"Uhm…are you okay?"

Naruto awkwardly poked his fingers together in a fashion similar to Hinata's habit, shuffling from foot to foot. He'd never tried comforting someone before, and altogether it wasn't all it was cracked up to be. He thought it was supposed to be a hug and then it was over, but no, the kid was crying.

"Who're you?" the little duck-haired boy sniffled, hastily wiping his tears away. Naruto shrugged.

"Just piddlin' around here," he muttered. "I'm Naruto." He stuck his hand out, fast enough it looked more like a jab than anything else.

"Sasuke," the boy had flinched back for a moment, and after staring at his hand, gave it a hesitant shake.

"Why were you cryin'?" Naruto asked.

Sasuke shrugged. "My brother can do everything right," he said. "I can't do anything right."

"Me either." Naruto sat down on the dock beside him and started swinging his legs back and forth. "I can't do any jutsu, I can't use my chrakra, and I can't even write right."

Sasuke neglected to correct his pronunciation in fear that he would start an argument over it. "My brother knows a lot of fire jutsu and he can jump really high, and he can run faster than even ANBU."

"Me too!" Naruto grinned, teeth looking like a row of shark teeth. "I painted the Hokage Mountain last week. It took them three hours to catch me!"

Sasuke drew back with an expression of stunned amazement. "You did that? How old are you?"

Naruto looked down and counted on his fingers. "Um…five." He said.

"Wow. Maybe the ANBU are just slow."

"That's what Kyuu says."

"Who's Kyuu?"

"The demon who lives in my head!" Naruto beamed.

"O…okay," Sasuke sweatdropped, edging away from him a little. His tears had dried up, as he was too preoccupied with the strange urchin beside him to think about why he had been crying. "Where do you live?" he questioned, eyeing the rags Naruto was dressed in. Of course, to a clan heir, Naruto's clothes would seem like rags, even if they were not literal rags; he was wearing a ratty pair of pants a size too large that he'd had since leaving the orphanage, a thin but clean oversized T-shirt, and a pair of sandals that were about to fall apart.

"Everywhere," Naruto replied, flopping back onto the dock. "Jii-chan got me an apartment, but the mean council people won't let him help one orphan and not all of them so it's not very good."

"You're an orphan?" Sasuke stammered. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."

Naruto waved him off. "It's fine," he said, even as a pang made his heart hurt.

"Don't you have any friends?"

Naruto frowned up at the sky, watching a cloud that resembled a pig float by. "No."

"Oh." Sasuke paused again, indecision rippling through him before he poked Naruto in the stomach. "I'll be your friend, then!"

Naruto blinked, turning to look at him as his eyes slowly grew bright with excitement. "Really?" he asked, nearly squealing as he leapt up and grabbed Sasuke's hand. "You wanna be my friend?"

Sasuke nodded. Naruto crowed, dragging him up and toward the village, unsure of how to proceed but making up for it with raw enthusiasm. "Awesome, dattebayo! I've never had a friend before!"

Little did either of them know just how much it would change things.

Naruto was dumpster-diving when a man came hurtling through a rooftop, skidding down the rest of the way and dropping to the ground with a loud thud. Women were shrieking inside, and with a frown, Naruto deduced that the man must be a worthless pervert like the old man had told him about.

Also the sort of man he was to avoid, but his curiosity got the better of him.

Naruto made his way up to the mountain of silver hair, grabbing a stick off the ground and poking it. A groan rewarded him his efforts, and he poked it again and again and again until a hand snatched the stick from his hands, splintering it in half. "Cut it out," the lump snapped.

Naruto had had a lot worse things done to him in alleyways than being poked with a stick. He didn't have much sympathy. "Go away," he glared.

"What?" The lump looked up, and Naruto immediately didn't like the man's face. It was interesting, certainly, with red lines and an amusing structure (was he a comedian?). However, he had the urge to poke the man's eyelids.

"I was dumpster diving," Naruto elaborated, gesturing back to his Kingdom. The Kingdom of dumpsters, back alleys, and dogs that roamed the streets. "You're bothering me, and I don't like you. You're a pervert. Go away."

The man's eyebrows started twitching. "Hey, kid," Kyuu snickered. "Tell him you'll cry wolf for those women if he doesn't give you five hundred ryo."

Shut up, Kyuu, Naruto grumbled.

"You don't like me?" the man was saying. "Do you even know who I a-"

Naruto turned and headed towards the alley opening, leaving the man with his jaw hanging. "D-don't just walk away when I'm in the middle of talking to you!" he yelled, leaping up and storming after him.

Upon seeing what he was doing, Naruto scowled and started running away. "Leave me alone, you perverted old man!" he yelled, and that was how Iruka happened upon them.

