Disclaimer: The original manga, Naruto is the work of Kishimoto Masashi. Settings and characters have been adapted without authorization or approval.
Get Your Own
Naruto should have known better than to tap him on the shoulder. The class had just arrived at the school's target range, and what was the first thing he felt? Naruto sneaking up behind him. Badly. He pivoted and knocked the blond's arm out of the way like always, going for a shoulder strike with a leg sweep to knock him to the ground, but Naruto rolled in time to avoid it. He'd gotten a lot better at sparring as well as throwing kunai over the past few days - but not good enough to win. He'd be trying to grapple, Sasuke figured, and sidestepped to where he thought he could throw his classmate and put him down.
He'd just gotten a good grip on Naruto's t-shirt when he heard Iruka-sensei yelling, "Pack it in, boys! We're doing target practice now, not hand-to-hand."
Crap, Sasuke thought. He'd reacted without thinking, and now he could hear the other students whispering. They were asking each other things like, 'Since when did those two start sparring together?' and 'No, he must have been picking a fight with Sasuke. But who would do that?' and 'Didn't it look like Naruto was doing okay?' He'd have dusted the blond in the dirt. He always did, and the murmurs from his classmates sounded like they could tell he would, but that didn't help the fact that he could have given away everything.
Then everyone might have figured out that Naruto had started practicing with him and Itachi. Just because he wasn't as much of a drag as he could be, didn't mean Sasuke wanted the whole class thinking he liked Naruto. Or that they were friends. Or anything like that. What if they decided that they could be friends, too, or that they wanted to join Naruto in crashing his private training time with his brother?
Iruka-sensei walked over to their targets, even though they'd stopped grappling and gotten in position to throw. "Naruto," he said. "Would you join the other children at the E-rank targets? We need to get started."
"But I have a target." Naruto pointed at the A-rank target next to the one Sasuke had claimed. A few of the other students in the top class heard him and snickered. So did some in the B-rank class, for that matter.
Boy, were they in for a surprise.
Iruka-sensei, too. At last week's practice, Naruto had still had trouble getting his kunai to fly forward. No way he'd believe the blond could keep up with an A-rank practice now.
"Naruto, you know it's dangerous to throw at targets higher than your level."
Dangerous for the rest of the class, Sasuke thought. If the blond threw today like he had before Itachi taught him to aim, someone down the line would get a faceful of kunai, or there might be a ricochet. D- and E-rank targets were further apart, and had more guards up to protect from wild throws, which was all Iruka-sensei had ever seen Naruto do. No one at C-rank or higher put their kunai anywhere but in the target.
"Now, stand over there-"
"I don't need to use the baby targets! I'm as good as Sasuke now!"
Sasuke nearly snapped that Naruto wasn't and he knew it, but he caught himself. He wouldn't want to say something like that with all the other kids watching to see how he'd react - and they were. Better to pretend like he hadn't even heard. It was what he would have done if he didn't know that Naruto was more than good enough for the A-rank practice. If he thought Naruto had no chance of backing up anything that came out of his big mouth.
Not that he did. But the school practices were so far below what they did with Itachi that somebody might think they were even.
When he looked up, Iruka-sensei was looking back and forth between the two of them. The teacher gave the blond one last look and answered, "All right, Naruto." He handed off a brace of kunai and stepped behind the row of targets. Every snickering girl and whispering boy who'd gathered up took about five steps back, clearing the area in case a throw went wild.
Some of them called back, "But he can't do it!" but Iruka-sensei shushed them and took another long look at Sasuke.
Crap. I didn't move with the others.
And why would he have? He knew Naruto would hit the target, not one of his classmates. At least none of the other kids had picked up on it, even if he was pretty sure the teacher had.
"But Iruka-sensei!" one girl called out. "New level assignments aren't until next month. Why does Naruto get to do a special test and nobody else does? No fair!"
The teacher smiled his fake grown-up smile. "Well, I'll make a special rule, just for today. If he places into a higher rank, anyone else who wants to try can do the same test. All the students who do as well as he does can move up with him."
The grumbles in the crowd settled down to the usual chorus.
"He can't do it, anyway."
"Such a screw-up! Naruto's just a waste of time..."
"You wanna bet where it'll land?"
Sasuke took a seat on the ground in front of his own target, a few feet off from Naruto. The blond had finished tying the kunai pouch to his leg and had settled into position, wearing his serious face. The gallery'd shut up as soon as they saw his first throw, and it wasn't like Sasuke wanted to be one of them anyway.
"Throw those five kunai, one at a time, at this target over here," Iruka-sensei told him as he tapped the target he was hiding behind, "and show me how much you've improved."
"You got it!"
