A/N: This is not a time travelling fic (sorry guys- those are a special kind of awesome, but I have an even better idea now), though most of the concepts from my previous draft/story are still in here somewhere, obviously. The chapters will be epic length, and will cover most of the characters, the main focus of course being Naruto and the Kyuubi. There's going to be plenty of humour, action, drama, angst, friendship, and when it's appropriate, romance. I won't settle on any pairings too early on – you'll have be patient and squint a bit, but they'll be there, with plenty of squee-worthy moments.
This first scroll/chapter is called Kyuubi's Deal in honour of the first story. But this story will have a different take on what that deal is, a (hopefully?) more realistic take.
I am a full time university engineering student. As you can imagine, I don't write very well and don't have a lot of time to write very well. This is going to be an exercise in patience for me as well as you. Anybody good at editing? Email me. I can always use two/three/one beta editors. Actually. I really need you guys. Pleaase?
I don't respond to reviews usually, unless I feel I have something in particular to say. But I love you all, reviews are like really good sex and really good chocolate. Lolface.
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It was the beginning of fall, but the late summer breeze blew in between the crackly, drying leaves, warming the village. Nara Shikamaru let out a deep breath as his arms stretched out above him along the soft green grass. There was nothing like watching the clouds roll by on a sunny day. Even if he was seven years old, he knew how precious moments like these were.
His father was a shinobi, at the mercy of the whims of the Sandaime, always out on missions. His mother became even bossier when his dad was gone, and until he returned Shikamaru tended to avoid antagonizing her. His father often returned bloody and battered, willing to let his wife walk all over him. His parents feared the day when she would have nothing to fret over, when he wouldn't be able to come home.
Out of sight from his wailing mother, away from the chores his father half-heartedly pushed on him, Shikamaru was completely alone here. The soft hills loomed over the edge of the village, not too far from the training grounds where the genin teams practiced. With just him and the clouds to pass the time, the dark haired boy muttered contentedly, gazing upwards. The wind blew over the hill, rushing through the blades of grass and the few fallen leaves.
On Shikamaru's more exhausting days, the child dreamed of being a cloud. Shapeless thanks to the wind. Being the cloud was the perfect life. There wasn't much to do when one is a cloud.
Today was different than all the other perfect, sunny, cloud days that had filled his young life. Today was a last day. The melancholy weighed in the back of his mind, causing a tightness around his heart. It made him slightly anxious, not that it showed much on his passive brow.
Tomorrow would be his first day at Konoha's Ninja Academy. What a drag, thought Shikamaru darkly.
Tomorrow started the infinite cycle of training, studying, reading, lectures and homework. Until he was too old to move, Nara Shikamaru wouldn't ever again have a day like today, worry-free, beautiful and slightly perfect. Nothing perfect lasts, it's always too good to be true, and the jaded seven year old knew this.
It still didn't make this moment any easier to bear. A strange lump in his throat formed, and Shikamaru vaguely wondered if he was going to cry over this.
With a shudder, Shikamaru closed his eyes, picturing him trying to socialize over the next few days. Even a seven year old like him knew just how awkward that was going to be trying to have a decent, relaxing time around a bunch of hyper, somewhat violent children that had barely just passed through their toddler phase. Not to mention the few seven year old girls that were inevitably going to be there.
Shikamaru frowned. Girls.
Tomorrow was going to be a special kind of troublesome, Shikamaru decided. With a sigh, opening his eyes again.
There would probably be clouds in the sky tomorrow. Right above him, there was one that looked suspiciously like a rabbit, he decided. The wind shifted audibly in the trees at the base of the hill, and the cloud changed into a fox.
Taking a deep breath, Shikamaru pressed his weight on his arms and propped himself up. He looked over the nearby houses. Scanning the area above Konoha's rooftops, his dark eyes reached the faces of the four Hokages carved into the cliff side. His father, though a lazy and rather angsty Nara man, spoke highly of these men and of his duty, his promise towards the village. Honour was a word he did not use lightly.
