Author's notes – I didn't know if posting this was a good idea. The first two chapters of this story were actually written before my other story on this site "He's Not Normal" even started. Since then, I managed to write three other chapters in two weeks, and then my inspiration went downhill. Three days ago, my Muse came back to me and helped me writing the sixth chapter of this story, so I decided to give it a chance after some editing. It has more or less the same starting point as my other story and it actually inspired it in some ways, but there are major differences between the two, the first one being the genre. While "He's Not Normal" is my attempt at writing a parody, with this one I'm trying a more serious approach, but not too much more serious. Hope you'll enjoy it, or better, them both.
Warning – I'm Italian and without a beta (a much needed beta I'm said and I happen to agree), so this story will probably be a big huge mistake from a grammatical and syntactical point of view. I hope it doesn't suck completely from other points of view as well. Anyways, consider yourselves warned. There will be many mistakes both in my attempt at writing in English and in Japanese (or at least those few Japanese words I will have to use). You can point them out to me at your leisure. I'll do what I can.
Disclaimer – Don't own Naruto. Don't own his world. All I own is hangin' on my back.
Chapter 1 – Genin Exam: Kick their ass!
I open my eyes at the sound of an alarm clock, a continuous chirping too loud for my ears. I shut off the infernal device and look around sleepily, lifting my head from the warm pillow. What I see is a messy old room with posters on the walls and battered-looking furniture scattered all around.
"You did it again, bastard," I say and the only answer I receive is a soft cackle in my mind.
The bed creaks under my weight as I roll around and on my back, and stretch my limbs with a content sigh. I remain like that for a long minute, thinking about what happened and what will happen. Another sigh, this time of tiredness, escapes my lips.
The Fox meddled with my life – and death – again.
I stand up and walk swiftly to the calendar on the wall near the door. It's unnecessary, I know, but I have to. I look at it and follow the numbered days marked with a red 'X' until I find the first without one. There is a scribble instead that says: "First step to become Hokage – Genin Exam! Kick their ass!"
I can't help but chuckle a little despite having read it countless times. I step into the little kitchen and grab the first edible thing visible. Strangely enough, it's a cup of instant ramen.
I chuckle again. What a fanatic I was...
My loyal jumpsuit waits for me on a chair near the bed. It smells of wood and rain, and faintly of blood. I put it on anyway. My sense of smell is quite above average. I doubt someone could notice anything, with the exception of an Inuzuka, of course.
When my weapons are finally fastened to my belt and holsters, I climb out of the window and onto the roof of the building harboring my little apartment. Slowly gaining speed, I jump over the shop nearby, and then on the next, using tiny bursts of chakra under my feet.
The Hidden Village of the Leaf flies rapidly past me and I watch it with something akin to affection. Konoha is waking up under the early morning sun, and its people are already wandering around.
I jump from roof to roof with a smile on my face. It's good to be young again. No aches in my bones, no migraine and no omnipresent tiredness... I'm strong, full of energy, and for the first time in this life, I completely understand and agree with all the babbling words of Maito Gai and Rock Lee about the 'Power of Youth'. I almost shout something on those lines as I land on a chimney and pump a grain of chakra in the muscles of my legs before jumping high in the sky and toward another building.
A knowing cackle resounds in my head and it's clearly contagious because I find myself laughing as well.
'You're all talk,' a derisive voice whispers in my mind.
'Shut up, Fox. Don't ruin this peaceful moment for once,' I say. 'One day you too will be tired of all this and you will let me rest.'
'Brat,' he answers and I roll my eyes at the inappropriate word, 'I'm meant to be immortal and that will not change. Now, be a good boy and start the carnage already.'
I snort. 'Brat' was already too much, but to call 'boy' someone who has lived for thousands and thousands of years is absolutely ridiculous. If he didn't travel back in time himself, then the Kyuubi would be younger than me.
'The carnage, as you call it, will probably take years to start,' I say with a touch of annoyance in my 'internal' voice. 'And I don't know if I'll take a part in it.'
I can see him grinning. 'You will.'
Ignoring an immature, yet immortal Demon Fox is always the best solution as I learned through the centuries, so I simply continue jumping over the streets of Konoha enjoying the sunlight and the breeze.
I wonder what will happen this time. What team will I be in? Who will be my teammates? Who my Sensei?
There's no real answer to that, I know. It could be everything, it had been everything. If life taught me anything it's that it can always surprise you. Living thousands of years helps a little, sure, but it can't give you all the answers, fortunately. What a boring existence it would be if it wasn't like that!?
I can't help but be partially grateful to the Fox. If it hadn't been for his stubborn refuse of death, then I wouldn't have done, seen, learned, and loved many, many things. I would have died that long past day in my bed in the Hokage residence. At the time, I thought I had lived a long and full life. And it was true. I had. But all is relative except the stubbornness of a Demon – that is just too much from every possible point of view. The Kyuubi didn't accept death that day, and somehow – he never tells me how – he dragged our entwined souls back in time to my twelve-year-old body, nearly ninety years in the past. And a life followed another one, and another, and another, an uncountable number of times. And whenever that inescapable day had come, the day I was to die, the fox saved his very sorry ass and a less sorry mine to start over again.
