NB: I'm french and this story isn't beta-ed. Sorry in advance for any mistake. If something bother you, don't hesitate to explain the problem in a nice review and I'll correct it.
I should probably feel devastated for failing our jounin sensei's test or, at least, hope fruitlessly for a second chance (I was in an anime world where everything was possible, and things were supposed to arrange themselves after all… that was the theory at least, reality had proved different). Kami knew that many of the kids around me were downcast with their head lowered and a heavy frown.
Not me. Why? Well, first, to be honest, my team and sensei sucked. Seriously, the two boys were the most annoying of my class, I couldn't have had worst luck. As for the jounin, he had been an asshole from the first second. I wouldn't have been able to trust them in the field. It would have been a disaster. Then, there was the fact that the Third Shinobi War was still going on, and that I certainly wasn't eager to be sent on a battlefield (in retrospect, our jounin-sensei had seemed to be in a hurry to go back, that showed what a weirdo he was...).
I was part of the failures. That wasn't new: I was one in my past life. I could deal with it. I just wasn't sure what to think of this change in my future's plans yet…
I had thought that, maybe, with my (fore)knowledge, I could change some things. Not everything of course, but something on the small scale, something to make me feel useful at least, like reincarnating with memories of my past life had a purpose.
I knew that I was a year younger than Hatake Kakashi and his teammates. His early graduation had been the talk of the town.
This meant that, by my calculations, I had five years until the Kyuubi attack. I had no illusions that I could stop it, although I hadn't excluded the possibility if an opportunity presented itself. My goal was simply to save as many lives as I could that day.
Would being part of the Genin Corps change that plan? Maybe not. It didn't matter anyway, speculations wouldn't help me.
We had been told to appear at seven thirty the day following our choice of orientation, in an old building close to the aviary. It was small and circular with two floors and a flat rooftop. The kanji for 'work' was carved above its entry. The ground floor was an open space. The windows were huge, giving a lot of light and some were strategically open in every direction which caused a lot of drafts; shinobi were entering and leaving that way like they were doors (they might as well be).
We were thirteen waiting in the lobby but we weren't the only ones to have failed. None had gone back to the Academy to try the Jounin path again: we weren't allowed. Konoha couldn't afford wasting resources during wartime by making us repeat a year. However, two children had given up the shinobi way and twelve had been lucky enough to catch the attention of a specialized shinobi and be offered an apprenticeship. I was a bit jealous of them. Oh, there was no way I could join the Medic Corps even if I admired them: my chakra control was good but nothing revolutionary and I sucked at learning by heart (in my opinion, that was partly because my mind was already too cluttered). I was really interested in the Cryptanalysis Team though but no luck…
Without a second thought, I straightened up and adjusted my stance, looking right in front of me at the wall while the others did the same with more or less success. We were standing in a line, waiting for our new superior.
From the corner of my eyes, I watched him as he walked up the line, correcting every genin like a perfectionist. He was a middle-age man, that I immediately pegged for a Akimichi, not only because of his stature for he was a little less chubby than the clansmen and more… square, but he had the facial tattoos and the wild brown hair. He looked like a bear and he easily towered over us all.
I tensed as he moved on from the genin on my left – whom he told off for his sloppy clothing. I was staring at his brown chest plate (that was the only thing at my eye-level), waiting and doing my best not to flinch.
Since we weren't chuunin, we didn't have any uniform. I was wearing grey tights, brown boots and a practical forest green kimono stopping mid-thigh. While I had a thigh weapon holster like most shinobi, many of my tools were hidden in the pockets of my grey obi (thanks auntie for those awesome hand-sewn pockets). My grey hitai-ate was tied around my neck like a choker to protect my carotid. With my brown hair in a flat and perfectly smooth bun, I knew I had one of the most sensible and tidy look around.
"At least someone presentable. What's your name, girl?"
"Kamizuki Maiko, Sir."
"Keep it up, genin."
