Disclaimer: I don't own anything in Naruto.

AN: So far, I doubt there will be any pairings in this story...but well, we'll see how it goes. I aim to explore a very different Naruto - one who has been tempered by countless years. Essentially, a cool, calm and collected all-round BAMF. Enjoy and please leave feedback.

Loud and obnoxious laughter rang clear through the early morning skies of Konohagakure no Sato quickly followed by shouted expletives and roars of rage. Ten year old Uzumaki Naruto had just succeeded in doling out retribution worthy of the mythical kitsunes to a number of shop keepers who had unfairly overcharged the blonde child for certain items. The group of chunins in hot pursuit were the unlucky few who were on duty the morning that Naruto's pranks occurred. Running through their minds was the thought of just how a kid capable of such ingenuity could be an academy dead last. The chunin in the lead quickly refocused on the orange wearing child only to realise that he was in fact gaining on him. In his anticipation of an end to the chase he neglected to take into account the fact that for the past hour, Naruto had maintained a steady lead in this game of cat and mouse. A more experienced ninja would have suspected a trap and rightly so.

As Naruto neared the edge of the roof he was on his sharp hearing confirmed what his too sensitive nose – far more sensitive than loud mouth Kiba's and that just doesn't make sense – had already told him. So, a quick vulpine grin flitted across his face just as the chunin directly on his tail reached out to grab him only to witness Naruto dive from the roof they were on, curl his body into a ball and sail smoothly through a conveniently open window and fluidly unroll into an uninterrupted run. The chunin cursed because he was too close to the blonde to follow and absently mused that he had been well played. The ninja immediately following the hoodwinked chunin was however quick to follow Naruto. Executing the same manoeuvre, he prepared to shift his roll smoothly into a run only to crash against a solid object. Before the unfortunate chunin could recover from the damage, his comrade who had already jumped after him in a similar motion crashed into him as he rebounded and together they fell into an open dumpster that sprung shut with a click. Naruto's laughter let the remaining chunin know that that was no unfortunate accident.

Continuing in his run, Naruto thought about the genius of painting around the small window – so small his malnourished stunted frame could just fit through – to give the illusion that it was big enough for a full grown man to fit through. He quickly left the building knowing that the chunin would have realised where he would pop out of and would resume the chase. However, his little window trick had bought him the few seconds he knew he would need for what he was about to do.

When he had planned this prank out – see, Iruka-sensei, I can think so ahead – he had ensured that various escape routes would be open to him, and even allowed for the possibility of the ninja chasing him managing to anticipate some of those routes. True to his prediction he glanced up to find several shapes flitting in and out of the edge of his vision, lying in wait for him if he took certain paths in his bid to escape. A quick mental calculation revealed that of his seven escape routes, only two remained uncompromised.

In one world, Uzumaki Naruto would have chosen the left path, eventually run into Iruka and life would continue as we know it. He chose right, and the story of Uzumaki Naruto ended ten hours later, while the story of Namikaze Uzumaki Naruto began.

Sarutobi Hiruzen was having a bad day. He got out of bed with more aches in his old bones than he went to bed with. He had walked into his dining room to find his son eating. Well, that was before said son noticed him and chose to leave rather than finish his food and thus end up speaking to him. To top it all off, no matter what his ninja might say, he suffered the backlash of whatever mischief Naruto got up to more than any other – delivered in the doubling and sometime tripling of his paperwork. So that morning was not a good one for him and to make it worse, his door opened to admit an old man with bandages covering a majority of his body, including one of his eyes; when the Yami no Shinobi came calling, it could mean nothing good.

"What do you want, Danzo? As you can see, I am very busy this morning," Sarutobi bit out.

"We both know that your extra workload is as a result of your softness," was the reply.

Sighing in weary exasperation the hokage replied, "When will you drop this argument Danzo? I have made my views on this matter clear!"

As always happened in the past during such arguments, Danzo was getting agitated, "You allow that child to waste his potential! You and I know just what that child could become if only…"

Rising from his chair, Sarutobi thundered, "Enough! Listen to yourself…you call him a child in one breadth and turn around to propose him becoming a weapon!"

