Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto (obviously), this was written purely for my own enjoyment, I'm not profiting from this in any way…so don't sue me, please.

Notes: Alternate Universe; pre-Naruto, post-Kakashi Gaiden; One-shot (currently—potentially could be expanded upon…) What if the Kyuubi never threatened Konoha on that fated October night? What if the Kyuubi was not what it seemed?


Heart of the Fox

His childhood, such as it was, was so very long ago that he barely recalled any of it. That was one of the drawbacks to being such a long-lived being, he supposed. Another was that the world was ruled by short-lived things, and they rushed around changing ceaselessly while he drifted along in their figurative dust.

But, from what he could recall of his youth, back in the ancient days when he'd possessed only one tail, the little insects that would one day rule the world were at their most pathetic. These insects—creatures that called themselves "humans"—were fragile, unsophisticated things. Most lived in caves or wandering bands; very few managed little agricultural villages. They were weak and boring and he ignored them.

When he grew a second tail and grew more powerful, humans were still nothing interesting. Dealing with other demons was much more stimulating and challenging. They were deadly, they had real power, real strength. It was a powerful thrill with each enemy that he topped.

His opinion of humans remained the same at his third tail, and at his fourth. However, when he hit his fifth tail, and gained yet greater power and skill, he started to watch them sometimes. Five tails meant that his transformation skills had reached their peak. He could hold any form for as long as he desired, and he could even hide his tails, a feature that had always resisted transformation before. If he chose, he could even look perfectly human.

Upon earning his sixth tail, he decided to celebrate by experimenting. He gave himself a human shape and went down among them to see what it was like. As he had almost no knowledge about their fluid languages and customs, he was driven out in short order. He allowed them to expel him. If he'd desired to, he could've slaughtered the entire small village of them, but he was lenient with them, and he was curious. He set about studying them in-between his conquests of other demons.

By his seventh tail, he was an expert on the humans that inhabited the vast swath of territory that he considered his. He knew their languages and their customs and could mimic them perfectly. It amused him greatly to take a human (or human-like) shape and walk among them with them none the wiser. Sometimes they never figured out that they had dealt with a demon, even after the "money" that he'd used to pay for something had turned back into the leaves once the chakra that he'd infused them with had faded away.

He recalled the years of being an eight-tail very clearly due to one very unexpected event: he'd fallen for a human woman. It wasn't her physical beauty that did it—he could appreciate human beauty, but he was generally more attracted to demonic beauty, and he'd sown his seed thoroughly amongst his own kind. No, it was her personality and her spirit that drew him in like nothing else.

She was usually very calm and obedient, but when pushed a certain way she could explode into fiery fits of temper. It was startling, almost frightening, yet absolutely fascinating to watch. This woman, Hitomi, was strong-willed, confident, self-assured, and fearless. In a moment of recklessness, fueled by a lot of sake and the inner turmoil spawned by his inexplicable attraction to her, he revealed his true, demonic identity to her, and she barely batted an eyelash. She didn't care what he was; she still treated him the same and showed him no fear or disgust or unease. That was the final straw.

The last time he'd been so intent on one female in particular, he'd been a lusty young two-tail eager to score a romp or two with an older, more mature three-tail. And this time, he was pursuing a human—of all things! He courted her mercilessly; taking down human bandits to acquire their riches so that he had real money (instead of transformed leaves) to pay for things for her. He built a castle of a house in a remote, but beautiful corner of his territory. She resisted for a time, but eventually caved to him. He even went through a human marriage ceremony for her.

Hitomi bore his a good-sized clutch of half-human, half-demon children—bizarre yet adorable creatures that were oddly more precious to him than any of his earlier, casually spawned full-demon offspring. They lived in the house he'd built, occasionally leaving it to mingle with the common humans elsewhere. His subordinates, of which there were many (he was very powerful and had won many loyal followers among his kind), served and protected them, and all their needs were provided for. And for a time they were happy.

