Categories > Anime/Manga > Naruto > Failing Twilight

Chapter 9: The Team

by Shadow_Rebirth 3 Reviews

Category: Naruto - Rating: R - Genres:  - Characters:  - Published: 2008/12/21 - Updated: 2008/12/21 - 7145 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: 6,828
Total WC: 51,383
First Written: December 17, 2008
Last Edited: December 21, 2008
Posted: December 21, 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 9
The Team

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Blue eyes.

It was all that Gaara could think about. Those blue, blue eyes. They haunted his every step as though they were always there, watching him. They were always watching. They pierced his soul, weighing his actions and slowly tearing him apart.

Gaara didn't know who the boy had been. He wasn't even sure if he'd been real. He'd only been his age and he'd had those blue, blue eyes and he'd somehow managed to defeat him and enrage Mother in only a few seconds. Gaara hadn't thought it was possible.

He'd never seen his own blood before. He'd never been cut, never felt physical pain. But those eyes had managed to do what no one, not even his uncle, had been able to do before. He'd hurt him.

Maybe he was a spirit? Gaara had heard about those. Powerful spirits that roamed the earth and watched over mortals...Gaara had never considered himself human before, but those eyes had reminded him that he was, no matter what Mother or the others said. He was sure that those blue eyes were still watching him, just waiting for him to put a toe out of line so that they could stop him.

Sometimes Gaara thought about doing something really bad, just so that those eyes would come back. So that he could see them again. But then those eyes might be angry and he didn't want that. Never that. So instead he waited patiently for the eyes to reveal themselves to him on their own time.

No one ever bothered to ask where Gaara's bloodthirsty nature had gone.

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Naruto spent the rest of the evening training for the coming test. He didn't know what the test itself would be since each Jounin gave their own version of it, but he did know that Kakashi had yet to pass a team since he'd retired from ANBU.

By six AM the next day he was already at the specified training ground, waiting for his sensei and teammates to arrive. When Sasuke and Sakura did show up they found him sitting on small red bridge, meditating to conserve his energy.

"What're you doing, Naruto-san?" Sakura asked curiously.

The blonde cracked one eye open. "Meditating," he said shortly before closing the eye again. Sakura got the hint and skipped over to stand next to Sasuke.

An hour later their sensei still hadn't shown up. Naruto was thoroughly annoyed and was beginning to wonder if this was going to become a routine. He was almost about to start practicing the silent-step exercise again out of sheer boredom when a whirlwind of leaves finally announced Kakashi's arrival.

"Yo," the Jounin said entirely too cheerfully. He was greeted with three sullen glares. "Uh, right. The exam." His smile turned dark once more. "Yes, the exam. As I mentioned yesterday, this exam will test both your skills and your ability to work as a team, which is significantly important to your shinobi careers." He then pulled out a time and a small silver bell attached to a thread. "Somewhere within this training ground a bell like this one is tied to the trunk of a tree. You must retrieve this bell and bring it back here before the timer goes off; it's set for noon. As soon as you have the bell I will attempt to stop you by any means necessary."

No, that definitely wasn't a good smile.

And yet, at the same time, Naruto couldn't help but feel excited. This was just like a mission. A real mission. And if he passed this, then he'd become a shinobi for real. Naruto did nothing to stop his growing grin.

"Ready?" Kakashi asked brightly. He set the timer down in the middle of the clearing and pushed a button on the top. "Go!"

And then he disappeared in a small puff of smoke.

Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke all shared a glance. Naruto looked excited and Sakura looked nervous, but Sasuke just looked disgruntled.

"If you keep glaring at the grass like that, it's probably going to burst into flames," Naruto commented dryly.

Sasuke scowled at him. "Whatever. Just don't get in my way, okay? I don't want you two to weigh me down and prevent me from becoming a Genin."

Naruto rolled his eyes. "Didn't you hear what Kakashi-sensei said, Uchiha? We're being graded on teamwork as well as skill, which means that we have to work together or you will fail."

Sakura glanced between the two, wringing her hands nervously. She looked as though she was torn between agreeing with Naruto and defending Sasuke. Naruto rolled his eyes again, but his grin never faltered.

"Look," the blonde conceded, "Let's just get going. Do either of you know any tracking techniques?" They just stared at him. "...Right. Well, then we could do this the old fashioned way and just look for the bell, but that'll take too long and we're on a time limit. So I guess we'll just have to do this my way then."