The frustration of his morning had finally come to a head. Danzo stopped for a moment and took a good look at his former teammate. He realised that years of seeing Hiruzen behind a desk had lulled him into a false sense of complacency when it came to his teammate. Internally, he decided to scrap the present form of offense and switch tactics.

"Very well, however, you allow him to be treated as he is and without the proper guidance he might give into the beast sealed into him and turn against us all! No one knows just how containing the Kyuubi will affect the child's mental state. You will see Konoha burn because of some misplaced sentiment."

"Proper guidance?! You mean torture disguised as training for the sole purpose of creating a weapon in the shell and guise of a child."

"If that is what it takes." Danzo stoically replied.

Sarutobi was not normally one to be deterred. But when the sandaime looked into Danzo's eyes he knew that none of his words were getting through and curse him but he just wanted Danzo gone. So he sighed and settled back into his chair. A flicker of surprise crossed Danzo's face at Sarutobi's actions. As the aged hokage lit his pipe, he decided on a course of action – anything to get this annoyance over and done with. His impatience would change the future of the elemental nations and cause no small amount of anxiety to an elder toad sage.

After taking a few good puffs which served the dual purpose of calming him and aggravating his teammate – though he hid it well – he spoke the words that would damn a child's soul and change the fate of a nation…the fate of the world:

"I hear your concerns Danzo, really I do, but let me ask you this; why do you think I always make time for Naruto?"

Danzo stilled, his devious mind quickly forming and discarding various thoughts and reaching different conclusions. A glance at Sarutobi revealed a calm visage that gave nothing away. Were he capable of such thought he would have interpreted his teammate's question to mean that the aged hokage considered it the least he could do for the poor child. However, his scheming mind was almost unable to accommodate such expressions of human kindness. Instead, he smirked and said:

"I see. By becoming the only light in his darkness, you ensure his complete devotion to you." Turning to leave, Danzo said, "It's good to see you haven't lost it all Hiruzen."

Sarutobi sighed sadly at the various twists and turns of his former teammate's thoughts but made no move to correct him; his misled conclusions would satisfy him for a while. He turned around when he felt a chill wind and found the window open. Dismissing it from his mind, he prepared to return to his work and he allowed a moment of thought to thank Kami that Naruto would never learn of this discussion.

Crouched behind some boxes on the roof of the ninja academy, Uzumaki Naruto stared blankly ahead as his young mind tried to comprehend his world and conceptions crumbling down around his ears. He paid no heed to the tears falling from his eyes as he tried to grasp the full importance of just what he had heard; it couldn't be true right? There's no way something like a demon – demon brat! We don't serve demons here! Leave, fox brat! – would be sealed into him. No way that the hokage – what's up old man?! Hah! Ero-jiji, what was that orange book?! I'm gonna become hokage, so keep that hat for me! – would, would deceive him like that. But even as his little mind denied what he just learnt, the facts added up in a way that just couldn't be denied: The nigh unlimited stamina – outrunning chunin level ninjas for hours on end since the time he was seven; his injuries healing overnight – broken bones mending in hours and torn skin sealing back up in mere minutes; the over developed senses – when Kiba, sitting in the front row, tried to embarrass the teacher by pointing out he smelled like sex, probably having gotten some that very morning…Naruto, sitting in the back knew that it was exactly five hours before class and with a guy. Finally, there were the villagers and their hurled insults and slurs. Even Naruto with his overly optimistic view on life could not hide from the truth that he probably even subconsciously realised a while ago.

