I feel it prudent to warn readers: Naruto in this chapter is a bit OOCish. Or perhaps not, depends on how he acts canonically when no one is looking... Regardless, circumstances will encourage his return to happy-go-lucky land in the next chapter or two.

Prerequisite disclaimer: I own neither Naruto nor Pokemon, from a licensing perspective anyway. And if I did, Misty would still have her spunky hairdo and Madara would have stayed Tobi.

An alarm clock's blaring was silenced, almost before completing it's first buzz. The blond boy who's hand lay upon it's snooze button staring at the cracked ceiling above with a blank look upon his face.

This was it. He had turned in for the night early, intending to be at his best on this most important of days. Instead sleep eluded him, frightened off by discouraging thoughts that refused to let the boy be. Dejectedly he had watched the light fade from the west facing window of his bedroom as the sun set.

The boy's thoughts circled as the seal inscribed crystals the village of Konoha used for nightly illumination flickered to life, releasing the light stored the day prior.

He roused from his torpor somewhat when he heard the sound of impacts on his door and windows accompanied by adolescent laughter. He had heard the sounds often enough to identify the act of petty vandalism, he stopped counting at thirty-six. It wasn't any concern of his if someone wanted to waste perfectly good eggs. He lay there, eyes barely moving, breath shallow, looking for all intents and purposes like a man awaiting his final judgment. He still lay there when the sun rose to witness him lethargically silencing the unneeded reminder of his fate.

This was the day of the academy final exams. More specifically: his FINAL exams. Prospective ninja were required to attend Konoha's academy for five years, most started at seven or eight years old, and graduated to genin at the age of twelve or thirteen. The boy had received permission to enter the academy early in light of the fact that he had no one to look after him, and nothing to occupy his time.

He had entered at five years old, and he was now twelve.

This would be his third and final chance at passing the genin exam. Both of his prior attempts had been spectacular failures on the simple grounds that no matter what he did, he could never successfully make a simple Bushin. He could manage Kawarimi and was (in his own humble opinion) a master with Henge. But no matter how focused he was, no matter how hard he tried, every bushin he produced looked like it had been put through a wash and worn wet.

Theoretically he knew there was only a one in three chance of being asked to do the bushin for the Ninjutsu portion of the test, but in practice he knew to expect the worst and hope for the best. He had learned long ago how futile hope could be.

Leveraging himself out of bed, he went to the bathroom to begin his morning preparations. Not long after, he was eating his breakfast: three cups of instant ramen. He sighed, slightly mournful of the wasted eggs from last night. They would have been a pleasant addition to his typical diet of dirt cheap unspoilable food.

After breakfast, he returned to the bathroom to brush his teeth. Gazing back from the mirror were his familiar azure eyes, set above a smallish nose, which itself perched above an expressive mouth which often was set in a massive grin. On his cheeks were six odd birthmarks, three straight lines each, forming what looked remarkably like whiskers. All this topped by a mess of hair such a bright yellow it could make a daffodil jealous. His outfit was just as distinctive as his face, although for a much simpler reason. It was orange. A bright, retina searing orange jumpsuit with a white collar and blue accents to be specific.

His mundane self maintenance complete, Naruto Uzumaki: most hated child in the ninja village of Konoha, made his way to the front door. This sad, stained piece of secondhand lumber stood sentinel for all the years since he was granted this apartment by the third Hokage, the elderly leader of the village and closest thing the boy had to family in the world. He stood, hand on the doorknob for what felt like an eternity, pondering the simple barrier that separated their world from his. For all his life it seemed, there was an invisible and impenetrable wall between the world of the villagers and the world of Naruto Uzumaki...

The world of the villagers was sunlit laughter and happy families. It was picnics in the park and friends to push each other on the swing. It was simple togetherness and complex competition between rival brothers.

The world of Naruto Uzumaki... was nothing remotely similar. It was taunting jeers and petty assaults. It was terrifying shadows and tears in the dark. Most of all though, it was loneliness. Crippling debilitating loneliness.

And whenever those two worlds brushed each other, jagged sparks erupted. Sometimes, he struck those sparks intentionally. Pranks committed for a degree of restitution towards those who sought to hurt him, or simply for enjoyment and attention. Often times these sparks turned back and burned him. Luckily the masked ninja known as Anbu would almost always interfere before he was injured seriously. Assuming he hadn't managed to lose his pursuers on his own anyway, an act which he had grown rather talented in these past years.

Most often he would simply retreat from that world. Holed up in his apartment or an old forgotten training ground he would practice his ninja techniques. Progress painstakingly dragged from his flesh using low quality and often scavenged equipment. Using blood, sweat and even tears to hold the enemy at bay. Knowing that even as he did so, eventually the solitude would become too much. Those days days he eagerly endured the scorn of that other world, simply to feel connected to someone else. Like the desperation of a starving man devouring food he knows to be poison, simply to make the pain recede for a time. Often when the hunger was sated, the toxic hatred he endured to do so left him worse than before.

But always he would use these events to fuel his determination; to make his next training sessions harder, stronger, more focused. Someday they would see him for the ninja he was born to be. Someday he would make their world look at him and see not what he is, but what he will become...

And all he has to do is make a stupid clone...

...maybe Iruka sensei was right when he said they broke the mold after he was born? Maybe that's why his clones all sucked? He smiled sadly at that thought. That argument wouldn't help him pass, and neither would standing here like a doorstop. He's a ninja in the making, damnit! Not the doorman at some crappy hotel! That thought firmly in place, Naruto strapped a weaponshop's worth of metaphorical steel to his spine, set his face into the oblivious smile that was as much a mask as any Anbu's porcelain visage, and strode out beyond the edges of his world and into the smell of eggs baking in the sun. After locking the door and promising to clean the silent sentry when he got home, he took off at full speed for the academy and the rest of his life.

As usual, Naruto was the last one of his class to arrive. He strode towards his desk in the back of the classroom, brimming with artificial confidence.

Neither Iruka-sensei nor Mizuki-sensei were present at the moment, so the prospective genin were chattering animatedly or otherwise passing time in their own manners.

