Categories > Anime/Manga > Naruto > Failing Twilight

Chapter 6: The Game

by Shadow_Rebirth 0 Reviews

Category: Naruto - Rating: R - Genres:  - Characters:  - Published: 2008/12/13 - Updated: 2008/12/13 - 7852 words

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Title: Failing Twilight
Author: Shadow Rebirth
Beta Reader: Rukia23
Rating: M
Warnings: Death, blood and gore, coarse language, adult themes, spoilers
Chapter WC: 7,308
Total WC: 33,094
First Written: October 2, 2008
Last Edited: December 13, 2008
Posted: December 9, 2008
Summary: Naruto had learnt from a young age that life could get hectic, but all this chaos with Biju, daimyos, and psychotic missing-nin was going a bit too far. Now just throw in a fourth Great Shinobi War and you've got one pissed off seal master. AU story. No pairings.

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Failing Twilight

Chapter 6
The Game

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Despite the fun he'd had, Naruto felt a wave of relief wash over him as he reentered Konoha. He was literally bouncing in his seat on the back of a merchant wagon while gazing around at the buildings with a new sense of appreciation. Haru just chuckled and ruffled his hair a bit.

After leaving Wave--with a great send off from the townspeople there--the merchant wagon had taken a short detour through Fire Country to stop at a few towns. The samurai that Naruto had hung out with left them in Hajime, a rather large city in the northern part of the country, with promises to keep in contact. They'd also made Naruto swear that he would spar with them when he was older.

Along the way, Haru introduced him to all of the various people that he knew. Some of them were merchants and some were craftsmen, but most were the owners of other inns and taverns. Naruto was shocked by just how many people knew Haru and would happily welcome him into their homes.

Surprisingly, Haru continued to refer to Naruto as "Nanashi Yuurei". The blonde child figured that the name had just stuck. He didn't mind at all and eventually decided to ask Ibiki to change the name on his travel pass to that when he saw the Chuunin again.

Now that he was back in Konoha however, Naruto was eager to get back into the swing of things. He was missing his friends and he had some new ideas for some seals that he wanted to try out.

"So are you going to head straight home?" Haru asked.

Naruto opened his mouth to reply, only to cut himself off with a groan. "I've got to go see Ibiki," he said. "I promised him that I would as soon as I got back..." He was almost tempted to try to skip out on the month of paperwork that he'd promised to do, but Ibiki probably already knew that he was back, being a part of the Intel Department and all.

Indeed, as soon as Naruto reached Ibiki's office that day, he felt a wave of dread wash over him. He hesitantly reached for the door handle, but before he could even touch it the door suddenly swung open.

Standing in the doorway, looming over him, was Ibiki. The Chuunin had an evil smile on his face, one that spoke of impending doom. Naruto gulped and leaned around Ibiki to catch sight of his desk. The dread within him welled up once more when he saw that it was covered in stacks of paper.

The door slammed shut behind him with all of the finality of a jail cell door.

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The Konohagakure Park Reserve was the largest forested area available to civilians inside of the village's walls. It covered about one square mile of land that was crisscrossed by pathways leading to numerous picnic tables, ice cream strands, and playground. There was a lake in the middle of the Reserve that had several small streams leading away from it.

As the bright spring sun beat down on the citizen's of Konoha, Naruto could be seen running along a sidewalk atop a hill in the Reserve. His feet slapped loudly against the concrete, but the sound was mostly drowned out by the splashing of the lake that the sidewalk ran alongside.

It had been one week since Naruto had returned from his trip out of Konoha. One week since Naruto had begun to do Ibiki's paperwork in order to fulfill his promise. One week into his month of hell.

Fortunately, Ibiki was not entirely without mercy towards the young boy. Since he had diligently done his work for a week, the Chuunin was allowing Naruto to have single day off for rest and relaxation. Naruto was determined to spend it well and as such was hurrying towards a special hidden spot that he knew of.

Despite his eagerness, Naruto's footsteps slowed as he caught sight of a black haired boy sitting on a wooden dock that thrust out into the lake. He knew that the boy was in his class, but for the life of him couldn't remember his name.

As if sensing eyes on him, the boy suddenly glanced over his shoulder. The moment their eyes met, Naruto felt a cold chill settle into his bones. Uchiha Sasuke, he remembered dully. He could already see those spinning red eyes forming out of the boy's black depths.

With some effort, Naruto tore his eyes away from his classmate and picked his pace back up again. He was eager to get away from the Uchiha and the memory of those terrible eyes.

When Naruto finally reached the grassy hill surrounded by a copse of trees that he'd been looking for, he was disappointed to find that there was already someone there. He paused for a moment and was about to turn away when he suddenly stopped and squared his shoulders.

No. He'd just spent the past week working his ass off and he wasn't going to let his day off be ruined. He wanted to sit on his hill and so he was going to, whether someone else was there or not.

