Disclaimer: None of the work herein has been created for profit purposes. I'm only using this world as an exercise to improve my writing.
Summary: We all know the story of Naruto on Team 7, but what if he was trained under a different Sensei? With different teammates? How would Naruto have developed under Rin, Kakashi's forgotten teammate? For better or for worse, different experiences will lead to a different Naruto.
A/N: Heavily edited as of 3/23/2016. You will notice a pretty hefty dip in the quality of writing between this chapter and the next few, but I am working on getting them all up to snuff, and I hope you will make it through to the better chapters that more reflect my current skill.
Basically taking out a few of the typical cliches that you see in fanfic that did not belong here, as well as shoring up a ton of internal consistency stuff that needed to be taken care of for the story to remain true to itself down the road.
Not to mention a huge jump in the quality of writing since I first published this here. Even if you've read the chapter before, I encourage you to do so again, and let me know what you think in a review!
The S-Class Secret
"Good morning, class."
Naruto held his breath as his classmates returned their teacher's greeting in bored voices. Iruka-sensei wore a smile as he sat at his desk, and Naruto suppressed a snicker.
"Alright everyone, your graduation exam is just about a month away," Iruka-sensei said, moving to stand. "I thought it would be best to—" The chūnin instructor cut himself off with a yelp as he stumbled forward, crashing to the ground with his chair stuck to his ass. There was a moment of stunned silence before Naruto led the way into the class erupting in laughter.
That was great! Operation Iruka Faceplant: success! Naruto thought with a grin.
Iruka disentangled himself from the chair with a glow of blue energy around his rear, and glared around the classroom with a faint blush. The class' merriment died down under his gaze, and the young teacher studied his student's with a firm frown.
When the teacher's attention made it to Naruto, the blond did his best to school his features, but the chūnin's eye twitched and Naruto knew he had been made.
"Naruto, stay after class."
Most of the students laughed again at his expense, even as Naruto grinned sheepishly at the attention.
"Now, as I was saying…"
Iruka stared down his student, taking little joy at how the continued silence made Naruto squirm in his seat. The remainder of the school day had seen the blond acting as his normal rambunctious self despite getting called out in front of the class.
"What'll it be this time, Iruka-sensei?" The kid asked, rubbing the back of his neck and offering the start of a wide smile. "Mopping the floors? Cleaning the blackboards?"
Iruka sighed at Naruto's nonchalant tone. The boy had grown familiar with all of the typical punishments, and Iruka wondered if it was even worth bothering to try and teach him a lesson anymore. He recalled his own history of acting out and sighed, wondering if he could reach Naruto as the Sandaime Hokage had reached Iruka.
"Sensei?" Naruto's concerned tone brought Iruka back to the present.
"Naruto…" He trailed off, a spark resembling an idea that might become a plan guiding him forward. "Why do you want to be a ninja?"
Naruto blinked, looking taken aback.
"Because I'm going to be Hokage someday!" he declared as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
Iruka repressed his usual grimace at the lofty goal, having trouble fathoming how far Naruto was from ever achieving it.
"How?" he asked instead, keeping his face neutral. "How are you going to become Hokage?"
Naruto did not hesitate in his answer, "I'm going to be the strongest ninja Konoha has ever seen, dattebayo!" Naruto grinned. "Then everyone will have to acknowledge me as Hokage."
His reasoning was flawed, but Iruka latched onto the opening it provided.
"And how can you be the strongest ninja if you never pay attention in class?" He kept frustration and dismissal far from his tone. He could not afford to put the kid on the defensive too quickly.
Still, when Naruto scoffed at the question, it was all Iruka could do to keep his reaction limited to a twitch of his left eye.
"Neh, come on Sensei. Nobody needs to know all the stuff you talk about in class to be a ninja," Naruto whined, holding his arms behind his head and leaning back in his chair to balance it on two legs. Iruka forced himself to remain calm.
"What's a shinobi's greatest weapon, Naruto?" He could not help the irritation starting to bleed into his voice.
"Er, strong jutsu?" Naruto half-asked, scratching his cheek in thought.
Iruka pinched the bridge of his nose, the puckered skin of his scar rough against his fingers. This was only the most important lesson he tried to drive home to his students from the word go.
"No, Naruto. A ninja's best weapon is their mind."
