Heavy edits; I'm still not sure where, exactly, the concept for this story came from, but it's definitely shaped up better than I had hoped.

I have edited this prologue chapter now, cutting down a bit on certain aspects and expanding what was done here as a whole.

There may be a variety of OCs in this story to fill in the roles of minor extras, but current plans have only one major OC and a few deceased ones connected to the current OC.

The OC is Kazekaika Mai, a character roughly inspired by Itachi. Originally much more powerful, I've pretty much finished my retconning of her to be around Itachi's level of power, and her role is more or less similar to Itachi. Please note that this is "pre-DBZ phase" level Itachi, rather than the increasingly overpowered one of canon; so, more like Itachi as portrayed in Part I.

Main pairing is Naruto x Sakura. I originally planned to make it NaruSakuIno (eventually), but might not at this point; NaruSakuHina also appeals to me, and I'm considering just going for a relatively small harem (four girls total; the three rookies and then one more who will not be named), but currently uncertain what I'll be doing, other than the fact that this is definitely NaruSaku.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. I claim this story itself and the OC Kazekaika Mai and that's all as of right now.

Naruto groaned.

It was his third term in the academy. THIRD TERM! He'd failed the graduation exam twice already… damn the Bunshin no Jutsu, he just couldn't get it to work!

And to top it off, this term he was in class with the two girls he'd had crushes on since he was five, and had fallen in love with when he was nine. And they were both crushing on that arrogant, brooding Uchiha bastard, Sasuke!

Now, Naruto was making his way home, annoyed by the condition his life was falling into. He just couldn't get the help he needed! He didn't want to bother Iruka-sensei too much, what with all the other students in the class, and the Hokage was too busy to help him, leaving Naruto with subpar Taijutsu, no Genjutsu to speak of, and horrible Ninjutsu.

Damn it, why did everybody hate him?

Shaking his head slightly in despair, Naruto opened the door of his shabby apartment and froze.

There, in his home, were two figures he didn't recognize.

They were the same height, both seemed to be looking at him, but it was hard to tell. They were wearing high collared black cloaks with red clouds on them, and straw hats that further concealed their faces. Prominently displayed were two rings, one marked 'shu' worn by the figure on the left, on his right ring finger, the other marked 'nan' worn by the figure on the right, on her (or at least, Naruto assumed it was female judging by the delicate hand) left ring finger.

"This is him, Mai?" said the male.

"Yes," replied the female, her voice confirming Naruto's suspicion.

"He's grown."

"He's still young and it's been two years. Of course he's grown."

"Uzumaki Naruto," he said calmly. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Uchiha Itachi, and my companion is Kazekaika Mai. We are here to take you away from this village for a time… and when you come back, it will be with the knowledge and power to gain all that you desire."

"Hey, Itachi, do you really have to make this sound like a deal with the devil? Because seriously, unless you made some kind of deal with that masked asshole behind my back, this really shouldn't sound like a deal with the devil…"

"Shut up," growled Itachi. Naruto continued to stare, too shocked and confused to move, or even to put two-and-two together and recognize Itachi's clan name.

Itachi refocused on Naruto.

"Perhaps I should rephrase," he said. "You have two choices. You can remain here, trapped in your current place without aid and we will walk away. Or, you can come with us for a time, and we will show you what it means to be Hokage."

"Though there are times I wonder… being Hokage to be acknowledged is a bit too selfish to really be worthy of being Hokage, don't you think?"

"Mai, this was your idea, but now it's time to shut up and let me handle things."

Naruto finally moved.

"Is she… always like this?" he asked, pointing at Mai. Itachi sighed.


"Okay…" Naruto nodded. He thought back over everything that had happened in his life… and came to a decision. "I'll go with you."

"Hokage-sama! Uzumaki Naruto has disappeared!"

"WHAT?" shouted Sarutobi Hiruzen, the Sandaime Hokage. "When? How?"

"We don't know sir!"

Beneath her straw hat, the sole female of the trio walking down the path away from Konoha smiled slightly, having just received the memories of one of the shadow clones she'd left behind to observe the village.

