred percent. It never occurred to her, however, that Sasuke had yet to defeat or even put Uzumaki on the ropes, and while Sasuke had closed in the distance, the sheer physical difference between the boy two years her junior had made victory close to impossible.

What she didn't know was her own chances of passing. She might be the Kunoichi of the Year, but she had never defeated one of the boys in a spar. Even those on the lower range of grades had found her easy to defeat. Sakura had always taken comfort in that none of the girls could beat her in pretty much anything.

Yet now, watching how Uzumaki and Sasuke went through their morning exercises… she felt inadequate. Woefully inadequate. Uzumaki was a monster, plain and simple. It did not matter what Sasuke did, how complex and creative the tactics he used were or how fast Sasuke executed them.

Uzumaki was so ridiculously fast that Sasuke could only land glancing blows at best and so strong that even when Sasuke landed a full blow, they were shrugged off with ease. Sakura noticed that Uzumaki's body was covered in bandages, and almost immediately assumed they were injuries from training too hard.

She'd always thought Uzumaki never trained or studied for anything. All he read was stupid fantasy stories and while he did the exercises the teachers ordered him to do, so did Sakura. Then again, she herself didn't train outside the academy. She had, however, on occasion followed Sasuke after class to watch him train until he started disappearing into the city.

Probably had noticed them and did not like being watched. Understanding his wishes, Sakura had stopped looking for him.

Maybe… they trained together? Sasuke had been moderately friendly to the blond since their second year, ever since he'd defended the boy from the bullies that somehow managed to get away with anything they did to him. The boy almost never was physically touched, since it was hard to get a hold of him to beat him up, but he did get just about any other form of abuse thrown his way. Then again, seeing Uzumaki now, it was probably for the best they never got the chance to try physical abuse.

Whilst Sakura's parents had told her to stay away from him because he was a troublemaker, she didn't understand how, or why, Uzumaki had earned such a bad rep with the adults. Was it simply the fact that he was an easy target?

She didn't like thinking about it, but she had time to ponder, since it had been only an hour so far and if her suspicions were correct the asshole that was their teacher would come in three hours late again. Therefore, she had fallen into analyzing both her own behavior and her dedication to her training.

Sasuke never made it a secret that he had a rather… strong dislike towards his fangirls. In fact, the only females he ever talked to where mostly adults and the few girls in class who did not belong to his fanclub (and even then they'd ended up harassed by said club because they had the attention of the class' most popular boy). Sakura had always thought she was exempted from that, as she was the best of her peers…

… Until that morning. The one thing that Sasuke said to her was that she was as annoying, or perhaps more annoying, than the rest and that if she wanted to, at the very least, be his friend, she should try to start working hard at being a ninja. Then she had asked why he paid attention to the dead last, who was a no-name orphan and a crappy ninja to boot.

Sasuke had said it clean and plainly. "Uzumaki is ten times the ninja you will ever be." He had said. No explanation, no justification.

And seeing their training… She was starting to believe it. Uzumaki was better than Sasuke. Plain and simple.

Sakura had had a revelation at that point. Since it was clear that she was not a worthy ninja in Sasuke's eyes, at the very least, she'd train hard and show him that she could be as good as him. That was the only way to his heart. Then again, she didn't want to end up over muscled and ugly…

Sakura's thoughts however, were stopped by a particularly harsh thud and the sound of Sasuke groaning out loud. Her brain yelled at her to go for the ingrained reaction, namely, chewing out Uzumaki for hurting Sasuke, particularly before an important exam but… This was what it meant to train as a Shinobi. You got hurt and you had to deal with the pain.

She saw Sasuke's determined expression as he stood up, even if he seemed a tad dazed from the harsh landing. Even though Uzumaki seemed to remain as unexpressive as always, the fact that the blond remained standing in what Sakura deemed his ready position (hands vaguely raised and legs slightly apart from each other) told her that the fight was nowhere near over.

What kind of training did either of them undergo to get right back up and continue fighting after they were knocked down? Weren't the friendly spars done until someone hit the floor? Her brain supplied the answer. Those spars were made so with the intent of them not hurting themselves. While it prevented injury, it also limited their growth as ninja.

Pain was the best motivator, that much she knew, and it forced you to get better on the fly lest you suffer more.

