Project Naruto: Shinobi X.

Disclaimer: I do not own the Naruto world or characters. Those are the property of Masashi Kishimoto. The challenge I answer here is from devilzxknight86, with all due credit for the basic concept. Don't suffer from insanity; enjoy every second of it.

Author's Note: In response to the first real Flame I have ever received (I feel like I've hit the big time), I wish to reiterate certain things from my profile. Having received one, I ask why this person felt the need to flame/review if all he was going to do was berate me for my choice of pairing? As I have mentioned on my profile, "The purpose of fanfiction seems to me to lie in the 'what if?', and that's where we come in. Everyone has different tastes and ideas of what's right when it comes to what they read, and none of them are wrong. If it helps, just consider it a totally different story whose characters happen to have the same names."

Third Seal: Graduate

The Shinobi Academy of Konohagakure no Sato was considered to be second only to that of Kumogakure no Sato for the quality of its education, although by the rumours and intelligence Jiraiya had gathered from his new network, it was declining thanks to the civilians on the council interfering with the curriculum. As he glared at the information he'd laid out on the Hokage's desk, the older man having finally been alone for once, he pointed out the discrepancies.

"Shinobi history in Konoha is being edited, and quite openly, too. Did you know that none of our young cadets knew about Uzushio, let alone why the entire shinobi force above chunin wears its symbols?" He spoke in a low, forceful tone. Three years ago, a bitter Hyuuga Hiashi had seen his daughter in the jacket that Naruto had given her, a jacket too large for her at the time, that she had refused to give up. Konoha now had two ninja candidates wearing orange... and surprisingly, they made better marks in the stealth training courses than anyone else. "If that's not bad enough, graduating genin-candidates are only tested on three ninjutsu, and by coincidence," Jiraiya's tone did not agree with his words, being heavily laden with sarcasm, "those are the three that take the least chakra to use, even if they do require a certain amount of control."

Hiruzen shook his head as he listened to his spymaster. It got worse, he knew. He'd read Jiraiya's report, and knew the relevant information, so this meeting was more of a strategy session than anything else. As things stood, Naruto, with his huge reserves and terrible control, was going to fail. That a higher number of other students were also likely to, than at any point in the past decade, pointed to a conspiracy. The written tests were horrible, but when Naruto had proven able to spot a genjutsu seal on the test papers themselves that he was given, that course of sabotage had been abandoned. If it had not been for his lack of fine control, Jiraiya was certain the young jinchuuriki would have made shinobi already... if that was his desire.

Naruto sat on a log beside a public park, watching the children play under the watchful eyes of their parents and minders. He was no fool, and knew they would chase him away if they could. He'd been so close to success last time he'd tried, but it was no good. No matter how hard he tried, he just didn't have the fine control he needed to use the bunshin no jutsu. His taijutsu was up to par with the others, even if he hadn't revealed his real edge, keeping his claws concealed. To the surprise of many, he'd become adept with the tonfa, wielded in each hand, as they seemed to blend with his taijutsu quite well, although he'd never explain why he'd chosen them. In truth, he hadn't, but Shizune had noted on one of her trips to Konoha (Tsunade still refused to set foot in the village, even to visit Naruto) that they might be good training for when he did use his claws.

It was also on one of these trips that the young medic-nin had discovered that Naruto did indeed have two kekkei genkai... his own, from the Uzumaki lineage, and the second, which had most likely come about as a result of the experiments Orochimaru had performed. It was hard to explain, but she felt he would be able to channel his chakra into the manipulation of his very bones... they were well-nigh indestructible after all, and the ability to manipulate them could come in handy. So far, no luck, although they did channel chakra easily. He'd been told to ask whoever his genin squad's jonin sensei was to explain elemental natures and chakra, as the big-sister figure that Shizune had become was eager to see what he'd be able to do in that area.

He'd been somewhat surprised by several of his reactions to others when he'd gotten to the Academy. He wasn't surprised that Sasuke had wanted to fight him a lot when they got there, and under the eye of Mizuki-sensei, the two had found themselves squared off in the sparring ring. The basic Academy style was modelled on the Uchiha style, enough so that it was hard to tell the difference at times, and the Uchiha boy had been heavily tutored until that horrible night when Itachi destroyed their clan, not long after Sasuke entered the Academy... not long after the boys' first match, in fact.

