Crimson Eyes of a Feral Protector

Chapter 1

oOo

The young boy was only six. Had there been a watchful adult handy, he never would have been climbing the old building on the outskirts of the city. Creeping vines sought to finish the job the flames a decade previously had started in reducing the old clan house in question to it's foundation. The giant house would have been a hazard for even a genin and had remained unadressed by Konoha at large specifically for that reason.

Most of the children of the city had parents who kept them clear of the danger while muttering that the city council should really get on with ordering it's destruction. Even the children who wandered nearby were helpfully directed away by caring individuals looking out for the wellbeing of the younger generation.

Of course, nobody paid attention to Naruto. The lack of presence he made on the average citizen made certain of the fact he could investigate the cool-looking ruins he'd chanced upon the other day without the interference of any adult.

Yet here he was climbing the highest tower of the old mansion, grinning at every creak and groan of the abused structure as he cheerfully investigated old cabinets filled with nothing more than dust or ash. As he climbed yet another staircase, his mind was filled with visions of money left unattended for him to discover for daring to plumb the mysteries of the place.

Crossing to an as-yet undisturbed desk on the top floor, Naruto didn't notice the subtle groan of an old, char-blackened beam snapping underneath of his feet. Only when the floor sagged perilously underneath him did discover the danger he was in.

By that point, it was already too late. The final straw had been placed, and the fragile back which held the structure up through nearly ten years of neglect had snapped. The southeast corner of the roof collapsed first, crashing through the desk which had been Naruto's focus only an instant before and starting a chain reaction of noise and movement which overwhelmed the poor blond boy.

He slid down the tilting floor, hitting a support beam painfully and instinctly grabbing it in his panic. It saved his life as the beam fell across a shallow in the rubble below, depositing the child into a narrow depression and shielding him from the rest of the collapsing building.

Naruto coughed out the dust in his mouth, fearfully feeling around the dark in a panic. No matter where he shifted in the cramped enviroment, he could feel no way out. No matter how he strained at the debris above him, he couldn't lift it one iota. After a short period of screaming and scraping his hands to tatters on the sharp stone and splintered wood above himself, the blond boy curled his knees to his chest and cried himself to sleep.

oOo

In the darkness of his mind, Naruto dreamed. Shallow water pooled at his ankles in a frightening chamber, and a cage stood between him and a pair of frightening eyes. He took a hesitant step back as an uncomfortably hot wind washing over the young boy's face accompanied the sound of the creature exhaling.

It was all he could do not to run.

"Come closer, brat," the monster commanded, the voice sounding louder and deeper than the building collapsing around the poor boy. He paused, casting his eyes around the room for any way to escape. "I'm no nightmare. I'm here to answer your prayers."

"You can help?" Naruto whispered, taking an unconscious step forward. Someone who was willing to help him. Willing to save him from the danger he was in. As frightening as this creature was, the boy took a few steps forward as he met the crimson eyes within the cage. "You can get me out of the dark? Away from that building?"

"Of course I can," the voice chided with a low chuckle. The eyes tilted, as if the head hidden in the darkness had. "Do you see that strip of paper outside my bars?"

"Yeah?" Naruto asked, quietly.

"All you have to do is pull that paper off. I'll still have these heavy bars keeping me in here, but once that paper's gone, I can give you some of my power," the voice informed him, mouth spreading into a broad, reassuring grin.

"Really? All I have to do is take off the paper and I'll be safe?" Naruto whispered, hands moving toward the paper.

"I promise that as soon as you remove that, the stone and wood above you right now will be the least of your problems," the beast in the cage promised, eyes narrowing slightly.

All that prevented the young boy from ripping the seal from the flat steel panel was a powerful hand grasping his wrist. Naruto turned from his task and looked into eyes he'd only ever seen matched in the mirror, framed by blond hair just a shade lighter than his own. The man grinned down at the boy and gentle pulled his hand from the paper.

"Well, this is earlier than I expected to ever meet you," the man stated, gently releasing the boy's hand and waving. All at once, the dank room disappeared, replaced with a warm, comforting light in all directions. "Naruto... I'm glad to meet you."

"Who're you?" The young boy wondered, his eyes filled with doubt as he took in the long coat. "You look like the Fourth Hokage."

"Naruto, I am the Fourth Hokage," the man confirmed, kneeling beside the boy and resting on hand on the boy's shoulder. His eyes flashed with something foreign to the young man before they cleared, and he placed his other hand on the other shoulder. "Even though I'm dead, I can appear to the protectors of Konoha when they really need it. Like you do right now."

"I can protect Konoha?" Naruto whispered, amazed.