I'm grateful, really, but every so often – that from my point of view means something like every third existence– I feel tired of it and just want to rest. To die, if you wish. My last life had been one of the happiest I remember, therefore I asked, threatened, begged the Kyuubi to let us die. You know when you say 'end with a bang'... sort of.
But here I am again, ready for another life I didn't want.
Keyword being 'didn't'.
Now... I don't know. Yesterday I was a wrinkled old man, weak and tired. Today I'm young, strong and feeling unstoppable. A new life of infinite possibilities stands before me, bright and full of promises. Why shouldn't I enjoy it? Now I'm here and it would be utterly stupid to waste this chance, whether I wanted it or not.
I let myself fall from the roof I was on and into the street, and begin walking calmly and confidently toward the not too far away Ninja Academy.
The first glare hits me when I turn the first corner – an old lady who narrows her hateful eyes from the front door of her shop. I look at her confused for a moment. Then I remember. Oh, yeah… I'm not Hokage anymore. At the moment I'm the demon brat who killed hundreds of Shinobi and villagers. I'm the cause of the death of the beloved Yondaime. And on top of that, I'm the prankster king Uzumaki Naruto. I have probably painted this woman's house orange or something not too long ago.
The glare doesn't hurt me anymore; it hasn't for many, many lives. I understand now how she feels, and despite knowing she is the one in the wrong, I don't really blame her. It's not her fault. It's no one's probably.
Passing by, I smile at her and bow a little. I register the surprise in her expression before I look in front of me again.
I encounter other villagers before reaching the Ninja Academy. Everyone of them glares at me and all they receive is a polite smile and a little bow. Their reactions are amusing in a way. They startle, tilt their heads and look at me funny. They probably think I'm up to something.
I snicker a little at that thought as I pass through the iron gates of the Academy. I'm fairly early for the exam, but there are other students already. It's an important day after all.
The day of the Genin Exam.
On my right, leaning on a tree, is Aburame Shino. As I approach him, I feel his gaze on me, concealed by his sunglasses.
I greet him with a grin and a cheerful wave of the hand. We're good friends... in some lives. We've been teammates many times, but that doesn't say much considering I have been in a team with possibly every Konoha ninja, and not only those my age. Anyway, what matters is that we've been teammates in my last life. It's always the last life that matters – the last and the first… a little like sex. Anyway, before I woke up in this new existence, there passed no day during which someone didn't talk about the infamous Team 8 – Aburame, Hyuuga, Uzumaki.
"Uzumaki," he answers with a light nod of his head. I notice he's a little stiffer than usual – and you notice these little things after a lifetime or more as his best friend –, but I don't know if it's because of the approaching exam or because of my presence. I remember we never talked very much in the Academy years.
"How are you and your kikai bugs?" I ask peering behind the high collar of his jacket where the little insects usually concentrate when he isn't hiding them. Sure enough, some are buzzing there, flying in and out of the coat.
"We are ready to perform at nearly one hundred percent of our potential," he answers seriously and I grin at him.
"Perfect. Good luck with the exam then."
I walk off as he nods somewhat hesitantly, seemingly uncertain about where the loud boy known as Uzumaki Naruto has gone. I think he won't be the only one wondering about that.
I make my way to the actual entrance of the Academy where I spotted another very familiar face, one sporting a vertical red mark on every cheek. Inuzuka Kiba turns immediately toward me, a smirk playing on his lips. On top of his head, Akamaru barks once.
"Hey Naruto! Do you plan on failing for the third time straight?" the boy asks with little to no malice.
"Ah ah, very funny dog-boy," I reply with a smirk of my own. "Sorry to disappoint you, but today I'm here to kick everybody's ass!"
I chuckle at myself thinking that the twelve years old Naruto would have really said something like that… if a little louder. Both Kiba and Akamaru seem amused, I'm sure for different reasons than mine.
"And how will you do that? You won't even be able to kick the ass of one of your sick clones!" he exclaims much to the amusement of those within earshot. I remember that my pathetic-looking clones were quite famous during my Academy years, like a class joke or something. I also remember how even a humiliating thing like that made me feel somewhat acknowledged in a bittersweet way.
I just smile at him as he turns around when someone taps him on the shoulder. I'm rather eager to dispel my Kage Bunshin just to receive his memory of Kiba's shocked expression at the sight of my clone standing behind him with a large grin on his face. The Inuzuka actually freezes on his spot and I notice that other students are watching the scene in awe. I apparently didn't use any seal – and not just apparently –, my clone appeared out of thin air producing neither smoke nor sound, and he actually touched Kiba's shoulder proving his solidity and consequently his 'abnormality'.
"Not so sick after all, eh Kiba?" the Kage Bunshin says haughtily. "Now bend down a little so I can kick right where the sun doesn't shine."
The clone's speech seems to break the silence around us and someone starts snickering. I take a step forward and punch him on the head dispelling him.
