A.N.: Here comes the first chapter of my second multichapter story. For all my ranting against retelling of canon, a plot bunny came to me and wouldn't leave me alone until I wrote it down. Second chapter would appear whenever the bunny comes back. I still have Little wooden men as my main project.

Warning: Sticks close to canon.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. IfI did, I'd fire Kishimoto.

Through the eyes of death

Naruto was running through the streets. He was weaving through the crowds of living citizens of Konoha with expert grace. His pursuers were less skilled at passing through busy streets and he was gaining on them. But his bright orange jumpsuit shone like a beacon amongst the moderately dressed people and they managed to keep him within their sights. Naruto didn't mind. He loved the thrill of the chase. That was why he splashed the two chuunin with neon orange paint.

He threw a glance over his shoulder. They had left the busiest avenue and the two enraged shinobi were gaining on him again. He smirked. Everything was going according to his plan. He kept his pace and headed to a certain lane. The two were almost upon him. He turned to a side street and sped up. The pair followed him. Naruto pulled on a ninja wire nearly invisible to anyone who didn't know it was there. The two chuunin entered the alley exactly as the trap sprung. A tripwire made them stumble while the stack of empty crates piled up near a wall toppled over. Naruto laughed as his pursuers were buried underneath them. He listened to their angry shouts for a while before heading off. He wanted to be far away when they finally dug themselves out.

He noticed Iruka-sensei lurking behind a fence. Naruto saw him through his concealing genjutsu, it covered his body perfectly, but it couldn't hide his soul. He pretended not to notice him until the teacher grabbed his collar. Then he pretended surprise.

"Iruka-sensei! What are you doing here?"

"Why aren't you in class, Naruto," the Academy instructor chastised him. "The graduation exam is in less than a week. Do you want to fail again?"

"Of course not," he boasted. "I'm an amazing ninja! I'll graduate with no effort at all."

"Naruto," Iruka spoke in a patient tone, "you can't even do a single Bunshin. How do you want to graduate?"

"Heh, just you watch," the boy grinned, "I'll graduate this year for sure, believe it!"

"I'd believe it if you put as much effort to your studies as you do to your pranks," the teacher chastised him.

"But that stuff is boring," he pouted.

Iruka just sighed exasperatedly and dragged his unruly charge to the classroom.

Naruto wasn't boasting. He really could graduate if he wanted. Even though the simple Bunshin was still giving him trouble, he could do the Mizu Bunshin almost with no effort, as long as there was a water source nearby. The problem was he couldn't explain where he learned it. If most people in Konoha treated him like plague now, he didn't know what they would do if he confessed he could talk to dead people. That was his ability, he could see people's souls, both alive and dead. He figured he gained it when the Kyuubi no Kitsune was sealed into him, whether thanks to the demon itself or the touch of the Death God, he wasn't sure. It wasn't like he could ask. He wasn't supposed to know about the sealing, but there were too many souls lurking around speaking about it.

It wasn't easy to find a spirit that would talk to him. The ghosts wandering around were the souls that couldn't find rest, thanks to something from their lives weighting on their conscience, chaining them to the earth. They tended to pace aimlessly, muttering about whatever was bothering them. Only a few retained their minds and were able to hold a conversation with him. Some of them called him names, seeing him as the demon, but he didn't hold it against them. He could see the sheer terror they went through reflected in their aura. If attacking him verbally helped them find their rest, they were welcomed to do so. He just hated when they touched him. It was so cold and it sent icy shivers through his body, like the sun stopped shining for a moment. That was also the reason he wore orange and pranked people so much. He had to assure himself he was still alive and not one of the colorless cold apparitions idling around.

When he met a ghost of shinobi willing to talk to him, he considered it a huge success. Some of them talked about the missions they undertook and sometimes died on, but some even showed him some of their tricks. Naruto tried his best to remember and recreate them. It made the bulk of his ninja knowledge. He had a lot of holes in his basic education, but he knew some of the advanced stuff.

Naruto was sitting at his desk in the Academy classroom, utterly bored as Iruka-sensei droned about the history of Konoha.

"Naruto!" Iruka's voice hit him just as he was about to drift off. "Can you tell me what was the special ability of the Shodai Hokage?"

