Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
"Gah! I can't believe I lost to forehead! Now I have to do this!"
Three friends lay on the grass, buffeted by a cool evening breeze. One sat, his fingers idly ruminating through a a bag of potato chips, before mechanically moving towards his mouth in a movement that had been so honed it was practically instinct. The other, lay on his back, his eyes opened just enough to gaze into the clouds, but not enough for his pupils to be visibly seen. The last, a girl, paced around, her hair swinging in the wind, her footsteps trampling the grasses beneath her, and her gait one of inner turmoil.
"Come on! Don't just lay there! Give me some ideas! I can't do this without your help!"
The one staring at the skies closed his eyes even further, preventing his pupils from gathering any more light, as his breathing slowed on principle.
He was kicked in the ribs for his effort.
"Don't pretend to fall asleep!"
His eyes opened, his speech coming out a slow, unenthusiastic drawl, like that of a donkey who had carried two obese men across the Suna desert.
"Troublesome… you were the one who made the bet in the first place."
The girl paused in her gait, one finger raised in indignation.
"That's because I thought I'd win! Forehead cheated! She got me with an uppercut that came out of nowhere!"
"How was that cheating?"
"It – it, well I don't know! All I know is, there's no way she could have beaten me in a fair fight!"
The boy eating the potato chips rubbed his cheek with his finger, his momentary reprieve from his favorite snack was provided with the need to be in the loop - he played the mediator amongst the trio, neither too hot-headed to listen to reason, nor too relax to abstain from taking actions.
"Um… what was the bet about?"
The girl seemed to turn green at the memory. Her face soured as though she'd taken a bite out of an unripe lemon, her fists clenched, balled and released and her body swayed in place, as though beseeched by seasickness.
"The loser has ask out… Naruto."
The big-boned boy had his eyes widen, and the sleepy one merely muttered a simple word under his breath.
"I know! Just think! Asking out that loudmouthed, hyperactive, idiot in that horrible orange tracksuit!" she shuddered in place. "I can't be seen doing that!"
The girl plopped onto the grass, causing the pineapple haired boy to stare, curiously, as his friend had not bothered about the grass stains, nor had she complained about ruining her dress nor whined about the possibilities of biting insects moving through the hearty green flora.
"Don't do it Ino." The boy said, "What do you stand to lose?"
"It's either that or give up on Sasuke-kun, and leave him to forehead."
The boy said nothing, letting the atmosphere be filled with the comfortable sound of crackling potato chips. It echoed in the background constantly, like a symphony that could not be changed, and like an accompanying orchestra that reminded the boy of the companionship to which he was privileged.
"I know!" Ino sprung to her feet, slamming her fist into her palm "I'll confess all sorts of feelings for Naruto – that way, he'll be the one to ask me out!"
"Um…" the silent boy occupying himself with his chips spoke up "I don't think that's such a good idea Ino…"
"What do you mean Choji? It's flawless! I don't think Shikamaru here could come up with a better plan! I mean, I still have to make him believe I like him ––"
"Don't lie to him" Shikamaru felt the need to say, "He's observant".
Ino felt her nose rumple in disbelief.
"Is he?" she frowned, wondering if the Nara was joking. "Since when?"
"Since always." He paused. "Especially with things that catch his interest."
Ino huffed, putting her hand on her waist. "I'll be the judge of that."
The pineapple-haired boy let out a single, slow nod. "Don't say I didn't warn you."
Finding him was the hardest part, it was especially harder to track him down to a recluse location, one in which she knew billboard brow and a group of other girls would be watching from the bushes, probably ready to watch her make a fool of herself.
She had hoped she'd be the one watching the pink-haired bimbo ask Naruto out, it would have been the most hilarious thing to watch as the blond would have been so ecstatic, ignorant of the girl's own dismay.
"Huh? Ino?" The blond stared at her, looking both left and right as though uncertain "You talkin' to me?"
Ino felt her anger bubble up, but let it slide low. "I don't think there's any other person named Naruto in Konoha, is there?"
The boy put his hands behind his head and let out an awkward laugh that almost made Ino cringe.
"Yeah! I'm the one and only Naruto Uzumaki dattebayo!"
Ino desperately wished the Shinigami would take her there and then.
"So… Naruto-kun, there's something I wanted to tell you…"
"You see… Naruto-kun, I've been watching you for a while now, and I didn't want to tell you this… but I…"
The words formed in her mouth, as she stared at the inquisitive blue eyes of the shorter blond, she found herself wondering why they would not come forth. Maybe it was something odd about how his eyes seemed to examine her, or how they lit up with an emotion she could not quite recognize, or perhaps, it was the giggling of the girls she could hear that made her uncertain of how to proceed.
