Naruto: Myoushuu no Fuuin
By May Wren
After the whole Mizuki incident…
"Ne, Jiji, am I really the Kyuubi?" Naruto asked the Hokage as they sat in his office after the whole Mizuki disaster.
"No, Naruto," the Hokage said firmly. "I promise you, no."
"But how do you know for sure?" Naruto pressed. "All of the villagers scowl at me and call me monster and demon. So how do you know? Maybe Yondaime messed up and I really am the fox."
"Hmm," Sandaime mused. "Well, let me show you something." He reached into a drawer and pulled out two items.
"What is this?" he asked, holding one of them up.
"A kunai," Naruto answered.
"A scroll?" Naruto was confused.
"Right. Now watch." Naruto watched carefully as the Hokage wrote some characters onto the scroll then set the kunai on top of the characters and activated it with a flash of chakra. The kunai disappeared in a puff of smoke.
"Do you know what I did?" the Hokage asked; Naruto shook his head. "I used fuuinjutsu to seal the kunai into the scroll. Now what is this?" He held up the finished product.
"Er, a scroll with a kunai sealed into it?"
"Correct, as far as it goes," the Hokage allowed. "But is this a scroll or a kunai?"
"Exactly," the Hokage said, pleased. "Now do you understand?"
It took Naruto a few moments to grasp what Sandaime was getting at, and then the lights went on.
"Oooh," he said, understanding. "So I'm not the Kyuubi then." Sandaime shook his head in agreement.
"The Kyuubi is just… imprisoned inside me. And held there by a seal," he said. Sandaime nodded, and Naruto began to think. A seal had managed to defeat and imprison the Kyuubi no Kitsune, the strongest demon to ever exist. It was just ink on paper (or a stomach, as the case may be), and it held so much power… Yeah, Naruto decided, I gotta get me some of that.
By the time the Sandaime turned back from putting the scroll away, Naruto was gone.
The Konoha Shinobi Library was open 24-hours, so even though it was late when he'd left the Hokage Tower, Naruto headed straight there. Luckily, it was also late enough that Naruto didn't run into anyone else there. Even as unfamiliar as he was with the library, it didn't take him long to find what he was looking for. After all, everyone else might have thought he was a dead-last moron, but the truth was that class was boring and Naruto had never cared about stupid things like grades. But this… This interested him. So he grabbed half-a-dozen dusty books that were on the meager old shelf dedicated to fuuinjutsu and took them back to his apartment and began to read.
All of the new Academy graduates had been given a week off. This allowed them to get their Ninja Registrations from the Administration Office but, more importantly, it let the Academy Instructors make their team assignment recommendations to the Hokage and gave the Hokage the time to approve or change them as necessary and assign a Jounin sensei to each.
Naruto had spent the entire week trying to figure out fuuinjutsu. He hadn't seen any of his classmates and none of them had found out yet about his special graduation. So when Naruto showed up at the Academy the next week, there was a bit of surprise.
"Naruto, didn't you know this meeting was for graduates only?" Shikamaru asked, wondering what he was doing there. Naruto just pointed to his forehead protector in answer, too intent on his book to give a verbal reply. He slipped into an empty seat in the back without further questions, though that certainly didn't mean nobody else was curious. On the contrary, interest was piqued. Uzumaki Naruto had somehow passed, even though he'd failed the exam. And he was reading a book. In public. Voluntarily. A few of them checked to see if the sky was falling, but the entrance of Sakura and Ino drew their attention away from Naruto and to the spectacle that they created by arguing over who would sit by Sasuke.
For his part, Sasuke refused to even look at them, staring straight ahead and sneering in derision. Their contest over who would have the privilege of sitting next to Sasuke was so intense, they began to wrestle on the floor. Unfortunately for them, that was the exact moment Iruka walked in.
"Sakura! Ino! What are you doing," he demanded.
"Er… uh…" Sakura stammered, unsure of what to do.
"Just some last minute practicing, Sensei!" Ino said innocently, well used to trying to get out of trouble.
"Er, right Sensei!" Sakura agreed, quickly following her lead.
"Well, that's enough. Why don't you both sit up here in the front where I can make sure you don't have any more last minute practices," Iruka said. The girls slumped, but did as he said. Iruka gave a short speech to the class on how they were proud ninja of Konoha now, and needed to act in ways which would not bring dishonor to the Shinobi Corps. He looked particularly at Sakura and Ino as he said that. Then he announced the teams.
Naruto was peripherally aware of what Iruka was saying, enough to note that he'd been put with Sakura and Sasuke on Team 7, but he was busy with his book. So it didn't bother him when everyone left for lunch, or when everyone came back to meet their Jounin Sensei, or when he, Sakura, and Sasuke were left by their sensei to wait for more than two hours. When their sensei finally did come, Naruto looked at him and felt a brief flutter of recognition before it flitted away. The silver-haired Jounin gave them all a once over.
"My first impression of you is… you're not worth my time."
After Kakashi, Sakura, and Sasuke all left, Naruto sat on the Academy's roof, wondering about Kakashi and what he'd said. They were to go on a survival test, but weren't to eat beforehand. And there was a 66% failure rate. Naruto, having flunked the Academy final exam three times, was well aware that there were a large number of students who passed the final exam but were still at the Academy for another year. He just hadn't realized that they'd been sent back by their Jounin sensei. And Naruto could not afford to be sent back to the Academy—he'd only passed by the skin of his teeth this time. If he were to be sent back, he'd be put with a new teacher. And without Iruka, he doubted he'd be given a chance.
