In the village of Konohagakure-no-sato, it was no secret that Uzumaki Naruto was an avid fan of graffiti artwork. That said, it was no surprise when the mountain sized monument to the Hokages past and present turned up covered in said art. While not surprised, the villagers were, in a word, pissed.
"Uzumaki Naruto, get back here!"
"Catch me if you can!"
Naruto ran through the village, spray cans in tow, trailed by several ninja bound and determined to catch the young artist. Naruto led his pursuers through the market district, jumping through stands and over crowds who barely had a chance to recognize the fact that they had just been run through. After taking a hard turn down an alley, Naruto's pursuers lost sight of their quarry, but seeing as he had no other direction in which to go, they continued their course. After the three ninja had left the alley, a section of the fence turned to fabric and collapsed, revealing Naruto holding said fabric.
"Heh, and they call themselves 'ninja'?" Naruto asked, smirking.
"You really do have to wonder, don't you?" a voice right next to Naruto's ear.
Naruto jumped. He turned to the source of the voice, a young man with a scar across his nose, wearing a standard issue Konoha Chuunin jumpsuit and vest. "Iruka-sensei! Where did you come from?"
Iruka looked down at the pre-teen, suddenly glowering. "Why aren't you in class?"
"Now that we have everyone here, let's begin our pop quiz." Iruka declared, looking over his class.
"Great job, Naruto. You pull stupid stunts like this and we all pay for it." A young man with brown pineapple shaped hair wearing a grey vest jacket over a mesh shirt declared.
"Shikamaru's right, Naruto. You keep doing stupid stuff like this and you'll never see the rank of Genin." A blonde girl wearing a two-piece purple dress declared.
"Well, Ino, since you seem so spunky why don't you go first." Iruka declared. "Please step to the front of the class and henge into Hokage-sama."
Ino sighed and stood up. After walking to the front of the class she folded her hands into the tiger seal. "Henge." She called out. Her body was obscured by a plume of smoke which quickly dispersed, revealing in her place a perfect copy of the Sandaime Hokage.
"Very good, Ino. Naruto, you're next." Iruka said, noting down a grade in his handbook.
Ino released the jutsu and walked back to her seat as Naruto walked down to the front.
"Same thing, Naruto, just henge into Hokage-sama." Iruka said.
Naruto huffed, but formed the tiger seal none the less. "Henge."
Like Ino, Naruto was obscured by a cloud of smoke. When it cleared, however, a perfect copy of Sandaime Hokage did not appear. The elderly leader's face and height were correct, but the large coat, by tradition white, was the same bright orange that graced Naruto's jumpsuit, and the three cornered hat, normally bearing the kanji for 'fire', now bored the symbol for 'fox'.
Iruka stared at 'Sandaime', 'Sandaime' stared at Iruka. Both blinked.
"Naruto…" Iruka started. 'Sandaime' looked on in anticipation. "It needs work." Iruka finally concluded, noting Naruto's grade down in his handbook.
Naruto sighed as he walked back to his seat. At least it wasn't an outright fail. He thought.
"Ha, always the dead last." A pink-haired girl mocked as Naruto walked past. Naruto felt stung at the comment but made no response.
"So says the girl that can't hold a henge for more than five minutes." Ino mocked the pink head.
Naruto looked back at the other blonde in surprise. Why is she doing this?
Before anymore insults could be thrown, Iruka called the next student to the floor.
Two hours passed before the class ended.
Despite Sakura's prediction, Naruto wasn't the dead last in the 'pop quiz', he actually placed solidly in the middle of the class. However, the psychological damage had already been done, and as the students shuffled out of the building into the training yard, either to wait for parents or to head home on their own, Naruto was feeling down. As he sat down on the swing, his head was buzzing with different emotions, most dark, but one thought, different from the others, floated to the surface again. Why did Ino do that?
Naruto could think of some possible explanations, such as the fact that Ino and Sakura are rivals after the same boy, so Ino's jibe was meant to belittle Sakura and her supposed defense of Naruto was simply an unintentional byproduct. There was also the possibility that Ino was attempting to goad Sakura into doing better by comparing her to the supposed 'last in class' Naruto, and that no defense of him was meant or should be inferred. But the more he thought of these explanations, the more confused he became. Neither fit perfectly, and the more he thought about Ino and Sakura's argument, the more he was forced to review his own class performance. It was far from stellar, he was forced to admit. He should pay more attention in class, but it hadn't made much difference before. When he did, the instructors seemed to demand that he get everything perfect, if even one thing was out of place they failed him outright. Every time before, it had been all or nothing. It wasn't until he joined Iruka-sensei's class that he began to get intermediary grades. While this increased his grade point average, it also gave him freedom to slack off. And the more he slacked off, the worse his grades slipped.