I was careful not to slouch even after he moved on, used to the principle that elite shinobi had eyes behind their back, even when they weren't a Hyuuga.
"I am Tokubetsu Jounin Akimichi Kuma, Commander of the Genin Corps!"
Oh sweet lord, his name was 'bear'! I bit my bottom lip in an attempt to not laugh. That would have ruined the good impression I had given him but really… such a name… No. Focus!
"From this day onwards, you're proud members of the Genin Corps!" He made eye contact with each of us slowly with his arms behind his back before smiling. "I know what you think. That's not what you wanted. No-one plans to end up in the Genin Corps. It's the lowest position you can find. Gofers. Paper pushers. Couriers. Fetchers. You name the least desirable job possible and you are it."
If he wanted to make us proud, he had a strange way to start.
"Every other shinobi will look down on you, and you will have to take it, in silence, politely, because you're the lowest of the low, the bottom of the ladder. You'll have to do the most unrewarding tasks with little to no thanks."
A really strange way to do it. Can I still give up? Aunt Izuna had offered to take me as an apprentice seamstress; there were worst jobs…
"You'll be frustrated. You'll want to quit. Most of you will, sooner or later, unless you manage to climb your way in the Chuunin Corps."
Yeah, that was definitely the plan. I had low ambition but not low enough that I planned to be an eternal genin.
"But the thing is – and I want you to remember this, if there is only one thing you will recall from today, make sure this is it – you are the base on which Konaha rests. You're the ants that allow our village to stay strong, coherent and effective. You are essential to your superiors. You are the shadows running in the background of this live play. Your work is indispensable and you are important," he proclaimed.
Never mind. He was good. His belief in his speech was indisputable. Several genin who had started to slouch, their shoulders low, straightened.
"I want you to look at those around you. Look and remember: you're in the same boat. From now on, the path is hard and treacherous but you're not traveling alone. You're a team. You're the Genin Corps. Be proud. Stand tall."
That was a really nice speech. Especially effective for ten years old kids. Personally, I chose to reserve my judgement… and I was right.
There were three categories of tasks for the Genin Corps: Office Help, Courier Work and Manual Labor. Sometimes, those tasks blended together.
For our beginning, we rotated the missions, to get used to everything.
Now, like I said, Konoha was at war. Even if we weren't on the battlefield, there was no time for rest, for briefing or explanations, or anything of the sort. The Commander's speech was nice and all, but the fact was: we were cheap labor, and we were paid at the number of tasks done (they can't be called 'missions' anymore, not when it's just a "Fetch that", "Give this to whatshisname" or "Fix this").
In my precedent life, I could vaguely recall being thrown in a situation like this, with little to no training, and I had panicked.
I didn't this time, purely because you know what? Screw this. You wanted a mindless worker, I could be one. I had pretended to be an average child since I was reborn, that wasn't much different.
Courier was easy. I ran. I wasn't really fond of running but I wasn't slow and there were less people to deal with, so courier work was fine.
Office help was boring. We were stuck indoors, carrying files from point A to point B, fetching files from point C to point B, or classifying files when we were very lucky. What those files were about? No clue. We were genin corps, we were mindless drones.
Manual labor was, as you can guess, really tiring and most often dirty work. However, like for courier work, at least we were moving around and active. When we were working on civilian territory, some of them even thanked us (and wasn't it a little sad that it was a big deal for us? We were kids and getting used to the idea that there will be no recognition for our work, that bothered me somehow).
After a week discovering nooks of Konoha that I had never noticed, I was exhausted. At eight in the morning, like many of my coworkers, I was yawning and stretching. We were waiting for our commander's arrival and his usual inspection and morning speech. It was a ritual that I came to like. Akimichi Kuma was fair and supportive. His encouragements were sometimes the only good part of the day.
Immediately ramrod-straight, I clenched my jaws to stop any impulsive yawn.