So he needed to find more information about Kakashi's survival test. Luckily, he was already at the Academy. By himself. Grinning, he thought of all the pranks he could play, but then he remembered the hitai-ate on his forehead and quickly sobered. He was a ninja now, and that meant no more pranks. Not that he wouldn't still make good use of his pranking skills.
Naruto had been called into the Administrative Office of the Academy so often that he knew not only where it was, but that students' personnel records were kept in the filing cabinet on the wall to the left of the door and were organized by year and class. He also knew that the only thing between him and those records were a few flimsy locks. After all, in a school full of children, they couldn't have lethal traps set up. And, courtesy of his neighborhood, Naruto could pick a lock as quickly and easily as a professional thief.
It took him thirty seconds to get off the roof and through the office door, and only a handful of breaths to unlock the filing cabinet. He carefully began flipping through the records.
"First year… second… third… fourth… Bingo, review year."
He shuffled through the students until he found the three who had been assigned to Kakashi last year. One hated him with a passion, and the other two had dropped out. But one of those—Kensuke—he knew fairly well, being from the same neighborhood. Considering, Naruto thought he might be able to get him to help. He carefully put everything back precisely where he'd found it and locked the cabinet and office doors behind him. Then he went to find Kensuke.
He found him in the Southwest corner of Konoha's Akasen—the red light district—running a shell game. He waited, carefully hidden, until Kensuke's marks had given up, then showed himself.
"Hey, Naruto," Kensuke greeted him. "How's it hanging?"
"Meh, a little to the left these days," Naruto shrugged. "I got this a few days ago, you know, and was hoping you could shed some light on a few things for me." Naruto pointed to his hitai-ate. Kensuke raised an eyebrow behind his glasses and pushed his dark hair behind his ear.
"Is that so?" he said. "Well, play me. Win and I'll answer your questions. Lose and you owe me a favor. Fair?"
Naruto nodded and watched Kensuke flip up the shells to prove to him there was no trick and to show him where the queen of spades was. Then he started spinning them, trying to confuse Naruto into forgetting which shell held the queen.
"You've gotten better at this," Naruto remarked, without taking his eyes off the table.
"I've had a lot of practice since dropping out. Now tell me, where's my lady?" he asked as he stopped shuffling the shells. Naruto slapped his hands down on top of the two empty shells, more out of habit than to ensure that Kensuke didn't try to pull a fast one. Kensuke sighed and lifted the remaining shell to show that it did indeed hold the queen.
"Tch, I should've known better than to bet against you," Kensuke complained. "What do you want to know?"
"I've been assigned to Hatake Kakashi…"
The next morning, armed with Kensuke's information, Naruto ate a large breakfast. He debated showing up late, but decided he may as well be on time. Just in case Kakashi decided to show up. And he brought his latest fuuinjutsu book with him so he wouldn't waste the hours he expected to wait. He was the last to show up, being the only one not to have rushed to be there early.
"Hey, guys," he greeted. Sasuke grunted and Sakura waved. Then Naruto sat to wait; timing, after all, was everything. After two hours of silence, he heard Sakura's stomach rumble. Another ten minutes and Sasuke's replied. There, Naruto thought as he pulled out a big bag of dumplings and began to munch.
"Kakashi-sensei ordered us not to eat this morning," Sakura said accusingly.
"Nope," Naruto replied casually, listening to both of their stomachs complain loudly as he munched down another one. "He made a recommendation that we not eat before we came because he thought we would throw up. He also said we would be taking a survival test, and I remember the last survival test we took at the academy had us hunting and scavenging for food for three days. So you better believe I ate this morning. Are you saying you guys didn't?"
Sakura blinked at that—Naruto had managed to out-think her. Naruto, the dead last, had analyzed the situation better than she and Sasuke, the top two in the class. She wasn't sure what to do about that. Sasuke just scowled.
"Hunh," Naruto said, scratching his chin as though in contemplation. "Well, I'll share my dumplings with you. Whatever Kakashi has in mind, it'll be better if we're not starving when we go into it. So here." He held out the dumplings. When Sasuke reached out for one, he grinned. Gotcha.
So Kakashi found them companionably snacking on dumplings when he showed up half-an-hour later. He was so startled by their blatant disregard for his warnings that, for a moment, he just stood there and stared.
"Ohayo," Naruto said with a smile. Sasuke gave him a raised eyebrow, and Sakura frowned at him, accusingly saying, "You're late."
"Maa, a black cat crossed my path and I had to go the other way around the village to get here," he explained. All three of his potential students glowered at him. Kakashi smiled. He thought he was beginning to like these twerps.
They were all three hidden away. The companionship forged that morning just from sharing a snack already coming into play; without any conscious thought, they had all three fled into hiding from Kakashi together.
"So, only two of us can pass," Sakura said sadly. She'd gotten to like Naruto—just a little bit—that morning. When he wasn't running around like a loud fool or bugging her for dates, he really wasn't all that bad.
"No, this is an all or nothing test," Naruto said with a certainty that surprised the others. They looked at him in confusion.
"I am not going back to the Academy for a Review year," Naruto said. "So I did some research on this Hatake guy. And I got some information about this bell test of his. It's all an f-ing mind trip."
"What do you mean," Sasuke demanded.
"Genin teams are passed and failed whole," Naruto explained. "That's why they're so careful picking them. So Kakashi only having two bells is a trick to drive us apart."
Sasuke's eyes narrowed in anger, and Sakura let out a soft 'oh' of realization. It only took them a moment of thought to realize that Naruto was right. They'd seen dejected Genin return to the Academy for Review Year, too. And nobody had ever complained about their teammates going on without them. Though some had certainly complained that it was their teammates who were to blame for the Review Year.
"Naruto," Sasuke said, furious that his new supposed-teacher had tried to play him for a fool. "What else do you know."
