Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto.

Twelve Failures of Umino Iruka

1. The first failure of Umino Iruka's life was the day of the Kyuubi attack. He just knows that he could have saved his parents. Somehow. Some way.

2. Later he failed the exam to become a teacher of the ninja arts. The exam was based on individual merit, and the only reason he survived a basic trap was because Mizuki saved him.

Iruka never realized that Mizuki only saved him to look good in front of the observers. Three days prior the investigation had begun into the true cause of death of Mizuki's teammate during an escape from enemy forces. Mizuki had killed the hamstrung man to speed up his own flight, but claimed the severe leg injury had necessitated the move. A basic autopsy reveals that the cut barely severed the tendons in the leg, and a basic healing technique would have saved the man's life. Any chunin could have done it.

3. His third failure was the day one Uzumaki Naruto, known in hushed whispers as the Kyuubi, walked into his class. Iruka failed to see him as Naruto. Iruka will never admit that instead of teaching Naruto the seal for Bunshin no Jutsu, he taught him a seal to channel chakra into another person.

Forcing an Academy technique with it would have instantly drained anyone else Naruto's age of every last drop of chakra, killing them. Naruto survived by putting so much raw chakra in the air that he could use that to perform techniques. The use of such overwhelming, raw power, untamed once released from his body, prevents Naruto from ever properly performing Bunshin no Jutsu.

4. Despite the fact that he knows Naruto grew up alone, that he can see that Naruto is in the exact same pain that he felt when he was a child, Iruka fails to help. He turns a blind eye and looks the other way. The Kyuubi took his parents. It deserves the same pain he felt.

5. Despite years of ninja training, Iruka still fails the first time he attempts an assassination. When Iruka treats Naruto to Ichiraku Ramen for the first time, he subtly pours a small paper container of a poisonous salt into Naruto's bowl as the boy closes his eyes to yell "Itadakimasu!"

Naruto devoured the entire bowl, and asked if Iruka would buy another.

6. Seated atop the head of the Fourth, the great shinobi who defeated the boy before him, Iruka tells Naruto that he can't go home until he finishes cleaning the Hokage monument. He fails to maintain his cold, quiet hate when Naruto says eleven fateful words.

"So? It's not like there's anyone at home waiting for me."

The sheer, naked, hurt in Naruto's voice forces Iruka to admit that Naruto is in pain. That he knows suffering, and that there is nothing he wants more in the world than for there to be someone at home, waiting for him. For the first time Iruka's offer of ramen is genuine.

7. Later at Ichiraku's, Iruka realizes that he failed to know Naruto at all. Naruto reveres the Fourth Hokage, the man who defeated the Kyuubi and saved the village. It is at that moment that he realizes - Naruto is not the Kyuubi. And he was wrong.

Every single moment of Naruto's blundering determination, despite every single person, including his sensei, standing in the way of him, is instantly viewed in a new light when Naruto says another eleven life-altering words.

"I'm going to be greater than every single Hokage before me!"

The demon, no, the boy, Uzumaki Naruto, wants to lead the village that sealed a demon inside him, that hated him, that tried to kill him. More importantly, he wants to protect it, and every single person inside it. Iruka sits in awe, chopsticks halfway to his mouth, as he realizes that the person he has hated for twelve years is a greater person than he could ever hope to be.

9. Exactly twenty-four hours later, sitting down against a tree, spitting up blood, one hand on a small wooden log that he'd fooled Mizuki into thinking was the Scroll of Sealing, Iruka realizes that he has failed again, this time to protect Naruto. Ironic that he spent half his life trying to kill the boy, only to die trying to save him. Iruka believes it will be the last failure of his life.

When Naruto appears from nowhere, striking Mizuki hard enough to knock the man back twenty feet and deflecting the second Fuma shuriken, Iruka's jaw drops as he watches Naruto create almost a thousand shadow clones. The Yondaime in his prime would have died at eight hundred. It is at this moment that he realizes just how badly he has held back Naruto, just how much he has kept this boy from his one dream.

10. He tries to make it up to himself and Naruto by giving the boy the hitai-ate he'd asked for yesterday, declaring him a graduate. It fails to salve his conscience.

11. Sadly, Iruka fails to muster up the courage to ever admit what he's done to Naruto and ask his forgiveness.

12. But, most important of all, he fails to realize that Naruto isn't stupid. The fact that the boy mastered tree walking in a day, equalling the Uchiha prodigy who started out far ahead of him, is proof enough of that.

There is a reason Naruto avoids the first person to ever acknowledge his existence as much as possible. Naruto figured it out.

Author's Notes:

After reading Twenty Matters of Pride by Kraken's Ghost and Five Reasons by eminyet I wanted to give this style a spin. Next chapter will be Kakashi, although I'm not sure when I'll write it. This series is mostly for my own entertainment, so new characters after Kakashi might be late in coming. My overall plan is to use twelve characters total, in keeping with the general theme of twelve.