Naruto plopped down onto the grass and lay with his head resting back on his arms. He stared up into the sunny sky, studiously ignoring the boy next to him, even though he could feel his gaze boring into the side of his head. For a long time neither of them said anything. Then, finally, the other boy looked away.

"You're in my class..." the boy noted quietly.

Surprised, Naruto looked over at him. The boy next to him did indeed look to be around his age. He was rather average in appearance--dark hair, dark eyes--but there was some sort of sharpness in his gaze that instantly attracted Naruto's attention and curiosity.

"...But you hardly ever come to school," the other boy finished.

Naruto shrugged. "I have more important things to do," he said simply. "And one doesn't have to learn about being a shinobi just by going to the Academy."

The dark haired boy "hmmed" thoughtfully. "Nara Shikamaru," he said, sitting up.

With a grin, Naruto shifted into a sitting position as well. "Uzumaki Naruto. Nice to meet ya, Shika."

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Naruto spent the next few hours hanging out with Shikamaru, glad that the chance of fate had brought them together. He even taught the other boy how to play Shogi--a game that Kenmaru had introduced him to some time ago--and he took to it like a fish to water. Naruto had little doubt that Shikamaru would soon far surpass him.

Well, he did always enjoy a challenge.

Eventually, however, Shikamaru had to head home and Naruto once again began to wander around the training grounds, eager to train after having been cooped up in an office for so long.

Unfortunately, the first training ground that Naruto happened upon was already in use. The blonde released an annoyed sigh and turned to leave when a familiar name froze him in his tracks.

"--by Ibiki," a voice was saying.

"Bullshit," someone else, female this time, argued. "You're good, but not that good. You're the one that caused us to fail the Chuunin Exam the first few times, remember? You're too damn full of yourself sometimes, Kotetsu, and making up fucking stories like some five year old to impress us isn't going to help."

Naruto heard the telltale sounds of someone stomping off and assumed that the woman had left. He crept forward and peeked around a tree to get a better look at what was going on. Two men were standing there, Chuunin most likely from their green vests. The first of them had spiky dark hair, a short goatee, and wore a white strip of cloth across his face, over the bridge of his nose. The second shinobi wore his headband in a bandana fashion, much like Ibiki. His brown hair was protruding from beneath it, completely covering his right eye.

For several tense seconds the two men, both of whom looked to be in their early twenties, stared silently into the foliage, presumably after the woman. Then they glanced uneasily at each other.

"...She's getting testier ever time we see her," the Chuunin with the white cloth over his nose remarked. Naruto recognized his voice as the first person he'd heard and immediately labeled him "Kotetsu" in his mind.

The other man shrugged awkwardly. "So...Ibiki?" he prompted.

A brief smile flashed across Kotetsu's face, but it was gone just as quickly as it'd appeared. "Yeah. Like I said, he approached me the other day after I'd turned in my mission papers. He was curious about the Cloud-nin I'd run into and asked me a few questions. He seemed to be unusually interested in my side of the battle though. He'd said he'd contact me again, but I'm not entirely sure what about..." He fell silent for a moment before glancing up at his companion again. "What do you think, Izumo?"

"Hmm..." Izumo hummed thoughtfully. "Who can guess at Morino-san's motives? He may be a Chuunin like us, but it's well known throughout the Village that he was apprenticed to the head of the ANBU Torture and Interrogation Department."

"No one knows what he's doing now," Kotetsu mused. "But it's assumed that he still works in Intelligence."

Interested to learn more about Ibiki's past, Naruto took an unconscious step forward. Unfortunately, in doing so he inadvertently stepped on a twig that cracked loudly beneath his weight. Instantly the two Chuunin disappeared. Naruto quickly drew back while looking around wildly for them. He needn't have bothered however, for only moments later they appeared in front of him, looming over him.

To the young boy's surprise, they did not look angry. If anything, they were amused by the child in front of them.

"What's a kid like you doing out here?" Kotetsu asked warmly. He squatted down so that he was eye level with Naruto.

"You've got to be quiet to be able to sneak up on us like you did," Izumo commented. "You training to be a shinobi?"

Emboldened by their words, Naruto lifted his chin proudly. "Yeah! I'm in the Academy. I'll be a shinobi in a few years."

"Know any jutsu yet?" the shinobi in front of him asked with a grin.

Naruto replied with a wide grin of his own. "Of course," he said. Then he suddenly frowned. "Though my chakra control is all out of whack, which can make things difficult."

Kotetsu and Izumo exchanged glances. "I'm honestly surprised that you even understand the concept of chakra control," Kotetsu admitted. "Most kids your age don't."

"Eh, I read a lot."

"Right..." Kotetsu replied, raising one eyebrow. "As for the control problem...Haven't your teachers taught you the leaf exercise?"

Instantly Naruto scowled. "Yeah," he grumbled, "But I can't get it to fucking work, no matter what I do."

