Chapter 1 - A Hero Falls

It was just a ceiling. Its surface was smooth and mostly white, with the occasional dark patch caused by damp. Nothing special about it in any way.

There were certain things of which Uzumaki Naruto was fond.

Ramen? Of course.

Orange? His clothing spoke for itself.

Ceilings…….? Not really.

So why couldn't he stop staring at it?

Perhaps it was because tomorrow was Team Seven's 'Survival Training'? when he passed this test, he and his teammates would become real ninja, taking real missions. He would be one step closer to becoming Hokage. Knowing how much different his life would be from now on, how could he not be excited? His mind drifted to his teammates. Knowing Sasuke, he was too cool to be excited and was too full of himself to be worried. He wondered how Sakura was faring.

Sakura. The real reason for his lack of sleep.

Naruto knew how the pink-haired girl felt about their Uchiha teammate, and how she didn't feel about him. She made the clear enough on a daily basis. And now the three of them were a team.

Now was his chance. His chance to win over the Sasuke-fanatical Haruno Sakura. The fox-boy believed he could do it. He believed that if you put in everything you had, anything was possible.

Wasn't it?

His twinkling sapphire-blue eyes simply continued to gaze at the ceiling.

The scene in the dark room remained unchanged for some time until the blond boy abruptly sat up with an annoyed grunt. He had to be fully awake and alert for tomorrow. He wouldn't be passing any test if he was sleep deprived.

Grabbing his jacket and trousers, the blond boy quickly dressed. He stopped only to admire his hiate-ate. Though worn and tattered to others, it was one of his few treasures. He carefully tied it round his head and was reminded that there was someone who believed in him, who cared what happened to him.

One of the good points of living alone was that the young Uzumaki could come and go as he pleased. He exercised this freedom now as he opened his front door, closing it behind him as he exited the small apartment.

Naruto didn't even bother taking to the roof-tops, being as there was no one in the streets and he otherwise risked falling in the dark. He ran through the streets, passing places he recognised. The Yamanaka flower shop. The Hokage tower. He smiled as he passed the now silent Ichiraku ramen stand. That was breakfast organised.

The fox-boy knew that there were ANBU spread around the village and he knew that he had been seen, even if he had seen no one. It didn't matter though. They let him be.

When the street he was on ran out, he simply continued running, into the trees.

The darkness intensified as most of the bright moonlight was blocked by the foliage of the trees around him. He showed unusual levels of concentration, his eyes focused on the ground before his feet.

Now fully into his rhythm, he spread his arms behind him and accelerated.

As his breathing became more laboured and his muscles burned slightly, his conscious thoughts seemed to fade to the back of his mind. He dodged trees, roots and even the occasional bat.

As soon as a break in the trees became visible, the orange-clad figure turned ninety-degrees and continued running. He glanced at the large ravine that ran alongside his path. He knew just how big it was, at nearly two miles long. The first time he'd run this course, he hadn't been paying proper attention and had nearly dived head-first into the ravine. Considering its depth, he was pretty sure that would not have ended well.

The run remained uninterrupted after twenty minutes. Depending on a choice of turnings, he was either a third or a half way through his run. He already felt more at ease.

That last thing the blue-eyed Genin expected was what sounded like a muffled scream.

Dirt was kicked into the air as Naruto gracelessly slid to a stop. He heard it again, only quieter now.

Any academy student in Uzumaki Naruto's year could have confirmed that he wasn't the stealthiest ninja. They might have then mentioned words such as 'obnoxious', 'loud', 'atrocious' and 'orange'.

Still, Naruto did his best to keep quiet and headed in the direction from which the sound had come. The sound; however, only got quieter and he realised that it was getting further way. He increased his pace. He may not have been the fastest ninja, but few could match his stamina. His sprint may not have been all that impressive, but he could manage it for a great deal longer than most his age, and indeed many older ninja. While other ninja had to limit themselves to a steady pace, Naruto could go all-out for prolonged periods. Not that the young boy had ever really given this much thought.

The sound got louder again and the fox-boy knew he was making ground on whatever it was. Something told him to keep going.

A moment later, when they broke into a clearing, the moonlight revealed the source of the sound.