When Mizuki-sensei had restricted them to Academy style only, Naruto had groaned inwardly. It was all wrong for his body type, he needed a fast, sweeping style, and although the Academy style's straight-line motions made it a good first style to learn, Sasuke had years on Naruto in the use of it. So Naruto had waited, and left the other boy an opening in his guard... which Sasuke had promptly 'taken advantage' of. Despite the children not having forehead protectors, the forehead is quite hard, and as the Uchiha boy's fist drove past Naruto's 'defence', he dropped his head a fraction and took the blow on the hardest part of the skull for anyone. With his bonemetal, it was even harder on Naruto...

The sickening crunch as Sasuke's hand broke was clearly audible, and the Academy style kick that laid the pain-distracted boy out was textbook perfect, despite Narouto's lack of experience. If it hadn't been for his broken hand, the blond's opponent would have been easily able to block the knee to his gut, but as it was, he went down. As the medic-nin rushed over, Naruto added insult to injury as far as the Uchiha heir was concerned, as he crouched down beside the other boy and helped set the bones in his hand.

Naruto smiled as he recalled that day. He looked over towards the Academy yard, where Sasuke brooded against the wall, despite being tagged as rookie of the year. He did keep demanding fights from Naruto, which the blue-eyed boy accepted or blew off as he felt necessary. The Uchiha was obssessed with getting stronger, and putting the 'worthless trash' in his place. Naruto liked the place he was, thank you very much, and wasn't giving it up. He glanced over at the other boys, gathered in a group. Sometimes he'd even go along with them, but their parents were present today, as were those of everyone else, and Naruto didn't want to create friction.

His gaze trailed across to the girls, where Sakura and Ino were fighting again. Before he'd been abducted (here he shuddered; a nightmare had hit him hard the night before, and he'd woken up, claws out, screaming "NOT HER! NEVER HER!", although he couldn't remember any of the dream except that), Naruto had been drifting towards the pink-haired girl, but the moment he'd set foot in the classroom had put paid to anything like that, as the banshee screech the girl had apparently perfected against Ino had caused his highly sensitive ears some major pain... So rather than sit anywhere near the cause of such pain, he instead took a different seat, one next to the girl he'd given his jacket to... she was actually wearing it then too.

His eyes sharpened as he corrected an earlier thought. Not everyone had their parents present. Hinata's father wasn't there, or she would be over there with the other girls, but the distinct absence of the orange jacket she'd grown into (a little snug in some places, now, but she refused to part with it) pointed to her being...

He sniffed the air, catching her scent. His ears twitched, although he wished they wouldn't, as it was a dead give-away that he was focusing on his hearing, and he pinpointed where she was. There, behind that tree, about ten feet behind him and to the left. He wondered why she did that, and vaguely recalled the 'discussion' Tsunade had had with him on his last trip to see her... something about girls noticing boys before the boys notice them, although he didn't fully understand it. Still, the Academy years had been good, and he'd made a few friends, to an extent, and learned a lot. Tomorrow was the last day before genin exams, an event he dreaded.

Hinata, for her part, was a clever young girl. She'd managed to fight off fainting in Naruto's presence when he'd sat beside her that first day in class by remembering that she was already wearing his jacket, even if she was certain he didn't fully understand what he'd done by giving her those symbols. In Konoha, it was becoming widely assumed that the symbols simply meant you were a chunin or higher shinobi, but as part of the Hyuuga, she had learned of their origins, and further, she knew what the laws surrounding clan symbols were, especially those ones. The chunin and jonin were permitted to wear the symbols as a sign of honour and respect, but the only others who could wear them were members of those clans. Much like the Uchiha fan becoming the emblem of the village's police force, the spirals symbolised an alliance that went back to the founding of Konoha itself.

The fact that he'd given her the jacket, if he'd been aware of the full connotations, would have been a major cause for celebration, to her at least, and her family had been reassessing their position on her since she started wearing it, but she'd come to a painful decision. Before they were assigned to genin teams, she'd have to explain the symbols... and return the jacket when he found out that handing over clan symbols like that could mean he was proposing to her...

The next afternoon saw Naruto seated on the swing, listening to the triumph and spite in the hate-filled voices of most of the parents as they nearly basked in the failure of the 'demon'. He didn't miss the smirk on Hyuuga Hiashi's face either, as he approached Hinata and spoke softly. The girl looked about to cry, which for some reason made the blond angrier than any number of direct and slanted insults could... he pushed that aside to think about later. The shadow that fell across him as he sat there belonged to the last person he'd ever have suspected... Mizuki-sensei. Hearing that there was an alternate exam to graduate struck some suspicions, but Naruto was desperate to pass.

"I'll do it, sensei," he said, solidifying it into a promise. "There's nothing that'll stop me, believe it!"

