by Random Writer 46
Chapter 1: Seven
It was the seventh year anniversary of his disappearance, realized Konohamaru as he stared at the stone slab in front of him. The writing on the stone had grown since the last time he had seen it, as it always did. In fact, it was almost full by now. There were talks in the village council about erecting another stone, as this one would be filled up soon, but he had never really focused in on those conversations anyway. He didn't really care about the stone itself, but the legacies of those who's names were inscribed upon it.
Or, more specifically, one of the names.
Konoha had grown since those days, way back when. He had still been a kid, going around following his boss and planning pranks and skipping out on practice with his buddies, the rest of the Konohamaru Corps. Then he had graduated from the Academy, and it was right around when he had become a Chuunin that everything changed. Not for him, of course. He had always expected it. But the rest of Konoha didn't, and that was where everything changed.
It was all like some legend out of a fairy-tale book. After retrieving his traitorous friend, Uchiha Sasuke, Uzumaki Naruto, the Kyuubi-brat, had marched up to the Hokage's office and kicked down the door. The guards had been stunned, and ready to pounce, but the Godaime had stopped them. She had taken one good look at the blonde brat and asked only one question, a question that the Rokudaime-to-be answered with confidence and a shit-eating grin on his face.
Tsunade had taken the Hokage hat off the wall right then and tossed it over to the younger shinobi, and proclaim that the young Hokage was to pay for her gambling fees that night. Stories circulated about the Sixth's facial expression that day, some believing him to be elated, yet some others believed him to have fainted straight away at the thought of the Legendary Sucker's gambling expense, yet more than half of Konoha's population were quite sure that he had stared her in the eye and had said, "Granny. Whatever you lose I'll win back twofold."
It was all in the past now, though.
He felt no sadness as he stared at the mural, strange enough. There was nothing to be said. He didn't believe his boss to be dead... Not the boss who had taught him that there was no shortcut to being Hokage, that he would have to beat him if he wanted to ascend to the shinobi throne. There was just no plausible way that somebody as bright as the sn could just burn out like that. They hadn't even found his body.
He knew that there was no way that he could've survived those odds. He knew that there was no way that he could've come back alive after something like that. But no matter what he tried to do to convince himself, he couldn't believe that Naruto was dead. Note how he believed that today was the seventh anniversary of his disappearance, not his death.
He didn't believe that Naruto was dead, because he knew Naruto too well.
Trapped within his thoughts, he was unable to hear the person walking up beside him. Only when the other had tapped him on the shoulder had he turned around quickly and put his hand on his kunai pouch. However, it was a false alarm, for in front of him was the visage of Konoha's Copycat Nin, now a slightly older man. Hatake Kakashi had aged gracefully over the years, seemingly no different from the days that he was still the Rokudaime's sensei. He was still an active jounin, even age hadn't been able to dull his blade.
"Well, what are you doing here?" asked the older man, that lazy drawl still within his voice. The ever familiar Konoha hitae-ate was still pulled over his right eye, and the mask was still in place. "Right now isn't exactly the time to think about the past, you know? You've got something important waiting for you."
"Kakashi-san," said the younger, still staring at the tablet.
The older jounin rolled his single visible eye and smiled.
"How did I know you were going to be here?"
Konohamaru smiled, though there was no humour in it.
"I guess I'm quite predictable then," he noted. "That's not a good thing."
Kakashi looked at him knowingly.
"Oh, how come?"
Yet it went without saying. The Copycat Nin of Konoha had watched the younger man grow up, and had always known what his goals were. In fact, he had spent some time with Konohamaru together after Naruto's reported death, both of them needing somebody to connect to who knew the way that the Rokudaime could change the direction of a person's life.
"Because he was the number one surprising ninja in all of Konoha, of course."
Kakashi couldn't help but smile at this, and shook his head slightly. The older man was now nearing a ripe age of sixty, yet just looking at him told that he could probably still go on as a shinobi for another twenty years or so. There was something in him... an energy of sorts. Something that let him keep up with the younger generation, and probably still show them a trick or two.
"Well, personal matters aside, I've got some information that you'd probably like to know..."
Uchiha Shoutaro smiled as he sat in the front of the classroom. It was the start of the day, and not a lot of people had arrived yet. He had spent all yesterday planning this elaborate master prank, thinking of various ways that he could chain one trigger to another, and had spent the entire night breaking into the academy building and setting it up.
Oh, how he hated that Uzumaki Noboru, with his stuck up attitude (encouraging others when he gets first place in class... he was just making fun of them!), suave attitude and luck with girls (smiling obliviously when the girls were obviously drooling all over his front jacket... what a bastard), and of course, his impeccable shinobi skills (losing himself in a forest for a week and then accidentally finding his way back to Konoha while trying to catch a rabbit for lunch). But he was going to teach that bastard a lesson, and it all came upon the master plan that he had put down here today.