"Can't...?" Kotetsu trailed off, his brow furrowed in confusion.

"Yeah. I keep pumping out too much chakra. I've tried limiting it as much as I can, but..."

Once again Izumo and Kotetsu exchanged surprised looks. "Show us," Izumo prompted.

Naruto shrugged in reply, seeing no harm in the question. He picked up a random leaf from off the ground, placed it on his forehead, and began to channel chakra. Instead of sticking to his forehead like it was supposed to, the leaf abruptly shot away from him before slowly floating to the ground.

Kotetsu's eyebrows shot up to his hairline. He let out a low whistle. "You weren't kidding about the chakra thing."

"Maybe..." Izumo began slowly and both Naruto and Kotetsu turned to watch him. "...It'd be best if you practiced a control exercise that utilizes more chakra. That way you'd eventually be able to refine your control to do smaller exercises like the leaf one."

"Working backwards through the exercises...That could work." Kotetsu mused.

Naruto rolled his eyes. "Yeah, it could, except I don't know any other exercises." He paused to eye the two men hopefully.

Kotetsu easily got the hint and sniggered in amusement. "Yeah, we'll show you. We don't have much else to do right now, ne, Izumo?"

"Sure. And besides, you're an interesting kid."

Torn between scowling at the comments and jumping up and down in joy, Naruto settled on simply nodding. And so the two Chuunin drew Naruto aside and began to teach him how to climb trees without using his hands.

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A small boy with dark features flitted quietly through one of the red-light district's back alleyways. His passage went unnoticed, partially because he seemed to easily slip from shadow to shadow and partially because everyone else in the area was too wrapped up in their own troubles to care.

Eventually the boy crept inside a small, abandoned store. The floor was covered in dust and was littered with leaves and broken glass. The child carefully treaded around the obstacles, making no noise, and then brushed aside a thick velvet curtain hanging in the doorway so that he could move further inside.

In the middle of the small complex was a room filled with dim light and some metal equipment. As the boy stepped inside, he found a skinny, green haired man bandaging up a broad shouldered man's bicep. The boy stood silently beside the door as the two men finished up, money passing hands.

The second man strode out of the room then, but paused to glare at the dark haired boy, who met him stare for stare. The man scoffed and then continued into the darkness.

Meanwhile, the green haired man was washing his ink-stained hands in a deep sink that was set into one wall. While drying his hands when he was finished, he stared at the boy with searching eyes. Then, abruptly, he began to chuckle.

"An interesting guise, Naruto-kun."

"Just practicing," Naruto said, grinning. "My chakra control needs some work. Plus it's always fun to be able to travel unnoticed." With a quick twist of his chakra, the boy released the Henge he'd been wearing.

The man shook his head in amusement, still chuckling. "Damn shinobi," he muttered good-naturedly. "Well, do you have the ink?"

With a sharp nod, Naruto pulled a scroll out of his pocket. He spread it out across the nearest table, bit his thumb just hard enough to draw blood, then with a quick flick of his wrist, dragged his thumb across the surface. The blood activated the sealed scroll and a glass bottle filled with ink popped into existence.

The green haired man picked the jar up and studied it thoughtfully. "What's in it, specifically?" he asked curiously.

"Ink laced with chakra and mixed with blood," Naruto replied. There were faint traces of satisfaction in his voice. "Took me forever to get the mix just right, but this will be perfect for sealing. You'll be able to use it, right Masaki?"

The man, Masaki, shook his head incredulously. "Damn, kid, I don't know how you come up with harebrained ideas like this," he snorted. "Tasuki's probably gonna crack up when he sees what you've done. But, yeah, so long as it's mostly ink, I'll able to use it no problem. Lay out the prints, take a seat, and we'll get started with the tattoos."

Following Masaki's instructions, Naruto took out two identical scrolls and spread them out. These, however, weren't sealed scrolls. Instead they both had three large seal arrays—made up of several smaller seals—drawn on them. They were drawn backwards, actually, but only someone versed in seals would notice. They also were drawn with regular ink instead of chakra laced ink so that even if chakra was channeled into them, they wouldn't activate. They were little more than pictures.

Naruto then hopped up onto the seat in the middle of the room, rolling both his sleeves up as he did so. Masaki who, now had plastic gloves on, came over with a spray bottle full of rubbing alcohol to prep his skin.

A minute later, once both of Naruto's arms were ready, Masaki picked up one of the scrolls that Naruto had laid out. The scrolls were actually mimeograph stencils, which were used to stencil the outline of the tattoo onto the skin. Masaki held the scroll up to Naruto's left arm. He held it there for a few seconds so that the carbon on the scroll would transfer onto the moistened skin . When he peeled it away the stencil had transferred onto Naruto's arm correctly. Masaki repeated with process with the second scroll on the blonde's right arm.