But Hitomi was still human, and she had her limitations. If he'd bonded himself to another demon, he would've had centuries to spend with his mate. With Hitomi, he only had a handful of decades. Her fragile human body aged so rapidly, and then failed her. And she was gone.

His half-breed children brought him some comfort, but they only lasted a few centuries. In demon terms, they died young. And he grieved anew for each loss.

For a time afterwards he had a few flings with human women, and even a few demons, who reminded him of his lost wife. But they all failed to satisfy him. They only reopened old wounds and eventually he would leave them or drive them away. And when he finally realized that he was trying to find a perfect replacement for Hitomi—a cruel exercise doomed to failure—he stopped.

And then, shortly before his ascension to a full nine-tails—a feat achieved only once before by his kind—it happened again. Her name was Inari and in many ways she was the polar opposite of what Hitomi had been. She was calm and gentle, yes, but she lacked the explosive temper that Hitomi had possessed. Sure she got angry, but it was a slow blow sort that just built until it boiled over. She was just as accepting, but less demanding—she required half the courting to win over and seemed more embarrassed than flattered when she received expensive gifts.

He had been reluctant to pursue her. She was a human, and she would die quickly and leave him the way Hitomi had. Their children would be lucky to last more than two hundred years. And he also suffered from the strange, unfamiliar sensation of guilt that he might be betraying his first wife if he decided to take another. He dragged his feet for so long that she ended up going after him.

They eventually married and settled into his remote forest home. A few little ones came along in their own time and they settled into a happy routine. But the end of this particular chapter was even more tragic than the first.

The ninth tail had recently grown in and he left on business. As the most powerful of all the kitsune (now being a nine-tail), he became the de facto leader of his race. And as the de facto leader of the kitsune, he felt that it was his responsibility to build ties with the other great demon races' leaders: the "Bijuu."

He was only gone for a month. It shouldn't have been a problem. There were a few packs of loyal kitsune guarding his estate. It should have been perfectly safe.

In the past, the most dangerous humans were samurai. They were highly trained, determined warriors with a strict honor code. Their weakness was their reliance on swords and their utter disdain for the use of chakra. An experienced demon could easily handle them, but ordinary humans, young demons, and half-demon children were another story.

Priests were the next dangerous. They used chakra to a limited extent (primarily in barriers and seals), and their spiritual strength was nothing to sneeze at. In general, demons worried more about going up against a priest than a samurai.

Ninjas of the period were in their infancy. They were just developing their ninjutsu, genjutsu, and taijutsu, and their groups were small, scattered, and practically unknown. Samurai were by far the preferred military force. The demon world at large wasn't sure what to think of them yet.

While he was away, dealing with things, two of the three threats to demons (and anybody else) came to his home, uninvited. He generally got along with about half the humans who lived on his lands, but the rest of them irrationally hated and feared him. There was no reason why they should. He hadn't gone of a rampage of destruction on any of their villages…at least, not in any of their living memories. And he certainly hadn't been planning on doing it again anytime soon.

But they were fearful and irrational and they took great offense to his half-breed children. They saw them as abominations that needed slaying and purifying. And they had the mistaken idea that he had enchanted Inari to be his wife and held her against her will and forced his children on her. And so a large force of samurai and a contingent of priests marched on his house, killed most of his guards, slaughtered and mutilated his children, and killed his wife in the process of "saving" her.

When he returned home, frazzled from wrangling with the other Bijuu (who had very reluctantly welcomed him into their little club), he found his whole world cut to pieces, drenched in blood, and a week rotted. So, very understandably, he went into a mindless rage and destroyed a few villages right off the bat. With his immediate rage soothed slightly, he was able to think, and then track down the offenders and crush them mercilessly. The Daimyos, their samurai, the temples and priests responsible were thoroughly wiped off the map in short order.