Naruto had met the Shodai's ghost two years ago near the Hokage tower. The founder of Konoha was really interesting to spend time with and Naruto could boast knowing more about him than almost anyone else in the Leaf village. But he couldn't tell.

"Uh, wasn't it something with trees?" He scratched his head nervously.

"That's not enough, Naruto," Iruka said exasperatedly.

"Aw, come on, why do we even need to know such details?"

"That's important knowledge, you baka," Sakura shouted hitting him on the head.

"What was that for, Sakura-chan?" He rubbed his head and made puppy eyes on her.

Naruto liked Sakura. For ordinary people it was impossible to understand why. She obviously disliked him and kept hitting him on the head for the smallest offense. Random observers couldn't understand how he can be so thick not to notice she hated him and was hopelessly in love with Uchiha Sasuke. The truth was Naruto realized it very well. She just made him feel alive with her punches. Every time he felt like he was drifting into the realm of ghosts, he would annoy her and her fist would ground him back into the world of living. He decided he would graduate this year just for her. He hoped he would get her on his team.

"For being a baka!"

"Stop it, you two," Iruka yelled. "We're in the middle of the class." The lesson resumed.

The day of the graduation finally came. Naruto was anxious. Not that he might fail, but that he might pass. If anybody found out about that, they would be befuddled. Naruto always shouted he wanted to be the Hokage, and usually meant it, so why wouldn't he want to graduate? It would be easier to understand if they knew how many dead shinobi he spoke with. It quickly stripped him of all delusions of glory in the shinobi life. He had almost as good understanding of the perils and misery of ninja career as seasoned war veterans. Although he considered himself fairly good ninja for his age and he was right, he knew there were many better who wouldn't care he was just a kid and would kill him with pleasure. He wanted to get good before going out there. That was why he spectacularly botched his options at earlier graduation, but he couldn't afford to delay graduation any further. His yearmates would be graduating today and he needed to be among them if he didn't want to look like an even bigger loser than he already did.

The morning of the tests came and Naruto did his best. The written test gave him trouble, reading wasn't his strongest skill. Thrown weapons test was better, but he got the worst set of kunai and shuriken the instructors could procure. It was difficult to hit anything with that, but he managed a passing grade. Taijutsu practice wasn't much better. He knew the theory, but he didn't have anyone to spar with outside the lessons. Then came the ninjutsu test. And of course it had to be Bunshin.

Naruto watched as the instructors called one pupil after another to a separate room. After a while they returned with a brand new hitai-ate.

"Uchiha Sasuke," Iruka called. The brooding boy got up and sauntered to the door accompanied by multiple "ooohs" and "aaahs" of his fangirls. Naruto pitied him. The ghosts of his murdered family followed him everywhere. He used to try to help him, but The Last Uchiha was crystal clear on the fact that he would rather die than accept help from the class dobe.

Sasuke passed the test and returned with a massive applause from his fanclub. Now it was Naruto's turn. He covertly uncorked the water bottle hidden in his utility pouch before walking to the examination room.

"Well Naruto," Iruka said, "All you need to do is create two perfect Bunshin."

"Just you watch," Naruto grinned. "Bunshin no Jutsu!" A large cloud of smoke appeared. Naruto used it to hide his movements and silently created two Water Clones from the supply he brought along. It was a tricky business, because the amount of water was limited, but he had practiced it and proved that with enough control it is doable. He just had to spread the water along the surface of the clones and make them hollow. Unfortunately chakra control was one area he struggled with.

The cloud cleared and Naruto anxiously glanced at his handiwork. To his left stood a perfect copy of himself, grinning. To his right – the clone ran out of water. It's head was missing. No, thought Naruto, frantically willing the clone to form fully.

"I'm sorry, Naruto," Iruka said, "you failed to make two perfect Bunshin. I cannot let you pass."

"No!" Naruto shouted. His clones dissolved into puddles.

"What is it," Iruka asked startled. His assistant Mizuki looked interested.

"Mizu Bunshin," Naruto admitted. There was no reason to lie, the two chuunin should be able to recognize the jutsu of their own.

"How do you know it," Iruka demanded.

"I saw somebody doing it," he answered. It wasn't entirely a lie.

"And you learned it just like that?" Iruka was dubious.

"Yes," Naruto nodded.

