His body was awake and alert the moment the alarm began to blare. Blue eyes snapped to attention and regarded his room with earnest. The ceiling was still off white, the wallpaper was peeling off in the appropriate places, and the sun filtered in through the too thin blinds. This was home.
Naruto sat up blearily, idly turning off his alarm. Bloody annoyance. The blond shook his head quickly, shaking out the cobwebs of sleep that had been overridden by his momentary alertness. If there was no immediate threat or interesting action being performed, the body reverted back to what it always was in the morning. Being tired.
Naruto hated mornings.
He slipped his slippers on as he rose. A pot of water for tea was boiling before he made his way to the bathroom to complete his daily morning routine. One leak and a cup of tea later, his blue eyes had their usual intensity back. They would remain so for the next sixteen hours at the least.
It was seven minutes past seven when Naruto finished his tea. Just enough time to properly dress and make his way to the Academy.
He pulled on a pair of black pants with a forest green short sleeve top over them. Black shinobi sandals completed his ensemble, along with carefully wrapped bandages along his lower claves and forearms. His ankle weights were carefully concealed beneath his pant legs. His weapon's pouches were strapped in their appropriate places.
The lights were off and his major appliances had been unplugged as he left his studio apartment. The landlord didn't need any real excuse to charge him more for electricity. A minor application of chakra masked his appearance as he exited his apartment building, and he began to weave his way through the busy morning traffic of Konoha.
The brown haired youth gently pushed his way into one of the many stalls that lined Konoha's streets. It was one of his favorite breakfast haunts. Uzumaki Naruto wasn't allowed. The brown haired, brown eyed Koemi Lee had no such problems.
He munched on a breakfast roll happily as he bobbed and wove through the thick crowds. A smile crossed his un-whiskered face as he enjoyed the feeling of having no eyes on him. Well, save for the ANBU on the rooftops. It was one of his guilty pleasures. There was much happiness to be had simply from not being noticed or glared at by the general populace. It was too bad it didn't last after he removed his minor Henge.
His arrival at Konoha's Ninja Academy coincided with his finishing of his breakfast roll. He carefully cleaned his hands with a napkin and water from the fountain near the Academy's entrance. Ruffling his hair as he approached the classroom, a smirk threatened to split his face.
He pushed the door to the room open to be met with the raised voices of the twenty or so students who were already there. All of them seemed to be trying to talk over each other, though he noticed a few nervous souls doing some last minute studying in the corner.
It was graduation, and Uzumaki Naruto was about to arrive. Believe it.
"It's me, bitches!" he announced as he swaggered in. Kiba snorted up top. Chouji snickered around his mouthful of chips. Shikamaru simply laid his head on the desk. He was probably already asleep. Taxing activities like expressions were far too troublesome for the Nara.
"A little confident, eh Naruto?" Chouji asked good naturedly.
"With good reason, mate," Naruto said as he strode up the wooden steps to his seat. He tossed a quick wink to a few tittering girls at the front. His already large smirk became absolutely devilish as they blushed. Take that Sasuke!
"Bah! Cocky, that's what you are," Kiba barked from his position. "You know full well that Akamaru and me could take you any day."
"Don't be so sure about that, doggy boy. You'd prolly be a handicap for Akamaru over there." At Kiba's growl, Naruto held up a hand. "Don't even bother! We all know who wears the pants in your relationship. Ain't that right Akamaru?" The small dog yipped happily in response.
Chouji laughed as Kiba grumbled about traitorous partners. Even Shikamaru managed a snort. Now that was something of note. Naruto expected the lazy boy to be fast asleep by now. He certainly had no problems with doing so in the past. He and Chouji often talked about how they thought the boy could likely sleep standing up. If it wasn't too troublesome, of course.
"Chips, Naruto?" Chouji asked. The blond declined politely. "Nervous? Eating can take your mind off the test, you know?"
"Nah, mate." Naruto shook his head. The confident smirk had faded; it was replaced by a serious look that seemed out of place on the usually smiling visage. "I figure I got to number two already. That counts for something."
Chouki just shrugged, so Kiba picked up the slack, having finished licking his proverbial wounds. "You sure 'bout that? My sister graduated a few years back. She was downright bitchy in the lead up. Said it was the hardest thing she ever studied for."
Naruto copied Chouji in his manner of expression. "Maybe. It's a three part-er. Written, ninjutsu, and taijutsu. I've had the ninjutsu down for a couple of years now, and my taijutsu had been top for almost the same." He wasn't bragging, simply stating facts. "That's two out of three right there, and my written tests have gotten better. I figure that I've got this, even if I don't finish top."
His own speech seemed to have eased some of the tension among the small group. His casual recounting of his own skills had reminded his contemporaries that they were similarly qualified, if not quite as good. A merry band of misfits they may be, but they weren't incompetent. At least not entirely.
The momentary reverie was broken by the sound of squealing. Naruto winced appropriately as the overly loud voices of Haruno Sakura and Yamanaka Ino reached his ears.
"I'm gonna sit next to him!"
"No, I am, Ino-pig!"
"Fat chance, forehead-girl!"
Cute girls they may be, but it was far too early for their pointless squabbles over the widely coveted seat next to Uchiha Sasuke. Naruto winced in sympathy for the raven haired boy. He, along with the rest of the male population, was more than a little jealous of the good looking Uchiha. That didn't mean he wanted to have the "twin harpies" crowing over him twenty four seven.
