A series of flukes led to Naruto graduating a year early, but without a team. Now he's joining Kakashi's Team 7, after having spent the year working under Ibiki Morino and his lovely assistant Anko Mitarashi.

This fic is inspired by and is meant to be a sequel to May Wren's "Ibiki's Apprentice". Ideally, May Wren would have been the one to write this, since she's a much better writer, but it's been a long time and I'm tired of waiting :p

I do not own Naruto.


"SAKURA! INO! SIT DOWN!" The shout, combined with his Demon-Head jutsu and a small burst of killing intent, was enough to get the two kunoichi to break off their squabble and take their seats – Sakura giving a smirk of triumph as she slid in next to Sasuke Uchiha, last survivor of the Uchiha clan and the closest thing Konoha had to a crown prince (if you believed the tavern gossip).

Iruka Umino, teacher of the final year of the Konoha Shinobi Academy, suppressed the urge to rub his scar in exasperation. While almost every girl in class had a crush on the Uchiha heir, those two were particularly vocal in their rivalry for the boy's affection – never mind that the boy in question had never looked twice at any girl in class. Iruka had honestly hoped that the knowledge they were now shinobi of Konoha would instill some dignity in the various Uchiha fangirls, but that hope had died a swift death. What was worse, their behavior was embarrassing him in front of one of his ex-students.

Iruka's train of thought came to a screeching halt. Wait, am I actually worried about what Naruto will think of their behavior? Quickly moving past that moment of insanity, Iruka cleared his throat, and made the first announcement. "First, congratulations to all of you for passing your final exams and becoming proud shinobi of Konoha. However, as you know, there are only 26 graduates this year, but genin are supposed to work in teams of three. To make up the numbers and gives us nine full teams, please welcome Naruto Uzumaki. He graduated last year, but due to various circumstances does not have a team of his own. Please introduce yourself, Naruto."

"Sure thing, Iruka-sensei!" The brightly grinning blonde boy bounced into the room, and turned to the rest of the class. He shouted exuberantly: "Yo, I'm Naruto Uzumaki, twelve years old! Even though I'm the same age as all of you, I graduated last year, 'cos I'm awesome, dattebayo! You all can call me Naruto-sempai! Let's all work hard as shinobi of Konoha, and you might become almost as awesome as I am!"

Dead silence met this announcement, and Iruka had to work hard to hide his smile. He was actually pleased, even though his ear was ringing. He had been worried that being assigned to the dour Ibiki Morino, head of Torture and Interrogation, would have crushed Naruto's spirit, but the boy seemed as lively as ever. And he had to admit, after a year under Ibiki, Naruto looked good. Gone was the eye-searing orange tracksuit, in its place, Naruto was wearing worn grey pants and a white shirt, covered by a faded deep blue jacket with burnt orange Uzumaki spirals on the upper arms. He carried himself with more grace, had added a couple of inches to his height, and was no longer quite so skinny. Yes, Iruka consoled himself; Naruto seemed the same happy hyperactive boy he used to be, only with more health and fashion sense.

Naruto grinned so broadly at the class that his face was scrunched up into a squint. This meant that none of the genin hopefuls could see his eyes as they scanned and catalogued everyone's reaction to his introduction. Most of the class had been indifferent to him start with. A few of them seemed to have been impressed by his early graduation, but even they were rapidly losing interest. Naruto could practically hear their thoughts, as the entire class mentally categorized him as an obnoxious loudmouth who probably did not have a team because he was too incompetent.

Perfect.

There was a time when Naruto would have cut out his own tongue rather than deliberately embarrass himself. There was also a time when Naruto would have been too ignorant to even know he was embarrassing himself in the first place. Ibiki Morino had taught him many things over the last year, but perhaps the most important had had to do with self. Self-knowledge, self-confidence, self-control. A year ago, Naruto had acted loud and obnoxious as a desperate plea for attention. Now, Naruto was willing and able to act obnoxious in order to deflect attention. A year ago, Naruto had wanted to be Hokage so others would acknowledge him. Now, he was still going to be Hokage. But he was going to do it on his own terms, and not because he cared what others thought of him.

