Chapter One: Round About
If there was one thing that most sober and clear thinking people residing in Konoha said about Naruto, it wouldn't actually be that he was a failure.
It would actually be that he was an attention-seeking brat.
This was entirely spot-on: Naruto's goal in life was to be acknowledged. As an orphan with hardly any familial relationships save for an elderly man, and a kind family that operated his most favored Ramen Stall, what else could he strive for but the most vaunted and most appreciated position in the Land of Fire, his home Konoha: the title of Hokage, the most powerful ninja amongst the thousands that lived in it?
Before he could become such a vaunted figure, however, he had to graduate from being a simple trainee in the Ninja Academy into a bona-fide Genin - the very first rank of the Ninja Career Ladder, a rookie soldier for life.
He had the skills to confound ninja for a few hours after his painfully obvious pranks had been pulled, leaving harmless or embarrassing obstacles and traps for pursuers
As such, Naruto was a budding Ninja, though you would have to pry it out of most people's mouths to acknowledge such things to be a sign he was ready to be part of the warrior elite of the Elemental Nations.
However, he was nowhere near as interested in the curriculum set for the creation of such warriors, in the end he didn't even study history or chakra control, though the latter was rudimentary at best .
And therein lay the problem…
History, taught ninja what were mistakes done in the field of battle, and the meager Chakra control exercises that were hardly given thought by other students, much less Naruto, were both skills that were expected by their future teachers as they progressed through the Academy.
Added to that, only a few saw him actually practice relevant ninja-related skills, like throwing accuracy with kunai and shuriken or working tirelessly to make a proper Bunshin as other students would after school with friends. It was no wonder that his teachers were so annoyed with him - he had the drive, the potential, the Hokage and others could see it his skills in his pranks, but even the village leader admitted that the blonde needed more than silly pranks to become a ninja.
Amazing to all, one of his more daring pranks on a clan compound had positive results.
Not in a way anyone expected, though.
"Stop fidgeting like that, Naruto-kun. I know you don't like wearing formal clothes, but try to be patient," the aged Sarutobi placated, having forgone his pipe entirely for this particular meeting; he was more than a little irritated by the combination of nicotine addiction and having to take care of yet another of Naruto's pranks.
"I don't see why I have to see this clan head; it wasn't even one of my better pranks…" Naruto trailed off, giving the old man a look. He honestly expected something like this from the times when he plastered a man to a wall or or covered in neon paint. There wasn't even any raiding of underwear drawers for quick replacement flags for the Academy or even pepper grounds.
"You know, when a clan head normally hears these things, they're supposed to be entirely irate to the point of demanding a severe punishment. In my case, that would mean a few months of physical and mental labor - maybe a bit of trauma for good measure. I can promise that that would probably have been the case if you had used the pepper grounds."
Naruto yelped at this comment and decided the best course of action was to hide behind the Hokage's desk.
Sarutobi sighed, "Naruto-kun, get back in your seat; Tsume, please don't threaten the boy with mental harm."
"Eh!? B-but what about the physical side, old man?" Naruto peaked his head from his hiding place to look warily at both the woman and her near-giant wolf companion.
"You would heal, Naruto-kun, and would be a better man for it." The finality of that statement didn't comfort the blonde, but he decided to accept it, though he slunk back to his seat with great care.
"Kuromaru, give the kid a break with your glare, 'kay?" The matriarch patted the wolf-dog's head once with this request.
Turning his head to the side, the Inuzuka alpha male grumbled, "Fine, fine. Not meaning any harm in it."
Tsume nodded once, and took the seat adjacent from her Hokage and the trouble-making Uzumaki, who surprisingly wore a more muted outfit, much like her own was more formal than she liked at any time.
"Down to business, since I need to get back and make sure Hana isn't strangling Kiba with one of his own intestines.", that got a snort and snicker of laughter out of Naruto, "With Uzumaki's prank, I felt the need to return a favor I owed his mother."
Sarutobi gave her a look of his own, while he held a hand directly in front of Naruto to stop him from shouting out in surprise, "You know I was waiting on him to ask before going into details, Tsume."
