Chapter One: Red Dragon

Disclaimer: Naruto still isn't mine. Still not getting paid to write this, so on…

Prelim Author's Note: Those who have read my other Naruto story will doubtless note that this work's opening scene is quite similar to the beginning of Nine Tailed Serpent. This is of course intentional, as the initial inspiration for this story came about when I started looking through NTS to attempt to overcome a persistent writer's block. Instead, I ended up with a whole huge list of things I would change about that fic if I were ever to rework it. It's been well over three years since I started work on that series, so I suppose that makes enough sense.

So, I've decided to do just that in an attempt to regain my missing 'spark.' Don't expect much in common with the plot of Nine Tailed Serpent as this experimental work progresses, despite the similar opening scene. Also, as a note those who will assume that I've abandoned NTS's sequel, I haven't and have no plans to right now. I need something else to work on for awhile, that's all. Spend three years and change writing one fic and one continuous plotline, and I can almost guarantee that you'll discover that burnout happens. I need to take a creative break from that story before the drive to write fanfiction sputters out altogether, so I'm doing this instead for now. That said, hope everyone enjoys.

Edit 8/10/09: Changed the story title to something (hopefully) a little less trite.

The blond-haired teenager slipped down his goggles and crouched low on the metal staircase, smiling with greed and triumph through his pointed teeth as he observed the illegal transaction being carried out in near darkness on the pavement below. The gang representative and his customer were all set to make the exchange, while three armed goons occupied the narrow throat leading out to the streets.

'Too simple,' Uzumaki Naruto thought, reaching into his equipment pouch and pulling out three little balls as the customer reached into his pocket.

He reached his hand under the railing and dropped the smoke bombs to the ground. The drug dealer and his henchmen all snapped to attention as the balls clicked against the pavement, and exploded on contact. Thick, blinding gas poured into the cramped area. Naruto pulled out his kunai and leapt into action. The three thugs never even had time to make a sound, save their motionless bodies dropping dead onto the concrete, blood pouring out through slashed throats. He then tossed a weak Genjutsu over the area, to keep potential witnesses out.

The hapless drug addict was the next to go, as Naruto leapt onto the brick wall and threw his blood-drenched kunai down into the man's chest. The man let out a shriek and was sent hurtling backwards as the short throwing blade tore through his sternum. He hit the wall with a loud smack and lied there twitching. The thick bill roll in his hand came loose and rolled to a stop against the blond Jinchuuriki's sandal as Naruto hit ground level once more. The blond looked down, and his grin widened.

"Now that's what I'm talking about," he crowed into the smoke and reached down to grab his prize.

His bending over made the sword swing pass well above his head. The blond glanced up and saw the lead gangster's arm swing his weapon into the blinding smoke again, cursing with impotent rage as he couldn't see his target. The short teenager reached up and snatched the arm in both hands and twisted him to the ground with chakra-boosted strength, relishing the audible snap as the wrist broke. The smoke started to clear. Naruto kicked the dealer's weapon aside and leered down at him through his goggles.

"That wasn't too bright, man," he taunted, laughing at the doomed nothing who had dared to attempt to backstab a ninja.

Never mind that he was still a trainee, in the strictest sense.

"Fucking brat," the dealer groaned, nursing his arm. Naruto credited him a little, at least he wasn't bawling like a little kid. "You're gonna regret this shit! I'm a lieutenant captain in the Mita…," he hissed in a low voice, and the blond halted his pointless tirade with a hard stomp to the gut, driving out his wind.

"Pardon me," he cooed, reaching down and putting the man's own broken wrist to his mouth. "I don't like speak stupid."

The remaining smoke dissipated as Naruto picked up the rolled cash again and began to peel through it. The notes were all high denomination. Fitting, he thought, that his last heist would earn him so much. Tomorrow he would again have to take the Genin Exam in Konoha. He had passed the test twice now, and both times his prospective sensei had sent him back, held him back.

'Poor teamwork skills, bah,' Naruto recalled the twice-used excuse with an embittered mental scowl. 'More like 'I don't want to teach the demon brat.''

Yes, he knew. He knew that which Sandaime Hokage had gone to such laborious lengths to keep hidden. Rather, he 'knew.' He wasn't an idiot. He knew his birth date, and what had happened on that night. He knew that his stamina was inexhaustible and that his wounds healed in mere moments, no matter how dire. He knew that his chakra was without limits. He knew that he wasn't a normal child, and he knew that the people back home despised him with no apparent cause. He knew that he despised them in equal measure.

He 'knew,' in short, what he was. That he was a living vessel into whom Yondaime Hokage had sealed the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox that had come so close to razing Konohagakure no Sato to ashes that ominous night. He had never met the beast, but he remained convinced that it resided somewhere within. Sooner or later, there would be an introduction made.

He also knew that he had to pass tomorrow's test. 'A child's task,' and this time he had to make it onto a team. He didn't have the strength as he was right now to do as he wished and there was no other option available, or at least none that he could stomach. He would grow in power and skill, and then when he was strong enough and the when time grew ripe he'd leave the shit-eating village behind him and never look back. Naruto would need all the resources he could muster to do that, hence all these little 'missions.'

He pocketed the stolen ryo and leaned over to grab the drug dealer's case, inspecting the man's leather trench coat as he did. The blond opened the leather suitcase, and wasn't the least bit surprised to see that it was packed with enough opium to choke an elephant.

"Tsk, tsk," Naruto clucked his tongue as he snapped the case shut, "I don't believe what I'm seeing here. You could corrupt an innocent kid like me with these," he lectured, pointing down at the dealer as though he hadn't murdered the others in cold blood.

