Naruto rolled his eyes. These lessons here at the Academy were so tedious. It wouldn't have been so bad...if he hadn't learned all this stuff months and even years ago! Itachi-sempai had insisted he continue to come to class for some reason. He said something about "strengthening his Will of Fire" or some such thing, but Naruto was tired of spending day after day being bored out of his mind by these stupid lessons.
"Naruto!" Iruka yelled. "Pay attention!"
Naruto groaned. Iruka-sensei was yelling at him again. "I'm sorry, Iruka-sensei," he said. He had learned over the last few months that getting into an argument with the Academy instructor simply wasn't worth the time. It never led to anything but more yelling and Naruto getting into trouble.
"Well, Naruto, since you couldn't be bothered to pay attention to my lesson, let's see if you can answer this. What are the three main varieties of jutsu we as ninja use?" Iruka said, giving Naruto a glare, fairly confident the blond would have no idea as to the answer and he would be able to make his point.
Naruto yawned. "Taijutsu, the physical part, hand-to-hand combat, which can be supplemented by kenjutsu, the use of weapons, is the first. Genjutsu, which boils down to mind control and is an extremely precise chakra manipulation art, is the second. The third and final one is Ninjutsu, the use of chakra to directly affect the physical world," he replied.
Iruka raised an eyebrow at the boy. "Naruto...how did you know about kenjutsu? I didn't mention that in my lecture."
Naruto rolled his eyes again. "Itachi-sempai told me about it. He uses a sword, and he said using that is kenjutsu," he said back simply. Sighing deeply, he added, "Look, Iruka-sensei, I'm only here because Itachi-sempai insisted I keep coming to class. I'm not even sure why he bothered, I already know more than enough to graduate from the Academy right now, I just need some training is all. No offense, but this whole thing is a bit of a waste of time."
Iruka got a brilliant idea at that moment. "Oh, really now. Well, in that case..." he trailed off for a moment and walked over to his desk. Rooting through the papers on the desk, he picked up one and carried it back to Naruto's desk. Setting the paper on the blond's desk, he added, "This is the graduation exam. Take it now, and if you pass, you can do whatever you want for the rest of your time in the classroom so long as you don't disrupt anyone else who is trying to learn. If you fail, don't worry about it, it won't count against you."
Naruto grinned. "I like the sounds of that," he thought to himself.
Walking back to the front of the room, Iruka addressed the rest of the class, "Since Naruto so succinctly defined the three ninja arts, I'm sure he can safely take that while we continue our discussion of them." With that, he continued his lecture as if the previous interruption had never happened.
It took Naruto only a few minutes to realize he was severely under-prepared for this test. There were some seriously complicated math problems, several questions involving the detailed workings of chakra and mechanics of ninjutsu, genjutsu, and taijutsu, and even a couple questions involving the trajectory of shuriken. He had a basic understanding of jutsu and chakra and an idea of how the shuriken questions should be solved, but he was nowhere near being able to answer more than a couple of the exam's questions. Taking a deep breath, he set to work on the ones he thought he had the best chance of answering, then moved on to the ones he was less likely to get right. He wasn't paying much attention to Iruka-sensei's lecture, but he was vaguely aware he had moved on from the ninja arts to other things by the time he finished the exam.
When Naruto finished the final question, he looked up and realized the entire class period was over. Handing the paper to Iruka-sensei, Naruto turned to leave the classroom. Iruka, sitting behind his desk, spoke up before Naruto could reach the door. "Naruto," he said softly. Naruto stopped. "I won't tell anyone else how you did. I just hope you learned something from this."
Naruto nodded. "I did, Sensei," he replied. "Is there anything else?" He was pointedly not turning around. He didn't want Iruka to see the tears of shame that were filling his eyes.
Iruka sighed. "Not for now, no," he said. "Just please pay attention in my class from now on."
Naruto nodded. "I will," he said. "Sorry, Sensei, but I have to go now, Itachi-sempai wanted me to meet him at the training ground after class today."
Iruka smiled a bit. "All right, Naruto," he said. "Have a good time." Naruto nodded and quickly departed. "I'm glad he has someone to look after him," Iruka thought as the blond left, then turned and began grading the exam he hadn't expected to give that day.