Even so, she actually stood up from the comfortable position she'd found against a tree and actually walked into the spar. "If you keep that up, you'll be too tired and hurt when Kakashi-sensei comes." She said, looking at Sasuke expectantly.

The Uchiha took a deep breath and looked at Uzumaki. While both had a fine layer of sweat covering their exposed skin, Uzumaki had yet to break his breathing rhythm. His stamina was something Sasuke couldn't ever quite match.

Ultimately, Sasuke nodded to Sakura and sat down on the soft grass, shortly thereafter beginning to stretch to get rid of the kinks before they formed. This was, after all, merely a warm up routine compared to what Uzumaki usually put himself through and what Sasuke had been approaching over the last year.

Uzumaki merely pulled out a book and began to read, as usual, except he was doing his own stretches while he did. It was… weird. Sasuke smiled fondly at the sight, finishing his stretches and laying down to take a rest. He did not push Sakura away immediately. They were a team and he might as well give her a couple chances to get over her fangirl complex.

He'd made his best attempt at explaining to her how much she sucked as a Kunoichi in his eyes. Maybe it'd give her the revelation she needed.

"Uh… Sasuke-kun…" Or maybe not, given the blush on her features. Then again, normally It'd be accompanied by a vaguely content smile. This time, her expression seemed more of… embarrassment? "I'm sorry for acting like a complete fangirl." She said, hanging her head.

Sasuke raised one eyebrow and looked at Sakura questioningly. "Sakura-san." Sasuke began, sounding as polite as he always did to the teachers. The formality was kind of odd, considering that Sasuke offered no politeness or formality to those he considered beneath him, namely, fangirls and useless ninja. "Words are easily spoken. Actions speak louder than a thousand words." Sasuke explained.

Then he looked at Uzumaki. Sakura understood what he meant. Uzumaki had demonstrated with his actions far more than Sakura had ever said with her words. Whereas Sakura's abilities on paper were far superior and more versatile than Uzumaki's, in practice Uzumaki would beat her ten times out of ten.

"If you want to earn my respect… then train. Train hard. If my suspicions are correct, Hatake will show up three hours late to our every meeting and in that time… In that time we will train on our own. Uzumaki will train regardless of what we do, but I think he likes the company." Sasuke said, smiling, standing up and cracking his neck. "For now… what do you say we do a bit of light exercise? It will help you loosen up and warm up so you can be ready for whatever Hatake has planned."

Sakura offered Sasuke her best smile. "Of course, Sasuke-kun… If you think it will help…" She said, a tad shier than she'd intended it to come out. She could not deny that Sasuke had a pretty smile. It was so rare to see one directed her way. In fact, Sasuke rarely smiled at all in the academy, and she understood why. He found Fangirls unnaturally annoying and their mere presence annoyed him into being a perpetual frowner.

Sasuke nodded.

Uzumaki seemed to lift his head only barely from his book to shoot a glance that Sasuke could not decipher at them. However, as always, Uzumaki merely returned to his book and to ignoring the world again for what seemed like an entire half hour until he stood up.

He walked up to Sakura and looked down at her. Sakura looked up, confused at what had merited Uzumaki's sudden interest in her, so she turned to Sasuke and saw him smiling. Uzumaki seemed to be waiting for something, though she couldn't tell what.

"I was going to spar with you… but he wants to do it himself." Sasuke said. Well, it seemed like that was what Uzumaki wanted. "Don't worry, while it doesn't look like it, he does know how to hold back, some times."

Sakura was a little afraid of the ten year old boy. Just about nobody was made to spar with him for the simple fact that only those with top grades in Taijutsu, namely the class' resident Hyuuga, Inuzuka and Uchiha, could remain in the same ring with him for more than thirty seconds, and even then, nobody had lasted upwards of a minute against him.

Yet, even as Sakura took up a shaky position, she could see Uzumaki analyzing her. She was a tad insulted when he shook his head. The boy then changed his stance to one resembling Sakura's.

She turned her face to look at Sasuke, who was humming thoughtfully. He approached her and, much to Sakura's mortification, actually moved her arms and legs, touching her, to different positions. She noticed that Sasuke seemed to be sneaking glances to the entirety of her body as he did, which caused an even bigger blush to sprout on her.