"I think we should let him pass," Mizuki proposed. "He made one perfect clone."

"He was supposed to make two," Iruka objected.

"I ran out of water," Naruto explained. "If I had more, I could make an army of Mizu Bunshin."

"There won't be always a supply of water at hand, Naruto," Iruka said. "I'm sorry but I can't let you pass, that is unless you can make two perfect Bunshin, and this time the regular kind, no fancy Water jutsu."

"Okay," Naruto said subdued. He still had chance. He concentrated and tried to create the basic Bunshin. Control, he thought. Use just the precise amount of chakra and you'll make it. The cloud of chakra dispersed, revealing two sickly pale and deformed apparitions keeled over on the ground. Naruto grimaced. He had made better attempts before.

"I'm sorry, Naruto, but I cannot let you pass," Iruka said grimly.

"Isn't it harsh," Mizuki asked. Naruto didn't understand why was the silver-haired instructor trying to help him. He had never cared for him before. Probably doesn't want to deal with me anymore, he decided.

"No, and this is final. If he can't make perfect Bunshin anytime, that he'd just be a hindrance to his teammates and can get them all killed."

Naruto was sitting on the swing in the Academy yard. He watched the happy graduates and their proud parents celebrating today's success. Fools, he thought. They had no idea what they were getting themselves into. He reckoned most of them would be dead soon, especially Sasuke's fanclub. Lot of dead fresh genin gathered around to haunt their teachers for failing to prepare them properly. The Academy graduation test was wrong and narrow-minded in his opinion, when it failed him and let airheads like them pass. They should do something else, like give them a simulated mission and grade how effectively they could complete it. He could then show off a lot of skills the current test didn't even touch upon.

"Hello, Naruto."

"Hello, Mizuki-sensei." The boy slowly turned to the newcomer.

"Iruka doesn't mean to be harsh," the teacher said, "you must understand." Naruto understood. He could see Iruka's love to his students and his pain over the loss of his parents. Talking to ghosts made him surprisingly well informed. He just couldn't speak of any of this. "He wants you to be prepared the best before you go out to the fields. It's dangerous out there." No kidding, Naruto thought but said nothing. "But I see you are a talented boy who really deserved to graduate this year. This is why I'll tell you what Iruka hid from you. There is another way to graduate."

Naruto perked up. Not that he wanted to become genin so badly, but because something stunk about this situation. Mizuki never liked him, so why was he suddenly being so nice? Naruto could see the dark tones in his soul. The silver-haired instructor wasn't a good person, he was almost certain. But he said nothing and listened.

It was already night when Naruto was stealthily making his way towards the Hokage tower. It was supposed to be the best guarded building in whole Konoha, but when somebody had talked with the spirit of the architect, it was possible to find a safe way in. It wasn't easy by any means, but Naruto was a crafty young ninja and knew a few tricks to fool intruder detecting seals, thanks to another ghost who shared his knowledge with him.

The window of Hokage's office wasn't closed. Naruto sneaked through the gap. He dropped to the floor and released the transformation making him appear like an animal. This was another of his secrets. He could really change his shape, not just appearance, but when he transformed into something of different size, it was very draining on his chakra.

He took a look around. Where was what he came looking for?

A side door opened and the Sandaime appeared there.

"What are you doing here, Naruto?"

Naruto was sitting on the grass near the shack Mizuki told him to wait. He was studying the Forbidden Scroll. The first jutsu was a godsend. The Kage Bunshin was exactly what he needed. He carefully studied the description and then started practicing.

A few hours later he leaned against the wall with a satisfied smile. He had made it. He was tired, but he was happy. Nothing stood in the way of his graduation now. He waited for Mizuki to appear. Iruka came instead.

"What are you doing, Naruto," the chuunin-instructor asked desperately. Oh no, thought the boy, this wasn't supposed to happen. What now?

"Iruka-sensei," he flashed him his patented wide grin. When in doubt, play dumb. That strategy usually paid off. "Look, I already learned the jutsu! Can I graduate now?"

"Naruto, who told you that," Iruka demanded.

"Mizuki-sensei did. He told me if I learn one jutsu from this scroll, I'll graduate."

That was when Mizuki finally showed up. Naruto saw him in time, but Iruka first noticed him only when the kunai flew out of the tree. Naruto jumped out of the way. Iruka had no idea his student possessed such good reflexes and tried to protect him. He ended up hit instead, but his flak vest took most of the damage.

