I do not own Naruto and his friends. This chapter is beta-ed by Erugenel on 21st April 2006.


Chapter One: Starting Over

"Do you know why I have called you to my office Naruto?" the Hokage inquired kindly, his hands clasped tightly in front of his face. Naruto's face was hidden behind an intricately designed and exquisite fox mask, its white features clashing with three thick strokes on each side.

The Hokage frowned slightly. He could not sense anything from the child, neither excitement nor nervousness, but a flat, dull composure. It was so strange it was disconcerting. 'Is this truly Naruto, the vibrant infant I had met eight years ago? What has shaped him into such an indifferent person that he is now?' the Hokage mused, leaving his question lingering in his mind.

"No, Hokage-sama," Naruto replied imperturbably. He did not ask what he was here for, but instead, he waited silently for the elderly man in front of him to answer. He was in the midst of packing his belongings to prepare for his latest mission when he was summoned to the Hokage.

"Well, you see, Naruto-kun…" the Hokage paused for a moment, hesitant of what he was about to do. What will Naruto think of him? Will he hate him for plucking him from the ANBU forces? He had not yet considered the consequences for his actions, but nevertheless, it is something that has to be done. "I have decided to take you out of the ANBU forces…" he started but was immediately interrupted by the small blond boy in front of him.

"What?" for once, the Hokage could notice a hint of surprise in his voice, instead of his usual cool and aloof tone. "Could you please repeat that again, Hokage-sama?" At this, the old ninja sighed exasperatedly. Even when Naruto was in the presence of his close associates, he did not remove his masque of apathy and neglect the formalities.

"I have considered this for a long time, Naruto-kun. I came have made the decision that is best for you. I want you to re-enter the shinobi academy, and learn the basics of being a genin again." Before Naruto could protest, the Hokage silenced him. "Let me explain, Naruto-kun. My reason for you to re-enter the academy is that you are too far ahead of your own age group, and even though you are a prodigy ninja, I want you to mix around the children and make some friends."

"I do not need friends, Hokage-sama," the young ANBU responded, spitting out the word friends with venom in his icy voice.

"Ah…," smiled the hokage with a benevolent look in his eyes. " That, I do know, but my decision is final. You shall be admitted into the shinobi academy. Under the tutelage of Iruka-san, I trust that you will recall what you have learnt in the previous years, no? I hope that you will never bully your classmates, Naruto?" the Hokage smiled good-naturedly at the mature ninja prodigy while he could distinctively hear silent grumbles coming from under Naruto's ANBU mask. He resisted the urge to smirk.

Naruto glared at his fox mask. The slits looked back at him with its sinister hollow eyes, they seemed to be laughing at the mess he was in. He was back in his own small one-room apartment that he rented, sitting on his bed and thinking about the things that the Hokage had told him.

He did not want to return to that academy again. It was like returning to a horrible nightmare that he could not wake up from.

"Friends," Naruto tested the foreign word on his tongue. He had spent all his life concentrating on what was left for him, training and undertaking missions. Since when did he need friends? He had colleagues, of course, but they are different from friends. They only watch your back while doing missions, or even just run when you are in danger. But no, friends would risk their lives saving you, would they not?

Since his infancy, the villagers had hated him, and he had endured that. Naruto had become a genin when he was merely a child of six, rising in the ranks rapidly, becoming a chuunin when he was eight, a jounin when he was ten and now, an ANBU. Treated like dirt, he had struggled through the years for his survival. He was never treated with any respect, as he was just a child. No one had realized his hatred for the village under that unruffled façade, the pain he had hidden for so long and the anger at the villagers for treating him ill when he had done nothing wrong, done nothing to offend them.

Naruto glanced at the neat stacks of instant ramen in the cupboard. He most probably had to put up with those damned things. Sure, they are tasty and easy to prepare, but he mainly ate them due to their cheapness and convenience. Hell, when was the last time he had tasted the mortal delicacies of this Earth while he was still in this foul village? He did not like the idea of being thrown out of restaurants at all.

Pouring boiled water into the cup of ramen, he stirred the half-cooked noodles subconsciously, staring into space. He remembered when he was just five years old, the Hokage had seen much potential in him, training Naruto personally and promoting him to a genin. What he wanted most was simply respect. He had banked on his childish dream of 'becoming a hokage' as the key to earning that respect, but that was long ago. He had long since abandoned that dream. The more he had tried to believe in himself in being able to achieve his 'dream', the more people gave him looks of distaste.