"A lot," Naruto said with a wicked smile. "And I have a plan."
Kakashi was surprised when it was Sasuke instead of Naruto who was the first to engage him. From all of their files, he'd expected Naruto to be the most impulsive. As Kakashi was slowly herding Sasuke where he wanted him, he saw Sakura and Naruto hiding in the wings, waiting. He had to suppress a smile, wondering if this would be the first team to work together. Then Sasuke completely and suddenly changed tactics, switched a left jab to his torso to a grappling move.
"Now!" Sasuke yelled as Kakashi tried to dislodge him, only to find that he was unable to move. Naruto and Sakura had sprung from the bush at Sasuke's cue, and Naruto, he saw, was concentrating very hard on… something. He couldn't tell what, but he assumed it had something to do with his—and apparently Sasuke's, too—immobility.
"Go, Sakura," Naruto grunted, hands maintaining their seal and remaining as still as possible. Sakura darted towards them and grabbed the bells, then ran back to Naruto.
"Sasuke, ready," Naruto warned. And suddenly, Kakashi could move again, but Sasuke had dropped and rolled away towards his teammates. A slip of paper fluttered to the ground, dropped when Sasuke had moved. Kakashi bent to pick it up and saw a seal painted on it. This, he realized, was how they had been frozen. He wondered where they had gotten it, and how Naruto had learned to activate it. Then he looked at it closer, and wondered what exactly it was; he'd never seen a seal quite like that before.
"Well, Sakura," he said, tucking the paper into his pouch for further examination later. "Which of the boys are you giving your second bell to?"
"But… we worked together, Sensei," she said, obviously confused. "Don't we all pass?"
"I told you that whoever had a bell would eat lunch, and whoever didn't would get tied to a post and sent back to the Academy. So, since you have both, you get to pick which of the boys passes, and which gets sent back," Kakashi paused and rubbed his chin. "Unless, of course, you're going to keep both bells for yourself and send both of them back."
"That isn't fair," she protested. "It took all three of us working together to get the bells…"
"Life isn't fair," Kakashi said easily.
"Give it to Sasuke," Naruto said, watching Kakashi with flat eyes. "He's bluffing. He'll pass all of us or none of us"
"I assure you I do not bluff."
"Then give it to Naruto," Sasuke said. "It's about time the Uchiha seat on the Council worked for something other than collecting dust."
"It would be interesting to see their reaction to the number of genin Kakashi has failed," Naruto remarked. "I believe the total so far is 21? Twelve of whom passed their subsequent exam? And at least eight of them had relatives on the Council."
Kakashi wondered how Naruto knew that, and whether or not the boys were serious. Although he had to give them points; trying to threaten their Jounin sensei into passing them took some serious chutzpah.
"Meh," he said. "The worst that could happen to me is that I wouldn't be given a team. And since I'm trying to fail you anyway, that is my end goal. You, of course, would all still fail."
"Kakashi-sensei," Sakura hemmed. Then she gave a bell to both the boys, much to their surprise. "I did the least. If anyone deserves to go back, it's me."
Kakashi smiled, pleased he finally had a team that he could pass. A team that deserved to pass.
"Good choice, Sakura," he said. "But… you all pass."
He saw the other two kids give Naruto a grateful look and an appraising one.
"How did you know, Naruto?" Sakura asked. "He sure didn't sound like he was bluffing."
"Maa, maa," Naruto rubbed the back of his head. "You should never try to con a conman."
"You?" Sasuke asked skeptically. Naruto shrugged and smiled slyly.
"I may've run a game or two in my time," he said.
"Really?" Sakura asked. "What do you mean?"
Kakashi shook his head, pleased his team was already bonding.
"Hmm, well, a good con never reveals his tricks, you know," Naruto hedged with a grin.
"What! Naruto!" Sakura began to yell.
"Mou, forget about me?" Kakashi asked. "It was all of your choices to give up the bell for your teammates that made me pass you. There's something important I want you to remember. For shinobi, rules are important. They govern almost all of our existence. But to think, as you did this morning when you ignored my words telling you not to eat, is more important. And most important of all are these bonds we forge with our comrades. So one day, when you are presented with the choice between following the rules or saving your comrade, I want you to remember this moment, when you—three genin—worked together and broke the rules and sacrificed yourself to defeat a Jounin and help each other succeed."
They remained silent as they took in his words.
"Congratulations," Kakashi said. "Now, we're officially Team 7. We'll meet at 7:00 tomorrow morning at that bridge."
All of the Jounin currently in Konoha were waiting at the Triple Kunai, a shinobi-only bar near the Hokage tower that Konoha's Jounin frequented. As Kakashi headed towards the back where they had formed a large table, he saw he was the last of those given a Genin team to arrive.
"Well?" Asuma asked immediately. Kakashi shrugged and everyone groaned.
"Not another team failed," Gai moaned. "My eternal rival, why must you douse the flames of…"
"They passed," he interrupted. Everyone froze.
"What was that?" Asuma asked.
"Can you repeat that?" Hayate said, coughing. "I'm sure I must not have heard that correctly. Did you actually say you passed a team?"
Anko tried to use the distraction to slither her way into Kakashi's lap, but he stood at the last second to get a round and she only managed to take his seat.
"We knew it had to happen sometime," Anko grouched. "Hokage-sama must've made him."
"Nope," Kakashi said cheerily as he returned. "They're just an exceptional bunch. Now which of you passed your brats?"
"Mine were practically born together," Asuma said. "They passed my test easily. Shikamaru can throw a plan together pretty easily, and they were able to catch me no problem. I let Ino and Chouji maneuver me into position for Shikamaru to catch me with his family's shadow jutsu."
