Chapter 1:

Only Human?

One morning, a very unusual scene caught some attention in the Hidden Village of Konoha.

It all started with an old man, in the merchant district. Some unremarkable fossil in his sixties, with grayish hair and kind blue eyes. He presented himself as a former farmer, now looking for peace and visiting his family in town. He was dressed with poor clothes, and needed a cane to walk straight.

He was polite, friendly, and wise. He quickly became a favorite of the merchants there, narrating anecdotes about trees and crops. He could talk hours on how life was at his farm, so much he started a debate with another one that had arrived to sell his products. All over whether pigs were better income than chickens or not.

Nobody suspected anything wrong…

Until the ANBU crashed the party, encircled the man, and slammed his face on the ground, restraining him.

It was then, and only then, when the citizens fearfully asked what was happening, that a ANBU used a water technique to wash away the man's face. As it turned out, he had dyed his hair white. And used makeup.

A lot of makeup.

In ten seconds, the old man left place to a fifteen or so years old blonde teen. He grinned ear to ear, and only spoke a single sentence.

"I'm so going to kill the guy who sold me this crappy hair dye... oh, and nice work, it took you, what, two days to find me. And no excuse: I left you hints."

Nobody truly understood what had happened that day, even if all the citizens of adult age knew the blonde boy as Uzumaki Naruto, the single most hated teen in the country. For civilians, it was all a prank. To the ANBU, it was a humiliation. To the Hokage, it was an amusing moment.

To Naruto, it was his long-awaited graduation.


Hokage's Office

The Sandaime was deeply conflicted between laughing over the situation or sighing in disappointment.

Peace had worn his people's vigilance. The Forbidden Scroll been stolen, by a genin candidate, of all people. "Now, tell me, Naruto, how did you manage to steal the Forbidden Scroll, kept by the ANBU and the Inuzuka police force, withoutgetting thrown in jail?"

"Easy." The blonde didn't seem bothered by the fact the ANBU present were glaring potently at his back and leaking killing intent. He was perfectly calm, and still wearing the old clothes Sarutobi had given him for the sake of his 'graduation test'. "The third patrol always takes a break of ten minutes near one o'clock in the afternoon, to drink coffee. I just had to slip in and replace the scroll with a replica."

Sarutobi had actually chuckled when he had opened the fake scroll and discovered it completely blank, save for the boy's signature. He had been deeply impressed at that moment… before realizing a teencould easily steal one of the village's most prized weapon and get away with it. "The Inuzuka didn't pick up your scent?" He silently promised himself to have a word with the third patrol, who were shifting uncomfortably in the background.

"I put the scroll in the trash and disguised myself as one of the workers in charge of emptying them," the blonde grinned, crossing his fingers in a bossy manner. "Some perfume and the dogs didn't recognize me. Makeup, faking a cough and a different way of walking fooled their human partners."

Hidden in plain sight, indeed. "And the scroll?"

"Gave it to Iruka-sensei, playing the role of the accomplice. He could have left Konoha anytime and nobody would have been fooled. By staying in the village and leaving hints I was still present, the police focused on tracking me and didn't consider I had actually handed the scroll to someone else first and was only buying him time."

Naruto then proceeded to humiliate nearly all the ninjas present with two fingers and three sentences.

"Took you two days to catch up. And remember: I left you hints. I signed my crime."

As killing intent skyrocketed in the room, Sarutobi calmed everyone into obedience with a glare. The mere aura of the God of Shinobi forced every ninja in the room to back down in fear, including the blonde braggart. "Get out, all of you. Naruto is mine to punish."

In ten seconds flat, the door closed, leaving them alone.

The Hokage stared at the teen.

Naruto stared back.

After a short silence, they broke off laughing.

"Too bad I can't see past their masks, their faces must have been priceless," the blonde chuckled, having dropped his former aloofness. "Ne, we're both wonderful actors, aren't we old man?"

"I must ask… did you mimic anyone?" Sarutobi chuckled. "Or was it all yours?"

"The 'I'm so awesome I can boast you to death anytime' moment?" The prankster smirked widely. "All mine. I did steal a few faces from Uchiha 'asshole' Sasuke."

Sarutobi shook his head. He could understand the bitter enmity between those two. Sasuke was everything his adoptive grandson had ever wanted to be, and would never be. The Sandaime had almost fired the examiner who had proposed putting these two in the same team.

True, it was a tradition to put the rookie of the year and dead-last in the same team for balance, a tradition many had criticized due to the usual bad chemistry between those two places. The resulting tension was sometimes appeased by the middle genin, or ended with teams dissolving. Sarutobi had taken no risk this time. Sasuke and Naruto would be at each other's throat within a day if left together.

It was especially problematic since the last Uchiha needed protection, for his lineage had to be preserved. The Village's biologists had attempted to safeguard some genetic material to recreate the clan in time, but the progresses in the field weren't important. A living heir able to procreate would have more results.

Sasuke Uchiha had to stay alive until puberty, and being in Naruto's team would reduce his lifespan… drastically.

"I must tell you this, Naruto… I am impressed." He hadn't taken the teen seriously when he had assured him that he could steal the artifact without anyone noticing. In fact, the Sandaime had thought it to be an impossible occurrence. Of course, the Uzumaki had always had access to the Hokage tower, so had more knowledge than most infiltrators.

