Chapter Two

A Rhapsody of Amaterasu

Living in the attic of the Uchiha compound wasn't easy. At night, the hardwood floors would be freezing cold, and during the day the closed space would be even worse. Sun rays would become concentrated through the glass windows in the roof and hit the spots where Naruto wanted to sleep. 'Every time I try and take a nap a blasted laser beam hits my eye.' Overall he couldn't get much sleep during the night and even less during the day. It still beat living in a box but it wasn't such a vast improvement. "At least the box had the luxury of mobility; I could always move the box."

Itachi came in once every few weeks to drop off a cartload of food without comment and Naruto didn't even want to know where he obtained most of it. "Why is there something chewin-"

Too many people would get suspicious as to what an ANBU operative would need that many vegetables for, and even more people might hunt down Itachi for taking care of some kind of fugitive, considering the heavy suspicion he was under for murdering his cousin. "I am sticking to the story that he drowned, I killed no one." Something that Naruto still had a hard time grasping.

School didn't change much. "You failed this test Naruto," Iruka would whine.

He went in the morning and came back in the afternoon. He still hadn't found any friends and, to the brash boy, that was just as well. "I hope they all burn, those lousy traitors." He didn't need friends who would talk to him one day and ignore him the next.

"Ino, you liked that stink bomb I sent in the mail, hmm?" He wasn't exactly the most social person in the world, but giving how he grew up it was only excusable. Many times, people like Nara Shikamaru tried to get him to open up, but it just didn't work out. More often than not, Naruto would tell them that he had somewhere to be- "I got explosive plans"- which was true in a sense, but the Nara understood that Naruto just didn't like to hang around with the people in his class.

Then again, there weren't exactly a lot of people in his class that were worth hanging out with. Ino and Sakura were pretty annoying: "Wait for us, Sasuke-kun!" Kiba was a jerk; "You call that a henge?" The Akimichi did nothing but eat: "I am not fat!" The Hyuuga and the Aburame never said a word, and Naruto really, really, did not like the only one left- Uchiha Sasuke. "Bitch," Naruto would mutter when he thought no one was looking.

Despite knowing its true gender.

There was a strange warped passage that allowed Naruto to leave the attic. It was the same system that Itachi used to sneak Naruto into the house. Apparently the Main House of the Uchiha Clan had secret tunnels set up through all the walls.

However, this particular passage wasn't even known by the current clan head. Most of these passages could only be found by users of the bloodline eyes, and specifically those with the Sharingan. There were even a few that needed something even more powerful than the Sharingan- the next level of it, though Naruto never suspected that. He never would.

"C'mon you psycho, drop off my chow already," the blond would mutter.

Uchiha Itachi, in Naruto's opinion, was a strange person indeed. He didn't accept thanks, he hardly talked, and he spent most of his time brooding. It was like the teen was depressed all the time, and, try as he might, Naruto found that his jokes weren't getting to the teenager.

"Would it kill ya to smile once in a while?" Naruto once asked the gloomy teen when Itachi dropped off a bag of rotting oranges. "Ya know I am grateful and all, but sometimes I feel like ya got some kinda ulterior motive or somethin', know what I mean?"

Itachi didn't know what he meant, and that was the problem. "The dude's a robot," Naruto would whisper to himself during those cold nights, while he slept under jutsu scrolls, his makeshift blankets. The attic had a lot of them, piles and piles, with enough Ninjutsu to make him Hokage ten times over. If the qualifications that made somebody the Hokage needed one to master 1000 jutsu, the Uchiha had it down in spades. "I don't even know what half of these attacks do, hold on- this is one is pretty weird. Spit fire out of your an-"

With all these goodies, it was safe to say that Naruto did not only use the scrolls as blankets, but used them as learning tools as well. He didn't understand half of what was written, and performing the more dangerous versions of the scrolled arts was just asking for trouble; he understood that.

He wasn't incredibly smart, but he wasn't a complete idiot. Living alone in the streets had taught him to think realistically. As long as he stayed calm and thought things through, he could live to see another day. "Let's see now, Kage bunshin… this one doesn't look so bad, let's see if this works." It did.

The Kage Bunshin scroll was one that he had found completely by accident while looking up cloning techniques. The test for the genin qualifications was coming up and he needed to pass. If he could show the teacher that he could perform all three standard techniques, the bunshin, the henge, and the body switch, he would have a shot at being a Ninja.

At the age of eight, his chakra coils were still developing, but he had more chakra than most Jounin in the village, and the Kage Bunshin did not require that much control, if any. It just needed lots and lots of spiritual energy.

So it didn't come as a great surprise to one Uchiha Itachi when he walked in on a hundred Narutos cleaning up the attic- "hmm"- but it still didn't stop the brooding, angst-ridden teen from commenting. "You do realize that you're supposed to be discreet?" Itachi spoke, putting down the bucket of slop he found near a grocery store.

His contact for his daily vegetables, an outcast Jounin by the name of Tenzou was on leave, so he had to find alternate means of feeding his charge. "If the Fire-Kage tracks your location back here, I will be in trouble." Itachi's face didn't display anything as he said this. "I would appreciate it if you could show some restraint."

Naruto nodded. "I'll be careful, I'm not stupid. It's just that if I can pass the exam tomorrow, I'll be able to afford, well, stuff." Itachi didn't have to ask what Naruto meant by 'stuff.' The blond didn't own anything.

Watching the tricky boy as he wailed, sleeping in the gutters of Konoha, had shown the tall Uchiha just how poor the boy was. Itachi didn't normally take pity on anyone, but he had seen more of Naruto's lifestyle, or lack thereof, than anyone else in the village, and a part of him couldn't just stand idly by as the fox-boy died in the street.

"Not if I can help it," Itachi told himself.