As Naruto finished scanning his classmates, he immediately picked out his two would-be teammates. The last assignment from Ibiki had been to infiltrate the Academy and identify his new genin team. Sasuke Uchiha, Rookie of the Year, and Sakura Haruno, Kunoichi of the Year, and apparently, fangirl of Sasuke. Their jounin-sensei would be Kakashi Hatake, former ANBU captain, ninjutsu specialist, A-rank elite. Noted for his sharingan eye, tardiness, and porn addiction.

The whole scan took only a few seconds, and then Iruka was inviting him to take a seat. He noted that there was a space next to Sakura, which would allow him to sit with his teammates… but it would look odd for him to go for a bench with two people on it near the front of the class when there were benches farther back with only one person.

Eh, no rush. With Kakashi's habits we'll be waiting for hours anyway. Plenty of time to get to know my teammates.

There was a bench not too far back that only had a Hyuuga girl on it – Hinata Hyuuga, recalled Naruto from the list of students he had memorized. Trotting up to the bench, he sat down and bestowed a huge smile on the small dark-haired girl in the bulky jacket. Her only response was to shrink into her jacket and edge away. Strange. Maybe her parents warned her about me.

Naruto knew full well why most adult villagers seemed to avoid him. After a few months of Ibiki's training, he'd realized that the villagers' reaction to him was atypical. When he'd asked Ibiki-sensei why, he'd been referred to the Hokage, who'd told him it was a need-to-know S-rank secret. Naruto figured, as the recipient of the stares and cold shoulders, he bloody well did have a need to know, but the Hokage disagreed. Unfortunately, a secret known to so many people wasn't much of a secret. Even then, it had taken him a very long time to put it together. Mostly because the idea that he might have the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox Kyuubi sealed in his stomach was so utterly absurd, he'd refused to believe it at first. When he'd finally realized the truth… that had been a bad day. Experienced as he was in dealing with loneliness and depression, there were some things a twelve-year-old just was not equipped to handle. Amazingly, it had been Ibiki's assistant Anko Mitarashi that had provided him a shoulder to cry on. That was the last time he called her Crazy Snake Lady.

Shaking off his depressing thoughts before they could show on his face, he flashed another smile on the girl before turning around to face Iruka-sensei, who had launched into a speech.

At long last, Iruka finished his speech on the importance of being a ninja, and moved to the important part, the team announcements. Naruto didn't pay much attention, since he knew what all the team placements were. Instead, he was busy studying the reactions of the various students. Most of the guys seemed largely indifferent to their teams, but almost all the girls that were being named showed some amount of disappointment, before casting longing glances at Sasuke Uchiha. Naruto found himself becoming annoyed on behalf of the male half of the class. OK, so he's kinda good-looking. What does that make the rest of us, chopped liver?

o-o-o-o-o

It was fifteen minutes since the announcements had ended. The classroom sat empty save for Team 7, as all the students had departed with their respective jounin-sensei. Sakura was feeling slightly upset that their sensei was late, but it gave her time alone with her beloved Sasuke-kun. Her stomach still had butterflies at the thought of the many months when she and Sasuke would be in close proximity. Still, it would be best to start the romance early, before some of the other girls made their move.

"Ne, Sasuke-kun, isn't it wonderful we're on the same team together? After the meeting, maybe we can go somewhere together, and get to know each other better?"

"That's a great idea, Sakura-chan!" The shout next to her ear sent Sakura leaping into the air. Steadying her thundering heart, she turned around to see her second teammate, that weird blonde kid Naruto. He had walked up to her bench without her noticing, and now he was continuing to talk in that annoyingly loud voice – "We should all get together and get to know each other! As sempai, it is my duty to look after my kohai, after all!"

