A/N: Don't own Naruto, never have, never will.

Chapter One: Shadows

Shadows, cast down onto the grassy fields below haunted the usually pleasant, tranquil area that now served as a battlefield. Weapons were embedded into soil, blood was spattered onto trees, and bodies, once human, now simply grotesque remains, were left shamed, disgraced and dishonored under the gleaming, gloating moonlight.

Uchiha Madara was facing an opponent whom, if he dared to admit, proved to be much worthy of his title and his reputation. Every attack he had thrown at his opponent had been either blocked or deflected with precision of the highest caliber or had been taken with the knowledge that the injuries sustained would be far outweighed by the benefits. A thought about this being the toughest battle he had ever fought graced his mind and he wondered why he had not gone the smarter route and went after his enemy before his enemy went after him. Maybe if he knew then he would've made an offer to him, as he obviously had potential to be a great asset to him and what remained of Akatsuki.

Too bad Madara had to kill him.

Uzumaki Naruto, on the other hand, was fucking pissed off. There had been ten Akatsuki members and every time he or someone else killed one of them, another one filled in the spot, with equally or in some cases even more annoying abilities that were inhuman, infallible and near-impossible to overcome. But Naruto always found a way. This time though, there was no other way. He was running out of jutsu, weapons, tricks, ideas, surprises – everything he could think of was being dished out. His only option was to go in, head on, and hope for the best, like he had been doing the entire time.

"Any more tricks, boy?" Madara taunted, as if he had overheard Naruto's thoughts, echoing them through his words. "You appear to be looking a little worried."

"Maybe that's because I want you to believe that I'm worried. I was thinking of trying another surprise attack." Naruto replied, laughing, as he dangled a special kunai in his hands. He absent-mindedly rolled the kunai around his fingers, delicately waiting for the perfect chance to strike, for a falter in his enemy's composure.

Madara was lost for a witty reply. Naruto had stuck him in a conundrum. Naruto's words could never be trusted, though he might be counting on that and going for what he actually said he would, or he could be just doing that to make Madara believe that that was what he was going to do, when it really wasn't.

Damn that boy.

And then Madara snapped back to reality and realized that Naruto just made him think. Giving thought meant temporarily detaching himself from his surroundings. He had shown an opening, a falter in his composure.

Madara instantly teleported the moment he saw the tagged kunai fly towards him, and as he reappeared a fair distance away from where the kunai exploded he was met with two Narutos, attacking him from each side and each bearing a deadly, unaltered Rasengan in their palms. Madara's Sharingan revealed to him that neither were the real Naruto, and thus released a fire jutsu from both his palms which did away with them. One of the clones managed to escape the jutsu and attempted to attack hfim from behind, but he swiftly dodged the attack and repeated the same previous fire jutsu into the clone, which again, to his annoyance, managed to roll away.

"Over here!" Naruto yelled, excited and enthusiastic, letting his intentions be known to Madara as he descended upon Madara from above, forcing Madara to look up, distracted by the sense of threat in the area. Meanwhile the clone took the opportunity to strike Madara in the chest, hitting a pressure point and temporarily disabling Madara, as the real Naruto landed on his feet and quickly passed through a blur of handseals. "Kage Kubi Shibari no Jutsu!" The shadows at Naruto's feet leapt from the ground and straight for Madara's throat, grabbing him and strangling him before he could even try to escape. Naruto's eyes flashed crimson red, as he stared into Madara's spinning Sharingan and dared him to go a step further.

Naruto smirked as he held the last seal of his jutsu, staring at Madara, who squirmed in his shadow's grasp. "What are you going to do Madara? If I remember correctly, you never found a way to reactivate your Mangekyou Sharingan."

"I'll live." Madara laughed, as giant hands rose up from either side of Naruto and Naruto looked down at Madara to see that Madara had managed to execute a final seal before Naruto had caught him. As the hands came down on Naruto, Naruto had no choice but to let go of his jutsu, while Madara simply disappeared once again.

"Kage Hari!" Naruto growled, as his shadow redistributed itself to either side of him, turning itself into large spikes which sprouted from the ground and implanted itself into the palms of the hands, keeping them back. A third spike shot out behind Naruto as Madara tried to attack Naruto's rear. Madara jumped back after a failed attempt, as the giant hands returned to the ground and Naruto's shadow still chased after Madara.

"Have you ever wanted what would happen to your jutsu if someone turned off the lights?" Madara asked, as he jumped out of the way of the shadow.

"Have you ever thought of an answer?" Naruto replied, as his shadow reached as far as it could extend, before shooting up and transforming into an exact replica of Naruto, who leapt forward and attacked Obito. "Bunshin Daibakuha!"

