Categories > Anime/Manga > Naruto > Failing Twilight

Chapter 4: The Academy

by Shadow_Rebirth 1 Reviews

Category: Naruto - Rating: R - Genres:  - Characters:  - Published: 2008/10/28 - Updated: 2008/10/29 - 8310 words

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Title: Failing Twilight: The Academy
Author: Shadow Rebirth
Beta Reader: Rukia23
Rating: M
Warnings: Death, blood and gore, coarse language, adult themes, spoilers
Chapter WC: 8,104
Story WC: 20,137
First Written: June 10, 2008
Last Edited: October 4, 2008
Posted: October 4, 2008
Summary: A young child hides in the dark, surrounded by bloody seals and a smile on his face. Some might say that such behavior isn't normal. But no one's ever accused Uzumaki Naruto of being normal. AU story. No pairings.

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Failing Twilight

Chapter 4
The Academy

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Naruto's first day of school was a bit of a let down in his opinion. He'd been so excited to enter the Academy, to be a shinobi, but nothing turned out the way he'd expected it to.

The first morning he raced to the Shinobi Academy with a smile on his face. He was wearing new clothes that he'd bought--namely a pair of dark green cargo pants that reached just past his knees, a black t-shirt, and a pair of shinobi sandals. With him he carried several sets of kunai and shuriken and the required textbook.

When the blonde reached the building he found many parents and their children milling around. He slowed down to a trot but didn't allow his excitement to diminish. They may not be with him, but Kenmaru, Haru, Tasuki, and everyone else at the Black Wolf Tavern had already wished him luck the night before.

Naruto easily weaved his way through the crowd and to the front doors. Ibiki had told him that he needed to go to Room 108, so he made his way there. Along the way he eyed the other children that he came across; they would be his classmates for the next five or so years.

The first disappoint that Naruto encountered was at the beginning of class when their teacher announced that they wouldn’t be doing anything practical until the next year; the first Academy year would be spent learning the basics that all civilians learned, including reading, writing, math, etc. Naruto was impatient to get to the actual shinobi stuff, but there was nothing that he could do about it.

Following that the rest of the day continued to go down hill. Not only was everything that they talked about boring and stuff that he already knew, but when he attempted to read the textbook to learn something new, the teacher--who'd been ignoring him up until that point--immediately caught him and then spent the next ten minutes lecturing him about paying attention while the rest of the class snickered.

Because of these events the children in his class ignored him when they were let outside for lunch, out of fear of earning the teacher's ire as well. Even those who might have become friends with the blonde then stayed away from him. Naruto spent a little while speaking with a couple of older students while eating a lunch of packaged ramen--the cheapest thing he could buy--but found that, just as he feared, he couldn't quite connect with them. He'd spent so much time around adults that he was no longer sure how to deal with kids his own age.

Despite the great flop that was his first day of school, Naruto returned the next morning with the same excited and determined attitude. He'd spent so much effort trying to get into the Academy that he wasn't going to quit now. He would become a shinobi even if it killed him.

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The next few months were...interesting...for Naruto, to say the least. Though he tried to follow along with the lessons, boredom paired with the innate dislike that his teachers seemed to have for him generally hindered this. Eventually Naruto found himself studying outside of class more often than not. This led to him occasionally falling asleep in class when he'd spent the previous night up late--usually either reading from his textbook or experimenting with seals.

Strangely enough, Naruto's teachers didn't seem to mind him sleeping in class. If anything they were glad for it because it meant that they didn't have to deal with the blonde haired child. Because of this discovery Naruto's life quickly fell into a rhythm of doing his work outside of school and then catching up on sleep in school. It was very beneficial for him.

The only problem with this was that Naruto's grades suffered. Sure, he tended to ace all the tests they took, but his sleeping in class coupled with the occasional times he skipped school all together caused his participation grades to be almost nonexistent.

Naturally, this led to Naruto's grades hanging in the middle range--he wasn't failing but neither was he excelling. Honestly, Naruto couldn’t bring himself to care. After all, it was what he learned that mattered, not what they said about him on paper.

As fall passed and winter set in, life settled down and Naruto found himself enjoying it.

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With a yawn Naruto stretched his hands above his head. Considering the late hour the seven year old had a very good reason to be yawning.

Naruto was sitting on the smooth floor of his workroom, papers spread out around him. The boy was shirtless despite the fact that it was currently the dead of winter, mainly because he'd recently been exercising and had worked up quite a sweat. The basements held heat in surprisingly well though--better than his old apartment had, anyway.

Naruto let out another yawn and then peered blearily down at the small piece of paper in his hand; a Henge seal, to be precise. Naruto had been spending his evening trying to get the Henge to work with handseals. Of course, he'd been unsuccessful.

Naruto was not comforted by this in the slightest. While it was true that he could just use drawn seals for the jutsu, he wanted--no, needed--/to be able to perform them with handseals. The blonde knew from personal experience that fights were very unpredictable and one couldn't simply take the time to draw up a seal in the middle of battle--especially not when the slightest mistake could cause it to blow up in your face. Naruto had already had /that experience more than enough already, thank you very much. It was for this very reason that handseals had been invented; they were so much more practical.

