A/N: Thanks for all the kind words, everyone. Please do leave more reviews,particularly if you can point to ways I can write better, or spot plot holesthat need filling in. I’m setting a tentative schedule of weekly updates fornow.
Responding to questions/comments:
- I wasn’t thinking of this as a rationalist fic when I came up with it,just as a “what if characters in general and Naruto in particular weresmarter?” experiment. I leave it to the reader to decide whether it hasactually come out as one or not. It’s worth bearing in mind, though, thatunlike Mr Potter-Evans-Verres and many of his counterparts, Smart!Naruto hashad an exceedingly patchy education and no role models to speak of forrational behaviour. It remains to be seen how far he will get as anautodidact.
- I am well aware of the many Gary Sue possibilities in store for Naruto. Aswith canon, I intend to up the challenge rating over time, but rest assuredthat some of the antagonists I have queued up for later on are already lookingworryingly invincible. My approach to writing LUD battle scenes is “here isthe challenge; how would Naruto respond to it?” If I can’t find an answer thatdoesn’t result in a Total Party Kill, I don’t lower the challenge. I justthink harder until I come up with something.
- The other characters will get their chances to shine, but Naruto has anenormous starting advantage compared to the other Genin, and it will taketraining and experience before they can discover and refine their uniquestrengths the way he has.
- I don’t read the Naruto manga (so no spoilers in reviews, please), and mywatching history in fansub terms is ANBU-Aone - Dattebayo - Taka. So I eitheruse their translations for technique names etc., or I use my own if I findthem unsatisfactory.
Naruto was officially fed up with being a Genin. Weeding gardens? Movingfurniture? Mowing lawns? And the cat, dear heavens, let’s not even talk aboutthe cat. Meanwhile the D-rank mission pay was pathetic (and that was comingfrom him, a guy who had to count every single ryō to get through the month),Sakura was a prima donna who wouldn’t deign to dirty her hands with actualmanual labour (unless the labour was inflicting violence on his person), andswapping ever more creative barbs with Sasuke was the only thing keeping himsane.
Consequently, Naruto was in a pretty foul mood when he came home. He was juststarting to mellow out over some ramen and a library copy of CloneTechniques: Tips from the Masters (happily, one perk of Genin status was thathe now potentially had the full might of the Leaf Village government behindhim, and therefore could no longer be automatically refused membership) whenhe heard someone knock on his door.
He opened it violently. “I told you, that smell isn’t coming from _my _flat,you old bat!”
Hinata gave him a puzzled look. “Um, is this a bad time?”
“Oh, sorry, Hinata. There’ve been… issues,” Naruto explained. “What’s up?”
“I saw Chōji when I was walking past his house, and he asked me to return somemanga for him,” Hinata explained. “He said he’d promised to give it backtoday, but he’s hurt his ankle and he can’t walk all the way over here.”
“Huh.” Chōji had in fact promised no such thing. He’d borrowed the first fivevolumes of Burning Fighting Fighter, an old series Naruto knew off by heartand therefore had no need to get back anytime soon.
Hinata duly handed over a bag containing several manga volumes.
“Thanks, Hinata. I appreciate it.” Naruto stepped back.
Hinata didn’t move. She started to fidget.
“Um, was there anything else?” Naruto asked.
“Naruto, I… I…” Hinata trailed off awkwardly.
Naruto, tired and perhaps less sensitive to social cues than usual, took herlack of speech as a no.
“OK, then. Catch you later!”
As Naruto started to shut the door, Hinata suddenly said something veryloudly.
“I need to talk to you!”
Naruto opened the door again to see a bright red Hinata looking like shewished the earth would open up and swallow her.
“Um…” she started fidgeting again. Then, in a very quiet voice, “I need totalk to you.”
“Uh, go on?”
“M-May I please come in?” Hinata asked in a trembling voice more suited to aline like “may I please be eaten by lions?”
Naruto nodded. “Sure.”
Then he took a look back at his flat.
“Hold that thought.”
He shut the door. Hinata could still hear his voice from within.
“Multiple Shadow Clone Technique!”
What followed was a cacophony of voices, all Naruto’s.
“Quick, put that away!”
“It expired how many months ago? Get rid of it - now! No, I don’t care howmany of you it destroys in the process!”
“Clear some space for her to sit down!”