Who invited you? Get lost, baka! Shannaro! An inner voice screamed in Sakura's head. Outwardly, she gave an uncertain smile as she scrambled for a polite way to exclude the blonde from her date…

"So, where do you guys want to go? I know, let's go to Ichiruka's ramen! Whaddaya say, Sasuke-kun?"

"Hn." The derision in the tone was clear in Sasuke's response.

That's right, Sasuke wants to be alone with me, he doesn't want you around! Sakura exulted silently.

The blonde cocked his head in apparent puzzlement. "Was that a yes-'hn' or a no-'hn'? I don't speak Grunt. It was a yes, wasn't it? Right, Ichiraku's it is!"

This last statement finally pricked the black-haired boy into speech. "No, I'm not coming. I've no interest in getting to know you."

Kyaa, he's so cool! Sakura neatly ignored how she had been included in the insult.

Naruto studied him for a moment, then gave his smile once more. "You're kinda rude, aren't you?"

"SASUKE-KUN IS NOT RUDE!" yelled Sakura in knee-jerk reflex.

"Of course he is, did you hear how he's talking to his sempai? But don't worry Sasuke-kun; I know it's not your fault. I know you had to grow up alone, so no one taught you how to be polite. I, as your sempai, will help you overcome your lack of social skills, and soon you will be fit for human company! That is a promise, dattebayo!" Naruto cried with passion, as he gave Sasuke a thumbs-up (Naruto had copied the pose from Maito Gai, one of the jounin-sensei assigned to his graduating class).

"As if a loser like you can teach me anything." snarled Sasuke.

"Oh?"

Sakura blinked in surprise. The goofball smile was gone, and the blonde boy was now giving them both a flat stare that sent goose bumps up her spine. "Have you, then, already spent a year serving as a genin of Konoha? Do you know what to expect in the upcoming months? Do you, in fact, have any idea what you've let yourself in for?"

Sasuke gritted his teeth, clearly unable to respond, so Sakura jumped to her love's defense. "I'm sure Sasuke-kun will do fine! He is Rookie of the Year and a genius, anything you can do, so can he! So stop trying to act cool!"

Naruto gave a bright laugh in response, his smile back in place. "Maybe you're right. Still, in case you change your mind, I'll be at Ichiraku's getting brunch."

"Wait, you're leaving? We have to wait for our jounin-sensei!"

"There's always time for ramen." the blonde replied firmly, heading for the door.

"But he could come at any second!" exclaimed Sakura in disbelief, as she watched her so-called sempai head for the door.

Naruto paused at the door, his squint-eyed smile still in place. "Here is my first bit of advice to my cute little kohai – we have enough time for ramen. Do with it what you will." And then he was gone.

o-o-o-o-o

Sasuke had done his best to put the blonde's words out of his mind and go back to brooding on his vengeance, but Naruto's words had gotten under his skin. Honestly, he only had a vague idea as to what being a genin entailed. It hadn't bothered him before, because as Rookie of the Year and an Uchiha, he was confident he could deal with anything that came his way. But having his ignorance openly pointed out like that had irritated him. What was worse, his so-called advice seemed to be bearing fruit. It had been over an hour since the blonde had left, and still no sign of their jounin-sensei.

He knew. He knew that our sensei was running late, and he didn't tell us. As far as Sasuke was concerned, that idiotic advice regarding ramen didn't count.

Sasuke was vaguely aware that Sakura had been trying to get his attention for the past hour, but years of exposure to fangirls had trained him to completely ignore their presence, to the point where Sakura's attempts at romance didn't even irritate him anymore.

No, he was busy brooding on how he knew Naruto had to be laughing at the two of them, stuck here waiting for someone who wasn't going to come. Feh, who cares what he thinks. Even with an extra year, an idiot is still an idiot.

