A/N: This story will be written in first person from Naruto's perspective. It is (originally) canon!Naruto, though he's had a rather different go of things this time around. I include the warning here so that you don't think it's some sort of SI; I'm just playing around with another style of writing.

I blinked.

I stared in silence as Teuchi-jii-san placed another bowl of ramen in front of me. Slowly, carefully, I lifted the bowl and moved it to one side, placing it reverently on the counter far out of the way.

Then I slammed my head down as hard as I could.

"Naruto?" came the shocked gasp from Ayame-nee-chan.

"I fucking died again," I growled. "How the hell did I get through that fight with the Snake-bastard the first time?"

"Naruto?" Ayame-nee-chan said again, placing one hesitant hand on my shoulder. "Are you ok?"

I sighed, wiping one hand over my face before turning a smile to Ayame. Even if this was the fifth time I was living out this particular scene, and the third time Ayame-nee-chan had asked that exact same question, I didn't want to do anything to truly upset her. "I'm doing great, thanks Nee-chan."

"What did you mean, you 'died again'?" asked Teuchi-jii-san.

"Just thinking out loud," I said, moving the bowl back in front of me and picking up my chopsticks. "Itadakimasu!"

Later that night, I returned to my apartment and walked into my kitchen. As always, floating in the air above the counter were three words that apparently only I could see: "Characters," "Inventory," and "Log."

Then I let out a loud whoop as I noticed the rare but always welcome addition to that list: "Level Up."

"Hell yes level up!" I exclaimed.

The world turned gray around me and my view shifted until I was looking at myself from a spot somewhere in front of... myself. Ugh, this whole thing made my head hurt sometimes.

Congratulations! Naruto Uzumaki has achieved Level Five!

No, that made my head hurt, all the time. It was like someone took the words, chiseled them into rock, and shoved the whole thing into my skull. That makes it sound like it was actually painful, though, and it wasn't. It just felt like it should be painful, which is like pain, but... ugh, just... nevermind.

Naruto Uzumaki has five (5) skill points to assign.

Naruto Uzumaki may select one (1) new ability.

Naruto Uzumaki may select one (1) new trait.

I blinked, scratching my chin thoughtfully as I considered the words shoved into my head. "Trait?" I muttered to myself. "That's new."

Choose one of the following traits:

Chakra Battery

Fuinjutsu Affinity

Genjutsu Affinity

Hidden Blade

Kami's Luck

Ninjutsu Affinity

Silver Tongue

Taijutsu Affinity

"Oh come on, you aren't going to explain any of this crap either?" I asked out loud. As always, there was no reply. I know some asshole is listening to me, though, and I'm going to use my Shukaku Special on him just as soon as I find the bastard.

"What the hell does Hidden Blade mean? Not like an actual kunai, right?" I asked.

Naruto Uzumaki has selected Hidden Blade. Is that correct?

"Argh! No!" Make that two Shukaku Specials.

Choose one of the following traits:

Chakra Battery

Fuinjutsu Affinity

Genjutsu Affinity

Hidden Blade

Kami's Luck

Ninjutsu Affinity

Silver Tongue

Taijutsu Affinity

"Kami, I hate you so much."

Naruto Uzumaki has selected Kami's Luck. Is that correct?

My entire body twitched, my hands grasping at imaginary kunai and making rude gestures with them. "Fuck it. Yes," I said out loud. I could definitely use some luck the way things have been going lately. Stupid hickey-giving Snake-bastard and his stupid sword.

Naruto Uzumaki has five (5) skill points to assign.

Naruto Uzumaki may select one (1) new ability.

"Abilities," I stated. It didn't take long to figure out how to get this thing to respond how I wanted it to... even if I did do that unintentionally sometimes.

Choose one of the following abilities:

Dodge (0/5)

Link (0/5)

Overpower (0/5)

Restore (0/5)

Unique: Kage Bunshin Barrage (4/5)

"Ha. Kage Bunshin Barrage, of course." That was definitely my best move – aside from my Kage-killer Sexy Jutsu. That never showed up in any of the lists, though, or I would be boosting the hell out of that instead. "Although I can't tell that it's actually doing anything," I mumbled to myself. I could still use the shadow clones just as well as ever, but it really seemed like "Kage Bunshin Barrage" should be more than what I was doing before.