Running through the forest was a tall figure dressed in fairly standard ninja outfit, albeit all in black. By the person's build, he guessed it was a man. The man was about average height, with dirty-grey hair. He could make out the piece of cloth flapping behind the man and guessed it was a hiate-ate. Of course he could not see the symbol from this position and distance. What was surprising was that the man's footsteps seemed to make no sound as they fell.

What really concerned the young boy was the second figure, hoisted over the man's shoulder.

A young girl with long, dark hair. She wore a pale night-robe, its colour hard to make out by the moonlight. Her mouth was gagged and her hands were bound together. The girl's wide, fearful eyes immediately caught his attention. The pale orbs seemed to perceive him and locked onto his own. She was clearly terrified.

Naruto had none of his ninja gear and had graduated only two days ago. He was in no position to fight someone who could get past the village's security, and who was most likely a Jounin.

The sensible thing would have been to get help.

Even if Naruto was the type of person to think like this, there was no way he could turn away from those desperate eyes. He was a ninja of Konoha now and it was his job to protect the village and its citizens. No matter what.

Naruto dashed forward at top speed.

The girl must have tensed slightly because the man suddenly jumped to the side and twisted round, landing in a defensive stance. His headband was now clear to see. It showed him to be a Kumo nuke-nin.

Naruto stopped in his tracks, lest he put the girl at risk.

Tetsuo was prepared to fight any comers, but he felt relief when he saw his opponent was just a child. He was surprised the boy had caught up to him, even though he specialised in assassination and sacrificed speed for stealth. The girl had negated the silence of his running with her muted cries. He had drugged her but apparently underestimated the dose. He didn't know much about only disabling opponents. Still, he could take care of this boy without trying. He couldn't hang around though. Someone else might come along any moment. Someone who was a real threat.

Naruto saw the kidnapper's relaxed expression. His eyes narrowed. He hated being underestimated. "Kage bunshin no Jutsu!" One blond turned into a hundred.

Tetsuo's expression became more serious again. He dropped the young girl to the ground. Now her whole body was visible, it could be seen that her feet were also tied, so there was no chance she could escape.

Now Naruto had a better view of the girl, he realised she could be no older than five or six, and for some reason she reminded him of a former class mate of his; Hyuuga Hinata. He wondered if they were related. He vaguely remembered that Hinata was a member of some big, important clan. All that mattered to him; however, was that the little girl needed his help.

Tetsuo's hands formed the seals of his strongest technique. He had to end this quickly, before any ANBU or Hyuuga arrived. It might have been overkill, but the boy had already surprised him with the shadow clone technique. "Raiton: Rakurai no Jutsu!" (Lightning Release: Lightning-bolt technique)

Now would have been time that a Jounin, or a skilled Chuunin, would have dodged or used a replacement technique. Naruto was neither.

The lightening bolt hit the blond straight in the chest, sending him flying backward, trailed by black smoke. The smell of burning flesh quickly pervaded the air. All the clones vanished in a collective puff of smoke.

The 'Rakurai no Jutsu' was known as a chakra intensive technique, and not often used in battle against high-level opponents for that reason. If it missed, it was a waste of valuable chakra. It was also known in Kumo as a one-hit kill. If it landed. It wreaked havoc on the nervous system and the brain's neural pathways.

Hanabi Hyuuga's fear grew. She was young, but she had been trained to fight since she could walk. She was also considered a prodigy, highly intelligent for her age, already able to beat her much older sister in a spar. As a Hyuuga, she could usually hide her emotions easily, as she had been trained to do, but that was under controlled conditions. It was one thing to show no fear in a spar, but it was quite another when you were plucked from your bed in the middle of the night to unknown ends. Hanabi knew that the blond boy had just been killed trying to save her. She genuinely regretted his death, as well as the loss of her last hope.

The missing-nin smiled in satisfaction, feeling no guilt at all. When he brought the young Hyuuga girl to the Raikage, he would be allowed to return home. He had scorned his village when he was younger. He had thought he didn't need them, but that had changed after years on the run. The nuke-nin took one step toward his captive when the sound of coughing reached his ears from behind him.

