Naruto: Potential Realised
The old man survived the invasion and acknowledged Naruto's services to Konoha. How would the shinobi world cope with a Naruto who realises his full potential and becomes the splendid shinobi only few believed he could be?
(Konohagakure no Sato: Three Days after the Invasion)
Naruto's eyes were fixed in an angry glare as he stormed through the village in a brisk pace, uncaring towards the villagers as he brushed past them with his shoulders. Today he wasn't in the mood to be their whipping boy, in fact he was pissed off to the point he would most likely lash out violently if anyone pushed his buttons.
It had been three days since the invasion and Naruto had just about fully recovered from his fight against Gaara. Having passed out minutes after the Sand siblings retreat, Naruto had very little to no recollection of what happened. There was an invasion, that much was obvious, and Hiruzen-jiji had fought his old student, Orochimaru of the Sannin, the very same Sannin who had completely fucked up Naruto's Chakra Pathways during the second stage of the Chūnin Exam. When Naruto woke up, he found out the invasion had been defeated and that Hiruzen had forced his student in a stalemate; Orochimaru had decided to cut his losses and flee. Naruto was relieved to hear that, he knew the old man was powerful, but he was also old and fragile at age of sixty-nine. His stamina couldn't have been anywhere near Orochimaru's.
He was also very confident he had earned his promotion. After all, not only had he defied the odds and defeated Hyūga Neji, he had also defeated Sabaku no Gaara and saved both his teammates, allies, and the village in the process. For the entire first day after the finals, Naruto stayed home in case he would get his notice of promotion by messenger hawk.
Naruto gave it another day, but no message came his way. It wasn't until he stepped outside to buy some groceries today, when he heard news that the promotions had already been handed out.
"Did you hear? Uchiha Sasuke defeated that red-haired demon from Suna. He saved us, I bet he's going to get a promotion!"
"I heard Shikaku's kid already got the bump to chūnin. Looks like the genius lives on in the next generation, huh?"
"They should just make Uchiha-san a jōnin already. Did you see his lightning jutsu during the finals, it was amazing!"
"I heard he's the one who summoned Gamabunta-sama. I thought Gamabunta-sama only obeyed Jiraiya-sama."
Naruto clenched his fists tightly, the old man was going to get an earful today, and anyone who got in the way of him saying what he had to say better bring backup. Naruto ran up the last steps to the Hokage Tower and was met by two chūnin guards he vaguely knew; Izumo and Kotatsu. They were alright as far as Naruto knew: they weren't like the majority of the village populous, and were genuinely nice guys, but today he didn't care about that. He couldn't bring himself to care about what anyone thought today.
"Hey, you're that Naruto kid right?" Izumo and Kotatsu held up their hands as Naruto was about to walk past them. "Hokage-sama just got out of the hospital, and he's asked to be left alone for some time. He doesn't want to be bothered by anyone today."
"Move," Naruto barked the order with visible aggression.
Kotatsu took offence to that. "Watch your tone, kid. Show some respect to your superiors."
Izumo eyed Kotatsu for his reaction and then turned to Naruto. "Hey, whatever it is that's got you pissed off doesn't give you the right to barge in here and do as you please."
Naruto glared at both of them with intensity. "I am two seconds away from beating the crap out of both you." His voice shook with barely restrained anger and the pair of chūnin flinched, more taken back by his anger than intimidated. "If you want to keep this up, prepare yourself for a few broken bones because I am done with taking your shit. Got it?"
The chūnin shared a glance and silently parted, allowing Naruto to gain entry.
"What the hell was that about?"
Kotatsu shrugged. "It's his funeral if he wants to piss off Hokage-sama."
The Hokage's secretary stood up out of her chair and adjusted her glasses with a rigid posture. "How did you get in here, nobody is supposed to bother Hokage-sama today." Noticing she was being completely ignored, the secretary shouted after him. "Hey!"
Naruto ignored her and walked through the double doors, and slammed them to a close behind him. "Jiji, I need to talk to you for a minute!"
Sarutobi Hiruzen sat behind his desk and was overlooking some paperwork; he was wearing his Kage robes under which his entire body was wrapped up in gauze, even his hands. The Shinobi no Kami looked up and smiled at Naruto, apprehensive of his sudden barging in but wasn't surprised in the least, Naruto had never been one for manners. It was rather refreshing really, instead of the usual pleasantries and veiled meaning behind select choice of words: Naruto said what he wanted when he wanted. "Hello there, Naruto-kun. You seem upset, what is it?"
"Everything!" Naruto took a seat without invitation and then got up immediately, he was too pent up to sit down and thus began to walk repeatedly walk from wall to wall in the oval Hokage office. "You know, Jiji, I used to believe you when you told me things got better when I was a kid? You always said that one day people wouldn't hate me, and I believed you. I didn't know why they hated me back then, but I believed you."
Hiruzen nodded slowly. "Did something happen, Naruto-kun?"
"No- Yes!" Naruto wasn't making a lot of sense right now; he tended to ramble whenever he was this frustrated. "You know it's been my lifelong dream to take that hat of you so everyone will acknowledge me, and you can live the rest of your days in peace, don't you, Jiji?"
"I sure do."
Naruto took a deep breath, knowing he needed to stop this tantrum if he wanted the old man to take him seriously. "Jiji," he said after a moment of silence, "Not once since I found out I was the Kyūbi's jinchūriki, have I resented the people for what they did or felt. I understand that they lost people they cared for in the attack, but that doesn't excuse them for the way they treated me my entire life, does it?"
"No, it does not, Naruto-kun," Hiruzen affirmed with a grave expression. Naruto hadn't brought up the Kyūbi since the night he found out he was its container, thus the Sandaime knew whatever it was that was bothering him, had to be serious.