He almost laughed as the dealer reached his one unbroken arm into his trench coat and pulled a switchblade. Naruto raised the loaded case to intercept the unskilled slash at his neck and then swung it across to strike the opium dealer over the ear, knocking him out. He did laugh as he opened the case again and dumped the packaged contents out in a pile near the unconscious gang leader's head.

"Time to make an example," Naruto declared to the unresponsive bodies around him. "Drugs are bad."

Next on the agenda was the ritual gather-up, as the blond pulled out a storage scroll and set to taking and sealing up whatever he considered worth keeping but didn't care to lug around with him. There wasn't too much loot to salvage this time, save the gang members' weapons. He cleaned out the murdered goons' wallets and added the cash to his own. One guard had a gold ring, which Naruto took. The addict had nothing, leaving Naruto to wonder how in the Hell he'd gotten so much raw cash. He decided that it didn't matter, since the roll was his now.

"Now then," the demon vessel murmured, reaching into his gear pouch.

He hauled the unconscious dealer over to the piled-up drugs on the ground and pulled out an explosive note, and stuck the tag over his mouth and used chakra to seal it shut. He looked down at the man one last time, and then nodded and pulled his coat loose. The purloined garment was much too big, but that didn't matter. Naruto did a quick Henge and increased his own stature to match the trench and slipped it on. The blond inhaled and let out a sigh, appreciating the new leather smell as he admired his handiwork. He leaped into the air and ran up the wall, and clambered over the railing atop the building.

'Kaboom,' the demon carrier sniped in his head and activated the tag, blowing both the opium dealer and his drugs to Kingdom Come.

The blast disrupted his earlier Genjutsu, and the explosion brought people on the streets below scrambling to the scene. Naruto used a basic concealment technique to hide his position and watched the gathering circus, and then waited until he had a clear opening to hop onto the sidewalk. He started walking down the block in the opposite direction, and removed his goggles once he'd cleared the roaring smoke. His stomach rumbled as he rounded a corner, not bothered in the least with the carnage he'd wrought.

'That worked up an appetite,' Naruto thought, now in the mood to celebrate his biggest haul to date. 'Hope there's a good ramen place around here somewhere.'

Naruto continued walking into the warm night, a little skip in his step. Tomorrow would happen tomorrow.


"Listen," Naruto growled as the Chuunin pressed him up against the wooded wall next to Konoha's South Gate, "I've got an exam to take."

"Hmph. You sure don't resemble a cadet to me, sir." the ill-tempered guard shot back, pulling the Henge'd shinobi's arms apart and reaching into his stolen trench coat. "You're too suspicious. Now shut the Hell up and don't pitch a tantrum, and this'll be over quick."

Naruto seethed, beseeching the Kami to grant him the patience not to butcher this bastard. He'd even shown his passport, though he'd neglected to drop his Henge as he approached Konoha. Now this asshole guard was going to search him and hold him up despite knowing quite well who he was. Not like there was someone else with Naruto's whisker marks running around the village, and he'd kept those in his adult Henge.

'This is all one big mother fucking conspiracy!" Naruto railed in his mind. 'Screw this place!'

He tuned out the logical voice telling him that he'd dug his own grave, having spent too much time the previous night roaming about outside town, with the end result that Konoha's gates were closed when he'd gotten back, and he'd had no choice but to rent a room in a roadside motel. He knew better than to attempt to sneak into town during the night. He'd tried it once and had spent a miserable evening in a rank detention cell as a result. He still wasn't quite certain how he'd gotten caught that time.

"You wait 'till Sandaime hears about this…" the blond hissed.

The petulant threat earned him a smack behind the head, with the ringed end on a kunai, no less.

"I thought I said to shut up, punk," the older man growled.

Naruto bit his lip in anger and branded this career Chuunin's appearance into his memories, adding the guard to The List. Yes indeed, he'd be getting one patented Stink Bomb Bonanza later, as soon as the blond had leisure to accommodate him. Naruto's pranks were a rare sight in recent times due to more pressing concerns, but this asshole...

"I'm clean," he sighed. "Now please," the demon container ground out, hating to have to plead with this cretin."Let me go to the exam. I'm running late as it is."

The gate Chuunin ignored him and continued rooting through his coat pockets. Naruto's irritation turned into dread as the man seemed to locate something, as he came to the harrowing realization that he hadn't checked through the stolen garment. He had no knowledge as to what might be hidden in there, and cursed his own thoughtlessness. However, the guard's interminable search was interrupted when a cat-masked ANBU kunoichi appeared in swirling leaves at the gate's entrance and marched right towards the pair, grabbing the Chuunin's attention. Naruto used the opening to slip loose.

"Let him pass," the woman commanded the guard in a deadpan voice, "Hokage's orders."

"But," the guard stammered, though it was too late. Naruto strode through the gate and into the village as soon as the plum-haired woman spoke. The Chuunin didn't dare to impede him.

He rushed through Konoha's streets, ignoring the cold looks and disgruntled mutterings he received as the villagers recognized him despite the Henge. Knowing that he still had a little time to spare until the graduation exam was set to begin, Naruto slipped into the ruined Uchiha District. He needed someplace quiet, and hoped that the lost clan's last remaining member wouldn't be lurking around.

The paranoid Naruto ducked between two buildings, grimacing as he saw dried blood plastered on a crumbling wall. Years had passed since the Massacre, and the signs still lingered. He shook his head and reached into the same pocket that the guard had been rummaging through when Neko-chan had interrupted his search. He palmed several small packets within, and knew at once what he he'd damn near gotten caught with.