Naruto set the Henge seal down on the floor, next to several others. Ibiki had mentioned to him once--Naruto still bugged the Chuunin almost weekly, half for homework help, half because it was just so much fun--/that chakra control was vital when it came to performing jutsu. As knowledge about seals as the boy was, he understood this. The only problem was actually learning how to control his chakra. It really was too bad that they wouldn't be even /talking about chakra for another year in the Academy. If only there was another way for him to learn...

Naruto pushed those thoughts to the back of his head and began to go through the handseals for the Henge jutsu, forming them with surprising speed for a seven year old. The only thing that he could do now was practice the jutsu in hope of making a breakthrough, so practice he would.

Just as Naruto began to channel chakra, the blonde came to an abrupt halt. His hands held up in mid-seal, he stared at the smooth expanse of his abdomen. He could have sworn that he'd seen something there, if only for a moment. But surely he'd just imagined it...

The young boy focused back on his hands and restarted the handseal for the Henge jutsu, only to quickly halt again. There! He'd definitely seen something this time, if only from the corner of his eye. Hesitantly the blonde poked his stomach and then let out a somewhat relieved breath of air when nothing happened.

Naruto took several moments to glare down at his stomach. Dammit! He knew he'd seen something there! How could it just disappear and then reappear like that?

Realization struck Naruto like a bolt of lightning. Both times he'd been performing handseals, so maybe...Without looking up Naruto began to run through the handseal once more. Instantaneously a black shape flared into existence on his skin.

Even though he'd been half expecting it, Naruto let out a yelp of surprise and inadvertently cut off the flow of chakra. As he did so the...tattoo--for Naruto didn't really know what else to call it--disappeared.

For several long moments Naruto sat perfectly still, his heart beating wildly in his chest. What in Kami's name had that been?! He was tempted to ignore the strange occurrence and get back to his studying in hopes that it'd go away, but of course it wasn't long before his natural curiosity overrode this. Besides, it'd been on his body, so surely it couldn't be dangerous.

With building confidence, Naruto once again began to channel his chakra--and this time held it. Before Naruto's wide eyes the tattoo sprang up.

Curious, Naruto eyed the strange shape closely. And promptly let out gasp. That was no tattoo. It was a seal! An insanely complex seal unlike anything he'd ever seen before. But...Why was there a seal on his abdomen? And why--scratch that, /how--/did it only show up when he channeled chakra?

Naruto let out a sigh as he released his chakra and let his hands drop into his lap. Great. As if his life hadn't been hectic enough already without adding strange seals into the mix.

Following his discovery Naruto began to put a lot of energy into figuring out what the seal on his stomach was. He started out by carefully copying the seal onto paper and then began the lengthy process of taking the seal apart piece by piece to figure out what it did. Considering the complexity of the seal, that was going to take quite a while.

Before long however, Naruto ran into a major roadblock: As much as he knew about seals, all of that knowledge came from a single scroll and his experiments. And that wasn't anywhere near enough to unravel this seal.

So imagine Naruto's joy when he learned one day in the Academy that Konoha had a library where all sorts of information was stored. Including information on seals.

The second school let out--well, an hour before it did, to be honest, but that didn't matter to Naruto--the blonde rushed over to the library. And was promptly denied access. As it turned out, the library was for shinobi only, which meant that you had to have a shinobi ID card to get in. Of course there was a public library, but Naruto knew beyond the shadow of a doubt the kind of information that he was looking for wouldn't be there.

Faced with this problem, Naruto decided to try to find another way into the library. Naturally. Tasuki had told him once, almost a year ago now, that one often just had to look at a problem from another point of view. Naruto intended to do just that.

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Step by step Naruto slowly inched his way along a smooth wall. When he came to the corner of the building he peeked his head around it and quickly glanced over the alley there. Only once he was sure that no one was there did he slip quietly into the alley.

Naruto continued to move flush against the wall while inside the alley. He was behind the library now, so all he needed to do was find an entrance and--

Before his thoughts could go any further Naruto's foot suddenly brushed against glass. Glancing down in surprise, the boy found that there was a small window where the building met the ground, the type meant to give ventilation to basements. He crouched down and, with only a small push, managed to open the window. Naruto rolled his eyes; it figured that shinobi would focus so much attention on rooftops, where they frequented, and that they would ignore the ground.

Though it took a bit of wriggling around, Naruto was a small enough boy that he was able to fit through the thin window. Once through, the he dropped to the floor in heap. He lay there for a moment before pushing himself to his feet with a grumble. At least no one had been there to hear him. He really needed to work on his landing...

Due to the small amount of light shining through the small window and two others like it, Naruto was able to look around the room. It was a basement, but a rather large one filled with countless bookshelves. Due to the lack of dust he figured that this was just the lower level of the library.

