Naruto has never been a man of strict routine. He is a loose bullet in almost every possible sense, and it has never appealed to him to have the exact same morning a thousand times.

When he was younger, "dislike" bordered on "obsessive compulsion". He would take odd turns and twists on his way to the Academy just for the sake of curiosity, and so he'd never be seen on the same path two consecutive times. He'd eat his lunch in a different place, and devise increasingly dangerous stunts on the swing, after which he'd go home through an entirely different route (after pulling a prank or two and having sat in a different stool of Ichiraku during dinner).

To the few who ever asked him about his erratic habits (namely Sandaime and Iruka-sensei), Naruto would respond with a smile and a remark about how boring it was to always walk the same old path and do the same old things everyone else did.

He never realized that perhaps his curiosity was a long-running, draining thirst. A thirst to find a person he hadn't seen before, and subsequently one who hadn't stared past him when he hollered his greetings, who didn't give him cold sideways glances as he went by. Someone who wasn't "plain old" like everyone else, and therefore likely to really see him.

He was a boy searching for a home (never a house) whose address and porch he'd never seen, but that he still expected to recognize.

Naruto also failed to notice how he cared less about what path to or from the Academy he hadn't explored yet after he started getting used to the slight pressure of Iruka-sensei's hitai ate around his head.

These days, he doesn't need the familiar strain around his head to remember that he is seen, and so he doesn't mind his mornings being remotely similar. He allows himself to conform to little things, an assortment of trivialities he knows he can break off from, but won't, simply because he doesn't want to.

Oddly enough, his favorite is "the 7:30 brain de-tarnisher", a small stretch of time in which he will sit and truly think, nearly still and nearly quiet (because Naruto can rarely manage these in their entirety, let alone both at the same time).

As he finishes gathering the milk carton, the jam and the toast on the table, his eyes will become lost somewhere in the once-white ceiling, with his feet tapping the linoleum and his fingers drumming on the chipped wooden surface in a half-conscious fashion.

He muses in unadorned words and clean-cut images, just like the wind on warm spring mornings.

It isn't due to mere disinterest that Naruto barely spares Konoha's Library and Archives building more than a glance when he passes it by. The building is eye-catching enough, but he feels that, at least for the moment, he has no business to attend inside.

Naruto does not consider himself particularly scholarly. Identifying battle tactics with all the right names and learning jutsu from memorizing its numerical energetic value are feats he relates to the likes of Neji and Sakura-chan (and Shikamaru, if he has nothing more entertaining to do). Never mind that neither of them last over 15 minutes against him in the arena, or that they must land two blows to completely demolish a large hill while he can do it in one, they are the ones catching the enemy's offensive patterns faster than said enemy can execute them.

And they can take a "proper" book and enjoy it, while Naruto has yawned his way through the Icha Icha series (and that because Jiraiya insisted).

Yet Naruto is still a ninja worth his salt, and he knows that he can go on a mission with one or both geniuses without weighing them down. He has intuition and adaptability, and he's been rebelling against what is customary for so long he's found a thousand ways around it: where the explanations are long and tedious, he turns a deaf ear after the basics, devises his own way, and from unconsciously making theories simpler, faster, he creates short cuts that are brilliant and efficient, and simply better than the long route.

But even though he will take the compliment quite agreeably, Naruto knows that he isn't Neji, and that he is quite content not being one (he has learned with spoken words and people, things that books will have a hard time copying).

He knows as well that there are such things as misguided geniuses. He has never forgotten that knowing the fastest way doesn't necessarily mean that it is the right way, just as he knows of the brilliant mind behind the red pupils and the swiftly turning tomoe of the man that he calls brother. The brother who has the knowledge, the talent and even the looks (all of which he admits to a little grudgingly), but whose heart has been tarnished almost to the core. The brother who once tried to take his life for his own benefit, and still will, if given half the chance.

The brother that he will find and drag back, no matter how many armies endeavor to stand in his way.

A smarter man would give up this search. In the face of probabilities, psychological analysis results and just about every kind of reason cold intellect can yield, he is on a Grail Hunt. But Naruto is (proudly, in this case) not a genius, so he proceeds to ignore these reasons, saying that he'll change the odds, no matter how dismal. Those who know him do not press the matter: this is Uzumaki Naruto they are dealing with, and if there is anybody in the world who can tamper with 0 probability situations and cheat every circumstance into success, it's him.

