Uzumaki Naruto shook so hard he was practically vibrating as he approached the room in which the graduation exam was going to be taking place that day. The cheerful look that usually adorned the ten year-old boy's face was replaced by an expression of fear and nervousness. As he walked down it, the short hallway that led to the room seemed to go on forever like in a nightmare. He was about to take the Academy Graduation Exam two years early and, he wasn't sure he was ready. Iruka-sensei had apparently thought otherwise, or he wouldn't have signed him up for it.
Umino Iruka was different from all of his other instructors he'd had since he'd started attending the Academy when he was nearly seven. He had been like the others in the beginning, back when he had first shown up over a year ago but, he had changed. Instead of ignoring him or sending him to stand out in the hallway with that cold look in his eyes, Iruka acknowledged his existence and actually tried to teach him.
Since Iruka-sensei had believed in him, he was going to do his best to not let him down Dattebayo!
With that firm goal in mind, he conquered his fear and strode into a room full of people who were two years older than him...
One floor below, Umino Iruka took roll. Upon not seeing a familiar head of blond hair above an atrocious orange and blue jumpsuit, his first thought was that Naruto had skipped again, and that he'd have to go and fetch him during the first break. Then, he remembered. Naruto had signed up to take the graduation exam early despite the fact that he wasn't ready. Though he knew that the young fool was going to fail, he silently wished the boy luck.
On the floor above Iruka's class, which was engaged in a history lesson, Naruto had reached the point where his right leg started bouncing up and down as his pencil rapidly twirled in his hand as he tried to finish the difficult test that had been placed before him. This was a nervous habit of his that Iruka-sensei often called him on since shinobi shouldn't have nervous tics because they could give them away. Despite his best efforts to get rid of any nervous tics he might have, he had them nonetheless.
It was mid-way through the written test, he was stuck on some stupid question he had absolutely no idea how to answer, and time was quickly running out. He sucked at taking tests at the best of times, and this wasn't the best of times, especially since the test on the desk in front of him was harder than any he'd taken before.
What had Iruka-sensei said to do in such a situation?
Oh yeah, skip that question and go on to the next one. Once I'm done with the ones I can answer, go back to the ones I couldn't and try again.
He moved down to the next question.
He could answer this one!
With hope restored, he immediately got back to work, and his leg stopped twitching, and his pencil stopped twirling because it was too busy being used to write down an answer.
As Naruto furiously wrote down all the answers he knew in hopes of being able to finish his test in time, Iruka sighed as Takahashi made another bid for Naruto's spot as class troublemaker since Naruto wasn't present. Fortunately, Takahashi's prank wasn't nearly as disruptive or destructive as the ones Naruto had a tendency to pull. The stinkbomb incident was probably going to go down in Academy history, as that had been the primary reason the windows had to be replaced with ones that could open.
After disciplining the boy, he went back to his lesson.
As his class was heading out to break, Naruto was standing in Academy Training Field Five with all of the other potential graduates. His heart was hammering in his chest as he walked towards the instructor who was holding out the weapons he was to use for this portion of the graduation exam. This was it. It was his turn. His make or break moment.
He threw the ten kunai as instructed, silently praying as he did so. Eight of them hit the target, and two of the eight had managed to hit the center. After the Kunai had been retrieved, he then threw the ten shuriken he'd been given. Seven hit the target, three hit dead center this time. Miracle of miracles, he had somehow barely scraped a pass in the weapons portion of the test.
Next came Taijutsu. Let's just say that his spar with the instructor who was testing him during this portion of the exam didn't go as expected, and as Naruto exited the ring, he was apologizing profusely to the instructor. He hadn't meant to head butt the man in the face, it had just sorta happened, and with the way the other students were staring at him, he just knew he'd done something wrong.
As the instructor walked away nursing his bloody nose, he thought he heard the man mutter something that sounded like "Bloody Habenero".
Iruka pulled his store-bought bento out of its supposedly secure hiding place as the children he was being paid to teach filed out for lunch. Since Naruto was away, he was pretty sure he wouldn't have to check his meal for worms or bugs, but found himself checking anyways out of habit. As he quietly ate his meal while grading the homework that his students had handed in that morning, he found himself asking a number of questions such as: Why had he been thinking of Naruto so much today? He couldn't be worried for the boy, could he? He knew that the boy had grown on him a great deal over the past year, but had he grown on him that much?
Sometimes, as the old proverb about what could happen if a nail goes missing at the wrong time clearly illustrates, the greatest of changes hinge on the smallest of things. The small change that had caused what could arguably be considered the greatest change in one Uzumaki Naruto's life had hinged on the decision of a careless cook at a restaurant.