"There?" He asked, turning towards Uzumaki, who nodded. "Try to get used to that stance, Sakura. You're not built to be a physical powerhouse, so that means you will need to rely on superior skill and agility…"

As the Uchiha continued his explanation, Sakura could see Uzumaki nodding, as if to affirm Sasuke's words. Maybe, just maybe, Uzumaki wasn't as bad as she thought he was, if he at least cared enough to give her pointers on her Taijutsu.

Then again, he did not seem apologetic at all whenever he corrected her. She had to take pointers from both. While she knew how to throw a proper punch and the chains and kata that the academy had taught her, she didn't know very much about how to connect her moves together, or how to improvise whenever an opponent countered the basic academy style.

At the very least, when she got used enough to the stance, she noticed that it continued to get easier and easier to, as Sasuke had put it, improvise with different movements. Sasuke had explained to her that it was MUCH easier to defeat someone if you caught them unaware with an odd, unusual move that surprised them.

Uzumaki's entire style relied on doing things that the opponent wouldn't expect and dominating the fight on a technical level, Sasuke's own style was similar, but while Uzumaki was all about countering attacks, Sasuke's relied on preventing the opponent from attacking in the first place, which eliminated the major weakness of the interceptor fist, which was that a faster opponent made it pretty much useless.

They didn't know where Sakura's development would take her, but both she and Sasuke had talked and discussed long and hard about what kind of style would fit Sakura the most. She seemed to go for a more straightforward approach than either of her male teammates and, while her diet had ruined her physical development at the moment, there was nothing that prevented Sakura from getting better with a proper diet and exercise.

So her being a power-based fighter might make up for her lack of real skill or talent in the art of Taijutsu, even if it'd require more training.

Sakura had agreed to stop dieting and to take her exercises seriously, which had made Sasuke at least begin to consider her as a Kunoichi in training. After all, she could get better, and she would get better, if he helped her.

Maybe he'd even make Sakura Haruno into a competent kunoichi that would one day make it to Jounin. Would certainly be a challenge, but she seemed to have the will to improve.

So an Uchiha, a Haruno and an Uzumaki meet a Hatake…

… And nobody reacts to his presence. Sakura and Sasuke were resting from their light work out, having done only enough to keep their bodies warm since the time limit for what they expected Hatake to show up was approaching.

Uzumaki completely ignored the jounin as he looked at his team with a weird glint in his eye. "Rise and shine, my cute little maybe students! Time to begin the exam. " he called out cheerfully.

Sasuke moved to a sitting position and made a show of yawning rather exaggeratedly. Uzumaki merely rose to his feet and walked until he was right next to the other two as they stood up. "Okay, Sensei… we're ready."

"That's good." Kakashi said, nodding to the three. Then he pulled out an alarm clock from god knows where. "This is set for noon." He said, walking past them and setting it against the cold stone of the monument that dominated the training ground. He also placed a pair of boxed lunches at either side of it.

This caused both Sakura and Sasuke to look at him with apprehension in their faces. He simply waved a pair of silver bells in front of them. "The exam is simple. All you have to do is take one of the bells for yourself. Whoever has a bell, passes. Whoever doesn't, gets sent back. Furthermore, whoever doesn't have a bell will be tied to one of the training posts over there and forced to watch while everyone else eats." With a hand gesture, he indicated towards the three training posts that were not too distant to the monument itself. "Questions?"

"Uhm… Sensei, there are only two bells…" Sakura said. "This means that only two of us can pass…" She had gone bone white. Because she knew who would pass and who wouldn't. She had absolutely no chance and there was no doubt that if it came down to choose between them or her, both Sasuke and Uzumaki would choose each other.

"Yep!" Kakashi called out, still cheerful as ever. "I warn you, you won't succeed unless you come at me with the intent to kill!" He said. Beginning to walk away from them without a care in the world, he looked at them over his shoulder without a care in the world. "Okay… begin!"

Hatake saw the pinkette and the raven haired Uchiha disappear into the woods, although he could still see very clearly where they'd gone to. Sakura's hair poked out of the bush she'd hidden in and Sasuke had made too much noise when he dived into the woods.