Hmmm. Duty. Shikamaru considered the weight of what his future would be. Knowing the odds, he might not even survive to making it to where his father is today. He could very well die. And he would probably see a lot of death as well. Being a seven year old unlike most other seven year olds, this bothered Shikamaru greatly.
Duty and responsibility. The Nara boy frowned.
With a huff, he fell back on the grass, and kept his eyes on the clouds, well into the rest of the afternoon.
Some days being Sandaime Hokage was an uplifting job. For instance, when peace treaties and negotiations were finalized; when an ANBU reported a tremendous success for the village; when he was asked to attend fund raisers to help promote Konoha's non-military economy; when he received visits from his grandson, still but a tiny child, who would gleefully reach fo r his triangular Hokage hat, drool dribbling down his chin.
Those days were the days he would remember when he looked back on his surprisingly long life. Those days were far and few between.
Most days were long and dreary. Buried to his neck in paperwork, the Hokage worked long hours, overseeing every aspect of Konoha's military and non military infrastructure. Residing over the council, he had to make sure the civilian politicians and representatives were up to date and knowledgeable on the latest political and military decisions. Sandaime sent out hundreds of messages and codes to his ANBU and jounin personally and received intel from his spies, working in this very village (which dismayed him to no end) all the way to the outer fringes of the Eastern world.
Most days, he barely had time to glimpse outside at the sunlight, to take in his view of Konoha. Its people, its streets, and the bustle and liveliness filtered in like a vague buzz through his office shutters during daylight. At night, there was the wind moving dust, the occasional steps of a patrolling ninja, or a cat calling out to the dark sky.
Now the late sun was filtering into his smoky office space. The light tinted the room orange; long shadows drawn over the stacks of papers and scrolls that littered his desk. His pipe hung out of his mouth, the strands of tobacco used up and the embers dying out slowly.
Most days, however, were not like this.
His hands held open the scroll that had been sent in by his assistant after dinner and his meeting with the village council. It was the enrolment list of the Konoha Ninja Academy. Normally, the Hokage didn't even take a look at this list, unless his assistant or the Academy's directors had some sort of concern over a student being accepted.
Near the bottom of the list, in messy black ink, was the name 'Uzumaki Naruto'.
Aaaah Naruto. Causing trouble even when you don't mean to.
He sighed, signing the scroll. He'd been the one to enrol Uzumaki Naruto into the Academy. It would do the boy well to have something on his mind - something to do away from the orphanage he lived in. Hopefully it might help abate some of his more provoking pranks, as well.
Looking out his window for a while, eyes staring at the dusk particles dancing in the orange light, Sandaime Hokage let out a long, tired sigh.
How things have changed, he thought morosely. How could these people - the brave people of Konoha - have turned their backs on a child? He'd given many details the night he'd passed his highest law. He'd explained the intricate nature of the seal guarding the village and the world from Kyuubi. The villagers nonetheless turned their fear into hatred- against a poor boy who had no idea of a crime he'd never committed.
All this thought about Naruto reminded the old man: soon he was going to have to go apartment hunting for the young boy. He obviously couldn't trust his assistant with this seemingly simple task, but perhaps he could persuade Kakashi…
Sandaime passed a hand over his face. Then opened a drawer and fished for some more tobacco for his pipe.
He still had piles of papers to sift through. The daylight was fading, but he wouldn't be able to rest until well into the night.
Oh, Minato. The old man thought bitterly. You were robbed of so much. And they belittle your sacrifice with hatred and pettiness.
Lighting the oil lamp sitting on the corner of his desk, he placed the list of Academy students over another pile and drew out a scroll that had been sealed. His right hand proceeded to complete a quick and simple jutsu, and the seal snapped with a fizz.
A message from Itachi… the Sandaime thought darkly. This doesn't bode well at all.
Uzumaki Naruto stared at himself in the mirror of the orphanages communal showers. All the boys between ages four and seven shared the showers on this floor.