"Interesting." Madara replied, as he once again slipped out of Naruto's attacks, and prepared his own. "But what if I do this?" Madara challenged, as he disappeared and reappeared right in front of Naruto's face, kunai in hand. To his surprise, he managed to stab Naruto, only for it to reveal itself as a clone, as Naruto appeared behind him.

"If you do that, you've made a mistake. Kage Rasengan!" A fast-spinning black ball appeared in Naruto's hand, as all the shadow's around him began to join the ball, while he thrust forward into Madara, who managed to turn around just in time to see the spectacle. Once Madara realized what he was faced with, he teleported away as fast as he could, though when he reappeared further away from Naruto he was holding his face with both hands, bent over in pain.

Naruto smirked, as the mask Madara had worn had been completely obliterated by his technique and Madara himself had been scarred badly. Naruto looked down on Madara with confidence, cracking his knuckles, knowing that what would come next would be when the real cards were drawn.

"Well, Naruto, for once I get to show you my true face." Madara laughed to Naruto's surprise, as he stood up straight and moved his hands away from his face to reveal the scarred yet still recognizable and very familiar face of Naruto's past. "Surprise!"

As Naruto stared in both shock and horror, he was only awoken from his daze when he saw Madara's body flicker, knowing he had teleported once again.

Naruto prepared himself. This would be the grand finale.

-0-0-0-

Sarutobi, the Professor, the genius, the Third Hokage, sat in his neatly organized office – a bookshelf on one side, a row of filing cabinets on the other, a giant window behind him, a small discrete door in front of him, and in the middle was an oak desk crafted upon Konoha's founding from the same tree the village was built around.

"So, Naruto did manage to pass." Sarutobi nearly laughed in the faces of the group of Jonin and ANBU in the room that had assembled together after unsuccessfully finding and capturing Naruto, but had to hold some composure, while Iruka relayed more details of the night to him.

"He managed to master the Kage Bunshin no Jutsu all by himself." Iruka replied. "Read and studied straight from the scroll."

"He always had potential, Iruka. Every seed from a tree has the potential to grow into a tree just as large, if not larger." Sarutobi repeated one of his many leaf-related quotes of wisdom Iruka had heard many times upon entering the office of the old man. "That leaves us with nine Genin, each to be assigned to a Jonin sensei."

"Yes, it does." Iruka replied, not because he needed to, but because he needed to say something in order to cut through the awkward silence.

"You all are dismissed." Sarutobi commanded the ANBU and Jonin, who left the room, the Jonin more uneasily than the ANBU, knowing that for some of them, chasing after a twelve year-old was their last mission before they were forced to 'babysit' a team for a long, long time.

"Left we have Aburame Shino, Akimichi Choji, Haruno Sakura, Hitomane Sai, Hyuga Hinata, Inuzuka Kiba, Uchiha Sasuke and Yamanaka Ino. As well as Naruto." Iruka listed.

"Good numbers. Enough for three teams." Sarutobi smiled. "Though this does slightly change our plans though. The team we place each of these Genin on have to have skills that compliment each other, and serve as a benefit to them all."

"Have you made your final decision on the Jonin sensei yet?" Iruka asked, and Sarutobi shook his head.

"I have one too many options. So many Jonin that have yet to take a team, each with a range of experience, skill and abilities." Sarutobi said tiredly, lining up the list of Jonin next to the list of the new Genin. "What do you think about promoting Shiranui Genma?"

"Honestly?" Iruka asked. "He is too lazy when it comes to tasks he doesn't view as 'exciting'. He's much better on the field than babysitting. I'm surprised he hasn't been promoted to the ANBU yet."

"True. Remember when we tried to get him to come into the Academy as a special guest teacher?" Sarutobi reminisced, while Iruka flinched upon the memory.

"Disaster."

"Morino Ibiki?" Sarutobi offered.

"Head of torture and interrogation? That madman as a teacher?" Iruka almost shouted, and Sarutobi laughed.

"Oh yeah, forgot about that part. Mitarashi?" Sarutobi tried again.

"Too psychotic, and she may very well be more immature than her students." Iruka said. "What about two of our more experienced Jonin, like Yamanaka Inoichi or Akimichi Choza?"

"Their children are Genin, Iruka, it would be a bad idea to mix family in teams. But what about the third member of the team?" Saurtobi said thoughtfully, tracing the name down the list. "Nara Shikaku."

"Shikaku? I have not spoken to him since –"

"Since twelve years ago?" Sarutobi said gravely.

