There was one thing Naruto Uzumaki had always wanted in life: a family. He craved for a cheerful mother that would cook dinner each night and wipe off a speck of imaginary dirt with spit. He wanted a dad that would pat him on the back and tell him how proud he was of his son. He wondered what it would be like to have an older brother to look out for him, or maybe he could have a little sibling that he could watch over himself.

But he didn't. All he had were a few ninjas that would come by his little apartment once a week. They would look around to make sure everything was clean, peek in his cupboards to check the food supply, and make sure he was healthy. It wasn't much.

Most of the times he only knew they had come and gone because there were extra ramen cups on the table, or a new set of clothes on the bed, and sometimes a little note on his door stating he hadn't done all his chores. When Naruto did see one, all he or she did was look at him, as if they wanted to be anywhere but there. If he tried to talk to a ninja, they would just leave faster than if he just watched them.

What he didn't know was that they watched him as well. He only found out after he was tired of all the looks and whispers he received from the villagers. He was tired of crying and yelling at them to stop. It hadn't made any difference.

The villagers only ignored him and continued to talk about him when they thought he couldn't hear them, or glare from across the street. He had tried running away a few times, but the ninjas always found him and brought him back. When he thought about it, there wasn't anywhere to run to anyway.

The only kids he had ever hung out with were a few years older than him. At first they only let him tag along once or twice a month but he learned more from them than he did anywhere else.

The older kids were a group of four boys led by a kid named Mendo. Mendo liked Naruto, but the blonde boy couldn't join their group. He attracted too much attention when he hung out with them. And while the brunette leader didn't really care what the adults thought, he didn't like the extra lectures they got when he did let Naruto tag along. Still, the boys taught him the ropes of standing up for himself.

"Don't take shit from no one. They don't got nothing to do with you. You make sure they know you won't take that kind of crap. Got it?" Naruto listened to everything Mendo said. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to work as well for him as it did for the older boy.

Mendo started teaching him a few tricks on how to fight and defend himself when the older boy caught Naruto yelling at a shopkeeper. The grocer had not let him buy a candy bar he had the money for. Instead of letting him buy the candy, the shopkeeper roughed him up a bit.

That had been enough for the gang-leader to give Naruto a bit more than advice. Twice a week he snuck out to show Naruto the way to street fight. Sometimes Kutomi came along to help out. Since his father was a ninja, Kutomi knew a few things about basic taijutsu and chakra. The black-haired boy didn't want to be a ninja, but the training he received as a kid was useful in a fight. Between the two boys, Naruto learned the best way to fight was dirty and unpredictably.

When the two other boys learned about the private lessons Mendo and Kuta were giving the blonde, they decided to pitch in their own specialties. Taiko was a tall skinny kid that lived at the same orphanage Naruto used to be at. He was a pickpocket by trade and knew a bit about lock picking as well. The tall brunette had claimed it was his duty to pass on his skills to the younger generation.

Shinzo, the prankster of the group, decided that if Naruto gained the slight of hand Taiko had, he should put it to good use. "Besides," he said. "Us blondes have to stick together!" He taught the kid everything he knew about pranks and traps. By the time he was seven, Naruto could sneak in and out of someone's house and leave a prank to remember him by.

But the longer he hung out with the boys, the more the four got in trouble. Naruto decided to go solo and while the boys said he was still welcomed to stop by, the blonde vowed not to go near the group until the villagers settled down. He also made a vow to prank the most vocal villagers until they stopped being so rude.

But the first time he tried a prank without the boys, he hit a little snag. Naruto was standing on a stack of crates, attempting to balance a small bucket of river mud on the edge of a door when the bucket disappeared. After a moment of confusion, the blonde looked around and spotted his bucket a few feet away in the hands of a ninja, dressed like the ones that checked up on him.

"You can't do that."

That knocked the blonde out of his confusion. "Since when? I've pulled one on Sumisu-bastard a few months back. Did I scare the stupid grocer enough to hire a ninja?" The ninja didn't answer Naruto's taunting. He just kept the bucket and disappeared. Naruto was SO mad.

The next day he tried again, but a different ninja stopped him. Again, the ninja was dressed in the same navy blue uniform with green pocket vest. The day after Naruto tried it in the morning when Sumisu Grocery would open in the morning, but he was stopped by yet another ninja.