"Heh… it seems like we've caused quite a stir," she commented cheerfully. "But maybe Hokage-sama would've liked to know… should we have told Hokage-sama? I think we should've told Hokage-sama… do you think we should have told Hokage-sama?"

Itachi pointedly ignored her, causing Mai to pout.

"Mō, you're no fun at all…" she said. "I know life hasn't been all sunshine and roses, but I still want my cheerful teammate back! Stop brooding! What would Shisui-niisama think of this?"

Naruto stared at her in confusion as he followed them. Itachi was so used to this that he simply continued to ignore her.

So go figure this would be one of those occasions where she had a short fuse.

Mai struck faster than Naruto could blink and Itachi could act. She knocked away his straw hat and stared straight into his blood red Sharingan eyes with her own, even as the mitsu tomoe of her Sharingan twisted and fused into an interwoven star.

"Tsukuyomi," she intoned before he could react.

Itachi now found himself strapped to a cross, his eyes widening in horror, the world around him red with a blood moon in the sky, himself and his companion in bizarre negative colors.

"Now, Itachi," said Mai. "The torture begins. For the next seventy-two hours…" he suddenly realized that there were a lot more of him around, and a whole lot more of her. And every one of her held a stick with a… feather, attached to the end. Up on a hill, boxes of pocky were stacked, with additional copies of his companion going through the seals for a Katon jutsu at a painfully slow pace. "You will be forced to watch your precious pocky burn, while being constantly tickled with all of these feathers!" There was a truly frightening sadistic gleam in her eyes.

After what felt like an eternity, all the pocky was consumed by the flames and the torture momentarily stopped as everything was reset.

"Seventy-one hours, fifty-nine minutes and fifty-nine seconds left," came the taunting voice.

"Well, that was fun," she said as her companion collapsed to the ground, shaking his head to try and clear it of the insane images she'd shown to him. She smiled. "Now then, Uchiha Itachi, are you ready to lighten up?"

Standing up, Itachi retrieved his straw hat and put it back on.

"Where are the therapists?" he muttered. Mai giggled.

"Didn't you hear? They're looking for more therapists!"

"I made a mistake… didn't I?" said Naruto, looking to Itachi.

"Everyday, I think that of allowing her to follow me," said Itachi dryly. "And yet, I am constantly reminded that it would've been more foolish to try and stop her."

"You're damn right it would've been foolish to try and stop me! All the legions of hell couldn't do more than inconvenience me! I am a goddess given flesh and nothing can stop me!"

"She'll get better," said Itachi reassuringly. "Incurably insane or not, she can at least feign sanity well enough for others."

Naruto wasn't so sure of that…

It had been a month since they'd left Konoha; about two weeks in, Mai had started to act more seriously, and Naruto finally felt like he'd get out of this with his sanity intact. Now, they were ready to begin Naruto's training.

"Alright, Naruto-kun," said Mai. It was amazing how much more mature she sounded now. "We're not going to teach you much that you wouldn't learn in the academy… just some clone techniques, since those are your weakness. Don't worry, these will be easier to use than the standard Bunshin no Jutsu." Naruto nodded attentively, while Mai walked over to a nearby pond.

"First, let me introduce you to the most important of all Bunshin jutsus," said Mai. "Now, I can actually perform any clone technique without handseals, and when we're finished with you, every jutsu you know will be possible without handseals. But first…" Mai formed a cross with her hands. "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu," intoned Mai. Another Mai suddenly appeared, without even a puff of smoke, an indication of absolute chakra control. "The shadow clone technique uses more chakra than the standard clone technique. However, the clones are solid, making it much more useful than the standard technique. Not only that, but anything your clones learn is sent back to you when they're dispelled, meaning that with one clone, you could get two days of experience in one… or with a thousand clones, you could get twenty years of experience in a week."

Naruto's response was to sputter in shock.

"Yes, you can see how this would speed your training, don't you?" she said. "Anyways, next is the Mizu Bunshin no Jutsu," a water clone of Mai formed from the pond. "The Doton Kage Bunshin," this time, a clone formed from mud. "And my personal favorite, the Fūton Kage Bunshin," this time, wind seemed to gather before another clone of Mai formed, indistinguishable from the rest. Two of the clones walked away, and then one clone stabbed another.