His round face looked a little deformed in the cracked, dirty mirror. A towel wrapped around his waist, he inspected his face, making weird expressions into the mirror. His hair was slightly less spiky than usual, a dark blonde due to being wet from the shower. His bright blue eyes were circled with deep bruises, giving him a slightly sleepy look. He hadn't slept well at all last night. There'd been that fight with Kuro-teme in the kitchens while they'd both been on mop duty after dinner, and then he'd had the strangest dreams. He'd woken up a few hours early and gone outside through the window (every kid in the orphanage, aspiring ninja or not, knew how to escape the old building).
His fingers pulled on the skin of his cheeks, pulling his face into grotesque expressions. "ArrrrrrrgaaaaaaaLLOoooooompa." The child said in a long exhale.
He let go of his face momentarily, and his fingers traced over his round cheeks. It felt like faded tattoos underneath his rough fingertips, his "whiskers". He couldn't remember when he didn't have these, three lines on each side of his face.
The boy shook his head.
"Com'on Naruto. Pull yourself together, man." He frowned, eyes heavily lidded at the mirror.
Today was a special day, Naruto could feel it.
"Eh. I don't look any different."
Today was probably going to be the best day of his life. He was going to go to the Konoha Ninja Academy and start training to become the most powerful ninja Konoha had ever seen!
Giving himself two thumbs up and a big fat grin, he cheered. "You just wait. Just wait. Today's going to be awesome!!!"
Deciding that he looked clean enough, he went to one of the changing stalls and threw on his clothing hurriedly. His black t-shirt was one of his newer ones, but his green shorts he'd had since forever. Leaving the bathroom, he looked around the hallway for his brand new blue sandals, a puzzled look on his face. He better find them quickly, or else he was going to be late for class!
Eventually finding his sandals underneath a pile of old sneakers, Naruto put on his footwear excitedly. With a yell of encouragement that echoed into the empty hallways, he took off at top speed for the Academy.
Naruto had just slid open the classroom door, his face holding a half-sheepish, half-anxious expression hidden under a nervous grin.
The man who had spoken was a chuunin with shoulder length black hair tied in a small ponytail, his forehead protector attached firmly with a blue bandana around his forehead.
The classroom had large windows along the outside wall. Several rows of desks and benches occupied by the rest of the new Academy students were aligned in even rows. Every pair of eyes in the classroom were on him. At the head of the class were the two chuunin-level Academy instructors, standing there with unimpressed frowns, dressed head to toe in standard Konoha dark green military wear. The man who had spoken quickly scanned a scroll in his hands, the class attendance list. Understanding flooded the dark haired man's face. He looked at the blond boy who stood rooted on the spot, gazing into the room apprehensively.
"Uzumaki Naruto. Not a good start is it?"
The boy, who appeared miserably scrawny and short, looked up to his sensei from under his mop of spiky hair.
"Hahaha…Umm… I got lost. Sorry?" Naruto grinned hopefully. The black-haired man looked at Naruto in surprise. The boy's eyes were a crystal clear blue - the kind of sky blue that took your breath away on the first day of spring, or after days of heavy rainfall.
Nothing like what they said those eyes would be like - no trace of the fire, or the anger…He's…just a kid.
"Don't let it happen again. Sit down."
The boy scrambled into motion, racing towards one of the free seats at the back of the classroom. Barely audibly snickers rose from the other students, who were all gazing at the tardy boy curiously. The fact that Naruto was obviously flustered was not lost on any of the other students. Somebody behind him even muttered "moron" as he sat down.
"As I was saying, Naruto, my name is Iruka-sensei. I will be your chuunin instructor until you graduate from the Academy. This," Iruka pointed to the other man seated by the window, "is Mizuki-sensei. He will be overseeing some aspects of your taijutsu and chakra training."
There was an excited murmur that ran through the room. Even Naruto perked up.
Taijutsu? Chakra training?...Eh?
Several boys in front of Naruto were whispering animatedly to each other, and he edged slightly over his desk to hear them better.
"QUIET." Iruka roared.
The buzz quieted swiftly. Iruka cleared his throat, and began talking once more.
"You will show Mizuki-sensei and I respect in the classroom, is that clear?"
While the class grumbled in acknowledgment, Mizuki-sensei had to refrain himself from snickering. Iruka made everything sound so serious.
