The Groundhog Exam
I I I
Nothing post-timeskip applies. It never happened, it will never happen, and the junk Bakamoto made up about rules of how this or that worked do not apply.
Kishimoto started with a good concept, then turned his own series into crap.
It makes me wonder if he knows Rowling on a social basis.
I I I
It was the worst day for Konoha since the Kyubi attack, the invasion by the Hidden Villages of Sand and Sound.
Everything was chaos. Caught off guard and admittedly soft from years of peace, the people of Konoha were unprepared to be stabbed in the back by an allied village, or for the destructive return of one of their most powerful missing ninja, arriving at the head of a new band of followers.
Into this opening, Orochimaru stabbed, gutting the village that was once his home, using his own Sound shinobi and deceived Sand ninja to sew destruction and chaos among his former friends and neighbors.
Death and destruction was everywhere. It wasn't quite the end of the village hidden among the leaves, they would, in the normal course of events, throw off the attack and survive. But they would be weakened for some time to come, losing precious prestige and influence that cost them almost as dearly as the defending ninja who died that day.
But something happened Orochimaru did not intend. While he was attacking his former teacher, intending to kill Sarutobi, the Hokage of Konoha, a young boy sheathed in the red aura of the Kyubi attacked the barrier his faithful Sound Four had erected around the two to isolate their epic battle.
Thus begins our story.
I I I
"Ugh," Naruto groaned, turning over in bed. The whiskered blond boy blinked twice, coming more awake as he realized something. The last thing he remembered was charging at that wall of blue light, whatever it was, trying to get to the old man, to save him from whatever that long-necked guy was doing.
He remembered hitting that screen, and then... nothing, just waking up here.
Surprisingly, the young boy did not feel as awful as he somehow expected to. His body was fine, although his mind was decidedly not. There was an odd mix in there of the afterimage of the worst headache of his life, and a strange sort of tiredness, just like he was exhausted after a hard day, ready for a full night of sleep instead of getting up from one.
So, deciding that since no one would need him for anything after the fight the other day he could get away with taking a sick day, he rolled over and went right back to sleep, so tired that he didn't even pause to wonder about how the old man Hokage did in that fight the boy had tried interrupting.
A few hours later his nap got interrupted, first by loud banging on his door, which he ignored by rolling over, then...
"NARUTO!" Sakura slammed open his unlocked door (the lock was broken, like almost everything else in the boy's run down apartment), eyes wild with rage and her aura actually visible, so lost to her temper that she actually looked more like Inner Sakura for once.
Before the boy had a chance to sit up, blink, and wipe at the corner of his eye mumbling a puzzled, "Sakura-chan?" his teammate had stormed into the apartment and turned over his bed, flipping him out onto the ground in a pile of not so clean blankets and sheets.
He got as far as blinking, sitting up from his new position, and muttering a puzzled "Saku..." before the pink demon of fury had hauled him to his feet by the front of his nightclothes and was shouting into his face.
"JUST WHAT DID YOU THINK YOU WERE DOING, SLEEPING IN TODAY OF ALL DAYS?"
Waking up at last, the demon container wiped his eyes, unperturbed by her anger. Sakura was always angry at him, though today she seemed more than usual. "Oy, Sakura-chan," he mumbled into her glazed fury. "Did I miss something?"
"YOU MADE US MISS OUT ON ENTERING THE CHUNIN EXAMS!" she shrieked into his face, shaking him feebly. As the rage induced adrenalin left her weak limbs she dropped her hold on the boy's clothes.
Mortified, the Kyubi container saw tear tracks coming down from her eyes as Sakura teared up once more. "Sasuke-kun was so disappointed!"
Naruto bounced back to his feet again. "Oy, Sakura-cha..."
She pierced him with a gaze a pure, unadulterated hatred, stopping his attempt at apology and request for what she was talking about in its tracks. "DON'T YOU EVER CALL ME THAT AGAIN UZUMAKI-BAKA!" the preteen girl shouted in his face, tears flying as she mixed both grief and anger. "IN FACT, DON'T EVER SPEAK TO ME AGAIN!"
