Dislcaimer: I don't own Naruto, but I am the proud owner of a (sort of) new car.

This'll probably be a one-shot, but I haven't decided for sure, yet. I might eventually add another chapter to it, but this would probably be something like a side project while I'm working on other things. I think it stands by itself, but I do have some other fun ideas I'd like to write along this storyline sometime.

Hope you like it, let me know.

A New Year

R. Winters

The eight-year-old waved off his friends at the gates of the Academy as they all headed off in different directions. He grinned to himself as he headed home, giving a stone on the sidewalk a vicious kick and sending it ricocheting down the street.

It was going to be a good year.

Today was the first day of the new semester at the Academy, and it had been even better than his first day last year. He'd snuck a frog into Tsunade's desk—she'd screamed in the middle of class, and the frog had jumped out and landed on Kazume's head, which had effectively sent the female portion of their class into hysterics. It had been hilarious!

Then he'd managed to correct Orochimaru's answer when their teacher asked the class a question about Wind Country—Orochimaru never got answers wrong, and the dark haired boy had gone completely red in the face and shot him glares all throughout the rest of the class. The boy grinned a little more just at the memory of it, it served the sissy right.

He'd managed to talk Daichi out of his doughnut holes, and he'd bribed Raiden to give him the salamander tail he found by the river. Then, to top off the best day in his life, he'd gotten in a fight with Fukyu, the toughest ten-year-old in the school, during lunch and given him a bloody nose before the teachers managed to separate them.

A year that started like today would definitely be a good year. With luck, he'd even graduate this year.

Jiraiya's step faltered as his keen hearing picked up an unusual sound among all the normal activity around him. He turned abruptly, eyes scanning the tall fence he stood next to, and then the rest of the buildings and streets. He was getting into the residential section now, so it wasn't very crowded, and the few people he saw couldn't have been the source of his distraction.

Reluctantly, the boy turned and continued home, keeping a closer eye out for anything unusual. Was it Fukyu or one of his friends, looking for revenge? Jiraiya was confident that he could take whoever it was, but he still had to be on guard.

The sound came again—like something was tapping against the tall, wooden fence. Jiraiya spun, searching up and down the fence for any sign of what caused the noise.

"Akemi?" He called out uncertainly—she lived down the street from him, but he hadn't seen her on the way to school that morning, and didn't expect to see her now.

There was no response. Reluctantly, the boy turned again.

Slouching his shoulders a little and glancing around with narrowed eyes, Jiraiya continued home.

When he heard the noise for a third time he gave the fence a hard kick and looked around with flaring eyes. "Alright, I know you're there!" He shouted, "Stop hiding, you coward! Come out and face me like a ninja!"

There was no response.

Angrily, Jiraiya turned home again, only to pull up short as he found himself face-to-face, rather face-to-hair, with a small boy he'd never seen before.

The boy was dressed in blues and blacks, wearing a pair of ninja sandals, and had his arms crossed over his chest, staring up at him with a small frown and half-lidded eyes. He had a wild flame of white hair that Jiraiya was sure he would've remembered if he knew him.

The older boy crossed his arms in response, frowning back, "Are you the runt who's been following me?"

"You didn't even notice for the first ten minutes," the boy stated disdainfully, "Are you really the strongest guy in the Academy?"

Jiraiya grinned arrogantly, "You better believe it!" He confirmed, "I trashed Fukyu just today, and he's twice your size, shrimp."

"… You seem stupid to me," the boy said blankly.

Jiraiya bristled with anger, his own white hair spiking out a little more than usual, "Hey! Watch what you're saying, brat! I've beaten up guys for saying less than that to me! You're lucky I'm in such a good mood, or I'd clock you good right now!"

"Try," the boy said.

Caught off guard, the eight-year-old didn't immediately understand what he was asking for, "Huh?"

The boy stepped back and lowered his arms, "Try," he repeated, "Right now. Try to hit me."

The older boy glowered, "Don't tempt me, brat, or I will!"

"You couldn't even touch me," the boy said arrogantly, "You're all talk. I bet Fukyu-senpai would've beat you bad if the teachers hadn't intervened."

"Why you…!" There was only so far Jiraiya's good mood could carry him, and he'd reached the end of his patience. If the brat wanted to be hit so badly, then he'd give it to him! Forming a fist with his right hand, the boy charged.

He threw the punch at the boy's unimpressed gaze, only the boy wasn't there anymore and a second later Jiraiya found himself falling hard on his back, his legs swept cleanly out from under him. Disoriented, the boy glanced around to see the younger boy standing up, frowning down at him.

"That's the best you can do?" The midget asked disdainfully.