Naruto sighed. He knew he had failed that exam miserably. On the one hand, at least it wouldn't count against him, so his grade wouldn't slip any from it, but on the other, it was still humiliating to fail an exam like that when he'd been so sure he would pass it. As he walked through the streets of the village, he couldn't help but notice that everyone he passed was making a point of ignoring him. Any time he made eye contact with someone, the person would turn and look away from him, nose in the air. Before they would turn, though, he always caught a brief glimpse of the frosty look in their eyes.
He was used to this, but it still hurt. At least Itachi-sempai didn't look at him like that. Come to think of it, Iruka-sensei didn't, either. It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing. Sighing, Naruto continued on his way, trying his best to ignore everyone around him as they pointedly ignored him in return. As he kept walking toward the training ground, Naruto happened to spot two young brothers playing in the street. The two were running around, jumping at one another, and generally being rambunctious. "That's just like...Itachi and me..." Naruto thought to himself.
As Naruto continued walking, he thought back to the first time he had met Itachi-sempai. "Yeah...that day," he thought. "I remember it like it was yesterday. I was just leaving the Hokage's office when he came up to me. He told me he was Itachi and that he was going to look after me. I remember...it felt so good to know someone actually cared that I existed. I mattered to someone. It was...the single best day of my life." As he was remembering all this, Naruto's eyes were filling with tears. "I always wondered before that whether I was important at all or not. And then...there he was, saying I mattered, I was worth looking at, worth seeing, worth spending time with...it was...amazing."
Naruto's thoughts had drawn him in to such an extent that he wasn't watching where he was going. As he was walking through the woods in the general direction of the training ground where he was supposed to meet up with Itachi-sempai, he suddenly bumped into something hard; the collision was enough to knock him to the ground. Looking around, he slowly climbed to his feet and dusted himself off. "What's your problem, punk?!" a voice asked. Naruto blinked and looked up. Three boys were in front of him, one of them, the one who had spoken, picking himself up off the ground and dusting himself off much as Naruto was. Shaking his head, Naruto slowly dragged himself out of his thoughts. "I said, what's your problem?!" the boy asked again.
Naruto glared at the boy, but then he noticed the fourth person who was present there in the clearing he had entered without noticing. On the ground, on her hands and knees, there was a small girl with dark blue hair and white eyes. Naruto thought for a moment that the girl was blind, but then he realized she was looking at him. The two other boys were standing over her and berating her. They were accusing her of being conceited and arrogant, among other things, but Naruto could see nothing but kindness in her eyes.
Standing firm, Naruto declared, "You shouldn't bully people, you know!"
The boys glared at him. "You should mind your own business!" one of them replied.
"Everything in this village is my business," Naruto replied, glaring. "I'm going to be Hokage one day!"
The boys pondered that for a moment, looking at one another, then burst into laughter. While they were distracted, Naruto pounced on the boy closest to him and began to beat his face in. Moments later, the other two jumped him and dragged him off their friend. Naruto was beaten rather brutally for a minute before the boys suddenly turned and saw someone coming, which prompted them to run off.
"Lady Hinata!" the newcomer called. He came up to the girl and took her hand. He saw Naruto and glared a moment, then dragged the girl off by her hand. Naruto noticed the girl trying not to leave him behind, but he knew she couldn't help it. After laying there a few more minutes, he dragged himself to his feet and made his way out of the clearing and continued his trek toward the training ground.
Unbeknownst to Naruto, Itachi had been watching the whole encounter. Grinning, he turned and raced ahead of Naruto, arriving at the training ground where they were meeting a full minute ahead of the blond. When Naruto arrived, Itachi smiled kindly at the boy he had come to think of as a close friend. "Naruto!" he called out. Naruto looked up at Itachi and tried to force a smile, but he couldn't quite do it. "You're late, Naruto," Itachi said, mock-scolding.
"I know, Itachi-sempai, I'm sorry. I was on my way here when I came across a bunch of boys bullying some girl. I had to try to help her. I'm sorry I'm late, but I couldn't just leave her there like that," Naruto said.
Itachi chuckled. "Yes, so I heard. Her name was Hinata Hyuga, by the way. News travels fast around here, you know," he said. "It's actually for the best that that happened like that. I had been considering doing something for a while anyway, and your actions today solidified my decision. Naruto, I have been accepted into the ANBU, and I am going to take you on as my apprentice, effective today."
