A.N:The basis of the story just changed. Naruto's underperformance in Wave weighs heavily on him and he feels the need to restore his dignity and remind himself of who he really is.
Disclaimer: We all know that there's no way I could ever own Naruto.
Chapter 1: A personality crisis
Team seven set out for home immediately Tazuna's bridge was completed. The gennin had all experienced a new side to the shinobi world that involved more death than glory as opposed to what each of them had believed when they first left Konoha. Each one was lost in their thoughts as they leapt through the canopies in great speed towards Konoha.
'I was weak.' was one of the thoughts that ran through the dark haired boy's mind. 'Naruto was able to beat that hunter-nin on his own when I couldn't.'
Sasuke was mad that Naruto, who was always and would always be inferior to him, had been able to defeat an opponent that had bested him.
Of course, he was able to convince himself that he had already significantly weakened the hunter-nin to the extent that even the deadlast could have taken him on, but that wasn't enough for him.
He was Uchiha Sasuke! The best of the best! He had dominated those weaklings at the academy and had nearly gotten the upper hand in a one on one fight against Kakashi, an elite jounin. Dammit! He should have been stronger, faster! How could he hope to catch up to his brother, who had a perfect record, when he himself was stained with failure!
For a second, a malicious look came over him as he looked at Naruto, who was traveling right behind him from the corner of his eye. The blond sported a wide grin on his face, as if he didn't have a care in the world.
'That idiot, he nearly got me killed! And Haruno, she was completely useless during the whole mission! As long as I remain on this team, I'll always be held back!'
Though he held close to nothing but indifference for his two teammates, he had a slightly more hostile attitude towards them than his jounin-sensei. At least the man had been good for something.
Kakashi, on the second to last day before the fight on the bridge, while the dobe was out pointlessly running up trees and throwing his kunai at them in the name of training, taken Sasuke aside and carefully instructed him on how to augment his speed with his chakra, which he could now control more easily thanks to the tree climbing training which he had already completed.
He had explained then that this was the true purpose of teaching them the chakra control exercise, which on its own would be of no real help against someone like Zabuza. He didn't want to teach Naruto and Sakura because he didn't think they were ready for it, but he showed them the exercise all the same so as not to seem unfair.
Sasuke couldn't have cared less that Kakashi didn't feel like teaching the dobe and the useless fangirl. It was already clear to him that they weren't even worthy to hold the title of gennin. Still, he wasn't so caught up in his arrogance that he hadn't realized then that Kakashi had been using an excuse to shower him with attention while he neglected those that really needed his help, all the while considering that he was doing them a favor by not including them in the battle to come. After all, would it really have been so hard for someone who'd copied over a thousand techniques to give them something useful to work on?
The said jounin was not having easy thoughts either. Sasuke had nearly been killed on that mission. He had nearly failed to protect Obito's legacy! To make it worse, Naruto had somehow tapped into the Kyuubi's chakra after interfering with the fight that Kakashi still believed that Sasuke would have been able to win with a last minute trick had he not had to shield Naruto with his body.
If Naruto had not released the youki after defeating the hunter-nin, he would have been forced to end his life then and there, as he had clearly lost control and would be a danger to his teammates. Though he held no animosity towards him(not much anyway) he knew his duty, and why the gaki had been assigned on his team. If push came to shove, he would have carried out his duty without remorse and annihilated the threat immediately.
It was a good thing perhaps, that the boy had the uncanny ability to change people's opinions for the better, for it was the blond's words that spurred on Zabuza to kill Gato and take down with him a few of the ronin they would have had to fight. He still wasn't sure if he would have been able to explain the deaths or grevious injuries of his first gennin team on a supposedly C-rank mission.
Well, least Sakura had escaped the fight mostly unscathed. Not that she did much to help.
At the thought of his third student, he sighed in the realization that despite her reputation as one of the best kunoichi from the academy, she hadn't proved ready to get stronger. He really did have high hopes for her, but that had been shattered when she revealed herself as to be a die-hard fangirl. The mission outside the village was supposed to bring out her serous, hardworking side. Alas, as of now the best purpose she served was that of hopefully supporting the Uchiha scion enough that he didn't give in to his hatred of his brother. Kami knew the boy needed all the friends he could get. The one-sided rivalry between him and Naruto was just not enough, and he needed a real friend sooner or later. If only the girl could shove aside her petty crush and be the supportive friend she needed.