Naruto felt himself spiraling again, into that big dark hole in the middle of his soul. He took a deep breath and pulled the headphones out of his belt pouch. A coffee shop owner had given them to him one day after he helped the man close up the shop for pocket money. Whenever he felt himself spiraling into that dark hole, the music helped pull him out. It also helped him distance himself from the villagers, many of whom displayed no small amount of open contempt for him. Thinking about the villagers brought his thoughts back to Iruka-sensei, one of the few people who truly cared about him. If for no one else, I should study harder. Naruto thought, swinging slightly.
As Naruto considered leaving, one of the Academy instructors walked up to him. Naruto recognized him as being one of the temporary teachers, the ones who did more office work than instruction, named Mizuki. "Hello, Naruto." The man said as he walked up beside the young blonde.
"Do you need me for something?" Naruto asked, reducing the volume on his headphones so he could converse without having to lip-read.
"Actually," Mizuki started. "I'm here to help you out a little."
This caught Naruto's interest, to the point he actually took the headphones off.
"You see, Iruka-sensei told me that you've been falling behind in your studies a little, and thought that I might be able to provide you with a challenge that could get you some actual practice as well as some advanced study material." The man continued.
"What do I need to do to get this 'advanced study material'?" Naruto asked.
"It's simple." Mizuki explained. "There's a scroll in the Hokage's office that has been placed there for this little test. You will know it because it's on a pedestal. All you need to do is sneak into the office and get back out with the scroll. The scroll has some jutsu listed in it. All you need to do to complete this test is to master one of the jutsu listed in the scroll and demonstrate that you've mastered it to Iruka-sensei. And the key to this test, is to not get caught."
--Outside the Hokage's office—
Naruto looked up at the building towards the window that he knew led directly to the old leader's library. According to Mizuki, the way he got in and out didn't matter, so long as he did it without getting caught. His initial thought had been to simply walk in the front door, as the staff of the building had standing orders that he could see the elderly leader any time he wished as long as sad leader wasn't already engaged in a meeting. Naruto had quickly dismissed this idea because Mizuki had made it a point to say that the key to this little test was 'to not get caught'. Naruto was almost at a complete loss until he noticed something in the tree beside the building, squirrels. Specifically, the fact that they were able to easily scale the vertical tree trunk without any special equipment. Naruto smirked, he could kill two birds with one stone with this, practicing his henge jutsu while achieving his current goal.
Forming the tiger seal he quietly mouthed the word. "Henge." After the smoke cleared, an orange-red squirrel stood in Naruto's place. Moving quickly, Naruto the squirrel started climbing the tall office building. After squeezing under the partially opened study window, Naruto released his transformation and looked around the room. He saw many scrolls in the room, but couldn't immediately identify a pedestal. After walking into the room a bit further, he saw what he was looking for. Tucked between two bookcases was a pedestal with a massive scroll resting on top. Naruto quickly retrieved the scroll from the pedestal and considered his ways out. Deciding it was simpler to leave the same way he got in, Naruto transformed back into a squirrel, the scroll becoming a nut with him. Squeezing his way back under the cracked window, Naruto the squirrel quickly made his way into the forest to a place that he knew he wouldn't be disturbed for a while.
As Naruto disappeared under the window, Sarutobi, the Sandaime Hokage, walked into the room. The very first thing to greet his eyes was the lack of one very important scroll. He didn't know why at the time, but his very first thought at the sight was simply, Naruto, what have you done?
"This goes beyond some simple graffiti, Hokage-sama, the little brat has to be stopped!"
"He's gone out of control, just let us end his reign of terror!"
Sarutobi raised his hand to silent the shouts. "Enough! This isn't the first scroll that Naruto's borrowed from me, I suspect that he doesn't even know what he has. Find him and the scroll and bring them both back to me unharmed! Am I clear?"
