- - -
"Wait!" I turn around as I step out of the house. Father is standing in the doorway of the office, something in his hands.
"I want to give you this. It used to belong to your mother. Now that you're officially a ninja, I think she would want you to have it."
I carefully extract the object from his hands. It's a kunai. However, not a design I've ever seen. Two other blades jut out from the main part of the knife, making for a vastly different weapon.
"She used it to injure at the beginning of the fight, so the opponent couldn't continue. This is the last one that's still intact." Father was starting to get teary eyed. Even thirteen years after her death, he was still mourning her passing. Not once in memory could I remember him trying on, meeting new women. The fact that he was willing to part with such a heirloom really means something.
"Thank you." I whisper. I don't know what to feel. Sadness? How can I mourn someone I never lost? Anger? At an event that I never had any control over? As I leave the house, I contemplate this. How can I be familiar to someone I've never met? Of course, I must respect her. She is my mother. Without her, I am incapable of ever existing. But I know nothing of her. Sure, Father tells me stories of her all the time. But how can that measure up to the actual experiences he had with her?
I shake my head. There is no point in thinking about this right now. I have the first session with Jiraya-sensei today. And if I don't hurry now, I'll quite probably be late for it.
- - -
We all stand in front of Jiraya sensei in the middle of the training ground. It's relatively simple: three taijutsu posts and a small expanse of open ground bordered by trees. I can't help but wonder what the test will be - perhaps destroy one of those posts? They seem pretty solid.
"Your mission today is to steal a bell from me." Jiraya explains to us, jingling two metal bells in front of us. "You have the next three hours to get one. Anyone who doesn't successfully get a bell from me gets tied to one of these posts and doesn't get lunch. And…" He trails off mischievously.
"And???" Both Sakura and Kiba ask. He's threading us along for dramatic effect.
"Those unlucky enough not to get a bell also get sent back to the Academy for another year." That statement has an undeniable weight in all of us. Suddenly, I'm focused, determined to bet a bell. Kiba and Sakura are pretty angry. I have to admit, if I wasn't trying so hard to keep calm, I'd be pretty angry too. All those years at the academy, and the tests, and we aren't even guaranteed to be genin?
"You can't just do that!" Kiba yells at him. I can't tell if Kiba's just angry, or actually worried that he won't get a bell.
"Yeah!" Sakura chimes in. I think that's the first time ever Sakura agreed with Kiba on something. That elicits a chortle that I have to stifle to avoid attention.
"I can do anything I want to." Our Sensei replies arrogantly. "Hokage-sama had to beg me to become a sensei. And I'm not taking a team that isn't up to my standards. Teaching you brats is cutting into valuable research time."
That's chilling. Father told me that Jiraya could be a bit selfish sometimes, but this is a bit much.
"So, when I say start, you guys have three hours to get a bell from me. Understand? Okay? Go!"
- - -
While Sakura and I retreat into the treeline as soon as Jiraya says go, Kiba doesn't bother to move. Well, he shifts into a taijutsu stance that can be immediately recognized as the Inuzuka's fighting style. This is amusing. I should have anticipated it - Kiba's strong point was always taijutsu. He wasn't capable of doing much else.
"Don't you want to hide with your friends?" Jiraya asks him, a frown on his face. He evidently didn't expect someone to confront him head on.
"Nope, we've got you outnumbered two to one. Go, Akamaru!" Kiba's trusted partner leaped out of Kiba's jacked and launched itself at Jiraya's belt.
But Akamaru sails straight through the man, plowing into earth. Apparently, Akamaru hit the ground hard, because the dog was out cold.
"Oh, did you mean to hurt little ol' me?" Jiraya appears out of the treeline. "Sorry, but you're going to have to try a little harder."
"You bastard!" Kiba yells. I sigh as loudly as I think I can get away with from my hiding spot. Kiba has always been a head-on confrontation style of person. While it made him pretty useful in a fight, sometimes it made it hard for him to do a lot of other things that ninja were supposed to do. Like be subtle.