Naruto Uzumaki has selected Kage Bunshin Barrage. Is that correct?


Congratulations! Naruto Uzumaki has unlocked the following abilities:

Unique: Army of One (0/5)

Unique: One Man Army (0/5)

"Huh? Aren't those the same thing? And what the hell does the uni- ugh, nevermind."

Naruto Uzumaki has five (5) skill points to assign.

Fuinjutsu: 1

Genjutsu: 5

Ninjutsu: 25

Taijutsu: 5

"Ninjutsu. Yes. Ninjutsu. Yes. Ninjutsu. Yes. Ninjutsu. Yes. Ninjutsu. Yes," I droned out. I had to do this every time I got to level up, and it just got more annoying every time. Oddly, genjutsu and taijutsu kept going up even though I never assigned points to them... I guess I was just awesome like that.

Level Up Complete! You need 5,843 experience points to achieve Level Six.

Saving Progress...

And with that, the world faded back into focus. As always, I felt a warm sensation start in the middle of my stomach and then rush over my body before quickly fading. I grinned, punching my left hand with my fist – I actually felt stronger.

Then my enthusiasm faded as quickly as it had come.

"And now I get to go through Kakashi-sensei's stupid ass bell test tomorrow. Again. Yay," I muttered to myself.

"Naruto!" Sakura yelled, stalking up to me as I entered the clearing two and a half hours after the time Kakashi had designated. "Where have you been?"

"Eating breakfast," I replied casually. "Hey, Sakura-chan," I asked, cutting her off before she could launch into a tirade I'd already heard twice before, "what's the difference between an 'army of one' and a 'one man army'?"

Sakura allowed herself to get distracted, though she still huffed indignantly. "Is that supposed to be a riddle or something? They mean the same thing, idiot."

"That's what I thought, too," I said, ignoring the insult with practiced ease. When Sakura said it, it sounded almost affectionate.

"Hn," Sasuke grunted.

"The bastard speaks!" I exclaimed. I stepped to the side, deftly avoiding the expected punch from Sakura-chan while maintaining my focus on Sasuke. I'd ended up dying first this time around, but the time before that he'd let Sakura-chan get killed by the Snake-bastard – I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to forgive him for that, even if it technically hadn't happened anymore.

I wasn't really being fair, since it was just as much my fault as it was his, I suppose, but then again it was his fault the Snake-bastard even attacked our group in the first place.

"Naruto!" Sakura growled. I noted that she looked vaguely surprised, though it was quickly subsumed in her anger. "Stop insulting Sasuke-kun!"

"Ok, ok, Sakura-chan," I said, waving my hands in surrender. I moved to a tree across the clearing from Sasuke and began practicing another version of the tree-walking exercise. Rather than using my feet to walk up the tree, I stuck my foot to the ground and tried to lift it; as soon as I felt the earth start to give, I tamped it down and switched to the other foot. That closet-pervert Ebisu had explained the concept behind this one, something about "reducing my chakra expenditure" and "resistance training."

All I knew was that I could do this exercise without Sasuke bothering me – he'd been more of a bastard than usual when he found out that I already knew the tree-walking exercise and I didn't want to deal with that right now.

Exactly three hours after he was supposed to show up, Kakashi-sensei poofed into the training ground and said, "Yo!"

Two bells, no lunch, sent back to the Academy, blah blah blah. He'd apparently rehearsed his presentation, because it was one of the few things that always happened exactly the same way every time.

After Sakura-chan and Sasuke-teme had vanished into the forest – and I smirked to myself, because I could totally see where both of them were hiding, which certainly hadn't been true the first time around – I turned to face Kakashi-sensei. Even more than defeating the Snake-bastard, I was determined to get an actual, honest to Kami clean hit against Kakashi-sensei during this bell test. I wasn't about to forget about his Thousand Years of Pain, and I certainly wasn't going to forgive him for using it again... and again... and again.

"The test has started, you know," Kakashi-sensei said, pulling out his perverted book. I knew who had written it, now, but that just made it worse; Closet-pervert and Kakashi-sensei had nothing on Ero-sennin.