As Iruka began explaining the course and its intricacies, Mizuki-sensei kept an eye on the Uzumaki boy. The brat had been late, but that was hardly surprising. Mizuki felt a wave of disgust overcome him. Why the Hokage was letting the fox brat into the Academy was beyond him.
Tearing his eyes off Naruto's bewildered, oblivious face, the pale haired chuunin looked over the rest of the room. The more he paid attention to the mosaic of faces, the more he realized just how tiring this job was going to be.
What a bunch of rugrats. Some of these kids look like they still wear diapers. And these are the shinobi of tomorrow…
His office door opened, and the voice of his assistant filtered through. "The Hokage will see you now, shinobi-san."
A familiar voice answered. "Thanks."
The Sandaime Hokage lifted his head, left hand readjusting his hand. A kindly smile appeared on his face. "Iruka-sensei. How was the first day at the Academy? The students aren't too rowdy this year, I hope?"
Iruka the Chuunin stood before him, looking tired after having spent the day yelling after seven year old brats. He smiled nonetheless, one hand sratching the back of his scalp.
"Aa…Hokage-sama. Today was…well, quite like every other first day. With new kids, there are always some who aren't ready, and others who are much too ready. And then there's everyone else."
Sarutobi smiled, looking for his pipe that he'd just left on his desk. "Have a seat Iruka. What brings you here this evening?"
Iruka looked down in a mixture of shame and embarrassment. "Um…sir…I'm here...Well, the teachers and I have…well..." He cleared his throat, "Sir, we don't agree with your decision to allow Uzumaki Naruto to attend the Ninja Academy."
The Hokage's face darkened considerably. "I was the one who signed the boy up. Are you questionning my authority?"
"Do you speak for yourself or the others?" The Hokage questioned as an afterthought.
"Both." Admitted the chuunin truthfully. The Hokage stared at him unflinchingly.
"The boy is not Kyuubi, Iruka, just an orphan who had the unlucky fate of being born on the tenth of October." The Hokage stated bluntly. Iruka's eyes widened. "Of all people, Iruka, I thought you understood the pain of true loneliness, the burden of an orphan"
That was perhaps a low blow, the Hokage admitted to himself. The chuunin, not usually one to display too much sentiment, looked like a kicked puppy. Without further ado, the Hokage pressed on.
"For the seal to hold and be in any way effective, it had to be done on a newborn, so that the human being could survive the mass amount of youki being contained inside. Yondaime knew that performing the seal on a grown person would either kill the person…or not contain the Kyuubi's youki at all, because the youki could not be assimilated into a fully-developed person's chakra coils."
Iruka was paying rapt attention. Few people his rank and below truly knew the circumstances of the Kyuubi's legendary defeat.
The Hokage raised his pipe to his face and lit it, before continuing in a serious tone. "Yondaime knew this. He knew he could not ask an adult to give up their life for the too slight chance the seal would hold. He loved this village, Iruka, and was running out of time. He performed the seal on himself first, using his life energy to seal away the Kyuubi's physical body. His final act was transferring the youki and the demon's soul, into the boy, Naruto."
Iruka looked up, his brow furrowed pensively. "But, Hokage…wouldn't killing the body of the kyuubi be enough?"
The Hokage sighed. "Did you know that our ancestors considered the Demons such as Kyuubi natural disasters? Youki has the annoying ability to materialize itself back into this physical dimension. Oh, it can take years for all the youki to solidify into something that will not fade. It can take centuries before a Tailed Beast such as Kyuubi finds its previous form. The seal on Naruto's belly was designed to destroy the demon utterly when Naruto dies by carrying it into the afterworld with him."
"If...Naruto is carrying that soul...how...how can we be sure that he is not possessed?" iruka asked.
"The seal is designed to cage the Kyuubi and his influence far away from Naruto's subconscious or consciousness…indeed…" and here the Hokage chuckled, "Naruto could only receive bad dreams from his prisoner, but only if the Kyuubi really tried."
Iruka nodded, not really knowing what to say. He tried imagining himself as a demon host, and found that he couldn't. He was jolted from his thoughts by the Hokage who cleared his throat.