Jiraya swats him away with little effort. Kiba's not unconscious, but he's out for the count. Still no sign of Sakura.
Immediately, I understand that there is little chance of any of us getting bells. Jiraya-sama is one of the most famous ninja in konoha history – how are we supposed to sneak a bell off his person? Perhaps he will be kind enough to go easy on us. But there is only one way to find out for sure.
With a mite of effort, I make a clone. Sure, it might not be any good in a fight, but just because it can't doesn't mean that our sensei will know it. Silently, I command the bunshin to attack our sensei. It can't capture the bell, but at least it will give me some idea of what to expect when I attempt to acquire the bell for myself.
The Bunshin makes it barely within fifteen meters of sensei. I'm not quite sure what he does, but with a slight huff, the clone just dissipates.
"You're going to have to do better than that." He calls out, sounding very bored. "Clones are easy to dismantle with one's chakra, if you're properly trained."
He can do that? I've never seen anyone do that before. That's why Jiraya sama is known as the Toad Sage, I guess. Well, not the toad part of course. Sages have studied in arcane arts and mastered them. Defeating Jiraya would not be done through conventional means – that was immediately made evident to me.
But then, I come up with a plan. If I throw a Kunai just slightly off target from him, he won't even bother to defend against it. Then, I can substitute myself for the kunai, and grab a bell off him mid flight. Immediately, I put the plan to action.
Pulling a kunai out of my pouch, I throw it barely to the left of him, and prepare to substitute. Fortunately, he doesn't seem inclined to block an attack that won't even hit him. Grinning, I switch with the knife and blindly grab at our sensei – its hard to get your bearings on the fly. However, I can't help but notice when my hand hits him in the face instead of at the belt line. He lets out a surprised little yelp very unbecoming of someone like him.
Immediately, I roll to avoid injury, and quickly get up into a Taijutsu position facing him. He turns to meet me, rubbing his injured face.
"Minato-kun never told me you had so much spunk!" Jiraya laughed surprised "Slapping the teacher in the face? I don't think I've ever heard of a student doing that before. I quite honestly hope that you pass this – you're pretty interesting."
I decide not to mention that slapping him in the face was completely unintentional. Perhaps it will give me the edge if he overestimates me. With a yell, I charge him. Keeping up the appearances of being aggressive is the only way I can find an opening.
In true Sannin fashion, he sidesteps me and clips me in the back of the head. I stumble and hit the ground hard, but not too hard to get up again.
"But what you make up with energy, you lack in skill. You should have realized that brute force didn't work from your teammate Inuzuka-san. Lesson One: Taijutsu. Be aware and fluid. You must keep up with the situation if you aspire to be victorious."
"I'll show you!" I yell as I get up and attack him again, this time purposely tripping at his feet. I glance up at him. He isn't even bothering to look down at me. He's got a notebook out and he's writing things down in it. This is my chance!
From this position, I spring up and close my fist around a bell, but he slaps my hand away and takes a couple small hops backward. He still isn't even looking at me as he does this.
"Good! Good! You took advantage of my low expectations to try to get a bell! Keep trying, you just might be successful."
Now I'm starting to get mad. He could at least give me the respect of paying attention while he's defeating me. "Doton: Jishaku Puru no jutsu!". Aptly named, the Magnet Pull technique was one of the smaller jutsu I learned from my tutors. It was designed to return thrown kunai or attract kunai from a nearby attack, but by focusing all of my will and chakra on the bells, I hoped to make an effective grab upon the bells.
And, surprisingly enough, it succeeds. Both the bells snap off our teacher's belt and fly into my open hands. Immediately, I'm suspicious, because Jiraya did nothing to stop me.
"Oh, whoops!" He replies half-sarcastically. "You seem to have both bells. Contest over!"