Just then, the door slammed open, and Naruto strode back in, hands folded behind his head. "Man, that was some good ramen. I was so full, I had to take a walk afterwards. It's such a beautiful day, though. Nothing better than a sunny day in winter for taking a walk around the village. You guys should have come along."

Yes, he was definitely laughing at them.

"Baka! What would you have done if our sensei had shown up?"

"Mah, mah, have some faith in your sempai, Sakura-chan. I told you there was enough time for ramen." replied Naruto with his customary shit-eating grin as he slid into the seat next to Sakura. He then put his feet up on the table and closed his eyes, settling down for a nap.

Sasuke couldn't keep quiet any longer, his curiosity was eating at him. "How did you know? Did our sensei tell you he was going to be late?"

"No, I've never spoken to him. I knew he was going to be late because he's Kakashi Hatake."

"What?"

"Kakashi is famous in shinobi circles for being hours late to everything. They say the reason he's still alive is because he keeps being late to his own funeral."

"But- but- he's a jounin of Konoha! How can he possibly be so undisciplined?" spluttered Sakura. Sasuke nodded in silent agreement.

Naruto cracked open an amused eye. "Well, what's stopping him?"

"It shows he has no respect for others!" barked out Sasuke, seething in anger. If there was one thing guaranteed to get under his skin, it was lack of punctuality.

Naruto both eyes were open and brimming with laughter. "And why should he respect any of us?"

"I am an Uchiha, heir to the greatest clan in Konoha!" snarled Sasuke.

"That's right!" supported Sakura. "And he's rookie of the year. If anyone deserves respect, it's Sasuke-kun."

"Rookie of the Year, huh? That's good. But something tells me you don't understand the true significance of the title."

"True significance?" Now, Sasuke was interested. Did the title mean he was entitled to some privileges?

"Yep. Listen well, my kohai. The true significance is that the rookie of the year is slightly more likely to survive to make chuunin."

There was a moment of silence, which Naruto interrupted to drive home his point. "Outside of that, the title is completely meaningless. Utterly irrelevant. Best forget it, because Kakashi already has."

"It is not meaningless! It's a great honor!" cried Sakura. "You're just jealous, because I bet you never were Rookie of the Year!"

"Oi, I might not have Rookie of the Year, but that's only because I was a year younger than everyone else!"

"Oh? Then what was your rank?"

"Why should it matter? As I said, academy rankings are meaningless outside the academy. So yes, Sakura-chan, your title of Kunoichi of the Year and all those fancy grades are just as meaningless."

"Hmph. I bet you were bottom of the class, which is why you're saying academy scores are meaningless. I bet that's why you don't have a team, because no one wanted you dragging them down." sneered Sakura.

"Mou, you're so mean Sakura-chan! And neither of you have called me sempai even once!" pouted Naruto.

"As if an idiot like you is worthy of the title." sneered Sasuke. Inwardly, he was utterly frustrated. It seemed that both his teammates were going to be good for nothing other than dragging him down, and his sensei was an idiot, too. Maybe he ought to apply for a transfer to a decent team.

"Oh, really." Naruto gave a sinister chuckle. "Let's make a little bet, shall we? By this time day after tomorrow, both of you will have acknowledged me as your sempai at least once."

Sasuke almost had to laugh. How on earth was the idiot going to make them acknowledge him? Giving his best sneer, he stated: "What's the bet?"

"If I lose, I'll never ask you to call me sempai again. Oh, and I'll treat both of you to dinner. If I win, though, you'll have to call me Naruto-sempai from then on, and accept me as team leader."

"Baka! Sasuke is the only choice for team leader!"

"If you're so sure, then what have you got to lose? Unless, of course, you're afraid of losing the bet…"

"We're in." stated Sasuke bluntly. "There is no way you can do anything that can get me to call you sempai."