"Yeah, yeah, I know." The aged leader sighed as she continued. "Mikoto, bless her heart, wanted to smother the boy - hell, Fugaku almost allowed it a few times just to get the brat under his thumb…but that's not the point." She looked straight at Naruto, unnerving him a bit, "No, I wasn't your mom's best friend or a team-mate of hers, and I don't know who your dad was either, just to be clear. To be entirely honest, we only had some missions together as chunin."
Sarutobi gestured for her to continue when she paused and looked a bit annoyed with herself after that statement, even as Naruto was crestfallen at her commentary, though he did file the names away for later.
"Long story short: one of those missions we shared included looting a few scrolls, among them a summoning contract. Your mom didn't want it and I didn't need it, but she insisted on my keeping it as a 'bond between Uzumaki and Inuzuka' or something." She pulled said scroll from her belt and held it out to the Sandaime while the blonde eagerly scanned over it.
"This is a rather interesting summoning contract, Tsume." The tone of his voice didn't betray him, but the choice in pausing like that did - he wasn't sure what to think.
The matriarch leaned back in her seat to stare at the ceiling, "Well, I didn't have a use for it, nor did anyone in my clan. Didn't test it out or anything, so I don't know much besides what's written in the scroll. Don't even know if it's a single-summon contract or 'family' or whatever - I'm not a summons' expert."
"Naruto, have a look over it right now; I think you might like what you find." He handed the boy the scroll, still unfolded.
Within a few minutes, the blonde was enraptured with it - mumbling aloud "What's an 'ashi-magari'…?" The 'old man' was glad that the scroll wasn't written archaically.
"Of course, a punishment is still called for," Kuromaru stated bluntly, "Uzumaki did wreck a few fences and windows."
In the middle of reading, but not entirely focused, Naruto flinched a bit at that. "Didn't mean to…those triplets decided to chase me into the building…"
"Focus on reading, Naruto-kun, I already had something in mind for your punishment." He got a grumble mixed with a whine at that.
Tsume grinned a little bit at that, "Oh?"
"Yes, and I think you won't mind it either…"
Within the day, an agreement was made for Naruto's punishment - at the minimum three and a half weeks of chores at the Inuzuka compound. While he didn't like it all that much, he did promise to take it seriously and do his best, and, much to his dismay, to not dye any of the hounds any neon colors ever again
The reactions of the clan were… mixed.
Kiba was only annoyed for the first day - without any sort of scolding involved in his warming to Naruto's presence either. Naruto, despite his social skills being worse than most, was among those the Inuzuka boy counted as a friend, though this might be due to Kiba's own brashness and unwillingness to bend to the general populace's view on others.
Though it didn't help much, in Naruto's opinion, the "old man" had gotten Hana, Kiba's sister and rising veterinary specialist, to tutor him and fill any gaps in his Shinobi education as he worked at the compound, and therefore, away from the Academy. This was mainly due to Hana's own canine companions, the Ash Siblings, delighted in chasing him throughout the compound as he attempted to do whatever chore he was supposed to before full-bodily tackling him and making it impossible to do any sort of work.
As a tutor, Hana was probably the most patient teacher Naruto had had - she went through the things he found painfully boring and reasoned him through the details bit by bit. Chakra control, on the other hand, was a bit of a problem - technically he wasn't supposed to learn past Academy level - but with sound reasoning and a waiver, she had gotten him up to tree-walking. Not that he got it down immediately, though, several instances he found himself battered and bruised more than any spar had ever produced, as gravity proved to be an unyielding constant that even he couldn't overcome.
His Academy instructors, Iruka especially, appreciated that he had gotten a tutor. More of a surprise to Naruto than anyone else, Sasuke didn't react negatively to it or demand a tutor of his own - nor did any of his stauncher supporters or other classmates. The young Uzumaki honestly expected a fight or argument to break out over it, especially with the vaunted Uchiha being raised to become the head of his clan.
When he voiced this concern between breaks, it was even more of a surprise to him learn that Sasuke already had such a tutor and that the two of them were set for a 'summoning class', to teach them further about their summons.