Sarutobi had to convince himself it wouldn't happen again.

"Then, old man…" Naruto crossed his fingers, his eyes full of hope. "Does it mean I pass?"

The tone carried a fear laden undercurrent. Sarutobi couldn't blame him. The boy had failed the exam two times already, and the Hokage was pretty convinced he would have failed again had he taken the usual academy test. Due to his… peculiar state, the blonde lacked the latent Taijutsu potential the examiners had recognized in Rock Lee, which, combined with his good academic grades, had allowed him to pass and join Maito Gai's team.

Naruto, by all margins, couldn't be a ninja.

Yet, Sarutobi believed in him. He could see the determination, the potential, the sharp mind under the usually carefree demeanor. Naruto would at least be a good ninja, perhaps an excellent one.

As such, when the teen had come to him directly for a chance to be judged on the Hokage's terms and not the academy's program, Sarutobi had tasked him to steal the Forbidden Scroll. The old man hadn't expected his adoptive grandchild to succeed, but he would have examined his efforts and evaluated them at their worth.

Oh boy, he hadn't been disappointed.

"Yes." The word was simple, and Naruto beamed in joy. "Yes, you pass. With flying colors."

Carefully, the Sandaime took off his own headband and handed it to Naruto. The now genin's face was priceless. "It's yours."

"Mine? You mean, like, mine?" His eyes were wide open. "The Hokage's headband?"

Sarutobi quickly gave a correction. "Sarutobi Hiruzen's headband. I received it from the Nidaime Hokage, and now, I believe it would be justice for you to receive it. You deserve it."

After all, Naruto had been chosen as sacrifice since birth, and was only rewarded with a demon's curse and loneliness. He deserved far more than just a headband.

The genin took the gift with utmost care, staring at it for minutes in silence. Some part of him wanted to say he didn't deserve such honor. He would wear this precious headband with pride and dignity, and take it as a sign of eternal success.

He had waited years for this. Two times had he made a grab at graduating, only to fail both times. At fifteen, two years later than the average genin, he had become a full Shinobi. He had been humiliated, exhausted, but he had made it to the end of his curriculum. "I will not fail," he spoke, putting the headband over his forehead. "I will become unrivaled under the sun. I promise."

Sarutobi smiled. "Do you remember the Nindo?"

"I don't remember the Nindo. I am the Nindo." The blonde crossed his arm and started reciting his personal creed.

"Be efficient. Be determined. Always have a plan."


At Ichiraku's Ramen Stand

"I did it, Iruka-sensei!" Naruto proudly showed the instructor his new headband. "I fucking did it! All thanks to you!" The new genin had decided to wear a 'work only' outfit for this occasion.

The costume was composed all black and made of cotton, and composed of boots, trousers, a jacket, a belt, and protective arm-and-hand sleeves. Iruka was aware the outfit had many pockets hidden everywhere, and needed a hood to be truly completed. it was something he had gifted to the boy one year ago, as consolation for his second failed graduation.

The mysterious, full bag he was carrying, however…

The Chuunin gave him a warm smile, deeply happy for his student. "I didn't do much," he admitted, scratching the back of his neck in an awkward manner. To be honest, Naruto skipped most classes, save for the kunai throwing and Taijutsu lessons. Avoiding classes that would not have helped with his graduation at all. "What you did, you did it on your own."

Naruto shook his head. "I couldn't have gotten as far as I did without you, sensei." As Ayame and Teuchi came to the bar to hand them free ramen bowls, the blonde smiled at them two. "And neither would have I without your support."

"You're too kind," Ayame grinned widely. "I hope you intend to drop by from time to time? If you're on missions, you might be away for months."

It was obvious. Naruto liked to deign himself as an infiltration-oriented Shinobi, and as such would probably be sent on long-term spying missions. "I will return as often as I can," he promised.

"You're always welcome, as our best customer," Teuchi suddenly cut in. "And… because I like you personally."

Naruto was touched. He hadn't made many friends due to his… little demonic tenant. Scratch that, the only people he could call friends were the Hokage, the people present for this little celebration and a team that should arrive soon. Plus, he wasn't a fool. He knew his presence had affected the restaurant's reputation, and insisted on paying the two back.

He stared around himself, sure no one would interrupt the moment, and opened his bag. "Here are little gifts I brought for you all, for being all around nice people." A golden bowl for Teuchi, a bouquet of flowers for Ayame, and an hot spring life membership card for Iruka.

"My favorites!" Ayame blushed slightly, humming the perfume. "How did you know?"

Naruto grinned and struggled to find a good lie.

In fact, he had basically stalked her, asked everyone she knew on her preferences, sometimes under disguises, and then went on to ask advice from Ino. Which had been a horribly bad idea, as she kept pestering him on his 'secret girlfriend' for hours. The next day, the entire class was speaking about it when he bothered not to skip lessons.

Why were gossips so goddamn fast at spreading rumors?

"I have my ways." Ominous tone? Check. Arising her suspicion? Check too.

"If you want to date my daughter, you only had to ask," Teuchi teased him ruthlessly. If Ayame's angry expression was of any indication, she didn't appreciate her father's remark.

Truth to be told, Naruto had some sort of crush on the older girl. How couldn't he, she was the only girl willing to spend time with him when he was Naruto, and not some disguise. He had thought about actually trying to court her and 'practiced', but something always prevented him from making a move.