'Opium…' Getting caught with it inside the village walls would have landed him up to his neck in shit. 'That was a little too close.' Naruto's shit-eating luck would have it that the miserable creep he'd killed would have been a user in addition to dealing the garbage. Perhaps this was Karma coming back to haunt him. 'Then again, I did still escape.' He'd have to send Neko-chan a present or something.

He ripped out the drugs and hurled them against the bloodied wall. The tight packets ruptured on contact, raising a white powder cloud. He then did his own complete search, picking through the coat in excruciating detail until he was convinced that there was nothing illegal there. Naruto exhaled a relieved breath and ran a hand through his spiked hair, which was now soaked to the roots with cold sweat. He'd never, ever made such a perilous mistake, and he never would again.

Naruto stepped out into the deteriorated street and an ice-cold sensation washed over him. He got the distinct vibe that something in the Uchiha District didn't want him there, and he had no inclination to loiter. He ran towards the high stone wall enclosing the neighborhood and leapt over it in a single bound, landing back in Konoha proper. He'd heard the villagers gossiping about that place being haunted, but had dismissed it all as regular superstitious nonsense. Perhaps there was some truth to the rumors, not that it mattered to him. He never planned to return.


"You're late, Naruto!"

Umino Iruka was still explaining the graduation exam protocol when Naruto strode into his classroom. The scarred Chuunin instructor noticed his arrival at once and chose to make the other students aware as well. The blond received some curious looks, but nothing more. He had skipped more lessons than he'd bothered attending this term and Naruto's classmates didn't know him too well as a consequence, and he didn't care to know them either. He'd long since learned what this place had to teach, and then some.

"I overslept," was the demon container's excuse, delivered with a careless shrug.

The remark earned some low chuckles and more than one contemptuous glare. Like Hell he was about to admit getting detained and searched.

"Sit down," Iruka ordered, shaking his head in exasperation, "and drop that Henge."

Uzumaki Naruto did not drop his Henge, but he did plop down into a seat next to Inuzuka Kiba, who grinned over at him through sharp canines. Iruka didn't comment and instead returned to his explanation. The blond paid no attention to the teacher. He knew the drill. He'd done this twice now. Iruka would call all the students out one at a time to another room, and each candidate would be asked to do a basic Kawarimi or something similar.

"Nice threads," Kiba complimented, pointing towards Naruto's new coat. The gregarious dog-nin could at least be counted on to be conversational.

"Thanks a bunch," Naruto replied and smiled back at the Inuzuka. "I stole it last night," he added, the vulpine grin sharpening.

"That's," Kiba started to speak and then paused, not quite sure how he was supposed to respond to such a blunt, incriminating comment. "Nice, I guess. Heh," his voice trailed into silence, and his little dog let out a low whine in concert. The blond wondered what Kiba might have said had he been even more honest and admitted that he'd murdered a man over the coat.

"Yup," Naruto drawled and leaned back in his seat while Iruka and the other class instructor, Mizuki, headed out to the examination room, calling down Aburame Shino to leave with them.

The bug wielder stood and headed towards the exit, acknowledging his classmates' hooting cheers with a curt nod. The room devolved into loud, incessant chatter as the instructors took their leave, removing all adult supervision with them. Prospective Konoha Genin spazzed out over the exam, speculating in groups about what the teachers might expect them to do. Naruto knew that the test would narrow down to three possibilities, but he lacked the meager compassion required to share his knowledge. The more people who botched this prerequisite test, the better his own chances would be to make a team.

"Ergh," Naruto let out a miserable groan under his breath, banging his blond head against his desk as two rival kunoichi candidates seated in the row beneath him launched into a heated, shrieking argument over who would be placed onto a team with Uchiha Sasuke.

Both girls were oblivious to the silent genius's contempt. Naruto willed the noise to leave his ears, with no success. Kiba then began to piss and moan in the next seat over, bitching in a loud voice about how the girls in their class never paid enough attention to him and instead spent all their time mooning over 'Prince Sasuke.' This in turn drew both girls' righteous anger onto him.

'Oi, I feel a migraine coming on.' Naruto groused in his head, 'worst morning ever.'

"Quiet!" the returning Umino Iruka's shouting voice cut through the din, reducing the loud classroom to nervous silence.

The Chuunin then called Akimichi Chouji to take the exam. Shino didn't return, as the rules stipulated that those who had taken the exam were sent to another classroom, so as not to 'spoil' the test. Naruto and Sasuke both looked towards the door and gave the instructor identical relieved looks, and then the two adolescents noticed one another. Naruto leered over at the Uchiha, who snorted in disdain and reprised his previous 'leave me alone' position, resting his nose against his interlocked hands and glaring at his desk, prompting the blond to shake with laughter. Kiba was right, he did look like a spoiled prince.

Regardless, the previous conversation remained subdued as Iruka disappeared into the hall again with Lard-butt in tow, as though the candidates were scared that getting on the instructor's nerves might somehow hurt their chances to pass. T'was total bullshit, but Naruto wasn't about to complain about the resulting peace and quiet. Pink-head and Loudmouth, as Naruto now dubbed the two would-be kunoichi in the row beneath his, had to settle their 'dispute' with a bitter staring contest.

