A/N: I seem to be on a creative roll here. As a matter of fact, you guys will be happy to know that Ch. 5 of Dead On Arrival has begun and it seems to be moving right along. As to this fic, I like it, but I'm not sure if you guys will understand what I was trying to get across. This is my sad, eye gouging attempt to be deep and meaningful without being angsty. I myself admit I'm not good at being subtle, and coherent explanations are hard to drag out of me, even under pain of torture. So, overall, I like the fic, but I don't like how I did it. (shrugs) Oh well. You guys can let me know how crappy it is.

Summary: Perception is everything to a shinobi. "There is no one truth. There is only the truth as each individual perceives it."

Disclaimer: I own not Naruto. It owns me, instead.


Eyes of the Beholder
A Xenocide Production

"Who can tell me the difference between reality and fantasy?"

A handful of students raise their hands.

"Very well then, Totake-san, please enlighten us."

A cocky smirk is plastered across the confident face of the boy.

"That's easy. Reality is true, and fantasy isn't."

He leans back in his desk with his arms folded across his chest, proud of himself for answering correctly so easy a question.

The teacher sighs gruffly, obviously irritated. He pinches the bridge of his nose to display his disgust.

"Well, that is certainly true, Totake-san. However, I was hoping for an answer that wasn't quite so….shallow. If I'd wanted a straightforward definition, I would have consulted a dictionary."

His small classroom broke out in a cacophony of snickers and giggles, much to the dismay of the student in question.

"All right, let's try that again. This time, let's put a little thought into our answers, shall we?"

He scans the sea of waving hands until his spectacled gaze alights upon the back corner of his classroom. As usual, the boy was staring out the window with his chin cradled in his hand, completely oblivious to the world around him, quite obviously wishing that he was somewhere else.

Well. He would certainly make the boy wish that he had been paying attention. And so, the time honored tradition of utilizing public humiliation as a learning tool commenced.

"It seems that Izuki-san already knows the answer, as he sees himself fit not to pay attention in class."

Another wave of mirth broke throughout the room, this time directed at the dazed student sitting by the window.

"Izuki!" The teacher's voice cracked like a whip, badly startling the boy. He must have jumped a full inch in his seat, jerking his head out of his chin and very nearly falling to the floor in a tangled heap.

The whole class was now openly jeering at the boy, laughing at his misfortune. His face hot with shame, he brought his gaze up to the teacher, who was shaking his head exasperatedly at him.

"Izuki-san. The purpose of a school is to actually enable you to learn something. Not to let you daydream under the illusion that you are omniscient."

The boy blushed even brighter, ducking his head down a little and trying to hide behind his brown bangs. "Sorry, Hyuuga-sensei."

"Now if you are finally paying attention," the annoyed teacher snapped, "answer me this: what is the difference between reality and fantasy?"

The boy looked up, peering at his teacher with a slightly inquisitive expression on his face.

The Hyuuga sighed. "It isn't a trick question, Izuki. Use your head!"

A moment or so of silence went by. Just as he was opening his mouth to berate the boy yet again, he saw the boy's lips move. But because he was so far away, he could barely hear him.

"Speak up!" he snapped.

"I said, it all depends on you."

At that, the class broke out into outright laughter. The boy hung his head in dejection.

"Silence!" The teacher roared. The laughter died in an instant. "This is a classroom, not stand up comedy," he stated coldly. "I will not tolerate blatant disrespect toward another student's thoughts. Any who do so will find themselves with twenty laps to be run around the Exam Stadium."

With his students duly cowed, he returned his attention to the boy in the back.

"Now Izuki-san, would you care to elaborate?"

His head still hanging, the boy said slowly, "I think that reality all depends on a person's point of view. I mean, what's true for one guy may not be true for another."

"An interesting observation, Izuki. Though I'm sure that your classmates could do with a more articulate answer." He turned towards the blackboard and wrote, in large bold lettering:

PERCEPTION

He paused with chalk in hand, still facing the board. "Why do I not hear pens and pencils scritch scritching across your paper? Your upcoming midterm counts for fourty percent of your final grade. I suggest you get busy."