"Still, I never resented them for never liking me as person. I mean, I didn't exactly make things better by pulling pranks on them, but this time they crossed the line, Jiji. I'm- I'm so angry I feel I'm going to explode if I don't get this off my chest!"
"Please…" Hiruzen urged him to continue.
"Why didn't I get the bump to chūnin, Jiji? You know I deserve it more than anyone!" Naruto slammed his hands on the Hokage's desk; it wasn't an aggressive move on his part, but merely a way to vent his frustration. The Hokage raised an eyebrow at Naruto prompting him to realise who he was speaking to. "I'm sorry, Jiji."
"I haven't reviewed who gets promoted and who doesn't, Naruto-kun, but you seem to have a good idea who did. I've been out of commission for a few days after the botched invasion. The council has taken it unto themselves to make my job easier."
Naruto took a deep breath and exhaled, he was getting his nerve back. "Nara Shikamaru got promoted and I didn't. All because he surrendered when he knew he had already lost the match? Obviously he's going to give up if he's out of energy, that doesn't show him cutting his loses through strategic thinking, that shows him being logical! If he hadn't surrendered, that sand chick would have just killed him. Don't get me wrong, Shikamaru helped out big time when we went after Sasuke, but why did he get a promotion over me? I beat my opponent and then defeated Gaara, yet I didn't get promoted? I don't get it!"
Hiruzen eyed Naruto impassively, betraying no emotion through his calculative brown eyes as his minds went through the possibilities. Surely Shikaku's son would not have been promoted because he knew when to give up? That was common sense and logic. Of course, strategies and tactics were imperative prerequisites for any great shinobi, but Naruto had plenty of that, and he had proven so in his fight against Hyūga Neji, who was a fearsome opponent to say the least, and with a year's worth of experience over Naruto. Had the council cleared Shikaku's son for promotion just for that, because he was the son of Nara Shikaku? It wasn't a pleasant thought for the aged Hokage, not in the slightest.
"That's not all of it, Jiji," Naruto continued. "Everyone is giving Sasuke credit for beating Gaara when it was ME who did that. I beat Gaara after Sasuke got his ass handed to him, and it was ME who saved Sakura-chan. What's crazy is that everybody seems to forget Sasuke didn't sign the summoning contract with toads, so how the hell would they explain Gamabunta's appearance?"
"Aha." It became increasingly clear to the Hokage how much Naruto had done to protect Konoha whilst he was fighting his former student, Orochimaru. Granted, Sabaku no Gaara could have been taken out by his ANBU if necessary, but for Naruto to have faced the Ichibi jinchūriki so soon after having faced against Hyūga Neji who did considerable damage…
"I'm sorry for throwing this tantrum at you, Jiji. From the looks of it, you stopped listening and I can't really blame you, so I'm just going to go and figure out what I'm going to do next. If Sasuke doesn't get promoted, then at least Team 7 isn't split up and we can try again next year." Naruto gave the Hokage one of his rare bows, it was awkward and unrefined but Hiruzen knew it was meant as a heartfelt apology. Naruto otherwise never engaged in formality.
The blonde then turned to open the door when Hiruzen called after him.
"Naruto-kun, wait." Hiruzen rose out of his chair as Naruto turned to face him. "I am terribly sorry your performance was overlooked, Naruto-kun. However, I did observe your match against Hyūga Neji, and I am well aware of your triumph over Sabaku no Gaara…"
"Where are you going with this, Jiji?"
"Naruto-kun, I have always known you will one day become a splendid shinobi worthy of assuming the mantle of Hokage. Your mastery of the Kage Bunshin along with your performance during your A-ranked mission in Nami no Kuni, coupled with the fact Jiraiya speaks highly of you is all the evidence I need to know you are well on your way."
Naruto raised an eyebrow. "You know Ero-sennin?"
Hiruzen gave a croaky laugh at the nickname. "Jiraiya is one of many students I have taught, Naruto-kun. I raised him along with Orochimaru as part of my first genin team." Naruto's eyes bulged comically and Hiruzen gave another croaky laugh. "I assume he did not mention I was his sensei? Now then, Naruto-kun, I hereby promote you to the rank of chūnin. I will be taking care of the paper work," Hiruzen pulled a grimace as he said it, "You go home and await further instructions."
"Jiji, thank you! You won't regret promoting me, I promise!"
(Two Hours Later: Naruto's Apartment)
When Naruto got home he was so excited and anxious he didn't know what do with himself, so he decided to clean up his apartment and then his equipment. He had just placed down the last of his polished kunai in a neat row when a ticking noise caused him to avert his gaze to the window where a messenger hawk eyed him and squawked demandingly. Naruto got to his feet and quickly opened his window, allowing the bird to stand on one leg on his windowsill as it extended its remaining limb. It squawked again, as though it had somewhere else to be so Naruto quickly took the red scroll of its leg.
"Thanks." Naruto went to pet the hawk, but it nibbled at his hand impatiently, so he opened the window again and got it to leave. "Go on then," Naruto pulled a sour expression, shooing the bird away just as impatiently.
The winged animal tuned and left with one last squawk as he closed the window behind him and sat down on his bed. Naruto took a deep breath and exhaled shakily as he unfurled the scroll with an anxious sense of excitement.
As soon as Naruto unfurled it a column of smoke burst out and when it cleared, Naruto noticed his bed and floor were cluttered with a lot of assorted shinobi equipment. Of course, the one that immediately caught his eye was his chūnin flak jacket and a tantō attached to a belt next to it. Naruto didn't notice his breathing had gone shallow, he could hardly believe it. Quickly, the blonde discarded his orange jacket and put on his chūnin flak jacket with a sense of glee and exhilaration.
