Dance of the Kitsune

Chapter 01: Uzumaki Naruto

The people of Konoha gathered beneath the Hokage monument to stare, stunned and angry, upon the young boy seen painting the great monument with graffiti and lewd comments… well, lewd for an 11 year old, anyway. The insults and angered cries began to taper off as the Hokage arrived at the scene and looked at the boy he failed so heavily.

'If only they treated you as the hero you are, my boy…' The Third Hokage sighed. Numerous ninja were within the crowd as well, and as always, the Third tried to listen for anything even remotely positive about Naruto.

Hearing someone laugh to his right, the Third turned to look at one of his ninja. "Kid's style ain't bad! Could've used more varieties, and better words than 'poo', but not bad!" the ninja laughed.

"Kotetsu, for once in your life…!" a ninja beside the laughing one groaned.

The Third couldn't help but smile. 'Leave it to those two' His musings were broken as he arrived at the railing to hear someone's apology.

"Lord Hokage … I can't apologize enough…" the young man said as he leaned against the railing.

"Oh! Is that you, Iruka…?" the Hokage asked. Iruka was a kind young man, brunette, scar across his nose from one cheek to the other. 'It's too bad the man never made it past Chuunin.'

"What do you think you're doing, you idiot? Get down from there and get back to class!" Iruka yelled, leaping onto the railing. 'Then again, he does have a way with the kids.' The Hokage smiled.

The young boy, decked out in bright orange and black, with spiky, bright blonde hair, paled and started swinging his arms around in fear. 'It's my teacher, Iruka! I'm so screwed!' he thought frantically. He flapped around so much, he wound up tangling himself in the rope.

It took three ninja to get him down safely.

Naruto scowled as he looked up at Iruka-sensei from his bound position on the floor. When he raised an eyebrow at him, Naruto grunted and turned his head to the side, towards the amused-looking class.

"Tomorrow all your classmates will pass the finals and graduate from the Ninja Academy, but the last two times this day came around, you flunked every course you'd taken in the secret arts," Iruka growled at the blonde, as he pointed at Naruto and continued, "So you chose NOW for your stupid tricks? You MORON!"

Naruto snorted, and dryly replied, "Sir, yes, sir!" He almost laughed at the look of disbelief on Iruka-sensei's face, though Naruto have to give it to him. If he hated him like all the other villagers, he hid it better than most of them.

"Today in class we'll be reviewing the arts of illusion and apparition. All you have to do is… conjure a form that looks just like the teacher!" Iruka yelled at the class.

An almost deafening scream of, "WHAT?!" could be heard nearly on the other side of the village from the academy.

Once the students were all lined up, one by one they were called up for the demonstration. "Right. Well done," Iruka informed a student. "Next up, Uzumaki."

As Naruto stepped forward, he heard one genin behind him growl, "This is all your fault."

"Yeah, yeah," Naruto sneered. 'This sucks! But here goes nothing…' He paused for a moment to concentrate, and then smirked as he called out "Change!!!"

Iruka froze, stunned, before he squeaked.

Standing before the teacher was a very naked female with long blonde hair in pigtails, bright blue eyes, tanned skin, and small wafts of smoke around her, thankfully covering all the naughty bits. Naruto burst out laughing. "I call this one the ninja centerfold!" he proclaimed as he changed back to normal.

Iruka just looked at him shocked for another moment before exploding. "HOW BIG A FOOL ARE YOU? You waste all your time and talent investing in these stupid tricks!" Naruto just stood there and let him berate him.

"Crap," Naruto growled. "Double crap." Naruto was dangling on a little platform on the Hokage monument, with a bottle of soapy water beside him.

"You don't leave here until every drop of paint is gone!" Iruka yelled down at him.

Naruto looked up defiantly. "So? It's not like there's anyone waiting at home for me!"

Iruka winced, as Naruto got back to work. He wasn't the only shinobi to know what that kind of loneliness felt like. But then he had to wonder, 'How much worse is it for Naruto?' As Naruto continued to work, for the first time, Iruka tried to imagine, truly imagine, what life was like for Naruto. From the hungry look the kid sported before to the hideous clothing, and the way he would be even more hyper than normal meeting someone, bouncing around, never getting close…

He spoke almost without realizing it, feeling a lump form in his throat. "Naruto…"

The blonde looked up with a disgruntled expression and asked, "What?"

Iruka looked away and lightly scratched at the edge of his scar as he stammered, "Well… Once you're through here… I'll… We could… I'll buy you some ramen."