Despite second thoughts, and third and fourth thoughts as well, Naruto slipped up to the Hokage Tower. The locks were quite sturdy, and the doors were solid, but this didn't slow him down by much. To all outward appearances, the door was still locked, but swift work with one of his claws through the keyhole had totally ruined the lock as a means of keeping someone out. As he stealthily moved through the halls, Naruto was thinking hard. If this was a test, then why the Forbidden Scroll in Hokage Tower? Surely there were better things to 'steal' for such a test. And although he wasn't the 'dead last' by any means (that honour had fallen to Inuzuka Kiba, who seemed to feel he could coast by on the efforts of his partner Akamaru and the natural talents of the Inuzuka), Naruto was not the fastest to learn about new jutsu, so setting that part of the test was obviously meant to pin him down in one place... out in the forest beyond the walls? Yeah, right. The more the blue-eyed jinchuuriki thought about it, the worse he suspected that something was up. His earliest teachers, Shizune, Tsunade and Jiraiya, had never mentioned this test, nor had Iruka-sensei, who despite his firm, no-nonsense attitude, seemed to genuinely like Naruto (although not the ramen bill the boy had run up the one time he'd made the mistake of saying 'all you can eat'... most people only said that to Naruto once). So why?

As Naruto disabled the security seals surrounding the scroll, he made a decision. He'd sit here and read, learning what he could, until the Hokage showed up, and explain it to him. Maybe then he could figure out something to do.

Outside the tower, the Hokage was talking with his son Asuma over tea when the bandana wearing chunin sensei ran up to him. Touji Mizuki, he thought it was, but the man's words paralysed the village leader.

"Hokage-sama, it's Naruto," he gasped out, and Mizuki was a good actor. Orochimaru's spy had contacted him about getting hold of the scroll, and felt that the demon brat would be a bonus. So that was his motivation. "He's stolen the Forbidden Scroll of Seals!"

The chaos that ensued was immense, and as Hiruzen gave orders, he was already in motion, heading for his office. Giving the final instruction that Naruto was to captured alive and unharmed, instructions he'd felt bore repeating, he stepped into his office and closed the door.

"It took you long enough to get here, Jiji-sama," said Naruto, startling Hiruzen for a few more years off his lifespan, the old man was sure. "I got bored, so I figured I'd do a little reading while I waited."

As the Sandaime Hokage turned, he was greeted by the sight of Naruto sitting in his chair, behind his desk, with the Forbidden Scroll of Seals, the village's repository of kinjutsu, open before him. As Hiruzen's eyes widened, he noticed something else, something that only long experience had enabled him to spot.

"You're not the real Naruto, are you?" he asked, although it was more a statement to confirm what he already knew.

"Nahh," the Naruto look-alike behind the desk agreed. "My original felt he could learn a technique better here in your office than shivering in a shack out in the forest, but he didn't have time to learn more than one jutsu before Mizuki-sensei was supposed to meet with him. So he put the scroll on his back, used the kage bunshin no jutsu, swapped the scrolls and left for the meeting, with me guarding the real scroll, not that anyone bothered checking on it, and I got bored waiting so I started reading. Although I had to look up about chakra nature and affinities, and I still don't understand it properly. Oh, and I was supposed to bring you up to date on why this is happening from my... well, my original's, end of the matter."

Iruka reached the shack to find Naruto sitting there, the scroll on his back watching the forest. Seconds before the chunin had gotten there, the shadow clone in the Hokage's office had dispersed itself, returning all the knowledge it had gathered to him, including the Hokage's approval for his little trap, but he could smell Mizuki approaching and hear the man moving through the shrubbery, and didn't have time to explain... He quickly gestured to his sensei for silence, and waved for him to hide himself, his eyes pleading silently for the chunin's trust.

Umino Iruka liked the blond boy, and thought he had huge potential as a shinobi, kage-level potential, in fact. While all his fellow teachers scoffed at the thought of the boy reaching that level, Iruka believed he could really do it, and wanted to help. When the word had gone out on the theft, he had immediately started out after the boy, hoping to convince him not to follow this path, and now he'd found him... only to find that something was definitely out of place. Trusting the boy, he hid himself in a nearby tree as his fellow teacher arrived, and he remembered that Mizuki was supposed to have been the one to have discovered the theft... but how? Mizuki wasn't supposed to have access to the Hokage's office if he wasn't sent for... Iruka paid close attention to the goings on below.

"There you are Naruto," Mizuki said as he stepped from the shadows of the trees. "How did you go? Learn any of them?"

"You got here too quick, Mizuki-sensei," the twelve-year old replied. "I haven't even opened this scroll since I got here. Do you think you can give me a few tips?"