She didn't quite understand it herself, this was Naruto of all people… he bounced back from anything… so what if she was going to get his hopes up and lie to his face… she shouldn't care, it shouldn't matter to her… It's not like she was going to break his heart or anything… so why was she unable to find the right words to say?
The sudden exclamation, threw her off guard, and she found him staring at her with a concentrated gaze she did not know he had possessed.
"Go out on a date with me! To Ichiraku Ramen!"
The girl could not have been any more floored if the Hokage himself had pranced by on a unicycle.
"I know it's kinda sudden – but you're a really cool person ya know? I mean, we've both got awesome blond hair – though mine is way cooler – and I think you're pretty."
She idly wondered if one of her clan members had taken over Naruto's body with the Clan Jutsu and made him say those words, but instead, she shook it off as the universe being in her favor on this odd particular occasion.
Naruto had asked her out on a date, hence, she couldn't ask him out anymore – the bet was null and void.
She was free!
Ino regained a bit of her confidence, placing her hand on her hips. "No way! Why in the world would I want to go out with you? I mean, wanting to date someone just because you think they're good-looking? That's really shallow of you Naruto."
"But…" He paused. "…Isn't that the same reason why you like Sasuke-teme?"
"What! No way! I like Sasuke-kun because he's strong and he's cool and he's… he's… he's…"
Words, fickle as they were, failed her. She had an extensive vocabulary of terms that focused on the mind, on plants, on animals, and yet, despite her collective accumulation of adjectives used to describe things which were beautiful - she remained speechless.
"Fine then…" Naruto said, crossing his arms and turning around "Good luck with the teme - you two deserve each other."
It was strange, as to how those words seem to sting much more than she thought possible.
It was not every day Umino Iruka chose to treat Naruto out to dinner, and it was even rarer for him to offer to pay up the boy's backed-up debts, but, as he had found out from the resident gossip amongst the student's, Naruto had asked out the young Yamanaka heiress and he had been brutally turned down.
Though not exactly possessing sagely wisdom in the art of romance, the Chunin Teacher felt that the young boy needed some company – or at the very least, needed some ramen to make him bounce back to his usual self.
Which happened the very second the first bowl appeared.
"Oi! Teuchi-jiji! You out of toppings? My ramen's looking a little thin!"
Iruka bopped him over the head. "Baka! Don't be so ungrateful! To think I actually offered to treat you to ramen after the pranks you pulled in class last week."
Naruto's lips turned into a semi-indignant pout.
"But-but the broth is like, ten percent smaller than it was yesterday! And the toppings and portions are smaller as well!"
Iruka's eyes twitched. "I think it's just your appetite that's grown bigger."
"Haha, Naruto-kun is kind of right."
Iruka's eyebrow rose.
Teuchi nodded, slowly. "Our usual delivery boy is a little late with the order, so I had to cut corners for the Ramen – I'm sorry about that –"
Iruka waved him off, "It's nothing. I barely noticed the difference – only a ramen-holic like Naruto would realize it."
"Ramen is the food of the gods and everything about it is divine dattebayo!" Naruto said, grinning "I know everything there is to know about Ichiraku Ramen!"
Iruka snorted. "Sure, sure, and I'm certain you can tell how many toppings are in my –"
Iruka blinked. He stared down at his bowl, and counted, and found himself baffled at the blond getting the accurate number.
Naruto shook his head as he scarfed down more ramen. "Not luck!"
"Oh really? Then how many strands of noodles are left in my –"
Iruka stared into his bowl, slowly counting with his chopsticks, one by one, until he reached the exact number Naruto mentioned.
"H-how did you know that?"
"Teuchi-jiji usually has a fixed number of strands per bowl. It's enough to leave you satisfied, but not too much that it'll make you leave it unfinished." He said between slurps "And, you eat really slow Iruka-sensei."
It was ridiculous, to know the exact number of noodles in a bowl, and the speed required to actually consume said noodles, so Iruka found himself staring at Naruto, his mind trying to comprehend what he had just witnessed.
"Naruto, how many people have visited Ichiraku Ramen today alone?"
"Hm?" Naruto took a huge slurp out of his bowl "Sixty or so. Why?"
Iruka glanced to Teuchi and Ayame, and their widened eyes spoke more loudly than any verbal confirmation they could have possibly uttered.
"How did you know that?"
"Ayame-nee's sleeves are folded up."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Everything! Teuchi-jiji's sink is kind of deep, Ayame-nee doesn't really need to fold her sleeves all the way up to her elbow in order to wash the dishes. The only time she'd need to do that is when there are tons of dishes available and she's put them all in. She folds her sleeve so they don't fall into the filled sink and get wet, and also to make it easier for her to wash."
Iruka's mouth felt dry.
"But… that just tells you that they've been a lot of customers. How did you guess Fifty?"
