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Ramen Girl

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There were a few things in the world that Naho Uzumaki didn’t understand. For example, why most of the other girls were fawning over boys by now while she was still more interested in ramen and sleep. Or, more importantly, why she couldn’t master the Clone Jutsu to save her life. 

Naho was daydreaming about food in the middle of class and twiddling her thumbs when a voice snapped her out of it. 

“Naho!” shouted her teacher, Iruka. 

She brought her head up off the desk and shook away the lasting reverie she’d been in.“Wha’?” she said airily. “I’m paying attention!” Her classmates laughed.

 “Naho, you want to become a kunoichi, right?”

She nodded. “Yeah, more than anything in the world!”

“Look,” he said. “You failed the last two graduation exams. If you really want to pass this time, you have to buckle down and study.”

“But Iruka!” she protested. “I’m the best in class at Transformation Jutsu! And I’m pretty good with shuriken and kunai! Seriously, I’ve got most of the basics down, I just…” She trailed off and said quietly “I can’t figure out the Clone Jutsu.”

Iruka raised his eyebrows. “Sasuke is the best in class at Transformation Jutsu. You’re a far second. And if you can’t master the Clone Jutsu then you don’t have most of the basics down! That’s a fundamental skill!”

Naho could feel the judgmental eyes of the people around her boring into the back of her head, and she could hear the unkind snickers that came with the disapproving looks. “Useless pretty girl,” she heard a boy whisper to his friend. She winced internally. A lot of people thought Naho was a ditz, maybe because of her bright blonde hair color, or maybe because she had her head up in the clouds a lot. She couldn’t be sure. What she was sure of was that if she were a boy, people would have given her a lot more leeway.

“Stupid Sasuke,” she muttered, glaring at the black haired boy. “It’s always Sasuke, Sasuke, Sasuke. There’s more than one orphan in town, you know.”

Iruka cupped his ear and said, “What was that?”

She sighed. “Nothing, Iruka...just saying I’ll work harder.” When her teacher turned back to the blackboard, she rolled her eyes and stuck her tongue out at him. She heard a chuckle from behind her. It was Choji Akimichi, who had seen her childish action. She turned her head towards him and gave a polite smile. He was one of the few people who was nice to her.

After class, Naho met up with Choji, Shikamaru Nara, and Kiba Inuzuka. 

The three boys were her best friends. Really, they were her only friends; besides maybe Hinata Hyuga (but she was very shy, so Naho couldn’t be sure). She was the token girl of their little delinquent band, but none of them really minded that. To be fair, it was also pretty easy to forget. While she had very long hair, most of the time she kept it up in a high, tight bun that made it look far shorter. Coupled with the way she dressed, it would be feasible to mistake her for a feminine boy. As such, nobody had ever commented on who she spent time with. Until that day.

“Oi, blondie!” shouted Ino Yamanaka.

Naho swiveled her head. “You’re also blonde,” she pointed out. Her friends were waiting for her, stopped just a little ways down the hall.

“Doesn’t matter,” said Ino with a shrug. “Don’t you ever get tired of running after those dumb boys?”

“No,” said Naho frowning. “They’re...they’re my friends!”

Ino laughed. “Friends?!” she said. “Oh come on! They’re only hanging out with you now so they get a chance to bang you later! Don’t fool yourself.”

Naho blinked. Ino had been nice when they were younger, but sometime after she turned ten, a consistently bitchy attitude took the place of kindness. “What did you just say?” Naho asked angrily. Her friends were walking toward Ino with thunderous expressions on their faces.

“She’s our friend,” said Kiba. “Her bein’ a girl’s got nothin’ to do with it. Got that?”

Ino scoffed. “Whatever, dog boy,” she said. “Keep telling yourself that. All I know is that one of you three dummies is probably gonna’ end up with the little bimbo after knocking her —” She was interrupted by Iruka exiting the classroom. He was looking down at the girl with an expression that told her he was thoroughly unimpressed by her behavior. 

“I’m surprised at you, Ino,” he said. “I thought you were better than bullying.” The hint of a threat shone in his eyes. “Go along now. I’ll see you tomorrow at the exam.” Ino left quickly. Iruka placed a gentle hand on Naho’s shoulder. “Are you okay?” he asked. “That was some pretty awful stuff she was saying, from what I picked up.”

Naho nodded. “I’m fine,” she said. “Thanks.”

“How about we go and get some ramen?” he offered.

“But she was gonna’ hang out with —” Kiba began, before he got cut off by Naho’s enthusiasm for her favorite food.

“Ramen?!” she said excitedly, any thought of Ino’s cruelty banished from her mind. “Hell yeah! I’ll catch up with you guys later!” she told her friends. She ran off, with Iruka on her tail, yelling at her to wait up for him.

Choji shook his head and laughed. “Man, she loves ramen as much almost as much as I love barbeque,” he said.

“Nah,” disagreed Kiba. “I think she loves it more.”

“You two eat too much,” drawled Shikamaru lazily.

=====================================================================

“Iruka?” asked Naho at the Ichiraku Ramen stand.

“Yes?” said her teacher. 

“Could I ask you a favor?” she said.

“Would you like another bowl?”

“No, no, I was just wondering...could I try on your headband?” She pointed to his forehead.

Iruka’s eyes went wide in surprise. “Oh, no,” he chuckled. “This is my Leaf Village headband. You only get one when you graduate from the academy and become a ninja. Don’t worry, you’ll get one tomorrow.”

“Fine!” she said grumpily. “But I want another bowl of ramen! With extra pork!”

Iruka blanched and made a squawk of indignation.

Will I really get one tomorrow ?” wondered Naho. “I’ve failed two graduation exams in a row, and the test was on Clone Jutsu both times, so...” She promised herself she’d give it her all anyways.

“Naho, out of curiosity, why do you want to be a ninja so badly?”

“Well, I want to be Hokage,” she explained. “Because then the whole village will have to acknowledge me, instead of disrespecting me and looking down on me like they do now! And I can’t be Hokage if I don’t graduate the academy first.”

Iruka smiled. “That’s a hard road,” he said. “Are you sure you’re up for it?”

“I’d do just about anything to be Hokage,” she answered. “I have to pass this exam tomorrow. Or I don’t know what I’ll do.”

=====================================================================

Iruka sighed sadly. He had really been hoping that Naho would pass the exam, but here he was, looking down at the girl’s feeble excuse for a duplicate.

Naho closed her eyes and put a palm to her face. “I know,” she said. “I don’t pass.”

“Iruka,” said Mizuki, the other instructor proctoring the exam. “Her transformation Jutsu is excellent, and her physical coordination and stamina are quite good as well. And she did manage to come up with something. Surely we could make an exception just this once?”

Naho’s face lit up for a moment before Iruka’s answer dashed her hopes.

“All the others created at least three or more clones,” said Iruka disappointedly. “She’s only created one, and it barely counts at that. I can’t give her a passing mark.”

A lump formed in Naho’s throat. She ran out of the room with tear droplets flying from her eyes. 

“Mizuki,” said Iruka, grimacing. “Could you go after her? Maybe have a word with her? I’d do it myself, but I don’t think she wants to talk to me right now.”

“Of course,” said Mizuki with a smile. “I’ll be back soon.” As he turned his back, the polite smile morphed into a sickening grin. With this, he had an opportunity to steal the Scroll of Sealing. 

=====================================================================

Naho sat on a rooftop looking out at the sunset. She’d been so sure that she wanted to be Hokage but now she wasn’t even feeling confident about that. She was a resilient girl, but everyone had a breaking point. Would doing something else be all that bad? ...Yes. She couldn’t really imagine it. For a woman from the Village Hidden in The Leaves, the only real options were to become a kunoichi or a housewife, and it was impossible for Naho to picture herself in the latter role. Just when she was truly getting lost in her own head and comfortably wallowing in her own insecurities, she heard a voice to her left.

“Hello,” said Mizuki. “I thought you might be up here.”

Naho glanced at the man and turned her head away quickly after that. “Why is Iruka so hard on me?” she asked.

“He’s tough but he’s not against you,” Mizuki replied. 

“He’s not against me?” Naho repeated sarcastically. “Then why? Why is it only me?”

“He wants you to do well and become strong with all his heart. You’re like a little sister to him. You two are the same...no parents...no family.”

Naho frowned. She knew that Mizuki was probably right. “I really wanted to pass the exam this time,” she confessed. “I mean, I tried my best. If I can’t do it next time, then maybe I’m really not cut out to be a ninja.”

“Well then, I guess I have to tell you,” said Mizuki coyly. “It’s supposed to be a secret, but I think I can let you in on it…”

Naho perked up. A secret would always be able to grab her attention.

=====================================================================

Naho had been disappointed when she saw that the first Jutsu in the hidden scroll was called ‘Multiple Shadow Clone Jutsu’. The Clone Jutsu was her worst one, after all, and it seemed that this was a far more advanced version of it. Yet, nearly an hour later, she was having more luck with it than she ever had with its parent Jutsu.

