Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any of the other characters in that series.

Chapter 1

A soft night breeze sifted through the air, rustling the leaves. The moon was nearly full and the sky held few clouds to block out the light.

Naruto moved swiftly through the trees, jumping from one branch to the next. The scroll was tucked safely in his arms; now all he had to do was find a clearing where he could read it. It was hard to contain his excitement. He had done it! He had done it! Ha! It had been so easy too! He would show them now! He would be a great ninja! He was Uzimaki Naruto!

His foot snagged. Naruto barely had time to let out a startled yelp as he pitched forward. A branch appeared suddenly in front of his face. Naruto tried to twist out of the way but there wasn't enough time, and his hands, instead of shielding his face, remained wrapped around the precious scroll. It was too late anyhow. His vision exploded into stars as his forehead slammed into the branch. The gritty feel of the branch as it rubbed against his face, twigs and leaves whipping at his face as he fell, the earth rushing up to meet him: all happened in an instant that took ages. A part of his mind told him that he was screaming, but he couldn't hear it. A sickening popping noise as he took the majority of the impact on his shoulder, just before his head was slammed into the ground. Darkness.

Hearing returned first. The sound of crickets, wind rustling leaves, and twigs snapping to his right as some nameless animal moved about it's nocturnal affairs. Feeling came next. The soil between his fingers and the blades of grass caressing his face confirmed his suspicion that he wasn't in his room. Sight came slower than the pervious senses, swimming in and out of focus. Then, everything was clear. He could see. He could remember. He had failed the exam. Mitzuki-sensei had offered him another chance. Steal the scroll. Learn a jitsu. He would pass and be a genin. He would prove his worth and… The scroll!

Naruto glanced around. There it was, eight feet away. He shifted to get up. Pain lanced through his shoulder. Pain exploded in his head. His vision went out of focus again. Naruto gagged as bile rose in his throat. He lay there hissing in pain before he worked up the will to try to move again, slowly this time. The pain was distracting, but he inched onward. When he was close enough, he reached for the scroll.

A hand snatched it away. Naruto suppressed a groan as he looked up to meet Iruka-sensei's eyes. They were disappointed. Naruto felt his insides curl. He had failed. They had even given him another chance and he had still failed. He was worthless. He was useless. A dropout.

"Why have you done this?" anger with a tint of sorrow filled his sensei's voice.

"I just wanted to be a ninja. I wanted to prove that I wasn't useless. I wanted to show my worth." Naruto choked.

Iruka was confused. "So you stole the forbidden scroll? Naruto, that's not the way to prove your worth. If you do things like this, people will respect you less."

Now Naruto was confused. "Mitzuki-sensei said that if I stole the scroll and learned a jitsu from it, I could be a genin."

"Mitzuki said what? Naruto… What are you talking about?" Then it clicked. "We have to leave! Back to the village, now!"

Naruto was still confused, but slowly, he rose to his feet. His right arm hung limply at his side. Pain threatened to make him lose consciousness again. Something was definitely wrong with his arm. He opened his mouth to tell Iruka-sensei.

"Give me the scroll, Iruka. Maybe then I'll let you and the brat live."

Iruka and Naruto swung about at the voice. Mitzuki slipped out of the shadows, an oversized shiurken poised in his hand.

"Mitzuki-sensei? What's going on?" Naruto glanced from Mitzuki, to the shiurken, to Iruka, to the scroll.

Iruka confirmed his fears. "He tricked you, Naruto. The exam of stealing the scroll was a farce. He wants the scroll for himself. He has betrayed us."

Mitzuki gave no further warning. With a cry, he flung the giant throwing star at Iruka. The chunin evaded the attack, but failed to notice the smaller shiurken behind the larger one until it was too late. Two of them missed altogether, and one glanced off his forehead protector, saving him from a fatal blow, but one dug into his shoulder, and the other two struck his chest and gut. Iruka fell to his hands and knees.