And with that, she fled crying from his room and his house, leaving the young boy in total puzzlement over her behavior, while her inner-Sakura was doing flips and handstands over how much her Sasuke-kun would appreciate her punishing Naruto-baka for disappointing them!
Head still aching and still tired, though not as much, but no longer disposed to sleep, Naruto started puzzling over her inexplicable behavior while he went about his morning routine.
He was just coming out of the shower, having come up with no answers nor anything he'd done to upset her lately, when he stepped out, wearing a towel, only to see Sasuke standing there in his hallway, glaring at him in rage.
Ignoring the anger as he always did, Naruto raised a hand and greeted his teammate happily. "Oy, Sasuke-teme, what's up?"
His answer came in the form of one of the best right hooks the Last Uchiha had ever thrown.
Not even remotely expecting it, Naruto put up no resistance when his fellow member of Team 7 beat him to within an inch of his life. The loudmouthed blond boy had NEVER been subject to so much violence from this boy, who he'd often considered a friend, even a brother, and caught between his initial surprise and trying to keep his towel on, didn't put up too much of a fight.
Finally, the brooding avenger wore his arms out and left without once having said a word the entire visit, his knuckles split and bleeding, toes sore from too much kicking, and annoyed that Naruto had absorbed it all without dying.
Naruto was left laying there on his floor in shock. Oh, the cuts and bruises went away so quickly he'd been healed of some before the others had fallen, but the shock of the brutality of the attack had left him astonished, and he lay there coming to grips with it.
Sasuke-teme had done everything sort of drawing weapons or using jutsu on him! He'd never once seen him that angry! And Sakura-chan, too! What was up with them?
What had he missed by sleeping in one day?
Glancing at a clock, the village pariah rubbed at sores on the back of his head in confusion. Heck! Kakashi-sensei shouldn't even be to the group's regular meeting spot yet!
What could have gotten them so upset?
As if to answer his unspoken question, the rookie genin turned around and saw their teacher there, leaning against a wall in Naruto's hallway, his nose stuck deep in that orange-covered book he always carried.
"Oy! Kakashi-sensei!" the battered blond dove forward, scrambling closer on his hands and knees, trying to get some answers, only to be stopped by a hostile gaze once again.
There was anger there, but mostly disappointment, through there was also some disgust, which, while Naruto was used to being ignored by his teacher, having his sensei be disgusted by him was a whole new realm of hurt.
Kakashi snapped his book shut, uncoiling slowly to face his blue eyed student. "Naruto, you greatly disappointed your team today. I'd thought better of you. For a while I thought you understood how your role is to support your teammates. I was counting on you to be there to hold them together, so Sasuke could climb higher. Now you have failed when they needed you the most, and I can see that I made a mistake in letting you graduate."
And with that the jonin vanished in a swirl of leaves.
The much abused Naruto was nearly in tears from these repeated shocks, coming one after another. Suddenly he couldn't bear to be in his apartment anymore. It was the source of too much recent pain. Throwing on his clothes over still healing bruised flesh, he got out of there and began to walk around the city aimlessly, no real purpose or place to go.
I I I
It was a bright, sunny day outside, one filled with many happy people. With the many visitors to town here for the chunin exam, more crowds were out than usual to see the strange new faces and wonder at their guests.
It was a happy town, a joyful one (well, when Naruto wasn't around anyway. He still got hateful glares wherever he went), but more importantly, it was a peaceful town.
Even Naruto started to notice changes right away, but he couldn't put his finger on what it was he was noticing until he came upon one of the ninja he'd seen killed. It was a Konoha nin, and Naruto knew nothing about him, not even his name. They were not even acquaintances, however, he HAD seen the man die in gory and messy ways, then his body laying slumped on the ground.