Jiraiya was too distracted to see the flying kick coming his way. In a way that was less reliant on power or skill and more to do with sheer physics, Iruka's feet slammed into his face and sent him flying into a building, where he catapulted off it at an odd angle and slammed his head into the asphalt of the street and fell unconscious. In a few hours, he would awake in confusion and attribute his weird night to too much drinking.

"Iruka-nii!" Naruto cheered, throwing himself upon his chunin friend with vigor.

"Naruto!" Iruka chastised, young face already growing crease lines from worry. "What have I told you about going out at night?"

"I was dumpster diving!"

"It's too dangerous! Come on." Iruka pulled him away, while Naruto went on about the pros and cons of dumpster diving and the state of the cabbages he'd found that evening. Somewhere along the line, Iruka had given him a sack bag he used to carry everything from food to paint for his pranks. Said cabbages had made that bag their home.

As soon as Iruka dropped him off at his apartment (wrinkling his nose at the sour milk in the fridge and the state of the lock on his door and muttering to himself on his way out), Naruto deposited his cabbages into his fridge and slipped out the window, dropping from the second story into a bush. Any scrapes or cuts he gathered would heal by the next morning anyway.

Even if the occasional drunkard did try to catch him, Naruto was faster than any civilian and most ninja who were stupid and weak enough to try anything while intoxicated. He also knew the alleyways of Konoha's poor districts like the back of his own hand.

Naruto righted himself and loped down the street, humming. Nighttime was his favorite part of the day, although a downside was he couldn't visit Sasuke. Even Sakura, the nice girl they'd made friends with in the park, was asleep. Silly children, didn't they know nighttime was the best time to plan out pranks?

He may have let himself into a particularly rude shopkeep's store and he may have lifted a few bins of paint, but no one could prove anything.

As he approached the Hokage Tower, he dodged in between security details (seriously, their patterns were way too easy to track) and found where he'd hooked up some ropes that would allow him to paint the side of the building. With a grin, he silently made his way up in the dark, hood drawn up over his head to hide his blond hair.

It took a while, but eventually, he wrote-

Ibiki is bald.

These were, no doubt, his favorite types of pranks. He wasn't making fun of anything- simply stating a fact, something he had no problem with; Ibiki was bald. However, people were so quick to assume he was trying to make a quip and had done it badly. Wow, is that the best you could do? Unknowingly saying exactly what he had expected; wanted them to. The best pranks were ones no one understood…like satire.

How did he know one Ibiki Morino? The answer involved a bar, a can of tuna, and a potted plant named Frank.

Around one year prior, a six-year-old Naruto was on a mission: Sasuke had told him about something called tuna, so he wanted to try if for himself.

There was no way he could afford fresh tuna, however. He wondered if Konoha's vendors even had it, or if it could be called fresh if it were imported.

He wandered through the shopping district with a small amount of cash from Sasuke's allowance, looking around for any blue tins. This was around the time where he was just cementing his friendship with Sasuke, so he was still rather attached to his houseplants, his only friends up to that point. To be fair, however, he would stay rather attached into adulthood, although he wouldn't be in the habit of carrying them around with him.

To anyone who asked, he replied that "Frank" the rosemary plant didn't appreciate their racism and that he was just as much of a person as they were. Larry the Cricket chirped his agreement from his place in Naruto's collar.

He liked simple foreign names.

However, the canned tuna simply evaded Naruto's search, despite how wide and varied that search was. As six-year-olds were want to do, he eventually wandered away from the market, waxing poet in his mind about how unfortunate the situation was. Kyuubi groaned from his confines.

He wandered into an alley, sitting down against the wall with a sigh. He set Frank down, slumping with indignation. Didn't Konoha shopkeeps realize how important his search for tuna was?

A door swished open. Someone in an apron dragged a bag of trash out, heading for the dumpster, and, despite how tempted he was to dive, he turned and snuck through the door, stopping on the threshold in confusion.

There were a few tables, but most of the space was taken up by a countertop, chock full of shinobi seemingly obsessed with the bottles full of liquid. Short enough that no one noticed him, Naruto made his way underfoot and beneath the tables until he stood by a familiar face by the bar.

He didn't know the man, but he'd seen him around the village.

"Excuse me."

The din didn't quiet, so he cleared his throat.

"Excuse me!"

Silence fell, and each person there swiveled to look at him. Naruto scowled. He hated being the center of attention.

"…what's a kid doing in here?" A man with a needle in his mouth asked.

"I need canned tuna," Naruto explained.

The man he was addressing raised his eyebrows, eyes darting over to a masked man in the corner. The purple-haired woman beside him started cracking up. "What makes you think I have that?"

"If you honestly don't know where to find canned tuna, I regret the state Konoha shinobi have fallen into."

The purple-haired woman laughed harder, and several of the shinobi around them started snickering. The man glared down at him, and Naruto gathered it must have been intimidating to most people.