Instantly, there was a frantic flurry of activity and hushed whispering as the students whipped out their notepads and appropriate writing utensils. The only Nara of the bunch completely ignored his surroundings and continued to snooze the day away in the warm corner window of the classroom, incidentally just behind Sarutobi Izuki, who was madly scribbling away, determined not to give his strict teacher a chance to berate him again.

Hyuuga Neji turned to his class, noting with scorn the lazy Nara and with satisfaction the diligent Hyuuga, a distant younger cousin from the Main Branch. The Nara would pay for his laziness and disrespect.

"Though Izuki-san was rather crude in his explanation, the general meaning of what I was searching for was the same." He sauntered around to the front of his desk and leaned against it, folding his arms across his chest. "In your careers as shinobi, you will often come upon situations that are not always as they seem, and it will be difficult to ascertain the truth. Many times, your life, and those of your comrades, will depend on your ability to see things as they are." He glares pointedly at Inuzuka Totake, and the small brown mutt that accompanied the boy everywhere burrowed deeper into his chest, whimpering at the Hyuuga's cold stare. "You cannot always depend on your initial assessment. More often than not, it will cost you dearly."

He raised a hand and gestured vaguely at the board. "This word was on your vocabulary list last night. Can anyone tell me what it is and how it ties in to Izuki-san's explanation?" There was dead silence. He sighed yet again, for what seemed the thousandth time since that morning. "Did no one even bother to pick up a book last night?"

A timid hand rose in the front row.

He nodded at the shy girl.

She blushed prettily at his acknowledgement and said softly, "Please sensei, last night was the annual Chuunin versus Jounin war games. Hokage-sama himself sided with the Chuunin! No one wanted to miss it…" She trailed off at the look on her sensei's face and she visibly shrunk from the vein that pulsed violently on his temple.

A milky white eye twitched. "Damn that blonde idiot!" He snarled under his breath.

No one dared to breathe.

The oblivious Nara smiled drunkenly in his sleep.

With a deep breath and a visible effort to restrain himself, Neji-sensei let go of his anger.

"Not one of you thought that homework was more important than watching the supposed protector of our village acting like an immature child?" He very softly queried to the class.

Thankfully, his students were wise to his ways and had enough sense to keep their traps shut.

"Very well then." He uttered calmly. The class sighed collectively, relieved that the storm had passed. "As I was saying, this word—" And here, another gesture towards the board. "—can very easily be said to be the number one cause of a shinobi's downfall."

He walked back around his desk to the board and wrote underneath 'PERCEPTION', 'Truth' in smaller letters. Once again, the students hunched over their papers. "Izuki-san was very close, if not right on the mark." He drew an arrow pointing from 'Truth' to the right where he wrote, 'Reality'. He turned towards his students, underlining 'Truth' harshly as he did so.

"A wise man once said, 'There is no one truth. There is only the truth as each individual perceives it.'" He tapped the board sharply, making most of the students jump at the loud report. "Surely someone in here can tell me why an individual's perception of the truth could be a bad thing."

A much smaller collection of hands rose this time, no more than a handful. He completely ignored the raised hands in favor of the Nara, having noted that the lazy boy was now awake and still no interested in the discussion as he had been when he was asleep. A little revenge was in order, it seemed. No one slighted a Hyuuga and got away (he would have put in 'lived to tell the tale' but it was generally frowned upon to kill one's own students) with it.

"Thank you for volunteering, Nara-san." The front row students could have sworn that there was a slight smile of evil glee on their sensei's face, instead of the usual frown or stoic façade. "We breathlessly await your answer."

Surudoi frowned darkly, but cooperated, however reluctantly. He lazily raised his head until it was resting precariously in the palm of his hand. "People are inherently different. Obviously, this means they're going to have different opinion on what's truth and what isn't. It's like that whole 'If a tree falls in the forest and there's no one there to hear it, is it a sound?' sort of thing. One person will say yes, the other will probably say no." He shrugged. "I guess, for a three man team giving individual reports, it would be a bad thing. While one team member will see a situation one way, the other two can see them in a whole different light. A recon team might end up passing along bad information if their reports seriously conflict each other."

Foiled again.

The Nara smirked in victory at his teacher's second eye twitch for the day and laid his head back down. Snoozing was less troublesome than talking, anyway.