He was a demon.

Demon vessel, he mentally corrected himself. The whole town was making the same mistake, and the restaurant already had a bad reputation due to his frequent visits there. If Ayame was willing to date him (and that was a big if) there would inevitably be bloodshed due to him.

So no girlfriend.

"Naruto-kun!" A familiar voice caught his attention. A boy in green spandex landed -yes, landed - right next to him. "Dynamic entry!" Rock Lee shouted, completely oblivious to everyone's shocked face, and presenting a thumbs-up. "Sorry, sorry, I'm so late!"

"Naruto-kun!" A older, certainly not wiser version of Rock Lee entered the restaurant, backed by two genin. Team 9 had finally arrived. "My apologies for the delay! We had to make a report to Hokage-sama on our latest mission!"

"That and I convinced them not to give you a spandex suit for your graduation," Tenten deadpanned, politely greeting the blonde and the rest of the people present.

Hyuuga Neji simply gave a sharp nod to the new genin. "It seems it was indeed your fate to succeed, in spite of your shortages," he whispered, making Naruto twitch. The two had never really gotten along, as Naruto disliked the Hyuuga's arrogance and natural talent, finding him to be everything he would never be. That, and his fatalistic beliefs were truly annoying.

Of course, it didn't prevent the both of them from having some ounce of respect for the other. Naruto admired Neji's will to succeed, even if he was only considered a slave by the Main Branch, and Neji had told him he was impressively talented for someone born to fail.

It was the closest thing to a compliment Neji could ever give.

"I must congratulate you for your graduation!" Maito Gai smiled widely, giving the teen the 'nice guy' pose. "Naruto-kun, your fires of youth shall shine brightly!"

"Naruto-kun, I expected nothing less from my rival!" Rock Lee spoke. "Our next spar shall decide our fate!"

"Let's show him our fire, Lee!"

"Yes, Gai-sensei!"

The scene was followed by a horrible sunset genjutsu set to incredibly bad music. As the spandex monsters started hugging each other with tears in their eyes, the rest couldn't help but cringe. When you think of it, it's really the only genjutsu Gai ever mastered, Naruto mused.

Tenten lost no time in teasing him. "So, I guess your spars are fifty-fifty? What was it last time, staying still as long as possible?"

"Actually, it was scroll-log-shuriken." Of course, Lee always asked crazy stuff like running around Konoha fifty times on one foot, so Naruto balanced with simple, sometimes random activities. According to Gai, his personal rival had a similar outlook on their 'youthful competition'.

To sum up: spandex made people completely out of their gourd.

"Anyway, I would like to thank you all for your support and the remedial classes you gave me," Naruto announced, remembering the many, many times he had participated with Team 9's training exercises. In fact, he could almost be considered an extra member.

The new genin, after his first failed graduation, had found himself in their class, last year. The only one he befriended during school was Lee, after finding him training alone. Naruto couldn't really put a name on how their friendship started; he guessed it had been natural for dead-lasts to stick together. Even more since they had a similar condition, although Lee at least had chakra to reinforce his muscles.

Naruto didn't even have that.

After Lee graduated thanks to his latent potential for Taijutsu and good grades, Naruto kept meeting him, and was introduced to his team. Gai had apparently been informed of his curse, and had taken an immediate liking to him. The jounin had even given supplementary Taijutsu classes. True, the blonde would never surpass anybody competent in the field due to lack of strength, but hey, it was the thought that mattered.

Tenten had been easy to befriend. They had never talked at school, due to mutual lack of interest in the other. When Lee had introduced him to Team 9, she struck him as the most normalmember. She didn't wear spandex, and didn't have an enslaving seal over her forehead. As she was the daughter of one of the weapon seller in town, he usually met her when he was on errands. Her father had warmed up considerably to him when he saw the two bickering playfully, and proceeded to lower his prices a bit.

Naruto had become his best customer hereafter.

As for Neji… when the first thing he had said was 'worthless failure', he had earned a broken nose and a blow to his pride. They had proceeded to beat the crap out of each other until Gai separated them.

Yes, what a fantastic way to start a friendship.

Because it was a friendship. True, anyone outside the team would only hear insults or thinly veiled death threats. However, the Hyuuga and the Jinchuuriki shared a thing in common: being born with a seal that screwed their life over since the very beginning. They expressed their bitterness in different ways, not being wealthy enough to take anger management classes.

After a few months of regular jabbing spars, punches and kicks, they managed to reach some level of understanding under the sun, bloodied and bruised. Or maybe was it the multiple blows to the brain that made them a little more warmer, mixed with some exhaustion-induced crappy dialogues and revelations about the nature of the universe.

So, they went from enemies to best enemies.

"I've got gifts for you all." For a second, remorse and shame almost made Naruto back down. It was cruel, horrible, nasty, crazy. Neji and Tenten would hate his gut and never talk to him ever again.

nah, they're just going to sulk in a corner for a month or so.

"The youthful gift that will make the fires of your youth even brighter!" Tenten's expression crumbled in horror, and Neji's eyes widened.

"Orange Spandex for all of you!"


The next day, in the Hokage's Office

Sweat dropping from his forehead, the Hokage deepened on his seat. The graduation photo was horrible.

"Naruto," he whispered, trying to chase away the terrible image from his mind and forget it altogether. "Did you really have to cross-dress? This photo will follow you for a long, long time."