Hearing Naruto freeze, Iruka paused his nervous scratching. Then, Naruto exclaimed, "Yeah BABY! Whoohooo!!! Talk about motivation!"

Many known faces of Konoha were filled with disgust, confusion and worry as they passed by Ichiraiku Ramen Bar, for inside sat well-respected chuunin Umino Iruka, side by side with the Demon Brat.

Iruka turned to look at Naruto, ignoring the stares and glares from outside, wondering how bad it got without him. The energetic blonde was swallowing down noodles at a rate he'd only ever seen from an Akamichi before. "Naruto…"

Naruto made a curious noise, as he finished slurping more noodles.

"Why, of all places, did you choose to deface that spot? I mean, you do know who Lord Hokage is, right?" Iruka questioned. He could've sworn that was one lesson Naruto did pay attention to.

"Of course! To inherit the name Hokage, he'd have to have been the best shinobi in the entire village. The name Hokage means dancing flames. It was the Fourth Lord Hokage who saved our village by finding a way to beat the demon fox." Naruto recited, surprising Iruka.

"Ok, then… why?" Iruka asked, flabbergasted.

"Because one of these days, they'll be calling me Lord Hokage!" Naruto declared, turning to face Iruka. He snapped his chopsticks towards the man and cried even louder, "I'm going to surpass every one who came before me! And when that day comes, everyone in town will have to kiss my ass!!"

Iruka just stared, stunned. He could swear he heard someone laughing their ass off at least a block away after that declaration. "…By the way… Iruka-sensei, I need a favor…"

"Another bowl of ramen?" Iruka smiled.

"Well, that too, but I wanted to borrow your leaf headband. Pretty please?" Naruto gave his best puppy dog eyes, but Iruka didn't fall for it.

"My… My hitai-ate? No. Not yet. No way. It's a badge of the shinobi, of adulthood. You don't get one until you graduate the academy, as you should be doing tomorrow," Iruka chuckled.

"Aw! No fair!" Naruto yelped, before being silenced by another bowl of ramen being placed before him.

Naruto sat at his desk, heart thumping madly. He knew he was in trouble, no matter the test.

"For your final exam, you must each generate a bunshin! Wait here until your name is called and then come next door," Iruka called to the class. "While I'm not in the room, I expect you to stay quiet and in your seats, though I'll forgive some light chatter. Just please, keep it down, I know you're all nervous and excited."

Naruto started suffering a minor panic attack. 'Bunshins? Why did it have to be doppelgangers? That's my worst technique!'

Waiting for his turn was nerve-wracking, but finally he was called in. Naruto paused to look over the shiny, new, hitai-ates all lined up on the desk before Iruka-sensei and his assistant Mizuki-sensei. 'Here goes nothing…!'

"Behold! A perfect double!" Naruto cried as the smoke sprung around him. When it cleared, Naruto had a vaguely disgusted expression on his face as he eyed his double. It was spread out across the floor, arms all akimbo, lifeless look in its too-blank eyes, tongue lolling out, and drool pooling on the floor. Naruto twitched, and barely suppressed a whimper.

Iruka just narrowed his eyes rather sadly for a moment before declaring angrily, "You fail!!!"

"Iruka-sensei… this is his third time, and he did manage to basically conjure up his other self, even if it was a little flawed… What if we just give him a break and…" Mizuki's soft voice questioned, his ever-present smile just a little warmer than normal.

Naruto looked up hopefully and looked between the two of them. "The answer is no Mizuki. Every student is supposed to create three perfect doppelgangers… Naruto barely produced one, and it was done very badly," Iruka proclaimed, waving Mizuki off. "With all due respect, his performance doesn't merit a passing grade. I'm sorry Naruto. Maybe next year."

Naruto sat on a swing by the academy and watched his fellow classmates celebrating their graduation with their families. It was probably one of the only times you'll ever see certain families in the same area without starting a huge argument.

He saw Kiba prancing around, singing his own praises while what could only be his mother and sister took turns trying to calm him down some, the quiet Aburame off in one of the more quiet areas, the Akimichi loudly making plans for a big barbeque party that night…

"Great job, son. Your old man is proud!" He heard another voice laugh as he looked down to the dirt. "So now, we're all adults!" One of his classmates whooped. "Congratulations on graduating! Tonight, mom's gonna cook up a feast!"

"Hey, isn't that the kid who--?" an older girl asked. Naruto could already tell she was talking about him. "Yeah, that's him. The only one who failed!" another girl's voice answered. Naruto only sank down further in the swing as he heard them continue. "Serves him right…" "Can you imagine if they let someone like that become a shinobi…?!" "Loser…" "Don't even go there."