Chouji Akimichi was in his seat munching on what seemed to be a large breakfast bento. His parents probably made it for him as a good luck gesture, in typical Akimichi appetite fashion of course. Beside him Shikamaru Nara snored quietly, apparently even the last day of school and the start of their shinobi careers wasn't enough to motivate the slacker.

Shino Aburame was... sitting there. To be honest Naruto couldn't tell in most cases if the boy was asleep or awake, let alone what he was thinking.

Kiba Inuzuka was standing near one of the civilian girls boasting about his upcoming promotion, and how he would be top dog among the new genin. All Naruto could remember about the girl was that she hated him with a passion. He'd once picked up a pencil she'd dropped and returned it to her, only to watch her snap it in two and tell him it 'was contaminated by his stupid'.

Hinata Hyuuga, the strange, dark, girl with weird eyes, sat in the front corner of the room, on the opposite side of the door. He couldn't really tell what she was doing, aside from avoiding looking his way anytime he so much as glanced near her direction. It took him a long time to figure her out, but eventually he realized: She was terrified of him. The few times they were assigned to spar as part of Taijutsu class she would start breathing heavily and looking like she wanted to run far far away. Naruto wasn't sure what he might have done to effect the girl in such a way, but he was sure he didn't like it. Unfortunately between her hating him like most of the village and her being afraid of him, he was offered little reason to try changing things.

Sakura Haruno, the bubblegum haired object of his affections was busy fighting with her former best friend: the blond and popular Ino Yamanaka. Sadly the object of their dispute was the target of their own romantic fantasies: Sasuke Uchiha. The dark haired, coal eyed boy was busy glaring at the front of the room, either trying to ignore the near cat fight beside him or trying to ignite the chalkboard through sheer power of will. Or he was constipated... Hard to tell really. The other students, civilian kids mostly were sitting around talking in small groups. The subjects of discussion ranged from dread for the test itself to predictions on who would pass and be assigned to which teams, to age old friends making pacts to not go all weird and crazy when they become powerful ninja.

Naruto made his way to his own seat in the far corner of the classroom, studiously preventing his smile-mask from slipping. Once there he put his head on his arms and decided to feign sleep. Hoping none of the other students would see fit to bother him.

A bit less than ten minutes passed in this manner before the sliding door opened and the two Chunin teachers entered. Iruka Umino was a kind man, hardly what one would expect in your average ninja. He was strict and wanted his students to excel no matter what. Naruto knew him as one of the very few who were willing to help when he had a problem, and for that he had the boy's respect. Mizuki however was much less generous towards his students. When he trained the students he preached the merits of personal strength. A ninja in his view had to stand on their own if they wanted to survive, while Iruka often professed that teamwork was the better route. Both philosophies had their merits, so such debates weren't particularly discouraged.

The teachers moved to their standard morning positions: Mizuki lounging in a chair near the chalkboard, and Iruka in the center of the student dubbed 'lecture path'. Iruka tended to pace while teaching, and Naruto would be amazed if they hadn't had to replace any of the flooring in the years since he had started his career.

Iruka cleared his throat, attempting to get his class' attention. After a few moments he tried again, the only response he received was a derisive chuckle from the corner Mizuki was in. With a sigh, Iruka snapped his fingers and in a flash of purple light there was a third figure standing at Iruka's side. After a nod from Iruka, the purple creature began to emit a whistling noise, warning the more astute students of what was about to occur.

Less than a second after the whistling began, an eruption of noise battered those students who hadn't noticed the telltale warning into submission.

"EXPLOUUUD!" Iruka's pokemon announced the start of class with a window shaking roar.

"Thank you," Iruka said, nodding to his inhuman partner. "Now that I have your attention," he began turning his attention back to the class. The Pokemon he had partnered with since his own entry into the Ninja ranks vanished with another ray of purple light, which jumped into the strange tattoo on his arm. "As you all know, today is the graduation exam... You will be tested on all of the criteria you've learned these past years, and if you score well enough you will be permitted to attempt to gain a Pokemon partner. Those of you who do not, will be permitted to try again next year, after attending another year of schooling of course," here he grinned at the chorus of groans coming from the lower ranking members of class. "I must remind you however, that those who do not take their ninja studies seriously enough will not be allowed to remain in the academy indefinitely. You are only permitted three attempts at the final exam, so I suggest all of you redouble your efforts in the future... Regardless of whether that future is back here, or hopefully in your own genin teams."

"What happens if we fail three times?" asked a civilian boy named Hayagawa. Naruto flinched almost imperceptibly. Every time the subject came up, someone would ask that question. Naruto could only take solace that this time it wasn't someone trying to rub it in his face. Hayagawa had scores almost as bad as Naruto. In fact he would be deadlast, if Naruto could just manage that stupid clone jutsu.

Iruka sighed before answering. "If a student fails the academy exam three times, it is assumed that further ninja training is unlikely to improve on their abilities. In that circumstance, the former student is removed from the curriculum and taken to have a seal applied." Hinata paled.

Seals, especially those applied without the bearer's consent were a sickening reality to the kind would-be heiress.

"The purpose of this seal is twofold: first, it blocks the majority of the recipient's chakra, reducing them to civilian levels so that they cannot become a threat to the village as a whole on their own. And second, it triggers a paralyzing effect if the bearer attempts to betray Konoha to it's enemies... It is my sincerest hope that none of the students that pass through my classroom ever face that fate. I have dedicated my life to the education of tomorrow's ninja legends, and I know you will all make me proud... Even if you take a year or two longer to do it than I'd like." He finished with a smile, momentarily locking eyes with Naruto as he swept his gaze across the classroom. "Now, if there are no more questions, we'll begin the exams..."

The following hours were spent in exhaustive testing. A written test to prove theoretical knowledge and basic understanding of common ninja concepts. Taijutsu spars against the teachers to assess their techniques. Accuracy tests with both kunai and shuriken. And finally, after those who couldn't pass the requisite scores on those had been weeded out, the students were brought back into the classroom for the final stage of the exam.