"What, don't you like my 'sexy no jutsu'?" The teen had dropped the sinister, shameful disguise for an equally horrible orange jumpsuit too small for his size, and a green bag. "I put some effort into it."

Sarutobi repressed the urge to cringe. Anyone would have been fooled indeed. The wig, make-up, and fake breasts had turned the prankster into a cute, adorable girl… which made it ever creepier. The Hokage made a mental note to prevent Jiraiya from ever learning of this event.

"I have both bad news and great news for you." The Sandaime took his breath. "The good news is, you're not going to be in Sasuke's team."

"Yes!" Naruto jumped on place. "Which team do I get? Kurenai's? Do I replace Kiba in the roster?"

The Sandaime's eyes narrowed. The temperature had dropped to near zero. Yet, the blonde didn't seem bothered in the slightest. "Naruto, who told you the team's formation." Only the jounin and instructors had access to this information. Whoever blurted out the beans would soon be in a world of hurt.

"Simple deduction, actually." Naruto took a black book from under his jumpsuit. Sarutobi instantly recognized a reproduction of the Bingo Book. "From what I had gathered on Kurenai Yuuhi, she's an expert at Genjutsu and infiltration, but had stated more than once her desire to teach. After analyzing the profiles of my comrades, I realized Hinata Hyuuga, Shino Aburame and Kiba Inuzuka would make an excellent scouting and tracking team. A Genjutsu expert would complete the formation, and your reaction just confirmed my suspicions. I guess I was drafted in Kiba's place?"

"No." The teen had been right on almost everything. The Sandaime had figured any tracking team needed some cover, which Kurenai could provide by casting a Genjutsu on her team. Plus, due to her mother-like personality, he believed she could have the Aburame and Hyuuga grow out of their social inexperience.

Seeing the Hyuuga heiress' position, a mother-figure would be very welcomed.

"Due to your peculiar skills, you are oriented for stealth operations, infiltration, and assassination." The Hokage locked eyes with the boy. "Activities that must never be made public. If the rest of your class is the tree we show to the world, you have to be the root in the darkness, supporting it."

Having caught his adoptive grandson's attention, the Sandaime gave details. "Most people think we Hidden Villages are composed of showy mercenaries doing heroic, story-inspiring deeds. This is wrong. This is only one aspect of the Village. The smokescreen that hides the secret war we are waging everyday with our competitors. To preserve peace and the prosperity of our citizens, we have to dirty our hands.

"Our economy is built on attracting clients that would hire us instead of neighboring states like Sunagakure. As such, we have to show our talent and efficiency through Chuunin Exams. Our prodigies, like the last Uchiha and Neji Hyuuga are the showcase of Konoha. They are good, some of them will be renowned ninjas… but they won't be anywhere as useful as some other Shinobi the world has never heard of."

The blonde nodded. "The ANBU."

"The ANBU is the elite of the secret army of Konoha, the one never shown to the population. They are many, they are everywhere. Spies, assassins, saboteurs, black ops. They are the reason why Konoha hasn't collapsed, and we must stay weary if we want to secure our place in the ninja world. And this army needs you. An individual who does not kill with fireballs, but with poison. Who steals secrets for us to feed on. Revealing you to the world would be… unwise."

"And the Kyuubi? Aren't we supposed to show we still have it?"

"Naruto, foreign Kage learned of your existence the very day I passed the law of silence." It was inevitable. Konoha had been infiltrated, and still was. Just as Konoha had agents in other countries, foreign powers had ears and eyes inside these walls. "We have the Kyuubi and a mature container. Just as Kumo has more than one. They won't expect you to be trained as an undercover agent, and you could be a trump card if the nine-tails is deployed inside enemy borders."

"I doubt the fox bastard would do anything for us." Naruto's head jerked to the side in an uncomfortable manner. "It already gave me the middle finger the moment I was born."

Sarutobi couldn't help but wince. He had been present during the fateful medical examination that had crushed all Naruto's hopes of becoming Hokage. He had had his medic-nins repeat the process twice for the same result.

According to them, the Kyuubi's chakra was leaking into the boy's system, as the Yondaime had probably expected. Sarutobi wasn't the best sealmaster around, Jiraiya having taken the spot, yet he was somewhat familiar with the Uzumaki arrays. Minato had based the Dead Consuming Seal off of the one Kushina had bore; like Kushina's, the seal would allow the Kyuubi to help in case of extreme danger for its host, or to start rampages.

However, the Kyuubi had apparently learned the lesson well enough. Its chakra had deteriorated the tenketsu points to complete uselessness. Even if he could walk, even if he still had the Kyuubi's chakra giving him a healing factor by running in his deteriorated system in small amount, Naruto couldn't produce any chakra of his own.

In short, Naruto was a human born without chakra.

It had been a complete disaster. A demon vessel without chakra, save what the Kyuubi could provide, wasn't as useful as Konoha's secret weapon should have been. Danzo had even proposed to remove the beast and put it into another container, a notion Sarutobi rejected. Konoha in its entirety had a debt toward the blonde's sacrifice, and the Hokage was going to honor it no matter what.

That, and if the Kyuubi could do it once, it would happen again.

The reason behind the Kyuubi's actions had been clear. The demon probably intended to make its host dependent on it to defend himself, increasing its chances of escape. That, or it did it out of sheer spite. Either option was believable.