Without further ado, Naruto formed a cross shaped seal and created a hundred Kage Bunshin—like hell he was going to reveal his seal-tattoos just yet—and sent them off to scour the training ground.

"What the hell was that?" Sasuke demanded. "Do you really think that Bunshin will—?"

"They're Kage Bunshin, not regular Bunshin," Naruto replied absently. "They're solid clones and— There we go. I found the bell. Careful though; the forest is filled with traps."

Sasuke grudgingly nodded, accepting the answer for now, even if he didn't like it. With Naruto in the lead, the three Genin took off through the forest at a quick pace. They barely got twenty feet however, when the blonde abruptly stopped.

"Wait—" he called out, but was a second too late. Sakura had already taken another step, triggering the nearly invisible trip wire and sending a dozen shuriken hurling at them. Naruto grabbed Sakura around the waist and, ignoring the girl's indignant yelp, used Kawarimi to switch them with a nearby branch. Sasuke had already ducked out of the weapons' trajectories, using a tree as a shield.

Sakura huffed as she pulled herself away from Naruto, but did mutter out a brief "thank you". Naruto flashed a grin before taking up the trail once more.

The team encountered several other traps along the way, but dispatched them all with relative ease. Sasuke used a fire jutsu once, to Naruto's surprise and Sakura's awe. Naruto had forgotten that the Uchiha had been at the top of their class and hailed as a genius while in the Academy; perhaps now he was starting to see why.

Within a half an hour they'd finally reached a tree with a bell on a string that was tied around its trunk. It was rather annoying to Naruto to be moving so slow when he could so easily have pumped some chakra into his legs and gotten to the tree within a few minutes, but Kakashi had said that they had to work as a team and there was no way in hell that he was going to fail.

Sasuke stalked forward and cut the bell free with a flash of a kunai before pocketing it. He nodded at his teammates with narrowed eyes and Naruto had to wonder if the dark haired boy was considering ditching them to take the bell for his own. But whatever thoughts had passed through the boy's mind, he joined Naruto and Sakura again.

As they began to make their way back through the forest, Naruto felt his hackles raise and his instincts go wild. "We're being watched," he muttered quietly.

Sakura opened her mouth in surprise, but the blonde cut her off with a quick shake of his head. She nodded mutely and closed her mouth, agreeing to be silent. Sasuke was already scanning the foliage from the corners of his eyes.

A brief pulse of chakra caused Naruto to whip his head around, his mouth already forming a warning, but by then it was too late. Dozens of shuriken rained down on them, followed shortly by Kakashi.

Eyes narrowed, Naruto activated his Kawarimi seal, rapidly switching places with one shuriken after another so that he could get closer to their sensei. It worked well up until he was suddenly greeted with a kick to the face that sent him flying backward. Naruto swiftly rolled into a crouched position, growling in frustration.

Meanwhile, Sasuke had proceeded to attack Kakashi with Taijutsu. The Jounin easily batted his attempts away, as though he was barely even worth the effort. Snarling in rage, the Uchiha leapt back abruptly and began the handseals for that fire jutsu of his. To Naruto's momentary shock, the attack directly connected. But when the smoke cleared away, all that was left was a small log.

Kawarimi.

Team 7 waited, tensed, but Kakashi didn't show up again. Sakura shared a shaky look with her two teammates, before beginning to walk forward again. Naruto shrugged and followed and heard Sasuke do the same.

Now that they'd been attacked, the three Genin were far more wary. The simple traps had put them off their guard, but they remembered now that Kakashi had said that he'd do anything to stop them. The only remaining question was, just how far would he go? Was he allowed to kill them—even by accident?

They walked in silence, ever aware of their surroundings. Thus they were already ready when Kakashi appeared once more. What they weren't ready for however, was for Kakashi to grab Sakura and hold a kunai to her neck. Naruto and Sasuke froze, unsure of what to do.

"Give me the bell," Kakashi growled. He was completely serious, all of the playful amusement from earlier gone.

Naruto gulped, feeling completely out of his depth. When fighting, he'd never actually had to worry about other people before, only himself. Even when he'd helped guard merchant caravans from bandits on occasion, he'd never had to worry about them taking anyone captive; it wasn't their style, for one, and all of the merchants had been tucked away in the wagons, guarded by mercenaries.

He honestly wasn't sure what Kakashi would do.

The four shinobi stared at each other, none of them—not even Sakura—daring to move. They were at an impasse and seemed that there was nothing they could do.