What happened was that, during the lunch rush, the cook in question had accidentally spilled some peanut sauce on a dish he was preparing. At this point, the cook had had two choices: One, toss out the ruined portion and make some more, causing more work for him and adding to the wait time for the customer. Or two, mix the peanut sauce into the already prepared dish and hope the customer didn't notice, since it was such a small amount. In one world, the cook did the former, irritating the customer who hadn't known why his dish had taken twice as long as usual to prepare. In this one however, the cook did the latter.
While this decision seemed minor on the surface, it wasn't anywhere near so. As it turned out, the customer in question was A) deathly allergic to peanuts, and B) one of the Academy instructors who had been assigned to proctor the Ninjutsu portion of Naruto's graduation exam. The poor man ended up going into anaphylactic shock the instant he'd taken the first bite of his food, and had to be rushed to the hospital. Word soon got to the Academy Administrator who was then forced to scramble for a replacement as the lunch break ended and the graduation test resumed.
As Hagane Kita filed into the room where the Ninjutsu portion of the test was to take place, he quietly apologized for being late, as he had not known he would be proctoring this exam until someone had raced up to him with an urgent summons while he was eating his lunch. Fortunately, he hadn't missed much, as he had come in during the Us. Ushio Torako had just passed, and Uzumaki Naruto was next. Based on the demon brat's combined scores, he would have to successfully pull off two of the three basic Academy Jutsu to pass. The other two instructors had been in the process of trying to decide which ones the boy would be more likely to fail when he'd arrived. They asked his opinion, and Kita unwittingly tipped the scales in Naruto's favor...
Naruto's heart thundered in his chest as he performed the Henge. He'd just mastered the standard version of it earlier this week but, had been using a version of it for more than a year after he'd created his anti-pervert move, the Oroike Jutsu. After forming the requisite seals, he turned into a near-perfect copy of one of the men seated before him.
"Acceptable." the man said. "Now perform the Kawarimi."
Naruto felt like jumping for joy. They hadn't asked him to do the Bunshin! They hadn't asked him to do the Bunshin! Feeling as if Fate had smiled on him, since he had managed his first successful Kawarimi two nights ago, Naruto happily replaced himself with an empty chair.
"Pass." the instructor said as he lifted one of the precious Hitai-ate off the table and threw it at him.
Naruto stared down at the headband that had represented more than three years of hard work.
On his way out the door, he barely took the time to take the paperwork that had practically been thrown at him.
Iruka honestly didn't know why he was standing out here waiting to provide words of comfort and encouragement to the Kyuubi's vessel, whom he thought had rather stupidly signed up for the Graduation Exam. Sure, the boy had grown on him a bit over the year and a half that he'd known him but, had he really grown on him this much? If so, how had he managed to do so without him even noticing?
All too soon, a yellow and orange blur that was a head shorter than the group that followed behind, intent on reaching the crowd of parents awaiting them, came barreling out of the Academy at what had to be the speed of sound. Apparently, Naruto's failure had affected him even more greatly than he'd thought it would. He'd never seen the boy try to run away from anything that fast before.
"Naruto!" Iruka called, trying to get the boy's attention as the boy raced away from the Academy.
He apparently succeeded because, something that any normal person would be willing to swear was a streak of light banked before it reached the gate that led to the village proper and turned in his direction. Before Iruka could react, something slammed into him, and he found himself on the ground with a very excited Naruto on top of him babbling at ten miles a minute.
He blinked. He could have sworn he saw something silver and blue on the ten year-old boy's forehead. No...He couldn't have...He blinked again. It was still there. He wasn't seeing things.
"Naruto, you..." he started, at a loss for words.
"PASSED!" Naruto yelled in excitement, causing his previous babble, which he'd let go in one ear and out the other, to finally come into focus in his mind.
"THANKS FOR BELIEVING IN ME IRUKA-SENSEI!" Naruto yelled before enthusiastically hugging him again.
He felt like an utter heel in that moment. Contrary to what Naruto had somehow come to believe, he hadn't believed in the boy. Not at all. He had honestly believed that Naruto would fail, and had never once entertained the thought that the boy might pass since the moment he'd noticed Naruto's name on the roster of students who were attempting early graduation.
"Let's...Let's go get some ramen to celebrate Naruto." he said.
This time, the first time Iruka took Naruto out for ramen had not been to comfort the boy and tell him there was always next time. This time, it was to celebrate one of Naruto's achievements.