Sadly, the news had devastated the blonde. Sarutobi had found him crying and depressed, unable to find a reason to move on. The Hokage consoled him and gave him hope.

It was this day he introduced him to the Nindo.

Back when Samurai ruled supreme and the great Sage hadn't taught the world Ninjutsu, the original Shinobi were nothing like the current generation of ninjas. Their strength was nothing greater than what a civilian could achieve, and they served as assassins and spies for the warlords of the era. They were non-entities, nameless shadows crawling in the dark. The documentation on them had been scarce, and few accounts of their prowess had reached their successors.

Fortunately, their Nindo, the code of conduct that guided their discipline, had reached them. It was this Nindo that inspired Naruto to persevere in his efforts.

"Be efficient, be determined, always have a plan," Sarutobi spoke. "Tell me, Naruto, what is your goal?"

The blonde shrugged nonchalantly. "To live up to the Nindo. To prove I am not powerless. To become the best. To kick your ass."

"Then I shall offer you a chance to reach your dream." Sarutobi closed his eyes, inwardly chuckling. "Infiltrators are never allowed to form teams, for they might be identified by turncoats. They are formed under the regime of apprenticeship: a Shinobi of Konoha specialized in the trade will teach you, and you will serve under this instructor until your promotion to Chuunin by said examiner. If you are promoted and impress me, and I know you will, I shall consider you for joining the ANBU, even with your shortages."

Naruto looked like a man with a life-long dream in sight. "How long will it take? To become a Chuunin?"

"As long as your tutor sees fit." Seeing who had been selected as the boy's superior, Sarutobi had the feeling it wouldn't take long. Either she failed him, or forced an intense, accelerated training regiment on him. "You will have to endure, I'm afraid."

Naruto winced. "Why do I have the feeling I'm in for a world of pain?"

"You are," Sarutobi chuckled. "Your superior is an excellent kunoichi, efficient, and renowned for her sadism. She's the tough kind of teacher." The very, very tough kind. "If you have read the Bingo Book, you should be able to guess who I'm talking about."

Naruto paled in dread. "You didn't."

"Yes. Yes, I did."

At that instant the chosen tutor decided to crash the party. By breaking through the window and landing on the Hokage's desk.

"Head up boy!" A woman shouted, much to Naruto's amazement and Sarutobi's amusement. "I'm your tutor, Anko Mitarashi! I don't have time to waste, so let's take a little, easy, Anko-style test!"

Sarutobi would cherish the memory of Naruto's face until his death.


Forest of Death

The Hokage was going to pay for this.

Anko didn't like teaching. After her disastrous study period under the snake bastard, she had cast aside any thought of leading a team. She feared becoming a just a tutor that was just as bad as Orochimaru had been, and her personality wasn't a pleasant one. She was blunt, straight-to-the-point, sarcastic, and not a people person.

Yet, the Sandaime had insisted she tried to pass on her secrets and take an apprentice. All those who had been proposed had been wimps who quickly abandoned any idea of working under her.

Naruto Uzumaki would be no exception.

"As I don't like introducing myself to someone I may not keep, here is the deal: I will assess your skills, intelligence, resourcefulness. If you impress me, I keep you, we present each others, and you get to buy me some dango."

"No, I only buy ramen. I don't like Dango.""

"Everyone loves Dango, for Dango is awesome," Anko shot back, glaring at the orange target as if he had just said a blasphemy. His horrible jumpsuit was truly getting on her nerves. Maybe she should paint it red?

"I beg to disagree, ramen gives meaning to an empty life." The runt sighed. "So, since we're in a bad place, as it's called the Forest of Death, I suppose it's a survival exercise, crazy sensei?"

Anko grinned ear to ear. Crazy sensei, eh? He would be hurt a lot. "It's simple, really. I give you a head start of ten minutes. Afterward, I hunt you down, and we beat each other with lethal force. If you survive, I keep you."

Naruto laughed. "And if I... accidentally... kill you?"

"Then you get promoted to jounin immediately." Why did she get the feeling she was going to regret those words? The boy's subsequent smirk was somewhat creepy. "So… three, two, one… go!"

He ran away.

Anko proceeded to patiently wait for the next ten minutes, observing her surroundings for any hint of orange. She hadn't even bothered to read the reports on the teen, and had no idea of his abilities. In her mind, a live test was always better than academy reports. After all, supposedly 'talented' genin generally chickened out quite fast.

Plus, she had the advantage of knowing the forest perfectly. She had impressive knowledge of the fauna and flora, the location of the best hiding spots… as she stared at the big trees, the special jounin truly felt in her territory.

The very second the ten minutes ended, she heard the distinct sound of a projectile flying through the air towards her back.

Spinning on herself, Anko deflected the attack with a shuriken. The projectile, which turned out to be an arrow, landed a few meters away from the Kunoichi, piercing the muddy soil…

Anko suddenly realized it was laced with a dozen explosive tags.

Jumping as fast as she could toward a tree's branch, the lady barely avoided the massive explosion that followed. Why didn't I sense- oh, I see. He didn't use chakra to activate the tags, he lightened them manually. He must have a lighter on him. Moving quickly, she approached the area where the arrow came from, and noticed an orange spot on a tree's bark. Wary, Anko discreetly tossed a few shuriken at it, expecting a trap.