"Because Ayame-nee has also been cooking," Naruto said "Teuchi-jiji only ever lets Ayame-nee join him to prepare Ramen when there are more customers than he can handle. And he's no slouch! He can take on six at a time, but if it gets too much, Ayame-nee helps him out."
Naruto paused, placing a hand on his chin "Also, today's Monday, so there are usually about eight or eleven customers in the morning, and around lunch time, this place is filled really fast, that adds around twenty to thirty customers coming and going. Then after classes are over and in the evenings, there are fewer customers, but still enough to guess around sixty."
The sound of the kettle blowing was the only noise in the restaurant.
"H-how did you know Ayame-san had been cooking?"
"Huh? What do you mean? She's got her apron on and everything – and look, those are miso soup stains on them!"
Iruka found himself feeling light-headed and slightly dazed, more so when he realized that Naruto, Naruto of all people and of all his students, was subconsciously using inductive and deductive techniques to glimmer information about things around him, and he didn't even realize it.
He took in several deep breaths, before he decided to calm himself.
"Naruto, how many major hidden villages do we have?"
"Er…" the blond boy looked sheepish as he scratched his head "…Two?"
"How is it that -!" Iruka had to calm himself and lower his voice "How is it that you can accurately guess how many customers have visited Ichiraku Ramen, and how many strands of noodles are in my bowl, but you don't know how many major hidden villages we have in the Elemental Nations?!"
"Because I don't care about that stuff! Who cares how many there are? Konoha is the greatest dattebayo!"
Iruka sighed, shaking his head. Maybe he was just reading too much into things – Naruto spent most of his hours at Ichiraku Ramen, and had more hours at the establishment than he probably did at his own home. With so much time spent there, it would explain his ability to pick out all the littlest details and things that happened around there with alarming detail and frightening efficiency.
It wasn't like Naruto was some sort of hidden genius or anything. No, the very notion sounded utterly preposterous.
A thought did however stumble unto the Chunin's mind, and for a few seconds, he contemplated it.
"Hey Naruto, tell me about how you do your pranking."
Naruto stopped, staring at him suspiciously for several seconds. "If this is a trick to find out where I keep my gear Iruka-sensei –"
Iruka put his hands up in a gesture of surrender. "No tricks. I'm genuinely curious. Some of your pranks must take careful planning and deliberation, I wonder how you got into it."
Two hours later, Iruka was regretting his decision to ask. While he had been hoping to gain some more insight into Naruto's apparent analytical and deductive abilities, it seemed that those abilities only registered or came up when it came to Ichiraku Ramen, or anything Ramen-related. Instead of finding out more about his student's mind, he was treated to a lecture on the different types of itching powder, the best paints to use for brighter colors, how to carefully set up feather traps and all sorts of other information that the Chunin truly was not interested in.
"And then, you have to make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly or the itching powder might still be on you –"
"That's great Naruto – wow, look at the time. I've got some scripts to mark and you've got to get ready for school tomorrow."
"But I haven't told how to use the rubber chicken yet!"
Iruka nodded, slowly. "No need, you seem to have a mastery of pranking that I don't think I can achieve anytime soon."
Naruto blushed before rubbing the back of his head with his arm "Really?"
"Of course. And if you applied those pranking skills of yours to your shinobi knowledge, you might even make a brilliant strategist or trap master someday."
Naruto's face furrowed up in confusion "What does pranking have to do with being a shinobi?"
"Well… information gathering, reconnaissance, stealth, and the likes. Instead of say, planting a stink bomb in someone's house, imagine instead, planting an actual bomb – or some knock out gas instead."
Iruka watched as the gears began slowly turning in Naruto's head.
"So I can prank people, just using deadlier and cooler stuff… and I could become a great shinobi for doing it?"
"Er… sure, I don't see why not."
"Maybe… I could even become the Hokage that way!"
Iruka placed his hand on the boy's head and tussled his hair.
"Don't get ahead of yourself Naruto. You'll need to make sure you don't fail the Academy this time around, and actually learn things – we can't have a Hokage who doesn't know how many hidden villages exist, now can we?"
Naruto said nothing, instead, his mind was whirling with ideas and thoughts, and slowly, but surely, a small spark of flame had lit itself within him.
And that, would make all the difference.
Author's Note: Strange, the idea for this 'experiment' came while reading for a three-unit course exam... which I have next monday. Unfortunately, my mind would not focus to study until I had this written out - and here it is.
In any case, the premise of this story is pretty simple - "What if Naruto was really observant? Just that it only had to do with things that were within his interest?"
I'm talking Sherlock Holmes level observant here, not just any normal level. And of course, many people have tried and succeeded in writing a Genius!Naruto fic, but I'm trying to write one which is more subtle - and which hopefully stays true to the character's nature.
With that, I need to head back to study for exams... so kindly please review.