But he still had not given up on living, even though he could see nothing in front of him but a bleak future. What use was it to persevere through life when there really was not point at all? He had considered suicide as an option, before a realization struck him. If he gave up now, the villagers will then have the opportunity to gloat over him being so weak.

Over my dead body, he thought bitterly. Picking up a pair of chopsticks, he started eating the ramen with a vicious energy.

"Now, now, class, settle down. I would like to introduce to you a new student who will be joining us in the academy, Uzumaki Naruto," a man with a scar on the bridge of his nose wrinkled in revulsion. When the Hokage had said 'a new student', he had not expected it to be the child prodigy demon vessel. Of course, he did not have anything against that poor child who contained the beast, but Iruka just could not forget about his parents who had been slaughtered by the nine-tails.

Looking at the unresponsive look on Naruto's face, he wondered if the child knew the truth about the almighty demon.

"Hello," Naruto muttered, his greeting almost inaudible. He wore a red t-shirt with a black windbreaker over it, and simple black jeans. His rather long locks of blond hair lay messily on his head and his gorgeous sapphire blue eyes would cause the girls in his classroom to swoon. Of course, his attractive features made two girls start to squabble at the back of the classroom.

"I want to sit with him, you Ino-pig!"

"No, big forehead! He's sitting with me!"

"Naruto-san, you shall sit beside Sasuke at the front row over there. He is the top of the class and has been for a while now, and he can share pointers with you. I'm sure you will like that," Iruka grinned at Naruto. The two girls kept quiet instantly, but they did not stop glaring at each other.

Naruto turned to the glaring Sasuke. If looks could kill, Naruto would be dead by now. Naruto stared directly into the raven-haired boy's eyes, his piercing gaze making Sasuke give up glaring and look away. The blonde approached the empty chair and took his seat. He scanned the classroom, identifying a few people from various clans. There, sitting in the middle with a boy who reeks of dog scent from the Inuzuka clan, a blue-haired girl with non-existent pupils' eyes from the famous Hyuuga clan, a 'pleasantly plump' boy from the Akimichi clan, the bug controller from the Aburame clan and several others.

"As we were talking about the ways of the different angles that shuriken can be thrown…" Iruka-sensei started, and he averted his attention back to the shinobi academy teacher.

Naruto could feel himself wishing himself to be at somewhere else except here.

"Hokage-sama! This is a serious matter. That Uzumaki vessel is too powerful. We may not even have the strength to confine him to just Konoha and its ideals. What if he pulls an Itachi and kills everyone in Konoha? Can't you think of the consequences? Why did you enter him into the ANBU in the first place?" the head of the Hyuuga clan spoke rather harshly, even though he usually was the calm person, the one who would think rationally before speaking.

Upon hearing 'Itachi', a few clan heads of Konoha shuddered involuntarily. It was hard enough to believe the child prodigy of the Uchiha clan had turned against Konoha and went to join the Akatsuki that consists of S-class missing shinobi after the great massacre and the chaos he had caused in his clan and in the village itself. As the Hyuuga so much as mutter out the words that consists of 'That Uzumaki vessel', 'powerful' and 'kills everyone in Konoha', the faces of the many clan heads in the meeting room visibly blanched. Yes, they are that afraid of the demon vessel. They saw him as a daunting shadow of the nine-tailed fox demon that assaulted the village of leaf years ago.

"Hiashi, you don't know what you are saying. Don't go around calling Naruto-kun as the vessel. You do know about the rule," the third Hokage replied, an icy cold fury in his tone. It was when everyone knows why he is the Hokage. He is not a person to mess with.

"But-" Hiashi protested, but he was immediately silenced by the Hokage.

"As I was saying, I entered him into ANBU because of the trust I had in him. I already saw where his loyalties lie when I became his personal sensei, Hiashi. His eyes told me that the day he betray Konoha is the day he die," the Sandaime said, his eyes held a determined glint that made the ninjas in the room look at him with awe and respect. They made him the Hokage he is now because of his wisdom, and the strength he has under that old and weary appearances. He is the third Hokage, the ruler of the hidden village of leaf.