Something about the Shadow Clone Jutsu was easier for Naho. With the regular Clone Jutsu, great amounts of chakra had always gone to waste and she somehow never produced a successful clone. With this version of the Jutsu, she found that her chakra was being consumed efficiently, and allowing her to accomplish her intended goal. 

Damn it , Naho ,” thought Iruka as he leapt through the trees. He knew that the blonde wanted to become Hokage with all of her heart, but when she’d failed her third graduation exam, he never expected her to react like this. “This time I can’t get you out of trouble! ” 

Iruka spotted a shock of bright hair when he entered the deeper woods at the edges of The Village Hidden in the Leaves. He paused and was sure that it was Naho when he saw her neon orange jacket on the ground beside her. She was training in a blank tank top and her trademark orange pants which matched her coat.

He descended from the treetops and landed.

“Naho…” he growled angrily. To his astonishment, she chuckled.

“Damn,” she said happily. “You found me. I only had time to learn one Jutsu.”

He looked over his student in surprise. She was covered in scuff marks, and panting heavily. “She’s been learning a Jutsu all this time? ” he realized.

“Listen!” exclaimed Naho. “I’m gonna’ show you this super amazing Jutsu, and then you’re gonna’ let me graduate! Isn’t it true that I can graduate if I can do one of the Jutsu here?”

“What?!” Iruka spluttered. “Who ever gave you that idea?” 

“Mizuki said so,” she answered. “He told me about the scroll, and this place and everything.”

Mizuki did? ” thought Iruka. In a flash, he figured it out. Mizuki had lied to Naho in order to steal the scroll, and in her desperation to become a kunoichi, the girl had fallen for it. A flurry of kunai and shuriken came flying toward the pair. Iruka pushed his student out of the way, and managed to avoid most of the attack; though a kunai had hit its mark.

“I’m impressed you found this place,” remarked Mizuki from up on a branch. He had a cloying smirk spread across his face. “Naho, give me that scroll.”

The blonde girl looked back and forth between both of her teachers, as nervous sweat started to bead on her forehead. “Hold on a sec,” she said. “What’s going on here?”

“Naho,” said Iruka urgently. “Never give him that scroll! It’s a dangerous object containing forbidden Ninjutsu. It was sealed…Mizuku used you in order to steal it for himself!”

Mizuki’s smirk stayed in place. “Iruka is only afraid of you getting that scroll,” he said.

“Mizuki, you liar!” shouted Iruka. “Don’t let him fool you!”

Naho wasn’t sure who to trust at this point.

“I’ll tell you the truth,” the grey haired man said maliciously. 

At this, Iruka reacted violently. “You fool!” he screamed. “Don’t do that!”

“After an incident twelve years ago, a rule was created.”

“A rule?” asked Naho. Dread began to settle in the pit of her stomach.

“Well, that is,” continued Mizuki, “A rule everyone but you knows.”

That really bothered the blonde girl. She couldn’t stand being left out of things. She’d been shunned her whole life. “Except me?! What is it?!”

“Stop it, Mizuki!” yelled Iruka. “It’s forbidden!” He didn’t really care about the rule, so much as the girl it revolved around. Iruka wasn’t sure how much damage the information could or would do to Naho’s feelings and psyche.

“The rule is that nobody can tell you that you’re secretly the Nine-Tailed Fox Spirit!”

Naho blinked in horror. No. That couldn’t be true. Her? It had to be a lie.

“That’s right! You’re the evil demon who killed Iruka’s parents and destroyed our village all those years ago!”

“Stop it!” screamed Iruka. He didn’t want Naho to hear this sort of thing. 

“Everyone’s been deceiving you ever since,” Mizuki said cruelly. “Didn’t you think it was strange? Why everyone hated you so much?”

Tears were welling up in her eyes. “No! NO! NO NO NO!!” Naho screamed, with chakra flaring up all around her. 

“Nobody accepts you!” yelled Mizuki back, an evil smile having replaced his already sinister smirk. “That’s why Iruka hates you so much!”

Iruka couldn’t believe what Mizuki was saying. True, when he had first met Naho at the age of 17, he’d viewed her and the Nine-Tailed Fox as one and the same, but that feeling had quickly gone away. Anybody so kind and optimistic couldn’t possibly be that beast. He loved Naho. He recalled the conversation that he’d had with the Third Hokage after she failed the graduation exam again. 

Iruka ,” the Third Hokage had said seriously. “Naho grew up without the love of parents. Everyone avoids her like the plague after what happened. That’s why she misbehaves. It’s the only way anybody notices her. She pretends that she’s okay, but she really is in pain.

“Die, fox!” said Mizuki, throwing a giant shuriken at her.

Naho crawled as quickly as she could, even whilst fear consumed her. 

“Get down, Naho!” Iruka dove towards her when she held herself close to the ground, and he protected her with his own body. The massive weapon hit dead on and blood started to stain his flak vest.

Naho turned her head. “W-why?” she stuttered.

“Because you and I are the same,” he said. “After my parents died, nobody paid attention to me, or gave me any support. I wasn’t a good student in school. I was the class clown...because I wanted people to pay attention to me. I couldn’t get attention through excellence, so I did dumb things. It was so hard…” Tears were pouring down his face like a waterfall. “Isn’t that right, Naho? You felt so lonely...right? And you were hurting inside, right? I’m so sorry. If I had been more responsible, maybe you wouldn’t have suffered so much.”

Mizuki let out a cold, arrogant laugh. “Oh please!” he scoffed. “Iruka has always hated you, ever since you killed his parents! He’s only saying that to get the scroll back!”

Naho felt conflicted. On one hand, Iruka was like an older brother. He took her to get ramen, and he worried about her and cared for her. On the other hand...what if Mizuki was right? If she was really the Nine-Tailed Fox, well, she didn’t even want to think about that...she ran away from the two men as fast as she could.

“She’s going to use that scroll to take revenge on the village,” taunted Mizuki. “Didn’t you see her eyes? Those are the eyes of the Demon Fox.”

Iruka pulled himself up into a proper posture as he yanked the oversized shuriken embedded in him out of his back. “No…” he said determinedly. He was panting with exertion. “She...isn’t like that at all!”

“All I want is to kill Naho and get that scroll. I’ll take care of you later.” Mizuki took off, running after the blonde.

“I won’t let you!” Iruka rushed after the other Chunin.

=====================================================================

The Third Hokage watched the scene in the forest play out through his crystal ball. He furrowed his brow worriedly. Mizuki had spilled classified information, and Sarutobi wasn’t sure if the situation would end safely. If she got upset enough, and learned enough from the scroll, Naho could undo her seal. If that happened, the havoc it would wreak was unspeakable.

=====================================================================

Naho was leaning up against a tree which blocked her from Iruka and Mizuki’s sight. She was honestly scared of what Mizuki might do if he found her, and she also needed to resolve her feelings as fast as possible. Hiding was the most effective option.

“What’s in it to protect the one who killed your family?” she heard a voice she recognized as Mizuki’s say.

“I’m not gonna’ let a stupid idiot like you get your hands on that scroll,” retorted Iruka. 

“You’re the idiot,” said Mizuki snidely. “Naho’s the same as me.” Naho heard her other teacher murmur something, but it was too quiet for her to pick up. Mizuki kept talking. “Anyone can do what they want once they have the scroll. There’s no way that monster child, that Nine-Tailed Fox, wouldn’t take advantage of the power of that scroll!”

“You’re right,” said Iruka. Naho’s heart skipped a beat. ...So it was true. He never cared for her at all.  

“...If she were the Demon Fox Spirit,” elaborated Iruka. “But Naho is different!” continued the scarred man. “I know that she’s an exceptional student. She works very hard, but she’s clumsy and single-minded at the same time. Everyone rejects her, but because of that, she knows the meaning of human suffering.” His voice was slowly becoming more passionate. “She is not the Nine-Tailed Fox. She is Naho Uzumaki of the Village Hidden in the Leaves!”

Naho was touched. Hot, salty tears were streaming down her cheeks, but they were from joy, not sadness. “So he does care,” she thought.

Mizuki couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He sneered in disgust. “You are so gullible,” he spat. “You know, I was gonna’ kill you later, but now I’ve changed my mind. Die!” He spun one of his ginormous shuriken on his hand, allowing it to quickly pick up speed. He moved toward.

So this is it for me ,” thought Iruka ruefully. If this was where it ended, he was satisfied with his last words. Just as he expected a blade to hit him, he heard a noise that made him look up. Naho had jumped out and kicked Mizuki away. The grey haired man went flying and skidded across the forest floor.

“If you ever lay a hand on Iruka,” she said threateningly, “I’ll kill you.” The look in her eyes was cold, and full of righteous fury.

Mizuki stood up and chuckled. “Please,” he said. “I could take a weakling like you apart with one blow.”

“Try it,” remarked Naho. “I’ll strike back one thousand fold. Multi-Shadow Clone Jutsu!”