"Alright students, This will be the last and most important phase of the examination: Ninjutsu." Iruka held up a small tissue box, "in this are slips of paper listing the three Academy techniques. You will be called one at a time into the testing room to demonstrate the jutsu you pull from it. While Mizuki-sensei and I are away, the rest of you may do as you wish, as long as it is quiet and not disruptive to the other classes. If, once you complete your assigned jutsu correctly, you are given a passing grade overall, you will be given one of these," Iruka held up an iridescent metal sheet. It was rectangular, an inch or so thick, and about as long as his forearm on it's long side, and about half that on it's shorter side. It bore an oddly flowing engraving of many Pokemon species on it. "These are known as the 'Plates of Arceus', and will be the focus of your day tomorrow. I strongly suggest you take this very seriously."

"What you do, what you say, even what you think about, will all effect which Pokemon partner you receive. You all know what's expected of you tomorrow, so I don't want to see any of you here. Stay home and spend the day in contemplation, or you may find yourself with an incompatible partner. I must remind you: there are no second chances. Once you are paired with a Pokemon it is your partner for life. Those of you who receive a plate will be contacted by Anbu the day after tomorrow to escort you to the graduation ceremony. Make sure you bring the plate with you. No plate, no headband. That is all. If there are no questions, we will proceed with the final testing."

Aside from a few dismissive snorts from some of the students when he spoke about Arceus, the class listened intently to his instructions.

A minute later when no one spoke up Iruka continued. "Very well, the order of testing will follow class rank, from highest grade to lowest. Once your test is complete you are free to leave, and I hope to see you all in two day's time. Sasuke Uchiha, please come with me. You're first"

Sasuke grunted and strode from the room, his cheering fangirls already declaring his imminent victory. Immediately followed by Sakura and Ino arguing about who's cheering was more encouraging for 'Their Sasuke-kun.'

Naruto placed his head back on his arms and settled in to wait... it was bound to be a long day.

A few hours later he was standing in the testing room with both Iruka and Mizuki staring at him as he trembled, staring at the paper in his hand. Clear as day it read: 'Bushin no Jutsu.' crumpling it in frustration he threw it onto the desk in front of his teachers.

"Fine!" He growled, "You want a clone? I'll give you the best damn clone you ever seen!" Naruto immediately began gathering chakra, so much it was faintly visible to the eye.

Iruka closed his eyes and sighed, he'd hoped the boy would be able to pass this time. There was only a one in three chance of the clone jutsu being picked after all, and Naruto deserved a lucky break more than just about anyone. Next to him, unseen by Iruka and unnoticed by Naruto, Mizuki smirked confidently.

After a couple moments of chakra channeling Naruto squeezed his eyes shut and cried out "Bushin no Jutsu!" He felt his focus was perfect, his visualization was spot on, and he'd channeled enough chakra to almost blind his unseen admirer as she used her doujutsu to spy on this most important of events (in her mind anyway). He was confident that he had finally managed it the clone. He could not, would not, fail this time. All he had to do was open his eyes and see Iruka's happy grin... but for some reason, moving those two thin pieces of skin felt like the heaviest weight he had ever lifted. And when he saw the sorrow in his teacher's eyes, he knew he had failed. Again.

He moved his gaze forlornly to the side where his clones were to have materialized, only to catch sight of a grayish orange blob sprawled on the floor. It looked like the three clones he had attempted to produce got mangled and combined in some horrible accident.

"I'm truly sorry, Naruto." Iruka said, " But I simply cannot pass you. That clone isn't even really a clone, it looks more like something out of a bad horror movie."

"I don't know, Iruka," began Mizuki. "Something like that might actually be useful in the right circumstances. The shock value alone might help the kid survive in a genin level fight, you know? Besides it's not like we want the poor kid to get sealed. I say we pass him anyway."

"We can't do that," Iruka responded. "I will not send an unprepared student out to die, nor will I lie to the Hokage about the results of the test. Naruto... I'm sorry. I have no doubt that you'd have succeeded marvelously on any other jutsu... but I cannot in good conscience make an exception. Not for you, and not for any of the other students that failed this year."

"I understand," Naruto replied in a voice so empty of emotion Iruka winced. "Hey, I guess I'll see you around, eh, Iruka-sensei?"

"Yeah, we'll get some ramen at Ichiraku's, okay?" Iruka promised.

Naruto waved unenthusiastically in reply and left the room, closing the door silently behind him.

Iruka stared after the boy for a while, before being broken from his thoughts by his co-teacher.

"Well, now that that mess is finished, I'm gonna go get smashed. Yay for semester breaks, right man?" Mizuki proclaimed.

"Yeah..." Iruka sighed. "But there's still a ton of paperwork to get finished before the graduation ceremony. No rest for the wicked I suppose..." he cast a glance towards the door with a pensive expression.

"Bah, you made the right call. If we'd have done it my way no doubt the Hokage would have had us in Ibiki's office before we could blink... If he were feeling generous anyway. Otherwise, Anko's..."

Both men shivered a moment at that thought.

"Well, my more professional protege," Mizuki continued after a moment. "Since one of us needs to finish said paperwork, and we both know I'll just screw it up..."

"Intentionally," interjected Iruka.

"I'm hurt that you would say such things," Mizuki replied in a sad tone. "But regardless, have fun 'Iruka-sensei'," Mizuki called as he strode from the room chuckling.

Naruto paced down the hallway towards the exit, obliviously passing by the room hiding the tear streaked Hyuuga girl.

His thoughts were a tangle. His whole life, the only real road that seemed open to him was becoming a ninja, and now that road seemed to have collapsed into a yawning chasm.

All the hopes, dreams and distant ambitions he'd carved into his heart and mind over the years were firmly trapped on the other side. If only there were another way to become a ninja. Maybe he could petition the Hokage for a retest? No... that would never work, and with the school year just ending the old man would be so swamped with paperwork Naruto would be lucky to see him within a week. By that time he would be the owner of a shiny new seal, and the conversation would be more likely to revolve around suggestions for what he should do with his life, given the new limitations he would be under.

Naruto exited the school, into the far too cheerful light of the sun. He glared at it a moment, childishly offended that it could be so inconsiderate of his depressed thoughts, then moved to the swing hanging under the shade of the nearby tree. It was the only tree in the front yard of the school, and it meant a lot to him. This was where he came to think when his classes were going bad, this was where he pondered the mystery of female emotion. Although the tree had yet to help him explain why Sakura fawned over the cold Uchiha when Naruto had done his very best to be her own personal sun, (literally in one unfortunate and painful instance). This was also where he decided he was destined for greatness...