Naruto's brow furrowed in thought, and Iruka felt the fleeting hope that he had cracked Naruto's thick skull.
"I don't get it."
Iruka's head hit his desk with a dull thump.
"Let me try putting it this way, then," Iruka said after taking a moment to recover. "What is the Sandaime Hokage's nickname?"
"The Professor," Naruto said without hesitation.
"Right, and why is he called that?"
"Because he knows a bunch of really strong jutsu!" Naruto declared with a snap of his fingers. "So I was right!"
"That wasn't the point," Iruka said, sighing. "How do you think Sandaime-sama learned all of those jutsu, Naruto?"
"…by training?" his student said as if it were a trick question.
"You're half right. Hokage-sama became so powerful because he trained and studied his ass off." Iruka saw something approaching thoughtfulness move in Naruto's eyes and went in for the kill. "At one point, though, Hokage-sama was exactly where you are now."
Naruto started to grin and give a thumbs up, but Iruka plowed on.
"The difference, though, is that the Hokage actually applied himself into mastering the basics and wasn't pulling useless pranks so people would give him the time of day."
Naruto's face fell and Iruka's gut twisted, but he did not let his guilt show on his face. It was not easy to break a kid's bad self-image like this, but he had to try.
"Without mastering the basics, the Sandaime would never have become as powerful as he is. The same goes for every other Hokage and powerful ninja in our history." Iruka braced himself for the finishing blow. "As of right now, Naruto, I doubt you'll even graduate, and you'll never have a chance to event try to get to their level."
Betrayal, anger, and defiance all shined in Naruto's blue eyes behind a film of unshed tears. Iruka's years of training kept his expression guarded.
Naruto opened his mouth to speak, but Iruka cut him off. "I tell you this because I do believe you have it in you to be great, Naruto." The dark emotions in the boy's eyes disappeared in a flash of shock.
"You… believe in me?"
Iruka blinked, unable to hide how surprised he was by the fragility in Naruto's tone. Perhaps he had gone too far?
"I do," Iruka said with grim sincerity. "If you apply yourself, master the basics in time to graduate, then the sky's the limit for you, Naruto."
Naruto burst from his seat, jaw set and a finger pointing right at Iruka's face. The light caught his eyes, setting them to burn a blue blaze of determination. "Then you got it, Iruka-sensei! I'll get the basics down better than anyone else and surpass the old man in no time, dattebayo!"
Naruto grinned, and Iruka found it infectious as he nodded his agreement. The student waved and shot out the door with the energy that came with youth, and Iruka could only hope his latest lecture had actually taken root in Naruto's psyche.
Only time would tell.
Sarutobi Hiruzen took a deep drag on his pipe as he sifted through the last pile of paperwork on his docket for the day. The heat warmed his throat and lungs, comforting him as he tore through the bureaucratic necessity with practiced ease. He rushed the process, eager to move onto one of the few duties he could say he enjoyed without caveats.
With the newest class of genin set to graduate in less than a week, it fell to the Hokage to study the likely graduates and match them best with a jōnin instructor. This particular class not only contained the heirs to six of Konohagakure's most prominent clans, but also had more potential from the remaining students than average batch of rookies.
He grinned around his pipe. It did an old man's heart well when the next generation showed such promise.
A knock sounded on his door, followed by the muffled voice of one of his secretaries. "Hokage-sama, your appointment is here."
Sarutobi's smile faded and he applied his signature to one last piece of paper. "Send her in!" he called, and settled back in his chair to grant his guest with his full attention.
"You asked to see me, Hokage-sama?" Nohara Rin asked, standing at attention just inside his office's doorway.
Sarutobi studied his jōnin for a long moment, frowning at her tense stance. She opted to wear her jōnin vest, stiff from disuse, over her typical dark purple shirt and black shinobi-standard pants – both pressed and flawless in their presentation – and her normal, haphazard bun of brunette hair had been traded in for a disciplined ponytail. It was the most formal the Hokage had seen her in almost a decade.
Feeling a wave of guilt, he wondered when the last time he spoke to her beyond their monthly meetings had been.
"How are things, Rin?"
His chief medical shinobi blinked at him as if he were a simpleton.
"As I said in my report last week, Hokage-sama," she said after a pregnant pause. "The hospital's operations are running at peak efficiency. We've just had a fresh group of chūnin recruits that made the grade out of Genin Corp., and Iyasu-san is confident he can have them on the floor within a half year."