Naruto looked up into Itachi's eyes, not sure if he should trust his own ears. He saw no deceit in his friend's eyes, so, after a moment, he slowly started to smile and eventually let loose with a huge whoop. "YES!" he yelled out. "Itachi-sempai, this is amazing, thank you so much!" The blond would have kept going in this manner for several minutes, but Itachi held up a hand for silence. Naruto almost immediately fell quiet. He had learned long ago that, if Itachi ever did that, he'd better be quiet or Itachi was apt to cut their time together for the day very short.
"I can't officially take you as my apprentice until you graduate from the Academy, but from this day forward, you will be my unofficial apprentice. As such, from this day forward, you will be an unofficial member of the ANBU forces, and you will therefore be privy to certain classified information. The village will be relying on you to keep any information you may garner during your time in the ANBU secret from everyone, even your fellow Leaf shinobi," Itachi said seriously.
Naruto snapped to attention. "I won't let you down, Itachi-sempai," he said back.
Itachi smiled. "I'm sure you won't, Naruto." Looking around the training ground where they were standing, Itachi stood in silence for a minute or so, then added, "Now, let's get you trained." What followed was the single most rigorous day of training Naruto had ever experienced.
Naruto sighed as he watched everyone leaving the classroom after Iruka's lectures had concluded the next day. Naruto remained in his seat after everyone else had left, and Iruka approached him with the exam he had taken the previous day. Between the physical exhaustion from the previous day and the dread of this moment, this hadn't been the best day in Naruto's recent memory, to say the least.
"You okay, Naruto?" Iruka asked his student as he approached.
"Yeah, I'm fine, Iruka-sensei," Naruto responded. "Itachi-sempai just trained me really hard yesterday, so I've been really tired all day."
Iruka handed Naruto the exam. Naruto cringed as he saw his score. "Really? Twenty? I knew I didn't do well, but I thought it would be better than that," Naruto said after a minute.
Iruka chuckled. "I'm actually impressed you got any points at all, Naruto," he said. "Most students your age wouldn't have been able to answer a single question on there correctly. Still, like I said, that won't count against your grade or anything, don't worry."
Naruto smiled briefly, then said, "Iruka-sensei, can I ask your advice on something?" Iruka raised an eyebrow at his student, then nodded. Naruto proceeded to lay out to Iruka everything that had happened with Hinata and the bullies and Itachi the day before. Iruka listened patiently. Once Naruto was finished with his story, he finished by saying, "The thing is, if it hadn't been for what happened with Hinata, I'm not sure Itachi would have done that. I owe it all to her, in a way, and I want to thank her, but I'm really not sure how to approach her."
Iruka chuckled. "Well, I will tell you this, Naruto. Hinata won't approach you. She's far too shy. She's a nice girl, but she simply isn't going to be the one to initiate contact with you...or anyone, really. If you want to talk to her, just go up to her and talk to her. Just...try not to overwhelm her, she's very sensitive," he said.
Naruto considered all of this a moment, then asked, "How do you know all this about her, Iruka-sensei?"
Iruka chuckled again. "She's in your class, Naruto," he said back.
"She is?!" Naruto asked. Iruka nodded. "Wow...she must really be shy. I never even noticed her."
Iruka smiled kindly at his student. "Yeah, I told you she's shy. Just be nice to her, and she'll respond in kind. But really, don't overwhelm the poor girl, she's likely to faint if you do that." Iruka chuckled as he said this, remembering the first time he had attempted to call on the shy child in class. She had spent a full minute stuttering before giving up and sitting down with a bright red blush coloring her face. Iruka knew from grading her tests that she was far from stupid, but her shyness made it nearly impossible for her to answer anything in front of the class.
Naruto smiled. "Thanks, Iruka-sensei, I feel a lot better now. I better get going, I need to meet up with Itachi-sempai again today."
Iruka smiled back. "Have a good day, Naruto. Let me know when you want to try the exam again. I'm sure with Itachi's help you'll be ready for it in no time," he said kindly.
Naruto grinned at his teacher. "Will do. Thanks again for everything!" he said and ran out the door.
Iruka chuckled as he watched the boy leave. "He's going to be just fine," the instructor thought to himself.
A/N: So...yeah, another new story from me. This idea hit me out of nowhere a couple nights ago and would not leave me alone, so...here it is. I hope you all enjoyed it. This is going to be a fun ride!