Until, of course, Sakura did something none of them could have expected and pushed the kunai away from her throat with her bare hand and rolled out of Kakashi's reach. Even though Naruto was sure that Kakashi could have stopped her had he really wanted to, he couldn't help but smirk widely as he and Sasuke jumped to stand in front of Sakura.

Naruto placed his hands into the cross shaped seal and once again created a few dozen Kage Bunshin. While they engaged Kakashi, Naruto grabbed Sasuke and Sakura and began to pull away from the battle.

Sasuke jerked from his grip only a few seconds later, a snarl on his face. He began to turn back towards Kakashi before the blonde gripped his shoulder once more, this time channeling chakra into his hand so that Sasuke couldn't break free.

"No!" Naruto whispered harshly. "We're supposed to get back to the clearing with the bell, not defeat Kakashi in combat. Do you want to become a Genin or not?"

The dark haired boy scowled fiercely at him, but eventually relented. Sakura watched the exchange with narrowed eyes, tightly holding her hand all the while. The bleeding had slowed down, as the cut was shallow, but she'd need to get it bandaged as soon as possible to prevent any infection.

Naruto jerked his head and the three began moving hurriedly through the forest again. Naruto winced each time one of his clones was dispelled by Kakashi, but he'd long since learned how to ignore the brief flashes of pain and death as the clones' memories returned to him. It was interesting, really, to know that he'd technically died thousands of times.

"Shit!" the blonde swore suddenly. His teammates sent him inquiring glances. "Kakashi's gotten rid of most of the clones," he explained grimly. "He's breaking through..."

Sakura looked away from him and frowned deeply at the ground as they ran on. Naruto could tell just from looking at her that her mind was working furiously to come up with a solution. He was curious about what she would say; after all, in the Academy only Shikamaru had had better theory scores than her, and Shikamaru was able to come up with some brilliant plans.

"Sasuke-kun," the pink haired girl said suddenly, "You've got some shinobi wire, right?" When the boy grunted affirmatively she turned her gaze onto their third teammate. "Naruto, can you make more of those...clones?"

"Kage Bunshin? Sure. How many do you need?"

Sakura had a surprisingly vicious grin. "Oh, just a few."

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Kakashi had to admit that he was surprised and more than a little curious. This team had turned out nothing like he'd expected.

He'd expected Sasuke to go off and try to accomplish the "mission" on his own, but the boy had actually stayed with his teammates. Plus, the Jounin certainly hadn't been expecting the boy to know Katon: Goukakyu no Jutsu (Fire Release: Great Fireball Technique) or such powerful Taijutsu yet. Sasuke certainly was an Uchiha. Sakura had also surprised him. He'd never pegged her as one to take the risk to get away like that.

Uzumaki Naruto, however, was without a doubt the most intriguing member of the team. On record the boy was described as being a lazy slacker who rarely went to school and usually slept in class when he did. His teachers believed that he'd never amount to anything, though it was possible that that was their bias speaking. Despite this however, the boy's test scores were incredible. He received full points on every single test he took, including the Genin exam. It had befuddled Kakashi at first, but no one he'd spoken to had been able to answer his questions. It was as though no one knew the boy.

Now having met and fought against Naruto though, Kakashi understood. Naruto was an incredible fighter with powerful reflexes who'd clearly had advanced training in all of the shinobi arts. And just where had he learned to make Kage Bunshin? That was a Jounin level technique known only by a few shinobi! Kakashi was definitely going to have to talk to the Sandaime when this was all done with.

Overall, Kakashi was surprised to feel rather...content...with Team 7. They were different from all of the other Genin he'd received and fit together astoundingly well, balancing each other out. Maybe, just maybe, this could work out...

As he dispatched the last of Naruto's Kage Bunshin—just how much chakra did the boy have?!—he turned his attention back to the forest. He could feel his students' chakra in the distance, but surprisingly they weren't moving. The Jounin's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. Just what were they planning?

Kakashi took to the trees and swiftly made his way through the forest. His passage made no sound and even the birds were not disturbed. The Genin would never know that he was coming.

It wasn't long before Kakashi caught sight of the shinobi wire. He slowed to a stop before it, raising an eyebrow at how obviously it'd been strung up between several trees, to obstruct passage. Did his students really believe that he wouldn't notice the wire? His estimation of them dropped a notch.

"Hey, Kakashi-sensei," Naruto said brightly.