"Kage Bunshin… that is a dangerous technique, if it went wrong, you could have died," Itachi warned him. He walked next to the boy and tapped a few of the clones. Naruto made a noise and touched his head. As if Itachi had tapped him on the side of the head, and not the clones. "Did you feel that?" Itachi asked. Naruto didn't know what to say. Itachi didn't elaborate and walked up to another clone, this time kicking it in the stomach.

"Ouch, what was that for?" Naruto asked, rubbing his stomach. "Look, ya didn't say I couldn't look through these scrolls. I thought you wanted me to look at them, the longer I am here, the more trouble ya could get into. If I can pass the exam tomorrow I'll be out of yer hair and ya don't have to see me again."

Itachi didn't say anything in response to that statement and slammed his fist into another clone, making Naruto wince. "You still don't get it, do you?" Itachi asked. "Don't you feel it?"

Naruto had a snarky reply to that, but closed his mouth. He thought about what Itachi said. The Kage Bunshin was dangerous, but why? He had lots of Chakra, everyone knew that. Itachi certainly must have known.

He rubbed his dirty blond hair, and tried to relax. If he calmed down he could find a solution. There were many reasons as to why the technique could be dangerous… but the clones hurting him when they were killed must have been a clue.

"I can feel them when they are destroyed?" Naruto asked. He scratched the side of his head with one of his small, crusty fingers. To him that did not make any sense, the school books never told of a clone bringing anything back to a user once it was destroyed. Certainly the fake clones they made back in school didn't have such an ability. "Does that mean that what they know, when they are killed, I'll know?" His mouth creased into a smile. "Oi, I'm right, ain't I?"

For a moment Itachi didn't comment, looking up at the cracks in the ceiling. "I wonder about that, Uzumaki, what do you think? Did you read all the instructions for that jutsu? Is that what it said on the scroll?" Naruto didn't have a response to that. The blond turned away, looking slightly guilty.

"Did you read the paragraphs on extensive brain damage? Did you read how it could destroy anything, from your frontal lobes to your neocortex? Did you even look at the large warning signs underneath the technique?" He didn't change his expression or voice inflection, but Naruto backed into the corner of the attic as Itachi stepped closer. There was very little light in the attic but he could see Itachi just fine, since the tall boy seemed to attract what light there was. "Does 'Forbidden' mean anything to you?" Itachi said this last in a whisper.

"I…um…sorry," Naruto slouched against the attic wall. It was dirty, musky, and dry… sort of like himself. "But I needed it, I didn't have choice. You've been nice to me, too nice. You could get in trouble for all this, and though I am glad ya took me off of the streets I can't impose on you. You're already under suspicion of killing yer cousin, and I believe ya didn't do it, but if they find me, that's just more reason to doubt you. People don't seem to like me in this town, and I don't know why. Argh, what I'm tryin' ta say is that I don't wanna be a burden, ya get what I mean?"

Uchiha Itachi knew exactly what he meant. He lowered his head and slumped down on the attic floor. He still wore the same ANBU uniform he always wore. Ever since that day he found Naruto, he didn't change into normal clothes. That wasn't due to Naruto of course; there was another reason altogether.

"Uzumaki, I must ask you to refrain from worrying about me. Please do not misunderstand my intentions. This is my job, this is what I have been trained to do. As long as you are alive my mission is complete. The Hokage may not agree with my methods and I know I will be marshalled if I am found with you here, but you do not understand my situation." He paused. "No one does. Do not think to understand what is best for me."

Naruto mulled it over. "So, er, can, um, I keep that scroll?" He pointed to the Kage Bunshin scroll. "There are some variations on the technique on there. Something called Explosion Bunshin, or somthin'… ya don't mind, do ya?" Hopeful blue eyes looked at dark pools. Itachi pulled out a sword from his sheath and started to sharpen it. He ignored Naruto's question for the next several minutes and thought about how to answer the boy.

"Exploding Bunshin… I myself cannot do more than two. It is not an easy technique to master. If you truly want to learn it, I will have to show you a certain location. Be warned that the place I will show you is named the Forest of Death, and believe me when I say that it is aptly named." The sharp sword sent out small streaks of sparks as Itachi continued to sharpen; he put it aside and looked at it sideways. "You might want to bring something sharp." He threw his sword at the blond, who easily caught it.

Sakura couldn't stop crying. It wasn't that there was anything wrong with her, per se, but when a bunch of girls the same age as her started to pick on the poor girl, the tears came pretty easily.

Haruno wasn't a tough girl by nature, far from it. When push came to shove, she hid the nearest corner she could find. Unlike Ino, the most popular girl in class, she didn't have the training and backing of a powerful clan.

Unlike Ino, she wasn't built for physical combat. Generations in labour trades such as carpentry and plumbing hadn't made her family the most physically capable Clan, not like the Uchiha or the Hyuuga, but there was a certain determination about the Haruno family members that allowed them to thrive in such a hostile Shinobi-filled village.

That said, it didn't change the fact that she was a still a small, pink-haired girl in a mainly Clan-based school. It didn't change the fact that before coming to school she hadn't ever had any Shinobi training, and she didn't even recall ever having any friends aside from Ino.

Sure, she picked on Uzumaki Naruto when the teachers weren't around, but everyone picked on Naruto, and Naruto could take it. The boy could take anything and still come out on top.

But that wasn't her. She couldn't stand being made fun of. "Nice forehead, it'll make a good target when the enemies capture you, billboard." Another insult, said by a girl about half a head taller than Sakura.

Her purple hair was cut short, her face in a perpetual scowl, and her skin tanned and sandy. The girl wore clothes similar to the ones Sakura wore, except hers were purple. Beside her were two other girls, each of them with the same devilish sneer as the first.