It was in a numb haze that Naruto found himself sitting in his apartment, having no recollection of ever journeying there – maybe the demon is taking me over – and he immediately had to smother a hysterical bubble of laughter that tried to erupt out of his throat. Now that he had a grasp on himself, if somewhat a shaky one, he wondered what he could do. The first thought was confronting the old man – no, the Hokage – and demanding explanations. He quickly stumped that idea out of existence not wanting anymore lies. No matter how he thought about it, there seemed no way out. Were his faith in the people around him not shaken so thoroughly he might have fled to Iruka for reassurance and comfort. Indeed, at another time, perhaps in another situation, young Naruto would have worked through the seeming betrayal clinging stubbornly to his determination to never give up and become all the more powerful for it. But now, in this place, and at this time, the young lad was just a little too broken, just a little to beat down by the harshness of his life that he couldn't go it alone.

Naruto came out of his thoughts to find himself holding a worn and discarded ninjato that he salvaged from some damaged training ground during one of the times he played ninja by himself. He contemplated and discarded the thought of suicide – not because he was too strong to stoop so low, but because he believed that he could not harm himself fast enough to overcome the freaky – demonic – rate of healing he apparently had. At least, that was how he felt until a memory from long ago flashed before his eyes, of when he had a kunai go through his palm during one of his self-training mishaps. He remembered morbidly watching as his wound tried to heal around the object in his path and failed. Casting another glance at the ninjato he burst into motion, never giving himself time to reconsider. Somewhere, maybe not in this life, he believed he could find the acceptance he needed, and even he recognised the futility of pushing at a mountain.

He considered the various lectures given in the academy about fatal points on the human body; the heart it was then. He gripped the handle of the weapon, placed the tip under his beating heart, and with a rare content smile on his face he fell forward. A quicksilver flash of pain gave him second thoughts before it dulled and he felt his little heart valiantly fighting to keep up its symphony of life…and failing. That was when he felt it, a surge of burning – red, demonic – chakra searing through his body to his heart and trying to heal the damage done. At this point Naruto was barely conscious enough to feel the chakra fight to heal him with the blade in the way. Finally about to fade away, he gave a moment to think of the family he never knew and pray that he meets them in the next life. With that last thought, he closed his eyes and gave into the blackness.

The Kyuubi was startled awake for the first time in a decade to find his host's body failing around him and the mental landscape crumbling. He had a split second to react…and he made the wrong call. A seasoned Shinobi would have pushed the panic and acted. The Kyuubi for all that he had existed for centuries never had to learn that brute force did not solve everything. So, he sent a surge of concentrated youki to the injury and watched in glee as it burnt away the obstruction preventing his host from getting healed. His glee turned to horror as he realised that Naruto's young body could not handle the potency of his youki yet and he watched helplessly as the very organ he tried to heal corroded due to the toxicity of his youki. The mental landscape around him began to vanish as his host finally left the cruel world.

Seconds earlier…

At the first surge of pure unadulterated malevolence the sandaime hokage was out of his seat quick as a shot. Even as his conscious mind denied what his decades old senses had confirmed, his body was already aligning with the window behind his desk, muscles flexing in preparation, chakra pooling in the required areas and at the second surge of nigh physical hatred he was off faster than any eye could track. It took the Anbu stationed in his office precious seconds to understand what their hair standing on end meant before they were in quick pursuit.

With speed worthy of the Professor himself, Sarutobi appeared in Naruto's apartment in a storm of chakra and a mind already plotting ways to drag the upcoming battle out of range of the village with as little collateral damage as possible. The raging tsunami of chakra and sheer focus flickered and was snuffed out of existence. The Anbu Dog who was the first of his group to arrive – left eye red and spinning furiously in its socket – stumbled as he came out of his shunshin his sharingan ensuring that the sight before him would hunt his nightmares until the day he died.

The Professor who had arrived like a force of nature was nowhere to be seen. In its place an aged man stood, staring at one of his life's many failures that although in no way the worst, one that he will always regret. Slowly, knowing that he was already too late – ten years too late – he moved over to the corpse of his grandson in all but blood. The entire Anbu squad had arrived by this point and the silence that permeated the room was reminiscent of when the body of the Yondaime was brought back that day, a decade ago.