"What a smug smart-ass," I complain with a disapproving frown as his memories pass to me. I smile widely at the image that flows in my mind of Kiba and Akamaru utterly shocked and with their mouths hanging open.
"How did you do that?" asks the dog-boy recomposing himself.
"Well… first you lift your arm, then you close your hand in a fist and finally you bring it down-"
"Not that! How did you do a solid clone!" Kiba interrupts me annoyed, before murmuring under his breath… "Now who's the smart-ass?"
I smile a little.
"It's called Kage Bunshin no Jutsu. It's a different jutsu than the one used to create a normal Bunshin and it actually requires different seals." I refrain from offering to teach him the advanced technique because I know he could not manage it with his low chakra reserves. I don't even think he would accept my help right now. Kiba is a rather proud person and on top of it, he's quite the stubborn one. Years and years of friendship taught me that. Well, not only that. More like a complete outline of his entire personality.
"I'm gonna enter and take my seat now. Good luck with your exam."
I don't give him time to answer as I run into the building and out of sight. I seem to remember the conversation I had with him, probably because it happened in some of my past lives. But I can't be sure. Living thousands and thousands of years, I tend to forget the little things.
The classroom is already half-full of students. I recognize most of them as future Shinobi of the Leaf. Those whose faces I don't remember had probably given up their ninja career or were killed by the time I became Hokage and ordered everybody around. Sure, I didn't always make Hokage in my past lives, but it happened so many times, I'm positive I know every possible man or woman who can become a Shinobi of Konoha.
"Hi everybody!" I shout drawing attention to me. The buzzing of the various conversations stops for a moment as I wave my hand in greeting, before all the students go back to what they were doing.
I make my way to the last row of seats in the back of the classroom. Hyuuga Hinata is already there, a pretty blush on her face as she pushes her forefingers together in a nervous gesture. Awww… How much cuter could she get?
I sit beside my many-times wife and mother of my children. Last time I saw her… it's not a particularly happy memory. Watching her die slowly and painfully in our bed had been bad. No wound, no blood… nothing visible. Just a quite normal disease affecting an old body too tired to defend itself. It's always much, much worse when it happens like that. The feeling of helplessness always seems stronger in those instances… sharper.
I watch her now, young and well… safe. I smile and bury those morbid thoughts under layers and layers of happy memories. It's easy. They are much more.
"Hey Hinata! How are you?" I refrain from adding chan to her name, as I usually did in the vast majority of my past lives. She will have a hard time not passing out even without the familiar form of address.
Sure enough she ducks her head, her cheeks almost a shade of purple as she presses her forefingers even harder. "H-Hi N-Naruto. I-I'm fine, t-thank you," she stammers in a small voice before taking a deep shaking breath. "H-How are y-you?"
"I feel great!" I exclaim excited. I know she loves it when I act confidently. She feels confident herself when I do. "Today we'll show these weaklings how strong we are! Right Hinata?"
She blushes more if that was even possible, and I fear she won't resist much longer. Still, she nods energetically. "Yes!"
I smile at her, and she notices it when she darts her white eyes furtively over to my face. She seems to be almost transfixed for a moment, her mouth partly open in a dreamy expression, before she quickly lowers her gaze on her still pressing forefingers. I take the fact that she doesn't faint as a good sign. We're not at touching-level yet – she probably would die of a heart-attack if I put my hand on her shoulder – and we probably won't be for months, especially if we aren't in the same team.
Our conversation is interrupted when the bell begins ringing, warning all the students about the incoming start of the exam. After a couple of seconds, a stream of frantic hopeful ninjas crashes into the classroom, and after a little incident involving the two seats next to one Uchiha Sasuke, everybody seems ready, more or less.
Umino Iruka walks in with a block of sheets in his arms, followed by that fool of Mizuki who is smiling gently. Iruka has a blank expression on his face that when facing the class, turns into a serious one.
"Today is an important day of your life. I know every one of you has the potential to become a Shinobi of the Village of the Leaf," he says glancing around the room and fixing his gaze for an instant on me. I knew he would have done it. He always does. My reassuring, confident grin is all for him. "I want you to focus and give all yourselves during this exam. Make me proud."
That said, he throws all the sheets in his hands with very fast gestures and soon enough we all have one in front of us.
"The first part of the Genin Exam starts now. You have an hour."
I take the pen and whisper a quick "Good luck!" to Hinata who blushes furiously and whispers it back to me.
I don't even need to read the questions – I took this exam so many times I know it perfectly after all – but I'm very careful with my answers. I want to do neither too well nor too bad. After repeating the exam countless times, I found out that if I perform good enough to simply pass in the written part, then I can end up in almost every possible team with every possible Sensei. I like it when I cannot predict something.
When I finish to half-answer the questions, I notice Iruka-sensei is watching me with a frown.
I tilt my head to the side as if to ask 'What?', and he just moves his gaze on some other student. He knows me like nobody else at this point, and he probably thinks there is something different in me. What that is, I cannot tell.
When the bell rings again, I hand over my sheet and follow Mizuki out on the training ground for the taijutsu part of the exam. I grin a little. There's no reason to hold back here. Instead, there's a very good one to kick the blond bastard's ass.