"What about our original plan of Hatake Kakashi, Sarutobi Asuma and Yuhi Kurenai?"

"Kakashi was recently injured hunting down a missing-nin. He suffered bad leg injuries that will put him out for a month or so." Sarutobi said.

"Isn't that perfect though? Let him teach a group of Genin while he heals?"

"He's also failed every single team we've sent to him. You don't think he's trying to send us a message, do you Iruka?" Sarutobi asked. "If we pair up Shikaku with the right team then he'll do fine."

"He's lazy and bitter towards the village." Iruka said. "I think he's a bad choice."

"He has experience, far more than any of the other Jonin. And as well as that he finishes each mission with precision and quality. He takes pride in his work" Sarutobi countered, as his face drooped into a frown. "I am also quite afraid for his sanity. I believe giving him a team, people who rely on him and a team for him to rely on as well, will help him."

"So I guess you already have a team decided for him, then?" Iruka asked, knowing that far before their conversation even started Sarutobi would have already predicted Naruto would pass and had already chosen Shikaku and was just making Iruka feel like he was involved in his thought process.

"Yes I have. Putting both Yamanaka and Akimichi in his team might be a bad idea, as he might either be biased one way or another, but putting at least one in his team may help." Sarutobi began explaining. "So I have decided to put Yamanaka Ino under his tutelage, as I feel she will benefit most from his 'skills'."

"So you're training a team of kill–"

"Espionage-experts." Sarutobi interjected before Iruka could say that dreaded word which he hated to refer to children as. "Someone else who would compliment their abilities in their expertise would be Aburame Shino, who's bugs would prove invaluable, and I'm certain Shikaku would agree."

"So you'll put the Uchiha or Hitomane as the third member?" Iruka asked.

"No. Neither would benefit from such a team. I'd rather put Uzumaki with the other two." Sarutobi said calmly, and Iruka's jaw nearly dropped.

"Naruto's personality with that man?" Iruka said.

"Trust me, Iruka." Sarutobi smiled, happy with the fact that Iruka still cared for the boy. "That's all I ask."

-0-0-0-

Shikaku was a mixture of emotions. Frustration, anger, annoyance and the be all and end all question of 'why' swimming through his head. He cautiously looked around the training ground conveniently located behind his small apartment, fitting for any ninja. He held a handseal, while his shadow formed different shapes right in front of him, as if stuck in an eternal dance. The shadows formed into various shapes and sizes, weaving in and out of each other's paths.

Satisfied, he let go of the handseal. As he packed away his vast array of new weapons he was trying out for the night, he couldn't help but wonder why the hell had Sarutobi assigned him this latest mission. Of course he was in no right to voice his opinions as a mission was a mission, and he would finish it like he finished every other mission, but this one was particularly frustrating.

Teaching was not under the list of his skills. He was a killer, an assassin, a butcher, a man-slayer, in whatever way you would like to put it. He had at one stage killed nine people in the space of two seconds, and had gained the nickname from the various criminals roaming the land as the 'Grim Reaper', a nod to the fact that he was the last thing enemies saw before they perished.

He was brutal, merciless and unforgiving. He was not a teacher, but he was lonely. Not that it bothered him. He lived by himself, went on missions by himself, and did day to day activities with as little human contact as he could manage. He had no family, no wife, no children, no brothers, no sisters, no parents. His comrades had given up on him twelve years ago. He had given up on himself as well.

"I heard the news!" Hatake Kakashi interrupted his thoughts, as Shikaku looked up to see the younger Jonin, the closest thing he had to a friend, anymore. Kakashi beared a notable limp, causing Shikaku to smirk at his foolishness. Then again, who was he to laugh at injuries, he had a prominent scar running down his face.

"A mission is a mission." Shikaku replied.

"You could always fail your team on their first test." Kakashi said. "It's worked for me."

"I have never failed a mission before, Hatake." Shikaku said.

"It's not failing, it's your team failing. Your mission outlines you to do the best you can, while following procedure. Part of procedure states that if they don't meet your standards, then they're not cut out to be ninja." Kakashi explained the loophole and Shikaku shrugged.

"Is that why you've failed every single team you've had?"

"Maybe." Kakashi was smiling under his mask, and Shikaku could tell. "You do know why the Hokage gave you this mission, right?"

"He's worried for my sanity?"

"Got it in one." Kakashi began. "He's decided twelve years has been long enough and that –"

"Twelve years has been long enough? If he were living – if he was born – he would be becoming a Genin right now." Shikaku replied, he wasn't yelling, but his tone of voice changed, as Kakashi slumped a little under Shikaku's powerful gaze.