Moving swiftly in case anyone had heard his entry, Naruto began to scan the bookshelves. It took almost a half an hour of fruitless searching--though, granted, he had found a couple of books and scrolls that he was interested in reading--before the blonde struck gold: Tucked away in one of the corners was a section on sealing. While there weren't any advanced texts there, it was still more than he could have hoped for.

A large grin on his face, Naruto settled down on the floor to read.

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When Naruto yawned for the fourth time in just as many minutes he decided that it was time to head home. He'd had a very productive night after all and he'd be able to come back every night that he wanted to now that he'd found a way in.

Naruto clambered to his feet and stretched his arms in the air as another yawn cracked his jaw. Yep, definitely time to go home. He swiftly replaced the texts he'd been using and then headed back over to the window. With only a little bit of difficulty--and liberal use of the nearby bookshelf as a ladder, he managed to get back outside.

The young boy moved quietly through the alley as he had while searching for an entrance. He got to the corner of the building and started to peer around--

--Only to freeze in shock as a black-clad shinobi with spiky obsidian hair landed in a crouch before him. The man looked over his should as if expecting to be followed and barely even glanced at Naruto before moving to jump away again. Except that he didn’t.

Instead that dark man did a double take and began to stare at the blonde child. After only a minute he suddenly began to chuckle. Naruto gulped; the laughter was not a pleasant sound.

"Well, well, what's this?" the man asked somewhat smugly. As he spoke he crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the wall in a position that was relaxed but also seemed to scream "Danger!" to Naruto. The blonde desperately wanted to run away but it felt as though his feet had been glued to the ground.

What terrified Naruto the most about the shinobi was his eyes. They were blood red with a strange geometrical shape inside them. Pure malice radiated from those eyes and Naruto felt as though it'd be better to die standing where he was rather than have to continue to stare into those bottomless pits of hell.

Fortunately Naruto's train of thought was broken by another bout of laughter from the terrifying man. "Uzumaki Naruto," the dark haired shinobi mused and Naruto gulped again. How the hell did he know his name?! "It'd be a shame to have to kill you," he continued. "Though I suppose that will come in due time."

Naruto's confusion increased exponentially and he felt a small amount of anger beginning to well up within him. What the hell was he talking about? How could he mention killing him so casually?!

The man seemed to pick up on Naruto's confusion and a dark smirk curled at the corners of his lips. "I suppose you wouldn't know, mm?" he murmured. "Well then allow me to explain. You see, I am Uchiha Madara, formally of the Uchiha clan." The man, Madara, paused here as if that was some private joke. "I am the leader of a very special organization called Akatsuki. I am the most powerful shinobi in the world and my power shall only be increased once we manage to gather all the Biju in this world!"

"Why should I care? What does that matter to me?" Naruto managed to spit out. In hindsight it was fairly stupid to antagonize a man as clearly unbalanced as Madara was, but at the time he'd been fueled by fear and anger.

"Why, Naruto-chan, you should care very much," Madara respond with a dark smile. "After all, it concerns you. You, are the container for the Kyuubi no Kitsune."

Naruto's eyes widened in shock. "W-what?! What are you--?!"

Madara released a laugh that sounded more than a bit insane. "Why Naruto-chan, haven't you noticed?" the man began while taking a step forward. Naruto attempted to take a step back but in his terror and confusion tripped over his feet and fell back onto the cold ground. "You're not entirely human. You see, the Yondaime couldn't kill the Kyuubi--Biju are immortal, after all. So instead he had to seal it inside of something. And that something was you."

"You, you-- you're lying!" Naruto stammered desperately. He didn't want to believe a word Madara was saying but inside of him memories of cold stares from the villagers, of his strange healing ability, and of the strange seal came to his mind unbidden. '/Oh Kami,'/ the young boy shuddered as bile rose in his throat. '/Oh/ Kami, no!'

"You know the truth," Madara pushed on, despite the child's reaction. He took two more steps forward but Naruto once again found himself frozen in place as he stared up at the shinobi before him. "And it's a good thing that you do know. As I said my organization will be collecting all the Biju. But unfortunately this has turned out to be quite a bit easier and duller than I'd expected. No one's been able to put up a good enough fight...

"So, Naruto-chan, we won't be coming for you quite yet. Don't doubt for a second that we will come, just not yet." Madara crouched down in front of Naruto and smirked at the terrified boy, his crimson eyes whirling. "But now that you know what you are and what will happen, I expect you to grow strong. Grow into your potential as a Jinchuuriki, Naruto-chan. Then when we do come for you maybe you'll put up enough of a fight to actually be interesting!"

The Uchiha threw back his head and let out a harsh, bark-like laugh. Then the man disappeared without even a whisper of a sound, leaving a terrified child lying on the ground with his heart pounding in his ears.

The next day Uchiha Sasuke, one of Naruto's classmates, didn't come to school. Two days later Naruto would find out why.

The Uchiha clan had been massacred.