This earned him a truly fearsome reputation. He was seen as a living natural disaster, a malicious force of nature. Humans feared him, called him evil, and he stopped walking among them in any shape.

He withdrew from the world—much to the relief to the wretched humans. He'd known that humans could be cruel and destructive; he'd watched their petty little wars and feuds and seen what wicked things they did to each other. It was his own fault for thinking that he was immune to their evil and their hate.

Bitterness festered in his guts. He allowed humans to live on his land, but any trespassers on his private property were slaughtered without mercy. This very quickly gained him near perfect privacy—he only had to kill one human every few years to keep them at bay.

The world, run by short-lived little humans, cared nothing for his pain or the injustice done upon him. It moved on without him. Ninja grew to great prominence—a powerful sect of ninja even settled on his land, a region the humans had come to call the Land of Fire. With their devastating ninjutsu and tricky genjutsu they soon became the more popular option, leaving the samurai in the dust, good only for bodyguard duty and patrolling noble estates.

He, the evil, terrifying Kyuubi no Yoko, had only one brief interaction with the ninja world. An arrogant, but powerful and very wicked, human named Uchiha Madara had come to his home and ensnared him in a genjutsu so subtle, so complex, so powerful, that he was enslaved to the wretched man for a time. It took the power of the one called the Shodai Hokage's chakra crystal necklace to calm him and free him from the Uchiha's influence and send home again. He bitterly vowed never to have anything to do with ninja ever again…and if the Uchiha ever came back, his life would be forfeit without exception.

That had nearly been a century ago, by his rough count. And very unfortunately the Uchiha had been wise enough to stay away. The bastard was most certainly dead by now, being a short-lived human and all.

Kyuubi no Yoko perched on the highest roof of his house (which he sometimes swore still bore the lingering scent of his slaughtered family) and stared out at the mountain to the south. Just beyond that lay Konohagakure no Sato, the Village Hidden in the Leaves and home of the Leaf Ninja. Uchiha Madara had helped found that place with the Shodai Hokage. The only thing that saved the place from annihilation was the kindness and forgiveness of the Shodai for releasing him from the Uchiha's Mangekyou Sharingan spawned genjutsu.

"One little excuse," he growled. "That's all I need…"

In actuality, he really didn't need a reason. He was the Kyuubi no Yoko, demon god of fire, lord of foxes, one of the Bijuu—he could do whatever the hell he wanted whether he had a reason for it or not. If he wanted to raze the ninja village to the ground, he could do it. He answered to no one, and no one could stop him…

"Kyuubi-dono!" a voice barked, "Kyuubi-dono!"

He snapped his head around and bared his fangs at the excitable nibi (two-tail) kitsune messenger. "What is it?"

The small black fox cowered a little at his clear anger. "K-Kyuubi-dono, there are intruders! They might be ninja!"

He smiled in cruel delight. "Which way?"

"The south border, by the waterfall," the black nibi reported.

"Excellent."

Bunching his muscles, he leapt from the roof all the way to the edge of his "yard" with a single leap. His red-furred vulpine form became a crimson streak with nine twisting tails rippling behind him. For a moment he considered expanding himself to his giant village-destroyer form, but decided that it was too much overkill for a few ninja. Besides, he would kill them too quickly as a giant. One swat of a tail or paw and they'd be paste, and that was no fun.

In the past, he might've taken on his human-like form to confuse his enemies. It was fun to see their faces when he shed his two-legged form and came at them as a horse-sized red fox with nine tails. But after the slaughter, he's sworn off imitating the human appearance. He would've torn down his house to expunge all traces of "humanity" in his life, but he kept it as a sort of monument to his lost wives and children.

Leaves and tree branches whizzed by in green and brown blurs as he raced for the waterfall where the intruders had been spotted. If they were ninja, they would move far faster than any priest or samurai so he had to hurry to catch them. He'd been waiting for years for one to make a mistake and wander past his well-marked borders so that he could kill one…or two. Hopefully more.