Masaki bustled around the room, opening up the needle and needle tube pouches that would be used. He assembled the machine next to Naruto and turned it on.

Naruto felt the beginnings of nervousness start to well up within him as Masaki approached him with the needle, but he quickly pushed the feeling away. He wasn't doing this just to get a tattoo, but for his shinobi career. The first of the three seals was a sealing seal, which would be used to seal away weapons and equipment, so that he'd always have something on him. The following two were almost identical and were actually linked, even though they didn't look like it. These seals were Naruto's masterpiece.

For years now, Naruto had been working on the problem that he had with chakra control. He knew now why he had such atrocious control: Because of the Kyuubi he had massive amounts of chakra. And tons of chakra was very hard to control. He'd been working on his chakra control for a long time now, using various exercises he'd been taught by his shinobi acquaintances—Kotetsu and Izumo had been particularly helpful in that regard—but it just wasn't working fast enough.

And so, Naruto had begun developing a seal that could help him to control his chakra. He'd gone through dozens and dozens of designs before and idea had suddenly sparked in his mind, inspired by sealing seals, as a matter of fact. The idea was thus: If he had less chakra, then he'd have better control.

Basically, the seal stored his chakra. It would be constantly activated and would draw his chakra from the tenketsu on his arms and place it into storage. As all storage seals had limits, when the limit for the amount of chakra was reached, he had a failsafe in place that would allow the chakra to slowly bleed back into his body, recycling itself.

All of this meant that Naruto's chakra would constantly be at a low level, granting him better control. As his conscious control grew better and better he'd be able to lessen the amount of chakra that the seals drew in, further increasing his control. The bonus to the seals was that at all times he'd have a massive amount of chakra sealed away for emergency use. It would be almost impossible for him to get chakra exhaustion because, if needed, all he had to do was release all the chakra in one of the four seals back into his system.

Naruto took a deep breath as Masaki's needle made first contact with his skin.

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Later that summer found Naruto seated in a casino in the middle of Fire Country, energetically swinging his legs as he sat on a tall barstool. Next to him was a busty blonde woman with a green diamond on her forehead; an acquaintance of Naruto's whom he'd run into many times while traveling around, which he was wont to do during the summer months. The woman was fully focused on the poker game before her, but Naruto, on the other hand, hadn't torn his eyes away from the notebook he was writing away on in hours.

Abruptly, the woman slammed her cards down on the table, scowling fiercely at the men around the table who were laughing. She glared darkly at them before turning so that she was facing Naruto. She was about to snap something, but halted when she caught sight of what the boy was doing and instead began to chuckle.

"Are you always working on seals, Yuurei-kun?" she asked, amusement lacing her voice.

Naruto started, not expecting the sudden interruption. "Sorry, Tsunade-san," he said sheepishly. "I kind of got drawn in..."

Tsunade laughed again and waved the response away flippantly. "You remind me of an old friend of mine," she replied and Naruto took note of the melancholy glint in her eyes. "He was always messing around with seals too...What're you working on?"

As the currently brown haired boy glanced down at the notebook, a frown took over his face. "I'm working on a revised summoning seal," he explained. "The premise is that the seal, when placed on someone, will summon them to me like a summoning contract would. The difference is that the person is really there, so it's more like a transportation jutsu, to be honest. I keep running into problems though, such as how to get the summoned person to appear in the place they're supposed to."

Tsunade's brow furrowed. "I'd have thought that the hardest part would be actually summoning someone," she commented.

"Eh not really," the boy shrugged. "That just takes a revised Shunshin (Body Flicker Technique) seal. It's a bit complicated because of the long distances involved, but so long as that user has enough chakra, it's not much of a problem."

"Oi, Yuurei-kun,” a voice suddenly beckoned. Naruto twisted around in his seat and saw a man standing in the small casino's doorway. "We're just ready to go."

"Alright, coming!" he called back before turning back to the blonde he was sitting with. "Sorry, Tsunade-san, but it looks like the merchant train I'm with is leaving."

Tsunade reached out and ruffled the young boy's hair while smiling softly. "No problem, Yuurei-kun. I'll see you around, ne?"

Naruto gather up his notebook and hopped off the stool. "Sure thing! See you later...Old Hag!" Laughing, he dodged the bar stool that was suddenly chucked in his direction and took off at run.

"Don't call me that, you brat!"

The child swiftly leapt out of the casino and jogged over to where a merchant wagon was standing as the last few inventory checks were done. Naruto preferred to travel alone, now that he was able to protect himself and walk for hours without tiring, but occasionally he joined up with a merchant that he knew. This time in particular he'd agreed to come along because Ryoga, the samurai he'd met on his first trip out of Konoha, had been among those hired to protect the merchant.

Naruto traveled along with the merchant wagon for several days. It was in a town on the west side of Fire Country that he finally decided to split with them and, after waving goodbye to Ryoga and thanking the merchant, headed down a different road at a much quicker pace of travel.