"Congratulations genin!" Kuma shouted after his inspection. "You have all endured your week of initiation in the corps! Let me tell you, that's not always the case. It seems like you're a good bunch this year. To celebrate this occasion and make what's coming easier, today, I'm teaching you something new."
You could immediately feel the shift in the mood as we waited eagerly. Some would be puzzled at the thirst of knowledge we displayed but, truthfully, after one week of menial tasks, learning something new would be a great change. No one became chuunin by being mailman.
"As some of you might have realized, your courier runs would be so much shorter and easier if only you could run and jump on the roofs like every other shinobi, am I right?"
And with that Kuma had everyone's attention, from the drowsiest to the most defiant. There wasn't any skill most coveted than wall walking and roof hopping.
For teaching us this so quickly, I felt like hugging our commander. I had dreamed of this since I first saw shinobi do it past my window when I was a toddler for the second time. I was giddy.
We trooped off behind him to the cliff nearby. Divided by a few meters each, we faced the stone wall as Kuma instructed us (his explanation was much more detailed than the one Kakashi had given to Team Seven). We all rushed forward eagerly at his signal.
I was probably the most cautious, trying first without running, with only one foot on the cliff to check if I was sticking or being repulsed from the stone. I increased the chakra flow until it stuck, and only then I took a run-up. I climbed to the height of the nearest tree with a delighted smile. Once you understood how much chakra you had to use, the drain was rather more on the body – that wasn't supposed to defy gravity! – than anything else. Every muscle was used to support the shoulders and the hips on an horizontal position. It wasn't as easy as jounin made it looked like.
"Well done Kamizuki-kun! Now, jump on the tree!" Kuma instructed from the ground.
Oh, shit… How was I supposed to do that? I had to let go from the wall to jump, but when should I let the chakra output go? How did I push? Oh, hell, if I fell from that height, it would suck.
A small round stone suddenly collided with my head. I rubbed it with a whine.
"Stop overthinking it Kamizuki-kun! Jump! Now!"
Kuma was fair and friendly but when he told you to jump, you better do it fast. If you were too slow, you were in for the bear slap – it wasn't pleasant. So, I jumped. I had barely the time to think "Oh shit, I knew it, I stopped the output too late", before I fell too far from the tree and the wall.
I landed in Kuma's arms with a "Oof" but no pain.
"Not bad for a first try, Kamizuki-kun. Now, get back there and try again."
"Yes, sir!" I agreed dutifully, too grateful for his perfect catch to even think about protesting.
On the second try, I was close enough from the tree that I managed to slow down my fall by grasping a branch. On the third, I landed directly on a branch like a bag of potatoes and my face collided with the bark. Grateful that I wasn't wearing glasses in this life, I cradled my nose and waited for the blood to stop.
"That's good work, Kamizuki-kun. Keep it up!"
I made a compliant noise and sighed internally. At least this was for a worthy cause. Roof jumping, here I came!
After two months in the Genin Corps, I knew Konoha like the back of my hand. I was also getting familiar with many shinobi and where you could find them: some of them had very specific habits.
Nara Shikaku for example. He could mostly be found in the jounin lounge playing shogi (or go) or resting near the edge of the Nara Forest. The second option was always more troublesome considering you had to identify yourself to be let in the clan compound. Then you had to find him in one of his favorite spots and, let me tell you, the Nara's forest was big. Some times were easier than others.
Today wasn't one of those. He was nowhere to be found! Exasperated, I went to the deer herder's facility to ask for help.
"If he can't be found, it means he doesn't want to be found, kid," an old man told her between yawns.
"With all due respect Sir, if someone gave me a C-class message for him it means they want me to find him," I pointed out.
"C-class?" The Nara snorted, shrugged and turned away. "That can wait. Just come back later."
Great, one of those old members of the elite who thought that anything less than a B-class was peanuts.
