Finding the Path

Ξ

The boy's life began in misery. A terrible existence with no friends or family to call his own. A school life which was steeped in failure from beginning to end. It seemed, to him at least, that no matter what he seemed to do, his life would be an endless struggle of clawing his way through the hatred of everyone around himself as he scraped up a living and hoped for enough spare cash that he could sit at Ichikaru ramen and order a special.

He knew, as young as ten years old, that his life would not be a pleasant one. He would have gone home and cried, but he knew it didn't make a difference. There was no family to comfort him, no friends to help shoulder his burden. It didn't matter where he cried. So he wandered the streets of Konoha in his grief, hoping that someone, anyone would see: That anyone could be troubled to care.

Nobody did. He navigated the marketplace with blurry eyes, avoiding the stares and obstacles with precision tempered only by painful experience.

He found himself in the foothills behind the Hokage monument, sitting underneath an old oak and watching as it finally succumbed the winter's approaching embrace. Bright orange leaves fell from it one by one, twisting and turning in the air over and over again before finally settling into a growing blanket over the frost-bitten ground. The boy found himself sitting amidst the field of orange, wondering why life seemed to be so hard, so painful, just for him.

"That's quite the serious look for someone so young," An elderly, jovial voice called from behind. The boy rose to his feet and drew a kunai with his right hand in one smooth movement, his left palming a pair of shuriken in case he had to defend from an attack. Dead last in the academy he might have been, but his reaction time and instincts were certainly well trained. As thought caught up to instinct and the boy recognized the old man who'd surprised him amidst the field of brittle oak leaves, he realized that if this man wanted him dead he'd have been killed before he'd have a chance to defend himself.

The Third Hokage's grin was almost infectious. Despite the heavy robes and the stupid red hat, the man moved in a thousand subtle ways which caused the boys ninja training to scream danger.

"Shouldn't you be in Iruka's fourth-year class, learning how to manipulate your chakra?" The old man queried. The blond-haired boy read the rebuke in the gentle words. His gaze dropped to the sunset-coloured leaves at his feet as he searched for an answer.

"Does it matter?" The boy asked finally, his downcast blue eyes rising to meet the soft chestnut eyes of his companion. He half turned, facing the field of orange surrounding the duo. His hand waved negligently at it. "No matter how hard I try, people are still going to hate me. No matter how hard I practice, I can't beat the ninjutsu, genjutsu, and taijutsu everyone else learns from their parents. No matter what, nothing is going to change the fact that when the genin exams come I'm going to fail."

"You're wrong, Naruto," The youth took it as a kindness that this time, when the old ninja approached, he allowed the oak leaves to crunch beneath his soft red slippers. The young man tilted his head to look again into the Hokage's eyes as he felt a hand fall onto his shoulder, light in weight but heavy in duty. A gentle warmth suffused the youth, from the center of his chest to the tips of his fingers. The old man paused before speaking. "The difference will be in you, my boy. You can't force people to accept who and what you are. The only thing you can do is be the absolute best that you can be."

The old man's eyes seemed to stare a million miles away as he seemed to stare through not just Naruto, but the mountain behind him. In those eyes, the boy saw more hidden pain and weight than he thought anyone could ever bear. Some small part of him told him that maybe he was comforting this old man almost as much as he was being comforted.

"Naruto, the only thing you can change is you. Whether you are last in your class through indifference or hard work, whether you are lonely through not bothering to talk to anyone or trying to make friends, the only thing you can look back on and question is whether or not you made the effort to try." The Hokage stood, clasping his hands behind his back as he turned to look at the play of light between the low afternoon sun and the falling leaves. "My boy, the only difference will be you. I did not become the Hokage by being a natural born genius or by being a blessed member of our small society. I became the Hokage by refusing to give up, no matter the odds."

Something clicked in the young boy's mind at those words. Some small instinct was ignited as he heard the words and understood that he could master his fate, to some small degree. He nodded to himself, not noticing the small smile which grew over the older man's face.

"So, you'll be in Iruka's class tomorrow morning?" Sarutobi asked, his gaze falling to the youth at his side. He paused for a moment, as if weighing the blond before him against an internal scale. "You'll take my words to heart?"

Naruto met the Hokage's gaze firmly, not flinching at a harsh look for the first time in his life.

"Believe it," the youth told the older man, knowing exactly what he had to do. He couldn't know where his life would lead him, but he knew that he would refuse to give up on anything from that point on. This determination would take him from a helpless lamb amidst his classmates to nearly their equal in two short years.

In the final days at the academy, he would graduate under unusual circumstances, having at first failed his genin test involving an academy-level ninjutsu before learning a jounin-level form of the same technique later that day.

His first C-Rank mission would later be classified an A-Rank mission as the involvement of one of the seven legendary swordsman of the Hidden Mist was discovered in the after-action report. He and his newly-formed genin team succeeded despite this impressive foe, with a slight note from his jounin sensei that the boy's sense of on-the-fly strategy was far higher than his intelligence profile suggested.

His first chunin exam would begin with him establishing a record which would remain unbroken centuries after his death, as he became the only case in existence of the lowest-ranked genin beating the highest-ranked genin in any form of single combat.

His first chunin exam would end with him being the only genin to ever face down one of the legendary tailed beasts, in the process turning the tide of a battle meant to destroy Konoha, much to the chagrin of many members of elite ninja society who had long decried his appointment to genin rank as a poor decision. A decade would pass before this information would become common knowledge.

His single-minded determination would lead him to redeem a man long since lost to the shadows of the greatest enemy his home would ever face. His will to continue would lead him to secure the love of the girl of his dreams. From these humble beginnings, he would grow to shake the very ground upon which the entire world stood. His name would be whispered in fear by the enemies of his village and shouted with joy by the people he would grow to protect.

So it was with these events behind him that the whole of Konoha applauded the Sixth Hokage as he accepted the mantle from his predecessor, her unnaturally youthful face smiling as he accepted the robes of his office. Against his chest he felt the weight of the necklace he was given, and beside her smile he noted the approval of his chunin, jounin, and sannin teachers. In the crowd he found his friend, his scarlet, tri-irised eyes crinkled as he flashed a rare smile.

His path to acceptance was formed from a will to never give up, something the blond man would never forget for all the days of his life.

Ξ

Author's Notes:

Windows Vista is stupid. Never use it. Ever. Throw yourself off of a cliff and plunge to your death first. Seriously guys, it is THAT bad.

So, this was just a random idea I had and felt like writing. Sorry I don't have anything for my other stories, but my computer is at Lady Shinimegami's apartment, while I am now living at my newly-purchased house. So instead you get something that has been fluttering about in my empty skull between my new job (Being a stone mason SUCKS) and VR Missions in MGS2:Substance.

-Gaming Ikari