- - -
Jiraya dragged Kiba and Sakura over to the post. Apparently, he had spent a special type of solid clone to attack her after she decided not to make an attempt on the bells. Both Kiba and Sakura were pretty beaten up, and exhausted.
"Naruto-san did what you two couldn't." Jiraya tells the other two. I shifted uncomfortable. I didn't like how Jiraya-sensei was showboating my victory over the others. "He was both smart and strong about it. Sakura, you tried to outsmart the situation, but your opportunity never came to succeed."
The girl hung her head shamefully. I'm not sure whether its from her being upset or being just so tired, but I think she might be crying.
"Kiba, you tried to win with a direct attack." Jiraya explains to my friend. "While playing to your strengths is admirable, sometimes you have to understand that you're outmatched and come up with a plan. That is why you failed."
Kiba could only grimace and growl at that. I'm sure he's feeling pretty bad, but he's hiding that through a pretty thick layer of rage at our sensei.
"So, now that Naruto has both the bells, he gets to choose which of you makes it with him to be a genin."
I snap to attention at that one. I have to pick?
"Why me? Why aren't you picking the other one?"
"I would have thought it was obvious. Because you were successful, you get to decide. In real missions, this would be a life or death situation. Only two on your team can survive – the third must sacrifice their lives for the sake of the mission."
My mind races. This truly was a life or death situation. I have to pick properly – the futures of the people in front of me depend on it.
"I pick Kiba." I finally choke out, very nervous about the decision I've made.
Jiraya is frowning. "You can't pick both. That's against the rules. Only two can make it to genin."
"Look, there's two bells." I show to him. "I can do anything I want with them." And walking over to the other two, I give each of them a bell. "See?"
Sakura stares up at me, utterly bewildered. I don't think she expected me to give her a bell at all. As I look into her eyes, I realize I was right, she was crying. I give her a reassuring smile. Pretty girls shouldn't cry.
"So…" Jiraya asked, appraising me. I put on my game face – I can't show weakness to this man, even if he won't be my sensei. "You would sacrifice your future as a ninja so the other two would succeed?"
"Yes." I reply "Kiba is my best friend – I had to pick him. And Sakura… well, Sakura deserves to be a genin. She's worked as hard as anyone in our class. Just because she might not be as physically strong as the others doesn't mean she is less qualified to be a ninja."
"Very well…" He sighs, sounding very disappointed. Was he really that interested in training me? "In that case… you all pass!"
"What!" Kiba jumps up, forgetting all the pain he was in at that moment.
"It's very simple." Jiraya explains to us. "I wanted to see how good your teamwork was. It sucks by the way. Kiba, you rushed in headlong without even thinking of asking Naruto or Sakura for help. Naruto and Sakura, you decided not to help Kiba get the bells showed horrendous teamwork skills on your part."
"But Jiraya-sensei!" Sakura pipes up "You never said we were supposed to team up!"
"Of course, that was the point of this test!" I cut in, furious that I didn't see it myself "He wanted to see if we had it in us to work together, even if we knew that it would mean that one of us would fail."
"Yes!" Jiraya exclaims, beaming. "Which is why Naruto's sacrifice allowed you to pass. He failed himself on purpose for the good of the team."
"That's dumb." Kiba mutters. I sigh under my breath. Sometimes Kiba really needs to learn to have tact.
"Dumb?" Jiraya turns on him. "Is it dumb to know that sometimes you have to give up your life for the sake of others? What about your father? Was it dumb for him to give his own life to save Konoha from the Kyuubi attack thirteen years ago?"
That shuts Kiba up. I really don't like what Jiraya-sensei did there. He picked on Kiba personally just for being a little upset over the test. Sure, it maybe could get Kiba to understand, but he seems equally lacking in tact.
"Now, we're done for today. Meet me here at 5 o'clock tomorrow morning – I've got a little surprise for you."