The boy had just strolled into view as though they weren't in the middle of an exam. Kakashi's eyebrow rose a little more. He could sense Sasuke and Sakura off in the distance, behind a nearby copse of trees. There were several others with them that Kakashi assumed to be more clones. Just what were they playing at?

"Ah, Naruto-kun," Kakashi responded with a smile. "Where are your teammates?"

"Around," the blonde said, making a dismissive gesture with one hand. "Say, sensei, I think it'd be best if you stayed right where you are."

"Oh really? And why is that?"

Naruto shrugged. "Oh, you know, self-preservation and all that junk." Kakashi's second eyebrow joined the first and Naruto's smile turned razor sharp. "There are exploding tags all around you, you see, and if you make the wrong move they just might go off."

Kakashi froze. The boy could be bluffing; there might not be anything around him. But there also just might be. Slowly, the silver haired man grinned and settled back on his heels.

"Exploding tags, huh?" he mused. "Alright, then, just what do you want."

Naruto put on a mockingly innocent expression. "Want, Kakashi-sensei? Whatever do you mean? We already have the bell, so exactly what could we want?"

"You tell me," Kakashi answered wryly. "You wouldn't be standing out here if you didn't want to negotiate; if the tags go off, you'll be caught in the blast too."

That sharp grin returned. "Ah, but I'm a Kage Bunshin, you see, so it doesn't matter," he said, chuckling. "It's good to be cautious, sensei, but you've got to make sure that you're focusing on the right threat."

Abruptly, the clone threw itself towards the wires and even as Kakashi shifted into a defensive position, the clone passed straight through. The Jounin's eyes widened in shock, realizing that it'd been a regular Bunshin all along, but by then the ground around him had already exploded, not with exploding tags, but with more Naruto clones as they shrugged off the Henge that had been hiding them as various pieces of nature.

Everything happened too quickly then and before Kakashi knew it, he was wrapped in ninja wire and Sasuke was in front of him with the various clones surrounding them. The Uchiha smirked widely before beginning the handseals for his fire jutsu once more. Kakashi breathed in sharply in shock, knowing that the fire would travel down the wire, instantly frying him.

Kakashi used Kawarimi to get out of the area as quickly as possible. He crouched on the lower branch of a tree, tensely waiting for the explosion that he knew was about to come.

Nothing happened.

The Jounin stared into space, confused for a moment. But then, as the chakra of his students began moving farther away, he quickly realized what had just happened: He'd been tricked.

He laughed long and hard as he sat there. It'd been a while since something like this had happened, since anyone—let alone three Genin—had managed to so thoroughly trick him like this. Every single person that he'd encountered within the last minute had been a clone. One of those clones had been disguised as Sasuke, to make Kakashi think that he was going to use his fire jutsu so that the Jounin would flee. Meanwhile, the real team was making their way back to the clearing and would undoubtedly arrive in time.

Still chuckling, Kakashi stood up and leapt from the branch.

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Naruto, Sakura, and even Sasuke were smiling widely when Kakashi appeared next to the small red bridge right as the alarm went off. The Jounin turned off the alarm and then held out his hand, asking for the bell. Wordlessly, Sasuke stepped up and handed it to him.

"Congratulations," Kakashi beamed. "You're the first team to pass."

It took a few seconds for the sentence to sink into the Genin's minds. When it did however, Sakura and Naruto whooped for joy and Sasuke's smirk widened into a toothy grin. The happiness was contagious and soon Kakashi was laughing along with them.

"I've got to go inform the Hokage about this," Kakashi said after a moment. Amusement was still thick in his voice. "Why don't you three celebrate today? Be here tomorrow morning at the same time."

As Kakashi disappeared in a swirl of leaves, Naruto turned to his teammates, still grinning. "Celebrating sounds like a good idea to me," he said. "How about we all go out to eat? I know of a great little ramen place."

Sasuke and Sakura shared a glance before shrugging. "Sure. Why not?" Sakura answered brightly. Sasuke nodded mutely.

Naruto was starting to think that he just might get along with his team.

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Several miles away, Kakashi stood with ten other Jounin in front of the Sandaime. The elder Hokage was puffing away at his pipe as he called out names.

"Asuma?" Sarutobi grunted.

"Team 10 passed," the man replied formally. Unsurprised, Sarutobi marked something down on the clipboard in front of hum.

"Shotaro?"

"Team 9 failed." The pen scratched away again.

"Kurenai?"