With a cry of rage, Naruto dug into his equipment pouch with his left hand and produced a couple of shiurken. He flung them at Mitzuki. They flew wild and sloppy, missing their target completely. Naruto had never trained himself to throw with his offhand. Mitzuki laughed at the pitiful attempt as he started towards Naruto.

A sudden thought occurred to him, and a grin broke out across his face. "Hey, Naruto. Have you ever wondered why everyone in this village hates you? Why you grew up alone?"

Naruto froze. So there was a reason. Naruto felt sweat break out on his palms. All his life, he had both wished for and feared the answer to this question. Was it something his parents had done? Had they been traitors? Or did they hate him because of some fault of his. Naruto couldn't move. His mind was screaming at him. Run. Stay. Hide. No. Fight. Scream. Listen. Run. Run run run run run. No. Stay. Stay and know.

"It's simple, really. I might as well tell you… I suppose it's your right to know before you die." Mitzuki pulled another giant shiurken off his back.

Iruka-sensei was screaming at Mitzuki now. Something about a law and how something was forbidden. Naruto tuned him out. The truth. He wanted it. Feared it. Needed it.

"You're the Kyubbi, Naruto. The nine-tailed-fox that attacked the village all those years ago? They sealed it in your body."

Naruto took a step back. No. No, it wasn't true. He would never… He had never… This is truth. It was impossible. It was true.

"You killed the villagers families. Their sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters. They will never stop hating you. You're a monster, Naruto."

His hands were shaking now. The villagers thought he was some kind of monster. Was he? Naruto didn't know; he didn't think he was. It all made sense though. The way people wouldn't meet his eyes. The way a crowd shifted when he walked through it, leaving him constantly five feet away from human contact. The way they drew back as if burned when he accidentally brushed them. The whispers that followed him wherever he went. It defined him. They would always hate him. He would always be alone.

"You even killed Iruka's parents."

Naruto's head snapped around to look at Iruka-sensei. Images flashed through his mind. Iruka-sensei buying him lunch. Iruka-sensei pulling a bully off of him and tearing the boy a new one. Iruka-sensei with his head between his hands, feigning aggravation at Naruto's latest prank; Naruto could see the line of his mouth struggling not to turn upward. Iruka-sensei's disappointed eyes when he messed up again and again. He'd killed this man's parents?

Naruto watched as Iruka-sensei heaved himself to his feet. "You're wrong about Naruto. He's not a monster. The Third wanted people to acknowledge him for what he is… a sacrifice. A hero. Naruto bears a burden he never asked for, so that our village will never again see a day like the day my parents died. Even with the way he is treated, he still is cheerful, and tries to make people laugh. Though it is sealed within his body, Naruto and the Kyubbi are not the same."

Naruto stared at Iruka-sensei. He didn't hate him. It even… It even sort of sounded like… Iruka-sensei liked him! But Naruto killed his parents… No. No, the Kyubbi did. Iruka-sensei was right. They were not the same.

"Get behind me, Naruto." Iruka-sensei ordered.

Dutifully, Naruto shifted behind the man. Mitzuki charged, whirling his shuriken, ready to throw it.

ANBU were all around them. Moonlight glinted off their pale masks. They were silent, all thirty of them. Not a word or even a whisper of breath greeted their arrival. Mitzuki spun in a circle, looking for a way out of the clearing. There was none. The ANBU had closed in like a net.

Naruto watched as the first two shiurken struck Mitzuki's arm and grazed his torso, before Iruka-sensei wrapped Naruto in his arms, burying Naruto's face in his chest. Naruto, unused to human contact, fought the urge to bolt. It actually felt comforting, and the boy wondered why he'd had to live twelve years before feeling this safe. In the back round, Mitzuki's battle cries turned to screams of pain; then to pathetic sobbing and pleas for mercy. Then he was silent. Naruto stayed in Iruka-sensei's arms long after the ANBU had vanished. The whole village thought he was a monster. A demon. But tonight, he had one person who knew what he was and wasn't, and cared about him. An important person. For tonight, that was enough.

Just for tonight. Tomorrow, he would prove to the world that he was Uzimaki Naruto, the greatest ninja that ever lived.