Sarutobi hummed at her report, nearly a word for word retelling of the update she had provided the week before. In her time at Konoha General, Rin had risen through the ranks with adept skill in medical jutsu, and, since her taking over as Chief, the medical corp. had steadily bloomed in size.
But that was not why she was here, and Sarutobi suspected she knew it.
"Your remarkable work aside, Rin," he said, setting down his pipe and locking eyes with the jōnin. "But you did not answer my question. How are things with you?"
A slight shift in the shoulders and the almost indistinguishable agitation of the chakra were Sarutobi's only indication of Rin's reaction.
"There is nothing extraordinary to report, Hokage-sama. Everything is fine." Unspoken, but clear in her tone was the question of why was he asking?
The bags under her eyes not quite hidden beneath a subtle layer of makeup and her skin's complexion being pale enough for the rectangular, purple markings crossing her jaw on each cheek to stand out like beacon's in the night would have been worrying on their own, but dismissible as the result of issues he trusted his jōnin to manage on their own.
But there were always exceptions, and when trusted colleagues reported their concern, Sarutobi paid closer attention.
And her worried at what he saw.
"How long has it been, Rin, since you've left the village?"
Rin frowned, before answering. "Nearly eight years."
"And in that time, I've been told you have gradually cut yourself off from your peers?"
"I've been busy running a hospital," Rin said, heat entering her voice.
"And your colleagues speak nothing of praise for you, but none seem to know you well outside of your roll. Others have come to me to express their concern—"
Rin palmed her forehead, daring to cut off Sarutobi for the first time.
"Kakashi," she said with a long suffering sigh. Sarutobi kept his expression neutral, unsurprised she had guessed correctly. The two former teammates had not spoken in years, from what he gathered, but that had not stopped Kakashi from bringing his troubled beliefs to Sarutobi's attention.
"Regardless of my sources," Sarutobi said, leveling a firm gaze on Rin until she sank back into her formal stance. "To a shinobi, isolation only ever ends in disaster." Rin's jaw tightened and Sarutobi took a subtle breath, preparing for the fallout. "You are being reassigned—"
"Sir!" Rin objected, façade of formality fading in lieu of despair. "I've given everything to the hospital ever since—"
The Hokage held up a hand, and his jōnin fell silent.
"The decision has been made, Rin." He tapped a paper on his desk, the list of all potential genin in this year's academy class. "You are to lead a team of rookie genin as their jōnin commander."
She blanched. "You want me teaching? After everything?"
"There are few things better for the mind and soul," Sarutobi said, softening his tone with a smile. "Than passing on knowledge to the next generation. I have little doubt you will make an excellent teacher, Rin."
He saw her jaw work itself behind closed lips as she constructed arguments in her head, keeping her brown eyes locked on Sarutobi's. He bore the brunt of her stare for long minutes before the set of her shoulders sagged in recognition of the inevitability of his victory.
"Can I at least see a list of students?" She asked.
He slid the paper toward her and she snapped it up, eyes flicking over the names in rapid movements until she discovered the name Sarutobi knew would give her pause.
"If I'm going to do this," she said, and Sarutobi did not press her illusion of choice. "I want Sensei's son." She placed the list back down on the desk, two fingers pressing against Naruto's name and her jaw set in stubborn demand – a flash of the girl she had once been.
Sarutobi inclined his head in agreement. Preassigned placements were not common, but neither were they unheard of. With Uchiha Sasuke already destined to be tested by Kakashi, few would be able to object to Naruto being placed as well.
"Should he pass the graduation exam," Sarutobi said with an air of finality. "Uzumaki Naruto will be a member of your genin team." He was pleased to see something akin to a smile flicker across her lips, if only for a short moment. "Now, I'm sure you have a good deal of preparations to make for this transition…"
"Yes, Hokage-sama," Rin agreed, making to take her leave with a bow.
He waited until she was just at the office door to speak a final word. "And Rin?" She paused, one hand on the door fame, and looked to him over her shoulder. "My office is always open to my shinobi, for whatever the reason."
She stood for a long moment, before nodding and taking her leave.
Hiruzen packed fresh tobacco in his pipe and sighed, wondering how the actions of the day would affect the future. He could only hope that joy of shepherding a genin team could spark Rin's will of fire. As he let out a puff of fresh smoke, he resigned himself to the familiar ritual of waiting.
