"Auguries of destruction be a lullaby for rebirth."
Yuki Kajiura—"Key of the Twilight"

The man known as the Fourth Hokage was not particularly prone to premonitions, but still, they came.

It was hard to describe them as anything more than funny feelings that only increased as the event came closer, and they usually came when something bad was about to happen. It was a foreboding sense that led him to give Kakashi a kunai with a special alert system as a gift for achieving jounin status. That day, Obito had been killed and Kakashi nearly died in a battle against Rock shinobi. It was an inkling of trouble that led him to watch his back and forbid a scroll of special Hidden Leaf jutsus when the Third proclaimed him the next Hokage over his own student, Orochimaru. Soon after, Orochimaru had betrayed the village and badly injured Jiraiya in battle. He thankfully hadn't gotten hold of the forbidden scroll, so he didn't have such techniques as the kage bunshin or the forbidden seals at his disposal.

And it was one of those feelings that was keeping him up that night.

It was no use trying to go back to sleep once this happened. Rather, he dressed in his Hokage robes and took the traditional helmet, putting it on so none of the ANBU on duty would attack him by mistake. Then he opened the door and walked out into the warm October night. It was a little too warm even for the Fire Country. Perhaps this was another premonition he should have taken note of.

A cool breeze came up and blew past him. It smelled of autumn fruit and the forests beyond the village. It cleared his head and reminded him of another disturbing incident that had happened a little earlier that night. A heavily pregnant young woman rode into the village on a horse, asking for help from the Hokage. He'd taken her to his office and made her sit down and drink some water, noticing how exhausted she was. She must have been riding all night. It probably wasn't good for her and her baby.

"Thank you," she replied when she'd finished her drink.

"I'll have some medics take a look at you," he offered. "Just to be sure that you and your baby are fine."

"It's all right," she protested. "Right now, I need the Hidden Leaf's help."

The Fourth sat down behind his desk and favored her with a kind, comforting look. She looked to be just out of her teenage years, with short blonde hair and blue eyes. For someone so young and pregnant to be riding to the hidden ninja village, she must have been in serious trouble.

"We'll help," he promised. "What is it you need?"

"I lived in a small farming village on the outskirts of the Fire Country," she explained. "But a couple of days ago, a man and several others came to our village. They slaughtered everyone and burned the rest of the village. I only escaped because my boyfriend put me on a horse and sent me off. One of the man's followers then killed him."

The Fourth immediately had a bad feeling about this. "This man, what did he look like?"

"He didn't look like an ordinary person," the client answered. "His face almost looked like a snake's; it was so pale and drawn. Why? Do you know of him?"

"Yes," he confessed. "And you're very lucky to have managed to escape. This man, Orochimaru, is a very dangerous enemy of the Hidden Leaf. I'll send a team of my best ANBU and jounin to take care of him."

"I'm sorry I can't pay for this right now," she apologized. "My village didn't have much money to begin with, but I can work to pay it off, and so can my child when he's old enough."

"Don't worry," he assured. "I'm not going to charge you for this. We needed to find Orochimaru anyway, and you've given us an important lead. You and your baby will be safe here in the Hidden Leaf unless there's any other place you'd rather be."

She shook her head. "All the family I had was in the village, and they're gone now. I don't know how I'd be able to survive in one of the other villages around or in the city."

"All right," he decided. "We'll settle this in the morning, after you've rested. Then you can tell the shinobi team where they should look."

The woman was currently resting in the hospital while medics observed her and her baby. The Fourth hadn't yet told anyone about the new mission. He was afraid Jiraiya would find out and want to join the team. He didn't want to have to turn him down.

"Yo," interrupted a voice. Speak of the devil…

"Hello, Jiraiya," the Fourth greeted casually. The two had maintained a good friendship since the days when Jiraiya was his jounin instructor, and Jiraiya personally got a kick out of his former student being the new Hokage. Even a year after the Third had stepped down, Jiraiya didn't tire of bragging.

"So, Lord Hokage," Jiraiya joked, "what keeps you up tonight? Anything that your old sensei can help with?"