Straining his senses, he could hear the faint whisper of their rapid footfalls and scent the faint aroma of death and steel on them. Reaching the waterfall, he easily found their trail…and the fools were actually heading deeper into his private property! Laughing darkly, he put his black nose to the trail and prepared to run them down.

They didn't smell like Konoha-nin, he dimly noted as he ran. Konoha-nin tended to smell vaguely of green leaves and smoke. These scents had the tinge of dry earth and badland plant-life. They were foreigners to the Land of Fire, and double-trespassers in his book. He'd have to cook them with his breath and then cut them into pieces to feed to his retainers and servants.

As he drew up close to them he noticed that they'd stopped (The fools!). He slowed his pace to stalk them a little before tearing them into little bloody pieces. They wore a different symbol from the Konoha-nin—two stones instead of the swirl-leaf. Definitely foreigners, which probably explained why they dared enter his property; they just didn't know any better.

It was a four-man cell, a common set-up for ninja. All were male and clear veterans of great skill. He smelled a hint of fresh blood on them, but none appeared injured so it was likely that they had seen a little action. One had a bag thrown over his shoulder.

"We have five minutes," the leader growled. "Then we take soldier pills and head for the border."

"The sooner the better," another muttered darkly. "This place is creepy. Why did we have to come this way?"

"The locals never travel this route," a third explained with strained patience. "Apparently some badass demon is supposed to live around here, and they don't want to mess with it."

"Pussies," the fourth spat. "Pathetic Leaf scum."

"Yeah well keep it down," the leader ordered. "Demon or not, we don't attract attention. We have to get out with the prize as soon as possible. No rest until we make it back to Iwagakure, go it?"

"Right," the other three muttered.

The Kyuubi swallowed a snort at the foolish—and soon to be very dead—humans. Two on his yonbi (four-tails) were in the trees above them, watching them, and they were oblivious to them. Some ninja they were! Half-trained priests were more alert to demons than them!

Having heard quite enough, he sprang at the leader with teeth bared and claws outstretched. The kill was quick and ridiculously easy. It wasn't really any different than killing an animal. He'd expected a little more of a challenge, but then again he did have the element of surprise. Perhaps the next one would be a little trickier.

Less than three minutes later, all four of them were torn to pieces and he was thoroughly disappointed. Maybe I should've done a dramatic reveal and monologued for a while to give them some time to prepare. Then perhaps the hunt and kill would've been decent. This was more like slaughtering sheep than taking down powerful humans…

The bag that one of them had been carrying suddenly twitched, immediately drawing his attention to it. Growling softly, he stalked over to it and sniffed at it with mild curiosity. The lumpy sack was now sprayed with blood and reeked of humans, at least five different individuals…

Five? He frowned. But there were only four here. Unless…

He reached out with one claw and carefully slit the sack open. The folds of material fell aside to reveal a small human child, perhaps two years old at the most, curled up and shaking. It was male and possessed bright yellow hair, short and very spiky, and wore tiny orange pants and a black shirt. One sniff confirmed that the child was the fifth scent.

So this was the "prize" they spoke of, Kyuubi sniffed. They were kidnappers. His long ear twitched. Now what should I do with it?

The child stirred, then warily opened its bright blue eyes and peered around. It gave a start upon finding Kyuubi's large fox head staring down at it. But after sitting frozen for a minute, the child suddenly smiled widely and giggled.

"Doggy!"

Kyuubi gave a start. Doggy?!

The boy squealed in delight, climbed unsteadily to his feet, and lunged forward to throw his arms around Kyuubi's neck. "Good doggy! Nice doggy!" the toddler gurgled. "Pwetty doggy!"

"I am not a 'doggy,'" Kyuubi bit out slowly so that the child would be sure to understand.