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The evening after Naruto's fateful encounter with Uchiha Madara found the young blonde sitting on a barstool in the Black Wolf Tavern. His face was uncharacteristically solemn and his eyes were glued to the wood of the counter before him.

Haru had left Naruto alone for the past few hours, hoping that the boy would be able to work out whatever was bothering him. Once it became clear that this was not going to be the case however, the middle-aged barkeeper had someone go fetch Tasuki. Hopefully he would be able to help Naruto.

When Tasuki arrived he made a beeline for Naruto. He said nothing however, even as he took a seat at the bar next to the blonde. Naruto glanced up once at the man before looking back down, still silent.

The two sat like this for several minutes until Naruto was startled by a sudden motion from Tasuki. He jumped and stared at the man, but quickly relaxed when it turned out that Tasuki was just pulling out a cigarette and lighting it. The scarred man took a long drag and then turned to stare at Naruto as he released the smoke.

"So," he said finally. "What's up?"

Naruto glanced back down at the bar counter, but found that he couldn't go back to his silence, not with Tasuki staring at him like he was. Finally, after several tense moments the blonde let out a sigh and turned around to fully face his older friend.

"Am I the container for the Kyuubi?" Naruto asked bluntly.

Whatever Tasuki had been expecting, it hadn't been that. The scarred man chocked slightly and then let out several harsh coughs while pounding on his chest. As he did so he quickly glanced around the room to make sure that no one had heard what the boy had said.

Meanwhile, Naruto let out a sigh. Tasuki's reaction had pretty much confirmed what Madara had told him. "So it's true," he muttered quietly, resigning himself to being a "Jinchuuriki", as Madara had called him. Of course he'd already come to this conclusion on his own--with the seal on his stomach, his whisker marks, and the "coincidence" of his birthday being on the day of the Kyuubi's attack, among other things, there wasn't much room for doubt--but it was nice to have it confirmed anyway.

Tasuki looked at the blonde hesitantly. His eyes searched Naruto's face for any signs of what had brought this up, but all he found there was resignation and grim determination. Tasuki echoed Naruto's sigh with one of his own. Oh boy, he hadn't thought that he'd have to have this conversation.

"Yeah," Tasuki said quietly. He leaned over the counter, his arms crossed on the wood before him, but met Naruto's gaze without flinching. "You are."

"Why...Why wasn't I ever told."

"There's a law...One that I'm probably breaking right now just by speaking to you about it," Tasuki replied with a snort. "But it's not like I've never broken the law before. Anyway, after the...sealing...the Sandaime made a law saying that no one could speak about what had happened on pain of death. It was written down in the history books that the Yondaime had killed the Kyuubi instead of sealing it away."

Naruto nodded absently as he mulled over this information in his mind. He couldn't help but wonder why the Sandaime had done this; wouldn't it be easier to just kill him and be done with it?

"This whole Jinchuuriki thing actually explains a lot," Naruto said quietly, almost to himself. Tasuki watched the blonde from the corner of his eye as he spoke but didn't interrupt. "As an orphan I lived the first four years of my life in an orphanage. I was treated fine and got along great with the other kids, but the adults always seemed...hesitant around me. They dealt with me as little as they could and tended to ignore me when possible. When I was four I was given an apartment to live in, which usually doesn't happen until orphans are quite a bit older. I was told that it was because there were so many orphans that they had too little room--which was true--but now I can see that it was because they wanted to get me out of there."

Tasuki reached over and ruffled Naruto's hair. "Yeah, well you're with us now, kid. And I'm sorry to say that once the red-light district sinks its teeth into ya, it never let's go."

Naruto let out a bright laugh and ducked away from Tasuki's hand. "I wouldn't have it any other way," he agreed, his spirits suitably lifted.

"Oi, Haru!" Tasuki called while motioning the barkeeper over. "How about some saké, eh? I think that Naruto-/kun/ is finally starting to grow up, and what better way to celebrate?"

Naruto continued to laugh even as a traditional wooden cup was shoved into his hands. And if there was a somewhat hysteric and relieved note in his voice, no one commented on it. Here, he was accepted.

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As winter turned into spring Naruto threw himself into his training with more enthusiasm than most humans had. Previously he'd been training and studying because he wanted to become an ANBU. Now, however, he had a motivation that far outstripped that: Survival.

Naruto knew without the shadow of a doubt that Uchiha Madara and this "Akatsuki" would come for him one day. And as weak as he currently was, he wouldn't survive another such encounter. So instead Naruto began to train past his breaking point in hopes that when the day came that he had to face those crimson eyes again, he'd be ready.

Despite his fear, Naruto told no one of his encounter with Madara. Half of this was because he wasn't even sure if anyone would believe him, but it was also because it was his problem to deal with. Naruto didn't want to get anyone else involved with the mad Uchiha.

Due to his suddenly insane training and study regimen Naruto found himself spending less and less time at the Academy. Instead he practically moved into the library and spent all of his time researching seals and, once the second year of the Academy started, jutsu.