The Fourth laughed and shook his head. "It's nothing really."

"You sure?" Jiraiya checked. There was something in his student that seemed wrong—nothing that would raise too many alarms, but a clue that something seemed to be troubling the young Hokage. "I've known you long enough to tell when something's wrong."

"Actually," he admitted, "I'm not sure if it's anything. I just had a hard time falling asleep. I think something's going to happen."

For a minute, both men grimly stood in the moonlight and fallen autumn leaves. Then, Jiraiya spoke up:

"A premonition, eh? I can't believe a genius like you can believe in such things. How'd someone that dense become the Hokage?"

The Fourth smiled bitterly. "Because the other candidate was a complete lunatic." Jiraiya returned the grim smile at their old joke about Orochimaru. "But seriously, I can't help but think something bad's about to happen. I'm going to check on a client, then check around a bit to make sure everything's all right." But before he could head to the hospital, there was a sound like an explosion, and an ANBU came running to him.

"What is it?" he asked immediately.

"Hokage, it's back—the Nine Tails," the ANBU stammered. The Fourth and Jiraiya stared in openmouthed shock. "The Uminos are trying to hold it off now, but they won't be able to keep it up forever. We need your help!"

"I'll be there right away," he promised. "Jiraiya, find Kakashi and Rin. I'm going to need his sharingan and her medical skills here." But before either of them could move out, another explosion yielded a shockwave that started crumbling the foundations of the tallest buildings in the village, including the one they were standing in now and the Hidden Leaf's hospital. The Fourth turned back to the ANBU and warned him, "I'll have to come later. I need to try and get the survivors from the hospital."

The hospital, meanwhile, was in a state of panic. The military police, headed by the Uchiha clan, were clearing the survivors out of the way while the medics tried to take care of the injured. Jiraiya and the Fourth immediately went to it, pushing away rubble and digging out the victims. Those who could, called for help, and the rescue team pulled them out as quickly as possible. Those who couldn't…

"There's too many," gasped a teenage Uchiha. "We can't possibly get them all."

"We should presume the rest of them dead," advised a much older officer. The Fourth stood up and stared calmly in the man's eyes.

"These people are still part of the Hidden Leaf Village," he reminded him. "As Hokage, everyone in the village is important to me, and I won't let them down."

"That's a nice way of putting it," replied another familiar voice. The Fourth, Jiraiya, and the Uchiha officer turned to see the former Hokage, the Third, Sarutobi, dressed for battle. For those who might have considered arguing against the new leader of the village, they weren't sure they wanted to show their disrespect to both the Fourth and the Third. "Uchiha Fugaku, perhaps you should try splitting up your team: half to help against the Kyuubi, and the other half to help clear out the hospital and help evacuate the village."

"And you'd be able to get Itachi and Sasuke out of here," added a man that the Fourth was sure wouldn't be keeping his job for much longer.

Uchiha Fugaku looked like he'd just been fed a mouthful of a particularly sour lemon. His eyes narrowed and his lips pressed together as he tried to mentally compromise. Obito had once complained about his family to his sensei. According to him, they were always trying to do what was best for the clan as a whole rather than what would be best for the individuals. Even the village didn't seem as important. The Fourth and the rest of his team had brushed that aside as Obito exaggerating or making up another lame excuse for his lack of finesse on the battlefield. But now he could see that his late student had probably been right.

"You'll be bringing your clan great honor by doing this," the Fourth negotiated. "It will help save a lot more lives if we manage to get the village away from that monster rather than the other way around."

"Your sons will be proud," the Third added. Finally, Uchiha nodded.

"All right. Kazuo—" He looked at the man who'd agreed with the two Hokages before. "Take our best and send them out to assist in the battle. I'll remain to help with the rescue and evacuation." The Fourth nodded in agreement as Uchiha Kazuo took his team and sprinted off. But as he shared a grin with his predecessor, he heard Jiraiya cry, "Hey!"

"What is it?" he asked, turning around.

"There's a woman here asking for you," he replied. His expression was unusually serious. "She doesn't look good."

