Categories > Anime/Manga > Naruto > Failing Twilight

Chapter 7: The Graduation

by Shadow_Rebirth 0 reviews

Category: Naruto - Rating: R - Genres:  - Published: 2008-12-17 - Updated: 2008-12-17 - 5906 words

Title: Failing Twilight
Author: Shadow Rebirth
Beta Reader: Rukia23
Rating: M
Warnings: Death, blood and gore, coarse language, adult themes, spoilers
Chapter WC: 5,488
Total WC: 38,591
First Written: December 9, 2008
Last Edited: December 13, 2008
Posted: December 16, 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.


Failing Twilight

Chapter 7
The Graduation


Had anyone walked in on Naruto at that moment, they probably would have laughed. After all, a twelve year old blonde haired boy covered in soot, wearing a pair of goggles, and bent over a massive selection of scrolls was undoubtedly a rather odd sight.

It was, of course, at that moment that a knock coming from further in the complex echoed through the open door.

Naruto glanced up as one of the dozens of Kage Bunshin that he had stationed throughout "his" complex appeared in the swirl of leaves signature to the Shunshin (Body Flicker Technique). The doppelganger looked just like him: Namely, it was dressed in a pair of dark green cargo pants—with numerous pockets, of course—, a black, high-collared, sleeveless shirt, and a pair of black shinobi boots. The boots were made with special soft soles that made no noise when he walked and offered more protection than the standard shinobi sandals.

Around the clone's neck was what Naruto considered to be his most prized possession: A thick leather band. It wasn't for decoration though; far from it. There were metal plates inside the leather covering, to protect his neck, but more importantly there were nine seals carved and dyed into the leather. They were seals that had saved his life more than once in battle.

The clone also had its upper arms and calves wrapped in bandages, hiding the tattoo-seals there, and a pair of sturdy goggles hung around its neck. Naruto always had those goggles with him; they were useful both with seal experimentation and when using explosions in battle. The most vibrant change in Naruto, however, was that the top half of his spiky hair was dyed black while the bottom half was blonde. He'd done it out of sheer boredom and even now was considering dying his hair a different color again. That, in some ways, it made him look like less of shinobi was only a stealth bonus when it came to blending in.

"Hey Boss!" the clone greeted. "Shika's here."

"Let 'im in then," Naruto replied with an absent wave of his hand.

As the clone disappeared again, Naruto sighed and removed the goggles from his face. There was a peculiar space clear of soot around his eyes now, but he didn't even notice. Instead, he just went on muttering under his breath, looking through the scrolls.

"Oi, Naruto, take a break, would you?" came Shikamaru's familiarly bored voice.

"Can't. I'm so close to a breakthrough—"

"Which isn't going to come if you fry your brain. Sit down."

Naruto rolled his eyes, but grudgingly took the other boy's advice. Shikamaru was without a doubt one of Naruto's closest friends and one of only a handful of people who knew everything about the blonde, including about the Kyuubi no Kitsune. That Shikamaru had figured out on his own, which wasn't too surprising since he was a certified genius.

"I'm sittin', I'm sittin'," Naruto grumbled as he plopped gracelessly into one of his work room's chairs. "Whaddaya want, Shika?"

"Iruka-sensei told us today that the graduation exam is in a week and a half," Shikamaru said. He followed Naruto's example and took a seat across from the blonde. "Don't forget to actually show up that day, ne?"

"Maybe," Naruto said with a cheeky grin. "Or maybe I'll just skip."

Shikamaru snorted. "Yeah. Right. And wait another damn year to graduate. Have fun with that."

Naruto couldn't help but laugh at Shikamaru's sarcasm. It was one of the things the dark haired boy was well known for, along with his incredible brain and his legendary laziness.

"Fine," the blonde grinned. "I'll show up, but only because ya asked so nicely."

Shikamaru rolled his eyes again and muttered something under his breath about "troublesome blondes". Naruto just laughed again.

“Why don’t you come to school today? Shikamaru suddenly asked. “You only ever come for tests.”

Naruto shrugged. “Eh, I could, I suppose.”