The two were rapidly approaching their object of affection, and the boy in question looked none too happy. Naruto decided to take pity on his friend for the moment, and perhaps the girls given the look the boy had on his face, as a brilliant idea struck him.
Catching Sasuke's eye, he made four hand seals. The boy simply rolled his eyes in irritation. Naruto took that as his cue.
Speeding through the seals, Naruto executed a textbook Kawarimi no Jutsu with Sasuke, just as Yamanaka Ino claimed the coveted seat. "Ha! Take that, Forehead! True love prevails, isn't that right Sasuke-kun?"
Naruto struggled to keep a straight face as the blond girl's triumphant look turned to confusion as she spied Naruto's raised eyebrow. Her head turned around rather comically as she searched for the boy she thought she was sitting next to.
She found him.
He looked just as he always did, perfectly unruffled from the impromptu Kawarimi. Naruto took that as a show of his own skill, rather than Sasuke's innate coolness. His ego need to stay inflated somehow.
The rousing laughter from Kiba and Chouji, combined with Sasuke's twitching mouth, connected the dots in the minds of the two kunoichi. Ino opened her mouth to lambaste Naruto, but was cut off by the entrance of Naruto's two least favorite people.
"Everyone sit down and shut up!" Umino Iruka yelled. Ino had no choice but to sit in the vacant seat next to Naruto, while Sakura took a seat next to a quivering Hyuuga Hinata. "This is the graduation exam. Take it seriously," were the words of wisdom from the scarred Academy teacher. His silver haired assistant Touji Mizuki silently passed out the written portion of the exam.
Naruto ignored the scowl that crossed the man's face as he received his test. The animosity between himself and the Academy instructors hadn't waned in the last years of Naruto's Academy stint. Iruka had seemed to warm to him for a time, but Naruto had remained wary of the man. If he had befriended every person who was suddenly "nice" to him, he wouldn't be here now. The somewhat halfhearted attempts at friendship with the scarred man had all but disappeared.
"You have one hour. Begin." The scarred instructor's voice barely penetrated Naruto's thoughts. He opened his test and silently regarded the forty five questions. He sighed. I hate tests.
Question 1. The following two hundred fifty six character message needs to be decoded. Determine the cipher necessary and explain its concept.
Naruto's mind filtered through the various ciphers he knew of before deciding on one. It was correct. He had gone with the most basic one he knew. It was one of the three that were taught at the Academy. The fact that he had memorized over ten more on his own time spoke of his dedication to the shinobi lifestyle.
Question 2. The position of shinobi marked A in relation to the position of shinobi marked B is defined by the following equation. Derive the velocity and acceleration functions from the position function as related to time.
Fucking math! He hated math. It was tedious, boring, and nearly useless in the practical sense. When would he ever have to derive equations in the field? Never, that's when. Thankfully, he had a little shortcut, courtesy of the Archive. N times A times t to the n-1, bitches! Who needs math?
Question 3. Given the derived equations, calculate the instantaneous velocity and acceleration at time equals 2.7 seconds, of a thrown shuriken from shinobi A to shinobi B.
A simple plug and chug problem. They were easy as long as you had the equations right. Living on easy street, he thought with a grin.
Question 4. Given the height of shinobi A and the distance between him and shinobi B, draw the appropriate parabola describing the projectile motion of a thrown shuriken from shinobi A to shinobi B. Calculate the angle of depression and the angle of elevation.
Shit…He couldn't do this one. He vaguely remembered Iruka's lectures on projectile motion, but only vaguely. Mizuki must have been the one to finish up that particular lesson. There was a reason he was the assistant.
Question 5. Describe the effect Konoha-Kusa relations had on the outbreak of the Third Secret War. Utilize the space below and summarize in less than two hundred words.
Ah, history. It was boring as hell, but pretty easy. All it was was memorizing dates and names. It had no real importance in the field though. Naruto supposed that it might be important to know if one was in the administrative service. It was important to learn from history. At least that was what the proverb said.
And the questions continued on in that vein. By the end of the hour, Naruto had answered all but eight of the questions on the test. The more practical questions were fairly easy for the blond, while the math and written physics were the opposite. History was somewhere in the middle.
He exchanged nods with a bored looking Sasuke and even more bored looking Shikamaru as the tests were collected. The taijutsu portion of the exam was next, and he was eager to see how much Sasuke would reveal. They were both better than they let show in class. There was simply no need to show off more than they already did.
"What'd you think," he asked the group of Shikamaru, Chouji, and Kiba. Sasuke was slightly ahead of them and unlikely to participate in the conversation. He was Naruto's friend, not everyone else's.
"Not too bad,", "Troublesome,", and "Piece of cake!" were the answers that greeted Naruto. It was all he really expected from his Academy friends. None of them excelled at written tests, and, as such, didn't hold them in much regard. Save for Shikamaru, whose mind was likely on what he would do after the exam, they all were focused on the coming taijutsu portion of the exam.
"All the graduates will fight me in a one on one spar until I or Iruka deem that we have seen enough. You guys know the drill." The silver haired man's boredom was evident in his voice. He attempted to smile to lighten some of the tension hovering over the group, but it came out as a grimace.
"Don't hold back and good luck."
"Don't hold back and good luck," Mizuki stated for what must have been the thirtieth time since the spars had begun. It had begun to wear on Naruto. That and the general level of incompetency he saw clearly in his fellow students. He could only imagine how Iruka and Mizuki felt, having taught the bunch.