It was hard to recognize her, but the woman Jiraiya had found was in fact the one who had seen Orochimaru. Her face was bleeding, and most of her bones seemed to have been broken. She was just barely gasping for air. There was no telling about her baby.

"Miss, you have to hold on," the Fourth coaxed. "A medic's coming. They've been trained by the best, the Princess Tsunade. You should be all right."

"Please," she pleaded. "Take care of my baby." From the pained look on her bloodied face, he could tell that the medics wouldn't be enough. He took off his helmet and handed it to the Third.

"Fill this with warm water, if there's any available," he requested. "Then find some clean cloth to wrap the baby in. Assuming it survives, we're delivering it right here." Sarutobi took the helmet and quickly set out while the Fourth pushed up his sleeves and selected a kunai. "Not exactly sterile, but it'll do."

"I'll help until the medic gets to us," Jiraiya volunteered. "I'm not an expert in these things, but I picked up a couple things from Tsunade having to patch me up."

While the mother died, the former master and student got to work cutting her womb open to get the baby out. It wasn't easy; being ninja, they weren't used to having to do such precise and gentle work to deliver a baby without hurting it. The mother barely had any breath left in her to cry or scream, but she did gasp in agony often enough.

"It's times like these I wish Tsunade hadn't left," Jiraiya muttered. "She'd have no problem doing this, although her blood phobia would be something to worry about." They soon noticed that she hadn't gasped in a while. He placed an ear close to her mouth. "Shit, she's stopped breathing."

"We'd better make this quick," the Fourth realized. Jiraiya started shouting for a medic to get here now while his former student desperately tried to finish his work. He'd exposed the head and the shoulders already; he just needed to get farther enough along so he could pull the baby out…

"Out of the way!" warned a stern young medic-nin.

"He's got it almost all of the way," informed her companion, a boy who sounded just as young.

The girl entered the Hokage's peripheral vision, and he was now able to recognize his former student, Rin. Behind her, he assumed, was Kakashi. The Fourth carefully lifted the baby out, and Rin used her chakra to clear its airways and start it breathing. The first thing the baby boy did once the air filled his lungs was scream as loud as he possibly could. The Hokage breathed a sigh of relief. The child would be just fine.

Then, for no reason he could think of, another premonition hit him—but this one much clearer than all others. As the baby cried, he saw the monstrous Kyuubi shouting as its power was contained. An eight-year-old blonde boy with blue eyes sat on a playground swing as parents pulled their children away from him; as he stood up to leave, the setting sun cast his shadow in the form of a nine-tailed fox.

"Sen—Hokage?" asked Kakashi, correcting himself. The Fourth blinked and looked back at the child. For a minute, he thought he saw a spiral on its stomach, but the image faded from sight. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," he assured, handing the baby over to Rin, who bathed him in the helmet the Third had managed to return. Together, the old man and the young girl gently wrapped soft cloth around the crying baby and tried to calm him.

"Who was she?" Rin questioned, referring to the dead mother, whom the Hokage was covering with a sheet. "Did you know her?"

"Only for a little while," he answered. "She was a client who badly needed our help." Almost as an afterthought, he added, "I never even had the chance to find out her name."

"Sensei…" Kakashi whispered out of habit. The fourteen-year-old jounin stared at the covered body. He knew death a little too well, having been raised by a father who had committed suicide out of shame of a heroic deed the rest of the village considered to be a mistake. On his first day as jounin leader, Obito had died saving his life. The young genius now known as the Copy Ninja was often called on for difficult missions and had killed more enemies than he cared to count and lost a few friends on the battlefield. No, he was no stranger to death.

"He kind of looks like you," Jiraiya noticed, taking a good look at the baby. Like his mother, he was blond-haired and blue eyed, but the other ninjas around had to admit that he looked a bit like the man who had delivered him. "Of course," Jiraiya amended, "you're a lot smarter and better-looking than this little runt."

The Fourth had to smile at that. Even in a crisis, Jiraiya wasn't one to stay completely serious for long. Rin gave a bright smile of reassurance, letting them know the child was healthy and strong. He would be a great ninja one day. The Fourth looked forward to seeing his progress.