Even Naruto's sinister chuckles weren't enough to shake Sasuke's confidence.

o-o-o-o-o

Kakashi, easily recognizable by his gravity-defying silver hair and the mask on his face and the headband covering his Sharingan eye, hummed to himself and flipped a page of his beloved Icha Icha as he headed for the classroom containing his would-be genin. He was three hours late. With any luck, his genin team would have used the time to bond over their mutual irritation at their sensei. It had happened before, with the teams he had tested over the last four years. Unfortunately, what bonds they seemed to forge out of united frustration with his antics, always seemed to fall apart when faced with the bell test. Children these days just did not seem to have any sense of loyalty. He blamed the previous decade of peace for this sorry state of affairs.

Still, this time around, he knew he was going to go easier on the team than before. Not only was he the only one who could truly train the last Uchiha (once the brat developed his Sharingan), but this team also contained Minato-sensei's son. He had been quite irritated to hear that the boy had been assigned to Ibiki Morino, when he had specifically requested him for his team, but it seemed the boy's team had failed their test, so he was now available for him to train.

Poking his head into the room, he saw his genin sharing the same bench – a good sign. Naruto, though, seemed to be asleep, Sasuke was staring out the window, and Sakura was staring at Sasuke. Not so good.

"My first impression is… you three are boring. Meet me on the rooftop in five minutes."

Fifteen minutes later, he was facing them on the roof. "YOU'RE LATE! AGAIN!" shrieked the pinkette.

"Maa, I got turned around on the stairs and ended up going to the basement." he replied with a crinkled eye, mentally snickering at the outraged scowl spreading across two of the genin's faces. Only Naruto seemed more amused than angry.

Glad to see at least one of them has a sense of humor.

"So, why don't you three go ahead and introduce yourselves? You know, likes, dislikes, hobbies, dreams, that sort of thing."

"Ne, sensei, why don't you show us how its done?" asked Naruto.

Kakashi eye-smiled back. "Very well then. My name is Kakashi Hatake. My likes and dislikes, well I have a few. I have no intention of telling you my dreams, and as for my hobbies, you kids are too young to know about them. Your turn."

Oh, the warm fuzzy feeling that filled him as he studied the growing irritation in his genins' eyes.

"All right, then!" cried Naruto. "My name is Naruto Uzumaki! I love ramen, and one or two other things. I dislike the three minutes that it takes instant ramen to cook. Only some of my hobbies involve ramen, and my dream has nothing to do with ramen!"

Well, I guess I asked for that, thought Kakashi as he rubbed the back of his head. "You next, Pinky."

Sakura stepped up. "I love…well…" A quick glance at Sasuke. "I dislike idiots and unpunctual people!" Kakashi was amused to note that he seemed to be sharing her displeasure with Naruto. "As for my hobbies… and dreams…" she was once more glancing at Sasuke, as she blushed and giggled. Then she seemed to snap out of it, and finished her sentence, "Those things are private!"

Sasuke seemed to have sunk into apathy as the various introductions progressed. "My name is Sasuke Uchiha. None of you need to know anything else about me, just don't get in my way." he growled, with his best attempt at a menacing glare.

"Ne, Sasuke-kun, your introduction is too boring. And after all three of us poured our hearts out!" whined Naruto with puppy-dog eyes. Sasuke did not deign to answer, while Sakura leaped forward to explain to Naruto how Sasuke's introduction was the epitome of cool.

Kakashi decided the comedy skit had gone on long enough, and drew attention once for with a set of evil chuckles. "Oh my, you three are just so cute. But I'm afraid you're all going to freak when I tell you what happens tomorrow…"

o-o-o-o-o

"Hey guys!" It was 7.30 AM, and Sasuke and Sakura had been waiting for half an hour in training ground 7 when Naruto showed up.

"You're late!" growled Sakura.

"Actually, since Kakashi isn't here yet, I'd say we're all early." Naruto pulled out an apple and started munching.

"Kakashi-sensei told us not to have breakfast!"

"He also told us to be here at 7. How's that working out for you?"