The moment that Uzumaki Noboru walked in, the sack of pollen above the doorway would instantly alert his spring allergies and cause him to blow out a cloud of snot, triggering the chakra-based trigger trap that was stuck to the side of the doorway. Then, the kunais would start coming in and make a perfect outline of him on the blackboard, causing another trap to activate and release the thirteen skunks that he had painstakingly trapped last week...
Suddenly, the door opened up, and Shoutaro grinned. There it was, that orange jacket with the Uzumaki spiral embalzoned on the back, that black shirt and beige pants combo that haunted the fan girl's dreams, and that clueless smile on his face. The one that always stuck there, no matter what went wrong, no matter what happened, no matter what...
Wait, where was that smile?
Uzumaki Noboru was standing in the doorway, his eyes slightly downcast and his mouth in a frown. The fangirls of the class instantly stopped gossipping about Noboru-kun-this and Noboru-kun-that, and seemed to realize something. Uchiha Shoutaro stared around the class at them for a second, before remembering.
Today was the anniversary of Uzumaki Naruto's death.
Shoutaro then stopped his train of thought about his masterly-planned prank, and suddenly felt ashamed. It was really inconsiderate of him to even think of pulling something like that on a day like this. He had heard from his own father about the pain that came with the loss of a family member, and had seen the evidence first hand. There were times when Uchiha Sasuke looked far out into the distance, and it was during those times that a kind of pain seemed to creep up onto his face...
And then, in the midst of all the contemplative silence, Noboru sneezed.
"Now, Uchiha Shoutaro, what do you have to say?" asked the academy sensei, Madarame Abara, a twitch developing on his vein.
Shoutaro stood uneasily beside Noboru, in the front of the class. The Uchiha boy was looking slightly guilty, running his hand through his hair. He didn't mean to do it! Well... he kind of did, but not at the end! It wasn't really his fault if he wanted to stop, was it? His mind ran through the library of thoughts, trying to find some way to convert Abara-sensei to his way of thought. It seemed like he was quite deep in the proverbial pickle, as they say.
Uzumaki Noboru was, however, looking a hell of a lot worse. He had bloodshot eyes, and was sneezing all over the place. The pollen had gotten stuck to his hair, and there was no getting it off without a shower. His clothes had been ripped here and there, to the delight of the fan girls, and it looked like he was going to have to get a new set. He had also been hit with the brunt of the skunk juice, as even a jounin would have problems deflecting something like that while sneezing all over the place. What wasn't explained however, was how the chicken feathers had gotten stuck onto him without any sort of glue or tar whatsoever.
"Fine. Sorry about that," said the young Uchiha, not looking his victim directly in the face.
Noboru turned to answer him, before collapsing into a sneezing fit.
Madarame Abara sighed.
"Alright, that's good enough. Shoutaro, get back to your seat. Noboru, go try to clean yourself up," said the instructor, and both of the boys obliged. Shoutaro trudged back up to his desk, and collapsed into his chair, brooding slightly. It was a skill that he had picked up from his father. Noboru excused himself and left the room, running off towards the direction of the washroom.
"Well, as you all know. Today is the final exam. Today we'll be testing you on your overall capabilities as a shinobi, from tracking skills covered earlier this year to the Bunshin and Kawarimi jutus we started on in the third term. Your data will be collected, and those of you who have found enough potential within yourself will become Genin," said Abara-sensei. The entire classroom was listening in now. "Study by yourselves for thirty minutes. We'll wait for Noboru to get back before we begin."
Shoutaro reluctantly plopped open his book, and began to read.
"Are you going to be alright, Sakura-chan?"
Two figures stood inside the hallways of the Academy, watching the trees outside. One of them was a young girl with brown hair wearing a simple yukata as well as ninja sandals. Her hair was held back by a simple brown headband except a few bangs which hung down in front of her face.
At her side stood an older boy, maybe aroudn the age of fifteen. He was looking down at the girl beside him with a concerned expression. Robes adourned his body, and a hitae-ate with the Konoha emblem adourned his forehead. He shared several similarities with the girl beside him, most noticeably most of the facial features and the hair.
"I'll be alright, oni-chan," said the girl, Sakura. "It's just a simple test, isn't it?"
The older boy turned towards the window.
"But remember, Sakura. This is more than just a simple test. This is a test to determine if you could become a shinobi or not. A test that will determine if you can live the life of a weapon of war... It's not so simple," said the older boy. "The instructors will be sure to throw you curveballs around every corner."
"But if I fail this year, I can always try again, right?" asked Sakura. "I think things will turn out for the better, Yuya-ni."
"That's not an attitude that a ninja should have..." frowned Yuya.