"Team 8 passed." Another mark.

"Kakashi?"

"Team 7 passed."

The pen stopped. Everyone in the room stared at him in shock. Kakashi just smiled brightly, as though oblivious to the looks he was getting.

"...Right..." Sarutobi said slowly. As he marked something down once more, Kakashi noticed that there was a small smile on the man's face. Interesting.

Sarutobi continued down the list, but none of the remaining teams had managed to pass. The Sandaime nodded seriously to himself before dismissing all but the three Jounin who'd passed their teams. Then he set down his pipe, folding his hands on the desk before him, and looked at the Jounin with a grim expression.

"This year things are going to be done a bit differently," Sarutobi said, instantly perking the shinobi's interest. "You're going to push these Genin hard and train them into the ground. Within the next six months I want all of them to be Chuunin level."

Kurenai reeled back, surprised. "Hokage-sam—!"

"Why?" Kakashi swiftly interrupted. His eyes were narrowed and his expression was deadly serious.

The Sandaime sighed wearily. "Two days ago a traitor was uncovered in this village," he replied. "He had planned to attempt to steal the Forbidden Scroll, but fortunately, was stopped and brought in to Ibiki before the plan could come to fruition. Since then, we have found that the shinobi was not trying to steal the scroll for himself, but that he'd been order to do so. We still don't know who exactly it is that he works for, but Ibiki should be able to get it out of him before long.

"In the meantime, these events have drastic consequences. None of the Villages have been this open in their actions since the last Shinobi War. Plus, just the fact that one of our own turned traitor has disturbing implications. How many spies might already be in the Village? I fear that waves are beginning to be made in the shinobi world again. We must make sure that the next generation is ready so, as I said, train these children with every once of your will power."

A single hand motion dismissed the three Jounin, who bowed formally before leaving. Once he was alone in the office once more, Sarutobi turned to stare out at the expanse of Konoha that was visible from the open windows in his office. He heaved a heavy sigh, hoping that all was not already lost.

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Pain did not turn when he heard someone enter the room. His gray, ringed Rinnegan eyes stared out at the rain blanketing the city before him. He wondered if he should feel proud that this city was his own, that here he was a god, but he felt nothing. Nothing at all, save perhaps a small bit of amusement.

He'd long since left human emotions behind.

The visitor finally stopped a few feet behind him. Though he already knew who it was, Pain glanced back to meet Orochimaru's gaze. Silence reigned for several long minutes.

"Well?"

Orochimaru bowed his head respectfully. "I'm afraid that the Leaf Village had foiled Mizuki's plot to steal the Forbidden Scroll."

A faint smirk curled at the edges of Pain's mouth. "Good..." he muttered.

Orochimaru's head jerked up, revealing his surprise. "You...You expected this?"

Pain chuckled. It was dark laughed that didn't even remotely sound human. "Of course," he said smoothly. "Did you really think that we needed that scroll? No, the only purpose in sending Mizuki was to alert the Leaf Village that something was going on."

"Pain-sama...?"

The smirk widened just a little bit. "After all," he continued, almost sounding as though he was talking to himself, "If they think that a war is brewing then they will prepare for it. And we can't have them taken down too easily in the coming chaos, now can we?"

"...Of course, Pain-sama."

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Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura showed up at training ground #7 at six O'clock the next morning and were shocked to find that Kakashi was already there, waiting for them. They'd half expected the Jounin to be late like he'd been the past two days.

"Good morning," Kakashi greeted.

Naruto frowned at him, not bothering to reply even as his teammates muttered their own greetings. Kakashi had a different air about him than he'd had for the past few days. He was acting even more serious and professional than the first time they'd met him.

"We're going to be training until lunch," Kakashi said without any further ado. "After that we'll take a break to have lunch and do a D-rank mission before training again until eight tonight. This will be your schedule almost everyday for the next few months, until you're all strong enough to perform C-rank missions. I suggest you try to get a good amount of food and sleep every day; you're going to need it."

Naruto exchanged glances with his teammates. Kakashi's rather brusque attitude was definitely different. What had happened to warrant the change?

"There is one main thing that we're going to be working on in today's training," the silver haired Jounin continued. "Before we can start on anything else all three of you need to learn how to harness your chakra in order to maximize your proficiency. The first exercise you'll be doing is the tree climbing exercise—"

"Uh, Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto interrupted, hesitantly raising one hand. "I, uh, already know how to do that."