"Don't think it's gonna be easy, Kakashi-sensei," I proclaimed, pointing at him. "I'm much stronger than I used to be!" I did just add another point to my Kage Bunshin Barrage, so that should be even more effective this time.

He didn't seem all that impressed, and honestly I wasn't either because he seemed to be dodging me just as easily as the first time around. Even when I pulled out my awesome jutsu I hadn't the first time and swarmed him with shadow clones, he just cut through them like a buzzsaw. I felt vaguely ill watching it, actually, as it reminded me far too much of my recent encounter with the Snake-bastard.

Fortunately, Kakashi-sensei didn't decide to separate my head from my shoulders. He did, however, finish off the last of my clones without even bothering to put his book down.

"Just spamming clones isn't going to get you anywhere, Naruto," he chided. "You're just wasting chakra like this."

"Argh!" I yelled, grabbing my head in frustration. "What the hell is it going to take? I just hit level five, my ninjutsu should be even stronger now, and I've got all the points I can in Kage Bunshin Barrage-"

I felt like cold water had been dumped over me for a moment, but the sensation faded as quickly as it had come. My jaw dropped open as I watched a series of clones seemingly pop out of nowhere and launch Kakashi into the air.

"U- Zu- Ma- Ki- Naruto Combo!" they announced as they smashed Kakashi-sensei into the ground.

I stared at his fallen form, my brain slowly processing what had just happened. My mouth opened and closed a few times before I choked out, "I have to say it? That's it? It doesn't actually do anything unless I say Kage Bunshin Barrage?"

I felt the same bucket of water sensation again, and a moment later I turned around to see a visibly startled Kakashi-sensei get whipped through the air by a chain of clones holding on to one another's feet. They slammed him into a tree, hard, and then dispersed.

"That's a neat trick," Kakashi-sensei said from behind me. I felt a wave of disappointment wash over me as I saw the Kakashi-sensei who had been slammed into the tree burst into smoke before revealing a slightly broken log. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a log lying in the small crated where the first Kakashi-sensei had landed. "It looks like you've been practicing quite a lot with the kage bunshin jutsu."

I twisted around, trying to catch him with a backhand, but he just leaned out of the way, his eye contorted into a smile the whole time. Despite missing, I was grinning widely. "I'll get you this time! Kage Bunshin Barraarrghg!"

"Konoha Taijutsu Ultimate Art: Thousand Years of Pain," Kakashi-sensei called out from behind me as I arced through the air and landed in the nearby lake with a splash.


Roughly an hour later, we were all gathered around the training posts in the middle of Training Ground Seven. Sakura was currently tied to the post, as she had been every time we went through this since I died the first time. Somehow Sasuke never ended up tied to the post, which I thought was extremely unfair.

"You all... pass!" Kakashi-sensei exclaimed after finishing his doom and gloom routine.

"Yay," I muttered, not even bothering trying to fake enthusiasm this time; the first time it had all been amazing and exciting, but this was the fifth time through. "Can I untie Sakura-chan now?"

"Of course!" Kakashi-sensei said. "It's good that you're looking out for your teammates, Naruto, Sasuke. Those who can't follow the rules are trash, but those who abandon their teammates are worse than trash." He always managed to work that into his speech somehow, I'd noticed.

"Naruto! Hurry up and untie me!"

"On it, Sakura-chan!" I said, pulling out a kunai and slicing through the ropes. The moment she was free she jumped towards Sasuke-teme, squealing happily.

"Isn't it great that we passed, Sasuke-kun?" she chattered. "We should go get lunch to celebrate!"

"Hn," Sasuke-teme grunted, stalking out of the clearing. He always looked pissed after the bell test for some reason that I still hadn't figured out. He got to be on a team with me and Sakura-chan! What could be more awesome than that?

Sakura-chan looked hurt at being ignored, so I immediately tried to cheer her up. "We definitely should go celebrate," I said. "Our first lunch as official genin of Konoha!" That offer hadn't worked out so well last time though, so I added, "We should invite the other teams too, assuming they passed."