 Iruka recognized the seal his pupil was using, but he couldn’t believe it. He hadn’t even come close to mastering the technique. Suddenly, duplicates of Naho appeared. There were easily three hundred clones. Iruka’s jaw dropped. “Naho! You’ve… ” Shock and awe couldn’t begin to describe what he felt. His surprise was quickly overtaken by his pride for her. “Those aren’t just illusions! Those are real, solid clones! That’s an advanced Ninjutsu!

Mizuki looked around himself, full of fear. He was being faced down by a horde of angry clones and they were all taunting him. He screamed in terror as the army overwhelmed him.

=====================================================================

“How much longer?” whined Naho. She wasn’t a patient girl, and Iruka said he had a surprise. 

“You can open your eyes now,” said Iruka after a long moment. 

Naho slowly opened her eyes, and the glint of sunlight was harsh; but she quickly noticed that her mentor didn’t have his village headband. She felt the weight on her forehead and pressed it to find the touch of cool metal upon her fingertips. She grinned.“Iruka…” she murmured. “I-I-” She didn’t know what to say. 

“Congratulations on graduating. We’ll have ramen tonight in celebration.”

She tackled him into a hug.

=====================================================================

Sarutobi scowled down at the photo before him. He understood that Naho was somewhat abnormal, but he thought she would have done something with her appearance; even if she only dressed up a little for her registration photo. That wasn’t too much of a problem though. The real issue was that she wasn’t wearing her Leaf Village headband in the picture. “Take it over,” he said.

“What?!” Naho said loudly. “Why?” She genuinely didn’t understand what was wrong.

“The Shinobi Registration Photo is very important. It’s essential that you present yourself in the best light possible. Where is your headband?”

“Oh,” said Naho, blushing. She rubbed the back of her head bashfully and said, “I didn’t want it to get scratched up before graduation…”

The Third Hokage raised his brow. “I see,” he said skeptically. 

Naho pouted. She had one solution to this obstacle. She’d created the Sexy Jutsu before she fully understood just how demeaning it was not only to her personally but also to her gender as a whole. Generally, she tried to avoid using it. But desperate times called for desperate measures. She transformed into a buxom woman who was wearing very little, only slightly obscured by a thin layer of smoke. “Oh, please, sir, I’m begging you,” she pleaded in a false, sultry voice.

The Hokage fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Blood spurted from his nose and he fell back in his chair with a lust struck sigh.

During Naho’s Jutsu, a small boy ran into the room declaring war on the Hokage. The old man recovered from his lustful shock just as the boy tripped over his own feet. Sarutobi pinched the bridge of his nose. He looked back and forth between the girl standing in front of him who had dispelled her Jutsu, and his grandson. “If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” he thought exasperatedly. “Konohamaru,” he said, “Are you okay?”

The young boy, Konohamaru, was sobbing. A man wearing an all black outfit as well as a bandanna and a pair of round glasses ran in. “Honorable Grandson!” he exclaimed worriedly. “Are you alright?”

Konohamaru finally stopped crying. “There must have been a trap!” he said. 

The man in black looked around the room and said, “There’s no trap, Honorable Grandson.”

“Then he must have done it!” he accused, pointing at Naho. She looked at the child. She hadn’t really been focusing, but his words had drawn her attention.

Naho glared at him, and walked over, picking Konohamaru up by his shirt collar. “You tripped all by yourself, dumbass!” she yelled. “And I’m a girl, damn it!”

“Hey, let go of him!” shouted Konohamaru’s mentor. “He is the Honorable Grandson of the Third Hokage!”

That was news to Naho, but it didn’t matter to her that much, really. She squinted at the boy and weighed her options. Yes, his grandfather was in the room, but she was sure that the Third Hokage was wise enough to know when somebody had it coming to them. 

Konohamaru gritted his teeth, and a few seconds later, the expression turned to a smug grin. “She stopped just as soon as she learned who I am,” he thought confidently. “Just like my four eyed teacher. Just like everyone else.” He decided to goad her on a little. “What’s the matter?! Weren’t you gonna’ hit me?! I bet you’re too scared ‘cause I’m the Hokage’s grandson, hu —” A fist came down over his head.

“I don’t give a fuck if you’re the Hokage himself!” snapped Naho. “Arrogant little snot!” Her hit downed the small boy immediately. She rolled her eyes in response. “Talk about a pushover,” she thought.

The Jonin’s jaw dropped and the Hokage pinched the bridge of his nose. “That girl always goes overboard,” thought Sarutobi.

“Listen,” explained Konohamaru’s teacher in a voice that indicated he believed he was superior. “You are the Honorable Grandson of the Third Hokage. Even though that tramp hit you, you must not associate with her kind. Nothing good will come of it. This is your masterful teacher Ebisu saying this…” Naho tuned him out.

TRAMP?!” raged Naho internally. “Where does this jackass get off calling me that?!”  She could hear him spewing more self important drivel, but she was still pissed off by the things he’d said about her. 

“We will discuss this later, Naho,” said the Third Hokage as Ebisu rambled. “You’re dismissed for now.”

“Thank you,” said Naho politely. She was boisterous, but she could still exhibit manners when she felt like it. She left the room quietly. Konohamaru was right behind her.

Ebisu finished his rant, only to discover that his pupil was gone.

Sarutobi worried for his grandson.

=====================================================================

While she headed home, Naho could detect what may have been the least effective tail she’d ever heard of. The person following her may have been trying to sneak, but clearly they were bad at it. Eventually, she got fed up with it.

“Stop following me!” she said, turning around sharply. She looked at the painted sheet  her stalker was hiding behind. “Your disguise is awful ,” she said in a withering tone. 

Konohamaru revealed himself from his ineffective camouflage. “You’re pretty good,” he said. “Your reputation is well earned. I will allow you to make me your apprentice! But first you’ve got to teach me that Sexy Jutsu you used to beat Grandpa Hokage!”

“No,” deadpanned Naho. “I shouldn’t have even made that Jutsu,” she said. 

 “Are you really a girl?” He looked at her chest in a way that wasn’t stealthy at all.

“Yes I’m a girl, you perverted kid!” said Naho, angrily crossing her arms across her chest. She took her hair out of its usual tight bun, allowing it to fall to her upper thighs. “See?” she said grumpily, as a frown crossed over her round face.

Konohamaru blinked. “Whoa! You are a girl! Your hair is so loooong.”

“Told you,” said Naho tying her hair back up. “Anyways, the answer’s no.”

“Oh please oh please oh please!” begged Konohamaru. “Come on Big Sis! You’ve just gotta’ teach me, Boss Lady!” 

“Boss Lady?” said Naho. 

“Boss Lady! Boss Lady! Boss Lady!” repeated Konohamaru.

 Naho liked the sound of that. She sighed. She really couldn’t believe she was going to to do this. “Fine,” she acquiesced. “Under one condition. You buy me some ramen, and…” She thought about what would actually be helpful to her. “You convince Old Man Hokage to teach me a new Jutsu. Nothing too hard. Just something simple. You know, C or D rank.” She stuck out her palm for a handshake. Konohamaru eagerly took it.

“So what’s the first step?” asked Konohamaru.

“Anatomy lessons,” said Naho. “I figured it out easy because I have the advantage of being a girl. But you don’t. So we need the geezer’s creepy magazines.” A look of disgust crossed her face. “He keeps them all over his office, so we’ve just got to sneak in.”

In the end, it was relatively easy to secure the magazines from the Third Hokage’s office. Sarutobi hadn’t locked the doors, and when he briefly left for lunch, Konohamaru and Naho snuck in and took the magazines without difficulty. 

“Wouldn’t it have been easier to go to the bathhouse?” wondered Konohamaru.

“No. Because to sneak in you would need to have a handle on the Jutsu already,” said Naho. “That and I always get kicked out because half the village thinks I’m the Nine-Tailed Fox…” she  reminded herself.

=====================================================================

Naho was getting tired of teaching Konohamaru. After a couple of hours in the woods, he wasn’t much closer to mastering the Jutsu, consistently transforming into an ugly woman, no matter how hard he tried.

“Ugh!” she groaned in frustration. “Look! Just think of a pretty girl and transform into her! It really shouldn’t be that hard! You’ve done regular Transformation Jutsu, right?” Konohamaru nodded. “It’s like that! Just a lot pervier.”

Naho’s simple tip helped. After thirty minutes, Konohamaru had made more progress than he did in the two hours beforehand. They sat down to rest, and drink some water.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you,” mentioned Naho passively, “You seem kinda’ obsessed with beating the old geezer. Why is that?”

“My name is Konohamaru,” said the boy. “It was Grandpa who gave me that name. He named me after the village, so it should be easy to remember, right? But nobody ever calls me that name,” he spat. “When people look at me, they only ever see the grandson of the Third Hokage. Nobody sees me for who I really am. I can’t stand it anymore. That’s why I’ve got to become the Hokage as soon as I can!” 

Naho understood how he felt. When adults looked at her, the only saw the monster she imprisoned. When people her age saw her, she was always the outcast, the weak link, the failure. There were exceptions to the rule, of course. Iruka and the Third Hokage. Shikamaru and Choji, along with Kiba (but he had a bit of a mean streak, so with him it was a toss up). It stung. She wanted to be seen for who she was too.