His clique had done well, though. That was a good thing at least. Kiba had been downright vicious.
The blond watched dispassionately as Sasuke danced around Mizuki's strikes. His fan club was cheering him from the sidelines. Not for the first time did Naruto envy the prodigy's inherent grace. No matter how much he worked or trained, he knew that Sasuke would always look better than him when fighting hand to hand. Grace couldn't be taught.
His eyes didn't change as he watched Sasuke take the upper hand with a well placed thrust kick that had Mizuki stumbling. Iruka could have called the match right there, Mizuki was finished, but he allowed Sasuke to show off his skills.
He snorted when Sasuke planted his knee in the man's gut to end the match. Mizuki looked none too happy with his partner.
Naruto exchanged nods with the genius as he made his way to the ring. Sasuke hadn't shown much more than he ever did in the Academy spars. Naruto would do the same. It wasn't that he had anything to hide, really, but going all out wasn't really necessary. Iruka and Mizuki were total scrubs when it came to taijutsu as far as he knew. It made him wonder why they were teaching.
"Don't hold back and good luck." The platitude couldn't have been less sincere if Naruto had been the Raikage.
Naruto hopped forward immediately, launching a hard roundhouse kick at Mizuki's head. It was blocked, though Naruto got satisfaction from the man's wince. The added weight around his ankles hadn't helped matters.
Grunting, he shifted his weight while mid-air, bringing his other leg around for a dropping heel. Mizuki dove under the leg and rolled to safety. Naruto landed gracefully and bounced on his toes in anticipation.
Mizuki didn't disappoint. Naruto calmly redirected a palm strike to his throat and ducked inside the man's guard and swung a punch.
It connected solidly, but Mizuki rolled with the blow and Naruto added another bruise to his collection from a kick to his right arm. It was all good though. Mizuki didn't hit nearly as hard as Lee.
Naruto leaped over a wide sweeping kick and coiled his body into a controlled haymaker. Coil and uncoil. Let the body's weight and flexibility be your power. The haymaker hit home with a thump and Naruto followed up with a quick sweep of the man's legs. He caught the defensive kick aimed at his chin and used the momentum to turn the catch into a throw.
Mizuki landed heavily in the dust, but regained his bearings quickly. Naruto scowled as he fought the instinct to follow up with a Konoha Senpuu that would have laid the instructor out. It wasn't necessary for this fight, he told himself. The blond wondered why the match hadn't been called yet. Surely he had made a good show so far.
A quick glance to Iruka showed a calculating look in the man's eyes. Naruto smirked a little. He was obviously letting this play out like he had with the previous match. It was probably to see how much Naruto actually knew.
The thought was broken up as he took a punch to the face. He cursed his inattention. Sasuke wouldn't have done that.
Mizuki came in low with a stomach level punch. Naruto worked in some Tai Chi. Transferring body weight, the blond redirected all of Mizuki's momentum away from him. The man was stumbling as inertia took over.
The instructor didn't know what hit him as Naruto capitalized on his opportunity and buried his foot in his back. The boy took more than a little satisfaction in forcing his teacher to eat dirt.
"Match!" Iruka called. The man looked genuinely impressed. It was one thing to knock your classmates around in the spars. It was something else to do it to your instructor. Even so, Mizuki likely wasn't going all out. Naruto did his best to remain humble in the face of overwhelming victory.
It was easier said than done as a smirk threatened to split his face.
"Yamanaka Ino," was called as Naruto exited the ring to polite clapping from the rest of the class. Sasuke was smirking. Kiba was howling. Chouji looked happy. Shikamaru looked bored.
"How 'bout that, Sasu-chan?" he asked with a teasing smirk.
"Hmph. Not bad, dobe, but you took a few too many shots to the head. I'd worry about your intelligence if you weren't already so stupid."
Naruto just laughed. "Whatever, bastard. I beat your time all the same."
The boy in question turned his head. "I still looked better doing it, idiot."
The rest of the group watched the banter with varying degrees of amusement. It was well known that Naruto was pretty much the only one that Sasuke got along with, and that their verbal spars had no real heat behind them. The barb tossing simply served as amusement for the rest of them.
The group chatted back and forth as Ino finished her match with Mizuki. Naruto smirked as he annoyed the blond girl by cheering for her obnoxiously. She scowled at him venomously, looking at him like he was something to be wiped off her sandal. It was fun to rile her up.
Naruto calmly accepted a bag of chips from Chouji as the group of hopefuls was lead back into the Academy. All that remained was the ninjutsu test. Naruto wasn't worried.
They were immediately told to sit down and prepare for the final third of the exam. Apparently the examiners wanted to get this over with. This was the normal time to break for lunch. Chouji was distraught.
"Troublesome…listen, Chouji. Your name's at the top of the call sheet. Get it done quick and get out of here for some food," Shikamaru suggested to his friend.
Naruto watched with amusement as the large boy's eyes lit with renewed determination. Chouji was too easy to manipulate. The shadow user was particularly adept at it. The two had known each other since birth, nearly, and Shikamaru knew Chouji nearly as well as he knew himself.
Naruto tapped his fingers against the wooden desk as he waited to be called. The ninjutsu test was the most important of the three, and Naruto was eager to get it over with. He was far from nervous. He had mastered each of the three Academy jutsu a few years back. All that he cared about at this point were class placements.
That and getting the fuck out of the Academy. He was sick of the entire establishment.