"This was my first team," Kurenai spoke up. "But they worked together well. I had them try to find me, and it took them a few hours but they did it."
A few other Jounin mentioned failing their teams.
"Mine failed, too. Idiots, all of them. Now spill it, Hatake," Genma demanded. "I want to hear about this team that passed your infamous bell test."
"Well… when I got there, they were all sitting together eating dumplings like I hadn't ever told them not to eat," he said, still confused over this. The others began to chuckle.
"It seems as though you, my eternal rival, have been gifted with a team which will test your flames of youth," Gai said, slapping his back.
"More like he got stuck with brats as hard-headed and ornery as he is," Asuma chuckled. Kakashi quickly summed up the rest of the test, then got out the paper with the seal.
"Have any of you ever seen a seal like this?" he asked. Anko, Asuma, and Gai, all having some minor experience with seals, looked the paper over. Anko poked at it a few times, then tried to activate it and the paper dissolved.
"Hunh, well, shit," she said. Kakashi watched as the disintegrated paper blew away, and wondered what was to come for his team.
When the Genin of Team 7 showed up the next morning, they were again forced into a long wait.
"I have a sneaking suspicion this is going to be a habit of his," Naruto said, much annoyed as he leaned against one of the bridge's railings.
"Hn," Sasuke grunted, equally annoyed. Sakura sighed.
"Well, I brought dango to share," she said hesitantly. "If you'd like."
"Really?" Naruto asked, thrilled someone was going to share food with him.
"Hm!" Sakura agreed happily. "It was only fair, since you shared your dumplings with us yesterday."
"Thanks, Sakura!" he said, helping himself to a stick from the bag she set out. He conveniently forgot to mention that he'd only brought the dumplings as a reason to share his knowledge of the test. Sasuke jumped down from his perch on the railing and joined them.
"If this happens again tomorrow," Sasuke said. "We should start planning something to do. I refuse to waste hours every day waiting on that man, even if he is our sensei."
So when Kakashi finally did show up, he was again met with three Genin, munching on snacks and, it appeared, plotting. He wondered who had caught their ire.
"Ohayo, mina-san," he greeted.
"You're late," Sakura censured him.
"Is this something we can expect from you often?" Sasuke interrupted his excuse.
"Because we have other things we can be doing besides waiting for you, you know," Naruto finished. Kakashi blinked in surprise, taking in the three of them, arms all crossed over their chests and glaring at him. Even the Hokage didn't confront him on his lateness (at least, not directly), and these Genin thought to do so on their second day as his students? Still, he found them kind of cute, and was glad his mask hid his grin.
"Maa, maa, let's do some training, ne?" he distracted them.
He set them all to doing katas for the basic taijutsu style taught at the academy, and frowned as he watched Naruto.
"Hold," he ordered, and Naruto froze, that having been drilled into all of them at the Academy. Kakashi poked him, and Naruto fell over. "Your left foot should be another step forward and turned out more in that stance. Again."
To his credit, Naruto got right back up.
"Shoulders back for this one."
He made small but important adjustments to Naruto's stances throughout.
"Didn't you listen to your teachers at all?" Kakashi finally asked.
"This is exactly how Mizuki …" Naruto's mouth snapped shut at that.
"I remember that," Sakura piped up. "Mizuki-sensei spent a whole week with you working on your taijutsu."
"Mizuki hated me," Naruto said, voice so nonchalant about it even Sasuke turned to look. "I'm not surprised he taught me wrong."
Kakashi filed that away for further analysis later, and had Naruto run through the kata a few more times before he was satisfied. Then they moved on to the next. It took the whole morning, but Kakashi slowly adjusted Naruto's stances and movements for all of the basic Academy katas. Then he had them break for lunch.
Sakura almost asked Sasuke to lunch on a date, but then she hesitated. He'd actually spoken to her the past two days, and she hadn't even had to beg him to do it. And Naruto… he seemed to be able to instigate it. And he wasn't as bad as she'd thought he was. So maybe, she decided, it would be best to focus on being a team just now. She nodded. Love could always come later, after all.
"Hey, do you two want to grab lunch?" she asked.
"Yeah!" Naruto happily agreed. He saw Sasuke hesitating. "And… we can finish up from this morning, you know." Sasuke perked up at this sweetening of the pot and nodded.
"Come on," Naruto said. "I know the best ramen stand in Konoha!"
When Kakashi showed up after their lunch break, it was closer to 3:00 than the 1:00 he'd told them. And he was very pleased to see Sasuke and Sakura helping Naruto with his forms. Sasuke by pushing him off balance when his stance was flawed, and Sakura by making adjustments to his stance, helping the blond find his balance in the stances.
He let them work for another few minutes before announcing his presence.
"Good job, mina-san," he said.
"You're late," all three of them grouched, ignoring him and continuing to work.
"Hmm… so cold to your sensei? Well, I guess none of you want a mission then?" he teased, pulling out his book. All three of them were in front of him, peering at him eagerly before he could even open Icha Icha.
"Let's go," Naruto said. Kakashi suppressed a grin. Ah, he thought with satisfaction. Age and cunning will triumph over youth and enthusiasm every time.
And so it went for the next few weeks. In the mornings, Kakashi would work with them on improving some aspect of their shinobi training, and in the afternoons, they would get a mission. And when Kakashi was late (which was always) they would help each other train themselves. Mornings were dedicated to Naruto, and they would go over the basics, reviewing Academy taijutsu and skills that he'd either missed completely or been taught wrong. Sakura and Sasuke were curious about why Naruto's education had been so sabotaged, but whenever they brought it up Naruto would just wave them off with a smile and a laugh.