The gathered shinobi all straightened and replied in unison. "Hai, Hokage-sama!"
Sarutobi raised his arm again, this time in a signal for those gathered to begin their search. Iruka was among them.
If he borrowed the scroll thinking that it was simply a scroll with some techniques to study, he would go to someplace that he knew he wouldn't be disturbed. He wouldn't go back to his apartment, too many people show up there unannounced. The only place I can think of that he would possibly go to is…
…The Tag Shack.
Naruto sat the scroll down beside him as he stared at the side of the shack. No one really knew who had built this place, or why, but everyone knew that it wasn't a place to be at night, which meant that no one would come looking for Naruto there.
The shack was one of his favorite places, the place where he had learned to appreciate graffiti as an art. The entire building, all four walls and roof, was covered in graffiti. Some thought that the art was from some very bored Chuunin, others believed it was done by a famous artist who had grown bored with his normal mediums. All Naruto knew was that it was both an incredible work of art and one of the few places he could really be alone.
Sitting down, he unrolled the scroll to start looking over the techniques to see which one he should master to show Iruka-sensei. He hadn't unrolled the scroll very far before a small envelope fell from the rolled parchment into his lap. Picking the envelope up, a pin fell out of the opened container into his hand, depicting a white stylized skull on a black background.
What's something like this doing in a ninjutsu scroll? Naruto thought, bouncing the pin in his hand. Immediately after the pin landed, Naruto started blinking. The world felt different somehow. As if he could hear more than he could before. Different or not, however, Naruto still needed to master at least one ninjutsu on the scroll to pass Iruka-sensei's test. Quickly scanning the first few jutsu listed on the scroll, one caught his eye. Kage Bunshin no Jutsu, huh, this looks promising.
His jutsu decided, Naruto got to work.
--Three Hours Later--
Iruka found the Tag Shack with little difficulty. He had been several times as a child, it was here that the Yondaime Hokage had brought him shortly after his parents died, just before the man's own death.
The young Chuunin shook these thoughts of the past out of his head as he walked up to Naruto, who appeared to have fallen asleep next to the shack. Iruka shook Naruto's shoulder to wake him. "What do you think you're doing out here?"
Naruto blinked as he came back to full awareness. "Uh, Iruka-sensei? Guess you found me. Sorry, but I only mastered one technique to show you."
Iruka blinked. Only mastered one technique? What is he talking about?
"Don't you remember, Iruka-sensei? You sent Mizuki-san to me with an additional assignment to get the scroll and learn a technique off of it." Naruto answered Iruka's unspoken question.
Iruka blinked again. Mizuki told him this? What was he thinking? What was he hoping to gain?
Naruto looked at his sensei oddly as he got up into a sitting position. "Iruka-sensei, you probably shouldn't think out loud like that."
It was Iruka's turn to look at Naruto strangely. "What are you –"
Iruka never got to complete his question, as just as he was speaking he could hear an odd whistling in the air. Before Naruto could say anything, Iruka shoved him to one side as multiple kunai whistled through the air and buried themselves in the side of the shack.
Too bad, I had hoped to end this quickly too.
Naruto blinked again, both at the knives just thrown his way and the voice in his head that sounded like Mizuki-san.
"Humph, it's too bad for you that you found the little bastard first, guess that means I just have to kill you too."
Naruto looked up in the trees where the kunai had come from too find none other than Mizuki, wielding two massive shuriken and multiple smaller weapons pouches.
Iruka glared at Mizuki as he pulled a kunai from the ground next to him. I can't let him get Naruto or the scroll. "Naruto, take the scroll and run!"
"Don't you want to know, Naruto? Don't you want to know why everyone hates you?" Mizuki taunted. I can't let the brat run, it was a pain just to track him down the first time.
Naruto blinked as he grabbed the scroll and started crawling backwards into the shack, as if trying to draw strength from the graffiti he loved painted on its walls. "What are you talking about?"
Iruka's eyes widened in fear. He wouldn't dare! "Don't listen to him Naruto! Just run!"
Just for interfering, you idiot, I'll make sure that even if the two of you survive he'll never trust you again! "Don't you know, eleven years ago, what happened to this village? That the Yondaime defeated the Kyuubi? But that's not the whole story, because even he couldn't outright kill the Kyuubi. Do you know what he did?"
