AN: This story just wouldn't let go, so I wrote it and got it out of my brain. Since I resolved to put more of my written work out there for publich consumption, here you go. The rules are fuzzy, and the story's just dumped there. I might write another chapter or I might not, I have no idea right now, and there's no guarantee that the next chapter of this story will be a self-insert into the Naruto world, either. Fair warning.
In the Elemental Countries, in the Fire Country, in Konohagakure no Sato, in the low-income residential district, in an apartment building, in a dingy apartment, a boy woke up. He sat up, groggy, and ran a hand through his spiky blond hair; he froze. He ran a hand through his spiky blond hair, a frown on his face, then ran a hand over his face. His frown turned into a scowl, and he slipped a hand underneath the pillow his head had just moments before been resting on; it came back out empty.
The boy levered himself out of bed, scanning the room he found himself in carefully, taking in every minute detail, from the way the window bore a pranking-level trap hooked up to its sliding mechanism, to the pile of empty instant ramen cups. He eyed the green nightcap in the shape of a frog he'd apparently knocked off his head and left behind on his head. Shortly, succinctly, he muttered, "Shit."
The boy stared balefully at the mirror, one thought running through his mind. I'm Naruto Uzumaki. What the fuck. The apartment had raised his suspicions, and his reflection in the bathroom mirror confirmed them. It was early enough in the day that he felt it likely that he had plenty of time to sort this out. Still, he chided himself, I should probably move on from the mirror. The boy wondered if he'd ever be able to grow a decent beard in this body. He doubted it, and considering the time-table he currently had for increasing opponent strength, he wondered if he'd live to test his beard-growing capabilities. Naruto took a moment to review the facts he currently had a handle on.
He couldn't remember his original name, though he did have vague memories of growing up the son of some United States Military personnel. He was in the middle of a military village wearing the body of its most hated pariah. He had no idea where previous!Naruto had kept anything, so he'd have to search if he wanted weapons, identification, or money. Naruto was either a ninja or a ninja-in-training, and he had zero knowledge of how to mold chakra or use any techniques whatsoever. He didn't know how to use any of the weapons the ninja in this universe preferred beyond the very basic "pointy end goes in the bad guy." He had no idea if his limited training in the entirely mundane martial arts of back home would do him any good in a world where training with chakra-enhanced weights would allow Rock Lee to beat the tar out of everyone. Also, he mused, I don't actually know if I'm in a canon world or a fanon one. For all I know, this could be the world for People Lie or any one of about a dozen worlds that're even worse off than canon.
The boy frowned, and wished he'd paid more attention to the plot of Naruto. He'd stopped watching the show shortly after Akatsuki had taken the Shukaku from Gaara, so most of what he knew came from a scattershot of fanfiction. He had no idea what was viable knowledge, since even the canon stuff was suspect, without more information. Still, it was highly likely that he'd have to face opponents strong enough that even in a world populated by other chakra-using ninja, they could be called gods, and he'd have to face them before he was entirely out of puberty, too. The boy cupped his chin in his hand, and furrowed his brow in thought for a while.
First, he decided that if he was to live in Naruto's body, he might as well use Naruto's name. Stepping out of the shower, Naruto stalled on the second phase of his plan. He'd searched the entire apartment, and apparently, he owned nothing but the infamous orange jumpsuit and a few pairs of boxers. He pursed his lips as he inspected the cloth, finding that even his best jumpsuit was worn thin and about ready to spontaneously develop holes. He paused for a moment to stare at the inside of the jacket, too. Standing there in a pair of bright orange pants, ninja sandals, and a black undershirt, Naruto lowered his expectations of villager behavior a few notches. It was hard to see, since the previous him had possessed the foresight to pick the stitching out, but on the inside of the jumpsuit, plain as day, Naruto could see that there had once been the word MONSTER sewn carefully into the inside of the jacket.
There were a few possible explanations, of course, and Naruto didn't know which one was correct, so he shrugged on the jacket and set the issue aside for the future. He turned to the next order of business. Sitting side by side near the bed were a pair of awesome goggles and an old, battered hitai-ate. Naruto induced that the presence of both meant that the Mizuki incident had happened recently. He considered the forehead protector carefully, before finally conceding that he didn't have any better place to display it than on his head. He unwillingly gave up the desire to keep the goggles on his forehead and tie the headband around his arm or fasten it to his leg or something.
Naruto picked up the hitai-ate and inspected it. The cloth was worn and the metal slightly tarnished. Naruto was taken by an unexpected surge of emotions as a tide of memories arose. Iruka-sensei, explaining that ninja only ever passed on their headbands in cases where some great service had been done for them by someone they respect. Iruka-sensei, stopping by on Naruto's birthday, while the Kyuubi Death Day Festival was in full swing outside, and giving him some homemade cupcakes and encouraging him for class. Iruka-sensei, adjusting his headband as he spoke about the ninja way to Naruto as they ate together at Ichiraku Ramen. Iruka-sensei, proudly proclaiming his faith in Naruto to the traitor Mizuki. Iruka-sensei, gently tying his very own hitai-ate to Naruto's head and proclaiming that Naruto had passed and become a genin.
Naruto dashed away a few tears, touched by these memories that weren't really his, and knew that he'd do anything for Iruka. The presence of these memories presented a potential boon to surviving the next few days. Holding the hitai-ate in his hand, Naruto sat at the foot of the bed and closed his eyes. He focused on himself, and tried to drop into the mindscape he knew his host had shared with the Kyuubi. It was dangerous, and could lead to anything from being late to team assignments, to being eaten by a giant demon fox with enough power to level a city. Still, if anything could make this task doable, this would.
Naruto opened his eyes to the sound of water sloshing about, triumphant to find himself in a sewer, but unsure of what the location meant. Was his own mind close enough to Naruto's that adding it to the original made so little difference? Had he lost his own identity when he merged with Naruto? Would his presence change the sewers, but only gradually? Standing almost up to his knees in water, Naruto shrugged and spread his hands wide. For all he knew, this was merely a function of the seal. Naruto began walking.