Naruto tried a different prank on a different person at a different time and was stopped again. He tried to prank someone by skipping school and was still caught before he could do anything. To the small seven-year-old's mind, the only explanation was that ninjas were following him everywhere.

He started looking for them. There were glimpses of navy blue and green every now and then in the corner of his eye. That was enough proof for the blonde to believe his paranoid theory. But if the ninja wanted to follow Naruto Uzumaki, he wasn't going to make it easy for them.

The first time he tried ditching them it was a quick turn in a crowded street. He used an old blanket he found in the alley to cover his bright blonde hair. It worked. He saw a ninja in uniform jump to a rooftop and start looking around. When the ninja moved off, Naruto ran in the opposite direction. He got Sumisu with the mud bucket without anyone stopping him.

But it didn't work a second time. It became a game to Naruto. How many times could he dodge them? How many pranks could he play before they found him again? He didn't have anything to do but school, and that was boring as hell. Concentrating on successful ninja dodging became the highlight of his day.

The ninjas became better at hiding. It only took a week before he couldn't see them at all. But he started to get the feeling he was being watched and learned to trust it. Whenever he felt it and tried a prank, the ninja were there to stop it. When Naruto couldn't feel anything, he got away with whatever he tried to pull.

When the ninja's did catch him he figured out why he couldn't see them. They weren't in uniform anymore. They didn't even have a forehead protector on! He started watching for people in the streets that might be ninjas. Some 'villagers' seemed to be more alert, even with their heads buried in a newspaper or when picking out vegetables from a stand. There were other people that seemed to glide when they walked down the street. He tested it out a few times and sure enough, the ones who stopped him were one of the people he picked out.

It was the most fun Naruto ever had. Every time he thought he had it down, the ninjas would do something new. He started watching the ninja trainees every now and then instead of playing a prank when he dodged the ninjas. The Academy teachers didn't like him watching so he learned to hide in the bushes. Even then, if he went too close, they seemed to know where he was.

'Maybe they can sense me watching like I can sense the ninja watchers,' Naruto thought. Still, he needed to watch the trainees so he could figure out what the ninjas might do next. He figured to beat a ninja he would have to be a ninja. By simple trail and error he found out at what distance the teachers could sense him and where they couldn't.

He learned how they used chakra to jump long distances, and how if you bounced off the side of buildings while running a ninja could turn corners quicker. With this information, Naruto began out running his ninja watchers as well as being able to hide from them.

But for every trick Naruto learned, the ninjas became harder and harder to beat. When the ninjas started following him in groups of two, Naruto got a little worried. It became impossible to get away from them and cutting school was making the teachers meaner than usual. After an entire week of having two watchers and not being able to ditch them, Naruto decided just watching ninja trainees wouldn't be enough.

He had never ditched the ninja watchers at night, so he waited for a good hour of pretending to sleep before he made his move. Using extra clothes he stuffed his bed to look like he was still sleeping and snuck out the bathroom winder. He was really small, and in another year or two he might not fit though it. Hopefully, the ninjas wouldn't even think about him using it. Especially since he was two-stories up.

He reached the Academy with no troubles by wearing dark clothes and using the skills Taiko taught him about sneaking around. He unlocked a window on the second floor and found the library after exploring the place. Taiko had given him an old lock picking set that was missing only a few tools. Using that he got through the locked library and started looking through the scrolls and books inside.

Most of it was on boring history, tactics and strategy. When he found the section on chakra he decided he hit the jackpot. There were a few scrolls that mentioned higher ranked ninja sensing chakra and being able to hide their own. None ever mentioned how, just that it was a high-Chuunin level skill to suppress chakra to the point no one could sense it.

Naruto didn't know what that meant, but realized that if he wanted to ditch the ninjas, he would have to learn how to do it. He read everything he could find on chakra in three days. One book showed a bunch of hand signals called 'seals' that were suppose to help control chakra to use in techniques called 'jutsus'. He memorized the list and used the hour he had to pretend sleeping to practice them.

The only jutsus the library had were the basics: bushin, kawamari, and henge. Kawamari replaced the user with a nearby object to help ninjas escape. He could see a few ways he could use that to dodge ninjas, but they'd find out he knew how do use ninjutsu the first time he tried it. After the way the Academy teachers reacted to him, Naruto didn't want to see what they'd do to him if they realized he knew ninja skills.