Naruto could barely think due to the miasma of pain that flooded his mind. The smell of his own seared flesh made him gag while the smoke in his lungs made him cough violently. That had been the single most painful thing he had ever experienced, but that didn't stop him from pushing himself onto his side, moving his legs backward and rolling onto his knees. Trying to ignore the pain, he moved one leg up, so that he supported his weight on one foot, before forcing through the pain and finally standing. His eyes just managed to focus on the nuke-nin whose own eyes had widened in astonishment. "W-Who…said you…c-could go…teme?" His voice was coarse and husky. It was surprisingly intimidating.

Tetsuo could see the smoke still coming off the young boy's body. He could see the pain in tense muscles and clenched teeth. He was obviously in agony, yet stood in pure defiance. Who in the hell was this kid? Shaking himself out of his stupor as he felt valuable time racing by, he dashed forward with a kunai that had appeared in his hand.

The nuke-nin watched as the boy clumsily tried to block with his arms, but they were easily bypassed.

Blood splattered as metal pierced flesh.

The older combatant held a kunai buried into the blond's stomach. The boy's hands clasped weakly onto his arms, head down.

Tetsuo bent lower, pushing the projectile deeper into the young boy's flesh. He put his mouth to the boy's ear. "You died well, kid." Indeed the boy had earned his begrudging respect. He did not expect what happened next.

Faster than should have been possible, Naruto lifted his head up sharply and brought his forehead forward, impacting his hiate-ate with the older ninja's nose. He heard cartilage break and the man jump back. "Who's dying, teme?" He hissed slightly through his teeth. The pain from the lighting attack was slowly beginning to dim, but the wound in his stomach had taken its place as his new source of agony. He held his hand to his stomach, feeling the blood pour from around the embedded kunai. He was already beginning to feel dizzy.

The surprised nuke-nin grabbed his nose with one hand, blood quickly seeping between his fingers. He watched as the blond grabbed the kunai stuck into his gut and pulled it out without hesitation, a slight hiss the only proof that it caused any pain. "What the h-?"

Naruto launched the kunai back at the stunned ninja's head, close enough to make a good attempt even with his bad aim. He ignored his grievous wound and light-headedness, forming a single seal. "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!"

Caught off-guard, Tetsuo was still able to catch his treacherous weapon. It cut into his palm. Instantly a dozen clones were upon him and he was fighting fist to fist, struggling to perform seals with the shadow clones constantly punching, kicking and pulling. Angered at suffering such humiliation at the hands of a mere child, he spun round and struck all the clones with his fists. It was time to get serious.

Naruto had not been idle while the enemy had been occupied. A clone had thrown him the kunai his enemy had dropped. He dashed toward the young girl, throwing the hoop end of the kunai into his mouth, and scooped the girl up without stopping even as his abdomen exploded with near-blinding pain. At least the pain blew the dizziness clear from his mind. He exited the clearing and ran through the trees.

Hanabi was almost too shocked to be frightened anymore. Who was this boy who was saving her when he should have been dead?

With difficulty, Naruto managed to build up to nearly full speed, despite his injures and his passenger. The pain in his stomach was slowly beginning to fade. "Whans!"

It took Hanabi a second to understand what her rescuer was saying. She lifted her bound wrists to his mouth.

Naruto used the kunai in his mouth to cut through the rope around the girl's wrists. He then spat the kunai into the girls lap. "Can you free your legs?"

Hanabi nodded, still unable to speak due to the gag. She took the projectile and, after some fiddling, managed to cut through the ropes around her ankles. She then removed the gag, but remained silent.

The two burst from the forest and the moonlight now made the surrounding landscape clearly visible.

Naruto was still a little light-headed, but he managed to get his bearings. He saw the gorge still to his left. That meant the Hyuuga compound and the Hokage office were in the direction from which he had come, and he couldn't go back that way. If he continued straight for half a mile; however, he would reach the ANBU head quarters, which were guarded twenty-four hours a day.

With no friends to spend his time with, except occasional trips to the ramen stand with Iruka, the fox-boy had explored the village extensively.

The fox-boy pushed himself harder than he could remember having done before. He couldn't tell if the burning in his muscles was due to the load he was placing on them or the remnants of the lightning attack.

He felt something impact in his shoulder, but ignored the pain. He changed the position of his arms so he could form a single seal. "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!"