"Fuck yeah!" Naruto jumped excitedly with a fist-pump and quickly grabbed the tantō, and made swishing movements with it. He wasn't skilled in kenjutsu, not in the slightest, but at the moment he did not care for he had been promoted! "This is awesome." Naruto unsheathed the tantō and noted immediately that though it had been cleaned thoroughly, the blade itself was rather old. Naruto frowned, why didn't the old man give him a new one?
The train of thought had him inspect his supposedly new flak jacket, and as expected, he noticed it was noticeably different. Its mesh was more durable, it had pointy shoulder pads and the body armour frame under the fabric was both heavier and stronger than he thought it would be. Upon further inspection, Naruto retrieved an envelope from his breast pocket and quickly opened it; there were four documents within it.
The first one was a neatly folded sheet of paper with the Konoha stamp on it and read: 'Formal Notice of Promotion.' Naruto unfolded the letter and began to read the following out loud:
It has come to our attention that you have performed admirably during your missions, and coupled with your performance during the Chūnin Exam, adequate mission success rate and skill set, we have deemed you qualified to join the ranks of Konoha's Nijū Shōtai of the Border Patrol Guard. (2) The Border Patrol Guard is a department dedicated to homeland security missions in order to monitor foreign influences in Hi no Kuni.
More will be explained to you upon assignment. You are expected to report in Briefing Room One in the Hokage Tower, tomorrow at 10:00. Your platoon leader will assign you to a team and further inform you of your duties.
Shinobi Assignment Department
With a sense of euphoria, Naruto reread the letter another two times as he sat down on his bed. 'I can't believe it, I actually got promoted. Jiji pulled through for me!' Naruto smiled, making a mental note to treat the old man to a meal sometime. Noticing he was subconsciously crumpling the remaining three letters, Naruto folded his notice of promotion and placed it back in the envelope; took a look at the second one, it appeared to be a receipt of sorts.
Recipient: U. Naruto
Ninja Rank: Chūnin
Ninja Registration: 012607 (1)
The recipient has been charged with the following:
1 S.I. flak jacket, 1 S.I. tantō, 3 pairs of S.I. shinobi uniform /w 2 long-sleeved shirts & 1 short-sleeved shirt, 2 pairs of S.I. bodysuit, 1 pair of S.I. shinobi sandals (black), 3 packs of S.I. kunai (x25), 3 packs of S.I. shuriken (50), 1 pack of S.I. explosive tags (mild), 1 pack of S.I. makibishi (150), 3 rolls S.I. sealing scrolls (10ft), … (Note: S.I. = Standard Issue)
The recipient is hereby reminded to dutifully take adequate care of all equipment issued and is expected to vigilantly maintain all equipment issued.
Konoha Armoury Administration
Naruto smiled to himself and took a look at all his new equipment with a content feeling. Jiji must have cleared him for this equipment, and Naruto was immensely grateful as he sure as hell he couldn't have afforded it otherwise. Naruto decided to take the note to heart and began to pick up his newly issued equipment, and laid them out on his bed, cataloguing items by purpose and then picked up the last two letters.
One was a blank square sheet of paper and the other was a letter written in the familiar, neat calligraphic handwriting of the Sandaime, thus Naruto took a look at it.
I presented your case to the shinobi council and they realised you did Konoha a great service in successfully participating in an A-ranked mission given by your sensei in time of war when Konoha needed you most. By the time you have gotten over your excitement, I gather you will have realised you are now a chūnin and thus one significant step closer to one day kicking me out of my office. On that note, you must have noticed by now your chūnin flak and tantō are not quite standard issue. This is because those were mine when I was a chūnin during the First Great Shinobi War, and thus are somewhat different. Naruto, I would like you to have those mementos to remember me by when the day comes I will no longer be around.
Now that you are a chūnin, you will be expected to participate in tougher missions and in some cases lead squads of your own. As we both should realise by now, it is time you step up your training. I do not mean to insult you, Naruto, but you must make sure you branch out in the shinobi arts and not just for yourself but for the people that will depend on you on the battlefield. I have taken the liberty to have you issued with standard issue equipment for all chūnin and above and have used up one of your sealing scrolls to include a variety of jutsu and chakra control exercises I believe you should take the time to learn.
The other notes included in this envelope will be a receipt of all equipment issued to you and a special sheet of chakra paper that will determine what your primary affinity is. When a shinobi reaches the rank of chūnin, we present them with a sheet of chakra paper so that they can determine their nature type (or types) so that they can decide to specialise in the element they are strongest in. It is highly recommended you have gained some form of mastery over at least two nature types to reach the rank of jōnin.
You will be expected to report to the Hokage Tower tomorrow afternoon for briefing and team assignment. Please refrain from emulating your sensei and be on time, first impressions are crucial.
I know you will make me proud, Naruto. You are the future Hokage after all.
Sandaime Hokage of Konohagakure no Sato
Naruto reread the letter again and again, taking in every word as he sat down…
The old man believed in him. He truly believed in him; that he could one day become a truly splendid shinobi and assume the mantle of Hokage... In his letter, the old man expressed nothing but expecting his best efforts and dedication. He didn't feel insulted in the slightest about the old man telling him to branch out more. Naruto knew he needed more jutsu in his arsenal, he realised that when he saw Sasuke had been taught the Chidori, but now that was the furthest on his mind. This wasn't about showing up Sasuke anymore, Naruto wouldn't allow it to be. The old man had put his faith in Naruto and he couldn't let him down now, not ever.