I watch as the other students fight Mizuki under Iruka's intent gaze. I'm almost the last one alphabetically, followed only by Yamanaka Ino. Akamaru's bite on the Chuunin's left hand leaves me rolling on the grass and laughing my ass off.
It's good to be a kid again.
Kiba tosses me a smirk after the end of his match and I grin at him. He was the only one to score more than one blow on Mizuki, although technically it was Akamaru who hit the second time. Hinata almost managed it once, but in the end the Chuunin blocked the girl's strike. When is Sasuke's turn, the boy impresses both Senseis with a couple of good taijutsu moves and four scored blows.
"Uzumaki Naruto," Iruka finally calls my name.
I make my way to the fighting circle and stand in front of Mizuki who repeats the rules of the match. I nod my way through the lectures and warnings with a grin on my face.
"Begin!" Iruka shouts.
I don't waste any time as I charge directly at him at high speed using my perfect chakra control on my legs and feet. When I reach the startled Chuunin, I duck swiftly to the right and throw a punch at him at rib level. He parries it and tries to hit me with his other hand, but I swat his blow aside as if it was a little fly and punch him in the gut. He is clearly surprised when I dismiss his strike that easily and he's not fast enough to avoid mine. He takes a step back in pain, but I grasp his right wrist and pull his larger body toward me. Jumping slightly, I kick his left shin hard, right as I punch him under the chin. His pitiful yelp as he's launched off his feet and then onto the ground is music to my ears.
It all took two seconds.
There's a shocked silence around us, only interrupted by a groan from Mizuki. I turn around and see everybody staring at me open-mouthed. I just grin at a stunned Iruka and show him the sign of victory. Finally, the scarred Chuunin recomposes himself and declares the end of the match before rushing to his fellow Sensei on the ground. As he helps him standing up, I notice everybody is giving me weird looks. I just shrug and approach the two men at the edge of the fighting circle. Mizuki seems still a little dazed by the blow under the chin.
"Mizuki-sensei, I'm sorry if I went too far," I say simply with a faked smile. Iruka shakes his head and a proud grin appears on his face.
"Don't worry, Naruto. Your attack was well within the rules. You did well."
I grin at him and bow a little before strolling back out of the circle. I see Ino staring at me like I sprouted a second head somewhere on my shoulder, and I make my way toward her.
"I injured his left shin," I murmur.
"His left shin," I repeat. "It's injured. I thought you could use the information."
The pretty girl stares at me even more dumbfounded, but I don't pay her anymore attention and after a moment her name is called for the taijutsu match and she enters the circle glancing back at me once.
I see the two Senseis speaking to each other for a moment and Mizuki waving dismissively with his hand.
I grin. The bastard wants to play it down. Let's see how Ino will take advantage of it. She is usually good at it. When she sees a weakness, she attacks it. And I'm not just talking about a fight. Her view of our marriages was not that different. That's part of her charm.
Ino shoots across the circle, blond hair swirling behind, and tries a couple of jabs against the Chuunin who blocks them easily and counters with a palm strike on her right shoulder. She dodges it and tries to kick him in the stomach, but Mizuki grabs the overextended limb and with a foot-sweep, knocks her other foot out from under her.
She falls on her left side as Mizuki frees her and slowly takes a step back, wincing almost imperceptibly.
It hurts, eh bastard?
The blond girl stands up, her blue eyes narrowed, apparently annoyed.
She attacks again with a combo of punches and kicks on the high section of Mizuki's body. The Chuunin blocks all the blows without moving from his spot and delivers another palm strike on her shoulder, hitting her and making the girl stagger back. With a snarl she charges again faster than before, but this time she aims a kick at his left injured leg. Mizuki cannot react fast enough to avoid it, and when her foot slams on it, he wobbles unsteadily hissing in pain.
Heartened by the little victory, Ino's fist shoots up and strikes the Chuunin's nose. Hard. The following snap of bone resounds across the silence of the training ground making more than one student wince, as Mizuki drops to the ground.
Ino jumps back, seemingly shocked at what she's done. I fight to contain the snicker that desperately tries to escape my mouth as everybody starts whispering about the exciting match and Ino's victory. This thing never happened in the past. I'm pretty sure I would remember it if little Ino kicked bastard Mizuki's ass. I'm chuckling openly now.
Meanwhile, said girl is apologizing profusely to both Senseis despite Iruka's clear smile showing his amusement at Mizuki's fate.
Soon enough the battered Chuunin is brought to the hospital by some Academy assistants. Now, after the usual bickering with Sakura about Sasuke, Ino is watching me red-faced but I don't understand if she is angry or embarrassed. I grin at her and then shrug it off, walking next to Kiba and following Iruka-sensei to where the weapon part of the exam will take place.
"You did good out there, Akamaru" I say talking with the little dog on the boy's head. "If only you had had a more useful partner…"
"Hey!" Kiba shouts indignant. "Didn't you see how I distracted Mizuki-sensei with my air-kick so that Akamaru could have an opening?" He assumes a haughty expression. "It's called teamwork, idiot."