He should have known not to give Shikamaru even a little room on the matter. He repeated this over and over as he was forcefully dragged from his work and over to the Academy. He sighed and allowed his friend to lead the way. He hadn’t been there in a while after all, so he supposed that it was time for a visit.

Almost as soon as they stepped into the Academy Naruto began to feel awkward. He really didn't like coming here; they were all just children. Children who'd never experienced death, who'd never had blood on their hands.

Some might say that Naruto was just a child too, but he’d long since stopped considering himself one. It was even hard for him sometimes to see eye to eye with some of the friends he had who were around his age, such as Shikamaru and Tenten. Though, thankfully, Shikamaru was unusually mature for his age as well.

The classroom was still mostly empty when Naruto and Shikamaru arrived. Their sensei, Iruka, wasn’t even there yet. There were however a handful of students.

“Well look at who decided to show up today,” a dry voice greeted.

Naruto glanced over at Hyuuga Hinata and grinned, to which she responded in kind. Naruto could vaguely remember that she’d been incredibly shy when he’d first met her, but the young heiress had changed a lot since then and had grown into a confident girl. Even though he didn’t know her very well, Naruto liked her best out of the Hyuuga because she was kind despite her sometimes brusque attitude. The blonde had heard rumors that she had some issues with her family at home, but he’d never pried.

The blonde boy’s eyes swept the room for a moment before landing on the only other person there at that moment who he knew by name: Uchiha Sasuke. A shiver ran down his spine as his gaze met Sasuke’s and his mind momentarily overlaid those dark orbs with the crimson red that belonged to Uchiha Madara. He quickly tore his gaze away.

Honestly, Naruto didn’t know Sasuke at all. He’d spoken to him only on a few rare occasions and even then, those exchanges had always been short. Naruto was tempted to be cold towards the other boy, but he just couldn’t. Disliking the boy because he was an Uchiha would be far too much like how the Villagers were so cold to him because of the Kyuubi.

As the rest of the students slowly filtered in, Naruto received only a few glances from the other kids. They were all mostly neutral towards him since he was known as such a slacker.

A sudden screech was all the warning the class had before a blonde haired girl and a pink haired girl suddenly threw themselves at the classroom doors, fighting to get through the narrow space at the same time. Naruto stared on in wide eyed shock, having never witnessed this before.

"Sasuke-kun!" the blonde girl cried as she threw herself into the room. The second girl was directly after each other as they fought to get into one of the seats next to the silent Uchiha.

Naruto was sure that one of his eyes was twitching. They were fighting...Over Sasuke? He'd heard that he had a fan club, but this was just ridiculous. He threw a pitying glance over at the Uchiha. Although...He had to admit that the girls' intensity could be very useful in the shinobi world, if only they channeled it in the right way. But that wasn't likely to happen for a while yet.

The sharp snap that accompanied the closing of the classroom door caused everyone to jump and look over to where Iruka was standing, waiting. "Thank you," he said dryly. His eyes landed on Naruto for a moment. "And thank you all for coming today. It's a rare pleasure to see some of you."

And what else could Naruto do but smirk in reply.


By lunch, Naruto was bored. Terribly bored. They'd spent the first half of the day entirely on theory—theory that he already /knew—/and were apparently going to spend the second half reviewing the Henge. Needless to say, Naruto didn't feel like his presence was necessary. Shikamaru just rolled his eyes and waved him away, saying he'd see him in a week at the latest.

And so Naruto decided to go do something that was actually productive. Namely training. It was fortunate that there were quite a few training grounds that were open to the public for otherwise he'd have to sneak into one of the shinobi-only, fenced off ones. And while those were always fun because they were more dangerous, they weren't useful for what he was planning on doing to day.

Naruto was only a few miles from the Academy however, when he suddenly flinched, as if from pain. The Kage Bunshin that'd been in Ibiki's office had just dispelled, dumping all of the info from that morning's paperwork into his mind without warning. It didn't hurt so much as it gave him a headache for a few seconds before dispersing.