“I get it,” Naho said somberly. “Pretty much no one calls me my name either. But you won’t win the position of Hokage that easily. Because if you’re really serious about that title...you’ll have to go through me first!”  

=====================================================================

“Lord Hokage!” said Iruka as he landed on the rooftop the village leader was standing on. “I’ve been looking for you.”

“Iruka,” greeted Sarutobi.

“Did Naho resubmit her Ninja Registration form?”

“She will tomorrow. We didn’t have the chance to finish retaking the photo today.”

“Alright,” Iruka said amicably. “When I lectured her at the ramen stand the other night, she said she’ll make everyone accept her now that she’s a ninja.” He smiled. “She’s been pretty happy.”

“It might not be so easy for her to realise that dream,” said the Hokage seriously. 

“Huh?” said Iruka. He wished nothing but the best for Naho, and the Hokage’s words weren’t very encouraging.

“As you’re aware, only the villagers who fought the Nine-Tailed Fox twelve years ago know that she contains the beast’s spirit,” elaborated Sarutobi. “I decreed that nobody shall speak of that, and those who have broken that rule have been punished severely.” Iruka nodded. “Now our children know nothing of it. That may be the only good development for Naho. Before the Fourth Hokage trapped the monster and died, he wished for the villagers to regard her as a hero.”

“A hero?” asked Iruka. He’d never heard this part of the story before.

“The Fourth Hokage sealed the creature within her navel just after she was born and her umbilical cord was cut. As the demon’s receptacle, Naho rescued the Village Hidden in the Leaves. However, the villagers don’t see her like that. Some even say she is the Nine-Tailed Fox itself. Slowly but surely, that attitude has been passed on to a number of her peers. Iruka, I have something to tell you.”

“Yes, sir?”

“When someone is hated, and people refuse to accept their existence, they see it in the eyes of the people around them. She doesn’t have a lot of support. All I ask is that you care for Naho unconditionally.”

“I promise,” swore Iruka.

=====================================================================

Naho and Konohamaru had continued to practice after resting, and by the time that afternoon arrived, Konohamaru managed to develop a relatively effective version of the Jutsu he so desperately wanted to learn. Unfortunately for the boy, his training was interrupted by Ebisu, who’d finally managed to find him and his teacher.

“There you are!” exclaimed Ebisu, looking down at the pair. He eyed Naho with a sneer of revulsion. “Honorable Grandson, we must go now.”

“No way!” protested Konohamaru. “I want to beat Grandpa now so I can win the title of Lord Hokage! Go away!”

“A Hokage must know virtue, honor, etiquette, wisdom, loyalty, faith, judgement, duty, and more,” lectured the bespectacled man. “He must master more than one thousand skills and techniques, and then —”

Konohamaru was done listening. “Transform!” he announced. “Take this! Sexy Jutsu!” 

Ebisu blushed hotly and made a flustered noise, but he did not fall to the Jutsu as the Third Hokage had done. “What kind of a disgraceful Jutsu is that?!” he said furiously. “I am a gentleman! Erotic attacks like that will never defeat me!” Now he was pulling on Konohamaru’s scarf and trying to drag the boy back to the village by force. 

Naho decided to intervene. “Shadow Clone Jutsu!” Several copies of her appeared and filled the clearing. 

Konohamaru was very impressed, but Ebisu had definitely witnessed the technique before, oftentimes used by more intimidating ninja than Naho. He started to boast and walk toward the clones. “Boss Lady…” murmured Konohamaru worriedly. 

Naho transformed. “Harem Jutsu!” she said as she performed her new technique. “Twice in one day,” she thought regretfully. “I really gotta’ learn more Jutsu so I can stop using this one. ” Regardless of Naho’s feelings, her opponent fell for it. His lust overwhelmed him, and he was down for the count. “Men ,” she thought, rolling her eyes.

=====================================================================

“I can’t even beat that pathetic teacher of mine!” whined Konohamaru. “I want to be Hokage so badly! To be recognized by everybody!”

“It’s really not that easy,” said Naho. “You know that, right? I mean, it’s only given to the greatest ninja in the village. In the whole Land of Fire. Everyone has to trust you and believe in you. My life hasn’t been easy,” she said. “It’s been one struggle after another. And after all that, I found one person who accepts me. I had to go through a lot, just for one person. You’d better push yourself.”

“For what?” said Konohamaru.

“Earning the title of Lord Hokage is a brutal path,” Naho replied. “There is no shortcut.”

Konohamaru remembered what she’d said about beating her before he could become Hokage. He scoffed. “Why should I listen to you anyways?” he said. “You know what, I won’t be your apprentice anymore. From now on, you’re my rival.”

Naho smirked. “Unfortunately for you,” she remarked, “I graduate from the Ninja Academy tomorrow. But I’ll consider you my equal someday, when we fight for the title of Lord Hokage. Remember that, Konohamaru.” She walked off and he gave her a salute.

=====================================================================

Naho woke up early on the morning of her graduation, in order to get ready. It was a special day, and she wanted to eat Ichiraku Ramen for breakfast because of that. 

Naho picked up her Leaf Village headband and went to the mirror. She debated how to tie the forehead protector on, and looked at her hair critically. Normally, she kept it out of the way because it wasn’t practical for training. She didn’t keep her hair long out of choice. The owners of the town’s hair salon had always kicked her out, because like many others, they believed she was the Nine-Tailed Fox in human form. Additionally, she’d never had the chance to cut it herself, because it was remarkably thick, and a kunai didn’t work very well. Today she decided she could make an exception to the usual rule of keeping it tied up.

Naho put on her jumpsuit and smoothed out any wrinkles in the fabric. The outfit was cheap and tacky. It was a consequence of being poor and parentless. Nevertheless, it was also comfortable and warm. Those qualifiers were enough for her.

On Naho’s way to Ichiraku Ramen, she was intercepted by Konohamaru, who jumped out in an attempt to ambush her, and promptly tripped. She glanced down at him. “What are you doing, Konohamaru?” she asked.

“Fight me! Right here!” exclaimed her self-appointed rival. 

“Sorry, no can do,” refused Naho. “See this headband?” She directed his gaze to her forehead. “As of today, I’m officially a kunoichi.”

“Whoa!” Konohamaru said admiringly. “Congrats big sis!”

“Yeah,” chuckled Naho. “Speaking of which, I’m getting ramen for breakfast, and you still owe me from yesterday, so come along.”

“Alright!” said the boy enthusiastically. “Oh yeah! I talked to Grandpa! He says he’ll teach you the Body Flicker Technique today! And the Tempo-something Para-something too!”

“Tempo-something Para-something?” asked Naho in confusion. 

“I can’t remember the words. It’s all complicated.”

“Ah, whatever. So long as they’re good Jutsu!”

The duo arrived at Ichiraku Ramen shortly. “Naho!” greeted the owners, Teuchi and Ayame. They spotted her headband quite quickly. “Graduation!” said Teuchi. “Congrats! Today’s on the house.”

Naho’s face lit up. “Really?!” she said, excited. “Thanks guys!”

“Do you want anything?” Ayame asked Konohamaru. 

“Umm...miso with extra seaweed?” he requested.

“Can do!”

After their meal, Naho had to say goodbye to Konohamaru, because she wanted to be at the Ninja Academy early, and she wouldn’t be able to do that unless she hurried.

Naho arrived at the Ninja Academy before nearly anyone else. The only other person there was Sasuke Uchiha, who was brooding at a table in the middle of the class. She looked around awkwardly, before deciding to sit next to him. Sitting all alone with only one other person in the classroom would just be too uncomfortable. The two sat in silence until more of their peers arrived and began to talk.

=====================================================================

Sakura Haruno’s mother called for her from downstairs, imploring her to leave the house soon. Sakura had been making sure she looked nice for graduation, and while she knew her mother was right, it still infuriated her. “I was just thinking of leaving!” she shouted back at her mother. Damn it !” Inner Sakura complained. When are you going to stop treating me like a child?! SHAAAAA !”

Sakura encountered her former best friend, and current rival, Ino, shortly after leaving her house. “Sakura,” said Ino.

“Ino,” Sakura said cooly.

“Who would’ve thought you could graduate,” ridiculed the platinum blonde.

“Ancient history has nothing to do with it. As of today, we’re both full fledged ninjas. I won’t lose to you anymore!” She started to walk faster, and the other girl sped up to match her pace. Sakura increased her speed. Ino did the same. In no time at all, they were racing.

=====================================================================

Naho felt a tap on her shoulder while she was sitting and waiting for orientation to start. She turned her beaming face towards the person who had touched her. It was Shikamaru. “Oh,” he said, his voice still lazy and drawn out, but as close to shocked as she’d ever heard it. “You look different.”

“Different how?” said Naho curiously.

“Like a girl,” Shikamaru said honestly. “She better not start acting like other chicks,” he thought secretly. He didn't get along with most women. She was the one exception to the rule. 