"…I've had a tutor for the last year or two, Naruto. And before you go shouting about how unfair it is…" Here Naruto looked away in a mixture of shame and embarrassment, "I didn't ask for one. The Hokage wanted to be sure I was 'fully fit to be a shinobi' or something, not going into details."
"Huh…sorry, Sasuke-teme, guess I shouldn't have…assumed like that." He snickered a bit to the side, "Heh, I think that's the most you've said to anyone in a month."
"Hn. The only people I really talk in length to are the Hokage, my tutor, and a few of our classmates to see what's going on with their clans - Hinata aside." Neither boy knew what was, or wasn't, wrong with the Hyuuga heiress that caused her to be so shy.
"Fair enough," the blonde shrugged, "Oh!" Something clicked back into place, "Um…Sasuke…did you know anyone named Mikoto?"
The look the Uchiha gave him was more unnerving than most glares he'd gotten, but it faded quickly, "…the only Uchiha I knew with that name was my mother, Naruto."
"Oh…" The atmosphere suddenly had gotten much more depressing.
"Why do you ask?"
"Kiba's mom, Tsume, mentioned that a 'Mikoto' knew my mom, when the old man and I met with her for my punishment…said the scroll was loot from a mission she shared with my mom, and then mentioned your mom's name - maybe your dad's too. I can't quite remember, just that your mom knew my mom really well."
The dark-haired boy sitting next to him tilted his head a bit and leaned back in his seat, "I don't really remember my mother, or father, mentioning an Uzumaki. Sorry, Naruto…" The snuck a glance over at the blonde, "It might have that she didn't want to always think of the grief."
"Thanks for the info, teme."
"If you start trading childhood woes, I'm going to start bashing heads, Sasuke-kun, Naruto-kun," a voice behind them lilted, a hint of threat and amusement imminent.
"Damn, I didn't even sense you, Anko," grumbled Sasuke.
"…please tell me you aren't here to feed me to a snake or chase me while throwing senbon or rob me of whatever innocence I may or may not have, Anko. Please." Naruto's response was much more wordy and terrified.
"Aw, see, Sasuke-kun, Naruto-kun likes me," she grinned.
"…she's your tutor, isn't she, Sasuke-teme?"
"Yes, Naruto, Anko is my tutor." He gave away nothing; sometimes being stoic helped.
"And psych-profilist!" said the arguably insane young woman.
Naruto turned to Sasuke with a look, "…she's bullshitting about that part, right?"
"Despite appearances, I am a highly qualified and trained member of Konoha's psycho-analysis department, Naruto-kun. Second only to torture and interrogation…and dango, it's my favorite thing to do!"
"…my respect for you just skyrocketed, Sasuke."
That being said, their apparent instructor hopped in front of them with a twist, and landed lightly on the instructor's desk, seated. "Yes, yes, I know I'm amazing and sexy, but that's not why I'm here. I'm here to teach you both the basics of summoning and summoning contracts."
"Now, why am I the one instructing you on this and not one of the other summons' users in the village? The answer is rather simple: the others are on a mission or too lazy." The two boys groaned.
Smiling widely, with far less mal-intent than usual, she continued. "First things first - I'm not an expert on this subject. In fact, my own summoning contract is limited. But that aside, you both also are entirely new to summoning - which means it's a whole lot simpler for all three of us: I don't have to bore you with the intricacies." They both nodded.
A few minutes later, the two got a 'bite-sized' run-down of all relevant details for summons and summoning, with enough detail that Sasuke was satisfied and things didn't go over Naruto's head - then came the actual summoning part.
"Alright you two, I already know which summoning contracts you have: Sasuke for hawks and Naruto for…well whatever 'ashi-magari' are, and that both are assured to work." They nodded.
"I already said it, but I'll say it again: summons like to give new summoners a hard time, both in word and action, and generally like to give a test. So that means: be prepared and try to stay calm and respectful - even if it's not the boss."
With a nod to start, they both bit their thumbs to get the necessary blood, and slammed their hand onto the ground in front of them with a short shout of "Kuchiyose no jutsu!" The expected ink patterns stretched out like spider web under their hands, before the dual 'pop' sounded.