Satisfaction welled up inside him every time he remembered his time at the Academy. His chunin oppressors had tried their level best to discourage his learning for years.
They had failed.
Everything short of outright sabotage had been tried, including not answering his questions and sending him outside for "disrupting the class". It didn't matter. They kicked him out, he learned on his own. They eventually stopped trying. It wasn't worth the effort apparently, especially as he managed to take the two spot in the rankings over two years ago.
It had been a long, hard, and tedious five years, but he had made it…
"Uzumaki Naruto!" Iruka called.
…and now he was just a few hand seals away from victory.
"Let's get his over with. Transform into a copy of a person of your choosing," the scarred instructor commanded.
Naruto made three hand seals. He was replaced with the neutral visage and form of the Sandaime Hokage. Iruka marched around him for a few moments to inspect the image. His technique was perfect. It had been since he had mastered it all those years ago.
"Very good, Naruto. Replace yourself with that chair to your left, if you will?" The man gestured to the aforementioned object.
Naruto sped through the five hand seals with little effort. A chair stood in his place not a second later. Iruka looked impressed. There hadn't been any smoke or noise to accompany the technique. He had passed it off as a fluke when it had happened with the Henge, but it appeared that Naruto had mastered the Academy jutsu to a higher level than his classmates.
Iruka nodded at Naruto's raised eyebrow. "And the Bunshin no Jutsu. Produce three."
Naruto made five seals and carefully regulated his chakra. Three perfect clones shimmered to life next to him, and Naruto couldn't contain his elation.
The clone technique had been his worst by far. That had lasted until he had stumbled upon the mysterious and frustrating concept of chakra control. Two months, three trees, and an endless amount of leaves later, Naruto had mastered the Bunshin.
Iruka couldn't help his smile at the boy's enthusiasm. "Congratulations, Naruto, you are now an official shinobi of Konohagakure no Sato. Take your headband to the right and check by the administration office for your required paperwork. May you burn with the Will of Fire."
"Well, Naruto, I suppose things do turn out well in the end sometimes. Would you agree?"
The blond nodded. His electric blue eyes sparkled in the lantern lit atmosphere of Ichiraku Ramen. "Sometimes, old man, sometimes…" he trailed off with a smile. He could scarcely remember being so giddy. Surpassing all expectations of you had a way of doing that.
"Well, I'd offer you a free bowl, but I'm afraid that business hasn't quite been as good since I lost my best customer." The old man had a slight smile on his face as he said it. Naruto didn't believe the kind old man for a second.
"Please, old man, you know full well that you've been doing just fine. Ayame-chan said you might be planning an expansion," Naruto said with a smirk.
"Bah! Ayame, what have I told you about letting slip confidential information?" the man called back to the kitchen area. The smile never left his face.
"It's Naruto, dad! Besides, you weren't going to keep it secret for long," the voice of Ichiraku Ayame floated upon the ramen scented air from the kitchen. It held a teasing lilt to it.
"Hmph, I sense a conspiracy here."
Naruto laughed along with the small family. It was amazing how two people and a steaming bowl of ramen could make him feel right at home. He couldn't imagine another place he would rather be to celebrate his graduation.
"Ah don't worry about it, old man. I won't tell no one." He slurped his ramen happily. "'Sides, weren't you the one who told me that I needed a more balanced diet."
"If I had known that I'd all but lose my best customer, I would have lived with you being a shrimp."
Naruto snorted. The kind old man and his daughter had been his first friends in the village. It was quite the experience for young Naruto, to know that someone actually cared about his wellbeing outside of the very basics. The old man had all but insisted that he move to a more balanced diet when he entered the Ninja Academy. "Ramen's a great food, best in the world, but a growing boy needs some things that ramen just doesn't have," he had said.
Regardless, Naruto still made a point to stop by and order a bowl or three once a week.
He would have happily lived on ramen alone if it meant keeping the atmosphere and attitude that the Ichiraku's provided. It was too bad that his sense of survival all but demanded his compliance with the old man's order for a more rounded diet. He wouldn't survive long if he was malnourished.
"It's good to know that my well being is at the front of your mind, Teuchi-san. So, what's this expansion you're planning?" Naruto asked. He was genuinely curious.
Ichiraku Teuchi took a seat next to the blond. "Well, you probably don't know, but a few of my friends in the business have fallen on some hard times lately. They had to close down their stalls recently, and I came up with the idea of a joint business venture."
"While it would still be under my name, the three of us would co-own the shop/restaurant, and it would cater to all three meals of the day. A roll shop for breakfast, ramen for lunch, and grilled meats for dinner. It's the full package!" The man was very excited at the idea of finally developing his stall into a full time restaurant.
Naruto was happy for the man. It was tough for the two Ichiraku's to support themselves with a simple ramen stand. A full blown restaurant would likely triple their income.
"Sounds like a good idea to me, old man. When do you start remodeling?"
"In about a month. I've filled out the paperwork for the lease on the building across the way, and we'll begin setting up shop once it's been filed," he proclaimed.
"Well, good luck to you!" Naruto was happy for the two people who he considered family, but he was also sad to lose the homey stand that had served as his hang-out and thinking place for the entirety of his childhood.
The bell to the stall rang. Teuchi was behind the counter before Naruto even noticed he had left his spot. "Welcome to Ichiraku Ramen! How may I help you?"
"One bowl of pork ramen. Medium please," a familiar voice ordered.