“Is that…? Yikes, she can’t see that! Get rid of it! I don’t know, hide itunder the bed or something!”
“Watch where you’re waving that!”
“When did we get that thing there?”
“Last year. No idea what it is, but it looks really cool and it only cost fiveryō. Put it in the corner over there.”
“Look out, coming through!” (This last was followed by a clang like that oflots of metallic things falling on the floor in a heap.)
A couple of minutes later, the door opened again.
“Come on in.”
Hinata entered with some trepidation. She was inside Naruto’s flat. The flatof Naruto. The actual place where Naruto lived. It was smaller than she’dexpected, and also remarkably messy given the apparent emergency cleaning.Curiously, this actually made her feel more at ease. It was such a nicecontrast to the spartan atmosphere of the Hyūga clan compound - in fact, herfather would probably disown her on the spot if she ever left her room in sucha state. Whereas here the mess was somehow OK, even comforting.
“So what’s up?”
Hinata looked down. “I… um, I have a confession to make.”
Naruto, whose previous acquaintance with Hinata was mostly as “that quiet girlwith no pupils and a cool hoodie”, couldn’t begin to guess what she might haveto confess to him.
“This one time, I was walking past your flat by coincidence, and I heard yourvoice, and it was… well, overlapping with itself,” Hinata began. Her speechwas hesitant and filled with pauses, which allowed Naruto time to reflect, forexample, on the fact that his flat was on the first floor of a semi-detachedbuilding, and thus not on the way to anywhere.
“So… so I got curious, and I Looked, and I saw you playing shogi with your ownclone. And I wondered why you’d do that, when you’d probably just end upmaking the same moves as each other, so I kept watching. At first, I thoughtyou were just… well, messing around, because all the pieces seemed to be inrandom places, and I couldn’t work out how were you deciding where to movethem.”
Naruto kept a neutral expression on his face. There were a number of ways thisconversation could go, and he had to work out how to steer it away from themore disastrous ones, while at the same time paying close attention to whatHinata was actually saying.
“And then your clone said ‘checkmate’, and I looked at the board again, andsuddenly I realised that all its moves had been part of one enormous strategy.Then you played some other games and… um… I watched those as well. And theywere all really high-level games too. And I…”
Hinata broke off. She looked at Naruto, as if trying to gauge his response,but he did his best to give nothing away.
Hinata took a deep breath. “And… and I sort of followed you when you went tothe Training Grounds on your own… and I saw you coming up with all theseamazing uses for the Academy techniques. I kept wondering why no-one taught usthings like that.”
Her voice was getting quieter.
“And… um… I followed you many other times after that. I kept wanting to talkto you, but… I was afraid you’d tell me to go away… so I just kept watching.”
“So you were spying on me,” Naruto said angrily, his already-low patience justnot up to the challenge today. It wasn’t on his mental map of where he wantedthe conversation to go, but that was getting harder to hold onto as hisemotions intensified.
Hinata flinched as if he’d hit her.
“I’m sorry! I’m really sorry! I know it was wrong, and I shouldn’t have, andI’m really sorry, and if it bothers you I’ll never do it again…” she trailedoff.
Naruto could see tears forming in her eyes. It made him feel sorry for her,and that in itself made him feel angry all over again because she was makinghim feel sorry for her when he was supposed to be feeling angry. Now he wasfeeling emotionally blackmailed, and angry, and guilty about feeling angry,and angry about feeling guilty, and the more he thought about it the moretangled the whole thing got, so after a point he just gritted his teeth andtried to focus on the facts rather than the warped spiky mess inside him.
For a while, no-one spoke, as both Hinata and Naruto independently struggledto compose themselves.
“So is that what you came to tell me?” Naruto finally asked.
Hinata shook her head.
“N-No, that’s not it. There’s… there’s something I’ve wanted to tell you… eversince I saw you that day.”
“I - I always thought… I thought you were an amazingly brave person for nevergiving up when things seemed hard. And I always wished I could be confidentthe way you are. And then…”
Still shaky, Hinata took a second to collect her thoughts. Naruto, caughtcompletely off guard by the compliments, quietly waited for her.
“I discovered you were clever as well. Clever, and creative and… cunning. Socunning you made everyone in the class think you were… well… not very bright.And that’s when I knew. I…”
She stopped. Whatever she was trying to say was clearly pushing her courage tothe limit.