The blond, meanwhile, sat down and continued reading his book like nothing had happened. This caused a bead of sweat to run down Kakashi's head. Clearly, Uzumaki was nothing like he'd expected him to be. The stereotypical silent one was usually the best of the bunch abilities-wise though they never were good at teamwork and usually failed this test epically.

Kakashi actually walked next to him, looked him over and, seeing his complete and utter lack of interest towards the test, decided to check on what the boy was reading. Much to his surprise, it was as a matter of fact the first volume of the Icha Icha Tactics series, a spin-off of the original paradise where the protagonist, now dubbed the Pervy Shinobi, decided to charm the women in power everywhere to take over the world after discovering a jutsu that would let him have a certain degree of control over their actions.

It was a nice story and the hero was too much of a nice person to actually force the girls to see things his way, instead hoping to convince them to aid willingly. Kakashi blinked upon noticing that he'd actually sat down and begun to read the story himself after pulling out his copy. Apparently, it was just ridiculous coincidence that he happened to be carrying that same book.

Hadn't Hatake Kakashi been as awesome as he was, he might not have heard the sound of two preteens' faces hitting the floor. It was such fun to mess with his genin's expectations. "You're gonna fail if you don't do anything, you know." Kakashi said, conversationally.

The blond did and said absolutely nothing to show he had reacted to the statement, instead, he continued reading like nothing had happened.

Can't say he didn't try to motivate the genin into passing. Oh well, he was getting to the good parts, where the main character seduced his first victim, disguising his activities as a training mission.

Without missing a beat, Kakashi batted away the kunai rushing straight at his face with the plate on the back of his glove. "You're gonna have to do better than that." Kakashi announced, standing up without even stretching his legs. "Lesson one… Taijutsu. I will teach you guys about it." He said, looking straight at where the Kunai had come from, easily seeing a few strands of Sakura's hair and some out of place, broken branches near Sasuke's hiding spot.

Sasuke grunted and rushed forward. He knew there was no way he'd defeat a jounin in Taijutsu, but even so, he had to try. Uzumaki was not going to help. That much was clear. It seemed as if Uzumaki had absolutely no interest whatsoever in Hatake or anything involving him. Even if he had no doubt Uzumaki would have been a boon…

Well, he'd thought about giving Sakura a chance, and what better way to do it than by giving her a chance to prove that she intended to get better by putting in some effort?

He engaged Hatake and went for distracting attacks. Moves that were easily predictable and which Hatake had no issue in parrying, blocking or outright dodging. But that was okay. Sakura should have taken her cue by now.

But it seemed she remained transfixed in her hiding spot. Sasuke frowned. However, he didn't relent, steadily leading Kakashi, who so far seemed to be bored in dodging all of his attacks and hadn't done anything to indicate he'd caught up to Sasuke's scheme, into the forested area where he'd have a harder time moving about.

Then, he sprung the trap he'd been preparing. He slammed his hands together and summoned four clones to distract Kakashi, actually taking a moment to scramble and lose himself amidst the clones. He had to hurry, because he doubted Kakashi had actually fallen for the ruse and was just humoring him.

His hands went into his kunai pouches at each leg and he grabbed two special kunai he'd prepared beforehand. Knowing that something like this would probably come, information obtained from Itachi in exchange for a bag of candy, he had decided he'd focus on immobilizing Kakashi. Originally, Uzumaki would've been helping him in this endeavor and he was certain that the small blond would've been an absolute nightmare to deal with for the jounin up close, but it seemed Naruto wasn't intent on graduating.

He had to have a plan, but Sasuke couldn't wait. He needed to execute his first. Uzumaki was still his rival and he'd be damned before he let him outdo him at this!

Kakashi saw the two Kunai coming, knew that their paths would cross right where his chest was and that all he needed to do to stop them from doing so was simply batting them away. He'd never been fooled by the clones and had kept his visible eye on the young Uchiha, seeing what he tried to do.

Instead of blocking the two kunai, however, he did the next best thing and simply took two steps back, seeing the Kunai fly off range…

… which was exactly what Sasuke expected him to do. Hatake seemed to enjoy displaying his superiority over his genin and he'd take the chances to do so. Dodging something was always harder than blocking or parrying, and Kakashi was more than capable of dodging such an attack.