“Okay…” Naho said slowly. She really didn’t think she’d really changed her appearance all that much, and she was under the impression that she’d looked like a girl before, but it seemed her friend disagreed. 

He’s right, she does look different,” thought Sasuke when he spared a very brief glance in the blonde’s direction.

Sakura and Ino burst into the classroom doors passionately, and immediately broke into an argument about which of them had won their petty race. When they spotted Sasuke, the two dropped that argument in lieu of another. 

Sakura ran over to the table Naho and Sasuke were sitting at, pushing past Choji, whom Naho had been talking to, and shoving Naho off her seat on the bench. “Hi Sasuke,” said Sakura cheerfully. “Mind if I sit next to you?” The dark haired boy didn’t reply.

“No way!” shouted Ino. “If anyone gets to sit next to him, it should be me! I was in the classroom first!”

“No, I was!”

More girls swarmed around the table and a debate broke out as to who had the right to sit next to Sasuke. Naho pulled herself up off the ground, and maneuvered through the crowd of other girls. She was the smallest in the class, which made it easier in some ways but harder in others. She had to avoid being trampled.

Naho didn’t understand the hype around the Uchiha boy. Sure, he was skilled, and mysterious, and handsome, and...okay, so Naho understood the hype, but that didn’t mean she would buy into it! He was still arrogant, and rude, and moody. Personality mattered a lot more than looks, in her not-so humble opinion.

Naho made her way to Sasuke’s side of the table, and clambered up on top of it, giving him a dirty look. He returned it in equal measure. “Hey,” Naho said angrily, “Next time, maybe make sure your groupies don’t knock me to the floor?” The question was rhetorical and sarcastic.

“Naho!” yelled Sakura. “Don’t glare at Sasuke!”

Suddenly, most of the girls in the classroom were directing fury toward Naho. She couldn’t care less. This hateful staring contest was more important to her. Lighting zapped between Sasuke’s eyes and hers. They loathed each other.

As her classmates formed a mob, Naho felt somebody bump her from behind. She was pitched forward, and her lips landed in a lock with Sasuke’s. It wasn’t so much a kiss as it was them mashing their teeth together uncomfortably and trying to seperate as fast as they could. Sasuke grabbed her head roughly, and pulled it away from him.

Naho made a series of disgusted noises, and while they weren't quite matched in intensity by Sasuke, it was clear he wasn’t happy about the situation either. “Why does your mouth taste like toothpaste?!” she said. “It’s like, 11:00AM! Did you not eat breakfast?!”

“No, I didn’t. Why does your mouth taste like noodles?!” 

“I like ramen!” shrieked Naho. “And at least I’m not starving myself!” She was vaguely aware of a dark energy emanating from behind her. She turned around to see the group of girls still volleying their negative emotion at her. She blanched. This didn’t seem like it would end well.

“Naho…” seethed Sakura.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” interrupted Choji, who Shikamaru was standing next to. The ponytailed boy looked particularly displeased, and his vision kept darting back and forth between Naho and Sasuke. “I’m sure this is all a misunderstanding. Right, Sasuke?” He gave a meaningful look to the Uchiha. 

Sasuke squinted. “Yeah,” he muttered. He turned to the gang of girls staring Naho down. “Leave her alone,” he said. 

The girls all bitched and moaned, but agreed with his request reluctantly. Naho turned tomato red. She was embarrassed that her friends and Sasuke had ended up protecting her from her peers’ wrath, but she’d rather have endured that than a series of punches to the face. It was for the best.

=====================================================================

Iruka arrived to the classroom shortly after his students, and announced that he’d be placing everyone into three man squads. Naho paid little attention, but made sure not to miss her name. 

Sakura knew that three man squads meant she had a chance at being paired with Sasuke, which she looked forward to very much. Of course, there was also the chance that Ino could be paired with her crush, and she couldn’t stand that thought. “Three man squads, huh?” said Ino pointedly. “I wonder who’s going to end up with Sasuke?”

“I don’t know,” said Sakura. Obviously it’ll be me !” Inner Sakura screamed furiously. SHAAAAA !!!”

Iruka continued to name squads whilst his students prayed for the teams they wanted

Anyone but Sasuke,” Naho desperately hoped.

Please put me on the same team as Sasuke ,” wished Sakura. “And keep those blonde skanks away from him !” She shot dirty looks toward Naho and Ino.

I don’t want to be on a team with anyone,” thought Sasuke.

“Team 7 will consist of Naho Uzumaki, Sakura Haruno, and Sasuke Uchiha.” 

The three hung their heads in defeat. 

Of course ,” Sasuke lamented. “A fangirl and the brain dead dumbass I accidentally kissed .”

DAMN IT !” thought Naho, annoyed.

Sasuke and Naho,” speculated Sakura. “Well, you win some, you lose some .”

Team 8 was Kiba Inuzuka, Hinata Hyuga, and Shino Aburame. Team 9 was comprised of a few students who Naho didn’t actually know. Team 10 was Ino Yamanaka, Shikamaru Nara, and Choji Akimichi. Naho would trade places with Ino any day of the week.

=====================================================================

Iruka dismissed everyone after they’d been put into teams, and informed them that they’d meet their Jonin instructions the following morning, which meant they had the rest of the day to themselves.

Naho saw Sakura walking down the path from the Ninja Academy and decided to catch up with her. “Sakura!” she said. The pink haired girl stopped.

“What do you want?” Sakura said.

Naho was acutely aware of the nasty look Sakura was giving her. It seemed that she was still jealous over Sasuke and Naho’s mistaken kiss. “I just wanted to say sorry about earlier,” said Naho. “I know that you like that bastard, so uh, yeah. But I swear, it was an accident! I’m not ‘going after him’ or whatever. I actually kind of hate him.”

Sakura gave her a doubtful look, but after a moment, seemed to believe her. “Fine,” she said. “I forgive you.”

“Thanks. I mean, if we’re gonna’ be on the same team, we should get along, right?”

“Yeah,” agreed Sakura. “I guess you’re right. I was wondering something though...has your hair always been that long? I’ve never seen it down.”

“Yep!” said Naho.

“Wow. Where do you get it cut? And what shampoo and conditioner do you use?”

“Uh...I’ve never cut it. And er...conditioner?”

Sakura’s face dropped in a mixture of horror and confusion. She didn't really get along with Naho, but then, she hadn't interacted with her much. More importantly, the code of womanhood dictated that she help remedy this situation. “Oh my God,” she said. “Come with me! I’m giving you a haircut! We have to fix this!”

Naho was bewildered but went along with the other girl’s ministrations.

=====================================================================

Sakura had dragged Naho to her house, and taken care of the blonde’s hair lavishly. She shampooed and conditioned it thoroughly, before cropping her locks to her upper back, and styling her hair into pigtails; after that, she told Naho what to do to keep it healthy. All in all, it was a very kind gesture. 

“Thank you,” Naho said with a soft smile. She stroked her hair, marvelling at how much softer it felt. “Whoa…” she whispered.

“No prob! Honestly, I just can’t believe you’ve never had a haircut. How’d that happen?”

Naho didn’t know how to explain it to Sakura without revealing that her body was the only thing between the Village Hidden in the Leaves and Nine-Tailed Fox. “Long story,” she said. She took a look at the clock. She was supposed to train with the Third Hokage at 5:00PM, but as it was, she was cutting it awfully close. “I um, actually have training scheduled soon...so I’ve really got to go, but this was super nice! Thanks! See you tomorrow!”

“Okay!” said Sakura, watching her new acquaintance rush down the stairs. 

Naho exclaimed “Nice to meet you Mr. and Mrs.Haruno!” as she ran out the door. 

=====================================================================

Naho hadn’t known that the Hokage was such a good teacher, but it was a pleasant turn of events. She supposed it made sense. The man knew a lot. And as far as Naho was concerned, he was ancient, so she definitely wasn’t his first student. The Jutsu that Konohamaru hadn’t been able to remember the name of was the Temporary Paralysis Jutsu. It only used two hand seals and wasn’t very difficult, so he’d taught it to Naho quickly.

 After that, the Third Hokage had moved on to the Body Flicker Technique. “The speed and distance you can travel with the Body Flicker Technique is dependent on how much chakra you use, and how effectively,” he explained. “You have an advantage because you have a lot of chakra, but your control...leaves something to be desired.”

“Oi! What’s that supposed to mean?” said Naho. She was slightly offended by his statement.

Sarutobi laughed a little. “Oh, no,” he said, “I didn’t mean anything bad by it. The more chakra you have, the harder it is to control. It’s easier to lift a 5 pound weight than a 50 pound weight, right?” Naho nodded. “See? That’s the situation you’re in.” 

“Oh! Well then, how do I get better control?”

“It takes time,” said the Hokage. “The basic concept is using the exact amount of chakra you need. Some ways to practice are tree and water walking. But I’ll leave those to your Jonin instructor. For now, we’re just trying to make sure you can use the Body Flicker Technique at all, no matter how well.”

“Got it,” Naho said with a nod. 