"Yodaime wished that Naruto be seen as a hero, Iruka. He will be the only person of Konoha that has truly spent every single breath protecting his village. Uzumaki Naruto deserves to be taught the way of his…the way of the ninja."
Iruka looked down again, gulping silently. He felt morose. He'd lost his parents to that monster. He'd had a tormented childhood of his own - and now he was being told that a boy he'd let himself hate had done nothing to warrant it. Iruka had turned into those other kids that had ignored him. He had become one of those adults whose eyes had simply glided over him.
"Iruka." The Hokage's commanding voice snapped the chuunin out of his reverie once more.
"If nothing else, I ask you to be fair with the boy. He's been ignored all his life. Times when I couldn't protect the boy, well... Civilians don't like listening to old ninjas rambling on about their ways. When it comes to the boy, they turn a deaf ear and a blind eye."
Iruka winced inwardly. He was going to have a hard time explaining this to the other teachers.
"As for the ninjas that have expressly disobeyed my orders to protect Naruto... I've severely punished the shinobi who have done wrong by the boy, Iruka. Don't be one of them."
They locked eyes once more, and Iruka felt the hair on the back of his neck straighten at the threat.
"I'm counting on you, Iruka. Don't fail me and don't fail Naruto."
"Yes, sir!" He rose to his feet, saluting the Sandaime.
Bowing, Iruka returned a respectful goodnight and left, his heart heavy.
Kyuubi no Kitsune had spent seven miserable years brooding, growling and pushing at the confines of his cage. He contemplated his new world, this tiny dark realm where his spirit laid, restless and angry, his freedom forever gone. From time to time whispers of the blue-eyed monster that had trapped him within this realm reached his fox-like ears. These whispers were fragments, pieces of a soul forever jeopardized from moving on into the next realm – at least until this container died a horrible, excruciating death.
He'd been duped, tricked, wronged.
Kyuubi's red chakra, his youki filtered around him in a haze of anger. He'd spent seven years trapped behind a seal he couldn't destroy and couldn't reverse. He was well-versed in most human languages and demonic arts, and still there was nothing he could do from the inside. His cage was perfect, his immense stores of youki filtering into the chakra coil system of his host, little by little. There was nothing Kyuubi could do about his host's slow gain of his youki, it was part of how the seal worked.
From behind the bars of this ethereal cage, Kyuubi contemplated the seal that was his life sentence. He'd spend hours devising plans, thinking up solutions, dreaming of the sun and the sky, of revenge and fire.
Nothing could be done. Kyuubi couldn't force his way out. Curled over himself, the giant nine tails decided to take some sort of nap, his thoughts tiring him.
"Oy. You damn fox. Turn around."
There was a deep grumble from deep within the Kyuubi's chest.
"Not now, human." Kyuubi was a little infuriated that even trapped in this timeless, perfect cage, he still couldn't brood in perfect peace.
"I had an idea. Wanted to hear your input."
The voice felt closer, and Kyuubi knew that the yellow-haired insect was probably nonchalantly leaning against the bars of his cage.
"I will not repeat myself." Grumbled the beast, rolling his eyes to himself.
There was a huff behind him, and his senses could feel the anxiety rolling off in waves from the now-deceased human's soul. Not that Kyuubi paid much heed- he would never trust another two-legged creature again. Foxes may be tricky, but they were never dishonourable.
"Kyuubi, I gotta…" there was a sigh, "There's something I want to try. If you agree, you and I could change everything. We could really make a difference."
The Lord of the Foxes resisted the urge to snort. "A difference. A difference to what? That little world you belong to? No. I will have nothing to do with you or your race. I would like to be left alone, insect."
There was a brief silence.
Then, "You've been examining the seal, haven't you?"
The fox growled. "I told you to leave. Me. Alone." The beast rose from his curled stated and rushed to the bars, red tails of youki slipping through the bars towards the human.