"Damn it!" Naruto cursed as another leaf exploded on his overturned palm, leaving a fresh, stinging patch of singed skin to join the dozens of others. He had been at this exercise for weeks and had made little progress. The rest of his class could perform the leaf sticking chakra control technique, and Naruto felt no small amount of frustration over why he still could not.
With a growl he picked up another leaf and took a deep breath. Focus on your chakra, guide it to your hand into the leaf so it stuck, and… Gah!
"Stupid leaves!" He shouted, shaking out his smarting hand. The last few weeks had been a flurry of books, scrolls, and burned leaves for him. The day after his talk with Iruka-sensei, Naruto had gone back to the teacher with a sheepish admission of not knowing where to start, and the chūnin instructor had provided him a lesson plan to follow.
With his taijutsu already passable, and both the Kawarimi and Henge mastered, Naruto only had to focus on his general knowledge and the Bunshin. He spent most of his days buried in books until he was ready to snap, or attempting to master the basic chakra control exercise that would let him perform the Bunshin.
The plan had Iruka-sensei's guarantee that if Naruto followed it, he would pass the graduation exam without issue.
But with the exam tomorrow and the Bunshin still not mastered, Naruto began to doubt his teacher's word.
"Yo, Naruto! Surprised to see you here at this hour," said the grey-haired chūnin who had served as Iruka-sensei's teaching assistant for almost all of Naruto's time at the academy. The man approached with his hands stuffed in his pockets and his shoulders set in a slouch, looking as laid back as ever.
"Eh, what are you doing here Mizuki-sensei?" Naruto took advantage of the Academy's training grounds, and the place was almost always deserted by this time of the evening.
"Oh, just checking on a few things for Iruka," he said with a shrug, eyes crinkling as he smiled. "Are you ready for the exam tomorrow?"
Naruto hung his head, downcast.
"I'm trying to get this chakra control stuff down, but I don't think I'll do it in time." It was a hard thing to admit, but Mizuki-sensei never judged him when he couldn't do something.
"Yeah, that's rough, but maybe…" Mizuki-sensei tapped his chin in thought, looking Naruto up and down with squinted eyes. "Nah, I probably shouldn't tell you this…"
"Tell me what?" Naruto asked, unable to stop his curiosity.
"Well, if you're going to be Hokage someday, I guess it would be great if you owed me one, right?" Mizuki smiled, snapping his fingers and Naruto felt his chest puff up in pride. "All right, I doubt I can help you get chakra control down in time," he admitted, and Naruto's brief hope deflated. "But I can tell you how to graduate."
"How?" Naruto asked, head snapping up to catch Mizuki-sensei's eyes. If there was a way around getting the Bunshin down, he would go for it.
Mizuki-sensei cast a look around before leaning over and beckoning Naruto closer. He spoke in a whisper.
"There's a secret test. It's dangerous enough that we only ever offer it to the best of the best students. Not even Sasuke knows about it, but I've seen how hard you've been working, and I think you can pull it off."
Naruto's heart sped up and he bounced on the balls of his feet. Iruka-sensei had been right, mastering the basics was already paying off!
"If you manage to pass, though, you'll be promoted to genin straight away without having to take the Academy exam!" Mizuki-sensei shared a grin with Naruto. "Interested?"
"Of course! I can take on whatever it is, no problem!"
"That's what I thought you'd say." Mizuki-sensei pulled a scroll out of his back pocket and rolled it out onto the ground, showing blueprints labeled The Hokage Tower. A red 'X' marked a room right by the old man Hokage's office. "There's a special scroll in the Hokage tower reserved for this test," the teacher explained, pointing toward the 'X.' "Get in without being stopped, grab the scroll off the pedestal, and find your way out."
"What's on the scroll, Mizuki-sensei?" Naruto asked, mind whirring as his blood pumped in anticipation. He was the first one in the class to go on an actual mission! Take that, Sasuke-teme.
"And that's the best part," Mizuki-sensei said, furling up his blueprints. "There's a bunch of special jutsu available to only those strong enough to pass the test."
Naruto's eyes glazed over as he considered the endless possibilities.