Naruto swallowed. She couldn’t be…
“I want you to train me.”
Naruto was momentarily dumbstruck. His anger drained away; there just wasn’tenough room left for both it and the confusion.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“I want you to train me,” Hinata repeated.
“Me? Train you? Train you in what?” Naruto asked incredulously.
“I… I want to be like you,” Hinata told him.
Naruto shook his head. “That’s ridiculous.”
He sat down heavily on the bed. Hinata, without thinking about it, sat down ona nearby chair.
“Hinata, you’ve got friends who like you, and a loving family. You don’t wantto be like me. I don’t think anyone would want to be like me.”
Hinata looked up sharply. “You’re wrong.”
That was as assertive as he’d ever heard her. He gave her a questioning look.
She was quiet for a few seconds. “Sorry, can we not talk about that now?Please? I… don’t know how to say what I want to say without putting my foot init… so can we leave it for now?”
Naruto nodded, still somewhat confused. “So what exactly is it that you wantfrom me?”
“I want to know how to be confident and clever and creative… the way you are.I don’t know if you can teach something like this, but please… if you can, Iwant to learn.”
Naruto thought about this. He’d never even considered whether you coulddeliberately teach qualities of character, never mind how you’d do it. He knewthat, in theory, the Academy was meant to inculcate virtues like loyalty andhard work alongside the knowledge and skills expected of a ninja, but from hisobservations people still came out with pretty much the same personalities aswhen they went in.
“Um… I can pay you,” Hinata ventured, taking his silence as reluctance.
Naruto looked up. He wasn’t sure how he felt about this. Heavens knew heneeded the money, but was this a thing that you took money for? Especiallyfrom a fellow Genin who had apparently exhausted a year’s supply of couragejust to ask for it?
“I don’t have much - my father doesn’t give me pocket money because he saysI’ll just spend it on frivolous things - but when I need money there are someold people near the edge of the village who let me do chores for them, outwhere no-one from my clan is likely to go. And I have some savings from themoney we get for missions. So I can pay you.”
Naruto shook his head. “No. Wow, you’re actually worse off than me. How’s thateven possible? I mean, aren’t you the heir to the most powerful clan in Leaf?”
Hinata looked down and said nothing. Naruto decided not to press the matter.
“Hmm.” He considered. “Why do you want training so badly, anyway?”
Hinata looked uncomfortable. “I’m sorry. I know I’m being a pain… but this isreally hard for me. I’m not good at talking to people. So could we just…generally leave talking about me for another time?”
Hinata tensed, as if expecting Naruto to lose his patience with her and lashout.
She looked oddly surprised, but she did relax a little.
“Tell you what,” Naruto said. “I need some time to think about how you’d trainsomeone in this sort of thing. Why don’t you come back same time tomorrow andwe’ll talk about it some more.”
Hinata nodded, with a somewhat overwhelmed expression that looked like it waslooping all the way through excitement and back into anxiety.
“In the meantime, I want you to promise me that you won’t mention any of thisto anyone - not the idea of me training you, and not me being smarter than Iappear.”
Hinata nodded again. “I promise.”
She started to fidget. “Um… Naruto… if you don’t mind me asking… why do youact like you’re less bright than you are?”
“Let’s leave that for another time as well,” Naruto replied. “Now it’s gettingdark - you’d better go home. And if this ends up going anywhere, you’ll needthink about what you’re going to tell people when they ask you where you’respending so much time.”
With that, he showed her out, still inwardly a bit dazed at the turn theconversation had taken. He’d considered a variety of possibilities when shestarted speaking, up to and including having to deal with blackmail, butsomeone actually wanting training? From him? For an idea that was so obviouslywrong on so many levels, it was nevertheless oddly compelling.
It was a warm, sunny day, and Team Seven were enjoying some healthy exerciseby the artificial riverbank. If by “enjoying some healthy exercise” we mean“picking up rubbish while grumbling continuously”.
“Why do they even need _ninja to do this?” Naruto complained loudly. “Anyone,and I mean _anyone, could pick up rubbish. We should be off escortingcivilians through danger, or hunting deadly criminals, or whatever it is _real_ninja do.”