- - -
"Dumb old man." Kiba complains to me as we go for ramen – a treat from my father when he learned that we passed. "Thinks he knows everything…"
"I wouldn't underestimate him." I tell Kiba, trying to mollify him. "Out of all the instructors we could have, Jiraya-sensei is by far the strongest. Even if you don't like him, you should still respect him."
Like that's ever going to happen. I remember what happened to Iruka after he scolded Kiba very publicly on his first day there. The man had ended up tied to his seat, and Kiba, Chouji, Shikamaru and I all ditched class. Of course, that same stuff wouldn't work on Jiraya, but the same principle applied.
"Ah, my two favorite customers!" Ichiraku-san exclaims. "What can I get for you today?"
"Miso ramen, extra large."
"Make that double!"
Ichiraku laughs good-naturedly at Kiba's enthusiasm. Its strange, in a village full of ninjas trained to kill, how can such a nice man exist? It just doesn't make sense. But I put my ethical concerns aside – I've been fretting about this for the past eight years – now its time to let loose a bit.
"I still can't believe you got the bells like that!" Kiba exclaims. "It just seemed so… anticlimactic!"
"Oh, old Jiraya put you guys through the bell test?" Ichiraku asks, looking up from the ramen he's cooking up for us.
"You know about that?"
"Of course!" The old man has a far away expression on his face. "I was just an assistant cook at the time, but I remember when Jiraya brought his first team in here. They were so excited that they passed – apparently, little Minato figured it out and got the team to work together. Ah, those were great times… well, here we go!"
Kiba and I stare hungrily at the bowl. I guess we hadn't realized how much of an appetite we had worked up from the training session this morning. We dig in with the fury that only starving children can maintain. When we finish, I pay Ichiraku-san and Kiba and I go our separate ways. We have training tomorrow.
- - -
"Good morning!" Jiraya beams. We're all a little droopy, but what do you expect? It's five in the morning. We just shifted our sleep schedule by four hours, and Jiraya-sensei just expects us to shrug it off.
"Today, rather than bothering with silly little missions like walking dogs and the like, we'll be climbing trees."
There is a stunned silence from all of us.
"Climbing Trees?" Kiba cracks up. "That's stupid."
"Oh, that's not all." Jiraya has another twinkle in his eye. I don't like that. That means some form of unpleasant surprise. "You have to do it without your hands."
"What? That's impossible!"
"No it isn't. Here, let me show you." And Jiraya walks to the nearest tree, not even bothering to stop. And then, the impossible happens. He walks up the tree as if it was flat ground. He continues until he is standing upside down on one of the higher up branches. "You are going to learn one of the very basic skills that all ninja must know. Not only does this help when you're fighting in a forest or on any steep surface, but it also gives you better chakra control. Do you know exactly how I'm doing this?"
Sakura immediately raises your hand. "Iruka-sensei mentioned this once. You concentrate your chakra in your feet and use that to stick to the tree."
"Very good! I want you to climb up the trees using only your feet. Take a kunai and mark your highest point on the tree so that you can watch your improvement." Jiraya tells us. He looks very comical upside-down. His long hair juts directly down (or up?) from his head. "Now, I'm not going to give you any more pointers. Its important you learn how to do this on your own, or you'll never learn to do it. I'll be back at lunch time so that you guys can take a break. If you'll excuse me, I have to go do some research."
And before we can even complain or ask some questions, he's gone. Damn, he's fast.
"Lazy bastard." Kiba mutters. "He just wants to avoid teaching us."
I can't help but agree. Jiraya-sensei seems to be a very bad teacher. I wonder how Father became so strong with Jiraya as his teacher – maybe he had to learn it all by himself.
"Well, we might as well get started." I reply, pulling a kunai out of my pouch. Picking a nice wide tree that seems easy to work with, I begin. Putting one foot on the tree, I try to focus my chakra into my foot. It tingles as I focus my energies there. Then, without warning, my foot bursts off the tree, leaving a scorch mark. I tumble backwards, not anticipating the sudden explosion.