"No, Naruto," Kakashi said with a sigh. "This exercise is different. It involves climbing trees without your hands—"

"I know. I already know the exercise."

Kakashi blinked several times, clearly surprised. Then his eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Show me."

With a shrug, Naruto walked up to the closest tree. Under his sensei and teammates' curious gazes, he placed one foot on the trunk, then the other, and then began to walk vertically up the tree. He walked all the way up and back down again, grinning all the while at his teammates shocked looks.

"Hmm, well I suppose that you do know the exercise," Kakashi mused. He turned to Sasuke and Sakura. "As Naruto just demonstrated, in order to perform this technique you have to channel a small amount of chakra to your feet so that you stick to the tree trunk. Not only does this exercise teach you how to stick to any surface, but it helps you to learn how to properly control your chakra. Naruto, since you've already got this down, then I suppose you'll just have to start on water walki—"

"I know that one too." Kakashi stared at him. Naruto shifted uncomfortably. "I'm working on the silent-step exercise right now," he added helpfully, "But I don't have it mastered yet."

Kakashi continued to stare. "...Naruto, don't you have a lot of chakra?" The blonde nodded vigorously. "...When did you start learning these chakra control exercises?"

"When I was...seven? No, eight. I think."

"...Right," Kakashi said slowly. "You just...go start working on the silent-step exercise, okay? I'll come talk to you in a minute."

Naruto winced imperceptibly as he walked over to an open patch of grass, out of hearing range of his teammates. That didn't sound good at all. But it wasn't like Kakashi would get mad at him for being advanced.

Several minutes later, Kakashi finished giving instructions to Sasuke and Sakura and moved over to where Naruto was standing on top of the grass. The blonde managed to take a few shaky steps before his chakra fluctuated and he fell back to the ground.

"Not bad," the Jounin muttered. "Naruto-kun, who taught you these exercises?"

"Friends," Naruto answered with a shrug. "I know a lot of people who are shinobi and they help me some times."

Kakashi grunted in acknowledgment. He was staring out at the foliage, deep in thought. "What...else can you do, Naruto-kun?" he asked.

Again the Genin shrugged, feeling no need to lie to his sensei. "I work with seals," he admitted. "Mainly seal construction. I can create almost any seal you can name; explosion tags, containment seals, chakra-repressing seals, chakra-sensing seals, and...Jutsu seals."

"Jutsu seals?"

Naruto hesitated only for a moment. "Jutsu were originally created not with handseals, but with written seals," he said finally. "I...experiment a lot and have figured out how to recreate handseals with written seals, like they did in the old days. Just channel the right amount of chakra into these seals and boom, instant jutsu. For example, did you know that explosion tags are really just the basics for a fire jutsu and a containment seal combined? I've created a few revised explosion tags that contain shrapnel, making them much, much more deadly. And more useful."

Kakashi's mind worked furiously to process all of this information. Naruto was practically already a seal master, even though he'd never apprenticed under anyone. Or at least he assumed the kid hadn't, from his "experiment" comments.

"Interesting," Kakashi murmured to himself. "Interesting...Still, get back to your exercise for now, Naruto-kun. It'll help your control even more."

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Kakashi treated them all to lunch that day—along with promises that it wouldn't happen again. Coming from any other person the statement would have been rude, but with Kakashi it was almost expected. After the meal, they headed to the Hokage Tower to get their first mission.

The Mission Center was a large wooden room about half way up the tower. Desks covered with files lined two of the walls and numerous shinobi were seated behind them. The room buzzed with noise as various teams and shinobi received their missions. It was obvious, however, that there were no Jounin in the room. They received their missions directly from the Hokage.

Team 7 and their sensei walked up to one of the free desks. A bored looking Chuunin sat there, nibbling on the end of his pen.

"Name and requested mission rank?" the man asked dully.

"Hatake Kakashi. D-rank."

"Right. D-rank, D-rank," he muttered, flipping through some papers. "Here we go. Hyosuke Raito put in a request for some groceries to be picked up..."

Naruto stared on in horror. The next ten minutes seemed to slip by his fingers, with him powerless to stop the passage of time. Grocery shopping. They were going grocery shopping. This was what shinobi did?!

The mission continued like a nightmare. They went into the store, were given a list of items they had to get, found the items, and then paid for them. It was the exact same thing Naruto did about once a week or two, when he went grocery shopping for himself. It was boring, pointless, and a complete waste of time. And from the looks on Sasuke and Sakura's faces, they thought so too.