"You can. And I have no doubt that you will," the man informed him with a broad grin. "Naruto, when the nine-tailed fox attacked Konoha, I killed him. Yet a part of his soul lives on in you, and you're the only one who can keep him from breaking free. Can I trust you to keep him imprisoned?"

"Of course!" Naruto confirmed, grinning in response. Then his grin fell. "But... How do I escape the building I'm in?"

"You're the demon fox's jailor, Naruto. If you die, he does, and he knows it: You don't need his permission to take his strength," the Fourth Hokage informed him with a grim grin. He clenched a fist, prompting the boy to raise a fist to mirror the posture. "Take it! Just promise me that you'll only use it when you need it... A true protector of Konoha can rely on his own strength to keep everyone safe!"

"I promise! I'll get strong enough that I can protect everyone without relying on the stupid fox!" Naruto promised with a nod.

"Well... It looks like I've done everything I can," the blond man nodded, standing and extending a hand to Naruto. The boy reached after moment to grasp it. He quirked his head. "I knew your parents, kid. Believe me, both of them would have been proud of you."

"My parents were proud of me?" Naruto whispered, his grip going slack in the man's hand.

"You were a hero just for being who you are. The fact you're going to protect Konoha... They'd be more proud than you can imagine," the Fourth confirmed with a nod. He smiled wistfully, his head turning away from the boy's gaze for a moment before meeting it once more. "I can only appear to Konoha's defenders once. You're on your own now, kid. Can I trust you to protect Konoha like the Hokage would?"

"I'll protect them like you would. Believe it," Naruto confirmed with a nod. With a smile, the Fourth Hokage faded from his view, as did the light, leaving the blond boy facing a familiar cage. Despite his diminuative size, he strode up to the wide bars of the cage and smacked them with an open hand.

"Who the hell do you think you are, brat?" The deep voice demanded, eyes narrowing dangerously as it glared through the bars. Hot breath escaped the cage to squeeze the young boy tightly. "Show some respect!"

"Give me your power or we both die here!" The boy replied, crossing his arms. He raised an eyebrow. "The Fourth Hokage told me all about you. I'd happily give my life to make sure you don't get free again!"

The fox growled.

oOo

Genma Shirunai, newly raised to Chuunin, was the first to catch the hellish aura bursting forth beneath the feet of the ninja dispatched to investigate the old clan property of the Aburume family. He barely had seconds to grab his teammates and throw them clear before the ground burst from his feet and the demonic chakra was free.

Kunai slipped from his sleeves into his hands and flew towards the source of the evil energy before the young teenager had time to consider the situation. More shocking than the chakra itself was the red whip of energy which lashed through the dust of the shattered building to smash the projectiles out of the way.

Seconds later, the dust cleared to reveal a young man wearing a demon's aura. Scarcely six years old, the young blond boy wore the hellish chakra around him like a cloak, a single tail sprouting from the end of his arched back.

"Wait, it's-" Genma's cautioning words went unacknowledged as the training of his fellow ninja overcame their horror. Shuriken and kunai slammed the aura from all sides and was repelled with almost as much ease as the barrage came.

Red eyes met Genma's for just a moment before the aura-clad boy fled into the woods faster than any of the ninja could follow.

He raised a hand, prompting his compatriots to halt their chase.

"This is beyond us. Report to Hokage-sama immediately! The nine-tailed fox is loose!" Genma spat, watching the treeline where the young boy had disappeared. "We'll catch him soon."

Genma was wrong.

Naruto, with the aid of the stolen chakra from the nine-tailed fox demon, would evade pursuit for six years. He spent his time hunting, foraging, and protecting Konoha from those who sought to do her harm. Many of the young ninja who were genin at the time of his escape only lived to become chuunin thanks to his intervention in a desperate fight, and the superstition of praying to the feral fox-boy had almost become folklore to most of the new graduates six years later.

Grasping the feral child by the ankle, still wearing the tattered remnants of his clothing from six years earlier, Jiraiya wondered just who he'd have to kill for allowing Minato's boy to regress to this state as he wandered back in to Konoha in time for the hidden village to host the Chuunin Exams.

oOo

Author's Notes:

Bleargh. Another Naruto story since I'm officially killing off my other one and turning it into my Naruto-flavour Beginnings Repository. This story is liable to hold my interest far better since it's such a complete and thorough deviation from the norm and won't suck.

I hate stories which feature Naruto running away due to active malice from townsfolk in Konoha. It makes far more sense, given his background, for him to get into trouble on his own due to the disinterest everyone has in him.

So... Naruto as a feral child.