Naruto rose out of bed and took off the flak jacket and tantō attached to his midriff by a utility belt; made sure he placed them down neatly on top of his new attire. Naruto then reached for his sealing scrolls and found one labelled with the kanji for 'jutsu' and unfurled it.
As with the previous scroll, several smaller scrolls popped into existence, each with their own label marked on them. There were four different scrolls; one simply read 'chakra control – READ' and the remaining three read 'genjutsu', 'ninjutsu' and 'fūinjutsu.' Naturally, Naruto reached for the ninjutsu first as it was his strong suit and upon unfurling it, he noticed the first jutsu on the scroll was the Shadow Clone jutsu. Confused, Naruto began to read and noted it was copied straight from the Scroll of Sealing he had stolen the night he graduated. As he skimmed down, he noted with a deadpan expression that the Hokage had underlined information he hadn't taken the time to read the first time around.
Shadow Clones will transfer all of their memories and experience upon being destroyed or cancelled out, thus making them perfect for reconnaissance and other applications, including ninjutsu training.
Naruto stayed up late in the night going over all the jutsu he had read about. The old man included some easy chakra control exercises and some interesting applications, such as bending metal to repair a weapon; two jutsu of each element, various other jutsu and basic fūinjutsu so that Naruto could secure his equipment. By the time he went to sleep, Naruto could have kicked himself a thousand times as he couldn't believe how deprived he had been.
The Kage Bunshin alone was a goldmine and the Hokage had written a note, stating Naruto was one of very few that could use the technique on a large scale as his reserves were incredible and he never seemed to suffer from mental fatigue when his clones were dispelled in large quantities. The old man also urged Naruto to become more strategic how he used the technique and recommended devising basic tactics. The sly old fox even included a new application to the Kage Bunshin Naruto didn't know about before.
Naruto also found out his element was wind, which was great since the Hokage had included two powerful Fūton jutsu Naruto could get the hang of in mere hours and mastery over in the span of days. Naruto was rather excited to get started but reminded himself he was expected to be more responsible, and thus set his alarm clock and went to bed - though it had never taken him as much effort to fall asleep.
(The Next Day)
Naruto woke up early and for the first time in his life felt completely awake mere seconds after opening his eyes.
Emerging from the bathroom, he got dressed in the standard chūnin uniform he had hung to his closet. Naruto felt pride and sense of achievement as he eyed himself in the mirror, pulling on his metal-plated gloves as he did it. Naruto picked up his headband and took of his blue cloth, opting for a black one instead as it matched his attire.
No longer did he look like an obnoxious eyesore. Naruto knew he was done with his attention seeking antics the moment he put down that letter last night. It was kind of refreshing, he realised, as he pulled his utility belt over his waist, attached his pouches and holsters and strapped his tantō to the small of his back.
Naruto looked into the mirror once more, astounded by the sudden change in appearance. He seemed so different, he definitely appeared more presentable. Maybe even a little older and taller, now that he didn't wear his usual bulky garb. Moreover, for once, he actually looked like a professional.
Minutes later, Naruto was running over the rooftops towards the Hokage Tower. He noticed he was turning quite a few heads from both villagers and shinobi once they got over the new appearance. Naruto paid it no heed, he would have loved to boast usually but he was short on time and wanted to make a good impression, thus he made sure to hurry up.
Naruto arrived at the Hokage Tower approximately fifteen minutes before his briefing was about to start. The chūnin from yesterday looked at him with raised eyebrows and expressions that conveyed mixed feelings.
Naruto rubbed the back of his head, feeling a sense of embarrassment for losing his cool yesterday. "Hey, sorry about yesterday," Naruto apologised, bowing his head ever so slightly. It wasn't really his thing and the chūnin knew it, but they made no comment. "I was angry but I shouldn't have taken it out on you."
Kotatsu eyed Izumo and nodded, smiling. "It's alright. You're that Uzumaki kid, right?" Naruto nodded and both chūnin shared a good laugh at that. Naruto frowned, about to make a snide comment of his own when Kotatsu shook his head. "Sorry, we were just thinking. That match you had with that Hyūga kid? Priceless. We were stationed below the Hyūga's private deck, and you should have seen the look on their faces when you won that match."
"Oh, thanks." Naruto gave them a smile of his own. It was nice to get some recognition for once.
"Yeah, that was a great one," Izumo agreed. The chūnin shared another glance and Kotatsu nodded, prompting Izumo to ask, "So is it true?"
"Is what true?" Naruto asked.
"Come on…" Izumo urged him.
Naruto gave them a confused look. "What?"
"Word has it you fought alongside Uchiha Sasuke and Shikaku's kid against that Gaara kid. I've heard a lot of different stories, but word has it Sasuke beat him. Is that true?"
"No." Naruto bit out the answer with an agitated frown.
"Then who did?" Kotatsu asked.
The chūnin looked at each other again and burst out laughing. It ticked Naruto off, but he refused to let his temper get the best of him, not on the first day of being chūnin. He couldn't disappoint the old man so soon. "What's so funny?" he demanded instead,
Kotatsu abruptly stopped laughing. "You- You're serious, aren't you?"
"No way…" Izumo shook his head.
"Why the hell do you think I'm wearing this flak jacket?" Naruto gestured to his uniform.
Though they found his flak odd, they couldn't help but laugh embarrassedly. "Sorry about that," Kotatsu apologised.
"It's not a big deal," Naruto lied. He was anxious to get going so he brushed past them, "I'd love to talk some more but I've got to report for briefing and assignment."
As the rookie chūnin walked away, Kotatsu and Izumo looked at each other with incredulous expressions.