It had been a particularly graphic and unmistakable death, even for ninja. It was for that reason that it had stood out among so many, and a big part of why he'd remembered it.
Startled by seeing that man alive, Naruto started looking around and saw that none of the other damage was visible. That had been a tremendous fight that had brought Konoha to its knees, the battle had scarred the entire town as jutsu wielding ninja fought across the whole length and breadth of it... yet everything looked just fine.
If there had been a battle here, there certainly was no trace of it.
But how could that be? He'd been there during that battle, he KNEW it had happened! Naruto puzzled til his puzzler was sore, but he could not make any sense of it. He knew, he KNEW that those things had happened, but...
All of those thoughts fled his mind as he dismissed them, having seen a person who could probably tell him what was up with Sakura-chan. "Oy! Ino! Wait up!" And the orange-clad boy ran over to where the blonde girl had been walking along proudly with her team.
Fresh from the tests, and flush with their own success, Ino turned to face her caller simply radiating confidence... at least until she recognized who it was. Then a thin layer of anger overlaid her confidence. "Naruto!" she snapped, before the boy could get a word in edgewise. "How dare you show your face after disappointing Sasuke-kun that way!"
The boy scraped to a halt and rubbed his cheek. "Ino, what are you talking about?"
She rolled her eyes. "Today was the first test of the CHUNIN EXAM, moron! Did you just forget to show up? Sasuke-kun wasn't able to take the test since his whole team wasn't there to support him! You are holding him back! Hmph! Maybe he should find himself another teammate, or a better team."
Ino turned her nose up, gave a disdainful sniff, and turned away, walking off with Team 10 trailing along in her wake.
Naruto just stood there looking gobsmacked.
"But... wasn't that a month ago?" he mumbled.
Now Konoha's pariah had long ago developed an iron-hard skull, bull-headed determination being his sole survival tool in a village that hated him. Having been sabotaged by teachers and scorned by all who knew him, he had learned to dismiss anything he could not understand, as there was no person he could go to regularly to explain them or help him figure them out, and all too many people who'd be willing to deliberately add to his confusion. So, since most puzzles had no solution, at least to him, he'd learned to simply throw them out so he didn't waste any mental effort worrying about them.
Still, as much as he tried to, today's events were a bit of a strain for him to just pass off as nothing.
So it was that Naruto found his feet guiding him to the one place he could always count on for help explaining things he couldn't understand. The Hokage could not spare time to teach him all of the time, but he was the kid's one source of trustworthy information on things he couldn't otherwise understand; the only one before graduation who'd ever explain things to him.
So he tromped into the Hokage's office and shot an arm up high. "Oy! Old man! How did your fight with snake-face go? I didn't see the end of it!"
Sarutobi took his pipe out of his mouth and stared at the boy in confusion. He'd been expecting Naruto to begin pleading and whining over his failure at the chunin entrance exam, not this. He'd already prepared a speech where he denied the boy a second chance to take this test, telling him how another six month wait would build his skills and character. Instead, Naruto seemed not to care at all.
Then his question hit.
"I'm sorry, Naruto. I've not seen Orochimaru in many years." The Hokage tapped ash out of his pipe in confusion over how that question had come out of the boy's mouth.
"Huh?" Naruto opened his eyes wide to blink in confusion of his own, then he stamped a foot down hard, forming a fist. "Don't lie to me, old Man! I saw you fighting him yesterday! He was there, all wiggly and with that long-neck thing of his! You'd gotten trapped in this big, blue box and he'd gotten these guys growing trees and stuff inside while you summoned a monkey!"
Laying the pipe aside, Sarutobi carefully looked over the youngster. "I'm sorry, Naruto. But I do not use my summons lightly, and there are no publicly known users of the wood techniques who remain in Konoha. The last was our First Hokage. So I would have known of any such goings on. You must have heard stories before having quite an interesting dream."
"Could it all have been just a dream?" the boy wondered, scratching his head. Then his eyes widened in horror. "But that means I missed my chance to become a chunin! Aw! What a day to sleep in!"