Seeing the frustration writ clear on his teammates' faces, Naruto sighed and shook his head. "I told you yesterday, he's late to everything. See what happens when you don't listen to your sempai?"

The next few minutes were silent save the sound of Naruto munching his apple.

Once he had finished, Naruto spoke again, "You know, this is the sort of situation where experience counts. You two realize he set you up to starve, don't you?"

Taking the silence for assent, he reached into a pocket, and pulled out a paper bag, which opened to reveal two onigiri. "Luckily for the two of you, I thought ahead. Now, let's hear a 'please and thank you, Naruto-sempai.'" he said with a teasing smile.

Sakura sighed in annoyance and said, "May I have an onigiri, Naruto-sempai?"

"Sakura, no!" Sakura jumped in shock at the sudden cry from Sasuke.

"Sasuke-kun, what is it?"

"You…. have you forgotten about yesterday's bet? If we acknowledge him as sempai, we'll have to call him that for all time, and he's team leader!"

Sakura's eyes opened wide, and her lower lip started trembling. "I… I'm sorry…"

In a flash, sadness turned into anger as she turned on Naruto. "YOU TRICKED ME! THAT'S NOT FAIR!"

Naruto spread his arms, "Hey, if you're not cheating, you're not trying. If you get caught, you're not ninja."

He tossed an onigiri to Sakura. "One down, one to go. Are you sure you don't want to come over to my side, Sasuke-kun? We have onigiri."

"If you think I'm going to surrender the position of team leader so easily, then you really are an idiot." growled Sasuke.

"You tell him, Sasuke-kun! Here, you can have mine instead."

Sasuke was going to refuse, but then the delicate smell of the food reached his nose, and his stomach lodged a protest against any action that delayed nourishment. Scowling, he gave a grunt of thanks as he broke the rice ball in two and handed one half back to Sakura. The girl immediately blushed in happiness at having been able to do something for her Sasuke-kun.

Naruto was still smiling. "Aw, that's kinda sweet. Well, if you're sure you can keep going on just half…"

"We're sure. I am NOT losing this bet." said Sasuke. But this time, he didn't feel quite so confident when he saw the gleam in the blonde's eye, as Naruto started eating the last onigiri.

o-o-o-o-o

As it happened, it was another three hours before their Kakashi showed up, with yet another ridiculous excuse, this time involving a black cat.

Smiling he surveyed his three genin. All these kids were just so cute and naive, how could he pass any of them to become shinobi? Two of them were trying to kill him with their eyes, but Naruto was once more looking more amused than annoyed. Frankly, Kakashi was finding the blonde's good humor slightly off-putting. A hungry twelve-year-old should not be so happy. Surreptitiously, he took a deep breath, and caught a faint smell of rice and seafood.

So, someone got clever, and I think I know who. A shame he doesn't seem to have shared with his teammates.

Mystery solved, Kakashi proceeded to turn on the screws. He outlined his test – two bells tied to his belt, whichever genin has one at noon passes. Whoever doesn't gets tied to the training stump and forced to watch the others eat lunch, before being returned to the academy for a year.

As soon as he signaled the start of the test, all three headed for the forest. All threw apparently knew the basics of stealth. The girl was the easiest to spot, because really, red clothes and pink hair? The two boys were much better. in fact, he'd completely lost Naruto, though that might be because the boy had gone deeper than Sasuke.

Pulling out his Icha Icha, he sat down and started to read. He wondered how long it would take them to attack, and whether any of them would think to team up straight away.

The answers proved to be 'twenty minutes' and a most disappointing 'no'. Really, at this point he'd have passed them if all three had even tried to work together, but it wasn't to be.

The first attacker was Sasuke. Not entirely surprising, as he had put it as a toss-up between Sasuke and Naruto. Kakashi had to commend him – the kid was good enough to make him stop reading his book. But Sasuke was merely good. He was certainly not worthy of the title of 'genius' that the academy and civilians had placed on him. Kakashi knew child prodigies – he himself had been one – and Sasuke was nowhere near there. Most damning of all, he hadn't even thought of asking for help, even from the Sakura girl who was clearly devoted to him. Kakashi repaid his arrogance by burying him up to his neck in the dirt.