There were no turn-offs, no defenses he could spot, no repositories of memories and techniques, no guardians or shades of himself, nothing. The corridor wasn't straight, but the turns meant nothing, since there were no turn-offs or branching paths. Finally, the water began to deepen, and Naruto found himself facing the massive bars and cavernous chamber that housed the Kyuubi. Naruto grinned, and called out, "Sup, bitch! You awake, or do I have to throw myself off a cliff to get you to pay attention?"
All of the hairs on Naruto's body immediately stuck straight out. A wave of power and menace poured out from behind the massive bars, and something shifted. Naruto felt his mouth dry up like the Sahara (or Wind Country, considering his new idiom). The damn thing was even bigger than the representations he could remember seeing over the years. None of them did this monstrosity justice. Its face filled the entire opening, and its eyes burned with malice. It spoke, and its voice reverberated about the chamber. It sounded as though every baritone and bass singer in the world were speaking in slightly less than perfect unison. Naruto didn't allow his smile to falter, though. He had a role to play, after all, and if he let his stark raving terror show, this would all be for nothing.
"So, the little kit finally comes to see his better. I must expect, I expected you to come to me immediately, after the events of last night." Okay, good. That most likely meant that Mizuki's betrayal and attempted murder had occurred the night previous. Now he just needed to figure out where he was supposed to be. He didn't want to miss Konohamaru, the identification photos, or team assignments, after all. He did his best to curl his lip in a confident grin as the Kyuubi continued, "What, did you get lost along the way?" The Kyuubi eyed the corridor Naruto had exited with distain, and eyed Naruto with hungry contempt.
A small part of Naruto's mind relaxed a tiny bit. He still had no idea if he was speaking English, Japanese, or some other language, but if he could speak to the fox, and the fox made no mention of the change in language, it was significantly more likely that he'd be able to understand everybody. Setting that aside, Naruto proposed his bargain, "So you do pay attention. In that case, you should know as well as I do that my word is my bond. I've come to offer a deal. I'm sure, after all, that you don't particularly like your current accommodations."
The fox shifted uncomfortably, but didn't say anything. Knowing that waiting in silence for your partner to say something was a fairly basic negotiation technique, Naruto grinned at the fox and waited for a response. "Very well, I don't. What are you proposing? What wish do you have that I could grant in exchange for removing this [censored] seal?" Naruto blinked, trying to process exactly what that particular profanity meant, but his brain kept rejecting it.
Shaking himself, Naruto responded, "Nothing whatsoever. I won't be removing that seal until the day I die of old age with you as my dear friend and companion whom I trust with the lives and happiness of my wife and multitude of children." Naruto smirked, baring his canines, "So you've got a ways to go, Fox. No, what I'm suggesting is that this tiny cage is hardly what anyone would call comfortable. If you agree to let me use your chakra in whatever amounts I deem necessary, when I deem it necessary to use it, then I will swear to do my honest best in giving you more comfortable accommodations. Larger area, some books and scrolls for entertainment, perhaps even the occasional enemy or giant rabbit for you to snack on, depending on circumstances and what is actually possible."
The mountain-sized fox stared at the scrawny pre-teen blond standing there grinning cockily in its general direction. It was silent for nearly a full minute, during which Naruto's grin only got wider. Finally, the demon lifted its forelimb to its mouth. Its paw was shaped more like a human hand than a fox's clawed paw, and the Kyuubi bit down on the flesh of its thumb-equivalent. Extending the cut paw through the bars as far as it could go, the Kyuubi intoned, "I, Kurama the Kyuubi no Kitsune, King of Demons, Lord of the Biju, do hereby grant unto Naruto Uzumaki, my Jinchuuriki and honorable jailor, the right to as much of my Chakra as he can hold to call forth and use at his discretion. Further, do I promise to warn him before he takes enough chakra into himself to deafen his mind to the call of reason, and to vouchsafe unto him the knowledge and instinct to use this power. So have I sworn, so mote it be."
From the cut on its thumb welled a single, massive drop of blood. It dropped from the already-healing cut on the Kyuubi's thumb and hung suspended in the air, shifting to become a massive sealing array. Naruto watched in awe as the blood reacted to the Kyuubi's voice; each word caused a new spiral to form, spinning to create beautiful fractal patterns that seemed to shimmer before Naruto's vision. On instinct, Naruto raised his own hand to his mouth and bit down hard. He cast his hand forward, flicking a drop of his own blood in the direction the Kyuubi's massive contract, and intoned in his turn, "And I, Naruto Uzumaki, genin of Konohagakure no Sato, Jinchuuriki of the Nine Tails' Demon Fox, do swear in turn to expand the comfort of the Kyuubi's cell, so that its period of imprisonment is more bearable and more pleasant." Feeling a little foolish, Naruto finished, "So I have sworn, so mote it be."
The giant sealing array of blood coiled in on itself and vanished. The demon fox chuckled (Naruto's bones seemed to shake at the sound, and he nearly fell over) and grinned down at Naruto. Its bared teeth were horrifying, and its voice seemed somehow darker, "How does it feel, brat, having made your very first bargain with a demon god?" The Kyuubi raised a massive paw and waved it dismissively, as though shooing a cat. "Now leave me, kit. I need to think, and the sooner you start studying, the sooner you can fulfill your end of our little agreement."
Naruto turned and sloshed through the water, back down the twisting tunnel by which he'd arrived. The Kyuubi's dry, thundering chuckles followed him for a long time, before Naruto again found himself alone in the dark silence of the sewer of his mindscape. He still needed to find the techniques he'd learned or invented before he'd woken up with a different mind in charge of his body and memories. It was time to start exploring.
Unfortunately, there wasn't much exploration to be done. As on the way in, the way out was entirely straightforward. The path twisted and turned, the water sloshed about, but the path never branched, and nothing seemed to change. The only measure of progress, really, was that the Kyuubi's chuckles tapered off to nothing.
Eventually, the stones began to fade from a dark grey to white, and everything seemed to become thin. Naruto stopped walking, standing at the very first split in the path he'd seen. Ahead of him, the tunnel continued on for a little while before disappearing in a haze of white, as though it had never existed. To his left was a path labeled with a crude sign. The words were in kanji that Naruto could barely recognize, but he thought he saw one for thinking. Of course, the real indication was the stick figure image of a person with a thought bubble above its head.