He remembered Iruka telling him it was polite to introduce one's self, so he pointed to his chest. "I'm Uzumaki Naruto," he said, then held up his rosemary. "This is Frank. Will you tell me where to find canned tuna now?"

Iruka's nagging voice reminded him he also needed to ask the other person's name. "What's your name?" he asked, frowning.

The purple-haired woman turned and giggled into the bar, curling one hand into a fist around her shot glass.

"Morino Ibiki," the man's lip twitched, "brat. Buy it at the market. Now get out."

"Listen, kid, you really shouldn't-" Another shinobi started, but Naruto ignored him.

"Torturer," Kyuu whispered.

"I didn't find it at the market," Naruto complained with a scowl. "Frank wants some too."

"Frank?" The man sitting beside Ibiki questioned, looking confused.

Naruto held Frank up again. "This is Frank," he said. "I named him after the murderer from the far west. He decapitated three of his sisters before going on a rampage and slaughtering twenty-five people," he said, making the bartender draw back, appearing disturbed. "Frank takes after him, because all my other rosemary died after I got him."

Dead silence reigned for a few moments, before Ibiki threw back his head and started guffawing. "Naruto," the masked man from the corner knelt down beside him, and Naruto got the urge to tug on his silver hair. "Why don't I walk you home and Iruka can help you find canned tuna in the morning?"

Naruto immediately picked up on the fact that the masked nin knew he knew Iruka despite him having never met him, and deduced he must have either known Iruka or been one of the guards the old man had given him when he was smaller; probably both. After a moment's thought, he thought of the only silver-haired ANBU he'd ever seen, and assigned the name 'Dog' to the masked nin. To the day he would die, he would constantly refer to Kakashi as a dog despite attempts to make him do otherwise.

"You're bald," Naruto said, staring at the wrap on Ibiki's head.

"Naruto, that isn't polite," Kakashi sweatdropped.

"Well I don't want to walk home with you, pervert," Naruto sniffed, spotting the Icha-Icha volume peeking out of the man's pocket. The bar started chuckling again.

Naruto continued staring as Ibiki unwrapped his head, making a few of the lesser shinobi cringe. "Yeah, got a problem with it?" The man grinned a shark-like grin.

Naruto stared at the scarring with an odd look on his face. "I like you better without the stupid hat," he told Ibiki, turning toward the door and walking away. After a moment, he came back with a frown, poised for another question. "If I stabbed someone here, how long would it take for them to die?" he asked, pointing to a place on his abdomen.

Again, the bartender gave him a disturbed look, and Kakashi sweatdropped, and Ibiki grinned. "About four minutes to bleed out," he said.

Naruto had been stabbed there once. It hadn't been deep, but it had closed within three minutes. He'd felt lightheaded for a whole day, and almost fainted, but the next day he'd been fine.

"Frank says you're wrong," he told the man, and left the way he'd came, resuming his search for canned tuna.

"Naruto, we're going to be joining the ninja academy! You can't be late everywhere you go," Sakura complained, pouting. Naruto stalled for an excuse, not liking he had to come up with one but recognizing the need for one.

"Uh, I was…delivering groceries," he sweated. Sakura huffed, but accepted it.

Sasuke rolled his eyes. He knew Naruto had been sneaking into the library. He was too young for a library card, and had only learnt to read when Sasuke taught him, but he had a penchant for crime dramas centering on mass murderers.

"Come on! Let's go play!" Sakura cheered, holding a bright red ball above her head as she ran toward the trees. Naruto's heart lifted, and he followed along with a happy grin. The boys had run into her on accident one day, and had made friends with her instantly.

Sasuke was silent, following in their footsteps with a frown. "What's wrong, Sasuke?" Sakura asked, innocent curiosity in her expression.

"Well," he said, "how will we make sure we graduate and end up on the same team?"

Sakura paused, frowning, not noticing Naruto's eyes light up.

When the Uchiha massacre took place, Sasuke was in the woods with Naruto, leaping from branch to branch as they laughed. Later, Sasuke would wonder what the point of being happy was when his family was dying within the very same village, and Naruto would tell him as he and Sakura held their sobbing friend; because, of course, he was going to be so sad later.

"I have an idea," Naruto said, a wild grin overtaking his lips. "We just have to stack it so they have to put us on the same team."

"What do you mean?" Sakura questioned, eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

"Sasuke'll be the genius," Naruto explained, rolling his eyes when said Uchiha puffed up in pride, "Sakura-chan will be the average. The middle ground, the one who's smart but not that good at things." Sakura frowned. "And I'll be the dead last, the dropout, and stupid one."

"That's not fair!" Sakura cried.

"It doesn't matter," Naruto replied. "This way, we'll end up together because they'll have to if they want a balanced team."

"He's right," Sasuke interrupted. Naruto paused, eyes going out of focus, and they both fell silent. After a moment, he returned, and Sasuke asked, "What did the Kyuubi say?"