The blonde glared at the ground, muttering about "stupid Jounin knocking over filing cabinets without caring that there was a clone in the room". He would never leave his position, despite Ibiki's annoying temperament though; it was too interesting, and besides he got paid to be Ibiki's "assistant". For an orphan, money was always useful and he got enough from Ibiki, his job with Kenmaru the blacksmith, and playing poker to last him for a while.

The blonde boy sighed then and created another clone to take the first's place with only a thought and a small burst of chakra to the Kage Bunshin tattoo-seal on his left shoulder blade. He had several dozen of these tattoo-seals now, though they were all hidden by either his clothing or the bandages on his limbs. He only got tattoos of his most used jutsu though, along with a few other useful, precautionary ones.

"Hey, Naruto-kun, are you alright?"

Naruto instantly straightened and glanced up at his friend, showing none of the surprise he was feeling at her appearance. "Ah, yeah, Tenten. Thanks," he replied.

The older brown haired girl smiled. "Good," she said shortly. "Can't have you getting sick before our scheduled spar on Saturday, ne?"

"Feh," Naruto snorted, rolling his eyes. "I don't get sick," he said dismissively. "Ever. Anyway, shouldn't you be training with your Genin team right now?"

His old friend laughed. "And shouldn't you be in the Academy?" Tenten teased. "My team's in the middle of a D-rank mission right now; picking up some supplies." She made a face, clearly stating exactly what she thought of D-ranks. "Oh, by the way, Lee broke one of his weights the other day. Would you mind...?"

Naruto sighed, but nodded. At Tenten's request he'd placed some seals on Lee's—strange boy that one, but a terrific fighter— weights, so that they'd weigh him down without digging into his ankles like they had previously done. Those same seals had inspired a slew of other mass and density related ones that Naruto now used in his fighting.

He'd tried wearing weights like those that Lee used for a time, but it just wasn't his style. Naruto needed to be ready for anything at a moment's notice, and weights, while great for Taijutsu masters, counteracted that. In the end, he preferred to use his massive amounts of chakra to augment his strength and speed instead.

"Sure," Naruto said to the Weapon's Mistress. "Just tell Lee to drop the new weights off at my apartment—" He trusted them, but not enough to tell them where he actually lived. Besides, he highly doubted that even Lee would want to go into the red-light district. "—and I'll get to work on them."

Tenten positively beamed. "Thanks, Naruto-kun," she replied sincerely. "I'd better get back to my mission now though."


"Ah—" Tenten stopped, mid-turn. "Don't forget that you still haven't met my sensei or my teammate, Neji, Naruto."

"Yeah, yeah," Naruto chuckled as he waved over his shoulder. "I'll get around to it some time."

Tenten smiled and returned the wave.


When Naruto finally reached Konoha's training grounds he immediately came upon a familiar sight: Kotetsu lying in the grass on his back. Grinning widely, the blonde walked over to stand above the Chuunin.

"Hey, Kotetsu," he greeted jovially—perhaps a little too jovially, if the man's glare was any indication. "Ibiki-sempai run you into the ground again?"

Kotetsu released a groan. "Gurhg," was his oh-so intelligent reply. With a second, deeper groan, he pushed himself up so that he was leaning on his elbows. "Of course," he said hoarsely. "When doesn't that sadist? And then after that, Izumo, the bastard, thought it'd be a good idea to jump me to 'test my reflexes'. Little fucker..."

Naruto had a hard time containing his chuckles. Kotetsu had been recruited by Ibiki three years ago—right around the time Naruto had met Kotetsu and Izumo, actually—to join the Intel Department. This of course meant that he received a lot of extra training in stealth and that the Chuunin was often worn out. It was a constant source of amusement for Naruto, though he could certainly sympathize, knowing Ibiki's temperament all too well himself.

After a few minutes of trying to draw Kotetsu into a conversation and receiving only tired grunts and a few half-hearted glares for his efforts, Naruto finally decided to let the Chuunin rest. Instead, he walked over to a patch of grass nearby, took off his boots, and started on the chakra control exercise he'd been working on recently.