The path to his right was more promising, though. Its sign had a series of kanji, each paired with a simple depiction of a hand sign. At the very bottom of the sign was an image of a man holding up the seal Naruto recognized as the Ram sign, surrounded by a jagged blue aura. Naruto picked at the aura with a fingernail and examined what came off. Paint, of course, Naruto sighed to himself. Cheap stuff, too. Even without the promise to the Kyuubi, I'd need to learn how to renovate this mind. I do not want to be represented by a sty like this.
Following the right hand path, Naruto came to a small enclosure. It was a simple square area, with a set of shelves on one side of the room. The shelves were dusty and mold-eaten, and the area itself was flooded, just like the rest of Naruto's mindscape. The water here only came up to ankle height, but it still wasn't pleasant. Naruto eyed the shelves thoughtfully. They seemed divided into a space for books and a space for scrolls. The real problem, Naruto noted, is that there's only two scrolls here in the first place. Checking quickly, Naruto confirmed that there were only two techniques in what appeared to be the technique room.
Unrolling them, Naruto noticed that neither contained a written indication of how to perform the technique. Instead, each depicted a series of seals to be formed by the hands, with what appeared to be a stick figure alternately channeling chakra in a certain way or imagining a certain thing. Luckily, the first scroll was the Kage Bunshin no Jutsu, and the instructions were clear enough that Naruto felt confident he could use the technique himself. The other scroll contained Naruto's very own Orioke no Jutsu, and it was as flexible as fanfiction had made it out to be. Stroking his chin, Naruto made sure he could form the seals, and remembered how to mold chakra and when to form the image in his mind.
Blinking, Naruto opened his eyes in his apartment once more. He stood easily, a wide grin on his face. The sun was clearly visible in the window, and Naruto expected he'd lost maybe an hour exploring his mind and getting the technique scrolls from the repository in Naruto's mind. He began forming seals carefully, and found that they flowed relatively easily, compared to what he'd been expecting. He imagined his chakra flowing into the right configurations, and finished the Kage Bunshin no Jutsu.
He'd been aiming for one clone, so the appearance of three made him frown and step back a little. His clones blinked at him, then smiled. One called out, "I'll go find Iruka-sensei and see about getting Replacement. I'll grab Body-Flicker if I can swing it, too." Another nodded and responded, "Then I'll go find the Hokage, and work up a little fiction to explain our change in behavior. You two have fun!"
The third stayed behind as the first two left the apartment, then walked over and wrapped Naruto in a hug. He held tight, not showing the slightest sign of discomfort. "I know we worry," the clone began, "but you never have to fear that you'll betray yourself." The clone began rubbing the original's back as Naruto began to tear up. "We have the Kage Bunshin now, so we'll never be alone again, and whatever our other faults, you would never betray someone who gave you their loyalty." The clone leaned back and looked the original directly in the eye, "You are absolutely loyal to yourself. You know, and so we know, that the solution is to work together. You aren't the sort to defect in the Prisoner's Dilemma, Naruto, and so neither are we."
The clone smiled, and squeezed the original's hand. It finally said, "Now, I'm going to go find Might Guy and see about getting some training weights. You start making us some clothing we can really wear." The clone grinned, then kissed the original on the forehead. With a cheery wave, it too left the apartment. The original sat down on the bed, put his head in his hands, and breathed for a few minutes. Finally, he looked up, smirked, and made a good half-dozen clones. It was high time he got to work.
The first two clones had left Naruto's apartment and gone in different directions, so when they both turned through the same gate at the same time, they stopped to look at each other in shock. "I thought you were going to see [Iruka-sensei/the Old Man]!" They exclaimed in unison.
Upon seeing Naruto arguing with himself in front of the main Konoha-nin compound, a passing ANBU miss-timed his jump and slipped off a roof into a pile of cardboard boxes. Neither Naruto noticed.
After a few minutes of misunderstanding, the Narutos applied their hands to their forehead in unison and exclaimed together, "Oh right, the Hokage's office and the Academy are in the same compound!" Chuckling, Naruto1 turned left towards the Academy classrooms and Naruto2 turned right towards the Hokage's office.
Naruto1 wandered the halls for a while, looking for his old teacher. Since the graduation exam had happened yesterday, he figured that today would be pretty empty. He was surprised to find, therefore, that Iruka-sensei was lecturing in front of a full class of students. Naruto1 slipped through the door quietly and closed it softly behind him. He tried waiting politely for Iruka to reach a break in his lecture, but was stymied by one of the students trying their hand at taunting him, "Hey, the dead-last's late again! What, too ashamed of your failure to get here on time?"
Iruka broke through the class's cruel laughter with a kind tone and a question, "Naruto-kun, you do know that you don't have to be here today, right? You passed, so you should be getting your ID made today and coming for the team assignment meeting tomorrow." The class stared at Iruka in shock, then all turned to Naruto.
Naruto1 rubbed the back of his head bashfully, "I know, Iruka-sensei, but I wanted to set up a meeting with you before I actually got assigned to a team. I didn't realize you'd have class, I thought everyone'd have a few days off, so I'm sorry for just showing up like this." He chuckled self-depreciatingly.
Iruka, unbeknownst to Naruto1, was very worried by how subdued his most rowdy student seemed, but was forestalled from asking when one of his students called out, "Yeah right, 'he passed'! If he passed, then where's his headband?"
Naruto1 touched his forehead in confusion for a moment before laughing, "Ah, right! I forgot to put it on before-" Naruto1 turned his head and coughed, cutting himself off. "Well, don't worry about it. It's just at home, that's all." He turned back to Iruka, "So, would you mind meeting me later, Sensei? I have some things I need to talk to you about," Naruto1 rubbed his chin, "I suppose I could just hang around here and be a teacher's assistant, too, but if things got too rough, I might pop, so that would be-"
"Pop?!" Iruka exclaimed, "You're a clone right now?" At Naruto's affirmative nod, Iruka gaped, while the class looked confused. Seeing the engagement of his class, Iruka took an opportunity to lecture. He was a teaching specialist, after all, and this was an excellent example, "I suppose I could use your help for this class, then, Naruto. You see, class, Naruto has long been known to have trouble with the standard clone technique. After the last exam, however, he had an opportunity to learn a variation on the technique that creates a solid clone instead of an illusory one.