“Quit moaning, imbecile,” Sasuke called out from some distance away. “It’sprobably you dragging down our average IQ to the point where they won’t trustour team with anything else.”
“Nah, I think it’s that they know you’re so incompetent you’d blow up thevillage if they gave you a mission that needed any sort of weapons,” Narutowas quick to reply.
There was a moment of silence in which both boys had the same thought: therewas something curiously familiar about this whole thing.
A much smaller Naruto’s hand closed gleefully on the last dumpling remainingat the outdoor stall. “I’ll take this!”
That’s odd. Did his voice always have an echo?
Naruto looked to his right to see a black-haired boy with his hand on theother half of the same dumpling.
“Hey, I was here first!” he shouted.
“No, I was here first!” the other boy retorted.
The shopkeeper had watched them both grab it at the exact same time.
“Buzz off, kid, the Uchiha got it first.”
Both boys ignored him, and slammed down the money for the dumpling on thecounter with their spare hands. The shopkeeper wasn’t about to complain atthis development.
A tug of war ensued as the boys both tried to walk away from the stall inseparate directions, the overall motion carrying them down the riverbank andtowards the river.
Sasuke watched the other boy for his reaction. Having heard his name, would helet go of the dumpling because his parents had taught him to show pity to thepoor Uchiha orphan? Or would he snatch the dumpling and run because he’d beentaught not to be anywhere near the cursed Uchiha child who had suspiciouslysurvived the massacre of his entire clan? In the end, those seemed to be theonly two options where other people were concerned.
However, what actually happened was that Sasuke won the tug of war. Hecontinued to watch the other boy warily, but could not have expected whathappened next.
The boy struck a dramatic pose and pointed a finger at him. “I challenge youto a duel!”
Sasuke burst into helpless laughter.
Naruto turned red. He’d just finished reading Amazing Samurai Adventures,and apparently some part of him hadn’t yet come back from the Country of Iron.
“Are you some kind of imbecile?” Sasuke asked when he could breathe.
“Shut up, greaseball!” Naruto retaliated.
“Greaseball?” Sasuke replied. “You’re insulting my hair? What are you, agirl?”
“No,” Naruto barely hesitated, “I’m the guy who’s going to kick your ass!”
“Bring it on!”
The two boys threw themselves at each other, and before either knew it, theywere rolling up and down the riverbank, kicking and punching and elbowing witheverything they’d got. The dumpling got squashed early on, and was forgottenthereafter.
Given where they were, and the fact that each had forgotten absolutelyeverything except the desire to beat the other, it was only a matter of timeuntil they found themselves rolling into the river.
The water succeeded in ending the fight where the Hokage himself would havefailed. The boys separated and climbed out, each thoroughly drenched. Itseemed like a good time to go home and dry off, especially for Naruto, whoonly had this one pair of trousers.
“I’ll get your gravestone ready for the next time I see you, loser. What namedo you want on it?” Sasuke called out as he was about to leave.
“Uzumaki Naruto, Slayer of… what was your name again?”
“Uchiha Sasuke, and-”
“Right. Uzumaki Naruto, Slayer of Uchiha Sasuke. Make sure you get it inmarble or granite, not the cheap stuff.”
Naruto grinned and ran off while he still had the last word.
And with that, the boys went their separate ways, each glowing inside just alittle.
“Think fast, greaseball!”
Sasuke was snapped out of his reminiscence by a drinks can heading towards hishead at near-relativistic speed. He caught it by luck as much as skill, anddid not hesitate to retaliate. However, he was too smart to just do the samething back. His rock, lobbed with perfect kunai-throwing form, went into theriver right next to Naruto, splashing him from head to toe.
“Oh, that’s it!” Naruto growled. “You want to see who can get who wet? Believeme, I can get you wetter than you can imagine!”
Kakashi, who was standing nearby, broke into a sudden coughing fit. When itwas over, he waved his arms.
“Naruto! Sasuke! Sakura! I just happen to have a super special prize forwhoever collects the most rubbish in the next five minutes.”
Both boys looked up.
“Hah. Too easy,” Sasuke called out.
“Oh, really?” Naruto replied. “Maybe you just don’t know how fast I am.”
Within five minutes, the riverbank was restored to a state of pristinecleanliness which it had likely not known since the day Senju Hashirama sothoughtlessly founded the Hidden Village of Leaf here. Kakashi carefullyexamined both competitors’ sacks.