The bushin was the ability to create a look-a-like illusion. He could use that to make a ninja go one way while he went the other. But the scroll claimed that there was a limited range of how far the bushin could go depending upon the strength of the user. Naruto had never thought of himself as very strong and didn't think he could make the bushin go to far.

The henge, however, would be a very useful skill. Henge allowed the use to look like another person. To use it, Naruto would need to study the person he wanted to look like so he could see the image in his mind to the last detail. The blonde figured he could make up a while new person, someone no one would ever suspect being Naruto Uzumaki.

He found a good spot in the woods to train in henge. A lot of the books and scrolls mentioned that the amount of chakra a ninja had could be increased by the amount a ninja practiced and how well exercised their body was. Naruto wanted to increase the amount of chakra he held so he could eventually use bushin. He would start out with a lot of kicking, punching, sit-ups, push-ups and the few simple kata Kutomi had taught him. Then he'd spend the rest of the night working on henge.

During the day he'd attempt to suppress his chakra. He knew how to feel chakra, and it didn't take much effort. Naruto only had to close his eyes and think about it. His chakra always seemed to have an extra flare to it. The other ninjas he sensed always seemed dull compared to his, but Naruto shrugged it off. After all, shouldn't he be able to feel his own energy better than someone else's.

When he ran from the ninjas after school, he'd get far enough away from them to hide and then try something he'd hope would work. Usually they'd catch up and be able to spot him right way. He figured they could sense his chakra and if what he'd try worked, they'd pass him by. If not, they'd still find him.

Since he knew that the feeling of someone watching him was actually him sensing someone's chakra he started concentrating on that. Soon he learned how to sense his ninja watchers coming from a few blocks away instead of just when they found him. Unfortunately he began to feel other people as well.

It confused him to feel so many people around instead of just sensing someone watching. Then he noticed the difference. The villagers seemed to feel fuzzy, while the ninjas were solid and clear. It was like feeling safe around a lazy cat, lying in the sun compared to feeling your hackles rise when a house cat started hissing at you. After a week or so Naruto decided it was a good thing. It made it easier to tell a disguised ninja from a villager, and he could tell if a house was empty just by trying to sense people in it.

Suppressing chakra was harder than refining his senses. He tired a bunch of ideas: gathering his chakra and then imagining he was invisible, or taking his chakra and spreading it out and around him like a faint mist rather than a human body. None of them worked. Each time an idea failed, he came out of hiding and acted like he thought he got away. Sometimes he'd stroll around the village before trying to run again and sometimes he'd try a prank that would be stopped.

It took forever and since he wasn't having any success at doing henge, Naruto was about to give up. It had been an entire month since sneaking into the library and he hadn't been able to dodge his ninja watchers once. The only things he gained was the ability to sense who was around him and being able to sleep in class and still keep half his attention on the lesson. He may not remember everything that was said, but he seemed to get the more important things the teacher said despite dozing off.

He was about to give up when he had a break through on chakra suppression. By concentrating all his chakra into a small ball in his stomach and squeezing it as small as it would go, his ninjas would pass him by. It made his head and stomach hurt for a long while after.

But after a few dozen times, his headaches went away, and the stomachache began to be more irritating than painful. It felt as though he had swallowed a mall bird or squirrel and it was running around, bouncing off the walls of his stomach like crazy. It was a weird feeling, but not too difficult to ignore. He played a lot of pranks that week to make up for lost time.

Bolstered by the success in chakra suppression, it only took another week for Naruto to do henge. The jutsu had been harder than he thought. The first step was to gather chakra with a basic hand seal and then push it outside his body to surround him completely. That had only taken a week or so to get down. Unfortunately, he forgot what exactly the next step was. Just that it was using that layer of chakra to take on the form you were thinking of. Not wanting to risk being caught at the Academy again, Naruto just tried to do it on his own.

When he learned how to suppress chakra he decided he might have memorized the first step wrong. Instead of gathering the chakra over his skin, Naruto gathered it just under his skin. He had tried to force his chakra to take the shape of what he wanted it to look like over his skin as if it were a costume. After he started gathering his chakra under his skin, he tried to force his body to go with his chakra to actually take the form of his idea instead of just looking like it.