"Oh, you did that on purpose? I thought you were just attacking randomly."
He blushes a little revealing that I hit home, at least partially. "Of course not! We had planned it all, right Akamaru?" The dog barks once a little hesitantly – or maybe that's just my impression – and Kiba steers the conversation on safer waters. "You weren't too shabby either," he concedes before smiling brightly. "And you did kick his ass." He chuckles. "Did you hear the snap of his nose at Ino's punch?"
"How could I not?" I say laughing with him. "It was like when you break a twig in a forest at night. Nobody can miss it."
"Anyway, she would not have been able to do it if you hadn't dazed him like that," he continues playfully.
I frown. "Not really. Didn't you notice how much faster Ino was when Sensei pissed her off? She will be a good kunoichi, I tell you."
It's a little bit like cheating when I say these things. I know she'll be a good kunoichi, I'm not simply predicting it. But, well… why should it matter?
Kiba just grunts, which in his language means, 'You're right, but I won't say it.'
I watch in front of me and see Sasuke a little on the right and Sakura orbiting annoyingly around him. Where in hell is Ino?
I turn around slowly and sure enough she's right behind us, her face an angry red that shouts 'DANGER'. I nudge Kiba on the side and after a second of puzzlement, the boy looks past his shoulder and dog. I see him flinch out of the corner of my eye before giving all my attention to the mad blond now in front of me.
"Err-" it's all she lets me say before her hammer-fist drops on my head leaving me with my ass on the ground. "Oww…"
My whining doesn't seem to draw any sympathy, not from her who just huffs and walks away, nor from Kiba who roars in laughter with Akamaru. I rub the bump already forming on my head before taking Shino's offered hand and standing up.
"She could have hit you too, you know?" I snap at the still howling Inuzuka. "Maybe she's just waiting for a juicier opportunity." The malicious glint in my eyes effectively stops his laughter. "That's it! She wanted to hit you on the head but since Akamaru was there, she just postponed it. I wouldn't laugh that much if I were you."
Kiba gulps visibly patting his dog, grateful. He glances at the fading back of the dangerous blond. "Why did she react like that anyways? It's not like we were insulting her or anything!"
"Oh yeah… now that you are about to be kicked around like Mizuki, you defend me!" I grumble. "Anyways, she's a girl. Decades will pass before you'll understand girls," I say wisely, adding 'I still have problems!' to myself.
"Hmmm…" Kiba murmurs noncommittally. "Dogs are easier to understand."
"Of course," I agree. "I bet bugs too. Right Shino?"
The boy nods without hesitation. "Definitely."
I grin at him and at his stoic mask.
"Let's go," I say. "There's an Aburame here, and I seem to remember there's not much before 'A' and 'B' in the alphabet."
Kiba barks a laugh and we make our way to Iruka-sensei who stands in front of various targets.
"Aburame Shino," he calls immediately.
The quiet boy steps up and, after a brief explanation on the Chuunin's part, starts throwing his shuriken, then his kunai. Shino is strong and precise, if a little slow maybe. When he starts decapitating dummies with swords and axes, Kiba expresses his judgment.
"Impressive. But I'm better."
I just snort.
When he finally ends, Shino bows to Iruka and comes back toward us. I can see a thin layer of sweat on his forehead. I don't know how he can stay with that coat of his all the time.
"How do you assess your performance in the art of the ninja weapons which Iruka-sensei bestowed upon you?" I ask with a blank face. Shino's only reaction is that to show his eyebrows over the glasses. Kiba chuckles and I join him after a couple of seconds, but the Aburame seems annoyed, judging by how set his jaw and stiff his shoulders are. I'm sure I'm the only one who could have noticed it except maybe his clan and some quite expert Jounins. "Oh, come on Shino!" I say. "We're not laughing at you. We're laughing with you."
He relaxes visibly, but I guess it was too much expecting that he really laughed with us. Or even smiled.
"Really?" Kiba asks me grinning. "I'm pretty sure I was laughing at him."
I smack the Inuzuka on the back of his head, avoiding Akamuaru, but both boy and dog growl at me. I should let them hear one of my prisoner's growls. That is the real thing.
We watch as the next student throws his shuriken and kunai. Akimichi Chouji is far from good with long range weapons, or better, with long range attacks. He hit the target only twice in twenty throws! Maybe it's because of his clan that uses mainly physical jutsus, but he clearly didn't spend much time training with shuriken and kunai. It almost seems like nobody ever gave him pointers in order to improve his visibly wrong technique. He's okay with close-range weapons though.
When the round boy passes by me after completing his exam, I call his name and stop him short.
"May I give you an advice?"
"About what?" he asks a little on the defensive side.
"Your technique with shuriken and kunai. Here…" I produce one of the latter from my holster and show him my stance. "See? You put your weight in the wrong side of your body. When you throw a kunai, you are like this." I change stance in an approximation of the one he used. "You are unbalanced and use much more energy than necessary." I give him my kunai, create a Kage Bunshin at more or less the same distance of some of the targets we are required to hit in the exam, and correct his form. In all this, Chouji seems completely dumbfounded, following my directions passively.