The traitor smirked. Apparently, the brat had had a harder time getting the scroll in the first place, and on top of that, hadn't figured out any of the jutsu, or set off any traps on the scroll itself. A pity, but surely his benefactor could get past them. "I'm sorry, Naruto, but that was your last chance," he sneered. "After all, you have two options, hand over the scroll and come with me, or be executed for betraying the village... as you should have been twelve years ago!"

Above them, Iruka almost sprang out of the tree, but hesitated at the look on Naruto's face. It was the very picture of confusion... but it was only a picture, it didn't go any deeper than the surface! The chunin tensed, ready to act, but continued to wait.

"I don't understand," the boy said. "Why should I have been killed back then?" As Mizuki drew breath to answer, and as Iruka prepared to attack to stop him, Naruto looked Mizuki square in the eye and spoke before he could. "Don't you realise that would release the Kyuubi from its prison?"

Stunned, both chunin, the loyal and the renegade alike, froze, even as Naruto lifted the scroll from his back with one hand and slammed it, on end, into the ground beside him, striking a formidable looking pose for one so young, determination writ large in every inch of him. "I know about the fox sealed inside me, sensei," he stated, and Iruka knew these words were aimed, not at Mizuki, as the renegade may have assumed, but at him. "I am not the Kyuubi, but its prison, its lock and its key. I stand with the will of fire, and I refuse to quit. I will never give up, I will never stop trying and I will be HOKAGE! I am Uzumaki Naruto, and no-one can stop me. Believe it!"

It had begun as a verbal cry for attention, he supposed. At the tender age of three, he'd started telling others to 'believe it', partly to get them to believe in him, and partly to get himself to believe, to make it so that's how it would be. Now, it was a firm and solid commitment, an oath to complete what he set his word to. It was fierce, it was proud, and it was unshakeable. Intimidated by a twelve-year-old boy, Mizuki lost his temper.

"And who's going to stop me, brat?" he roared, hauling one of his out-sized shuriken from his back and hurling it at the boy. "A dead child, a brat who shouldn't even exist? GIVE UP AND DIE!"

Iruka was too far away, and even by pushing his chakra through his legs for extra speed, couldn't stop the shuriken, or even intercept it. It didn't stop him trying, though, and so he got a point-blank, front-row-centre view of Naruto blocking the shuriken's path with the Forbidden Scroll of Seals... which then puffed out of existence like a shadow clone, leaving Naruto holding the shuriken upright like a shield, and glaring at Mizuki through the hole in the middle.

"Your first mistake," he told the slack-jawed renegade, "was forgetting that I've been trained, a little, by two of the Sannin. If there was another way to pass the genin exam, they'd have known. Your second mistake was in thinking I wouldn't ask Hokage-sama about it when he showed up in his office, despite your instructions. The whole test would have to have him know about it, as you described it, or it couldn't be real." Naruto tossed the shuriken aside and brought his hands together into a special hand-sign, the fingers of one across the other. "Your third mistake was betraying the village at all, it makes me furious that you thought I would go along with it." Channelling his chakra he called out. "Taju Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" and the clearing and trees were filled with what seemed to be hundreds of Naruto clones. "And your last mistake was in thinking I didn't learn anything from the scroll, when all I said was I hadn't opened it since I got here."

As the many clones cracked their knuckles and advanced on him, a very pale, sweat-covered Mizuki began to scream, and the screams rang out across the forest for quite some time.

It was a much more subdued (as well as bruised and beaten) Mizuki who was only too happy to go peacefully with the ANBU who arrived to arrest him, and although he would survive Ibiki-sama's interrogation (even if his legs never quite healed properly... oops), he would be stricken with panic at the sight of anything orange for the rest of his life. As Hiruzen arrived to speak with Naruto and Iruka about the events of that night, the blue-eyed jinchuuriki rubbed at his neck as the gibbering traitor was taken away. "I think I went a little overboard," he remarked, as the ANBU commented on Mizuki's injuries.

"What did you beat him with,kid?" One of them, in a monkey-style mask queried. In response, Naruto held up his hands, and then pointed at his forehead. "Damn. Next time use something like a club, kid, he's got all sorts of broken bones all over."

The boy waved it off. "I made sure not to hit anywhere vital," he said, and turned to the Hokage, who had finished taking Iruka's report.

The old man looked at the boy, and saw his parents. They were there, in his face, his stance, his very attitude that screamed at the world: "Here I stand. Come get some." He reached into his sleeve, and smiled as he withdrew the hitai-ate therein.