Boy, Not only was it not the brat, just a log dressed with the jumpsuit, but resting alongside it was an explosive belt, full of what Anko identified as dynamite by scent.

After the ensuing explosion destroyed the nearest trees and causing them their remnants to collapse towards the forest floor, Anko decided to take the blonde seriously from that point on. "I admit, I didn't expect dynamite!" She shouted, trying to goad him into giving away his location. "You do know it's highly impracticable, right?"

Dynamite was the stereotypical mining tool, and mostly used by civilians. Powerful and efficient for large scale destruction, it was however far less precise, handy, and a lot heavier than explosive tags. Most explosion-oriented ninja favored customized tags over such explosives, as they could be just as strong and easier to manipulate. Using dynamite in open air generally didn't work well, in fact, as the force dispersed instead of being focused on a point.

She guessed this genin didn't get the memo. Or didn't have good tags.

Gracefully regaining her footing on the soil below, the kunoichi noticed the strange softness of the ground. Performing a Shunshin and switching places with a remote rock, she managed to avoid death by landmine. He trapped the whole field? In ten minutes?

Anko gave into a psychotic laugh. Yes, this would be amusing.

A slight movement in the bushes, and a dagger pierced the air aiming for her throat. Dropping her previous laziness, the female ninja focused and caught the attacker's arm. The runt had dropped his orange jumpsuit for an outfit covering all his body, save the eyes, which were protected by goggles. The outfit's color meshed well with the vegetation, an excellent camouflage.

Alright, he had common sense.

The teen's uncaught arm sprung, a kunai in hand. It was a perfect motion for gutting bellies open. Truly, it was all beautiful: the speed, the gracefulness, the killing intent…

Anko swiftly released his arm and kicked him away. The genin grumbled and silently assaulted her again, swinging his weapons. A wise move, as knives and daggers gave a better reach and caused wounds more easily than punches. Unfortunately for the runt, Orochimaru's former student was far more experienced than he was. With careful, fast strikes to the runt's wrists, she forced him to drop his weapons.

He replied with a Gai-style roundhouse kick to her face.

The sheer force of the surprise attack propelled her away from him, causing her to land on her back. Hitting the soil, the Kunoichi immediately regained her momentum, rolling to avoid a volley of Shuriken. She gritted her lower lip… and tasted her own blood.

As it turned out, the kick had been powerful enough to draw the first blood.

"Alright, no more joking around," she snarled, taking a drop of the crimson nectar and using the Summoning Jutsu. A powerful, green boa popped up in a cloud of smoke and sprung, its maw opened. At the same time, Anko threw a kunai at the speed of the wind, pinpointing the runt's chest.

When she realized she was using lethal force on a genin, worse, the Village's demon vessel, she cringed…

Only to see the runt pull something incredibly awesome.

First, he welcomed the snake with a second roundhouse kick. The poor reptile was sent crashing into a tree's trunk.

Next, still spinning on himself, Naruto dodged the kunai.

Then, he extended his arm and caught the weapon's handgrip midair.

Finally, he threw it right at Anko's face, who barely dodged. The lethal projectile splintered a tree's bark upon impact.

"Alright, it was… impressive." The kunoichi crossed her arms. That stunt could have killed her, if she didn't have excellent reflexes. "I'm keeping you. No need to continue fighting." He didn't drop his guard. "Drop your guard."

"Sorry, ma'am, I've read your Bingo Book entry. Since I kicked you in the face, I will assume it's a tactic to gut me until the Sandaime Hokage personally confirms I'm now your apprentice and safe from your blood thirst."

Anko gave into a psychotic smirk. "Boy, someday, I will taste the blood from your cute little cheek, and you're never safe from me." Of course, she didn't really enjoy blood… well, not that much. It was mostly done for intimidation. "Now, present yourself completely. Name, likes, dislikes, hobbies, goal in life…"

The genin shuddered. "You're insanely creepy. And I have seen Gai. Well… I'm Naruto Uzumaki. I like ramen, the best color of all, orange, chemistry, weapons, and socializing. I dislike pricks, most bloodline wielders, and laziness. My hobbies are training, pulling pranks, inventing things, botany, blowing up walls, and looking for platypuses. My goal in life?" He chuckled through his hood, the sound a mere whisper. "Kicking everybody's ass, starting with yours."

Anko laughed, amused by the teen's galls. "You still have a long way to go. I wasn't fighting seriously. Scratch that, it was a cakewalk."

"Neither was I… but I admit, in a straight fight, you would have trashed me." He snorted. "Fortunately… I never fight straight, crazy sensei."

"The name is Anko Mitarashi." She was so going to give him a horrible nickname. "I like Dango, snakes, sharpened kunai, and I'm starting to like you-"

"Somehow that creeps me out even more."

"I dislike being interrupted," she glared at him, "and I like castrating guys. Especially guys who interrupt me. Hint?"

"Well and duly noted."

"I also dislike… well, jerks, orange, ramen, and socializing. My main hobbies are conducting tea ceremonies and my goal in life is to kill my former teacher with my bare hands."

"Orochimaru?" He cowered at Anko's sudden potent glare. "What? Mitarashi Anko's entry in the Bingo Book mentioned you were his apprentice before he turned turncoat. I can understand how you feel, I've got a homicidal grudge against some demon myself."