Unable to handle anymore, Naruto got up and fled, never noticing the pair of white eyes that watched him go.

"Iruka, could I have a word later…?" The Third softly questioned the teacher.

"Of course," Iruka sighed, watching Naruto until he left.

Perched upon a rooftop, Naruto tried to forget that this year, he failed again. He tried even harder than last year, and he still failed.

"Naruto," he heard a soft voice call as someone landed beside him. Naruto finally turned to give Mizuki a bit of a look. Silver hair cut to his shoulders, a kind, soft face, and the regular Chuunin outfit made it easy to see why the girls in class gave their attention to him whenever Sasuke was unavailable.

"Iruka-sensei is a really serious guy… His parents died when he was young, so everything he's accomplished he's done by himself, with a lot of hard work and discipline," Mizuki said softly, turning with a kind smile to Naruto.

Naruto just shrugged. "So? What's that got to do with me?"

"So you remind him of himself." Mizuki laughed gently, catching Naruto's attention. "He thinks he's helping you to grow strong. Try to give the guy a break… Can't you understand where he's coming from? …One orphan to another...?"

Naruto looked down, and could feel the lump in his throat get bigger. Blinking back the stinging tears, Naruto murmured, "But… I really wanted to graduate this time."

Mizuki smiled. "Then… I guess there's no choice." Naruto looked up at him in confusion. "Let me tell you a secret that I've been keeping for a very long time…"

Naruto had very little trouble sneaking into the Hokage's house, for all the trouble this was supposed to be. Even when he was caught, all that was needed was the ninja centerfold technique, and he was able to get the scroll and get out.

Landing in the clearing Mizuki told him too, he opened the scroll and groaned. The first technique was multiple kage bunshins…

In another part of town, Iruka laid awake, unable to sleep for the conflicting memories in his head. On one hand, he lost his parents to the fox. They lost the Fourth Hokage to the fox. Many great ninja were killed by the fox. On the other hand, Naruto was the container for the fox, not the fox itself, which he, himself, was only beginning to understand.

Hearing a knocking on his door, he went to answer it to hear disturbing news about Naruto while he was en route to the Hokage.

Landing amongst chuunin and jonin class ninjas only worried Iruka further. "The scroll he has taken is so dangerous that the First Hokage sealed it away! If misused, in the wrong hands, it could be deadly!" The Third sadly proclaimed. 'Oh Naruto, why have you done this…?' "It was taken only a few hours ago. We have to find him!"

Immediately, all ninja save the Hokage split up to search the village; the Hokage headed inside to see if he could find Naruto his own way.

Sitting heavily down, Naruto sighed. He was nearly exhausted, but he thought he had the first technique down. Seeing a shadow above him, Naruto looked up, surprised, into Iruka's angry face. Naruto laughed weakly. "I guess you found me. Too bad; you were so fast, I've only managed to memorize one technique."

Not wanting to jump to conclusions, Iruka swallowed and asked, "Naruto, what's up with that scroll you're carrying?"

"What, this? Mizuki-sensei told me about it, and this place. He said if I could master the techniques in this scroll… you'd let me be a shinobi!" Naruto grinned.

Iruka felt his heart nearly stop for a moment as that thought sunk in. A second later, he threw Naruto out of the way as a barrage of kunai was flung at him. Most missed as he was forced back against the shed; however, two got him in the left shoulder, one in his stomach, and two in each leg.

Naruto stared, shocked, as Iruka pulled out the first two kunai, before Mizuki interrupted. "The scroll, Naruto. Give it to me."

Naruto looked back at Iruka as he pried another kunai out. "Don't let him have it, Naruto! Protect that scroll with your life! It's more dangerous than you can imagine! It holds the record of a completely forbidden ninja art! Mizuki used you because he wants it for himself!!" Iruka continued to free himself of kunai; he still had quite a few pinning him.

Naruto sprang to his feet with a gasp, turning to face Mizuki warily. "Naruto, even if you've read it, it will still be meaningless! I can show you what it means!" Mizuki laughed. His once kind expression had been twisted into something ugly and full of hate.

Screaming for Mizuki to shut up, Iruka continued freeing himself of kunai, hoping he would be fast enough for whatever Mizuki had planned.

"You… know what really happened in the incident where the fox demon was taken care of twelve years ago, don't you…?" Mizuki purred from his branch high above them. "Since that incident… the people of our village have been bound by the strictest decree."

Naruto, heart pumping madly, had a feeling he wouldn't like where this was going. "I don't remember any decree…" Naruto swallowed.