"So what should we do now?" Rin asked. She was looking at him intensely, as was Kakashi, the lower half of his face still masked and his sharingan concealed by his tilted headband. This was the way they'd looked at him after Obito's death. He wasn't quite sure if they were looking to him as their Hokage or their old teacher.

"Rin, stay with the Third and help with the evacuation," he instructed. "Kakashi, Jiraiya, we'll head off to fight the Nine Tails." The addressed nodded. "And Kakashi, hold off on the Chidori as long as you can. You can't afford to waste your chakra out there."

"Yes, sir," he replied, but with no reluctance. He had never faced the Kyuubi before, but he could tell that he was going to need all the chakra he had.

They took off, but as they were running toward the battle scene, two voices shouted out, "Hokage!" One member of Uchiha Kazuo's team had returned, leading a chuunin and a ten-year-old boy with a bleeding face. The chuunin's face was grim, and tears were streaming down the boy's bloodied face.

"Hokage," the chuunin informed, "the Uminos are dead. We only just managed to pull their son, Iruka, away. You have to come."

"I will," he promised. "Just get back to the fight. We'll take care of the boy and be back on our way." They nodded and returned to the battle.

Jiraiya stood nearby and tried to help as Kakashi pulled out his medical pack and started wiping the blood away from young Iruka's face. There was no time right now to get him back to Rin. As the Fourth watched them, he had this sudden feeling that all there present would have a large influence on the life of the baby he'd just left behind at the hospital.

In the woods, a man with a long scar across his face sat injured from numerous kunai and shuriken wounds, watching as his blonde student saved his life by successfully using a forbidden jutsu to fight off their attacker. When it was over, he removed his forehead protector and put it on the boy, congratulating him for passing. From there on, the two orphans had a family again: a father and son bond.

A man with a mask covering half of his face and an eye concealed by his headband picked up the body of the blonde thirteen-year-old, thinking him dead. He regretted not catching this before, the rivalry slowly becoming more poisonous as one grew stronger and one let his desire for revenge hold him back… Then there they were again, nearly three years later, the man leading his two teammates and an old woman on a mission. The boy saw the body of one of his loved ones lying dead at the feet of an enemy. His older teammate held him back before he could run in to meet the same fate.

The boy, thirteen again, stood exhausted in the middle of a forest. His hands were trembling with the strain he felt all over his body. His hero, the Fourth, had taken three years to create this jutsu, but why couldn't he master it? An old man walked up to him with an ice cream, offering him a treat this break. The boy looked at his current sensei with some surprise. He supposed he could respect this old pervert; for all of his faults, he was still teaching him to protect himself from that organization.

When he first managed to do it, he never had the chance to consider the irony. The Rasengan was a spiral, just like the one that marked his stomach. All of his life, he had been marked by a spiral.

When he looked back again, the Fourth saw that his former teacher and his former student had managed to get a crude bandaging job done on the crying boy's face. It hadn't been easy, by the looks on their faces. The wound stretched from cheek to cheek, crossing his nose and just missing his eyes. It looked as though the monster fox had swiped a claw over his face—which he might have while the rescuers were trying to get him out of there, the Fourth considered. They would definitely need more help taking care of him. In a way, the Hokage was grateful. This spared him from the very real possibility of losing another student.

"Kakashi, get him back to Rin and the Third," he instructed. "Jiraiya and I'll continue on." Kakashi gave him an almost shocked look, as though he might never see him again—which was probably the case—but he nodded, answering, "All right, sensei."

And as he reached the battlefield, the Fourth Hokage knew that his decision to remove the children from the area had been for the best. Fires were burning all along the surrounding walls of the village, and bodies were strewn left and right. He recognized colleagues, mentors and children in the remains. The Kyuubi didn't care whether it was an ANBU fighting him or a two-year-old unable to find his parents. He killed them just the same.