The examination continued as such. The waiting room emptied one person at a time as either Iruka or Mizuki came back and called people out in strict alphabetical order. For Naruto, this meant that he'd have to wait until near the end to be allowed to earn his third headband. He wished he'd had the sense to bring a book or something. He had no interest in chatting with his peers and swore that the testing order was some calculated snare aimed at getting him to leave rather than have to put up with their continued presence, ignoring the little voice reminding him that it was standard procedure. Then again, his name might have saved his ass, had Neko-chan not bailed him out at the gate earlier.

Nah, he concluded. The bastards would've gone in reverse order had he not arrived at the precise moment he had.

"Uchiha Sasuke," Touji Mizuki's voice rang out.

Sasuke stood up in his seat and strode with purpose towards the door, as though this morning's exam was a monumental trial, something upon which his whole existence hinged. Naruto looked up upon hearing the name and watched the Uchiha leave, and realized that the waiting room was now deserted save him, Loudmouth and some other girl with purple hair. Gah. He hadn't paid much attention to the goings-on during the past hour.

"Kick that exam's butt, Sasuke-kun!" The blonde girl's shrill voice cheered. Sasuke ignored her.

Loudmouth then turned around towards Naruto as the door closed again and opened her mouth, but he had anticipated her and placed his head back down in advance. The blonde girl sputtered in indignation and hissed something about 'men' and 'rude assholes.' Naruto paid her no mind and cracked his neck and shoulders, and the subsequent minutes passed in slow, welcome silence. The door opened and Iruka-sensei poked his head in.

"Uzumaki Naruto," the scarred Chuunin called in a neutral voice.

"Yippee," the Henge'd blond grunted and prowled to the exit, "s'bout damned time."

"Let's go," Iruka ordered. "The examination room is…"

"…Around the corner and to the right, I know," Naruto interrupted in a chipper voice. "I've been there."

Iruka rubbed his nose in irritation, none too pleased with his 'problem student.' The pair moved into the hall. Naruto could hear raucous shouting and cheering in another room near their position. No doubt that the source was the room where all the brand new 'Genin' had been sent to celebrate and polish their headbands until the exam had concluded. He sighed with irritation, prompting the teacher to look over. The older man let out a breath in response to Naruto's careless, but still disgruntled expression.

"Yes, I've seen the records. This is the third and last time, Naruto," Iruka lectured, "No more second chances. You had better ditch that cavalier attitude right now. You'll never make it as a Konoha-nin otherwise."

The teenager's demeanor didn't change. He didn't need to hear this spiel, and it wasn't like Umino Iruka wanted him to succeed. He hadn't missed the scathing looks that the man had sent in his direction on more than once occasion during those rare occasions he'd bothered to show up this term. This asshole teacher was a 'demon hater,' like all the rest.

"But I can't help it, sir," the blond teenager replied with a shit-eating grin that vanished in an instant. "You know, I love taking this exam."

To his credit, Iruka ignored the bait. He and Naruto rounded the corner, where the blond had to swerve to avoid colliding with Sasuke, who was now sporting a brand spanking new Konoha protector and headed in the opposite direction with his hands in his pockets.

"Congratulations," the demon container addressed the Uchiha survivor with a strange little twist to his lips.

Sasuke stopped and returned the strange look in equal measure. Naruto accepted the pause with unspoken glee, his particular interest in opening his mouth being to stall progress and needle Iruka-sensei with the holdup. The blond sent the teacher a sidelong look, and his bitter humor dissipated as he noticed that Iruka was observing the interaction between the two antisocial teenagers with ill-concealed surprise and not a little interest, but with no irritation at all.

"…Thanks," the sullen genius said back in a terse voice, pausing a moment to consider his next words. "Good luck with the exam," Sasuke added, brushing past Naruto and Iruka.

Now it was Naruto's turn to be surprised. He hadn't expected, or even wanted a response.

"Bah." The Jinchuuriki grumbled under his breath, not bothering to turn towards Sasuke's retreating back. His epic scheme to slow progress and irritate Iruka-sensei even more hadn't panned out. He shook his head and strode towards the examination room.

'Third time's a charm,' he mused as he opened the door and entered, Iruka a step behind.


Several minutes later, Naruto was ascending the concrete steps leading to the Academy's rooftop with a new Konoha headband tied around his neck like a dog's collar. He'd passed the exam with ease, as expected, and had then decided not to bother with going into the assigned waiting room. He knew the drill. Even as he emerged, he could hear the noise below as the graduates streamed out through the main entrance and into the school grounds, where their parents and siblings and whoever else were waiting to greet them.

The scene sent him spiraling into an irrational temper, even though it was nothing he hadn't expected to see. Listening to some proud mother promising to cook her son a huge celebration dinner reminded Naruto that he had no-one waiting at home to make him a damned thing, and not a soul standing down there to congratulate him. No, his portion would instead be cold stares and disgruntled mutterings.

"Home," the blond parroted under his breath, the singular word tasting all too bitter on his tongue, "ha, right."

Konoha wasn't home to him, and he had long since doubted that it ever would be.

Naruto craned his neck over the railing, watching as two graduates pointed towards their new engraved headbands and made excited conversation about their coming exploits as Konoha-nin. He decided that he'd heard just about enough and prowled across the rooftop to leap down into the worn outdoor training grounds behind the school, opting to leave while the urge to pull a Momochi Zabuza (he'd swiped and read the village's Bingo Book while in the Hokage Tower not too long ago) on his overenthusiastic classmates remained somewhat under control.