The boy sighed as he stared down the empty road. His foot kicked a loose rock and his eyes followed it as it rolled for a few seconds before slowing to a stop. This was another reason why he sometime traveled with merchants; traveling alone could be down right boring. He supposed he could run to get to the next town faster, if he really wanted to, but at the moment he just didn't feel like it.

A scant few minutes later, Naruto's sharp eyes caught sight of a figure on the road up ahead. He slowed slightly as he approached, cautious, but after a few minutes he was able to tell that it was a woman with short dark blonde hair. She was walking in the same direction as him, but at a slower pace.

Naruto's steps faltered momentarily as he considered whether to take a detour around the woman or pass right by her. She didn't look dangerous though, he thought. She was dressed in simple, travel-worn clothes and she walked with the poise of a civilian, not the grace of a shinobi.

His decision made, Naruto's pace picked up again. As he drew closer the woman finally heard his footsteps and her head twisted back to look. Naruto noticed that she looked absolutely exhausted; her eyes were even bloodshot from lack of sleep. Upon seeing the child behind her, her shoulders slumped almost imperceptibly with relief, as though she'd been expecting someone else.

Naruto kept a pleasant smile on his face as he came up to the woman. It was only because of this, because he was partially turned in her direction, that he caught sight of movement in the dark vegetation lining the road. His eyes widened and he reflexively grasped the woman's elbow and jerked her down, just as a dozen shuriken sliced through the air overhead.

Out of the trees burst three shinobi, all bearing the green vests of Jounin and hitai-ate with the symbol of the Hidden Sand Village. They jumped at the woman faster than Naruto could react, but she was already moving to meet them. Kunai slid into her hands from their hiding places and abruptly her tired eyes were sharp and watchful.

She was a kunoichi and Naruto hadn't even realized it.

Another movement separate from the engagement ahead flickered in Naruto's peripheral vision. The blonde's head snapped around to find to his surprise that there was another boy about his age watching the fight from the side of the road. He had crimson hair, emerald eyes, and wore an impassive impression. What really caught Naruto's attention though was the kanji for "love" on his forehead and the massive gourd made of sand that was strapped to his back.

The other boy's eyes slid over to meet Naruto's gaze and then dismissed him as unimportant moments later. The blonde's hackles raised and he found himself literally snarling in anger. He should have left at that moment, while he still had a chance. He should have walked away, shouldn't have gotten involved.

But he couldn't. Not when he'd just been so blatantly insulted by someone his own age. It wasn't the first time and certainly wouldn't be the last time that his pride would get him in trouble.

Naruto lunged at the redhead, wanting nothing more than to sock him in the face, but the next thing he knew he'd slammed into a solid brick wall and was sent flying back into a tree. He gasped sharply as he made contact and the wood cracked beneath the force. He fell to his hands and knees moments later and had to cough a few time to spit out the blood pooling in his mouth from where he'd accidentally bitten his tongue.

Shocked and confused, Naruto looked back up at the other boy. He was surrounded by sand that was lifting up and shifting around him as though it was a living thing. The boy himself hadn't even glanced at him throughout the entire conflict.

Naruto hesitated, glancing between the boy and the woman who was still fighting, unsure as to what to do. Then the redheaded boy began to walk forward and all thoughts of fleeing flew from his mind. Without even stopping to consider his actions, he leapt forward.

The sand rose up once more, but this time Naruto was ready for it. He danced away while simultaneously forming the seal for Kage Bunshin (Shadow Doppelganger) with his hands. Around him a dozen doppelgangers popped into existence, all ready to fight.

As the Kage Bunshin began to attack the other boy, he was forced to turn his attention onto them. A handful were killed almost instantly as the living sand wrapped around them and squeezed the life from them, but the rest of them survived much longer, learning how the sand-boy fought and coordinating their attacks through the basic hand signals that Ibiki had taught the blonde.

Meanwhile, the real Naruto hung behind and began setting up some seals. The pockets of his pants had containment seals sewn into them with thread died with chakra-laced ink, allowing them to work just as seals drawn on paper would; Naruto had long since learned that with just a bit of ingenuity, almost anything could be a seal. These seals in particular held several sets of explosion and jutsu seals that would be perfect for this fight.

Once he had everything he needed, he activated one of his newest tattoos, one that he'd actually only just gotten before leaving on this latest trip. The two new ones were a Henge (Transformation Technique) seal and a Kawarimi (Replacement Technique) seal, each placed over a tenketsu on his chest. All he had to do was channel some chakra into that tenketsu and the jutsu would activate, eliminating all need for handseals. The blue-eyed boy was planning on getting a seal for Kage Bunshin as well the next chance he got.

As soon as the seal had been activated, Naruto was switched with one of the Kage Bunshin nearest to the sand-boy. The sand rose up to meet him, of course, but Naruto paid it no mind as he slapped one of the seals onto the living sand, then switched with another Bunshin and repeated the action again and again.