"Earlier in the class, I was warning you about taking information gleaned from records and written reports at face value, and this is an excellent example. You see, the technique Naruto is using has several limits, but the biggest of them is that the clone created should have only limited personality and intelligence. In other words, it would be impossible for a clone to pass itself off as its creator. However, I didn't notice the difference, and neither did you."
One of the students tried her hand at heckling Naruto. Not graduating in the same year as Sasuke had put her in a foul mood, and sniping at a perceived social inferior always cheered her up, though she'd never think of it in those terms, "Maybe that's because the original has only limited personality and intelligence."
Iruka, seeing the scheming grin and interested gaze of his favorite orange-clad student, waited for the laughter to die down before continuing, "Then I'm sure you'd have no trouble making a clone as complete as Uzumaki-san." Iruka paused for effect, "After all, it's only a B-rank jutsu, and only requires enough chakra that even a famous shinobi like Copy-cat Kakashi can only make about four."
Iruka beckoned the Naruto clone forward, "So, Naruto, considering that the jutsu takes so much effort, why did you decide to use a clone to contact me, instead of coming in person?" Iruka winked the eye the class couldn't see, knowing that Naruto the prankster would understand his goal.
Naruto1 slipped his hands behind his head, crinkling his face up into a smile so wide he had to squint his eyes. He remembered seeing that smile on the Naruto of the show, or perhaps reading about it on the Naruto of the fanfiction, and hoped it wouldn't seem out of place, "Neh, Iruka-sensei, I was trying to make one clone so I could test the limits of the jutsu, but I made three instead. Since I wanted to talk to you anyway, I came here instead of popping."
Iruka grinned at the flabbergasted class. This was going to be a fun lesson, and not just because he'd managed to chastise them about their somewhat foolish preconceptions of Naruto.
Naruto2 followed the signs to the room where the newly-graduated nin were filling out their profiles, and knocked on the door. When he heard a muffled 'come in', he did. Sliding the door closed behind him, Naruto2 scanned the room. Bare walls, desk with a white cloth draped over it, a single chair across the room from it, Naruto2 thought he recognized the scene from the show. He greeted the Hokage genially, ignoring the two nin sitting to Hiruzen Sarutobi's left and right, "Hey Old Man! How's it going?"
A quiet 'eep' drew Naruto2's attention to the other occupant of the room, a very red Hyuuga heiress. He waved at her, too, "Heya, Hinata-chan! You filling out your profile?" She fainted dead away, and Naruto turned back to the Hokage with a shrug.
Sarutobi raised a pipe to his lips with wrinkled, liver-spotted hands. He was a very old man, and his serene calm was likely the only thing keeping the nin on either side of him from attacking Naruto. "Naruto-kun. While I'm happy to see you, I find myself wondering why you're here." So saying, Sarutobi took a measured drag from his pipe and blew a smoke ring into the air.
Naruto2 watched the smoke ring fade into nothingness, grinning at the obvious impatience of the Hokage's ... assistants? Eh, it didn't matter. He idly patted his own clothing, then pulled out a plastic-wrapped toothpick from one of the pockets. He didn't miss the Hokage's barely-concealed grin as Naruto2 slowly extricated the toothpick from its plastic confines and chewed one end until it was a nub.
Naruto2 eyed the pulped wood of his toothpick, then flicked the used-up thing into the table's trash bin. He set his legs apart and posed with his hands upon his hips, staring into the sunset. Naruto2 paused for a moment to let the ninja to the Hokage's left get his twitching eye under control, then declared proudly, "I forgot when my ID appointment was!"
Sarutobi laughed while his assistants face-faulted. Wiping tears from his eyes, and wheezing a little from restrained laughter, the Hokage replied, "According to my tables here, you've got another three hours until your appointment at 4. Was there anything-" Sarutobi's eyes darted to the door Naruto had come through, which promptly slammed open to reveal a young boy in a cap and scarf.
Naruto2 fought to hide his smile as he watched Konohamaru yell and run at his grandfather, only to trip over nothing and sprawl across the floor. Naruto2 found himself lost in his own recollections of the show as Konohamaru yelled at him, "You tripped me, foul! Foul! How dare you trip me, when I'm going to be the next Hokage!" Naruto2 rolled his eyes and grabbed Konohamaru by the boy's scarf, lifting him into the air.
As Konohamaru struggled, a ninja in black glasses and black garb darted into the room. Upon spotting Naruto holding up his charge, Ebisu yelled, "Put him down, you ruffian! That is the Honorable Hokage's grandson! How dare you lay your hands upon him?!" Naruto2 glanced at the Hokage, and saw Sarutobi pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers tiredly.
Naruto2 looked back at the boy in his grip, and saw what he had expected to see. Konohamaru looked both smug and a little sad. The boy noticed Naruto's attention, "Yeah, what are you going to do? You can't lay a hand on me, ny~eh!" Naruto2 rolled his eyes and cuffed Konohamaru about the side of the head. He didn't notice Hinata, awake and watching behind him.
"Oh, shut up, kid. You're nothing to me." Naruto2 nodded his head in the Hokage's direction, "The Old Man has my respect. I'd trust him with anything. I'd trust him even with an S-rank secret, even if it was one that would put me in danger, since I trust him to do right by me, and by everyone in the village." Naruto2 unhanded Konohamaru, dropping the younger boy on the ground. Being careful not to actually injure the kid, Naruto2 shoved the boy down with his sandaled foot. He looked in the Hokage's direction, trying to make his gaze as meaningful as possible without revealing anything to the others in the room, before turning back to Konohamaru, "But you're nothing.
"You're just mooching off his reputation to hide away from retaliation when you treat other people badly." Naruto2 scoffed, "Which means I have even less respect for you than I do for someone who faces the world with nothing, since they at least have the courage to accept the consequences for their own actions." Naruto2 walked to the door, then looked directly at the Hokage, "I'll see you later, sir." He drew out the pause for a moment, hoping his body's reputation would screen him from suspicion on the part of the other ninja, but not prevent the Hokage from getting the message, "At four, I mean." Naruto2 looked right at the Hokage, making a conscious effort not to wink.