"Why are we doing this, sensei?" Sasuke bit out through gritted teeth. "How the hell is this supposed to help us?"

"Now, now, Sasuke-kun," Kakashi chuckled, "You have to start out with D-rank missions before you move your way up in this shinobi world." The grinding of Sasuke's teeth soon became audible.

"He's right though, sensei," Naruto piped up. "Why are we, as shinobi, given missions to go grocery shopping? Wouldn't our time be better sent doing something more...productive?"

"Ah, but this is quite productive, even if it doesn't seem like it," the Jounin replied with a secretive wink. He stopped and all of the Genin turned to face him. "You see, first off this promotes teamwork, which is very important for shinobi. But also, these missions are practice for higher level missions, minus the danger. Shopping missions like this one, for example, are just like retrieval missions, just as babysitting is just like guarding a client. Just pretend that there's danger all around you and you've got the basics of what any C- or B-rank mission is like."

The Genin stared at him, rather surprised by the older shinobi's line of thinking. It was true, really, when one looked at it that way. This was like training for "real" missions.

They wordlessly decided to never complain about D-ranks again. Even if they were pointless.

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It was another three days before Kakashi finally deemed them all to have good enough chakra control to move on. By this time, Sakura had completely mastered the tree walking exercise and was pretty good with water walking. Sasuke had just begun on water walking. And of course, Naruto was still working on the silent-step technique. He was now able to walk around barefoot with only minimal problems, but doing the exercise with shoes still made him falter.

"Alright," Kakashi said the morning that he announced that they were moving on. "We'll begin working on two things today. One of these is Taijutsu, but the other, the one we're starting with, is elemental chakra."

The silver haired shinobi gestured for them to sit and they all did. Sasuke and Sakura were sitting at the base of the little red bridge that crossed the river that ran through their training ground while Naruto perched on the rail above them. Kakashi plopped rather gracelessly into the grass before them.

"The first thing you need to know," he continued, "Is that there are five basic types of chakra: Fire, wind, water, lightning, and earth. These are the basics of all jutsu and are the reason the five great countries are named as they are. Each of these elements have both a strength and a weakness, such as how fire trumps wind, but is weak against water. Most people naturally lean towards a certain element, which tends to be passed down through family line; members of the Uchiha clan, for example, usually have an affinity for fire-natured chakra.

"As a matter of fact, this is where bloodline limits come from. There are a few rare people who have affinities for two elements and when these elements are combined simultaneously, they create another, secondary element. So, for example, the Shodaime Hokage had an affinity for both earth and water, which allowed him to create Mokuton (/Wood Release/) techniques. Theoretically it's possible to combine, say, water and wind for ice or fire and water for steam."

"Or fire and earth for metal," Naruto muttered.

Kakashi blinked in surprise. "Ah, yes," he said. "I suppose that's true, though I've never heard of it being done..."

He trailed off with a thoughtful look similar to the one that Naruto was wearing. Naruto's thoughts, however, were going in a very different direction that the Jounin's: one that involved seals.

"Anyway," Kakashi said as he shook off his thoughts. "These types of chakra are important because they're where jutsu come from. With them you can create new types of jutsu or improve upon those that already exist. In order to do this, you must first master two types of chakra control—which, by the way, are completely different from the exercises you've been doing for the past few days. These techniques are physical and spatial decomposition; basically the forming and discharging of chakra."

Kakashi stood up suddenly and walked over to the nearest tree. He held his hand up so all three of the interested Genin could see it. The Jounin then channeled some chakra in it, causing it to hum with bright electricity that sounded like the chirping of birds.

"This, for example, is my original jutsu called Chidori," the silver haired man explained over the sound. "Because my chakra is lightning-natured, when I physically recompose my chakra to resemble electricity, it comes out like this. Now, when I spatially recompose it..."

He abruptly drove his hand into the wood of the tree while simultaneously discharging the chakra. Instantly, it was as though a lightning-laced bomb had gone off. Kakashi's arm went straight through the tree, chunks of wood flew everywhere, and electricity danced through the air.

The three Genin were left gaping at the aftermath.

"Whoa," Naruto breathed. His eyes were wide with shock and awe. "That was awesome!"

The Jounin smiled brightly. "Indeed it is," he agreed. "And I've also got an even more powerful version of that jutsu, which is called Raikiri. But enough of that. Now it's time for you three to find out what your elemental affinity is." He pulled out four slips of paper and handed them to the eager children. "These are chakra cards. They're made from special trees that have been nurtured with chakra their whole lives. Because of this, they respond to even the slightest amount of chakra and can tell you what your affinity is."