This was Ami, along with her cronies: Sakura's bullies. "C'mon, fight back. It's no fun if you don't do anything." She kicked dirt on the girl, crying on the grass. Sakura backed away, hoping that they would get bored and leave soon. She should have learned by now that it wouldn't be the case, but she didn't have it in herself to fight back. Not against three people, not when there were others around who could help her.

If she tried to punch Ami, the other two would just gang up on her, and beat her half to death. They were from Shinobi families, and they had influence in the school. Well, not Ami- Ami was from the same orphanage as Uzumaki Naruto, but unlike the filthy, repulsive Uzumaki, Ami took out her frustration on those weaker than herself.

"Oi, say something," Ami said, her twisted sneer so close to Sakura's soft face. Ami hated Sakura. Sakura was everything she was not. Sakura had family, Sakura was adorable. Sakura wore nice clothes. When she saw the pink haired girl she couldn't help but get angry. The purple haired pre-genin absolutely wanted to kill the girl for having things she, Ami, did not possess.

Growing up in the Konoha orphanage wasn't easy. The people she had to deal with were more likely to molest her than help her, and if one asked for seconds, they would be taken to the back of the building and left for dead.

No one complained- heck, no one could complain. There were laws that protected children in Konoha, but they were far from perfect, and most of them weren't even enforced simply because the Konoha Police Force, the Uchiha, always seemed to be too busy doing other things that few people were even aware of.

Unlike Sakura, Ami could make allies. An orphan couldn't go far without allies, and despite being a bully, she wasn't evil. She was only eight after all. The concept of truly hurting someone, destroying, or even murdering someone wasn't within her mental capacity, at least not yet.

But what made the girl hate Sakura the most was that she could easily talk to Uzumaki Naruto.

"Ami, up to your old tricks again, I see." A blond-haired girl, wearing a metal collar around her neck walked out from behind a nearby bush. Her short hair was cut into a 'mature' style, and her bangs were held back on the right side with a blue hairclip. Her skin was paler than Sakura's, and her clothes were in better condition than those of all of the girls combined. "One would think you would have learned."

This was Yamanaka Ino, the self-proclaimed most popular Kunoichi in her grade. Ami backed away from Sakura, who crawled slowly away from the stronger girl. The purple-haired girl smirked at the blonde. Ami took a quick glance at her friends and noticed they were backing away- they were going to leave Ami to fend for herself.

"Figures," Ami muttered. This happened all the time. She didn't have any real friends. Allies, she had plenty of, but genuine friends, zero. Not a single one. Poor, orphaned, friendless and somewhat ugly, that was the fate she had.

She wasn't a lost cause by a long shot, but she just didn't have the beautiful eyes other girls had, eyes like Sakura's, or even more exotic eyes like Hinata's. "This ain't your business Ino, why don't you just leave?" She clenched her fists. "Don't start something you can't finish, quit trying to be a hero."

Ino shook her head, smiling at the entire scene. Did Ami really think she had a chance against her? "C'mon Ami, you know you're not going to come out of this without a broken arm or two, if you leave now I'll ignore this." She gestured at Sakura, who was getting up. "Look, it's two against three now, and you know I can take the three of you on my own." Ino wasn't so sure about that, but it seemed like the right thing to say.

Ami thought that over, then scowled. "You're an idiot, Yamanaka." She turned to face her two allies who were glaring at the blonde- apparently that was the wrong thing to say. Ami smirked. "All right, show us what you got."

Naruto, of course, watched all of this from the top of the hill. "Juicy, a catfight," he observed. The sun was going down and he would have to return to the compound soon. But the entire scene in front of him amused him greatly.

"Let's see if I can get Iruka involved." He couldn't just stand by and let a catfight occur without him making things worse. He enjoyed making other people feel as bad as he did and what better way to make them feel like crap than to turn this simple brawl into something more?

Or at least that was his plan, originally.

Truthfully, the moment Sakura started to cry, Naruto started to have second thoughts about this whole blood bath thing. "Guh, I am getting soft," he muttered. He stood up and dusted off his dirty shorts. He'd been practicing the Exploding Bunshin no Jutsu all day in the forest.

He sniffed himself to check that he smelled okay. Okay, in his definition, amounted to smelling like feces, so it worked out fine for him. "Okay, time to break this up. Iruka would be on my ass if he ever found out I just stood by. Guy has some serious moral issues."

He ran down the hill and met the two groups. Ami was the first to look up at him in surprise, but turned away after she saw his scowling face. Naruto never understood why Ami could never look him in the eye.

Even back in the orphanage, she was always careful around him; though, to be fair, Naruto did once scare off some creep who was trying to assault her, but the boy didn't know that. He never would.

"Ora, ora, girls shouldn't fight. What would Suzume-sensei say if she saw this?" he chided, taking on his fake lecturing tone. It didn't help that he had a toothy grin on his face, a grin that promised trouble and violence to come. "Ya know she tells me I be a fine oustandin' gentleman, ya know? I got dem morals and stuff."

He came between Sakura and Ino, who both backed away from him. Not from fear, but from the sheer stench he emitted. Naruto picked at his muddy hair, and pulled out a leaf. "I aren't no snitch or nothin' but even I gotta say that pickin' on two gals ain't ma cup of tea, yo."

"Get out of here, Naruto, this doesn't concern you." Ami's eyes narrowed, but inside she panicked. Naruto had seen her pick on someone. This wasn't good. She didn't want him to see such a jealous and vicious side of herself.

Unlike most of the girls in the class, she didn't give a crap about Uchiha Sasuke, but if Naruto saw her like this… it just made her stomach upset, made it churn unpleasantly. "This isn't what it looks like, you don't know what's going on."