The Nine Tails towered above the village, yet none of the ninja would give into fear. As more and more shinobi dropped, more and more came to fight. All members of the Uchiha clan had activated their sharingan eyes and were quickly evading the attacks. Both Main and Branch Family members of the Hyuuga clan activated their byakugan and attacked with their gentle fist taijutsu style. The Inuzukas and their dogs attacked from both sides while the Naras tried to hold the demon still with their kagemane no jutsu. No matter the clan, all of the people in the village was coming to defend itself from the demon. Had there been any time to feel such a thing, the Fourth would have taken pride in his village's unity.

A man stood atop a building, unleashing a string of kunai with explosive tags, followed by several shuriken. The demon, recognizing he was there, swiped up with a massive paw, gutting him instantly. But as he fell, two men immediately went into action. Hyuuga twins Hiashi and Hizashi—the former of the Main Family and the latter of the Branch—fell into their clan's taijutsu stance in unison. In a double flash, they went into action, targeting chakra pinpoints. The Nine Tails howled in pain and tried to swipe them away, but the twins were too fast and his disabled claws too slow. Angrily, he smashed one tail right into Hiashi's abdomen, sending him flying. The younger twin grimaced as his curse seal reminded him of his failure to protect him from that blow. The Kyuubi took advantage of this by throwing Hizashi to the ground with a tail to the back. As the Fourth Hokage watched, he too grimaced. Hiashi had a pregnant wife waiting for him at the evacuation. Hizashi had a one-year-old son. He was not going to let those children become fatherless.

The first thing I do when this is all over is tell the Hyuugas to remove that Caged Bird seal, he promised himself. It's limiting their power.

But he couldn't fight the funny feeling that he wasn't going to be there to demand that when this was all over.

"Hiashi, Hizashi!" he shouted, making his way over to them. They'd managed to get back on their feet, sweating and ready to try the gentle fist again. Now, they were staring at their Hokage with some confusion. "Get out of here! Your wives and children need you. We'll hold it off for now, then get everyone else to safety!" For the first time in their lives, the Hyuuga twins agreed, albeit reluctantly, and left to assist with the evacuation.

"This doesn't look good," Jiraiya commented, falling in beside him. A family by the name of Haruno were fighting their way out of the carnage, their pink-haired baby screaming at the top of her lungs. Members of the Aburame clan were masking the Harunos' escape with their bugs while the Akimichi clan took the Kyuubi's blows, their body fat protecting them from more serious injuries.

"I know," the Hokage replied. "You remember how to do the Rasengan, right?"

"Even that technique isn't going to do much against this thing," Jiraiya pointed out.

"I know," he answered, "but it should injure it badly enough to get everyone out of here." He put both of his hands out and activated his specialty jutsu. The spiraling chakra formed in his palms as he leapt forward and struck very near the Kyuubi's neck. As it howled in pain, he struck again, nearer to the chest, while Jiraiya aimed for the ribs on both sides. The infuriated demon let down all of its tails in pain, creating even more earthquakes.

The Nine Tails was a force of the earth, so nature itself had turned against the Leaf at the demon's presence. Storms raged overhead, and in addition to the earthquakes, they were making the forced evacuation incredibly difficult and deadly for the villagers. Kakashi stood just outside the hospital, shielding Rin and the baby while the Third blasted flame jutsus at the rubble being thrown at them with the hurricane-force winds. Chuunin Maito Gai, Kakashi's sometime-rival, was standing side-by-side with the young jounin, fighting off everything that came too close to them. They continued like this until Jiraiya ran up and used the Rasengan to smash a small boulder that was heading straight for them.

"You stupid kids," he muttered. "Get out of here now! Get with the other evacuees."

"He's right," Gai agreed, looking at Kakashi. "Let's get them into the cave with the others." But Kakashi wasn't paying attention. Seeing this, the Fourth followed his eyes to see Uchiha Fugaku and his wife and children: a baby in the woman's arms, and a five-year-old carrying several kunai. The young boy had an intense look in his eyes, a drive, a thirst to achieve greatness. It was almost chilling.

That kid's going to be trouble, the Fourth realized. He didn't need any precognition to tell him that.