"When? When he'll have left and gone back to the Tower to ask for the scroll he was waiting for?" From the slight exasperation in my voice, you could tell that I was speaking from experience. For shinobi, messengers – especially those with low priority mail – were always late or untimely. Someone could always find a reason to complain. It was a losing battle.
"He's probably in the forest," a young girl stepped in before the elder started to grumble about disrespect. "If I see him, I'll ask him where you can find him next, if you want."
From the fact she was willing to help and wasn't looking down on me knowing I was from the Genin Corps, I pegged her for an academy student. I gave her a bright smile and a slight bow. "Thank you, Nara-kun." That was probably the best I could hope for. I had learn to be grateful for the small things.
An hour and two other messages later, I came back to hear that Shikaku had left to find one of his best friends, Akimichi Chouza. That was good news. Chouza was relatively easy to find, contrary to Yamanaka Inoichi who spent most of his time in restricted areas. It was too early for dinner so my best bet was the training grounds: the tenth was Team Chouza's favorite.
Bingo. The genin were sparing while the two jounin sat together under a tree. Carefully running around the area to avoid the fight, I jumped down from a tree and landed on one knee in front of Shikaku. He gave me a lazy glance as I raised a scroll in front of me.
"From Yoshino-san, Nara-san."
"Of course," he sighed, "who else would bother me on my day off?"
I refrained from answering as he accepted the message. I removed my tasks scroll from my obi and offered it to him next. He opened it to find his name and added his chakra to the ink, to prove that he had received the scroll.
"You've got to be kidding me," he grumbled when he read the note "reply requested".
Chouza laughed. "She knows you wouldn't read it immediately otherwise."
With another sigh, Shikaku opened the message and read it. I stayed still, on bent knee. I wouldn't do it in front of everyone, it was a tiring position, but they were two jounin, clan heirs and war heroes. They were also some of my favorite characters from the manga I remembered.
Chouza bellowed, calling an end to the spar going on behind me. I could hear footsteps coming toward us. One of them was louder than the others. They probably didn't have the same skill.
"Who is that?" One of them asked rudely as he stopped on my right.
I glanced at him from the corner of my eyes. Sunglasses. Bandana. Sneer. I recognized him as a minor character from the manga, one of the annoying ones. I didn't remember his name.
"One of our fellow genin!" Another cried out. This one was unforgettable, and I already knew he was part of Team Chouza. Gai was as loud as a pre-teen than he would be as an adult.
The other snorted scornfully as he pushed his glasses up his nose. "Genin corps."
No-name immediately went on my shit list. Anyone looking down on the Genin corps annoyed me, but the genin from the Jounin path were even worse. Despite the fact that we had the same rank, they looked down on us and thought they could order us around.
"A hard-worker!" Gai retorted, immediately going down on one knee by my side and giving me one of his sparkling smiles. "I'm Maito Gai! And who might you be, genin-san?"
He was way too close for comfort. I gently pushed on his nose with a forefinger to get some space. "Kamizuki Maiko. Please, respect personal space, Gai-san."
He scrambled backwards. "Of course, Maiko-san! My apologies!"
"Here," Shikaku interrupted, holding up the reply he had been writing. "She's probably still in the office for half an hour. Make sure she gets it before she leaves or I won't hear the end of it."
"Yes, Nara-san." I bowed my head respectfully and stood up. Finally turning around, I noticed the third genin, a little older than the two others with a bandana and a senbon between his teeth. I didn't remember his name either but he wasn't looking at me with scorn, just disinterest. I bowed politely and took my leave.
Yoshino-san was a hard-worker. She didn't leave the office early but she was always pleased by promptness. She valued the work of the Genin Corps when it was well done. She was the kind of people that I wanted to please.
I was extremely excited to get a message for Namikaze Minato. I never met him before and he had a reputation in the Genin Corps for being the kindest jounin you could hope for, always considerate and willing to help.
It was time for lunch; so my first try was, of course, Ichiraku Ramen. Luck was on my side.
"Excuse me, Namizake-san?" I said as I walked inside, interrupting a conversation.