"Throw it against my Bunshin now," I say, gently patting his back.
He shuffles his feet slightly, licks his lips and narrows his eyes in a determined fashion. When he throws the kunai, it flies toward my clone with way more speed and accuracy than he ever managed before. The Kage Bunshin sidesteps it and shouts an approving, "Yay!"
"Oh," Chouji whispers almost awed.
"That's better," I concede before producing a shuriken. "Again."
We spend the next fifteen minutes like that. I give the round boy some more pointers but generally I let him become acquainted with this new form. He's still sloppy as hell, and with all the strength he has, his weapons could fly much faster, but he's definitely better now. We draw a lot of attention during this lesson of sort, and when we stop to watch Kiba's turn, there's a small crowd gathered around us.
The Inuzuka boy wasn't bragging when he said he was better than Shino, and the little smirk playing on his lips when he comes back is directed as much at me as at the bug user. I shake my head amused as my clone carries back all the kunai and shuriken Chouji used. The Akimichi watches him open-mouthed together with many of the students nearby.
I sigh. "He's a Kage Bunshin. And yes, he's solid."
I place my weapons in their proper holsters and then dispel him, continuing to watch the exam.
As expected, Sasuke displays the best technique and scores, and oddly enough, he stops sulking for a moment to smirk at me. I almost laugh out loud at that. Instead, I simply grin and reach Iruka-sensei when he calls my name.
When the last dummy is beheaded, I lay down the axe and walk back to the circle of students. I see Sasuke and toss his smirk back at him with great pleasure. I got the highest score possible with a perfect performance. Take that, dobe!
When Ino passes by to take her exam, I smile at her a little.
"Good luck," I whisper before joining Kiba, Shino and Chouji again.
The round boy is already crunching his chips and Shino is his usual expressionless self. Kiba instead is watching me suspiciously.
"Are you really Naruto?" he asks me.
"No, I'm the Hokage under disguise." I snort because in a way I really am.
"Really, you can't be the dead last," he insists.
"Oy! I'm Uzumaki Naruto, future Hokage of Konoha! This exam to become Genin is nothing! I'll show you all what the strongest ninja in the Village looks like!"
I almost ruin my great impersonation of my younger-self by bursting out laughing. I'm loving every minute of it. I was such an idiot at this age.
"Yeah, yeah…" Kiba says waving his hand dismissively. Apparently the usual bragging from my part is proof enough of my real identity. "We know, we know."
Now I have to grin like a maniac. Just a few students around us are watching me like I am nuts. I can see some awestruck faces already. I didn't remember it took so little to be taken seriously.
The weapon part of Ino's exam is not very good. With long-range weapons, she's roughly at Chouji's current level – that means barely decent for a Genin – and with swords and axes she's actually worse. When Iruka-sensei stops her, she seems upset, but there's nothing she can do.
We go back to the classroom for the last part of the exam that will start in half an hour, and I find myself seated beside Shikamaru and Sasuke. The Uchiha shoots me an annoyed glare before continuing to brood as always. The other boy instead starts a conversation with me.
"Hey Naruto, you were pretty good out there," he compliments me. He seems bored out of his mind with his feet on the desk and his head lolled in my direction.
"Thank you. You were good enough and we both know that was what you aimed for," I reply with a smile.
He schools his features almost immediately in a blank expression but I'm far too experienced. "What do you mean?" he asks feigning bored confusion.
I only lift my eyebrows and keep on looking at him. He stays still for a couple of seconds before sighing and waving his hand once. "Whatever."
"Naruto!" someone shouts. I turn around only to see an angry looking Haruno Sakura with her forefinger pointed at me. "Move your ass and leave me your seat!"
I mirror the Nara boy's expression, feigning confusion. "Why Sakura-chan?"
"Because I want to sit next to Sasuke-kun, that's why!" She puts her hands on her hips in a menacing way. "And don't call me Sakura-chan!"
"Okay," I say. "If you want to sit where I am, then you have to do something to prove yourself."
She hesitates seeing my wide grin. "I don't have to prove myself to you, idiot!" she yells.
"Oh, but it's not to me you'll prove yourself to!" I exclaim.
"And to whom then?" she asks harshly but I just smile sweetly.
"But to Sasuke-kun, of course!"
My sentence causes several reactions. The dark-haired boy on my right snaps his head in my direction with a death glare, the pink-haired girl stops for a moment before blushing embarrassed, and a deep silence descends in the classroom.
"Okay," then Sakura says half determinate, half self-conscious.
"What are you up to, dobe?" Sasuke growls in a low voice, but I ignore him completely and instead address the girl in front of me.
"Good. In order to sit here," I say pointing my finger down and taking a small pause to double the suspense, "you have to get Shino say the word 'cute'."
"WHAT!?" a familiar voice yells from the back of the classroom. Everybody turns toward it and there stands none other than Shino. I almost laugh, seeing his startled expression as he hurries to regain his stoic facade. Apparently, Kiba doesn't have a will as strong as mine, because he starts howling in laughter at the strong reaction of the usually composed bug user. Of course, the dog-boy probably didn't have the littlest intention of refrain from laughing.