"So he really did beat Sabaku no Gaara and Hyūga Neji?" Kotatsu feigned a shuddered, getting a laugh out of his partner. "That kid is going places, Izumo. We need to watch out before he gets promoted to jōnin before we do."
Izumo chuckled and waved him off. "He's good, but he's not that good... is he?"
(Ten Minutes Later: Briefing Room One)
The briefing room was similar to the academy in terms of structure, though it was much larger and could probably hold up to twice as many people. In addition, instead of shelves of textbooks, there were many maps of Hi no Kuni and the entire continent as well a bulletin board with sheets of paper stuck to them.
Naruto sat behind a desk in the room full of shinobi, feeling as though he was back in academy and counted about forty in the room. Looking around, he noticed most were chūnin, and the majority of them were around his age; he recognized quite a few of them from the academy when he was younger. As Naruto expected, Shikamaru was also present; he sat a few rows behind him, for once actually sitting up straight and not dozing off and diligently making notes as the rest of them were.
"OK, looks like everyone is here," said a tall bulky bald shinobi standing behind a lectern in the front of the room. "Alright then, men, today we are joined by two rookies. Nara Shikamaru and Uzumaki Naruto are the only ones to have passed the exams this year." Quite a few found his amusing and sniggered, prompting the bald shinobi to cough to keep their attention. "As pitiful as that may sound, this year's competition was tough. That's not important though," the man continued. "For the newbies, my name is Kizu Enrō and I am the platoon leader of the Nijū Shōtai." Enrō was tall and muscular with a shaven head adorned with a deep scar running over his scalp and right eye. He was dressed in the regular uniform and wore a white piece of cloth with 'platoon leader' stamped on it in red kanji attached under his flak jacket much like Asuma.
Naruto got a few looks; few held contempt in their eyes but the majority of the shinobi were around his age and had thus never been told about the Kyūbi. If they had something against Naruto, it was either because he pulled a prank on them or because their parents told them slanderous things about him. Either way, he wouldn't let it get to him. Not this time around.
"I'll keep it brief for the two rookies," Kizu announced. "The Nijū Shōtai is the highest numbered platoon in Konoha's Border Patrol Guard and consists out of chūnin, tokebetsu jōnin and a handful fully fledged jōnin. The better your performance, the more likely you'll be put into lower digits for tougher missions. As the twentieth platoon, we are assigned mostly with the grunt work of our central government's Homeland Security, so expect to be out and about on border patrol most of the time." Kizu looked at the notes placed on his lectern and nodded. "First order of business, make sure to make notes. Teams 305 to 307, you already got your orders yesterday. Get going and good hunting."
Naruto noted each squad had five members as fifteen shinobi got up and left the room.
"Teams 308 to 310, you're cleared for border patrol for the next three weeks." Another fifteen chūnin rose and left the briefing room, leaving fifteen chūnin left (not counting Kizu and his two assistants). "Team 311, you just returned from your mission. You guys are cleared for some R&R. I'll see you in a few days." Another five rose out of their seat, leaving Naruto with Shikamaru and three others remaining.
"You guys," Enrō addressed the remaining five shinobi in the room, "You are now official the 312th team of the Guard. Sarugaku, you're the senior, so consider yourself promoted to team leader until further notice. Congratulations." Kizu nodded to a tall chūnin with spiky brown hair and dark eyes seated a row in front of Naruto and walked up to his desk, dropping two files on his desk. "Here are their files. Team 312, you guys have a week to get familiar with one another before I set you on your first mission. Sarugaku show those newbies the ropes. I'm trusting you with this one…"
Sarugaku stood up and nodded, accepting the two files Kizu passed him. "Understood, sir."
Naruto turned around with a smile to Shikamaru who shot him a lazy smile of his own. At the very least they knew someone in the squad, that would make things considerably easier.
Sarugaku turned to them and cleared his throat. "Nara, Uzumaki, Hayase, Nakamura, follow me."
Naruto rose out of his desk, sharing a glance with Shikamaru who merely nodded and followed the rest of the team.
(Twenty Minutes Later: Training Ground Twenty-Two)
On their way to the training ground, Naruto and Shikamaru were silent whilst the remaining three, who were already familiar with one another, spoke a few words. They arrived at the training ground and sat down under a tree as Sarugaku cleared his throat again.
"Alright, let's get started," the team leader announced, addressing Naruto and Shikamaru in particular. "I am already familiar with Hayase and Nakamura but since you two are new, I believe a teambuilding exercise is in order. I will begin. My name is Sarugaku Tsuzumi and I will be your team leader, TL for short. You may address me as taichō during missions and senpai during downtime. I am twenty-two years old, I enjoy good literature and strategic board games. I specialise in sabotage and setting up traps with my explosive ninjutsu. I have an affinity for fire. My ambition is to one day join the ranks of ANBU."
"You left out you're the oldest in our division," Hayase pointed out with a laugh. Then turning to the rookies, he added: "Tsuzumi here hasn't gotten promoted once since he joined the division four years ago."
Sarugaku cleared his throat with a not-so subtle glare at Hayase. "Yes, I am the most experienced member of the Nijū Shōtai, and I have yet to be promoted due to the fact my experience is needed in our division." Before Hayase could retort, the chūnin then added: "Why don't you go next, Hayase?"
Hayase was a teenaged chūnin with silky bluish-grey hair going down the right side of his face and grey eyes; he had tanned skin and flamboyant air about him. "Fine. My name is Hayase, I am currently seventeen years old and my hobbies include promiscuity and ninjutsu. I specialise in earth jutsu and sabotage just like senpai over here, though I'm brushing up my kenjutsu." Hayase emphasised his point by resisting a hand one of his twin kodachi strapped over his shoulder. "As for my ambitions? Bang a hundred chicks before I reach thirty."