The time spent waiting for Kakashi after lunch, Naruto returned the favor. He would barrage Sasuke with shadow clones, helping him try to activate his Sharingan. And he would let Sakura use them for targets, helping her learn to hit harder and gain more stamina, because her current hits wouldn't even dispel his clones, much less hurt a real ninja.
Until one day, Sasuke was tired and aggravated by his lack of progress.
"None of this shit is working," Sasuke snarled as he gave a vicious kick that dispelled the last of Naruto's clones. "Why the hell can't I get my eyes to activate? He was able to when he was years younger than me. What am I doing wrong?"
Naruto scratched the back of his head in dismay. This emotional shit wasn't something he was any good at dealing with.
"Er, maybe you just need more clones?" Naruto suggested.
"That won't do anything," Sasuke said, disheartened. "I know that one solid strike and they're gone, so I never even feel concerned, no matter how many you summon."
"So… you need stronger clones? More dangerous ones?" Naruto asked, considering the possibility. "Maybe clones that last a while past a strike?"
"Is that even possible?" Sakura asked curiously. "Do you know how to modify a jutsu like that? Iruka-sensei said it was dangerous."
"Well, I guess we'll find out," Naruto said, biting his bottom lip. The next hour was spent with Naruto making hundreds of shadow clones in dozens of different ways—more chakra, less chakra, unbalanced chakra skewed to spiritual or physical energy, purely using physical or spiritual energy—everything and anything he could think of. On a whim, Naruto tried molding a clone out of dirt instead of pure chakra, but found them not only more difficult to make but weaker and without the ability to use chakra at all. Still, he ran through a few other mediums—water, air, leaves, smoke, fire—to see whether any of those were any better. They weren't.
"Let's take a break," Sakura suggested, out of breath from helping dispel the clones to test whether they were any stronger. Sasuke frowned but sat with them, opening the container of onigiri he'd brought. Naruto grinned greedily as he took one and bit into viciously.
He loved onigiri, and only ever got them when Sasuke brought it for seconds, as they'd taken to calling their extra breakfasts. The little treat hidden inside the ball of rice was always so good.
He paged through his latest book on seals, more out of habit than anything else, as he was too caught up in trying to figure out how to make his clones stronger to help Sasuke to really pay too much attention to the book. A piece of pickled plum fell out when he took a bite of the onigiri, falling on the book.
"Aw, shit," Naruto grumbled, wiping it up. Then his eyes stuck on the page where the stain was—right on an entry on durability seals. His mind began to race, whirling to a thousand places all at once.
He looked between the onigiri and the page and back again. This, he thought, could work. A seal inside a kage bunshin. Just like an onigiri. He quickly read through the section on durability seals, then scribbled one on a spare slip of paper. Now he had Sasuke and Sakura's attention—the last time they'd seen him make a seal, they'd managed to take down an elite Jounin, after all. The trick, he thought, would be activating the seal at the same time he created the shadow clone. He wasn't worried about sticking the seal inside—he'd already made clones out of leaves, so he knew he had that part down.
The first try didn't work. The seal was well inside the clone, but not active. Ditto tries 2-12. Try 13 got an active seal, but once activated, he couldn't integrate it with the shadow clone. He frowned in frustration and wrote out another seal, changing the activation component around. Again and again and again. Then the limiters, then the seal itself. He scowled as none of it worked, then scowled more when he realized Kakashi was coming soon, which meant he would have to put his experiments on hold for a while. The three of them had an unspoken agreement to keep their training to themselves—after all, if Kakashi wasn't going to bother to care enough to show up on time, why should they bother to let him know what went on while he wasn't there. But his brow was furrowed in thought all throughout the morning as the idea continued to percolate.
"Mou, am I really so boring, Naruto?" Kakashi asked drolly, noticing his lack of attention during their training.
"Yes." "Yes." "Yes."
Came three answers all at once. Kakashi raised his eyebrow.
"Oh, really?" he asked. "Well, maybe you'd find fifty laps around the lake more amusing."
"What?" Naruto yelled, finally coming out of his fog.
"You shouldn't blame us for answering your question!" Sakura protested.
Kakashi just motioned them on, and the three of them slumped over and headed off.
"Sadist," Sasuke muttered.
Three days later, Naruto still had made no progress. But he'd learned a lot about seals from his failures. Sasuke was ready to throw in the towel. When the clones started to explode, Sakura heartily agreed.
"Naruto, give it up," Sasuke told him with a sigh.
"This should work, though," Naruto protested. "I don't understand what's going on with this."
"Even if you do get it, there's no guarantee it'll work though, right?" Sakura asked. "I mean, that it'll help Sasuke?"
Sasuke turned away to glare at a tree.
"He said he needed more dangerous opponents. If he can't dispel them so easily, the clones will be more dangerous opponents," Naruto said. "It'll work. Or, at least it won't hurt. I just need to figure out how to get it to all stay together."
Sasuke and Sakura tried to convince him, then gave up and left him to it. Naruto stayed at the training ground all night, determined to find a way to help Sasuke. He would show everyone he wasn't some dead last loser, that he could help them as much as they helped him. Then his latest attempt exploded even more violently than normal, cutting his hand where he held it up to shield his face.
"Dammit!" Naruto yelled, slamming his hand to the ground where he'd fallen. A seal stuck to his hand as the blood made it sticky. He glared at it.
"Fine," he said. "But you're the last one."
He tossed it forward and formed the chakra to create a clone, reaching at the same time with his chakra to activate the seal.
"Yo," the clone said as the smoke disappeared.
"No… explosion…" Naruto stared, shocked. "Alright, you know the drill."