The stabbed clone suddenly exploded into wind, apparently cutting wind, as the other clone was cut apart, falling into mud. Mai pulled a ninjato out from seemingly nowhere and cut down another clone, revealing it to be the water clone. The shadow clone walked away from Naruto, Mai, and Itachi.

"And this, Naruto-kun," said Itachi. "Is a technique I created and taught to Mai… Bunshin Daibakuha." No sooner had the words left Itachi's lips than the clone exploded like a bomb. Naruto's eyes widened and Mai smiled.

"These are the techniques we will be teaching you," she said.

"It will not be all about learning to fight," said Itachi. "You will be studying history and academia. You will be practicing chakra control exercises that will allow you to walk up walls, stick to ceilings, and treat water like solid ground."

"There will be some fun and games though," said Mai. "Those have a purpose too. We will be promoting agility, stealth, dexterity and intelligence. You'll have to deal with puzzles to challenge and sharpen the mind. You have a lot to live up to if you wish to be Hokage… and it won't be easy, even if you can cheat your way up. But in the end, it will be worth it."

Itachi smiled at Naruto. "Are you ready, Naruto-kun?"

"Yes," said Naruto. "Come on, let's get started!"

It had been close to two years since Uzumaki Naruto disappeared, and a few people were still reeling from the effects of it. Moods had ranged from desperate to terrified to hopeful or overjoyed. The longer he was gone, the more people shifted towards apathy; other than a distinct lack of annoying, over the top pranks performed by a loud-mouthed orange-wearing blond lunatic, things weren't that different.

For some, though, the concern never went away. They continued to wonder at what had become of Naruto; had he been killed? Had he run away to an enemy village? To live as a civilian, after failing to graduate from the academy so many times?

And a few beat themselves up over it, angry with themselves for allowing all that had happened to Naruto.

This was the village approached by a young boy via the main road into Konoha. It wasn't all that different from how he remembered it, and he wondered how people would react to his return.

The boy's face, clothes, and hair were completely concealed by the long-necked black cloak and straw hat he wore. The cloak itself was decorated with golden nine-tailed foxes, some portrayed as sleeping, some running, some jumping, some sitting stoically, like a guardian, and some of the more 'chibi' ones frolicking about, as though they were fox kits playing together. Perhaps the most important, though, was the large decal on the back of the cloak, which showed a golden fox resting between two other nine-tailed foxes, one a stand-out pink color, the other a bright, platinum color, all of their tails twined together to create the appearance of nine large tales of gold, platinum, and pink.

The boy stepped up to the guard post outside the gate, where a chūnin looked him over.

"And you are?" he asked gruffly. The boy tilted his straw hat up a bit to reveal some of the details of his face—his sapphire-cerulean blue eyes, whisker-marked cheeks, and spiky golden hair. The guard's eyes widened.

"Uzumaki Naruto," he said warmly.

"Wha… but… when… how… huh?"

Naruto didn't even blink.

"Um… welcome home," said the chūnin after taking a moment to recompose himself. "Have to say, never expected to see you again… kind of nice though… things have been quiet without you around. Um…"

"Is it really that awkward?"

"Kinda… nice getup, by the way. Anyways, um… you should probably go see Hokage-sama. He's been really worried about you."

"Yeah… I planned too. Thanks. I've been worried about how people would react, so best to see him immediately."

"Probably… you disappear for two years, then show up like this…" The chūnin shook his head. "Unbelievable."

"Believe it," said Naruto. "Because it just happened."

Author's Note: Well, I hope everyone liked that. Originally, the villagers got depressed, but I re-edited that to a much more neutral and believable reaction.

I've made Naruto more powerful, but I'm trying to avoid making him severely overpowered; for this stage of the series, he's far more powerful than the other younger characters, but not much beyond the stronger genin that we're shown. He has chakra control, clone techniques, basic academy techniques, brains and a more mature attitude (this facet is explored in later chapters).

Hope you all enjoy, and for newcomers, that you give this story a chance!