The blond whipped the first kunai out of his pouch and sent it screaming at the target in one fluid motion. The solid thwack of metal digging into wood silenced the crowd of students and left their teacher looking stunned. They'd been expecting it to drop on the ground somewhere, for sure, or maybe clatter against another target. Even if Iruka-sensei had read Sasuke and figured Naruto could make his own target, he hadn't been expecting a bulls-eye.
When the teacher heard the sound and felt the target shake, he looked down and blinked at the knife sticking out, dead center. That wasn't just a bulls-eye. It was smack-dab in the middle of the bulls-eye. "Wait, Naruto," Iruka-sensei said. He waved for Naruto to hold before he could draw another kunai.
If C-rank was always hitting the target, and B-rank was usually getting it in the center spot, A-rank meant real pin-point aiming. You could knock the first kunai on the base if you really wanted to, but it wasn't going to split like an arrow. Better to practice throwing a spread. So it looked like Iruka-sensei planned to give Naruto the real A-rank test after all.
"Second ring, five o'clock."
The class didn't even have time to finish gasping at Naruto pulling his second kunai without a word or any hesitation. The shot landed perfectly with another thwack, right where Iruka-sensei had called it, and the gasp died with a choke in their collective throats.
"Third ring, eleven o'clock."
Dead on, again. So far, he himself was the only one in the class with a perfect record, but it didn't matter so much if Naruto could hit all five once. Not really. Lots of people could do it once.
Well, maybe not lots, but a few.
"Fourth ring, nine o'clock."
One more time, the kunai hit home, buried an inch into the white stripe on the outside of the target.
"Line. Second ring to third ring, three o'clock," Iruka-sensei told him quietly for his fifth and final shot. Naruto did as he was told. The kunai drove into the target, and somewhere a girl squealed and clapped wildly.
The whispering picked up in the crowd again, but this time there was less mockery and more people asking, "What the hell?"
Iruka-sensei waved to the class to quiet down and pulled the kunai out of the target. "Well done, Naruto. I think everyone will agree that you should be practicing at A-rank today. Now, if there's anyone who thinks they can do the same, please raise your hands."
Four of the students from B-rank put their hands up. Nobody else.
"All right, wait for me by the targets on the left. Everyone else, go to your positions and start your warm-ups!"
Well, that's over, Sasuke thought. The crowd dispersed, still muttering, and he stood up and brushed off his pants. Now they could actually start class. All the other kids in A-rank had stepped into position and started warming up - except for Yamanaka Ino, who was taking her time buckling her kunai holster. She'd nabbed the spot next to him, again. Hopefully, she wouldn't try to talk to him today. Girls always thought he cared about their hair, for some reason.
Iruka-sensei knelt down to look Naruto in the eye. "That was really excellent," he said with a smile. "You must have been practicing."
"Just a little!" the blond laughed. He looked far too proud of himself for something as simple as getting five kunai in a target. Besides, nobody knew it was because Itachi had helped him. With his brother's help, even a dunce could get a perfect score. It wasn't that cool.
Not that he was good just because Itachi trained with him. He had talent. Itachi'd told him so.
"Well, I look forward to seeing that hard work in class." Iruka-sensei stood up and ruffled Naruto's hair. "Take your position," he said, walking off toward the targets where the other four students were testing.
As soon as the teacher had left, Ino jumped in front of his target to squeal at Naruto. "Oh my god, where did you learn to do that? Like, two days ago you couldn't even hit the side of the school!"
Naruto jumped back. "Huh?" That was fair. Ino could startle you the first couple times she jumped in your personal space.
"Oi," Sasuke broke into the conversation before the blond could spill how he'd weaseled his way into after-school practice with his brother. "What's this about throwing as well as I can, moron?"
"Didn't you see that, Sasuke?" Naruto grinned and pointed to the target. "I totally aced it!"
"You've still got a long way to go before you're as good as me."
Ino had gone into silent fawning mode, not nearly as upset about getting cut off as she should have been. She kept looking back and forth between him and Naruto with inexplicable glee. Hinata was a couple targets down, blushing and staring like an idiot, while Shikamaru stood on the other side of Naruto, eyeing the target for any sign that he could have faked it.
"Hey, Naruto!" Kiba called out from the B-rank targets. "Where'd you pick that up, anyway?"
"Somebody must have taught you, right?" asked Shikamaru.
Bunch of busybodies.
"What does it matter?" Sasuke interrupted before Naruto could think of an answer. He'd been going to snap something about how that test had been no big deal, but the blond caught his eye with a smile as big as the moon. After three days of training together, the way his blue eyes flashed still threw Sasuke off. He'd always been annoying, but that was just weird. Why did Naruto smile at him that way? He used to be such a jerk all the time.