"At your rate, try three thousand," Nakamura commented with a tone of disgust Naruto could relate to. He wasn't sure whether he liked Hayase; the guy looked energetic and friendly, but he was somewhat of a tool.
Nakamaru Rei was an attractive purple-haired kunoichi with pale skin and violet eyes. She was one of the few kunoichi that were present and wore a slit skirt with skin-tight shorts and stockings instead of shinobi trousers and carried a backpack rather than pouches. "I'll go next. My name is Nakamura Rei, I am fourteen years old and have been a chūnin for seven months. My hobbies include art, cooking and gardening. My affinity is water. I specialise in medical ninjutsu and genjutsu."
Naruto smiled, at least he something in common with one of his new teammates. Sarugaku seemed to be very ambitious and loved authority; Hayase reminded him of a Kiba if he loved women as much as dogs, but at the very least Rei seemed normal and she liked gardening, as did he. That, and she was very attractive, cuter than Sakura so that was definitely a plus.
Sarugaku cleared his throat again; Naruto was beginning to dislike that habit. "Now then, Nara, Uzumaki, you two take turns. Please tell us about yourself so I can see if your files are up to date."
Shikamaru looked at Naruto and then sighed. "My name is Nara Shikamaru, I am thirteen years old and my hobbies include shōgi and cloud watching. As for my affinity... I don't know what it is. I specialise in my clan's Shadow Possession jutsu and tactics. My goal is to join Konoha's strategic department."
Sarugaku took a look at Shikamaru's folder and nodded repeatedly. "From what I understand you graduated second to last in your class... after Uzumaki Naruto here, who was the dead last of your year." The senior chūnin seemed rather disappointed to have been saddled with the two worst students of their year. "How did you two pass?" It was a rhetorical question they did't answer, and he continued reading the file. "Your sensei was Sarutobi Asuma, the Hokage's son? That explains your promotion at least." Sarugaku raised an eyebrow as he read out loud. "Incredible! An IQ over 200...? Noted to have incredible tactical and strategic mindset... Son of Nara Shikaku... Impressive, I can see Asuma did a great job teaching you."
It was just as Asuma was mentioned when Shikamaru brushed his ear; Naruto noticed the shadow user's new earrings were most likely a parting gift. He hadn't got one from Kakashi, then again Kakashi probably didn't know he was promoted. Naruto made a note to seek his old team after they were done here.
"Brainy, huh? Looks like this kid is smarter than you, senpai." Hayase grinned at Sarugaku who seemed rather perturbed by this.
"Alright, looks like I'm last." Naruto took a moment to formulate his thoughts. "My name is Uzumaki Naruto, I'm also thirteen years old and my hobbies include gardening and pulling pranks. I have an affinity for wind and I specialise in ninjutsu, and I'm also decent at taijutsu. I suppose my ninjutsu is somewhat lacking, but I'm working on it. My dream is to one day become Hokage and protect the village from its enemies."
"Ah yes, Hokage." There was a tone of condescension in Sarugaku's voice as he sat down on a log post and placed Shikamaru's folder on the floor and picked up Naruto as Hayase took a glance at the shadow user's files. "OK, let's see..." Sarugaku frowned and turned the folder for everyone to see. "You might want to submit a different picture for your file, Uzumaki."
Naruto laughed at the picture of himself with white and red face paint and Hayase burst out laughing whilst Shikamaru and Rei merely cracked a smile. "Yeah, I'll think about it."
"Don't think about it, do it. Consider that your first order," Sarugaku frowned at him and continue to read out loud to share the information. "Dead last of your year... multiple infractions of misconduct in academy... characteristics ranging from immature to impatient and impulsive..." Sarugaku looked at him with barely veiled contempt. Naruto was pretty much the anti-version of himself.
Naruto rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment as Rei and Hayase looked at him as though they already knew he was going to be a burden to his team. Shikamaru, on the other hand, smiled at Naruto, having known him since childhood and having recently acquired a lot more respect for the blonde. The shadow-user knew full well Naruto was going to be anything but a burden to the team.
"How in the hell did you get assigned two A-ranked missions?" At this, his new teammates shared confused looks. Sarugaku began to read more and then made a sound of understanding. "I see, your sensei was none other Hatake Kakashi and you were on the same team as Uchiha Sasuke. That explains it."
Naruto frowned at that. "No, it doesn't."
It came out sounding ruder than he thought and Sarugaku didn't take kindly to it. "Excuse me? Your file indicates you are insubordinate and immature, with little to no talent. How did you even get promoted? I heard you defeated Hyūga Neji, but I had my doubts. This just confirms it."
Shikamaru turned to Naruto. "He makes a good point. You weren't at the ceremony, how did you get promoted?"
"I went to the old man and I..." Naruto wasn't proud of saying it, "Demanded he promote me... sort of."
"Sort of?" Hayase chuckled.
Sarugaku gave Naruto a cold look. "I suggest you learn some respect and stop lying, Uzumaki. If you so much as raised your voice at Hokage-sama, you would have been thrown in detention, not promoted. You won't impress anyone with being a braggart and a liar."
"Let's just say we're close," Naruto replied vaguely. He doubted they would believe him if he told them exactly how close he was to the old man. "And like I said, Uchiha Sasuke being on my team has nothing to do with the fact I got promoted. If it did, don't you think he would be here too? Or what, do you think he got promoted to jōnin- before you?"