They stood like that for a while, both staring out into the backyard. The leaves were starting to fall now, gathering on the ground like a thick brown blanket. Several younger children were still out on the playground, swinging back and forth on the swings and playing in the sand. Their expressions were of innocence, something that no proper ninja would ever be able to have. It was proof of how much Konoha had adjusted to the recent peace.
It was a weakness, but it was also something that both of them were thankful for. A clan with a bloodline such as theirs had never been able to find peace in this world, but the falling leaves and the happy villagers filled them with unexplainable hope. Sakura had been affected the moment he arrive at the gates, three days ago.
They had quickly hooked up with the current Hokage, the venerable Godaime-sama, and had arranged for citizenship, the only condition being that they would offer themselves as shinobi of the people. Yuya had become Chuunin instantly, as that had been the office he had held before he had been exiled from Seiringakure, and he had the documents to prove it too. Sakura however, had to be instated as a Genin somehow, and it was just luck that there was a Genin exam right around the corner.
The silence, however, did not last long. An eagle suddenly streamed in from the window, and perched softly on Yuya's shoulder. After whispering a few things into its summoner's ear, the animal disappeared in a poof of smoke, and Yuya looked towards his younger sister.
"I'm going to have to go now, Sakura," he said softly. "Make sure you do your best in the exams. The Hokage is going talk to me about our living arrangements. I'll try to get the best that she can offer."
"Don't be too pushy now, Yuya-ni," smiled Sakura.
Yuya just shook his head, and disappeared in a blur of leaves. Sakura stared at the spot where her brother had been jut a second ago, and turned around, looking down the hallway. Maybe she could ask somebody for directions... She started walking down the hallway, and before she even managed to take three steps somebody crashed into her.
They fell apart the moment they hit, and Sakura hit the ground with a cry. Recovering, she sat up, rubbing her sore rear. A hand came down suddenly, as if offering help. Sakura's eyes travelled upwards, and came upon the sight of a whiskered and blue-eyed face. Light yellow hair stuck out in several directions, though slightly tamed. He had on a soft, apologetic smile.
"Sorry about that, I was in a hurry. Here, let me help you up," he grinned, and Sakura felt a flush coming up on her face. She reached out her hand, and the boy grasped it firmly, before tilting his arm back and single-handedly lifted her to ground level. Sakura was surprised. She wasn't particularly heavy, but the kunai and shuriken as well as the various other ninja tools that she kept would've made her rather more heavy than the average adult, yet from what she could feel this boy could probably lift her with a single hand.
"Really, really sorry about that! I was in a hurry, my instructor's about to make us do the final exams and I was afraid I was going to be late." he asked, scratching the back of his head. "Hey, I haven't seen you around here before. My name's Uzumaki Noboru, yours?"
"Ka-Kaminari Sakura," she said, stuttering slightly. This boy was having a strange effect on her.
"Nice to meet you, Sakura-san," said Noboru. "Sorry, but I need to be going now. Hopefully I'll be able to see you again!"
With that said, Noboru started running down the hallway towards his classroom. Sakura couldn't help but look at his back until it faded out of sight, captivated by the boy that she had just met. Her brother had said that she usually made friends fast, but it looked like this was going to be a new record.
Then she realized something.
"Ahhh! I forgot to ask directions!"
The final exams were over, Noboru realized. It had been a little bit harder than he had expected at first, but it wasn't really that bad. It was for sure that he had passed, and even though he didn't like to brag, his skills were topnotch in the class. He just had some problems with directions and everything, but it wasn't particularly essential to being a ninja, it just meant that there was no way he could go on recon or tracking missions without a partner.
The first exam had been a written one. Least important of the three exams, it had focused mostly on theory and other things that was expected of most shinobi, but not required. However, it tested one of the most important practical areas, reconnaisance. He had heard from his mother that the first test had been copied from the first test of the old Chuunin exams, with a few key differences. First, it was impossible to plant feeders (the ones who knew all the answers and the ones that the other students would be trying to copy off of) as all of the Academy students would know eachother, therefore the class had to copy answers bit by bit from eachother. There were several rather obvious cheats, but still, at least seventy percent of the class had passed that one.
The second exam had been a practice of stealth techniques. Each trainee had to get past several others to get to a scroll, and every time this happened or the time limit went up they rotated. He had been paired up with Zato Ishouji and Gatou, both of whom did not seem to be the best at the area. He had breezed past both with ease, distracting them with a Kage Bunshin. In the subsequent turns, Gatou had knocked him out with pure strength (which was a technical violation of the rules), and Ishouji had somehow gotten the scroll with neither of them noticing at all.
The next test was of battle, something incredibly regular in the world of shinobi. Each of them were to be paired up in an elimination style tournament, and only those who ascended high enough and demonstrated both tactics and strength could be considered to be potentials for the rank of Genin.
But that wasn't what he was really thinking about that this moment.