Kakashi channeled a small amount of chakra into the one of the cards and immediately it crinkled up.

"For lightning-natured chakra, the cards will crinkle up; for wind, they'll get cut in half; fire, they'll burn; water, they'll get wet; and for earth they'll turn to dust. Go ahead and channel some chakra."

Excitedly the Genin did as they'd been told. Naruto's split in half in his hand and Sakura's crumbled into dust. Sasuke's, however, first crumpled up and then burst into flames

"Well then," Kakashi beamed. "I suppose we know what your affinities are. And Sasuke has two. How interesting."

Sakura squealed and began rapidly telling a smirking Sasuke how cool it must be to have two affinities. Naruto, on the other hand, just eyed the boy thoughtfully.

"What now?" the blonde asked, tearing his eyes away from his teammate. "Do we start with the techniques you mentioned, Kakashi-sensei?"

"Yes. Each of you pick up a leaf and channel chakra into it until it cuts, for you Naruto, or crumbles, for you Sakura. Sasuke, you'll begin with fire first, so try to get the leaf to burn. I'll have you move onto lightning later. However, before you all begin, I want you to know that this is a very complex exercise that most likely will take six months for you to complete." He ignored how the Genin gaped openly at him. "You'll work on it a little bit each day—and at home if you'd like, but be careful not to exhaust yourselves. Chakra exhaustion is nasty and deadly."

The Genin stood up and each went out and got a leaf. Once Naruto had found his own, he stared down at it thoughtfully, his mind still in a completely different direction. After a moment, he shook his head as though to clear and rejoined his teammates.

"So how do we do this?" Sakura asked curiously. "Do we just channel chakra into the leaves?"

"Yeah, that's about it. Because your chakra naturally leans towards a certain element, when you physically recompose it, it will take care of the rest," Kakashi replied.

Naruto glanced down at his leaf again and began channeling some chakra into it. Nothing happened, so he channeled more chakra. And more. And more.

An hour later, none of them had gotten anywhere. Naruto knew that Kakashi had said that this would take six freaking months, but that didn't make it any less frustrating. If anything, it just made the task seem that much more daunting.

"How the hell are we supposed to get this to work?" Sakura grumbled under her breath. "Stupid leaf..."

Sasuke grunted in response and his eyes lifted to look at Naruto you. The dark haired boy hesitated for a moment before visibly steeling himself.

"Where did you learn those chakra control exercises that we've been working on?"

The blonde looked up, blinking in surprise. "Eh? Oh, I've got a few friends who are shinobi."

Sasuke frowned, but looked down at his leaf and didn't ask anything else. Naruto was left feeling rather confused, but after a moment he just shrugged it off and returned to his own leaf.

"Alright," Kakashi said about an hour later. By then Sakura was exhausted, Sasuke was getting pretty tired, and Naruto hadn't even broken a sweat. Having massive amounts of chakra definitely helped in this case. "Stop for today. We're going to move on to the next order of business: Taijutsu."

To Naruto's surprise, Kakashi then formed two Kage Bunshin. They were wearing the same dark grin that the Jounin had, which sent shivers of dread down the Genin's spines.

"Let's start out with some one-on-one work, ne?"

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A/N: Naruto's past is not the only one that's changed in this story. There are only a few other changes though, and they will become very obvious as the story goes on. The thing with Orochimaru in this chapter was just one example of this—and I'll say nothing more on that subject, except that quite obliviously the Chuunin exams are going to be very different in this story.

Eh, the explanation about elemental affinity was a bit lengthy. That was for those of you who haven't gone that far in the anime/manga. Also, this Naruto has far better chakra control than in canon, which means that he has a lot more chakra, since chakra exercises help to build reserves.

And yes, Gaara thinks that Naruto is a spirit or something. He's never been defeated before, never even been hurt, and then along comes a boy his age who manages to do that within the span of a few minutes. Rather than thinking that it could be someone who's strong—and was lucky enough to be able to find his weakness—his mind instead thinks that there's something supernatural going on. It's certainly not rational, but then, Gaara's never been rational.

Thanks for all your reviews! More info on this story can be found at www(DOT)groups(DOT)yahoo(DOT)com/group/ShadowRebirthFanfiction.

--S.R.
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