A sudden bolt of lightning lit up the sky, reaching down toward the Uchiha family. The man formally called the Leaf's Yellow Flash quickly made over to the family to push them out of the way, but even with his tremendous speed it wasn't going to be enough. He braced himself for the voltage, prepared to take it and hoping that it wasn't going to harm the family, but it didn't come. Instead, he heard a sound like a thousand birds amidst the thunder. In dread, he recognized it as Kakashi's signature jutsu. Hadn't he just told the boy not to use it? He'd already lost one student in the war; he couldn't bear the thought that he'd just lost another to this monster.

But when he turned, Kakashi was still alive. He was crouched over, breathing heavily, but alive. His hand still sparked with the power of his Chidori, which he'd apparently deflected the bolt with. Someone whispered, "Raikiri," lightning cut.

"Are you all right?" the Hokage checked, holding onto his shoulders in case he fell. Kakashi nodded. He was shaken, but he was fine.

The young man then turned and stared at Uchiha Fugaku with his mismatched eyes. The Uchihas had never been very happy with Obito's decision to give his friend the sharingan to replace the eye he'd lost during the war. For the most part, they ignored Kakashi's existence and pretended not to hear of the Copy Ninja when his name came up. But now, Kakashi was looking at them, almost as though waiting for something from them. Anger? Gratitude? The Fourth wasn't sure. But when Fugaku finally answered with a gruff "Thank you," Kakashi nodded and returned to the evacuation.

Another sudden flash entered the Fourth's mind as he watched his former student run off: A relatively young man teaching three mismatched children how to work together and trust each other completely not only on the battlefield, but in life.

You'll make one hell of a teacher someday, Kakashi, he predicted.

Under the Hokage Monument carved into the mountain to the north of the village was a large cave. While there were emergency shelters throughout the Hidden Leaf, the cave remained in the event that the entire village had to be evacuated. This was probably the first time it had ever been used. The jounin and clan leaders located candles and lit them, checking the evacuees for injuries and trying to help calm the crying children who had lost their parents. One little Inuzuka girl, Hana, was clutching her wounded dog and refused to let anyone help her tend to his hurt leg. Her mother, Tsume, was trying to help comfort her, but between Hana's crying and her infant son screaming, it was too much.

"Let me help," Rin coaxed. Hana shook her head. "It's all right; I'm a human doctor, but I can help him. Will you help me with that?" Reluctantly, she nodded. The Fourth smiled in relief as he passed through, and Rin returned the smile.

He walked throughout the cave, checking on all of the villagers. The jounin and medics helped with the injured, but they felt better seeing their leader walking past them, offering words of encouragement and thanking them for all they'd done to help protect the village. As people died, he personally pulled the sheets over them and carried them farther to the back. They'd have to bury them afterwards. The Kyuubi had already ravaged the village; it was not going to do the same to the bodies.

"Hokage?" Kakashi asked from behind him. Having placed down another body, he turned around. On his face was the comforting expression he'd always offered to his students. Kakashi had always seemed to be able to see through it, but he'd never said anything about it. As far as the Hokage could tell, his false optimism brought hope to the villagers, but to Kakashi, it assured him that there were other people out there who couldn't kill their emotions entirely.

"What is it, Kakashi?" he questioned.

"The other jounin and I finished our headcount. Of all the clans, the Uchihas and the Hyuugas suffered the fewest casualties. Our information points to the missing and dead at sixty-seven. It's possible it might reach over a hundred." He then added, almost as an afterthought, "A lot of the dead and missing are children."

"I know," the Fourth answered. "I can tell by looking at everyone. I didn't know all of the children of the village, but I recognize the missing cries. This is going to be the smallest generation since the First War." Kakashi nodded solemnly. "All right, anything else?"

"Yes," Kakashi replied, sounding once again like a soldier rather than a fourteen-year-old. "Aburame Shibi sent out some bugs to check the surrounding area. They reported back that the damage seems to be contained to the village and the very outskirts. Everyone in the observatory and the areas atop the mountain managed to get to safety in the caves."