The plume of smoke from Naruto's summon was noticeably larger than Sasuke's, but with the unknown of what he was going to summon and how much chakra he had used to summon it, it was a non-issue.
All three sets of eyes, knowing that there would be a hawk or bird of prey from Sasuke's summon, focused on what was within the other cloud of smoke.
The first thing extremely noticeable, even as the motes of smoke dissipated, was that the summon had a long, fuzzy, flexible tail. After the rest of the body became visible, Naruto tilted his head to one side and then the other, "…why is it wearing a traffic sign on a leg?"
Sasuke's replied before Anko could, as she was day-dreaming of sic-ing the long-tailed mammal on enemy snakes, "That I don't know, but…is your summon a weasel or ferret of some kind? I know it looks like one to me, but you spend more time around animals than I do…"
The topic of the discussion decided to speak up then, "…I'm more of a skunk, ringtail, or red panda, actually." Only one of those did Naruto recognize. "Not really, but close enough. As for the sign, I like it, so there." The decidedly female voice was a bit of a surprise, but the 'ashi-magari' in front of him wasn't the first animal, female or male, Naruto had heard speak so he shrugged it off and decided to introduce himself.
"I think the sign is cool! And you have some orange in your fur, which is awesome…" The other two humans in the room groaned at that, "- my name's Uzumaki Naruto, nice to meet you!"
With that, Sasuke decided to turn to his own summon, a rather well-built falcon going by the name "Shara". Anko kept her attention on both easily enough from her seat on the desk.
"…you're a bit loud, kid. But considering you're the one talking to me and not the other two, I suppose you're my summoner." The mustelid stretched a bit, and he had to wonder if her tail hadn't stretched and then shrunk, "Name's Sakanade. Been years since any of us 'leg-turners' have been summoned; what land are we in? Doesn't seem like Iron…"
"Land of Fire, Konohagakure, actually," Naruto prompted.
"Hm…now, you summoned me and hopefully read the scroll…" he nodded fervently, "So I can go ahead and skip that stuff. My family wasn't and isn't all that large - the lack of a summoner is a real 'kick to the pants' - but you still have to work for the right to summon us. You have four to five chances, fewer if you're downright rude."
The blonde boy scratched the back of his head, "Sounds fair, Sakanade. So, um…what's the first test?"
"Simple: catch me." Within seconds the 'leg-turner' was out of the room in a short, small twister.
"…aw, come on…"
"Better get going, Naruto-kun. Who knows what sort of havoc the ferret will cause?" Anko's grin told him all he needed to know.
"…you're mean, Sakanade." Hours later, with the sun setting and the night-lights of Konoha starting to turn on, he wheezed a bit.
Oh, he had caught her, but he really didn't want to talk or think about it - more than half of the time he had gotten miserably dizzy. She didn't even go farther than a dozen kilometers from the academy and only used one jutsu - "Tonbogaeri"- "round trip" indeed.
"Well, you caught me eventually, so don't get too down in the dumps, fishcake."
"Hey, that's not what my name actually means…"
"Calm down, kid, I'm just teasing. My name isn't exactly conventional either."
"…just make the dizzying stop…" the Uzumaki moaned.
"Eh, you'll get better. Also builds up some tolerance to nausea and dizziness in general."
The response she received from her summoner was a mix of mumbled curses and begrudged agreement, serving to only add to her amusement.
A.N.: And there you go, the first part or chapter of my first "official" Naruto fanfic.
Much thanks to my beta- and proofreader: chrnno and SageofEyes.
An "ashi-magari" or "leg-turner" is a more obscure youkai, and sometimes "only" a tanuki trick. I'm taking liberties and using my creative license here.
"Sakanade", sharing the name of Shinji Hirako's Zanpakutou, means "counter stroke" or "rubbing [you] the wrong way". Or something along those lines, at least.
"Tonbogaeri" is the Japanese name for the Pokémon move of "U-Turn", meaning "round trip" and a pun on "Tonbogiri", meaning "dragonfly cutting spear", a legendary weapon used by Honda Tadakatsu.