The clone left the room, leaving behind a faintly awed Konohamaru, three furious adult ninja, a very pensive Hokage, and one extremely worried Hyuuga.
Naruto3 left the apartment later than the first two, and with even less of an idea about where he was going. He knew, in a vague fashion that there were training grounds in Konoha, and that Might Guy would most likely be found at one of them (assuming that he wasn't climbing the Hokage Monument with one hand; running around the village on his hands, backwards, with his eyes closed; on a mission; or enjoying a nice cup of tea in a quiet restaurant), but he had no idea how to find the training grounds.
After a few minutes at an eager jog, Naruto3 slowed down a bit and started thinking. One hand on his chin and his head down, Naruto3 ended up so lost in thought (trying to figure out how to find Might Guy), that he walked right past a young lady with her hair up in two buns wearing a Chinese dress who might know where the man was and straight into a significantly more mature young woman wearing fishnet, a trenchcoat, and very little else (who would not be likely to tell, even if she knew).
Being a very patient, level-headed woman, Mitarashi Anko took the obvious course of action when an oblivious blond-haired brat bumps into one on the street. She swung a kunai at him. Mind, she wasn't reckless. She could tell the difference between a ninja's chakra and a civilian's, and this kid was no civilian. She had the encounter pegged as an object lesson for an absent-minded kid, and then she'd move on. A ninja had to learn to pay attention to his surroundings, after all.
She was a little surprised when he swayed out of the way of her swing. She'd thought he was too absorbed in himself to notice in time. More surprising was when he snapped his arm forward at her throat and his leg downward at her knee. Is he snarling? She didn't recognize the style, but Mitarashi Anko wasn't a jonin for nothing and the boy was joint-locked and pinned to the ground quicker than he could blink, a kunai laid against his throat.
The civilians on the street all remembered appointments they needed to be at or obligations they needed to fulfill en mass, and departed. The ninja, generally recognizing at least one of the combatants, demonstrated the very important ninja skill of knowing how to place a bet and all of them had placed at least one each in the time it took for Naruto3 to gather his bearings again and focus on the scary woman perched on top of him.
Her voice sent shivers down his spine. Even after dealing with a nine-tailed malevolent force of destruction, he hadn't been aware that anyone could be that ridiculously scary. Naruto3 thought very hard about her question, asked in an expert false-polite tone, "So, boyo, what have you learned."
Naruto3 made a humming noise in the back of his throat and made a big show of thinking about the question. Finally, he guessed, "If someone attacks me on the street, I should just let them stab me instead of dodging and retaliating?" Most of the ninja listening to his response (including one Mitarashi Anko) blinked at the sincerity in his tone, and the purple-haired jonin tried very hard not to chuckle.
"That's a terrible lesson. Don't learn that one," Anko got off him, dusted herself off, then watched as Naruto levered himself to his feet. "A better one might be something along the lines of, 'don't start something you can't finish.'" She tapped her chin for a moment, "Yeah, I like that. See, I try to stab you, knowing I can take pretty much anyone in this town, and you retaliate. It might have been the right response, but I was able to put you down, and you didn't have a hope of taking me." Anko nodded to herself, then grinned and held up a knife. "Now, for inconveniencing me, and for my valuable advice as a teacher, I demand you take me out for dango."
Money changed hands among the watching ninja, and most of them dispersed to continue doing what they were doing before. Naruto3, only vaguely aware of how lucky he was that she was hungry and in a good mood, raised an eyebrow. "I'd love to, but I don't have any money on me."
Anko held up a wallet in the shape of a frog, "What's this, then?"
"Well, it's not in my pocket anymore, so I'd say my statement holds up. Also, if you throw it at a wall as hard as you can, you'll see my point."
The wallet turned into a little poof of chakra smoke as it struck the wall, and Anko hummed, impressed despite herself, "That's a pretty impressive technique. What is it, a way to clone items so you can pass off documents without compromising your mission, pay for things without using up your money, what?"
"Actually, it's just part of what was on me when I used the kage bunshin no jutsu earlier today." Naruto3 paused and looked thoughtful for a second, "Now that I think of it, I'm really happy that popping something a clone had on him doesn't pop the clone itself. I doubt you'd be very happy with me if I popped in the middle of a conversation, and, no offence, you seem like someone who can hold a grudge."
Anko stared at Naruto3 for a moment, trying to come to terms with what she was hearing. "So ... you're a shadow clone?" At Naruto3's nod, she pinched herself, then looked at him again. "That's ... okay. How the hell are you so cogent." At Naruto3's blank look, she continued, "Cogent means that you're making sense when you talk."
"No, I know what the word means, I just don't understand why I wouldn't be cogent. Are you calling me stupid?" Naruto3 stepped forward angrily.
Anko shook her head, "Okay, one, what did I just tell you about starting something you can't finish?" When Naruto3 subsided back to a more neutral stance, she continued, "And two, I wasn't calling you stupid, though you are perhaps a little ignorant." She ignored the way Naruto3 bristled at that, and continued on so he couldn't interrupt, "Clones aren't supposed to work like you ... Okay, come on. I need some sake and dango before I try to explain this. Follow me."
It wasn't a request, and Naruto3 wasn't quite foolish enough to ignore it, even if he did have other priorities. Since he didn't know how many clones his clones could make before popping just yet, he decided to abandon the search for Might Guy and follow the scary ex-student of the Snake Sannin.
Naruto1 sat down with Iruka after the class had broken for lunch, and gnawed on his index finger. He was, he felt, understandably nervous about this conversation. He was working under the assumption that until the jonin had officially accepted their teams, his headband could be rescinded, and while that would give him time to acquire the skills he felt he needed but didn't have, it would also likely doom Wave and the bridge builder, cut Naruto off from the Rookie 9, and would very likely ruin a great many things.
Still, being honest and upfront with someone like Iruka would probably be the best way to get what he wanted, so he'd just lay it all out. After all, going ahead at full steam without thinking about things had gotten the original Naruto through the entire series. He began with a simple statement of what he wanted, "Iruka-sensei, I am very happy to be a genin, and I want to stay a genin no matter what, but...