"At least there's that," the Fourth breathed. "Thank you, Kakashi." Kakashi nodded once in reply before heading back to the other jounin. The Fourth watched him as he left. As his teacher, he felt as close to the boy as if he was his own son. He'd felt the same with Rin and Obito. And as Hokage, the villagers were his family. That was why he had to protect them at all costs.

"Not a very good start to your Hokage career, is it?" the Third asked, walking up to him. Abandoning his optimistic façade, the Fourth sighed and nodded. "First Orochimaru, and now this." He followed his successor's line of vision. "It's always hard on the younger ones. But things will improve, trust me." The Fourth turned to him in surprise. "It wasn't easy for any of us. Being Hokage means that you have to see the ugliest side of battle, and you always feel the pain of the children who must survive through it. But those children always survived, and so will we."

"You heard Kakashi's report, then?" he guessed.

"I didn't have to. I too saw the gaps in the families and the crying parents and siblings. I remember all of the villagers just the same as you do. I also thought that the pain and suffering would never end." His eyes met the Fourth's. For probably the first time, the Fourth Hokage felt comforted by the sight of an optimistic face—a truly optimistic face. "But peace does come. And it's brought about not just by the shinobi you send out to battle, but by the Kages like you and me." His wide smile helped settle the uneasiness in the Fourth's heart, and he started to think that maybe there was a solution to all of this.

"Hey," Jiraiya interrupted. "Got a second report from the Aburames. From the sound of it, the Nine Tails has all but leveled the village, and now he's pissing on the ashes." His colorful turn of phrase caused a furrow in the Fourth's brow as he considered his options.

"What's wrong?" the Third questioned.

"I think I know how to stop the Kyuubi," he answered. The intense look on his face prevented either man from cheering. "I don't like it, but I think it's the only way."

"What?" Jiraiya asked.

"I've researched some different jutsus just in case we ever faced a significant enough threat," he explained. "One of them is called the Hakke no Fuuin Shiki: the Eight Divination Signs Seal. It would allow me to seal the demon in someone else. And if I used it in conjunction with another, the Shishou Fuuin, it would allow the demon's chakra to leak into its container for use in battle."

"But?" Jiraiya pressed. He didn't like the hesitation his former student was displaying.

"But to use it, I have to make a pact with the death god," he replied. "From what I've read on it, it draws out the user's soul along with the victim's. The two are then locked in eternal combat within the death god's stomach. I don't need to guess to know it's more painful than anything else on earth." The other two men watched him grimly. "It requires nine seals: snake, boar, ram, rabbit, dog, rat, bird, horse, and snake again—all in that order. There's no cheating it."

"Is that what you plan to do?" the Third asked, but one look at the Fourth's determined face answered his question. "I see."

The Fourth momentarily closed his eyes and smiled. "The people of this village are the most important thing in the world to me. I'll do whatever it takes to protect them. Each and every one of them."

"You can be really dense sometimes, you know that?" Jiraiya replied. Despite the comment, the Fourth understood what he wanted to say.

"Thank you," he answered. "It hurts me to know that my death is going to hurt you, but I'm glad that I was that close to you." And then he turned to the Third. "Sarutobi, the orphan boy that we rescued—he'll be a hero. Even though I'm sealing the demon inside him, he's a hero for keeping it from causing any more destruction. Please, remember that and think of him that way."

He then ran out of the cave. He could have used the techniques that gave him the nickname of Yellow Flash, but he wanted to have the chance to see his precious people for the last time. He messed Kakashi's hair affectionately and patted Rin on the head as he ran out, taking a minute to glance at the baby. He regretted having to do this, knowing full well that the villagers wouldn't take kindly his reminding them of their tragedy, but it had to be done and it had to be him. A baby didn't have fixed chakra paths the way an adult did, and he couldn't ask the other villagers to sacrifice their children for this. Better then for it to be an orphan boy he'd earlier considered adopting.

It's not going to be easy for you, but you'll make it, he promised the child. Despite everything, you'll prove to them that you're a hero.

At the mouth of the cave, he bit down on his left thumb, drawing blood. Placing his hand down on the ground, he shouted, "Kuchiyose no Jutsu!" and found himself standing atop the head of the massive Gamabunta.