Sarutobi chuckled. "Don't take it so hard, Naruto. In another six months you may get another chance. You are still young, there are many opportunities before you. I'll tell you what," he took out a slip of paper and began to write a note. "Take this to Ebisu, he is a special jonin who teaches only the best. This will instruct him to teach you a jutsu."
Numbly, Naruto accepted the paper and the accompanying instructions on how to find the special jonin, then went off to find him. Having already objected once to this instructor, then failed to win in a contest in support of those objections, Naruto did not complain about having Ebisu as a teacher. They had begun the water walking training together, which had turned out to be useful. Besides, the boy's mind was numb from repeated shocks, so for once he simply did as he was told and sought out the older man.
Sarutobi, watching in his crystal ball, was shocked by this behavior. Meek acceptance was not often a part of Naruto's character. So the Hokage supposed having lost his chance at the chunin exam had hurt the boy worse than he'd thought.
The demon container tracked down his new teacher in the forests around the training grounds, spending some time doing so as he had to find exactly where he was. There, he simply presented the note, and proceeded to stand there obeying wordlessly as Ebisu instructed him to do this, do that, lift one foot, assume taijutsu stances, and then finally list off the jutsus he already knew.
"Body Switch, Transformation, Sexy, Shadow Clone, Harem techniques..." the boy replied woodenly, still in shock over it all, and forgetting to put toad summoning on his list.
Ebisu sniffed disdainfully. "Two of those are useless, and the others are all basic, except for the Shadow Clone technique. You do not even say you have the basic Clone technique, so you fail to master the essential three. Still," the man pushed his small glasses back up his nose as he gazed off to the horizon proudly. "I suppose Shadow Clone makes up the difference enough for you to be considered a rookie genin. But you are nowhere close to being chunin material!"
"Yah, yah, just teach me something, already." Naruto started to pick his nose, staring at the instructor sullenly, already tired of being yelled at. He'd already had enough of that for one day.
Ebisu crossed his arms and gave him a dismissive snort. "Harrumph! Go walk up that tree!" he pointed.
Naruto did so.
"Heh, your chakra control is pathetic! Go walk on that stream!" Ebisu ordered, pointing again.
Naruto did so.
"Wasteful! You use a hundred times the chakra that you need. Float that leaf above your palm!" the special jonin ordered.
"What are you talking about?" the sullen genin groused.
Smiling that he had found something easy to teach the young boy, Ebisu then started to explain the leaf floating exercise for training in chakra control, which he left Naruto to perform for the rest of that day.
Late evening, finishing off with a dinner consisting of an enormous amount of ramen, the village pariah concluded what had on the whole been a very stressful and unproductive day, and went back to bed with most of his questions still unresolved, already long into the process of forgetting them altogether.
Waking up early the next morning, Naruto blearily went through his ordinary routine before heading out to the forest to continue his training with the leaf floating thing.
He'd been at it several hours, without much success, when all of a sudden he was lifted up by the throat by an angry Sakura who was practically breathing flames as she shouted, "NARUTO! JUST WHAT DID YOU THINK YOU WERE DOING, GOOFING OFF TODAY OF ALL DAYS?"
"Huh, wha... Sakura-cha..." his head was suddenly ringing as she'd just dropped and slapped him.
"DON'T YOU EVER CALL ME THAT AGAIN UZUMAKI-BAKA!" she shouted. "IN FACT, DON'T EVER SPEAK TO ME AGAIN! YOU MADE US MISS OUT ON ENTERING THE CHUNIN EXAMS!"
"But... but, I thought that was yesterday..." he puzzled, already confused as the half-dismissed questions from yesterday returned, full force, to his mind.
Sakura just slapped him again as her answer, before stomping off, sure of the justice in her righteous fury, and that Sasuke-kun would be so happy that she'd helped punish Naruto for disappointing them like that!