Five faces turned to me as I spoke: three genin, a man and a woman.
Minato swallowed his noodles and smiled at me. "Yes?"
"A message for you from Nara Shikaku," I explained automatically, too focused on his smile and… just… him.
It was a strange experience to meet those who used to be 2D drawings or, at best, 2D animations in a manga style (so, far from being realistic), and to discover what they looked like in real life. Sometimes, the transition was disappointing (Inoichi came to mind, mostly because those pupil-less eyes were unsettling), and sometimes it was an improvement.
Minato… I was expecting to be disappointed: how could his pretty face be real? Never mind how. It was. And my friends in the Genin Corps? They were right. His smile was the best thing I had ever seen.
Great. So, he was the first crush of my second life. Alright. No big deal! That was just the Yondaime. Having a crush on him was probably a given.
Dammit, I wasn't even that fond of blondes…
From habit, I had offered the scroll as I spoke instead of staying still like a fool as I dissolved in a puddle of goo. It didn't stop me from staring though, and the ninja in training didn't miss that.
"Psst, staring is rude," the dark-haired one whispered as his sensei focused on reading the scroll.
"Idiot. Pointing it out is just as rude," the silver-haired one replied at the same time as the brown-haired girl scolded "Obito."
Only self-consciousness stopped me from face-palming. Thanks guys. Very tactful.
"Everyone stares at the Yellow Flash, anyway," Hatake Kakashi muttered.
"It's not that," I babbled, impulsively wanting to defend myself, although I knew it would have been quicker and simpler to stay quiet. I always stayed quiet when someone tried to needle me. Yet, I couldn't let Minato think that I was just gawking (even if I was…).
"Isn't it?" The woman on Minato's right side asked, clearly amused. Uzumaki Kushina was the kind to make fun of everything until she lost her temper. She liked to make fun of genin messengers (not in a mean way, like some, but it was still not funny, whatever she might think) and was oblivious to them when she decided to rant and grouse. At least, she had enough self-control to never hurt innocent bystanders when she blew up, but still, I was wary of her.
I decided that being partly truthful was my best option. "Namikaze-san has a good reputation in the Genin Corps," I admitted in a soft tone as I removed my tasks scroll from my obi to give it to the recipient of the message.
Minato-san stopped pretending he couldn't hear what was going around him (he was probably embarrassed, he seemed like a modest man) and blinked at me curiously. "I do?"
"Yes," I confirmed, hoping I could just get away with that.
The Red Hot-Blooded Habanero wouldn't let it happen, of course. She leaned forward eagerly. "What kind of reputation?"
I blushed despite myself and shifted from one foot to another. When no help came to save me from the question, I said: "As the kindest jounin."
Minato-san blinked then smiled softly.
"What? That's it?" Kushina-san huffed, clearly disappointed that she didn't get something funny out of it.
I refrained from glaring at her but I retorted: "Kindness is important."
Kakashi snorted. "We're shinobi. What good does it do?"
"It makes the difference between what I'd do for you and what I'd do for Namizake-san. In your case, the minimum required by professionalism and in his case a favor just because he'd ask nicely," I replied sharply.
Obito snickered loudly.
His sensei tried to cut the meeting short by giving me back my task scroll imbued with his chakra. "What's your name?"
"Thank you then, Kamizuki-kun."
I bowed my head politely.
"Hey, hey. Since you're a messenger, can you tell my grandmother I'll be late?" Obito piped up before I could leave.
I gritted my teeth, annoyed by his presumptuousness.
"Idiot. The courier service is for professional use only, and you have to be a chuunin to use it anyway," Kakashi replied before anyone else could.
"Damn," Obito whined, "stop reminding me of your rank, asshole! I'll be there soon and then nothing will stop me from becoming Hokage!"
I clenched my jaw a little more to stop myself from making a comment about his future. That wouldn't go well.