"I can't read anything on that chalkboard, I don't know the replacement jutsu, I have no idea if my taijutsu is effective at all, I'm not sure I could accurately throw a kunai, and I'm really worried that my henge is sub-par. If you'll remember, I only really used it to turn into naked women. It made people not look too closely, so I'm not sure if I really managed the skill, or if I just cobbled together something that would get me through the academy."
Iruka looked very pensive and the two of them sat in silence for a good long while. "Well, Naruto-kun, I'm glad you brought this up to me, but I have to ask, why now? Why not talk to me about this before graduation?"
Naruto1 hoped he wasn't misinterpreting Iruka's tone, that the man really was as kind and understanding as his voice and the memories packed in Naruto's head implied. Taking a deep breath, Naruto1 explained, "I needed to pass, Iruka-sensei. You were the only teacher to so much as try to teach me anything, all the others just brushed me off. And ... I'm poor, Sensei. I need the income from being a genin, I need it desperately."
The memories the old Naruto had passed on to the new one welled to the surface, and Naruto1 didn't have to fake the tears that dripped down his cheeks, "And before last night, I didn't think I had anyone to turn to. I know you might send me back now, but ... but I also know you'd only do it for my own good. I desperately want to stay a ninja, but," Naruto1 paused to dash the tears away, "but if I stay as I am now, I might not be able to save my team when they need me, or I might die myself."
They sat in silence for a while, neither looking directly at the other. Finally, Iruka spoke up. His voice hitched a little as he said, "Okay, let's head out back, and I'll see what I can show you before the lunch break ends. We'll see what needs to happen from there."
Naruto2 paused as he walked past a section of fence that was distinctly ... odd. Reaching out, he pulled it away from the rest of the fence, turned it sideways, and handed the cloth back to the stunned Konohamaru. "Remember to make your disguise blend in with your surroundings, or an enemy will spot you easily," Naruto2 advised before moving on down the street.
Konohamaru called out, "Okay, you've won my respect! You'll teach me, and in exchange, I'll be your subordinate, Boss!"
The kid jogged up to walk beside Naruto2, who looked down at the younger boy. "Why should I teach you, kid? I told you in there, I've got no respect for you."
"Yeah," Konohamaru replied immediately, "but you've got no respect for me! Everyone else treats me with great respect, but it's all for the 'honorable grandson'. Nobody sees me but you." The kid peered up at Naruto2 over a blue scarf, demonstrating at least journeyman-level mastery over the puppy-dog-eyes no jutsu.
Naruto2 caved almost immediately, as he had planned all along. "Alright, kid. I'll teach you." He gave a little half-bow, without pausing in his walk, "I'm Uzumaki Naruto, pleased to meet you."
"Sarutobi Konohamaru." The kid replied with another little bow, "What are you going to teach me first, Boss?" Konohamaru bounced a little as they walked, beaming.
A pale-eyed young girl ducked out of sight a few streets back, sighing in relief. I'm so glad Naruto's still so kind. Hinata peered around the corner, too shy to approach but glad to watch Naruto explain the principles of henge to the younger boy. That really wasn't very like him, back there. He seemed much harsher than I'd have expected. She blushed a little, quickly losing herself in a fantasy about how gentle he'd be when she finally got the courage to approach him for real. By the end of it, she was blushing a lot more than a little.
She got distracted by the sight of Naruto following a purple-haired woman into a dango bar. Confused, Hinata glanced around the corner in time to see Naruto instructing Konohamaru to assume a henge. Glancing between the two positions where she'd seen her love, she decided to return to the Hyuuga compound before she succumbed to the heat stroke she was obviously suffering and passed out on the street. Again.
Meanwhile, Naruto2 had finished explaining the principles of the henge to Konohamaru, explaining, "So you see, with a good disguise, you can do nearly anything. Can you do one at all?" Konohamaru nodded eagerly, and Naruto2 pointed at a young lady in a purple kimono, "Then turn into her for me, would you? I'll need to see what you've got so far."
The kid's disguise was awful. Naruto2 hrm'd over it, poking at it and examining it from all angles. Finally, he shook his head, "No, this won't do at all. See, my hand can pass right through the border of your technique, and you don't match her body type at all." Naruto leaned in and examined the cloth of the kimono, "Good attention to detail, though. The pattern and texture of the cloth is almost perfect."
"What's perfect, hm?" The purple-clad lady snarled threateningly. Naruto2 sighed before she struck him over the head and he disappeared in a billowing cloud of chakra smoke.
Konohamaru, in his surprise, released his henge, and the purple-clad woman and he stared at the place Naruto had just occupied. His jaw worked soundlessly for a moment before he turned to the woman, "What the hell, lady? He was teaching me how to use henge properly, and you go and beat him over the head? How the hell is he supposed to teach me anything if you've hit him so hard he burst, huh?"
"Honorable grandson, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean," the woman began, feeling a little panicked, but she couldn't get much steam on her apology to the grandson of the most powerful man in the village, because he was too busy ranting at her about her rude behavior.
About two minutes later, and Konohamaru was still going full steam. A new clone arrived, a little breathless from the run. He really should have warned Konohamaru, but he'd forgotten about the severe over-reaction of the people in the instructing Konohamaru sequence. It was very inconvenient, but the new clone nodded at the backup he'd brought, which hid themselves out of sight to follow along and/or create new clones as needed. The new clone stepped into the role of Naruto2, and laid a hand calmly on Konohamaru's shoulder.
Konohamaru stopped and turned to look. A smile cracked his face in two and he called out, "Boss, you're okay! Man, what happened to you?" The woman gaped. As a Konoha civilian, she'd heard stories about the sorts of things ninja could do, but somehow seeing the demon brat do them was terrifying beyond all her ability to reason.
Naruto2 smiled at Konohamaru, "Ah, sorry Konohamaru-kun, I just used a technique to avoid the injuries of being struck like that. It's high enough ranked that I can't teach it to you without your jiji's permission, but I'm sure you'll learn it eventually." His smile to the purple-clad woman was slightly more strained, as he said, "I'm sure she just got carried away, and we don't have to report her attack on a Konoha nin to anyone, right?"