The blond boy she'd left behind just stared after her in confusion, clutching the hand shaped red mark on his cheek.
Moments later, turning to face another sound he'd only just heard, the confused blond called out, "Oy, Sasuke-teme, what's up?"
This time the right hook wasn't entirely unexpected.
When Kakashi came and broke up their fight, he gave Naruto a silent yet withering glare, then took the Last Uchiha away for private training.
Naruto stumbled into town in a daze, found Ino with her team where he'd last met her, received the exact same treatment and response, and wandered in even more confusion up to the Hokage's office, where Sarutobi once more took pity on the boy and gave him a note for Ebisu.
The special jonin was able to give him several pointers on his leaf floating technique, and after another day of training Naruto went to bed one very confused boy.
I I I
"Oy, Saku... eh, Haruno-san," Naruto called out weakly, giving a half hearted wave to his pink haired teammate as she came skipping up to greet Sasuke.
Sakura gave him a look filled with confusion that he'd switch from his usual intimate form of address to something so formal, but quickly figuring that if he was going to stop bothering her with his clumsy and unwanted crush, that was all to the good as it made it clearer to Sasuke-kun that he had no rivals for her affection, the pink haired kunoichi accepted the change in address and went to babble to her other teammate, leaving Naruto out in the cold, so to speak.
The boy she was ignoring felt so confused he didn't know where to start! He felt burned enough by the one bad experience to not want to sleep in, and just confused enough by the other to check in at the testing center before he went off to train; and to his surprise, all of the chunin hopefuls were gathering for a chance to take the first test!
Naruto had a deeply ingrained aversion to thinking. Thinking about why the villagers hated him only made it hurt more. Thinking about problems when no one would ever give him an answer just got him more confused. But here was something he could not ignore, and it was driving him crazy!
Happy to dismiss it all in spite of that, the blond boy followed his two other teammates into the building, where there was a group of disguised chunins standing by a door under an illusion, trying to turn the test hopefuls away.
The boy watched, awestruck, as the fight between Lee and Sasuke happened once more, exactly as before, as the bushy-browed boy tried again (for the first time?) to prove that hard work could beat a genius.
The Uzumaki boy followed in an ever increasing stupor as events turned out the same as before until they reached the testing room. This time he was in far too much of a haze to call out his challenge to the room, but still the silver haired, glasses wearing Konoha genin came up to offer them advice, and the rush attack from the Sound genin happened just as before, with Naruto staring at it all as a dumbstruck witness, too shocked to move.
By the time Ibiki came out and they all had the exact same seats as before, the demon container could no longer stand it. Standing up on his chair and placing one foot on his desk, he pointed to the head examiner and shouted, "You bastard! Nobody has to write down anything to pass this test! You've got it rigged so that anyone who agrees to take the tenth question wins!"
Ibiki, while both surprised and fuming inside, kept a calm facade as he looked down on his notebook and shouted a terse, "Team 7 - fail."
Naruto was still staring dumbly as the assistant examiners took him by the arms, dragged him to the doors, and threw him out. He was barely listening as Sakura shrieked, almost blowing out his eardrums, that if he'd learned something secret about the tests he should have kept quiet about it and not gotten them thrown out!
Sasuke bruised his feet and hurt his knuckles trying to give his unresponsive rival another beating.
Kakashi let it happen. Then he had a few words to say, adding his own lecture about keeping secret information secret so you could use it to your advantage - and NOT blurting it out in public so it couldn't do you any good.
Still, at least this time Kakashi was a bit amused on top of his anger at Naruto for getting his team thrown out of the exams.
Naruto was still gulping like a goldfish by the time they left him alone.
"Everything..." he finally whispered, long after he was all alone. "Everything is the same... nothing changes..."
Then he grew a wide, prankster grin, and his eyes came alight for the first time in days. "Unless I change it."
He went off to see the Hokage and, sure enough, after trying and failing to explain what was going on to the one man he trusted most of all, he got another letter to Ebisu, who further refined his leaf floating technique with a few more helpful suggestions.