"She is more likely to become jounin before that happens, idiot," Kakashi replied as he pointed at me with his thumb over his shoulder.
Were they trying to get on my nerve on purpose or what? "Actually," I chimed in before this could turn into a verbal fight, "I plan to become the Hokage's assistant, hopefully the Yondaime's. That is indeed more likely to happen."
All eyes turned on me with various feelings.
"That's a very specific goal," Kushina pointed out, amused.
I shrugged. This was my new plan. It had taken months for me to come to the conclusion that if I wanted to be useful, I needed to be in the Hokage's entourage, and only the assistant position was within my reach as a member of the Genin Corps. It wouldn't be easy but I had to believe that I'll manage to climb the ladder… someday. Hopefully, before the Yondaime passed away, whenever that happened to be.
"Why?" Minato-san asked curiously.
"The Hokage cares for the village. Someone has to care for the Hokage in return."
"That's not what an assistant does," Kakashi said.
"That's what I'll do. So, please, remember me when you'll be in office, Yondaime-sama." I bowed to the waist in front of Namikaze Minato, ignored Kushina choking on her ramen and ran away.
It was too early. His name had barely been mentioned as a potential successor to the Sandaime, but it didn't matter.
There were few people who cared about the Genin Corps. To be part of it gave me an unique point of view that could be summed up by this great quote: "If you want to know what a man is like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."
The kind of treatments we could expect was mostly indifference, as if we were transparent or, at best, robots. Disdain was also very popular. The worst was abuse, in its many forms.
I had big hopes for many characters I remembered from the manga. That was silly of me. Hoping for anything in an universe as ruthless as the shinobi world was just waiting for disillusionment.
Only one of them never disappointed me.
For him, I tried my best to change the future, despite thinking it was a lost cause. Somehow, it worked… a little.
oOo Bonus - Minato's PoV oOo
"Minato-san! I didn't see you since Chouza's last birthday," Kuma said as he looked away from his genin troops' workout to face the newcomer. "What can I do for you?"
"Hello, Kuma-san," the jounin replied with a smile. He stopped by the Akimichi's side to glance outside the window at the rows of young teenagers doing push-ups. He barely needed a few seconds to find the one he was looking for. She didn't have any remarkable features, but her appearance was perfectly tidy and she trained without pause. She wasn't the fastest of the bunch, but she didn't need to stop to catch her breath. She was perfectly steady. "I'm curious about one of your wards."
"Ah, is that so? Let me guess. Kamizuki Maiko."
"She stands out?"
"You bet," Kuma said, crossing his arms and staring at the girl in the second row. "The Academy system fucked up with this one. I read her file – usually I never do, too many kids, not enough time. She's supposed to be average. That's not an average brain, let me tell you; too mature and smart. She understands how things work and she uses it to her advantage. She'll reach the Chuunin Corps faster than any other kid. Too bad she'll be stuck there. She'll get frustrated eventually, then she'll either quit when she'll get her hands on a smart elite shinobi worth her time or she'll become one of those bitter chuunin around whom you have to thread carefully."
Minato hummed in acknowledgement. "Don't you think there are some challenges to be found in the Chuunin Corps?"
Kuma snorted. "Name one."
"To be assistant of the Hokage?"
Kuma glanced at him with a raised eyebrow. "No assistants ever came from the Chuunin Corps."
"But in theory they could be?"
"In theory, yeah... and I guess that would fit her, but which Hokage would take such a decision instead of grabbing the first elite shinobi they trust and wasting their talents?"
"Which one, indeed," Minato murmured.
Kuma whistled and the genin changed position for crunches. As they did, Minato was able to see Maiko's face. He committed it to memory. He had a hunch that she was the kind of people you should get on your side. She certainly left a lasting impression.
Expect a time skip in the next chapter. I'll come back on the interesting parts of her younger years with flashbacks if necessary. In the meantime, what did you think of this first chapter and what do you look forward to the most?
Edit on 30th of July 2017: Bonus added.