The woman nodded vigorously and fled, planning to get drunk, hoping that getting drunk would make her forget that she'd just pissed off the demon brat, and praying that the demon brat would forget who she was (she knew the demon wouldn't forgive).
Konohamaru quickly forgot the little incident as Naruto2 explained, "I think we can fix your issue with the barrier between your chakra and the environment. That'll let you fool people by touch as well as by sight, which can be invaluable. That should also make it so your clothes and hair move naturally without you paying attention to them, which will save you a lot of effort. That's mostly practice, though, and there's another issue we need to take care of first."
Naruto2 led Konohamaru into a convenience store, sneaking past a sleeping attendant to the porn rack. In a whisper, he explained, "A lot of older men, and some women, are really weak against the sight of a human body naked, at least in certain poses, so pay attention to how the women we see in these magazines are standing and holding themselves." Naruto2 deftly opened the pages of a porn magazine, "But what we're really looking for is the way a female body looks, and how it works. If you don't understand where the various bits go and how they behave, that'll show up in your henge, and you'll end up with a lumpy, misshapen form that won't fool anybody."
Without much money, or people to buy from, Naruto2 knew he couldn't obtain an anatomy book, which would really be better for this sort of thing, so he was making do with what he had, even if it meant corrupting the Hokage's grandson. They spent a few minutes in the convenience store before the shopkeeper snuck up behind them, thrashed Naruto2 until he popped, and kicked Konohamaru out of his store.
On the street, a replacement Naruto2 joined Konohamaru and led the boy to the bath house. "Now there's unfortunately no substitute for seeing things live and in motion, so we're going to do that here. Do the best henge you can and follow me inside. I'll draw as much of the attention as I can, so you can observe without much interference, but I fully expect them to see through both our henges and chase us out, or thrash me until I pop again. Make sure you pay attention to how they move, okay?"
Konohamaru nodded and, in the paper-thin disguises of Konohamaru's terrible henge and Naruto's famous Naruko henge, they boldly entered the bath house. They were promptly spotted, and Naruto2 was thrashed until he popped. Konohamaru was run off, and rejoined the waiting Naruto2 replacement several streets away.
"The only thing left to do," Naruto2 lectured, knowing that a different clone had gone in his place to the ninja identification and registration requirements and so not fearing losing track of time and missing them, "is practice until you've got it down right." Naruto eyed his young charge and commanded, "So, Henge!"
Konohamaru formed and released the henge for hours upon end, lost in the thrill of doing work he understood the value of for someone he respected, and barely noticed as the sun began to set.
Sarutobi calmly stood in front of Naruto's apartment, one eyebrow raised. It had been a very interesting day, starting when Naruto interrupted the young Hyuuga heiress's registration. Konohamaru had attempted attack number 13 for the day, and brought the score for method of failure to: running into an older nin, 3; stopped by ANBU, 2; stopped by Ebisu, 4; and tripping over nothing, 4. Interestingly, he hadn't attempted any more attacks after Naruto's little speech, and Sarutobi had surreptitiously checked his crystal ball a few hours later to see Naruto training his grandson in the henge.
Of course the really interesting thing was that a minute later, he'd admitted Naruto to ask him about the kabuki make-up he'd donned for his ninja ID photo. Put that together with the multitude of voices and the sound of continuous activity within Naruto's apartment, and Sarutobi had a pretty good guess as to which technique the young ninja was making the most of.
Wondering if he'd read a message in Naruto's words where there was none, Sarutobi lifted a hand and knocked on the apartment door. All the sound cut off for a second, and Sarutobi felt a rush of chakra wash past. It was subtle, and he expected most shinobi would miss it, but he hadn't earned the title of Professor for nothing, and he recognized the feel of several clone techniques cutting off at once.
The door cracked open, paused there, then opened all the way, and Sarutobi found himself smiling back at the son of his predecessor. It always astounded him how much the boy looked like his father, and he wondered at the ignorance of people that they couldn't see it. Time to see if Naruto had really intended to send that message earlier today, "You can feel free to keep doing whatever you were doing with your clones, Naruto. I might note, however, that even if I hadn't felt the chakra of their dispellation, not seeing any people to make the racket I heard coming up here would make anyone suspicious."
Sarutobi chuckled as Naruto slapped himself in the forehead and summoned enough clones to fill the apartment. Some clones split off into groups of three or four, others paired off, and others sat down, solo, and closed their eyes as if meditating. Sarutobi raised his eyebrow at that, but decided to put it aside for now. "I might be mistaken, but I believe you had wanted to see me, earlier."
The original Naruto (Sarutobi was only assuming, of course, but it was a pretty good assumption, since the clones hadn't had time to mix yet) nodded and led the Hokage to a quieter part of the apartment.
Ignoring the sounds of his clones using henge, popping, and resummoning other clones, Naruto leaned in close to the Hokage. The clones were keeping it down to a light roar, but so many beings in the same place and the noise level just sort of naturally went up. Naruto paused for a moment, thinking about how to phrase everything. He'd have to lie about some of it, since the truth wouldn't be believed, and there wasn't really a good way to put at least some of it.
Finally, Naruto swallowed against his dry throat, and began the tale he'd earlier decided to tell the Hokage, "Last night, Mizuki-teme told me about the Fox, and Iruka promoted me." Sarutobi nodded here, and stayed quiet as Naruto completed his tale, only nodding occasionally to show he was listening, "When I went to sleep ... something happened, and I found myself in my mind. Or at least, that's what I assume happened. It seems to be accurate, so..."
Naruto coughed, "The seal is still whole, I just want to reassure you of that. There is no way for the Fox to extricate himself from behind those bars and gain freedom. Unfortunately, the seal touches my mind, and there's a bit of an interface there. The seal is secured, from my perspective in the mindscape, by a giant paper tag that I could pull off at any time, though I'm really hoping it's just me, and not just anybody can pull it off.
"Anyway, there was a flaw where the seal touched my mind, and while the Fox can't go through the seal, it could go through that flaw, just a little bit. I don't think it could have done much, even given my whole lifetime to work, but there you go. Anyway, the way Mizuki revealed the secret, the flaw widened enough to let the Fox shove a whole tail of his chakra through."