In an instant, Jiraiya leapt to his feet—there was no way he was going to let some baby make a fool out of him! He didn't attack right away this time, aware that there was more to this little kid than met the eye. And maybe he wasn't even a little kid at all, it could always be one of the older students, or a teacher, using henge.

Nodding to himself, Jiraiya confirmed this as the most likely explanation. He was being tested to see if he could graduate early, and the little kid was just a ruse to put him off his guard. It was time for him to take this fight seriously.

"You're really asking for it, kid," he growled, a small smirk crossing his face. To think they actually thought he'd fall for something like this.

When the boy didn't react, Jiraiya took the initiative again, this time keeping himself in tight control so when the boy dodged his fist he was ready to lash out with a kick that hit home.

The kid grunted, managing to lessen the impact with crossed arms, but then he disappeared again and Jiraiya spun around, searching wildly for him. The diminutive child dropped on him from above like a sack of rice, both of them collapsing to the ground. The boy was on his feet again immediately, aiming a forceful axe kick towards Jiraiya's head. The older boy rolled out of the way, using the momentum to drive himself to his feet.

But now the kid was on the offensive and Jiraiya had to act quickly to defend himself, blocking a combination of punches and kicks to his front and then getting nailed with one from behind that couldn't have been thrown by the same kid but was. He caught himself on the pavement with his hands and threw himself forward in a flip to land on his feet again, spinning to face the little brat.

It was definitely one of the teachers.

Jiraiya charged, determined to take back the offensive, taking advantage of his longer reach to keep the kid from getting close. The brat was quick, though, and dodged almost everything Jiraiya threw at him until, all of a sudden, a small fist collided with the side of the older boy's jaw.

Jiraiya reeled with the blow, his lower lip cutting on his teeth, and before he could recover his legs were swept out from under him again, and then the boy was there, sitting on his chest with a kunai held to his neck. Jiraiya glared as fiercely as he could and took a small, vindictive pleasure in seeing a bruise beginning to form on the brat's cheek.

"You lasted longer than Fukyu-senpai, at least," the boy commented, sounding distinctly unimpressed.

It was difficult for Jiraiya to hold himself still, with how wildly his blood was pumping through his ears. He managed it, though, well aware that if he made any rash movements the kid might accidentally cut him. It didn't occur to him that the boy might actually be serious about the threat to his neck. "Who are you?" He demanded angrily.

The boy slowly stood, backing off and shoving his hands in his pockets lazily, "Hatake Sakumo," he answered dully, watching with half-lidded, bored eyes as Jiraiya got to his feet again.

"Hatake Sakumo," Jiraiya repeated with a frown—was that one of the teachers? He didn't recognize the name, was he new?

"It's my second year," the boy said as though responding to Jiraiya's unspoken question. "But don't strain yourself thinking," he added reproachfully, "We haven't met before. Is there anyone stronger than you?"

Jiraiya's certainty that this brat was a teacher wavered at the question—he didn't talk like a teacher, and wouldn't the teachers know who the strongest kids at the Academy were? Moodily, the eight-year-old shrugged.

"I'm in Rukio-sensei's class," the boy said, "Tell me if you think of anyone."

As Jiraiya stared at him incredulously, the brat turned and started to walk away. Jiraiya was after him in a flash.

"Wait!" He shouted, catching up to the brat quickly—the boy paused to look at him. "Why do you want to know who's stronger than me, anyway?"

The boy shrugged, "I need to graduate this year. If I beat all the strongest students, then they'll have to let me graduate. Did you think of anyone?"

Jiraiya shrugged again—Orochimaru came to his mind immediately, but he really didn't want to admit to being weaker than that pansy. "I dunno," he said instead, "I'll tell you if I think of someone. Sakumo, right?"

The boy nodded.

"What's so important about graduating this year, anyway?" Jiraiya demanded, falling in step with the boy as he continued walking.

"I'm the clan head, now," the boy responded coolly, "It's silly for an Academy student, so I need to graduate quickly. Besides," he added flippantly, "It's gotten kind of boring."

Jiraiya frowned—he didn't really understand about clan heads, but he could see how someone as strong as this kid would be bored in the second year Academy class. Still… "Are you really an Academy student?" He asked incredulously.

"Why?" The cocky smirk was back, "What do you think I am?"

Jiraiya opened his mouth to say exactly what he thought the boy was, but stopped himself at the last moment. If he really was an Academy student it would be way too embarrassing to admit he'd thought he was one of the Chuunin instructors. Instead, he scowled and turned his back on the boy.

"I think you're a cocky brat," he retorted, shoving his hand in his pockets, "I'm going home."

His scowl deepened as he realized the brat had managed to completely ruin his good mood in the last five minutes alone. If this was how the year was starting, maybe it wouldn't be such a good year, after all.