He and the rest of the class had just learned about the Kawarimi no Jutsu, and they were in the front yard of the school practicing that day, due to a large scale jutsu display for the last year students being held in the normal training area behind the school. The students were told to visualize their destination, and charge as much chakra as they were able, then with hand signs and a shout of Kawarimi no jutsu... Poof, they would be where they wanted, leaving a mysteriously appearing log in their place.

This happened in Naruto's third year at the academy, which would have been around the time Sakura-chan and the others of his current class were just starting their first.

Well, Naruto did as instructed, but instead of finding himself appearing next to the teacher on the opposite side of the yard, he found himself in a hole in the ground which immediately collapsed, burying him up to his shoulders in the wet dirt. One arm was trapped in the inadvertent burial and it took him almost an hour to dig his way free and another thirty minutes to make his way back to the school. A trip which would have taken longer had he not been stopped and escorted via Shunshin by one of the Anbu dispatched to find him.

When he arrived at the school, he was shocked to see an entire living tree had appeared in the spot he had vacated. Sandaime-jiji was standing there staring at it with a puzzled expression that would have made Naruto erupt into laughter had he not been tired and dirty from his own confusing experience. The Hokage had asked what happened and explained that Naruto used too much chakra and so threw off his technique.

Naruto reduced his chakra use the next time and hadn't had that particular mistake happen since. He had tried to do the same with his bushin technique, just in case it suffered from a similar issue, but no matter how little chakra he used, they all came out wrong.

Naruto placed his hand on the tree, the one tangible piece of evidence that he was more than just a failure. Incontrovertible proof that he was special in some way. He rest his head against it and fought back the tears that threatened to fall. He couldn't afford to be seen as weak. Not in this world of the villager's creation...

Naruto had no idea how long he had stood there, palm and forehead pressed against the tree hard enough to sting, when a voice called out to him.

"He's not hard on you because he hates you, you know," Naruto turned to see Mizuki-sensei approach from the school doorway. "He wants to protect you, keep you safe. You're like the little brother he never had, I think..."

Naruto turned back to the tree without replying.

Mizuki walked up next to him, staring up through the branches at the sun crawling its way slowly towards the west. They stood that way for a while before Mizuki spoke again, his voice somber. "I never really understood the whole 'protecting everyone' thing. It's always been my belief that the best way for someone to be safe is for them to get strong. Teach them to stand on their own and protect themselves, you know? Like that old saying about fishing I mean. Except with fighting, because fishing is boring," Mizuki chuckled. "But it's hard to get strong as a civilian, And it's not like the jerks in this village will lift a finger to help you, eh?"

Naruto scowled towards the tree in response.

"Tell me, Naruto... How much do you want to be strong? How far will you go to protect yourself?"

Naruto responded, still scowling "I will get strong. I will protect not only me, but all the people I care about too! I don't care if I'm sealed, and I don't care if I'm a civilian. I will become Hokage someday! And there's no one in this village that's gonna stop me!" Naruto was barely whispering the words, but the intensity in his words made them seem all the louder.

Mizuki hummed to himself, as if considering something. "Well kid, I guess I got no choice but to tell you then." He smirked at Naruto's puzzled look. "There's a secret test for those who fail the exam for their third time, but it can only be issued by one of the student's instructors in private."

"Wait, if that's true then why didn't Iruka-sensei tell me about it?" Naruto responded in a surprising show of logic.

"Well, to be honest, I don't know," Mizuki shrugged. "But there's a fair chance he just doesn't know about it. After all, it is pretty rare for someone to flunk out all three times... No offense of course."

"I guess that makes sense..." Naruto conceded. "So, what do I have to do to pass this super secret test Sensei?" he asked, eyes sparking with hope once again.

Mizuki knelt next to Naruto, so their faces were inches apart, and his voice dropped to a whisper. "That's just it, this is right up your alley kid. If anyone in the entire school can pull it off, you can. What you need to do is sneak into the Hokage's tower and 'borrow' the scroll of forbidden sealing. I gotta warn you though, I can't tell anyone why you're doing this or the test is void. You gotta get in, and get out, on your own without getting caught."

At Naruto's wide eyed stare he clarified. "This is a chunin rank mission, kid. It's purpose is to test your infiltration and information acquisition skills. Genin aren't expected to have any ability in those areas you know, that's more espionage oriented chunin and special jounin stuff. These secret tests are designed to be tough, their purpose is to make sure that we don't accidentally lose a ninja with valuable skills because of a little quirk like your clone issues."

Naruto nodded his understanding and Mizuki continued, "now, once you have the scroll you gotta get to the rendezvous point written here." He handed Naruto a folded piece of paper. "Make sure you destroy that once you know where to go, ninja never leave evidence behind. When you reach the drop off point wait for me to come get you. I'll score you based on speed, stealth, time it takes for an alert to sound, and how long it takes them to figure out who took the scroll. All of these are important concerns for an espionage operation." He looked straight into Naruto's eyes, "if you can score high enough on this to bring your total score to passing, you will be issued an 'Arceus Plate' tonight and graduate with your classmates at the ceremony.

"But... What if I can't get enough points to make up for my Ninjutsu score?" Naruto asked.

Mizuki rocked back on his heels a moment to think. "Tell you what, just 'cause Iruka likes you, and I wanna see him cheer you on at the ceremony, I'll make you a deal. If you can learn a jutsu from the scroll and demonstrate it for me when I arrive to grade you. I'll change your Ninjutsu score to match whatever you earn demonstrating the new one. How's that sound?" Mizuki leaned forward again and offered his hand to the small boy.

Naruto stared at his sensei, awed at the generosity of the offer. "I say you got a deal!" He shouted, grasping the offered hand and shaking it vigorously. "I'll ace this test! I'll do so good they'll have to invent a new letter above 'A', dattebayo!"