The clone nodded, and Naruto threw a hard punch to its face and waited for it to disappear. And waited.
"Holy shit, it worked!" he yelled. "Let's try another!"
And he slugged the clone again, and again, and again before it finally disappeared. Now completely revved up, Naruto went to work.
His team found him passed out at the training ground the next morning, and sighed in exasperation.
"What an idiot," Sasuke rolled his eyes.
"I think it's kind of sweet, Sasuke-kun," Sakura ventured an opinion. "I mean, he's doing it to help you, after all."
"Tch." Sasuke didn't have any other response. Mostly because he was kind of confused by the fact that Naruto was working so hard to help him. Nobody had ever done that before, not his father, or his brother, or any of the other sycophants who'd come out of the woodwork after his clan's murder, no matter how much they'd protested they were trying to help him.
"Ergh," Naruto moaned, rolling over and rubbing his face. "Wa time'sit?"
"Time to get your lazy ass up, dobe," Sasuke said, prodding his shoulder with a toe.
"Sasuke!" Naruto jumped up, realizing they were here. "Sakura, I did it!"
They both blinked in surprise.
"No, really," Naruto said. "Watch." He pulled out one of the seals he'd already made.
"Kage bunshin no jutsu," Naruto called, activating the seal at the same time. The clone waved.
"Go on," Naruto urged. "Hit it."
Sasuke shrugged and gave it a casual kick. Their eyes widened in surprise when it didn't disappear.
"Geeze, put a little more effort into it that that." The clone rolled his eyes.
"Really," Naruto agreed. "I want to put him through his paces."
Sasuke turned to him.
"Can you make more?"
Naruto grinned and threw out a few dozen seals, and soon the clearing was filled with kage bunshin.
When Kakashi arrived a few hours later, he raised his eyebrow at finding all three of his students wiped out and panting on the grass.
"Ohayo, mina-san," he said cheerfully; they only groaned. "What, are my cute little students not happy to see me? Well, maybe a few hundred laps around the lake will change your mind."
The string of words that came out of Naruto's mouth was almost enough to make Kakashi blush. Sasuke and Sakura turned tomato red.
"Mou, I'm not sure that's anatomically possible," Kakashi said consideringly. Naruto's response to that did make Kakashi blush.
"Where in the world did you learn such things?" Kakashi asked, jaw slack.
"Tch, in a whore house, where else?" Naruto said. They all rolled their eyes, sure he was joking.
"Hmm, well, I guess I'll just have to beat it out of you, then," Kakashi said. "We can't have a proud shinobi of the leaf sprouting such obscenities, can we?"
His students looked at him incredulously.
"Sensei… you read porn," Sakura said. "In public. While teaching us."
"Yes, well, when you get to be my age, things are a little different. Now get ready," Kakashi ordered, watching as Naruto tensed and readied himself to run or dodge. "Go."
Naruto disappeared, but Kakashi was already moving.
The three genin groaned as they collapsed together in a heap.
"Sensei, that was brutal," Naruto complained of the 'training.' The other two could only grunt in agreement.
"Suck it up," Kakashi said with no sympathy, looking as cool and unruffled as ever. They glared at him as he sat there, calmly reading his book without the decency to be even sweating.
"Water," Sakura begged, shaking her empty canteen.
"Nn," Naruto flexed a bit of chakra and a clone popped into existence, gathering their canteens and heading towards the stream to fill them.
"That," Sakura said in appreciation. "Is such a useful jutsu."
"I can teach you if you want," Naruto offered. Sakura and Sasuke both perked up at that.
"Absolutely not," Kakashi said sternly, crisply shutting his book. All three genin looked at him in surprise.
"No," Kakashi repeated. "The fact of the matter is, Kage Bunshin is a kinjutsu, one that Naruto shouldn't even know, much less be teaching to other genin. But that aside, how the jutsu works is to divide your chakra evenly among the clones you make. That Naruto is able to use it so easily and so casually is… a special case. Even I don't use it so carelessly—even the Hokage doesn't. If he were to teach you two, and you were to attempt it… I think the chakra drain would probably kill you at this point."
Kakashi met each of his genin in the eye, wanting to make sure he'd driven his point home.
"I want your word that you won't attempt this," Kakashi said. They all nodded their agreement.
"But, Sensei, why's Naruto such a special case?" Sakura asked.
"Yeah, why can he do it so easily if even the Hokage can't?" Sasuke asked. Naruto was looking down and away, not wanting to be a part of where this conversation was going.
"Hmm, well," Kakashi said rubbing his cloth-covered chin and contemplating what to tell them. "I guess it's similar to you being able to develop the Sharingan, Sasuke." Naruto's eyes went wide at what he was implying.
"Bloodline," Sasuke murmured in understanding. Sakura's mouth made a little 'o' as she nodded quickly, it all making sense to her now.
"No wonder Naruto knows that jutsu then!" she said. "That explains why he's so good at clones."
As Kakashi nodded, Naruto looked away, guilt spearing up at the thought of deceiving his friends. But there was nothing for it. The Kyuubi was an S-class secret of the village, and the Hokage had emphasized how important it was to keep silent. He promised himself he would make it up to them.
When Naruto went home that night, he was still thinking about it. And about how he couldn't teach them Kage Bunshin no Jutsu. And about how much more they'd be able to train if only they could use kage bunshins. He wondered if there was a way he could do the jutsu for them, which would keep his promise not to teach his teammates but still give them all the benefits of it.
And he decided that, if there wasn't a way, he'd make one.
The next two weeks saw Naruto rarely without his nose buried in either a book on seals or jutsu theory. And even when he was doing something else, he always had a clone picking up where he'd left off. Sasuke wasn't sure what to think about his sudden studiousness. Of course, Sasuke wasn't sure what to think about Naruto at all most of the time, so he figured this probably wasn't any different.