Naruto's parting thought as he sprinted across the grounds and somersaulted over the Academy's low perimeter wall and into the streets outside the building was a wish that he hadn't expended his last smoke grenade on last night's mugging. The blond was still almost sick with rage as he landed in the shaded road without a sound, hot blood pounding in his ears and his vision stinging. His 'extracurricular activities' were meant to keep his occasional impulses in check. Not this time, it seemed.

"Fuck," Naruto growled in frustration, resting his face in his hand as his previous run slowed to a stumbling canter.

The demon vessel clutched against his brow as he tried to dispel the inexplicable anger, but with little success. He shook his head and saw crimson in his peripheral vision. Blood had spattered onto the concrete. He looked down at his hand, and saw with something between dawning horror and amazement that his nails had somehow lengthened and sharpened and were streaming liquid red with Naruto's blood where his 'claws' had ripped deep into the tissue surrounding his left eye.

'The Hell is going on here,' Naruto wondered as he staggered towards an abandoned shop window, his skin hissing and sizzling as his innate regenerative powers healed the accidental wounds.

His reflection validated his budding suspicions. His whisker marks had deepened and razor sharp teeth canines peeked out through his lips. His eyes were stained blood red and glowing, pupils changed into black slits. He looked like a wild beast. Naruto swore once more and punched through the window as another wave of hot anger tore through his guts. The glass sliced into his hand, and once again the wounds healed over at once.

"Fuck," Naruto barked out again, this time in a much louder voice.

He turned towards a large ceramic pot sitting on the pavement outside the shop and pulled up the lid. Naruto dunked his spiked head into the cold water, not caring in the least that it belonged to someone else. The cool liquid helped to soothe the pulsing heat inside him, though the rapid change in temperature made him a tad nauseous as well. He grimaced with irritation when something hard poked into his side, and then pulled his head out when whatever it was hit him again. He managed to glimpse his reflection in the rippling water as he turned, and was relieved to note that he had returned to 'normal.'

Naruto cracked his neck and leered over his shoulder, and saw an old civilian woman glaring right back at him with a walking stick in her hand. Either the window breaking or his loud swearing had drawn her attention. He shook out his hair, causing cold water to land on the newcomer. For a moment, the hag seemed taken aback in response to Naruto's appearance under his 'older' Henge, but the surprise soon turned to consuming hatred as realization dawned.

"Pah," the woman harped at Naruto, "it's you. I'm not surprised, such an ill-mannered miscreant. Run on back to the sewers and leave us honest people alone," she shrieked.

He wouldn't argue that he wasn't a miscreant, or an ill-mannered bastard, but he'd never met this old shrew to his knowledge. That meant that her apparent problem with him had more to do with him being the 'demon brat' than with his actual misdeeds. Naruto did so hate ignorant villagers, and a vindictive idea sprung into his mind. She seemed to hate him with a passion. Her expression told him so. The obvious conclusion was that she'd lost someone dear to her during the nine-tailed monster's rampage, a spouse or a child

"Dear me," a laughing Naruto crooned at her. "Now, let me think. Your husband tasted like chicken," he mocked with a cruel grin, smacking his lips. "Or else it might've been lobster." He rubbed at his chin, as though deep in thought. "I can't be expected to remember each individual person. I'm quite sure he was scrumptious, no matter."

The bitch wanted to see Naruto as the monstrous Bijuu and he would indulge her prejudices this time. Forget treading on the proverbial thin ice, he was dancing the Kankana all over it and couldn't have cared less. It was liberating to talk about his special condition, to accept it and let the world know that he knew what he was. He continued to leer at the grieving widow, and licked his lips as though savoring her loved one in his mouth. Naruto's deception was reprehensible and he knew it, but he couldn't be bothered to spare compassion towards a bitter shrew who would like nothing more than to see him in his grave, and then piss on it.

"You," the widow sputtered, apoplectic with rage and indignation, and Naruto knew that he'd struck the mark. "You hell-spawned animal…"

He saw her arm twitch to raise her stick before she could even acknowledge the impulse. Naruto's kunai appeared in his hand, the movement so quick that it might have seemed like magic to an untrained person. The blade pressed against her wrist, and Naruto shook his head in the negative.

"Don't," the Jinchuuriki commanded in a serious voice, his taunting mirth gone and replaced with cold resolve.

Naruto could ignore the cold glares and muttered insults, could deal with being cheated in Konoha stores and could sometimes even tolerate the rare direct verbal abuse. He would not, however, overlook being assaulted. That the blond could evade this brittle civilian hag's pathetic attack while hogtied was immaterial. The moment the widow tried to strike him, Naruto would slaughter her where she stood and the Hell with the consequences. His naked killing intent gored into her soul, causing her to tumble onto the pavement.

"Heaven will punish the evil!" She shrieked, scrambling back to a standing base and hobbling down the road. "You wait and see, demon!"

He didn't bother to answer, knowing that he'd won the battle. Naruto stood in place with his arms crossed and watched as his antagonist disappeared into another building, lips pulling back to reveal a crooked smile as he heard the wooden door lock behind her with a low click. The blond continued down the street, malice and rage still simmering beneath his skin. There could be no benevolent God, or Heaven, or else a helpless newborn would never have been made to shoulder such a burden. Thus, Naruto was sure that no divine retribution was ever coming in his direction.

His brisk walk sped into a run, and he leapt atop the nearest building as he neared an intersection. Naruto then started towards the village outskirts and into the woods and his personal training grounds, intent on handling his pent-up aggression in the best manner he knew.


