The seven year old Ino saw the little pink haired girl crying. She thought her name was Sakura but wasn't really sure. She recognized her from her other 'etiquette' classes that she and the other future kunoichi were required to attend. She'd never talked to her before and couldn't remember the girl ever saying anything of note. She was always gloomy and quiet and kept to herself. Though she wasn't even sure of her name Ino felt a little sorry for her and was on the point of going over to talk to her.
"Oooh! Look, Sasuke-kun is playing ninja with his brother!"
"He is?" Ino asked excitedly and hurried over to see. All thoughts of talking to the unhappy little girl forgotten.
It was the first day of the ninja academy and Sakura was sitting by herself as she got ready to eat lunch. She looked up a bit enviously at where Yamanaka Ino and a few other girls were eating with Sasuke. The boy was smiling and clearly enjoying the attention he was receiving.
She sighed longingly.
She had a bit of a crush on Sasuke like every other girl on her class. She knew it was pointless to approach him though. He was dreamy and cool and everyone adored him. Why would he be interested in an ugly girl with a huge forehead like her? No one even noticed her except when it was to mock her for her forehead or for her ability to answer most of the sensei's questions.
"Hey! Can I sit with you?"
Sakura looked up startled to see a little blond boy in a black T shirt and tan shorts standing in front of her. He had half a loaf of bread in his hands and a wide smile. "You want to sit with me?"
"Sure!" He said.
"How come?" She asked suspiciously. She'd had boys pretend to be nice to her before just so they could play some mean joke with her.
"Because I think you're really pretty and I'd like to eat with you if I could."
She blinked, surprised by his blunt answer. "You're lying! Nobody thinks I'm pretty, they all say I'm ugly!"
The boy continued smiling at her and never batted an eyelash. "Who cares what people think? I think you're pretty. So can I eat with you?"
"Huh," for some reason she believed him. "Yeah, I guess."
He plopped down on the seat next to her and extended his hand. "I'm Uzumaki Naruto."
She took his hand and politely shook it. "I'm Haruno Sakura, and I already know who you are Naruto. You yelled out your name and that you were going to be Hokage someday at the start of class remember?"
"Oh yeah," he blushed slightly but still looked pleased at her reminder.
"Why did you say that? The others all laughed at you and I don't think Katumo-sensei was happy either." She had seen the boy a few times before, for some reason her mother had warned her not to talk to him. She didn't know why, he certainly didn't seem bad.
"I don't care what people think I am going to be Hokage one day. I let them know because I want them to acknowledge me and treat me with some respect."
She slowly nodded her head. She could definitely understand that. She also admired the courage he had in going after what he wanted without worrying about the response. She was constantly worrying about what people would think. It was then she really noticed that all he had for lunch was some bread.
"Didn't your mommy make you a bento?" She had a nice boxed lunch that her mom had prepared for her.
The boy's smile suddenly faded away and he looked down at the loaf in his hands. "I don't have a mom or a dad, I'm an orphan."
"Oh! I'm sorry!"
"It's ok," he told her. "Anyway I like bread. I'll have some ramen after school is over."
"Want to share my bento?" Sakura asked. "It's really good and mom always makes more than I can eat."
Naruto's eyes widened. Except for the old man he was unaccustomed to any kindness from people. No one ever physically hurt him, they just all ignored him and pretended he didn't exist. "Really? I can have some?"
"Sure," she said.
As they began to eat her lunch he looked at her hopefully. "Hey Sakura, you want to be friends?"
She didn't need to think about it. She had no friends and he was being nice to her when no one else was. "Sure," she said. "I'd like that."
Four Years Later
Sakura returned from the other room with a hitai-ite around her forehead. She was walking tall and proud, she'd done it, she was a ninja now and an adult. As soon as he saw her her boyfriend gave a loud shout.
"All right! Sakura-chan! You did it that's great!" Naruto cried and jumped up and down.
"Oh quiet down you idiot!" Ino snapped. "Everyone who's taken it so far has passed. Obviously you'd have to be a total screw up not to."
"Which means you're in trouble Uzumaki," Kiba teased.
Shikamaru lifted his head off the desk just long enough to make a comment. He already had his hitai-ite tied around his right arm. "It means you're in trouble too Kiba."
The boy and his dog both growled at him.
Sakura sat down beside him and grinned. "Thanks Naruto-kun," she said.
Over their time at the academy they had tried to help each other. She helped him with his academics and chakra control and he was her practice partner for taijutsu and physical training. Over time she'd noticed the way most of the teachers ignored his questions and never seemed to spend more than the absolute bare minimum of time with him. She'd spent a lot of time correcting very basic errors in his stances and katas.
He amazed her with his absolutely relentless work ethic. He never seemed to get tired and he never got bored training with his body. He could go for hours running, doing exercises, throwing weapons, or doing anything at all that required physical effort. In that area he completely left her behind and outpaced everyone in class save for Sasuke.
He struggled with the academic side of things not because he was dumb, but because he simply didn't have any interest. His poor test scores kept him near the bottom of the class, though at least he wasn't dead last.
Kiba enjoyed that honor.