The two practiced the Jutsu until late that evening, when at last, Naho pulled it off, seemingly teleporting to one side of the room to the other. It was still clumsy, but she’d done it. “Great job!” encouraged Sarutobi. “Get some rest, and come back tomorrow. With any luck, soon you’ll have two new skills.”

Naho grinned. She was glad she’d made that deal with Konohamaru.

=====================================================================

Naho had overslept. She was supposed to be at the Academy to meet her new instructor by 9:00AM, but when she woke up, it was already 9:14AM. Unbeknownst to her, she was totally fine. The Jonin in charge of her squad was going to be far, far later than she was.

“You’re late!” scolded Sakura when Naho arrived. 

“I know, I know,” yawned the blonde. “I was up late learning new Jutsus.”

“New Jutsus?” 

“Yeah, the Hokage was helping me,” she said.

“How did you get a lesson with the Hokage?” said Sasuke condescendingly. “ Her hair is shorter than yesterday ,” he noticed.

“I’m friends with his grandson,” Naho said. “Stupid emo boy,” she muttered.

“So what Jutsus were they?” asked Sakura curiously.

“The Temporary Paralysis Jutsu and the Body Flicker Technique. They’re super cool!”

“So, basic skills,” said Sasuke.

“Nobody asked you!” said Naho from between gritted teeth. The boy approached her with a cocky smirk.

Sakura sighed. She wanted to like Naho, she really did. But the other girl wasn’t making it easy by picking fights with her crush. “Please!” she said. “Can’t you two try to get along?”

“I’ll get along with him when he stops being a prick!”

“Whatever.”

They turned away from each other and sat at tables far apart.

Three hours later, their teacher hadn’t arrived. “Arghhh!” complained Naho. “I can’t believe this dude! I thought we were supposed to meet here at 9:00!” 

You were late too ,” thought Sasuke.

“You know what?” said Naho, grabbing a blackboard eraser. “He deserves this.” She cracked the door just a little, and put the eraser in between the wall and the edge of the sliding door, so that it would fall on whoever opened the door further.

“He’s a Jonin,” said Sakura. “I doubt he’s going to fall for that.”

Naho shrugged. “Maybe. But it’ll be funny if he does.”

At last, after another ten minutes, the door opened. A tall man with spiky gray hair and a face mask entered. He was using his Leaf forehead protector as a makeshift eye patch, and wore an outfit consisting almost entirely of black, with a thick, green kevlar vest over it. The eraser dropped, and hit his head without issue.

Naho began to giggle. “I can’t believe you fell for it!” she said through her laughs. “That’s what you get for being so late!”

“Sorry! I told her not to!” Sakura said frantically.

Sasuke remained expressionless.

“My first impressions of this group…” mused the masked man. “I hate all of you.” 

=====================================================================

“So I guess some introductions are in order,” said the Jonin. “Tell me about yourselves.”

“What should we say?” said Sakura.

“Your name, likes, dislikes, hobbies, dreams. That sort of thing.”

Naho raised her hand high in the air. “Shouldn’t you tell us about you first?” she blurted.

“Oh. I guess. My name is Kakashi Hatake. Likes...I’m not particularly inclined to tell you. Dislikes...that’s on a need to know basis. As for hobbies, I have lots of them. And I’ve never really considered my dreams before.”

“Great,” whispered Sakura to Naho. “So all we really know is his name.” The blonde nodded her head vigorously.

“Who wants to go next?” said Kakashi. 

Naho jumped at the offer. “I will!” she said, louder than necessary. “I’m Naho Uzumaki! I like ramen and my friends and Iruka! I dislike the three minutes I have to wait for instant ramen. Three minutes isn’t instant.” She pouted as she pointed the technicality out. “I also don’t like Sasuke and Ino!” Sasuke smirked. He felt the same way about her. Sakura wasn’t sure whether to get angry with the rambunctious girl for insulting Sasuke, or agree with her opinion on Ino..“My hobbies are training, and taking care of houseplants. And my dream is to be the greatest Hokage ever, so the whole village will have to acknowledge me and treat me like a person!”

Kakashi smirked in amusement. “ Well , the reputation she has isn’t wrong ,” he thought “ Plenty of energy . Maybe a bit too much .”

“Pink girl. Your turn.”

“Okay...my name’s Sakura Haruno, not pink girl.” she said, scrunching her face in annoyance. “My likes are…” she looked at Sasuke and blushed. “My hobbies are…” Another glance in the boy’s direction. “My hobbies are…” One last look and a high pitched noise. 

“Your dislikes?” reminded Kakashi. 

Her eyes became a hellish inferno. “ Ino ,” she said loathsomely.

“Okay,” said Kakashi, somewhat off put by her passionate hatred for the Yamanaka girl. Naho had mentioned disliking her too, but seemed much less vehement about it. “Last but not least.” He vaguely gestured toward his third student.

“My name is Sasuke Uchiha,” said the boy. “I hate a lot of things, and I don’t particularly like anything. I don’t have any hobbies. And my dream...I would call it more of an ambition. To kill a certain man, avenge my clan, and restore it to its former glory.”

A gloomy atmosphere settled over the area. Naho shivered. Sakura’s face was pale. Kakashi felt like he was staring into a mirror. He’d been the same way at the age of twelve, a while after his father had died and he was chock full of hormones and angst.

“Good!” said Kakashi. “You’re all unique and have your own ideals. Well, with that out of the way, we’ll have our first mission tomorrow.”

“What is it? What is it? What is it?” pestered Naho in rapid succession.

“It’s a fun task the four of us will do together. A survival exercise.”

“I thought we were supposed to have real missions!” said Sakura indignantly. “Not more practice! We already did that in the academy, that’s how we got here.”

“This isn’t like your other training.”

“Well what kind of training is it then?” Naho chimed in.

Kakashi laughed derisively.

“Hey, that’s a normal question,” said Sakura. “What’s so funny?”

“Well, see, if I tell you, you’re not going to like the answer.”

“Tell us anyways,” she implored.

“Of the twenty-seven graduates from the Academy,” he said, “only nine will actually be accepted as Genin. The other eighteen will be sorted out and sent back. In other words, this’ll be a make-it or break-it scenario. Pass-fail basis. You win, or you lose.”

None of the three students were amused.

“See?” he cackled. “Didn’t I say you wouldn’t like it?” 

“What?!” Naho said. “What was the graduation exam even for then?!”

“Oh, that,” said Kakashi, waving a hand dismissively. “That was to see who had the potential to become Genin. They might. Or not.”

“That’s so...so...so unfair!”

Kakashi shrugged. “That’s how it is. Meet me at the designated training spot at 5:00AM. Bring your ninja gear. Maybe you’ll pass the little test. Probably not. That’s it. You’re dismissed. Oh, and tomorrow you should skip breakfast. Or you’ll puke.” He disappeared over the rooftops. 

The three all felt a rushing panic and determination to pass, mixed with a healthy dose of fear. It was a potent cocktail of emotion.

=====================================================================

“And he says that we should skip breakfast or we’re gonna’ throw up!” complained Naho to the Hokage that evening.

“Oh, Kakashi talks a big game, but he’s not all that scary.”

“Easy for you to say! You’re the Third Hokage! You’re stronger than him!”

Sarutobi exhaled from his nose in amusement. He wasn’t going to spoil Kakashi’s exam, considering it was the one he’d used when he was a Jonin instructor, but he found it very funny how much panic it induced. “Well,” he said, “if you want a good chance tomorrow, we should keep practicing the Body Flicker.”

“Uh-huh.”

Roughly two hours later, Naho had a solid handle on the technique. She wasn’t great with it yet, but it gave her the kind of speed boost that would be helpful against someone as fast as her new instructor.

“Hey, old man,” said Naho from the floor. She was lying down, basking in her own exhaustion. “Why...why didn’t you tell me about the Nine-Tailed Fox?” She was confident he knew what she was referring to. 

Sarutobi pursed his lips. “Ah, Mizuki…” he said. “What a big mouth. But I will tell you. The reason I kept it secret was to spare your feelings. If you’d known about it, and therefore knew why so many of the villagers dislike you...well, you might have believed you were the monster itself, just as they did. I didn’t want to do that to you. Sealing the beast inside you wasn’t my decision. It was the Fourth Hokage’s.”

“Wait, what?” said Naho. Her blood ran cold. She’d always idolized the Fourth, but this shifted things. “Why - why would he do that to me?”

“It was the only option.”

Naho felt like that was a lie. Surely there was a better choice available. But she kept her mouth shut. Something told her no matter what she said, the Third Hokage would make excuses for the Fourth.

=====================================================================

Sakura had invited Naho over after her practice with the Hokage so they could brush up on technique. She’d originally asked Sasuke to join her, but he’d rebuffed the advance.

“This is stupid,” said Naho, falling back on Sakura’s bed and letting the book she’d been attempting to read land on her face. “Reading is stupid.”

“Figures you’d say that,” said Sakura. “I swear, you must be allergic to books.”

“I just learn better by doing things,” Naho replied. “Theory isn’t helpful.”

“Theory’s always helpful. We should probably go to sleep, we have to be there at 5:00AM tomorrow.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Naho said. “See you tomorrow, I’m gonna’ head out.”