"It might just be a coincidence, Shikaku." Kakashi replied sheepishly.

"Coincidence? The Hokage wants to use my paternal instincts to help guide a team, playing on exactly what happened twelve years ago!"

"You think the Hokage would manipulate you by using her death?" Kakashi almost let out a hollow laugh before reminding himself of Shikaku's short temper.

"She had a name." Shikaku replied.

"You think I don't know that?" Kakashi began getting just as angry and heated as Shikaku and straightened his posture, almost meeting his height.

"Why did you come here Hatake?"

"For the same reason you're out here, instead of getting a good night's sleep before your first day as a sensei." Kakashi shot back. "You can't avoid Yoshino's death. You can't avoid their death. You have to accept it, Shikaku, move on. They would want you to. It's been twelve years, Shikaku."

"What do you know about loss?" Shikaku yelled, and suddenly he found himself face to face with Kakashi, as Kakashi had lifted his headband up, bearing his bright red Sharingan eye in an effort of intimidation. Shikaku would not lose composure.

"What do I know about loss?" Kakashi growled in a low voice. "Why don't you take a guess? Why don't you take a stroll by the memorial stone? Let's compare how many of my precious people are on there to yours. It'll be like a game. The one with more wins the grand trophy of being the most scarred of us all."

Shikaku replied with silence, and Kakashi backed off, lowering his headband, before returning to his normal tone of voice. "Don't treat your team like its just another mission. They're lucky to have you."

-0-0-0-

"I will be splitting all of you up into separate teams of three, and you will meet outside with your new sensei, where he will tell you all the rest you need to know. Good luck." Iruka explained, before retrieving a list of names.

Naruto waited eagerly in the front of the class, ready to shoot up at the first mention of his name. He tapped the desk in front of him impatiently while he waited bursting with curiousity and excitement as to who his sensei would be. He was dressed in his favorite (and only) orange jumpsuit, with his brand new headband strapped proudly around his forehead.

"Are you sure you don't have that headband around your head too tight? You look like you're about to explode." Ino commented, sitting behind Naruto in her usual seat, next to her rival Sakura, all the while hoping that some force from above would grant her her wish and put her on a team with Sasuke. She neatened out her purple dressed, checked that her hair was still in place and made an attempt at flashing her eyebrows towards Sasuke, who paid no notice.

Aburame Shino meanwhile scoffed at Ino's attempt to attract Sasuke's attention, though as always, no one noticed him in his discrete manner with his jacket zipped up all the way so that it was covering his face and the fact that he sat right in the corner of the room, like an unnoticed fly on a wall.

"Firstly, Team 7." Iruka read out, as the ears of the nine rookies in the class pricked up to see who would be picked. "Aburame Shino, Uzumaki Naruto and Yamanaka Ino."

"Haha! Take that Ino-pig!" Sakura found herself yelling out what she thought was her inner self speaking, and Ino simply replied with a dirty look. Naruto was glad that he now knew who his team was, but was confused on how to react to it, while Shino simply acted the way he always did – politely, as he was told and very, very quietly.

"Your new sensei, Nara Shikaku is waiting for you outside." Iruka said, nodding to all three of them as they walked out of the classroom and outside the door. Naruto led the group, at the front, Ino walked less enthusiastically in the middle and Shino trailed at the back.

"So, you three will be forming Team 7." A deep, gravelly voice said, and all three of their attentions were diverted to the man standing at the end of the corridor. He was tall, with black haired tied up behind him and wore the standard Jonin outfit. His most noticeable feature though was the long scar that ran along the side of his face, which he came to notice that that was the focus of all their attention. "I will be your new Jonin sensei for the indefinite future. This scar you're all staring at, would you like to know how I got it?"

While Ino looked intimidated and almost shook her head and Shino's expression could not be read in the slightest, Naruto enthusiastically nodded.

"A sword, infused with lightning chakra slashed me right across the face. But that's not the best part. Would you like to know what happened to the man who attacked me?" Shikaku asked with a very sinister smile and once again, the same reactions followed. "Lets just say he's not much of a 'man' anymore. Well, he's not much of an 'anything' anymore either."

"Wait." Shino said, as Shikaku began to turn around. "You said you'd be our Jonin sensei for the indefinite future."

"Very good observation skills. I'll be honest with you." Shikaku began. "You're not truly a Genin yet, unless you pass the test of your Jonin sensei. So I don't really care about getting to know you, but if you pass, we'll talk more."

"But Iruka said –" Ino interjected.