He knew of the Kyuubi? Even if a part of her struggled to tell him he would never understand what she had been trough under the snake bastard, another, more rational, pointed out he, like her, had had a seal applied to her body and that ruined most of their career.

For all his nastiness and insanity, Orochimaru hadn't chosen her as apprentice for nothing. She had been the top Kunoichi of her generation, a child prodigy with a great talent for learning. Under the snake's tutelage, she had progressed. She had strived to succeed and surpassed all expectations.

Until he infected her neck with the Cursed Seal.

The shameful taint forever marked her as unreliable, for Orochimaru could always manipulate it from afar. As such, her progress in the hierarchy slowed to a near stall, as a possible unwilling spy for the snake. Worse, the Cursed Seal's recurrent interference with her chakra had forced her to redo most of the basics, to start back from scratch. Her reputation been nearly destroyed and had alienated her from most of the population. In fact, she could count her friends on the finger of a hand.

Their respective situations were disturbingly similar…

"Well…" Anko forced a smirk on her face. "Why not discussing revenge plots around dango? You bring the food, I bring the ideas."

"Deal."


Naruto's Apartment

Name: Anko Mitarashi (may have aliases; code name is Viper)

Birthdate: October 24

Gender: Female

Age: 24

Height: 167 cm

Weight: 45.8 kg

Blood type: A

Occupation: Chūnin Examiner (Probably cover for other activities; obvious infiltration specialist)

Affiliation: Konohagakure

Team: Former apprentice of Orochimaru (suspect links with the ANBU)

Ninja Rank: Special Jounin (Again, probable smokescreen)

Ninja Registration: 011226

Academy Grad. Age: 10

Chūnin Prom. Age: 12

Affinities: Fire and Earth

Ninjutsu 3.5 (strange, she seems better at it than Genjutsu)

Taijutsu 2.5 (good, but not exceptional; Lee would kick her ass in a Taijutsu spar)

Genjutsu 4 (haven't seen it in action; then again, Genjutsu doesn't work on me. Lacking chakra has advantages, when illusions work by using the enemy's against him)

Intelligence 2 (I would say 3.5 passing as 2 to be underestimated)

Strength 3 (again, good but not exceptional)

Speed 3 (may be 3.5-4, she has good reflexes)

Stamina 4 (nearly as much as myself? How the hell is it possible? Must investigate)

Hand seals 3 (above average)

Total 25 (more likely around 29-30; probably hides skills for infiltration purposes)

Techniques: Snake summoner; poison, weapon, and trapping expert. (Infiltration expert, good at intimidation, may have experience with torture; who the hell wrote this crappy entry and forgot that?)

Personality Assessment: shows hints of Sadistic and Histrionic Personality Disorder. Shows extreme lack of maturity. (Attention seeker: the fishnet is too revealing, she's letting people see. Obvious bloodlust, probably not faked. May get perverse, sinful pleasure from pain. Must keep distance and show no wound: may try sucking my blood like a vampire. Probably tactic for intimidation. Or she's a vampire. A female snake vampire ninja hybrid.)

(Useful notes 1: Show signs of fake cheerfulness. Boisterous façade. Has issues and obsessive grudge against Orochimaru. Must never mention him. Snake fetishist, Dango addict. Must approach Dango stores with extreme caution from now if I want to keep funds. Offer Dango as peace offering, in case of argument, or br

"So mini-Gai would kick my ass at taijutsu?" Anko asked, making Naruto jump out of his seat in surprise. His chair fell on the ground, along with his pen.

How the hell did she manage to sneak up on him, especially so late in the night? It was the time nearly all his traps were activated and kicking. Worse, the kunoichi didn't even look tired or bothered in the slightest. "Is it usual for you to break into people's houses? Have you no sense of personal space?"

"Actually… no." Anko sat on the table, next to Naruto's updated Bingo Book. "I'm your sensei, remember? We're going to spend much time together from now on." She gave him a playful, disturbing smile and adopted a sensual pose. "Plus, many people would be happy to have a hot woman like me seeing them in the middle of the night…"

"Only sadomasochists. You're goddamn creepy. Sorry, I'm not interested." He glared at her. "How did you disable my traps?"

"Boy, I'm the one who invented most of the traps featured in Konoha's books," she boasted. "Of course I can disable them." The kunoichi locked eyes with him. "Explosive traps on the doors, kunai launchers in the corridors, and you reinforced your apartment's walls and gate with iron plaques. And nobody other than you lives there."

"I needed space." It hadn't been hard to buy the building. His personal apartment had been allowed by the Sandaime, and the other residents had preferred moving on elsewhere than share the place with a demon vessel. The price of the building had been reduced to a quarter of it's former value, and obtaining the place under a fake identity had been easy.

As Anko made clear she wasn't going to leave without a visit, Naruto was forced to oblige. While his apartment contained the bar minimum for a living, the others had been developed into different laboratories. One, abandoned, was his former sealing atelier. He had tried to perfect the art, but his lack of chakra and the sheer complexity of the theories behind forced him to give up.

For the moment, anyway...

One was mainly remodeled for chemistry experiments. Full of bottles of various chemical concoctions, alongside new types of explosives. Due to the big unpredictability of dynamite and its tendency to explode a bit too easily for his liking, he had tried synthesizing a new, more reliable substance. His pet project, which he called 'plastic', still needed improvement, but would no doubt be awesome. After all, Iwa did manage to create a variant.