"But, his powers are to be questioned. The children in his age group are still in the academy, learning how to throw the shuriken and perform henge properly, while Naruto has already mastered jounin techniques and his chakra and stamina are of a Hokage's standard. He's still twelve years old and yet so mature. He has even gone on missions and has killed people. Hokage-sama, this child is still too young. A boy of his age should not have experienced such, powerful or not," the leader of the Aburame clan said evenly.

The Hokage sighed, weariness etching itself on his face. "And I wonder why that poor child is still sane."

Sarutobi recalled the time when Naruto was five, and was being trained by him. Those days were tough for that little child. When he was eight, he had already done a few B-class missions, staining his hands with the dreadful deep scarlet of blood. The Hokage thought the experience was traumatic for that young boy, surely, but Naruto seemed unfazed with those killings, as he had once told Sarutobi:

'I enjoyed it, Hokage-sama. They beg me to end their pain, and yet the strange expression on their faces confuse me greatly."

The Hokage had realized that Naruto was talking about the horrified expressions on the shinobi faces, when they were facing the death god himself. Naruto was just a child! He could not understand the terror, the fear that ran through one's mind when one was about to be killed. For his victims he felt neither guilt nor pain. He felt no pity or sympathy, for their friends or families. He was learned in the art of destruction, an effective killing machine.

Naruto was being himself, after all.

"Therefore, Hokage-sama, I propose that we re-admit Naruto into the shinobi academy where he will be among children of his age and let him work his way up to being a genin again. It is not fair that at his age there is blood on his hands," the bug controller offered.

"This is-" Hiashi tried to speak again, as he was in a fit of fury. This is an outrage! How can the Hokage endanger the children in the academy with someone like the Kyuubi brat? His power is equaled to an elite jounin!

"But his standards are that of an ANBU, hokage-sama. What if he could not adapt to being a genin?" the head of Inuzuka inquired.

"He is still a child, Naruto will adapt to being a child," the Hokage answered.

A pregnant pause settled in the room, occasionally punctuated by the chirpings of birds outside.

"Then it is decided. He will return to the academy tomorrow morning. I will tell him to abandon all the missions he has for now," the Hokage broke the silence and stared at the Hyuuga intently, who was trying to suppress his anger. Hiashi merely gave a death glare to the Aburame head sitting across him, who shrugged indifferently and left the room silently. The other leaders of various clans nodded in respect at the Hokage and left accordingly.

"Do you still have any more things to say to me, Hiashi?" the Hokage asked, standing up.

Hiashi bit his lower lip. This was not what he had expected from this meeting! He wanted the demon vessel away from Konoha, away from the fire country. The Naruto brat had proved that he had high potential, what if he destroyed the village and took all the people of Konoha to hell along with it? Hiashi had seen the coldness in that boy's sky blue eyes, the malice and the hatred. He had trembled in fear when facing the demon vessel. The almighty Hyuuga clan head had trembled. The fear of the Kyuubi was still buried in Hiashi's heart and he could not forget about the demon that had attacked the village twelve years ago.

A flash of his memory, of bloodied corpses that strewn about the village, of a hurricane of blood, pain, and death, resurfaced.

He shuddered involuntarily.

"No, Hokage-sama," Hiashi managed weakly.

"Today is the day when all of you graduate as genin," Iruka-sensei declared loudly from the front of the noisy class which quickly settled down upon hearing their teacher's announcement. "All you have to do to pass the test is to make three bunshin, and that they must look the exact replica of you or you will fail." Some students in the class had already broken out in cold sweat, their anxiety gripping them as Iruka started calling out names in alphabetical order, one by one.

Iruka managed a tiny smile when he looked at his students who were able to do the bunshin perfectly, with no flaws in the clones at all. He thought that his past efforts had been worth it for this huge achievement. They had done him proud. He watched as Haruno Sakura did three clones flawlessly and beamed at the teacher. Yes, it was all worth it.

At last, it was Uchiha Sasuke's turn.

He ignored the whole group of ballistic girls who were yelling random things like, 'Go Sasuke-kun, show them what you've got!', 'I know Sasuke-kun can do more than a hundred clones!' and 'What? Of course he can do more than that! Go, Sasuke-kun!'