Iruka got to his feet, screaming. "Don't say it Mizuki!"
Mizuki smirked, an evil glint in his eye. "He sealed the fox. He sealed it into a newborn child. Do you know what child he sealed it into?"
Naruto started shaking. He didn't know where this was going, but he knew, from Mizuki's other voice, that it wasn't going to end well. He didn't know why, but he shook his head in a clear indication of 'no'.
Mizuki's smirk widened as Iruka's eyes widened further in fear. No, don't say it.
Mizuki drew to his full height while glaring down at Naruto. "You. He sealed the fox into you. In other words, YOU ARE THE KYUUBI! That's why everyone hates you! Because you took everyone's loved ones away! Even Iruka hates you, because you took away his parents! All those times he acted like he cared where just that, an act so that he could get closer to you to betray you!" Not really, but the little bastard doesn't know that!
Naruto gripped his head, both in pain and desperation. Which is it? Does Iruka-sensei like me or hate me? Which?!
Unable to take the stress of unanswered questions like these, Naruto finally grabbed the scroll and ran.
Mizuki, you lying bastard! Even if you live for this, you'll be executed for treason! Iruka gripped the kunai tighter. "You asshole, Mizuki."
Mizuki laughed at his former comrade's obvious distress. "What, did you honestly think that I would let either of you live? Don't worry, I'll be back to deal with you as soon as I'm done with the brat!" With that parting shot, Mizuki leapt after Naruto.
Iruka cursed under his breath and gave chase.
Naruto ran through the trees as fast as he could, tears staining his face. As he ran, Iruka ran up beside him. "Naruto, Mizuki isn't nearby. Pass me the scroll!"
At that moment, Naruto turned and punched Iruka square in the face. As Iruka fell to the forest floor, he was momentarily obscured by smoke, only to be replaced by Mizuki. "How did you know I wasn't Iruka?" he asked, wiping some blood from his busted nose.
"Because I'm Iruka."
Naruto also disappeared in a plume of smoke only to reveal Iruka holding a log. "If you thought I would let you get away with what you've done to Naruto, your sorely mistaken."
Mizuki stood back up, pulling one of his giant shuriken into battle position. "What do you care about the brat? After all, he is the fucking fox, he killed your parents for crying out loud! He doesn't even care about you or this village. Once he gets back to the village, he'll just use the jutsu in that scroll to destroy everyone!"
Unbeknownst to either Iruka or Mizuki, Naruto was hidden just several yards away behind a tree listening to every word that the pair of Chuunin exchanged.
Iruka readied a blade of his own. "You know, you're right."
At those words, Naruto stiffened. He really does…
However, Iruka wasn't finished. "That is, if he was the Kyuubi."
Naruto's eyes brightened. He really does care!
Iruka still wasn't done. "Naruto isn't the fox, he's a human being, a ninja in training of the Village Hidden in the Leaves, and one of my students! Your manipulation ends here, Mizuki!"
With that declaration, Iruka charged at Mizuki with a kunai in either hand. Mizuki, rather than wait and be skewered, let his massive shuriken fly, forcing Iruka to duck in order to preserve his head. While the scarred Chuunin was off-balance, Mizuki drew and threw two handfuls of standard sized shuriken. Iruka managed to dodge some of the flying missiles, but not all, those making contact drawing blood from his torso and arms. Unable to keep his balance from the damage, Iruka fell on his back.
Mizuki, taking full advantage of his downed opponent, drew his second giant shuriken and charged.
Before Mizuki could land his blow, he was knocked backwards by a blow to the stomach. What the hell?
"You will not touch Iruka-sensei."
Mizuki looked up from his new position on the ground. Naruto stood between him and Iruka, the scroll sat beside him. It may have just been a trick of the light, but somehow Naruto looked, menacing. Undeterred, Mizuki got back to his feet.
"You really think that you can stop me? Fat chance. I can kill a little punk like you with one shot." Mizuki boasted, readying his shuriken yet again. Just what can a little brat like him have as a special technique, anyway?
"Since you asked, I'll show you! I was saving this to show Iruka-sensei, but I think you could use the ass-kicking more!" Naruto shouted.
Mizuki stopped for a fraction of a second. Since I asked? What did he mean?
Naruto formed a single hand sign. "This is what I mean! Taiju Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!"