This technique was yet another one that Kotetsu and Izumo had taught him. It was called the silent-step exercise and for a very good reason: It was what allowed shinobi to walk with no sound whatsoever. All academy students were trained to do this without chakra, but using the technique allowed higher level shinobi to make sure that they didn't make any noise. It was very useful both during missions and in increasing chakra control.

Naruto raised one of his feet so that it was hovering just a few inches above the grass. He channeled chakra into his feet, just like he would for the tree walking or water walking exercises, except with a much smaller amount, for unlike the others this exercise required a far finer control. He slowly dropped his foot so that it was brushing the tips of the grass blades. Then he increased the pressure bit by bit, making sure to spread the chakra out evenly so that the tips of all the grass blades were being repelled by chakra evenly.

After several seconds of carefully making sure that he had the right amount of chakra, Naruto was able to put all of his weight onto his one foot. He repeated the process with his other foot a bit quicker and then beamed when he'd finished: He was literally standing on top of the grass without it bending.

More experienced shinobi like Kotetsu could do this without a second thought though. And that was the level that Naruto needed to get to. He needed to be able to use the silent step exercise with his shoes on, without taking a full minute to complete it, and—

The blonde yelped as he lost control and his feet collided sharply with the ground, jarring his knees. He winced slightly.

—And without losing concentration. Definitely that. The technique could be very useful with running across grass or floorboards or mud—or any type of terrain, really, since it could be used to leave no tracks—but only if one knew how to use it properly. The control was definitely an issue; Naruto knew that if he released all of the chakra-holding seals on his body and was at full chakra capacity, there'd be no way he could use the exercise.

Thank Kami for seals.

"You're getting better," Kotetsu admitted grudgingly from where he was lying.

"Of course," Naruto replied boisterously. "I train all the time; hell, even right now I've got a bunch of Kage Bunshin at home, training."

Grinning, Kotetsu rolled his eyes. "Yeah," he shot back, "And it only took you what, five years to figure out that clones can use chakra?"

Naruto stuck his tongue out. "How was I supposed to know?" he said. "Regular clones can't and it wasn't like I thought to try it."

"Yeah, yeah." Kotetsu lazily waved his hand at Naruto as he closed his eyes once more. "By the way, how's that one seal of yours coming along? The one you've been working on for three years—the summon thingy."

Naruto raised an eyebrow. "The reverse summon seals?" he questioned. "They're getting closer to completion. I was actually just working on them this morning before Shikamaru—a friend of mine—dragged me off to the Academy." He made a face at that and Kotetsu laughed.

"How do you expect to become a shinobi if you never go to school?"

"It's boring," Naruto complained. "I already know more than the Academy can teach me. And besides, I go to all the tests—"

"Except for when you're out of the country on one of your trips."

"—And I always ace them," he plowed on as though the Chuunin hadn't spoken. "So it's not like I'm failing or anything. So long as I pass the exam next week, I'll become a shinobi and even if I don't, I could still probably work something out. Anyway, I think I'm only a month or two away from finishing the seals. Maybe less, if I put all of my time into it."

Kotetsu jumped suddenly as the headset wrapped around his ear sent a shock of chakra into his body. Groaning, he dragged his body off the ground.

"Sorry, Naruto-kun," he apologized, "But the Hokage Tower is calling me in for a mission. I'll see you around, ne?"

"Sure, sure, Kotetsu," the blonde replied. "Have fun."

The older man sent him a mock glare before disappearing in a swirl of leaves.

If there was one thing that Naruto was looking forward to about becoming a shinobi—and there were quite a few things, to be honest—it was those headsets. They were fascinating little devices that acted much like a civilian's beeper, only they gave off pulses of chakra instead of messages. They were generally used just to call a shinobi to the mission center in the Hokage Tower, but could be used to call a shinobi to different places or even to relay Morse code if needed. Naruto was itching to take one apart to see how they worked, but so far Ibiki hadn't let him.

Naruto stayed in the field, training, until it was well into the evening. Only then did he finally head for home, thinking of food all the while.