"Good to hear it," Mizuki replied with a grin. He gestured to the piece of paper in Naruto's hand, "I'll meet you there at... Let's say midnight, that'll give you some time to earn that extra credit. Plus, if you can get the scroll and they don't even realize it's gone until then, I think that would qualify you for that perfect score you want." He stood and brushed off his pants briskly. "Well, if you're all set and don't have any more questions, I have a date with a hot lil lady I call sake!" That said, Mizuki vanished in a swirl of leaves.

Naruto grinned in anticipation as he set off like a shot for his apartment, he had gear to collect for this ultimate test. This time he swore to himself: he would pass no matter what it took. Nothing would stop him. Nothing would delay him... Well almost nothing, he amended as he approached his door. He had a promise to keep, and it would be a grave disservice to abandon Door in his time of need.

Later that night, Iruka was just finishing up the last of his end of the year paperwork. As he stacked the forms in his arm, planning to haul them down to the school's administration office for proper filing, he spotted the wadded up piece of paper Naruto hurled at the desk earlier. Sighing to himself for what seemed like the hundredth time that day he gathered the offending scrap, glaring at it with what anger he could hold for such an object.

"Why did you have to be Bushin?" He demanded. "Is it to much to ask for one little thing to go Naruto's way for once?" Unsurprisingly he received no response. Resisting an immature urge to just burn the thing, he decided to return it to the box for use in the future.

He sent a bit of chakra into the slip of paper, using a teacher's jutsu he'd learned over the years to repair paperwork damaged by anything from stray jutsu and kunai to being partially consumed by wild animals.

Ninja-to-be were surprisingly innovative when it came to avoiding homework, and most of the academy's teachers had no pity for unimaginative excuses. There was actually a top ten list in the teacher's lounge of best excuses ever used. Currently number one was Tsunade's "My granddad accidentally turned it into a tree." Most surprising is the fact that it was apparently true, if one were to judge by the apology note pinned next to it signed by Hashirama Senju.

Iruka frowned when the paper in his hands resisted for a few seconds, before releasing a tiny burst of chakra and unfolding itself properly. His eyes went wide as he stared. The words 'Henge no Jutsu' emblazoned across it.

As he stared at the words, trying to figure out how Naruto could have confused one technique for the other, he heard a loud slam and pounding footsteps. Turning to the doorway he watched it fly open to reveal a haggard looking Kurenai Yuuhi. Kurenai had been a fellow teacher in the academy, teaching the fourth grade students until just a year ago. After teaching the prior year's class, she declared her intention to leave the academy and attain her jouninship to become a genin team sensei.

Iruka knew from personal experience that the young Hyuuga heiress had factored into the decision, both because of Kurenai's previous involvement with the girl, and because she had consulted him in regards to the best manner to request the Hokage give her the girl as a student. Personally, he hoped she got the team she chose. he believed it would be good both for the Genin involved and Kurenai herself.

"Ah... Yes, Kurenai-san? Was there something you need?" He asked absently, mind still tangling with the puzzle in his hand.

"Iruka-san," Kurenai began, almost out of breath from her swift arrival. "The Hokage summoned all active ninja to the tower..."

"Damn. I'll head right there," Iruka interrupted, dropping the stack of files on the desk.

"Don't bother," Kurenai continued, stopping Iruka mid stride. "He made his announcement already, I got here as fast as I could. It was about Naruto... He... He stole the Scroll of Forbidden Seals. Every ninja in the village is out looking for him."

Iruka's eyes shot wide for a moment, before, as if by magic the pieces to his puzzle clicked into place. A glare of anger so intense settled onto the kind chunin's face that Kurenai unconsciously stepped away. "Mizuki..." he growled, his hand spasming closed and crushing the paper once again.

He looked into Kurenai's eyes a moment, lost in thought. "Go to the Hokage," he ordered, "tell him Naruto's being used. Mizuki must have planned to make Naruto fail, then use him to get the scroll."

Kurenai nodded, ignoring the fact that she outranked the teacher. "What are you going to do?" she inquired.

"Mizuki's a man of habit. There are only so many places he would choose to meet Naruto, and there's no way he would have left himself having to search for him beside the rest of the village. Naruto's too good at evading capture to leave something like this up to chance."

"And when you find him?"

"I plan to beat him into the dirt, then bring him back for Ibiki... Or maybe Anko." He grinned maliciously at the jounin when he mentioned her friend. "No one hurts my students," Iruka swore before vanishing in a shunshin.

Kurenai stared at the place he stood a moment more before turning and rushing from the room as fast as she could. On her way back to the Hokage's tower she wondered if Iruka could handle Mizuki on his own... And if he could, how much of the possible traitor would be left afterward.

Naruto sat in a clearing in a training ground just outside of Konoha proper. Apparently it was used for some kind of bandit rescue or other form of forced entry training, judging from the much battered cabin that stood nearby. He was exhausted but deliriously happy. He had managed to learn one jutsu from the scroll, and it was a bushin type to boot. No way would anyone be able to deny his graduation now! All he had to do was wait for Mizuki-sensei to get here and he'd be a genin in no time. As he plopped onto his back to rest, he reflected on the course of the day since accepting the secret test.


When he reached his apartment, Naruto fulfilled his promise to Door and spent the next hour scrubbing it clean of eggy residue. During this time he devised his plan of attack.

He knew Sarutobi-jiji generally took a lunch break from his dreaded paperwork around the end of the academy's school day. More often than not he went out to lunch with Konohamaru, his grandson. The young boy usually picked the restaurant and the Hokage made sure to invite Naruto along if they went anywhere he felt comfortable entering.

Generally, this meant only Ichiraku's.

He was fairly certain that despite the extra work piling on his desk due to the end of school, that the Hokage's office would be empty at that time and would likely remain that way for at least an hour. Konohamaru often rambled on about how his day went, what cool new things he learned, and threats to take the hat by force someday soon.

As for how to get into the room and past any guards, Naruto had long ago learned a secret way in. A path through ventilation ducts he had discovered while trying to avoid a less than tolerant secretary some time back. Sarutobi-jiji was unhappy with him for finding a flaw in his security, but once Naruto had revealed it to him and escorted a smallish monkey summon through it, he'd agreed to allow the boy this one covert path to him, adding a sealing array to the entrance and exit that wouldn't allow anyone but the boy through. His only stipulation was that Naruto only use it in a true emergency.

