- - -
Have you ever had that feeling like you don't know yourself? Well, I've felt like that all my life, and I can't figure out why. Every day, I get up out of my bed, and feel as if I am still dreaming. As the day drags on, the feeling fades, but it never leaves completely. It sits in the back of my mind, poking at me, playing with me. I'm pretty sure it's not normal. It is too common an experience for me to believe otherwise. But then again, I have never lived a normal life.
My name is Namikaze Naruto, the only son of the revered Fourth Hokage, Namikaze Minato. As long as I can remember, I have lived in the Hokage Manor, the most prestigious building in all of Konoha. Even greater in prestige than the Hyuuga manor. I'm not so sure though; the Hyuuga manor is quite nice, at least on the few times I went to banquets there with my dad. It is very clean and neat, even neater than the Uchiha manor. Well, neater than the Uchiha manor before the massacre.
But in the Hokage manor, everything is easy for me. Servants attending to me whenever I need something. The best tutors that money could buy. I had a better education at the age of seven than most kids have by the time they graduate the academy. Now, the day after graduation from the Academy, I can keep up with the paperwork that my father has to do. I find it boring, but I still understand it. Most basic genin couldn't.
I graduated the academy with full honors this year, even beating out Uchiha Sasuke this year. Perfect marks on everything. No one has done that in the history of the institution. Most kids who are smarter than the kids their own age just graduated early, like Uchiha Itachi for example. But then again, he's in an insane asylum now. I just wanted to keep level with the people my age, even though it would have been easy to graduate at ten or younger. I think my dad saw what happened to Kakashi and thought that it would better for me to form bonds with ninja my own age. But even though I stayed with my generation, I am not nearly as popular as Uchiha Sasuke.
Most of the kids are polite to me, but keep distant. Sometimes, the girls giggle about me, but their attention is typically focused on Sasuke. I'm not sure, but I think it's really the dark and brooding complex he has that really attracts the girls. After the incident with his brother, he never really was the same. Though, no one really wants to talk about it. Its probably quite a sore subject with him.
My only true friends are the slackers: Shikamaru, Kiba, and Chouji. They're probably the only ones in the entire village who don't care about who I am. They just care about fun. Eating with Chouji, running around with Kiba, and Shougi with Shikamaru is enough to keep me entertained. They are my best friends, and the closest I get to the Konoha public.
And I must admit, it annoys the teachers to no end that I hang out with the slackers. Serves them right.
The few times that I have gone outside the manor, I have received very mixed results. Sometimes, I almost get trampled by people who want to "see the wonderful son of the honorable Hokage". Other times, all I get are glares as everyone tries to avoid me. This inconsistency adds to the unreality of my life. I guess that it is part of my father's reputation, he does have many enemies, but in our hometown? Somehow, I think it is different. But, I have to stay brave, just like my father. He killed the Kyuubi, just after I was born. So, I never let myself worry about the looks people give me. It would be silly.
But that's not important now. What is important is that today is the assignment of the teams. This will shape what my life is like for the next five years or so. My teammates will work through the genin and chuunin ranks alongside me, and we would be close for many years after. I won't lie; this is quite possibly the most important part of my life so far.
- - -
It is time. Ten o'clock in the morning. Everyone is here. Kiba, Chouji, Shikamaru and I take the back row, sharing it with Shino and Hinata. Those two are the quiet ones of our class. They're some of the best students, from the strongest of clans, but they're dead quiet. I can't remember more than a handful of times when they initiated conversations of their own since I've known them.
In front of us is the rest of the class. They're good kids in general, but I haven't really talked to them nearly as much. To them, I'm probably as quiet as Shino and Hinata. But among them is a knot of new kunoichi. I can't see what they're fawning over, but that doesn't stop me from knowing. Honestly, I feel sorry for Sasuke. I know I couldn't handle the attention. Pretty soon, I would have begun to ignore them, just like he does. Empathy is such a wonderful tool. It allows you to see 'Underneath the underneath'.