"You wouldn't," Mizuki sneered. "Part of that decree was that everyone would know about it… except you!" Mizuki just burst into roaring laughter as Naruto demanded to know what he was talking about. "That no one must tell you… that you… are the nine-tailed demon fox!!" Mizuki yelled at him.

Naruto felt as if the floor were just pulled out from beneath his feet. "What…?" he whispered.

Previously frozen in horror, Iruka screamed once more for Mizuki to stop.

"In other words, you are the nine-tailed demon fox who destroyed this village! It was you who murdered Iruka's family! Until, at last, our beloved hero, the Fourth Lord Hokage, trapped and bound you in this form at the cost of his own life!" Mizuki yelled, getting louder to be heard over Iruka's screams to stop it. "Since then you've been made a fool of by everyone in town! Didn't you think it was strange? To be so despised everywhere you went? By people you didn't know? IF HE WERE HONEST, EVEN NOBLE IRUKA WOULD ADMIT HE HATES YOU TOO!!" Mizuki screamed, pulling out and preparing to throw a large throwing star.

Naruto began cursing up a storm as he fell flat on his ass, crying angrily as Mizuki continued. "You never knew a parent's love… Since the day of your rebirth you've been shunned by our entire village! No one could bear an abomination like you! The best you could ever hope for was attention, not love… And you could only get that by doing things that would get you into trouble! And you didn't care. You were willing to accept any criticism, any condemnation, so long as it meant that someone was paying attention to you. That scroll you've stolen… it was the instrument to your bondage!! It was a brilliant performance Naruto… but it was all a sham, to hide you loneliness… and PAIN!! IT ENDS NOW!!!" Mizuki screamed, letting the large throwing star fly.

Iruka, who already had been hit by many kunai that night, threw himself bodily between the weapon and the young blond, and the massive blade went through his back. He could feel blood splatter around him, and more blood slip from between his lips, but he held strong, a barrier between Naruto and the traitor.

Naruto stared up at Iruka, stunned, as drops of blood slid down to land on Naruto's face. "…What…?" Naruto whispered, completely overwhelmed.

Iruka saw his own lonely childhood flash before his eyes as he felt the weapon hit him, and opened his tear-filled eyes as he heard Naruto's enquiry. "…I…" He took a second to swallow the lump enough to talk, "I know that, Naruto. I was so hard on you, yelling, scolding, it must have hurt… Forgive me," he sobbed. "Forgive me. If I'd have been a better teacher… a better self… Maybe neither of us would have come to this."

Naruto just stared, stunned up at Iruka, and in a rare moment of clarity, he knew what he had to do. He got out from under Iruka and took off. 'I'm sorry too Iruka-sensei, but you told me to protect this scroll, so that's what I'm gonna do!' "Naruto!" He heard Iruka cry out behind him.

Iruka staggered to get into a kneeling position without jostling the throwing star. He could hear Mizuki laughing as he landed. "What a pity… But I'm afraid, once Naruto sets his mind to something, he can't be dissuaded. He's going to use the scroll to take his revenge on the village! Did you see the look in the bastard's eyes? Those were the eyes of the demon fox!"

Iruka grunted in pain as he pulled the throwing star out of his back. He couldn't help but chuckle through the pain. "You… don't… know… Naruto… at all!" Iruka gasped, forcing himself to his feet.

"I don't have to know the boy to kill him! It's the scroll I'm after now. I'll finish you later!" Mizuki yelled, taking off after Naruto.

Iruka just quickly pulled the last of the kunai out. 'You can try.'

The Hokage found Naruto in his crystal ball just before Iruka found him, in order to hear Mizuki's entire plan. 'So he knows now. There is always the terrible possibility that the awesome power of the Kyuubi could break free of its bonds and fully restore its demon form… however, I have faith in Naruto.'

So said, the Hokage called the search party, minus Iruka, off, and told them of the traitor Mizuki and that it was he who stole the scroll.

Watching the disbelief and disgust crawl over most of the gathered ninja's expression, the Third couldn't help but sigh. '

As Iruka darted through the trees, he soon spotted Naruto. "Naruto!" he cried. "Quickly!! Give me the scroll!! It's what Mizuki's after!!"

Naruto just glared, and body checked Mizuki across a good distance and into the ground. Iruka just staggered to try and get up from the ground. "…Y-you… What's wrong, Naruto?" A moment later 'Iruka' was revealed to be Mizuki, "How did you know I wasn't Iruka?!"

Naruto laughed and vanished into smoke to reveal Iruka. "Because I am." The exhausted chuunin panted from his sprawl at the base of the tree.