Sasuke was very used to this fan club he has in the school. Forget about having girls shouting your name wherever you go, but recently, he could sense that several girls were stalking him. Those strange girls wouldn't train and become stronger, but only cause trouble for him. He did not think anything of those girls. They were just a burden to him, a stumbling block on his path to his goal.

The Uchiha merely did the seal that was needed for the Bunshin no Jutsu (Clone Technique), uttering the words, 'Bunshin no Jutsu!' and ten clones appeared beside him. Many girls were awed by his calmness and the fact that he could do ten clones without breaking a sweat. It was no wonder he was the child prodigy everyone had called him in their year.

"Uchiha Sasuke, you pass. Next, Uzumaki Naruto," Iruka glanced at the raven-haired boy who took his place among those who had already passed the genin test. Sakura blushed furiously when Sasuke took a place beside her, oblivious to her embarrassment.

"Naruto-san, please create three clones," the academy teacher instructed.

Naruto nodded slightly and mouthed the words 'Bunshin no Jutsu' and ten clones appeared without any hand seals. Iruka gaped at the blond kid in front of him who dismissed the clones easily. Naruto had done the bushin no jutsu without any hand seals. The girls in class drooled and many boys just stared at the blond dumbfounded, even the brooding avenger, even if it was just for a second.

'Why is he that strong?' Sasuke narrowed his eyes dangerously, like a predator watching its prey with hawk-like eyes. He had never thought much of that bizarre blond who had just entered the academy, a week ago. He had merely thought Naruto as just another individual who would be a burden to him someday. He thought that of everyone. But now, he could not stop himself from wishing that Naruto would be in his team that will be announced tomorrow.

Ino and Sakura regarded Naruto as vultures eyeing a hunk of meat. They totally forgot about the pretty boy beside them. Anger rose within the brunette unconsciously. 'Well, I will surpass that guy over there. He is only another student in this academy!'

Naruto took his place among the students who had already passes without saying a word. This was all too strange for Naruto. What was so wrong with him that all the pupils in the class were staring openly at him? He did not like the attention, especially the fury radiating from the silent Sasuke sitting a few seats in front of him. He definitely did not want to be in any team with Sasuke.

Iruka regained control of the class hastily and his voice, clearing his throat and speaking loud and clear, "Naruto, you pass."

Naruto walked along the pavement leading to his apartment, while a group of jounin and chuunin started to dash past him, yelling and making a din. Clearly, nobody wanted to give him any peace and serenity after such a long day in the academy with a genin test. He still could not understand about the Hokage's intentions of sending him back to academy and taking the genin test again. Had the Sandaime underestimated him or simply thought that he is too young to do missions of ANBU? If it were true, Naruto had no qualms. But what he really wanted to know was what had motivated the Hokage to send him back into the academy? Were there strings being pulled here?

Naruto nearly sighed inwardly, but he remained silent as he listened to what were they shouting about.

"Mizuki, that bastard traitor!"

"We will show him about betraying our village!"

"I bet he took that scroll to learn those forbidden secret jutsu! That son of a-"

Naruto did not hear the finishing word of that particular ninja's sentence as he sped off to look for that academy teacher. He could not understand why that teacher would want to steal such an important scroll from Konoha. Whenever he saw Mizuki, he always saw that good-natured smile on his face, and Naruto was always reminded of the third Hokage.

Now why would he want to steal the scroll?

He flitted from tree to tree, increasing his pace at a furious rate, his mind already registering this as a mission. The scroll was forbidden, Mizuki-sensei… He just could not relate the academy teacher with the scroll. They were as compatible as a fish on dry land.

Could he have wanted to steal it to give it to another enemy of Konoha or he really did want to simply get stronger? 'How naive,' Naruto mused. 'Just another power hungry shinobi. These fools are plain stupid.' He scoffed at the frightened look on Mizuki, which quickly turned into a sneer when he saw Naruto.

"Ah, a mere genin thinks he can defeat a chuunin alone without any help from other people. Who you think you are? Don't try to play the hero, boy, you'll only get hurt," Mizuki snarled in revulsion, like tasting something foul in his mouth upon discovering that his opponent was only Naruto. He had thought that someone who had caught up with him may be the ANBU, or even several chuunin or jounin. But, he never expected it to be just a blond genin who had only passed the genin test this afternoon.