“Winner: Uchiha Sasuke!”
Naruto muttered “I knew I should have used my shadow clones.”
“The winner gets my super special prize: not having to carry the rubbish tothe recycling station.”
Sasuke smirked some more.
“The runner-up, Uzumaki Naruto, gets the consolation prize: also not having tocarry the rubbish to the recycling station.”
Naruto grinned. Sasuke’s smirk faded a little.
“Sakura, that means you get to carry it all.”
“What?!” demanded an outraged Sakura. “I wasn’t even competing!”
“Exactly,” Kakashi nodded. “Either you pull your own weight, or you pull otherpeople’s weights. That’s what it means to be part of a team.”
Later that afternoon…
“All right, I’ve thought about it.”
Hinata listened attentively.
“I don’t think you can fake your way to courage or confidence, and youcertainly can’t do it with intelligence. Or maybe you can, but that’s not whatyou’re trying to achieve.”
Hinata nodded. She was intrigued to hear Naruto in lecture mode; once, theidea would have seemed as bizarre as Shino cultivating Venus flytraps.
“Some people seem to be naturally confident. Look at Kiba - dumb as a brick,no special talents apart from what he gets from his clan, and yet he stillacts like he owns the place.”
“Th-That’s not very nice, Naruto. Kiba is a good person,” Hinata interjected.
“I know he is. He’s one of my best friends. But point to the part of mydescription that you think is wrong.”
Hinata said nothing.
“I don’t think you and I can do what he does. Maybe it’s our backgrounds,maybe it’s something else, but we need a reason to feel good about ourselves.Something we can be proud of.”
“Like things we’re good at, or things we like about our characters. I’m proudof my intelligence. I’m proud of the fact that I always try to figure out howthings fit together, and look for unexplored possibilities, where other peoplejust accept things as they are. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve never givenup, even though most of the world has hated me and tried to screw me over myentire life. You see what I mean?”
Hinata’s eyes widened with distress towards the end of this explanation.
“Most of the world?” she echoed.
“Most of the world,” Naruto stated flatly. “Except maybe half a dozen amazingpeople. And later our classmates at the Academy, but I had to work hard forthat.”
“By acting like you were… um…?” Hinata asked, then stopped suddenly, realisingthe potential for unintended insult.
“Ask yourself this, Hinata,” Naruto replied. “Forgetting me for a second,who’s the smartest, most talented person in our age group?”
Hinata didn’t have to think long. “Uchiha Sasuke.”
“And how many friends does Sasuke have?”
Hinata was silent.
“Exactly. Intelligence and talent might win you admiration, but they don’t getyou affection. I picked up on that early on,” Naruto explained with a tinge ofbitterness to his voice.
“That’s… that’s completely unfair!” Hinata was looking upset on his behalf. Itwas an unusual experience for Naruto, and somewhat touching. But he refused toallow himself to get distracted just now.
“It is. But this isn’t about ‘fair’, it’s about recognising how life actuallyis. When you’re smarter than everyone else, it makes them jealous, oruncomfortable, or suspicious. They start treating you like you’re a differentkind of person from them. If you’re lucky, they’ll just put you on a pedestal.If not, they’ll ostracise you.”
“I’m telling you this because the only thing I know how to teach you is how tothink like me. And if you learn to think like me, you might have to face thesame problems I do. Are you sure you’re ready for that?”
Hinata was quiet for a long time.
“Naruto, how many friends do you think _I _have?”
“Huh?” Naruto hadn’t seen this one coming at all. “I don’t know, I’ve neverthought about it. But I’ve seen you with Sakura and Ino before - obviously,not both at the same time these days - and you get on OK with your teammates,don’t you?”
Hinata sighed. “Um… let me put it another way. What do you know about me,Naruto? Apart from what I told you yesterday?”
Naruto stopped to think. “Well… you’re the heir to the Hyūga Clan. You can usethe Byakugan. You’ve got OK test scores, not bad but not top of the class.You’re kind of shy and you don’t say much. You do this thing with your fingersa lot. You… um…”
“That’s all _anyone _knows about me.”