Pushing chakra through the wires that Sasuke still held in his outstretched hands to insure a faster response, the Uchiha tugged on and changed the direction of the two Kunai, so that instead of flying past Hatake, they circled around him, wrapping him on razor sharp ninja wire as they did. The Uchiha smirked and utilized the most basic exercise for his elemental affinity he knew of: Channeling electricity through a metallic object.

Kakashi looked surprised for a full second, before he burst into smoke and a charred log. Sasuke grunted.

"That was nice. It seems you're leagues above your classmates in both Taijutsu and Ninjutsu." Kakashi said, from his perch sitting on a tree. "You're still a genin, though." He said, shrugging.

Sasuke shot a Kunai at Kakashi and when it hit him, he again dispersed into smoke, leaving nothing behind this time. The fact that the clone didn't even try to dodge the attack or block it in any way meant that it probably couldn't. This kunai had met no resistance whatsoever.

Sasuke did not stick around to let Kakashi have a chance at payback, however. This had made it evident that he could not handle Kakashi on his own. Therefore, he needed to find Sakura. She hadn't acted the first time, probably believing he wanted to face Kakashi on his own.

What kind of idiot bets on the odds of a genin against a jounin!?

He jumped through the woods, a burst of chakra heralding his every leap. Kakashi had been correct in that he'd been leaps and bounds ahead of the curve. He had the resources of the Uchiha clan behind him and since Itachi had been quite obvious in his intention to remain in ANBU rather than go back to the police force, Sasuke had been groomed to take over his father's place.

However, if Hatake was thinking that Sasuke was a stuck up brat because of it, the jounin would have a nasty surprise in his near future. Neither Itachi, Mikoto nor Fugaku, after all, tolerated a spoiled brat who couldn't work on a team because of an inability to see past his own ego.

He found Sakura standing, horrified, next to a tree, looking at an empty spot as if it contained the object of her nightmares… And Hatake creeping up behind her. Acting quickly, he attacked Hatake with one of his remaining Kunai (he'd have to remember to go over the training field to recover the ones he'd used already) and dived in behind Sakura, protecting her from whatever it was that Kakashi had planned for her.

"Eh!? Sasuke-kun!?" She nearly shrieked. "Then it was just…"

"Genjutsu." Hatake cleared up. "The most underestimated Shinobi art." He explained.

"Sakura." Sasuke said, palming a Kunai on his right hand and passing her one with his left. He was speaking lowly, using his right hand to hide his lips from view as he pushed Sakura back with his body, leaning away from the spot he'd heard Hatake's voice coming from. "I will distract him. Go for the bells." He said, feeling her nod against his back. She still hadn't turned around.

"Boo!" Hatake yelled, appearing right next to the genin standing back to back in the middle of the clearing. This startled them enough to separate and, true to his word, Sasuke immediately engaged the jounin, this time going full out and actually forcing him to try and keep him distracted.

Again, Hatake seemed to have very little to no trouble fending off his efforts, but regardless, Sasuke continued his assault, though he was quickly exhausting his personal library of movements and he'd quickly have to rely on the ones he'd learned from Uzumaki if he wanted to keep the man distracted. He was probably used to fighting just about anything from Konoha. The variations in Sasuke's own Interceptor Fist briefly gave the silver haired Shinobi pause, but he adapted to them just as easily as Sasuke shifted through forms.

It made him have a degree of respect for the man. That was the sheer ability that one needs to become a true Shinobi. Not just repeat the moves practiced one thousand times, but to adapt and learn new ways to defend yourself on the fly.

If only Sasuke knew a Raiton jutsu that he could use in melee range, this fight might have been in his favor. Regardless, he found out just how scarily effective Uzumaki's tactic of reckless fighting was. Uzumaki's movements, stances and attacks were filled to the brim with holes that were easy to exploit, and that was the whole point of the style.

Uzumaki knew where the juiciest holes were and his defense was based on simply waiting for the opponent to go for these and then execute the appropriate counterattack or, if the opponent caught up to that, simply utilize a move that left a hole too juicy not to exploit that was yet another trap.

Then again, Uzumaki was surprisingly limber and agile, so the more complex combos that made use of said advantage were closed off to Sasuke's less flexible body. Still, as he sidestepped one of Hatake's half assed punches, this one heading towards his face, Sasuke grabbed the hand and gave a mighty pull, which the jounin anticipated and jumped with.