But now, Iruka-sensei walks in the class. Even though he stands respectfully at his desk at the front of the room, the level of volume in the class refusing to change. Quite honestly, I don't understand how Konoha is so famous for its ninja if the students wont sit still for more than a couple of minutes. Iruka clears his throat and calls out to the class,
"Sit down, everyone! I know you're excited about graduating yesterday, but it's time to assign teams!"
After a couple of seconds, people find seats and respectfully looked up at the Academy instructor; apparently they have reached the point where they begin to regulate themselves. Less than a week ago, it would have taken much more stringent efforts by Iruka-sensei to get us to pay attention. I guess that once the rank of genin was bestowed upon us, we took things more seriously. We don't see ourselves as kids anymore, we are adults of Konoha - or at least, that's what all the ninja in the village say. Can I really believe that a single day makes a difference in our maturity? Quite honestly, I don't think that its time that changes people, but rather experiences.
Iruka is calling out the teams now. I listen intently for my name, but to no avail. For the first six teams, no one I knew was called. But, Iruka-sensei calls out the seventh one.
"Team Seven! Namikaze Naruto, Inzukuza Kiba, and Haruno Sakura."
Screams of anguish come from the pink haired wretch known as Sakura. As soon as she found out she wasn't on the same team as her 'Sasuke-kun,' she just crumpled in her seat. I understand how upset she is, but it still feels a bit rude that she would seem so upset over it. I don't know about Kiba and Akamaru, but I know I felt a little bad about it. I mean, is it really bad? Now it seems like she really doesn't like us. I bet she doesn't. But not like it matters. We only have to work together for the forseeable future (or until we become Chuunin and get reassigned). After Sakura quiets down, Iruka conspicuously clears his throat and continues.
Looking down at his chart, he visibly stops, surprised by whatever he sees. "You three will be instructed by Jiraya, the Toad Sage."
A gasp falls over the entire room. Typical of my father. I think when my mom died, he freaked about raising me right. Ever since, he has gotten me the best of everything. Private tutors, chuunin housekeepers, and now he pulled strings with his old sensei to teach my team. I never asked for it, but honestly, I don't mind too much. Even though many people will be angry for my father's actions, the benefit from having a legendary sensei is undeniable. I think I'm going to have a talk with him later, though. His actions seem a bit inappropriate. Part of me hoped that he would have shown fairness and assigned Jiraya to another team, I think.
Turning in my seat, I grin and quietly high-five Kiba. We're both happy that we at least have one good friend on our team. Life as a genin cell is going to be wonderful - training together, working on missions together - it's going to be awesome. But, just as quickly, we turn back to observe Iruka. Just because we know our teams doesn't mean we're not interested in the other ones. Iruka is calling out the next team.
"Team Eight! Aburame Shino, Hyuuga Hinata, and Uchiha Sasuke. You will be instructed by Hatake Kakashi, the Copycat Ninja."
Now Sakura cackles evilly as the rest of Sasuke's fan girls angst filled cries permeate the room. While Sasuke remains emotionless, I'm sure that on the inside, he is rejoicing. This is because every team is two boys, one girl. The only girl in the graduating class not interested in him was Hinata. Such a statistical anomaly is unheard of. Even I can't calculate that. Shikamaru may be that intelligent, though. I'll probably ask him later. Team nine is also a whole bunch of nobodies, kids who weren't particularly stupid, but didn't show drive or personality. They'd probably hit Chuunin and become pencil pushers. So, then, Team Ten must be…
"Team Ten! Yamanaka Ino, Akimichi Chouji, and Nara Shikamaru. You three will be instructed by Sarutobi Asuma, previous bodyguard to the Fire Daimyo and son to the Sandaime Hokage."
I knew that they were going to be assigned before Iruka-sensei even called out their names. The InoShikaChou team is back for another generation. How do I know, you ask? Well, my father didn't have a whole bunch of stories that his parents told him when he was little. So, he based some recurring characters after the InoShikaChou team, consisting of Shikamaru's, Ino's and Chouji's parents. They were famous for their compatible styles that allowed them to defeat the most powerful of foes. It was only natural that their children be paired up to continue the tradition. It also helped that I caught a peek of the assignment folder. But, still, I feel sorry for Shikamaru.