The boy sat on the floor with his legs crossed, still looking at her with that strange blue-eyed gaze he would occasionally get when he thought he had found something very amusing. "All I sees is someone hurtin' someone else. Believe it, I ain't just gonna let ya kick their asses, they ain't done nothin' to ya."

His smile didn't reach his eyes. It was crooked and nasty, like a monster from some kind of sewer. The two girls behind Ami didn't want to deal with something like Naruto. They knew his reputation. Their parents had warned them against getting mixed up with a devilish child such as himself.

"Run." So it didn't come as that great of a surprise when the two girls looked at each other, looked at the grinning, sharp-toothed orphan and then ran in the other direction.

Ami turned around to tell them to come back, but sighed when she realized they were already on their way home. "Naruto, you're a piece of work, you know that?" she sighed, turning to face the shorter blond whose dirty face didn't change expressions.

That smile of his was creepy to most people, but to her, it was sort of cute. "All right Haruno, you win this time." Sakura wasn't sure what she was talking about, but Ino must have caught something, because she smirked seeing the glance Ami sent Naruto.

Ino wasn't stupid. She knew Ami's feelings for the blond. It wasn't easy to decipher them, but reading human emotions was a specialty of the Yamanaka clan, as well the Hyuuga. "Get out of here, Ami. Unless you want me to tell Naruto-kun about your little secret." Ami's eyes flashed with anger and she looked as if she was about to say something, but decided against it and kept her mouth shut.

There would be plenty of time to plot her revenge against Ino another day. Naruto took this lull in conversation as an opportunity to dust the leaves off his shirt and stood up, looking at the sky. "Well, I did my good deed for the day, and just in time, too." He glanced up ahead to see Suzume-sensei coming their way. The curly haired woman had two girls beside her. "Naruto, have you been causing trouble again?" she asked.

Sakura, Ino, and Ami expected Naruto to explain that they almost fought, but the boy did something completely different. "Ora, I wanted to test out these weaklings, you know- on account of how weak girls are, ya know?" he told the teacher, his smile getting wider.

Suzume sighed and rubbed her temple. The boy caused trouble for just about everyone. Would there ever be a day when he would calm down and try to get along with everyone else?

"You do realize I'm going to have to give you detention. Again." She paused, fixing her glasses. "For the third time this week."

Naruto shrugged his shoulders at this, and pointed at the girls. "Mah, who cares? I still almost kicked all their asses, from here to Suna." That was an obvious lie, Suzume concluded. She suspected Naruto was trying to cover for the girls. Why, she had no idea. Maybe there was some good in the greasy orphan after all.

She decided to play along. "Very well, Uzumaki, come with me. I hope you don't mind cleaning up Hokage Mountain, for the second time this month." Naruto shrugged, and followed her. The girls behind them looked ahead at the boy with amazement.

He had stopped their fight, and kept them all from getting into trouble. "Without having to raise a fist," Ino muttered. Ami already knew of the boy's self-sacrificial habits, so it didn't surprise her that much, but it still didn't stop a blush from rising to her cheeks. "W-wait," she said. "Naruto didn't-"

Suzume turned to glare at her, full lips quirked into a slight scowl. "Anything you wish to say?"

Naruto stuck out his tongue from behind the tall woman. Ami shut her mouth, and shook her head. Sakura and Ino were still staring at Naruto in awe and the other two looked uncomfortable. They had been told that Naruto was bad to the bone, but he had been willing to get in trouble for them.

Maybe he wasn't such a bad guy, they thought.

Little did they know that Naruto could care less about what people thought.

He didn't like anyone. He especially didn't like girls. The thing about Naruto was that he had a reputation to uphold. The more trouble he could get into, the better. He had spent his whole life being blamed for things he didn't do, so he gave up on being a nice person.

Even after spending the day with his arms sore from cleaning up the tower, with Suzume-sensei nearby, marking her papers with a small smile on her face, he didn't regret his actions because the next day, the kids in class would have another reason to fear him.

Little did he know that this time, the girls would spread something nice about him for once, and that Sakura and Ino's feelings for the him wouldn't be the same again. "He still stinks though," Ino pouted, this time with a light rosy tint to her cheeks.

The vents of the Hokage tower were among the strangest places anyone could hope to travel through in the village, although to be fair, not many would even venture there. First off, they would have to be about the size of your average six year old, and secondly, if you weren't light enough, the vents would break and you would reveal yourself fairly easily. Lastly, one would have to be very careful not to make any noise, even ones that sounded like they were made by the reek that traveled down the rusty vents.

"Damn, this place stinks." Of course, Uzumaki Naruto was a natural candidate for traveling through the vents. There weren't many advantages in his life, and whatever he had, he would use. He missed seeing the old man. He hadn't seen the Hokage in years, not in person, but watching the old man from behind a screen was something of a hobby for the blond.

Sarutobi Hiruzen wasn't on the best of terms with Uzumaki Naruto, but that didn't mean that their bond was broken. The bond of grandfather and grandchild was one of the strongest, and theirs especially so.

The two of them may not have been related by blood, but that didn't mean they didn't think they were family. Like family, they would get into fights. Like family, they would break along the way, but come back together at some point. The old man was one of the best people Naruto had ever met, and the closest thing to a father he had. "He's my ojiisan."

The horrible stench of the vents filled his nostrils, but he continued to push ahead. "Guh, the things I do for love." The metal seams slashed at his wrists. The vents themselves weren't guarded very well, but they were covered in a type of Chakra that slashed up particles that were caught in them. Rats were a common problem in Konoha, after all.

Once Naruto had crawled to the place above the Hokage's office, he stopped and checked out what the old man was doing. "Still at that paper work, does that guy ever get a break?" He smiled at the sight, the man looked so peaceful.

Once or twice, the old man would cough into his hands and then wipe the blood on a nearby napkin. Those times, Naruto would want to jump down from the vents and hug him, but he knew he couldn't. He promised he would never ask the Hokage for help again, and he would not break that promise.