Naruto learned something interesting about the shadow clone technique right then. When a dozen copies of himself puffed into existence, so to did a dozen of the girl. He couldn't create more. His injuries were taking a serious toll on his body.

The clones quickly scrambled. Naruto changed his angle a little while a clone continued on his original path. He ran just along the side of the gorge.

Only a few seconds later, Naruto felt a tingle in the back of his head. A clone had been destroyed. He wasn't sure how he knew, but he didn't have time to worry about that right now.

Tetsuo threw kunai without much precision at the more likely clone suspects. It didn't matter where he hit them. A single cut or serious impact got rid of them. He aimed at another 'clone'.

Naruto felt another kunai impact his left calf-muscle, causing him to trip toward the large fissure.

Hanabi felt herself beginning to slip from her rescuers arms and tried to grab on, unwittingly grabbing the kunai embedded in her saviour's shoulder.

The fox-boy grunted in pain as the blade tore at his shoulder. He wouldn't have minded, if it saved the girl, but it gave way and she fell from his arms.

Time seemed to slow down.

Tetsuo knew he had seriously miscalculated and stopped to watch his intended captive fall toward the canyon's edge. Before he could choose a course of action, he felt a surge of chakra in his chest and died.

Hyuuga Hiashi ignored the dead man and ran toward his daughter, just as she vanished into the precipice.

Hanabi tried to grab onto the edge as it passed, but she only succeeded in cutting her hands. She continued to fall.

Naruto watched in horror as the young girl he had been desperately trying to save began to fall.

To Hanabi the fall seemed agonisingly slow. Minutes seemed to have passed, yet she could only have been a quarter of the way down. She could make out the blond boy's expression and knew that it was all over for her. She closed her eyes in defeat.

If she had kept her eyes open, she would have seen a change come over the boy's face. He wore the same expression as when he had got up from what should have been a fatal lightening attack only minutes ago.

Hiashi reached the edge, but was helpless to do anything but watch. He was a master of his clan's techniques, but few others. He didn't know how to save his daughter.

Naruto did what he did best and acted without thinking. Ignoring the new arrival, Naruto ripped the kunai from his leg, placed his feet halfway over the edge and crouched. He let gravity pull against him. When his head passed his feet, he pushed off with everything he had.

Hanabi felt the rapid passage of air around her, but she kept her eyes clenched shut. She did not see her rescuer push off against the cliff, or his blond hair whip around furiously as he began to catch up to her.

The fox-boy put his arms to his sides and his legs together, further accelerating.

The moonlight showed two silhouettes falling into the dark and unforgiving depths of the canyon.

Naruto was halfway down now and he had almost caught up. He reached out a hand, but only succeeded in brushing his finger-tips against the girl's arms.

The young Hyuuga's eyes shot open as she felt something brush against her. Her brain struggled to process what she was seeing.

Naruto reached out again as they reached three quarters of the way down. He managed to grab her unresisting wrist and quickly pulled her small frame to him.

Hanabi had no idea what was happening as she was pulled into a tight hug. She felt her body shifting position and the wind drop dramatically. She felt something warm against her back. It was then she realised what was happening.

Naruto had managed to put himself between the young girl and the ground. There was nothing else to do now. He couldn't risk lessening his grip to create clones to put between the two of them and the ground, even if they could have gotten into position in time.

Naruto took a deep breath, hoping that the extra cushion of air would further protect the girl. He didn't have time to worry more because the ground finally caught up to them.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

There were only a few times when the Sandaime Hokage had felt so old. The last time had been twelve years ago.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Wrinkled fingers fiddled with an old clay pipe. It was a cheap thing, but had somehow lasted over a decade. Of course he couldn't smoke it, not here in the hospital.

Beep. Beep. Beep

Age beyond his years wasn't the only feeling he had in common with that night. There was also a sense of bitter-sweet pride. Naruto had done some stupid, yet utterly heroic. It reminded him of another blue-eyed blond, not to mention an emerald-eyed redhead. Now the whiskered Genin lay in bed, the majority of his body bandaged.