He is a hurricane, and that which attempts to stand in his way will not be there for too long (be it a file of how many ANBU operatives Orochimaru has dispatched or a study of how many different ways a person can be killed while subject to the Sharingan).

But Hurricane Uzumaki has a heart as well. It has been shattered far too many times and in shards far too small for repair to be possible, if this were the regular case. Then again, this is Naruto, and things are rarely the norm with him. He has repaired it with a precision and a care that his large, solid fingers shouldn't be capable of, and has maintained that clear smile throughout it, a smile he has crafted to look bullet proof.

A smile that held for years, becoming more and more riddled with holes that he barely managed to cover, until he found a man that remembered how heavy that nearly-but-not-quite-bulletproof smile felt like, and he never had to wear it as often.

After this man came more, a slow but sure trickle of people that one day he called family and friends, and that would fill the gaps he never knew he'd forgotten to cover.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and thus Naruto loves all his friends with the ferocity of a tornado. Nobody ever misses the change in his eyes when he is with them.

He has waited for them long enough, and he treasures them in the way a boy cherishes his weathered childhood toys: it is due to the time he invests in them, and the loyalty with which he repays them their companionship that he knows their smooth surfaces as well as their imperfections.

No amount of time will make him forget any of the scuffs they've suffered in his presence, or any of the scars they've told him about. And no amount of scuffs, dents and scars will diminish his love and his loyalty for them in the slightest. He offers those who can see him (not the Jinchuuriki or the Problem Child) the purest and most unconditional of friendships, made all the more valuable because he quietly wraps a bit of him in each of the smiles he gifts them.

He is not sure, but he hopes that they will safeguard these memoirs of himself carefully and return them dutifully, just as he does with the bits that they have lent him, an exchange of smiles and tears and dreams that knit them closer and closer together.

To his knowledge, he's always been infallibly giving his whole being to all his precious people. He doesn't notice he's only been giving most of himself all this time, and wouldn't be able to change it even if he made a conscious effort: he gave away a part of himself (the largest of all the shards that comprise his mosaic-like heart) permanently to a girl with hair the color of cherry blossoms and eyes like the meadow he dreams of when he's had a good day, and he hopes she never returns it to him.

He remembers how these eyes he loves so much sought Sasuke's, despite the fact that he hasn't been seen for well over two years: a new, bittersweet pain, one has nothing to do with the demon he carries within, sewed the memory onto him. Her smile then was tied to the boy with dark hair and even darker eyes, and though his incomplete heart aches for that smile, Naruto fears that she might end up returning him the missing piece if he ever asked for her smile.

This is how he decides that he will not gamble for its ownership. His own smile-arsenal is found wanting whenever he tries to hide this new ache, but Naruto is adamant about it: Sakura-chan deserves a pedestal, but if she will not accept it, if she still insists on being at his level, he will do all that is within his power to keep that smiling face from harm.

He doesn't expect to receive something in exchange. Naruto, of all people, should know the value of the organ beneath the metal-mesh, far greater than a bargaining chip. But he will keep the hope in the quietest part of his being, just in case. He might take it out at times, use it to light his way through the corridors Kyuubi so delights in creating for him, and that is more than enough.

It is very essence of him, this unfounded, utterly pointless hope, in the wisp that might be Sakura's love, the return of Sasuke, the retribution for every wrong and the remuneration of every endeavor. He has never visited a sooth-sayer (though these are rare in the ninja villages), nor done any more than laugh at the dismal message on fortune cookies, just as he's laughed at numbers and reason. He may not have even the slightest inkling on what the future holds, but this has never stopped Hurricane Uzumaki.

Naruto is not a genius, but he doesn't need to be one. He is making his way to the top of the Hokage Monument through the path of dreams and futures that can be happy, the path that most shinobi are too afraid to walk on anymore for fear of finding it too fragile. He knows that his world is rimmed with loss, tears, blood and the sinister minds of the geniuses who went astray, but he is sound, energy and light.

Naruto will always have his radiance, his winds of change, ready to contend with any and all of the specters that attempt to surround, not only Konoha, but all those he manages to see, from here to the final grain of sand in Suna. And this is a habit he will not surrender without a fight