Naruto was about to leave the old man to his work, when someone came inside the office holding a giant scroll. The boy had never seen a scroll so large before and he couldn't help but stare at the tall man holding it. He edged closer to the rusty vent screen, and looked at the man carefully.

The man was tall- taller than anyone he had ever seen. He had hair as white as snow that went down to his waist. He wore kabuki clothing, and carried himself as an old-fashioned warrior would. He even wore strange shoes made of wood; they made him even taller. The man surveyed the office carefully.

"Nothing special about this guy, better get out of here," Naruto muttered. However, the man's first words caught his attention.

"Is Naruto all right?"

Curious, the blond turned back and pressed his face to the vent fencing, trying to see the expression on the old man's face. The Hokage of Konoha drew on his cigar and answered the question. "He's being looked after by Itachi. The details of his location are a bit sketchy but I trust he is in a safe place." The old man got up and glared up at the taller man. "I am more curious as to where you have been, Jiraiya."

Jiraiya had the shame to turn his face away, and look down at the floor. "Some things came up and I had to see them tbrough. There are some dangers outside of the village that I wasn't sure were real or not, and I had to confirm a few rumours." He knew that wasn't a good excuse, but he tried to use it anyway.

"There were stories of an organization moving and amassing large amounts of power. They call themselves the Akatsuki and they are after the hosts of the tailed beasts. I am not entirely sure why, and I am not sure how they plan to achieve this." He paused, and pulled a file out from inside his robes. "I can tell you with conviction that they are collecting the most dangerous fighters in all of the elemental nations."

The Hokage leaned back in his chair. "You haven't answered my real question, but I will hear you out just the same. Tell me what you know about this, tell me everything, and leave nothing out."

The more Jiraiya told his tale, the more terrified Naruto became. A sinking feeling in his stomach started to form, the more he heard about demon hosts. The tall man talked a lot. He talked about people who had demons sealed inside of them, all the vessels, rampaging killers, and the transformations that would be required to bring out the full power of the demons. Everything he needed to know about the Akatsuki and everything he would ever possibly have to remember about the tailed beasts and their hosts.

He shivered while Jiraiya explained to Sarutobi about the situation in the Mist, and the bloody rampages that eventually lead to the destruction of the former Mizukage, who was replaced by one of the hosts.

None of this made any sense in Naruto's opinion; specifically, none of this should have made him afraid. What did this have to do with him? Why was he suddenly so afraid, why-

"Then we'll have to make sure to increase security around our own host- Naruto must be protected at all costs."

And there it was. The reason behind his problems, the reason that the boy's heart wouldn't slow its beating. His fingers clenched so tightly around the bars that they almost bled. They lied to him. Every single adult in Konoha. All this time, he was a host of a great and powerful demon. It didn't take him long to connect the Kyuubi and himself, not after the conversation about the Chakra beasts.

He slowly crept out of the vents hoping that he wouldn't let his rage affect his chakra and get detected easily. "I still have to pay you back, old man."

Naruto was more than a bit shaken by the news he overheard. From what he gathered, there would be a group of S-class missing-nin that would be after him some day. No matter how Naruto looked at it, he didn't think he was going to survive this, not by a long shot. "I need to take things seriously."

If each and every ninja who was going to come hunting for him was as strong as a Kage, what chance did an orphan like him have? Not a snowball's in hell. The thought allowed him to ignore the rain pelting down from the sky.

He found himself once again in the slums of Konoha. There weren't that many clans that lived there, for good reasons of course, but there was always the Kurama clan.

The Kurama clan had the bad luck of having to endure living here. Years of producing weak-bodied Ninja had left their family with little money. Sure they still had their lands, and they still had manors located outside of the village, but inside the village was another matter altogether. Since they were a blood line clan, their safety rested on being able to thrive inside the walls of the Hidden Leaf.

Like the Hyuuga and the Uchiha, their powers made them capable of great destruction, and if left uncontrolled would lead to a chaotic and violent end to many aspiring genin. They stayed in the slums, but their location was somewhat north of where one Uzumaki used to live.

Naruto had, once or twice, snuck into the compound to steal food, but returned what he stole because the people there didn't exactly look wealthy themselves.

Today though, he had to go back and see the clan, if only because old habits died hard. He jumped over the fence of the compound and looked around to see if he could steal anything, mostly just food. Itachi would provide him something when he got back, but Itachi was finding it more difficult to consistently bring him food without people asking questions. "Especially not Yakumo's mother."

Naruto figured he would relieve Itachi's burden. The compound didn't have as much grass, since they couldn't afford to water the plants regularly, so instead they had sand and stone. It made it difficult for intruders to sneak into the main house, but Naruto was a special case. He was small and light, he could run at speeds not many could keep up with, and he had always had near-perfect hearing. "Sort of like a fox," he muttered bitterly.

He grinned when he finally reached the window, and, looking inside, found no one. Taking one step over the ledge, he climbed into the large wooden house, ignoring the fact that the compound's electricity had been cut off. "C'mon kitchen, it's been a year but I know where ya be." He stepped quietly on the carpet, and wiped off some of the grime on his hands on his pants. "Hopefully Yakumo isn't home, the girl's got a set of lungs on her."

Kurama Yakumo was the heir of the Clan; she was a pale girl with beautiful brown hair and strangely colored yellow eyes. Naruto didn't know much about people's looks, but he had to admit that she was by far one of the most beautiful girls he had ever laid eyes on.

She would look even better if she didn't scream for help every time she caught him eating food in their kitchen.

The girl tended to wear a kimono and walked at a pace that was oddly reminiscent of a turtle. Heck, a turtle showed more spirit than the girl. "Believe it," Naruto muttered, "that girl's not cut out to be a Ninja."