Well, if his last chance at graduation didn't qualify as an emergency, he didn't want to encounter any problems that did.

Nearly an hour and a half of frantic searching later, and Naruto had finally located his target. Somehow,, the Hokage had managed to stuff it into a drawer not even a quarter the size of the scroll itself... Naruto decided that if the opportunity ever presented itself, he really had to learn some of this sealing stuff. Unfortunately for him, as he was trying to fit the giant scroll into the vents so he could finally leave, the Hokage himself appeared via shunshin. He immediately went on alert looking around angrily until he spotted Naruto with his prize.

"Naruto-kun, What on earth are you doing?" The old man asked.

Naruto, remembering what Mizuki said: about evidence, and sounding alarms, and about having to keep the test a secret or it not counting; did the only thing he could think to do...

"Sorry, jiji," Naruto apologized forming a sign and charging chakra. The Hokage frowned sadly and prepared to take the boy down and get some answers...

"Oroike no jutsu!"

Only to collapse in a spray of nose originated blood as Naruto unleashed his first, and arguably most dangerous (often to himself if a kunoichi is near) personally created jutsu.

Rolling the unconscious man onto his belly so he wouldn't drown in his own blood, Naruto was struck by an idea. Strapping the scroll to his back he Henge'd into the Hokage, grabbed the worn pipe from the desk and strolled out the door.

"Hokage-sama?" yelped the secretary as she hurried over, straightening her mussed clothing. "I... I Thought you were out to lunch?"

Naruto looked over the secretary a moment, then past her to the chunin pointedly staring out a window that had no view worth watching. "Ah, don't mind me," he replied in Sarutobi's voice. "I just forgot my pipe and came back for it. Nothing worth noting I'm sure. Do carry on." Naruto-as-Sarutobi walked out of the building chucking for more than one reason.

A short time later, and Naruto was making full speed for the rendezvous. A quick glance at the sun, which was coming close to setting revealed he had more than a few hours to get his new jutsu down. It might be a bit of a rush, but he swore he would do it. No matter what.

-Flashback end-

The rapid pounding of footsteps brought Naruto to his feet in a rush. The boy was literally bouncing in place with eagerness to see Mizuki and pass his test. His disappointment was sharp when instead Iruka slid to a stop in front of him.

"Does this mean I fail the test?" Naruto asked sadly.

"Naruto! Do you know where Mizuki is?" Iruka demanded, "I don't know what he told you, but that scroll should never have been removed from the Hokage's office. This is no test, this is treason!" Iruka swept his eyes around franticly, trying to watch everywhere at once.

"Wh... what? What do you mean there's no test? Mizuki-sensei told me..." Naruto trailed off realization dawning on him. "He's like everyone else, isn't he?" He asked quietly, not really expecting an answer.

"I'm hurt that you would think so little of me, Naruto." called out a sinister voice from the shadowed woods. "I did ask what you were willing to do to become strong didn't I? And then I gave you a way to do it... You can't honestly tell me those pathetic villagers would even consider doing something like that."

"Mizuki!" Iruka yelled, still glaring around. "Show yourself! What's this all about? Why would you do something like this?"

"Why? Isn't it obvious, Iruka? This is about power. I'm tired of being on the low end of the strength scale in this village. I'm tired of teaching stupid brats who have less potential in their whole bodies than I do in a single finger. I'm tired of waiting for this damn village to recognize my greatness! I'll force them to see my power, and Orochimaru-sama has promised to help me."

"All I need is that scroll to pay my tuition, so to say, and he'll teach me everything I need to know. He even offered to let me stand with him when he comes back to burn this place to the ground." Malevolent laughter filled the woods around them for a moment.

"Naruto," the voice continued when it's mirth had faded. "Give me the scroll, and I'll bring you with me. We can both serve Orochimaru-sama. Think about it: no more villagers to harass you, no more living in that dump you call a home, no more of this sick, disgusting, village. I'm willing to keep my promise of power... if you're willing to complete your mission. Remember, the test only ends with you a ninja when you give the scroll to me."

"Don't listen to him, Naruto," Iruka commanded. "He's just trying to manipulate you. He'll kill you the second he doesn't need you anymore."

Naruto looked from Iruka to the woods, worry and fear clearly evident in his posture and expression.

Dark chuckles came from the woods around them again. "If that were true, I'd just kill him now. Even I can see how exhausted he must be from all that training. It'd hardly be difficult right now. I certainly doubt a soft desk-ninja like you would be able to stop me, Iruka. In fact, I bet I could kill you both before you even know where I am..."

"But I'm a generous person, so I think I'll sweeten the deal for you, Naruto. If you want, I'll tell you why the village hates you so much. Why they all want to keep you weak. The secret so big no one is allowed to even whisper it in Konoha. Well? Do you want to hear it kid?"

"No! Mizuki you wouldn't dare!" Iruka cried out in surprise. "If you say it you'll be executed!"

Naruto stared at his visible teacher in shock. Iruka knew? He knew all this time? All the pain Naruto had suffered and the answer was as close to him as his own teacher... And Iruka never told him?

"Hmmm, You're right Iruka. I wouldn't want to get executed twice. On top of the treason and all I mean... I guess that just means I can't get caught!" The hidden man laughed again "You want to know the secret, Naruto? Fine! The secret is: You are the Kyuubi no Youko!"

"All the evil that beast committed stains your very soul! Your claws, your teeth, you killed all those people who were lost that day you were born! Yondaime died trying to destroy you! But you still exist, and the village... Wants. You. Dead!"

Naruto felt his heart stop at those words... suddenly a thousand barely heard insults made sense: Fox brat, Demon, Monster. He fell to his knees in a daze, the forest seemed to be spinning around him, as if the world itself was trying to reject him.

"No!" Iruka rebutted. "Naruto's got that thing locked inside him. That much is true. But he's no more the Kyuubi than I am!" Distantly Naruto heard Iruka's denial, but everything seemed to be coming from so far away... like it didn't matter anymore.

"Oh? Well, in that case I'll just have to kill you both!" Mizuki screamed, charging forward from behind Naruto's unresponsive form, an already flying windmill shuriken leading the way.