His progress in creating detonators had however been nearly nonexistent. He was tired of igniting his tags with a lighter. It was dangerous for his health.

He had also managed to install a zoo… of venomous animals. Mostly spiders and snakes, much to Anko's rage. The blonde hoped to import a platypus one day and extract his venom. He had never seen a venomous mammal before.

That, and a pet guard platypus would be awesome.

Finally, he showed her his wardrobe.

"I see you have a lot of suits." Anko's understatement made the teen laugh. He had about fourteen variants of the black working suit Iruka had offered him. Some were customized to allow good camouflage and thermal protection in snow, or deserts. He also had a collection of civilian clothes with hidden pockets, fake priest robes, and an impressive number of disguises. Alongside nearly every weapon in existence. And makeup. And experimental latex masks that never worked.

"I have a garden of medicinal herbs, but it is somewhere else," he spoke. "There is also my personal study, with a lot of books on subjects going from warfare to astronomy to maps, alongside a collection of paintings I acquired for reconnaissance purpose. That should be all."

"How the hell did you gather so many toys?" Anko blurted in surprise. "An orphan like you - sorry - shouldn't have that much money. And how did you get a Bingo Book?"

"For the Bingo Book, I found it in the Hokage's tower archives when I was preparing my graduation. I read it, and copied it when I returned home. I remembered a lot of details I missed the first time." Anko's face was priceless. "I theorized the Kyuubi's chakra, outside ruining my life, also reinforced neural connections, giving me photographic memory. That, or I'm just born lucky."

The demon vessel then smirked. "As for the funds… with photographic memory, it was easy to win large sums in casinos under a fake identity. Counting cards is as easy as breathing." That, and poker was a good training for analyzing people's expressions. If her face was of any indication, Anko duly noted that little tidbit for a later use. I just signed my eternal exploitation. "I have invented a new ninja art…" He gave her a 'nice Gai' pose.

"Cashjutsu!"

The pun was so horrible he could hear Anko's teeth grinding against each other. For some reason, it amused him to no end.

"It seems I will have to update your sheet already," Anko smirked, taking a scroll in her pocket and handing it to him. "Here is your official Genin degree. Only I and the Sandaime have access to it, until you get registered in the Bingo Book. Some information will probably be forged in time for greater security."

Naruto took the scroll, opened it, and read.

Name: Naruto Uzumaki

Codename: Atlas

Birthdate: October 10

Gender: Male

Age: 15

Height: 166 cm

Weight: 50.9 kg

Blood type: B

Classification: Demon Vessel of the Kyuubi

Affiliation: Konohagakure

Team: The wonderfully awesome Anko-sensei's apprentice. Maybe Uzumaki clan.

Ninja Rank: Genin

Ninja Registration: 012607

Academy Grad. Age: 15

Affinities: none

Ninjutsu 0

Taijutsu 3 (shows Chuunin-level skills)

Genjutsu 0

Intelligence 4 (good trapper, has common sense, tricky)

Strength 3.5 (shows sign of extreme training)

Speed 3.5 (good agility, momentum and reflexes)

Stamina 5 (can pack a lot of blows without showing signs of wounds; has healing factor, which according to the Hokage only kicks in near death)

Hand seals 0

Total 19 (Chuunin level threat, ruthless, efficient, and tricky)

Techniques: Excellent at camouflage, trapping, planning. Freakish good aim with a bow and thrown weapons. Experienced knife fighter and good, bastardized Taijutsu style. Damned Gai. Explosive user. Still has to assess infiltration skills. Who cares about chakra anyway? Poisoned kunai are cooler.

Personality Assessment: Ruthless, sarcastic, carefree. Shows no problem with attempted murder, may have lack of empathy. Shows some pragmatism and viciousness. Good self-control and patient. Intelligent. Complete opposite of Academy reports.

(Added notes: Atlas shows a ramen addiction, and obsession with the color orange. Highly competitive. Must kick his ass regularly for the sake of it.)

"Atlas, eh? Nice codename." He bugged on a detail. "May I ask you a question, before I go celebrate this magnificent moment by painting the Hokage monument in orange?" He raised his head.

"What is this Uzumaki clan?"


A/N: thanks ABitterPill for betaing and helping work on the concept.

Also... after receiving some very nice messages, I've decided to post the links of my first non-fanfic work.

I know this won't interest many of you (this is a fanfiction site after all), but I did receive quite a surprising number of PMs asking for the links, so, here we go.

Even if you aren't interested in buying the book, the story, "Dis Acedia", is published freely as a web serial on Wordpress every Monday and Friday. It already has quite a bit of content.

The link is: di sacedia. wordpr ess . com (remove additional spaces)

The story follows a man trapped in a prison-world for otherworldly beings and doing his best to adjust there. Prison Break meets Berserk/Dark Souls would be a good summary. It follows a first person narration, alternating with third person chapters following other characters. Dis Acedia also has a Tv tropes page for those wishing to view some of the content without having to read the whole thing.

The first volume (out of four to five planned) is titled "The Laws of Dis" and is available on Amazon.

The link is: ww w . amazon (add a dot) com/dp/B01M1FTOL2 (remove additional spaces)

Enjoy.

Would you kindly leave a review after reading?