Sarutobi Hiruzen gazed into his magic ball, using his Telescope Technique to observe Naruto as the blond moved with practiced ease through the woods, channeling his inner Mitarashi Anko in that trench coat. The old Hokage had witnessed the entire altercation between the raging Jinchuuriki and the civilian. Sandaime was disappointed with both sides, but was more concerned with Naruto's appearance prior to do. Not so much the Henge that made him look too much like Minato, though that too was an issue, but the 'demonic' traits that had 'materialized' in his unexplained anger. Hiruzen would now have to recall Jiraiya to examine Naruto's seal, a task that the Third didn't savor.

Even more worrisome was that Naruto had seen the changes to his appearance, and hadn't seemed surprised in the least. That, in turn, implied that the Genin knew, or at least suspected, something about his true nature. The gravest implication was that some imbecile had violated the Third's gag order and had told Naruto what he was, but the lad was likewise clever enough to put to puzzle together on his own given enough individual pieces. Hiruzen supposed that it was natural that Naruto's Jinchuuriki traits might start to materialize on their own as the blond grew older and stronger, and there remained the horrible prospect that he was tampering with that monstrous power on purpose, and without proper training or supervision.

The Hokage gazed into his ball again, and saw that the blond had reached his intended location. He knew Naruto's routine well enough, and knew that the Jinchuuriki would massacre his own shadow clones until he was bloodied and exhausted, which would take hours due to his unnatural stamina, and then bathe in the shallow river near the deserted grounds and hunt out somewhere to rest until morning.

Naruto almost never used his provided apartment inside the village proper, electing instead to live on the land and sleep wherever he desired. These wild habits no doubt added to the contempt that Konoha's residents held towards him, and vice versa. Sandaime Hokage was more than a little alarmed, and even more saddened, to know that Naruto would choose to live outdoors like an animal rather than 'have' to spend time inside his village. Damn them all. Not that Naruto was an innocent victim either.

"Perhaps this too, is the Bijuu's persuasion," the old man wheezed, loading more tobacco into his pipe.

"Hokage-sama," a woman's voice spoke in an stoic tone. The Hokage bit down a curse as he glanced up at his stationed ANBU guard, Uzuki Yugao, not realizing that he'd voiced his thoughts aloud, or that she'd entered the room during his preoccupation. For a person in Hruzen's position, such a lapse in attention was ridiculous.

"Mmm," Sandaime answered her with a grunt, peering back down into the ball.

"You appear troubled," the plum-haired swordswoman elaborated.

"Naruto," the Hokage sighed in a tired voice, as though the name alone explained the entire situation.

It did. She glanced towards the glass ball, and the Hokage could tell that she was interested in what was happening, but didn't dare to examine it without his permission.

"Not again," Yugao deadpanned, sounding about as exasperated as the stoic woman could. She remembered the morning's incident at the gate.

"He'll be out training in Site 41 now," Sarutobi told his cat-masked assassin. "You will please shadow him and make sure that he remains there. I haven't the time to deal with him right now."

The woman nodded in acknowledgement and disappeared with a hand seal. Hiruzen noted her slight apprehension, and understood it.

The Hokage removed his hat and relit his pipe as unwelcome memories returned. Site 41 had once been Orochimaru's private haven and outdoor training center. The pale-skinned serpent summoner had despised other people and, much like Naruto now, had spent as little time inside the village as he was able, even prior to the man's regrettable descent into human experimentation. Following Orochimaru's disappearance, Site 41 hadn't been reassigned, as no Jounin dared to risk being 'contaminated' with the madman's residual presence.

Naruto had stumbled onto the place during an excursion into the woods, and had more or less requisitioned it without permission. Sarutobi had made no move to stop him upon learning about this, knowing quite well that the Jinchuuriki needed someplace to unleash his pent-up rage in private. The Hokage hoped that Naruto's moving into a location that Konoha's most notorious traitor had once inhabited was a mere coincidence, and not a portent.

"Gods preserve us otherwise," Sandaime spoke aloud again as he watched Naruto duck a kunai barrage and close in on his ANBU-armored shadow clone with blinding speed. The Jinchuuriki then slammed an atrocious chakra-empowered straight punch into the clone's intestines, shattering its replicated armor with a blow that would have reduced a living person's entrails into bilious ooze. The 'ANBU' dispersed upon contact.

Naruto kept at his murderous routine, looking all too much like a blood-crazed, sadistic Namikaze Minato while wearing that blasphemous Henge. Hiruzen would have liked to have believed that the Jinchuuriki was behaving in mere ignorance, attempting to look more like he might as an adolescent, but the Third Hokage couldn't. Uzumaki (Namikaze) Naruto was cruel and depraved enough to prance around the village in Yondaime's guise in order to provoke civilians and shinobi alike, hoping that some villager would dare to make a direct hostile move so that he would have the legal right to retaliate.

"No," Sandaime said as the blond took to the trees to avoid a massed clone rush, "that's not right either."

Hiruzen took a draught on his pipe and amended his previous thinking. Naruto seldom moved to antagonize the villagers, and he didn't like to pursue trouble on his own accord. He never backed down when it came to him either, but the Jinchuuriki never instigated problems, and would much rather have his ignorant tormentors leave him the Hell alone. Perhaps Naruto hadn't even considered that his latest Henge would be quite so provocative. The Hokage would regardless have to have a long conversation with the Genin come the morning, when he had time in his schedule. Sooner or later, some stupid person would press his or her luck and Naruto's control would snap, and there'd be a massacre that would have to end in Naruto's death. The Third Hokage was determined to prevent this.