The first time he tried it his entire body burned. But it was more of a reaction than he had all month so he kept with it. A week later he found out it that burning was a lot easier to take than the actual henge. He passed out the first time he transformed. When he woke and looked at his reflection he saw a beautiful blonde woman in pigtails instead of as small blue-eyed boy. His clothes were stretched tight and made it hard to breath, but he had done it. Naruto had used henge.

He wanted to shout for joy and jump up and down and go tell everyone he ran across. At the last moment he remembered that he was doing this in secret. By thinking of all the fun this skill would give him, he held himself back. He could just see one of his ninja watchers coming up and asking him, "Excuse me Miss, have you seen a young boy about this high with blond hair?" It would be great!

But he wasn't going to try it until he had it down pat. Passing out every time he tried to henge wasn't going to work. And he needed to find a way to get rid of his scars on his cheeks. He had pictured his face without them, but there they were. Plus it really hurt to stay like this. His entire body felt like it had run a marathon and his skin felt as though a thousand needles were sticking out of him. He stood back up and decided to change back.

He got scared when he couldn't. He felt for his chakra and it wasn't molded into this shape. It felt like he really was a woman! He tried to do henge no jutsu again, but transform into his original shape instead of this one. Yet this time he couldn't push his skin outwards, he had to pull it inwards and shrink back to his old self.

Time after time, Naruto tried. Nothing seemed to work. Several times during the day he sensed ninjas passing him by. Even if they weren't ninjas out looking for him, Naruto's panic increased each time one passed. He was suppose to be at school right now. Even when he skipped he always showed up in the morning. It was like saying, "Hey everyone, I'm still alive!"

While he didn't mind missing class, the ninjas would realize he hadn't gone and if they went inside his apartment to check on him… 'Well, I guess I won't be going out at night and practicing for a long while.'

By the time night fell again, Naruto had forgotten his worry about not being able to practice and was beginning to wonder if he'd always be a girl. The only thing stopping him from stopping a ninja and asking for help was the fact that they probably wouldn't help him anyway. The only time ninjas ever spoke to him was when they were telling him not to do something or to go away.

He fell asleep worrying about living the rest of his life as a girl. When he woke up he felt a little stronger and his body wasn't hurting nearly as much. With a loud sight the blonde started trying again. It was near morning when he succeeded. He had kept trying to pull his chakra into himself, like he had pushed out to henge the first time. But each time he tried, he only managed to suppress his chakra.

His success had come when he had formed his chakra underneath his skin and then waited for a moment as he tried to come up with a different idea. After a few moments the chakra had started to move on its own. He had control of it, but he wasn't really concentrating on keeping it a certain shape anymore. It pulled his skin in on its own as it pooled into his stomach and back out: like water being poured into a bowl and splashing on the sides.

It felt really weired and hurt like hell, but he clenched his teeth, closed his eyes and let it go. It seemed to be doing SOMETHING and that was better than before. When his chakra stopped moving and the worst of the pain had left, Naruto opened his eyes again. The world had shrunk. He looked in the stream next to him and saw a small kid with spiky blond hair and bright blue eyes.

If Naruto had more energy he would have celebrated. As it was, his entire body hurt and it was a struggle just to move. All he wanted was his bed and who cared what the ninjas thought. He started back to his apartment, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. He neither saw nor felt the ninja he ran into as he was nearing the boundaries of the forest grounds. All he knew was that he bounced off of something and landed on the ground with a thump.

When he looked up and saw a man in black with a green vest standing over him, he had to think for a minute before realizing what he was. 'A ninja… Their important… for some reason… what was it again…' Naruto's thoughts trailed off as he let sleep claim him.

-Scene Break-

Naruto woke up in a small white room. It smelled of something weird that tingled his nose. There was a needle stuck in his arm and he pulled it out, wrinkling his nose at the small amount of blood that pooled in his armpit. He pushed his hand against it to make it stop as he shifted off the bed and tried to stand.

His knees wobbled and he was forced to let go of his arm to steady himself. After a moment, his legs stopped moving on their own and he felt well enough to try and walk. Two steps were all it took to feel the draft on his backside. He was wearing a funny looking dress that seemed to tie in the back and leave a gap. He looked around the room for his real clothes.