Sakura-chan looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah, we should! I can't wait to see the look on Ino-pig's face now that it's official!"

Since it wasn't going to be just the two of us, I didn't want to go to Ichiraku's; I was saving that for something special, like our first date. "How does Yakiniku Q sound? Everyone likes to eat there, right?"

"Sure!" Sakura-chan said, nodding. She paused then, an odd look passing over her face. Her mouth opened and closed a couple of times before she said, "You aren't nearly as annoying as I thought you'd be. You haven't mentioned that ramen place even once."

"We could go there if you-"

"No! Barbeque is good! I'll go tell Sasuke-kun and then Ino's team, so you go tell the others, alright?" She then ran out of the clearing without waiting for my reply.

I scratched my cheek, feeling a little embarrassed. This was the first time Sakura-chan complimented me like that in... anyway, it felt good to know that all my efforts were paying off.

I turned and headed towards Team Kurenai's usual training ground. It wasn't that far away, and I'd been there a few times in the past- er, future... whatever. I'd been there.

I stopped at the edge of the clearing and watched as Kiba and Shino sparred. I saw Hinata sitting off the to the side, panting slightly, and looking like she had just finished sparring herself.

"Can I help you, Uzumaki-san?" came a voice from behind me.

I spun around, pointing at the team's jounin instructor. "Gah! Don't do that!" I yelled.

The black-haired jounin just raised one delicate eyebrow. "Is there something you needed with my team?"

"Oh, yeah! All of us are getting together for lunch to celebrate becoming genin, and I'm here to invite you guys."

"I see," Kurenai responded coolly. "Well, we were just about to break for lunch, so I suppose we can attend. It would have been nice to receive more notice than this, however."

I rubbed the back of my head sheepishly. "Well, we kinda just passed and decided this, so... yeah."

"Lunch sounds awesome!" Kiba said as he bounced over. "Where are we going?"

"Yakiniku Q," I replied.

"That is acceptable," Shino said stoically. I turned to get Hinata's reply only to find her standing about twenty feet away, ducking her head and pressing the tips of her index fingers together. Hinata could be awesome sometimes – she had the same nindo as me, so how could she not? – but then there were time like this where she just got weird.

"Hey, Hinata! How does lunch sound?" I called out.

Hinata just swayed slightly before pitching over backwards, her face bright red.

I heard Kurenai let out a quiet sigh while Kiba muttered something under his breath.

"Is she ok?" I asked, concerned. She did that an awful lot.

"Hinata-san will be attending," Shino replied stoically.

"Um... ok?" I said.

Our group ended up taking three booths once we reached Yakiniku Q: Asuma and Kurenai were in one booth, Team Asuma and Sakura were in another, and I was sitting in a third with Team Kurenai. Sasuke, in a development that didn't surprise me in the least, had chosen not to attend. I wasn't sure if anyone managed to let Kakashi-sensei know about the whole lunch thing, because he wasn't here either.

I was sitting next to Kiba – and Akamaru, can't forget Akamaru – while Shino sat across from me and Hinata sat next to him. I would swear that she kept looking at me, but every time I looked directly at her she was staring at her plate, her face bright red.

I could hear Sakura-chan and Ino getting into another argument already, but it sounded like just another variation on who Sasuke-teme liked more.

"Hey," I said suddenly, "what do you think the difference between an 'army of one' and a 'one man army' is?"

"What kinda question is that?" Kiba asked. Akamaru barked, and I'd spent enough time around the pair to interpret that as an agreeing bark.

Shino stoically adjusted his sunglasses slightly before responding, "My first thought is that they mean essentially the same thing. Is this a riddle, or perhaps a saying I am not familiar with?"

"Nah, nothin' like that," I said, disappointed.

"Um," came a quiet voice, "s-since they are c-contrasted like that, m-maybe 'army of one' means a single p-person who is as strong as an army, w-while the other i-is an a-army made of a s-single person?"

"Oh," Kiba said suddenly, "you mean like someone who made a lot of clones or something, right?"

I just stared at Hinata for a long moment before grinning widely. "That makes a lot of sense, Hinata-chan! You're awesome! Even Sakura-chan didn't figure that out!"