He ended up stopping at the Black Wolf Tavern for dinner, as he often did. Haru and the rest of the patrons had come to know him well since he had first gotten drawn into that fateful poker game, seven years ago. Haru served great food too, which was always a plus.

It was because of his familiarity with the tavern that Naruto knew that something was wrong the instant he stepped foot in the door. He hesitated there for a moment, frozen by the heavy atmosphere of the room. His eyes connected with Haru's and the deep sadness he saw there terrified him.

Haru slowly wiped his hands on a rag, before coming around from behind the bar and walking over to Naruto. Each step seemed to take an eternity for the blonde and as each moment passed the urge to run built up higher and higher, but he forced himself to stay regardless. Something was very, very wrong. And he needed to find out what it was.

"Naruto...Tasuki's in the hospital."

They were the most devastating words Naruto had heard to date.


Naruto spent the next week days in the hospital, at Tasuki's bedside. When Haru had first told him what had happened, he'd expected that Tasuki had gotten into a fight or something. Something other than this. Anything other than this.

Tasuki was dying. Not from battle, not from wounds, not even from some fucking disease. No, instead he had cirrhosis; sclerosis of the liver.

He'd drunk himself to death.

It was uncharted territory for Naruto. He'd seen people die before, hell he'd even killed before himself. But this was completely different. Tasuki had no wounds to heal, no way to be saved. His body was slowly shutting down and there was nothing more that the doctors or the medic-nin could do to help.

Naruto had been training for so long to protect himself and those that he cared for. But in this situation there was nothing he could do but sit and watch as Tasuki slowly wasted away. The only other time he'd felt this helpless was when he'd faced Uchiha Madara all those years ago.

Tasuki died on a Tuesday.

The most unassuming day, in Naruto's opinion, and completely unworthy of marking the man's death. The sky didn't even have the grace to rain that day to mirror his sorrows. No, instead it was fucking sunny out, as though the heavens themselves were mocking him.

Naruto was more than willing to admit that Tasuki had been the closest person to him, above Shikamaru, above Tenten, above Haru, above Ibiki, above Kenmaru, above Kotetsu, and above every other person he'd come to know. He was one of the few stable things in the blonde's life, always there in the background.

A shiver raced down Naruto's spine as he stared down at Tasuki's gravestone the evening after the funeral. Something about this situation felt so wrong. It wasn't supposed to happen like this. Tasuki didn't even get to see him become a shinobi—!

The crunch of boots on gravel was all the warning Naruto had before a man joined him. The boy's shoulders tensed as he cursed himself for becoming so focused on the grave that he'd ignored his surroundings. That kind of narrow-sightedness could easily get him killed.

To Naruto's increasing unease, the man stopped right next to him. The blonde's eyes slowly slid around so that he could see the man and he was a little relieved—but also quite wary—to notice that his gaze was focused on Tasuki's grave.

The man had short black hair and dark, hard eyes. He looked to be in his early thirties and had a broad build that instantly made Naruto think that he could be a warrior. The blonde boy also immediately knew that he wasn't a shinobi however, so he passed it off as the man being a mercenary or something; maybe even a samurai. It didn't matter. What did matter was that he could be a threat.

Naruto had gotten so caught up in studying the man that he was momentarily caught off balance when he spoke. The blue eyed boy smiled sheepishly.

"Sorry, what was that?"

The older man finally turned to look at him, amusement on his face. It was that lack of hostility in his eyes, as well as the sadness clearly portrayed there, that lowered Naruto's defenses a bit.

"Did you know him?" the man repeated.

Naruto nodded slowly. "Yes," he said softly, his gaze flickering back to the gravestone. "He family." He turned back to the man with a look of curiosity on his face. "Did you know him?"

There was a pause for a moment as the man turned to the gravestone as well. "I did...once..." he said finally. "Tasuki was my younger brother."

"E-Eh?" Naruto was sure his mouth was hanging open in shock.

The man glanced back at him with a smile curling at the edges of his mouth and suddenly Naruto could clearly see the resemblance between him and Tasuki. It was so obvious, now that he knew the truth, that he couldn't help but wonder how he hadn't seen it immediately.