After placing down a dozen in the span of only a few seconds, Naruto and his clones moved back as one, just in time to get out of the blast radius as all the exploding tags went off. The blonde winced and shielded his face as bits of sand fell down on him, but soon smirked at the piercing scream emitting from the center of the blast zone.

Then the expression fell.

As the dust cleared, Naruto was able to see that the sand-boy was alive. Not unscathed, fortunately, but still mostly unharmed. Most of the living sand directly around the redhead had been melted into rough glass by the blast, but it would seem that the tags themselves hadn't hurt him. Instead it was the sand that was caked onto his skin that had been melted that was causing the most harm.

Naruto winced again as he watched the sand-boy scream and claw desperately to get the melted sand off, all the while sobbing something about "mother". Damn, the blonde thought, that had to burn.

A swift glance over to the almost-forgotten woman revealed that she'd somehow managed to kill two of the Suna Jounin and was battling against the third. Judging her safe for now, Naruto sighed and turned his attention back onto the redheaded kid. He had his remaining four Kage Bunshin approach the boy, just to be safe, but they were easily able to dodge out of the way of his living sand; there was only a small amount of it left and it was moving relatively slow.

One of the Kage Bunshin chopped the nerve between the sand-boy's neck and shoulder to knocking him out. The redhead dropped to the ground instantly, like a puppet whose strings had been cut. And unfortunately, that was where everything went horrible wrong.

As soon as the sand-boy had fallen, the sand began to whip around. Some of it even rose out of the ground itself, as if called. All three of Naruto's Kage Bunshin were immediately dispelled and the blonde himself stumbled back, shocked. Before his very eyes a giant, three story tall tanuki made of the living sand formed, roaring with bloodlust.

"Blood! Blood!" it was hissing, its face contorted into an insane grin. Atop the tanuki was the redheaded boy, still unconscious.

Naruto was in too deep of a state of shock to do anything more than stare, horrified, as the sand-monster lifted its massive tail and slammed it down onto his position. He was sure he was going to be killed, but then a strong arm wrapped itself around his torso and suddenly he was flying through the tree at speeds he'd never seen before. Everything around him seemed to blur and in the distance he could hear a fierce, thundering roar of rage—

When he was finally set down, Naruto was sure that they were miles and miles from the sand-boy and whatever that monster had been. He sucked in a few shuddering breaths, attempting to regain his composure.

His savior, it turned out, was the kunoichi that he'd been trying to save. She looked even more exhausted than she had when he'd first seen her and there was a deep, bleeding gash on her arm, but other than that she seemed mostly fine. She also was a little older than he'd first thought; she looked to be in her mid thirties, at least.

"So it seems Intel was right," she muttered to herself. "The Sand Village does have a jinchuuriki..."

Naruto's eyes cut sharply over to the woman. "Jinchuuriki?" he repeated incredulously.

The woman eyed him warily for a moment before nodding.

He couldn't believe it. That boy had been a jinchuuriki like him? But then that meant that that tanuki...The blonde paled as the implications of what had just happened fully hit him. He'd been about to fight a Biju. He shuddered to think of what would have happened had this woman not been there to help him.

"Thank you," he whispered sincerely.

The kunoichi smiled wryly, her pale green eyes shining with amusement. "It's I who should be thanking you, I suppose," she replied. She sank down to the ground, resting her back against a tree. "There's a slow-acting poison in my system right now that dulls my senses. If you hadn't pulled me down when you did, I'd be dead for sure. So really, it's you who saved my life and I was just returning the favor."

Naruto's eyes widened in alarm. "Poison?!"

The woman let out a bark of laughter. "Yeah, poison. I've already ingested a shoddy homemade antidote, but it'll only hold out until I get back home," she said with a grin. "Thanks for your concern though, kid. It's rare to find people so young who already care. Plus you're already a shinobi."

"Ah, not yet," Naruto answered, sheepishly rubbing the back of his neck. "I'm still in the Academy right now."

The green eyed kunoichi frowned. "Really? You've already got the reflexes of a low-level Chuunin, maybe higher."

"Thanks," Naruto beamed. "I train a lot. Plus I use chakra to augment my muscles sometimes." He had Kotetsu and his chakra controlling seals to thank for that; Kotetsu because he was the one who taught him how to do it and the seals because they gave him good enough chakra control to use the skill. "I have to be strong, you see."

The woman laughed again, but it wasn't mocking in the slightest. "Sure, kid," she said humorously. "We've all got to be strong, I suppose. I'm Fuumiko, by the way."

Naruto responded with a smile of his own. "Nanashi Yuurei," he replied easily. He was more than used to the false name by now. Plus, he could hardly give out his own since he was still wearing the Henge of a brown haired, golden eyed boy; the visage that matched his IDs.