Sasuke sniffed and rolled his eyes. Naruto was still a jerk. Just the jerk that he was going to look out for (at least a little) when he did something idiotic like show off in front of the whole class and nearly get their secret practices found out. He'd told Itachi he would.
So he drew one of his kunai and held it out to Naruto. "If you think you're as good as me, why don't you prove it?"
"You're on!" The blond jumped over and punched his fist. That was weird, too, but he had to swallow a grin when he saw Naruto smile. After all, Sasuke knew that nailing points on a target was the least of the progress he'd made. It was fun, he guessed, having practice together.
Not that he wanted anyone else to know. Itachi was his brother, and Naruto was his... person-he-didn't-like... And it wasn't any of their business, and he couldn't even start his warm-up with Ino's head in his way. It was against school rules to throw knives at the other kids when they weren't looking.
Also, his brother might be sad if he didn't get along with the students in his class. They were all meant to be Konoha shinobi together someday.
"Do you mind?" Sasuke asked, and stepped into throwing position in front of the target next to Naruto's.
"Huh?" Ino blinked when she noticed Sasuke move in on where she was standing. "Oh, no problem!" she said, turning giggly, then yelled "Move it!" at Shikamaru and stole the next post over.
Naruto caught his eye and smiled. Again.
What the hell was with that moron?
And why did everyone else want to talk to him now? He was the same old Naruto, whether he could hit a mark or not. Sasuke knew that. Couldn't they just find an idiot that his brother hadn't invited home and decide to like him?
Normally, he'd have been out the door as soon as the clock hit three. He hadn't counted on the other kids being as pushy as they were, trying to find out where he'd learned to throw that well, that fast. Every time he'd wanted to go talk to Sasuke, one of them had been there to block him with questions, and now that they were trying to leave for the day, all of them were between him and his friend. Sasuke was already putting on his shoes at the door. If he got too far ahead, Naruto wouldn't have a chance to ask if they could hang out - well, train - today, even though Itachi-no-niichan was on a mission.
Naruto laughed nervously as yet more students crowded around. "It's really not a big deal."
Over by the door, he saw Sasuke look over at their conversation with his cool, calm stare. He didn't seem to want people knowing about Itachi-no-niichan, so Naruto hadn't mentioned.
It was just their secret. His and Sasuke's.
"C'mon! You can tell us," Hibachi whined. "We won't tell Iruka-sensei!"
"Why would I care if you told Iruka-sensei?"
One of the girls, Magari, leaned over to squeal at Ino, "He must have started taking lessons from a scary jounin, right? Oh, I wonder who it could be. Do you know anybody like that?"
Sakura-chan was standing with them, peeking out from behind Magari's ponytail. She wasn't going crazy like the rest of the class. She just watched, and sometimes turned to look at Sasuke with her mouth scrunched up like she was thinking. Shikamaru had the same look, but Sakura-chan was cuter than Shikamaru.
When he grinned at her, the girl's face twitched. After a second, her expression kind of turned into a smile.
I bet she totally thinks I'm cool! Naruto couldn't help laughing to himself, hearing the crowd as they went on about what 'scary jounin' might have given him a lesson. They were all so wrong.
Meanwhile, Sasuke scowled at him from the doorway. He'd been quieter and pissier than usual today, ever since they'd finished kunai practice. Naruto had no clue why, and he couldn't find out - not with everyone jumping him to ask questions. He couldn't have been mad about class practice, right? Sasuke had gotten 100%, like always, and he'd only tied for third with 97%. Sasuke wouldn't have been mad about that unless he'd lost.
Well, he'd find out, though. As long as Sasuke wasn't so mad he left before Naruto could catch up. And if he was, Naruto could just follow after him, and if Sasuke told him to go away...
Then he'd ask, "What for?" and they could go somewhere anyway! It was an absolutely no-fail plan. As long as he could get away from the other students and follow Sasuke home, he'd be golden. His first chance to hang out just with Sasuke! How awesome was that?
Magari pulled on his sleeve. "Oh, come on! Who is it? Who's the scary jounin?"
How was he supposed to answer that?
"There's no scary jounin!" he said. "A nice guy just told me a couple things I was doing wrong, and I practiced a lot."
Over by the door, he thought he might have seen Sasuke smile for half a second.
And was he still putting on his shoes? No, they were already on, and he was just sitting there. But Sasuke never dawdled.
Suddenly, Naruto's whole day brightened up by about ten times. Sasuke was totally waiting for him! Talk about freakin' bad-ass! Maybe he could even have a sleepover at Sasuke's place and they could hang out all weekend! He smiled at his friend, who cleared off his happy expression and switched to his default annoyed face.