I felt a jolt of concern as Hinata swayed in her seat, but Shino's hand shot out and grasped her shoulder stoically, steadying her. "Are you alright? That's the second time you almost fainted...," I said.

"Awe-awesome," Hinata squeaked, ducking her head and pressing her fingers together.

"She will be fine, Uzumaki-san," Shino said stoically, cautiously removing his hand from her shoulder. "She is perfectly healthy."

"Alright," I said slowly, settling back into my seat. I rubbed my chin thoughtfully, pondering what Hinata had said. "I get 'One Man Army' then, but what would 'Army of One' do...?"

"What are you talking about?" Kiba asked, a confused look on his face.

"Oh, sorry," I said. "Just thinking out loud."

"Naruto!" Sakura-chan screamed, looking horrified. "How could you do that to that poor cat?"

"Poor cat? Poor cat?" I pointed to the small crater that had formed nearby, and the feline that was wobbling drunkenly out of it while mewling piteously. I had just used Kage Bunshin Barrage on Tora to cut down on the risk this mission carried considerably, but Sakura-chan didn't seem to understand that.

Yep, even as I watched she rushed over and picked up the monstrous thing, cooing gently to it as she did so. Damn, but she looked so cute doing that. No! Focus!

"That poor cat is a menace to society!" I exclaimed. "It tried to claw my eyes out! Twice!"

"Quit lying, Naruto!" Sakura-chan said. "It didn't even touch you before you slammed it into the ground!"

Oh, right. That hadn't actually happened this time around.

"Heheheh...," I said, blushing and rubbing the back of my head. "Sorry?"

Sakura just sniffed and stalked past me cradling the cat in her arms. Sasuke followed along behind her, his hands stuffed in his pockets and brooding silently. I stiffened when I felt a hand drop onto my shoulder.

"Naruto...," Kakashi said slowly. I turned to look at him, expecting him to be just as upset as Sakura. He stared at me several seconds, then his eye crinkled into a smile. "Good job!" he said, giving me a thumbs up.


"Once we get back, we'll have beaten Gai's record by a good twenty minutes. And I agree, that cat is an absolute menace."

I relaxed and smiled back, grinning widely. "No problem, Kakashi-sensei!"

I wandered into my kitchen, reflexively checking to see if the words "Level Up" had appeared yet, but no such luck. Feeling bored, I decided to see if any of the other options had changed.

"Inventory," I said as I shoved a cup of ramen into the microwave. It sucked that there wasn't a "cook ramen faster" ability; that would actually be useful all the time.

Naruto Uzumaki

"Oh, come on!" I yelled. "Naruto Uzumaki," I said through gritted teeth.

Naruto Uzumaki currently has:

Ryo: 132

Black Shirt

Cup Ramen x37

Kunai Pouch x2

Orange Jacket

Orange Pants

Key Item: Konoha Headband

"Hmm... I'm running low on ramen again," I mused. Still, other than letting me know that, there was nothing new there. "Log," I said next.

Active Mission: None

Active Mission Details: N/A

Arc: Team Seven

You have completed:

D-ranks: 7

C-ranks: 0

B-ranks: 0

A-ranks: 0

S-ranks: 0

Special Events: 1

I jumped at that last one. "Special events? What the hell?" I waited for it to explain, but no new words got shoved into my head.

"Screw you," I mumbled. I pulled my ramen out of the microwave and added another mechanically as I pondered what that "special" mission could be. Obviously none of the stuff I had done in a previous life counted or I would have a lot more D-ranks, not to mention that A-rank mission to Wave.

That had been zero the first time I checked the log, which was... uh, once? The very first time I saw it? Crap. What the hell did I do between the night before the bell test and now that counted as a special event?

"Characters," I muttered around a mouthful of ramen.

Naruto Uzumaki

"You are such an ass," I growled. "Naruto Uzumaki."