As Mizuki watched, hundreds, no, thousands of Naruto's appeared throughout the clearing.
As one, all the Naruto's called out. "What's the matter, I thought you were going to kill me in one shot? Since you're not coming to me, I'm coming to you!"
The beating was fairly straightforward after that.
After Mizuki was 'neutralized', Iruka called Naruto over.
"I'm in trouble, aren't I" Naruto stated simply.
"No," Iruka replied. "I'm actually impressed. You mastered a Jonin-level ninjutsu and defeated a Chuunin in actual combat. Sandaime-sama isn't even that upset with you for taking the scroll, all he wants is you and it back." Iruka replied. Not to mention the fact that this is easily worth a passing grade in class.
Naruto brightened. "You mean it, sensei? This jutsu is really enough to pass?"
Iruka's eyes widened in surprise yet again, but he covered it well. "Naruto, let's go back to the Hokage. As for passing, I'll definitely consider it."
After the scroll had been returned, the ninja had been recalled, and the ANBU had arrested Mizuki (or the bloody pulp that called itself Mizuki), Sarutobi finally got a chance to talk to Naruto privately.
"So, what jutsu did you learn from the scroll?" the elderly leader asked.
Naruto beamed. "Kage Bunshin, Iruka-sensei said that it's a jonin level technique, but it wasn't all that hard to learn."
Sarutobi nodded, unsurprised. The 'Art of the Shadow Doppelganger' was a costly technique that split the user's chakra evenly amongst the clones. Under normal circumstances, the amount of energy required to use the technique made it suicidal for anyone under the rank of jonin to even consider using it. However, most people didn't have Naruto's near-bottomless well of chakra.
"Did you find anything else in the scroll of interest?" the old man asked, puffing on his pipe.
"Yeah, I found this weird pin in an envelope just inside the thing." Naruto responded, fishing said pin from his pocket.
Sarutobi nearly choked on his pipe. He hadn't seen that pin in years. In fact, the last time he had seen it had been just before he came out of retirement, when the original owner of the pin had placed it in the envelope that Naruto had found it in.
"When you touched the pin, Naruto, did anything, odd, happen?" Sarutobi asked hesitantly.
Naruto considered the question. "Yeah, when I flipped the thing, it was like something around my mind disappeared, and I could hear more than I used to."
Sarutobi sighed, he had been afraid of that. "Naruto, you're not hearing anything. What you're hearing are other people's minds, their thoughts and emotions."
Naruto's eyes widened a little. "So, you mean that everything I thought Iruka-sensei and Mizuki-teme were saying was really?"
Sarutobi nodded. "That's correct, those were what they were thinking."
Naruto looked quizzically at the old man. "Why can't I hear you, though?"
Sarutobi smirked. "That's because your simply too weak right now. Your mind is just like any other muscle, it needs to be exercised. For the moment, your too weak to read, or rather 'scan', any thoughts but the most unguarded of ideas and emotions. In time, you'll likely be able to scan any mind you wish. In the meantime, you'll likely want some way to start keeping thoughts out of your head."
"Why would I want to do that?" Naruto asked.
Sarutobi smiled again. "There are some things that you may not want to know, and people are entitled to the privacy of their own minds. Not to mention, I've seen people go mad from abilities similar to yours who took no precautions to defend their own minds from the tidal wave of information."
Naruto took the advice in stride. "So, what do you recommend?"
Sarutobi's smile widened. "For that, there's someone I'd like you to meet."
--Konoha Market District—
"You want me to meet a coffee store owner?" Naruto asked, a bit incredulous.
"This coffee store owner is a bit different from most." Was Sarutobi's answer.
Naruto shrugged, deciding that the old man had yet to steer him wrong, so he walked in the door.
"Hey boss, what can I get you tonight?"
Naruto stopped dead in his tracks. It was the same shop owner that had given him his headphones! As he tried to get his mouth working again, Sarutobi walked in the door and placed his hand on Naruto's shoulder. "Hello, Sanae."
Sanae Hanekoma smiled at the elderly leader. "It's been a while, Sarutobi! Here for your regular?"
"Not tonight, Sanae, I'm actually here for your other skill."
Hanekoma frowned a little. "So, who's the unlucky soul?"
Naruto, feeling a little awkward, stepped forward. "I was wondering, if you knew how to keep people's thoughts out of my head?"