"It's too bad that you have to have Ino on your team, Shikamaru." I tell him. My condolences truly go out to him – Ino is one of the worst in the unofficial Sasuke Fan Club. She's got some of the best marks in the class, mind you, but whenever that boy is around, its as if she's a five year old again.
"Yeah, it's going to be way too troublesome" He replies, not even bothering to raise his head from the desk.
"Those are the teams; please wait for your sensei to arrive!" Iruka calls out to us. Immediately, the door opens up. Two men and a woman enter the classroom. I have never seen them before, but I'm betting that the men are Jiraya and Asuma. I've read about them. Jiraya is overly flamboyant and energetic, and starting to go through his fifties. The man with the white hair and moderately bright red and green clothing obviously matches that description. Then there's Asuma. He's supposed to be a veritable giant, about two meters tall, and has a chain smoking problem. Also, he's the son of the previous Hokage, so he's supposed to be a dead ringer for the old man. That guy perfectly fits the profile. Jiraya takes the slip from Iruka, and turns toward the class.
"Inzukuza Kiba, Haruno Sakura, and Namikaze Naruto. Meet on the roof!" And with that, he disappears in an overly theatrical puff of smoke. I make my quick goodbyes to Shikamaru and Chouji. Kiba and Akamaru do as well. Then, we make our way out of the room as Asuma and the Kunoichi who I don't recognize call their teams. We wait outside for Sakura before making our way up the stairs. The pink haired genin is still obviously distraught. Even though Sasuke ended up on a team with none of the girls that obsessed over him, she was stillupset that she wasn't chosen to be on his team.
"It's all your fault, you know." She informs me through her sniffles as we ascend the stairs to the rooftop.
"Huh?" I ask, completely bewildered.
"Konoha tradition is that the highest scoring genin is paired up with the lowest scoring genin." She says "If you hadn't beaten out Sasuke-kun for this years Academy Genius honor, it would have been me, Kiba, and Sasuke-kun!" And once again, she bursts into tears. Once again, I am confused. I don't know whether to yell at her for her rudeness, or attempt to comfort her. I take the easy way out, and just pretend that she isn't there. It's awkward, and I really don't feel comfortable standing next to someone so upset. I guess that the only way I'll become comfortable with it is through extended exposure, which is ultimately uncomfortable sounding. But, we make it to the roof door, and throw it open, the sunshine assaulting our eyes.
- - -
Jiraya sits all three of us down in the rooftop booth. Even though the color is faded, it's surprisingly comfortable, and we sink down into the seats.
"Okay, I believe that introductions are in order." Jiraya tells us. "To keep it simple, let's hear your likes, dislikes, and ambitions."
Immediately, Sakura raises her hand.
"Jiraya Sensei. Can you go first? So we can see what you want us to do?"
Jiraya nods his head. He was probably expecting that response from at least one of us.
"All right. My name is Jiraya. I like many things, particularly activities that are inappropriate for minors. I dislike getting on the wrong side of Tsunade-chan. And, for my ambitions… " He gazes past us, his eyes upon the Hokage monument. "I have succeeded any ambitions I set for myself earlier in life."
Damn… he is a super-pervert. I thought that my father was just joking… and I'm named after one of his books.
"Okay, now it's your guys turns." Jiraya tells us. "Pinky, you're first"
Sakura splutters in anger before speaking "My name is Haruno Sakura, not Pinky! I like a certain someone…" She looks away from all of us blushing "I hate Ino-pig and Naruto-teme" She glares at me again. Honestly, I don't know what I'm going to do, being on a team with her. "And as for goals…" She blushes again. I can easily imagine what her goals are, but I'm not really proud of this.
"Okay…" Jiraya says, clearly not impressed with her. I'm not surprised. She has the maturity of a first year academy student. I quite honestly hope that going on actual ninja missions gets her to grow up. Either that, or she'll die. Don't get me wrong, I don't like being around her most of the time – her Sasuke obsession practically consists of every fiber of her being. However, I like to think she has the potential to be a successful ninja. I've seen her hit Kiba before – she has a really nasty hook. "Dog-breath, you're up next."