A simple tactic so that instead of being smashed against the ground, he was thrown a good distance away from melee range and remained completely unharmed, somersaulting so he'd land on his feet.

Sasuke smirked, keeping his head down so Kakashi didn't see it.

Hatake had dodged, yes, but he had also miscalculated when he'd assumed that his only opponent was Sasuke. Sakura had taken the chance when her sensei lowered his guard and jumped at Kakashi, slamming her shoulder against his stomach and propelling him away with enough force to slam against a tree.

"That was a nice display of teamwork." Hatake commended them, landing on his knees on the floor and patting his sash, where he'd tied the bells earlier. There was a loud, distant ringing sound. "And just in time, too…"

"Yes!" Sakura yelled, waving the twin silver bells in the air, making them jingle as she did. "We passed, Sasuke-kun!" She cried in her happiness, actually jumping and glomping the Uchiha, who merely looked at her with one raised eyebrow. She blushed in embarrassment and let go, smiling apologetically and looking sheepish.

"Yes, yes, you passed." Kakashi said, looking specifically at Sakura. "However, since Uchiha and Uzumaki failed to get a bell by the time limit, they both fail."

This caused Sakura's jaw to fail. "W-Wait! There are two bells! Sasuke-kun did most of the work, I just took them…" She said, actually passing one of the bells to Sasuke. "And he has one, too!"

"That makes sense, I guess." Kakashi said, shrugging. "Anyway, Uzumaki still fails, because he didn't do anything." He announced.

Sasuke frowned. Had Uzumaki really intended to fail? Reading his intentions, at all, was something rather complicated. In fact, Sasuke never quite knew what exactly Uzumaki was thinking at any given time, but… he didn't seem the kind to graduate from the Shinobi academy just to fail his jounin's examination on purpose.

And there was something that was still bugging Sasuke since the last day. The first time he'd heard his voice, and all he'd said had been things that Sasuke already knew except for the last revelation. Uzumaki wanted to be Hokage. Well, it certainly didn't seem like it, since he did nothing to hint at that being his goal.

This was only one more piece of Uzumaki's weirdness. Why fail this test on purpose? Sasuke couldn't figure it out, even as he, Hatake and Sakura walked over to where Uzumaki was still reading.

When both he and Sakura sat down, Hatake looked intently at Uzumaki for a full minute. "Stand up." He ordered, which Uzumaki complied to without a word. "Stand against the post." He added, which, again, Uzumaki complied to without a word.

Hatake went to work on tying him up, being more than a tad harsh.

"Do you have anything to say for yourself?" Hatake questioned, looking at the tied up blond with a critical eye. As was usual for the blond, there was no reaction. Shaking his head, Kakashi sat down with the genin. "Okay, guys, let's eat." He said, pulling his book from one of his pockets.

"But… sensei… will we really eat in front of Uzumaki-san?" Sakura said, sounding more than a tad conflicted about it. There was no doubt that Uzumaki had to be hungry, if he had heeded their sensei's warning and avoided breakfast.

Hatake offered her an eye-smile. "Uzumaki-san did nothing to help either of you and simply sat here reading his book. So, he gets to watch you guys eat while he gets nothing and later will be sent back to the academy!"

Sasuke sighed. "Isn't there any way he can pass?" He asked. He didn't know if it was concern for the one person who'd called him a friend and whom he considered a friend, but even so, he didn't feel right just leaving Uzumaki to the wolves.

Hatake seemed thoughtful. "I guess I can give him a makeup test…" He said, rubbing his chin. "But that test will be taken as a team. Which means that you will have to relinquish the bells and you have a chance of failing all over again."

This seemed to give the both of them pause. Sasuke actually glanced at Sakura, to gauge her reaction, seeing her hesitating, Sasuke sighed. "I accept those terms." He said, passing his bell over to the jounin, who didn't seem too concerned at the thought of having to give them a make up test.

Sakura looked thoughtful for a moment. "I accept those terms, too." She said, finally, looking at Hatake, who raised one eyebrow.

"Hm? I understand why duckie would, but why you? After all, you have no real reason to risk your passing for Uzumaki-san." The silver haired jounin spoke, eyeing the pinkette questioningly.