Hanekoma looked Naruto over. "Actually, boss, you've already got my best move in that department."
Sarutobi frowned. "What do you mean, Sanae?"
Hanekoma smiled again, tapping Naruto's belt pouch. "Music. It helps keep you focused on you, and not on other people's thoughts. It won't stop scanning, nothing really can, but it will help, but I'd avoid crowds for a few days until you get more used to scanning."
At this point, Sarutobi paled, and Naruto got the first true thought from the old man. Naruto, in Academy tomorrow, with all those people? Almighty, if ever there was a time that I needed a favor…
--Next Day, Iruka's Classroom—
I wonder what Sasuke-kun thinks of my hair?
Phew, who forgot to shower last night?
I hope I'm ready for the graduation exams, Mom's really expecting a lot.
Why the hell do all these people have to make so much kami-damned noise?
Naruto sat in his normal seat near the back of the classroom, trying with all his might not to bolt for the door. He had long since maxed out the volume output on his headphones and the voices in his head simply kept droning on. Hanekoma-san was correct, the headphones were helping (He had tried walking into the room without them on), but the sheer amount of noise in his head was deafening. To make matters worse for him, the Academy Graduation Exams were to be held today. This would make his third attempt at them, his first two attempts being thwarted both by what he now recognized to be sabotage, as well as the former bane of his ninja existence, the Bunshin-no-jutsu. Not like I'll have to worry about that one ever again.
As Naruto attempted to contemplate his ninja career through the mental noise, Iruka walked into the room. As the sensei walked to the front, Naruto noted what he considered an odd phenomenon, as almost all of the students thoughts suddenly focused on the Chuunin.
I wonder how he gets his hair to stay like that, it's like it never comes down?
Hope he doesn't begin the exams immediately, I need a chance to review Kawarimi.
This guy is useless to me, he never showed a single thing in class that I didn't already know.
Naruto's eyes flashed angrily in the direction of this last thought; after all, Iruka did save his hide last night. To his complete surprise, however, the origin of the thought was none other than the class's supposed 'genius', Sasuke.
Iruka cleared his through to grab the attention of the few remaining students otherwise occupied, then began to speak. "Well, the time has come for the graduation exams. I hope each of you studied hard, because this is your shot into a true ninja career. Now, as I call you down, please proceed into the exam room with the proctor who will test you on the basics of ninjutsu, genjutsu, and taijutsu. First up, Aburame Shino."
As Shino walked into the back room, Naruto could feel the overall vibe in the room literally change from chaos to one of excitement and fear. The feeling was overwhelming. Having no choice but to ride out the thoughts and emotions, Naruto again attempted to raise the volume before turning to his scattered notes. Might as well try to review.
After what felt like an eternity, only Naruto and Ino were left in the classroom.
"Uzumaki Naruto, please step back into the test room." Iruka called.
Naruto complied, not exactly happy to leave the now relatively mentally calm room. As he passed Iruka, he received one thought that was intentionally directed at him. Good luck.
Naruto entered the exam room. There were two proctors, Chuunin that he had seen before in the Hokage's office but didn't know by name, one sitting behind a long table that had both test results and two Leaf headbands remaining. One of the first things that Naruto noticed was that he couldn't hear either of these men, something he was grateful for.
"Alright, kid, let's start with the taijutsu test. You just have to last for five minutes in the circle on the floor, obviously better points for a better performance in the fight. Ready?"
Naruto looked at the circle, then at the Chuunin he was going to fight. The circle was the same size as the one the students had been practicing in all year, and the man was roughly the same size as Mizuki-teme. "Yeah, I'm ready." He answered, his headphones already returned to his belt pouch.
The fight was relatively straightforward, with only the basics of hand to hand combat being used. Naruto held his own for the first three minutes, exchanging light blows with the larger instructor. After those three minutes, however, he noticed something; he could see the instructor throwing the punches in his mind before he actually threw them. The proctor's mental defenses were down! Taking full advantage of this, Naruto moved left to dodge a medium kick, then dropped to his knees to avoid the follow up sweep kick. Being a bit of an opportunist, and already in the perfect position, Naruto used a simple ground-level sweep kick to knock the proctor on his back. Before the proctor's mental walls came back up, Naruto caught a piece of a thought. How in the world did he…?