Also with the start of fall came two major accomplishments that Naruto was quite proud of: One, he managed to perform the Henge jutsu with handseals. He was beyond pleased with this, considering the amount of time spent mastering the jutsu. Two was that he finally found out why it had been so difficult for him to perform jutsu with handseals.

As it turned out, Naruto had atrocious chakra control. It was normal for children to have very little control over their chakra, but Naruto's was far worse than normal. Now that he better understood how chakra worked, the boy realized that he had a massive amount of chakra. And with large amounts of energy came little control.

The problem was that Naruto didn't know how to fix this. So instead he turned to one thing that he did know how to do, and quite well at that. Namely, annoying Ibiki.

"/Please,"/ Naruto whined as he followed the older Chuunin through the streets of Konoha's shopping district. "Please Ibiki!"

"Dammit, Naruto! No! No, no, no!" Ibiki snarled in reply. He didn't even turn around to face his antagonist.

"But you have before, why not now?" the blonde asked. Though it wouldn't be clear to anyone passing by, he was attempting to get Ibiki to give him another jutsu scroll. The man had done so several times before, but he was refusing point blank now.

Ibiki made a sharp turn and stopped in front of a fruit stand. He glared heavily at Naruto, causing the boy to quail slightly and take a step back, before turning back to the stand and surveying the apples laid out there.

"The price is a little high. Where are these from?" the shinobi asked gruffly.

The vendor smiled widely. "Rain Country," the man replied. "They're the best in the elemental countries, which is why they're so much. You pay for quality after all."

Ibiki grumbled a little bit about overpriced fruit but finally let out a sigh a paid for a half a dozen apples. Once they were tucked away in a bag the Chuunin continued down the street with Naruto trailing along behind him.

"You shouldn't have bought them," Naruto said suddenly.

Ibiki threw another glare over his shoulder. "Why the hell not?"

"Because they weren't from Rain Country."

Now this caught Ibiki's attention. And his curiosity, if he was being honest with himself. Releasing an inaudible sigh the tall Chuunin turned to Naruto.

"And how precisely do you know this?" he questioned.

Naruto grinned broadly. "It's all in the eyes and the voice; that man's eyes flickered to the left before he spoke, meaning he was trying to think of something and his voice changed slightly as he spoke of the apples' origin. If ya pay attention to someone's face it can be easy to tell if they're lying, especially if they are someone as open as that man. Those apples are probably from somewhere around Fire Country but the vendor is trying to make more money by jacking up the price claiming that they're from Rain Country."

For several long moments Ibiki stared at the Academy student before him. "I'm going to give you a statement," he finally said. "And I want you to tell me whether I'm lying or not."

Naruto stared strangely at Ibiki but eventually just shrugged. "Sure. Whatever."

"I have an older brother who's a shinobi," Ibiki stated. His face was so blank that it could have been carved from stone, but that didn't stop Naruto from picking up a few hints anyway.

Naruto titled his head to the side and studied Ibiki for almost a minute. Finally, a smile broke across his face. "You do have a sibling and they are a shinobi," he said, much to Ibiki's surprise. "But...I don't think it's an older brother." He paused to stare at the Chuunin again. "It's a younger brother, isn't it?"

Ibiki blinked. And then blinked again. And then a third time. Suddenly he threw his head back and began to laugh, causing many people around them to jump in surprise and then hurry away while throwing nervous glances at the man.

"Damn, kid," Ibiki muttered once he'd calmed down. "I never expected that from you. How'd you know it was a younger brother?"

"I didn't," Naruto replied with a cheeky grin. "It was a guess, one that you just confirmed."

Ibiki let out another round of harsh laughter. "Where'd you learn to read people like that?"

"Poker."

"Poker?"

"Poker. It's essential to be able to tell if your opponents are lying."

"Hmm..." Ibiki said while rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "I'd never thought of it that way. Seems like a good way to learn though...Tell ya what, I've got a deal for you. I'll give you a scroll on psychology if, if, you agree to help me out with a few cases."

"Cases?" Naruto asked, instantly perking up.

"Yep. I'm a part of Leaf Village's Intel department. A human lie detector like you could really be of some help. So, you up for it?"

"Hell yeah!" Naruto exclaimed, pumping a fist in the air.

Ibiki chuckled at the blonde's antics. "Alright then," he replied. "Come by my office tomorrow morning and I'll give you the scroll."

Naruto nodded eagerly and then, shouting his thanks, ran off. Ibiki just shook his head in amusement.

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Almost as soon as Naruto left, Ibiki headed over to the Hokage Tower. He had to wait a half an hour because the Sandaime was in a meeting, but soon enough he was once again standing before the elder shinobi.

"No trouble, I hope?" Sarutobi asked with a raised eyebrow and a small smile.

"Not at all, Hokage-sama," Ibiki responded smoothly. "As a matter of fact I have something to request of you. Today I found out that Naruto-chan is actually quite adept at reading people. He even managed to figure out whether or not I was lying."