Kiba growls, and moves in his seat like he's going try to hit Jiraya. Immediately, I put a hand on his shoulder. As soon as I do this, he calms down. He knows I'm familiar with the old man. Heck, everyone knows he taught my father! And either he took it as I was reminding him that he is our sensei, that he's a family friend, or the fact that Jiraya could beat him without even really thinking about it. What matters is that he showed restraint. The instinctive trust is heartening; we're already a team before we've gone on our first mission.
"My name is Inzukuza Kiba" He says in a barely contained growl. "This is Akamaru. We like chasing cats, eating steak, and playing tag with Naruto. I hate rude people, and cats. My goal is to become the greatest dog-nin ever!" Akamaru yips in agreement.
"Wonderful." Jiraya says. This time, you can tell that he thinks that Kiba is an idiot, but everyone does. The thing I do get from him is that he's impressed by Kiba's enthusiasm. Everyone knows that determination and hard work get one farther than innate talent in the long run. "Finally, the runt."
I just ignored his insult. It was designed as a probe to gauge maturity. By bypassing it, he'll see me as either smart or polite, maybe both. Or maybe he knows that I saw what he was doing, and am just giving the appropriate response. I'm not sure how good at reading he is. "My name is Namikaze Naruto. I like eating with Chouji, playing Shougi with Shikamaru and tag with Kiba and Akamaru. As for dislikes… I'm not sure what I dislike." Jiraya gives me a raised eyebrow. I shrug. "I've never really met anyone I dislike. I mean, there are people who are rude for me, but I understand the fact that I am the Hokage's son alters the nature of relationships between myself and others. It's not their fault that they feel strained." Jiraya nods. I'm not sure whether he's giving me false confidence or understanding. Damn, it is difficult to read him now that he is focused on me! "My goal is to become a great shinobi, and one day make my father proud. I guess that I might try and become Hokage, then."
He nods at me again. I still can't read him. Honestly, I don't know how I could read him earlier. I guess he didn't expect Sakura or Kiba to read him, and he just turned it up on me. Damn. Everyone overestimates me just because I am the Hokage's son. I may have done well, but I still feel upset whenever I see someone treating me different because of my father. One day, its going to get me killed. Sometimes, I wonder what life would be like if I grew up without my father. Peoples expectations would be so much lower for me – I could actually earn recognition for things I've done, rather than demand it for who I am.
"Well, this was wonderful." Jiraya tells us. "I think you will make a great team. Honestly, I hope that you three pass the test tomorrow."
"What are you talking about Jiraya-sensei?" Kiba roars "We just graduated yesterday!"
Sakura immediately joins in "Yeah! What do you mean, test?"
Jiraya immediately sighs in exasperation "They didn't tell you? I thought they told you." Noticing the still confused looks on our faces, he decided to elaborate "Even if you graduate, your jounin teacher is supposed to test you. If you pass you become genin. If you fail, it is another year of academy for you guys." Before we can protest, which I am sure Kiba and Sakura want to do, Jiraya stops us. "Calm down, calm down. Even though there is a sixty-six percent fail rate, I am sure that you guys will pass. You've got two of the best students in the class, and a member of a powerful clan." He immediately turns away. "Got to go indulge myself in my likes! Training ground 7 a.m. And remember, no breakfast!" With that, he explodes into a cloud of gas.
"Weird…" Sakura says, her mouth hanging open. I do have to admit, none of us can honestly say that we expected that.
"Well, you guys want to go get some ramen?" I ask them. "You know, celebrate our graduation as a team?"
"Yeah!" Kiba replies. Akamaru yips excitedly.
"And you, Sakura?" I ask, not sure which reply I would prefer.
"No!" she angrily tells me. "I have to go and talk to Sasuke-kun. Even though you ruined my chances of being on his team, he'll still fall for me!" And she storms off determinedly. Kiba and I shrug, and head out. Girls are just plain crazy. No point worrying over a lost cause.