Sakura seems thoughtful when I refocus my attention on her. Then she slams her fist in the palm and stalks toward Shino.
Aww… Shino is no fun, I always told him. He's already behind me with a hand on my shoulder. The hand is clasped a little more tightly than necessary too.
"Naruto," he says, the littlest note of apprehension in his voice as he looks at a slowly advancing Sakura. The girl is kicking aside whoever stands or sits on her path. "I would appreciate if you stopped this foolishness now."
I smile at him.
"Say 'cute' then."
He clenches his jaw tightly and if I didn't know better, I would almost think he's gritting his teeth. His hand starts squeezing way too much. "That won't happen."
I glance at Sakura and her fanatic expression, and Shino is forced to mirror me. I see his eyes widen a little behind those sunglasses of his.
"It's just a little word," I say, my voice trembling with barely repressed laughter. "You can even whisper it to me and no one will be any the wiser. Just once."
He takes a quick look at Sakura again. She's just six seats away and you can see her lips moving as if rehearsing a speech or something. The crazy glint in her eyes is still there. Suddenly, the hand on my shoulder shakes a little as Shino takes a deep breath. He then ducks his head and murmurs in a low whisper.
That finally makes me crack. I burst out laughing, hard, slamming a fist on the desk and using the other hand to hold my stomach. The bug boy murmurs something else, probably a curse, and that makes it even harder for me to stop. There's something absolutely hilarious about the granitic and stern Aburame Shino saying a word like 'cute'. I never ever heard him say that word, and I've known him for centuries!
Anyways, these little things are what really make it worth. Living again and again, I mean. No matter how sure you are to have experienced everything, there's always something new, something surprising.
Life is good.
But I should have made Shino say 'cutie', I think. Maybe next time…
Sakura is now upon us and that is enough that my instincts of self-preservation kick in.
"Sakura! Sakura!" I say between chuckles. The girl stops and looks at me, her arms lifted to grasp Shino in order to do who knows what. "That's enough. You can sit here."
I stand up listening to a chorus of aww.
"Sorry guys," I say chuckling. "The show ends here."
Sakura all but shoves me aside, beginning to pester Sasuke. The Uchiha boy sends me another death glare before rolling his eyes at the girl. I smirk at him and at an amused looking Shikamaru before following Shino. The bug user regards me apparently annoyed but I just shrug, smiling.
"It was fun."
He concedes my point by rolling his eyes, which for him is like laughing his ass off. He takes his seat again and I scan the classroom to find an empty place. I spot it in the first row and I start walking. On my way there, I receive a grin with thumbs up from Kiba and a death glare from a red-faced Ino. Finally sitting down, I put my hands behind my head and relax a little.
After a while, Iruka comes back from the next room and explains the last part of the Genin Exam. As always, we are to perform the Bunshin no Jutsu. Shino is the first to enter and after a couple of minutes, he's sporting his Leaf head-protector.
"Way to go, Shino!" I congratulate him.
With both hands in his coat's pocket he returns to his seat, expressionless as always… almost always. When Hinata's turn comes, she walks shakily in the other room. The last thing I see is her pretty blush after she glances at me only to find a large smile and two thumbs up. When she exits with the hitai-ite in her hands, I whoop once raising my fist in the air, barely restraining myself from jumping over the desk and crushing her in a hug.
"Great Hinata! You're a Genin!" I shout happily and she ducks her head blushing furiously and smiling a little.
Everything else happens more or less as always. There has never been a big change in the first day of my countless lives, except those lives in which I went nuts and destroyed everything or simply started a long training trip. Anyways, when Iruka calls my name, I confidently enter the exam room. There are three Shinobis at the desk in front of me. Mizuki is noticeably absent – maybe still in the hospital although I doubt it –, and in his place there are two younger Chuunins who seem vaguely familiar . Their gazes are hard, but not hateful. They probably don't know that Kyuubi no Kitsune is sealed inside of me, but they too are touched like everybody else by the stain of that secret.
"Well Naruto, this is the last portion of the exam," Iruka says smiling. "I want you to create three effective Bunshins in the next twenty seconds."
I nod at him as I ponder the idea of creating them without seal, smoke and poof. To show off or not to show off: that is the question. In the end, I simply do what they expect me to do and end it there. Still, the smoke my three Bunshins produce is not much and I can clearly see that impresses them. The one on the right scribbles something down on a sheet of sort as Iruka-sensei stands up and inspects my clones very attentively. He then takes one of the Leaf head-protectors on the table and offers it to me with a smile.
I grin widely at him and bow a little, accepting the symbol of my old/new status of Genin.
"Thank you Iruka-sensei."
I dispel my clones and exit the room with him so he can call the last student and be done with it.
I receive more smiles than I expected as I return to my seat. Passing by a nervous looking Ino, I wink at her playfully before sitting down. When I lift my gaze again, she's already rushed into the exam room, leaving a puzzled Iruka behind. Am I annoying her too much now?