There a sting to that comment that struck a few chords with Sarugaku who flipped over a few pages. "It says right here, Uchiha Sasuke defeated two chūnin known as the Demon Brothers from Kirigakure, defeated Momochi Zabuza's protégé and assisted Hatake Kakashi in defeating Momochi, who is one of the Seven Swordsmen of Kirigakure I might add. All in one A-ranked mission you just happened to be a part of." Hayase and Rei seemed genuinely surprised and Shikamaru gave Naruto a curious look, he hadn't heard much about Team 7's first A-ranked mission either.
Sarugaku continued with a glare aimed at Naruto. "And then, there is records of him defeating Sabaku no Gaara, and saving Konoha and several allies, including you, in the process."
"That's not what happened," Naruto said through gritted teeth. "Yes, Sasuke beat the Demon Brothers, but we both helped Kakashi-sensei beat Zabuza the first time around, the second time it was all Kakashi-sensei. As for Zabuza's protégé, his name was Haku and he defeated both me and Sasuke before I managed to beat him with luck the second time around."
"And I'm sure you also beat Sabaku no Gaara," Sarugaku inferred sarcastically, getting a chuckle out of Hayase and an impassive stare from Rei directed at Naruto.
"He did beat Sabaku no Gaara," Shikamaru interrupted, cutting of Naruto's retort.
"He did?" Hayase asked with a somewhat dumbfound expression.
Rei looked at Naruto as though he was some fascinating creature. "Him?"
Shikamaru sighed, annoyed he was getting involved in this. "Yes, I was on the same A-ranked mission to assist Uchiha Sasuke. He was losing the fight until Naruto ended up saving him. Who do you think summoned that huge toad?"
"Gamabunta-sama was summoned by Jiraiya-sama, he is the only one alive with the Toad Summoning Contract! Maybe you didn't notice, but Jiraiya-sama was summoning his toads right in the village when Orochimaru attacked." Sarugaku pointed out heatedly. "There is no way this loser did anything that great."
Naruto got to his feet aggressively, he had just about enough. "What is your problem-?"
"Naruto let it go," Shikamaru interrupted him again. Being one of the few that Naruto could genuinely call a friend, he understood why Naruto was so angry. After all, Sasuke had been beating him in everything since academy days. He realised how the blonde had to feel frustrated to say the least, to have his one win, his promotion, be associated with Sasuke. Still, this was their first day as chūnin and Naruto couldn't just go and piss off their team leader. "It's obvious they won't believe you. Just prove to them how strong you are when the opportunity arises."
Naruto glared at the shadow user but couldn't help but agree and thus settled down. "Fine, think what you want, Sarugaku-senpai. I'll make you eat those words someday."
Sarugaku ignored that remark as he got his feet and clapped his hands together. "Now then, let's familiar with team formations and tactics. These two need to get familiar with our teamwork."
Hayase groaned, "Great."
(Two Hours Later)
"OK, that's it for today, team. Tomorrow, we'll put the theory to practice. Dismissed!"
Naruto got up from the ground and put back on his flak jacket, having discarded it when it got too hot. They had been going over nothing but tactics at a snail's pace; it was if Sarugaku thought they were completely stupid. Naruto decided by the end, he didn't like Sarugaku in the slightest. Never mind the fact he thought all of his accomplishments were Sasuke's, the guy was just generally just an ass to Naruto.
Hayase was alright, Naruto didn't mind his attitude in the slightest. Rei didn't seem to think much of him, but he was fine with it considering most people were like that towards him initially and it only encouraged him to prove them wrong. It went without saying he was closest to Shikamaru on the team. They would probably grow closer now that they were on the same team, they got along nicely when they were kids but were pretty much strangers by the time they left academy for various reasons.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Shika. I've got to go to Kakashi-sensei and say goodbye to my old team."
Shikamaru merely nodded. "Sure, but would you mind telling me why your flak is different from mine before you go? It looks heavier."
"This is Jiji's old flak jacket from when he was a chūnin like a century ago. He also gave me his old tantō," Naruto indicated blade attached to the flak jacket by a belt. "Cool, huh?"
Shikamaru smiled lazily, "I'll never understand why Hokage-sama likes you so much."
"It's because I'm the one who's going to let him retire. See ya, Shika." With that, Naruto took off, running towards Team Kakashi's usual training ground."
Naruto arrived at training ground seven minutes later and saw Kakashi reading his book whilst instructing Sasuke who was fighting his clone as Sakura cheered on her teammate. It was as if nothing had changed, the only difference would have been Naruto cheering for Kakashi's clone instead of Sasuke, which would usually get him a pummelling from Sakura. The thought brought a genuine smile to his face.
Kakashi looked up from his book as Naruto held up his hand in greeting. The jōnin smiled lazily behind his mask and his clone caught Sasuke's fist, causing him and Sakura to notice Naruto had arrived. The scarecrow had to admit, Naruto looked a lot more like the Yondaime than usual in his standard Konoha uniform. The knucklehead ninja appeared more confident and somewhat more mature, maybe even a little taller.
"Naruto?" Sakura looked at Sasuke as though to confirm it was really her teammate. "Why are you wearing that uniform... You got promoted, didn't you?"
Naruto came to a stop in front of his team and smiled proudly. "I got promoted yesterday. Sorry I didn't tell you, it was sort of last minute, Sakura-chan." The rosette shared glances with Sasuke and looked like she was about to try dispelling a genjutsu. "I'm serious! I really got promoted, Jiji himself promoted me yesterday."
Sakura gave her sensei a wide-eyed look. "Is it true, Kakashi-sensei? Did Naruto really get promoted?" Kakashi nodded. "Before me and Sasuke?"