"Uzumaki Naruto," he said, deliberately, with the ranking ANBU and Iruka as witnesses. "Konohagakure no Sato thanks you for your service in unmasking the traitor Touji Mizuki. As this mission required you to fail your genin exam, and with the evidence before us that you are capable of such jutsu as are required, I hereby raise you to the rank of Genin on my authority as Hokage. Congratulations, Naruto." He paused and then continued once Naruto had calmed down a bit. "This task will be credited to you as a low-end B-rank mission, but is to be held under strictest confidence from any except your jonin sensei and team-mates. You may say you were under special orders, but not what the mission was until released to do so. Do you understand?"

Naruto was suddenly all business, rather than his usual self. He would probably always have problems stemming from his time as Orochimaru's captive, and as now, they would crop up as cases of extreme seriousness, beyond what anyone his age should have to endure. "Hai, Hokage-sama. I understand."

The dawn was breaking through the windows of his office as the prospective jonin-sensei entered with the forms to assemble their requested teams. As he looked them over he placed his hands together in front of his face steepling his fingers as he gave the 'official' version of the previous night's events to the jonin assembled before him. In the silence that followed, the Hokage then went on.

"This means that there shall be ten teams from this year's crop of genin, and one of them will have Uzumaki Naruto. Any questions or comments?"

Hatake Kakashi cleared his throat. "Despite my history, I would like to avoid having him on my team unless absolutely necessary," he said. "I hold no grievance or grudge against the boy, he's as gutsy as they come, if a bit of a knucklehead. However, I am certain that the village council will insist that I train the Uchiha heir, and from what I've read, they get on like a house on fire."

Yuhi Kurenai paused as she ran that thought through her mind. "Wait," she said. "Isn't that a good thing?"

Kakashi stared at her with that one eye of his 'smiling'. "Have you ever been in a house that's on fire, Kurenai-san? Flames, destruction, panic... I don't want to have to paint you a picture." He chuckled. "I don't have enough red..."

The discussions were easy enough, and quickly dealt with. In some cases they were easy enough to deal with, as the teams balanced out nicely but when it came down to it, Kurenai was... less than satisfied.

"Lord Hokage, not to question you, but why is my request for a tracking team being turned down?" She was looking at the names on her list with a pensive frown.

Hiruzen glanced again at his notes. "It isn't," he replied. It seemed a straightforward thing to him. Team balance and personal quirks, as well as certain traditions were taken into account, and he'd assigned the teams as impartially as possible.

"Then why is Inuzuka Kiba on Team Seven, instead of Team Eight? His sense of smell is a key factor, as is his canine partner," she said. "I also don't believe any good will come of having Hyuuga Hinata on the same team as Uzumaki, either. She has a crush on him, and can barely remain conscious in his presence."

The Hokage again looked over his notes. "Reports from the Academy place her as improving in that regard. The constant exposure to her friend seems to be improving her self-confidence by leaps and bounds. Are you saying that's a bad thing?"

Again, Kurenai gathered her wits and argued. "When Uzumaki failed the Academy test..." she began.

"At my orders," the Hokage reminded her, lying through his teeth.

"Hai, Hokage-sama," she responded automatically, but struggled on with her argument. "That automatically made him the 'Dead-last' of this year's group, so he should be paired with the Rookie of the Year, for balance. Inuzuka Kiba should be on my tracking team, as his tracking abilities are superior to Uzumaki's."

Hiruzen filled his pipe and lit it, savouring a couple of puffs of smoke as he pondered how to answer. He wondered why Kurenai was so set against the boy being in her team, and recalled her protectiveness toward the Hyuuga girl. Was it as simple as that? From the observations and reports he'd received, the Inuzuka boy was interested in the Hyuuga heiress, who didn't reciprocate his feelings, so her virtue was safe there, but if her interest in Naruto was returned, and with the closeness of their friendship as it was, being on the same team may well be the push that started such a romance... He grinned as he got an idea, one that even Naruto, incorrigible prankster that he was, would have loved.

"Give him a test, then." He watched as Kurenai gaped at him. "Give Naruto a task that you know Kiba can manage, or make it a contest between the two of them, with no outside assistance, not even young Kiba's partner. If Naruto performs well enough in your honest opinion, no deceiving yourself, please, it's bad enough when others do it, he stays on your team. If he loses to Kiba, he can transfer to Team Seven with my blessing. What do you say, Kakashi?"

The Copycat Ninja, Sharingan Kakashi, put away his copy of Icha Icha Paradise. "Can I put twenty ryo on Naruto?"