He had seen Yuuhi Kurenai walk around these parts to pick the girl up for training, but Naruto never understood why the raven-haired Jounin would even bother. It wasn't like she was a genius or anything. What could Yakumo do, aside from scream her lungs off when a little orphan was found lurking in her house?

Eventually he found the food he was looking for and decided to sit down and eat. The clan seemed to favour fruits and vegetables, and always the fresh kind. Itachi never brought fresh food- most of it was borderline slop. Every time the teen came back, he brought things that resembled more and more the trash he used to eat.

"It's like he's tryin' ter kill me," Naruto snorted. "Guess I owe you guys some apples… mmm, those were some good apples." The boy was about to leave when he smelled something.


"Oh, shit!" he ran up the compound stairs and was amazed to see that the entire top floor was in flames. Taking off his filthy shirt, he ran to where he saw fires and started putting them out. "This isn't gonna work," he shouted, "Kage Bunshin!" A dozen clones came out from his sides and started repeating his gesture. "Oi, is anyone in there?"

Naruto didn't get a response, but he was sure there were people in the house. He raced through the flames, ignoring the throbbing pain it caused him and looked around the wooden compound. The wood was burning fairly quickly and things were turning black, but he didn't care. These flames looked like they were made with Chakra, meaning that they could only be put out with Chakra. "Kage Bunshin, oi, sacrifice yourselves, guys, there be people in here." He looked through each room, wondering if Yakumo was all right.

The image of the shy girl who was terrified to leave the house arose in his mind and he found himself running even faster. He finally reached the master bedroom and found a demonic-looking creature hovering over her parents. "Oi, Miss Uroko, what the hell is that?"

Kurama Uroko, Yakumo's mother, sat helplessly, watching as the kimono-wearing demon stepped closer to her. She couldn't move out of fear, and if she did, the monster might decide to go after her daughter who was still inside the house.

Uroko was a young woman, who looked similar to her daughter. Like her daughter, she had very graphic eyes, eyes that were both stunning and terrifying. Like her daughter, she had brown hair, but unlike her daughter, she was tall, regal, and much more plain-looking. That didn't mean she was any less attractive- she had her own appeal.

She clutched her necklace and chanted something, but was interrupted by the shouting of the blond. She turned her face to see one Uzumaki Naruto huffing and puffing, beside her door.

Her deep purple eyes widened. "Naruto! What are you doing here, get out!" She didn't particularly like the thief- no one liked kids who stole- but she didn't hate him either. She had seen how he lived and she felt pity and fear for him. Pity that he was poor, and fear that someday he would grow up to not be poor, and then everyone would be in trouble.

"Ma'am, what is that?" Naruto shouted, pointing his sweaty finger toward the towering creature. For some reason it resembled a Shinigami, now that he got a closer look, but it was not nearly as huge. "Oi, ugly, come and get a piece of this." The soot-covered boy pulled down a pair of week-old pants and showed the creature his tanned bum. Uroko wondered for a moment how in the world Naruto got a tan in that particular region, but opted to use the distraction to try and take a stab at the demonic-looking thing.

The creature ignored Uroko's jab and raced to face the last Uzumaki. Naruto had just about enough time to get out of its way and run down the burning hall. As pieces of his already-dusty pants caught fire, he tried to put them out with some more Kage Bunshin. It worked, but it made the creature reach him faster.

Uroko ran down the hall, in the other direction, to find her daughter in some kind of strange trance. She was both asleep and awake at the same time. "W-what is this?" She took her temperature and read her Chakra and found that she was channelling vast amounts of malevolent energy from inside. Whatever the creature was, its source was her very own daughter. "Is she possessed by a demon?"

"Oi, a little help here, Kage Bunshin!" shouted Naruto from the floor below. Uroko made the decision to grab her daughter and break through the window. The windowpanes were also on fire, but she decided to risk it anyway. She would come back for the Uzumaki later; right now her daughter came first.

Breaking through the glass was the easy part, but seeing tendrils of black demonic energy try and pull her back was making it difficult. She was about to use a water jutsu to slam them away, when a series of explosions forced the tentacles to come back inside the mansion.

Whatever Naruto was doing was working, because loud screams and demonic moans were coming from inside the building. She covered her ears as blasts and explosions rocked the compound. She watched amazed as every time a boom sounded, furniture would fly out of her mansion and into the streets.

"The ANBU should be here soon, hold on, Naruto," she muttered, running the opposite direction, going towards Konoha hospital. "I'll come back, I promise." Her daughter was slowly opening her eyes, and saw her mother wearing her night time kimono.

"Kaa-san, what's going on?" she asked, afraid. "I had a dream, there was a monster, it tried to take over my body-"

"No time to worry about that now, Uzumaki Naruto is buying us some time to get out of here. We cannot in good conscience allow his sacrifice to be in vain." She looked at her daughter and smiled. Unlike many woman in Konoha, Uroko didn't wear lipstick but looked all right just the same. "You know that child who you would always point the guards at?"

"Yes, I think I know who you're talking about. But mother, why would he try and help us?" From her memories, her clan had tried to beat the poor boy to death a few times, when he was caught stealing. Konoha law allowed for discipline, especially for thievery. "He doesn't even like us."

"Let's not be too quick to judge," her mother replied, and dropped off her daughter on the curb next to the hospital. The Kurama matriarch made a move to run back to her home.

She could already see Uchiha Itachi running down the street, wielding his Katana. If he got there first, there would be a bloodbath if the demon was still alive. "Go and get help, I have to make sure Naruto is all right."

She followed the faster ANBU, and reached her compound in time to see the final explosion as it shot the very roof of the building into the air, and howled in amazement as it flew up nearly fifty feet.