"What the hell was that?" Kiba exclaims from his tree. He doesn't seem to be doing much better.
"No idea." I simply reply. I guess I overdid it… maybe if I used less chakra, the reaction would be less severe?
I try again, this time, barely concentrating any energy into my feet. As I plant my foot on the tree, I already know it isn't going to work. I sigh with frustration. Why won't this work?
I look over at Sakura. She's having a little more success than the rest of us. Each trip, she makes it about three steps up before sliding down. I'm not surprised – girls typically have more chakra control than the boys.
I keep on trying, gradually increasing the amount of chakra in my feet, but to no avail. It's either too little and I slide down after one step, or I put too much into the technique and catapult myself off of the tree. It seems impossible for me to succeed here.
Looking back over at Kiba, even he's starting to get some success with the technique. He can make a couple of unsteady steps before gradually losing focus and sliding off the tree.
I can't help but be frustrated - why were they successful and not me? It just didn't make sense! I was the top rookie in the class – shouldn't I be able to learn this quicker than the others?
- - -
"Lunch time!" Jiraya-sama announces from behind us, returning to the clearing. I give a small start – had it really been that long? It had only felt like a couple hours, not seven.
Thankfully, Jiraya-sensei brought food for us, so we don't have to go back into town to procure it for ourselves. Kiba and Akamaru immediately dig in. Even Sakura isn't so shy about eating politely.
"So, how's the training?" Jiraya asks us, laying back peacefully.
"Really hard." Kiba says, barely making time for words in between bites "I can only get up a couple steps."
"Same as Kiba." Sakura replies "I've gotten up to about ten steps, but I can't stay on for very long."
"Well, it's supposed to be hard; it's the foundation of most Ninjutsu and Genjutsu. If you can do this, then it means you're capable of doing more advanced techniques. How about you, Naruto?"
I gulp nervously. "I haven't been able to do it at all, Jiraya-sensei. I always use far too much or far too little chakra."
He stares at me interestedly. "Hm… that's interesting. I would have expected you to have better results than the others." I hang my head in shame.
"Well, I guess it can't be helped. Minato-kun told me that you had an unusually amount of Chakra… I'll give you some pointers. First, running at the tree will help. The forward momentum will let you stick to the tree for a bit longer than if you just tried walking up. Secondly, try meditating a little before you try to climb the tree – Minato-kun taught you how to meditate, right?"
I nod. When I was first learning jutsu with my tutors, they taught me meditating so I could learn how to use chakra.
"I'm off again – I'll be back at five!" Jiraya leaves without another word.
"Back to work, I guess…" Kiba mutters, quickly forgetting the charity of a free lunch. "Running at the tree, eh? I guess it's worth a shot."
"Like you're ever going to figure this one out, dog-breath." Sakura jeers at him.
"What! I'll show you!"
I step in before the fight can escalate. I know that they're pretty tired and cranky, but they still shouldn't be fighting. "Guys, guys. Let's settle this peacefully. Sakura, you think he can't learn this? Well, let's have a contest. The last person to master this technique out of the three of us has to buy dinner after practice for a week. Deal?"
"Deal!" They both glare at each other. I can almost see the fire in their eyes. I sigh. Are they ever going to get along?
Turning away from them, I close my eyes and try to find my center. I try to take my chakras and focus them at my feet, willing it to flow from my core. Opening my eyes, I glare at the tree. Then, I run at it.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five steps! It wasn't as much as Sakura could do earlier, but it's still more than Kiba, and more importantly more than I had been able to achieve earlier. Perhaps there was something to Jiraya-sensei's training.
- - -
We finish up our last runs up the tree when Jiraya arrives. We're all exhausted. Sakura's pretty much got the entire exercise down, but she still sometimes falls off. I'm pretty sure that's just because she's exhausted. Kiba and I can make it about twenty steps each before jumping off the tree.