Sarutobi dispelled the image in his ball as a gentle knock sounded at the door. Sandaime looked over towards the clock on his wall, his old and tired gaze passing over Minato's photograph as Hokage, which hung between his own portrait and Shodai and Nidaime paired. He wondered what the Fourth would have thought about his son, and Naruto's hostile relationship with Minato's beloved Konoha, and he pondered which obligation Yondaime would have chosen in Sarutobi's present position. The Third concluded that Minato would have been able enough to serve both his son and Konoha, and his aged predecessor and successor wished that there were more that he could do in his stead.

"Enter," he called, shaking his head to dispel the countless ghosts and demons swimming in his thoughts.

"Please excuse me, Hokage-sama," a bespectacled Chuunin spoke, opening the door and standing in the entrance. "Instructors Iruka and Mizuki are waiting to discuss this morning's Genin Exam results."

"Mmm," Hiruzen grunted again, savoring another draw on his tobacco, "good. Send them in now."

Now awaiting the Hokage was the ever cumbersome work associated with hashing out rookie team arrangements, placing Konoha's latest crop (Naruto) into balanced three person cells, and then the later meeting with the prospective Jounin sensei to pair the rookies with proper masters. Tomorrow, he would have to handle the never-ending Naruto situation, again.

'I'm getting too damned old to keep shoveling all this horseshit,' Hiruzen griped in his mind, wishing that he could voice the complaint.


Naruto parried the incoming sword strike with his kunai and used his other hand to grip hard onto Number One's wrist. He created his simulated 'assassins' in the usual ANBU squadron sizes. Five masked doppelgangers in each wave, with each clone girded in combat armor and armed with ninja blades. The blond liked to give his hapless targets armor so that he would have to land a 'real' hit in order to 'kill' his practice opponents, as opposed to being able to disperse a normal shadow clone with a glancing love tap.

"Heh," he laughed, "good thing I can't use a sword worth shit."

He twisted Number One's arm behind its back and shoved it towards the ground, but saw his mistake as he exposed his back with Numbers Two and Three soaring overhead and reaching into their equipment pouches. Naruto grinned and heaved Number One onto his naked back, and ran across the wooded clearing as the other two clones hurled shuriken at him overhead. Number One's combat armor absorbed the metal stars, and the blond reached the trees and dropped the clone, slashing its throat with a kunai to disperse it. He ran through hand seals and waited until Two and Three landed and rushed at him with killing swords drawn. The two clones anticipated Naruto's plan and skirted aside. His exhaled wind gust struck little except more air, and the two doppelgangers closed and impaled him in the sides with their blades.

The Jinchuuriki looked down at the two swords plunged into his lungs, and then licked his lips and exploded into smoke. The two pretend ANBU stood in place with swords stuck deep into a wooden log, and the real Naruto sauntered out through the dense trees behind the armored pair and sheared them both into oblivion with a wind burst. Neither had suspected a thing. Their memories told him so upon assimilation.

"Three down," he crowed.

He crowed, and then Number Four stepped out behind him and unleashed a wind burst into his back. The shearing gale slashed his back open in places and kicked up dust and leaves along the ground, making the trees shudder.

"…I might have deserved this one," Naruto couldn't help but admit in a grudging tone as he was sent reeling through the air.

The shirtless Genin clawed and swiped at the air as he sailed across the clearing, hoping in desperation to grab onto something. There was nothing within his reach, however, and he instead crashed headlong into a spruce tree. The rough bark ripped his skin open upon impact.

The dazed and bleeding Naruto reached out to coil his arm around a drooping branch as he began to slide down the ruined trunk. The blond exhaled a breath and started to pull his weight up when a sandal heel pressed down onto his elbow. He glanced up as a rough hand wrapped around his throat, and into his mirror image leering down at him with naked glee and triumph as Number Five aimed its sword at its creator's head and prepared to kill. The Jinchuuriki lunged as the clone's blade descended. The sword bit into his shoulder, but didn't hit a vital spot.

"Let's not get all smug now," Naruto barked in a rasp, knowing that the smartest thing to do at this point would be to dismiss the clones and take a breather.

His ego wouldn't tolerate it, couldn't bear the smugness that he knew he'd have burned into his memories when the clones dispersed. He wanted to win. He reached over and hammered his other arm into the branch that the Number Five was standing on. The rotting wood splintered and the limb came loose, sending Naruto and his double plummeting to the ground.

'Oh, this is so going so suck,' the demon container knew.

He was right.

The landing hurt the original more, with both the wood and the armored clone's considerable weight driving him into the earth, while the sword-wielding doppelganger remained unscathed. The dirt irritated the bleeding wounds on Naruto's back, causing him to wince, but he mastered the pain and shoved up on the broken branch, creating enough space to stand again.

Naruto seized the initiative and used the clone's surprise to tackle it into the pine. The armor absorbed the impact, and so the doppelganger didn't disperse, but Naruto shoved his latest victim down towards the earth and drove a vicious knee into its skull, crushing its head into the tree trunk. The clone's sword clattered to the earth, where it too exploded into smoke and reverted to the kunai that it had been prior to the exercise.

Naruto imagined the gore that would have splattered onto him, had the shadow clone been a real person. That was the one problem with this training method. His shadow clones didn't bleed. Their bones and organs didn't shatter beneath his blows. Naruto's 'kills' earned him nothing more than a lame pop and a little smoke, never enough to sate him.