"Kurama," Naruto corrected. Sakura had shrieked and hysterically asked if the fox could get out when Naruto had told her, but the Uchiha had taken it much more calmly. "He said he'll teach me some stuff!"

"…why?" Sasuke asked incredulously. As far as he knew, Naruto and Kurama had an annoy-hate-love relationship. Naruto was the jailer, Kyuubi the prisoner; and Kyuubi hated him for it. They annoyed each other, Kyuu put in some spiffy commentary, and that was the end of it.

"Because you're pathetic!" Kurama roared, slamming against the cage's bars. "I can't stand it! You'll get us both killed!"

"Because he likes me," Naruto said.

On the third day of school, Sasuke noticed a problem.

"That teacher gave you lower marks because he saw you hanging out with Naruto," he said after they had gathered in their secret place, a spot by a river that ran through the forest.

Naruto had failed every exercise, missing the targets completely when they tried to practice with wooden kunai and shuriken even though Sasuke had seen him nail the eye of the Fourth Hokage's monument with a pebble shooter.

"It's not fair," Sakura complained. "Just because the teacher is a bigot doesn't mean they get to fail him!"

"To be fair, he did most of the failing on his own," Sasuke noted, raising an eyebrow when Naruto started fiddling with a couple of rocks. "But he didn't quite deserve the grade they gave him anyway."

"There's a simple solution to this," Naruto sighed, tossing the rocks aside. "We'll have to act like we hate each other."

"What?" Sakura squeaked out in horror, falling back on the ground from her kneeling position.

"Sasuke'll hate me, I'll hate Sasuke, Sakura will hate me, she'll be lovey-dovey on Sasuke-" Sakura wrinkled her nose and went 'ew'- "I'll have a pretend crush on Sakura so she'll hate me more. Easy peasy."

"But doesn't that mean we can't spend time together?" Sakura asked, looking as if she were about to break into tears.

"Inside school," Sasuke said quickly. "Outside of it, we'll just have to be careful."

"But it's not fair," Sakura insisted, large green eyes filling with tears.

Naruto awkwardly placed a hand on her shoulder. "Well, when you're a shinobi, nothing is far ever," he said, making her start to sniffle. He sent a help me look at Sasuke.

"This is the best way for us to get on the same team so we can achieve our goals," Sasuke said. "Make Naruto head of his clan in the legal sense, get justice for mine, and make us all strong shinobi."

The minute the word 'revenge' had left little Sasuke's mouth, Naruto had slapped him so hard everything had flashed white and there'd been a ringing in his ears. He'd had to sit through a two-hour lecture on why every character in fiction and every real life shinobi who pursued revenge ended up betraying, abandoning, or offing their friends, and then getting themselves killed. Naruto had even had diagrams.

A quick perusal of Itachi's history book from the academy had also enlightened them to the fact that Uzumaki wasn't just a random name the orphanage would give him. Clan names weren't thrown around lightly, and as the only survivor they knew of, in their minds Naruto deserved clan head privilege. It would give him the freedom and ability to search for other Uzumaki survivors.

"Okay," Sakura sniffled, tears drying up. Naruto breathed a sigh of relief. He loved the girl, but he hated it when people cried. "But we get to have sleepovers every week." Sakura's parents were some of the few who didn't hold any prejudice against Naruto at all. He spent a lot of time at her house, and her mother doted on him, filling him up with unholy amounts of food.

"Off to the rest of our lives, then!" Naruto crowed, standing up and marching toward the village. He tripped on a pebble, sending him crashing to the ground as a dirt cloud exploded over him.

Sakura and Sasuke watched with dry looks before getting up and walking past him. "Thanks for the help, guys," he said into the ground.

"Team 7 is Uzumaki Naruto," Iruka said, "Haruno Sakura, and Uchiha Sasuke."

"Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeah!" Sakura screamed, leaping onto her desk. "Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!"

Ino scowled at her desk, and Sasuke smirked. Naruto snickered, hiding a grin as Iruka tried to calm Sakura down. All according to plan, he thought smugly.

"I can't believe your stupid plan actually worked," Kurama groaned, letting his forehead slam into the bars of his cage.

My plans always work, Naruto mentally stuck his tongue out at his tenant, making himself perform a ridiculous cheer. Finally, after four agonizingly long years, he would be free of the academy brats.

With any luck, their jounin would be too stuck on their stereotypical personalities when he or she tested them to realize just how in sync with each other they were.

If Kakashi had actually shown up to the Third Hokage's meeting on time and been watching through his crystal ball, he might have caught smirk Naruto and Sasuke shared, and he might have caught the sly grin Sakura threw Naruto when she wasn't slapping him upside the head. He might have caught the way Naruto occasionally zoned out, trading barbs and comments with his 'tenant'.

But alas, he was lost on the road of life.