Sarutobi folded his hands beneath his chin and studied the Chuunin before him. "Interesting...But what is it that you're requesting?"

Ibiki's back straightened slightly. "I...I'm interested in possibly putting Naruto's...ability...to use. Very few shinobi have the ability to read others to such extent, though we all know how much of a disadvantage one could be at against such an opponent--that's a part of the reason why ANBU wear masks, after all."

"You wanted to use Naruto in interrogations?" the Sandaime asked sharply.

"Not until he's much older," Ibiki answered quickly. "For now I want him to train the ability by looking for inconstancies in profiles, transcripts, and perhaps have him listen to the recordings some light interrogations. Eventually we could bring him in on civilian questionings. At this point his age can only help him because people will underestimate him and thus unwittingly be more open."

For a while the Sandaime didn't speak and Ibiki was almost sure that he was going to reject the idea. Thus when a wide smile broke over the Hokage's face and he began to nod, Ibiki was surprised.

"Yes," Sarutobi mused, sounding quite pleased. "I think that that's a very good idea. It will ease Naruto-chan into the shinobi world as well; he won't be so suddenly woken up to the dangers of the world as many children are. Also..." The older man stood suddenly and began walking towards the door. "Come with me; I have something I'd like for you to give him."

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So great was his excitement that Naruto was at The Building by the time the sun rose the next morning. He was easily able to navigate through the halls on his own now because he'd been here so many times before, and made it to Ibiki's office in only a couple of minutes. The Chuunin was there, bent over some papers on his desk.

"Ibiki-san!" Naruto exclaimed while slamming his hands down on the desk. The older man only grunted and didn't look up from his work. "Ibiki! You promised me that scroll!"

"It's on the desk."

Naruto blinked in surprise and his eyes quickly caught sight of two medium-sized scrolls lying only inches from his hands. The boy scratched the back of his head sheepishly.

"Um, right. But which one's mine?"

"Both of them."

Again Naruto found himself surprised. "Eh?! Whaddaya mean?"

Ibiki snorted and finally glanced up at the blonde. "Exactly what I said," he replied with a smirk. "One of them is the psychology scroll I promised. The other...Well, the other is a gift."

Naruto stared openmouthed at the Chuunin. "A gift? You're giving me a gift?"

"No," Ibiki rolled his eyes, "/I'm/ not. And Kami knows I never will. It's from someone else."

The young Academy student's face scrunched up in confusion. "But-- but who?!"

"Figure it out on your own."

Naruto opened his mouth to retort angrily, only to close it with a huff. He glared at Ibiki, making his displeasure known, but the man only gave him another infuriating smirk.

"Fine!" Naruto finally snapped. His hands reached out and quickly snapped up the scrolls before Ibiki could change his mind and take them back. "I will figure it out!"

With another huff, Naruto left a silently laughing Ibiki in his office.

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It took Naruto less than half an hour to get back to his home. Once he was in his workroom his hands hesitated over the two scrolls, unsure as to which he should open first. Finally he shrugged and opened them both at the same time.

Just as Ibiki had said the first scroll was all about psychology. Naruto's eyes scanned over it in interest, but before long curiosity got the better of him and he transferred his attention onto the second scroll. Now this one caught his attention.

The second scroll, it turned out, contained a single technique: Kage Bunshin no jutsu (Shadow Clone Technique). Hmm, Naruto thought as he read through the rather short scroll, now this could have some good applications.

Surprisingly, it took Naruto only a few hours to learn the jutsu. He was only able to make a dozen clones with it before becoming exhausted, but that was more than enough. Naruto knew that the Academy taught the Bunshin no jutsu (Clone Technique), and now he was already a step ahead in that!

Naruto sat back with a smile as he watched the clones move around the room. Another upside was that the clones were great for manual labor; he'd never have to worry about cleaning up his home again. It was too bad that they could be dispelled so easily...

No sooner had this thought passed through Naruto's mind than one of the clones who'd been carrying a large stack of scrolls accidentally bumped into a tall bookshelf. A bookshelf whose top shelf contained a pile of kunai. When the clone bumped into the bookshelf several of these blades toppled from their perch. Most of them landed on the floor with a clatter, but one stabbed straight through the clone's foot.

A howl of pain ripped through the room before suddenly being cut off as the clone dispelled. Instantaneously, the real Naruto gasped in shock and pain and grasped at his foot. He hissed through clenched teeth for several moments before abruptly realizing that his foot didn't hurt.

Naruto slowly released his foot and stared down at it in surprise and confusion. What had just happened? He could remember being hurt, but now he wasn't--

Naruto's eyes widened. He could remember! He could remember what had happened to the clone as if it'd happened to him! This was-- This was...!

Slowly a large, shit-eating grin spread across Naruto's face. This was perfect. With this jutsu he literally had copies of himself. Copies that knew everything that he knew upon their creation. Copies whose knowledge and experiences where instantly relayed to him when they where dispelled. He could study all he wanted, train all he wanted, do whatever he wanted.