"Coming right up, Iruka-san."
Naruto's eyes snapped to meet the brown orbs of his sensei. Former sensei, he reminded himself. "Iruka-sensei?" He kept the honorific as it sounded weird to address him casually.
"Naruto, I thought I might find you here." The scarred man addressed his former pupil casually. Naruto caught an undertone of hesitation in the man's voice. The chunin sighed before a small smile blossomed. "I want to congratulate you again on passing the exam. You did much better than many had expected. Myself included."
Naruto thanked the man. "And don't worry, the paperwork will be filled out by end of day tomorrow. But I think that simple congrats wouldn't warrant a visit like this." Naruto was immediately suspicious of the man when he had first entered the stand.
Iruka was silent for a few moments as he slurped his ramen. "You're right, of course. A simple congratulations wouldn't require me to seek you out." He sighed, looking somewhat lost. Naruto wondered what could cause this side of his sensei to show itself. "I wanted to apologize."
That stopped Naruto in his tracks.
So shocked he was, that he didn't even bother to respond to the unexpected proclamation. Iruka picked up where he left off.
"I know that I treated you like crap when you first came to the Academy. Hell, I didn't treat you much better afterwards, but I suppose I saw you as a bit of a younger version of myself." Here the chunin smiled lightly. "I was quite the little troublemaker myself, you know."
Through the haze of confusion the unexpected apology brought on, the last sentence penetrated Naruto's consciousness. "No way!"
He could hardly believe that Iruka, the stickler for the rules, had been anything but a model student when he was younger.
"Believe it," the man stated, imitating one of Naruto's favorite lines. "Anyway, I suppose that led me to being harder on you than the others. It doesn't make up for my behavior, but I hope that this will help make up some ground between us. I like to keep a good relationship with all my students, and I would be remiss if there was bad blood between us."
Naruto was stunned. Of all the things he had expected of his former teacher, an apology certainly wasn't one of them. While he held no love for one of his former oppressors, he didn't hate him either. He had overcome any and all efforts the man had made to hinder him. The Academy was behind him now, and the man seemed sincerely sorry. Maybe it was time to bury the hatchet.
If not, he would just keep an eye on the man.
The blond smiled. "Apology accepted."
The man seemed surprised. "That's it?" he asked.
Naruto shrugged in response. "The Academy's behind me now. Everything that happened there is water under the bridge, I guess."
A genuine smile lit up the scarred man's face. "That's good to hear, Naruto."
"Heh. Anyway, I'll prolly be running missions with you in a few months. No sense in not being able to work with a future teammate." The blond smirked widely.
Iruka guffawed into his bowl of noodles. "Humility isn't one of your strong points is it? What makes you so sure you'll be a chunin in a few months?"
"I thought that was obvious, Iruka-sensei. I'm awesome like that!"
The chunin held back from cuffing the boy over the head. "You'd do well to curb that ego of yours. You might be good for a genin, but you've got a ways to go before you're chunin material."
"Bah! You know I'm awesome, Iruka-sensei. I totally destroyed Mizuki-sensei today!"
Iruka snickered at the boy's enthusiasm. He had indeed witnessed the rout, and had been more than a little impressed with the boy's skill. Still, "Naruto, Mizuki was holding back against all of you. I'm sure that your match would have gone quite differently if he had been really trying."
If only you knew, Naruto thought. "Hmph, maybe." The boy shrugged childishly.
"Maybe nothing! Mizuki is a battle tested chunin with experience that you just don't have. As am I," he added as more of an afterthought.
Naruto accepted the point. He already knew that he was far from strong enough to achieve his goal. Some sound advice from a senior officer wasn't unwelcome.
"Yeah, I hear you," Naruto conceded. "I still kicked his ass today."
Iruka snorted. "You made a good showing, as did your sparring partner."
Naruto raised an eyebrow. How did Iruka know that he and Sasuke trained together?
At his questioning look, the man elaborated. "Please, Naruto, did you think that the top two rookies training together wouldn't gather any notice? Give people some credit."
"Huh. Guess we underestimated you guys." Naruto was surprised that the chunin had found out about his training schedule. He and Sasuke, while not being overtly secretive about their training, had kept it fairly close to the vest.
"Take a lesson from it," Iruka commanded. "Always overestimate people. It doesn't matter if they're your enemies or friends." Naruto nodded once, crisply, at the advice.
Any response the boy might have had was cut off by the appearance of another chunin. He looked haggard and more than a little ruffled to Naruto. "Iruka-san, the Hokage has ordered all active duty chunin to report to him immediately!"
"Calm down Komugi!" Iruka ordered. "What happened?"
"The Forbidden Scroll of Seals has been stolen!" the man replied. He looked to be on the verge of hyperventilating.
"Who's the suspect?" Naruto asked from his position.
The man didn't even glance at him as he answered, "Uzumaki Naruto was spotted leaving the Administration Building ten minutes ago."
Naruto and Iruka exchanged a look. "Um…I'm Uzumaki Naruto. I've been here for over half an hour," Naruto said uncertainly. His mind was trying to wrap itself around the prospect of someone stealing something while disguised as him of all people.
The man, Komugi, finally noticed Naruto's presence. He drew a kunai.
"Stand down, Komugi!" Iruka bellowed. "I can personally vouch for Naruto's innocence here. He's been with me for the last twenty minutes."