"What do you want the scroll for? I heard people shouting of you stealing it," Naruto retorted coolly.

"Of course you will never know, fool. This scroll contains the most powerful jutsu in Konoha, which makes it forbidden for other shinobi. Whoever wants to be as powerful as the Hokage would yearn for such a thing," Mizuki retorted, laughing maniacally, echoing throughout the dark forest. It was stopped abruptly when a kunai was neatly buried into his heart, followed by four more lodging in his body and terror and pain in his eyes. He fell to the ground with a low 'thud' as the five kunai claimed his life, blood gushing out from the wounds.

"I wouldn't want you for a Hokage," Naruto said softly, picking up the huge scroll that Mizuki had tried to steal, only to be stopped by him. The demon vessel then opened the scroll and pored through the contents of it. His eyes flickered from jutsu to jutsu, and finally his attention was on a single jutsu, the jutsu that the Yondaime had used on Kyuubi to seal it into an infant twelve years ago.

He did not know how he should see the fourth Hokage as. The village's hero or someone he should truly hate with all his life?

Naruto wondered if he could reverse the jutsu that the Yondaime had used. He glanced through the words on the scroll and he could only come up with an answer.

The fourth Hokage had been a genius for coming up with a jutsu that was irreversible.

Of course, he did not feel much sadness. Naruto understood the consequences if the seal could by any chance, be reversible. He may die in the process, or even, the Kyuubi may take the lives of the Konoha villagers.

Not that he cared, though.

Naruto skimmed through some techniques that may prove useful to him some other days and quickly left it just where he found Mizuki-sensei as he heard people running in his direction. He took a quick look at the bloody heap of mess that was Mizuki, the traitor.

"You deserved that."

The class quickly settled down as Iruka-sensei came into the classroom, students anticipating Iruka to announce the teams they would be in. Most were nervous and some looked pretty confident, like Ino and Sakura at the other side of the classroom.

"I will be the one to have Sasuke-kun on my team!" Ino exclaimed like a three-year-old, screaming for candy.

"No, I will be the one!" Sakura growled predatorily, wanting to show Ino who's calling the shots here. It was then, Iruka decided to stop the perilous two and declare the teams. Ino glared daggers at Sakura, who was sneaking glimpses at the raven-haired boy sitting at another corner of the classroom.

"Team One…" Iruka began to read out from a piece of paper while the students leaned forward of their desks, wanting to know about their team eagerly.

Finally, Iruka-sensei reached to Sakura's name. "Team Seven, Haruno Sakura, Uchiha Sasuke and Uzumaki Naruto…"

'Yesss! I got the two most drop-dead gorgeous boys in my team! Go, Sakura!' shouted inner-Sakura. She nearly yelled in glee, gloating at her own victory of the little match against Ino to compete for Sasuke-kun. Even Naruto was on her team! To hell with him being so quiet, he was just her type!

"Team Eight, Aburame Shino, Hyuuga Hinata and Inuzuka Kiba…"

Sasuke gave a sideway glance at the blonde boy sitting two seats away from him. Now that he had that Naruto on his team, he could challenge him to a fight whenever he wanted. He really wanted to know the true power that lay beneath that cool demeanor of Naruto's. Of course, now the only problem was with that pink-haired girl who would definitely encumber him. He had never expected a fan girl to be in his team, nevertheless one that was completely obsessed with him. Oh, he really couldn't wait for the day when he would be doing missions along with her as a comrade. Sasuke could already hear the incessant blabbering of the pinkie already.

"…And Team Ten, Yamanaka Ino, Akimichi Choji and Nara Shikamaru."

Naruto could hear the blonde girl shrieking about things like Sasuke not being in her team and how it was unfair that the laziest and fattest boys were on her team. A the point that the Yamanaka girl said the word, 'fat', Choji's eyes had this extremely dangerous glint in it that made Ino shiver in horror. He really did anticipate that Sasuke would be in his team, for some unusual reason, but he just could not make out anything about that Haruno Sakura sitting over the other side, staring at Sasuke and him with flowers and little heart shapes in her large emerald-green orbs.

"You people are genin now. All of you shall meet your sensei in half an hour's time in different classrooms. Class dismissed," Iruka-sensei said, walking out of the classroom.

Naruto sighed inwardly.