"You won't have much time." Mizuki-sensei studied the sun as it sank in the sky. "Get the scroll to me in training ground twenty-nine by ten o'clock. Think you can handle that?"
"Good, and one more thing." The chūnin ran a hand along the back of his neck, suddenly sheepish. "I'm sort of doing this behind Iruka's back since he didn't think you're ready for this yet. So let's both prove him wrong, eh?"
Naruto's excitement died at the thought of Iruka-sensei not believing in him as much as he claimed to have, but his determination remained solid in his belly, pushing him forward to prove the chūnin wrong.
"I won't let you down, Mizuki-sensei! Dattebayo!"
He raced off toward the Hokage Tower, knowing exactly how he would get past the old man.
Rin strolled through the streets of Konoha just as day surrendered itself over to twilight. She did not often make a habit of wandering around the village without purpose, but found it had helped keep her calm in the days since her meeting with the Hokage.
It had been a shock when the man confronted her with his concerns and made his decision, and she had not regained her balance since. She had worked her ass off to get Konoha's medical corp. back into tip top shape, taking pride in how well it performed. She left everything in her work, and wanted little to do other than keep to herself in her downtime.
Rin thought the village owed her that much, at least, but it was apparently too much to ask for.
She shook her head and sighed. Ever since he had been released from duties as an ANBU, Kakashi had upped his efforts to claw his way back into her circle. The man must have gone to the Hokage rather than understand the fact that it was better if she had nothing to do with him, and managed to take away the won thing in this damned village that she found worth her time.
She let out an irritated huff of air and tried not to think how Iyasu would bungle all the progress she had made at the hospital. The man was second only to her in ability, but was prone to nervousness and had been an absolute wreck ever since he found he was to take over her position – possibly for years. Dealing with Iyasu as a shadow all week had been a miserable and trying experience.
She took a turn and found herself staring up at the faces carved into the side of the Hokage Mountain. She met the stony gaze of her sensei's likeness with a frown, wondering how he had ever managed to corral her, Obito, and Kakashi into a respectable squad of shinobi.
After working nowhere outside of the hospital for seven years, she held her doubts she could match his proficiency.
The thought of three young, impressionable minds looking to her as she had once looked to Minato-sensei made her stomach drop and she longed for the days where she could show up at Sensei's doorstep begging for advice.
But the Kyūbi attack took that option away from her years before, and Rin tried to ignore the familiar ping of impotent regret.
Dwelling in the past did little good.
Instinct guided Rin to step off to the side before her ears registered the commotion caused by a pair of chūnin racing by her and taking the next opportunity to leap toward the rooftops. She blinked at their unusual urgency, and tilted her head to hear if she had missed any of the village's warning sirens.
She heard none, but grew worried when the heavy footfalls of at least three teams of shinobi all sounded on the roof above her, speeding toward the back of the village. Curiosity piqued, she jumped to the rooftops and gave her colleagues case. The lack of effort it took her to catch up to one of the runners indicated he was, at best, a chūnin.
"What's going on?" She asked, tone clipped. The twenty-something-year-old glanced her way and she found him vaguely familiar, recognizing the long scar running below each eye and across his nose.
Ah, a patient, she identified, nodding at his question.
"Hokage-sama sent flyers to the active chūnin in-village. There weren't many details, but it has to be big," the chūnin said, waving an arm out to the other shinobi joining them as they approached the Hokage Tower. Rin judged there to be several dozen. She hummed her agreement at his assessment and tagged along, deciding the distraction it offered would do her well.
The arrived in the middle of a pack of shinobi and watched as the Sandaime studied the group with a steely gaze hinting at skilled shinobi beneath his typical façade.
"About one hour ago," their commander spoke as the ebb of arriving ninja slowed to nothing. "Konoha's scroll of forbidden techniques was stolen."
Surprised, panicked murmurs broke out around her, but Rin narrowed her eyes at the old Hokage. Some of the techniques the scroll contained could spell disaster for Konoha if they ever fell into the wrong hands, so why had he summoned only chūnin?
"Who could have done this!?" A pale eyed Hyūga near the front asked in a shout, the veins around his eyes bulging in his clan's ocular technique. The Sandaime closed his eyes, seeming to brace himself.
Rin's heart skipped a beat as her would-be student was named and she felt a deep disappointment that settled right in her gut.
