Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, and I don't make any money from this. Get over it.

Rating: G. Nothing really bad in there.

Summary: What would someone think of the whole ninja-business if they failed where others succeeded? Different one-shots from different perspectives.

Tales of Almost-Ninjas

The Not-Quite Genin

You know, sometimes I wonder. Wonder where I went wrong.

I was in the same class as him. Same class at the academy as the Rokudaime. He is Hokage now. I am a baker. His name is known throughout the shinobi nations, whereas mine is only remembered by a few customers. And to make things worse – I was better than him at the academy.

He joined our class for our last year. He had just failed his Genin exam for the second time, but he still didn't buckle down and study. No, he played pranks and was loud and forgot his homework and fell asleep during class. He was the worst student, and he actually seemed to delight in it.

I, on the other hand, always did my homework. I read my books, I practiced my Taijutsu, and I threw my weapons reasonably well. Actually, my mother thought at that time that I was an absolute genius with shuriken, hitting the central circle of my target 95 out of 100 times. But then again, she hadn't seen what Uchiha Sasuke, the Number 1 rookie in our class, could do.

My parents were civilians. And I think that's the real reason for what went wrong.

When I look at the Konoha Eight, the batch of kids in my class that made ninja minus Uchiha who defected, I have to see that seven of them come from clans that have been ninja for generations. That's 86 percent (89 if you count the Uchiha). In our class, the clan percentage was 50 percent.

Perhaps it was just luck of draw that I ended up in the one class that had all the offspring of Konoha's most powerful families. I can't imagine what kind of uproar would have went through the village if, for example, I had become a ninja instead of the Uchiha, or the Hyuuga. Clans have influence in such matters.

Then again, clans aren't everything. There were several years before and after our class where the clan percentage of their year was approximately the same as the clan percentage that made genin. None of those clan members that were weeded out were from powerful clans, or illustrious heirs. But it spoke of a somewhat fair chance for everyone to make ninja.

On the other hand, almost no shinobi from those years have made names for themselves. The Konoha Eight each have their own page in the Bingo book, with several of them having two or more pages. Rokudaime has five, closely followed by Uchiha with four and a half.

An irony, because Rokudaime failed his third genin exam, and Uchiha passed it as the best. Doesn't that mean that I, as being closer in skill to the 'dead last' than the rookie genius, should have had four and three quarters of a page?

But then, I never made ninja, did I.

After Uzumaki, or Namikaze as he calls himself now, failed his third exam, I thought he'd be sent back to the year below us and repeat everything once again. Well, to be honest, I didn't think much of him at all – I was too happy for having passed my own exam. My parents congratulated me and took me out for dinner in celebration.

So I was quite surprised to see him with us the next day, somewhat less exuberant than usual, but nonetheless waiting for a jounin sensei together with us. I still don't know how that was possible, but I think it has something to do with his signature technique, Kage Bunshin. In class, he couldn't even make one regular clone, but less than a week into being genin, he made a name for himself as using the advanced version in staggering quantities for all proper and improper purposes.

That leads me to our genin teams. I was assigned together with Moyoku Kageru (now a weapon smith) and Kuwabara Kasshin (dead – he tried becoming genin the next year and was killed in his second C-rank mission, together with the rest of his team). Kageru's uncle was a ninja, but Kasshin came from a purely civilian family. Just like myself, just like Haruno, the only first-generation ninja amongst the Konoha Eight.

So what is the difference between the two of us? What separates me from a kunoichi of Haruno's caliber?

To be honest, I think most of that is luck. If she hadn't been placed on Uchiha's team – would she have passed the second test? Teams are only passed as a whole or not at all. Since it was inconceivable that Uchiha didn't become a ninja, she was more or less granted a default pass.

Now that I think of it – did Rokudaime pass on the very same default line, or did he do it on his own merit? How many ninja pass every year just because they are paired with the top rookie?

Ironically, most of the times, those teams are the strongest despite having one or two people who rightfully shouldn't have been there. They edge each other on until the dead lasts have become skilled in their own right.

In the year above ours, Team Nine was the equivalent to Team Seven, and Team Nine is nearly as infamous as the Konoha Eight. Two years behind ours though, the tag-along member of the top team quit of his own accord, not being able to stand the stress demanded of him. And three years behind ours, the whole top team died because the default members just couldn't pull their weight.

But those top teams who manage to survive their first critical missions seem to motivate their weak members to grow stronger beyond all expectations. Haruno now is second only to Tsunade-sama in both strength and medical knowledge, a woman who will be the best when the last of the legendary sannin (another top team, by the way) and former fifth Hokage finally dies.

My pastry is second only to that of the man I apprenticed under, but somehow that doesn't seem like the same to me.

Back to the genin team I was stuck with. Our jounin sensei was some guy who had horrific scars down the left side of his face and across the bridge of his nose. I can't remember anymore what his name was. I think I have seen him around the village a few times since, but he certainly doesn't remember me. Why should he? He saw me for less than twenty-four hours, during which I proved to him that I wasn't cut out to be a ninja.

He led us from the classroom straight across Konoha to a training field. There, he introduced himself and gave us a speech about having to test us once again. To our horror, we discovered that the genin exam merely tested whether we could still learn something from the academy, not whether we truly were ready to be ninja. That was the task of the jounin sensei. Back then, he didn't tell us the statistics, but I found out that less than 40 percent of a graduating class actually advance to ninja.

Our task was to follow the instructions in the scrolls he handed us. Mine said that I was to perform the second academy kata for as long as I saw necessary to perfect it. Kageru apparently got similar instructions because he started hurling shuriken at the next tree. Kasshin started doing sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, and every other exercise for physical conditioning we had been taught in the academy. I did my kata, and our sensei vanished.