Naruto barely withheld a sneer of disgust as the chunin obeyed Iruka without a second thought. The man was clearly not thinking straight. Only an idiot would immediately move to attack a person who couldn't be where they were, by the man's own testimony. That kind of split second decision making got people killed on missions. How did this guy become a chunin anyway?
"We have to report to the Hokage immediately. He needs to know that Naruto's innocent."
Naruto nodded curtly. "My apartment is on the way. I'll drop in to get some supplies first."
Iruka looked torn for a moment, but accepted the course of action. Someone had tried to frame Naruto for high treason. It was reasonable for the boy to be prepared for any eventuality in this instance.
"Make it fast."
The blond slipped a hidden kunai into his hand as he crept up the stairs to his apartment, Iruka and Kogmugi behind him. He needn't have been so discreet. The person who had snuck into his apartment certainly hadn't been. Naruto cursed sulfurously as he studied the open door.
He pushed the open door inward and walked calmly to his bed. The intruder hadn't made a mess of things, but it was obvious that whoever it was had expected Naruto would be at his apartment. They had likely gone there to kill him before impersonating him.
Thankfully, he hadn't been there. He knew he was strong for a genin, but whoever this was had been a professional. The only true evidence of their visit was the open door, a sloppy mistake likely made in frustration. They had managed to sneak into the Administrative Building and steal a highly guarded artifact. Naruto didn't favor his chances had the person been able to surprise him.
He dropped to a knee beside his bed, and pulled up floorboard that had been securely fastened. He quickly strapped his weapons pouches to his legs and hips. His shiny new hitai-ate was tied securely around his forehead.
"Let's go. The Hokage needs to know the full scope of the situation." Iruka was the leader of their makeshift group.
The three sped across the rooftops of Konoha at speeds hard to follow. If Iruka was surprised that Naruto could keep pace so easily, he didn't show it. Komugi did though.
The time passed in a blur for Naruto. He had survived one assassination attempt on his person when he was younger. He had been saved from another one by sheer luck.
He couldn't help but feel shaken at the notion as the group came to a halt on the roof of the Administration Building. The Sandaime was waiting for them.
"Hokage-sama!" Iruka burst out. The aged legend took in their forms. His eyes held a calculating gleam as they surveyed Naruto.
"Save your words, Iruka. I believe that I have some idea of the situation we are in," the Hokage said. His gravelly voice was neutral. Naruto couldn't be sure, but he thought the old man looked relieved to see him where he was. "I take it you can vouch for Naruto's innocence?"
"Yes, Hokage-sama. Naruto and I were eating at Ichiraku Ramen when the crime occurred. It couldn't have been him. The Ichirakus can verify that."
The old man nodded his acceptance. "Very well, though that means that our situation is even direr. I scrambled the available chunin under the notion that they would be tracking a new genin. We now have to assume that a much more capable shinobi has penetrated our defenses."
"Hokage-sama," Naruto interjected. "The infiltrator broke in to my apartment while I was at Ichiraku's. It was likely an attempt to dispose of me before the crime was committed."
The old eyes seemed to stare through him. Naruto fidgeted nervously before the legend. It had been a while since he had spoken with the Sandaime, and the circumstances were far from cheerful.
"That is probable. Was there any hard evidence of the break in?"
"The door was ajar when we entered," Naruto answered with some confusion. Of course there was evidence, why else would they be reporting it?
The information gave the Hokage pause for a few moments. When he spoke, his words were certain, though mostly to himself. "Then we are dealing with a home grown threat. No foreign infiltrator would have been so sloppy in their execution, especially if the attack failed to produce results. Nor would they have cause to target young Naruto specifically…"
Naruto was confused. He knew that many in the village didn't like him, for reasons unknown, but why would anyone have cause to target and frame him specifically? It didn't make sense.
The Hokage made five hand seals. Unbeknownst to the group, the tattoos of all active ANBU members had just begun to burn. It signaled them to report to headquarters immediately.
"Hiro, Iroh," the Hokage addressed two hidden ANBU by name. "Repot to headquarters and brief the captain of Alpha Platoon on the situation. We have a home grown traitor who is currently in possession of the Forbidden Scroll of Seals."
"Yes, Hokage-sama!" The two ANBU sped off, all but invisible to Naruto's eyes.
"Iruka, Komugi, report to the Yamanaka Clan compound. Wake Yamanaka Inoichi and brief him on the situation. The First Fireblade has the authority to recall active shinobi. All chunin currently on duty are to be recalled. ANBU will handle the infiltrator."
"Yes, Hokage-sama!" The chunin made haste toward the sprawling clan compound, Iruka with a glance back at Naruto.
Naruto fidgeted nervously in front of the Sandaime. The old man seemed oblivious to the boy's discomfort. He merely stared at the Hokage monument before him in pensive silence. Naruto said nothing.
After what seemed to be an eternity of waiting, the Sandaime sighed. His whole body seemed to shrink as he let out the breath. "Walk with me, Naruto. I feel that you are safest in my presence tonight, and I would like to have a cup of tea in my office. It does wonders for an old man's nerves."
Naruto was silent as he followed in Sarutobi's wake. The man walked briskly through the corridors of the Administration Building, and Naruto was hard pressed to keep up. Eventually, the Sandaime led him to the large, circular office where he spent the majority of his days. He was surprised to see a steaming pot of tea waiting for them when they arrived.