Naruto Uzumaki – Genin

Level: 5

Rank: D

Experience Points: 542/6,000

Teacher: Kakashi Hatake


Power: 7

Precision: 3

Toughness: 4

Vitality: 10 (15)


Fuinjutsu: 1

Genjutsu: 5

Ninjutsu: 30

Taijutsu: 5


Kage Bunshin Barrage (*)


Kami's Luck


Will of Fire

Will of Fire

"Hmm... I would have sworn that those statistics were different the first time I looked," I muttered to myself, struggling to remember what they had been. I'm sure that vitality was eight and twelve before, because it stood out so much. And the other numbers had been two, four, and six? Maybe? And I still don't understand why Will of Fire shows up twice.

"Gah, I should have been checking that more often."

"Naruto?" Sakura-chan asked. "How are you doing that?"

I had been so focused on the water-walking exercise that I had not noticed her approach at all. Startled, I lost concentration and fell into the lake I had been standing on top of with a loud splash. When I pulled myself out of the water a moment later, I noticed that Sakura-chan was staring at me curiously.

"It's a chakra control exercise," I explained, grinning proudly. I finally got to show off some of my skills! Even better, Sasuke-teme wasn't around to complain about me knowing stuff that he didn't. "You have to change how much chakra you push from your feet based on the changes in the water, and then you float!"

"When did you learn how to do that?" she asked again, an odd expression on her face.

'During the break between the second and third part of the Chuunin Exams' obviously wasn't going to work, even if it was the truth.

"Iruka-sensei showed me how," I said instead. That much at least was partially true - he had given me some pointers when I approached him... two deaths ago? Three? At some point, anyway.

"Oh...," Sakura said slowly, a contemplative look on her face. "Do... do you think you could show me how?"

"Absolutely, Sakura-chan!" I said. Ha! Take that, bastard! Then my face fell. "Um, there's another exercise you have to do first, though," I admitted, scratching my head sheepishly.

"What is it?" she asked suspiciously. "I swear to Kami if you say eating ramen..."

"What? No! Nothing like that," I said, waving my hands in the air. That's not a bad idea, actually, but I guess she'd never go for that. "You have to climb a tree first."

Sakura-chan's face looked kind of scary, and she was raising one fist in the air menacingly, so I hurried to explain. "No, seriously. Here, watch." I rushed over to the nearest tree and quickly ran up the side, pausing when I was standing horizontally roughly a dozen feet off the ground. I took a moment to note how much easier this was now, grinning all the while. This whole traveling back in time thing was actually kinda awesome; I was getting way stronger, Kakashi-sensei kept complimenting me about how hard I was practicing, and Sakura-chan was paying more attention to me! Sasuke-teme looked pissed as usual, but I'd take Sakura-chan over him any day.

I turned to face Sakura-chan, noting the stunned look on her face. It quickly settled into a mask of determination, though, and she marched up to the tree.

"What you have to do is push chakra out of your... feet...," I trailed off, watching as Sakura-chan took two hesitant steps before walking up the tree like she'd been doing this for years.

"This is pretty easy!" she said, grinning brightly at me.

My stomach did a little flip-flop and I almost lost my grip on the tree, but I recovered and turned away, hiding my blush. She'd been the first one to pick it up back in Wave too, but Sasuke-teme had been there to hog all the attention. This was way more awesome.

"It was much harder for me," I said, turning back to Sakura, "I guess you're just that awesome!"

Sakura-chan turned abruptly and marched back down the tree, moving as easily as if she were on the ground. "So next is the water-walking, right?" she said, not turning her head.

"Yep!" I said as I followed after her. I almost expected her to just keep walking out onto the water, but her feet splashed into the edge of the lake and she stumbled to a halt.

"Hmm...," she said to herself. She stood there a minute, just pushing one foot into the water over and over, before she placed it on top of the water firmly and lifted her other foot out. She dropped back in a moment later, but she had that bright, glowing smile that did funny things to my stomach again. "I think I'm getting the hang of this!" she said, before turning her attention back to the water.

"Awesome, Sakura-chan!" I said. I moved about fifty feet away so I wouldn't disturb her, then stepped back onto the water to resume my practice. Ten minutes passed like that, both of us focused on training and not saying anything, but it was pleasant in a way our team training sessions had never been. Finally, I noticed her stepping out of the water panting and slowly make her way over to me.

"How long have you been doing that?" she asked, sounding slightly out of breath.