"What!?" Her chūnin running-mate shouted, objection clear in his question. "Naruto would never do that, not even for a prank!"
"And yet he has, Iruka." The Hokage stretched himself up to his full height." It is of the utmost importance that Naruto is found and brought to me alive. This will be considered a B-rank mission, and successful completion will be awarded accordingly. Dismissed!"
"How the hell did he even manage to pull this off?" Iruka muttered at her side, starting to march toward the Hokage even as his compatriots all left to see to the task. The chūnin spoke a few hasty words with the village leader before racing off in a direction opposite most of the others.
Rin followed behind Iruka at a relaxed pace, determining the man knew something the rest of their brethren did not.
Mizuki wore a wide grin as he jumped through the forests winding between Konoha's training grounds. From the commotion in the village, he knew his plan had gone off without a hitch. Only the need for stealth kept him from laughing aloud.
Turning the Kyūbi brat's newfound motivation for his own benefit had been brilliant, in Mizuki's estimation. The Uzumaki being at the point where he would do anything to pass made it all the easier. With any luck, Naruto would take the fall and nobody would notice Mizuki's absence until the next day at the earliest.
"Yatta! I'll pass the test for sure, now, dattebayo!"
Mizuki rolled his eyes and picked up his pace as Naruto's excited shout echoed through the forest. If anyone was nearby enough to hear, he had gained a time limit.
"Naruto, what the hell were you thinking!?"
Shit, shit, shit. Mizuki stopped short just within the forest on the edge of training ground twenty-nine. Of fucking course the bleeding heart would manage to get in my way. Mizuki clenched his jaw and drew a kunai, waiting.
"Iruka-sensei, I passed the secret test! I even mastered a super strong jutsu, dattebayo!" Naruto laughed at his words, actually bouncing on his feet.
"Secret test?" Iruka looked at Naruto as if he had grown five heads. "Naruto, you stole the Scroll of Forbidden Jutsu; do you have any idea how much trouble you're in!?"
Naruto's joy died on his face at Iruka's tone.
"Eh? Forbidden jutsu?" Naruto scratched the back of his head, looking at the scroll that rivaled the student for size through narrowed eyes. "Mizuki-sensei said this was a secret graduation scroll."
So much for getting out without suspicion, Mizuki thought, dropping from the trees to land behind Iruka in a crouch.
Iruka's shoulders sagged as he spoke. "So Mizuki is the one that told you to do this." The chūnin instructor shook his head, spiky, upturned ponytail swaying with the motion. "Naruto, you need to give me the scroll and we can get back to the village to set this straight."
Naruto seemed torn and Mizuki considered his play. If he could kill Iruka in one blow, he would have little trouble taking out the kid and getting out. But if Iruka managed to survive a surprise attack, Naruto would have a chance to get away, and Mizuki was not certain he could take the other chūnin in a straight one versus one.
He blew out a silent breath and raised from his crouch, speaking, "Don't be pissed just because the kid pulled one over on you, Iruka."
His colleague spun around in a flash, putting himself between Mizuki and Uzumaki with a raised kunai.
"Toss over the scroll, Naruto, and I'll make sure you pass despite Iruka's interference." Mizuki held himself ready to engage as he sidestepped opposite Iruka in a wide circle, trying to get closer to Naruto.
"Not a chance in hell. Naruto, you've got to run back to the village and get that scroll back to the Hokage. Do it now!"
"I—" Naruto gripped the scroll to his chest, torn. "This isn't part of the test, is it?"
"There is no test!"
"That's just what he wants you to think!"
"Naruto, think," Iruka said. "I've done everything I can to help you graduate, why would I have reason to lie now?"
Naruto blinked, and Mizuki saw the moment he lost when the determinations settled in the student's eyes.
"I can think of one hell of a reason," Mizuki said, switching tracks. "Have you ever wondered why most of the people in the village treat you like crap, Naruto?"
Hesitation faltered Naruto's steps before he could run back toward the village. Blue eyes studied Mizuki with a cautious intensity of curiosity.
"It's an S-rank secret," Mizuki explained, not letting his eyes linger far from Iruka lest the chūnin opted to attack. "The Hokage made this information top secret on pain of death, but I think you deserve to know."
"Tell me." Naruto's voice gained the rough edge that preluded tears.