Fuumiko didn't so much as bat an eyebrow at his strange name. "Well, it's been a pleasure to meet you, Yuurei-san," she said. "But I really need to get back to my Village as soon as possible."

"On your own? You've probably got chakra exhaustion. What if you collapse?"

"Ah, cute," Fuumiko chuckled while reaching out to ruffle Naruto's hair. The boy huffed, silently wondering why all adults seemed to like to do that. "But sorry, Yuurei-san, you'll just have to trust that I'll be fine."

"But why can't I come with you," Naruto protested. "Just to make sure you'll be alright."

"I can't," Fuumiko said with a shake of her head. "What if you're a spy, eh? I can't just let you into my Village, can I? Sorry, Yuurei, but regulations have to be followed, even if you did save my life."

Naruto pouted, but didn't protest. He understood perfectly well why Fuumiko couldn't take him to her Village, whichever village that was. So instead he smiled, wished the kunoichi luck, and bid her goodbye. He decided that perhaps it was time to return to Konoha again; he'd had enough fated meetings to last him for months. Not that that had been a fateful meeting...Right?

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Naruto spent the first half of his tenth birthday inside of a cell in Konoha's Police Force Headquarters.

Or, to be more specific, he spent it inside of an interrogation cell, getting information out of a detainee while wearing a Henge. Ibiki stood behind him the whole time, watching, but never interrupting. Naruto had done this dozens of times already, but the older shinobi was required to be there as his "instructor".

Naruto snorted at the very thought; Ibiki might give him scrolls from time to time, but he'd never actually taught him anything.

Once he was done, the blonde trailed after Ibiki as they left the building. Ibiki ignored him, as always, before abruptly stopping in the middle of a rather vacant street and turning to the blonde.

"Happy birthday, brat," Ibiki grunted.

The words were forced out and Naruto had little doubt that the man would really rather not say them. The blonde couldn't stop the wide grin from stretching over his face, however, at the acknowledgment.

Ibiki sighed, clearly sensing Naruto's joy. "I'm supposed to give you this," he continued, passing an envelope over to the child. "It's not a birthday present," he added with a glare. "It's from the higher ups."

Confused, Naruto flicked the envelope open and pulled out the papers inside. His eyes swiftly scanned over what was written there, before widening suddenly. He glanced up at Ibiki for confirmation and found that he was smirking in amusement at Naruto's reaction.

"This— These papers give me A-level security clearance!" Ibiki just nodded. "But, but— Why?! I mean, I'm not even a shinobi yet!"

"I just got promoted to Jounin and the Head of Intelligence," Ibiki replied shortly. "Since you're doing my paperwork, you need higher clearance as well. Of course, I'll still be filtering some things out—because, as you pointed out, you aren't even a fucking Genin yet—but getting you clearance is a hell of a lot easier than doing my own paperwork."

Naruto rolled his eyes and snorted in amusement. "It figures that this is just a result of you being a lazy ass." As Ibiki swung at him, he dodged away with a laugh and began to trot off down the street, papers clutched in one hand. "See ya tomorrow Ibiki-sempai!"

After returning home, Naruto was bodily dragged out by Tasuki, who was apparently determined to force him to have fun on his birthday. The scarred older man then proceeded to drag the boy to a club for the rest of the night, where Naruto had to admit that he did have the time of his life.

"Told ya," Tasuki said with grin when he mentioned it. "Ya gotta get out more, Naruto-kun; ya always seem ta be doin' some form of tranin' or another."

Naruto rolled his eyes in response and then let his gaze roam over the packed room, picking out those whom he knew. He stood silence with Tasuki for several minutes before finally turning to the older man with a thoughtful expression on his face.

"Say, Tasuki," he began, "Shouldn't there be a festival on the day the Kyuubi no Kitsune was defeated or something?"

The older man snorted. "There are only ever festivals for seasonal things or holidays. So we got Memorial Day ta celebrate, but tha's all. And besides," he said, "Ya forget, da Kyuubi never actually reached Konoha itself. Only a 'andful of villagers were killed; da rest were shinobi. While da defeat of da Kyuubi was a great victory, there wasn't a massive slaughter ta gain dat victory or anythin'."

He paused to study Naruto with unusual intensity. "Ya expect people ta 'ate ya 'cause of da Kyuubi," he said suddenly, "Because so many people 'ave shown ya such coldness. They've ignored you, pushed ya away. Da truth is dat most people understan' dat ya are jus' a child with a great burden, but dis doesn't stop 'em from fearing what ya are and fearing what could happen. Dis makes 'em wary and in their fear they lash out. But...I don' think many people actually 'ate you, beyond a few shallow shinobi or the descendants of those who did die."

Naruto didn't reply, but Tasuki knew that the boy understood his message anyway. The blonde silently contemplated the scarred man's words for a while before abruptly nodding and walking into the crowd.