The Fox had met plenty of idiots before. Idiots that had stood instead of running at the sight of his blood red eyes and blood stained teeth. Stood instead of running from his influence, his killer intent, the fire-like youki that swayed with his nine tails. Kyuubi had killed plenty of these morons. But what really grated his nerves was the fact that this idiot was smiling at his fury like Kyuubi no Kitsune was really nothing more than a grumpy old lady that had to be coddled.
"Not until you hear me out."
The Kyuubi shook the bars of his cage, unfurling his power against his sturdy prison. It was nothing more than a show of his anger, but it felt better than holding a staring contest with the blue eyed insect.
"What could you possibly do more to me? You and your tribe of humans are the reason I am here. Why would I listen? Why would I listen to my jailor?"
"I never wanted to put you in here. It was the only choice." The blue eyes seemed to darken. "You should listen because I am the only one talking to you, Kyuubi. I'm the only one who can do something."
The demon growled. He yearned for his body, his claws, his freedom. He yearned for the ability to crack this puny human in half.
"The seal is good. Isn't it?" the human said wistfully.
Kyuubi did not dignify that statement with a response.
"I need your help, Kyuubi. I designed this seal, but I need to improve it. But I can't do that if I can't trust you."
"You cannot trust me." the beast snarled, his red eyes closing as he growled. "Just as I cannot trust you."
The human scoffed. "This is not about me, or you. The seal is around the belly button of a seven year old human. A child by our standards, a baby by yours."
There was no response, so the human insect kept talking, accepting the beast's silence as taciturn compliance.
"There's… there's something about the seal, which I'm sure you've noticed, but it allows for a certain amount of your youki to filter through, meddling in with the body of this child. This was done to help increase the boy's chances of survival. By adding your chakra to his system, a little more everyday, we are slowly making him more resilient."
"Yes. I had noticed." The Kyuubi remarked wryly. "I suppose the brat dying would be a terrible thing, wouldn't it."
The human bristled at these words noticeably, which the Beast found entertaining.
"For now, fox, the results are imperceptible. He'll only truly start feeling the effects by the time he's twelve years old, perhaps a little older." The man seemed pensive. "But however, I want to speed up this process. I want to open up the seal a little more. I want to let your consciousness through, as well as your youki."
The subsequent roar of laughter was frightening, to say the least.
The human waited impatiently for the cackling to subside before continuing.
"I'm serious. I want to let you through. I need your help with the boy."
"Why?" the beast snapped, obviously not amused. "What more can be done? How much further can I drop?" He reached the edge of the bars, hairs away from the human, who stood stoically in place, deep in thought.
"I'm a mere shadow, a whisper, a fragment of soul sealed here as a safeguard, a last-minute design in the architecture." The human rose his eyes to meet the demon's.
"The humans that ensnared you and caused your rage, the ones who forced you to attack the village, it was part of a larger design, Kyuubi. More wars are coming and the peace I established was fragile at best."
"It has been seven years. Why now."
"I fear for the boy. I fear that the rumours I heard before my death are true. I fear a force greater than even I could have dealt with. I did not fear you, Kyuubi, and in my life I feared no one and nothing. But that's changed now. Here in my static afterlife, there is so little I can do."
The Kyuubi remained silent, thinking of this human that had vanquished him, the Nine Tailed Beast, the most powerful and cataclysmic demon that walked the earth. Finally the creature snarled, speaking each word carefully.
"And what would stop me from possessing the boy and crushing his spirit? What would keep me from recreating my shape in the physical realm and terrorizing your precious anthill of a settlement?"
The tall human smirked. "Me."
After a moment, he continued. "I would change the seal, ever so slightly, but the cage remains. You could not get passed it. I am simply giving you a window, a purpose, a chance to meddle with things from afar."
A crooked smile spread on the human's features. "You'd literally be a shoulder demon," he muttered to himself. The Beast chose to ignore that.
"If I'm not getting my freedom or my revenge, what exactly do I get from this deal, human?"
Blue eyes bore into violent crimson pupils. For a glimmer of an instant, Kyuubi wondered if he didn't feel some sort of respect for this insect.
"What so few of us ever get, Kyuubi no Kitsune. Redemption."
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A/N: HAI GUYS. I NEED A BETA READER.