"I am Kobayashi Daichi, by the way," the man said. "I...I came as soon as I received word of Tasuki's hospitalization, but I live in the capital so I'm afraid it took me far too long to get here. I was just too late..."

Daichi gulped deeply as the sorrow leaked into his voice. Naruto hung his head so that his hair covered his eyes. He could remember now that Tasuki had mentioned having an older brother, but he'd never expected to meet him—and certainly not under these circumstances.

The two stood in silence, staring at the grave with bowed heads, until the sun began to dip beneath the horizon. Only then did Daichi turn back to the Naruto.

"Know any good places to eat 'round here?"

The blonde finally cracked a grin. "Do I ever. How do you feel about ramen?"


When Naruto walked into the Shinobi Academy the day of the final exam he wore a cold, determined expression on his face. His movements were a little stiff, though unnoticeably so, because he'd spent the past few days dealing with Tasuki's death in the only way he knew how to: By training the hell out of his Kage Bunshin. He'd also spent a day talking with Daichi, Tasuki's brother, before the older man had left Konoha.

Shikamaru stared at Naruto as the blonde took a seat next to him in the back of the classroom. There was a frown firmly planted on the young genius' face, but he said nothing; he already knew about Tasuki's death.

Naruto stayed unusually silent throughout the beginning of the class as Iruka told them about the test. It was a four part exam, apparently. The first part was a written exam, testing their theoretical knowledge. They'd be taking it during the first part of the day, while other students were to be called up one at a time into one of the two rooms off the main classroom to be tested by either Iruka or Mizuki on the other parts. The second part was a one-on-one spar with one of their instructors. The third part covered Genjutsu—both casting it and dispelling it. And finally, the fourth part covered the two main Ninjutsu that they'd learned as academy students.

It sounded like a walk in the park to Naruto.

By the time his name was called, it was already late in the afternoon and Naruto was bored out of his mind. He'd long since finished the written test and had pulled out the notebook on seal ideas that he carried around and begun to do some work of his own. Shikamaru was asleep next to him.

"Uzumaki Naruto," Iruka barked out.

Naruto sighed and slipped the small notebook into one of the numerous pockets on his pants. He stood from his seat and lazily made his way down to the front of the room. Iruka frowned at his lax behavior, but didn't comment until the door of the exam room was shut firmly behind them.

"Are you sure you're ready for this, Naruto?" the Chuunin questioned. "You haven't exactly been to class much..." Naruto smiled at the sincerely concerned note in his voice. He didn't know the older man very well, but he'd always been kind to him.

"I'll be fine," Naruto replied with a self-assured smirk. "Trust me."

"Alright then," Iruka sighed. "We'll start with the second part of the test. If you'll step over to the mats, we'll begin the spar."

With a nod, Naruto acquiesced and stepped onto the large mats that were set up on one side of the room. Iruka followed after him and settled into a basic Taijutsu stance.

"Just come at me with everything you have. The timer is set for thirty seconds. Begin."

Naruto lunged, immediately striking out at Iruka. The Chuunin blinked, surprised by the sudden show of aggression, and dodged out of the way. Or at least he would have, had Naruto's other fist not already been in his path. Shocked by this sudden display of speed and foresight—though he'd never actually seen Naruto fight before, now that he thought about it; he was always absent on those days—he attempted to twist out of the way again.

Iruka was beyond shocked to find himself quickly pushed into a corner. Naruto's fighting style was unlike anything he'd seen before. It was a blend street fighting and Taijutsu that left his mind reeling from the sheer unpredictability of it. One moment he'd see a classic attack that he knew how to counter in his sleep, but before he could perform that counter Naruto's motion would suddenly shift into something else entirely. The blonde's fighting was a mix of subtlety and bluntness that Iruka had never encountered before in his life.

By the time the timer went off, Iruka found himself on his back, staring up at the ceiling, stunned. "That wasn't the Academy Taijutsu," he said weakly as he pushed himself up.

Naruto grinned. "No," he agreed. "It wasn't."

"Where did you...?"

"I've picked stuff up here and there," the boy replied with a shrug. "I've had to learn to fight to survive."