The shy girl blushed and raised her hand again. He nodded his head a little irritably this time. "Hyuuga-sensei, I don't understand what Suru-kun was talking about. Why was he talking about trees?"

His temporary irritation passed quickly. Not all his students were as quick as the Nara, unfortunately. Sometimes being a teacher sucked big time.

"He was using a paradox to help to illustrate his point, Kaname-san. It's a good one, I will admit, but we need something a little clearer, yet again." He took consolation at his petty victory over the lazy genius. "Try this: take a good look at this black board. What color is it?" His students look at him incredulously. "Well? Not all of you can be color blind."

Izuki was the first to answer. "Umm…it's black?" He asked rather than stated. He was afraid of giving an obvious answer, but it was the only one he could think of.

"That is correct. Never let it be said that the most obvious answers are the easiest ones. Kurenai-sensei taught you well." The boy blushed at the subtle praise directed at him and his mother.

Hyuuga Kaname was next. "I think it's more gray than black, because of the white chalk dust."

She blushed again when Neji nodded, a touch of pride in his eyes as he said, "You see well, Kaname-san. As expected of a Hyuuga."

"I must disagree with both, sensei." The only female Aburame of this generation finally spoke up. "Because the chalk dust has not been spread evenly along the surface, it would be truthful to say that the board is black with spots of grey."

Again, a nod from Neji. "Another astute observation, Suzume-san."

He walked to the front row of desks, standing in the center so all could see him. "If you all will have noticed, each of those statements are equally true. And why, you ask?" He strides quickly back to the board and jabs at the top word.

"Because each person's perception of the world is different. Thus—" his finger moves down to truth, "they perceive their own truths—" he moves over to reality, "shaping their own reality, which is no different than anyone else's, only from a different point of view." He returns to the front of the room, this time choosing to perch on the corner of his desk. "Not a one of you was wrong, but I hope that now you can see why perception is a very important thing to a shinobi. While individual truth is a fine and integral part of a shinobi's training, you must also remember that you must learn to literally and figuratively look underneath the underneath of everything." He reached into his weapons pouch to draw out a kunai and lazily tossed it behind him at a cracked corner of the ancient chalkboard. It chipped slightly, just enough to reveal to the startled students the pristine white of the wall behind it, protected from the touch of time by the blackboard in front of it. "Perception is everything."

There is silence from the students.

"You may be wondering why I'm placing such emphasis on a very confusing subject, one that very few of you will grasp even when you become genin and are placed on a team. I tell you this because I hope that when you try to see the world in a different light, and alter your perception of what you think is the truth, you will learn that you can do things you never before dreamed possible."

He stood and began to erase the board, talking loudly behind his shoulder.

"I want you to study chapter twelve tonight. It lists the standard operating procedure for recon teams in the field. Tomorrow we shall discuss the finer points of reconnaissance and how perception plays a defining role in its execution." He dusts his hands off and opens the door to the hallway. "Don't be surprised if there's a quiz tomorrow. Last night's homework will most likely be a factor as well. I trust the celebrated war games are over for the week?"

The class groaned in agony. They would be up most of the night in order to get everything done.

"Splendid. You are dismissed."

He watched them all file out one by one, nodding slightly to his younger cousin as she passed. Predictably blushed and rushed past him to a small group of giggling schoolgirls, all sneaking glances his way as they left for home and whatever hangouts they desired.

He closed the door, then bent over to pick up the chips of blackboard, and retrieved is kunai from the wall. Iruka-sensei would be pissed that Neji had so flagrantly violated school property, but he was confident that he could get Iruka to realize that is was all for the sake of education.

He sat down at his desk, groaning softly at the pile of papers he had to grade before he could go home. Why had he decided to become a teacher again? The pay was shitty and the hours were long.

Before he set himself to the task, he glanced out his window, which had a perfect view of the Hokage Monument. He gave a small, but genuine smile when his eyes alighted on the grinning visage of their current Hokage. The ruling council of Konoha and most of the senior shinobi had been in an uproar when he said that his carving would smile instead of looking like he 'had a stick up his ass', as he had so eloquently put of his predecessors.

He would never forget the look on his uncle's face when the Godaime had named him her successor. Priceless!

I'm glad that you've managed to change everyone's perception of you…………Naruto.

Perception was everything to a shinobi, after all.