Iruka's eyes flicked toward the student, his guard opening for the briefest of seconds, but Mizuki took advantage. Steel flew through the air with a snap of the wrist, and a full brace of shuriken arced toward Iruka and Naruto with deadly intent.
Iruka caught the motion with wide eyes and leapt back toward Naruto rather than try to defend and Mizuki's grin twisted as he awaited the victorious squelch of metal ripping through flesh and blood.
To his utter shock, his weapons were thrown off course by rival shuriken just as Iruka hugged Naruto close to shield the student with his body.
"Targeting an unarmed child is the act of a coward," a cold, feminine voice called through the clearing. Mizuki snapped his attention to the left, sweat blooming on his brow as he recognized the newcomer as a jōnin from her dress. She stood firm, kunai in hand, and a look of utter distaste etched into her pretty features.
Mizuki felt his chance of escape fizzle with each passing moment. Iruka, he gave himself a good chance to handle. Naruto would be little more than a passing nuisance. But a jōnin?
He inched his hand toward the pouch on his left hip, his escape option inches and kilometers away.
"Turn yourself over, Mizuki," the jōnin said, advancing. "The Hokage will be more lenient if you do."
Mizuki tsked and went all in, flashing his hand into his pouch and launching all of his smoke bombs at his feet while jumping with all his strength toward the academy student. It took less than a second to do, but the jōnin's kunai still managed to slice across his hip in a bloody gash.
He grunted in pain and returned with his own volley of kunai and shuriken in the trio's general direction, trying to orientate himself toward Naruto to make a play for the scroll.
"Naruto, protect the scroll!" Iruka's shout sounded above the din of metal deflecting metal.
Mizuki spotted a flash of orange through the smoke and latched onto the back of the boy's jacket, unleashing all of the killing intent he could muster as he spoke, "Give me the scroll, brat!"
Naruto did the unexpected and responded with a foot to Mizuki's balls.
It took all of Mizuki's willpower to stay on his feet as Naruto scrambled away.
"Come and get it, Mizuki-teme!"
The smoke cleared enough for Mizuki to see the blonde flipping him off. His left eye twitched as he pushed the pain out of his mind. He was going to enjoy killing the brat. He leapt forward to give chase, but Iruka tackled him out of the air before he could get close.
"Keep away from him!"
If the air was not driven from his lungs, Mizuki would have made a quip about how Iruka resorted to brawling tactics.
He rolled with the blow, ignoring the instinctual panic coming with the inability to draw breath, got his legs underneath his opponent, and sent Iruka flying away from him and into a nearby tree with a satisfying thunk.
"Chakura no Mesu." Almost bored, the jōnin took up a position between the recovering Iruka and Mizuki, her hands glowing blue as chakra shaped as blades formed an aura around them. "Leave him to me, Iruka."
Iruka did not heed her advice, choosing to take up position next to her, and, to Mizuki's irritation, the blond idiot of a student had picked up a discarded kunai and flanked the jōnin as well.
Without another option, Mizuki opted to cut and run.
He launched his remaining weaponry at the Uzumaki and sprinted in the opposite direction as fast as his chakra laced strides could take him. He registered Iruka crying out in anguish and allowed himself a moment of petty triumph.
Which was promptly stolen from him as fire erupted within his legs and they went dead beneath him.
He could not stop the scream from tearing from this throat, shouting his pain into the earth as he struck it face first. Mizuki could barely register anything outside of the agony within his lower limbs.
"I've torn the muscles in your legs clean from the bone. You've lost, Mizuki."
Mizuki clenched his eyes shut at the jōnin's words, and his only thought before falling unconscious was the hope he had taken one of them down with him.
"And will the traitor survive?" The old man asked, and Naruto wondered if all debriefings would be as boring as this one had proven to be.
He stood between Iruka-sensei and the jōnin who had helped them – Rin – as the Hokage asked them question after question without an end in sight. His enthusiasm for being part of something an actual ninja would have been had dried up quickly after he had showed off his new Kage Bunshin.
"He'll live to see his time with Ibiki-senpai," Rin said, but scratched at one of the purple markings along her cheek. "Though he may never walk again. I might have gone overboard."
The old man grunted a laugh as he scratched words onto paper.
"What will be done with him, Hokage-sama?" Iruka-sensei asked with a grim tone.