The blond looked around the silent Site 41, knowing that there was still one more Kage Bunshin lurking somewhere. Naruto rubbed at his chest where the tree limb had crushed him into the earth, knowing that he'd have a deep bruise, but also that it'd be gone in an hour or so. He heard a rustling in the bushes and glanced over, grabbing the dead clone's kunai and twirling the weapon in his hand in anticipation. He then spat in irritation as a long snake slithered out into the open, sampling the air with its tongue.

"Fuckin' snakes," Naruto groused, running his hand through his hair.

Naruto had long since noticed that these grounds were teeming with snakes. He didn't mind their presence most times, since the creatures avoided human contact as much as possible and never bothered him. That meant that this one's behavior was odd, as it was moving in his general direction, almost as though the serpent was attempting to remain inconspicuous.

It didn't work. Naruto waited until it came close enough, attempting to circle behind his position, and then stomped onto its angular skull. The snake exploded into smoke an instant later. Number Four's deception didn't pan out.

"That's a wrap," Naruto declared, hurling the kunai in his hand into a circular target mounted on a large pine near where his coat and shirt were hanging on a training post.

Then, as though the Heavens were protesting his proclamation, another ANBU-garbed Naruto clone appeared via Shunshin behind him. The original stared at the clone through narrowed slits and titled his head to the side. There shouldn't have been a sixth. He had never known his clones to make extras, though he had no reason to believe that it wasn't possible. He brought his hands together in a seal, and then took a step backward.

"You're not a," he started, and then his revelation was cut short when a crippling shock ran through him, stopping his sentence cold.

The 'Naruto' closed in with insurmountable speed, and the blond would have been helpless against it even without whatever Jutsu had numbed his muscles. The clone swept Naruto's legs out, and then redirected and drilled him in the chest with a quick thrust kick to send him crashing back into the same tree he'd hit earlier. His teeth gnashed together in pain as the unhealed cuts marring his naked back were shredded open again. Naruto hadn't even to shake the resulting cobwebs out when a sword's tip pressed into his hairline.

The blond raised his chin to glare up at the unexpected extra attacker, and the point dug in a bit deeper, not hard enough to hurt him or even to draw blood, but enough to send him a clear warning. The other Naruto then shimmered and the attacker's appearance melted, revealing its true nature. The Jinchuuriki sucked in a long breath as recognition hit.

"You lose," a woman's voice deadpanned, dragging the blade point against his skin, the motion gentle enough to tickle him.

'Show off,' he thought without malice, noting that she'd used a Genjutsu to conceal her real appearance when a mundane Henge would have done as well.

"You must be so proud, given how awesome I am," He shot right back, matching her blithe tone. "I mean, I'm a Genin."

He didn't even need to look at the porcelain cat mask attached to the tall, slender kunoichi's hip to know that she was the ANBU who had bailed his rear out earlier that morning at the gate with that piss-ant Chuunin. Long, deep violet hair contrasted with pure milk-white skin, and slanted cheekbones gave her a subtle aristocratic appeal.

Yes, Uzumaki Naruto was going to have less than wholesome dreams tonight.

"It's impolite to stare," Neko-chan looked down and chided Naruto, adding a slight mocking undertone to her voice. The katana point retreated and returned. It was beginning to get on his nerves, even though it was obvious that she was prodding at him in a lighthearted manner, rather than attempting to be malicious or cruel.

Given his situation, he still didn't think it was wise to point out that it was a whole lot more impolite to attack someone without provocation.

"You could execute me right now," Naruto breathed out instead, chuckling as though the idea were absurd. "Y'know, save the village and avenge the Fourth and all that garbage."

Naruto had again mentioned his burden, this time to someone who could and would report it to the Hokage, and again he didn't care. He knew she'd caught the slip and all it insinuated as well. Neko-chan's brows rose in intentional 'surprise,' or so he assumed.

"I could," the ANBU agreed, and poked him again, this time sticking her sharp pointed thing into his neck. That made him scowl. This game was now getting old, and quick. "I suppose, then, that it's quite providential that I never met Yondaime-sama, and that I serve the Hokage's interests alone and not Konoha's."

"Must be nice," he said, wishing he could turn his head but unable to due to the blade pointing into his neck.

Naruto was sore tempted to reach out and push the intruding weapon aside, but knew that it would be a capital Bad Idea. The spooks in ANBU sometimes tended to practice a samurai-esque obsession with their killing instruments, though it varied among members. Touching Neko-chan's sword without expressed permission would be a quick route to getting maimed or worse. He didn't have to, as it turned out. She removed her blade and sheathed it in a single seamless motion, perhaps sensing that his patience was nearing its limit.

"There are some perks," she agreed with his earlier statement and reached down to grab her mask. "You should get cleaned up. I'd hate to see those wounds become septic."

Now that he was able to stand, Naruto did so and looked down at his chest. He was caked in dirt, sweat and both dried and running blood, and the blond imagined that he reeked to high Heaven. He looked back over towards Neko-chan, but she was gone without a trace. For a long moment, he wondered whether he'd been hallucinating and had imagined the meeting.

"Nah," he spoke to the air and ambled through the trees towards the river, deciding to heed her advice.

Naruto reached the muddied river bank and dove into the water without the least hesitation, not even bothering to remove his khaki trousers. He reclined back, letting the rushing water cleanse him. His Konoha headband bounced up and down, and the blond reached back and untied it, holding the engraved plate up into the setting sun. He spied a nick in the blue cloth where Neko-chan's katana had made a shallow cut. He decided that he wouldn't mend the notch. Naruto dipped his spiked hair under the water and stared up into the blazing red skies.

Things were going to work out this time around. No more bullshit, no more excuses.

End Chapter One