Softly, gently, like a mountain being worn down by time, an aged oak tree bowing before the unyielding storm, he fell to his knees at Naruto's side. With hands so steady they shook he reached out and drew the body closer. He was not aware he had tears in his eyes and as he saw a few drops of liquid slide down the boy's cheeks he absently wondered if the pipes were leaking again – perhaps I should get someone to refurbish the entire building someday. Gripping the handle of the ninjato, he pulled it out, hating the blood that stained the blade – much too soon; still a child and already has his blood on a blade. He discarded the thief that stole this child from him and bowed his head over the rapidly cooling body and finally allowed himself to acknowledge that he will never hear the voice of Konoha's precious sun – son – and saviour.

Namikaze Uzumaki Naruto watched as once again, life proved too much for an Uzumaki Naruto. He wouldn't blame the child though; he could never judge him for buckling under a weight that should never have been his to bear. Once again, he stood on an illusionary knife edge, knowing he was deluding himself into thinking that there existed a choice to be made at all. Move on and leave this world to make do without the child of prophecy – for as long as it existed anyway – or do as he has always done, as he would always do and step forward to take his place. Meh, he thought with a faint smile, I was due a vacation anyway. And with that last thought, Namikaze Uzumaki Naruto descended into the corpse held in the arms of a sorrowful and broken old man.

The Kyuubi raged as he felt his host's soul finally leave his body. He knew that he clung to his anger as a dying man might cling to a straw in a turbulent see of terror and soul searing fear. Then he felt it: the cold arms of nullity, the pure antithesis to reality and existence, the final full stop in every story that has ever begun – the call of the Shinigami…Death. When Namikaze Minato dared to shackle a god to foolish mortal whims he could never grasp just what it was he had done – just what unnatural deed he had wrought. The Shinigami reached through the seal like it never existed and pulled…and the Kyuubi knew pain.

It was a testament to the sheer genius of the Yondaime hokage that the death god met some resistance, tiny and unnoticeable as it was to it. Well, everything is a matter of perspective anyway. While the death god merely desired the soul of the Kyuubi – desired it with a hunger to devour all of creation – it had no interest in the actual accumulated power of the Kyuubi. The seal placed on Naruto fought the extraction as best it could and the result was the consciousness of the Kyuubi being removed ahead of its power – its youki. Doubtless, the power would have followed the soul eventually, that is, unless Namikaze Uzumaki Naruto had a thing to say about it.

Through the pain of having his soul and consciousness separated from his power, the Kyuubi felt a wall slam down between the two parts, cutting off his power. With a howl at the added pain the Kyuubi was finally devoured whole and the death god left, the only proof of its presence being the sheer lack of vitality in the world – almost as though someone had washed out all the colours in the world, leaving them dulled.

The ninja in the room felt as though they had just rubbed shoulders with the grim reaper himself. Kakashi had already began spiralling into a pit of self-disgust and regret as he saw the sandaime cradling Naruto's body

Minato-sensei wake-up! Please wake-up! Obito! No! Kakashi, it's Rin…she's gone.

He wondered why he even bothered as his plans to retire from Anbu in time to take on a genin team went up flames. The other ninja each remembered times when they interacted with the little child. True, more often than not, it was to catch him after some act of mischief but not one of them could deny the good natured fun and cheer he injected into everything. And so as they looked on as their leader mourned, they each offered up silent prayers, much like they would do for fallen comrades.

Sarutobi pulled himself together and prepared to rise with the body. He stopped, the ninja around him going on alert as well. He wondered what had triggered his senses. For a moment he pondered if the person who did this was still around – firmly refusing to acknowledge what the lack of forced entry, struggle and the peaceful smile on Naruto's face meant – and how long he could keep them alive for while they suffered his fury. And then he felt it again, a pulse of chakra. The ninja around him shifted in alarm, preparing themselves for anything…well, almost anything. Jaws dropped, eyes widened and bodies flinched in shock as the body in the arms of the hokage arched up, took in a deep breath and let loose a scream that penetrated to the bone, nay the very soul. Abandon hope all ye who enter here…Namikaze Uzumaki Naruto has arrived.

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