Naruto stood back up. "So, is that a pass?" he asked, extending his hand to the proctor to help him back up.
The man looked back up at the orange clad student, surprise registering for a moment before he reached up to take Naruto's hand. The moment that the proctors hand made contact with the blonde's, both had to bite back screams. Naruto could feel the man's mind right next to his, with no filters or sympathy. All of the man's senses, thoughts, and emotions were bare before him, as well as his own. The proctor quickly released Naruto's hand, having been jerked into a sitting position by the shock. The second proctor, seeing the distress of both combatants, rushed over. "What just happened? Are you guys okay?"
The first proctor pushed himself up. "I'm okay, I think. You still with me, kid?"
Naruto blinked, for a moment he had been trying to remember how to breath. "I, I think so."
The first proctor, regaining his composure, stood back up and started back to the exam. "Alright, disregarding whatever that was, I think we can call that performance a pass. We should move on to the genjutsu portion now."
Both Naruto and the second proctor nodded in agreement, returning to their original positions.
"Okay, this part is in two portions, first you have to break a genjutsu, then you need to demonstrate your skill with the academy level jutsu, henge. Are you ready?"
Naruto nodded, his breath still coming in uneven bursts. The proctor formed several hand seals and whispered his technique so that Naruto couldn't hear the name. the world around the blonde faded to black, he couldn't see, hear, smell, touch, or taste anything around himself. He began to panic. How am I supposed to break out of this? I can't even see or feel my own hands to make the release seals!
As fast as his panic came, however, it subsided with a single realization. I can still feel their minds!
Even though he couldn't hear the thoughts of the proctors, he could still feel that they were there, and some of their identity bled through. This small realization, this one feeling, was enough to bring Naruto's own mind into focus, and while his external senses were still muted, he regained his sense of self-location. His hands set in the tiger seal, he did not shout, but did the iron resolve in his voice was clear as he invoked the release jutsu. "Kai."
The darkness shattered, and all of Naruto's senses came back in full force. The proctor looked rather impressed. "Good, now that that's done, let's see your skill with henge. Change into whatever you want, as long as it's recognizable."
Naruto stopped for a moment. Usually, the teachers chose what they wanted the student to transform into, so he had to think for a moment what he wished to change into. A moment passed, then he smirked. No one really knows how I got in last night. His hands formed the appropriate seals. "Henge." Naruto's squirrel form appeared from the smoke.
Again, the proctor nodded his approval. "Interesting choice. Alright, the final part, perform the doppelganger technique."
Naruto, after returning to his human form, just smirked at the proctor. "I've got something better than that!" His hands formed into his newly-acquired hand seal. "Kage-Bunshin no jutsu!"
Four copies appeared behind the original Naruto, all holding the same seal. Both proctors had to pick their bottom jaws up from the floor. One even stepped up to the copies and poked one in the forehead. "I don't believe it, he can actually perform a jonin level technique." He stated, mildly dazed. The proctor at the table stared for a moment, then called Naruto over to the table. "I do believe you've earned this." He said, handing Naruto a headband.
Naruto looked at the headband, holding it gently. "I, I really passed?"
The proctor nodded. "You really passed. Be back here two days from now for team assignments and genin orientation. And, congratdulations!"
Naruto's face went from amazement, to surprise, to pure joy, with a smile that nearly broke his face in half. "YATTA! I FINALLY PASSED!" With that, he left the academy to celebrate his passage.
--That Night, Hokage's Office--
Anko slammed her hands on the table. "Really, you call these 'balanced' teams? I've seen drunks with better balance than these."
Sarutobi calmly looked at the snake jonin. "The academy instructors worked for two days to construct this list, Anko. They designed these teams for maximum balance between the students' skills."
Anko smacked the table again. "That's the problem right there. 'Skill' balance, not 'Psychological' balance. If you let these teams go as is more than one will have an attempted homicide within its own ranks before the year is out."
"Would you care to explain further?" Asuma spoke up, interested.
"Yes," Kakashi seconded. "I think we all would like to know what you've based these assumptions off of. I, for one, can't see anywhere near as bleak an outcome that you're so sure of."