He then decided to step it up and go after the others. If he beat them quickly enough, there would be enough time for them to at least try to team up.

He found Sakura first. She was stumbling through the forest looking for Sasuke, and Kakashi obliged her with a genjutsu. He was hoping she had enough awareness to break it, but he hadn't expected her to pass out completely. What sort of shinobi passed out at the sight of a dying teammate?

He found Naruto a minute later, and stopped to stare. The blonde was resting comfortably in the crook of a tree, positioned just right to see Sasuke buried in the dirt.

The boy gave him a wave, "Hey Kaka-sensei!"

"Hello, Naruto. Aren't you going to try and get a bell?"

"Nah. It's not like I need one."

"You want to get sent back to the academy?"

"That's only gonna happen to those two. Me? I passed the secret test last year. I'm already a fully qualified genin, I've been running missions for a year now."

"I heard Ibiki-san failed your team."

"He did fail the rest of my team. But he passed me. I agreed to join this team since there was a vacancy."

Kakashi glared at the blonde but couldn't find any falsehood. He silently swore to have words with the Hokage regarding jounin-sensei being handed incomplete information on their students.

Naruto just smiled. "Sorry if you were looking forward to beating me up, Kaka-sensei, but I don't really need a bell, so I'll let the others have them."

"Aren't you going to help them get one?"

"Sure, if they ask. They haven't asked yet. But hey, they still got like forty minutes."

"You realize, even if I can't send you back to the academy, I will be tying you to the stump come lunch time?"

"Oooh, good point." Naruto whipped out a storage scroll, and unsealed it to reveal a steaming bowl of pork ramen and chopsticks. "Better have lunch now, then."

Feeling like he had just suffered some sort of defeat, Kakashi left.

o-o-o-o-o

Much as it went against the grain, Naruto sealed away his half-eaten ramen as soon as Kakashi's presence disappeared. While it was true he didn't need to pass, having to go back to T&I because his teammates failed would be a slight setback to his plans to be Hokage.

It took him a few seconds to reach the buried Sasuke.

"Hey Sasuke! Not so easy taking on a jounin, huh?"

"Did you come to laugh at me?"

"Just a little. I really wanted to see if you wanted my help in getting a bell."

"Why would I need your help? I can get one on my own."

"I can see that. Say, did you know you've got just half an hour left till noon? Then its remedial classes for you."

"The same is going to happen to you!"

Naruto squatted down so Sasuke could see his face, and see the truth in it. "No it isn't. See, last year, my jounin-sensei gave my team the secret genin test. It was different from this one, but anyway, both my teammates ended up failing and doing remedial classes. I passed, though, and that's how I ended up with no team. So, you see, I can't fail this test, because its not for me in the first place, just for you and Sakura."

Sasuke made a face like he was trying to shit a brick, and fell back to glaring up at Naruto. Giving his most obnoxious smile, Naruto reached out to ruffle the helpless boy's hair. "So, you see, Sasuke-kun, you need me a lot more than I need you. So, what do you say?"

An unintelligible mutter.

"What was that?"

"Please help me, Naruto-sempai." Sasuke said through gritted teeth.

"Be glad to."

Charging his hands with chakra, Naruto plunged his hands into the ground and yanked Sasuke up and out in one smooth motion. "Let's go find Sakura, and I'll fill you in on my plan."

o-o-o-o-o

There was perhaps fifteen minutes to go on the clock. Kakashi was reading his book, but he had been aware of movement around the perimeter of the clearing for the last few minutes. More than one presence, which meant some of them had at last thought to team up.