I smirk at Kiba who smirks back at me. He's in the other side of the room but he sees it clearly when I mouth the words 'Mine is better,' pointing at my Leaf hitai-ite. He snorts visibly and starts polishing his, mocking me.
Ino comes back from the exam room with her new head-protector and a huge smile. She walks right toward Sasuke and Sakura and starts fawning over the boy. Iruka enters a couple of minutes later.
"I once again congratulate those of you who became Genins. You are now real ninjas but you have a long path before you. The hard part of being a Shinobi has just started," the scarred Chuunin says seriously, watching us in the eye. "To those who didn't pass the exam, I just want to say to work hard for your next chance. I'll see you back in a month when the new term starts. With the Genins instead, we'll see each other tomorrow for your team assignment. Don't be late."
That said, he exits the classroom leaving us to our cheering and sulking. After a little of Shino-teasing and Hinata-embarrassing, I'm making my way to the ramen stand, Ichiraku. Man, how I missed that place… Don't misunderstand me. I grew past my obsession over ramen, although I still appreciate a good cup. But Ichiraku's stand means more to me than just a good eating place. I practically lived there in my first childhood. The old man was almost a father-like figure when I really was all alone.
I walk through the streets of Konoha trading a smile for every glare, a bow for every sneer. In some of my past lives, I would have stood up to them. In others I would have killed those who dared to look at me funny. I had my moments of anger and rage, but I like to think that I had somewhat earned them. Plus, they didn't happen very often and not recently anyways.
The delicious smell of ramen fills my nostrils as I reach the stand and sit on a stool. My mouth waters more than ever, but I somehow manage to shout without spitting everywhere.
"Oy, old man! One bowl of miso ramen for your favorite Genin. Today we've got to celebrate!"
Ichiraku's head appears from the back of the bar and eyes my head-protector with something akin to pride.
"Naruto! I knew you would have done it!" he exclaims smiling. "Miso ramen coming up in a minute and it's on the house today."
"Thank you Ichiraku-san!" I shout jovially.
"What?" asks tiredly the old man's daughter, entering the kitchen from somewhere behind the stand.
"Come here. Take a look at our customer."
She scans curiously the almost empty stools and sees me on the left one. It takes a minute for her to notice the hitai-ite on my head, but when she does, her hazel eyes start sparkling beautifully.
"You did it!" she squeaks.
"Yep," I answer scratching the back of my head in a gesture I still use sometimes.
"Oh but we have to celebrate then! Your first bowl is on the house today."
I laugh. "You're late for that. That was already settled."
"The second bowl then!" she insists firmly and I grin at her.
Thirty minutes and a ton of noodles later, I thank Ichiraku and Ayame, and start wandering through the streets of Konoha. There are a couple of things I have to buy, so I go back to my apartment, take my savings and use Henge no Jutsu to change my appearance in a less recognizable brown-haired boy. Let's just say it'll make things easier.
After an hour of shopping, I finally own some no-orange clothes, more and better weapons and more importantly, a complete set of chakra adjusting training weights. I put them on as soon as I get into the woods near the east-gate, adjusting them in order to make them trying but not unbearable. A perfect taijutsu, even in more than one style, can only help to a certain extent if your body isn't up to your opponent's level. It will be months before I gain the best muscular build I can get at this age, but in the meantime I will make up for it with my knowledge, experience and chakra control.
Once settled, I take a quick jog to get used to my new weight and then start training a little harder just for the fun of it. When I finally feel physically exhausted, the sky is dark above me and Konoha is lit up beautifully. I watch the Village from a bare rock near the training grounds as my breathing slows down and my skin cools under a gentle breeze.
Just one more thing and then I can go back home for a night of well deserved rest. I silently stand up from my seated position and steer once again in the dark woods. I find a small clearing and halt there, closing my eyes. The sound of my slow intakes of breath helps me relaxing and concentrating in an exercise I've done infinite times in the past. I don't even have to say anything to the Demon Fox. When he senses I'm ready, he starts pouring a tiny amount of his chakra through the Yondaime's seal and into me. It's a tiny amount… for him. However it's more than most Jounins will ever have. I feel myself wrapped in this red aura, an intoxicating, unstoppable wave of power fueling my body and inflaming it. I feel my chakra coils enlarge even if microscopically.
Then, with a last pulse, it all ends.
I take a deep calming breath as the Fox's laughter resounds in my head. He loves this thing every time we do it. What an ass…
I open my eyes and blink a couple of times to clear my vision, before I start running toward my apartment and a cold shower. The moonlight shines over the narrow path giving everything a translucent quality. Jumping out of the woods and onto the first house roof visible, I can't help but feel excited about tomorrow and the team I will be assigned to.
Author's notes – You all probably read at some point a Naruto story where the Kyuubi takes the blond back in time when the loud ninja is about to die. But what about the next time Naruto is a step away from death? I always wondered about it and the most plausible conclusion I reached was that the Demon Fox would do it again and again, if that was in his possibilities. This story takes origin from these thoughts. It will be a story with a powerful and wise Naruto who is close to be immortal without effectively being one.