Mizuki's sneer grew even bigger. "I see…"

Naruto, the real one, watched, clutching the scroll to his chest from behind a tree nearby.

Mizuki began to laugh. "So noble! Saving your parent's murderer… and for what? What happens if we let him live?"

"Then maybe the scroll is safe from a complete scumbag," Iruka panted.

"You're a fool. Naruto and I are two of a kind," Mizuki purred, and then smirked at Iruka's confused expression. "I can use the scroll to achieve the same kind of limitless power! The demon within him hungers for that kind of strength! You were right to fear him… Despise him…" Mizuki laughed.

Naruto just looked down sadly, feeling his heart break again. 'So it's true… Iruka-sensei really holds me…in contempt.'

"Maybe I do hate the fox…" Iruka proclaims proudly, catching Naruto's attention. "But not Naruto. Not the boy. For him, I have nothing but respect. He's an excellent student. He works with all his might… But sometimes, even so, he's awkward, clumsy… a screw-up… people have mocked and shunned him… And it's given him empathy. He knows what it is to be in pain. He gets back up no matter what's thrown at him. That boy is not your demon fox!" Naruto had broken into silent sobs by this point. "He is… A citizen of Konohagakure village… Uzumaki Naruto!"

Naruto felt himself cry, but he felt his heart mend and beat fiercely. He now knew what it felt like to be cared for…

"Aww! That is so sweet! Just hearing you say all that bullshit makes me feel all warm and fuzzy!" Mizuki sneered. "Well Iruka… I had planned to save you 'till last… But sometimes things just don't turn out the way you plan, so… " Pulling back on the second throwing star, and aiming straight for the exhausted Iruka's chest, Mizuki prepared to let it fly. His aim was thrown way off kilter however, because Naruto leapt out of the trees and kicked him hard in the chin just before he let the star go.

The weapon imbedded itself far up the tree, and deep enough in to not risk it coming down. Landing before Iruka, Naruto kept his attention focused firmly on Mizuki, not seeing the shocked look on Iruka's face as he stood between the two older men. 'Now it's my turn to protect you, Iruka.'

Mizuki staggered to his feet, stunned at the force of impact for a moment, before he got up to glare at the blonde.

"Keep away from Iruka-sensei… or I'LL KILL YOU!" Naruto snarled at the traitor.

"No! Naruto! You should have stayed away! Get out of here! Save yourself!" Iruka yelled at him.

"Loudmouth brat!! I CAN KILL YOU WITH ONE BLOW!!" Mizuki screamed.

"Bring it on, you big asshole! Anything you throw at me, I'm gonna make you eat!" Naruto taunted, making the hand seals for the technique he needed.

"You're welcome to try, little fox!" Mizuki screamed, preparing to charge him.

A moment later, Iruka's eyes nearly bugged out as Naruto performed the kage bunshin technique… flawlessly… and in the hundreds…

Mizuki looked around himself wildly. "What…? How did he…?"

"What's the matter tough guy? Come and get me!" Numerous Narutos started in with the taunts, as Iruka stared at him, shocked. Mizuki whimpered pathetically before the herd of Narutos descended upon him.

'Amazing! He not only generated a thousand bunshins… but made them solid, flesh-and-blood instead of shadowy illusion. That's the highest caliber shinobi art… I wouldn't be surprised if some day he really does turn out to be better than any Hokage who's come before!' Lost in thought, Iruka conveniently missed Mizuki's screams of anguish as hundreds of pissed off blonde genins beat the snot out of him.

"I guess I got carried away," Naruto sheepishly laughed, catching Iruka's attention. He had to restrain the grin at how Mizuki looked now. Silver hair fluffed and frazzled, splattered with blood from his obviously broken nose, black and blue all over…

Iruka sat up and smiled. "Naruto, come here. I've got a present for you. Close your eyes."

After a few moments, the sound of rustling, and feeling something being done to his goggles, Naruto couldn't help but ask, "Now, sensei, may I…?"

"Yes, Naruto. You can open your eyes now." Iruka smiled. Naruto stared at the goggles in Iruka's hand and his sensei's bare forehead as Iruka couldn't help but smile even wider. "Congratulations… You graduate!" Naruto just stared at him, stunned, as he continued, "To celebrate this, I'll take you out for ramen!"

Naruto just stared at him for a few more moments before pouncing at the chuunin.

'Now that you're a full-fledged shinobi, things will only get more difficult…' Or, at least, that was the speech Iruka planned to give, but he decided it could wait until the restaurant.

Beta read by: Magus Hecate