Sakura, not surprisingly, was busy building castles in the air as she subconsciously pulsed chakra through her legs to jump from one tree branch to the next. They were scheduled to arrive at Konoha before nightfall and she needed to make the most of her time remaining right?. Unfortunately, she wasn't thinking of anything constructive towards her career, which was pretty stupid considering she'd played backseat throughout the mission. Instead, she was of the mindset that Sasuke's near-death experience had brought them both closer together, which to her meant that she was getting closer to bagging him. Even though the logical part of her brain was screaming at her to get serious or she would get herself killed someday, the warnings fell on deaf ears.
The misguided girl was imagining that they would be beset upon by bandits on the way back who would overpower Kakashi through luck until Sasuke fought them off to protect her, at which point her genius teammate would turn around and confess his growing feelings for her. And then they would find out they had to share a tent for the night due to lack of a spare... A lustful grin spread over her face as she quickly wiped away the trickle of blood coming from her nose before anyone could notice.
Oh, the possibilities were endless. And best of all was when the scenarios were happening infront of Ino-pig, who was throwing a tantrum, having been forced to settle for the short, clumsy and (to her knowledge) ugly Naruto.
She turned her head to spy on her temporarily forgotten teammate who had just happened to slip slightly on a piece of wet moss on a branch, nearly toppling over in the process. That baka still thought he could be a good ninja. True, she had found a few of his jokes and pranks from the academy to be funny(not that she'd ever admit it), but that was the extent of his good qualities.
The boy had next to zero talent as a shinobi.
He was destined to be nothing more than a jester whose job was to entertain the king and queen of the court, which meant herself and Sasuke. Zabuza's speeches on the real world of ninja was an eye-opener to her. She was confident that by using her highly gifted brain she could defend herself if need be and a part of her, albeit a teensy, tiny part of her felt really sorry for her loyal jester who would get himself killed sooner or later. The idiot was probably thinking about ramen right now.
Naruto wasn't thinking about ramen at all. Infact, it was the furthest thing from his mind at the moment. Right now, he was furious with himself. How long would he keep up this charade? How long would he pretend to be the fool to try and gain acknowledgment?
He couldn't even remember the last time he had dropped the facade for more than two seconds. He didn't know how it happened, but apparently the alternate personality he had built as his shield for all the pain and loneliness in his mind had slowly become a part of himself. Not completely, thank Kami! But enough that it no longer served him and only hindered him.
He had let himself go completely. Five minutes into the fight with Haku and he had been winded as though he had run a marathon for the better part of the day. Five minutes! He of the reputed god-like stamina and endless pool of chakra! He knew what had happened, oh yes he did. His mask had placed mental limiters on himself to make him think he was tiring when he really wasn't.
Come to think of it, he should have noticed the signs earlier on. Sasuke had kept up with him while training, even coming close to outlasting him! The kunai practices he had developed to help with his aim were all sloppy and practically useless and they only seemed to tire him more. All the while he had thought that he was really doing something useful. Aaargh! It was so frustrating to know that your own body was against you!
Caught in his internal rage, he failed to notice the moss until he slipped on it. He saw Sakura looking at him disdainfully, as though he amounted to nothing more than a bug in her eyes. He nearly screamed out at her but was able to hold himself in check just in time.
'What was that?' he thought. Had he really fallen that far? To the point that Sakura outgrew her dependence on his attention to support herself? To the point he was easily roused and quick to anger? His face turned white. 'Kami, I've really lost it, haven't I?' He hadn't nearly lost his temper like that in ages!
'What the hell's happening to me?' This was really serious. He was not supposed to take it that far, but he had. He had fallen in the eyes of everyone. He had fallen in his own eyes. Sasuke had nearly died shielding him. That was a mark he was never going to erase his soul or his dignity.
That wasn't all there was. 'What does Kakashi-sensei think of me now?' Naruto frowned when he remembered.