Naruto was nowhere to be found, but the large craters left behind were a clear indication that he was still around, and the constant explosions that sent dirt into the sky were proof that he was far from dead. "Naruto, where could you be?" Uroko asked herself. "Where is that thing?"

Groups were running from the other branch houses, wielding weapons. "What is going on?" they asked the matriarch for instructions, but Itachi was the one who took charge. He carried in his arms the blond haired boy and held him close, even taking off his jacket to cover Naruto's battered-looking body.

"He's alive." Uroko sighed in relief and leaned down to kiss the boy on the forehead. Naruto had just about enough time to smirk. "I blew it up, yo." He yawned. "Gosh, I am pretty tired, Itachi… sleep."

The ANBU nodded and within a moment he disappeared. Uroko turned around to look at the dead body of the demonic entity that had possessed her daughter in the very heart of her mansion. She turned around to face the groups of Clan members who were looking for an explanation. "I think Yakumo has more power than we originally estimated." She thought about what else to say, and smiled. "I also think we also owe Uzumaki a favour." What a brave boy he was. Almost like a hero.

"Mother, would you mind taking a look at his wounds?" Itachi asked, careful not to sound too worried. "I found him after that large explosion destroyed the main Kurama House. There were spikes and pieces of metal everywhere, and inside the rubble was Uzumaki. I tried to do the best I could in such urgency, But you know I lack proper medical training."

Mikoto took very little time to strip off whatever clothing was left on the Uzumaki, which was basically just his torn pants, and looked the naked boy over for wounds. Itachi leaned on the wall and mused. "Had the boy been awake, no would be able to get him to remove any article of clothing, the kid's just too shy for that sort of thing." That was one of the reasons Itachi was glad he was blacked out.

"My goodness, what happened to his fingers? They look like they were blown apart with fire, what could have done such a thing to such a harmless boy? Itachi, I want you to find whomever is responsible and bring them to justice. I don't think the Third would approve of anyone mutilating-"

"Mother, please. I do not think that happened. If you wouldn't mind, complete his treatment and I will make the Third aware of the situation. Right now, time is of the essence. If we don't do something soon he is going to lose his entire arm."

Itachi was more worried about the blood seeping from his nose. Kage Bunshin's most dangerous problem was the brain damage it could cause, and Naruto looked like he made some truly massive amounts of clones, and maybe some exploding ones.

Making the Exploding Kage Bunshin was like making a hundred of the regular ones, and they had much more violent effects. That was one of the reasons most Ninja never used the Exploding techniques- not because they lacked the Chakra, but because it could permanently destroy a person's prefrontal cortex.

"Stabilize him, please. I have to go get a surgeon. Wait for me; do not remove him from the house." The young man paused before leaving and turned his head. "Don't tell father."

He disappeared.

Sasuke's mother wasn't going to do either of those. She trusted her son's judgment, and just held on to the dying boy in her arms. He was breathing heavily and his eyes were barely open. He smelled like paper and grime, which she found odd- the scent of ink and scrolls were all over him, yet he was a person who skipped classes, according to Sasuke-chan. "There, there. Poor baby." She rocked him gently, watching as he groaned and came closer to her. He looked so harmless like this.

She couldn't understand how anyone would want to harm such a child.

He was so small, so thin, so light. "Why would anyone hate something so pure, an infant of Konoha?" The world was indeed a confusing place. It put a lot into perspective- most people were greedy and held onto so many trivial things in life.

Yet this boy she held in her arms wanted nothing more than life itself. He didn't crave money, power, or even immortality, like so many of her kin did; he wanted something much more basic than that.

"You're brave, aren't you, little guy?" She gently pried his fingers apart. Some of them had been melded together due to extreme heat and she was doing all she could so that the bleeding from his hands would stop. "C'mon, you can make it."

She hoped that someone would be able to regenerate his fingers, but without the proper stem cells, that wouldn't be possible. Stem cells in Konoha were expensive, since very rarely did people abort a fetus. Any child in Konoha could be easily used as cannon fodder in times of war. Plus, the civilians, unlike the Ninja, had morals. They didn't abort.

Naruto wasn't sure why he felt so good. Wherever he was, he couldn't see, his eyes wouldn't open, and they wouldn't move either. He must have hurt himself badly this time. The last memories he had flashed through his mind.

He saw the fight before him. He was going to die- the demonic-looking creature that distantly resembled Yakumo was going to devour him. It was going to devour him… until he started blowing everything up with his Kage Bunshin.

However, each time he used that technique it felt like his brain was going to explode. Every memory the Bunshin had went straight to Naruto, and Naruto had to experience being blown apart no less than a dozen times. He hadn't known that he could feel his neurons, but he was pretty sure he could feel the synapses and dendrites literally splitting apart in his head as the stress overcame them.

And yet he could feel his brain healing. Was that even possible? One of the first things he learned in biology was that neurons didn't heal. Brain cells could only split apart, and once destroyed they would never come back. That was why brain damage was so difficult to fix.

He tried to reach out for the softness that was enveloping him, and the more he reached, the more this softness wrapped around him. He felt so content, he felt so safe, and yet he was still a little afraid. Nothing in his life was meant to last, was this just another illusion? Slowly the connections in his eyes started to form- his nerves to his occipital lobes. He opened his blue eyes to a sight that surprised him.

"How are you, Naruto-kun?" Sasuke's mother greeted him with a dazzling smile. She appeared worried and was holding him close to her breasts which, if he was honest with himself, were fairly soft, like jelly. His head rested there, and he breathed in her vanilla scent. This was the first time anyone had ever hugged him and he wasn't going to let the feeling pass easily. He had earned it, after all.