Naruto ignored the way the Hokage's eyes widened, and the way the old man turned his back so that none of Naruto's clones were out of sight, and continued, "He tried to widen the flaw, and he tried to pull off the tag. I spent the whole night in there, trying to stop him. He didn't succeed only because whenever he wasn't paying direct attention to his chakra, I could lop it off and turn it against him."
Naruto looked the Hokage dead in the eye, "I've spent the day deciding whether or not I should tell you, and how to tell you. The truth is that I won, but there was a lot of damage. I managed to seal up the flaw, eventually, but all that's left when I slip into my mindscape is a bunker filled with sewer water. It surrounds the seal, so there's no flaw anymore, but a lot of my memories are hazy, and I'm not sure if I'm even the same person anymore, in a meaningful way, I mean. I've obviously got the same body.
"The only memories I've really managed to save are of Iruka-sensei, and a few of you. Everything else is a complete haze with a few names attached to faces here and there. You two are the only ones I trust at all, and then only about as far as I could throw you. The only reason I convinced myself to tell you this is that I think I need your help."
Sarutobi raised an eyebrow and beckoned for more, so Naruto continued, "I need enough information to rebuild my mindscape, and install defenses that would stop an enemy nin or traitorous Yamanaka from pulling the tag off the gate in my mind. I need someone to look at the seal, too. I'm almost positive it wasn't damaged, but I'm no expert, and if nobody checks...
"I also need you, specifically, to know why I'm not really acting like myself any more. I'm trying to fake it until I really understand why the old me behaved the way he did, but I probably won't get it perfect, and I might not keep all his behaviors, in the end."
Sarutobi nodded, and they sat there in silence as the aged Hokage thought. The clones continued experimenting in the background, and Naruto stared out the window, hoping he hadn't just signed his own death warrant by confessing all this to the Hokage, especially since it was pretty much all a lie to get what he needed from the man.
Naruto2 sat down next to Konohamaru and handed him a beverage from the nearby vending machine. He listened quietly as Konohamaru explained how he wanted to be Hokage so everyone would recognize him, and not just the shadow of his grandfather, under which he lived.
Heavy thoughts ran through Naruto2's head, as he considered whether or not he wanted to keep the original Naruto's dream of becoming Hokage. When Konohamaru finished, they sat in silence for a few moments, sipping at their beverages, before Ebisu appeared in the trees around the clearing.
"Ah, I've finally found you, Honorable Grandson." Ebisu pushed his glasses up his nose, and Naruto2 was surprised to find that he could recognize the hate in them as the special jonin glared at Naruto2. "You shouldn't hang about with trash such as this. I'm the most distinguished teacher in Konoha, and I'll set you on the shortest path to Hokage, if you'll only follow my teachings."
Konohamaru leapt up and yelled back, "No! He's taught me a valuable technique today, one that can take out even the Hokage, I'll show you! Oiroke no Jutsu!" Konohamaru turned into a busty, naked woman, and posed seductively, blowing a kiss at the special jonin.
Ebisu stammered for long enough that Konohamaru released the technique and started gloating. Naruto2 had explained earlier how he'd used simple knowledge of the henge and the weaknesses of men to create the distraction technique, and how he'd used it against the Hokage when he'd infiltrated the Tower. Konohamaru had picked up on the idea immediately, of course.
Finally, Ebisu gathered his wits enough to shout back, "What a disgraceful technique! It will have no effect on me, I'll have you know!" The jonin stormed toward the two boys, "Now you'll be coming with me, and I'll be showing you what's really important. My teachings are the best shortcut on the path to becoming Hokage, after all!"
Naruto2 stepped between Ebisu and Konohamaru. He winked over his shoulder at Konohamaru, "I've only had the kid for one day, and he's already learned a technique well enough to use it against you." Naruto2 grinned. He had three clones hidden nearby as backup, and the experiments Naruto had been performing all day had pinned down exactly how many useful clones a clone could produce.
Konohamaru had stars in his eyes as Naruto2 glanced over his shoulder at the kid, "Now I'll show you why he calls me Boss. Tajū Kage Bunshin no Jutsu." Naruto2 created as many clones as he could make and still have enough energy for all of them to henge, and the hidden clones did the same. The entire clearing filled with Narutos.
Ebisu sniffed arrogantly and pushed his glasses up his nose, "Ah, yes, the technique you used against that traitor Mizuki. I warn you," Ebisu sunk into a taijutsu stance, "I am far above his pathetic class of ninja."
All the Naruto grinned and called out as one, "Oiroke no Jutsu!" They changed, as one, into a multitude of beautiful women, each slightly different from the others, though most were very similar. They surged forward as one mass, cuddling against Ebisu and calling out his name in seductive tones.
One Naruto remained near Konohamaru, in his own form. That one leaned over and said, "You see what I mean?" as Ebisu passed out. He continued, "You have to commit your all to your techniques, and learn to combine every technique you learn into new and useful forms. I might have been able to take him, if it came down to a straight-up fight, but because I push every technique I learn to its limits, I was able to put him down without injuring him."
Naruto knelt by Konohamaru and looked him in the eye, seriously, as his transformed clones carried off Ebisu, plotting to dump him in the women's hot spring for a laugh. "He spoke about shortcuts to the position of Hokage, but there aren't any. Your jiji put forth the effort to become the greatest ninja in the village, and I'm putting forth my best effort to take the title for myself. If you want it too, you'll have to do better than me, put everything you have into becoming a better ninja. Make yourself a better ninja every chance you get, and find teammates you can trust, then do your best to support them so they become the best ninjas they can be. That's the only path to becoming Hokage.
"There's a huge gap between where we two are now, and the title of Hokage, and there are no shortcuts. In fact, there's not even a way already established. We have to build our own bridges over the gap. If you really want the title, you need to put forth the effort. You need to build a strong foundation, and bridge the gap with your own effort. It's the only way."
Naruto stood and gently pushed on Konohamaru's shoulder. "Come on. It's late, and it's high time we get you home."
AN: So, it's pretty obvious that the henge Naruto uses in the official release is a solid transformation, just from the fact that Sasuke is able to throw shuriken!Naruto. I've not decided if that's the case across all ninja or if it's an Uzumaki Improvement(tm). Just adressing that right up front, since it seems to be a big deal in this fandom.