Once more, a shuriken barrage heralded the entry of Sasuke Uchiha. This time, after the initial clash, Kakashi had to hustle to get out of the way of another set of shuriken, as Sakura entered the fray. No sign of Naruto, though. Kakashi sighed in disappointment. He was sure Naruto would help if asked, which meant neither of these two thought to ask their most experienced team member.

Still, the two were working reasonably well. Sakura's taijutsu, in particular, was most surprising. She swung like a brawler, but her style was surprisingly deceptive, full of tricks and feints. What looked like a wild right haymaker would suddenly give way to a tight left hook that left few openings. Considering how poor her practical scores were, he was frankly amazed. He would have rated her as good as Sasuke.

It took less than a minute to realize they were herding him to one side of the training field. He went along with it, because he wanted to see what they were trying. Soon he became aware of a third presence lurking in the woods. So, they did go to Naruto for help after all.

Suddenly, Sasuke launched his Fireball jutsu. Sakura was to his right, so he dodged to the left, planning to use the fireball as cover to disappear from both genin.

That was when Sakura extended her palms and blasted forth a hurricane, redirecting the fireball towards Kakashi while trebling its radius.

That's not Sakura!

Kakashi didn't have time to consider the ramifications. He had just enough time to trigger a Kawarimi and replace himself with a nearby log. His feet had just touched the ground, and he was turning to orient himself towards his murderous little genin, when the world turned upside down and he found himself dangling from the tree by his feet.

Well, this is embarrassing.

"NOW!" Naruto dropped the Henge and flickered into a Shushin to reappear in front of Kakashi. He leaped up to grab the jounin's hands, preventing him from bending up to slice the rope. The real Sakura broke cover nearby and raced to grab the bells.

As Kakashi watched his genin moving, he pondered his options. He could use a Wind or Lightning jutsu to free himself from Naruto. He could use chakra manipulation to through himself into a spin, defeating Naruto and Sakura at the same time. Or he could just head-butt the boy. From the way Naruto was gritting his teeth, he was clearly expecting something along those lines, and was prepared to try and weather it.

In the end Kakashi decided to be nice, and let his genin have the win. After all, the whole point was to put aside their difference to work as a team, although he suspected Naruto's status had made it a lot easier than it should. Forcing him to use a Kawarimi and booby-trapping the potential targets was a good touch.

As soon as Sakura had grabbed the bells, Kakashi flung Naruto off and freed himself. Dusting himself off, he remarked idly, "Just out of curiosity, did any of you figure out the real point of this test?"

Naruto nodded. "Teamwork and sacrifice. The willingness to work for a common goal even when all of us might not get to enjoy the success."

Kakashi blinked. He was just going to go with teamwork, although he could see how one could get the second part from the nature of the test. Still, he could work with this. It only took a bit of tweaking to his original speech, as he led them over to the memorial stone, culminating in his life's motto: "Those who abandon the mission are trash, but those who abandon their teammates are lower than trash."

He had just delivered this line, when the dignity of the moment was shattered by the ringing of the alarm clock.

"Crap!" Hands moving in a blur, Naruto unsealed a bowl of ramen, and started scarfing it down at breakneck speed.

Kakashi waited a moment, then asked, "Naruto, what's the rush?"

Naruto paused gobbling his ramen. "I remember what you said, anyone without a bell gets tied to a stump with no lunch. Well," and here the boy struck a dramatic pose, one hand holding aloft a bowl of ramen, and the other pointing chopsticks accusingly at Kakashi, "I might get tied to the stump, but it won't be without lunch!"

Kakashi rubbed his forehead, predicting a headache. "Naruto, no one's getting tied to the stump. You all passed. So, please, chew your food."

"Really? Oh." with a shrug, Naruto went back to his ramen. If he was eating any slower, it wasn't readily visible.

Kakashi sighed. He really needed to have a word with Ibiki Morino. That sort of paranoia just wasn't healthy in a twelve-your-old.


A\N: Well, here it is, chapter 1. I don't know how long I'll be able to keep it up or on what schedule, so wish me luck.