There were three doors. One had a window on it that looked in on a hallway with another door across the way. The second was cracked open enough to see a bathroom on the other side. He headed for the last door, figuring it was a closet. Sure enough his clothes were folded neatly on one of the shelves, still covered in dirt and with a few holes in them.

He ignored the dirt and stripped out of the dress and pulled on his real clothes. Feeling a whole lot better with that done, he made his was to the bathroom. After finishing his business he returned to the room only to see an old man sitting on a chair next to the bed. The man had these funny looking robes of red and white with a wide brim hat that had the symbol for fire on it. The old guy also had some really weird tattoos below his eyes.

Then it hit Naruto. This was the Hokage. It startled him and he was more than a little scared. They had found out he was practicing ninja techniques. That was the only reason the Hokage would come see him. He knew he was going to be in trouble, but he didn't think the Hokage would get involved. The blonde took a deep breath to explain when the old man began to speak.

"Ah, I see you're not only awake but up and going. You gave us quite a scare there." Naruto just stood there, eyes-wide and trying to think of what he was going to do. "Please. Come sit down child. You're not in trouble if that's what you're thinking. I would just like to know what happened to you. First you disappear with no trace for two days and then faint dead away when a ninja finally finds you near the forest. You've been asleep for another two days."

'Oh crap. What to do, what to do? If the Hokage finds out I was training I'll be in big trouble. They will never let me be a ninja. I am Naruto Uzumaki, the kid everyone loves to hate.' Thoughts racing, Naruto slowly made my way to the bed and hopped back on it. With a feeling of lead in his stomach he looked back at the Hokage. The old man was smiling.

"Oh don't look so grim Naruto. I've known you to run away from time to time, but never for so long. I am only worried about your safety. The world is no place for a small boy all by himself. It's why I have the ninja looking out for you." He was still smiling and chuckled slightly. Naruto tried to take in what the Hokage said.

"So... so you're not mad at me?"

"Heavens no child. You've had a hard life and I could hardly have expected you to do anything else. The real surprise was that the Chuunin on duty didn't notice a thing until you didn't get up in the morning. They were quite upset to have been fooled by a few old clothes under the covers.

"You've run away before, but always there was someone looking out for you. I knew you were escaping the ninja every now and again to play your pranks but they had always been able to find you within a few hours. When it took so long for us to find you this time I was worried something had happened to you."

Naruto's jaw dropped as he stared at the Hokage. "Worried? A-about me?"

"Of course Naruto. Why wouldn't I be?" He paused a moment and looked at the boy while Naruto tried to find a polite way to tell the old man that no one else would care. He spoke before the boy had the chance. "Do you know what it means to be Hokage?"

"Huh?" 'Where did that come from?' "It means that you're the leader of the village because you're the strongest ninja," Naruto answered.

The old man chuckled. "Most seem to think so. But to be Hokage is to be more than the strongest. A Hokage must look after all the people in the village. He must love each person in it and look after them."

"All of them?"

"Oh, it isn't easy. But you learn to look past people's faults and see the good in them. Each person in this village has value. You just need to find it. As the ninja saying goes, you need to 'look underneath the underneath'."

"But what about all the mean people?"

"I'm not happy about how the people of the village have been treating you Naruto. You are only a boy with a good heart. But they aren't bad people. They just have made some bad choices."

Naruto thought about that for a bit. The blonde knew that when the villagers didn't think he was around, many were happy and seemed really nice. It's why he wanted them to notice him. He wished they were nice to him as well; or at least not hate him and send him away all the time.

"Do you know the story of the Fourth Hokage, Naruto?"

'What?' "Wasn't he the one that died when he killed the Demon Fox?"

"Something like that. Do you know why he was a Hokage?" Naruto shook his head. "There were many that wished for the title. It was never a competition, but I was getting old and while I had never said I was looking for a successor, people knew it was about the time for me to choose.

"I watched ninjas who wished for the title try and out do one another. They boasted of their skills or the missions they had been on. They sparred with anyone they could find in order to display their strength. They allowed no one to forget that they were the best. But none of these would have been a good Hokage.

"As I told you, it is not just about being the strongest. There were only two I knew who held the potential to be Hokage. One was a quiet man who had great strength and a keen mind. It was his goal to learn all the jutsus in the world. He was a power to be feared, but did not participate in the boasting and sparring that so many others started. He didn't need to, for everyone knew of his skill and none dared challenge him.