"Protection of the Hokage involves more than just standing outside my office all day Naruto," Sarutobi addressed the boy as he poured the tea into two waiting mugs. "The job requires both combat prowess and some level of domestication." He smiled wryly at the disbelieving expression on the boy's face. "Oh yes."
Naruto burst out laughing. The image of the Hokage's elite guards making his tea was just too funny an image.
"Indeed, many of the newer recruits are quite surprised when their senior officers send them on errands for me. I believe the senior members consider it some form of hazing." The Hokage kept his smile all the while, sipping his tea absently.
It was difficult for Naruto to reconcile the image of this grandfatherly figure with the information he knew of the man. It had been that way ever since the blond had read of his exploits in the First and Second Shinobi Wars. The idea that this man – currently laughing with him – was known as the Shinobi no Kami was hard to wrap one's mind around.
"It's quite the image, old man." Naruto accidentally referred to the man as he used to and was about to apologize, but he Sandaime just chuckled good naturedly.
"Yes it is, Naruto-kun. Now, I'm sure you're wondering what this is all about." The abrupt change of topic threw Naruto for a second.
"Yes, Hokage-sama, I am." He recognized the change in tone, and reverted to a more formal approach.
"Walk with me then." Once more, Naruto followed the sweeping white robes of the Professor through the Administration Building. They came to a halt outside a locked door with an inscribed pattern on the aged wood. Sarutobi made a few seals before his fingers lit up in a specific pattern.
Naruto watched, entranced by the visible chakra, as the Hokage pushed his fingertips to the pattern on the door. The pattern, now identified as a seal of some sort, lit up in a blinding flash of blue. The doors swung open obediently, revealing numerous shelves almost twice the size of Naruto.
"This, Naruto, is the Hokage's library." Naruto's eyes lit up at the prospect of being in the super secret library that was reserved for the Hokage's only. Maybe I could swipe something, he thought excitedly. There was no telling what kind of techniques were in here.
"Now, before you entertain notions of taking some jutsu scrolls, know that the seal on the door acts as more than a lock." The stern look on Sarutobi's face removed any thought of stealing a technique that Naruto had but a moment before.
The old man hadn't said what would happen if Naruto had tried to leave with a scroll, but then he didn't have to.
"Every Hokage since the Shodai has contributed to this vast library, I more than any other." He wasn't called the professor for nothing it seemed. Naruto lost sight of the man as he disappeared behind a vast shelf. "One can find anything from personal ninjutsu, to notes on the wars of the time… to the Forbidden Scroll of Seals," he finished while retrieving a large scroll from the back of the room.
Naruto's eyes widened in disbelief as he saw the supposedly stolen scroll. "But… I thought…how?" he sputtered.
The wry smile returned. "You didn't really think that I left priceless information just lying around? I'm afraid that the scroll the thief has is but a decoy."
"Then why the ANBU?" Naruto asked.
"Attempting to steal this scroll is still high treason, Naruto-kun, regardless of the result. That, and the decoy has some formidable defenses of its own. It would take some skill to bypass them with little detection. I'd rather trust the thief to my ANBU, rather than a group of chunin, half of which are still half asleep." The Hokage's argument was sound and logical.
"Why am I here, Hokage-sama?" he finally blurted out. He had nothing else to say. Aside from the protection issue, which was nicely resolved due to the old man's presence, he had no reason to be staring at the real Forbidden Scroll.
The Hokage sighed heavily. "That, Naruto-kun, is what I'm getting to." He unfurled the large scroll. Naruto's sharp eyes briefly viewed a few of the earlier techniques in the scroll before Sarutobi channeled some chakra into the paper and they disappeared. They were replaced by four complex designs.
The four inscriptions, Naruto thought they might be seals of some sort, had various scribbled notes next to them. To the right of the separate designs was another, more complex one. To Naruto's untrained eyes, it looked like a combination of the first three.
"What are they?" he breathed. He crouched down to better view the scribbles. His brain was attempting to read the notes adjacent to the designs with little success. It looked like they were written in a hurry. He vaguely made out the words "demon", "chakra", and "seal".
"They are seals, Naruto-kun," Sarutobi answered from above his crouched form. "On the right is the Hakke no Fuuin Shiki. The one on the left is the Shiki Fuujin. In the middle is the Shishou they make this one." A finger entered Naruto's vision, pointing at the fourth seal.
"What do they do?" Naruto's interest was piqued. There had to be a reason for the Sandaime to show him this.
"They seal chakra in various ways. Each way is specific. The Hakke no Fuuin Shiki and the Shishou Fuuin lock away and can regulate chakra. Together they make the Eight Trigams Sealing style." He smiled thinly at Naruto's confusion. "While you don't have to know the particulars, though it might aid you in the future to learn them, just know that the Eight Trigrams Style is capable of sealing away truly massive amounts of chakra."
Naruto nodded and turned back to the indecipherable notes.
"The third seal, the Shiki Fuujin, summons the Death God." Naruto's head snapped up in shock. Sarutobi nodded grimly. "Oh yes. You now understand why this scroll is so important. Such information would not be beneficial to Konoha in the hands of another village."
"In any event, the Shiki Fuujin is a contract with the Shinigami. One can tear the chakra, soul, or both, from any person or anything the user so chooses. At the price of their own soul, of course."
Naruto was in shock. He had no idea that there were techniques that were that powerful. A contract with the Shinigami of all things! He made a note to look into Fuinjutsu at some point in his life.
The details, of course, made this meeting even more confusing to the boy.