"Uzumaki-san… is a much better ninja than I am." Sakura had been wondering just exactly the blond had been thinking when he'd just outright refused to do anything in the test whatsoever. "So… it stands to reason that if Sasuke-kun and me passed this test, that the three of us together would pass the next one!"

"But only two of you can pass." Hatake stated, blinking and leaning back. "And you yourself admitted that they're both better than you, so… are you willing to take the chance that you might not pass?"

Sakura looked down and seemed thoughtful. She knew, for a fact, that if she chickened out now there was no way Sasuke would ever forgive her. At the very least, even if she didn't pass, she'd earn the Uchiha's respect and she would be able to try again, when she was actually worthy of passing and didn't have to rely on Sasuke to fight her battles for her.

Hatake hummed and accepted the bell that Sakura offered him.

"And what about you, Uzumaki? Are you willing to take this chance?" Hatake questioned.

Uzumaki remained silent for a few seconds, unmoving… Until he nodded.

"Congratulations, you all pass." Kakashi announced, smiling widely.

"What!?" Sakura called out, sounding more than a tad surprised.

"To tell you guys the truth, the whole point of this test was to see whether or not you could work as a team and it was quite obvious to me that you could, even before you began so… I had already passed you guys this morning to begin with. When you guys actually trained together." He explained.

"But… Then why did you try to break us apart, then?! If we hadn't taken the makeup test, Uzumaki-san would've failed and been sent back to the academy!" The pinkette said.

Hatake sighed. "Uzumaki-san noticed there were only two bells and chose to bite the bullet so you two could pass." The jounin explained, running a hand through his hair. "Am I correct?"

Uzumaki merely nodded, still tied up, though looking about as bored as ever.

"So…" Sakura swallowed. "Uzumaki-san sacrificed his chance to pass for me, then? Had he and Sasuke-kun tried to take the bells, they'd have probably succeeded much more easily… I had a lucky shot…"

Hatake shook his head. "The plan Sasuke executed was solid and would have worked on a chunin level opponent, which was the level I was fighting at." He explained. "I need you all to understand, however, that no matter how clever you are, you won't be able to face a superior opponent on your own. You will need your comrades. You have taken the steps in the right direction by sharing what you know and helping your teammates."

The silver haired jounin offered them an eye smile as they ran the words through them. "But… your orders pretty much forced us to abandon one member of the team so the rest could pass… If Uzumaki-san hadn't made the sacrifice and all three had worked together we would've had to fight amongst ourselves to see who got the bells." Sakura said. "I would've lost, no doubt."

"Uzumaki-san knows something very important. Sometimes, the success of a mission requires a sacrifice that not many are willing to make. This is a lesson you will learn with time and when maturity comes. He is a special case." Obviously. Sakura had never quite seen someone as weird as Uzumaki. Even Shino, the class' resident Aburame who was quiet and reserved, spoke when he needed to, while she was certain she'd only heard one sentence in her entire life come from Uzumaki's mouth. Not even a sound had been emitted by the silent blond. "But you two… you two learned something even more important than that today." Kakashi said, turning around and staring off into the horizon. "You, Sakura, in particular."

Sakura blushed in embarrassment. She didn't know what exactly her teacher was talking about, as she was certain that she had been the most pathetic out of the three and that she'd passed only because of her teammates, while Kakashi seemed to think otherwise.

"It's been said that those who don't follow the Shinobi rules are trash…" Kakashi said, his voice gaining a sad, almost nostalgic quality. "But those who abandon their comrades?" He said, turning around to see the confused stares of his three genin. It was odd to get a reaction from the blond, so he treasured every one of them. "They are worse than trash. Remember that."

Sasuke, off the corner of his eye, saw the smile on the blond's face. It was tiny, a mere curling on his lips. But it was still a sight to see. Sakura, as well, noticed it, since she had chosen to look at her teammates, unable to look at her sensei's tall figure, trying to gauge their reactions.

Only then did Sakura understand why Sasuke seemed so fond of the blond. That timid smile that threatened to break through his usual stoic demeanor… at that moment, Sakura felt like she could take on the world to protect that smile.

Without further ado, Hatake Kakashi declared Team 7 officially formed.


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