Of course, the best part of this immediately presented itself in his mind: Seal experimentation. By this time Naruto was more than aware of just how dangerous it was to experiment with seals. But if it was a clone that was doing the experimentation then that didn't matter! If the clone was killed, it wouldn't hurt him!

...Well, that wasn't entirely accurate. As he'd just painfully discovered, he would remember all of the clones' experiences when they were dispelled. All of them. This meant that if a clone was killed, Naruto would remember dying. He would remember the terror and pain that accompanied those final moments, just as he remembered his clone's shock and fear as it'd watched that kunai descend on its foot.

The blonde shuddered. That part of the clones really sucked. But...It would be worth it nonetheless. He would endure such pain for the bountiful results their use would yield.

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By the time that Naruto's eighth birthday came and passed, Naruto found himself both more and less busy than usual. He now constantly had several clones in the library--though only at night, of course. He often sent a clone to attend the Academy for him, but only when they wouldn't be doing anything physical where it could get dispelled, like Taijutsu or target practice.

One of the upsides to having clones, Naruto had found, was that it gave him time to properly relax when he wanted to. This also led to him hanging around Ibiki even more than usual, but now that he was helping out at the Intelligence Headquarters--which he'd finally found out was what The Building was--the Chuunin didn't mind so much. If anything, he was beginning to become eager to help Naruto in honing his skills. The whole situation was quite unnerving to the blonde.

On one chilly November afternoon, Naruto was walking home from the Intelligence Headquarters. Just as he often did, he took a shortcut through a series of back allies in the red-light district. Though many dangerous figures lurked here, the blonde walked without fear; after all, he was personal friends with many of those "dangerous figures".

It was because of this that Naruto was caught completely by surprise when a pair of rough hands shot out from the mouth of a dark alley and latched onto him, dragging him into the darkness. Despite his shock, the boy immediately began to struggle against his capturer, lashing out with his legs and the one arm that wasn't being held behind his back, even as he desperately tried to reach the kunai in his pockets.

Naruto was greeted with a highly satisfying grunt of pain as one of his blows connected with his attacker's chin. The grime-covered older man took a few stumbling steps backward, but in only a moment was leaping at the blonde again.

"Give me your money, kid, and I won't hurt you!" the man snarled. In his hand a rusty dagger flashed in the waning twilight.

His face set as if carved from stone, Naruto drew a single kunai and began to circle the other man. Despite his shinobi training, the boy knew that the chances weren't good for him; this man was far larger and stronger than him, and doubtless also had countless years of experience in scuffles such as these. He needed to get out of there and fast, but the man was between him and the exit.

Finally Naruto made a lunge to get around the man. He was instantly blocked and their blades met with the screech that only metal on metal could make. From that close range the man lashed out with his fist, and Naruto quickly parried and replied in kind.

The next few seconds--though they seemed more like hours--were a blur of motion in Naruto's mind. All he could remember was fighting tooth and nail against his attacker and for the first time truly fearing for his life. He'd only ever fought against kids a few years older than him and was unprepared for just how outmatched he was when pitted against someone so much stronger. His shinobi training counted for nothing in this kind of a situation.

How exactly the fight ended, Naruto would never be sure. All he knew was that one moment he'd been fighting with the man and the next the two of them were on the ground still struggling. It took several moments for the blonde to realize, however, that it was only he who was still struggling, while the other man lay suspiciously still.

Slowly, fearfully, Naruto stilled his movements. When the man's facedown position still didn't change, he let out a shaky breath and began the process of extracting himself from beneath the much heavier man. When he'd finally done so he sat, panting, while still staring at his attacker.

In a series of jerky movements Naruto crawled over to the motionless man. He paused only for a moment as his hands rested on the man's side before he rolled him onto his back in a single motion.

Naruto stared, his face completely free from expression as his mind grinded to a halt.

His kunai was buried up to the hilt in the man's chest, right where his heart would be. Crimson red blood was already staining the man's shirt around the blade and even as he stared was beginning to pool on the ground beneath him.

His mind still blank, Naruto's eyes slowly trailed from the man to his own hands. In a disturbing contradiction, his left hand was pristine and pale while his right was covered in thick, crimson red: Blood. It dripped down his arm, staining his clothes a dark shade, and Naruto knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that none of it belonged to him

This shock seemed to jumpstart Naruto's brain. As if to make up for lost time, it instantaneously began racing and thoughts flew through his mind so quickly he was barely able to catch onto them.

Naruto quickly scrambled away from the man--no, from the man's corpse--/mumbling "No, no, /no," over and over again under his breath. He-- he hadn't meant to kill him! He'd only been trying to get away! They'd been struggling yes, and the man had been attempting to subdue him, but he hadn't actually meant to kill--

Naruto's thoughts broke up as bile rose in throat. The blonde scrambled onto his hands and knees and screwed his eyes closed as his stomach heaved.