"So," the giant toad asked, "what is it you want to do this time?"

"No fighting for you, actually," the Fourth confessed. "I just need you to get me close enough to the Nine Tails in order to seal him."

"Are you going to do what I think you are?"

"Yes," he answered. "I've accepted it and I'm ready."

"All right then," Gamabunta agreed. "But I'm not letting anyone ride my head after you." The promise was Gamabunta's way of saying that he was going to miss the Fourth. The young Hokage smiled somberly at this before speeding off to death.

The Nine Tails stared at the Fourth Hokage, who stared back with calm determination. Both of them knew that this was going to be the final battle, and one of them would most certainly be dying. The Kyuubi was determined not to be that one.

He lunged forward, but Gamabunta attacked and restrained him, giving the Fourth the time to quickly initiate the hand seals. When the death god finally appeared and plunged its hand into his back, he grimaced but kept his hold. He had to seal the demon entirely into the boy. In his mind, he could hear the baby crying fiercely as a seal was burned onto his stomach and the demon's presence altered his physical features to leave whisker-like marks on his cheeks. He wanted to let go so badly, but for the sake of the village and for that baby, he had to stay alive long enough to force the demon to go in completely.

Premonitions burned inside his skull, showing him a future he would never have the chance to see. Upon seeing the whirlpool-like seal on his stomach, the villagers would name him Uzumaki Naruto, and he would be hated for a long twelve years. But Umino Iruka would accept him for who he was and not what was inside him. He would give the boy his own forehead protector to celebrate his graduation from the Academy. Naruto would become a big brother to the Third's young grandson, teaching him things that would make Jiraiya proud. Then he would be placed on Kakashi's first three-man team with Uchiha Fugaku's younger son, Sasuke, and the Harunos' daughter, Sakura. They would fill in that void Kakashi had felt since Obito's death—since even his father's suicide—and become family. And then, when Sasuke betrayed them, Naruto would be the one to try and rescue him. Naruto would save a lot of people from themselves: Iruka, Sakura, Kakashi, and a boy from the Hidden Sand named Gaara, who had a demon sealed inside him too.

He'll be a hero, the Fourth realized.

And as he fell from Gamabunta's head, the seal on his stomach as well, he took comfort in these visions: the good and the bad.

Naruto stood above Hyuuga Neji's defeated body, telling him that destiny was not set in stone and that he shouldn't pity himself—"Because you're not a loser like me…"

Yakushi Kabuto came forward with the intent to kill both Naruto and Tsunade. But Naruto threw a complete Rasengan into his stomach, injuring him while he himself was in bad condition from the strain of the jutsu…

In the Valley of the End, Naruto and Sasuke fought a battle to the death, acknowledging each other as best friends, rivals, and brothers as the Chidori and Rasengan connected, the force nearly killing them both…

"I won't give up. That is my ninja way."

The Fourth managed to smile. Naruto would succeed; he would prove himself.

And who knew? Maybe he'd be Hokage himself someday…

I own neither Naruto, nor the song that the quote hails from. As this is manga-verse (I haven't seen enough of the anime to feel comfortable working with it), I use mainly the Shannaro and Inane translations over at Information for this comes from the Narutofan site and forums, Wikipedia, and Yes, I do use English translations of some attacks and the villages because it's just easier for me to remember them. This fic does not follow the premise of the Fourth Hokage as Naruto's father because I wanted to try something different from the usual fics out there; I have no theories as to Naruto's parentage—he could be descended from the Ichiraku Ramen vendors for all I know. And as I have no idea what happened to Rin after the Kakashi Gaiden, I just left her alive. The Fourth using his left hand to perform the summoning jutsu was based on the name between Naruto's and Jiraiya's on the scroll. I noticed that the handprint had been one of a left hand. And until Kishimoto gives any information as to Rin's fate and the exact details of the Nine Tails' attack, this is semi-AU.

Some elements of this fic carry over into my short series "Visiting Hours," but they aren't in the same universe. You can read one without the other and still understand it just fine.

I'd love to get some feedback as to how the story is: anything specific you liked or disliked and what you thought in general.