Naruto frowned, "What's that supposed to mean, Sakura-chan? Jiji told me I earned this promotion and he even gave me his old flak jacket." Naruto emphasised his point by indicating his uniform.
"I'm sorry, Naruto, that sounded really mean. I'm just surprised you're the only one that got promoted, I mean not even Sasuke or Neji got promoted."
Naruto was about to retort he actually beat his opponent, but let it go. He still had feelings for Sakura and he didn't want to upset her, nor did he want to ruin this moment. Sasuke looked at Naruto with an arrogant smile, the very same he had when he told Naruto he wanted to fight him the most during the finals. "Congratulations, you earned it."
Naruto was taken back. Did that just happen? Sasuke never congratulated him on anything before. "Thanks," Naruto grinned at the raven-haired genin. Naruto thought back to a few weeks after they graduated and the Uchiha had saved him again during one of their missions.
"If you don't want to owe me... surpass me." Those were the words Sasuke had said to him, it was the first time Sasuke acknowledged him as a potential rival.
That seemed to do it for Sakura who nodded and kindly smiled at him. "Congratulations, Naruto."
Kakashi put away his book and took a thoughtful pose. "I suppose tradition dictates I give you a present, but what could I give you?"
'The Chidori,' Naruto thought immediately. "You don't need to give me anything, Kakashi-sensei. I'm just glad I got promoted, though it looks like I'm going to have a tough time getting my teammates to like me."
Kakashi gave Naruto a curious look and Naruto subtly shook his head, indicating it wasn't because of his status as a jinchūriki. "Let me guess, your teammates are people you have pulled a prank on."
Naruto laughed, "No, that's not it. It's actually kind of funny."
For the next few minutes, Naruto told them all about his teammates and how he got promoted. He had the sense to tone down on Sarugaku's attitude towards him to not alarm his team.
"Shikamaru got promoted too?" Sakura's tone was disbelieving and it was getting annoying but Naruto let it go. "The two lowest scoring genin in our class got promoted to chūnin, that's kind of ironic, isn't it?"
"Well, Shikamaru just never tried, Sakura-chan. He's really smart but he's just as lazy, so he doesn't seem dangerous. Though, that's the scary part." Naruto came to the shadow user's defence, they were now teammates after all. "As for me..." Naruto grinned, "If I knew how to use a Kage Bunshin, I would have passed the first time around."
Kakashi chuckled at that. "So this Sarugaku doesn't like you very much?"
"No, he doesn't," Naruto laughed nervously as Sasuke and Sakura gave him disapproving looks. "It's really not my fault. It isn't!" he added forcibly when they kept looking at him like that. "He thinks everything I've done, Sasuke did."
Sasuke glared at no one in particular and they wisely choose not to comment on that. For the rest of the afternoon, Naruto stayed with his old team; it got nostalgic, even Sasuke seemed bothered by the fact he was leaving though hell would freeze over twice before he would admit it.
Kakashi looked up as hawk flew by. "It looks like we're being summoned for a mission, Naruto. It's been nice seeing you again, make sure to drop by every now and then. Somebody needs to keep Sasuke on his guard."
Sasuke got to his feet and grabbed his backpack and nodded to him while Sakura bid Naruto goodbye. For a moment Naruto looked at his old team as they left, a wave of nostalgia crashing over him as he could hardly believe this was really happening. In the few months they had been together, Naruto felt he had really bonded with them and to see them leave made his heart feel heavy.
Naruto cupped his hands to his mouth. "SASUKE!"
In the distance, the Uchiha turned around with a questioning look. "What is it?"
Naruto smiled. "I'll see you at the top."
For a moment Sasuke was expressionless. Then, a smile crept to his features as he locked eyes with Naruto and began to smile slowly, "I'll see you there."
Naruto clenched his fists as his old teammates disappeared out sight, feeling a mix of emotions ranging from anxiousness, to excitement. He stood there for a few minutes, unmoving and deep in thought as he dealt with the nostalgia that came to surface. Naruto smiled, just because he outranked them now didn't mean they would stop getting stronger. He had to continue getting stronger, both for himself and for his old team. Naruto reached to the small of his back and reached into his pouch, retrieving the scroll containing jutsu.
"Tajū Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!"
I could never understand Kishimoto's logic in keeping Naruto a genin. For the sake of the plot, I can understand he wanted to keep Team 7 together until the Sasuke Retrieval arc but really, couldn't he come up with another way of doing it? Naruto won his match against Hyūga Neji and continued to defy all odds by beating Gaara, who stomped the shit out of Sasuke. Then there's the fact he signed the Toad Summoning Contract, meaning he was acknowledged by the ever-so-fickle Gamabunta and Jiraiya of the Sannin. Surely his skill set alone would clear him for promotion.
Anyhow, this is my attempt at a Naruto who isn't a complete idiot and who realises he needs to step up his game if he ever wants that hat. For those who are wondering, Naruto's flak jacket is modified to look like the Naruto from Jiraiya's The Tale of the Utterly Gutsy Shinobi. He will retain this look for the majority of the story, so I recommend you go to Naruto Wikipedia and take a look at his picture if you have trouble imagining it.
In regards to Naruto's power, he'll be powerful but it doesn't happen overnight - not even with the Kage Bunshin training method. OK, that's all I got.
(1) Naruto's actual Ninja Registration number as revealed in the data books.
(2) I know the Nijū Shōtai was a task force created for the sole purpose of locating and destroying Akatsuki forces, but that's not how it goes in this story. You'll see how I play with Konoha military structure in future chapters.
ARC 1: Hit the Ground Running
CH02: Hit the Ground Running
CH03: Proving Your Worth
CH04: Rookie no More