Kami, he could smell the blood. It seemed to be chocking up the alley. And the taste...he could taste copper in his mouth. His stomach heaved once more, knowing exactly what it was.

It was another ten minutes before a small, trembling blonde would stagger out from within the dark alley, his clothes stained with blood. Naruto followed his instincts and began to run blindly through the streets, intent on one location. Once he arrived there, in front of a dingy, crumbling apartment building, he immediately began to pound on the door.

"Tasuki! Tasuki!"

A moment later the door was yanked open and a bleary looking Tasuki stood in the doorway. "Naruto-kun?" he yawned. "What're ya doin' 'ere?"

Naruto didn't reply but instead practically threw himself at Tasuki, babbling incessantly. The older man stared down at him in shock even as the force of the boy pushed him to the ground.

"Naruto?!" he grunted in surprise. His arms automatically wrapped around the blonde and attempted to pull up.

Tasuki could only catch pieces of what Naruto was sobbing. "I didn't mean to!" he was repeating over and over. "I swear I didn't!"

"Naruto!" Tasuki called again. "Naruto-kun, calm down! Please!"

It took another few minutes but finally the child wore himself out. He lay against Tasuki, breathing harshly while the scarred man pushed them up into a sitting position. Tasuki released a somewhat relieved sigh.

"Alright, now what is dis about, Naruto-kun? What isn't yer fault?"

Naruto's eyes shot open in shock, as if he hadn't realized exactly what he'd been saying. Instantly the boy was up and scrambling away from Tasuki, who was left blinking in surprise.

Naruto's head whipped around, looking for an exit. "N-nothing!" he stammered. "Nothing! Everything's fine!"

Tasuki gave the eight year old a flat stare. "Bullshit. Dis ain't nothing. Now tell me, what 'appened?"

Naruto's mouth opened and closed several times. It was clear to Tasuki that the boy was still looking for a way out of this, so he leveled a glare at the boy.

"/Naruto--"/

"Alright! Alright!" the blonde finally exclaimed. He hung his head down and gulped. His eyes flickered to the door a few times, as if debating whether or not he could make a break for it without Tasuki catching him, but finally he took a few deep breathes and looked back up. "I-- I...Something did happen...It...it started when I was walking home from my last meeting with Ibiki..."

Tasuki listened intently while Naruto spoke, never interrupting to ask questions even though he looked as though he desperately wanted to at some points. Finally, once Naruto had finished telling his tale, he let out a heavy sigh. His eyes were dark and sad, but Naruto could glean no more about his emotions other than that from his face.

Suddenly Naruto felt himself beginning to worry. Had he done the right thing in telling Tasuki? Was the man disappointed in him? Or angry? Was he going to scream that he was a murderer and drag him to the police? Was he--

"Naruto-kun," Tasuki said softly, breaking into the boy's thoughts. Naruto's head snapped upwards, staring at him with wide, fearful eyes. Tasuki repressed a groan; he was not good at these sorts of things. "Naruto-kun," the dark haired man repeated. "It's alright."

With those words all of the tension seemed to drain from the blonde. He sucked in several shuddering breathes and wrapped his arms around himself, suddenly feeling very cold and very warm at the same time.

"But-- But I...!"

Tasuki sighed once more and stared at a point off to the side. "...Life," he began slowly, "Can be...difficult. Throughout yer life ya will be forced to make decisions that ya'd rather not. But you will have ta make these choices whether ya like it or not." Tasuki let out a bitter snort. "In a way, dat's all that life is: Choices. Ever connecting, ever changing choices. What ya must remember, however, is dat ya will never 'ave complete control over yer life. Even if ya always make da right choices, other people may make different ones, and these choices will 'ave an effect upon ya. All ya can do is adapt ta da moment and live life da best way ya know 'ow.

"Dat man...He made da choice ta attempt ta mug ya. Dat was 'is choice. Yer choice, upon being faced with such a situation, was ta fight back. Now tell me, 'ad ya not fought back, what do ya think would 'ave 'appened? Ya would not 'ave lived, I can assure ya; men such as dat rarely allow their victims ta live ta tell their tale. Ya knew dis, if unconsciously, and made da split second decision ta fight for yer life. It cost dat other man 'is life, yes, but ya managed ta survive in da end. Is a choice such as dis really a bad thing? Out of da two ya, isn't it best fer ya ta survive while a man like him dies?"

Naruto didn't have an answer for him.

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A/N: Before anyone comments on the whole Madara telling Naruto about the Akatsuki thing, yes I do believe that that's a realistic situation. The way I see it, Madara is an incredibly strong shinobi who, even if he lost to him, was on par with the Shodaime Hokage and who just got back from killing off one of Konoha's strongest clans. He knows he's powerful and believes that he'll be able to get the Kyuubi no matter what, so he figures that telling Naruto about it will spice up the situation a bit. He correctly reckons that telling Naruto will cause the boy to train himself, which in the end will present Madara with more of a challenge. Basically he’s bored and self-assured.

--S.R.
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