The door creaked open and Sarutobi finally took his eyes off the unconscious blond. He immediately recognised the woman that walked through the door. Twelve years had not been without change. Her looks had softened, giving her more homely and pleasant features. Her brown hair was cut to her shoulders, with bangs framing her face. The biggest change; however, was in her manner. She looked much more confident, the fledgling nurse having become a skilled medic. She was dressed smartly in a navy-blue kimono. A pair of black-rimmed glassed finished her professional appearance. "Ayumi, how is young Hanabi?"

The medic's mouth formed a small smile. "She suffered several fractures, whiplash and a concussion, but nothing serious. She'll make a full recovery quickly thanks to..." The medic features revealed a worried frown.

Six years ago, the young medic had insisted on becoming the blond boy's personal physician. The other medics didn't go so far as to harm him, but some of them had neglected his treatment in the past. Sarutobi had only been only too happy to grant her request. The woman and Naruto were on polite terms, but the medic secretly watched over his well-being. The boy had no idea, but the two workers at the Ichiraku ramen stand ground vitamins into one of his daily bowls of the noodle-based dish at her behest.

Sarutobi didn't like the look on the medic's face. "What about Naruto?"

The medic moved to stand by her patient's side, putting her hand gently onto a non-bandaged area of his arm. "He's a mess, Hokage-sama." Over the years the medic had learned the importance of not getting emotionally attached to patients. It made it so much harder to help them. Still, she could not stop several tears running down each cheek. She didn't even speak as she moved to pick up the clipboard at the bottom of her patient's bed. She passed the paperwork to the Hokage

Sarutobi read out loud from the sheet before him. "Impact fractures to the third, fourth and fifth lumbar; sixth to eleventh thoracic; and fifth, sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae. Three breaks in the spinal cord; first between the third and fourth lumbar, second between the eighth and ninth thoracic and the third between the fifth and sixth cervical vertebrae. Impact fractures to the second, third and fifth right; third, fourth and sixth left ribs. Impact fracture to the left clavicle." The Hokage skipped through the long list of broken bones. "Severe haemorrhaging of the liver. Ruptured spleen…." The old man couldn't continue to read any longer. He'd seen a list of injuries like this before, but only in a post-mortem.

The medic shifted her saddened gaze to the boy's heavily bandaged head. "...but by far the most serious injury was the near-complete destruction of the occipital bone; the area at the back of his skull. Several shards of bone were lodged into his brain tissue, which was already damaged due to the forces placed on it." The medic shook her head. "Anyone else would certainly have died instantly."

Sarutobi took a slow, almost hesitating, breath in. He was afraid of the answer to his next question. "What are his chances?"

Even the medic's sigh was shaky. "You have to remember his injuries would have been enough to kill most people five times over, but….." The medic's face finally showed a small amount of hope as she lifted her glasses and wiped her eyes with the palm of each hand. "His body is coping remarkably well. His innate healing powers have supported his body enough to allow us to repair most of the damage. Without them he would be dead. Some of the injuries have managed to heal on their own, but the Yokuatsu Fuuinjutsu is inhibiting the full potential of his healing….ability." She had almost said bloodline. "We were worried about the bone fragments in his brain, but they are slowly being ejected by his chakra. Even so, it's hard to say. The brain is complex and it's not just a matter of healing, but re-forming the neural pathways that were destroyed. It's all up to him now."

The Hokage inclined his head toward the physician. It wasn't as good as he hoped, but better than he had feared. "Thank you, Ayumi."

The medic headed back toward the door, but stopped when her hand reached the handle. Her voice was barely above a whisper "He's a fighter, Hokage-sama. Just like her." It was obvious that she referred to the boy's mother. The one person she had respected even more than the Yondaime. "I only pray that it is enough."

The old man didn't respond as the door closed once more and his eyes returned to the sleeping Genin.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

A flash of electricity appeared and vanished in a mere fraction of a moment, not unlike a bolt of lightning.

Another quickly followed, and another still.

Soon there was a veritable storm, growing in size and intensity.

It wasn't alone. Near-identical storms blanketed the area.

One of the storms grew just a little more and combined with another. The rest began mimic this action.

Only one place remained dark and untouched by the storms. The sparks found it an impassable void.

Regardless, the storms continued to expand and eventually the storms around the void met up.

Then there was only one.