"Then there was the second one. He was a young man who enjoyed laughter and games. He, too, had great strength and a keen mind. Yet it was his aim to protect those around him. He never displayed his strength save for a time of need. He was a great ninja and had saved many. But he was most well known in the village for his cheerful attitude and for playing with the village children.

"It was for this reason that I chose Arashi. While the first was strong, he was not happy with his strength and wanted more. Yet Arashi was content. He only wanted enough strength to protect this village. And he protected this village well. Many died by the hands of the Nine-tails, but Arashi found a way to defeat it even though it would cost his life. He was saddened by the thought, for there was much he still wished to do, but he did not allow it to stop him. For the good of the village he gave his life willingly. I often wonder if the first man would have done the same, though I doubt it."

There was nothing else said for a long time. The Hokage seemed lost in memory while Naruto was trying to figure out what all this meant. It didn't make sense to him, and the boy started to fidget a bit. The longer the old man stayed silent the more he wiggled. The blonde began to wonder if he could sneak out while the Hokage was thinking.

"Naruto." He jumped a bit when the Hokage called his name. "Did anything happen to you when you ran away?"

The Hokage thought Naruto had run away again, even though he hadn't. He didn't want to lie about where he had been, not to the Hokage; but he didn't want the old man to find out he was training to be a ninja either. He might say he loves everyone in the village, but Naruto didn't want a Hokage getting mad at him. There was only one answer to that then. The blonde shook his head no.

"Then why were you so exhausted? I've never known you to sleep so long."

Naruto shrugged. "I was tired. I hadn't slept more than a few hours while I was gone and all I wanted was to go home to bed, but I couldn't seem to get back up after I ran into that ninja." It was the best answer his eight-year-old mind could come up with and he hoped the old man would take it. After all, it was the truth - just not the whole truth.

"I see. Well, I think it's about time to get you out of here. You've already gotten dressed so let's get going." The old man held his hand out to Naruto as he got up and the boy reached out and touched it. The Hokage gently closed his hand around the child's and tugged on it slightly. The boy slid off the bed and followed the Hokage, hand in hand, down the hall.

Naruto couldn't say anything. How many times had he seen a kid walking down the street with their mom or dad holding their hand to make sure they didn't run off? How many times did he wish he had someone to do that with? And here was the Hokage, holding his hand like he was his dad. Well, maybe not his dad. He was really old after all. More like his grandpa.

The Hokage walked Naruto all the way home. While the villagers still gave him the same looks, it didn't seem nearly as bad without all the mean whispers to go with it. He began to wish the Hokage would walk with him all the time. When they reached the apartment, Naruto unlocked the door and the old man followed him in. The boy sat down on the wobbly folding chair so the Hokage could have the nicer one.

The small flat wasn't anything special. A small square table with two old folding chairs and a faded couch with a lopsided bookcase was all the furniture in the front room/kitchen. Naruto was glad the bedroom door was closed. The floor would be littered with dirty and clean clothes, and the bed probably needed to be made if the ninjas had discovered the old clothes under the blanket.

There was silence for a long time. He didn't know what else the Hokage wanted, but the more time the old man spent here the more likely he was to find out Naruto was practicing to be a ninja. That would be a very bad thing.

"You go to First's Elementary School, do you not?" The boy nodded at the strange question. "How do you like it there?"

Naruto scowled as he thought about how to answer that question. The teachers hated him just like everyone else seemed to, and he got the worst assignments of the entire class. None of the kids liked him either. The late kids usually had to sit next to him and if he tried to sit next to someone else to start with, the kids moved to another spot. No one wanted to be near the freak.

It was pretty boring too. Did they really have to spend two weeks on multiplying by twos and threes? He had understood it the first time the teacher explained it and they always said that he was the stupid one, last in the class. If that were true, and if he had understood it, then everyone else had to have been bored out of their minds, right?

And the new teacher he got in this year was really ornery. Sleeping through class was the best idea he had ever had. She might glare and yell at him all she wanted, but Naruto didn't have to pay attention to it most of the time.