I didn't really like doing kata because I was better at genjutsu. I could even perform those two low-level genjutsu in the ninja library that were accessible to academy students. But Taijutsu wasn't my thing. Kageru wasn't very fond of throwing weapons, preferring to stick to Taijutsu and those few Ninjutsu we had learned. Kasshin was a bit lazy.

Thinking back on it, our sensei tested us on how hard we were willing to work to overcome our weaknesses. And we failed miserably.

As soon as the jounin was gone, Kasshin's physical performance dropped significantly. The pauses between sets of push-ups or sit-ups grew longer, the repetitions fewer, and the dark gazes and muttered grumbles more frequent. Every time he paused, he looked around to see if our sensei was watching, and on those two occasions that the man returned from wherever he went in the mean-time, he practiced with renewed vigor.

Kageru was woodenly throwing shuriken at his tree, sometimes cursing when one went wide. But most of his shuriken hit the center, and over the course of two hours, most became all. After he had thrown five sets into the tree with perfect aim, he stepped away and declared himself good enough.

As if he had been waiting for that moment, our jounin sensei returned and asked Kageru whether he really thought he was done. Kageru nodded, and before he knew it, ten shuriken pinned him to the very same tree he had just pulled his own out of. Two were millimeters from his ears, two right next to his jugular, two slicing his shirt just above his shoulders without scratching the skin beneath, two fixing his shirt to the tree right next to his ribs, and two pinning down his pants at his knees. I hadn't even seen sensei move, and judging by Kageru's and Kasshin's awed expressions, neither had they.

Without a comment, the man walked off again and Kageru freed himself. For a while, he tried to imitate the jounin's trick. But when it still didn't work after half an hour, he shook his head about impossible jounin feats and went home. About an hour later, sometime in the late afternoon, Kasshin left, too, after declaring his daily exercise program finished. There was no visit from our sensei.

And then there was only me, still going through the second kata in between long rests to let my heavy arms and legs recover a bit. Some of those rests were motivated because I had long ago become sick and tired of the motions, only performing them because I didn't want to admit I had given up. Finally, after my longest pause so far, I just couldn't force myself to start with the kata yet again.

Somewhat disillusioned, I gathered the small bag that I had placed under a tree. When I straightened up again, I almost took a step backwards because our sensei was less than two steps away from me. He asked me why I had stopped practicing. I told him that this was not my day, and that I wasn't going to become any better if I continued. He nodded and let me go.

At that moment, I knew that I wasn't going to make it. I sighed a bit, but I wasn't really surprised. Six hours of training, and only a steadily growing worse kata to show. Not really the makings of a ninja. I told so my parents, and they tried to encourage me by telling me that my sensei hadn't said anything yet. In their eyes though, I could see the hope that I wasn't going to risk my life for the sake of the village.

To be honest, I think that this is another thing where clan children have an advantage. It is nearly unthinkable for them to not become ninja. Their parents teach them their clan jutsu from the earliest ages up, more like a game than a life-long decision. Imagine an Aburame that doesn't carry bugs. Or an Inuzuka who doesn't communicate with dogs. Or a Hyuuga who doesn't know the Gentle Fist. Unthinkable. There are those more talented, and those less talented, but everyone receives basic training. And so one thing leads to another until the choice is made without actually deciding anything.

Children feel such things. They either try desperately to live up to what is expected of them, or they break all ties and do the exact opposite. I was one of the former.

If my parents had truly expected me to become ninja instead of only being 'supportive of whatever career I chose', they would have been disappointed in me for failing. And that, maybe, would have given me the determination to succeed in the first place. Whatever it is – don't try. Do it.

The next day we met our sensei once again at the training field – only for him to tell us that we wouldn't make it as ninja.

When Kageru and Kasshin protested, he told them why. Since none of us had any kind of blood-limit or other special talents, we had to make up for it by sheer stubborn-headed training. Kageru was too easy. Too easily satisfied with his results, too easily discouraged when it didn't go the way he wanted to. Kasshin was too focused on other people. He cared too much about what others thought of him instead of what he needed to do to improve himself.

When the jounin looked at me, I didn't wait for him to tell me what I did wrong. I said that I was bored too easily and just didn't have the will-power to get over myself and give it my all at the 1001st repetition despite personal dislike. He smiled at me in a strange way. Then he told me that, if I hadn't said anything, he would have recommended me as the only one to have the right mentality for becoming genin. He told me that, after coming to a conclusion like that, I would never be able to make ninja. My fault was that I never fully powered my punches in fear of missing the target. That I never gave it all so that I never could be destroyed completely. And that, to his regret, being ninja was an all or nothing decision.

With a last wave, he vanished into thin air and all three of us sat there, stunned. Finally, Kageru started cursing violently and headed off, Kasshin not far behind and a bit more subdued. I remained there for hours before I finally went home. My mother hugged me and told me she was glad that I didn't become a killer. I didn't say anything.

Three days later, I started an apprenticeship at the local bakery.

A/N: A moment of inspiration where I wondered what someone of those 66 percent who didn't make genin felt like. And then, I started questioning just what else was involved with passing genin teams or not – is it really coincidence that all those clan-heirs were placed in the only teams that passed? Is it really coincidence that the Rookie Nine are such exceptional individuals?

I hope you liked my idea for Raidou's genin test. It was darn hard to come up with something that could fail people without it being blamed on too difficult a test. Comments and criticism always welcome!