We take the stairs down and leave the academy. Passing the room we were in this morning, we see Sasuke's team and Sakura, our teammate apologizing profusely to him. He's just ignoring her, but if it gives her closure, it isn't all that bad.
We get to the ramen bar and sit down. Ichiraku immediately notices us.
"Ah, honorable son of the Hokage! And Inzukuza-san!" Ichiraku is grinning. He is always grinning. In fact, I cannot think of a single time that I have seen him not grinning. It seems a bit disconcerting, someone who smiles that much is either very happy, or determined to always seem happy. I think Ichiraku is genuinely happy. He gets all the excitement of a ninja life without any of the danger through the stories of his frequent customers. He turns in to the deep kitchen that constitutes the bar behind the seats, and calls out to his daughter. "Ayame-chan! We have two customers. What will you two get?"
"Miso ramen." We both tell him at the same time. Immediately I turn to Kiba and exclaim "Jinx! You have to pay!"
Oh yes, today was a good day. I bet that father is proud of me. But to really make him proud, I need to pass tomorrow. Tomorrow will decide everything.
- - -
"Dad! I'm home!" I announce as I slam shut the door to the manner. There's no immediate response, which means that he's in the office. Immediately, I get quiet. He doesn't like being interrupted when he's doing paperwork. When he's 'In the Zone', he says that he gets a lot of paperwork done. And I don't blame him for wanting that. I've seen the ridiculous amounts of signatures that have to go through him.
A couple hours later, dad comes out of the study looking beat. "Hey, kiddo." He smiles wearily. "I assume you had a fun time today at team assignments."
"Yeah." I reply. He had to know the question I was about to ask. There was no way he couldn't know, after assigning the teams like he did. "Why Jiraya?"
"Ugh." He sighs, obviously still mentally exhausted from the paperwork. "How did I know you this was going to come up tonight? It's not favoritism, if that's what you're worried about."
"Then why?" I press. I know it is a bit rude of me to keep asking when he was so clearly out of it, but this was the first time in a while I had been legitimately upset with him. But dad had to have a good answer – he always did!
"Well, before I even considered team composition, I knew Jiraya was going to have to lead a team this year." Dad explains to me. "He… well, you never met him, but he used to be a very focused and dedicated ninja. Lately, he's been… giving up on the profession and retreating into hobbies. He's too valuable to lose, so I hoped that an inspiring young team of new genin would inspire him again." He ruffled my hair. I hated it when he did that, but I let him anyways. It let him feel like a normal father, which I would gladly oblige to.
"Ready for tomorrow's test?" He asks, a twinkle in his eye. He obviously knows something. "I'm not going to give you any details, but I will tell you this. You know that Jiraya was my sensei. Not only did he teach me how to be a ninja, but he taught me to be a sensei myself, and later Hokage. He's a brilliant man; listen to what he has to say if he's being serious."
A quiet dinner passes uneventfully, and we both go to bed. However, I find it difficult to sleep. The ramifications of tomorrow are huge. Sure, we probably won't be sent back to the academy. If anything, dad's tip-off told me that. But it means that its still important. How we act tomorrow will have repercussions not only on how Jiraya-sensei sees us, but how we see each other as a team. With those thoughts still plaguing my consciousness, I stealthily slip out of it myself and gain the relief of rest.
- - -
A.N.: Well, I guess I am back. To all you Bookwyrm fans, don't worry, the next chapter is almost one (84 percent, if you checked my profile page). I have decided to work on some first person stream of consciousness writing with Naruto. Honestly, I think that the form of first person is much better at conveying a story. Unfortunately, it doesn't work with such a dunderhead character as Naruto, which is why this "Smarter Naruto" story is a perfect fit to do it in. It may be a bit OCs, but the storyline is going to be refreshing from typical Naruto stories (I hope). This is a short chapter, expect them to be in the 5000+ word range.
You will notice a button below. Some of you may be tempted not to push it. But please do. I love hearing from people: it's what inspires me to write more. Also, if enough people review, I tack on Omake to the chapters. So review - I command thee!