"Iruka also left it up to me to tell you the rest of the information, meaning he refrained from telling you this for a specific reason." Shikaku replied.

"What's our test?" Naruto asked enthusiastically.

"You'll see." Shikaku replied mysteriously, his smile turning to a serious expression. "But let it be known, if you fail, I never want to see your face again. I despise failure."

Naruto met Ino's appalled gaze, and Naruto just shrugged, once again leading the way, as Shino himself was still deciding his opinion on the strange man. Shikaku walked at a slow pace, already beginning to judge them. The way they walked, how prepared they were for anything, how they held themselves, where they were walking.

Shikaku decided to mix it up a little, as he broke from a slow stroll to a sudden leap up into the roofs above, as Ino and Shino, who had yet to learn much about leaping from roof to roof and jumping inhuman heights, ran after him on the ground, as Shikaku looked down, quickly remembering the standard of 'ninja' he was dealing with. Naruto on the other hand rocketed up, and gave chase of Shikaku, happy for once that he wasn't being the one being chased.

Shikaku looked over his shoulder and smirked, if this kid wanted to play, he was game.

-0-0-0-

Later than he would've hoped, they arrived at Training Grounds 4, where with him, was a simple wooden chair and a large sack of different varieties of snacks and drinks. He stood for many moments, staring down at his new students and taking special note of Naruto's unflinching gaze, despite the fact that he had tried with all his might but still failed to catch Shikaku. "I lied when I said I didn't want to get to know you. Now is one of the few times I'll ever be interested in your lives. All of you, one at a time, in alphabetical order, tell me your name, your likes, your dislikes and your dreams."

"My name is Aburame Shino." Shino spoke first, assuming he was going in last name order. "I like nature, the wilderness and every natural creation. I dislike the creation of unnecessary wastage and creation that results in unnecessary wastage. My dream, one day, is to take over as head of my clan."

"Aburame." Shikaku smirked, not saying anything more. "Next."

"My name is Uzumaki Naruto! I love ramen! I hate the two minutes it takes for ramen to heat up. My dream is to be Hokage!" Naruto said loudly and proudly, and Shikaku laughed upon his last statement, causing Naruto to becoming immediately self-concious.

"Next."

"My name is Yamanaka Ino, I like flowers. I dislike…" Ino thought for a second. "Injustice. My dream is to… I don't know."

"Interesting." Shikaku summed up. He wasted no time, getting straight to the point. "Now for your test. Each of your tests will be split up individually, as each of you will be taking up different tests. Naruto, come over here first."

Naruto walked over to Shikaku once he had called him, and Shikaku whispered to him. "Naruto, you're test, is to stay in this one spot and sit on this chair behind me, for the whole day. There will be food and drink next to you that should last you the day, and if you need to use the toilet you can dig a hole."

"That's it?" Naruto laughed. "That's the test? That's easy!"

"So it seems." Shikaku said. "You may begin. Ino, you're next."

As Naruto sat down and began to rummage through the food Shikaku had left for him, Ino approached Shikaku with caution. "Ino, you're test will be to go through your day as normal. Every hour though, I want you to return to this training grounds and make sure Naruto hasn't moved from this one spot. Understand?"

"Yes, sensei." Ino nodded.

"You may leave now and come back in exactly an hour. Shino!" Shikaku called Shino over, as Ino left the Training Grounds.

"What is my test?"

"Ino's test is to check up on Naruto every hour, to make sure he hasn't moved out of his spot at all." Shikaku whispered.

"What does that have to do with my test?" Shino asked

"To pass your test, you must make sure Ino fails hers." Shikaku said, and Shino's face still remained expressionless.

"If that is what must be done." Shino said with a stone-face that slightly unsettled Shikaku.

"You may not use your bugs, or any other means but Taijutsu. Understand?" Shikaku added, noting Shino's eyebrows seemed to furrow, and his face seemed to tighten from behind his zipped up jacket.

"Again, if that is what must be done." Shino repeated, and Shikaku nodded.

"You may leave." Shikaku ordered, as Shino disappeared. Shikaku looked over his shoulder, taking one last look at Naruto before walking away, to the end of the training ground, where once again, he saw Hatake Kakashi. "What do you want?"

"So, what test did you end up giving them?" Kakashi said.

"I didn't give them your silly bell test, if that's what you mean. This one truly does test their ability." Shikaku responded. "I gave them one of my own."

"You didn't…?" Kakashi said, noting the look on Shikaku's face. "I thought you were only joking!"

"I did."

"You know they're bound to fail?" Kakashi asked, and Shikaku nodded.

"I'm counting on it."


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