"Good!" Jiraya's voice booms out, echoing across the forest. He's pretty loud for a ninja. "I see my hints are helping! Go home, and meet me tomorrow at nine o'clock at the hot springs. After all your hard work, its time for some relaxation."
We all cheer at this, though not very loud – we're still quite tired. A day at the spa will definitely we a welcome relaxation after working so hard today. All in good spirits, we head our separate ways.
Just a little while later, I make it home. Peeking my head into dad's home office, I see he's asleep on a pile of paperwork, drooling all over it.
"Wake up." I prod him not so gently. If you're strong enough to be Hokage, you're tough enough to get poked pretty hard.
"Mmmph..." He groans, still refusing to get up. It's only 5:30 in the afternoon!
"Lazy bum! Get up!"
"Fine, fine." He sighs, extricating himself from the paperwork. "So, how was training with Jiraya?"
I tell him all about it. The tree exercise, how I couldn't do it as well as the others, how Jiraya only gave us hints when we had trouble doing it ourselves, but that his advice was very helpful. Father smiles reminiscently. I'm glad. With all the stress he has to endure, some relaxation in his life is due.
"What's for dinner?" I ask as I put my tools away in my room.
"Again? Can't we eat something else for dinner? I had Ichiraku's for lunch, you know."
"Fine, fine. How about sushi? I've heard there's some new place that just opened - immigrants from Wave or somesuch."
I beam "Sounds great!"
We head out for this restaurant. It's called Same-fin. Shark fin. Appropriate for a seafood restaurant. The waiter doesn't recognize who father is at first - I guess he's from Wave. However, as soon as all the guests notice, the news gets passed on to the owner who comes out to greet us. He's a kind looking old man with a face wrinkled by long years of work. I like to think of him as a shorter, fatter version of Ichiraku.
"Welcome to Same-fin! I'm Wanizame Kota, here, let me seat you."
"Thank you, Wanizame-san. Your hospitality here does you honor." My father replies respectfully. A career of working with foreign diplomats has made him a very smooth talker.
Because of my father's reputation, we receive dinner on the house. Kota-san will probably actually make money off our patronage, to non-ninja villagers of Konoha, the Hokage's public tastes are the vogue - especially for the bacholrettes of the village. It was all excellent - I haven't had sushi before, so I don't know what they are by name. There's some with shrimp, some with yellow fin, a few purely rice and vegetables. By the end of the meal, most of the patrons have already left. After thanking the owner for the wonderful meal, we leave.
Once home, we say goodnight to each other. I go to bed, father back to the office. He says he's got a couple more things to take care of before going to bed tonight. He always works too hard. Sometimes I wish that he would hire some assistants to help out with the monotony of his job, but he never will. He has too much pride in the position to sully it by doing the work. His refusal to change the Hokage's job with the times will be the death of him.
Unlike the previous evening, I fall asleep quickly. The long day full of exertion and good food robs me of my consciousness quite quickly.
- - -
A.N.: Another chapter finished. Whoo!
I just want to give a warning to all the NaruSaku fans out there – this will not be immediate gratification. Sakura doesn't even really get along with the rest of the group yet. I'm probably going to go to a traditional timeskip point (though for obviously different reasons – no Sasuke running), and the romance will begin upon Naruto's return or some point slightly after. So, if you're willing to be patient, I think it'll be worth it, but don't expect anything in the next couple of chapters.
Many thanks to tennesdesi91 and dbzgtfan2004 for being the first (and only so far) reviewers. Its great to hear from my readers – not only does it tell me what I'm doing right and what I'm doing wrong, but it also shows that you guys actually want me to continue the fic. So for the love of all that is holy, please review! I've decided as an incentive that if you meet my requested # of reviews, I will write an Omake at the end of the next chapter. It will be written in the third person, but will fit in "somewhat" fluffwise to my fic and be at least 1000 words long. To earn chapter 3's Omake, I require 12 reviews total (including the ones already submitted). Virtual cookies will also be provided. If you can't tell, I love reviews.