With help like this he'd soon get it down.
The boy was chuckling madly as he went back to sleep.
I I I
"Oy! Sakura-chan!" Naruto called out happily, greeting his team in a new morning while standing in front of the testing center as all of the chunin hopefuls entered. His hair was washed and he had on his best outfit. "Glad to see you decided to come!"
"Well, I wasn't about to disappoint Sasuke-kun!" the pink haired fangirl cried, rushing over to the object of her obsession to fawn over the brooding Uchiha.
At first Naruto frowned, as that snub had hurt. Then he quickly smiled again, rubbing the back of his head while chuckling, before adopting a very obvious sly expression. "Say, Sakura-chan, why do you like Sasuke so much?"
"Why? WHY?" Sakura shrieked, before bonking the blond on the head. "Why do you have to ask such a stupid question? He's a strong ninja, the top of his class! You think I'd go for a dead-last like you when I could have someone like him?" Suddenly she was back by the Uchiha's side, trying to take his arm so she could guide him into the center. "Come along Sasuke-kun! We wouldn't want to be late for the test!"
Grumbling and rubbing his head, Naruto followed them inside.
I I I
First off, I'm just plain TIRED of reading fanfiction, particularly Naruto fanfiction, where non-Japanese speakers show off their ability to quote Japanese words from their textbooks, and that practically insist on making you learn Japanese in order to understand it. There will be no Japanese words used if I can find an English equivalent. Do a search and replace if it annoys you that much.
An exception will be made for certain name suffixes sometimes, as I feel those are easy and contain useful information. But I am NOT going to stress about using them right or often. On the other hand, words like 'ninja' have been borrowed for so long they are effectively English.
Secondly, Naruto's team were a little harsh on him, yes. My reasons for that? Well, as with any time-loop scenario, you've got to have problems to fix. So, in light of that, the reactions of Naruto's teammates may have been a little extreme, and they needed to be. However, in my mind none of them were out of character. Giving Naruto grief for a major disappointment? Oh yeah! But they all planned to make it up to him later, after he'd learned his lesson and suffered a bit. It's just that, in a repeating time loop, later never arrives.
To put it another way, we have a fairly simple "Bump, Set, Spike" routine going on here.
To Bump, you interrupt the course the story was originally taking. It's purpose is to give the character a "Wait a minute! I didn't like that! Something's got to change!" moment, and yes, the PURPOSE of those is to be unpleasant!
That's why they make a character want to change them.
To Set, you redirect whatever random course you got out of your bump into a positive course of action. The 'Aha!' moment that resolves the confusion and sets you up for the beginning of your plan, which is, sadly, all we were able to get to in this first chapter.
Then the Spike, which is your payload, where all of the good points come from, and really where you want to get as quickly as possible. Not so quickly as to make the story unbelievable, however.
And as far as him training with Ebisu, yes, it is impossible to effect any physical change across the resets. You can even die, in such a situation, and wake up unchanged the next morning. However, for purposes of this story, chakra CONTROL is purely mental. Chakra itself has both mental and physical components, and let's be honest here, Naruto has frigging enormous body energy (amazing healing and hyperactive, etc) and practically zero mental (he has a surprisingly good brain, which intentionally or otherwise he has been conditioned not to use). So he'll even be able, potentially, to shoot his chakra capacity up to even more surreal levels, just by training up his mental side.
As for techniques, things like shooting fireballs or teleporting from place to place, those are all learned skills, and as such he can acquire them. On the other hand, armed and unarmed combat are almost as much about reflexes as anything, which the body cannot carry over. So while Naruto can do himself some good there, do not expect miracles. Lastly, things like speed and brawn, endurance and toughness, which are pure physical conditioning, he won't be able to acquire at all in a time loop scenario. He's stuck with what he's got as far as those are concerned. So he could lift all of the weights in the world and it would not help him.