One kid off to the side - sounded like Teppan - called out, "Hey, Naruto, we're going to the dango place after school. You want in?"
"Huh?" He turned to look at the student who'd asked. It was Teppan, all right. He wasn't quite sure what to say, since Sasuke was waiting for him (he was certain), but their training was supposed to be a secret (so he couldn't say anything). Getting invited out by other classmates wasn't something he'd expected. "Well, I... ah..."
"Oi, moron." Sasuke was standing in the doorway now, and he looked seriously pissed. The whole room went quiet. "Are you coming or not?"
How could he say no to that? "I'll be right there!" he yelled, then turned to Teppan to say, "Sorry. Maybe some other time." The crowd parted in front of him when he ran over (nobody messed with Sasuke) and he put on his shoes in record time. All the kids had started whispering again, but it didn't matter. All that mattered was figuring out what kind of training they were going to do, just the two of them.
Sasuke scoffed and walked out the door as soon as Naruto had his second shoe halfway on. He was way too cool.
Someday, I'll be that awesome, Naruto thought. Or awesomer! He dashed out after his friend, barely noticing the sun warming his head and shoulders. "Hey, Sasuke! Can I stay over at your place tonight?"
"I guess. Why?"
"Just 'cause." His apartment was all right, but it was empty. "So, what d'ya think? Sakura-chan's pretty cute, isn't she?"
Sasuke's face scrunched up like he'd smelled something sour. "If you like pink." He glanced at Naruto and bit his lip. "Race you."
"Hey, wait up!" Before Naruto could answer or either of them could think about counting to three, Sasuke had dashed off down the road at top speed. Naruto tore off after him, of course. What else was he going to do?
"So, I don't suppose you've seen him for lessons outside of school?"
Iruka had started working his way through the faculty looking for Naruto's mystery teacher, starting with Masugu, the chuunin who headed the Projectiles department. He certainly didn't seem to be the 'nice guy' to whom his student had attributed that little miracle.
"If Naruto won't come to remedial classes when they're held, why should I go out of my way to train him? He's useless. Honestly, I wouldn't even have taken the time out of class to test him."
Of course, not doing the test was a perfectly sensible stance, Iruka supposed - from someone who hadn't had the Third Hokage asking leading questions about whether Naruto and Sasuke were getting on any better, and who hadn't then seen the youngest Uchiha gravitating toward the blond terror in every class (and vice versa). There was no question they were spending time together. He never would have imagined those two would be friends. Most of the class was certain Sasuke was the one who'd taught him. The boy had talent, without question, but it couldn't have been that simple. It would have taken more than personal talent to completely rework someone's technique. Still, Sasuke had definitely known what Naruto could do.
"I had a hunch," Iruka told him. "Besides, you'd be surprised. Naruto did an excellent job in practice today."
The older ninja chewed on his pencil and shook his head. "But moving him up to A-rank so quickly? Could have been a fluke."
Iruka pulled the grading sheet for today's session out of his book and laid it on Masugu's desk. "973 hits out of 1000 throws is no fluke. Naruto's found a very able instructor. If it wasn't you, do you have any idea who it is?"
"No-one on staff could have gotten this kind of result from the kid, or we'd have done it already." The other teacher stared at the results on the page, his face contorted with a certain measure of entirely justifiable disbelief. Next to the records from the week before, it was like watching an entirely different person throw. "If I didn't know better, I'd say he'd been faking incompetence before. Messing around."
"Well, he was messing around, to be sure, but we both know he wasn't faking." Iruka took the paper back and sorted it into his pile. "You don't need to see his grades in Subterfuge to know he couldn't have pulled that. It was obvious he was trying."
Masugu sighed. "I know. But any members of the faculty definitely would have been bragging in the teacher's lounge if they'd been responsible for this. And as far as the jounin teachers go, I don't know what to tell you. 'Nice' isn't the word I'd use for most of them."
The worst part was the way the Third Hokage had brushed off all those questions about Naruto and Sasuke the other day. Iruka was certain the Hokage knew something, and just as certain that he wouldn't divulge what he knew. He'd have to figure this out on his own. "I'll talk to anyone with the skills," he said. "I'm sure any shinobi would seem nice to the eight-year-old boy he was teaching how to throw a knife."
"Well, it's not Guy. Everyone would know if Guy had taken an interest. Kakashi doesn't take on students, and they're pretty much the best." Masugu drummed his fingers on the desk and frowned. "Of the other jounin teachers who are even approachable, I'd start with Ebisu. He's worked some real miracles with trouble kids in the past. After that, Anko's got the best technique by far. Next best is probably Asuma."
Maybe, even if none of those three were the mystery teacher, one of them had heard something. It was worth a shot.