So he just watched as Naruto worked frantically on perfecting his Onigiri Bunshins, as he'd taken to calling them for reasons Sasuke had yet to understand, until one morning Naruto announced they were done.
"What do you mean you're done?" Sakura asked. "It can take years to completely finish and understand the alteration of a jutsu."
"Meh?" Naruto scratched the back of his head and attempted to look stupid. Sasuke was sure it wasn't difficult for the blonde, but he hated it when Naruto pretended to be dumber than he was, and when it came to seals, Sasuke freely admitted Naruto was something of a genius.
"Cut it out," Sasuke muttered angrily. Naruto cocked his head to the side curiously at Sasuke's remark, then shrugged and dropped the idiot act.
"Well, I've explored all the possible alterations to the durability seal," Naruto said, launching into his techno-babble. Sasuke attempted to tune him out as Naruto started discussing limiters and activation components and other things that gave Sasuke a headache.
"So now, it should take a killing stroke to pop the clones," Naruto finished. Sasuke saw Sakura drooling; he figured she had tried to follow him instead of zoning out and just pretending to.
"…Right," she finally agreed.
"Good!" Naruto said happily. "So, ready?" Sasuke nodded and Naruto threw a dozen seal-wrapped kunai towards him, activating the jutsu.
He immediately noticed how much harder they were to dispel. No matter how hard he hit or how well he connected, they wouldn't pop. Sasuke grinned and began fighting in earnest. He remembered what Naruto had said about a killing strike, and then it happened. The kunai in Sasuke's hand plunged into one of the clone's heart.
Sasuke froze as the clone reached its hands up to its chest. He yanked the kunai out and stared in horror as blood poured out of the clone's chest. I've killed Naruto, he thought in shock. I've killed Naruto. He didn't realize he was also muttering it aloud. Then the clone disappeared in a cloud of smoke, leaving behind only the kunai Naruto had used to make it.
Sasuke dropped to his knees, kunai falling to the ground, grief and pain and terror all wrapping around in his mind as the sight of his hand going into Naruto's chest overlapped with memories of Itachi's systematic slaughter of the clan. Then all he knew was blinding agony, and he began screaming, hands pressed to his eyes. He didn't know how long he stayed like that, and had no idea when Naruto and Sakura had started to hold him, but suddenly he wanted nothing more than to flee. After a brief struggle he managed to break away from them long enough to rush a few feet, where he was stopped as he became violently ill. Still, Naruto and Sakura went to him, Sakura holding his hair as Naruto steadied him to make sure he wouldn't fall.
"Leave… alone…" Sasuke tried to mutter as he attempted to collect himself, embarrassment and grief and stress and pain too much for him to deal with when he knew they were still watching.
"Not on your life, Sasuke," Naruto responded quietly. Sakura didn't reply at all, except to pour some water from her canteen on a spare kerchief she had in her pouch and then press it to Sasuke's forehead.
Naruto wasn't sure what to think about Sasuke. He wasn't screaming and vomiting anymore, but he was quiet—absolutely silent instead of his normal introverted bastard silence—and he held himself with a stiffness that bordered on brittle. And Naruto didn't want him to break again.
"Mou, so, I think I should henge the clones we use for spars from now on, ne?" Naruto suggested.
Then Kakashi showed up and Naruto refrained from swearing. As always, their sensei had a shitty sense of timing.
"Ohayo, mina-san!" Kakashi said cheerily, then looked at his team and cocked his head to the side when he saw how subdued they all were. He briefly debated asking why, then decided not to get in the middle of any lovers' spat they might be having and stay out of it.
"So you may be wondering why I have three rabbits with me today," Kakashi said, moving on. "I've decided it's time for you to begin to learn how to deal with some of the more brutal aspects of ninja life. Your first task this morning is to kill a rabbit."
Naruto and Sakura stared at him, mouths agape. Naruto had to refrain from swearing aloud that Kakashi would chose this morning of all mornings for such a thing. Kakashi, he decided, had really shitty timing.
"Here you go," Kakashi said, tossing each of them a rabbit and a kunai. "I know this may be difficult, but…"
He trailed off as he saw Naruto and Sakura weren't paying any attention to him at all, their entire focus on Sasuke. Then Sasuke drove the kunai deeply into his rabbit's skull, killing it instantly. The impaled rabbit was dropped to the ground—not thrown, just released as though he couldn't be bothered to hold it anymore—then Sasuke turned and walked away, head and shoulders hunched. Naruto and Sakura turned to follow him, but Kakashi had a grip on both of their necks.
"Let him deal with this his way," Kakashi said. "You'll have to learn how to deal with it in your own ways as well."
"Fuck that, I…"
"I'm not letting you leave until you complete your assignment," Kakashi said sternly. Sakura and Naruto exchanged glances, then killed their rabbits in two clean strikes before tossing them at Kakashi's feet.
"We're taking the rest of the day off," Naruto said, voice even and steady and serious in a way that Kakashi had never heard from him before. "We'll see you tomorrow morning."
Then Kakashi watched confused as Sakura and Naruto went after Sasuke. He considered trying to find out what had his team in such a strange mood, but decided to let them work it out amongst themselves. The hands off approach was probably for the best. Weeks later he would come to regret that decision.
It hadn't taken long for Naruto and Sakura to catch up with Sasuke—he wasn't running or trying to conceal himself or even really paying much attention to anything other than putting one foot in front of the other. So it didn't take much for Naruto to subtly guide their steps away from the village proper and up the path that led to the top of the Hokage Monument.