"I'll be up soon," he sounded confident but Sakura knew him very well and could tell he was nervous.
"Relax Naruto-kun," she reassured him. "You've passed the substitution and henge already, all you have to do is the bunshin and you pass."
"But it's my worst technique," he whined.
"Just do it like we practiced and you'll be fine," she promised.
"Right," he said trying to sound confident.
She smiled at him. "Hey for a future Hokage this'll be a snap." Anyone else saying those words would have been mocking him. Sakura believed in him and in his dream. She really did think that if he set his mind to it he could do anything.
"Yeah, Sakura-chan," he nodded. "How can I not pass?"
A few minutes later Shino returned from the other room, a hitai-ite in his hands. "Uzumaki, it is your turn," he announced in a monotone.
"Good luck!" Sakura planted a light kiss on his cheek which made him blush. "I know you can do it."
"Yeah! Thanks Sakura-chan." He hurried off to the testing room.
"Honestly Sakura," Ino called out. "How can you stand dating a loser like him? Sasuke is a thousand times better boyfriend!"
"And how would you know that?" Sakura asked sweetly. "Has he ever even held your hand or told you you looked pretty? Never mind actually going out on a date."
She and Naruto had been going out for a little more than a year now. They had not yet actually kissed yet but they had held hands and been on plenty of 'dates' to get ramen or see a movie together. The two of them were the only actual couple in the class.
Ino glared at the girl. The two of them weren't friends or rivals, just classmates. She really hated being reminded though that she and Sasuke weren't actually dating… yet. "Sasuke-kun will definitely be my boyfriend some day!"
"Don't count on it," he said with an annoyed tone.
The class erupted in laughter as Ino turned an embarrassed shade of red.
"All right Naruto," Iruka said with a friendly smile. "Please perform the bunshin jutsu."
He took a deep breath. Just like I practiced with Sakura, he reminded himself. "All right!" He said confidently. He ran though the hand signs. "Bunshin no Jutsu!"
The entire room filled with smoke and both Iruka and Mizuki were coughing. As the smoke dissipated Iruka saw the room was packed with Uzumaki Narutos, there had to be at least a hundred of them.
"Naruto! You only had to make three!"
The original scratched the back of his head and looked a bit sheepish. "Uh, sorry sensei. I have a lot of trouble working with small amounts of chakra. Sakura suggested I just use more chakra and make more clones since that's easier for me."
Mizuki chuckled. "Trust Sakura to see the simple solution to the problem."
"Uh, so do I still pass?"
Iruka nodded his head. "Of course you do, the requirement was three functional bunshins and you more than met that. Dismiss your clones and come up to accept your hitai-ite. Congratulations Naruto, you are now a ninja."
"Yahoo!" He shouted joyously.
Mizuki smiled and pretended to be happy for him while secretly cursing on the inside. He'd received an order from Orochimaru to steal the Forbidden Jutsu scroll from out of the Hokage Tower. He'd had hopes of using Uzumaki as a cat's paw. Instead he would have to try and steal it himself.
When Naruto returned he strutted in with his hitai-ite tied around his forehead. All the previous worry now completely forgotten.
Sakura jumped up and pumped a fist in the air. "Way to go Naruto!"
Hearing that he puffed out his chest and felt really happy. Some day the whole village would acknowledge him. For right now having just one person do it was enough.
All thirty students passed the exam and were enrolled as ninja of the Hidden Leaf. As they left the academy Sakura was holding Naruto's hand. Some of the other parents sent him some of their usual dark looks or else deliberately looked the other way. This once Naruto refused to notice and simply basked in the satisfaction of having become a ninja and an adult.
"Congratulations honey!" Mrs. Haruno gave her daughter a hug. "You too Naruto, I'm very happy for both of you." She gave the boy a hug as well.
Sakura's parents were both civilians and had been less than thrilled at the growing friendship between their daughter and Uzumaki Naruto. Over time though they had come to accept it and even developed a fondness for the boy. They liked him well enough that they did not object when their daughter declared he was her 'boyfriend.' Through the Harunos Naruto had gained a slight family life. He still had his own apartment and gorged at Ichiraku's at every opportunity. He also ate dinner with Sakura's family once or twice a week and was welcomed to hang out with her in her room. (So long as he door remained open.)
When he began dating Sakura he abruptly stopped pulling pranks. He didn't want to do anything that would embarrass her or make her parents wonder if he was trustworthy. He still wore orange and still sought attention, but he reigned in some of his more outlandish behavior, and was just a little more serious.
"We're going to have a feast to celebrate the two of you becoming ninja." She eyed Naruto knowingly. "Including ramen of course."
"All right! What are we waiting for then?"
Sakura laughed as he tried to hurry them along.
In his office Sarutobi nodded happily at the report that Naruto had passed his exam. Though his academic record didn't really reflect it Naruto had greatly improved over the last year and begun showing signs of becoming a real ninja. He had improved enough in fact that Sarutobi had decided he would give the boy a very special graduation gift.
He looked at the scroll that had not been opened in 12 years. Inside of it was an original jutsu created by the Yondaime Hokage.