Naruto pushed his thoughts away in order to try to mingle with other people that he knew relatively well. He was only halfway across the large room filled with meshing bodies and pounding music however, when a pair of arms suddenly encircled his neck and he felt something peculiarly soft pressing into his back. Moments later a woman's face, heavily layered with geisha make-up, appeared over his shoulder

"K-Kimiko-san!" he stuttered in surprise.

The woman chuckled in his ear, but released him so that he could turn around to face. "Naruto-kun," she said, mock-scolding him. "How many times have I told you to call me Kimi-chan, hmm?"

"Sorry, Kimi-chan," Naruto replied sheepishly. Kimiko was one of the many prostitutes that frequented the area, but she and her co-workers had always been exceedingly nice to him, so the blonde paid their profession no mind. They, just like everyone else in the red-light district, were just struggling to survive.

Abruptly, Naruto's attention was pulled from his thoughts as a soft pair of lips pressed into his own. He froze in shock, not daring to move as Kimiko pulled away from him, a sultry smirk on her face.

"Happy Birthday, Naruto-kun," she purred. Then she turned an slipped back into the crowd, her hips swaying as his walked, and leaving Naruto to gape after her.

The blonde was still standing there, unmoving, when Tasuki came up to him a few minutes later. "Ya okay there, Naruto?" he asked curiously.

Naruto's mouth snapped close. He blushed scarlet and carefully avoided meeting Tasuki's eyes. His feet shuffled slightly against the carpet.

"I'm fine..."

Tasuki beamed, completely oblivious. "Great," he said. Naruto glanced up and noticed that he was drunk. Again. Tasuki latched onto the boy's arm suddenly and began to drag him towards the entrance of the club. It was a complete 180 from the serious attitude he'd had not ten minutes ago. "Come on then; we're gonna get yer birthday present!"

"W-what?" Naruto spluttered as he struggled to keep his footing. "Whaddaya mean? I thought this was my present."

"Nope!" Tasuki half-sung. "I'm takin' ya to get yer ears pierced!"

"Wait, what?!"

"Yep! Ya gotta get yer ears pierced to complete yer look."

"My look?" the blonde boy protested. "Tasuki, what the hell are you talking about?!"

The man waved off the boy's protested with his free hand. "Ya know, yer tattoos and all. Ya can't have tattoos without piercings," he said. Tasuki was one of the few people to know about them since he almost always had his arms covered with bandages.

"They're seals, not just tattoos—" the boy started to explain, but Tasuki wasn't listening. With a sigh, Naruto gave in and allowed himself to be pulled along to Kami only knew where.

The next morning Ibiki almost died laughing when Naruto walked in with a silver stud in each ear.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A/N: Couple of important things: First, Naruto doesn't know Tsunade very well; he doesn't even know that she is one of the Sanin, just that she's a retired shinobi. She's only an acquaintance of his who he runs into occasionally at casinos and bars and will stay that way for quite a while. Next, about the tattoos. Seals can be drawn on almost any medium because it's the ink that matters the most. Thus, seals can be drawn on skin, clothing, wood, stone, etc.

Also, about the Naruto-Gaara fight: Keep in mind that Naruto's probably a little bit stronger than in the canon and that Gaara is a little bit weaker, because he's younger. This evens them out a lot more. The melted sand thing has been used before in fanfiction, but I haven't seen anyone even think about what would happen to his sand-armor. It's got a major weakness in that it is sand. The glass-sand would retain the heat from an explosion like the one Naruto caused and would doubtlessly melt the skin off of and kill anyone who wasn't a Jinchuuriki. Nasty stuff. But good for Naruto, as it's probably the only way he'd ever defeat Gaara at this age. Of course, he's still no match for Shukaku at this point, he just happened to have the right tools to exploit Gaara's weakness.

The whole thing with the Kyuubi that's mentioned in the end of this chapter is something that's bothered me about fanfiction for a while, and is the main reason why the villagers don't hate Naruto so much in this story. From what we've seen of the manga and anime, the Kyuubi never actually reaches Konoha, so while a few outlying villages and farms might have been destroyed, none of the actual villagers of Konoha were. This is supported by canon because it's only ninja who were mentioned to have been killed—such as Iruka's parents. We never actually see the villagers hating Naruto, just ignoring him; the only evidence of it at all is what Mizuki mentions, and he's not exactly a reliable source of info, and the flashbacks during the Valley of the End. Thus I'm more inclined to think that the villagers shunned him, but weren't outright hostile.

Anyway, this chapter is the last one of Naruto's childhood, which is half the reason why it's so long. The other half is to make up for the short chapter posted at the end of October. The next chapter will start just before Naruto graduates from the Academy.

More info on this story can be found at www(DOT)groups(DOT)yahoo(DOT)com/group/ShadowRebirthFanfiction.

--S.R.

Hitai-ate means forehead protector.
A kunoichi is a female ninja.
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