Naruto looked up at this. “I’m sure that’s not-”
“I’m a wallflower, Naruto.” Hinata’s voice contained a kind of tension Narutodidn’t think he’d ever heard before. “If I disappeared tomorrow, I don’t thinkanyone outside my family would notice until I was needed for a mission. Idon’t have any popularity to lose.”
Looking closely, Naruto noticed that Hinata’s hands, held in tight littlefists, were trembling. That admission had not come easily to her.
“If you disappeared, I mean,” Naruto clarified. “I know I don’t know you verywell, but I think it must have taken a lot of courage to come talk to me theway you did. Someone being that brave will always leave an impression.”
Hinata blushed. “I’m not brave at all. But… thank you.”
An awkward silence settled over the small flat.
“So,” Naruto stood up with exaggerated excitement, “it’s time for shogi!”
He pulled out a game board and set it on the kitchen table.
“Shogi?” Hinata asked, moving tentatively to the chair opposite the one he waspresumably going to use.
“Of course! Do you know what ‘emergent’ means?” he asked as he started settingup pieces.
Hinata shook her head.
“It’s what happens when you take a bunch of simple rules and they interact toresult in very complex patterns and effects. In shogi, the only rules are howthe pieces move, plus a few special ones for promotion and such.” He paused.“Erm, you do know the rules of shogi, right?”
Hinata nodded. “My father tried playing with me before, but he gave up when Iwasn’t very good.”
Naruto wasn’t sure how to respond to this. “Anyway, you take a set of verysimple rules, but when you put them together, you get deep, complex strategy.You can learn the rules of shogi in ten minutes. You can spend a lifetimegetting good at it.”
“I see. And this will teach me to think how you think?”
“Absolutely.” Naruto was not at all sure it would do any such thing, but itseemed like a good place to start and see what happened. “First you get goodat spotting patterns and possibilities. Then you learn to find your own blindspots. Then you learn to identify the dominant paradigm and look foralternative ones.”
“I’m… not sure I followed that last part.” Hinata looked nervous, as if sheexpected any failure to keep up to result in an immediate end to the training.
“I picked up the language from a book I found in the library the other day,”Naruto explained, while quietly kicking himself - he thought he’d completelyditched the habit of going up speech registers when he got excited. “Gottatell you, having free access to that place is fantastic. What it means is… sayyou’re playing shogi. Your objective is to win by putting the enemy king incheckmate.”
“What if you want to win a different way? For example, maybe the person you’replaying against is just too good, but you really need to win. Then you mightgo for a strategy that isn’t as effective, but is really really annoying,until they get flustered and start making lots of mistakes. Or you might playreally defensively, so that they despair of getting through your defencesbefore it’s time for them to go home, and try to rush their strategy - andagain, make lots of mistakes. Or maybe you want to let them win so they thinkthey’re smarter than you, and then you can completely slaughter them during amore important game later, like in a championship. You see where I’m goingwith this?”
Hinata nodded slowly. “You’re saying that… there are lots of different thingsyou can do to get what you want, but first you have to let go of the idea thatthere’s only one way to win.”
Naruto beamed. “Exactly.”
“So… let’s play?” Hinata asked hesitantly, as if she expected him to suddenlysay “no” and pack the whole thing in.
“Again! This time, your objective is to take as many pieces as possible.”
“Again! This time, your objective is to make the game last for as many movesas possible.”
“Again! This time, your objective is to surprise me.”
“Again! Wait, what time is it? Aaargh!”
“Eek, my father is going to kill me! Bye, Naruto!”
That night, Naruto stayed up late making notes. You can learn a lot about aperson by watching them play a game you’re very familiar with, and he wasstarting to get some more ideas for further training, from games to mentalexercises and reading recommendations. Hinata was putting a great deal oftrust in him by doing something like this, and he had no intention of lettingher down. Plus, the whole thing seemed like a lot of fun, and he badly neededsomething to take his mind off the tedium of D-rank missions.
The possibility of gaining an equal through the process never once occurred tohim. It was impossible. And unreasonable. And way too much pressure to put onsomeone like Hinata. And ran counter to everything he believed about humannature. And anyway, even if genius could be taught, that in no way meant thathe, Uzumaki Naruto, had the skill and know-how necessary to teach it. No, thewhole idea was preposterous and had never even crossed his mind.
Naruto was in the middle of drawing a huge sprawling decision-making flowchartwith at least five different colours of crayon when he finally fell asleep.
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