He had seen the jounin's lone eye looking at him in what seemed like great disappointment when they had gone to a private location to address the issue of the Kyuubi's chakra. Even with all his assurances that he wouldn't fly off the handle again, he was still regarded with wariness and it made him sick. Wasn't he ever going to get away from those damn eyes? Was he condemned to be something less than human all his life?
'What have I done to myself?' He was just about to fall into a melancholic state when he heard the voice,
"You are Uzumaki Naruto, and my precious student."
Iruka's words were like a beacon in the dark and they guided his thoughts back to their usual doubt-free nature. If he wasn't gripping the shoulder straps of his pack he would have slapped himself upside the head. 'What am I thinking! Iruka-sensei told me that night. He believes in me!'
How could he forget who he was. His faux self had almost succeeded in crippling confidence, and all because he believed he had failed others who, like the rest didn't care much about his well-being. He had never needed them before, and they would NOT have a stake in his life now. The few precious people he had were more than enough. Why should he weep and feel sorry for himelf? He was Uzumaki Naruto!
And would make sure everyone knew that.
His bright blue eyes burned with such determination for a moment that Sakura, who had chanced to take another glance at him, faltered in her step when she saw the near-blazing orbs.
She was about to berate him for ruining her perfect daydream when she saw the side of him that had rarely showed itself in all the years she knew him, the side that made her think he really could do what he boasted he could, the side that gave her burning, near-infinite confidence during that first fight with Zabuza when he had blown away all their expectations of him as if they were nothing but petty gnats in the face of his will.
Her symbolic acceptance of Naruto as the jester was crushed into fragments smaller than dust as she looked at him with wide eyes. She couldn't help but think, 'Is this Naruto the real one that's been hiding from us all this time?'
She was closer to the truth than she knew.
So great were the feelings his steady gaze on the way ahead invoked that Sakura could have sworn that before her was a Kage in disguise that had fooled them all.
Up ahead of her, Kakashi and Sasuke remained unaware and were racing onward in single minded intensity, completely focused on their movements and surroundings.
'How can they not feel it?', she wondered as the blond seemed to light a path before him.
Just as suddenly as the feeling had come, it vanished, and any traces that it had even been there were gone. Naruto's now normal carefree grin was back in its place and Sakura found herself suddenly shut away from any and all access to his emotions, a pitiful drape blocking the sunlight that must have been his true self.
She now felt extremely ashamed at herself for instantly pegging Naruto as a worthless being when in all his glory he could outshine even her beloved. In truth, she didn't even know anything about him, having never really bothered to waste her time with the dirty little orphan urchin boy. She was confused about this as it now felt as if what had just happened was nothing more than a dream that she had awoken from.
She was still a bit dazed when she stole a look at the side of her crush's noble and expressionless face and it was as if she fell in love with him all over again. 'Right, where was I?'
Forgetting completely about Naruto, she resumed her pasttime of imagining wedding scenarios of herself and the one infront of her. Whatever had just happened with the orange wearing baka must've been her imagination acting up, though the little worm of doubt inside her was still there. 'I suppose I'll sleep on it later.'
Naruto was oblivious of the pink haired gennin's reaction to his rediscovered fire. He was busy planning how rigorously he would train himself once he got back to Konoha. It had been years since he seriously trained and his body now ached longingly for the familiar pain and satisfaction of working himself into the ground for days on end only to get up and start all over again. For once, the damnable kitsune would be of use to him while he was catching up on the years he had lost pining away for attention.
He would show them all who Uzumaki Naruto really was!
Author back: This story is undergoing a complete make-over now that I've realized the potential it has. Thanks to those reviewing and if you have any good ideas for me I'd love to hear them. Spread the word, Don't Underestimate Me! has been renovated and will feature all-new originality(well, as much as you can get when 3m+ others are thinking up their own stories, lol)
No, there is no NaruSaku or infact Naru- anything until after Sasuke's betrayal(which is inevitable), when I plan to take a short break from writing. Any pairings you see are from your own imagination(no offense). So that you know I'm serious, I've rewritten this first chapter and now that it's a smidget longer I'll soon after post the second one. More on my musings after the second chapter.