"Iruka-sensei," Naruto shouted in alarm. He didn't want anything to happen to the teacher because of him.

Mizuki jumped out of the tree. "Give me the scroll, Naruto!"

"Mizuki-sensei?" The boy put on his best confused expression. "What's going on?"

"Naruto don't!" Iruka shouted. "Whatever happens, don't give him the scroll! It contains dangerous forbidden jutsu! He mustn't get his hands on it!"

"Naruto, there's no point in you having it," Mizuki smiled, "so be a good boy and give it to me."

"No. I haven't finished studying it yet. I can become an even more awesome ninja with this and then everybody would love me!"

"Naruto," Mizuki smiled darkly, "they aren't going to love you no matter what you do. Do you want to know why? I'll tell you."

"Don't!" Iruka shouted, but Mizuki ignored him.

"Twelve years ago, the Kyuubi no Kitsune attacked this village. They told you that the Fourth Hokage killed it, but that is not true."

"No?" Naruto looked befuddled.

"That day a special rule was created. A rule everybody but you knew." That wasn't true, Naruto knew it as well, one man executed for violating it told him. "The rule was never meant to be told to you."

"What's the rule? Tell me already," Naruto demanded.

"No!" Iruka yelled. Mizuki chuckled evilly.

"The rule is, that nobody was allowed to tell you that the Kyuubi wasn't in fact destroyed. You are the Kyuubi!"

"And you are an idiot."

"What?" Whatever response the traitorous chuunin was expecting, that wasn't it. He didn't get the chance to ponder about it long. Two Anbu appeared out of nowhere, restraining him. Mizuki was startled, but regained his composure quickly. He gathered his strength and managed to free one of his arms. A kunai appeared in his hand and he hurled it at Naruto with all his might before one of the Anbu hit him on the head, knocking him out.

Naruto saw the weapon sailing towards him, but he had momentarily let his guard down and wasn't quick enough to get out of its way. Stupid, he thought. Like he never heard all the tales of what got various shinobi killed. Iruka saw it as well, but couldn't get to his student in time. The kunai hit Naruto below the ribs. Iruka watched in horror as the boy toppled backwards.

"No!" He shouted. Then Naruto exploded in a puff of smoke. "What?" Iruka blinked in surprise.

"That was a Shadow Clone, Iruka-sensei," Naruto's voice explained from behind. Iruka turned to see the blond coming out of the shack. Iruka was confused.

"This was a trap," he asked.

"Yes," Naruto confirmed.

"Good job, Uzumaki" said one of the Anbu. His partner had disappeared, carrying the unconscious Mizuki on his back. "Now let's return the scroll."

"Of course." Naruto picked up the scroll and headed to the Hokage tower. Iruka tagged along.

"So let me get this straight, Naruto," Iruka said over a bowl of ramen. "Mizuki told you he'd let you graduate if you take the Forbidden Scroll, but you didn't believe him." Naruto nodded between slurps. He was finishing his second bowl. "So you sneaked in to the Hokage tower to tell the Sandaime about it." Naruto again nodded. "He then decided that you'd lay a trap for Mizuki and allowed you to take out the Scroll and learn one jutsu."

"Yes." Naruto finished his bowl and Ayame hadn't brought him another yet.

"You then waited for Mizuki on the spot he told you to wait and studied the Scroll, while two Anbu watched you didn't try anything the Hokage didn't allow." Naruto nodded, once again slurping the noodles happily. "You mastered an A-rank kinjutsu within a couple of hours and then replaced yourself with a clone while the real you hid." Another nod. "That is when I came. Oh, and the Hokage promised you he'd make you genin if you can complete the mission successfully. Did I miss anything?"

"Nothing important."

"You did well, Naruto," Iruka complimented him. "I only don't understand why you never do that well in class."

"Are you sure you want to know the answer?" Naruto's tone was somber. It went completely against the image Iruka had of him. He suddenly felt like he was looking at a stranger.

"Can I have another bowl," the boy asked in his usual boisterous tone and the odd moment was gone. Iruka shook his head. He must have been imagining things. He didn't ask the question again.

A.N.: Liked it? Hated it? Let me know.