Currently, he was sitting in the Ichiraku food booth, thinking deeply. A few empty bowls sat nearby, completely depleted by his polite yet quick eating. The chef, the son of the previous Ichiraku owner, looked at the young boy with wondering eyes.
"Eh?" Noboru looked upwards.
"You're not eating as much as you usually do, you know."
Ichiraku Fuji was a young man of nineteen years of age. He had wavy brown hair and rather small eyes, and an easygoing smile was always on his face. His father had started teaching him the ramen trade since he had been old enough of cook, and there were those in town who declared that the young man had already surpassed his father in the world of ramen. The old man never really seemed to take notice of it, however, but rumours told that the reason that Ichiraku had quit in the first place was because he recognized the genius in his son's ramen defeated his own.
"Really?" Noboru asked. He hadn't noticed himself.
"Yeah, for sure," said the young chef, with a faint frown on his face. "I happen to know that you order an average of twenty-three bowls per visit, and today you only ordered twelve, so spit it out. What's bothering you?"
The young Uzumaki looked deeply into the bowl of ramen, seeing his reflection staring out at him from the bottom. Two blue eyes, whisker marks that trailed down his cheeks, and that head of blonde hair. Each of those characteristics spoke strongly of his father, but the genes of his mother, the kind woman that she was, had given the rough features a decidedly gentler edge. His hair didn't quite stick out like his father's, and his eyes were lighter.
"Ahhh... Fuji-kun, I think you should know what day it is today," a gentle voice came in from the doorway.
Both Fuji and Noboru turned to look. There, standing in the doorway of the small ramen stand was a young woman. Her hair was tied up in a bun, proper and ladylike. She wore a simple kimono, and held a few bags in her hands. Fuji's face brightened up as he saw the visage of his young wife.
"Tomoko-chan, thanks for getting the ingredients!"
Tomoko waved her hand, and delivered the bags to her husband. She sat down beside Noboru, ruffling his hair with her delicate fingers. Both Tomoko and Fuji had met Naruto early in life, as the Uzumaki family frequently visited the small ramen stand. The Rokudaime often held animated conversations with the old man, and Noboru's mother usually talked with Ayame, Fuji's older sister. It was there that Fuji had met Noboru, when he was still working as a helper to his tough father. They had become friends quickly, Noboru being an only child and Fuji having nobody to talk to while working.
Noboru looked up in slight confusion from his bowl of ramen.
"Ingredients?" he asked, blinking. "But don't you always stock up in the morning, Fuji-san?"
The older boy smiled at him, and just waved a finger.
"I've got a new flavour that I want to try out," he grinned, and once again started cooking. His hands danced across the tools, as familiar with them as a master smith with his hammer and anvil. "And there wasn't enough time to get the ingredients in the morning. Wait here for a few seconds while I whip up some mind-numbing demon flavour. I guarantee that you'll love it!"
They sat for a few seconds, Noboru eating his ramen slowly, Tomoko looking far off into the distance, and Fuji whistling as he worked. Soon enough however, Fuji had completed his latest masterpiece and put it down in front of the young Uzumaki, looking him in the eye.
"Here it is," said Fuji. "The Naruto Special."
Tomoko shook her head at her young husband's act of kindness. Noboru looked up sharply, his expression unreadable for a minute. Then his lips started stretching outwards in a rather faint smile. His posture loosened, and a cloud of dimness seemed to lift from his weary body. His eyes cleared up, and his face seemed alive again.
"Of course I'd remember!" Fuji said as he rubbed his forehead. Then he smiled softly. "He was my dad's favourite customer, you know."
The entire stand seemed to brighten up slightly as Noboru's smile came into full effect.
For the rest of the night they talked about Uzumaki Naruto, and for the rest of the night they shared their memories about the kind of man that he had been. Noboru told of the stories that his mother had told him about his father, the legendary Rokudaime, and Fuji told of the many times that he had seen the man snort down thirty bowls. Tomoko just listened in on the conversation, smiling.
Konohamaru stared down at the piece of paper that he had recieved from the instructor of the new graduates, that Abara. He sure hadn't expected to see him there, handing him the list of those who had passed the exam. It was true that he hadn't seen the guy around much on active missions anymore, but he thought it was maybe just because he was slowing down on the missions. Who knew that he had become a nearly full-time academy instructor?
Just then, he caught sight of something. Stopping in his tracks in the middle of the evening road, he blinked. Then a low rumble erupted from his throat, and grew higher and higher. At the end of it all, he was laughing his ass off.
Jounin - All-rounded
Student - Taijutsu
Son of the Sixth and Hyuuga in blood. High expectations.
Student - Ninjutsu/Taijutsu
Uchiha. Develop the Sharingan.
Student - Ninjutsu (according to family)
Exiled from previous village. Develop her bloodline.
Konohamaru raised his eyes to the heavens and smiled.
Maybe this was god's sense of humour.