The next sensation Naruto felt wasn't a burning pain, nor the slicing of steel through flesh. Naruto felt like he was flying. He was puzzled by the experience until he hit the ground hard, the impact knocking the air from his lungs. Iruka had grabbed Naruto by the back of his jumpsuit and launched him to safety while staying himself and bashing the giant throwing star out of the air with the other arm. Unfortunately for Iruka, the razor sharp edge of the weapon ripped a long gash along his upper arm.

Iruka grabbed the wound, wincing in pain before being forced to dodge from the rapidly approaching Mizuki. The traitorous nin was wielding his second shuriken as if it were a buzz saw. Slashing and swiping with it almost recklessly.

"Why would you help that damned demon!" The treacherous ninja exclaimed. "Why the hell would you save the monster that killed your parents! The Yondaime! Everyone!"

Iruka darted forward when his opponent's wild swing left him overbalanced momentarily and delivered a bruising kick to the gut, knocking him away. "Because, it's like I said." Iruka replied. "Naruto is not the demon fox. He's one of my precious students. And anyone who wants to hurt my students, will do so over my dead body!" Iruka drew a pair of kunai and charged at Mizuki, with a cry of "Now, Exploud!"

From the woods surrounding the embattled ninja a familiar whistling arose, followed immediately by a bone shaking call.


Naruto was forced to cover his ears as the sound continued unabated, a constant whistle underscoring the ever increasing call.

"Shit!" Mizuki cursed, immediately understanding the unorthodox attack as a call for aid. "Scolipede! Find that thing and kill it!" he ordered as the large insectoid pokemon appeared in a flash of reddish light.

The scolipede cried out it's name in reply and charged off into the brush in search of the hidden pokemon noisemaker.

"It's over Mizuki!" Iruka proclaimed, somehow seemingly unaffected by the constant clamor around him. "Anbu will be here in minutes. Your only options are peaceful surrender or painful capture."

Naruto was transfixed as the battle between the two ninja continued, twin kunai against giant shuriken. He was confused as to why Iruka would go so far for him. Sure, he was a damn good teacher, but how many teachers would get in a fight to the death for their students?

Meanwhile Iruka was taking full advantage of the disorienting effect Exploud's call was having on Mizuki, pushing the traitor ninja onto his heels time and again. Iruka seemed to have every advantage for a short while... right until Exploud's alarm choked off into a hiccuping warble.

"Looks like my pet found yours," Mizuki gloated with a cruel expression. "I wonder how long it'll be before Scolipede's venom eats it away from the inside, hmm?"

Iruka unconsciously darted his eyes towards where he knew Exploud would be fighting against his toxic adversary.

Such distraction would be dangerous in any battle between ninja, but against an opponent who knows it's coming, even a moment's inattention can prove deadly. Unfortunately for Iruka, Mizuki knew him well enough to be such an opponent.

The instant his eyes moved, Mizuki stopped the spinning blades of his shuriken, bringing both hands to the central ring he grabbed and twisted. With an almost silent click the blades came apart in two sections forming a pair of large knives with a blade pointing forward and back from the grip.

Bringing his extended arm back to position in a slash across his body, he managed to score a deep wound across Iruka's chest, only the loyal teacher's quick reflexes prevented the swing from removing his head. Mizuki anticipated this reaction however, and was already charging forward punching with the opposite blade. Iruka spun away and instead of being disemboweled, merely felt the blade slice through his vest and scratch a thin line across his abdomen.

He jumped away, but was again anticipated as the first dagger sliced towards his extended leg, so that the force of Iruka's own leap aided in the strike, dragging him up along the blade and cutting a shallow but freely bleeding wound from his knee nearly to his ankle.

Iruka landed hard, and collapsed, grabbing his wounded leg and trying to staunch the blood flowing out.

"I gotta admit. You gave me a lot better a workout than I expected, Iruka." Mizuki stated. "But I'm afraid I gotta cut this little party short. I sure didn't bring near enough sake for me, you, the brat, and all the Anbu that are likely to find us before too long... In fact, I'm not sure I brought enough for just me. And since it's rude for the host to hog all the drinks, I guess I just gotta end this little get together. Oh well." He smiled his twisted grin again, " Oh, and don't worry about your precious student, I'll be sure to kill him just like you want. Right over your dead body."

Just as Mizuki was about to stab into Iruka, a large and unwieldy object plowed into him from the side, sending him tumbling end over end. After a moment's panicky repositioning so as to not kill himself with his own blades, he rolled to his feet, settling into a ready stance.

"Aww, getting impatient Naruto? I was just about to get to you. Or did you finally decide to accept my offer?"

"You're a fool if you think I'll go anywhere with you," the boy stated boldly. "You already told me you were going to kill me. Why should I trust you?"

"Hmph!" the traitor grunted in return. "As if this village has any better plan for you. At least I'd kill you clean. Better than leaving you to waste away in some dumpster for the rest of your miserable life."

"Maybe," Naruto conceded. "But I don't plan on wasting away anywhere! I trust Iruka-sensei when he says I'm precious to him. I trust Iruka-sensei when he says I'm not Kyuubi. I trust Sarutobi-jiji when he promised to help me become a ninja however he can. And If I have to go through this village one person at a time and prove I'm not a monster, prove I'm not a demon, prove I'm not Kyuubi. Then that's what I'll do! I'll prove to all of them! I will protect this village, and all of it's people, from traitors like you! And by the time I'm done, they'll be begging me to be Hokage! Dattebayo!"

"Lovely speech Naruto," Mizuki yawned, covering his mouth with one hand (and almost stabbing himself on the unusual weapon in the process). "But it takes more than pretty words to make things like that happen you know."

Naruto nodded in response. "I know, and I still have a test to pass. Don't I Mizuki-sensei" The traitor cocked an eyebrow at that comment. "I delivered the scroll as ordered. So, what would you score me for that?" Naruto asked, challenge ringing clearly in his words.

Mizuki glanced at the object that struck him, identifying it as the Scroll of Forbidden Seals and chuckled a bit, "Well kid, based on the criteria I named... I'd have given you a B+... but taking out a Kage in the process? That bumps you to an A+ easily. Not that it'll do you any good when you're dead... But at least you'll know you did something right before you go, you know?"