"I see." He looked up at the Hokage in confusion. He hadn't said anything yet But the Hokage was looking at Naruto with a sad expression on his face as he brought out a pipe from his robes to smoke. He took a few puffs before continuing. "Naruto. Have you ever thought of going to the Ninja Academy?"

'Oh crap! Does he know?' Naruto thought while shaking his head negatively. 'I might want to be a ninja, but to go to the Academy? They'd never let me thought the front doors.'

"Would you like to?"

"Of course!" 'What kind of question is that?'

"It's a few months into the current school year, but I think I can pull a few strings to get you in. Would you like that?"

"Hell yeah!" The boy jumped up excitedly, only to clap his hand over his mouth and stare at the old man in shock. He did NOT just swear in front of the Hokage. In front of the villagers wasn't a problem. They say worse things about him. But this was the Hokage!

To Naruto's surprise the Hokage didn't get upset. Instead he chuckled for a bit as he gave another puff on his pipe. "Then it's settled. Today is Saturday in case you didn't know. You'll have Sunday free and on Monday you'll start to attend the Ninja Academy. You're a little young; most children don't transfer until they're nine. But we've had exceptions to the rule before and I'm sure that we can arrange something." He stood up and ruffled the boy's hair as he walked back to the front door. He paused before leaving and turned back to the blonde. "Take care of yourself Naruto. You should know that there are those that care for you and worry when you run away."

Naruto thought about that as the Hokage left, but he couldn't remember seeing anyone besides the Hokage that didn't look at him like he was lower than dirt. He remembered when he was still in the orphanage a few years ago, and how Kogeru-san looked like she wanted to kill him every time he was around her. He learned quickly to avoid her when he didn't have meals. During meals he ate quickly so that she didn't have time to insult him, or give him chores around the place.

The other kids also learned quickly as well, but about different things. It was better not talk or play with him. Kogeru-san was really nice until someone started to play with Naruto, then they'd get the same treatment he did. It hurt when they would all sit down to eat and there would be complete silence until Naruto left. Then he'd hear everyone start talking from down the hall. He wanted so much to be like the other kids: to have Kogeru-san tuck him in bed at night, to tell him everything was going to be okay when he cried, or give him a hug when he scrapped his knee.

He ran away from the place when he was five and slept under benches or behind buildings until a ninja picked him up a few days later. It was then that he started to live on his own in an apartment.

He was told that this was where he would sleep and this was where the food was and there would be someone to come by once a week and make sure everything stayed in good condition and drop off more food. The ninja told him that if he wanted to stay here Naruto would have to make sure all the chores were done and everything would stay clean. So he did.

He never wanted to go back to the orphanage and he didn't mind having to make his own meals. Kogeru-san had stuck him in the kitchen as often as she could as punishment for one thing or another. He would have to handle the hot pans or cutting the vegetables more often than not.

He received a lot of burns and cuts, but they were always better by the next day. Compared to helping her and the older kids, cooking alone was easy. At least no one tried to trip or startle him while he was in his own place. Besides, the ninjas only seemed to buy ramen most of the time and that was easy to make. It got old fast, but he learned to like it. At least there were so many different flavors.

That was about all that had gotten better for him though. He was still lonely in his new home and there seemed to be more people that looked at him like Kogeru-san. All the adults he ran into during the day had that look, and the things they said weren't very nice. Whenever he tried to play at the park or in the sandbox one of them would always pull the other kids away. Sometimes the kids wouldn't even know who the grown-up was, but it never mattered. The kids would be taken away and he'd be left to play by himself.

Luckily he started school the year he moved out of the orphanage. While it wasn't fun, at least he had something to do. School went all year long except in July and the only day off during the week was Sunday with half days on Saturday. He hadn't been REALLY bored except on weekends and some of the weeklong holidays.

Those were the worst. Everyone would be together as a family and he was stuck all alone and the only people that talked to him were mean. He cried a lot and ran away a few times, but always came back. Where else would he go?

He had lived like that for a year before meeting Mendo and his gang, and things had gotten better from there. And now he'd actually be able to go to the Ninja Academy. He would be turning nine this year, which meant that if he were normal he wouldn't have been able to go for another year. But he didn't care.

He'd show everyone that he could be a great ninja. He went to sleep that night and dreamed about the Fourth Hokage playing with children. When Yondaime noticed Naruto off to the side watching he came over and invited him to play. It was the best dream he could remember having.