Slowly a grin took over Iruka's face. "There are flaws, but the style itself is very unpredictable, which makes it deadly," he analyzed. With a grunt and a wince, he pulled himself to his feet, walked over to his clipboard, and jotted down a few quick notes for Naruto's grade. "I'd definitely recommend developing it further...Now for Genjutsu. Surprise me with this test too, eh, Naruto?"

The blonde grinned in reply. "Expect nothing less."

The rest of the exam was indeed just as easy as Naruto had expected. For the third part of the exam, Iruka had first required him to use the Henge technique to cast an illusion over himself and then had cast a Genjutsu on him and told him to break it. Thanks to his chakra control Naruto had barely had to move to accomplish this.

The fourth and final part of the exam had been to perform a Kawarimi and the regular Bunshin technique, two jutsu that Naruto could do in his sleep. He performed them manually with no problems at all and passed with flying colors.

"Alright," Iruka called a few minutes later as he and Mizuki stood up in front of the class. "We have the results for all of the tests now. We'll read through the list of those who have passed. When we call your name, please come up to get your hitai-ate."

Naruto zoned out as Iruka began reading through names, only perking up a bit when he heard someone that he recognized. Shikamaru passed, of course, along with Chouji, Hinata, Sasuke, and a ton of other people. By the time his own name was called, unsurprisingly, it had turned out that three fourths of the class had managed to pass.

It would have seemed like an unusually large number of new Genin had Naruto not already managed to pry from Ibiki that there was a secondary test. One administered by their Jounin sensei.

"Congrats, Naruto," Shikamaru said as they filtered out of the classroom. "How does it feel to finally be a shinobi, after so many years of training?"

The blonde shrugged. "Same as yesterday," he answered, eliciting laughs from all those around him.

Just how did it feel? Naruto reflected inwardly. There was a sense of relief, to finally be taking this first step, and yet at the same time it felt as though some great weight had been set down onto his shoulders. And he wasn't sure whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. Did all new shinobi feel this way?

After saying goodbye to Shikamaru, Naruto stood outside near the school's swings, staring out at the parents as they congratulated their children. For a few moments he felt infinitely sad and Tasuki's face flashed before his mind's eye. The scared man had never been like a father to him—oh Kami, no. Both he and Tasuki would have stabbed themselves before that happened—but he'd still been like family.

And yet, in that same instant, Naruto felt the weight from earlier lift from his shoulders. He was finally a Genin. And now, maybe now, he'd finally get the chance to protect all those who he'd come to care about. And of course, all the upcoming battles that he had to look forward to were a major plus as well.

"Hello, Naruto-kun," a voice behind him said. Naruto slowly turned around to face Mizuki, who was looming over him.

He couldn't help but wonder if he should be disturbed by the grin on the man's face.


A/N: Even though I love his character, I've had Tasuki's death planned since before I started writing this story. His death is instrumental to Naruto's character development, since it teaches him that he doesn't have control over everything that goes on around him. On a related note, Tasuki's brother actually is a rather important character. However, you won't see him again for a very, very long time.

And yes I'll be changing a few things that I don't quite find realistic, such as the Genin exam (I mean really, only the Bunshin technique?). Hinata's personality will also be quite different in this story since she never had Naruto as a "role model". Instead of looking up to someone and wishing she could be like them, she had no choice but to stand on her own two feet.

There were a couple people who questioned the piercings Naruto got in the last chapter. All I have to say about this is that it has to do with his background and that they're actually very common in the shinobi world; even Shikamaru and Chouji already have piercings when they're twelve. And technically it's canon, in a way, since a lot of Kishimoto's chapter title pages feature Naruto with his ears pierced. Also, the leather band around Naruto's neck will be explained in full detail a little later on, once Naruto finally shows what it does.

I'd also like to thank Taliath for pointing out that the Kyuubi does come very close to Konoha's gates. I'd completely forgotten about that. Considering that we know that when the Yondaime stopped the Kyuubi they were outside of Konoha though, I still don't think it ever made it all the way to Konoha.

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

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