The small boy lurched backwards, letting go of Kyuubi's neck, and pointed one stubby finger, his blue eyes open very wide. "Doggy talks!" he cried. "Hey Daddy! Hey—!"

It was about then that the situation seemed to hit the kid as he looked around wildly for "Daddy" and found nothing but trees and bloody corpses. Being barely more than an infant, he had no understanding of death, and had certainly never seen a dead body before. Baffled, he toddled towards the nearest dead body—one that Kyuubi had torn the head and an arm off—and squatted down to examine it. Upon poking it, his tiny hand came away red with blood.

"Daddy!" the child shrieked and started to cry. "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!"

The little boy scampered in circles, tripping over some gore, but not falling. He bawled and cried for his father, but his father would not come for him. It was one of the sadder sights that Kyuubi had seen in his long, long life.

As the boy scampered past him, Kyuubi caught the back of his shirt with his teeth and easily lifted him from the ground. He turned away from the carnage and carried the hysterical boy back towards the waterfall. The yonbi kitsune spying from the treetops dropped down and began to clean up the mess as he left.

By the time he reached the small waterfall, the boy had worn himself down to ragged panting, occasional coughs, and tearful moans of "Daddy." Kyuubi set the child down on the edge of the waterfall pond and hesitated before doing something he never thought he'd do again. He transformed into his human-like shape.

It was rather odd to see clawed hands where his red-furred paws had once been, and he was sure it was doubly odd to any observer to see the transformation. Gone was the horse-sized red fox with nine lashing tails. In its place was a regal man in older-style clothes with long red hair, fangs, claws, pointed ears, red fox eyes, and three black stripes on each cheek. He was regal…yet feral.

Employing his more dexterous human hands, Kyuubi used the pond water to wash away the blood from the sobbing, trembling boy. The child made the task rather difficult by trying to cling to the front of his shirt and pleading for "Daddy" and to be taken home. Kyuubi ignored the boy's tears in favor of mulling over just what he was going to do now.

I don't know why I'm bothering with this; I should've just killed it when it insulted me. Doggy, he snorted. Do I look like a "Doggy"? No, no I do not! I am a fox!

Wiping the last bit of blood from the child's hand, he finally allowed the child to cling to him. Running his claws through the boy's bright, spiky hair, he was mildly surprised to find how soft it was. This seemed to calm the boy; he whimpered and sniffed for his father less often, at least.

I…could keep it.

It had been a very long time since he'd had any real contact with humans. For all his bitterness and loathing of them, he couldn't quite forget their better qualities and interesting quirks. And this child…

…This child was very young and thoroughly innocent. He knew no deceit or hate or real fear (though he seemed to be learning it now). In time, a few months at most, he would forget his father and his old home. He was small, defenseless, dependent, and rather cute.

To be important enough to kidnap, he's probably some noble's son, Kyuubi mused. And since those ninja came from the direction of Konohagakure no Sato, the boy's family surely knows of my…reputation. They will assume that I've slaughtered him once the trail leads into my private domain and they won't dare pursue it any further. I won't even have to fight over him…

Humans kept lesser creatures for their own enjoyment all the time. Pets, they called them. So why couldn't he—a demon, a superior being—keep a human as a pet? It would give him some variety in the company that he kept and alleviate his little pangs of loneliness.

"Tell me child," he murmured, his voice softer and smoother in this form. "What is your name?"

"Nawuto," the boy sniffed.

"Naruto?"

The boy nodded. "Uh-huh."

"Well, Naruto-kun," he stood and held the boy as gently as he had once cradled his hanyou children. "Let us go to my house. It's much nicer there. And maybe we can get some lunch."

"Okay," Naruto whimpered.

Smirking, he turned away from the waterfall and calmly walked back to his massive residence.

The boy has entered my private domain without my permission, so his life is forfeit to me…

I am Kyuubi no Yoko, a Bijuu… I answer to no one, I explain myself to no one… I do as I please, when I please…

Naruto-kun is mine…