"Uh..., since lunch, I guess?" I replied. I hadn't really noticed the time passing, come to think of it. Now that I was thinking about the time, I noticed that the sun was starting to set; I must have been doing this for five or six hours now. Time to call it a day, I suppose.

I turned back to Sakura-chan, who was staring at me with her mouth hanging open.

"What?" I asked. I turned to look behind me, but didn't notice anything out of the ordinary.

Sakura-chan's jaw snapped shut with an audible click, and she shook herself. "Nothing," she replied, her voice sounding slightly strained.

"You ok, Sakura-chan?" I asked.

"Fine! Perfectly fine!" she said. She turned and began to walk out of the clearing, though she did yell "I'll see you tomorrow!" over her shoulder. I thought I heard her mutter something about something being impossible under her breath, but I wasn't sure.

"I can't believe the Hokage actually gave in like that," Sakura-chan complained. "You've been doing that every single day we get a mission, and he always turned you down before."


"Don't worry Sakura-chan," I said, "it just took the old man a little while to recognize our awesomeness." I still didn't understand why it always took the Hokage so long to give us this mission... or why it was always Tazuna-jii-san's mission, come to think of it, but I knew complaining worked the first time so I just kept it up until it worked again. Problem solved!

Sakura-chan made her really cute annoyed sound and stomped ahead, muttering under her breath. I pulled my attention away from her, however, when I noticed the puddle she had just walked by. It was that puddle.

I eyed the water warily as we approached. The bastards hiding inside it were nothing compared to what we would be fighting in the future, but they were still the very first enemy ninja I had ever faced, if you didn't count Mizuki-teme. They would also be a useful way to measure just how much I had grown since the last time.

I walked past, doing my best not to stare at the puddle, and waited for them to emerge. The moment they came out of the water and began to attack Kakashi-sensei, I acted.

"Kage Bunshin Barrage! Kage Bunshin Barrage!" I shouted. I watched in satisfaction as one of the missing-nin – I could never remember their names, and they wore masks anyway – was launched into the air with a Naruto Uzumaki Combo while the other was buried under a horde of clones. I struck a heroic pose and turned to Sakura-chan, smiling widely.

"Ha! You have nothing to fear while Naruto is here!" Hey, that even rhymed! Double-awesome.

"You'll pay for that, you little shit," one of the missing-nin muttered as he picked himself up off of the ground.

"You want some more, huh?" I said, laughing. I pointed imperiously at them, but before I could say anything Sasuke-teme darted past me and kicked one of them in the face before using the guy's head as a springboard and back-flipping onto the other one, crushing him to the ground.

"Go Sasuke-kun!" Sakura-chan cheered.

"Hn," Sasuke-teme grunted, looking smug.

"Bah. He couldn't have done that if I hadn't softened them up first," I muttered.

"Good job, team," Kakashi-sensei said as he tied up the enemy ninja. "Although, Naruto...," he said slowly, "you might want to consider learning some other techniques. That move isn't going to work on everyone, and the more you use it the more likely an enemy will be prepared for it."

"Yeah, Naruto," Sakura-chan said, nodding sagely, "you can't just use the same move all the time. I bet Sasuke-kun knows lots of moves!"

I would have sworn I just heard Kakashi sigh to himself, but when I looked over suspiciously he was still busy tying up the ninja.

A moment later he turned to Tazuna-jiji and started grilling him about why ninja were here. I could have told them all of this – I even tried, the first time – but they never believed me. I wouldn't have either if I wasn't living it, though, so I didn't hold it against them.

Besides, this time I was going to make damn sure Haku didn't die again. Believe it!

A/N: Here it is, edited, revised, and moved into its own story!

I'll also be posting a rough draft of the "game manual" as the second chapter. The idea is that the help text in the story (when he gets there) will be lifted straight out of the manual. It will be expanded and revised as needed. Feedback and suggestions are always welcome.

As for the update pace, I'll commit to a minimum of one chapter (5k+ words) a month. The Empty Cage is going to remain my primary story and I'll also be moving Swapping The Cage into its own story as well. I like working on the very different types of stories I have going, as it helps keeps things fresh, but I also don't want to burn out or set expectations that I'll be updating much more often than I actually will.