"That, Scarecrow, is why I'm a psychologist, and you are not." Anko retorted. "Take a look at Team 7, you have Sasuke Uchiha, a very unbalanced kid with a severe inferiority complex, with Sakura Haruno, who has a very unhealthy obsession with same said Uchiha on top of a classic case of schizophrenia. Sadly, the sanest member of this squad is Naruto Uzumaki, and even he has issues, but he has, without a doubt, demonstrated the absolute most potential of this squad. The moment he starts gaining any strength at all, the Uchiha's little complex will flare up with a vengeance and little Miss Wallflower will not do a damn thing to stop him, hell, as unbalanced as she is she might even help the punk.
If Team 7 isn't enough for you, let's look at Team 10. You've got an undriven genius, sadly the sanest member of this team, with a glutton who is eating himself into an early grave, and a textbook narcissist. They might, keyword might, be able to work together long enough to make Chunin, but I wouldn't put any money on it.
Team 8 is another basket full of cases. The Hyuuga has such a bad inferiority complex that she's basically started to shut down. If she makes it through the year without at least one attempted suicide, I'll eat my coat. Top that with the Inuzuka's narcissistic mentality and need to assert his domination over others, I'd almost say that the Hyuuga girl's suicide would be the honorable way out. Finally, we have this class's only other truly sane member, the Aburame kid, who could easily be driven insane after having to deal with teammates like that."
"Obviously, you've taken the time to review each graduating student's file. So what is it that you suggest, a group therapy session for all of them before you even consider them fit to be Genin?" Kakashi asked with no small amount of sarcasm.
"What teams do you suggest, Anko?" Sarutobi asked before the snake mistress could make a biting comment in response to Kakashi's sarcasm.
Anko leaned back. "Well, since you asked, I suggest this: Uzumaki, Nara, and Yamanaka on Team 10; Uchiha, Inuzuka, and Haruno on Team 7; and Hyuuga, Akimichi, and Aburame on Team 8. Nara and Uzumaki are natural balances to one another, and the two could easily handle Yamanaka when she gets out of line. Inuzuka and Uchiha are so naturally different that they wouldn't really give a damn about whose top dog, so to speak, and Haruno wouldn't exactly be an easy outlet for Inuzuka's testosterone levels. Finally, Akamichi and Aburame are calm and quiet by nature, an easy environment for a gifted teacher, *Cough* Nai-chan *Cough*, to get Hyuuga out of her little shell."
"You honestly believe that these so called teams will work?" Kakashi asked, unbelieving.
"I like it." Asuma stated. "For once, teams that I don't have to watch over my shoulder to make sure their working and not quietly trying to slip a knife into each other's ribs."
"I'm in agreement." Kurenai added. "We've focused on balanced skills for so long, and watched the number of graduates plummet, it's a wonder that no one thought of this sooner."
"It is settled, then." Sarutobi stated, putting his pipe down. "I will inform Iruka of the changes tomorrow morning before the final session."
"Sir, I protest…" Kakashi began.
Sarutobi cut him off. "I know that you wanted both Sasuke and Naruto, but it simply isn't a feasible idea. I'm sorry Kakashi, but it isn't going to happen."
"But, sir, you're really just going to just take Anko's word on this? The Academy Instructors aren't stupid, and they had plenty of time to sort out any so-called issues before they submitted this list."
"Enough, Kakashi." Asuma cut the masked man off. "You know full well that the instructors built these lists based off of orders from the Council. They aren't worried about team stability, and you know it. Anko has been studying team psychology for ten years, longer than most of those guys have been teaching. The old man has approved the changes, just let it go."
Kakashi sent the chain smoking jonin a dirty look, but didn't say anything more.
"Well, since that's settled, I expect to hear from each of you which teams pass the final tests within the next forty-eight hours. Until then, you are all dismissed."
With that, each jonin left the office to prepare for the first meeting with their new teams.
A/N: Okay, so I was in the process of re-writing The Chronicles when my muse finally sat me down at sword point and ordered me to write this. Several versions of this basic idea have been bouncing around in my head since I fully beat The World Ends With You, and there has been an absolute lack of any true Naruto/TWEWY fanfics that I could actually find. I will continue this, and I will continue to work on the re-write, so reviews will be greatly appreciated. Once again, this is your one and only Shining Pheonix, back and still adding to my nest of flaming ashes.
Update 4/22/10: Finally got around to correcting some errors in the original upload, mostly incorect italicizing in odd locations, as well as a small plotline glitch, mostly just making the chapter easier to read.