He gently pushed Sasuke to sit, and he complied without any resistance. Naruto worried that maybe Sasuke wasn't even there at all. After just sitting there next to him for a while, Sasuke suddenly slammed his fists into the rock beside his legs.
"Why the fuck am I so pathetic!" he demanded, yelling out his anger. "I kill a clone—which isn't even really alive—and I flip out. Hell, I practically have a nervous breakdown. If I can't even handle that, how can I ever kill that man? How will I ever avenge my clan and give them peace? How?"
"I don't have the answers, Sasuke," Sakura offered tentatively. "But I know that you are not pathetic, not in any way at all. And I know that if this is something you set your mind on, even if you don't know how you'll do it now, someday you'll be able to achieve your goal."
"And however you do it, you know we'll be with you," Naruto said. "Whatever you do, we'll be there."
"You can't!" Sasuke yelled. "He killed my clan! He killed everyone, and I'm all that's left, and I have to kill him."
"Can you tell us who?" Sakura asked gently.
"Him," Sasuke said. "That man. My brother." And he told them the story he'd never before spoken. When he was done, the three of them sat in silence, digesting it all.
"It doesn't matter," Naruto finally said, voice soft but strong and steady, "if Itachi is as strong as the Hokage. I'll still be with you."
"You don't understand," Sasuke shot back bitterly. "I have to do it. Me. He's my… he's my brother, and it's my clan."
"Well, yes. But does that mean that you have to do it alone?" Naruto asked, contemplating the whole thing and cursing himself that he wasn't better at dealing with such delicate situations. "I guess the real question is: is it more important for you to get your vengeance for your family quickly or by yourself?"
Sasuke blinked, startled into thinking instead of reacting.
"Because remember how the three of us beat Kakashi-sensei straight out of the Academy?" Naruto continued, not waiting for Sasuke to respond. "And Kakashi-sensei is one of the elite of the elite. Working together, the three of us can probably take him within a year, maybe two. If you want to do it on your own, sure you'll be able to do it eventually, but that eventually could be a long ways off."
Sasuke was too taken aback by what Naruto had said and the ideas it put into his mind and the feelings it made swirl around inside him to respond. The casual assuredness in his voice when he'd mentioned Sasuke being able to do it… Sasuke wasn't sure he'd ever had anyone believe in him like that. The belief staggered him into silence, and so Naruto just shrugged and kept going.
"Either way, Sasuke, you have to know we'll do everything we can to help you be ready for him," Naruto said. "If that's going with you when you go after the bastard or if it's kicking your ass until you're ready, we're a team. We'll be here."
"We'll be here," Sakura echoed. The offer of absolute, unconditional support pushed Sasuke over the edge he'd been teetering on. It was all too much in too short a time, and he let himself go. A voice in his head berated him for showing such weakness in front of outsiders, but Sasuke was able to quiet it. His clan was gone after all, but Naruto and Sakura were here, and warm, and even as he was quietly weeping, Naruto threw his arms around him and pulled until Sasuke's back was resting against him, and Sakura settled in his lap, wrapping her arms around both of them as she buried her head in Sasuke's shoulder and cried along with him. And he didn't feel weak, and he didn't feel ashamed.
After a few hours, they all felt a bit more steady and settled. When Naruto's stomach growled, Sasuke chuckled and Sakura scolded him, and by mutual agreement, they all got up. Sakura gave Naruto the scroll he'd sealed their lunch in that morning, and he quickly had everything out and ready to eat.
"So," Naruto said as they ate, and Sasuke tensed, wondering if he was going to tease him for his display, or if he were going to demand more information about Itachi. "You know how Kakashi-sensei made us promise I wouldn't teach you how to do Kage Bunshin?"
Sasuke blinked in surprise; that hadn't been at all what he'd expected.
"I don't think it's a good idea for us to learn it," Sakura said. "Kaka-sensei said it could kill us, because we don't have that bloodline, Naruto."
"I wasn't going to teach you," Naruto said. "I gave my word, and I don't intend to break it. But I have been working out a way where you can get the benefits of using kage bunshins without having to actually learn or perform the jutsu. Let me show you."
Sasuke narrowed his eyes at Naruto's sly grin. Whenever he'd seen it on the blonde's face, something big had happened. Naruto reached into his pouch and pulled out two strips of paper with the crazy seal script that only Naruto was able to understand.
"I created a two-part seal," Naruto explained. "Which is why there are two ofuda." Sasuke looked from one to the other, but didn't see much difference between them. From the way he saw her squinting her eyes at them, he guessed Sakura couldn't see a difference either.
"Basically, what happens is I do the jutsu, but when I mold the chakra, it's filtered through this seal," he held the one in his left hand up. "Which is placed on one of the target's chakra points. The seal then filters the chakra through the target's chakra system before sending it back to the second seal, which activates and executes the jutsu."
"That sounds really dangerous," Sakura said biting her lip. "Filtering it through another person's chakra system? Couldn't that fry the person's chakra? Have you done any test runs of it?"
Naruto deflated a bit.
"I wanted you guys to be the first to see it," Naruto said. "So I've only done trials with some onigiri bunshin. But they might react differently because, you know, not really alive, plus it's all still my chakra."
"I'll test it," Sasuke volunteered immediately. It was the least he could give back.
"But it could be dangerous," Sakura protested. He silenced her with a look.
"Are you sure?" Naruto asked him. "Sakura's right. If I screwed up… well, it could be… bad."
"Did you screw up?" Sasuke asked.
"I don't think so," Naruto hedged.
"Yes or no," Sasuke insisted. Naruto took a deep breath, then looked over the seals in his hands again.
"No," he said. "No, I didn't."
"Then let's do this."