“Wait! Did you want to stay the night? I mean, since it’s already after dark and all.”

“Oh, um, I’m good,” Naho said, trying to come up with an excuse. She actually liked the idea, seeing as she’d never had a sleepover before, but she didn’t want to intrude. “I need to do my laundry anyways. My jumpsuit’s kinda’ dirty after training.”

“Why do you wear that thing anyways?” said Sakura. “It’s not exactly cute, no offense.”

Naho blushed brightly and quietly admitted, “It’s one of the only things I have. I can’t afford much else…”

Sakura felt a pang of sympathy and a rush of guilt for asking the question in the first place. “I’m sorry,” she said. “If you want to borrow something from me sometime, feel free. And I think I probably have some stuff that’s too small for me now that’d fit you.”

“Are you calling me short?”

Sakura looked her up and down. “Naho,” she said straight-faced, “You’re barely over five feet. You’re tiny.”

“Rude! Just you wait, I’ll have a growth spurt one of these days, and then I’ll be taller than you!”

“Uh huh,” said Sakura, obviously unconvinced. “Anyways, are you sure you don’t want to stay? I’ll lend you something clean to wear in the morning.”

Naho thought about it for a moment. “Okay,” she said. “Thanks.”

=====================================================================

In hindsight, Naho realized staying the night at Sakura’s might not have been the best idea. Her morning routine was extensive, and she woke up at 3:00AM so she could be at the training ground by the agreed upon time. It made it harder for Naho to sleep with her milling about and getting ready, but the blonde was a heavy sleeper, so she fell back into a slumber with relative ease. What really made her regret staying the night was Sakura gently stirring her around 3:45, and trying to convince to put more effort into being a person than she wanted to that day.

“Mmm? Wha’ isit?” mumbled Naho, rubbing her eyes drowsily. 

Sakura smiled sweetly. “Don’t you wanna’ get ready?” she asked. 

“Wha’s there to get ready?” she yawned. “I just need get dressed.”

“What about showering? And your hair? And brushing your teeth?”

“Too —” she paused, unable to prevent herself from yawning again. “Too tired. I’ll just do it tonight.”

Sakura gave an incredulous look. “No way,” she said. “You’re okay with looking like you just rolled out of bed?”

“Uh...yeah, pretty much.”

Sakura shook her head. “One of these days I’ll teach you how to be a normal girl.”

Naho shut her eyes again.

=====================================================================

When the two girls arrived at the training ground, their teammate looked just as tired as they were. Not having eaten breakfast didn’t help either, especially for Sakura, who had skipped dinner last night, and Sasuke, who was on his second day in a row without breakfast.

“Mornin’,” murmured Naho and Sakura. Sasuke didn’t reply.

The trio waited for several hours, and eventually, Naho had decided to get some extra sleep on the grass. Sakura didn’t seem entirely pleased with that, which made sense, considering she’d lent the other girl a pair of shorts and a top, which she didn’t want to get grass stains. 

Sasuke seemed to think that Naho’s idea was a good one, though he’d never admit it. He didn’t go so far as sleeping, but he rested his back against a stump and shut his eyes. 

At last, when the sun was high in the sky, Kakashi arrived. “Hi there,” he said. 

“You’re late!” screamed Sakura, waking Naho, who echoed the sentiment.

“Sorry about that,” said Kakashi. He didn’t act very apologetic though. “I crossed a black cat, so I had to go the long way around.” Nobody believed him. He showed the team two bells that he was dangling with his left hand. “Today’s assignment is to take these bells from me by noon,” he said. “Those who can’t don’t get lunch.” He pointed to three wooden posts nearby. “They’ll be tied to one of those, and I’ll eat my lunch before your very eyes.”

Naho’s jaw dropped. “So that was the point in telling us not to eat,” thought Sasuke in annoyance. 

“Hold on,” said Sakura. “Why are there only two bells?”

“There are only two so at the very least, one of you will have to be tied to the logs. That person will be disqualified for failing, and sent back to the academy. It’ll be one person at least, but it could be all three of you. You can do whatever you like to succeed. You won’t be able to take the bells unless you come at me meaning to end my life.”

“But that’s dangerous!” Sakura objected.

“Yeah, you couldn’t even avoid an eraser!” agreed Naho.

“In the world of ninja, those who complain tend to be weak,” said Kakashi. “So I suppose I’ll just ignore the loser.” He shot a look at her.

Loser, loser, loser.” The word reverberated in Naho’s mind. “Ignore the loser.” How many times had she heard that phrase? It had to be over a hundred by now. “I’ll show you who the loser is!” she yelled. She ran at Kakashi with a kunai knife tight in her grip, determined to defeat him. In an instant, her arms were tight in his grip and behind her back. “His speed makes mine look like a joke! ” she thought.

“Next time,” he said, “wait until I give the signal to go ahead. Though, I admire your spirit and intent to kill. How should I phrase this? I feel like...you guys are finally starting to grow on me. Anyways, we’re going to begin. Ready? Start!”

=====================================================================

Iruka requested to have tea with the Hokage so he could figure out who Naho’s Jonin instructor was, but what he’d ended up learning was a nightmare. He flipped through the handbook that Sarutobi had handed him, finding page after page of students who’d failed his test. Things weren’t looking good for Naho.

=====================================================================

Sakura and Sasuke had both decided to conceal themselves when Kakashi began his assessment. He’d even closed his eyes and given them one minute to do whatever they needed. But hiding had never been Naho’s style, unless it was necessary. And her new teacher made her furious. She wanted a fight, and by God, she was bringing it to him.

“Yo!” she said when he opened his eyes. “Let’s do this thing! You. Me. Here. Now.”

“You know, compared to the others, you’re a little strange.”

“The only thing strange here is your haircut!” Naho retorted.

“Says the girl wearing pigtails,” Kakashi sniped back. Naho blushed. She’d forgotten that Sakura had insisted on putting her hair up for her just before they left.

“Whatever!” She ran toward him, but froze when he reached into a pouch on his hip.

“Shinobi battle techniques, part one,” he said. “Taijutsu — the physical art.” He pulled out an orange book, with a cover right at home on a trashy romance novel. On the back, there was large, red lettering that said 18+. A circle with a slash through it went through the warning.

“What are you doing?” said Naho.

“Reading. See, with your feeble attacks, it doesn’t really matter if I’m distracted or not. No go on, attack me,” he encouraged.

She saw red. “Oh, fuck you, dude!” She couldn’t believe him. Reading during combat would have been insulting enough, but reading something that was so obviously porn ? That crossed a line.

“My my, such a foul mouth,” Kakashi taunted, avoiding each of her attacks with ease. Suddenly, Naho found a tight grip on her left arm. “When facing off against a larger opponent,” he lectured, “be wary of their size.” She was flying through the air, and then she felt frigid liquid envelop her entire body. She was in a lake.

Great,” she thought sardonically. “He’s faster than me, he’s stronger than me, he’s bigger than me, and he’s probably got more tricks up his sleeve. What have I got? Not much...maybe five Jutsus, six if I’m counting the Sexy Jutsu. I mean, he was just reading porn. Maybe I should count it.”

Naho formulated a plan. 

=====================================================================

When Kakashi had thrown his new pupil into an ice cold pool of water, the last thing he expected was a platoon of Shadow Clones to come leaping out of its depths. Yet, here he was. It wasn’t too difficult to fight the group though. Numbers only counted for so much. “You’re going to have to try a lot harder than this,” he said. “If this is your plan, I hate to say it, but it won’t work.”

“It’s not my plan,” said a voice from behind him. He quickly turned around to see Naho. That was interesting. He’d heard the rumor that she could use Shadow Clones, which was clearly true, but the Body Flicker Technique wasn’t a skill he’d anticipated.

The third time in a week,” thought Naho. “Ugh, I’ve got to learn something better.” She shoved her feelings aside and exclaimed “Sexy Jutsu!”, transforming into the voluptuous figure that accompanied the technique. “Oh, Kakashi,” she said in a seductive, cloying voice. She crept up close to him.

Kakashi was trying to disguise his reaction to the figure standing before him, but it was awfully difficult. For one, it was quite distracting. But he didn’t want to do anything, considering that he knew that the woman was his new student in disguise, and pervert or no, he still had morals. He froze up, and looked away, gazing off in the distance. 

Gotcha,” thought Naho triumphantly. In the moment her teacher was distracted, she swiped a single bell. Kakashi’s hand brushed across his hip when he realized, but it was too late. She’d done it. She’d passed his test. Naho dispelled her Jutsu, and stepped back. She dangled the bell from her hand. “So, about that lunch,” she said.

Kakashi sighed. “I can’t believe I fell for that,” he said. “Well played. Eat your lunch now or later, it makes no difference. But wait for your teammates before you go home.” Something about his voice wasn’t as congratulatory as it should’ve been.

“Alrighty!” said Naho jovially.