"That's awesome and all, Hokage-sama, but why are you telling me this?" It had to be important. Information like this didn't get entrusted to genin for no reason. Naruto knew he was pretty good, but this stuff was just ridiculous. He had managed to piece together from the notes that these three things could seal chakra amounts on the level of the nine Biju. Why would he need to know about something like this?
The old man took a seat across from him on the floor. "Tell me, Naruto, have you ever seen this design before?" He pointed to the final seal. Naruto shook his head. He couldn't remember ever seeing something that complex before. "Well then, I suppose it's best to start from the beginning."
The legend sighed heavily, and Naruto experienced a feeling of great foreboding.
"There once appeared a nine tailed demon fox. A wave of its tail could level a mountain, and a flex of its paw could create a tsunami. To fight the demon, the shinobi were assembled, but only one man could stand against the monster's might. That brave man sealed the demon, but at the cost of his life and soul."
Sarutobi's brown eyes bored into Naruto's horrified orbs of blue, his mind jumping to the obvious conclusion before the story was even properly under way. The boy had heard the story enough times to catch the different wording that Sarutobi used. He knew the difference between seal and kill.
"That man was the Yondaime Hokage…"
"It is important for you all to remember that the life of a shinobi is a hard one, filled with many obstacles. Cherish and hone your skills, but more importantly, cherish each other. Life is short in the field, and you would do well to remember to trust your comrades and friends as much as you do yourselves." Iruka finished his heartfelt speech with a short nod to the room at large.
"Now, before we move to the team assignments, are they any last questions for your old sensei?" he asked good naturedly to the class. Naruto wasn't quite sure how he managed to put up the façade so easily. That said, he hadn't had so much information dumped on him as Naruto had.
"Yes, Li?" Iruka asked a girl with a raised hand.
"Sensei, what happened to Mizuki-sensei? I thought he would be here for the team assignments."
Iruka fidgeted nervously for a moment before composing himself. "Mizuki was, unfortunately, involved in an incident late last night. Rest assured, he is in good health and being taken care of by some of the finest specialists that Konoha has to offer."
Naruto barely withheld a snort. That was the official story that Iruka was supposed to give. Naruto was privy to a few more details than his peers. The so called specialists Mizuki was being treated by weren't all that interested in his health.
"Now, on to the team assignments…"
Naruto tuned out his sensei as he began to announce the various teams. Last night had been both horrifying and fruitful. The knowledge that there was a massive demon sealed within his chakra system wasn't a piece of information that one readily came by.
It did explain quite a bit though.
Apparently, the information was distributed on a need to know basis. That was why Naruto hadn't known beforehand.
Naruto wondered why the whole village needed to know.
The Sandaime had said that the information was out before it could be properly contained. The apology didn't make up for the years of isolation, but at least Naruto now had a reason to cling to. It was surprisingly uplifting, knowing why a village full of people hated him, rather than just speculation.
His opinion of the village as a whole had dropped tremendously. The way they viewed him was like thinking that the bowl for the ramen and the ramen were the same thing. It was ridiculous.
He had wanted to know more, like why he was chosen, but they had been interrupted by the apprehending of the traitor Mizuki. He had been dismissed with a standing invitation to come and talk to the Hokage about the situation whenever he so chose. It was a generous offer. He would save it for later, when he had more questions.
The rest of his night had been spent upon the head of the Yondiame, his idol. It was difficult to think of the man as anything but, but his vision of the hero was clouding with anger. Why had it been him who was chosen? Surely there were others.
It wasn't like he could ask the man though. So Naruto would make do with interrogating the Sandaime once he got his head on straight. And he knew himself well enough to know that it certainly wasn't on straight now.
But right now, he had team assignments. His shinobi career still came first. The knowledge of the Kyuubi had only strengthened his resolve to get stronger. He now had a reason for why the shadowy "Akatsuki" might be after him.
It made no difference though. When they came for him, he would be ready.
"Team seven," Iruka called. "Uchiha Sasuke, Haruno Sakura, Nara Shikamaru, led by jonin Hatake Kakashi." Even in his subdued sate, Naruto spared a smirk at the twitching Sasuke and groaning Shikamaru. He didn't bother to look toward the squealing Sakura.
"Team eight: Aburame Shino, Hyuuga Hinata, Akimichi Chouji, led by jonin Yuhi Kurenai." Was Naruto seeing things, or did Iruka just blush at the name of the jonin?
"Team nine is still in circulation from last year, so, Team ten: Inuzuka Kiba, Yamanaka Ino, Uzumaki Naruto…" Iruka locked eyes with the blond boy and nodded. Naruto nodded back. "…led by jonin Sarutobi Asuma."
Naruto leaned back as he glanced at his two teammates. Kiba looked happy with the selection. Ino was scowling at a smirking Sakura. They would do. Even if they didn't, they wouldn't slow Naruto down. That was a certainty.
"You are now all shinobi of Konohagakure no Sato. I wish you luck and may you burn with the Will of Fire."
Author's Note: First off, Holy Shit that's a lot of reviews! I expected a solid response, that's my ego talking, but that blew me away. Thanks to all who reviewed, it provided some nice incentive to get this chapter out. It's been finished for a while, but I want to have some serious words written before I start posting in earnest. That, unfortunately, means that this will be the last update for a while (most likely).
Thanks for the great response and I hope you all enjoy.
A new Hurricane Suite chapter should be out soon.