"What happened to me?" he asked. He couldn't recall anything that happened after he blacked out in Itachi's arms. "Is Yakumo safe? What about Missus Kurama?" Mikoto didn't understand what he was talking about, but then realized that he must have been referring to the Head of the Kurama Clan's wife, and their daughter. "They are all right, from what I gather. There would a terrible uproar if either were hurt." Her lips quirked into a soft smile. "You saved them, didn't you?"

Naruto nodded his head, still feeling the headache, and not wanting to be away from the softness. He tried to move his feet, and he got a simple kick going. Good, his feet were working. He could make a run for it later. "I couldn't just leave 'em." He tried to think of more to say but came up short. "I knew 'em for a long time. The girl doesn't like me, but she ain't bad." He wondered how she was. He hoped she wasn't hurt.

"I am glad. So glad that you thought of others before yourself," she said. "Most Ninja would think about themselves before others. The mission is often what counts, but that doesn't change the fact that Ninjas cut their losses wherever they can. You didn't. You went ahead and saved someone at the possible cost of your own life. Someone who didn't even like you, if what you say is true." She realized something. "What about the father, what happened to him?"

"Dead. Saw his body when one of my clones gave back his memory." He rubbed his face against her chest, inhaling the vanilla scented musk. The mother gently tapped his head. "Couldn't save him. I tried." He looked hurt. "I really did."

"I believe you." She did. Despite what people said about Naruto, he wasn't a bad kid. Far from it; there were some things missing in his morals, and his hygiene could use some more work, but he was more of a human being than most would give him credit for.

She had seen him occasionally, wandering the streets looking for food. She had seen him train his heart out in alleys, and seen him grow into something powerful. He wasn't powerful in the typical, physical sense, but powerful mentally. He could endure more pain than most.

She put him on Sasuke's bed. Sasuke-chan wouldn't be there for the next few hours anyway. Meanwhile, he could get some well-earned rest. Either way, she had to make dinner before her husband returned. In her mind she was still impressed at the ability of the boy to do so much for that once-powerful clan.

Still, she couldn't tell her husband he was here. The takeover of the village would commence soon, and if the ANBU started to investigate her compound, they would find enough evidence to execute them all. "Uzumaki, you're trouble. But for who, I am not certain."

Fortunately, her husband never arrived that night. Unfortunately, she hadn't been able to warn her daughter pretending to a be a boy, Sasuke, that there was another occupant sleeping in her bed, and the girl got the shock of her life when she saw a near naked Uzumaki Naruto spread-eagled, out like the dead. "Looks like I am going to have to explain the birds and the bees a little early." Mikoto got to work.

"You don't look so good Sasuke-kun, is there something wrong?" Sakura asked, hearts in her eyes. Sasuke wouldn't stop blushing today. Every once in a while he would glance at the village pariah, then grit his teeth and look away. Sakura was terribly confused and wanted to know what was wrong. It was Sasuke- he was supposed to be invincible!

They were standing outside of the Academy, watching as some of the guys played hide and seek. Apparently the other kids weren't going to let Choji play since he was too fat, but Shikamaru pitched in for him. Of course, that wasn't enough.

Naruto, who was covered head to toe in bandages, came along. Sakura groaned, things always got worse when Naruto was around. If you were a boy, you would most likely find yourself in grave peril, being beaten up becoming a near certainty.

Especially if you made fun of his height. He was indeed sensitive about that.

"Oi, not letting the tubby play cause he's a bit big? You scared he is just better than you?" Naruto teased, smirking in his lopsided way, showing off a sharp set of yellowish teeth. "What's a guy gotta do to play a game of Ninja around here without some punk tryin' ta stop 'em?"

"He could lose some weight, for one." One of the participants muttered. Naruto turned to face the culprit, Kiba, and kicked some dirt in his direction. "What? It's true, ain't it?"

"Yeah, and you could take a bath, you smelly asshole." Someone commented on Naruto smelling almost a bad as Kiba, but shut up when the dog boy glared at them. "What, that's also true, ain't it?"

"Regardless what the truth is, I, for one, would like to commence this activity. Playing this game will get rid of the stress that might hinder me in this exam. Though I have a suspicion that I will not be able to be able to complete the Kawarimi, like the rest of you," Shikamaru said.

Most of the boys nodded. The only person who could do the body switch was Naruto- only that orphan had enough Chakra to pull it off. "Oi, Naruto, I think you're up first. Think we should get inside?" Ami asked, walking onto the playground with some of her friends. Many looked at Naruto with interest. He was going to try out for the exam for the second time. Only Shino and Sasuke had applied this year. Everyone else thought they needed more practice.

Eventually, they all went inside the classroom and waited for the rest of the participants to finish their exam. Shino and Sasuke both couldn't do the Body Switch and failed. Sasuke glared at Naruto on the way in and even nudged him towards the floor. Naruto got up, and continued to smile his sharp-toothed grin.

Most thought his smile was rather creepy. He did the required two jutsu and then it was time for the third, the clone.

Suzume laid back on her seat and was about to mark an 'x,' when a whispy, no, solid clone appeared before her. It took her sheet out of her hands and brought it to the Uzumaki. Naruto took out a pen from his pocket and signed on the paper. He put a check. "So this means I pass, eh?"

Iruka's jaw dropped. He looked at Suzume-sensei, who smiled at him with her full red lips and shook her head. "The most unpredictable Ninja in Konoha." She sighed. Then looked down at Naruto. "Very well, from this day forward you're a Genin of Konoha, Uzumaki Naruto." She was sure the boy would pass, so she didn't mind saying this. "Wear that headband proudly."

For the first time in Naruto's life, his smile didn't look scary. "Thank you." He bowed. "Arigatou."

But that still didn't change the fact that there were people out to kill him. And it didn't change the fact that he knew that. Time was running out. It was a dog eat dog situation. Kill or be killed. He had to take them down as soon as possible.

Before time ran out.