=====================================================================

Sasuke wasn’t sure if he was dreaming or not. He wanted to believe that a bell was possible to secure that easily, but if Naho of all people had done it, this had to be a Genjutsu. If it wasn’t though...well, it looked like Kakashi was focused on talking to her. Sasuke reached into a pouch on his leg, and pulled out several kunai knives and shuriken. He threw them at the Jonin, and for a second, Sasuke thought his attack had landed. Until Kakashi disappeared in a puff of smoke, leaving behind a log full of weapons. “ Damn it !” thought Sasuke, already fleeing. “Of course! The Substitution Jutsu! I should’ve known better than to think he’d let his guard down!

Kakashi was able to track down Sasuke with little difficulty. Perhaps it was because the Jonin was faster, or maybe it was because Sasuke had given away his exact position with his failed assault, but either way, it worked out in his favor. “Hi,” he said from behind the boy. 

Sasuke jumped what felt like several feet in the air. He was sure he hadn’t actually moved that much though. He didn’t like it when people snuck up on him, or really, surprised him at all. It made him feel weak, exposed. In his opinion, nothing and no one had the right to do that. 

Two Fire-Release Jutsus and a quick bout of combat later, Sasuke was embedded in the ground like a whack-a-mole.

=====================================================================

Sakura knew that Jonin were the cream of the crop, willing to kill on a moment’s notice, but this...this was too far. As far as she knew, Sasuke was lying on the grass, covered in wounds, and bleeding out. In reality, her crush was alive and well. Defeated, yes. But killed? No. What she was seeing was only a Genjutsu. 

Kakashi had heard that back at the Academy, Sakura had a proclivity for detecting and performing this sort of thing. Just as he’d been told that Naho’s best skill was Taijutsu and Sasuke’s was Ninjutsu. He was disappointed. They could have been a great team, if only they’d worked together. He came up behind her, shocking her into a dead faint.

=====================================================================

“I’m dropping you all from the program,” Kakashi said indifferently.

Sakura felt like a cat put out in the rain. Her heart wilted. So much for becoming a masterful kunoichi and being on a team with Sasuke and Naho (who she was, though she might deny, really coming to like). And odds were, so much for being Mrs.Uchiha someday.

Sasuke’s rage bubbled like water in a tea kettle, and a blazing inferno erupted in his soul. This couldn’t be the end of his goals. He needed to kill Itachi. He needed to avenge and restore his clan to its rightful place at the center of the Village Hidden in the Leaves.

Naho’s anxiety shot through the roof, and it was like a bolt of lightning had struck her heart. She was pretty sure a Hokage had to be a ninja first, but if she was being dropped from the program, being a ninja didn’t appear to be a possibility at all. What was more, Kakashi’s words confused her. Why drop her from the program? She’d passed his test, hadn’t she?

“No!” objected Sakura and Naho simultaneously. “It doesn’t make sense!” said Sakura.

“Yeah!” corroborated Naho. “And I thought you said we’d go back to the Academy if we failed! Why’d I fail in the first place?! I got a bell, didn’t I?”

“Actually,” corrected Kakashi, “it does make sense. You see, this test was never about the bells. It was about teamwork.”

“Teamwork?” asked Sasuke. His face twisted, as if the very idea of working with Naho and Sakura disgusted him.

“Yes,” Kakashi answered. “I’m a Jonin, and you’re all Genin. You should have known that securing a bell was a nearly impossible task. Naho did it mostly out of luck.” The aforementioned girl scowled. “Still, if you all worked together, I’m sure you might have been able to secure both bells. You didn’t.”

“But there were only two bells!” said Sakura. “Why do that when you knew there were three of us?”

“You’re right,” he said. “There were only two bells. I intentionally pitted you against each other. But there are times when you have to prioritize a mission over yourself. That’s why I did that. But you were so blind to that because you three only care about yourselves! Sakura, you were so focused on Sasuke that you completely ignored your other teammate, and your own skills. Sasuke, you thought you the others were so far beneath you that you believed them worthless.” His expression was hard to suss out from underneath his mask a monotone delivery, but even then, the three knew he was fuming. “And Naho...you’re the worst of all. You do everything on your own. Everything.” 

Sakura and Naho paled under his one eyed glare. Even Sasuke looked slightly whiter than usual.

“Ninja missions are carried out in squads. Of course, you do need individual skills. But teamwork is far more important. Every worthwhile shinobi understands that. When individuals put themselves above the squad, it leads to failure, and death.” He pulled a kunai knife from his weapons pouch, and put it up against Sasuke’s throat. The black haired boy was pinned underneath his foot. “For example. Naho, kill Sakura now or Sasuke dies.” The blonde looked to her friend who was tied up against one of the wooden posts. The two girls started to panic, but Kakashi lowered the knife. They breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s what happens on a mission,” said Kakashi. “The enemy takes a hostage, and somebody winds up dead. During every mission, you are risking your life.” He walked over to a large black monument. “Did you see this stone?” he asked. “The names engraved upon it, those are the names of the ninja recognized as heroes in our village.” 

Naho grinned. “Seriously?! That’s awesome! Now I what I want to do with my life! I’m gonna’ be Hokage and get my name engraved on that stone if it’s the last thing I do! I’m gonna’ be a hero!” 

Kakashi glanced over at her. “They are a special kind of hero,” he warned. 

“What kind?” said Naho. “Seriously, tell us!” 

“They were all KIA.”

“What’s that mean?” said Naho. “It sounds like a really cool job!”

Sakura looked at her seriously. “Naho,” she whispered, “it means killed in action.”

The blonde’s spirit plummeted. “Oh.”

“This is a memorial stone,” said Kakashi, in a tone that brooked no response, not even one of sympathy. “The names of my closest friends are engraved here. More than I can count.”

His students didn’t know what to say.

“So,” said Kakashi, shaking off his display of vulnerability. “That's why you’re being dropped from the program. Because you have zero potential to care for something outside of yourself. Naho, eat the second lunch if you want, but don’t share with those two.” He pointed to Sasuke and Sakura, tied up against the wooden posts. “I’ll know if you do. And trust me, I will make you regret it. If you follow the rules, maybe I’ll give you a second chance.” A second later, he was gone.

“Fuck,” said Naho. “So...that’s it? We’re supposed to just quit?”

“I guess so,” said Sakura dejectedly.

Sasuke let out a grunt. Naho wasn’t quite sure how to interpret it.

“You can have the lunch, if you want,” said Naho. She decided she wouldn’t be eating the second bento box. “I already ate and I’m already dropped from the program, so he can’t really do anything. And it’s not like any of us'd be useful hungry if he gave us another shot.” She grabbed the bell from her shuriken pouch. “Do either of you want this? A keepsake to prove how much we suck?”

Sakura chuckled, in the way people do just after crying, once they’ve been consoled. “I’ll take it,” she mumbled.

“Here,” said Naho, cutting Sakura down from her ropes. 

Sasuke was still scowling in his position face down on the ground. “Hey, emo boy,” said Naho. “You wanna’ eat?” She’d already handed a pair of chopsticks to Sakura, and set the bento down on the ground.

“I don’t need your help, idiot.” 

“Alright, bastard. Have fun being hungry.”

Sasuke huffed. “Fine,” he said. He sat up, and Naho passed him a pair of chopsticks. “Why are you doing this?” he said suspiciously.

“Not eating sucks,” Naho replied. She knew what it was like to skip meals. Just one was nothing to her, considering there’d been days where she missed breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But for someone else, it was probably much harder.

Sasuke still side eyed her, but he started to eat. Kakashi swooped down immediately, all darkness and intensity, like a giant bat. 

“You!” he said to Naho ferociously. “You broke the rules! I told you! Don’t share! I hope you’re ready for the punishment.” He performed a series of hand signs, and a collection of gigantic storm clouds formed overhead, turning the sky overcast. “Any last words?”

Sakura and Sasuke jumped in front of Naho to defend her. “She — she — she was only doing what was right!” stuttered Sakura. It was obvious that standing up to the Jonin was taking a great deal of courage. “So back off! She’s my friend! And we’re a team! Right, Sasuke?”

Sasuke reluctantly nodded. 

“Guys…” said Naho quietly. “They’re right!” she exclaimed. “We might be losers, but we’re still a squad! The three of us...the three of us are one!”

“The three of you are one, huh? That’s your excuse?” He started walking towards the group menacingly. When he reached them, his expression switched quickly. “You all pass,” he said, with a smile crinkling his one visible eye.

“Huh?” said Naho and Sakura. Sasuke didn’t react.

“Let me explain,” he said, “this was a second test. To see if you could learn from your mistakes, and develop teamwork. And you were able to do that. You’re the first to pass my test. All the others blindly followed my instructions. They couldn’t think for themselves. A ninja must see through deception. So, welcome to Team 7! Our first mission is tomorrow.” He gave them a thumbs up, which seemed out of place from somebody like him.

Sakura and Naho chatted and complained about Kakashi’s deception all the way back to the village, and Sasuke walked alongside them peacefully, occasionally weighing in with a noncommittal noise. 

Naho Uzumaki was finally a Genin of the Village Hidden in the Leaves.