Iruka was staring at Naruto in shock. Taking out a Kage? What the hell did he miss today?

Naruto nodded again. "Then I guess that just leaves one thing to do. I'm ready for my ninjutsu evaluation. What do you say we make it a combat test? That sound appropriate Sensei?"

"Anytime you're ready fox brat."

Naruto's hands came up in a cross shaped sign. "Try not to die before you give me my grade, I'd hate to lose my chance to become a genin because you got weak on me." Naruto commented to Mizuki's ire. "Kage Bushin no Jutsu!"

A cloud of chakra smoke filled the area blinding all three for a long second before revealing... a veritable army of identical figures.

"How's this?" the group roared. "Is this a passing grade or what?"

Mizuki looked around at the impossible event unfolding before his eyes. He swallowed heavily, he had always excelled at one on one combat, but against a horde this size?

He knew it was a bad day to leave the bar.

"Well then, If you aren't gonna say anything... Then here we come!" In a rush of orange and yellow, the grand melee beat down of the traitor Mizuki began in earnest. The Naruto's were just sad that he didn't give them their extra credit before he passed out from the pain.

Minutes later Naruto and Iruka were the only conscious beings in the clearing. Iruka had bound his wounds to the best of his ability; then tied Mizuki up, with no regard to the man's comfort, should he awake.

"So..." Naruto began, "I really have the Kyuubi stuck inside me, huh?"

"I'm afraid so Naruto," his teacher replied. "You always have though, so don't think it changes anything about you. You... well, you just know about it now."

"Why was it such a secret anyway? And not even a good one. Was I the only person who didn't know?"

"I don't know. That's probably something you'll have to talk over with Hokage-sama. He's the one who made the law forbidding it's discussion after all."

"Aw, man." Naruto groaned, "And after all that effort, the stupid test was a total lie..."

"Mizuki did lie to you, Naruto, but that's doesn't mean..."

Iruka was interrupted by an odd whistling coming from the woods nearby, as Exploud staggered out. The purple pokemon had a number of puncture wounds from it's battle, and the skin surrounding the wounds was starting to turn gray around the edges.

"Exploud!" Iruka cried, "Damn, I need to get him medical help! Naruto, stay with Mizuki until the Anbu get here." Naruto waved a half-hearted affirmation as Iruka lifted the small but bulky pokemon into his arms and shot off into the night towards the village.

When the Anbu arrived, Naruto was sitting near Mizuki looking dejected and poking the unconscious man with a stick.

"Uzumaki-san?" one of the Anbu inquired in a feminine voice.

The boy nodded without looking up.

"Very well. My comrades will take the traitor to the T&I division holding cells. My orders are to bring you and the scroll to the Hokage at once.

Naruto stood without saying a word, and passed the scroll over to the woman. She meanwhile was feeling decidedly unsettled. Naruto Uzumaki was Never quiet, and Never this still. A glance at her team and their tense postures revealed their own apprehension. One had even tried to dispel, in case of a genjutsu.

"I'm ready to go now, Anbu-san," he said in a subdued voice.

The woman swallowed her concern, there was something wrong with the boy, that much was certain. But if anyone could set the boy to rights, it would be the venerable Sandaime.

"Very well then, Let us be off." She replied, before taking them both away in a swirl of leaves.

Alrighty, that's the end of my first solo story chapter. To those who enjoy: please feel free to review. To those who don't: flame like a gassy magmar for all I care.

If anyone has questions about the way things will work in this story, feel free to ask. I will try to explain anything not inherently spoilery, either via PM or in author's notes. That being said I will answer a couple potential questions here.

1: Will anyone get a legendary pokemon?

No, the legendaries here will be essentially mini biju. There is one of each, and they are immortal. One on one, aside from Arceus, the Biju are much stronger, but that's mostly because there's so many more Legendary pokemon in the world. The legendaries will have their roles in the story, but the methods which bind a Pokemon to a Ninja will not work with them. They may assist ninja if their goals run parallel, but that will be a pretty rare circumstance. Also, there won't be a Jinchuuriki issue with the legendaries because that would be a surefire way to piss off Arceus.

2: Will Shikamaru or Chouji get a Snorlax?

Again, no. First off, I loathe Munchlax, and using Snorlax in a Ninja fight would just be strange. I've already decided which allies the 'Konoha twelve' will get as well as their teachers and a number of other noteworthy characters. However, at the time of this posting I certainly haven't finalized decisions on later partners. (most enemies from the Sasuke retrieval on, including Akatsuki) Some of the Pokemon chosen may seem odd, but I feel they're justifiably appropriate. The first hints of who will get what will come in chapter 2, with them being revealed by name in 3, at least in regards to the rookie nine. Others will be shown when appropriate, Team Gai during the chunin exams for example.

3: Will they be able to catch other Pokemon?

Also no. Pokeballs don't exist in this story, and anyone who devises a way to force pokemon to obey them, through seals or otherwise, will be a villain. With very few exceptions, there will be a strict 'One ninja, One pokemon' policy.

4: Will characters from Pokemon make an appearance?

Kinda. There will be a flashback chapter which is already mostly fleshed out in my noggin. This chapter will star Ash (Satoshi, whatever) and will explain the circumstances behind the elimination of pokeballs among other things.

I suppose in the interests of full disclosure I should say: I consider myself a Naruto/Hinata supporter. I doubt I'll tackle any relationship nonsense in the nearish future, but as you probably noticed: that will effect my writing to a degree. However I have nothing against other shipping... mostly. NaruSaku (where she remains abusive) NaruSasu or SasuHina (anytime after he attempts to murder Naruto) just seem unrealistic to me, although if Naruto were to somehow inspire a hatred for him in Hinata, that would make an interesting SasuHina concept.

Under no circumstances will a human/pokemon romantic relationship come into play in this story. Even in the case of the most human of pokemon I can't find anything about that natural. Nor will this contain Yaoi or Yuri, but that's simply a matter of personal preference.

Okay, the author's note has become too long, so I end it here. Hope to have the next chapter ready soon.