Naruto marveled at how the chūnin could stand so composed with the entire upper right section of torso wrapped in fresh bandages. He had shielded Naruto from Mizuki's final attack with his body, and Naruto refused to think what would have happened if Rin had not turned out to know medical jutsu.
The old man glanced toward Naruto before he answered. "Depending on the information Ibiki can retrieve, Mizuki will either be jailed…" the Hokage took a breath, locking eyes with Naruto. "Or executed."
Naruto's heart clenched at the word, and he could not help but wince despite his feelings toward Mizuki. The old man studied him for a long moment more before nodding and addressing the two older shinobi again.
"I believe that's all I need this evening." The Hokage closed the file he had been reading and smiled. "You three should get some rest, you all have exams to prepare for."
Naruto hesitated as the other two bowed, and started talking before he chickened out. "Actually, old man, I have a question."
Three sets of eyes locked onto Naruto, and he did his best not to fidget.
"Right before he attacked, Mizuki-teme said he know an S-class secret about me. He said he knew why everyone…" Naruto trailed off, not quite able to put words to his situation.
The Hokage sighed and took the time to pack his pipe with fresh tobacco and light it before he started to speak. "I had planned on telling this to you once you graduated, but I suppose that is all but a formality now."
Naruto and the Hokage shared a brief smile at that.
"Do you know what happened to the village twelve years ago? On your birthday?"
How could I forget? "The Kyūbi attacked the village," he said. There were still celebrations every year and it had been one of Iruka-sensei's most repeated lessons. "The Yondaime sacrificed his life to kill it and save the village."
The old man nodded along with Naruto's explanation. "That is the story we tell, but it is not the complete truth." Naruto frowned, casting an accusing look toward Iruka-sensei even as Rin muttered 'understatement' under her breath.
The chūnin teacher studied the ceiling rather than meet Naruto's eyes.
"The Yondaime did sacrifice himself to stop the Kyūbi that night," the old man continued. "But not even he had the power to kill a bijū. You see, Naruto, tailed beasts are not mortal creatures like you or I. They are beings of pure chakra. Should they somehow be slain, they will eventually reform again."
Naruto scratched the back of his head in thought. Makes sense, sort of.
"So how did he stop it?"
"There's only one way to reliably keep a tailed beast under control." The Hokage took a long drag on his pipe. "Using his unparalleled skill in fuinjutsu, the Yondaime sealed the Kyūbi away into a newborn babe, creating a jinchūriki."
Naruto's heart sank as he grasped the unspoken. "That was me, wasn't it?"
"Yes," the old man said with a nod.
Naruto hung his head, understanding his situation more than ever before. Why the villagers always whispered as he passed. Why nobody ever acknowledged him. He was a demon.
His fists clenched.
"Naruto, I need you to listen to me now." The Hokage's tone drew Naruto's eyes back up to the old man. Naruto could not remember the last time he saw the Sandaime so serious. "Despite what the uninitiated may think, jinchūriki are not the beasts they hold within. The seal the Yondaime entrusted you with ensures that it is absolutely impossible for the Kyūbi no Kitsune to influence you in any way."
"I-I'm not a demon?" Naruto hated how his voice cracked even as relief washed his encroaching depression away.
"Absolutely not!" Iruka-sensei shouted, eyes fierce. Naruto's chest lightened and he found he could breathe easier.
"You are you and only you, Naruto. I guarantee it," the old man said with a wry smile.
"Minato-sensei's seals were legendary, kid." Rin spoke up for the first time with a smile that somehow seemed sad. "There's no way he screwed up his last one."
"Give it enough time, Naruto, and the villagers will see you as we do." The Hokage finished, the skin around his eyes crinkling as he smiled. "A proud defender of Konoha."
"I'll just have to become strong enough that they'll know I'm not the Kyūbi, dattebayo!" He punched a fist into an open palm, feeling balanced for the first time since he had found the Forbidden Scroll.
"Assuming you pass your genin exam, Naruto."
Naruto hung his head at Iruka's words. Leave it to the teacher to bring him down from his moment.
"Alright, alright. Dismissed, all of you."
Naruto left the Hokage's office filled to the brim with a determination and standing taller with the gift of knowledge. He never would have guessed that knowing why everyone treated him as they did would make him feel so much better, and now he only had to show them all exactly who he was.
Jinchūriki or not, he was still going to become Hokage.
A/N: Please review!